By Laken Brooks
When we imagine gender rights, we probably think of pay equality, reproductive health, education, intersectionality, sexual assault, body image, or other related platforms. As the world warms, sustainability is becoming a woman’s issue. According to Devi Lockwood of the Women’s Media Center, pollution and climate change especially endanger women. Women across the world devote significantly more time to household chores like laundry, water collection, and cooking than do men. Global warming and pollution forces women to endure heavy droughts, walking further to find clean water and spending more time rationing supplies for hygiene and cooking. Without regular access to clean water to clean their laundry, many women in developing countries cannot go to school or work while they are on their periods.
Here in North America, these realities may seem far removed, but we can no longer ignore how our unsustainability impacts the globe. Ecofeminists like Sami Brisson argue that environmentalism is a woman’s issue in which male-dominated corporations “conquer” Mother Nature much like how women have been objectified and claimed as men’s property throughout history. This feminist reality especially impacts women of color across the world since corporations funnel most of their pollution into areas inhabited by impoverished, often minority, people. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests of 2016 and early 2017 brought this concern to light; the pipeline could leak oil and poison the water supplies for Native American communities. Native Americans, already a financially and socially marginalized group in the United States, were faced with the reality of this cleanup in 2017 when the pipe inevitably spilled. Women of Color Speak Out is one of several organizations that is working to raise awareness of the gender and racial inequality behind climate change.
Recylingfacts.org states that most people in the United States generate four pounds of trash every day. When this trash ends up in landfills, it degrades our ecosystems and produces methane gas. We as individual consumers can and should petition businesses to encourage them to adopt more sustainable policies. As we encourage our favorite companies to make these sustainable policies, we can adopt our own personal lifestyle changes to reduce our own waste. By avoiding plastic items and by cutting down on our food waste, we can do our part — no matter how small — to create a better world for current and future women. While not everyone can afford to eat organic for every meal or purchase the newest energy-efficient products, we can all do something to help preserve our planet and, therefore, raise awareness for the women in who are struggling as a result of our warming planet. Inspired by environmental activists like Kathryn Kellogg, author of the blog Going Zero Waste, here is a month-long schedule for how to revamp your life to protect Mother Nature.
Opt for a reusable drinking straw or no straw at all. According to ecocycle.org, Americans alone use around 500 million plastic straws a day. Imagine how many of those straws end up in our landfills and, even worse, in our oceans. Give Mother Earth some love and skip the straw in your iced coffee.
Next time you go on a jog or a walk, bring along a trash bag. Pick up litter along the way, but be careful to avoid sharp or dangerous items! You may even get perks from businesses or restaurants. One organic chain, Fruitive, has partnered with the Better Beach Project to reward customers with food discounts in return for picking up litter on the beach.
Go thrift shopping. Onegreenplanet.org has outlined nine reasons why thrift shopping can help save the environment.
Have meatless Mondays. Going vegetarian, even for one day, can help reduce carbon and methane emissions created from factory farms.
Put a small garbage bag or bin in your car so you’re never tempted to litter.
Carry a reusable bag. According to reusethisbag.com, one person using a reusable shopping bag across their entire lifetime could save around 22,000 plastic bags!
Consider making your own cosmetics, but contact your doctor or dermatologist first!
Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Most of us do not live entirely with solar power, so at least part of our energy comes from unsustainable sources like oil. When we use less electric energy, we cut down on our power bill and burn less fuel.
Take shorter showers. Boston University’s sustainability webpage says that you can save up to ten gallons of water every day just by shortening your shower by two minutes!
Walk, bike, or ride public transportation. Saving the environment and having unspent gas money for tacos? What a win!
Use cold water for your next load of laundry, and give your dryer a break by hanging the clothes out to dry. The Sierra Club found that households can save as much as 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide by washing their clothes in cold rather than warm water.
If your apartment complex, dormitory, or neighborhood has a recycling program, use it!
Unplug your electronics when they’re not in use. This will save you money on your utilities, too!
Donate old clothing or items. You can help your favorite old jeans find a new life, and you can help support the charitable efforts of thrift shops in your community.
Wear a sweater or open the window before changing the temperature on your thermostat.
Use a reusable water bottle. According to Ban The Bottle, the US alone uses about 50 billion plastic water bottles each year. Most of those bottles are not recycled.
Pack your lunch instead of getting take out. Think of all the napkins, styrofoam containers, and little sauce packets that you’ll save.
Try to borrow, rent, or repair an item before buying it.
If you can, use a menstrual cup, a reusable cloth pad, or tampons without plastic applicators; however, we know that many people don’t have the freedom to easily change their menstrual products.
Opt for items packaged in glass or metal rather than in plastic. Glass can be recycled, hypothetically, infinitely, but plastic cannot be continually recycled. With each process, the plastic breaks down and becomes more toxic and less stable.
Print double-sided and use half the paper.
Food waste is a major contributor to landfills. Keep an “eat soon” or “expiring soon” tray in your fridge, and put food that you need to eat asap on this tray so it won’t end up in your trash.
Use vinegar, water, and baking soda as all-natural cleaning products around your home. It’s cheaper than other cleaners, and you’ll avoid the extra chemicals, fragrances, and plastic waste.
If you are eating out and suspect that you’ll have leftovers, bring your own container instead of asking for a restaurant “to-go” box.
Turn off the water when you brush your teeth to save up to 200 gallons of water per month.
Cut down on your junk mail by canceling unwanted subscriptions and newsletters.
Barter with neighbors and friends. When you buy fewer items, you save money and you reduce the demand for unnecessary manufacturing.
Carry a handkerchief with you. It’ll take up no room in your purse, but you’ll use it every day as a napkin, a wrap for your morning croissant, and as an impromptu tie-up bag to hold small goodies in your bag.
Drink more water and less soda.
Between paper and plastic, choose paper. Paper degrades, but many plastic items take years — if not centuries — to decompose.
When appropriate, use electronic files instead of paper.