Remember Project Drawdown— and the Eco-challenge we took last year issued through the Northwest Earth Institute to take small, everyday actions that were proven to mitigate climate change? Well, I’m happy to report Project Drawdown continues and is gearing up for another round of challenges this spring, beginning April 3 and running through April 24. You can register your team or just join as an individual to begin your own drawdown on climate change. But why wait! I have an immediate suggestion….

Having little to do at the start of the year (kidding), I joined a new environmental group called the Confluence Climate Collaborative. We began as classmates in a study group looking at connections between our health and our environment. During the course, two major reports on climate change were published: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by the UN and the US Climate Report by our own government. Neither gave good news; in fact, both signaled that the start of climate change had already happened and without immediate response to mitigate its effects, disastrous consequences are certain. In this choice-point moment, my classmates and I decided that while the class would end in a few weeks, we would go on.

Thus, the Confluence Climate Collaborative (CCC) was born. Our mission is straightforward: educate as many people as we can about how climate change threatens the planet and give them as many tools as we can to empower them to change course to a greener, more sustainable future for all.  

members of the Confluence Climate Collaborative

We’ve already begun our work by hosting a community showing of the film Normal Is Over in January. We will show our second film, Paris to Pittsburgh, twice in March: Tuesday, March 19 on the campus of Southern Illinois University at 5 p.m. and Monday, March 25 at the popular spot Old Bakery Beer Co. in Alton, IL. at 7 p.m. Both events are free! Get the details in the links above and plan to join us. We need you. Actually, we all need each other, you see.

So my new good friends and tireless comrades in the CCC have also issued a challenge for Lent as part of our ongoing community outreach (sort of like a Project Drawdown in miniature), and I just knew Green Gal readers would be all in and up for the test. This is not a religious experience, unless your religion is how you’d like to approach it. You all know how I feel about Lent, right? I posted on it in February of 2016 and explained how one of my best and most brilliant friends took me down a notch in my arrogance and turned me into a humble devotee to this sacred ritual. Well, let’s expand on that!

Here’s the Live Green deal proposed by the CCC: Buy Nothing

Ok, let me explain. During our class last fall, several overarching ideas on mitigating climate change and cleaning up our environment became crystal. At the top of the list was the word REDUCE. Not reuse or recycle, not compost, but reduce: stop buying things, especially new things, and turn around the global economy to support buying nothing instead of encouraging continual consumer consumption. We need to create a circular economic system in which fewer goods are created in the first place and what we have is valued, fixed and kept way longer. Whoa. I know. Be brave. (Want to learn more about what’s currently wrong with our current global economic system? Annie Leonard of Greenpeace has a wonderful YouTube video that is short, sweet, humorous but serious, and to the point: It’s The Story of Stuff.)

Everything in small steps, yes? Here’s where your journey toward buying nothing starts: not with deprivation but with gratitude by spending the 40 days of Lent (however you count them down) “Loving What You Have.” Beginning on March 6, the first day of Lent, we are all challenged to love what we have, to be grateful every day for our current wealth and to get a better idea of what we truly value. We are asked to think twice about every single purchase we intend to make, from groceries, to clothing, to take-out dinners, to a sudden desire for that sparkling little something that is really the last thing we need (I’m sure we’ve all wanted one of those.).

What a spotlight we will shine on our impulse buying, right? What a savings we will have at the end of the challenge—extra money and—more importantly–a greener planet and more contentment—yes, happiness goes up when consumer consumption goes down! Trust me and be brave. There’s more…chin up…

Once we get near the end of the 40 days—somewhere around April 7 would be good—we will double down and take a plunge to BUY NOTHING for an entire week (so maybe April 7-14, for instance or April 11-18, if you are more traditional.).

Now it’s understood we must have food to survive—but really, how much could you stretch the stuff in that pantry of yours if you really got creative in the kitchen? And of course, you must put gas in the car to get to work, but could you walk or ride a bike to the library down the street, to the park, to the gym? Could you car pool, even though it isn’t absolutely necessary? And we all know that our kids will need things for school and extra-curricular activities and lunch. But can something be repurposed for a new need? Could a family hike in a nearby park replace a night at the movies? Could Sunday’s leftovers be Monday’s lunch?

Could we buy nothing? Could we make lasting change? Could we discover the wealth in our own lives that has no connection to continual consumer consumption? Could this actually be FUN!?

Need some support? Well we at CCC have you covered. Each day for 40 days a graphic with some inspiration and helpful suggestions will be posted on the Confluence Climate Collaborative Facebook page, so like us and keep invested. We will encourage folks to interact with the content, tell us what is working and what is not. Share your new-found joy. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Where to start? One way to approach this rather overwhelming idea is to focus on a few items most of us currently buy that cause the most environmental damage. A CCC member who had a great take on this was my friend Sandy, who last year gave up buying single-use plastic water bottles for Lent and used only a reusable bottle instead. According to Sandy: “What I learned from the experience was that I purchased single-use bottles more than I realized because I had thought of myself as very plastic conscious. So I discovered a bad habit, and I learned so much more in the process … ways to avoid so many other plastic containers–deli items at the grocery store, and other convenience items.”

And Sandy’s focus was spot-on. Single-use, disposable plastics in general are one of the biggest environmental disasters that humans have created. Of all the plastic waste we have generated since 2015, less than 10 percent has been recycled, according to the UN Environment Fact Sheet on Single-Use Plastics.

NHN image of plastic waste

Image courtesy of New Hope Network

Want some more inspiration for doing with less plastic? The New Hope Network (NHN) recently published an *article on the problems with plastic and 10 ways you can avoid them. NHN author Melaina Juntti explains that humans have generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic since 1950; that’s according to a 2017 University of Georgia study. What’s more, says Juntti, almost 80 percent of that plastic is still sitting in landfills or junking up the environment. Plastic—even the biodegradable kind—never really goes away. It clogs waterways, chokes out wildlife and emits toxic chemicals that leech into water and soil.

As you think of ways to take the CCC Lenten Challenge of loving what you have, consider multi-tasking, as Sandy did, and ditch your plastic habit along with your outmoded consumerism. You probably shop the bulk bins at grocery stores and tote your own cloth shopping bags, right? You may store leftovers in sealed glass containers instead of zip-top bags and bring a refillable water bottle to the gym. These are all excellent ways to cut down your plastic usage, says Juntti, but there are even more, less-obvious things you can do. Juntti offers 10 more ideas from The New Hope Network that you may not have thought of, but should.

Skip plastic produce bags 
If you’re good about bringing your own shopping bags to the grocery store, go a step further and avoid the produce bags on those big roles. You’re going to wash your produce anyway, so it doesn’t much matter if they’re loose in your cart, right? Bring along a mesh tote or a small waterproof nylon bag to keep your produce safe and sound until you get home.

Choose wines with real corks
About 15 years ago, buzz began circulating that cork, the classic wine preserver, wasn’t so sustainable. There was concern that cork tree forests were being depleted, so perhaps plastic wine stoppers would be better. Well, the truth is cork production is pretty darned sustainable. The bark can be stripped and used to make wine closures without cutting the trees down, and this process actually makes the trees better able to offset carbon dioxide! Also, Mediterranean cork forests host some of the greatest plant biodiversity on the planet, according to the World Wildlife Fund. So next time you’re selecting wine, opt for bottles with real-cork corks, not plastic stoppers.

Leave plastic hangers at the store
Fewer stores these days let you keep plastic clothes hangers, but plenty will still ask if you’d like them at checkout. Unless you’re in dire need of new hangers at home, say no and encourage the store to reuse them.

Decline straws at restaurants 
The no-plastic-straws movement is gaining steam, with more and more restaurants moving away from them. However, most eating spots still offer straws automatically. So you make the call: tell the restaurant server, bartender or checkout person that you’d like to go without. If you’re given a straw anyway, and it’s wrapped in paper or plastic, take it back up to the bar or counter.

Get off mailing lists 
Unless you tear them off, those crinkly plastic windows make otherwise recyclable paper envelopes destined for the landfill. Who knew! To limit the number of windowed envelopes sent to your home, request to be taken off any unnecessary mailing lists. Or, step up your challenge and see if you can go totally paperless with your utility bills, bank statements and other must-haves.

Use bar soap instead of liquid soap
Most liquid hand soaps and body washes come in plastic bottles. And does anyone really mind using bar soap anyway? This is an easy one. Place bars of soap in your bathrooms and by your kitchen sink—and in the shower, instead of body wash. Go one step further and try a bar shampoo. A great source for quality bar soaps? Your favorite farmers market where local artisans whip up healthy, sweet-smelling products packaged in cardboard or not packaged at all!

Order ice cream cones, not cups
When you hit the ice cream shop, order your treat in a cone instead of a plastic-lined paper cup with a plastic spoon. Also consider going out for ice cream when you want it versus keeping the sweet stuff in your freezer, likely in a plastic tub or plastic-coated box. Yes, it’ll cost more per lick, but we tend to cave to cravings more frequently when it’s only a freezer door away. So by not having it in your home, you’ll cut down on plastic use and indulge only when you want ice cream bad enough that you are willing to go fetch it. Win-win!

Bring your own garment bag to the dry cleaner 
If you have a lot of clothes that need dry cleaning, the plastic waste adds up fast. See if your dry cleaner will let you leave your own garment bag with your items. If they say no, consider shopping around for a new dry cleaner that’ll let you skip the single-use plastic bag. The consumer power is in your hands, after all.

Ask the flight attendant to refill your canteen
Just think how many single-use plastic cups are used each airline flight! When the flight attendant offers you water, ask if he or she can pour it into your canteen or reusable bottle. If you’re ordering a soda or juice, see if you can get the whole can instead of a cupful. They are usually kept reasonably cold.

Banish balloons 
Lots of balloons are made of plastic, and when they escape, they can float for thousands of miles before landing. Once on the ground or in the water, birds, small mammals and fish may mistake them for food or get tangled in the attached ribbons. For your next celebration, bypass balloons and go with paper streamers, paper lanterns, cardboard signs and other plastic-free decorations instead. Or how about flowers from your garden?

Well, that’s a lot to take in, I know. But if we all really commit, even in simple small ways, the payoff (for the entire planet) will be enormous. So, go and shop no more. Peace be with you.

*The information from the article “10 Ways to Say No to Plastic” was provided by New Hope Network. I am a member of the New Hope Influencer Co-op, a network of health and wellness bloggers committed to spreading more health to more people.”

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