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Celebrating 50 years of Earth Day – Reducing Consumption

Co-authors: Holly Abeels, Alicia Betancourt, and Dr. Ashley Smyth

April 22, 2020 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The theme for this year’s Earth Day is “climate action”. Climate change is the biggest challenge the world faces today. But it’s a challenge and issue we can solve together. Here are some resources and actions you can do to help combat climate change.

What You Can Do

Often the simplest things you can do are related to behaviors in your day to day life. Actions like reducing your water or energy use, reducing food waste, and cutting down on vehicle emissions all have an impact. This week we’ll take a look at actions you can start doing today. We’ve already looked at saving water and energy, reducing food waste, and cutting back on your vehicle emissions. Today we’ll talk about reducing consumption.

Part Five: Reducing Your Consumption

The EPA estimates that residential waste makes up 55-65% of the nation’s waste stream. The average American will consume 540 tons of construction materials, 18 tons of paper, 23 tons of wood, 16 tons of metal, and 32 tons of organic chemicals in a lifetime. Although we are recycling a higher percentage of our waste than in the past, we still create 4.5 pounds of waste per person per day. Only about 35% of the waste that is generated is recycled or composted. It’s very easy today to find one-time use items created for convenience, which only increases the amount of waste produced. Let’s look at the 3Rs related to consumption – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Reduce

One way we can reduce waste before it becomes waste is an idea known as source reduction: Buy less. When making a purchase consider the following:

  • Do I need to buy this?
  • Can I buy this secondhand?
  • Is it available with post-consumer recycled materials?
  • Can I reuse this item?
  • Is it durable and repairable?
  • Can I avoid the packaging?
  • Sign up with the Direct Marketing Association to stop junk mail.
  • Print on both sides of the paper and reuse paper.
  • Rent, loan, or share items like tools or books.
  • Bring your own cup to the coffee shop and reusable cloth bags to the store.
  • Host a clothing, book, or music exchange instead of going shopping.
Reuse

Reuse and donate items that are gently used. Clothing, furniture, electronic equipment, appliances, and magazines can all be donated to churches, charity organizations, and community groups instead of being thrown away. Instead of buying new, look at purchasing used or refurbished products. Glass jars make excellent containers for storing small household items or can be used for decorative purposes.

Recycle

Recycling reduces methane emitted from waste decomposing in landfills, as well as the amount of raw material used in creating new items. Be sure to find out what you can and can’t recycle in your area. For example, Brevard County Solid Waste lists the items you can recycle in single stream recycling bins. Composting is another way to reduce methane emissions associated with landfills. Rich compost can be used in your yard and garden and reduce your need to apply fertilizers.

Refuse

There is sometimes a fourth R mentioned with the three above: Refuse. This means refusing items that you don’t need. Refusing plastic straws at restaurants or refusing plastic bags at stores are two movements that have taken shape over the last several years. This is deliberately making the choice to not use one-time use items. Particularly items that can’t be recycled.

Websites to Follow

These are just some of the actions you can take to help personally adapt to climate change. Download and read the Climate Change Handbook: A Citizen’s Guide to Thoughtful Action for more personal actions you can take.

Watch The Story of Stuff about the connections between production and consumption and the underlying environmental and social issues with too much consumption.

Follow these websites for the latest information about climate change in the U.S. and in Florida.

National Climate Assessment – 4th Edition

NASA Global Climate Change – Vital Signs of the Planet

NOAA Climate.gov

Florida Sea Grant Climate Change Resources

Florida Climate Institute

FDEP Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection

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