One Family’s Sustainability Challenge

Our family is challenging ourselves to take action on climate change and to reduce our consumption of packaging – particularly plastic.

This choice was inspired when I read a quote by a University of Minnesota student named Ben Estes, whom I have never met. He was quoted in the paper:

“I guess I sort of have this vision — well, I’m going to do everything in my power to help address these issues and … that’s all the power I have,” he said. “Things are going to get kind of crazy, but it’s never going to be so bad that it’s not a good thing to do something about it.” 

I read that quote, looked at my two young children and thought about how in thirty years, I want to be able to look at them and say that I did everything that I could to make the world a place where they could live, enjoy nature, and have a secure future. If I am not successful, at least I will have tried my best — because I am not sure that I could face them knowing that science told my generation we were living in a way that posed a serious risk to the next generation and that, understanding this, I did nothing because it seemed too difficult or inconvenient.

All of which is to say that I spoke to my wonderful spouse, Curt Yoakum, and I am excited to report that we got started and took action! I want to share with you some of the things that we are doing and invite you to join us.

First, we are significantly reducing our consumption of plastic and other packaging, for reasons described here.

I have learned that many of the items we buy each week are available in bulk, and we can use reusable bags and containers. We have started refilling glass milk jars, making yogurt (rather than buying it in tubs), and reusing egg cartons. We have been eating more apples (weighed in reusable bags) and fewer strawberries (in plastic clamshells).

Our goal is not to completely eliminate packaging, but to significantly reduce it and to choose materials other than plastic when possible. We have had to make some changes, but this project has been surprisingly easy — even fun! Even making yogurt took just a few minutes of active prep work.

Once we get a tare weight on our container, it is easy to purchase many items (olive oil, canola oil, maple syrup, spices, flour, pasta, beans, sugar, bread crumbs, hand soap, dish soap, coffee) without any additional packaging. Often, the bulk items are less expensive, although sometimes there is less choice – we will be eating more penne pasta (available in bulk) and less rotini (only available in prepackaged bags).

I have not particularly missed eating berries as much as I expected to; I have enjoyed the replacement apples and kiwis. In an unexpected side benefit, this project has made us more mindful of what we have in our kitchen, and has thus reduced purchases of items that we already have, saving more money.

Second, if you (like me) have been feeling that the problem of climate change is hopeless, I recommend that you check out Project Drawdown.

It’s a website that contains a comprehensive plan — complete with actions you can take and policies for which you can advocate — to reverse global warming. Our family is working to implement as many of these practices as possible in our own home.

We are starting with simple daily actions like reducing food waste, continuing to compost and cutting our consumption of meat (particularly beef). Over time, even though it will be more expensive and require us to make compromises, we are committing to taking steps to make our house more energy efficient, purchasing an electric car, and installing residential solar.

Many of the other actions listed in Drawdown must be implemented on a national or global scale, and I am also dedicating time and energy to being more active in advocating on behalf of the policy ideas that will have a substantive impact on climate change and packaging/plastic pollution.

We had our house measured and are awaiting plans and a bid from a contractor on insulation, improved doors, the wiring upgrade in the garage to support an electric car, and solar panels. We hope to finish some of this work in 2019 to take advantage of the full tax credit, which will be available for the next few years, but in decreasing amounts.

Finally, I am planning to share our project with our family, friends, and neighbors.

While the four of us cannot make a significant dent in these issues alone, if we join Ben Estes and others join us, and more people join them, the devastating effects of climate change and plastic pollution are not inevitable to mitigate. Together, we can ensure that we leave our children an environmental legacy of which we can be proud. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.

Here is one more great piece looking back from 2050 and describing how we, together, stopped climate change.

 

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