Category Archives: Baby Steps to Sustainability

Tip #14: Don’t waste food

Food is arguably one of the most frivolously wasted resources on earth, especially here in the United States. According to the USDA, in 2010 31% of food sold in retail went uneaten. And that’s just the food that actually made it to retail, not losses of food on the farm. In store, about 10% of food went uneaten, and the remaining 20% is food that we consumers disposed of at home. That’s 90 billion pounds of food that we as consumers threw away in one year, in one country. The USDA also says that the majority of this food was meat, poultry, fish.

Considering the amount of resources that it takes to raise cows, chickens, or pools of fish, it’s especially egregious that these are the foods we waste the most in America. And a lot of the time, wasting food in the home just comes down to bad planning. And thank your lucky stars that you have the internet, because now you can google solutions to all your life’s problems.

Here’s a few of the best ways to avoid wasting such a wonderful, delicious resource:

  1. ¬†Under buy, don’t over buy: This is probably number one for me. Unless it’s some insane sale food item that you can freeze and eat forever (like Lucky’s chicken for .$88/lb last week) don’t buy the entire deal they try to sell you. Most of the time, if a store says “10 for $10” you don’t actually have to buy 10 lbs of potatoes in order to save money. And even if you did, you might only eat 5 before they bruise and soften, and then you didn’t really save any money at all. Buying a lot more for less money is still spending money.
  2. Properly store your food: as a college student, this is the easiest rule to break. It’s so easy to forget to put the milk in the fridge, or the ribs in the freezer. Or improperly store your fresh fruits and vegetables in lesser known ways, such as:
    1. always store your fruits and vegetables separately: it not only is more orderly, but vegetables will actually age much slower when they aren’t exposed to the ethylene that fruits give off when aging (which causes them to age faster)
    2. wash and trim your vegetables before putting them in the fridge: take the rubber band off of them as well.
    3. store your leafy greens in ziploc’s with paper towels: this is a trick I learned from my grandmother, things like lettuce will stay for sometimes a week longer before wilting, I think because it helps keep the moisture in the food.
    4. don’t put banana’s in the fridge: I didn’t know that people did this, but it dries them out very fast.
  3. Buy a food processor or blender: Food processors and blenders are probably the way I save the most food from it’s garbage destiny. Fresh vegetables and fruits that look wilted, deteriorated, bruised, etc. have no physical appearance when you tear them up in a blender and put them in a smoothie. Or rip up the sad celery, the browned cauliflower, the weird broccoli in a food processor and put it in a hash, a stir fry or a soup. A lot of the reason that we throw these foods away is because they look weird, and we’re used to our food being pristine, our apples being robust and smooth, our bananas being a perfect golden yellow. If you tear them to shreds with a blade, you and your roommates will be none the wiser.

You’d be surprised how much of a difference these 3 practices alone make. These bullet points, like all of the Baby Steps we give on this site, are really just part of a larger consciousness that we hope to instill in our readers. Reduction of food waste is just a small portion of a potentially huge impact a single person can have on the environment around them. Even just being aware of how much food is being wasted currently is already a step in the right direction.

Tip #12: Pot a native Missouri plant!

Yes, just one. If every person planted one native Missouri plant, we’d be out of trouble in no time!

A huge problem facing us today is “invasive species.” They are species of plants and animals which outgrow other plants or animals around them, and take over the landscape. Invasive species are hard to get rid of once they’ve become rooted in an ecosystem, so one of the best ways to combat them is by manually planting native plants and hoping that they’ll balance out.

Planting native plants has a lot of other benefits, as well, though. First of all, they are pretty, which is a huge plus.

Second, plants store CO2, and the more of them there are, the more CO2 is stored somewhere other than the atmosphere. Have you ever noticed walking on a sidewalk, when you pass a large wooded area, the air is colder? It’s because comparatively, plants cool the earth more than concrete and buildings. This is why a lot of people advocate rooftop gardens because they cool whole cities just by existing, which is very cool.

I’ll suggest to you planting the Butterfly Milkweed. This is a plant which is so nicknamed because the Monarch Butterfly uses it to live.

Butterfly_Milkweed_(Asclepias_tuberosa)

(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/40/Butterfly_Milkweed_%28Asclepias_tuberosa%29.jpg)

Invasive species and pesticides have been killing Milkweeds, and this has been killing the Monarch Butterfly. Many people have pointed to the weed killer, Round Up, as the biggest culprit in the decline of Milkweed. The maker of Round Up is Monsanto, the same Monsanto which Monsanto Auditorium at Mizzou is named after.

It’s something to think about, you can get Milkweed’s at a local flower shop. Wilson’s Garden Center on Business Loop would be a great place to start!

 

 

Tip #9: Check Your Foods for Palm Oil

The deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest will leave species like the orangutan extinct in the next 5-10 years if kept at the same pace.

Normally I wouldn’t start off with a scary statistic like that, but like every Greenpeace volunteer ever has reminded you, the rainforests of the world are kind of a big deal, and deforestation really does start and end with us- the consumer.

Palm oil has become more and more popular to put in foods because of how cheap it is, and unfortunately has even made it into some of our organic foods. But Palm Oil tends to be produced by razing the rainforest to make way for huge palm plantations. This means that more than likely- the food you are eating with palm oil- partly came from land that once housed thousands of species of animals, and now is only used for monoculture.

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Unfortunately, natural peanut butter is one of my favorite foods that typically has palm oil in it (which Jif has put in it to replace hydrogenated oils, in hopes of appealing to the organic, natural crowd.)

Giving up Jif peanut butter has been one of my biggest sacrifices in terms of eating sustainably (that doesn’t mean that I haven’t made a lot of sacrifices- I just really, really love peanut butter.)

And peanut butter isn’t even the first in the long list of foods that contain palm oil. In fact, it’s not just foods that contain palm oil, either! A lot of shampoos contain Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, an ingredient that cleans the residues that are left on your hair from hairspray and conditioner. Shampoos that do not have sulfates are usually made for color treated hair, because the sulfates strip the hair of it’s natural oils and any dyes that are in it. So, in all honesty, you should probably get rid of those anyway.

The point is- palm oil is hard to avoid period, but especially when you eat pre-packaged foods. It’s in Little Debbie cakes, Odwalla soy milk, Luna Bars, Ritz crazkers and Pringles chips. I’m not saying “never eat a Pringle’s chip again,” (though it might be better for the world if we all did that.)

What I am saying is- being sustainable means being more conscious of the way your actions affect everyone else in the world. We have ourselves so convinced that our lives mean so little, and that we have so little impact- when in fact, it’s the opposite. One Jif peanut butter jar less off the shelves may not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but big things get done when a lot of people do a lot of little things like that.

I’ve started to look at it like this: there are some evils in our lives that are hard to give up. My biggest evil is packaged chocolate. No matter what else I give up: bread, imported fruits, jif peanut butter, leather, whatever, I can’t give up a good Reese’s. At least not right now.

So I’ve made a hierarchy, and I suggest you do, too: what impactful and morally questionable products can’t you live without? What order do they come in? Why are they important to you?

They don’t have to be just products, either. Mine are a combination of food, products and experiences.

My first is prepackaged chocolate. My second is hairspray. My third is traveling to music festivals.

Way down my list somewhere was delicious Jif “natural” peanut butter. But I looked at the label and it said Palm Oil. And I had to be aware what buying that Jif peanut butter once a month, every month -probably for the rest of my life- means in terms of impact on the environment and those around me.

And I decided that it was worth it to make the change.

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Tip #8: Bike More

This tip is similar to an earlier tip about planning your travel, but in this case, I suggest changing your travel entirely!

I have a 1997Jeep Cherokee; blue, with a 2 inch lift kit, a massive steel bumper and my NATIVE license plate sticker on the back window. It has a horrible turning radius and the engine roars so anyone can hear me coming from a mile away. The axel is a little off center, so in order to drive straight the wheel is always turned at about a 15 degree angle, and something under the hood leaks a bit, so it smells like antifreeze when the air conditioning is on.

Despite- or perhaps because of- these flaws, I love this car. Iwould keep it forever if I could.

 

But it is a gas guzzler. My beautiful jeep gets about 13 mph on a good day. It is a oil chugging machine. If cars could drink gas, mine would be a heavy weight, upper divison.

Recently, my car decided to stall after every stop light, so I had to retire it temporarily, because I don’t have the time or the money to fix it.

Now, I ride my bike. Everywhere.

 

I won’t lie, this has not been easy. At first, waking up at 5 am to ride my bike 2.5 miles in the dark for a 12 hour day at the J-school was not my idea of fun. And then riding back another 2.5 miles after a long day…well, it’s usually worse than the morning ride.

 

But now that I’ve been doing it for 3 weeks, using my bike has improved a lot of things about my daily routine, in some unexpected ways:

1. I actually have to wake up on time, because the only thing worse than riding to class at 7 am is riding to class late at 7:10.

2. I don’t pay for parking, ever.

3. I actually get to class faster, because I don’t have to sit in traffic or find a spot to park, or walk from my car to class. I can usually ride straight up to my classroom.

4. Of course, I’ve already lost weight.

5. I appreciate travel quite a bit more: I actually have to plan my day and the things I will need, because I’d rather only bike 5 miles instead of 10 because I forgot something at my house.

6. I haven’t bought gas in 3 weeks, so I’ve saved at least $100 (I wasn’t kidding about the gas thing)

7. I’ve reduced my carbon footprint.

 

Hopefully by this point, we all know that fossil fuel emissions contribute to CO2 in the atmosphere, which is a greenhouse gas and causes a changing climate. Riding a bike instead of using a car is one of the most sustainable ways to get around town. I also recently read that college is the time when people create habits that they will follow for the rest of their lives.

 

So, start riding your bike one day a week! Just like anything, it’s tough at first, but after 3 weeks, trust me, it’s worth it.

 

 

 

Tip #7: Reusable Bags

If you have been keeping up with Baby Steps, you may think that using reusable bags is a given. I hope you do! But if you don’t, I’d love to give some reasons that shopping for groceries with reusable bags is a small way to make a big difference.

First, think of how much plastic you touch in a day. The first thing I touch is my phone case, to turn off my alarm. That is plastic. Then it’s my shower, my shampoo and conditioner, my clothes, my food, my backpack, my car, and so on. All of those things are encased in, touching, or made of plastic.

It’s impossible to get away from. And in this day and age, I wouldn’t expect you to. But anyone can reduce the amount of disposable plastics they use- much like our Baby Steps about using reusable mugs and water bottles pointed out. Cutting out the use of plastic bags is the next logical step to reducing plastic bags.

The polyethylene plastic bags we use to carry our meat and Reeses at Gerbes, King Soopers and Hyvee take 1,000 years to break down. And polyethylene plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade, which means that they just break up into smaller, toxic bits of plastic that can’t be reused or recycled or even caught and contained to a pile or single area in some cases. They usually spin around in the ocean in something called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

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(via http://www.remarkably.com/tag/garbage/)
Unfortunately, people romanticize this garbage, and imagine a huge vortex of plastic bottles and bags, which looks and sounds scary. But the reality is even worse: the plastic spinning around in the patch has photodegraded so much, that often we can’t see it with our own eyes, and can’t pick it up with our hands. Invisible, and toxic with extremely high levels of BPA and DDE, it harms at least 267 species that we know of. Sometimes the animals eat the plastic thinking it is food, and sometimes animals hormones are altered by the chemical compounds like BPA.

Over 90% of the time, this will be their ultimate destination; the ocean. Because according to the EPA, less than 5 percent of plastic grocery bags are recycled in the U.S.

Now that you are sufficiently informed, it should be easy to make the move to reusable bags.

First, reusable bags are only a dollar each at any store, either Gerbes, Lucky’s or Hyvee.

Second, reducing the use of plastic bags isn’t even just bringing canvas totes with you. It’s also putting all of your fresh veggies in one produce bag rather than multiple. It’s not putting your gallon of milk in it’s own plastic bag. It’s filling up the plastic bags you do use, rather than keeping your meat, dairy and vegetables separate.

And it’s really being conscious that every time you use a new plastic bag, there are billions of other people doing the same thing, multiple times a day, every day. And all that plastic has to go somewhere.

Tip #6: Plan Your Travels

This may be the hardest Baby Step yet: plan your travel.

Every day, we use some form of transportation to get to school, work, the grocery store, etc. Even with gas prices so low, planning your travel is an easy way to be more sustainable. Fossil fuel emissions and the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere are serious problems, and if everyone in the world focused on reducing their own fossil fuel emissions, we will be able to sustain our current lifestyles for much longer.

Riding your bike to your commitments instead of driving your car is not only more sustainable, but healthier for yourself and saves a ton of money on parking and gas alike. Now that it’s warming up outside, riding your bike to classes and work is an easier task, but even in the winter riding your bike is an option. When it was cold and I lived far from campus, I would drive part of the way to class, park at the foot of Rock Quarry Road and ride the rest of the way to school. Usually, riding your bike means waking up earlier and dealing with the extra exercise, but according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, college is the time when young adults form the habits that they will have for the rest of their lives, so it may be hard at first, but it will be worth it in the end! Eventually, riding your bike three or four miles to school and work will seem like nothing! Not only will biking keep you in shape, but it will seriously reduce fossil fuel emissions from motor vehicles. Try doing it one day a week to start off!

If you are opposed to exercise or bikes for some reason, the second best way to plan your travels is to carpool. Carpooling is easier with roommates or coworkers, but carpooling can extend past work and campus life as well. Mizzou has the COMO Rideshare Facebook page which helps students coordinate rides to and from St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, and even Texas or Colorado! Carpooling will be cheaper than a MOx or train ride, and reduces fossil fuel emissions!

Failing all that, the third best option is simply to plan your solo travels better. Taking one night of the week to run to the grocery store, post office, mall, and other small trips can save a lot more in gas than you’d imagine, saving money and fuel emissions.

This has been a short tip, but remember: even something small, like saving an extra 3 miles worth of driving by biking to work one day a week, can make all the difference if everyone bands together and sticks to it.

Thanks for trying to be sustainable! ūüôā See you next week.

Tip #5: Buy Local Eggs

Being a sustainable shopper is a hard task, especially as a college student. $100, or even $150, a month doesn’t go as far as you might think, and buying that $3 head of organic broccoli seems like such a waste when there is a $1.50 head right next to it, and they look exactly the same! Plus, sometimes an organic head of broccoli can have just as much of a negative impact on the earth as non-organic, depending on how far it’s traveled and where it’s being grown.

That’s why my fifth Baby Step to Sustainability is buying local eggs.

I eat at least 3 eggs a day, mostly because a hardboiled egg is the only healthy food I know of that leaves me with no dishes to wash. Eggs are filled with nutrients and protein, are low carb, incredibly versatile and insanely cheap. A dozen can cost less than $2 (or, less than 17 cents an egg), and last almost a week.

This is why I suggest that there is no reason that anyone able to spend at least $100 a month on groceries can not shell out an extra $2 (or, an extra 14 cents an egg) on a dozen eggs. Even the most expensive of dozen boxes won’t even amount to 50 cents per egg. Often, if you eat 3 eggs in a morning, you will spend less than $1 for breakfast! That is less than a coffee, and has way more nutrients.

Now on to why it’s sustainable. I’m going to stick to a single point to keep it concise, though there are many reasons that local eggs are better for the environment.

As you may know, Sustain Mizzou -and many other organizations- generally defines sustainability as using resources today in a way that does not sacrifice the resources and comforts of our children and Earth in the future.

Reduction of the use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels is generally one of the most sustainable things we can do in this day, in our first world country. (If you’ve forgotten why, our own MacKenzie Reagan explained this in What the Frack is Fracking) last year. Thus buying¬†food which requires¬†minimal transportation is very sustainable- and often a lot cheaper! – than buying food from states and states away.

Luckily, here in the state of Missouri, we have a plethora of farmers who raise chickens. Even the Columbia Center For Urban Agriculture, which is only about a mile north of the University campus, has chickens which produce eggs! Also, at every store in Columbia, there are a variety of local eggs, most notably from the Stanton Brothers who are located in Centralia.

Stanton Bros. Eggs

Yes, those young boys really are the Stanton Brothers. And they really do run a farm of ~12,000 free range chickens. That amazing fact in itself is a post for another day.

I’ve found, (unsurprisingly) that Lucky’s Market is the best place to buy local eggs, with Gerbes¬†coming in for a close second. Most days, Lucky’s has a variety of eight or more different brands of local eggs. These local eggs also often are free range, antibiotic and hormone free and grain fed, all things which you are free to look up on your own, but that we will also be covering in the future under Sustainability 101.

 

But, if only for the reason that it reduces fossil fuel emissions, please pick local eggs the next time you shop! Even if you buy eggs four times a month, and only do it once, it will be an improvement.

There are many other factors which play into the sustainability of local eggs, but we’ll post about that in the future when we talk more about factory farming and nutrient pollution.

For now, I appreciate all three of you making it to the end of this post (hi mom) and have a great True/False weekend!

-Katherine

Tip #4 : Reusable Mugs

It’s that time of year again, and it’s this type of intro again! The type that you’ll be reading for the next four months on every local newspaper article and blog post! Blah blah blah snow and mittens blah blah warm fire and Christmas presents blah.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get down to our sustainable tip for this week: reusable mugs.

Every year when fall comes around, we break out our snow boots and scarves while Starbucks breaks out the Pumpkin Spice Latte’s and pumpkin pound cake and increasingly more pumpkin flavored items.

Our favorite warm drinks from coffee shops tend to come in a “to-go” cup. This cup is usually made of paper with a cardboard “sleeve” to keep you from burning yourself on the piping hot coffee.

Even though paper is recyclable, and there are more recycling bins around every year, recycling is not always the best option. Not all things that are put in bins can be recycled, and resources such as oil and timber, are still being used in production. A reusable mug is a great way to reduce the amount of resources being used when you buy your morning coffee!

Mugs can range from a few dollars to twenty or thirty. I have two myself, here’s one of my favorites:

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This is an insulated mug which can keep your drink either hot or cold pretty much all day. YES, ALL DAY. This is one of the many benefits of having your own mug: it’s far more insulated, so it will keep your drinks the right temperature!

In addition to that, you can buy mugs – like mine – with screw on lids, so you don’t spill all your liquids every time you drop them, which happens a lot if you’re me.

I like mine metal like Klean Kanteen because of my clumsiness. I don’t have to worry about breaking it or spilling it almost ever. But, there are many very cool ceramic or plastic personal mugs that you can buy! Starbucks has an entire line of custom plastic mugs and local artists often make ceramic to-go coffee mugs, I have a beautiful one myself!

Not to mention, Mizzou’s own Craft Studio has offered classes on making your own mugs in the past, so you can completely customize your very own mug!

It’s never too late to buy and use a reusable coffee mug! Even if you forget sometimes, this is what it’s all about! Baby Steps to Sustainability.

Tip #3: Water saving shower heads

Yet another easy one! Also another water solution.

As stated in a previous tip, about 45% of water use occurs in the bathroom. An easy way to cut down on this use is to shorten your showers, like our mother was always telling us to do. Especially if you were me, living in Colorado in the middle of a decade long drought, as a teenage girl with a lot of hair to wash. (it’s not like washing mattered, I could have washed it with peanut butter and it would have looked better than the god-awful styles I was putting it in.)

But I digress.

Shortening showers is not always easy. Sometimes you just got back from working out, sometimes you need to shave, sometimes you it’s really cold and you’re really tired and the water is just so heavenly that it’s nearly impossible to get out, and sometimes you’re a teenage girl preparing to style her hair in yet another horrible way.

But most shower heads use about 2 gallons of water per minute of showering, and some older ones (once again, like the ancient houses we live in as college students) use up to 5 gallons of water a minute. An easy (and cheap in the long run) solution is the water saving shower head!

They can come as cheap as $5 or have a massaging spray, or even come with an apparatus to control the flow. They typically range between 10 and 15 dollars and can shave a few dollars off your water bill a month, eventually paying for itself.

They tend to be easy to install, only needing the removal of one screw.

So for tip #3, save some money and save some water with a water saving low-flow shower head!

Tip #2: Personal Water Bottles

Personal water bottles should be a no-brainer! Personal water bottles are not only durable and customizable, they are also eco-friendly (and cheaper!) , especially compared to their mean cousin, The Disposable Water Bottle.

bottled-water

Not pretty is it? Buying a bottle of water a day, or every other day, or even every two, still adds up to a serious amount of waste, literally and monetarily. You could be spending $120, $200, or even upwards of $300 a year on bottled water. Imagine all the things that could be done with that money instead: music festivals, plane tickets, clothing, football games; the possibilities are endless!

New water fountains around campus make filling up easier too.

best-bpa-free-water-bottles

Americans drink 50 billion bottles of water every year and it takes more than 25 million barrels of crude oil to create all that plastic.

 

Not only that, but disposable water bottle companies are simply repackaging municipal water (read: public city water) and selling it at 300 TIMES THE COST OF TAP WATER.

And companies like Fiji, which really do ship water from across the world, are simply exploiting a poor nation of it’s most important resource¬†at almost three times the price of other bottled waters. Not only that, but shipping your water, across oceans, to get to you, is no sustainable way to live.

Buy a personal water bottle. It doesn’t make sense to do anything else!