School is Out, Sustainability is In

Summertime is on the horizon, and you may be looking for a new project or goal to tackle. We’re challenging you to practice sustainability within your home or workplace, and you’ll learn how a few seemingly small changes can make a big impact within our environment and Our Estuary.

What exactly is sustainability?
In recent years, you’ve likely heard terms like sustainability or eco-friendly thrown around as concerns over climate change and global warming have taken center stage globally. But what exactly is sustainability?

Sustainability refers to a way of living that allows us to create and maintain a way of life for current and future generations to live in harmony with nature. In short, sustainability ensures that humans and nature can successfully coexist and support each other both now, and for future generations to come.

What is the impact?
Humans have made a major physical impact on the environment through deforestation, overpopulation, burning of fossil fuels, and pollution. When it comes to sustainability, one of the most simple things you can do is to aim to reduce your own footprint on nature — right within your home or business.

According to the EPA, the total generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2018 was 292.4 million tons — that’s 4.9 pounds per person per day. Landfills around the globe are overflowing with single-use plastics, discarded clothing, electronics and toys and are producing potent greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Additionally, our daily behaviors of travel and energy-use are also increasing global greenhouse gases. According to NASA, these greenhouse gases all directly contribute to climate change resulting in: global warming, and more extreme precipitation patterns, hurricanes, droughts, and temperatures. Additionally, at this rate the Arctic Ocean is likely to be nearly ice-free by 2050 with ocean levels rising between 1 and 8 feet by 2100.

While this is all seemingly bad news for the environment and all who inhabit it, there is good news — we can fix it. By choosing a more sustainable lifestyle and encouraging those around you to do the same, we can gradually reduce our negative impact on the environment.

Here are our Top 10 Eco-friendly and Sustainable Switches to make now:

1. Use reusable water bottles
We get it, you’ve probably heard this one countless times, but it’s for good reason; single-use water bottles end up in landfills, or worse — the ocean and our waterways. But a major downfall of plastic water bottles comes before the bottle is even discarded. To keep up with the massive demand for plastic bottles, millions of barrels of oil are used every year in production, and their production releases millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Grab a glass or metal reusable bottle when you can!

2. Bring your own shopping bags
Did you know that a single plastic bag will take over 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill? Plastic shopping bags are one of the biggest plastic burdens and threats to our environment today. Because of their lightweight nature and disposable use, plastic shopping bags are piling up in landfills all over the world. Unfortunately, these plastic bags don’t just end up in landfills — littered plastic bags are a major threat to wildlife. Plastic bags floating in the ocean can appear to be jellyfish or other aquatic life. As a result, fish, turtles, and birds mistakenly eat plastic — filling their stomachs with material that makes them feel full, but offers no nutritional value, often resulting in death. You can help by bringing your own reusable bags when shopping!

3. Donate clothing and shop responsibly
Just like plastic shopping bags, landfills around the world are overflowing with textiles like discarded clothing. In an age of “disposable” clothing, consumers can purchase clothing items for less than the price of a fast food meal. While the cheap price tag is great for a consumer’s wallet, this often results in poor quality clothing that quickly ends up in the trash. According to the EPA, Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste every single year, but you can reduce your impact in several ways. When shopping for clothing, consider buying secondhand. If you’d prefer to buy new clothing, try to buy quality materials that will hold up from responsible and eco-conscious companies. Additionally you can seek out clothing and shoes that are made from recycled materials! When you’re ready to discard textiles, please consider donating instead of throwing them away.

4. Reusable storage
As with reusable shopping bags and water bottles, the same is true with reusable storage. Single-use plastic sandwich bags, plastic cling wrap, and individually wrapped snacks all add to the waste filling landfills each year. You can make the switch to reusable silicone zipped bags, store food in glass or metal containers, and buy snacks in bulk to reduce single-use packaging waste.

5. Buy in bulk
Speaking of bulk…when you can, buy in bulk. Buying your food, toiletries and other household essentials in bulk can greatly reduce your footprint on the environment. When we buy everyday items, we often aren’t thinking about what resources went into making that product, or what it took to get that product on the shelf. But the production and shipping of materials, especially internationally, greatly increases the environmental impact of the materials we buy. When you buy in bulk you not only reduce the amount of packaging used for the goods, additionally, a reduction in packaging results in a reduction of negative environmental impacts from production.

6. Shop local
Shopping local comes with a multitude of benefits! Locally bought food and other goods greatly reduce the carbon footprint by eliminating the need for massive overseas flights or long trips on large trucks, thus reducing both air pollution and fuel consumption. Additionally, you’re likely to experience more ethically and eco-friendly produced food and goods, fresher produce using fewer pesticides, and less packaging waste. Plus, you’re stimulating your own local economy!

7. Collect rainwater
Water is water…right? Not really! While we are very fortunate to live in a place with clean tap water at our fingertips, the water that comes from our faucets is treated with chemicals that make it safe for drinking, bathing, washing and cooking with, but some of those same chemicals can actually be harmful to plants and vegetation. By collecting rainwater, you’re getting one of the purest forms of water — naturally distilled, and you’re simultaneously practicing sustainability. By collecting rainwater to water indoor and outdoor plants, you’ll also be cutting back on your water usage, thus putting less stress on the municipal water system. Additionally, in times of drought, having rainwater on reserve for use will reduce your stress on the system and help to restore groundwater. You can start collecting rainwater by creating a rain barrel or rain garden!

8. Start composting
Composting has a myriad of benefits for your home and the environment! By composting food scraps you’re reducing the amount of food waste that ends up in landfills. When food sits in landfills, it undergoes decomposition which results in the release of potent greenhouse gases: methane and carbon monoxide. Of course no waste is best, but food waste and scraps are inevitable. By composting these scraps, you’ll reduce the amount of food scraps that end up in landfills and you’ll produce a composted material that is a natural fertilizer free of chemicals, improves soil health, and conserves water by improving the soil’s water retention!

9. Choose energy efficient electronics, appliances, and lightbulbs
When it comes time to replace older appliances, electronics, or lightbulbs, be sure to look for energy-efficient options. Reducing your footprint on the environment when it comes to energy is pretty straight forward: when we use electricity it’s likely coming from a nearby power plant. These power plants typically burn fossil fuels which results in the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. You can also reduce your energy consumption by turning off lights, unplugging appliances and electronics, or by raising your air conditioner a degree or two. Alternatively, you can also look into renewable energy sources such as installing solar panels to your home or business.

10. Travel responsibly
The world is a beautiful place of sights to behold, so it’s no surprise that global travel and tourism is so popular and has an impact on the environment. If you’ll be traveling this summer, there are a few ways you can reduce your footprint! If traveling with a group, consider driving together if possible and choose a fuel efficient vehicle. If you’re flying, try to choose a non-stop flight whenever possible. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, bike or walk where possible, and use public transportation instead of renting a vehicle. Most importantly, respect the destination — be mindful of littering, respect the native plants and wildlife, and don’t forget to pack your own snacks and refillable bottle for traveling!

We hope you accept our challenge to make one (or a few) sustainable swaps in your home or businesses, and we’d love to see your progress — please tag us in your #BTNEPChallenge Sustainable Swaps on social media!