Tragedy of the Commons: I’m sure most of us have read it, or heard of it at some point in our lives. In a nutshell: Everyone in a village had access to a beautiful grass pasture, but they let their animals overgraze until it was barren, destroying the beautiful Commons.
Sound familiar? We all know that our Earth’s resources are finite, yet some of us humans seem to be intent on using every last drop of water, every last plant, every last animal, until nothing is left.
Why does this happen? Why would someone knowingly make choices that will hurt themselves, the environment, and their descendants, in the future?
One answer is a lack of immediacy and proximity. Deforestation can be difficult to imagine when it’s occurring in another continent. A water shortage can be easy to think away when it’s 50 years away. The massive “plastic monster” in the Pacific ocean might seem distant in the Midwest.
Another reason is the feeling of your own efforts being a drop in the ocean. And sure, maybe it is a drop in the ocean, but in the words of David Mitchell, what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?
In light of that, here’s 10 little “drops” you can accomplish that will make a big impact:
- Stop Using Plastic Straws
I started off with an easy one first. The problem with plastic straws is that they’re generally too light to make it through the recycling sorter, and they then break down into minuscule fragments. These can then be ingested by marine life, such as sea turtles, dolphins, whales, seals, and seabirds, which may lead to death.
Luckily, we have mouths that allow us to consume any beverage without straws. Amazing. It’s as simple as asking your bartender, barista, or waiter not to include a straw with your order. Of course, some drinks, such as smoothies and iced coffees do seem to taste better with a straw. I get that. Bamboo, paper or metal straws make a great sustainable replacement.
- Use Natural Cleaners
Conventional cleaners generally contain harmful chemicals that make it into waterways or the food chain. For instance, phosphates, found in dish detergents, tile and porcelain cleaning products, and all-purpose cleaners, cause eutrophication in rivers and streams. Instead of tile and porcelain cleaner, use coconut oil to clean mildew.
Just mix baking soda with unrefined coconut oil to form a paste, wipe a thin layer on soap scum and mildew, and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes and wipe clean. Coconut oil on its own can also be used to clean stainless steel, instead of an all-purpose cleaner or dish soap mixture. Speaking of, our coconut oil is 50% off right now, with free shipping, on right here on Amazon.
- Reduce Food Waste
It may seem like food waste would harmlessly decompose in a landfill, but it produces a high amount of the greenhouse gas methane. Food waste also represents a waste of the water and other energy sources used to produce the food itself. Besides planning meals out and freezing foods to avoid waste due to expiration, embrace the “Root to Stem” movement. Use your scraps to flavor water, to make croutons, in a crock pot, in a soup, or however else your little heart desires… And if all else fails, the make a compost pile!
- BYOB: Bring Your Own Bags
Paper or plastic? Neither. The average American family brings home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year, most of which is left to stay on the earth for the next 1,000 years. Instead, bring your own reusable bags to the store. Got any old T-shirts lying around? You can make your own no-sew bags with this super easy tutorial.
- Track Your Carbon Footprint
Since cars are such an integral part of our lives, it can feel easy to view carbon emissions as an involuntary part of life. This is where smartphone apps come in, to help visualize the carbon you’re “spending” and make improvements. CommuteGreener, a free app, not only tracks your usage, but provides customized suggestions to reduce emissions.
- Buy Local Produce
Not only will this keep your shopping dollars close to home, but buying locally grown food reduces transportation. On average, food travels 1,300 miles to get to your table, representing a gigantic waste of fossil fuel. Buying local also assists in preserving natural farmland, along with the plants and animals living in it, by preventing it from being developed.
- Be Mindful of Grocery Packaging
Grocery shopping can feel so mindless, but watch out for unnecessary plastic packaging. The biggest culprit is pre-made food, whether that be cut fruit, cut vegetables, deli foods, and so on. If you are able to prepare the food from scratch yourself, you’ll save some money and help the environment. When it comes to purchasing those fresh fruits and vegetables, bring your own reusable mesh bags, instead of the clear plastic ones provided.
- Avoid Palm Oil Like the Plague
Most of us know palm oil is arguably the most destructive force in deforesting the rainforest, but do we actively reject products containing palm oil? The first step is understanding the different names that keep it hidden as an ingredient, as palm oil has over 200 different aliases. Unfortunately, up to 50% of products in supermarkets contain some form of palm oil, making it feel impossible to avoid. I find it easier to write-up my grocery list, and then look up specific products that don’t contain palm oil. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a general list of palm-oil-free products. Our coconut oil also makes a great substitute for palm oil, when it comes to both cooking and beauty products.
- Make Black the New White
Google? Make it Blackle. Utilize “night mode” on applicable websites, such as Twitter, to turn the background from white to black. Edit any settings you can on your phone, and/or computer, to do the same. It may seem insignificant, but why not spend a few seconds of effort to save some energy? It’ll be easier on your eyes, and save you some money on your power bill, too!
- Set a Goal
How do we make these above “drops in a bucket” significant enough to act on every day? It’s all about perspective. Think of your goal as your filled bucket, whether that be zero waste for the next week, a smaller overall carbon footprint for the year, or not using any plastic straws for the month. The only thing that’s going to fill that bucket up is a summation of short-term actions. The times you choose convenience over a reusable bag, biking to work, or bringing your own straw are wasted drops. And that’s fine, everyone wastes some drops every once in a while. But know that dedicating the majority of those drops to your “goal bucket” is what’s going to spur a meaningful change.
What’s in your bucket? Let us know in the comments!