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Out with the old, in with the sustainable

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

Six habit-changing resolutions that will help you live your best eco-hero life

The Tech Interactive will open an exciting new exhibition in 2021 exploring the connections between technology and living sustainably. Solve for Earth is aimed at inspiring hope and provoking action. Exhibit Developer Michelle Maranowski, Ph.D. has spent years digging into the ways small tweaks to our thinking and habits can have a big effect on the future of our planet. Here are her tips for a more sustainable you in 2021 and beyond!

1. Slow down on fast fashion

At the end of the year, many of us clean out our closets and donate the excess to charity to make way for the new. The problem is that the rest of the world is drowning in our cast-offs. Plus, it takes garment manufacturers over 700 gallons of water to produce a simple cotton T-shirt. Instead of seeking what’s new, purchase timeless pieces that you can wear for a long time. Find different ways to jazz up your closet. For example, try swapping clothing with friends. Shop at thrift stores or consignment shops. Consignment works really well for finding gently-used children's clothing.

2. Don’t discard! Upcycle!

Let’s normalize taking old things and making something new out of them. Before you throw something away or donate it, think about how it could be used. Paint old furniture to give it a facelift. Give barely-used items new meaning by creating gorgeous gift baskets. Turn chipped coffee mugs or abandoned cinder blocks into planters. All it takes is an open mind to give something a second life.

Not sure what to do with all those cardboard delivery boxes? Check out this year’s The Tech Challenge: Ultimate Upcycle, presented by Zoom Video Communications.

3. Take a hike

Spend time outside in nature and be healthy. Take a deep breath and get to know the different plants and animals that live in your area. What do you see? How do you feel? Realize that you are an important part of this “system” and that there is a lot that you can do to live in balance with your environment by simply supporting biodiversity in your neighborhood.

Bonus activity! Take a cue from nature with Biomimicry Mash-up. Our activity helps you really appreciate the features of animals, plants and insects and feel inspired to solve problems.

4. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer

Get to know your community! Volunteer to help clean up a local creek. Ask your Parks department about maintaining hiking trails. If you are close to a coast, find an organization that holds beach clean ups. Participate in an outdoor community science project with friends through the iNaturalist and SciStarter platforms.

5. Do a waste audit in your home

We all create waste and have areas in our home that can use improvement. Take a look at your home offices, bathrooms, and kitchens with a critical eye to see where you can eliminate waste. Reduce paper consumption at your printer, go digital with your newspapers and magazine subscriptions, stop buying bleached paper towels and replace with washable cloth towels.

Plastics have helped in many aspects of our lives, but the Earth is drowning in them. Commit to reducing your plastic waste. Purge your cabinets of plastic cutlery, remove plastic bags, and store food in glass. Instead of using a petroleum based sponge to wash dishes, make your own Tawashi scrubber (instructions) from worn socks. Buy in bulk to reduce plastic packaging waste.

6. Reduce your food waste

Americans toss out almost 40 million tons of food annually. Food waste is money, nutrients, and water down the drain. What can you do to solve this problem? First, make an effort to cook and eat at home. Try planning out what you will eat for the week and writing a detailed shopping list before heading to the supermarket. Eat your leftovers!

Subscribe to a local community supported agriculture (CSA) organization. Based on a schedule you choose, the CSA will send you a box of fruits and veggies grown in your community. Many CSA groups give you the option of choosing “ugly” food, produce that doesn't meet a supermarket’s standards of beauty, but is nutritious and fine in every other way. Choosing “ugly” helps directly in reducing food waste by using produce that a farmer would normally be forced to throw away.

Sticking to your New Year resolutions takes time and dedication. The benefit to following through on your sustainable resolutions is the sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that you’ve helped more than just yourself!

Michelle Maranowski, Ph.D, is a curator and exhibit developer currently focusing on Solve For Earth, opening in 2021. She also helped develop the Cyber Detectives presented by Palo Alto Networks, and Social Robots exhibits. She has a doctorate in electrical engineering and a passion for asking smart questions and consulting the world’s leading voices in sustainability.

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