A Challenge for 2015: Can You Go Trash-Free?

Last month, 23-year-old Lauren Singer crashed into my psyche with unstoppable force. She is an NYC local, and for two years, she has not generated a single piece of trash.

What? How is that even possible?

Mind Body Green featured an incredibly eye-opening piece from Lauren about her no-waste lifestyle, and it has inspired me to follow suit. I’m going to let her article speak for itself, since she describes her process much better than I will be able to, but I challenge you – go waste-free with me in 2015. We can do it. And imagine just how much difference that would really make. It’s a tangible contribution to preserving the Earth and making a real difference – instead of just paying lip service to an ideal.

I Haven’t Made Any Trash In 2 Years. Here’s What My Life Is Like

My name is Lauren. I’m a 23-year-old girl living in NYC and I don’t make trash. For real. No garbage bin, no landfill. Nada.

I know what you are thinking. This girl must be a total hippie. Or a liar. Or she’s not real. But I assure you, I am none of those things. Well, except for real.

I didn’t always live what some call a “zero waste” life.

But I started making a shift about three years ago, when I was an Environmental Studies major at NYU, protesting against big oil, and president of a club that hosted weekly talks on environmental topics. In my mind I was super environmental, or as my grandma called me, a real “treehugger.” Everyone thought of me as the sustainability girl, so that meant that I was totally doing my share for the earth, right?

Wrong.

In one of my classes, there was another student who always brought a plastic bag containing a plastic clamshell full of food, a plastic water bottle, plastic cutlery, and a bag of chips. Class after class I watched her throw it all in the garbage, and I got so angry! I scoffed and sneered, but I never actually said or did anything. I just got mad.

One day I was particularly upset after class and went home to make dinner and try to forget about it, but when I opened my refrigerator I froze. I realized that every item I had in there was wrapped or packaged, one way or another, in plastic.

This was the first time in my life that I felt like I was able to look at myself and say, “YOU HYPOCRITE.” I was the green girl, not the plastic girl! What had I been doing my entire life? It was in that moment I made the decision to eliminate all plastic from my life.

Quitting plastic meant learning to make all of my packaged products myself.

This included everything from toothpaste to cleaning products, all things I had no clue how to make and had to learn by doing a lot of online research. One day I stumbled across a blog called Zero Waste Home. It followed the life of Bea Johnson, wife and mother of two children who all live a zero-waste life in California.

By that point I had already eliminated almost all plastic from my life. I thought, “If a family of four can live a zero-waste lifestyle, I, as a (then) 21-year-old single girl in NYC, certainly can.” So I took the leap.

How did I go from zero plastic to zero waste?

First, I stopped buying packaged products and began bringing my own bags and jars to fill with bulk products at the supermarket. I stopped buying new clothing, and shopped only secondhand. I continued making all of my own personal care and cleaning products. I downsized significantly by selling, donating, or giving away superfluous things in my life, such as all but one of my six identical spatulas, 10 pairs of jeans that I hadn’t worn since high school, and a trillion decorative items that had no significance to me at all.

Most importantly, I started planning potentially wasteful situations; I began saying “NO” to things like straws in my cocktails at a bars, to plastic or paper bags at stores, and to receipts.

Of course, this transition didn’t happen overnight.

This process took more than a year and required a lot of effort. The most difficult part was taking a hard look at myself, the environmental studies major, the shining beacon of sustainability, and realizing that I didn’t live in a way that aligned with my values.

I realized that while I sincerely cared about a lot of things, I wasn’t embodying my philosophies. Once I accepted that, I allowed myself to change and since then my life has been better every day. Here are just a few of the ways life has improved since I went trash free:

1. I save money.

I now make a grocery list when I go shopping, which means being prepared and not grabbing expensive items impulsively. Additionally, buying food in bulk means not paying a premium for packaging. When it comes to my wardrobe, I don’t purchase new clothing; I shop secondhand and get my clothes at a heavily discounted price.

2. I eat better.

Since I purchase unpackaged foods, my unhealthy choices are really limited. Instead, I eat a lot of organic fruits and vegetables, bulk whole grains and legumes, as well as a lot of seasonal, local food, since farmers markets offer amazing unpackaged produce.

3. I’m happier.

Before I adopted my zero-waste lifestyle, I would find myself scrambling to the supermarket before it closed, because I didn’t shop properly, ordering in takeout because I didn’t have food, always going to the pharmacy to get this scrub and that cream, and cleaning constantly because I had so much stuff.

Now, my typical week involves one trip to the store to buy all of the ingredients I need. This trip isn’t just for food, but also for cleaning and beauty products, since all of the things I use now can be made with simple, everyday ingredients. Not only is it easier and stress free, it’s healthier (no toxic chemicals!).

I never anticipated that actively choosing not to produce waste would turn into my having a higher quality of life. I thought it would just mean not taking out the trash. But what was at first a lifestyle decision became a blog, Trash is for Tossers, which became a catalyst for chatting with interesting, like-minded people, and making friends.

Now it’s blossomed into my quitting my great post-grad job as Sustainability Manager for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection to start my own zero-waste company, The Simply Co., where I hand-make and sell the products that I learned to produce over the past two years.

I didn’t start living this lifestyle to make a statement — I began living this way because living a zero-waste life is, to me, the absolutely best way I know how to live a life that aligns with everything I believe in.

Covering the G20 Summit

This week, leaders from all over the world gathered in Brisbane, on the north eastern coast of Australia, to discuss measures to be taken to protect their economies in the coming years.

While tensions had been expected between Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Russian President Vladimir Putin (whom Abbott had threatened to “shirt front” earlier in the year over the Ukrainian air crisis), the meeting went amicably and it seems like positive discussion happened across the board.

While Putin was certainly in the hot seat for much of the conference – with tension and conflict in the Ukraine still ongoing – this did not appear to derail the intention of the annual conference.

By the end of the proceedings, the delegates had agreed to boost their economies by 2% by 2018, which would add over $2 trillion to the global economy. This is an ambitious goal, even for countries with prosperous economies, but even more so for countries who have struggled to recover from 2008′s financial crisis. If they can pull it off, however, it will creates millions of jobs and provide much-needed capital to start truly responding to the climate change crisis.

This was the elephant in the room this year.

While it was a prime opportunity to start actively addressing this crucial problem, the G20 summit really did not even approach climate change. Abbott, presiding over this year’s conference, is notoriously conservative and has made several comments on climate change (ie denying it) over the course of his short term that make conscious, forward-thinking environmentalists want to shirtfront him. So it should come as no surprise that it wasn’t really on the table for discussion.

After his announcement that coal was still a beacon of hope and prosperity for growing economies, Australia might need to do more than just host a good conference to keep us all convinced that they’re a modern, reliable country.

First US Ebola Patient and His Nurse

 Community     ,

This is an important public service announcement from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Overnight they confirmed that a nurse who was caring for the first Ebola patient to arrive on US soil has also started exhibiting symptoms. Their press release is below.

The reason I am sharing this today is that the spread of diseases and viruses like this show just how connected we all are. What affects one of us will often affect all of us – we need to stay alert, pay attention and see the bigger picture:

Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed test results reported late last night by the Texas Department of State Health Services’ public health laboratory showing that a healthcare worker at Texas Presbyterian Hospital is positive for Ebola. The healthcare worker, who provided care for the Dallas index patient, was isolated soon after symptoms started and remains so now.

On Friday, October 10, the healthcare worker reported a low-grade fever overnight and was referred for testing. The healthcare worker had been self-monitoring for fever and symptoms. As a precaution, after identification of fever, the healthcare worker was isolated and CDC staff interviewed the patient to determine additional contacts or potential exposures. At this time, one close contact has been identified and is being monitored.

The hospital and patient were notified of the preliminary and confirmatory test results. Treatment decisions will be made by the patient and hospital.

This development is understandably disturbing news for the patient, the patient’s family and colleagues and the greater Dallas community. The CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services remain confident that wider spread in the community can be prevented with proper public health measures, including ongoing contact tracing, health monitoring among those known to have been in contact with the index patient, and immediate isolations if symptoms develop.

Careful monitoring of all Healthcare workers who had interaction with the index patient and this second patient is warranted, including those who cared for the index patient between the time he was isolated in the hospital September 28 through the time of his death on October 8, and they will now be considered patient contacts for follow-up monitoring.

Ebola is spread through direct contact with body fluids of a sick person or the remains of someone who has died of Ebola, or exposure to objects such as needles that have been contaminated. The illness has an average 8-10 day incubation period (although it could be from 2 to 21 days), and therefore CDC recommends monitoring exposed people for symptoms a complete 21 days. People are not contagious before symptoms such as fever develop.

The People’s Climate March

Hi folks! Sorry this post is a few days late – things have been a bit wild as I was helping to coordinate the People’s Climate March that took place in NYC this week.

Well, not just NYC. In fact, there were 2800 rallies held around the world, in 166 countries. That’s pretty nuts, huh? But in NYC, we did get about 400,000 people so that was definitely my focus!

So what was it all about?

This week, the UN is holding a summit that will be charting a path forward for global climate treaty negotiations in New York. We want those negotiations to bring about real change, not just the lip service that most governments have been paying up until now. The meetings are due to talk largely about carbon pollution.

A top advisor to the White House said that the US government is ready to ”show the world that the U.S. is leading on climate change, and to call on other leaders to step up to the plate”… except that the other main offenders in the carbon arena, China and India, aren’t attending the talks, and there’s not much to be done about that.

Regardless, it was an incredible display of solidarity, and is a shout, loud and clear, that the people want change. And we want it now! It’s a strong vote for action on this incredibly important issue.

As retired Kentucky miner Stanley Sturgill said at a press conference before the march, “Today I march because I want to behold a brighter future. We have destroyed ourselves. We have destroyed our health and I’m here because our political leaders have failed us… [but] we know together we can build our bright future.”

 

Creating Sustainability in Cities

 Environment   

Cities are increasingly where the world’s population lives. Currently it’s around half the world’s populace that live in major cities, and the UN is predicting that by 2030, that will increase to over 60%.

 

As millions and millions of people are moving out of more agricultural areas and into the cities, there are both benefits and challenges that will begin to emerge in a more pronounced way. Obviously, many positive trends have already started to show:

 

  • People who live in big cities drive less. And when they do drive, they tend to drive smaller vehicles that use less gas.

  • Living spaces in city dwellings typically require less energy to heat and cool, often because they are smaller than dwellings outside the city.

  • City dwellers use up less resources by using public transport and other publicly provided assets.

 

But there are also some negative trends that have shown up:

 

  • Traffic congestion in many cities is rising, despite fewer people driving cars – motorcycles, buses and taxis are contributing considerably to the buildup.

  • Smog is on the rise over most big cities, often creating dense clouds that filter the light and reduce the air quality in the city

  • The carbon footprint of most cities is very large, exacerbated by high volumes of flight traffic.

 

In order to move through these challenges, we’ve got to be personally proactive. Making sure that we’re taking public transport, like trains, or riding a bike whenever you can. Grow as much food as you can manage, or become part of a farming co-op to make sure your food is not contributing to the carbon footprint.

Doing Your Part to Minimize Global Warming

Doing-your-Part-to-Minimize-Global-WarmingThe earth’s temperature has been steadily increasing since the 19th century and this phenomenon has been attributed to activities such as the pollution released by automobiles, emissions of carbon monoxide from burning plastics, deforestation, and the misuse of fertilizers on agricultural land. Scientists expect that the average temperature of the Earth’s surface will continue to increase over the next fifty years. Power plants are the largest sources of harmful emissions along with gases released from the decomposition of organic wastes in landfills.

There are usable pieces of land that have turned to arid areas because of the higher temperatures. In the seas and oceans, this phenomenon has caused the excessive melting of snow and ice resulting in the increase in water levels. All these changes have made the process of predicting weather patterns more difficult. In an effort to arrest the damages of global warming, government agencies and private organizations have joined efforts to increase awareness on what people can do to reduce the damage.

Some of the alternative means that have been implemented to reduce the release of harmful emissions include the use of natural gases as an energy source for power plants. The objective is to totally replace coal which gives off harmful gases. On a personal level, households should replace their appliances with energy efficient models to contribute to a better environment by reducing and eventually eliminate heat-trapping emissions. You can also consider buying smarter cars that makes use of less gas so you can contribute to a better environment and save money as well.

Proper car maintenance goes a long way so you have to make sure that your tires are always adequately inflated. Schedule regular tune ups to keep your engine running smoothly and have other replaceable parts, such as sir filters attended to regularly. If you’re in the market for a new model, consider hybrids in your list because this gives you the advantage of better mileage and higher fuel efficiency than the traditional kind.

On your home front, you can start planting several trees around your home to get the benefit of better air. Make sure that you have good insulation in your home to get the most of your heating and cooling units. And invest in energy efficient electrical appliances to keep your electricity bills and carbon print down.Do

Maintaining Earth’s Delicate Balance

The different kinds of life forms that exist on Earth interact with each other and maintain a delicate balance that sustains life and allows us all to survive. This diversity involves ecosystems, cultures and genetic make-ups. In an amazing way, living things have managed to establish a connection that nurtures different biological processes. And any disruption in this equilibrium affects all the other life forms as well.

A perfect example of this phenomenon is the greenhouse effect. Human activity and the advent of new technologies results in the release of gases into the atmosphere. Over the years, the volume has tremendously increased because of our demand for energy sources and this caused the build-up of greenhouses gases. The concentrated levels of these gases in turn produced what we now recognize as climate change. This change is something that affects all life forms and its effects reaches far beyond human habitats.

The greenhouse effect has caused the lowering in the temperature of the oceans and the atmosphere. Seasons have also been affected as noticed by the lengthened periods compared to previous years. The sea levels have gone up in some areas as a result of ice melting faster in the poles and experts have documented shifts in the ocean and wind currents. Experts believe that all of these events can be attributed to the greenhouse effect and they are likely to affect the habitats of living organisms the world over. Any life form that fails to adjust to these climate changes will eventually become extinct.

This is what we need to understand more. The biological diversity that our planet harbors is essential to all kinds of life. What humans do impacts all other life forms on the planet which should make us more cautious and mindful of the things we do. For instance, planting trees in our gardens and backyards will benefit us directly because of the fruits that we can harvest and the shade that it provides. On a bigger perspective, this contributes to oxygen production and the removal of carbon dioxide. Walking instead of riding a car allows us to save money and is an easy form of exercise which is important for our overall health. Environmentally, this action cuts our consumption of fuel and doubly minimizes the release of harmful gases in the air, both from the energy source and as a by-product of mechanical combustion.

The Threats of Climate Change

There are a lot of factors that cause changes in our atmosphere. The increasing temperature of our planet causes harmful gases from deep beneath the earth’s surface to seep through to the upper layers. It is also affected by the changes of the Earth’s position which contributes to seasonal or climate changes. While the reasons are not all clear, it has been established that the planet’s temperature is rising. This occurrence is more commonly known as global warming.

Countries that rely on the mining of minerals are the most threatened by the changes in our planet’s climate. There are experts who have devoted much of their time to follow the occurrences of weather disturbances the world over. These includes heat waves, incidences of storm surges and bushfires. And they have come to the conclusion that human activities, specifically the burning of fossil fuels have caused the significant increase of Earth’s temperature. Some of the greenhouse gases that have increased concentrations in the atmosphere include carbon dioxide and methane.

Modern technology has allowed scientists to run programs to recreate the variables that affect our climate and study its effects closely. This study is critical in the development of policies to counter the harmful effects of climate change. There is a need to implement laws that will curb or minimize the release of harmful gases in the air. The US has been taking a stronger stance against climate change because it heavily depends on fossil fuels for its economy.

Since human activity has been pointed out as the primary source of the adverse changes in our climate, leaders from different countries has come together to find ways to reduce the harmful emissions while meeting the energy demands that come from using modern technology. In developing nations, new regulations in the construction of buildings have been implemented to make them more eco-friendly. Other efforts include planting new trees to address the problem of deforestation.