Five Waste Reduction Resolutions You Should Make…Even Though They Won’t Solve The Climate Crisis
When the calendar turns and I start evaluating my goals and purpose, my thoughts turn to how I can strengthen my actions around the climate crisis. In taking a look at what I want to do next, I noticed that I already do a lot! So I’m passing some ideas along. Keep in mind that ~100 energy companies are reponsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions (read about that here and lots of other places too). They are the ones holding us back and causing this mess. Everything we as individuals do is a drop in the bucket BUT it’s still important. Especially if it inspires or encourages behaviour change in others and gets the attention of those 100 companies so they can finally be forced to do what’s right.
I will also caveat this list with an extreme privilege warning. That is, I have the ability and ease to consider a lot of these resolutions because of the colour of my skin, my able-body, my level of education and the fact that I have a full-time job and a partner. All of this also means that I am statistically more likely to be causing more emissions and waste than those who hold “opposite” identities to mine. I consider it my duty and purpose to show compassion toward others (both human and non-humans), and dedicate my life to negating the effects of my life and lifestyle on this earth and on those others. It may sound corny, or like some of those wellness lifestyle brands (gross and yuck), but *shrug*.
And before I get any more philosophical or dramatic, let’s jump into Five Waste Reduction Resolutions!
You probably don’t think about “Refill” when you think of the infamous “Rs” of waste reduction – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – but it’s one of my favourites. Think of some commonly used items in your home. There might be a refill option for you. In our home we refill no less than the following:
- Dishwasher tabs
- Toothpaste tabs
- Body lotion
- All spices, salt and sugar
- Nuts and seeds
- Rice, dry beans and lentils
- Dried fruit
- Maple syrup
- Tamari (soy sauce)
- Nutritional yeast
Plastic bottle that end up in landfill will not decompose in your lifetime or your kids and grandkids’ lifetimes. We’re talking hundreds of years. While recycling is important, we also know now that not all plastic is equally recyclable, and much is not recyclable – or recycled – at all. Refilling those bottles and jars saves the energy required to recycle them, and especially in creating new plastic bottles.
When you finish off a box of cereal, noodles, or flour, head to your local refillery and find the comparable type to refill. Save three glass jars from the recycle and take them – along with your kids/partner/roommate – to the local refillery and find some new-to-you snacks to refill. Y’all, it is a big treat day in our house when we each get a jar and unfettered access to our local Bulk Barn. It can be easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to buy new storage containers to refill, but I encourage you to look around your home first, and consider if you have any current containers that can be used instead.
If there aren’t refilleries in your area, instead resolve to notice the overall packaging of your individual purchases and see if you can make changes there, buying cans or glass jars instead of plastic where available. Buying in bulk might be a great option for you as well. If you can’t afford ($ or space) the larger sizes, ask a friend or family member to split the cost – and the box – with you.
More Plant-Based Meals
Perhaps you have heard of “Meatless Monday”? In our house it’s “Meatless Most Days”. I’ve been a vegetarian, a vegan for half a second, and now a mostly meatless eater. Cutting back on meat is a simple resolution that can benefit your health as well as our planet’s. Awwwww, so sweet!
Our meat-centric diets account for one-fifth of global carbon emissions (Project Drawdown). Other stats I’ve read around our “business as usual” diet blow my mind. For example: if cattle were their own nation, they would rank THIRD in the world for largest greenhouse gas emissions! If we all switched to a vegetarian or vegan diet, we could reduce between 63% and 70% of our current emissions. This is a huge deal! (All of these stats from Project Drawdown.) Of course, not everyone is ready to go full vegan overnight. And sometimes habits are built slowly, one piece at a time.
Swap out ground meat with shredded jackfruit or beans. Try one of those plant-based “meat-alternatives”. Burgers, sausages, ground meat all have a plant-based equivalent now, and most of them are very tasty! Like all of the other resolutions in this post, accessibility is a huge component of success. I personally can’t afford those meat-alternatives in my grocery budget. So I buy a lot of beans instead.
More Active Transportation
I am very privilege to live in a super walkable neighbourhood and have the mobility to get around easily. So I take advantage of it. Walking a 3km+ round trip to pick up library books, groceries, and my prescriptions has become part of my weekend routine.
Why active transport?
I think we can all agree that driving our cars everywhere all the time is not great. I shouldn’t need to do much convincing of that! I do a lot of reading on how to build healthy, welcoming cities for all citizens, and cars don’t feature much in those plans. For a multitude of reasons. (I will post more links at the end of the post.)
Try completing one of your car errands this week with active transportation instead. If you don’t have access to active transportation, try and bundle your errands. Park your car at the first location and walk or bus to the rest. Go inside the store instead of using the drive-thru.
Drink from the Tap
Most tap water in North America (barring some very specific and insidious examples) is very safe to drink. A lot of the bottled water you pay for comes from tap water. Why pay for water twice? And why do we have to think about bottle vs. tap anyway?
Why tap water?
Here’s a couple of stats for you about bottled water:
- More than 17 million barrels of oil are required to produce enough plastic water bottles to meet America’s annual demand for bottled water. (Earth Policy “Bottled Water: Pouring Resources Down the Drain”)
- Bottled water is about 3,000 percent more expensive per gallon than tap water in the US (Harvard Engineering and Utilities and Poland Springs)
- Microplastics are found in 93% of bottled water (CBC News)
I really enjoyed this quote from a health researcher in Barcelona (quoted in this Guardian article):
“People trust bottled water because advertisers have done a good job of convincing people it’s a good option, so we need the effort on the other side.”Cristina Villanueva
The majority of tap water tastes the same as bottled, must pass strict quality tests, is not filled with microplastics, is a lot less expensive, and doesn’t take millions of barrels of oil to manufacture. My heart aches when I see all the plastic water bottles when I go my trash walks. I read a lot of stats about the tiny amount of plastic bottles that get recycled every year. And then I get cranky to think that we have been tricked into paying money to drink water out of a piece of garbage.
Buy yourself a nice water bottle and start building a habit of carrying it with you. If you are a parent, do the same for your kids. (My teenager’s enormous pink water bottle follows him around the house.) Ensure folks who need access to safe, bottled water have it. Advocate with your municipality to install water fountains, and your local or state government to ensure everyone has ready access to safe drinking sources.
Make Do & Mend
Don’t ask me specifically how this happened, but we in the Global North have become a “throwaway, buy new, repeat” society. It’s been creeping up on us for years and is closely linked to toxic individualism as promoted by capitalism. Bigger TVs, smarter phones, faster fashion. I see it on social media daily, and it is catching up to us. Think about all the articles on microchip shortages and the ripple effect that is having across so many industries. We could have a huge impact on the climate crisis by pausing this cycle in our lives and making do with what we already have.
Why make do & mend?
There is so much to touch on here, but I am specifically going to give a nod to fashion and home interior decorating.
There has been a lot written about fast fashion and its toll on our world and our lives, so I will add some links to the end of the post if you want to do a deeper dive. But it’s bad y’all. We’re talking slavery, life-threatening working conditions, mountains of waste clogging communities in the Global South, and water and air pollution from the manufacturing processes (read more here, or watch this video). There is no comparable buzz word for the trends I’ve been seeing in the interior design world, but I have noticed that many people in my circles at least are choosing to do renovations where none are needed other than for aesthetics. Just like in fashion, the interior design trends seem to be changing faster and faster, and encouraging folks to keep up with them is environmentally irresponsible.
Stop going to Home Sense and watching HGTV. Unfollow interior designers on social media. Your pillows, or shower curtains, or tile flooring might not be the latest style, but “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. And if it is actually broken, find a qualified repair shop to have a look at it. Take clothing that needs repairs to a tailor instead of tossing it. And if your clothing is beyond repair, consider second hand pieces.
As with anything related to waste-reduction, there is vast inequality at work. Refilleries are still a new thing, and many neighbourhoods that already suffer as food deserts might not have ready access to them. Our streets and sidewalks are not usually designed with folks with disabilities in mind. Items that are considered “more sustainable” can often be priced higher than the less sustainable option, forcing the hand of many individuals and families. I’m know many smarter people than me have written and researched this topic. I won’t try and emulate their work. I just want to put it in your head to consider when you are trying to make waste-free choices. How does your identity impact the types of choices you have? How does your privilege show up, and how can you use it to help others?
Y’all I feel like I’ve been talking – writing – for a hundred years. If this inspired you even a little bit to add a Waste Free Resolution into your life, let me know. It’s tiring just thinking about all of these changes – especially considering the fact that most of the emissions generated during our lifetimes have not been by us. But we are all in this together. So, let’s try and get out of it together as well.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING
I like Project Drawdown for overall information about current issues and their solutions. They cover a lot of ground on the website, and there are local chapters popping up as well.
- Are refill stations the answer to packaging waste? (Packaging Digest)
- We Want Refill
- The costs and benefits associated with Reuse & Refill system (Greenpeace)
- Environmental impact of bottled water up to 3500 times greater than tap wateri (The Guardian)
- Bottled Water: The Human Health Consequences of Drinking From Plastic (Clean Water Action)
- In a thirsty world bottled water seems wasteful (The Water Project)
- More People are hitting the bottle (Fresh Outlook Foundation)
- Microplastics found in 93% of bottled water tested in global study (CBC News)
Cars & Healthy Cities
- Building healthy cities (The Nature Conservancy)
- The environmental impact of cars explained (National Geographic)
- How green are electric vehicles (New York Times)
- Building healthy cities in the doorstop-delivery era (Pembina Institute)
- Emission impacts from vehicle idling (Government of Canada)