To start off, this current pandemic is a serious global health crisis and official updates and recommendations should not be ignored. This means that over half of Americans are staying home to prevent the spread of this virus. However, many of us find ourselves slowed down with more time on our hands. This period is a perfect opportunity for re-assessing our lifestyles. One aspect of our lives that requires special consideration is the impact our actions have on the environment.
To start, you could conduct a waste audit on your household’s trash output. It might sound gross at first but assessing what goes into your trash cans is vital to reducing your personal additions to the 139 million tons of waste Americans sent to a landfill in 2017, according to the EPA1. This will help you to identify any excess of plastic packaging or other items that could avoid being “trashed”. Once you determine what is being thrown away, brainstorming how to avoid wasting these materials is the next step.
The general path is to decide if there’s anything recyclable or compostable. Plastics with the recycling triangle and a number inside are usually okay to put in your blue bin. Metals, paper, and cardboard also should be clean, dry, and recycled2. Republic Services is the main recycling company that services Corpus Christi and the surrounding areas. Check their website or your other collector’s pages for specific regional requirements.
Paper with food residue should be composted. As for food waste, composting is easier than it may seem. It involves the breakdown of organic materials – produce peels/stems, eggshells, coffee grounds – into natural fertilizer to go back into the soil. Like any new task, once you get a grasp of the basics, it will come naturally. If you don’t want to learn to compost at home, you can opt to store your scraps (usually in the freezer) and then bring them to a local composting site. TAMU-CC has a compost drop-off site at the islander gardens. Visit islandergreen.tamucc.edu for more info.
Beyond these two basics, imagining or researching solutions to other packaging and waste problems can lead to many sustainable alternatives. For example, buying in bulk is very helpful in reducing the volume of raw materials used to hold the product. Bringing your own jars to the grocery store and filling them and then subtracting the weight of the jar allows you to pay for only the food product needed. You could also possibly do this at your preferred deli or bakery by bringing your own container to carry your goodies home, waste free!
Outside of what’s already going into the trash, consider what around the house is in plastic that you could find a low-waste swap for! That plastic pumping soap bottle? Try opting for a bar to keep your hands clean. Hordes of flimsy zip-lock bags can be switched out for silicone reusable Stasher Bags or something similar. DIY-ing your cleaning supplies is also a new home-friendly task to take on. There are loads of green swaps that are waiting to be discovered and put into action. (And you can custom tailor your own scents!) Start today!
While staying-at-home, don’t forget the “invisible” resource consumers: electronics. “Phantom power,” the electricity used by electronics when they are turned off or in standby mode, can account for 5-10% of home energy costs and contribute to fossil fuel emissions (via power plants). Using power strips (which you can turn on and off), purchasing Energy Star certified products, and even just unplugging electronics when they are not in use are easy ways to conserve our energy resources, cut costs, and fight climate change.
Another invisible environmental issue inside the home is air quality. Studies have found that the air inside our homes can be more heavily polluted than the air outside. Poor indoor air quality can make you sick, lower your productivity, and impair learning–not good for college students! Common pollutants include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, bacteria, fungi, and viruses (often from excessive moisture), and dust and other particulates. To improve air quality and reduce pollution, take spring cleaning seriously, ventilate your home often, eliminate any known source of pollution, dehumidify areas like bathrooms, and consider owning a houseplant, certain species of which have been proven by NASA3 to eliminate pollutants from the air and make us happier4.
By reflecting on our habits and resource consumptions, we can begin to reduce the demand for fossil-fuel based plastic and other non-renewable resources whose extraction and production are ruining our planet. We also can slowly, but surely, alter the wasteful lifestyles our society is so accustomed to. This will ensure our planet will be habitable and thriving for generations to come. And remember, every step towards a more sustainable way of life is better than no steps at all. Breaking the consumerism norm isn’t about a few people doing zero-waste or sustainable living perfectly, but all of us — doing it imperfectly. It’s about more than just saving the Earth; it’s about raising the consciousness of humankind.
- See EPA (2020, March 13). National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials
- See Republic Services (n.d.). How to Recycle: Recycling Basics. https://recyclingsimplified.com/recycling-basics/
- See BC Wolverton; WL Douglas; K Bounds (September 1989). Interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement (Report). NASA. NASA-TM-101766.
- See Kaplan, J S. (2009, March 11) “Plants Make You Feel Better.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/urban-mindfulness/200903/plants-make-you-feel-better