10 Ways You Can Help the Environment in 40 Days

Growing up in a Roman Catholic family and receiving a Roman Catholic primary education, every year around this time I was urged to choose something to give up for Lent. Some people take it more seriously than others, but most of the time, you’ll hear that things like chocolate, chips, and soda top the list of things people choose to abstain from. While not all Catholics participate in events such as giving up something for the 40 day reflection period, Lent can also be a great exercise in cutting out things from your life that you didn’t know you didn’t even need, even if you aren’t Catholic! I don’t even practice any organized religion anymore, but here’s why I’m giving up certain practices that are damaging the earth for Lent.


The most major forms of pollution currently plaguing the planet include air pollution, soil contamination, thermal pollution, and water pollution. Listen, manufacturing contributes to most of the global pollution and climate change. By now, that’s no secret. I had a discussion recently with a colleague after I started bringing a reusable water bottle to work instead of using the paper cups provided for us. He said he didn’t really think much of the waste he contributes because, hey, he’s just one person. What change is he really going to make? I replied, “When you go to vote, you’re just one person. What makes you think you have any impact on your elected officials?”


And it’s true, eating takeout with a reusable fork or using stainless steel straws isn’t going to undo the irreversible damage already done to our planet. But how is that any excuse to continue blind wastefulness? Isn’t that only going to solidify our fate in the end? You may be one person, but just like how casting one vote matters in the grand scheme of an election, if everyone can cut down our waste by just a little, it can go a long way.


So, here’s a few things to consider cutting down on. I challenge you to last the 40 days of Lent, even if you don’t practice any denomination of Christianity, and I promise that by the time Easter morning comes, you’ll find it even easier to continue to cut down your personal wastefulness.



1) Skip the Uber, Take Mass Transit or Carpool!

Okay, it’s 22 degrees currently in Manhattan, and I’m not about to hop on a bike to go to school. But before you hail a cab or order that Uber, remember that one pound of CO2 is released for each mile you drive. Try switching to mass transit or carpool. If where you live doesn’t have a reliable transportation system, Uber pool is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.


2) Switch the Thermostat for a Hoodie

Turning the heat down 1-2 degrees lower than your desired temperature in the winter can save hundreds of pounds of emissions each year (plus you’ll save $$ on your gas bill!) HVAC systems are the main contributors to the greenhouse effect, which causes the rise in the overall global temperature. Plus, the use of nonrenewable energy such as natural gases and coal create toxic emissions such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.


3) Cut Down On Meat

Besides using land and resources that could be used elsewhere, the meat industry makes up more than 23% of the world’s contribution to global warming. The biggest reason for air pollution? Methane (Cattle waste). While many people can’t give up meat entirely because of health issues, (myself included) switching beef for alternatives such as poultry can substantially reduce the amount of air pollution caused by livestock. The latest annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation covers this in detail. Cutting down on beef alone can help stop the rise in overall global temperature, which has risen to almost 2 degrees more than that in 1880, and continues to rise exponentially.


4) Environmentally Harmful Cleaning Products have Got to Go

When was the last time you read the back of your bathroom cleaner bottle? How much of that toilet cleaning solution do you think goes down the drain and pollutes our ecosystem? Next time you shop for cleaning supplies, opt for eco-friendly solutions. Brands such as Method are devoted to the cause for natural, non-toxic cleaning supplies. I first read about Method when reading “Start Something That Matters,” a book by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS. It explains how, in the early days of the company, its goals were simple: transparent ingredients, transparent sourcing, and transparent manufacturing.



5) Ditch the Plastic Bag for Canvas

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag drifting through the wind? I hope not. Because that’s not where loose plastics belong! Canvas bags are a cheap alternative to the flimsy plastic that chokes birds, squirrels, and other animals and floats out to sea to contaminate our water. Every household has a big plastic bag with a bunch of other plastic bags in them. Try actually reusing them (they can make great dog poop pick up bags in a pinch!) or opt to bring your own bag when making a purchase.


6) Makeup Wipes

Besides excessive packaging, most makeup cleansing cloths aren’t biodegradable. Using micellar water or any other liquid makeup remover with a washable towel can help cut down on waste made by the beauty industry, plus you might find yourself saving money depending on your preferred brand.



7) Wasteful Showers

Have you ever timed yourself in the shower? Try timing yourself once, then knock off a few extra minutes until you have the perfect, most compact time for your routine. This article from the Huffington Post points out that the longer you shower, the more you might be damaging your skin. Most people only need 10-15 minutes in the shower, and oftentimes less.


8) Do You Litter? Knock it Off.

Picture this: you’re waiting to cross the street when a car stops beside you at a stop sign. The driver opens his window, and out flies a McDonald's soft drink cup. Did he run out of cup holders? Was he so sick of having the cup in his car that he HAD to toss it onto 68th street? Was it going to self destruct? Probably not, and that cup will most likely end up in a drain. More likely than not, that plastic is going to pollute our water supply and choke the animals in our local aquatic ecosystem. This is an ESSENTIAL habit to quit. Devote yourself to learning what waste can be composted, recycled, and sent to landfill, and try to dispose of what you use accordingly. (Plus, in most cities you can be fined for littering. Do you really want to have to pay that ticket over a $1 cup of soda?)



9) Recycling is Important, but Reusing & Reducing are More Essential.

NO Single-Use Plastics!

You’ve probably heard of places like Starbucks who are beginning to ditch items such as plastic straws. This is because these one-and-done items cannot biodegrade, and can take thousands of years to decompose. The chemicals used to manufacture these items are incredibly damaging to the environment, and oftentimes they aren’t disposed of ethically. Instead, opt for items on Amazon such as cutlery, straws, and reusable water bottles that you can keep in your bag. When you have parties, instead of taking out the paper plates and cups, go the extra mile and use the washable ones. A little can really go a long way, and once you notice how much you use single-use plastics, the more you should think about where they are going to end up once you’re finished with them.


10) Do You Know Where Your Clothes Come From?

You may have heard about the newest wave of sustainable fashion. If so, great! If not, sustainable fashion essentially is all about knowing where your clothes come from, how they are made, and what they are made with. Do you know where your favorite brand sources their materials? Do they pay their manufacturers a living wage? What about factory working conditions? Good On You is an app that has helped me to figure out where to spend my money, and I feel much better knowing that the items that I have in my closet are contributing towards cutting waste and eliminating unsafe work practices. For the next forty days, I urge you to avoid brands that Good On You deem 1 star out of 5, which they title “We Avoid”



10 things can seem excessive. Cutting waste cold turkey can definitely be hard. We have adopted wasteful behaviors, but we can always learn to so better! Choosing even a handful of these things to be mindful about can drastically change your outlook on what you thought you needed. By April 21st, you’ll probably find that it’s easier to continue being eco-friendly. Plus, if you don’t celebrate Easter, the day after (April 22nd) is Earth Day! By then, you’ll be able to celebrate all that you’ve done to help save our one and only planet from irreversible climate change. Cut out soda if you want, but try challenging your carbon footprint this Lent season too!