Sustainable Commitment Contracts

Happy Earth Day! I know I’m a few days late, but better late than never right?

Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic the amazing three days of climate striking and activism that were planned have been effectively cancelled. Like most other environmentalists, I had lots of plans for what I’d be doing this Earth Day none of which panned out. I had just gotten involved in planning my local strikes, but then covid hit and my university shut down and I was making a last second cross country move back to my hometown.

Luckily, a whole host of environmental groups banded together to make sure the 50’th Earth Day was still marked by celebration and activism. This resulted in the 72 hour long Earth Day Live stream from April 22nd until the 24th that involved discussion with a diverse range of activists, musical performances, and like any good earthy crunchy event yoga classes. While the stream is no longer live, you can still watch a lot of the content on the Future Coalition youtube channel and I highly recommend it.

For my part, I think one of the best things you can do to celebrate Earth Day is write yourself a sustainable commitment contract. Sort of like New Year’s resolutions, but it’s a list of things you can do to help the environment.

I wrote one for myself in October 2018 and it truly marked a turning point in my lifestyle and mindset. I was wanting to change my lifestyle for several months prior, but I was feeling overwhelmed with how far I felt like I needed to go to get my lifestyle where I wanted it. At the time, I was very focused on going zero waste and it felt near impossible to get to the point I wanted to be at.

Writing the contract helped me focus on a handful of tasks I felt were most important and accessible to me instead of getting overwhelmed trying to do everything all at once.  It was my way of setting specific goals instead of having a vague desire to align my lifestyle with my values.

Writing things down and getting to check them off of the list also helped to keep me motivated and celebrate my wins as I went along. It felt so good to be accomplishing what I set out to do.

However, there are a few things on my list I haven’t accomplished yet. For example, refusing excess packaging and utensils when I order take out. I tried this, but usually employees are so in their habits they’re just going to give you the extra stuff anyways. I’ve heard of some zero wasters being fairly aggressive with employees but I personally don’t feel hassling service workers is a good way to represent the movement. Instead, I now preference restaurants who allow you to bring your own containers in store or have environmentally friendly packaging. For example, there’s a burrito joint in my college town that just hands you your burrito wrapped in foil, no bag or extra napkins to deal with.

As you might be able to tell from the commitment I wrote, I was focused mostly on going zero waste at the time and wasn’t nearly as educated on the multi-faceted concept we call sustainability. Overtime my focus has changed and I’ve taken up activism, vegetarian eating, and local shopping as equally powerful ways to green my lifestyle. So even though I haven’t done everything on my list, it’s important to allow yourself some room for flexibility and growth.

Now, what types of actions should you set out to do? You can of course get ideas from the picture of my commitment above, but here are some other ideas:

Reduce consumption of animal products in your diet. Get involved in environmental activism. Green your transit as much as possible. Start picking up trash in your neighborhood. Campaign for green candidates. Shop locally.

These are just some of the goals you could set, and the are hundreds of other options. I encourage you to set whatever goals are exciting and accessible to you.

Now that we’ve covered a little bit on how you can green your lifestyle and how writing a contract can help you, how exactly should you go about doing it?

  1. Carefully consider why you want to live more green. What is your motivation? What will make you want to keep trying to change your lifestyle when you are tempted to go back to your old ways? For me, it’s because I want to be a part of the solution and not the problem as well as protect the future of humanity.
  2. Carefully consider which goals you want to put on the contract. Once you write it down you are committed to do these actions, so make sure you choose things you can actually do. If you’re like me and were overwhelmed by all the possibilities, it may help to brainstorm a larger list. Then highlight the things you want to do most and recompile a shorter list.
  3. Be as concrete as possible when writing out your goals. For example, “buy gifts locally” is a lot more specific than simply “shop locally.”
  4. Put your contract somewhere you’ll see it often. For me, that’s my journal but hanging it up on a wall is also a good option. Doing so creates a natural visual cue to remind you of your habit change effort to help prevent you from going on autopilot.
  5. Make it look nice. This is more optional but worth doing especially if you’re going to look at it a lot. I included a quote I learned from the Shelbizlee YouTube channel, “You can’t do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good that you can do.” This quote always makes me feel better and energizes me when I reference my contract. Include any decorations that help inspire you.
  6. Sign the contract and get going!

The reason I love these sustainable commitment contracts for Earth Day is that they embody the concept of Earth Day every day. If you’ve been looking for the nudge or motivation to change your life for the greener consider this it! For me, when times are crazy like during this pandemic it helps me to have goals. I find the distraction beneficial and it helps me focus on something positive, so right now might actually be the perfect time to start changing your lifestyle!

That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not being that type of person. I know everyone is in different circumstances right now during this crisis and has different coping mechanisms. If for any reason at all you’re not up for a lifestyle change right now I 100% respect that.

Happy Earth Day everyone and stay safe.

16 Creative Ways to Upcycle Items in Your Home or Dorm Room

Hello!

This week’s post is going to be ideas for how you can reuse and upcycle items in your home. All these ideas are things that I’ve done whilst living in college dorm rooms.

Reuse is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental footprint, especially if that reuse allows you to divert waste from landfill. Personally, I’ve found that figuring out how to re-use items is as much about your crafting abilities as it is about your creativity and mindset. So I wanted to share my own most useful and most interesting examples of re-use because seeing what others have done online has been the most helpful thing for me when it comes to figuring out how to re-use.

These ideas are a good mix of easy and common zero waste swaps as well as some more creative ideas.

Mini Bookshelf

You can stack milk crates on top of each other or side by side to create a miniature bookshelf for yourself. Milk crates are the perfect size to fit a vast majority of books and can often be found in thrift stores or are given away when a local factory or plant shuts down. If you want to spice up the look a little bit you can also spray paint your crates like I did for an extra pop of color.

Mini Crate Seats

This second one is another milk crate hack. I created two of these miniature stool seats by cutting some bath mats to size to use on top for padding and then adding some ribbon so you don’t have to see the rough cut edge. This craft was fun, easy, and cheap to make and they’ve been awesome to have in the residence hall. The great thing about them is that they’re little so they can be easily stowed away when not in use and are great to have a around for moving as well.

Bedside Table

Need a bedside table? Stack two milk crates on top of each other, hit them with the spray paint, and you’re all set! You can also put a cute plate on top to prevent smaller items from falling through the holes.

Plant Stand

Alright, this is the last milk crate hack I promise. (It’s not my fault they’re incredibly versatile.) This one is great if you have a short desk or dresser but a taller window so your plants need some more height to get maximal lighting. In general, especially for a college kid I 100% recommend finding some crates before you go off to school. They’re perfect because they can serve so many purposes which is great when you’re moving around a lot like most students.

Soap Dishes

When I started using solid beauty products I didn’t really want to spend money on a nice sustainably made soap try so I just cut some holes in the bottom of this deli meat container (this is back before I went vegetarian). The lid is convenient because it makes it easy to carry my things to the communal bathroom down the hall and I can also rest the container on top of the lid to catch water so my dresser doesn’t get wet.

Conditioner Bottle

I was having trouble using my conditioner bar in its solid form so I decided to melt it down and add water to make it more like a conventional conditioner. I’d initially thought of buying or thrifting a pump top glass bottle like I have for my dish soap but realized I could reuse the old Dr. Bronner’s bottle from the soap I’d just finished.

Yoga Mat Bag

This is one of my favorite DIYs, its been so convenient and nice to have a proper bag for my yoga mat especially when I need to carry it in the rain. There are a ton of tutorials online about how to make jeans into a yoga mat bag and I also wrote a post about my personal experience doing so. This is a great way for you to save money and keep textiles out of the landfill.

Bulk Shopping Bags

The only thing better than buying bulk goods sustainably and package free is doing it upcycled bags you made yourself. There are a ton of bulk bags available for cheap on amazon but most have not been sustainably produced. Making some bags yourself is a great way to go the extra mile by diverting textile waste from landfill in addition to reducing your plastic waste.

Rags

This tip is such a quick and easy way to reduce waste. Instead of using paper towels and napkins you can cut up old t-shirts, towel, or any textile and simply wash them when you’re done using them.

Bulk Foods Storage

This is a classic and indispensable low waste tip. As you transition from packaged goods to buying bulk save jars from products like applesauce, salsa, or peanut butter. You’ll be able to store all types of food in them and even use them as cups.

Mouth Guard Case

Need a mouth guard for sports or late night teeth grinding? Save yourself a little plastic and store it in a re-used food container. Be sure to cut out a few holes in the bottom to make sure your mouth guard dries out properly.

Compost Storage

I’ve seen a lot of folks online who buy special containers to store their compost in, but because I don’t do my own compost and I bring it to a community compost location, I have no need for a special container. Instead of buying something I use empty yogurt containers or a disposable plastic bag.

Flower Pots

Are you like many Americans who have somehow acquired more mugs than a person could ever use in a lifetime? Well, if you answered yes and you’re looking to start potting plants, mugs are a cute substitute for flower pots. The one caveat is they don’t have drainage holes so you’ll need to be very careful about over watering.

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Organizational Trays

This is an idea that Marie Kondo has recently popularized that I’ve been doing nearly my whole life. Often, items come in absolutely adorable packaging that is reusable. Shown below, I have old teavana containers and cookie tins that I use to store office supplies and teas. I always keep a small collection of these boxes and often share them with friends and family who need organizational help.

Funnel

This is an idea I stole from a video on the Shelbizlee youtube channel. (I’d highly recommend her videos in you’re interested in zero-waste content.) You can cut the bottom off a plastic soda bottle and then you’ll have a funnel you can use for all kinds of purposes, I use mine the most when I’m making oat milk.

Toe Spacers

If you’ve got bunions or other foot problems like me you know that toe spacers are life savers. But personally I’ve found that the silicone ones never last more than a few months and there just aren’t any sustainable options. Solution, roll up some pieces of old t-shirt, throw a few stitches in to keep the spacer together, and you have upcycled and machine washable toe spacers. The other benefit to trying this is that you can customize your toe spacers to exactly what is most comfortable and beneficial for you.

That brings me to the end of my list!

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are the most creative or helpful ways to reuse or upcycle items that you’ve done or have heard of?

The Global Climate Strike in Athens, Ohio

Collage made with Canva

THE GLOBAL CLIMATE STRIKE IS HERE!!!

Hello! The day has finally come, people have come out all across the world at over 4,500 strikes globally and over 1,000  just in the US. Over 250,000 people have taken to the streets in New York City alone.

What exactly is this global climate strike anyways? How did it start?

It begins in 2018 with the one and only Greta Thunberg. Greta did not go to school from August 20th until September 9th in 2018 to protest climate change on the steps of the Swedish parliament. After this initial period of striking, she continued to strike every Friday.

At first, the lawmakers she had been seeing daily, then weekly, ignored her. But as other children began to join her in the Swedish capitol and the school strikes spread internationally she began to grab the attention of world leaders. She was invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where she gave a speech with the famous words “Our house is on fire.”

Since then, she has been catapulted onto the global stage as THE leading climate change activist and face of the growing school strike movement #fridaysforthefuture.

So, today is the Global Climate Strike. Youth have been striking internationally for over a year, and today the rest of us are urged to join them.

All of this, is what led up to my stomach full of butterflies as I rode my bike to the Village Bakery in Athens for our local climate strike.

I was feeling oddly anxious. What if it’s massive and overwhelming? What if no one comes and it’s depressing? What if, somehow, someone knows about something unsustainable I’ve done and yells at me? What if I don’t know anyone?!

I know that none of those things are the point of the Climate Strike, and I felt a bit selfish for being so in my head. I did my best to shake off the anxiety and focus on thinking about the planet as I pulled my bike into the bustling parking lot out front of Village Bakery.

The Athens, OH climate strikers gathered outside Village Bakery.

I was relieved to see a moderate turnout. The parking lot was filled with booths from the prominent local environmental groups, bicycles, pot luck food, and of course, people. It took me a little while, but I eventually got into the social mood and began talking to acquaintances and new folks alike.

The main activities of the local strike are as follows:

  • “Flash Mob” Tree Planting
  • Potluck Brunch
  • T-Shirt-Making
  • Press Conference
  • Walk and roll march culminating at the courthouse

How was it you ask? Honestly, pretty amazing.

First major activity was tree planting. A local landscaping company (whose name I’ve forgotten or I would surely recognize them) was kind enough to donate trees and plants as well as instruct the strikers who volunteered to plant. Before we made the four block trip to Factory Street Dance Studio, the local charity whose lawn we planted on, a striker from the Athens Justice Choir taught us environmental songs.

One of many trees planted in the Factory Street Studio yard

As the last few strikers returned to the bakery from planting, the press conference was getting ready to start. I took the opportunity to get some free t-shirts made while I had time.

A local business was actually screen printing environmentalist sayings and logos onto used shirts donated by a local thrift store. I absolutely loved this, as I’ve wanted a shirt to show my support for the planet for a while but was definitely not going to buy anything new. The shirt on the left is actually a boxy t-shirt dress and I picked it up to wear as a nightgown, the one on the right is just a normal tee I plan to wear around that will hopefully help start some conversations.

The press conference only had one press outlet filming. But there were a handful of photographers and reporters from student publications reporting as well. Various sustainability leaders from the community stood up to give empowering speeches to the assembled crowd. To see and hear the stories of so many dedicated activists was truly inspiring.

Finally, to wrap up our day we had our “walk and roll” climate march. We were split into two groups traveling alternate routes to the local courthouse, one group on foot and one on wheels. I was, of course, on my bicycle and I must say we had the best time hooting and hollering as we rolled through the streets.

Me! Getting ready to ride my bike through town.

We made sure to take up all the lanes of traffic and bike at a comfortable, not too quick, pace. There was something so fun and exhilarating about taking over the streets in an environmentalist biker gang, the whole group was practically giddy by the time we finished.

Once both groups reconvened at the courthouse we circled up for some chants. Then, it was time for strikers to take the stage, anyone who had something to say was invited to climb up onto the bench in the center of crowd and say their piece.

Climate strikers crossing the street.

About two dozen strikers decided to speak up. Many expressed appreciation for their fellow protesters, some brought attention to environmental issues not discussed in the press conference, others expressed their anger and passion, the striker from the Athens Justice Choir led us in song again.

This was my favorite part. When we were all gathered at the center of town listening to the words of fellow strikers and seeing their passion, it was inspiring. I teared up a little and felt truly hopeful.

My tears of joy explained why I was so anxious in the morning. As much as I wanted to lend my voice to the strike, I was also relying on the strike to lift my spirits.

Most people I know aren’t active about or interested in becoming active about climate change. I, as many environmentalists do, get a lot of people who think what I’m doing isn’t worth it or outright silly. It is so easy to feel despondent and hopeless about climate change, but spending my morning with fellow strikers was so restorative and revitalizing.

Maybe our event was small. But dammit, we made our voices heard as loudly as possible.

The climate strike was amazing, but today is only the beginning. Today’s Friday strikes kick off a week of climate activism aimed to force the U.N. to finally take real action on climate change when they meet in New York City this Monday for the Climate Summit.

If you’re reading this, I urge you to go to an event in your city.

If there aren’t any, organize an event. Even if that event is just you and a few friends sitting outside the local courthouse with signs, look at all that just one Swedish teenager was able to inspire.

Did you attend your local climate strike or other activist events this week? Leave me a comment and tell me about the great work in you area!