Updated: Jan 24
With the Climate Clock ticking, it’s never been more urgent for a societal paradigm shift that prioritizes sustainability. The Climate Crisis is real and as governmental agencies across the globe, communities near and far, and corporations big and small grapple with how to implement the big changes necessary for significant progress, there are so many small ways we as individuals can make a difference, too.
Here are four ways to be a sustainability champion in 2023:
#1 Reduce Food Waste
Many people are surprised to learn just how much food waste is driving the Climate Crisis. Consider this: Experts say more than a third of all food in the United States goes either unsold or uneaten each year.
When you do the math, it comes out to more than $400 billion worth of food - waste with a greenhouse gas footprint equivalent to 4 percent of our national GHG emissions.
Here’s what happens: Potent greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are created when that food waste begins decaying in your local landfill. And it’s significant: Experts estimate that about one-sixth of our methane emissions stem from wasted food.
To put it another way, Stanford University estimates that nationally, the greenhouse gases emitted by landfills equate to emissions generated by 23 million cars.
Fortunately, food waste warriors have emerged locally, helping the Pittsburgh area more efficiently tackle the problem.
One is 412 Food Rescue, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing good food from entering the waste stream by redirecting it to folks who are experiencing food insecurity. Since its inception in 2015, the organization and a burgeoning team of volunteers have rescued more than 21 million points of food. And all those food rescues made a big air quality impact, helping to mitigate more than 11.5 million pounds of CO2 emissions.
Another is Ecotone Renewables, a company whose mission is “closing the food loop” by transforming otherwise wasted food and turning it into renewable energy and nutrient-rich fertilizer. Since its inception, the Swissvale-based business has repurposed more than 6,000 pounds of food waste.
Also check out Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, an organization founded in ‘92 to connect farmers, businesses, and consumers to local, healthy food – from farm to fork.
We also recommend you consider getting into the composting game either on your own or with the help of Worm Return, a service that “turns kitchen scraps into garden gold.” The Allentown-based company contracts with local businesses and households to keep food scraps out of landfills by providing composting services.
For the uninitiated: Composting is defined as the act of collecting and storing organic material like plants and food scraps so they can decay and be added to soil to improve its quality. Compost needs three basic components:
Brown material – This includes dead leaves, branches, and twigs.
Green material – This includes coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, and grass clippings.
Bonus: Composting cuts down on the need for chemical fertilizers and can help remediate contaminated soil.
#2 Forgo Fast Fashion
Each year more than 80 billion items of clothing are purchased each year and the majority of which will be thrown in the trash, which adds up: The World Resources Institute estimates that the so-called “fast fashion” industry annually releases about 1.2 billion tons of the potent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
For those who might be unfamiliar: The term “fast fashion” refers to an approach to clothing design, creation, and marketing that emphasizes getting the newest trends from catwalks to consumers as quickly – and cheaply – as possible. But the environmental toll is high: Experts estimate that the fast fashion industry is responsible for nearly 10 percent of annual global emissions.
The best way to combat fashion-related waste and pollution is to change your buying habits. Whether you’re looking to buy something new to you, or donate something you can no longer use, there are many local resources. Check out Dress for Success Pittsburgh, East End Community Thrift, Goodwill, Red, White & Blue Thrift Store, Salvation Army , St. Vincent de Paul Society Or check out one of these local sustainable designers/shops.
To learn more about clothes recycling opportunities, check out these organizations and programs: Blue Jeans Turn Green Project, The Bra Recyclers, Council for Textile Recycling, Secondary Materials for Recycled Textiles, and Zero Waste Box.
#3 Say No to Single-Use Plastics
In what should be news for nobody, we have a plastics problem globally. The statistics about our reliance on single-use plastics are staggering. Did you know:
Only 9 percent of all plastics produced each year are recycled.
Worldwide 22 million plastic shopping bags are used each minute.
More than a third of plastics produced every year end up in our oceans and 75 percent of beach litter globally is - you guessed it - plastic.
Fortunately, we have local organizations dedicated to eliminating single-use plastics. Learn more about the issue and check out the host of resources our friends at Pittsburghers Against Single-Use Plastics have on their website.
#4 Get Involved!
There are intentions. And then there are actions. Or as James Russell Lowell once said, “All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.”
This year, we hope you’ll continue to take action alongside us. Because when it comes to improving our air quality, southwestern Pennsylvania still has a long way to go. Together we have and will continue to make a difference.
Please consider becoming a member today, bookmark our Blog Against Smog, and take a moment to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and Twitter for news, air quality updates, and calls to action.