Rewind to the first week of October. The United Nations issued a dramatic report that we have just 12 years to prevent irreversible change to the Earth’s climate. If we let the average global temperature rise 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre–industrial levels, we should expect to see increased levels of extreme droughts, rising sea levels, climate refugee crises, famine, disease, and poverty. Pretty fucking terrifying. But a lot of us have probably forgotten just how scary it is.

As much as I want to personally slash global greenhouse gas emissions, that’s not likely to happen. But there are other routes we can take, like voting, joining environmental clubs and organizations, calling our representatives to encourage them to take action on climate change, and voting (yeah, I said voting twice). But there is also more tangible action we can take on an individual level, like a zero–waste inspired lifestyle

The idea of a zero–waste lifestyle is to send nothing to the landfill. It requires a lot of adjustments of daily life. While it can be difficult to make such a drastic change in the busy everyday schedule of a Penn student, here are some steps you can take. 

Clean you, clean planet 

Toothbrush: If you followed your dentist’s recommendation to replace your toothbrush every three months, you'd be sending four toothbrushes to the landfill every year. While this might not seem significant, the solution is too easy to ignore. CVS sells bamboo toothbrushes that can be composted. Plus, they’re a dollar cheaper than plastic alternatives. 
Handkerchief: Make more than just a fancy statement in the front pocket of your suit. Replace napkins, paper towels, and tissues with a good old–fashioned handkerchief. You can find these at the campus bookstore. Just remember to wash it periodically. 
Toilet paper: Now, I’m not planning on telling you to cut out toilet paper. But there are green options that are made with 100% recycled paper.  
Lush Products: Much of what we send to the landfill are containers from cleaning products. Lush makes shampoo and conditioner bars to eliminate the plastic waste. In fact, the whole website is a haven for the zero–waste lifestyle. 

Food and Drink

Compost: One of the most critical steps is composting. Keep a reusable container in your kitchen as a compost bin for food waste. Fruits, vegetables, dairy products, egg shells, coffee grounds, grains, bread, and tea bags are all compostable. There's a compost bin behind Harrison College House as part of a pilot program. If you’re interested, check it out here.  
Meal prep: In a zero–waste lifestyle, it’s meal prep or starve. Eating out usually leads to plastic plates, bowls, or utensils in the trash. Make your food in advance and enjoy it throughout the week. Glass containers (think Pyrex or mason jars) are preferable to Tupperware, which can leach plastic into your food. 
Reusable Water Bottles: This one is pretty obvious. Add to it the responsibility to publicly shame anyone you see with a plastic water bottle. 
Reusable Straws: Straws are the devil. But because an iced coffee from Starbucks is hard to replace, a reusable straw is a great investment. You can buy one online or at a local coffee shop. 

Sustainable Shopping

Reusable Bags: Easily one of the most attainable and satisfying goals on this list is to bring reusable bags for all types of shopping (don’t limit it to just grocery shopping). You can easily avoid the guilt of coming home from grocery shopping with seven new plastic bags to cram under your sink and never use again—and look stylish while doing it. 
Farmers’ Markets: Not only do farmers’ markets help support local, sustainable businesses, but they also cut down on emissions and reduce plastic use from long–range transportation of produce. Luckily, Penn has its very own farmers’ market every Wednesday outside the campus bookstore from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Don’t forget to bring reusable bags to hold your purchases.

And remember, perfection isn’t the goal. If you can only accomplish one of the items on this list, that’s better than swearing climate change is a hoax. 


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