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What can you as students do to help to solve climate change? by Barnard Blogger Anna Kaplan

A way in which I or anyone can impact climate change is to change our everyday behaviors. I am talking about gradually adopting a zero-waste form of life. Zero-waste can be achieved with a circular economy in which things are designed not to produce waste as an end product. It is about being intentional about the things we buy and do. The “we” touches on various levels of organization: the individual, communities, governments, and businesses.

Our economy today may be called linear since products are generally produced, consumed, and then thrown out with an end product called waste. This linear economy has existed along with overconsumption since the 1950s and it is expanding. Changing this established economic structure requires a multi-directional approach as complex as our current consumption systems. It requires governments, manufacturers, businesses, and individuals to provide resources and take responsibility for proper materials management. Furthermore, creating more sustainable products and developing a zero-waste culture will require research and collaboration by behavioral scientists, designers, marketers, and other professionals.

On an individual level, popular zero-waste public personas such as Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson promote slowly incorporating zero-waste habits into your life. For example, instead of purchasing a new bottle of face wash when you run out, make it yourself. Embracing do it yourself (DIY) means an individual is producing their products as needed allowing for the reduction of consumption. Producing our own products also means that we are able to choose what goes into our products. There is a vast list of chemicals in hygiene, cleaning, and beauty products that may have adverse effects on our health and the environment. For example phthalates, a group of chemicals found in beauty and cleaning products, have been found to be endocrine-disrupting. Producing our own products would allow us to become more educated about what our products contain and, consequently, reduce consumption of toxics and environmental pollution.

Many more actions are required for an individual to completely switch to a zero-waste lifestyle. Yet, these actions need governmental and business level action. On the governmental level, funds must be allocated to provide the infrastructure for practices such as recycling and composting to occur. Furthermore, inequalities such as accessibility of food markets must be faced and addressed. Businesses and manufacturers need to take on the responsibility to design and produce products that can be easily recycled or reused. Zero-waste is a complex goal to achieve but it can begin with changes at the community or individual level.

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11 Responses

  1. I found the concept of the zero-waste lifestyle so interesting, and really enjoyed reading your article about how changing our current linear economy would help us benefit, not only from the mitigation of pollution but also to our health. I understand that you’ve mentioned how many more actions that are out of our hands must be required in order for us to completely switch over that, so I was just wondering if you had any potential solutions on how we can help raise awareness to these issues? Also, just as a hypothetical situation, could the zero-waste lifestyle and concept of ‘doing it yourself’ affect the current labour market as it could potentially reduce jobs for others, and if this is the case, how could we raise employment whilst still taking environmental dilemmas into concideration?

  2. I too am interested in having a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle. At home I have the ability to control exactly what I consume and the fate of such objects when I am done using them (often donated, reused, or recycled). However, I find it much harder to carry out a zero waste lifestyle while living on campus. For example, without a kitchen I find myself buying more and more packaged food because I do not always have the option to cook or store fresh ingredients. Also, while I live within 2 hours from campus and can take a car home with all of my things, many international or other students take a plan and must trash their dorm items at the end of the year. Some actions have been taken to collect these items for donation, but it seems to me that as is dorm life is not the most conducive to a zero waste lifestyle.

  3. Your idea of zero-waste goals as a way to mitigate climate change is great and the way you list out the agencies that could encourage it help to create a complete picture of the situation. DIY is an interesting concept in terms of using materials you have to create goods for yourself that otherwise would create a lot of waste. The DSNY recently created a composting initiative (around 2013) in which they made an effort to mitigate food waste, which makes up about 33% of NYC waste, in residential areas and schools. There are challenges in terms of educating people and getting them to care about limiting their waste when we have become so accustomed to accumulating waste and it disappearing through trash pick-ups, etc. However, based on the DSNY compost pilot program it is clear that if you give people the tools and education they can begin their journey on a zero-waste lifestyle. Thank you for this piece!

  4. After hearing our guest lecturer, Sandra Goldmark, this past Tuesday, this post connects easily to the concept of self-contained “zero-waste” efforts, meaning those that one does individually. I question, however, how far an individual effort can stretch. Currently, the companies who create our products do so in a way that it naturally creates waste; even in NYC, where we have a large range of recycling options, plastic wrap and bubble wrap, for example, cannot be recycled. So, by default, we are left with a large burden of waste for most products, from food to goods. The materials used to create such packaging need to be recyclable or biodegradable, something only possible from the manufacturer’s standpoint.

  5. This feels like an especially relevant issue on Barnard’s campus today. I too was interested in Sandra Goldmark’s lecture on Sustainability at Barnard. I was encouraged by her mentioning of a potential attempt to reduce the plastic coffee cups being distributed in Liz’s Place. Small-scale actions, such as incentivizing reusable cups, are necessary in order for Barnard to reduce its carbon footprint and reduce its contribution to climate change. When a large number of small tasks are taken to mitigate climate change, profound positive effects are possible. I hope that college campuses across the country will take similar actions to create a larger impact.

  6. I like how your argument emphasizes the “reduce” aspect of reduce, reuse, recycle. You bring up an important point that there must be a collective change in multiple sectors including governments, manufacturers, businesses as well as individuals. I think the do it yourself solutions are fun ways to help the environment and reduce waste. I look forward to trying them on my own.

  7. This is such an informative post. I knew vaguely about a zero-waste lifestyle before reading this, but really enjoyed getting some more information. I am so impressed with your dedication to trying to live a zero-waste lifestyle! I wonder what a zero-waste lifestyle looks like in a financial context? Would it be less expensive than just buying a product? I feel as though I see compostable/reusable packaging as more expensive, however, in the long run would you be saving money living a zero-waste lifestyle?

  8. I agree with many of the comments above surrounding adopting a zero-waste lifestyle. Yes, the government and businesses need to be involved but I think the most important aspect is the public. As Sara stated while there are many recycling options in the city it is still difficult to recycle everything. I believe that education in this context is very necessary, unless you are studying a subject that includes learning about zero-waste or recycling many people do not know enough. Unfortunately, this means a lot of people here on campus just throw away things in the trash out of ignorance and laziness. One could fully adopt a zero-waste lifestyle individually but to fully create an effect, the information MUST be spread. Erin asked how we could help raise awareness, I think starting conversations with your peers surrounding the issue and then build from there. While the government should focus on infrastructure they also need to focus on campaigns to raise awareness.

  9. Its interesting to have someone write about this when I’ve actually been trying to get a start on joining a zero waste grocery store that in actually going to open up in Brooklyn. Many zero waste markets have been popping up around Europe, but now the concept is come to the states and I couldn’t be happier. As you stated in your argument, the goal of the store is to encourage shoppers to buy what they need which not only teaches them on waste but also makes them more conscious about their expenses and are they really getting their money’s worth of the products they buy or are they just letting them rot away in their pantry and fridge? So for those looking to get some insight or look forward to taking part in a zero-waste lifestyle keep an eye out for upcoming zero waste grocery stores and markets, one might be coming to a neighborhood near you.

  10. Zero-waste is not a new concept, but it is true that there needs to be a concert of systems and professionals to facilitate the uptake of the mentality among the public. The convenience of a linear economy and the continued commercial position towards this direction is hard for consumers to resist. Highlighting the multi-faceted value of a “Do It Yourself” lifestyle is truly enlightening for an individual’s health and increases agency over the things one consumes and uses.

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