Recently, we had a weird encounter with an ice cream shop owner. It started out fine. They turned out to only have limited flavors, but preparing those flavors included ingredients I super duper love (avocados, mangos, etc). So me and my friend digged into the large plastic pot and finished the serving within minutes. It was good, until everything went downhill from there …
The moment we thought of throwing it into the trash can, my friend thought: “It’s such a waste to throw this. You can use it for planting or just for storing goods.” That’s true, I thought. Up till today I’ve always been conscious about my waste when it comes to beauty products, but never have I really thought about it when it comes to food. I usually leave leftovers as a takeaway if I can’t finish them – that’s as far as I’ve gotten.
But this pot was a given. It’s essentially “ours” after we made our purchase of the ice cream. Yes, the pot was gross and all dirty from our big afternoon snack, but it’s a really large pot, considering it’s for dessert – about 3x larger than your ordinary ice cream cup. So we went back to the shop owner and made the attempt to return it to them – not for reasons you might initially think. Honestly we didn’t expect their reaction be such a letdown – they may have accepted the pot back, but they may’ve also thought that we hated the ice cream so much we returned the sticky pot to them … and we actually thought we’re doing a service for them and for the larger citizen.
From an entrepreneur’s perspective, these kinds of supply don’t come in cheap – especially when your business is growing. If you let just a few couple of end-users to toss those pots after only 5-10 minutes of use, you’re practically tossing your money away. What’s more: It all adds up. Things don’t just end in the garbage can. They all go into the city’s waste facilities that we all know is just a time bomb until the next big flood. So essentially, you’re tossing your money into the garbage can and bloating up waste instead of bloating up your own wallets. When the whole city’s inundated, nobody’s going to row their boats to buy ice creams, right?
If cost for restocking supply is not an issue, then let me bring this matter into the larger problem: Carbon waste. Yes, the reason why you still have uneven complexion and start seeing lines on your face even when you slather SPF 50 religiously? The ozone layer that’s supposed to act like a free radical scavenger for the earth (as in like for your face) is thinning, because of all the greenhouse gases (GHGs) we’re emitting everyday. These GHGs are:
- carbon dioxide [CO2],
- methane [CH4],
- nitrous oxide [N2O],
- hydrofluorocarbons [HFCs],
- perfluorocarbons [PFCs], and
- sulphurhexafluoride [SF6].
Everything from riding motorbikes to spraying pesticides to endorsing unsustainable brands leads to carbon emission, and consequently ozone depletion. The fact that it’s thinning makes UV rays much easier to penetrate through the human cell. If you must know, it’s not just a cosmetic matter – UV rays in general cause cell mutation once it begins to damage your body. And no, it doesn’t mean you’re going to become an X-Men member. The wide variety of diseases associated with mutated cells include, namely, all kinds of cancers, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell disease.
Having shared the simple story about the ice cream pot, I’m hoping to raise awareness for the general consumer on how we’re indirectly responsible for the warming planet1. I’m not the purest saint out there when it comes to all things environmentally-friendly, but there are some things I believe are so easy to change, we can all change immediately such that you and I will create a large collective impact in Jakarta (P.S. Surabaya is doing a great job with waste management and engaging the locals with its green-living movement, so great Monocle magazine dubbed it as the second capital of Indonesia). Here are some of the most practical ways to reduce our carbon output:
If you constantly allow yourself to be pinged by your phone in this 24/7 Internet-ruled world, you’re bound to compromise your health in some way. But the damage doesn’t just stop with you. All those endless scrolling through Instagram energy you used up on your phone could’ve been saved for emergency phone calls. Yes, there’s power banks and all, but that just adds another device that requires another plug for charging besides your phone, a.k.a. more energy consumption, a.k.a. higher charge voltage and “hidden” energy bills, namely, to pay for those energy your chargers used when you leave them plugged into a power source. Moreover, hand-held devices typically use lithium-ion batteries, which cannot absorb overcharge and would likely corrode when you do it repeatedly (I’m guilty for charging my phone overnight everyday as well …). This extreme load has a negative impact on battery life, which is why you find your phone’s fully charged quicker as time goes by, but runs out of battery just as quickly too. The change? Either you make it a new habit to plug your charger into a power source only whenever you need it, or you simply don’t waste so much time and energy on being jelly about other people’s lives on social media. The latter is what I’m still struggling with from time to time, but I think we can all start doing the first now.2
Gmail may allow each of us a generous 15GB-worth of space for free, and I admit, sometimes it feels like it’s unlimited. You leave spam messages unread sitting in your inbox for years, and that could really add up. According to Discovery News, even a short e-mail carries an estimated carbon footprint of 4g of CO2e, including the carbon output from running your computer itself, the servers and routers, and those produced in their manufacture. Those annoying e-mails announcing new products and services you don’t give a rat’s ass about? They tend to include large image attachments to lure you to give them your money (online shopping discounts, anyone?), which, even if we don’t open them, is still responsible for the unnecessary 50g of CO2e. Instead of letting these e-mails take up your Gmail’s space and letting the spammers emit all the extra unwanted carbon, from now on, be mindful of the checkboxes you tick each time a third-party website asks for your data information. What you can do right now is to give yourself half an hour or so to click the ‘unsubscribe’ buttons on all publications/commercials/newsletters you never want to receive ever again.3
Now this is more serious than you think. When you litter, you’re actually showing disrespect for yourself, for others, and for the larger community and environment. Every time a pedestrian or a driver throw their tissue papers and coffee cups on the roadside, it costs you, your neighbor, and the local community the time, money, and energy to do the work for them. These people may not think it’s their responsibility to clean up after themselves and taking care of the space they take up – the same space you and I both share with them. So they want you, your carpool buddy and other bystanders to do the whole work that includes protecting yourselves from the contaminated area, withstanding the smelliness and the unsightly street, paying their dues by getting toxic-borne illnesses from their waste and paying for the increasing taxes to set up more clean-up and repair management systems. Every stage of this cycle releases carbon output that can be completely prevented if everyone simply throw their litters into the bin. Whether it’s in indoors or outside, think twice about throwing your litters on the ground – better yet, always have a little bag around so you can collect your own litters until you see a bin. I was so vigilant about this when I was still single that people think I’m just asking for too much from a partner, because once I see a guy throw their garbage anywhere he wants, he’s automatically deleted from my radar … especially if it’s a cigarette. But persistence really paid off, ‘cos my future husband is one self-respecting man.4
EAT REAL FOOD.
In 2008, I made a simple mental shift in my life that’s changed my health and how I manage food waste forever: Food is fuel. That’s it – not recreation, not comfort, not means to any other end except for energy. And to run on premium fuel, you need quality, nutritious food. This means real food, not edible food-like products and substances that come from elaborate packaging, excessive processing, massive preservatives and energy-draining transportation. Foods that mothers prepare with loving care for their children, foods that bring people together. Do you realize how much environmental stress corporations make each time they increase the demand for processed foods? It means more packaging wastes (plastics, metals, etc), more oil-tanked ships, more gasoline-engined vehicles and more GHGs-emitting factories, all just to deliver to you “the goods” in return for your money. Perhaps all the money they’ve used for marketing has blinded you from the blatant truth – as long as it comes from a package and/or listed with a bunch of ingredients you cannot pronounce, it’s not real food. Stick to locally-grown fruits and veggies, opt for fair trade products whenever possible, decrease demand for fake foods, adopt the low-carbon diet, and your city’s struggling farmers will thank your simple economic, agricultural, and environmental contribution with their life.5
SAY NO TO PLASTIC BAGS.
Katy Perry was wrong about them – they don’t just drift aimlessly and start becoming useful again. All they do is simply break down into toxic microbeads that are so small, they’re tinier than a grain of sand, making them virtually everywhere. Other plastic bags, however, are discarded on streets, only to find themselves combusted in incineration plants. Not only do these plants run on technologies that release massive GHGs, the incineration of all forms of plastics also releases even more powerful toxic pollutants into the air, namely the acid gases we breathe in, scrapes of metals that go into the ocean and into the fish we eat, and the most toxic ever compound known to science – dioxins. This lethal compound have probably accumulated themselves in your body fat (their favorite spot to build up and multiply) and compromised your liver, your hormones, and your tissues, as they’re one of the dirty dozen of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). So it’s clear that the single most impactful change you can make in your life would be to break up with all plastic-containing materials, particularly those in personal care products. But to not be exposed to plastics is next to impossible in this day and age, as they’re in everything from toys to furnitures to computers to even our food. So, what to do? It’s a tiny change, but we all know a single snowflake can start the right snowballs in motion: Next time you’re checking out at the “10 items or less” express lane, tell the salesperson that you don’t need a plastic bag. Or better yet, bring your own shopping bag!6
Thrift shopping is not just a trend right now – it’s a HUGE way to reduce the substantial carbon footprint in textile production. Think about it: Your Victoria’s Secret thong was probably sewn in Indonesia, using fabrics from China, manufactured by workers from India, distributed in Vietnam, from where it would then travel thousands of miles, just to land itself a space on the rack on your local Victoria’s Secret store. Now think about how much carbon footprint’s emitted by the whole fashion industry on a daily basis – a single new tee can weigh anywhere between 45 to 90kg of carbon footprint before even reaching your closet. The more you keep buying from these retail stores, the more you’re bloating up the industry with your money and their GHGs-emitting factories. Buying consigned apparels and shoes not only flexes your budget, it also makes you an honorable contributor to the resale market and consequently to sustainable fashion (welcome to the cool Reformed crowd). Besides, if you look carefully, fashion is cyclical, so even the most hideous trousers never really go out of style. The rule of thumb is to put your money where it gives you the biggest returns: Invest in natural fiber fabrics, such as cotton, linen, and hemp, or, at the very least, choose fashion made from upcycled materials. When you don’t feel like wearing them anymore, these biodegradable fabrics would simply break down and naturally composted by microorganisms, bringing all the carbon back into soils and nourishing new plants to grow. That said, avoid synthetic fibers at all cost, as they do not decompose and can only release more toxic metals over time, i.e. more unwanted emissions from landfills and more contamination in waterways.7
GET SMART ABOUT WATER.
Most of the water we use everyday constitutes the bulk of the iceberg underwater – our showers, toilets, and laundry machines covers just the tip. These waters you don’t see are known by the umbrella term virtual water, which is collectively voluminous if you count how much water is used to produce each and every item, not to mention the intense energy used to transport these waters and items. In general, cultivating produce (fruits and vegetables) requires less water and emits less GHGs than producing meat and dairy products (10 – 20,000 liters of water is required to produce 1kg of beef!). Since 2/3 of global freshwater is used to grow our food (only 4% of humanity’s water footprint relates to the water use at home), vegans and vegetarians are indirectly making a HUGE impact in conserving the vital resource. It would make better sense to simply consume less animal products rather than obsessing over whether your faucets are leaking or not, although everything counts a great deal in preventing local aquifers from being depleted. As our ice caps continue to melt, our freshwater waste could’ve been distributed to the millions of people elsewhere from dying of thirst. The world’s poorest populations subsist on fewer than 18.9 liters each day, 20 times fewer than the whopping 378.5 liters Americans use. It’s easy to think we’ll never run out of water resources because of mother nature’s water cycle – groundwater evaporates, oceans condense, and rain falls. But the earth started out with a finite amount of water – with over 97% too salty for human use, and nearly 2% locked up in snow and ice. That leaves less than 1% of water for growing our food and supplying our households (including drinking water)8, with the majority of water leaving our homes needing massive energy (i.e. more GHGs emissions) to clean in wastewater treatment works before they return to the environment. The rest? They’ll just poison more animal habitats and never return into clean slates again (too dirty/polluted/toxic after agricultural, industrial, and our household use).
Another simple way to conserve freshwater is to absolutely say no to buying water bottles, unless you’re severely dehydrated at that moment and your vision starts to blur. Water bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resin, a notorious plastic for its crazy release of air pollutants (1kg of PET is equivalent to 50g of hydrocarbons, 25g of sulfur oxides, 18g of carbon monoxide, 20g of nitrogen oxides, and 2.3kg of carbon dioxide) and for all the neurotoxic, hormone-disrupting, sexual-dysfunctioning, cancer-inducing bisphenol A (BPA) seeping through the drinking water you just bought. This is why your mother always tell you to stop drinking the water from plastic bottles that’s opened for more than a day. If all of us deplete the demand for plastic bottles at all, these corps would go out of business and would have to leave behind their hefty carbon-reliant technologies built from the money you pay them to continue lying to you about their water’s cleanliness compared to the average filtered water. If you live in regions where tap water is safe for drinking, invest in a good water filter to purify tap water, and for the rest of us, buy yourself a BPA-free water bottle like this one from BROS to carry your own water everywhere you go.9
It doesn’t just stop with water bottles and biodegradable fabrics – durable products do exist to meet each of your needs if you look in the right places. You can reuse plastic pots to organize hardwares, reuse candy tins for storing tea leaves, reuse tissue boxes as trash receptacles in your car, reuse old clothes as cleaning wipes, heck, even coffee grinds can be reused as your facial exfoliator. The goal here is to increase longevity in a product’s life cycle, so as to minimize waste and the energy and water used to manufacture products. When you can keep reusing your stuff, you’ll buy them less often and have less junk and less clutter lying around your home. Your fellow citizens wouldn’t then need to worry about your waste and get all organized for clean-up projects, as these well-intentioned procedures may help encourage grassroots activism in environmental protection, but ultimately they also increase the ecological footprint throughout every stage of their process (everything from traveling to the cleanup site to receiving the newsletter e-mails from the particular organization). We’re not talking just one individual here, but a full-blown organization, so there’s more GHGs emitted than you ever dare to imagine. These are all preventable if we simply stop buying junk and manage our waste more intelligently. One great way to do the latter is to get in touch with KDM Foundation’s Green Project, who will come to your house every week to collect your recyclables and make sure they go to the right places for free. Don’t underestimate what you can do by just sorting out your stuff into separate bins – you can stop forest fires from happening, provide more cleanwater for your neighbors, even saving millions of people from getting unwanted illnesses from your waste.
Speaking of the high cost of consumerism, somehow, we Indonesians highly regard imported commodities around here, including textiles, furnitures, vehicles, condiments, and even accents (hello Cinta Laura Kiehl …), even when some of these products used raw materials extracted from our homeland. I myself am guilty of submitting to the allure of everything that seems too far to reach. You see, the more we stuff ourselves with these import goods, the more significant the amount of air pollutants released across oceans and continents. Moreover, do you realize that as we speak, first-world countries out there are actually warring against each other for the abundant grassroots commodities in Indonesia, namely coal, gold, rubber, coffee, and cocoa? Well, our soil that rich and proven that much worth fighting for, so stop giving them more money to exploit our resources. In addition to reducing, reusing, and recycling, make it your new life motto to consume less, to produce more, and if you must buy, buy local.10
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I encourage you to take some time to watch this incredibly honest video about America’s culture of consumerism that’s increasingly global … you’ll simultaneously lose faith in humanity and actually want to make immediate changes in your current lifestyle. Trust me, it’s worth your 21 minutes.
Now I wanna hear your say: What are the ways you personally use to reduce your carbon footprint?
via Brenna H. on Pinterest
- I mean, 2015 somehow became the warmest year in history. [↩]
- Further reading/watching/listening: Keep On Plugging [Slate], Reduce Home Heating And Electricity Use By 10% [David Suzuki Foundation], FastCompany’s guides to #Unplug, Carbon Nation (2010), Switch (2012), The Electric Universe (2015) [↩]
- Your Virtual Carbon Footprint May Be Bigger Than You Think [Mother Nature Network], Spam & Your Carbon Footprint [EcoPono], (INFOGRAPHIC) The Carbon Footprint of the Internet [CustomMade] [↩]
- Further reading/watching/listening: The Bitter Truth: Littering is a Jakarta Epidemic [Jakarta Globe], Litter in Indonesia – Rubble in Paradise: Cleaning Up the Looney Front [HuffPost], “Zero Waste Zero Warming” May Get You Arrested in Indonesia [The Story of Stuff], Stop Littering Habit! [P-WEC], The Toughest Place to Be a Binman (2012), Trashed (2012), the Stop Littering Indonesia community on Facebook, the Indonesia Road to Zero Waste community on Facebook and Twitter [↩]
- Further reading/watching/listening: Food Matters by Mark Brittman, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingslover, Food Inc (2009), Ingredients: The Local Food Movement Takes Root (2009) [↩]
- Further reading/watching/listening: I’m Not a Plastic Bag by Rachel Hope Allison, Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes, Bag It (2011), Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (2014) [↩]
- Further reading/watching/listening: Save The Environment By Thrift Shopping [hellawella], Can Big Brands Catch Up On Sustainable Fashion? [The Guardian], Naked Fashion by Safia Minney, The Travels of A T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli, Green is the New Black: How to Change the World with Style by Tamsin Blanchard, Future Fashion White Papers by Earth Pledge, Thread (2013), The True Cost (2015) [↩]
- Water Is Life by Barbara Kingslover [National Geographic, April 2010, Vol. 217, No. 4] [↩]
- Further reading/watching/listening: Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind by Brian M. Fagan, The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman, Flow: For the Love of Water (2008), Blue Gold: World Water Wars (2008), The Story of Bottled Water (2010) [↩]
- Further reading/watching/listening: Think Raising Zero Waste Baby is Impossible? Here Are A Few Tips To Help You Do It [One Green Planet], What Has Nature Really Done to Us?: How Money Really Does Grows on Trees by Tony Juniper, The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, The Story of Stuff: The Impact of Overconsumption on the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health – And How We Can Make it Better by Annie Leonard, Century of the Self (2002), Home (2009), Earth Days (2009), No Impact Man (2009), The Future of Energy (2015) [↩]