There’s enough plastic in the world to outweigh the mass of all Earth’s mammals. Ain’t that something? Though the fossil fuel companies that produce all this plastic (and simultaneously pollute nearby neighborhoods) are at fault, we should also take a look in the mirror. How much plastic do you consume? Every dollar we spend is a vote, so every time we buy plastic, we’re telling those companies to keep on producing it.
Now, I’m no zero-waste saint—but I’m trying. I’m sure plenty of you are, too. That’s all we can do. As the first month of the new year wraps up, I figured I’d share a little bit of my own journey to become a better ally to the planet. What better way to inspire hope than to share the small ways I’m keeping it alive in my own home?
Welcome to The Frontline, where our best is all we got. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate director of Atmos. There’s something really empowering about improving yourself. Perhaps you can do with a little less takeout. Or maybe you can take shorter showers. Either way, we don’t have to be perfect to save the planet, but we can be more mindful to save ourselves.
About a year ago, I interviewed Mary Heglar, a climate writer whose wise words have stuck with me: “If you’re asking yourself, What can I do?, the best thing you can do is to change that question to, What can I do next? Because the thing about climate action is that it’s limitless.”
And limitless it is. That might sound overwhelming to some, but Heglar’s words have inspired me. I’m finally putting them into action. There’s plenty we can do to address the severity of the climate crisis. You can ride your bike more and eat less meat. You can take walks and plan weekend trips if you want to connect more with nature. I’m trying to do all that—and more.
I’ve been on this journey to clean up my lifestyle for a few years now, but I’ve found that the best way to change my habits is to not do it alone. I opened my freezer at the start of the year and saw a Ziploc full of vegetable scraps. My heart lit up! This wasn’t of my making, so I approached my boyfriend to ask if he was behind its mysterious appearance. “You wanted us to start composting, right?” he was quick to say.
Indeed, I did. A new compost drop-off site had sprung up just outside our apartment. A community-supported agriculture program was collecting compost for a local farm, and I had been talking about contributing for months. The thing is, composting is a team effort. And I didn’t want to force my boyfriend to take part. Luckily for me, my boyfriend has gotten very into podcasts and had listened to an episode that mentioned food waste.
He learned how food scraps release methane in landfills. Methane is a greenhouse gas that lasts in our atmosphere for a shorter period of time than carbon dioxide but has more immediate effects on our planet’s heating. You would think my partner would learn all this from reading my work—but alas, he prefers the sweet voice of actor Dax Shepard. We’re still adapting to keeping our vegetable peels and tea bags instead of dumping them into the trash, but it’s been an exciting development in our household. We feel good knowing I’m not sending these scraps to decompose in the dump—and that they’re instead feeding the soil a local farm uses to grow its crops.
Together, we can build little sustainable worlds inside our homes and push that energy to radiate outward. After we clean up the messes within our own four walls, we can step out and take action elsewhere.
In the spirit of Heglar’s words, however, we didn’t stop there. After all, I’ve been asking myself: What can I do next?
In an attempt to reduce our plastic waste, we finally purchased some reusable glass cleaning bottles that we can fill with cleaner concentrates. We went with Grove Collaborative, which I’ve since learned has come under fire for selling products from companies that love to greenwash. Becoming more environmentally conscious is a learning process, and we won’t always make the best decisions at first. What’s important is that you’re making a better choice today than you did yesterday. So, I won’t be giving Grove Collaborative any more of my money, but I will keep using reusable cleaning bottles and soap bars to wash my dishes. They’re better alternatives to all the plastic I used to accumulate beneath my kitchen sink.
Beyond where I spend my dollars, I’ve been trying to treat my body a little better. You can’t be a better you if your physical self is suffering. That means eating more plants, skipping meat on Mondays, and going for daily walks (even if it’s just 15 minutes). I’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I’m on my way. And what I do isn’t only for the planet; it’s also for me. Taking immediate action to remedy the climate crisis in your everyday life is a welcome addition to whatever advocacy you may be doing to fix the system. Finding ways to make your own change can help shake off that feeling of helplessness that can so easily drape over so many of us.
Together, we can build little sustainable worlds inside our homes and push that energy to radiate outward. After we clean up the messes within our own four walls, we can step out and take action elsewhere. You could take to the streets in protest or volunteer at a local garden. That’s next on my list. In February, I’ll visit a local compost collective to help with whatever they need.
And I won’t stop asking myself: What can I do next?