12 Little and Big Things You Can Do

As Annie says in The Story of Stuff, one of the good things about a systemwide problem is that there are so many points of intervention! Here are one dozen ways you can make change:

  1. Join with others! It’s true that we should strive to make responsible day-to-day choices, but individual action alone will never be enough to create lasting change. Perfecting lifestyle choices is like perfecting your breaststroke while swimming against the current. Rather than wearing ourselves out trying to always make eco-correct choices in an eco-unfriendly economy, join together with others who share your concerns and work to change the current so that living more ecologically and fairly becomes the new normal. A great way to join with others is connect with groups that already exist, such as meeting neighbors on Nextdoor.com or joining your neighborhood emergency planning team, your local Rotary or knitting club, or meetups geared toward civic action. You’d be amazed how many different kinds of groups share your interest in making your city or state more sustainable for everyone!
  2. Power down! A great deal of the resources we consume and the waste we create comes from the energy industry. Look for opportunities in your life to significantly reduce your energy use: drive less, turn off lights, buy local seasonal food that isn’t transported halfway around the world, wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat, or use a clothesline instead of a dryer.
  3. Stop junk mail. Junk mail isn’t just annoying – it’s a huge waste of resources like the wood and water. Still, millions of pounds of junk mail and catalogs are recycled every year without being read. All that waste, just to sell us more stuff we don’t need! Luckily, there’s an easy fix. Visit catalogchoice.org to opt out of unwanted catalogs and junk mail, for free.
  4. Waste less. There are hundreds of opportunities each day to nurture a zero waste culture in your home, school, workplace, church, or community. This takes developing new habits that soon become no-brainers. Use both sides of the paper, carry your own mugs and bags, get printer cartridges refilled, compost food scraps, avoid bottled water and other over packaged products, upgrade computers rather than buying new ones, repair and mend rather than replace….the list is endless! And then, think about bigger zero waste ideas…could your whole church kitchen be stocked with mugs and glasses instead of Styrofoam cups? Could your kids’ schools add compost bins to its lunchroom…and feed the scraps to a school garden? Once you have a great idea for change, challenge yourself to GO BIG!
  5. Talk to everyone about these issues. At school, your neighbors, in line at the supermarket, on the bus… you get the idea. A student once asked Cesar Chavez how he organized. He said, “First, I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person.” “No,” said the student, “how do you organize?” Chavez answered, “First I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person.” You get the point. Talking about these issues raises awareness, builds community and can inspire others to action.
  6. Amplify your voice. Write letters to the editor and submit articles to local press and your favorite blogs. Call in to radio shows, or leave comments online. Tweet at journalists, or share articles on your Facebook. As individuals, we can use the media and social media to raise the volume on the conversation about waste and sustainability!
  7. Detox your home and detox the economy. Many of today’s consumer products – from children’s pajamas to electronics to lipstick – contain toxic chemical additives that simply aren’t necessary. Research online (for example, www.goodguide.com) before you buy to be sure you’re not inadvertently introducing toxins into your home and body. Then, ask companies to stop using toxic chemicals and press your elected officials to support legislation to support this transition.
  8. Unplug from TV and internet and plug in to your community. The average person in the U.S. watches over 4 hours of TV a day; that’s time filled with messages about stuff we should buy. Instead, that time could be spent with family, friends, or your community. When it comes to the internet, online activism is a good start but spending time in civic or community activities is even better! Many studies show that a stronger community is a source of social and logistical support, greater security and happiness…not to mention being critical to a strong, active democracy.
  9. Park your car and walk or bike… and when necessary MARCH! Car-centric lifestyles and infrastructure leads to more greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel extraction, and conversion of land into roads and parking lots. Driving less and walking or riding more is good for the climate, the planet, your health, and your wallet. But sometimes we don’t have an option to leave the car home because of inadequate bike lanes or public transportation options. Then, we may need to march, to join with others to demand sustainable transportation options.
  10. Recycle your trash…and, recycle your elected officials. Recycling saves energy and reduces both waste and the pressure to harvest and mine new stuff. Unfortunately, many cities still don’t have adequate recycling systems in place. In that case you can usually find some recycling options in the phone book to start recycling while you’re pressuring your local government to support recycling – including composting – citywide. But recycling can only go so far when so many products are designed not to be recycled or contain toxics so recycling is hazardous. In these cases, we need to lobby government to prohibit toxics in consumer products and to enact Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws to hold producers responsible for the entire lifecycle of their product. That’s a great incentive for them to get the toxics out!
  11. Buy green, buy fair, buy local, buy used, and most importantly, buy less. Shopping is not the solution to the environmental problems we currently face because the real changes we need just aren’t for sale in even the greenest shop. Still, when we do shop we should ensure that our dollars support businesses that protect the environment, public health, and workers’ rights. Buy local products from local stores, which keeps more money in the local economy. Buy used items to avoid the need to create more new Stuff. Or, borrow from a friend, because buying less is the best option of all.
  12. Flex your Citizen Muscle! The best and biggest places to make change are in the places where lots of people will benefit, like passing better laws or convincing big companies to go green in a meaningful way. Buying toxics-free shampoo is great; pressing our Members of Congress to pass a stronger Toxic Substances Control Act is even better. Or you could add your voice to a corporate campaign, like the folks who are trying to convince Starbucks to make its cups 100% recyclable, or join the campaign to ask Nestle to stop bottling water in drought-struck California. Your city or county is a great place to start: did you know that over 150 cities in California passed single-use bag bans or fees before the state confirmed its statewide law? Your elected representatives very much want to hear from you. So what are you waiting for? Give them a call today!

Finally, a 13th thing you can do…. share this list!

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