As discussed in my introduction video, climate change is arguably the biggest issue our society faces. This is due to its’ global scale—meaning the dire consequences of climate change break country boundaries to affect every single person. From numerous extreme natural events to intense flooding, it is evident climate change will cause immense challenges that uproot people’s lives. In order to prevent a resulting surge of climate refugees, it is crucial that everyone works together to mitigate the effects of climate change. This, however, can feel incredibly challenging from an individual perspective. While drastic changes are important to fight against the severity of climate change, complete lifestyle changes are not necessary when first beginning a sustainable journey. Instead, small changes within communities are likely more impactful because they are easily achievable, accessible, and influential. This leads to my beautiful question: what small changes can individuals make to improve their community’s environment? Below, my website lists six common environmental problems within Washington, DC that could easily occur globally. Under each issue, there will be a detailed analysis and helpful resources on how to mitigate the impact of the problem in your own community. I truly hope that you implement these solutions into your lives so that we can have a more sustainable future.
Problems and Solutions
1. Extreme Water Use at Home
According to Freshwater Watch, 2.5% of Earth’s water is freshwater—1% of which is accessible. Due to the incredibly small supply of this indispensable resource, it is crucial that individuals responsibly and efficiently manage their water use. This task, however, is much easier said than done. Everyone loves taking long, warm showers or washing small loads of laundry for convenience. While it is not necessary to fully sacrifice these luxuries, there are great small steps to save water. For instance, replacing old showerheads will new, efficient showerheads restrict water flow, meaning you can shower for longer while using less water. According to the EPA, this could save your family around 2,900 gallons of water a year. Another common way people waste water is by letting the sink run when washing dishes. While using a dishwasher is the most sustainable option, the hefty price makes it inaccessible to many. Therefore, the simplest solution is to turn on the faucet only when necessary. I promise that you need less water than you would assume—a wet sponge goes a long way. To save even more water, plugging the sink drain allows you to reuse water. If you would like to explore more opportunities on how to conserve water, this EPA article “Start Saving” concisely outlines numerous solutions.
2. Dependence on Online Shopping at Home
With the start of COVID-19, everyone retreated within their homes and avoided going out to shop. Instead, people began to depend on the convenience and safety of online shopping. While the concept is theoretically more sustainable due to one truck delivering to multiple households compared to several cars heading to stores, the system in practice has a large carbon footprint for three reasons. First, the international scale of online shopping requires the constant use of airplanes and truck drivers to transport goods. Second, individuals are more likely to return goods when shopping online, which increases the use of transportation. Third, a greater amount of waste is produced from cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, and packing waste. Even with these unsustainable factors, there are possibilities to make online shopping more environmentally friendly. The best suggestion is to buy items in one order instead of individually so there is shared packaging and one trip. If you use Amazon, I recommend taking advantage of the “group items” option for fewer deliveries. Furthermore, ordering nonperishable items in bulk similarly prevents multiple deliveries, reducing the number of transportation emissions. A great resource to continue learning about sustainable online shopping is rePurpose’s “6 Ways to Go Green While Shopping Online” article.
3. Food Waste at Home and School
Food waste is an absurd issue that occurs pretty much everywhere. For instance, my school cooks an incredible amount of food for the students so that there is never a shortage, but the over-production leads to a huge amount of waste. A similar process occurs on a smaller scale at home, meaning my family cooks and purchases more food than we could imagine eating. While this waste might not seem like an impactful factor in carbon emissions, throwing out 3kg of food leads to 23kg of carbon equivalent, according to Swedish researchers. It is obvious that food waste must end—and the solutions could not be simpler. To begin, you could implement composting at home and school so that the food can be converted to energy. My school recently set up large composting bins in the cafeteria to minimize their carbon footprint, and it is working well. Another solution for schools is to remove food trays. While this seems strange, using small plates instead prevents people from filling up with as much food as can fit and not finishing it. Finally, you could encourage your school to donate cafeteria food to homeless shelters. Individuals would also be able to donate non-perishable items to the same shelters. By reducing food waste, you will not only help the environment but others as well. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend watching the video below.
4. Lack of Environmental Education at School
As many understand from taking GOA’s Climate Change and Global Inequality course, environmental education is crucial if you expect individuals to make lifestyle changes. People have no desire to take shorter showers or recycle if they do not understand the benefits. Due to this, incorporating required environmental education in all schools is crucial. While it might be challenging to change long-standing teaching plans due to school administrations and boards, there are small, achievable initiatives you can take. For instance, a great way to teach classmates about the problems of climate change and solutions is to start a student-led club. This allows you to design your own format on how to become more informed and sustainable. At my school, the Students for Environmental Action club creates environmental documentary festivals, works with farmers’ markets, and reads to younger children about the planet. Clearly, there are numerous unique, creative opportunities to learn. If creating a club is challenging at your school, designing informative posters or a social media account are accessible ways for people to hear about climate-related news. Any way to get people educated and involved with climate change is progress. If you are interested to learn more about the specifics of environmental education, I recommend reading the EPA’s “What is Environmental Action?” article.
5. Single-Use Plastic in Shopping Areas
According to the NRDC, single-use plastics are “goods that are made primarily from fossil fuel-based chemicals and are made to be disposed of right after use” most commonly used for packaging and serviceware. Single-use plastics are incredibly damaging to the environment because they take up a huge amount of space and are incredibly popular—especially in shopping areas. Furthermore, plastics do not decompose, they break up, creating microplastics that end up in water and wildlifes’ food. This dangerous process of plastic waste must end—and there are many possible solutions. For instance, you can educate yourself on what plastic goods can be recycled or not and spread this information to others. By doing so, you will limit the impact of single use plastic. An even better option is to purchase reusable items like cloth bags or Tupperware containers so you will not need plastic bags at grocery stores or styrofoam boxes at restaurants. If you implement these solutions into your daily life, I recommend taking the “Plastic Footprint Calulator” before and after to see the difference. After taking it, look at My Plastic Free Life’s “100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life” to discover more ways to limit your plastic footprint.
6. Poor Recycling System in Communities
Before explaining how to combat poor recycling systems, I found a video that explains the importance of recycling—especially in cities—in a clear, concise way. I recommend watching it before continuing to read.
Now that you understand the importance of recycling, you can see why having a poor recycling system is so detrimental to the environment. Unfortunately, combatting this problem is more complicated than the other solutions because it is not necessarily an individual switch. While one can take the initiative to recycle at home, if your community does not have a sufficient pickup process, recycling becomes challenging. This creates the question: how can I encourage my community to invest in a better recycling system? I truly believe the best option is to motivate other members of your community to sign a petition or rally for change. You all can research recycling options to present at town hall meetings or to send to local politicians. Overall, the more people fighting for change the better—and the recycling system is no different.
After reading these six solutions, I hope that you understand that living sustainably is accessible and achievable. If you take these solutions and adapt them to best fit your lifestyle and community, your sustainable journey will be successful. I recognize the solutions may seem small, but if we all implement these solutions into our daily lives, I strongly believe we can mitigate the dire consequences of climate change. I highly encourage you to share these resources will other members of your community so that we can all join the effort of reducing our carbon footprints!
- Seeing these ten achievable, accessible, and influential solutions, do you feel like fighting against climate change on an individual level is possible?
- What other small decisions you can make to better your community’s environment?
- Could you share this information with members of your community so that you all can adapt these solutions to better fit you?
I would love for you all to leave constructive feedback on my project in the comment section. I am also particularly excited to hear about any solutions you are planning to implement in your daily lives.