Around this time of year, people often start thinking about a New Year’s resolution — a change in habits or routine that leads to a positive change of some sort — lose 10 pounds, start doing yoga, stop eating chocolate, etc. But imagine what it would be like if everyone made a resolution that was related to making the environment a cleaner and more sustainable place. This year, why not consider making a New Year’s resolution that has a positive environmental impact?
Stop using single-use plastics, especially plastic straws. Eight million tons of plastic make it into the ocean every year, and is ingested by about 700 different species of marine life, from fish to whales, seabirds to sea turtles. Dense coastal populations and increasing consumption of plastic products contribute to this staggering number, including in the United States. While plastic straws are not a large contributor to the overall production of marine debris by weight, they easily make it into the ocean because they are small and lightweight. Straws are especially harmful because of their small size — they can entangle wildlife or be consumed by fish, seabirds, and sea turtles, leading to death or other serious health issues. Similarly, plastic bags are lightweight and can easily blow into storm drains that lead to the ocean, where they are consumed by sea turtles (mistaking the bags for jellyfish), or other animals once the bags break down into smaller pieces.
Instead of using single-use plastic items (like those at fast-food restaurants and campus cafeterias), consider buying a single multi-use utensil, or a small set of reusable utensils. These come in stainless steel, bamboo, BPA-free plastic, or silicone, and are washable, lightweight, compact, and inexpensive. When you order drinks at restaurants, simply ask for “no straw” (which are unnecessary for consuming the majority of beverages anyway!). Bring reusable bags with you to the grocery store, or wherever you go shopping, to cut down on your consumption of plastic bags.
Recycle all your aluminum cans. Aluminium is the most valuable product that you can recycle but only 67% of aluminium cans are recycled in the U.S. every year, with nearly $1 billion worth of cans thrown out. Because aluminum is infinitely recyclable, nearly 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still being used today4 — that is an incredible return on investment! Beverage containers are the largest contributor to aluminum scrap metal, and recycling aluminium uses only 5% of the energy that would be required to create new aluminium from raw materials. Recycling aluminium reduces the cost and energy associated with mining raw materials, adding aluminium to landfills, and international shipping of new aluminium. Recycling of aluminium can also be done using non-fossil-fuel or renewable energy sources, such as geothermal, hydroelectric, and solar power.
Recycling is one of the easiest daily habits that we all can do more often. Many towns either have regular roadside pickup, or a recycling center where items can be dropped off. Because aluminium is one of the easiest (and cheapest) materials to recycle, it is a common item accepted for recycling. Check with your town’s sanitation department for information on what kind of programs are available in your area. You can also use the recycling locator here to find your nearest aluminium recycling location. Bonus: many drop off recycling centers offer money-per-pound for aluminum cans!
Start walking, biking, or using public transit instead of driving. In 2015, over 236 million vehicles were registered in the U.S., making the U.S. second only to China as the largest automobile market in the world. Nearly 60% of all transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions are from cars, trucks, and SUVs that use traditional fossil fuels. By switching to walking, biking, or using public transit for your daily commute or other transportation needs, you will lower your personal carbon footprint, and help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. Public transit has been shown to produce lower greenhouse gases than personal vehicles, and the U.S. Department of Transportation has reported that:
“If just one driver per household switched to taking public transportation for a daily commute of 10 miles each way, this would save 4,627 pounds of carbon dioxide per household per year—equivalent to an 8.1% reduction in the annual carbon footprint of a typical American household.” 7
Walking or biking more often also has the added benefit of improving your cardiovascular health (and might even help with that ever-popular New Year’s resolution of losing weight).
What are you already doing in your daily routine that helps make the environment more sustainable? What else can you do in the New Year to make it even better?
 Laura Parker. Feb 13, 2015. Eight Million Tons of Plastic Dumped in Ocean Every Year. National Geographic. Available: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150212-ocean-debris-plastic-garbage-patches-science/
 Laura Parker. April 12, 2017. Straw Wars: The Fight to Rid the Oceans of Discarded Plastic. National Geographic. Available:
 Alissa Scheller. Dec 6, 2017. This Is How Your Plastic Bag Ends Up In Massive Ocean Garbage Patches. Huffington Post. Available:
 Statista. 2017. Number of vehicles registered in the United States from 1990 to 2015 (in 1,000s). Available:
 U.S. Department of Transportation. Federal Transit Administration. 2010. Public Transportation’s Role in Responding to Climate Change. Available: www.transit.dot.gov/sites/fta.dot.gov/files/docs/PublicTransportationsRoleInRespondingToClimateChange2010.pdf