Banning single-use plastics is a fantastic idea. Berating your friends and family for not buying a reusable straw? Not so much. While the latest environmental fad of going straw-less is well-intentioned, there are better ways to save the environment than a performative trend we'll collectively forget about in a year. If you're committed to helping the planet, add these eight tiny tweaks to your day-to-day lifestyle to make a much larger contribution to the fight against climate change, and encourage your loved ones to do the same. Since you're going to be *that* friend, you might as well do it with maximum impact, right? (But keep ditching the straws, too. Every little helps.)
Giving up meat and dairy products is the single biggest way an individual can reduce their carbon footprint, but that doesn't mean going vegan is your only way to save the cheerleader world. Meat and dairy account for only 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein consumed, but uses 83 percent of farmland and creates 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. The land used to house our livestock is the main cause of mass wildlife extinction, and a University of Oxford professor named Joseph Poore found that a vegan diet can reduce not only greenhouse gases but "global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use." Basically, your bacon mac and cheese is literally destroying the world.
Just because you probably won't commit to a vegan lifestyle based on one short listicle doesn't mean you can't still help the cause. Participating in Meatless Mondays, choosing one or two days of the week to give up dairy, and cutting down on your red meat intake could still make your eating habits the most impactful way you affect the environment as an individual.
It's no secret that wasting paper isn't great for the planet, but it is easy to forget that includes the junk mail you receive on a daily basis, the paper bills that you never look at anyway, and your addiction to composition notebooks. Websites like optoutprescreen.com and catalogchoice.org can help stop the flood of unwanted magazines and ads addressed to "resident" that show up at your front doorstep, and you can typically opt-into paperless billing on your local utilities websites. As for the bullet journaling craze that's sweeping the internet, if you really don't want to give up your felt tip pens, just remember to recycle the journals when you're done with them and that 68 million trees are lost to paper production in the U.S. every year.
Single-use plastics definitely suck, but straws are just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. The 100 million marine animals that die due to plastic in the ocean every year aren't just drowning in a mountain of straws, they're also drowning in the plastic cups and lids that house those straws, plastic utensils, and plastic bags. Buying a Hydroflask instead of using plastic water bottles, investing in one of those cute and gigantic reusable Starbucks cups for your coffee, and bringing your own bag to the supermarket will have a much bigger impact than just giving up straws, and the merchandise involved will be easier to talk your friends into using because metal straws are lowkey still a bit of a hassle. Hydroflasks, on the other hand, are basically a status symbol in and of themselves. PSA: Styrofoam is also the worst. In case you were wondering.
Did you know that Americans throw away 40 percent of our food? We could feed a billion hungry people with the food waste we produce yearly, and it all goes to landfills that turn what was once a Trader Joe's salad into a greenhouse gas called methane. Greatist goes even further, pointing out that the water and energy that went into that food production totally go to waste along with your dinner. Going to the store with a detailed plan of your meals for the week, logging your waste to realize what you are and are not consuming, and donating what you don't eat to food kitchens are just a few of the ways to make sure your wasted food isn't also a wasted opportunity to do good.
This is something deeply easy that anyone can do: buy one package of recycled napkins. According to Real Simple if every American household (not even every American) bought one package of 100 percent recycled napkins, one million trees would be saved. Now imagine how much good expanding that to one package per month or one package plus recycled paper towels and tissues would do. These items aren't even difficult to find — Seventh Generation and Whole Foods' 365 are all about post-consumer recycled paper products. It's an easy ask, and literally just one purchase could do a world of good.
There are a lot of arguments for and against thrifting. It's true that making people's means of survival a fashion statement can lend itself to a moral grey area. Is buying that super cute Brandy Melville tank from Goodwill also taking it away from someone that couldn't afford a new tank top any other way? Technically, yes, but if you exist respectfully in the space, thrifting for fun rather than necessity can actually destigmatize the practice, and there are plenty of second-hand stores that don't cater specifically to people in need. That $50 Reformation skirt at Wasteland is definitely used but that doesn't make it especially cost-effective. Shopping secondhand also reduces your carbon footprint, especially because most brick-and-mortar stores ship their items from across the globe, using precious resources. And, naturally, similar resources are used to make new clothes as well.
Online shopping also helps the cause because items are shipped directly to the consumer, rather than all the way to the store, where all past and present retail employees know they'll probably either end up shoved in a back room after a week or shipped ~all the way back~ to the company warehouse. Don't forget to responsibly recycle your unwanted clothes to the local thrift options or online thrift stores like ThredUp, who'll either pay you to sell the items or recycle 'em for you.
Not only will this save the environment, but it will save you money, too. Wasteful driving habits like speeding, fast accelerations, and hard breaking (aka me every morning... and afternoon... and evening) waste gas, which in turn leads to you buying more gas sooner than you should have to and using more gas than the average driver. This isn't good for anybody, especially not the Prius you almost side-swiped on the 101 earlier. Regular tune-ups in line with your owners' manual suggestions can also increase your car's fuel efficiency by up to 40 percent.
Here's the deal. There's only so much we can do as individuals to help the planet, and even then, it's just kind of like being one of many ants trying to carry a Cheeze-It back to the colony. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be environmentally conscious, it just means that there's one thing you need to do above all else: vote. Get political. The major polluters are big businesses and the biggest destroyers of our natural resources are the companies that exploit them for monetary gain. The only way to stop corporations from drowning the polar bears and yeeting trees off the face of the Earth is to register to vote and then actually vote against legislation that hurts the environment and the legislators that would bring those laws to life, and vote *for* the laws and legislators that are actually trying to help. You can go even further by calling your local representatives to make a change close to home, writing your Senators about national issues, and campaigning to declare a climate emergency. If you don't use your voice now, we'll all just die surrounded by reusable straws and some unwatched DVDs of An Inconvenient Truth.