Hello, I'm 17 years old and will be studying environmental engineering this fall because I love talking and thinking about creatively achieving sustainability. My favorite things include cross country running, DIY Fashion, Greek mythology, and tea. I'm optimistic that the future is full of unexpected solutions. Happy reading!
When it comes to technology, we’re constantly upgrading. It felt like only a month after I’d bought a Samsung Galaxy phone that the shinier, larger, improved version of it came out. There’s nothing wrong with upgrading, but with the limited life spans of our electronics, most of us are just throwing away old electronics without thinking of the whether that’s the best method of disposal. Most discarded electronic products end up in landfills or exported to other countries where their toxins are released into the air, soil, and water.
Electronics waste represents 2% of America’s trash in landfills, but makes up 70% of overall toxic waste. Almost all electronics contain toxic materials that can be harmful to people and the planet like lead and mercury. Smartphones and laptops even contain heavy metals like cadmium, beryllium, or arsenic, which can build up in our bodies and the environment. The disposal of electronics from the United States is rarely handled within the country but instead sent to developing countries where the metal is extracted or burned producing dangerous toxins.
Some companies are moving in the right direction and removing certain toxins from their products, and others have started take-back programs that aren’t merely green washing but showing sincere changes.
These are great steps, but you can also get involved by holding an e-waste collection drive like my local elementary school or even handing down or reselling your technology. As consumers of these products, it’s our responsibility to make sure that our gadgets are being handled properly after they’ve served their purpose and that they’re also being made with less toxins before they enter out eager hands.
We all know eating organic and local is the way to go when buying food because, as a teacher once told me, “every time you buy something, you’re voting for the kind of world you want to live in,” and making those decisions is choosing healthier plants, animals, workers, bodies, and planet. But do you know how you can supercede that decision to make even better eating and lifestyle choices? Stay tuned to find out.
Organic farming is designed to reduce pollution and conserve water without releasing harmful pesticides that harm health and wildlife. When buying organic, you also avoid the risks associated with pesticides, herbicides, additives, preservatives that come with conventional agriculture. By becoming an informed and aware consumer, you support practices that ensure your health and that of the world you live in. Here are some examples of how to start:
Look for the USDA Organic label on a product. It means that at least 95% of the food’s ingredients were organically produced or that the product was “made with organic ingredients,” which means the product contains at least 70 % organic ingredients.
Avoid the Dirty Dozen–and check out the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” cheat sheet of fruits and vegetables to determine which produce items have the highest and lowest pesticide amount.
Buy local and get better food while also ensuring that the money you spend brings twice as much economic wealth to your community. Moreover, purchasing locally and organically raised meats and produce reduces oil consumption significantly as the food industry consumes nearly a fifth of all the petroleum used in the United States.
Find out about and combat factory farming. An animal raised on a farm has its weight increased through a daily ration of antibiotics. Such unsustainable and unethical methods are only about maximizing profit and deeply neglect the condition or cost of the food produced.
Try meatless Mondays. Think about how far the food on your plate has come and if you’re a major carnivore, take a day or more break off meat a week. The production of meat, especially beef, uses humongous amounts of water and energy.
Your food will surely taste better when you know it’s been treated well and you feel like you’re making a statement of health and care just by eating it.
The start of summer is always exciting until you feel like you have nothing to do. Several summers ago, to stop my complaints of boredom, my mom encouraged me to learn how to sew and turn my outgrown jeans into a purse. I took on the challenge and made something that more closely resembled a sack, but a seed was planted and a hobby created. I spent the rest of the summer watching YouTube videos on how to cut up old shirts into necklaces and leaving a trail of fabric.
The emergence of an eco-friendly fashion industry that uses organic or recycled materials and doesn’t involve harmful chemicals is great and definitely something to cheer about. But for those who can’t afford to buy the occasionally overpriced products of that market or don’t want to, Do It Yourself fashion is the way to go. I realized only later on what a great thing “refashioning” was for the environment, but when you think about it, it makes so much sense. You’re keeping old clothes out of landfills while saving energy that could be used to make new ones.
Rather than heading to the mall for your next fashion find, repurpose rarely-worn clothes from your closet and turn it into something stylish you can be proud to wear. With a DIY spirit, not only can you find uses for otherwise untouched possessions, you can also join the battle against wasteful and materialistic behavior.
Websites like PS–I Made This, the YouTube channel ThreadBanger, and the book Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-shirt are a great place to start. They offer many remarkable ways to bring out your crafty side even if you don’t sew or know where to begin. Next time you see something eye-catching way out of your price range, you might even be inspired to make it yourself.
Our lifestyle choices are a huge part of living sustainably and contributing our part to improving the environment, but public policy also holds great potential for improving our cities as a whole.
Whether you can vote or not, elected officials at the local, state, and federal level are still responsible for representing your interests. So let them hear from you if you are concerned about a local issue or want more progress by communicating your knowledge and opinions to them!
There are multiple ways to contact and influence your delegates. First, go online and find out who your representatives or school board members are. Many politicians also have social networking pages which can be powerful tools for staying active. A letter or call with a brief, polite, and personal message brief can also definitely get your point across effectively.
State how an issue will affect you using personal examples of how similar proposals have impacted your community in the past. The more genuine and passionate you are, the more effective your message will be. By using facts and citing credible sources, you can be more persuasive. Also attempt to offer alternatives solutions to the problem at hand. Finally, include your name and address so they can respond accordingly.
Another option is to serve as volunteer representatives of your city or on the youth council as an advocate. One of the best experiences I’ve had in high school was being in the Model Atlanta Regional Commission. It helped me realize just how significant citizens’ voices were in determining how final results were carried out.
Putting in your two cents can help politicians get valuable and novel suggestions on what the city can do to improve its youth oriented efforts. School board members especially would appreciate finding out how their policies are affecting the students they represent.
OnAir says: What issues do you really care about? How do you think teens should reach out to local leaders and officials with concerns? Let us know your ideas in the comments!
To commemorate Earth Day, my school’s environmental club holds an Earth Week. For the five days leading up to the annual celebration, we hold a plethora of lunchtime and after-school activities to build up the momentum and get fellow students to realize the variety of ways in which they can celebrate and develop green habits.
Last year, it seemed like we’d run out of new ideas and we’d have to resort to past activities until our teacher reached out to a high school climate education program called ACE (Action for Climate Education). We were ecstatic to find that they offered local workshops, carbon-cutting presentations, leadership training, and assistance for students to build action teams. By spring, we’d spent most of our funds so we were grateful to find out their help was free.
We met with their local representative Amber, and she helped up brainstorm refreshing and innovative ideas to spread our passion. The best part, though, was that she offered to be a guest speaker at a climate assembly our club could organize. Her presentation was amazing, to say the least. With engaging animations and an impactful message, it got the students so excited that we recruited 26 members for our club and our Do One Thing pledge board was covered with signatures and positive messages.
In this upcoming week, our Earth Week will be anything but boring. We’re having a shooting paper balls and bottles into recycling cans tournament, an organic foods picnic, a DIY Fashion Day where students can bring in old clothes and refashion them, and a movie night where we’ll be showing The Lorax and selling snacks to fundraise for storm water barrels.
No matter how small or even nonexistent the action in your school or community might be, reach out organizations such as The Clean Air Campaign or ACE to find imaginative ideas to get others excited about implementing change. Every day is Earth Day but it’s great to be able to have a time to come together and celebrate the preservation of what surrounds us.
Have a great Earth Day!
OnAir says: Earth Day is April 22, and there’s still time to put together something awesome at your school! Planning something special? Tell us about it in the comments!
Watching movies is my favorite non-physical pastime, but it was only last year I realized I was neglecting one of the most important kind of movies: documentaries. I’d always assumed they were boring and avoided them until I watched a spellbinding one called Food Inc. in my Environmental Science class. It graphically and powerfully depicted how our methods of food production were causing harm to the environment, animals, and ourselves as consumers and employees. It changed the way I ate, bought, and looked at my food… for the better.
There are boatloads of different documentary genres, but my favorite is definitely environmental. This media of information is surprisingly entertaining, informative, and inspiring. For most people, seeing is believing, so witnessing images of issues that need to be dealt with furthers your conviction and make you want to take action. The first step of targeting an issue is being informed about it and films and videos about environmental issues greatly complement articles and books by making visual connections.
My similar new obsession is TEDTalks. They’re several minute online video lectures done by riveting people on subjects across the board. They’re enlightening to say the least, so watch one when you have some free time. If you can spare a longer period of time, catch some of my favorite documentaries which include Gasland about how communities are being affected by the hydraulic drilling process known as fracking. An Inconvenient Truth is one of the best about Global Warming and has really cute animations by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. One of the most relevant ones is The Dirtiest Place on the Planet about life in Linfen, China, a place where breathing the air is equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes.
These days anyone can be a filmmaker, so if you see a problem and want to capture it, consider making your own documentary.
OnAir says: A huge welcome to Melat–our newest OnAir blogger! We’re glad to have you on the team. Any readers out there interested in writing for us? Click here to apply!