Fall 2019 PlushBeds Green Scholarship recipient

Cassie Valenti

Florida Gulf Coast University


The Top 10 Things a Consumer can do to Help the Environment

Turn the television on, log in to your social media account, or browse your favorite online news website and you are bound to be flooded with the latest environmental issues. Regardless of what political party you side with, you’re likely in some way to be affected by the repercussions of human activity on our planet. The desire to have access to safe drinking water, clean air, and litter free oceans seem like fundamental rights to all people. Nature seekers who value wildlife conservation and native plant restoration will express even more discontent about the rapidly declining state of our natural world. At the end of the day, this is an issue that impacts all of our lives. Considering the rapid growth of our population, we all need to take responsibility for the state of the environment to combat climate change. However, in modern society and our fast paced world, many adults are working full time jobs while supporting a family and engaging in a number of social activities. You may find yourself asking how to fit all that in while still maintaining a sustainable lifestyle. Many people would be surprised to discover that there are small changes all of us can make to create a better world for us and future generations just by making small improvements in the way we shop.

My first suggestion is quite simple and one that you may already do, making better decisions at the grocery store. The small step of choosing organically grown and GMO free foods puts you on the front line to develop a more sustainable lifestyle. By purchasing foods that encourage farmers to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides, which are not only harmful to our health but to wildlife, you increase the demand for more growers to adapt better farming practices. A recent study revealed that eating a diet of primarily organic foods, reduces the ecological footprint by 23%. You can also try to reduce your meat consumption. Living a vegetarian lifestyle may not sound appealing to everyone, but decreasing your meat intake can have a huge effect on minimizing its negative impact. Raising livestock has several implications on the environment. Not only does meat require 100 times more water to produce than vegetables, but animal waste is a huge environmental issue as it releases tons of methane into the atmosphere which exacerbates global warming (Christensen 408).

Additionally, look for local markets or produce stands to shop for fruits and vegetables. Eating locally grown produce not only tastes better since it is fresher, but requires less resources and transportation to meet its destination. Also, by purchasing local produce you are ensuring you are buying in season fruits and vegetables. You may have a craving for a ripe, juicy peach in winter. However, buying a peach outside peak picking time in states where they are naturally grown such as Georgia, almost ensures that peach has traveled thousands of miles, requiring more energy and resources.

Consider reducing the trips you make by consolidating your stops. Have a dentist appointment in the morning? Why not pay the mortgage, and pick up fresh milk on your way home? Even better, ask a friend if they want to carpool! If all of us could reduce our time spent traveling, we would reduce fuel consumption exponentially.

Most grocery store bags cannot be recycled with your city’s pick up service. Regrettably, remembering to take them back to grocery store the next time you go can be difficult. Why not eliminate the need for plastic shopping bags altogether? Begin collecting reusable totes in your car so you always have them with you. Not only are reusable totes stronger, but they hold more so it eliminates the trips unloading them from your car.

You can also make a positive impact by making more educated choices when it comes to where you shop. Choose to support companies that do their part to conserve and protect our resources. Aldi, for example, is a grocery store at the forefront of the sustainable movement. They have put measures in place such as eliminating plastic shopping bags all together. Whole Foods is known for offering a huge selection of organic and GMO free foods. J.Crew is a specialty clothing retailer that offers denim made with recycled fabrics. They also offer a denim buy-back program. They donate your used pair to Habitat for Humanity who uses the denim to manufacture insulation for housing.

If you want to have an even more substantial impact on food consumption, consider growing your own. Backyard food forests incorporating permaculture practices are becoming increasingly popular as more and more people want to have control over how their food is grown. Imagine walking out into your own yard to harvest tomatoes or Katuk, a highly nutritious spinach substitute, to share with friends in your freshly prepared, home grown salad. State laws governing how homeowners use their property is becoming more relaxed. Most recently, the State of Florida relaxed their laws governing the use of front yard spaces. Now, homeowners can grow their own food in raised planter beds right in their front yard!

When shopping for beds, flooring, and other household needs do your research and find the most sustainable option available. It may take a little more digging but, with a small amount of time invested in looking for companies that provide sustainably sourced, recycled, or recyclable materials, you are making a huge impact on conserving resources. For example, organic latex mattresses and carpets manufactured with natural fibers reduces or eliminates off-gassing, an unpleasant and potentially harmful odor released from products manufactured with synthetic petroleum-derived fibers. Sourcing products that are created with safer, ethically sourced ingredients creates a demand for more responsible practices.

Have you heard that thrifting is cool again? Before heading out to the mall, check out what re-sale shops are nearby. It can be fun to challenge yourself to shop used first. Consider cleaning out your closet and taking your unwanted clothes to a consignment shop or posting them on a resale app such as Let Go. You can earn a little cash and practice sustainability at the same time. Companies such as ThreadUP offer an easy to use service where they resell your clothes for you. They ship you a pre-addressed bag for free. Then, fill it with all your unwanted clothes and send it back. They sort through and price your items and then you get to use the money you made on their site to pick out gently used items.

When shopping for plants, choose natives. Native plants are a smarter choice because they have adapted to your climate. Over hundreds of years they have evolved to your region thus reducing the need for irrigation and fertilizer. Over fertilization is the cause for many of the water issues that are causing green algae blooms in our lakes and oceans. The most recent case which gained national attention last summer was along the gulf coast. The abundance of nutrients in the water caused an overgrowth of algae which resulted in inhospitable living conditions for wildlife. Many sea turtles, dolphins, fish and manatees washed up on shore due to the over abundance of this algae. The crisis caused issues for humans as well. People reported asthma like side effects and had to avoid the beach all together until the issue resided. Although not one cause is to blame, scientists speculate that the use of fertilizer on lawns, exotic plants, and golf courses are part of the issue. Not only are native plants easier to grow when carefully selected for the correct site, but they benefit wildlife. Native plants and native wildlife have coevolved for hundreds of years. Many birds require a protein rich diet of insects which is the base of our food chain. Purchasing plants free of pesticides will attract local insects which will inevitably bring in other beneficial wildlife to your yard. There is an added health bonus to gardening with natives as well. Recent research suggests that spending time observing wildlife can reduce your stress and blood pressure. Not only are you doing your part in reducing turf grass by planting native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, but you are benefiting your mental health as well.

Finally, consider replacing your windows, doors and appliances with more energy efficient options. Huge advancements have been made with technology which offer consumers more options to reduce our energy consumption. Simple switches can be made in favor of products that reduce our dependence on energy.

My hope is that this essay has introduced you to new, innovative but still practical ways you can make a difference as a consumer. Please consider applying these solutions to your daily life. Be inspired to conserve and protect our natural world as there is no Planet B.