We can support healthy oceans through conserving energy, reducing emissions, and supporting effective climate change legislation and a global network of marine protected areas (MPAs). Phrasing like this can leave us paralyzed without tangible action and connection, perpetuating this “out of sight out of mind” mentality we fall back on. Although the following demonstrates action items, I advocate that a shift in perspective, dialogue, action, and lifestyle is more important than any checklist.
Many of the following suggestions aim to reduce our dependency on products, exposure to harmful chemicals, and the amount of waste we incur, while becoming more self-reliant and responsible. Much is centered on simplifying, aiming for a “zero waste,” circular economy. A lot of this is what we know already – going back to sacrificing for the common good as seen in WWII. By starting with ourselves, we create healthier bodies and mindsets, and we can expand that to our family, friends, and community. I realize this is more about self than oceans, but the most effective action we can take immediately is with ourselves first.
A lot of this refers to knowing what is in the products we buy - because a lot of waste from products (pre and post production) eventually makes its way to our oceans, and back to our bellies. By understanding what we are purchasing, we can actively support good communities, companies, and prevent exploitation of resources, people or animals. Even if you are not one of 3 billion people who eat fish, or you don’t live near a beach or care about the beach, you still benefit from the ocean through many other ways. The ocean provides more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and absorbs the most carbon from it. Oceans provide jobs, minerals and crude oil, coral reefs protect shorelines and provide opportunities for biotechnology, and 99 percent of all international data travel through undersea cables.
And yet the oceans suffer from many threats including overfishing, pollution, and ocean acidification. Taking actions like buying from sustainable and local farms decrease our carbon footprint and can prevent destruction of resources or runoff of toxic waste that goes - you got it - into our oceans. Are we stuck in a tragedy of the commons scenario that’s irreversible? I like to think we didn’t know consumption would get this bad, that demand has gotten out of our control. This is the new normal, and it’s up to you to decide if you want to keep it that way.
- Opt for washable 100% cotton towels instead of paper towels.
- Keep your plastic bottles and refill your soap/detergents at stores that offer bulk shopping (most co-ops, local health stores). Don’t toss plastic items just to buy all new natural things. Simply use them until you can no longer find a purpose for that item.
- Compost. Use newspaper to line a bowl or bin and collect scraps. Request a free bin from your city if available. Know what goes in what bin where you live!
- Cook food at home. Every year wasted food in the UK represents 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. In total, these greenhouse gas emissions are the same as those created by 7 million cars each year.
- Add some green to your life. Purify your air with plants rather than aerosols.
- Decrease water consumption. Wash clothes in cold water (with a full load) and line dry. Keep a bucket in your shower to catch extra water, which you can be put towards plants/lawn.
- Hand wash as an alternative to dry cleaning (PERC is a chemical known as perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene. It's the solvent used by about 85% of U.S. dry cleaners, but is also used as a metal degreaser and in the production of many other chemicals).
- Unplug devices and turn off lights when not in use.
- Water plants/lawns in the early morning to prevent evaporation.
- Swap traditional light bulbs for LEDs.
- Investigate what chemicals are leaching into your food from your cookware, cutting boards, and cooking utensils. Wood, stainless steel and cast-iron (All-Clad, Le Creuset, Lodge) are preferred to non-stick, teflon, and plastic.
- What are you cleaning your dishes and counters with? Dilute white vinegar and/or essential oils with water or purchase bulk castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s).
- Opt for organic dryer balls instead of dryer sheets.
- Utilize Craigslist, eBay, flea markets, and estate sales to purchase secondhand goods.
- Did you know? The fashion industry is the world's 2nd most polluting industry, after oil. 25% of the world's chemicals are used for textile production, and 10% of the world's global carbon emissions result from the apparel and textile industry. The textile industry uses more water than any other industry apart from agriculture.
- Look at the tag of your shirt right now. I bet something on your body is made of synthetic material, which is cheap to make, and can enter both our bloodstream and water systems through microfibers that are too small for sewage systems to catch. Find out what your clothes are made of and shop for natural fibers (cotton, silk, wool, hemp).
- Buy clothing second hand (my favorite store in SF is Held Over).
- With fashion trends changing rapidly, clothes seem cheap and disposable. Extend the life of your wardrobe by mending clothes and getting shoes repaired.
- If you do buy new, purchase goods from reputable companies that offer ethical, sustainable practices and dignified employment standards (Sudara, Amour Vert, Prairie Underground, Prana).
- Can you buy whatever you just ordered online in-person at a shop near you? Online shopping is great for convenience, but increases our carbon footprint.
Food and Drink
- Buy in bulk, when possible. Bring your own shopping and produce bags (most have the weight on the tag or you can tare the weight at the store before filling up). Although I know buying in bulk is not realistic for everyone, many things are cheaper in bulk (Rainbow Grocery, Other Avenues).
- When you store food in plastic, especially if it's heated, chemicals leach into your food. Opt for glass or stainless steel as they do not contaminate, and are recyclable.
- Replace plastic straws (marine litter source) with stainless steel, glass, or paper.
- Pass on items labeled biodegradable and bioplastic. Bioplastics are made from plants such as corn and maize – on land that could be used to grow food. They need very specific conditions to decompose, and can still take many years to break down. Even then, they may leave behind toxic residues. If they are mixed up in a recycling bin, the whole collection becomes impossible to recycle. In landfills, these plastics produce methane gas – a powerful greenhouse gas that adds to the problem of global warming.
- Choose alternative materials (paper, glass, aluminum, cotton, beeswax) depending on the purpose. Understand your city's recycling and compost regulations and read package labels.
- If you eat seafood, purchase wisely and know exactly what you’re consuming Download the Seafood Watch app.
- Love coffee? Refuse takeaway cups by bringing your own mug/jar/KeepCup, or drinking your coffee IN the cafe (yes, Starbucks offers this, and yes, it will taste better). If you absolutely must have your orange mocha frapp to go, go topless (oh la la!). Use a french press for loose leaf tea or coffee instead of single-use coffee servings and filters.
- Support local, sustainable agriculture. Find a farmer’s market near you or sign up for CSA produce box delivery (Farm Fresh to You, EatWell, Greenhearts Family Farm). Buy thoughtfully, not over-packaged, and in season.
- Plant a garden to grow your own herbs, fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce meat consumption/processed food or go vegetarian/vegan. A large proportion of human emissions comes from food production, and meat is associated with much higher carbon emissions than plant-based food.
- If you’re still not convinced your tap water is perfectly fine to drink, purchase a water filter system.
- Ditch chewing gum. Most gum base today is made of synthetic plastics and rubber.
- Don’t be embarrassed to speak up! Ask for a beverage without a straw, decline packaging, and ask for paper boxes when ordering takeout. You’re saving a business money and giving feedback on what the public wants to see.
Travel (work, vacation)
- Bring your own cup and utensils. Pack a lunch. Do you carry your lunch back to your desk? Can you spend the few minutes to sit down and eat where you purchased?
- Bring your own toiletries when staying in a hotel.
- Travel responsibly. Patronize businesses that are ocean and animal friendly.
- Be kind to marine life - specifically, no touching or taking. Keep things where they are - imagine if everyone took home shells - what would we or the ocean have left?
- Bring your own utensils/spork (Bambu).
- Say no to single-use plastics. If you must use single-use, ask yourself if you can reuse that item.
- Use a refillable ink fountain pen (Lamy).
- Personal and skincare products are dirty! Use the Think Dirty app to scan any item in your kitchen or bathroom to see how it rates in terms of toxicity, and what certain chemicals can do to us.
- Make your own toothpaste, deodorant, tooth powder, lip balm, dry shampoo, candles, body lotion/oil (there are tons of recipes available online) and this will save you money and exposure to harmful chemicals in the long run. Rule of thumb: if you can’t pronounce it, it shouldn’t be trusted to be ingested.
- Shop for safe effective beauty products (Credo, Organic Bunny).
- Quit purchasing disposable razors and invest in a safety razor.
- Purchase compostable sponges and toothbrushes made from bamboo.
- Reusable menstrual cups/pads. Most manufacturers bleach rayon by using the disinfectant chlorine dioxide in a process that produces trace amounts of a toxin called dioxin, which is known to cause reproductive and developmental impairment.
- Forgo kleenex/baby wipes which are bleached and clog up our waste systems and use a good ol’e hanky. There’s a stigma that reusing items are unsanitary or ‘gross.’ However, blowing your nose on synthetic and harmful chemicals sounds pretty nasty to me.
- Use a bamboo compostable toothbrush (Brush With Bamboo).
- Use shampoo bars and soaps (homemade or from a farmers market) that come wrapped in paper.
- Reusable cotton rounds can replace cotton balls and makeup wipes (laden with pesticides).
- Use sunscreen that is safe to our environment (Badger, BurnOut).
- If you see trash, please pick it up to prevent harm to another animal. Organize a beach cleanup for your team.
- Bring your kids/family/friends to the beach! Wherever your happy place is outside, celebrate it with others. "In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." (Baba Dioum, 1968). Nothing beats experience and making a connection first-hand.
- There are LOTS of available services to get around town that are less harmful than driving a car. Carpool, use public transportation, or use your body.
- Think about how you inspire others through your actions. Gift wrap with newspaper. Instead of buying a material gift, donate to a cause in the name of someone else.
- Quit purchasing balloons! Helium is a finite resource, and we are in a shortage. Also, when balloons are released up in the air, they come down - and usually in the ocean.
- Take a month long Plastic Free Challenge - this July!
- Inform yourself! Just because something is available to us to buy or consume, does NOT mean someone cares about or did the research to its effects. Did you know chemicals do not have to be tested for safety, and that doctors have found more than 300 chemicals in the umbilical cord of newborn babies (Human Experiment)?
- Keep working towards a zero waste lifestyle. There are lots of blogs and information on the web and social media to stay informed and current (Trash is for Tossers, Be Zero).
- Support effective climate change legislation. Write to your representative.
- Calculate your global carbon footprint HERE.
- We all learned the R’s of Recycling when we were younger, but here they are again in order of prioritized action: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle. This is the absolute last step to take. Before tossing something out, hold it in your hands for a second longer and think of where it’s going and if there is any other path it could take, because as much as we want to believe it is being recycled into another usable item, it’s likely not (Plastic China).
- Become a Hydrous ambassador!