Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Environmental New Years Resolutions

New Years resolutions are often solely focused on personal improvement, from getting in shape through intense gym regimens to going full force for that promotion at work.

However, if you’ve now hit the one month slump on your resolution, consider looking outward instead of in and commit yourself to a resolution for the greener, greater good!  Below is a list of some easy environmental resolutions that are not only good for the planet, but are often good for your wallet as well.

  1. Sincerely commit yourself to recycling, not just when it’s convenient, but every time you use recyclable materials. All too often people will throw things out because there is no recycling bin within view. But would it harm you to hold onto that cup for a few more minutes until you come across a bin? This can be particularly challenging in New Orleans, where the flawed and limited recycling facilities turn environmentalism into a chore. If you don’t live in an area with recycling pickup, start bringing your recycling with you on weekly grocery runs. Many grocery stores, like the Whole Foods on Broad St even recycle glass!
  2. Swap out the plastic for reusable grocery bags! According to the EPA, as many as 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year.  The United States uses over 380 billion plastic bags annually, which requires 12 million barrels of oil to produce.  I keep a stash of reusable bags in my car so I’m always prepared for any impromptu grocery runs. Remember that they’re useful for more than just groceries; any shopping trip is an opportunity to say no to wasteful plastic and go reusable instead.  If you forget your reusable bags, ask the grocer to single bag your items, or place more products in each bag.
  3. Make your greens even greener by using reusable produce bags as well. Mesh laundry bags work great if you don’t want to buy a dedicated set. Look for produce that does not come pre-packaged, so that you can use your new reusable bags instead.
  4. Take a “Fast Fashion” fast.  As enticing as it is to stay up-to-date on all the latest trends consider: the large amount of dyes, toxic chemicals and water used to style fabrics; the vast amount of water and chemical fertilizers used to grow natural fibers; the oil, gas, and other chemicals used to produce synthetic fabrics (ex- polyester, nylon); the greenhouse gas emissions from factories running on overdrive; and the oil and gas used to ship clothing all over the world.  Not to mention the quality of these items is so poor that the average American throws away about 70 lbs. of clothes a year, most of which ends up in landfills.  However, the fashion industry is also one that we, as consumers, have the most control over. So take a break from ‘fast fashion’ and shop at your local thrift store, websites such as ebay and vinted that sell used clothing, host a clothing swap with friends, or purchase from environmentally conscious brands.
  5. If you brew your coffee at home every morning you can:
    1. Carry a reusable mug instead of buying those disposable styrofoam or paper ones with plastic lids. I like to use mason jars so that I can just throw the lid on and shake it to dissolve the sugar instead of using a plastic stirrer.
    2. Switch from disposable Keurig pods to a reusable one. Reusable ones are great because you can fill them with any coffee you want, so you aren’t limited to brands that sell pods.
    3. Save money in the long run with a reusable coffee filter.  I’m a huge fan of my pour-over drip coffee maker that requires no filter and no energy to power it.
  6. Make your lunchtime greener by packing it in reusable sandwich bags or Tupperware containers instead of those one-and-done disposable Ziploc bags.  Start carrying metal utensils instead of using plastic forks, spoons, and knives. I keep one of each in my desk at work so I always have one when hunger strikes. If you’re a plastic straw user swap it out for a reusable metal one.  If you aren’t convinced to never use a plastic straw again, check out this video of researchers prying a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nose.
  7. Unplug! Many chargers and electronics use energy anytime they are plugged in, even if they’re not turned on or in use. I plug all of mine into a power strip so I only have one thing to unplug instead of five.
  8. Swap out your cleaning products for environmentally friendly ones.  Look for any of the thousands of products with the EPA Safer Choice label, or search their database for a full listing. Whole Foods also has an Eco-Scale rating system for all of the cleaning products they carry.
  9. Use washcloths and sponges instead of disposable products like Clorox wipes and paper towels. Sponges can be sanitized in the microwave to kill harmful bacteria, so you don’t need to toss them out after cleaning up a mess.
  10. Instead of burning through disposable Swiffer pads anytime you clean your floor, attach an appropriately sized old towel or cloth for a homemade reusable Swiffer pad.
  11. Is your mailbox overflowing with spam? Does a company you ordered from once seven years ago still send you mail? Or are you stuck with all the catalogs of whoever lived in your house before you? Do you receive multiple copies addressed to slight variations and misspellings of your name? Take a few minutes to call these organizations and ask to be taken off the mailing list. You’ll automatically reduce your paper waste!
  12. Start using Ecosia! This is probably the easiest and laziest item on the list! Ecosia is a search engine that uses its ad revenue to fund tree-planting projects around the world. All you have to do is search the web and you’re supporting environmental restoration projects!
  13. Search for used furniture instead of new.  Instead of cutting down more trees for that new table or spending money on cheap plastic furniture that’s bound to fall apart after a year, purchase gently used furniture.  Often times you can find high quality furniture at a fraction of the price from Craigslist, thrift stores, estate sales, and countless other sources. In New Orleans you can even buy used hotel furniture from Canal Furniture Liquidators.  Sometimes they may need a little TLC, but they are environmentally guilt free!   I purchased a shabby looking red dresser off craigslist for less than $10, gave it a quick coat of paint, and ended up selling it for $50 when I moved.
  14. Make your next get-together BYOC (bring your own cup).  Instead of buying disposable plates, utensils, and cups, tell everyone to bring a set with them.  Your friends will be super impressed by your environmental advocacy!


If you’ve read all the way through to this point, you may notice three central themes to this list- reduce, reuse, and recycle! This is a mantra many of us learned in grade school, but failed to put into practice in our adult lives.  So take a moment to reflect on your daily life and activities. How many different one-use products do you mindless throwaway everyday? Which of these could you exchange for a more substantive reusable alternative? Do you wash out that aluminum can and recycle it, or do you toss it in the trash?  There are countless ways to make your lifestyle more environmentally friendly- hopefully this list will help you incorporate some more sustainability into your life!



This entry was posted on February 1, 2017 by in VISTA Field Reports.



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