A new year brings new promises, an opportunity for a fresh start. A chance to rid yourself of unhealthy habits and commit to doing better in the year ahead. But as we cleaned up the confetti from our New Year’s parties, emergency responders in Australia were busy clearing the remnants of destructive brush fires across the continent.
According to The Verge, more than 100 fires are still burning, and on Jan. 1, Canberra, Australia, recorded an air quality index 23 times higher than what is considered “hazardous” — the worst pollution the capital city has ever seen.
While firestorms are typical to Australia’s hot, dry climate, this season’s fires are unprecedented. The continent marked its hottest day on record in December 2019 — an average of 105 degrees Fahrenheit — and extreme heat and drought conditions created more tinder to fuel the brush fires. The heightened intensity and frequency of this season’s firestorms, The Verge reported, correlates to climate change.
In recent years, the climate crisis has inspired many global citizens to adjust the ways in which they live, eat and interact in the world around them in the name of sustainability. Adopting a sustainable lifestyle begins with the realization that some die-hard habits — using single-use plastics, throwing away recyclables or driving when you could take mass transit, among many others — have real-world impacts on the Earth.
So in 2020, we encourage readers to resolve to live more sustainably, for themselves and Mother Earth. Here are five ways to get started:
1. Drink responsibly: Instead of drinking from plastic bottles, invest in a reusable water bottle to take with you on the go. Plastic bottles make up a large proportion of plastic waste, and only about one in five bottles are properly recycled. Toting a glass or stainless steel bottle is a convenient and eco-friendly way to reduce your plastic pollution footprint. Plus, many reusable bottles are BPA free.
2. Rethink straws: When you’re ordering a beverage from a coffee shop or restaurant, tell your server to keep the straw. A growing trend in the environmental movement is the use of metal straws. Drinking with these portable, reusable, collapsible straws can prevent more single-use straws from polluting lakes and oceans after they have been disposed of. Plastic straws are also harmful to marine life, and can kill fish or animals that mistakenly ingest them as food.
3. Pass on plastic packaging: When doing your weekly grocery shopping, avoid products in excessive plastic packaging. Zero-waste supermarkets have reformed the way people can buy and use food, allowing shoppers to purchase unpackaged goods in their own bulk bags, jars or containers. While there are no zero-waste supermarkets in Nassau County, they are a growing presence in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
4. Bring your own bag: Starting in March, plastic bags will be banned in all New York retail stores. Under the plan, counties can opt to require a 5-cent fee on paper bags — 3 cents of which will go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund to expand New York’s Forest Preserve and restore historic sites. The other 2 cents will go to counties to purchase and hand out reusable shopping bags to residents.
5. Shop sustainably: Last year, The Independent reported that the fashion industry accounts for 20 percent of wastewater and 10 percent of carbon emissions globally. As a result, several fashion brands have made efforts to produce “ethical apparel,” from partnering with Fair Trade producers to sourcing recycled fabrics. To shop sustainably, opt for thrift stores and second-hand shops, or buy clothes made with biodegradable materials like linen and organic cotton.
For the skeptics who say a sustainable lifestyle is unattainable, there are many examples of the movement here in Nassau. Last summer, the Town of Hempstead upgraded 2,700 municipal lighting fixtures with LED lights to cut down on energy costs and reduce demand from power plants, which decreases greenhouse gas emissions. Four Long Beach eateries are registered with the Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, which recognizes restaurants making sustainable choices to protect the world’s oceans. And in 2018, the Village of Sea Cliff approved legislation banning the use of single-use food packaging and plastic straws, coffee stirrers and cutlery in local eateries.