So you’re ready to go green? Getting started with your zero-waste lifestyle can be a little daunting and you might be unsure of where to start. Have no fear! There are several baby steps you can take to ease into the process. Remember, every little effort counts when it comes to saving our planet so you don’t have to be an all-in eco-warrior just yet.
Before you get into bamboo toothbrushes and making your own deodorant, let’s talk about why it’s important to make eco-friendly decisions in the first place. The plastics that we use every day can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill, and some plastic will never decompose at all, it will just break down into smaller and smaller pieces until the particles become microscopic. Plastic waste from litter and landfills can make its way into water systems where marine animals ingest the tiny particles or try to eat the larger items, often mistaking them for food. We’ve all seen the photos of turtles trapped inside the plastic rings from a 6-pack. It’s not just radical activism, those are some of the real consequences of plastic waste. Plastic production, alongside fuel emission, is also intrinsically linked to climate change, contributing to global warming at every production stage. Methane gas from landfills, agriculture, especially livestock, and the loss of forests that would otherwise produce CO2 are also huge contributors to global climate change. What does that mean for us? It means that humans are depleting natural resources, destroying the environment, causing the extinction of animal and plant species, and leaving one hell of a mess for the next generation to clean up. So what can you do about it?
- We’ll start with the easy stuff. RECYCLE. Recycling your plastic, glass, metal, and paper products is the easiest way to ease into sustainable living. Set up a separate waste bin at your house for recyclable items. If you live in the Memphis area you can call 311 to request a recycle bin and they’ll pick it up each week when they collect your neighborhood’s trash. If you’re in an apartment, you might have to work a little harder because they don’t always provide recycle bins there, but there are drop-off centers all around town.
- Next, remove single-use plastics from your life. Plastic drink bottles, straws, to-go containers, excess packaging (I once saw zucchini wrapped in plastic the other day at a well-known Germantown grocery store), and shopping bags can all be replaced with more eco-friendly options. Reusable water bottles, tumbler cups, bamboo or metal straws, and cloth shopping bags are all easy to find items that you can implement into your daily routine right now. You can buy reusable to-go containers or even bring your old Tupperware with you when you eat out to replace the styrofoam containers. Swap the plastic produce bags for mesh bags, or just don’t use them at all. If you forget your bags, ask for paper bags in the check-out line. Places like Sprouts, Kroger, and Fresh Market usually have paper bags available, and Whole Foods doesn’t even offer plastic bags. You might encounter a few eye-rolls, but hey, you’re saving the planet! If you slip up and forget your water bottle one day, or absentmindedly stick a plastic straw in your drink when you’re at lunch, don’t beat yourself up. It takes time to replace those habits. You’ll get the hang of it!
- If you’ve already ditched most of the single-use plastics and are ready to take it one step further, consider making some of your own household products. Chemical-laden cleaning sprays, detergents, and toiletries are not only harmful to your health, their production pumps pollution into the atmosphere and their byproducts, both in production and once we start using them, make their way into the water. Check out local places like Ebbo’s or Maggie’s Pharm or bigger chain stores like Whole Foods or Sprouts for supplies to make your own lotions, soaps, cleaning products and more.
Eating locally grown, organic produce, or growing your own is another way to up your sustainability game. Check out local farmer’s markets when they’re open (The Memphis Farmers Market and Agricenter Famers’s Market close up shop in October, but the Cooper-Young Farmers Market is open all year), join a local community garden, or just look for the “local” tags when you’re at the grocery store. The less a tomato travels to get to your plate, the better it is for the environment. Organic produce can be more expensive, but so much healthier for you and the earth. Pesticides not only damage ecosystems, but they have also been linked to numerous serious illnesses.
- Also, be mindful of what you’re doing with your food waste. Produce scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, and other kitchen byproducts can be composted to reduce waste that ends up in the landfill. You can buy or build compost bins for your yard or patio, and there are even compost pickup services, like The Compost Fairy, who will pick up your compost every week. The Compost Fairy even has a free drop off station at the Cooper-Young Farmers Market. Try reducing your intake of animal products as well. I’m not saying you have to be vegan or even vegetarian to go green, but according to Climate Nexus, livestock agriculture is one of the leading causes of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss.
Going green can be tough! It requires mindfulness and a few sacrifices, but fortunately, there are several organizations in Memphis that make it easier for us wannabe eco-warriors.
Clean Memphis was started in 2008 by concerned Memphians who saw a need for change. With Clean Memphis, you can volunteer in community cleanup projects. They also have created environmental education programs to teach sustainable practices to Memphis’ youth.
Project Green Fork was started in 2008, and merged with Clean Memphis in 2016, and is focused on reducing the environmental impact of local restaurants. Some of Memphis’ most popular restaurants are certified by Project Green Fork, like Central BBQ, Muddy’s, and so many more. For a complete list of certified Green Fork establishments, check out the Project Green Fork website.
Speaking of Clean Memphis / Project Green Fork, you can show your support by attending their Fall Fundraiser on Wednesday, November 20th at Memphis Made Brewing Company. Tickets are $50 and include dinner, drinks, a wine pull, and a silent auction. Purchase through Eventbrite.
Other organizations in Memphis that are committed to sustainable practices:
So Fresh and So Green Clean cleaning services
Green Collar cleaning services
Memphis City Beautiful – get involved in litter pick up, litter prevention, and beautification programs
Cafe Eclectic – Green Fork certified, but they also have some unique ways to eliminate plastic straws
Know another org or business we should add to the list? Let us know in the comments!