By Jenn Meagher

Jenn Meagher // SUBMITTED

We know it’s time to improve our environmental habits. Reject straws, bring reusable bags, and LED lightbulbs are some of the messages routinely shoved down our throats. In a world of conflicting information, here are four simple steps to do better in 2020:

Buy less. The world is drowning in garbage. Most of North America has access to proper garbage disposal but much of the world does not. Creating less waste significantly reduces our global footprint. Recycling has us believing it’s ok to produce garbage but these programs are deeply flawed. It is not a solution to our garbage problem. It’s time to reevaluate our relationship with it.

Zero waste is not realistic for most but a few new habits can make a huge impact. Drop the instinct to go out and shop when you need something. Start by repurposing or repairing what you already have. Working on a home improvement project? Borrow that tool before heading to the store. You’ll probably never use it again. When buying is unavoidable, try secondhand first.

Sometimes it makes sense to purchase new. We aren’t here to shame you but to encourage you to shop smarter. Buy quality items that last. Select natural materials and fibers when possible. Choose local options first to reduce shipping resources and support the economy you live in.

Eliminate or reduce your animal product intake. This benefits physical health, saves money, and protects the environment. It takes 1,799 gallons of water to raise one pound of beef. Nearly sixty percent of the world’s agricultural land is used to raise beef, damaging natural habitat and crop variety in the process. Reducing the number of animals we consume frees many of these resources. When you do consume animal products, choose organic, grass-fed, local options first.

Cook from scratch. Many of the ingredients in packaged food carry a heavy footprint. Consider palm oil. It’s in almost everything and wreaks havoc on the environment. Responsible for the near extinction of the orangutan and destruction of habitat that can never be replaced, food companies have learned to disguise controversial, but cheap, ingredients with less specific names such as, ‘vegetable oil’.

When you take into account the chemicals and preservatives that go into these foods and unethical extraction practices that hurt ecologies and societies alike, you can begin to understand how controlling the production process makes a lot of sense.

Finally, vote. We live in a democratic society and our voice helps shape environmental policies. We often feel under-represented by our leaders but elections are an opportunity to review environmental policies and vote accordingly. This looks different to each individual but I encourage it to be part of the decision making process. To become a priority in government platforms, it needs to be a priority in our voting practices. You can take this a step further by finding grassroots organizations whose values align with yours and support them with your time, money, and voice.