News about the critical impacts of environmental degradation is coming hard and fast now; so, even if you are not currently experiencing those impacts first-hand, the topic can no longer be avoided. With all the combined information being vocalized about climate change, air pollution, and water scarcity, the temptation to believe that there is no potential for any alterations to make a difference is growing in the common mind. The good news is that science substantiates the claim that it’s not too late for the planet to bounce back. The growing mandate for corporate responsibility is a huge step in the right direction, however, individuals continue to have an essential role to play!
There are six simple ways the average individual can protect the environment and live sustainably:
- Avoid single-use plastics.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle.
- Become a patron of local suppliers.
- Conserve water.
- Use less electricity.
- Choose active transport.
Deep diving into each of these techniques will help us better understand how easily they fit into everyday life and how much they help in our quest to save the planet.
Avoid single-use plastics.
After their initial mass production in the 1940s, plastics have become ubiquitous in modern life. This versatile material was meant to be a substitute for natural raw materials that were critical and scarce during the Second World War, such as wood, stone, and silk. However, dependence on plastic has risen steadily since its introduction. A 2017 study found that around 8.3 billion tons of plastics had been produced since the 1950s, and estimates that by 2050 roughly 12 billion tons of plastics will have settled in landfills and the natural environment. Improperly disposed plastics commonly block canals and waterways, exacerbating the effects of natural disasters such as flooding. Stagnant waters also allow for the proliferation of disease in poorer communities. Cases of plastic ingestion by marine life have been reported to cause various physiological problems affecting biodiversity. With at least 99% of chemicals used in plastic production coming from fossil fuel, limiting plastic use can translate into reduced demand for extracting petroleum, coal, and gas. Given the variety of its effects and applications, countering the dependence on single-use plastics means mitigating multiple environmental concerns at once.
Consuming less or purchasing more reusable commodities (as much as possible) is the ideal course of action. However, if buying nonreusable items is something you cannot avoid, knowing how to properly recycle them is incredibly beneficial. Responsible recycling is more than throwing paper plates, milk cartons, and PET bottles in the recycling bin, it’s knowing what items can be recycled. Contamination will occur when non-recyclable items are thrown in with recyclables or these items are not properly cleaned, leading them to end up in the landfill instead of a recycling center. Fortunately, local governments typically have guidelines for waste and recyclables collection. Some basic research as to the specific recycling protocols in your locality can improve recycling rates and reduce overall waste accumulation.
Become a patron of local suppliers.
Consumer goods go through a lot of processes and consumption of resources before ending up in the hands of a buyer. When an item is purchased, the purchaser contributes to the consumption of all the raw materials used in the processing, packaging, and transporting of the product (i.e., the fuel used in conveying toilet paper from the manufacturer to the grocery store.) So, buying products from an online retailer is generally less sustainable than from a local merchant, as the former entails additional packaging, fuel, and energy utilization.
Conserving water is possibly one of the simplest ways to live sustainably and protect the environment. While water is generally thought of as an inexhaustible resource, sources of potable water are becoming scarcer. It is estimated that only around 1% of the water in the entire world is available for human use (notice: “available” does not equate to “potable.”) Water needs to go through treatment processes to be safe for humans to drink and use. Keeping water clean requires a lot of energy; leaving the tap on for 5 minutes is equivalent to using a 60-watt light bulb for 14 hours. In the US, around 10,000 gallons of water (roughly the amount used to wash 270 loads of laundry) are lost per family, per year due to household leaks. By turning off the tap when brushing teeth or immediately fixing household leaks, you are already helping secure the water supply today and for future generations.
In 2019, the EPA reported that one-quarter of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. occur as the result of the electricity sector (with the bulk of that percentage being attributed to commercial and residential use.) This statistic illustrates that consuming less electricity in the home will directly reduce global warming rates. Switching from incandescent bulbs to L.E.D. and routinely cleaning your heating and air conditioning units can boost household energy efficiency and reduce electricity expenditures.
Choose active transport.
At around 29%, the transportation sector comprised the majority of recorded greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. in 2019. The average American passenger vehicle emits around 4.6 metric tons of CO2 every year. Mapping out the most efficient route before traveling (whether for long trips or a daily errand run) translates to saving on increasing gas costs as well as doing the environment a favor. Literally taking a step further and walking or biking to close destinations is an additional way to contribute positively to the world’s health and yours.
Watching the severe impacts of environmental degradation unfold, it may seem insignificant to make individual changes towards more sustainable living. However, the environment’s decline began with small steps in the wrong direction that accumulated to where we are today. Slowing down and taking a step back requires participation from everyone, in whatever way you can. Science is on our side, affirming that it is never too late to learn from our mistakes.
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While the objectives of the RAG are varied, the primary public-facing outcome will be available through engaging and practical content found on the SafetyStratus resource pages. Various articles, papers, and other valuable resources will be produced and shared as part of an ongoing effort to cultivate a robust community. Ultimately, the SafetyStratus RAG will expand to have a broader reach and provide opportunities for more inclusion by all interested EHS professionals in a collaborative community environment.