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Sustainable Living Essentials an array of sustainable, low waste household items including resusable bags, metal straws, and bar soap

Sustainable Living Essentials

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Everyone needs to start somewhere, but it can sound overwhelming at the beginning. What do I really need? Which materials is best? What will have the least impact? What will work for me? I understand it’s confusing so I’ve put together this list of sustainable living essentials that will send you well on your way to living a more sustainable lifestyle.


The first thing on my list of sustainable living essentials is a reusable water bottle. You should always bring a reusable water bottle with you when out and about. This cuts out the plastic water bottles from the store (which shouldn’t be reused) as well as cups at fast food/casual restaurants. If you drink coffee, a reusable coffee cup, mug, or thermos is also a good idea to cut out all those disposable cups and plastic lids. Sometimes you’ll even get a small discount for bringing in your own cup!

Cup Materials

When comes to materials, you have a lot to choose from.

Metal is a good choice as it is durable and non-plastic, but some metals are better than others. Aluminum bottles are usually lined with BPA (plastic and a hormone disruptor) to prevent reactions with acidic liquids.

Stainless steel bottles can have the same issue, but some brands like Klean Kanteen do not use BPA in their water bottles. They have water bottles (adult and kids) and tumbler mugs in various sizes. But be aware: the alternatives used for BPA to coat metal bottles have the potential to be as dangerous as BPA.

To avoid BPA, try silicone or glass bottles. Silicone water bottles offer the added benefit of being collapsible for easy storage and travel. This silicone bottle rolls up while this one collapses down into itself.

Many glass bottles are wrapped in silicone to help prevent breaks. I’m too klutzy to take the chance, but I bought this one for my dad who just keeps it in his car and he loves it.

The last option is plastic. Most plastic bottles are polycarbonate, a hard to recycle plastic. My husband and I still use our Nalgene bottles we’ve had for years, but I also use a metal one. Another thing to note is many of the other bottles will have plastic lids, but some will have metal lids with a gasket.

Hot Beverages

For morning coffee or other hot drinks, using a Keep Cup or tumbler will greatly reduce your daily beverage waste. You can get a Keep Cup in glass, plastic, or stainless steel.

Keep a mug at work to fill up in the break room. Many coffee shops will allow you to bring your own cup to be filled, and you could even get a few cents off the bill. Some don’t due to sanitation rules and some will make your drink in a disposable and then pour it into your cup and toss the disposable (ugh, why?). Search around to find a shop that makes your drink directly in your cup.


Straws are handed out like candy it seems. Avoid straws at restaurants and bars by asking your server to not include them. If you do need or want a straw, there are many metal and glass straws on the market. I have these metal straws which came with silicone toppers to prevent shocking your teeth and a storage bag. They are great when I make milkshakes and smoothies!


Topic 2 on my sustainable living essentials guide is yet another thing we all do every day. Let’s look at both what the food is stored in and what you eat it with. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on reducing food waste!


Food containers can be metal, glass, or plastic, although many people avoid having plastic touch their food due to leeching concerns. Metal tiffins and bento boxes will have metal lids, but you obviously can’t microwave them. Check out this two-tier metal tiffin from Life Without Plastic!

Glass containers often have plastic snap-on lids, but I bought some great containers from Ikea that have bamboo lids with a (sadly probably plastic) gasket to create the seal. They work very well, but do not microwave the lids as they will dry out and crack. I accidentally did this once and the area that wasn’t wet on the lid now has little bubbles. Mason jars are also great glass options and have metal lids. Glass can be frozen, but do not subject it to quick temperature changes or fill the container too full.

Skip the plastic sandwich bag, and instead pick up this set of reusable bags from (Re)zip. We use these at home, and they work great!

The other option is to use plastic containers like Tupperware. If you use plastic containers for storage, at least move the food onto a plate before heating in the microwave since plastic leeches more at higher temperatures.


Forks, spoons, knifes, and chopsticks can be metal or bamboo. My husband has this Light My Fire titanium spork that also has a serrated edge for a cutting. I carry a fork and spoon in my lunchbox. These are children’s metal utensils from when I was a kid so they are smaller versions but still very functional. They cost me nothing since I already own them. I’m not very good with chopsticks, but this set of reusable ones is a good option those who are more adept.


Bringing a few reusable bags shopping will put an end to feeding that stash of plastic bags under the sink and cut down on the paper bags that get sent to the recycle bin. The problem many people run into is forgetting them at home, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

First I keep some bags hanging on the rack by the door so I see them on my way out. Next I keep one or two in the glove box of my car. And finally I keep one in my purse. This way I will at least always have one bag with me when I go shopping. If all else fails, you can refuse a bag in the first place and just carry out your items (assuming you didn’t buy a lot). Sometimes you’ll need a bag though so always ask for paper.

There are two types of bags that can come shopping with you. The first is the standard reusable grocery bag made of cloth, canvas, or plastic. These are the large bags that replace the plastic or paper bags at checkout. The second type is mesh produce bags which replace the plastic bags in the produce section. These bags are lightweight and allow the cashier to still see what’s inside. Whole Foods also has paper bags in the produce section which you can use to store your items.

Here are a few reusable bags perfect for grocery shopping:

Jars can also come shopping with you if you have a bulk section or a deli who agrees to use your container. You or the employee will tare the jar so its weight is not counted for what you pay. Then you can just place them in your pantry or fridge when you get home.

Personal Care

There is a multitude of sustainable living essentials used for personal care. Let’s start in the shower.


Many companies sell solid shampoo and conditioner bars as a zero waste alternative to traditional products that come in plastic. Plaine Products is a subscription service that provides shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion in metal bottles that you send back to be reused by someone else.

You may also want to try going No Poo. I started doing this shortly after Thanksgiving and I’m liking it. If you still want to use products in your hair, try these shampoo and conditioner bars.

As a note, some conventional products, especially body wash, contain microbeads (polyethylene) which do not breakdown and can harm aquatic life. Avoid these products as best as you can by reading the ingredients on the label, or switch to bar soap like this big 5.8 oz bar from Life Without Plastic.

Hair Care

For hair styling, I am using the same plastic brush and comb I have had for years. I also have a boars hair brush like this one I started using when I went No Poo. The comb should last forever, but I may purchase this wooden brush with wooden bristles when the plastic brush bites it because I like the feeling of that type of brush more than the boars hair.

For shaving, skip the plastic disposable razor for a metal safety razor. The blades can be as cheap as 15 cents each, and it’s not as scary as it looks! Life Without Plastic sells safety razors and blades plastic free. If you prefer a more conventional razor, check out Preserve’s recycled plastic razor.

Oral Care

For oral care, I highly suggest you talk to your dentist. For many people, myself included, oral care is too important to risk even for the planet. I believe fluoride is important, but all but one tooth tablet brand available in the US and all DIY toothpastes are fluoride-free. For me Denttabs from Amazon are still too expensive.

If you live in Europe or don’t mind fluoride-free, I highly suggest tooth tablets as a zero waste alternative to toothpaste. Check out brands like Denttabs (fluoride) and Bite (fluoride-free). You can also recycle toothpaste tubes through Terracycle. However, I am comfortable using a bamboo toothbrush and natural silk floss instead of their plastic counterparts.

You can also DIY just about any product from face wash to lip balm to shaving cream. Pinterest is full of recipes to try and see what works for you!

For the ladies, I suggest trying out a menstrual cup. I absolutely love my Organicup! You can check out my menstrual cup post here. There’s also reusable pads, organic cotton disposable pads, and period-proof underwear.


DIY cleaning products are not only safer for your home and better for the environment, but they are also so much cheaper! This DIY liquid laundry detergent contains only three ingredients plus water. It makes gallons of detergent for around what you’d pay for a single gallon of Tide. Other alternatives are soap nuts, bulk detergents from specialty stores, and commercial detergents from brands like Seventh Generation.

Remember, sustainable living essentials are more than just products. They are actions too! Sustainable laundry practices also include using cool/cold water, only running full loads, and air drying your clothing. If you still want to use the dryer, you can use wool dryer balls in place of dryer sheets.

For cleaning, this handful of ingredients pops into most cleaner DIY recipes (all-purpose, toilet and bathroom, glass, etc.): water, vinegar, castille soap, and baking soda. Borax and lemon juice are also frequently used. Check out some of the recipes in this post from He and She Eat Clean.


These five areas are where most of our product waste comes from. By using the tips above, you can greatly decrease the waste in your daily life. I suggest taking things one area at a time instead of trying everything all at once so you don’t get overwhelmed. Change comes slowly over time and focusing your efforts on specific areas can really help things move along.

Now that you’ve covered the sustainable living essentials, are you ready to move on to other areas of your life? Check out my posts on How to Reduce Packaging Waste and 10 Sustainable Travel Essentials.

Sustainable Living Essentials an array of sustainable, low waste household items including resusable bags, metal straws, and bar soap
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What More Can You Do For Our Future climate activists holding cardboard signs at a climate strike to demand political action

What More Can You Do For Our Future?


The zero waste and low impact movements center mainly on individual consumer actions that lead to a more natural lifestyle and a more sustainable future. Although these actions do help the planet, they alone are not enough to stop climate change, clean up our environment, and prevent future destruction.

Just 100 companies are responsible for over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. All of the top 100 companies are energy companies (coal, fossil fuels, etc.), but this does not mean product companies are not also pumping toxins into our environment.

Pure Earth compiled a list of the 10 Most Polluting Industries. They list product companies at #9, chemical companies at #8, and tanneries (leather processing) at #4. These companies use many toxic and even carcinogenic chemicals during production which can harm workers and poison the surrounding environment due to the company’s irresponsibility with their waste.

As far as litter is concerned, Greenpeace sponsored a worldwide litter audit and called out the top 10 companies whose litter they picked up. Coca Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle are the top 3. Greenpeace also started the #IsThisYours hashtag trend where you post photos of litter and tag the company it belongs to in an effort to hold them accountable for their packaging and material choices.

This post focuses on advocacy and activism which can help address our environmental crisis on a larger scale than individual actions. By advocating for a sustainable future, you can help create major change.

So what can you do?

Online Advocacy

Spreading the word and promoting change in your town, state, or country is an important first step in advocacy. With the internet and social media, you can reach a huge audience with a few clicks. Social media has evolved into an invaluable tool for dissemination of news and knowledge that can generate change. Share important environmental news articles, promote zero waste events in your area, and connect with organizations and companies (both those who are making steps toward sustainability and those who you’ll have to provide a little push in the right direction).

You can also use social media to create an online group that works to influence change. Share your knowledge with like-minded people from around the globe. Learn how others organized a trash cleanup or zero waste event, or brainstorm new ideas for solving today’s problems. These groups can inspire and motivate yourself and others to become climate action leaders.


Get out from behind the computer screen and volunteer as a climate change, environmental, or social justice advocate. Check out the websites of these organizations to get involved and/or find chapters in your area:

You can also look for local organizations that promote environmentalism, animal rights, social justice, and more. Volunteer at a town litter cleanup or with your Parks and Recreation Department. Search online or your community for opportunities.

Specifically in Massachusetts, here is a quick list of environmental advocacy groups.

Industry Activism

Industry and big corporations are the main cause of climate change, deforestation, and pollution. For decades they have tried to push responsibility onto the consumer as if it’s our fault they sell items packaged in unrecyclable trash and contract with factories with unethical labor practices. So what can you do to stop them?


First off, you can boycott the company. Refuse to buy items they sell and let them know what you are doing and why. This can be through social media or writing a letter to the company. 

Here’s a sample letter for Snapple’s change to plastic bottles:

Dear Snapple,

I used to love buying Snapple. Raspberry tea was my favorite flavor. I loved that you bottled your drinks in glass, but now that you have switched to plastic, I have decided to no longer purchase them and am encouraging others to join me.

Glass is a reusable material that is infinitely recyclable without a loss in quality. Plastic can only be downcycled once or twice before it must go to landfill. Plastics do not fully break down even after thousands of years. In addition, plastics are made from fossil fuels and their production releases toxins into the environment.

By switching to plastic bottles, you are taking a step back from sustainability during the most crucial years of human history. I am disheartened that your company has chosen convenience over the more sustainable option and the future of our planet.

So I will be switching to your competitor Nantucket Nectars, who still bottle their teas in glass.

Your former customer,


When you go the boycott route, be sure to do some research. Large companies may own a whole list of other brands. Nestle for instance owns many other companies like DiGiorno pizzas, Purina pet foods, and Gerber infant foods.

Contact Companies About Practices

If you don’t want to boycott a company, you can write companies about their practices. For smaller businesses, talk to a manager or owner in person. First, get their attention and let them know you are a frequent customer and enjoy their product or service. Don’t just complain about the problem; offer solutions AND show how those solutions make sense business-wise (i.e. will save money). Inform them about the consequences of their actions like pollution and harming wildlife. You can also explain why environmentalism is important to you and why a sustainable future should be important to them.

Here’s another sample letter for a restaurant using disposable eating ware:


I have been a customer at RESTAURANT for X years now, and I love getting your ITEM ON MENU. It’s so delicious! However, it bothers me that I have to use disposable cutlery and paper plates when I come to eat.

I care a lot about our environment, and disposables are a huge problem. They cannot be recycled, and many times they end up not even making it to landfill. Instead they get littered throughout the environment or make their way out to the ocean. Plastics never fully decompose and pose a huge problem for wildlife because the tiny pieces get mistaken for food.

I suggest you make the switch to reusable plates and cutlery. Although this has a larger upfront cost than disposables, over time there will be a big cost savings. Switching to reusables will also improve customer experience and elevate the first impressions people make of your restaurant.

I urge you to make sustainability an important part of your business model. Climate change affects all of us, and we should all do our part to help prevent it.

Your customer,


Vote With Your Wallet

Voting with your wallet is also a big way you can influence change in a company. Here are some ideas:

  • Shop local
  • Shop secondhand
  • Buy organic
  • Avoid palm oil or buy items with certified sustainable palm oil
  • Buy items with less packaging
  • Support companies with a strong environmental vision
  • Support companies who are transparent about their practices
  • Donate to non-profit organizations and charities

Political Action

Next, call and/or write your government officials and let them know environmentalism is important to you. Voice your support or disapproval of current legislation and bills. Your elected officials work for you so it your duty to make your voice heard. It only takes a few minutes of your time. If you’re in the US, find out who represents you and how to contact them using the links on this website.

Voting in all elections, especially local elections, is an important responsibility as a citizen and a great way to influence change. In local elections, voting for activist candidates and for or against certain ballot measures can influence change on a smaller scale. But that change still affects your life and the lives of thousands in your area.

Join a climate strike to show your government you demand climate action now and support a sustainable future for yourself and your children. Paint up a sign and get out there with a group of friends. Our right to assembly is crucial in voicing our disappointment with the ways we are being governed. Actions speak louder than words, and a large crowd speaks louder than individuals.

If you’re feeling ambitious, run for office! There’s no better way to make your voice heard than being the one making decisions.

Local Groups

Lastly you can join or create a zero waste or environmentalist community group in your area. Not only will you get the opportunity to gain and share knowledge and experiences, but you will also become more involved in your community. You can plan and participate in various events and have your message heard by a wider audience than if you were just working alone.

Get some friends and neighbors together or start a local Facebook page. Ask to put up a flyer in your local natural foods store or zero waste shop to advertise. Put together an event to host at your local library or community center to recruit some new members and share your knowledge.


Individual lifestyle changes are important and DO help our planet. Every contribution to a more sustainable future IS worth it. But unless businesses feel pressure from sinking profits, new legislation, and protests, they will not change.

What ways have you gotten involved to raise awareness your community or online? What organizations are you a part of?

What More Can You Do For Our Future climate activists holding cardboard signs at a climate strike to demand political action
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List Of Must Follow Low And Zero Wasters woman searches online to discover zero waste blogs promoting a sustainable lifestyle

List of Must Follow Low And Zero Wasters

Zero waste is a community, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give shout outs to my favorite fellow environmentalists and zero wasters who helped me learn to live more sustainably. Whether you prefer reading blogs and books, watching YouTube videos, or scrolling Instagram, these ladies have you covered!

1. Going Zero Waste – Kathryn Kellogg

Kathryn started living zero waste after a cancer scare and realizing she should question the items she is putting in and on her body. She is probably the most influential zero waster online currently, and her blog is full of amazing articles on every aspect of sustainable living. I love that she posts “Good News Friday” pictures of environmental news headlines on her Instagram every week to keep her followers updated on policy and world events in addition to personal zero waste living.

2. Zero Waste Home – Bea Johnson

Known as the founder of the zero waste movement, Bea Johnson has been living nearly waste free for over a decade! Her family of four and their dog generate less than a mason jar of landfill waste every year. Her book Zero Waste Home has been translated into over 25 languages. Check out her website for a bulk store locator or her Instagram for great zero waste inspiration!

3. Shelbizleee – Shelbi

Shelbi lives in Austin, Texas, and has a great YouTube channel focused on eco-friendly living. She even does a bit of dumpster diving to save items from going to landfill. I love her video series on trying to shop zero waste at “normal” grocery stores. Check out her channel, blog, and Insta!

4. Living Waste Free – Samantha White

Samantha White used to live in New Hampshire and then Australia, but now she lives in New Zealand. She is so real in her videos and doesn’t try to look like she’s perfectly zero waste or always makes the right choices. I love that because sometimes zero waste looks like you have to be a perfect mason jar trash carrier to be “good enough”, but that’s so not the case. Check out her awesome YouTube channel for a ton of great videos!

5. Sustainably Vegan – Immy Lucas

Immy lives in England and her videos are so calming and refreshing. She started the Low Impact Movement in 2018 to combat the idea that “zero waste” means you have to be zero. She didn’t like the guilt associated with not being perfect and recognizes everyone’s situations vary and some people have more opportunities than others. See what she’s all about on her YouTube channel and her Instagram!

6. Gittemary Johansen

Gittemary is a Danish zero waster who started her journey in 2015. She has a YouTube channel, a blog, and an Instagram. Her videos are always really fun to watch and upbeat. I love all her vegan food posts, and she’s even written a vegan recipe book. She really inspired me to start thrifting for my clothing and furniture.

7. My Plastic Free Life – Beth Terry

Beth’s book “Plastic Free” was the first book I read about zero waste living. What I love that she pushed to make the book itself is as plastic free as possible. It has a paper cover, no hard spine, and is bound with string. Her book is really inspiring and that’s why it’s top on my List of Must-Read Books on Sustainability. She started plastic free living in 2007 after seeing a photo of a dead albatross with a stomach full of plastic and knowing she had to do something about it. Check out her blog My Plastic Free Life and find yourself a copy of her book (check your library first!).

8. Litterless – Celia

Celia’s photos are to die for! They are so minimalist and clean. Her blog also has resources for finding grocery stores, places to compost, and where to shop online for bulk goods. After taking 2019 off to travel the world and start grad school, she has decided to stop writing blog posts, but her archives are full of great information.


Which zero wasters do you follow? Do you like blogs, videos, or Insta-pics the most? Tell me in the comments!

List Of Must Follow Low And Zero Wasters woman searches online to discover zero waste blogs promoting a sustainable lifestyle
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What Does China’s Recycling Ban Really Mean large bales of recycling stacked up awaiting shipment overseas for processing

What Does China’s Recycling Ban Really Mean?


Did you know if you live in a developed country, most of your recycling is actually sent to other countries for processing? It didn’t use to be this way, but with the advent of a global economy and China’s extremely fast growth, exporting recyclables became much more profitable than recycling them domestically. But now China’s recycling ban has halted imports and left countries drowning in stockpiled recyclable material.

By 2016, China imported over half of all imported recyclable waste, but in 2017, China announced it would start enforcing stricter rules on its recycling imports, making it much harder and even unprofitable to export recycling there. So what does China’s recycling ban mean for all of us?

This ban took effect in 2018, and now many countries are struggling with what to do with all their recycling. Many municipalities have begun shutting down curbside recycling programs and sending truckloads of materials to landfill because they have no other profitable way to get rid of them.

Unfortunately, recycling is still a business, not a public good. This means recyclers will chose the most profitable option, even if that isn’t necessarily what’s in the public’s (or the environment’s) best interest. We’ll look at some possible solutions at the end of this post which can help confront the millions of tons of recyclable material we are used to sending elsewhere.

Global Recycling

Recycling as we know it today (curbside programs and bottle return machines) was born in the late 1960s due to the environmental movement and increased awareness about the effects of the disposable lifestyle introduced in the 1950s. Although during the 1970s and 80s there were huge relative increases in recycling rates, today’s rates are still pretty low. The US and UK recycle about 34% and 39% of the waste they generate respectively. Only 9% of plastic is recycled today.

In the beginning, recycling was a domestic industry, but in the 1990s China and other countries (mostly in Asia) began buying up larger and larger amounts of recyclable waste. The recycled materials boosted China’s manufacturing industry and led to its quick rise to power on the global stage. China made recycling easily profitable, and many countries began sending more and more material overseas, driving recycling to become a $200 billion industry.

Before China decided to impose bans and stricter standards on the waste it imports, the nation bought the majority of global recyclable waste. The US exported 1/3 of all its recycling, and half of that went to China. The UK exported 2/3 of its plastic waste directly to China. The EU sent 60% of plastic waste and 13% of paper waste to China for recycling.

U.S. total scrap exports to china by real dollar value graph 1996 to 2013
Credit: PIERS

In total, China was responsible for importing well over half of all global plastic waste and half of all global paper exports. But in 2017, China began rolling back its recycling purchases.

China’s Recycling Ban

What Is The Ban?

China’s recycling ban on importing foreign waste is actually two different policies. The first began in 2013 to enforce regulations passed in 2006 and 2010. This policy, called “Green Fence”, increases standards on imported waste by lowering the acceptable contamination percentage. In July 2017, China dropped the percentage to just 0.3% but increased it back up to 0.5% by October of that year. The University of Georgia has estimated that these policies could displace 111 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2030.

China announced the second policy, called “National Sword”, in 2017 which bans 24 different types of solid waste materials. Some of these materials are PET drink bottles, plastic containers, and mixed paper. Mixed paper includes paper products like magazines and catalogs. This policy also cracked down on permit fraud and the smuggling in of recycling waste to China.

China has also imposed higher quality control standards for all other wastes it hasn’t yet banned, but these policies are just the beginning. The country began a total phase-out of waste imports that started last year.

Why Ban Recycling Imports?

Now why would China suddenly refuse foreign waste (something that created a huge industry and led to the nation’s economic boom in the past decades)? They have cited both environmental and public health concerns.

China has no fully-developed waste management system so it has struggled to handle all the imported waste. The recycling facilities are not well-monitored and pay very low wages to workers workers. These workers must manually sort through all the material and remove non-recyclable pieces. They are exposed to toxic chemicals like mercury and lead. China has shut down many facilities because they failed inspections.

In addition to these issues, China has also reduced its need to import foreign material. Its quick rise as an economic powerhouse has caused an increase in domestic recycling, an increase in virgin material use, and an increase in domestic plastic and paper consumption.


Effects Abroad

This graphic from National Geographic shows the bottleneck effect China’s recycling ban has had on waste exports. From February 2017 to February 2018, there was a 557,000 metric ton drop in exports to China. Following the ban, over 50 countries have fully halted exports to China. This constriction has led to many problems in the countries that used to send their waste to China.

Other countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia have begun importing more waste as a result of China’s pullout, but this is not a solution to the problem. These countries do not have the buying power, the infrastructure, or capacity to fully takeover for China.

Effects At Home

A New York Times report from May of last year has shown that hundreds of recycling programs in America are collapsing due to the inability to do anything with the waste. Because recycling is a business, facilities have stockpiled material in warehouses and parking lots while trying to find a buyer that would turn a profit only to fail and instead incinerate the material or send it to landfill. They have increased recycling fees and even shut down or stopped collecting in certain cities.

Incinerating recyclable plastics forces an increase in virgin plastics, but burning plastics is also very harmful to the environment. Dioxins get released into the atmosphere, which can cause cancer. Incineration also contributes to global warming, and waste to energy plants aren’t as green as they might appear. An article in the Atlantic says “[s]tudies have found that they release more harmful chemicals, such as mercury and lead, into the air per unit of energy than do coal plants“.

Sending more and more waste to landfill has also led to an increase in landfill fees. Recyclers have little other choice but to pay them since recycling is even more expensive or impossible. Developed countries that have grown used to shipping recycling overseas do not have proper domestic facilities to handle the material themselves.

Here are a few examples of how China’s ban has affected American cities:

  • Broadway, VA – Suspended recycling program due to inability to cover a 63% cost increase.
  • Blaine County, ID – Stopped mixed paper collected and sent 35 bales to landfill.
  • Fort Edward, NY – Suspended recycling program and admitted to sending recycling to incinerators for months prior to shut down.
  • Akron, OH – Suspended glass recycling program

If you’re in the US, you can check out how the ban has affected your state by searching through Waste Dive’s collection of recycling impacts in all 50 states. In my state of Massachusetts, there have been higher recycling fees, material pile-ups, and canceled contracts. Some places have ended single-stream recycling in favor of old school sorted recycling to reduce the risk of contamination.


Although there may be no magic solution to solving our global recycling crisis overnight, there are options for industry to create a more sustainable future and actions you can take today to help combat the issue.

Because many countries have relied on global recycling, they do not have proper facilities. By building and rebuilding domestic recycling facilities, we can start taking responsibility for our waste instead of pushing it somewhere else. Recycling budgets must increase so domestic facilities can keep operating.

According to the National Waste and Recycling Association, around 25% of material placed in recycling bins is contaminated. To improve the quality of our recycling waste, we may need to revert back to a sorted system instead of the single-stream system in many municipalities today. Single-stream recycling increases the quantity of recycled material because people don’t need to put in much effort so will recycle more things, but it greatly decreases the quality because these items are too dirty or not recyclable in the first place.

The public must get educated on what they can and cannot recycle to reduce contamination and quicken the sorting process. Check out my post called What Can I Recycle and Where? for a quick guide.

Robot sorting machines can go through material much faster than humans and could provide a better end product (reduced contamination).

Since 89% of exported plastics are single-use food packaging, companies should move toward less packaging, reusable packaging, and/or compostable packaging. A tax on plastic waste has also been proposed as a way to discourage waste. Pushing for heightened corporate social responsibility (CSR) will put an end to consumers being responsible for and dealing with the effects of the poor choices producers make.


Do you have any other ideas for how we can tackle our recycling problem in light of China’s recycling ban? Have you seen the effects of the ban in your area? Leave a comment below!

What Does China’s Recycling Ban Really Mean large bales of recycling stacked up awaiting shipment overseas for processing
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List of Must Watch Eco-Documentaries littered plastic water bottle floating in the ocean that will harm sea life as it degrades

List of Must Watch Eco-Documentaries


I have compiled a list of some of the eco-documentaries I watched when I was new to low waste living. Watching documentaries is an easy (read: lazy) way to get educated about our environment. I chose a variety of documentaries to cover a wide range of environmental topics including: pollution, animal agriculture, fast fashion, food waste, and climate change. I will update this list every now and again when I find something new I think is worth sharing with you all!

1. Garbage Island

Vice produced “Garbage Island” to find out what the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is really all about. This garbage patch is the North Pacific Gyre, a large rotating ocean current where much of our litter gets collected into a plastic soup. The Vice crew sails out to the garbage patch with Charles Moore, the discover of the garbage patch, and a chemist studying the effects and extent of the pollution to see the gyre for themselves.

This documentary was very eye-opening about the reach of human carelessness and the extent of the trouble we have caused. It is available on Vice’s website or on YouTube.

2. Cowspiracy

“Cowspiracy” is an eco-documentary about animal agriculture and its effects on the environment. It follows filmmaker Kip Andersen as he investigates why organizations are resistant to discussing animal agriculture as a main driver of climate change and pollution. It is well-documented that animal agriculture contributes to deforestation, water consumption, and habitat loss. But even environmental organizations are hesitant to call it out.

As someone who cuts out meat and animal products for environmental reasons, I believe this documentary is a very good tool to educate others to go vegan for reasons beyond animal rights issues. You can watch “Cowspiracy” on Netflix.

3. Forks Over Knives

In contrast to “Cowspiracy”, “Forks Over Knives” looks beyond the issues of animal agriculture to discuss how animal products in our diet affect our health. This documentary focuses on the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. These doctors prescribe diet changes instead of bottles of pills to patients with diseases like diabetes and heart disease. In many cases, patients reduced their dependence on medications just by eating healthy, plant-based foods.

This documentary convinced my husband to reduce his red meat consumption and ultimately led to him giving it up entirely except on very rare occasions. “Forks Over Knives” is also available on Netflix.

4. The True Cost

“The True Cost” takes a look at the garment industry and the rise of “fast fashion”. Fast Fashion is the trend of cheap clothing (in quality and price) to be worn only a handful of times before being tossed. This documentary goes inside the garment factories and follows the stories of workers to expose unsafe and abusive conditions and jobs that pay very little. Watch now on their website!

This documentary convinced me to buy secondhand or ethically for as much of my wardrobe as possible. Find out more reasons to thrift shop here!

5. Blue Planet 2

David Attenborough, a prolific environmentalist, produced and narrated “Blue Planet 2”. Each episode focuses on a single area of the world’s oceans and contains a strong message about the human impact on those locations. The episodes are fascinatingly educational, and who doesn’t love David Attenborough’s voice? This series, available on Netflix, brought climate change and ocean pollution education into many homes that otherwise may not have known about our impact.

I have always loved nature shows, but this one is definitely the top for making sure the ending message of the episodes is about human impacts on our oceans.

6. Global Waste: The Scandal of Food Waste

“Global Waste” addresses the growing but sometimes invisible problem of food waste around the world. Our food waste problem extends way farther back than most people think. Before food waste ends up in household trashes, grocery stores and even suppliers toss tons and tons into the trash. It is on Netflix in French, but that’s what subtitles are for!

This documentary was so shocking because we think about the waste in our kitchens and maybe even the waste from the grocery store, but how often do we think about waste at the producer level?


I’m always looking for a good documentary to watch. Do you have any recommendations? Any thoughts after watching these? Let me know!

List of Must Watch Eco-Documentaries littered plastic water bottle floating in the ocean that will harm sea life as it degrades
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2020 Democratic Candidates And The Environment voter holds American flag high ready to vote for pro-environment candidate

2020 Democratic Candidates & The Environment – Part 2


NOTE: This is a 2-part post. Part 1 covers topics 1 through 6, and Part 2 covers topics 7 through 13. You are reading Part 2. Read Part 1 here.

Ready to learn more about what the top 2020 democratic candidates have to say about protecting our environment? Part 2 will cover topics beyond energy and industry as we look at topics 7 through 13.

Again, I looked through the campaign sites of the top five 2020 democratic candidates. I limited my research to environmental policy and sorted quotes into the following 13 topics:

  1. Energy Sector
  2. Transportation Sector
  3. Fossil Fuel Industry
  4. Other Industry and Manufacturing
  5. Agriculture and Farming
  6. Infrastructure and Buildings
  7. GHG Emissions and Pollution Mitigation
  8. Public Lands and Conservation
  9. Environmental Justice and Equity
  10. Disaster Relief
  11. Diplomacy and Trade
  12. Government and Military
  13. Other Policies, Plans, and Info

The order of candidates in this post will be Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, and Pete Buttigieg. This follows the current polling order. I imposed a 5-quote limit per candidate per topic. Some candidates did not reach this limit in every category.

Let’s get started with GHG Emissions and Pollution Mitigation!

GHG Emissions and Pollution Mitigation

Joe Biden

  1. “Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050”
  2. “Biden shares the Carbon Capture Coalition’s goal ‘to make CCUS a widely available, cost-effective, and rapidly scalable solution to reduce carbon emissions to meet mid-century climate goals.’ Toward this end, he will double down on federal investments and enhance tax incentives for CCUS [Carbon capture, use, and storage].”
  3. “Requiring aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations.”
  4. “Embrace the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, adding momentum to curbing hydrofluorocarbons, an especially potent greenhouse gas, which could deliver a 0.5 degree Celsius reduction in global warming by mid-century.”
  5. “Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “In order to ensure we reach our carbon pollution emissions goals, the EPA will, under the Clean Air Act, regulate carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons.”
  2. “We will invest $238 billion to clean up Superfund sites and $150 billion to clean up and revitalize Brownfields, and other areas and communities that have been polluted by the fossil fuel, chemical and mining industries.”
  3. “[C]omplete decarbonization of the economy by 2050 at latest”

Elizabeth Warren

From Environmental Justice

  1. “Reinstitute the Superfund Waste Tax”
  2. “[T]riple the Superfund tax, generating needed revenue to clean up the mess.”

Michael Bloomberg

From 100% Clean Power and Communities First

  1. “Mike Bloomberg commits to propelling the country to full decarbonization as soon as humanly possible and before 2050, and slashing emissions by 50% across the entire U.S. economy in ten years.”
  2. “Reverse Trump rollbacks of clean air, water, health and safety, and waste rules that expose all Americans to dangerous levels of pollution from these sources”

From Clean Buildings

  1. “As president, Mike will cut carbon pollution economy-wide in the U.S. by 50% by 2030 and put us on the pathway to full decarbonization before mid-century.”
  2. “Invest in R&D to advance technologies that can capture carbon from the atmosphere and transform it into valuable building products such as steel and concrete.”
  3. “Ramp up appliance efficiency standards and health-related pollution restrictions, including by taking carbon pollution into account, to shift to zero-pollution standards for new appliances and equipment as fast as possible, consistent with 2025.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “[W]e will enact a price on carbon and use the revenue to send rebates to Americans”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “We will develop a new CarbonStar program to provide consumers with information and rebates on products that have a lower carbon footprint”
  2. “We will enact rules that sharply curb methane emissions”
  3. “We will sign an executive order mandating that any new material the federal government uses or pays for to construct buildings, roads, bridges, or other infrastructure, must be under a specified level of carbon emissions”
  4. “Deploy at least 1 gigaton of annual CO2 removal capacity by 2040”

Public Lands and Conservation

Joe Biden

  1. [C]onserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030.”
  2. “[P]ermanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas… banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, modifying royalties to account for climate costs, and establishing targeted programs to enhance reforestation and develop renewables on federal lands and waters with the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “Investing in conservation and public lands to heal our soils, forests, and prairie lands. We will reauthorize and expand the Civilian Conservation Corps and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Corps to provide good paying jobs building green infrastructure.”
  2. “Bernie is committed to providing a total of $1.34 trillion to ensure that all Americans have access to urban, suburban and rural recreational green space that are vital to our national heritage and our country’s tradition of recreation and conservation.”
  3. “Invest in green infrastructure and public lands conservation by reinstating the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)… We will invest $171 billion in reauthorizing and expanding the CCC”
  4. “We will spend $900 million to permanently fund the LWCF [Land and Water Conservation Fund]”
  5. “We will perform more than $25 billion of repairs and maintenance on roads, buildings, utility systems, and other structures and facilities across the National Park System.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “She’ll fully fund our public land management agencies to eliminate the infrastructure and maintenance backlog in her first term, and make Land and Water Conservation Fund spending mandatory to ensure that we continue to preserve lands for conservation and recreation. And she’ll jumpstart a 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps to create job opportunities for thousands of young Americans caring for our natural resources”

From Protecting Our Public Lands

  1. “That’s why on my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that says no more drilling — a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases, including for drilling offshore and on public lands.”
  2. “[M]ake Land and Water Conservation Fund spending mandatory to ensure that we continue to preserve and enhance public lands for conservation and recreation.”

From Honoring and Empowering Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples

  1. “As President, I’ll expand federally protected land that is important to tribes and protect historic monuments and sacred sites from companies that see it as just another place to drill or mine.”
  2. “[R]estore protections to Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and any other national monuments targeted by this Administration. I will also push for legislative action to save Oak Flat from copper mining and protect Chaco Canyon and the surrounding region from mineral development”

Michael Bloomberg

From 100% Clean Power and Communities First

  1. “Establish a moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases on federal lands.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “We will promote conservation of forests and grasslands through voluntary conservation programs, tax incentives, and the carbon sequestration market”

Environmental Justice and Equity

Joe Biden

  1. “Altering local regulations to eliminate sprawl and allow for denser, more affordable housing near public transit would cut commute times for many of the country’s workers while decreasing their carbon footprint.”
  2. “He will make it a priority for all agencies to engage in community-driven approaches to develop solutions for environmental injustices”
  3. “Biden will direct his EPA and Justice Department to pursue these cases to the fullest extent permitted by law and, when needed, seek additional legislation as needed to hold corporate executives personally accountable”
  4. “Ensure access to safe drinking water for all communities.”
  5. “Ensure that communities harmed by climate change and pollution are the first to benefit from the Clean Economy Revolution.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “$40 billion Climate Justice Resiliency Fund”
  2. “Expanding the climate justice movement” so it “prioritizes young people, workers, indigenous peoples, communities of color, and other historically marginalized groups”
  3. “[E]stablish an Office of Climate Resiliency for People with Disabilities.”
  4. “Update permitting rules that allow polluters to target poor communities for polluting infrastructure.”
  5. “Promote urban sustainability initiatives to improve the environmental and social conditions of low-income neighborhoods and communities of color without rendering those neighborhoods inaccessible for future residents of limited economic means.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Environmental Justice

  1. “Improve environmental equity mapping” to “identify cumulative environmental health disparities and climate vulnerabilities and cross-reference that data with other indicators of socioeconomic health.”
  2. “I’ll transform the Council on Environmental Quality into a Council on Climate Action with a broader mandate, including making environmental justice a priority”
  3. “invest in land management, particularly near the most vulnerable communities, supporting forest restoration, lowering fire risk, and creating jobs all at once.”
  4. “We will establish a National Commission on Disability Rights and Disasters, ensure that federal disaster spending is ADA compliant, and support people with disabilities in disaster planning.”

From Honoring and Empowering Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples

  1. “Conversations about physical infrastructure must also include serious engagement with the unique threat of climate change to Native and indigenous peoples.”

Michael Bloomberg

From 100% Clean Power and Communities First

  1. “Centralize planning of environmental justice from the White House by codifying the existing National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.”

From Clean Buildings

  1. “Increase funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), the federal lead-hazard reduction programs, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), so that they are fully funded, and ensure that those programs encourage not only energy efficiency but also prioritize health and safety, as well as address accessibility for disabled people.”

From Clean Transportation

  1. “Mike will prioritize underserved communities for transit improvements, develop programs to switch trucks and buses from diesel to electric, and provide financial assistance to encourage trading in older vehicles for electric ones or for transit vouchers.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “Establish next-generation ‘Regional Resilience Hubs’ to help communities” which will be “supplemented with $5 billion in annual Resilient America Grants”

From Resilient Communities: A New Disaster Preparedness Approach

  1. “We will establish next-generation Regional Resilience Hubs” “which will encourage community leaders, the private sector, and academia to develop innovative solutions and provide grants to the most promising ideas.”
  2. “We will elevate consultation with tribal governments and Native communities to where it belongs, and will fight alongside tribes to stop any development that potentially harms their land and people.”

Disaster Relief

Joe Biden

Biden’s campaign site had no quotes related to disaster relief.

Bernie Sanders

  1. “We will provide coastal communities with $162 billion in funding to adapt to sea level rise.”
  2. “We will increase funding for firefighting by $18 billion for federal firefighters to deal with the increased severity and frequency of wildfires.”
  3. “We will amend the Stafford Act to ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is empowered to address this problem specifically to ensure that recovery and rebuilding efforts make affected communities stronger than they were before the disaster so they are more resilient to the next disaster.”
  4. “We will invest $2 billion to ensure communities that are rebuilt after disasters strike have necessary resources to build back stronger than before the disaster.”
  5. “We will provide $130 billion for counties impacted by climate change”

Elizabeth Warren

From Environmental Justice

  1. “I will work with Congress to amend the Stafford Act to make grant funding more flexible to allow families and communities to rebuild in more resilient ways.”

Michael Bloomberg

From Wildfire Resilience

  1. “Double federal funding for fire resilience and management to $10 billion and devote half to forest restoration and mitigation efforts.”
  2. “Endorse Sen. Kamala Harris’s Wildfire Defense Act, and the similar House bill sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman. The Act would invest $1 billion a year in funding community-based wildfire plans.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “We will create a National Catastrophic Disaster Insurance program to provide stability to individuals and communities who experience the major disruptions caused by climate change and other natural risks such as earthquakes. And we will prioritize equitable disaster preparedness and relief so that all communities get the resources they need to prepare for, recover from, and rebuild from disasters”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “[W]ithin my first 100 days in office, I pledge to set up a community-centered Disaster Commission to review and make recommendations to streamline the process for disaster preparedness and recovery.”
  2. “We will reinstate the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard to encourage common sense building practices”
  3. “Expand FEMA Corps. FEMA Corps is a partnership between FEMA and AmeriCorps, providing 18‐to-24-year‐olds the opportunity to develop professional experience while serving communities impacted by disasters.”

From Resilient Communities: A New Disaster Preparedness Approach

  1. “We will support loan programs that incorporate resilience and mitigation.”

Diplomacy and Trade

Joe Biden

  1. “Re-enter the Paris Agreement on day one of the Biden Administration and lead a major diplomatic push to raise the ambitions of countries’ climate targets.”
  2. “Biden will, in his first 100 days in office:
    • Convene a climate world summit to directly engage the leaders of the major carbon-emitting nations of the world to persuade them to join the United States in making more ambitious national pledges, above and beyond the commitments they have already made.
    • Lead the world to lock in enforceable international agreements to reduce emissions in global shipping and aviation.”
  3. “[T]he Biden Administration will impose carbon adjustment fees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations.”
  4. “A Biden Administration will institute a new Global Climate Change Report to hold countries to account for meeting, or failing to meet, their Paris commitments”
  5. “Pursue a global moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic and reestablish climate change as a priority for the Arctic Council.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “Commit to reducing emissions throughout the world, including providing $200 billion to the Green Climate Fund, rejoining the Paris Agreement, and reasserting the United States’ leadership in the global fight against climate change.”
  2. “We will reduce domestic emissions by at least 71 percent by 2030 and reduce emissions among less industrialized nations by 36 percent by 2030 — the total equivalent of reducing our domestic emissions by 161 percent.”
  3. “Bring together the leaders of the major industrialized nations with the goal of using the trillions of dollars our nations spend on misguided wars and weapons of mass destruction to instead work together internationally to combat our climate crisis and take on the fossil fuel industry.”
  4. “Trade deals will be renegotiated to ensure strong and binding climate standards, labor rights, and human rights with swift enforcement.”
  5. “Place a fee on imported Carbon Pollution-Intensive Goods.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “Elizabeth would return the United States to the Paris Climate Accord”

From A New Approach to Trade

  1. “I am establishing a set of standards countries must meet as a precondition for any trade agreement with America.”
    • “Be a party to the Paris Climate agreement and have a national plan that has been independently verified to put the country on track to reduce its emissions consistent with the long-term emissions goals in that agreement.”
    • “Eliminate all domestic fossil fuel subsidies.”
  2. “I will push to secure a multilateral agreement to protect domestic green policies like subsidies for green products and preferential treatment for environmentally sustainable energy production from WTO challenges.”
  3. “I will impose a border carbon adjustment so imported goods that these firms make using carbon-intensive processes are charged a fee to equalize the costs borne by companies playing by the rules.”
  4. “I will push for a new ‘non-sustainable economy’ designation that would allow us to impose tougher penalties on countries with systematically poor labor and environmental practices.”

Michael Bloomberg

From International Climate

  1. “Re-join the Paris Agreement as his first act as president, and meet the targets science recommends.”
  2. “Restore U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund, so that the developed countries meet and exceed their goal to contribute $100 billion a year to developing countries.”
  3. “Reinstate U.S. leadership on the Arctic Council and prioritize the removal of black carbon from the atmosphere.”
  4. “Make climate change a top priority of U.S. foreign policy, and intensify U.S. and international actions to stop the expansion of coal and otherwise lower emissions.”
  5. “Use trade and security agreements to encourage all countries with whom we have diplomatic relations to have verifiable plans to reduce emissions according to the Paris Agreement.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “We will take the steps necessary to rejoin the Paris Agreement on the first day in office”
  2. “We will pledge $5 billion per year to identify the best ideas and shift the global debate toward a focus on scaling proven climate mitigation and adaptation strategies”
  3. “Double the U.S. pledge to the Green Climate Fund”
  4. “We will place the issue of climate change front and center in multilateral dialogue at the Arctic Council and focus on reducing emissions from the Arctic, including by opposing drilling there and working with other countries to reduce short-lived pollutants that play a key role in Arctic climate change.”
  5. “We will rally nations to oppose China’s dirty energy projects and offer countries desperately in need of energy with more financing options for cleaner projects through the Global Investment Initiative.”

Government and Military

Joe Biden

  1. “Ensuring that all U.S. government installations, buildings, and facilities are more efficient and climate-ready”
  2. “Make climate change a core national security priority.”
  3. “Direct the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to report to him annually on the impacts of climate change on defense posture, readiness, infrastructure, and threat picture”
  4. “Direct the National Security Advisor, working with the Secretaries of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and others, to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the security implications of climate change.”
  5. “Invest in the climate resilience of our military bases and critical security infrastructure across the U.S. and around the world, to deal with the risk of climate change effects”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “[W]e will require the Congressional Budget Office to coordinate with the EPA to provide a ‘climate score’ for legislation”

Elizabeth Warren

From Our Military Can Help Lead the Fight in Combating Climate Change

  1. “[T]he Pentagon should achieve net zero carbon emissions for all its non-combat bases and infrastructure by 2030.”
  2. “Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act to harden the U.S. military against the threat posed by climate change, and to leverage its huge energy footprint as part of our climate solution.”
  3. “I’ll invest billions of dollars into a new, ten-year research and development program at the Defense Department focused on microgrids and advanced energy storage.”
  4. “I want the Pentagon to produce an annual report evaluating the climate vulnerability of every U.S. military base at home and abroad, using real scientific methodology, so that we can make more informed plans moving forward.”

Michael Bloomberg

From 100% Clean Power and Communities First

  1. “Use the National Environmental Policy Act so that climate risk, environmental impacts, and equity concerns are considered in all federal actions. Also incorporate these considerations into the Office of Management and Budget’s annual budget process.”

From Clean Buildings

  1. “Require all federal buildings to achieve high efficiency and zero-carbon standards ahead of the national targets”

From International Climate

  1. “Establish an Office of Climate Security in the White House to coordinate climate-related strategies in intelligence, defense, development and diplomacy, and include civilian and military staff.”
  2. “Strengthen military bases at home and abroad on a path to self-sufficiency by improving the resilience of all infrastructure that the military relies on at home and abroad from the effects of climate change, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “We will increase the climate planning and regional readiness budget at the Department of Defense (DOD) to allow our military leaders to build resilience for military bases and installations.”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. The Pittsburgh Climate Summit – “In my administration’s first 100 days we will gather these leaders, including mayors, governors, and other community leaders to commit to concrete action within their communities”
  2. “[I]ncreasing the climate planning and regional readiness budget at the Department of Defense (DOD) to allow our military leaders to build resilience for military bases and installations and elevating and integrating climate security and resilience at DOD by creating a senior climate security role in the Secretary of Defense’s office responsible for preparation for climate security risks”
  3. “We will direct that all new DOD facilities and non-combat vehicles be zero-emissions by 2025”

Other Policies, Plans, and Info

Joe Biden

  1. “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face. It powerfully captures two basic truths, which are at the core of his plan: (1) the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge, and (2) our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “Bernie will lead our country to enact the Green New Deal and bring the world together to defeat the existential threat of climate change.”
  2. “Declaring climate change a national emergency”
  3. “Making massive investments in research and development.”
  4. “Establish a nationwide materials recycling program.”
  5. “Reassert U.S. leadership in research and engineering by marshaling resources across the federal government and institutions of higher education, including the National Academy of Engineering and National Science Foundation.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “Elizabeth is an original cosponsor of the Green New Deal resolution, which commits the United States to a ten-year mobilization to achieve domestic net-zero emissions by 2030”

Michael Bloomberg

From Foreign Policy

  1. “Mike is the president of the board of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a network of the world’s megacities dedicated to finding and implementing proven climate solutions.”
  2. “Mike was appointed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres as Special Envoy for Climate Action, with the charge of supporting the UNSG’s climate strategy and mobilizing support for a more ambitious approach to fighting climate change.”
  3. “Mike created the Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, which brings together seven of the world’s largest financial institutions with the goal of helping to fund and support ambitious climate plans.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “We will also quadruple federal clean energy R&D funding to invest more than $200 billion over 10 years in developing new technologies. We will build three investment funds to spur clean technology development, including a $250 billion American Clean Energy Bank to fund locally-led clean energy projects, particularly in disadvantaged communities; a 10-year, $250 billion Global Investment Initiative to harness American innovation for clean energy and infrastructure projects around the world and counter China’s Belt and Road initiative; and a $50 billion American Cleantech Fund to fund demonstration projects.”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. American Cleantech Fund – “It will be capitalized with $50 billion in seed funding to support dozens of demonstration projects of new technologies that are too risky for the private sector”
  2. “Issue U.S. climate action bonds”
  3. “Establish the U.S. Climate Corps” – “Activities include training for communities on sustainability options, and resilience opportunities; resilience upgrades for homes in vulnerable communities; teaching in schools and communities on issues such as sustainability and conservation; and data and program analysis for local communities on how they can access support from public and privately-sponsored programs, grants, and technical assistance.”


The 2020 democratic candidates share many of the same opinions and plans when it comes to tackling climate change and the nation’s future. All would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, seek to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions to zero, and understand the importance of environmental justice and community support initiatives.

I personally think it comes down to which candidate has the most developed plans with concrete numbers and strategies as well as who cares most deeply about the specific topics you do, including non-environmental topics. No matter who that person is for you, it’s important to go out and vote this primary season!

Check when your state’s primary election is here. What environmental issues matter the most to you when selecting a candidate?

2020 Democratic Candidates And The Environment voter holds American flag high ready to vote for pro-environment candidate
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2020 Democratic Candidates & The Environment – Part 1


With the primaries right around the corner, how much do you know about the 2020 democratic candidates? Voting in primaries is nearly as important as voting in the general election because you deserve a say in the party’s representative. As environmentally conscious citizens, it is important to learn about the 2020 candidates in order to decide for ourselves who best represents our values. That candidate will have the most developed and encompassing plans for addressing our future in the light of climate change.

I scoured the campaign sites of the top five 2020 democratic candidates to learn what each is planning if they become president to make that decision for myself. Now I’m sharing that information with all of you in one comprehensive article. I limited my research strictly to environmental policy and broke down the selected quotes into these 13 topics:

  1. Energy Sector
  2. Transportation Sector
  3. Fossil Fuel Industry
  4. Other Industry and Manufacturing
  5. Agriculture and Farming
  6. Infrastructure and Buildings
  7. GHG Emissions and Pollution Mitigation
  8. Public Lands and Conservation
  9. Environmental Justice and Equity
  10. Disaster Relief
  11. Diplomacy and Trade
  12. Government and Military
  13. Other Policies, Plans, and Info

NOTE: This is a 2-part post. Part 1 covers topics 1 through 6, and Part 2 covers topics 7 through 13. You are reading Part 1. Read Part 2 here.

Each section will provide a list of quotes from Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, and Pete Buttigieg. This is the current polling order as of writing this article and has no other meaning for me. Some quotes cover more than one category so I placed them in the category they fit best.

I imposed a 5-quote limit per candidate per topic area after compiling tons of quotes. I selected the quotes with the most concrete ideas or that affected the largest number of people. If there are less than five quotes, that is because I didn’t have more than that before shortening the post.

Energy Sector

Joe Biden

  1. “Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”
  2. “The Biden plan will make a historic investment in our clean energy future and environmental justice, paid for by rolling back the Trump tax incentives that enrich corporations at the expense of American jobs and the environment.” This investment will be “$1.7 trillion over the next ten years.”
  3. “[C]reate the industries of the future by investing $400 billion over ten years” in clean energy research and innovation
  4. “Biden will support a research agenda through ARPA-C to look at issues, ranging from cost to safety to waste disposal systems, that remain an ongoing challenge with nuclear power today.”
  5. “[S]upport the deployment of methane digesters to capture potent climate emissions and generate electricity.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “Transform our energy system to 100 percent renewable energy and create 20 million jobs needed to solve the climate crisis.”
  2. “We must pass a Green New Deal to achieve 100 percent sustainable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and to fully decarbonize the economy by 2050 at the latest.”
  3. “Directly invest an historic $16.3 trillion public investment toward these efforts”
  4. “We will invest $1.4 billion in the Rural Energy for America Program for clean energy options”
  5. “To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “Elizabeth has set a goal of providing 10% of our overall electricity generation from renewable sources offshore or on public lands”

From 100% Clean Energy For America

  1. “I’ll work to rapidly achieve 100% clean, renewable and zero-emission energy in electricity generation”
  2. Green Apollo plan – “invest $400 billion over ten years in clean energy R&D”
  3. “I’ll commit an additional $1 trillion over 10 years — fully paid for by reversing Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and giant corporations — to match Governor Inslee’s commitment, and to subsidize the economic transition to clean and renewable electricity, zero emission vehicles, and green products for commercial and residential buildings.”

From Accelerating the Transition to Clean Energy

  1. “I’ve proposed a historic $2 trillion investment in researching, developing, and manufacturing clean energy technology here in America”

Michael Bloomberg

From 100% Clean Power and Communities First

  1. “In this electricity sector plan, Mike calls for phasing out all carbon and health-threatening pollution in the electricity sector, ensuring 80% clean electricity by the end of his second term of office.”
  2. “Replace all coal plants with clean energy no later than 2030.”
  3. “Quadruple the federal R&D investment in clean energy and a clean grid to at least $25 billion a year.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “We will decarbonize our economy through a Clean Electricity Standard, a Zero-Emissions Vehicles Standard, and a Clean Industrial Technology Standard. These investments will create 3 million high-quality jobs with strong worker protections by building a net-zero emissions grid, transportation sector, and building sector.”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “By 2035, build a clean electricity system with zero emissions and require zero emissions for all new passenger vehicles.”
  2. “We will quadruple federal clean energy R&D funding to $25 billion per year by 2025, investing more than $200 billion over 10 years”
  3. Global Investment Initiative – “This $250 billion fund will match with $250 billion in private investment over ten years to partner on clean energy and resilient infrastructure projects that use American technology and are built by American companies”
  4. “We will ensure that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sets rules and goals for reliability, cost, emissions, and utility innovation that reward utilities for helping to reach the national goal of building a zero-emissions clean electricity system by 2035.”

Transportation Sector

Joe Biden

  1. “[S]upport the deployment of more than 500,000 new public charging outlets by the end of 2030.”
  2. “Biden will restore the full electric vehicle tax credit to incentivize the purchase of these vehicles. “
  3. “[P]reserving and implementing the existing Clean Air Act, and developing rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be electrified and annual improvements for heavy duty vehicles.”
  4. “Using the Federal government procurement system … to drive towards 100% clean energy and zero-emissions vehicles.”
  5. “Biden will develop a plan to ensure that America has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world – for both passengers and freight.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “We will create a federal grant and zero-emission vehicle program to create a 100 percent renewable transportation sector.”
  2. “Provide $2.09 trillion in grants to low- and moderate-income families and small businesses to trade in their fossil fuel-dependent vehicles for new electric vehicles.”
  3. “With a $300 billion investment, we will increase public transit ridership by 65 percent by 2030.”
  4. “A $607 billion investment in a regional high-speed rail system”
  5. “$150 billion effort to fully decarbonize aviation and maritime shipping and transportation.”

Elizabeth Warren

From 100% Clean Energy For America

  1. “[S]et a goal of achieving zero emissions in all new light-duty passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks, and buses by 2030.”
  2. “Set ambitious standards for fuels and emissions”
  3. “Modernize the automotive manufacturing base and developing needed infrastructure”
  4. “Boost consumer demand for zero emission vehicles”
  5. “Decarbonize other forms of transit (maritime, rail, and aviation)”

Michael Bloomberg

From Clean Transportation

  1. “Work with states, consumer groups and automakers to improve gas mileage and pollution standards, and add a national zero-emissions vehicle standard – so that, by 2035, 100% of new vehicles are pollution-free.”
  2. “Reinstate gas mileage and pollution standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses, tightening those standards, and adding a national zero-emissions standard – so that, by 2030, 15% of new trucks and buses are pollution-free.”
  3. “Significantly increase investment in public transit and infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians (and other mobility options), including investments in transit accessibility.”
  4. “Plan regional higher-speed rail networks and working with states to jump-start construction, building at least one new high-speed rail corridor by 2025.”
  5. “As part of Mike’s plan to quadruple clean energy R&D to $250 billion over 10 years, he will: Increase investment in vehicle battery technologies, and low- and no-carbon technologies for aviation and other transportation modes that are harder to electrify with current technology.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “We will decarbonize our economy through a Clean Electricity Standard, a Zero-Emissions Vehicles Standard, and a Clean Industrial Technology Standard. These investments will create 3 million high-quality jobs with strong worker protections by building a net-zero emissions grid, transportation sector, and building sector.”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “Requiring that all new passenger vehicles sold be zero-emissions by 2035, and all heavy-duty vehicles sold be net-zero emissions by 2040”
  2. “we will invest $100 billion over 10 years in surface transportation for cities”
  3. “We will also develop standards to regulate emissions from ships and aircraft”
  4. “We will put in place a standard for liquid fuels that requires producers to lower the carbon content of their fuels and incentivizes the development of low carbon or carbon neutral liquid fuels.”

Fossil Fuel Industry

Joe Biden

  1. “The Biden Administration will take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people and knowingly harm our environment and poison our communities’ air, land, and water, or conceal information regarding potential environmental and health risks.”
  2. “We’re not going to leave any workers or communities behind.”
  3. “Secure the benefits coal miners and their families have earned.”
  4. “Invest in coal and power plant communities and other communities impacted by the climate transformation.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “Make the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution by:
    • Massively raising taxes on corporate polluters’ and investors’ fossil fuel income and wealth.
    • Raising penalties on pollution from fossil fuel energy generation.
    • Requiring remaining fossil fuel infrastructure owners to buy federal fossil fuel risk bonds to pay for disaster impacts at the local level.”
  2. “[S]topping the permitting and building of new fossil fuel extraction, transportation, and refining infrastructure. Additionally, Bernie will repeal Trump’s Executive Orders (Orders 13867 and 13868) which fast-tracked construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and revoke all federal permits for those projects. He will also deny all Section 401 permits for fossil fuel infrastructure.”
  3. “Ban fracking and mountaintop removal coal mining.”
  4. “Ban imports and exports of fossil fuels.”
  5. “We will spend $1.3 trillion to ensure that workers in the fossil fuel and other carbon intensive industries receive strong benefits, a living wage, training, and job placement.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “Elizabeth was the first 2020 candidate to sign the No Fossil Fuel Pledge, committing to reject campaign contributions from oil, gas, and coal industries.”
  2. “Elizabeth supports eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and using that money to invest in clean and renewable energy and infrastructure.”

From Leading in Green Manufacturing

  1. “A truly just transition must also include benefits to uplift and empower workers who may be hurt by the transition to a more green economy, including those currently employed in the fossil fuel industry.”

From Fighting for Justice as We Combat the Climate Crisis

  1. “I’m committed to providing job training and guaranteed wage and benefit parity for [fossil fuel] workers transitioning into new industries.”
  2. “Force fossil fuel companies to honor their obligations”

Michael Bloomberg

From 100% Clean Power and Communities First

  1. “End all subsidies for fossil fuels – amounting to billions of federal dollars annually – including closing tax loopholes, ending tax breaks for drilling new oil and gas wells and deductions for royalties paid abroad, and eliminating excessive tax deductions for declining well production.”
  2. “He will work with community leaders, local officials and workers to ensure that community transition plans are in place. He commits to delivering the benefits coal field workers have been promised, and his plan to support broader economic development and jobs transition is forthcoming.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “Workers in industries impacted by the changing energy landscape will be guaranteed support through a transitional fund—$200 billion over 10 years—to invest in community economic development and training and transition programs for displaced workers, making retirement and health benefits available to all who want them, and offering loan guarantees for renovating existing plants and assembly lines to build new low-carbon products and create jobs in their communities.”

Other Industry and Manufacturing

Joe Biden

  1. “Enacting a national strategy to develop a low-carbon manufacturing sector in every state, accelerating cutting-edge technologies and ensuring businesses and workers have access to new technologies and skills, with a major focus on helping small and large manufacturers upgrade their capabilities to have both competitive and low-carbon futures.”
  2. “Requiring public companies to disclose climate risks and the greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “We will fund a $500 billion effort to research technologies to fully decarbonize industry”
  2. “[T]he SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] will require corporations to audit and report their climate risks. The EPA will use the information to target the worst climate risks through economy-wide regulations to limit carbon pollution emissions under the Clean Air Act to achieve our carbon pollution reduction goals.”
  3. “Implement sanctions for corporations that violate our domestic climate goals.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “And Elizabeth’s Climate Risk Disclosure Act would require companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and price their exposure to climate risk into their valuations”

From Leading in Green Manufacturing

  1. “Invest $2 trillion over the next ten years in green research, manufacturing, and exporting — linking American innovation directly to American jobs, and helping achieve the ambitious targets of the Green New Deal.”
  2. Green Apollo Program – “$400 billion in funding over the next ten years for clean energy research and development — more than ten times what we invested in the last ten years. It means the creation of a National Institutes of Clean Energy. And it means provisions to ensure that taxpayers capture some of the upside of their research investments and that our research dollars result in manufacturing in the United States, not offshore.”
  3. Green Industrial Mobilization – “$1.5 trillion federal procurement commitment over the next ten years to purchase American-made clean, renewable, and emission-free energy products for federal, state, and local use, and for export.”
  4. Green Marshall Plan – “I’m proposing a new federal program — backed with $100 billion in funding — dedicated to working with foreign governments and companies so they purchase and deploy American-made clean, renewable, and emission-free energy technology.”

Michael Bloomberg

From International Climate

  1. “[P]enalize corporations responsible for deforestation and other practices that increase climate change and rob indigenous peoples of their lives and communities.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “We will decarbonize our economy through a Clean Electricity Standard, a Zero-Emissions Vehicles Standard, and a Clean Industrial Technology Standard. These investments will create 3 million high-quality jobs with strong worker protections by building a net-zero emissions grid, transportation sector, and building sector.”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “By 2050, achieve net-zero emissions from industry, including steel and concrete, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors.”
  2. “We will propose clean industrial technology standards to set targets for companies operating refineries, steel, cement, petrochemicals, and other industrial plants to reach net-zero emissions from industrial sources by 2050”
  3. “Prioritize energy efficiency and industrial efficiency projects”
  4. “[E]mission standards for each sector of heavy industry or technology standards that mandate a particular type of low-carbon technology be used”

Agriculture and Farming

Joe Biden

  1. “Partnering with farmers and ranchers so that better agriculture practices and deployment of digesters generate new sources of revenues.”
  2. “[I]nvest in climate-friendly farming such as conservation programs for cover crops and other practices aimed at restoring the soil and building soil carbon”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “Help farms of all sizes transition to ecologically regenerative agricultural practices that rebuild rural communities, protect the climate, and strengthen the environment with an investment of $410 billion.”
  2. “We will pay farmers $160 billion for the soil health improvements they make and for the carbon they sequester”
  3. “We will invest $1.48 billion in research to develop new, region-appropriate farming techniques and seeds.”
  4. “Ensure farmers have the right to repair their own equipment.”
  5. “Reform patent laws to prevent predatory lawsuits from massive agribusinesses like Bayer/Monsanto.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “Elizabeth will target a share of the $400 billion R&D commitment from her Green Manufacturing Plan toward decarbonizing the agriculture sector, including a farmer-led Innovation Fund to pilot new methods of sustainable farming.”

From Fighting for Justice as We Combat the Climate Crisis

  1. “I’ll increase funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program to $15 billion annually, empowering family farmers to help limit the agricultural runoff that harms local wells and water systems.”

From A New Farm Economy

  1. “I will lead a full-out effort to decarbonize the agricultural sector by investing in our farmers and giving them the tools, research, and training they need to transform the sector — so that we can achieve the objectives of the Green New Deal to reach net-zero emissions by 2030.”
  2. “[P]aying farmers for embracing techniques that promote a sustainable future”
  3. “Hold Big Ag[riculture] accountable for environmental abuses.”

Michael Bloomberg

From Climate Change Resilience

  1. “Expand Farm Bill conservation programs to help farmers make their land more resilient, reduce carbon emissions and improve carbon sequestration.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “We will support farmers as leaders on stewardship and conservation in the fight against climate change by paying them to capture carbon and fixing the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “By 2050, achieve net-zero emissions from industry, including steel and concrete, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors.”
  2. “Double USDA R&D investments over four years, committing nearly $50 billion over a decade to research that the country needs to put healthy food on our plates, develop food exports to meet the needs of growing populations around the world, and promote a healthy environment for future generations”
  3. “We will provide opportunities for farmers to get paid for sequestering carbon in their soil”
  4. “We will double investment in agricultural extension services to make sure that farmers and ranchers have the technical support they need as they apply the results of agricultural research.”

Infrastructure and Buildings

Joe Biden

  1. “On day one, Biden will make smart infrastructure investments to rebuild the nation and to ensure that our buildings, water, transportation, and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change.”
  2. “Biden will set a target of reducing the carbon footprint of the U.S. building stock by 50% by 2035”
  3. “Committing that every federal infrastructure investment should reduce climate pollution”
  4. “[N]ew aggressive appliance- and building-efficiency standards.”
  5. “[H]elp design common-sense zoning and building codes and help communities build and rebuild before and after natural disasters and other shocks and stresses.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “Saving American families money by weatherizing homes and lowering energy bills, building affordable and high-quality, modern public transportation, providing grants and trade-in programs for families and small businesses to purchase high-efficiency electric vehicles, and rebuilding our inefficient and crumbling infrastructure, including deploying universal, affordable high-speed internet.”
  2. “[W]e will provide $150 billion in infrastructure grants and technical assistance for municipalities and states to build publicly owned and democratically controlled, co-operative, or open access broadband networks.”
  3. “Bernie’s Rebuild America Act provides $75 billion for the National Highway Trust Fund to improve roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure in the United States and another $2 billion for other surface transportation needs.”
  4. “[T]he Rebuild America Act provides $5 billion for TIGER grant projects that build or repair critical pieces of our freight and passenger transportation networks that are located in rural areas.”
  5. “We will invest $636.1 billion in our roads, bridges, and water infrastructure to ensure it is resilient to climate impacts, and another $300 billion to ensure that all new infrastructure built over the next 10 years is also resilient.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “[S]he supports investments in sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including distributed generation and clean energy technologies like solar and wind power.”

From Green Infrastructure

  1. “Elizabeth would subject new infrastructure projects to a climate test: a stringent environmental impact review conducted by independent entities without conflicts of interest related to the project. We should reject new fossil fuel infrastructure and projects that will emit greenhouse gases for decades to come.”
  2. “Elizabeth opposes the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines”
  3. “She has committed to revoke improperly granted permits for these pipelines and reject permitting of new projects where appropriate processes are not followed.”

From 100% Clean Energy For America

  1. “[T]ake immediate action to achieve zero-carbon pollution from all new commercial and residential buildings by the end of my second term in 2028.”

Michael Bloomberg

From Clean Buildings

  1. “Create a national program for home and building upgrades.”
  2. “Push for new buildings to achieve zero-carbon and hyper-efficient performance by 2025”

From Infrastructure

  1. “And, over the next five years, Mike will triple funds annual federal investment in public transit… Mike will ensure that transit is accessible for seniors and those with disabilities. And, he will also triple funds for local alternative transportation projects, including bike lanes.”
  2. “The plan includes an investment of $100 billion over 10 years to ensure clean drinking water for all communities, and $175 million over five years for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program to accelerate local investment in water infrastructure, as well as an increase in the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to $6.6 billion annually to ensure a long-term commitment to protecting water supplies.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “$5 billion per year in Resilient America Grants to support building resilient infrastructure and set a national climate risk reduction standard for federal investments”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “We will double Weatherization Assistance Program funding, and the new funding would be used to match new or additional utility spending on weatherization programs. We will also add $1 billion to the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program”
  2. “Sign a ‘Buy Clean’ executive order mandating that any new material the federal government uses or pays for to construct buildings, roads, bridges, or other infrastructure, must be under a specified level of carbon emissions”

From Resilient Communities: A New Disaster Preparedness Approach

  1. “We will ensure that all federal investments in infrastructure are climate and disaster resilient and use every executive authority available to take action to reduce emissions and promote resilience in infrastructure.”
  2. “The American Clean Energy Bank will have $250 billion of initial capitalization to provide loans, grants, credit enhancements, and loan guarantees to finance resilient infrastructure projects that create good local jobs.”


Want to learn how the 2020 democratic candidates feel about pollution, environmental justice, and diplomacy?

Continue reading in Part 2!

Check when your state’s primary election is here. What environmental issues matter the most to you when selecting a candidate?

2020 Democratic Candidates And The Environment Patriotic stickers saying "I Voted" handed out after voting in an election
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Boston Is Planning A Sustainable Future aerial of Boston's downtown city skyline at the waterfront with the Charles River in the distance

How Boston Is Planning For A Sustainable Future


Do you know what a sustainable Boston will look like? The city has already started taking action and applying various initiatives to make Boston a greener, more resilient, and equitable city. We will look at four of the main initiatives in detail:

  1. Carbon Free Boston 2050
  2. Go Boston 2030
  3. Zero Waste Boston
  4. Climate Ready Boston

These initiatives all play off of each other to reduce waste, reduce resource usage, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Other cities could adopt these solutions as they (finally) begin to realize climate action is necessary.


Carbon Free Boston 2050 is the overarching main goal in which the city plans to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. They will use carbon offsets to cover the remaining 20%. The initiative began in 2016 when Mayor Marty Walsh signed the Metro Boston Climate Mitigation Commitment. In its first year, Boston reduced its emissions by 4%. The initiative relies on these three strategies which must be pursued together in a socially equitable way:

  1. “Improve the energy efficiency of all activities;
  2. Electrify activities to the fullest extent feasible;
  3. Purchase 100 percent GHG-free electricity and sustainably sourced fuels”

The report is broken into four sections which reflect the four GHG emission sources: buildings, transportation, waste, and energy supply. The report provides short-, medium-, and long-term solutions to reduce GHG emissions from each of these sources. Together they will guide Boston toward a sustainable future. Let’s first take a look at buildings.


Space heating is responsible for over half of the energy used by residential buildings. In commercial buildings, space heating, ventilation, and plug load are the top three contributors to energy use. Most of Boston’s buildings and residences were built before 1950. As a result, they have less insulation and less energy efficient equipment than newer buildings. This increases their energy use and GHG emissions.

The report proposes a host of solutions for buildings. To increase energy efficiency, buildings should add insulation and switch to efficient lighting and appliances. Buildings should also optimize their HVAC systems. Owners can convert heating systems from heating oil or natural gas to electricity and install rooftop solar arrays.

Buildings can also undergo deep energy retrofits which seek to reduce energy use by at least 50%. This involves moisture management and air sealing to prevent heat leaks and energy losses.

The City may set new building standards which could include carbon emission performance standards and net zero or net positive performance standards. This will ensure new buildings are not heavily contributing to emissions. It will also reduce the amount of retrofitting needed in the future.


Currently over 65% of transportation emissions come from personal vehicles, calling for a shift in transportation modes and technologies. The report lays out three strategies for creating a carbon neutral transportation system.

  1. “Shift trips out of automobiles to transit, biking, and walking;
  2. Reduce automobile trips via land use planning that encourages denser development and affordable housing in transit-rich neighborhoods;
  3. Shift most automobiles, trucks, buses, and trains to zero-GHG electricity”

These strategies highlight the need for improved and expanded walking, biking, and public transportation facilities. The City will use the Go Boston 2030 goals as a guide. The report also proposes free and reduced cost of public transportation and private vehicle pricing. Private vehicle pricing includes strategies such as smart mobility, congestion pricing, increased parking fees, and a vehicle miles traveled fee. Smart mobility would impose a fee for single-driver car trips or a discount for carpooling.

Carbon neutrality would require both private and public vehicles to switch to electric where possible and expanding the availability of charging stations throughout the city. To reduce the demand for travel, the City can direct population growth into centrally-located, walkable areas with high access to transit facilities. They can also encourage employers to allow employees to work from home/telecommute or switch to a compressed work schedule (e.g. four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days).


Since the 2014 Climate Action Plan update, Boston has been committed to being a “waste-and litter-free city.” The City launched another sustainable initiative called Zero Waste Boston in 2018 with the goal of diverting at least 90% of waste from landfills and municipal solid waste combustors.

In 2017, the City’s residents and businesses produced nearly 1.2 million tons of solid waste. Only 25% of this waste is diverted. As we know, not all materials sent for recycling get recycled. According to the report, about 20% of recycling material is too contaminated and gets sent to the waste disposal stream (landfills and waste to energy facilities). Below are current and projected waste generation and disposal diagrams.

Comparison of Boston's waste generation 2017 to 2050 as part of goals to become a zero waste sustainable city
Credit: Carbon Free Boston 2050

Waste reduction and diversion strategies include source reduction, fees, education and outreach programs, increased paper and plastic recycling, and increased composting programs. It would be illegal to pass fees from landlords to renters. Source reduction policies are expected to have the largest effect on lowering emissions and reducing waste. To reduce water treatment and wastewater emissions, facilities would switch to clean energy sources. By transitioning to a zero waste city, Boston can subsequently expect more employment opportunities in recycling centers and community reuse projects.

Energy Supply

Comparing Boston's energy use 2015 to 2050 as part of goals to use sustainable energy sources
Credit: Carbon Free Boston 2050

The graphic above shows energy use in both 2015 and projected use in 2050. All electricity will be generated from clean energy sources, and electricity will amount to nearly 75% of all energy use.

Energy demand peaks on very hot and very cold days. Electrification will shift peak energy demand from summertime to wintertime. Deep energy retrofits will reduce demands for energy during these peak times, but the grid will have to carefully consider energy sources to ensure demand is met. There are concerns with solar and wind power not being consistently available as well as with the higher costs of offshore versus onshore wind projects.

In addition to expanding rooftop solar in Boston, the City is also looking at incorporating district energy systems and community electricity aggregation as sustainable energy solutions. District energy is a network of steam tunnels and hot water pipes used for heating. Currently they rely on burning natural gas or oil, but new systems with a central plant could utilize heat pumps to recover energy from other sources such as bodies of water, the earth (geothermal), and even heat from data centers.

These new systems can increase efficiency and store energy for use later when demand is high. Community electricity aggregation programs treat municipality residents as a single energy buying group and allow them to buy more energy from renewable sources at fixed rates. This way Boston residents will have more access to sustainable electricity in their homes.

Unfortunately, not everything can be electrified. Heavy equipment in the transportation sector and buildings that haven’t undergone retrofits will still rely on fossil fuels. The report outlines three ways to cover these emissions:

  1. “buying MA Class I Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)
  2. purchasing zero-carbon electricity directly from a producer via a local ISO-NE power purchase agreement (PPA)
  3. entering into a virtual power purchase agreement (VPPA).”

Other fuel sources like biofuels, renewable natural gas, biomass, and hydrogen could also be substituted in places where electrification is not possible. The purchase of carbon offsets would cover the remaining emissions. These offsets must be additional, permanent, real, verifiable, and enforceable.


The report stresses the importance of immediately pursuing emissions-free electricity in order to reach its 2050 goal of carbon neutrality. The pathway to 2050 will not be linear because the City also has goals to cut emissions by 50% by 2030 and to properly contribute to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5°C.

In order to become a sustainable city, Boston will need to tackle all four emissions sources. But they must do even more. The report also states that GHG emissions reduction efforts are not enough to limit global temperature increase. They propose methods like afforestation to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.


Go Boston 2030 is all about making the city’s transportation network a more sustainable and equitable system. It involves reducing transportation emissions, addressing the social and economic inequality as it relates to transportation options and accessibility, and addressing how climate change will affect transportation. The initiative started in 2015, and between 2005 to 2014, Boston already saw a reduction in GHG emissions of 17%.

Below is a list of the main objectives of the plan:

  • Expand access
  • Improve safety
  • Increase reliability
  • Provide quality experience
  • Utilize technology innovations
  • Ensure affordability
  • Build for resilience
  • Increase community involvement and transparency
  • Guarantee health

Today’s Transportation

Each morning, 395,000 people are headed somewhere in Boston. Of these trips, 60% originate outside of the city, and 44% of people entering the city do so by driving alone. Despite these numbers, there are over 1 million riders on the T (Boston’s subway system) every single day.

In 2016, Walk Source ranked Boston the third most walkable city in the United States. But while being a very walkable city, cyclists have a much harder time. Currently “a protected bike facility or lane is within a 5-minute walk of only 20% of Bostonians.”

To create the Go Boston 2030 Vision and Action Plan, the Boston Transportation Department began a huge public engagement process to find out what citizens needed. Over 8000 ideas were submitted to the BTD, and over 4000 residents helped prioritize those ideas.

Looking Around the World

Boston has also looked to successful transportation developments used in other parts of the world like Mexico City and Oslo. WBUR, Boston’s local NPR station, put out a great series called ¡Viva Buses! which follows city leaders as they research efficient busing in Mexico’s capital.


Around 21 million people move through Mexico City every day; Metrobus moves 1.5 million of them (that’s more than the entire MBTA system in Boston!). Launched in 2005, Metrobus now operates along 7 routes in the city using dedicated bus lanes and platform stops.  In addition, passengers pay at the station prior to boarding to reduce delays.

A trip on Metrobus is only 30 cents, and the cost for the bus line is 20 times less than a subway line would be. So not only are these low emission buses transporting millions efficiently in terms of space and the environment, but they also do it cheaply.

It does, however, come with a set of issues. The Metrobuses in Mexico City have become very crowded, and the bus routes do not provide easy access to/from everywhere in the city. As a result, many passengers take other forms of transport to get to a station to then take a Metrobus.

According to Kathryne Benesh, who heads the MBTA’s operations strategy, the city is looking to install more dedicated bus lanes, adjust some routes to better serve passengers, and lengthen signal times so buses have longer green lights. Mayor Marty Walsh has also proposed ride share pickup/dropoff points in Fenway and providing middle/high school students with free bus passes.

With Boston looking for a “complete streets” future in road design (streets that serve pedestrians, cyclists, buses, and cars), a system like Metrobus on dedicated lanes would be a good fit. However, they would need to carefully plan to ensure accessibility throughout the city.

Oslo, Norway

After Oslo’s city election in 2015, the city began shifting away from catering to personal vehicles in favor of other transportation modes. The new government had promised in its campaign to remove cars from the city center by 2019. The pillars of this initiative are “putting people first, promoting public transit, [and] encouraging public rather than private uses of common space”.

This quick shift has seen backlash from residents and businesses who worry about accessibility and the wintry cold. While the city is not completely banning cars, cars are banned in certain areas, all non-handicap parking spots will be removed, and pedestrians are prioritized.

Across the pond in Boston, bike infrastructure is currently not developing fast enough to meet the Go Boston 2030 goals. The city also worries about not receiving support from the federal government which at this time does not fully believe in climate change. However, Boston must cater to bikes and pedestrians over cars if it wants to be a sustainable city of the future.

Tomorrow’s Transportation

According to the Go Boston 2030 report, “the number of daily trips starting in Boston on buses and trains will increase by a third, from approximately 500,000 to 675,000” in the next decade. This switch to more sustainable transportation in Boston will reduce GHG emissions and congestion.

With respect to climate change, the number of days over 90°F will increase from 11 in 1990 to somewhere between 20 and 40 by 2030. As a coastal city, Boston is at risk of flooding from sea level rise. The average monthly high tide is projected to flood areas like the Seaport, the North End, Charlestown, and East Boston. It will also affect surrounding cities like Chelsea and Quincy.

The table below, from the Go Boston 2030 report, outlines the transportation mode goals. In order to meet these goals, the city has started and planned a multitude of projects and policies aimed at achieving the main objectives of Go Boston 2030 listed above.

City Streets

For pedestrians, one project I’m excited for is pedestrian-first traffic signals. Intersections will automatically give pedestrian “Walk” signals so long as there is no conflicting movement with vehicles. There will no longer be push buttons to request to cross. “Walk” signals will also begin before vehicles get a green light (such as allowing them to turn right and pass through a crosswalk) to increase pedestrian visibility and decrease accidents. Sidewalk improvements and a multi-use “green links network” will improve accessibility and connectivity around the city.

As mentioned previously, Boston is working toward implementing a sustainable complete streets model which incorporates multiple modes of transportation into a single design. These new streets will require sidewalk improvements, additional bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes, an expansion of the bikeshare network, and changes to signalized intersections.

Public Transit

For buses, the MBTA plans to increase frequency on popular lines, restructure all 30 bus routes, and provide service overnight. Station improvements will provide the off-boarding payment and platform accessibility that Metrobus implemented to shorten boarding times and delays. Rapid bus routes are also planned for the following areas:

  • Forest Hills to Roslindale
  • Mattapan to the Longwood Medical Area.
  • The Brighton neighborhood
  • Massachusetts Avenue

The Green Line will be improved with 3-car trains instead of 2-car trains. The trains will get priority at traffic signals to reduce delay, and like buses, the Green Line will update its outdoor stations to provide off-boarding payment and accessibility. The Green Line Extension project will extend the E line from Heath Street an extra mile to Hyde Square. Red and Orange Line improvements are already underway.

Silverline improvements and expansion, inner harbor ferry, and urban rail projects are also among the large list of sustainable transportation solutions Boston plans to implement. More information on all these projects and policies can be found starting on page 128 of the Go Boston 2030 report.


The Go Boston 2030 vision will require a massive overhaul of the transportation network and coordination between government, citizens, and surrounding municipalities. As someone working on a current project listed in this report, I am personally connected to the sustainable improvement of transportation facilities in Boston. I look forward to seeing this vision of a safer, greener, and more accessible Boston become a reality in the coming decade.

Zero Waste Boston

Launched in 2018, the Zero Waste Boston initiative appointed a Zero Waste Advisory Committee to recommend strategies and actions that will allow Boston to “reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost at least 80 to 90 percent of its solid waste“. The committee’s report released last year provides 30 short- and long-term recommendations to move Boston toward a sustainable, zero waste future.

The Guiding Principles for Implementing Zero Waste in Boston were developed in a 2016 Zero Waste Summit held by the City and the Zero Waste Boston Coalition and are listed below.

  1. Make zero waste a key priority
  2. Focus first on using less and diverting more
  3. Support this work through local business development
  4. Sustain this work through culture change

Strategies to reduce waste were evaluated based on the following seven criteria:

  1. Effectiveness
  2. Economic feasibility
  3. Convenience
  4. Equity
  5. Economic development
  6. Legal and institutional feasibility
  7. Other benefits including public health and carbon emissions

Today’s Waste

In 2017, Boston’s waste sector emitted an estimated 393 kilotons of carbon“. The commercial sector is responsible for 70% of the City’s waste, 22% comes from the residential sector, and the remaining 8% is from construction and demolition activities.

The current residential waste situation involves curbside trash and single-stream recycling pickup, yard waste collection, four hazardous waste drop-off days, and five Project Oscar compost collection bins spread around the city. Most residents have trash and recycling pickup once per week, but Downtown residents have pickup twice per week. The Department of Public Works is in charge of these programs.

The current commercial waste situation is very different. Businesses must hire private haulers for trash, recycling, and compost. The business and hauler then determine the frequency of pickup. In my opinion, this added cost could deter businesses from having recycling or composting.

Boston currently has a combined reuse, composting, and recycling rate of around 25%. The other 75% of waste is sent primarily to waste to energy facilities, and some is sent directly to landfill. Surprisingly, 75% of that 75% waste sent to incinerators and landfill actually could be composted or recycled (40% could be composted, and 35% could be recycled). In other words, over 80% of all waste could be diverted, but the City is currently only diverting 25%. The figure below from the report shows the correct breakdown of materials.

Tomorrow’s Waste

The report outlines 30 strategies that cover four core categories:

  1. Reduce and Reuse
  2. Increase Composting
  3. Recycle More and Recycle Right
  4. Inspire Innovation

Twenty-two of the proposed strategies could be implemented within just 5 years. The table below organizes the 30 strategies by core category and by short-term or long-term that will significantly reduce the city’s waste. This strategies will help Zero Waste Boston achieve its diversion rate goals of 80% by 2035 and 90% by 2050.

Boston's Zero Waste Timeline listing goals to from the Zero Waste Boston report
Credit: Zero Waste Boston

Other Initiatives

Boston has already begun implementing zero waste strategies. In December 2018, a plastic bag ordinance went into effect. As a result, customers are now charged a 5 cent fee for each plastic bag from a business.

The City of Boston also sponsors zero waste events in the city. The Boston GreenFest has been running annually since 2006. It is a weekend-long festival filled with various exhibitors and vendors promoting green living and sustainable products. The event also has GreenTech Expo showcasing new innovative technologies. This event aims to be zero waste and has water bottle fill-up stations.

The City also sponsors the Boston Local Food Festival, a day of local and sustainable food vendors convening on the Greenway to educate the community and sell their goods. This event has a group of volunteers in charge of ensuring all waste is properly sorted (composted, recycled, and wasted).


It is clear Boston has quite a ways to go when it comes to reducing waste, but luckily with proper material sorting, plenty of waste can be easily diverted for recycling or composting. The local government, however, can only do so much. Boston will need to be strict with enforcing its regulations on businesses since a large majority of waste comes from the commercial sector.

The second guiding principle is about using less to begin with. This means a large cultural shift and action by large companies to become more sustainable (less packaging on products, right to repair laws, etc.) will also be necessary for Boston to reach its zero waste goals.

Climate Ready Boston

Climate Ready Boston focuses on planning for the impacts of climate change in order to “guide Boston toward a more affordable, equitable, connected, and resilient future“. Boston is at risk for many damaging effects of climate change, such as coastal flooding, intense heat waves, extreme precipitation, and strong winter storms. Strategies and initiatives for mitigating or preventing these impacts were evaluated on these five principles for successful resilience:

  1. Generate multiple benefits
  2. Incorporate local involvement in design and decision-making
  3. Create layers of protection by working at multiple scales
  4. Leveraging building cycles
  5. Design in flexibility and adaptability

The main Climate Ready Boston report contains a vulnerability assessment which looks at how extreme heat, sea level rise, and intense storms will affect the city. They look especially in areas with concentrations of vulnerable populations like low-income families, minorities, and people with disabilities. This post will cover Climate Ready Boston’s strategies for addressing climate change risks in the city as a whole, but you can find specific neighborhood climate ready reports on Boston’s website for the following areas:

  • Charlestown
  • Charles River
  • Dorchester
  • Downtown
  • East Boston
  • Roxbury
  • South Boston
  • South End

The report outlines 39 initiatives based on 11 strategies which cover 5 layers of climate readiness.

Layer 1: Updated Climate Projections

  • Strategy 1: Maintain up-to-date information on future climate conditions in Boston
    • 1-1) Update Boston-area climate projections periodically
    • 1-2) Create future flood maps to support planning, policy, and regulation

Layer 2: Prepared and Connected Communities

  • Strategy 2: Expand education and engagement of Bostonians about climate hazards
    • 2-1) Expand citywide climate readiness education and engagement campaign
    • 2-2) Launch a climate ready buildings education program for property owners and users
    • 2-3) Conduct outreach to facilities that serve vulnerable populations to support preparedness and adaptation
    • 2-4) Update the city’s heat emergency action plan
    • 2-5) Expand Boston’s small business preparedness program
  • Strategy 3: Leverage climate adaptation as a tool for economic development
    • 3-1) Identify resilience-focused workforce development pathways
    • 3-2) Pursue inclusive hiring and living wages for resilience projects
    • 3-3) Prioritize use of minority- and women-owned businesses for resilience projects

Layer 3: Protected Shores

  • Strategy 4: Develop local climate resilience plans to coordinate adaptation efforts
    • 4-1) Develop local climate resilience plans to support district-scale climate adaptation
    • 4-2) Establish local climate resilience committees to serve as long-term community partners for climate adaptation
  • Strategy 5: Create a coastal protection system
    • 5-1) Establish flood protection overlay districts and require potential integration with flood protection
    • 5-2) Determine a consistent evaluation framework for flood protection prioritization
    • 5-3) Prioritize and study the feasibility of district-scale flood protection
    • 5-4) Launch a harbor-wide flood protection system feasibility study

Layer 4: Resilient Infrastructure

  • Strategy 6: Coordinate investments to adapt infrastructure to future climate conditions
    • 6-1) Establish an infrastructure coordination committee
    • 6-2) Continue to collect important asset and hazard data for planning purposes
    • 6-3) Provide guidance on priority evacuation and service road infrastructure to the Infrastructure Coordination Committee (ICC)
  • Strategy 7: Develop district-scale energy solutions to increase decentralization and redundancy
    • 7-1) Conduct feasibility studies for community energy solutions
  • Strategy 8: Expand the use of green infrastructure and other natural systems to manage stormwater, mitigate heat, and provide additional benefits
    • 8-1) Develop a green infrastructure location plan for public land and rights-of-way
    • 8-2) Develop a sustainable operating model for green infrastructure on public land and rights-of-way
    • 8-3) Evaluate incentives and other tools to support green infrastructure
    • 8-4) Develop design guidelines for green infrastructure on private property to support co-benefits
    • 8-5) Develop an action plan to expand Boston’s urban tree canopy
    • 8-6) Prepare outdoor facilities for climate change
    • 8-7) Conduct a comprehensive wetlands inventory and develop a wetlands protection action plan

Layer 5: Adapted Buildings

  • Strategy 9: Update zoning and building regulations to support climate readiness
    • 9-1) Establish a planning flood elevation for zoning regulations in the future floodplain
    • 9-2) Revise the zoning code to support climate-ready buildings
    • 9-3) Promote climate readiness for projects in the development pipeline
    • 9-4) Pursue state building code amendments to promote climate readiness
    • 9-5) Incorporate future climate conditions into area plans
  • Strategy 10: Retrofit existing buildings
    • 10-1) Establish a resilience audit program for private property owners
    • 10-2) Prepare municipal facilities for climate change
    • 10-3) Expand backup power at private buildings that serve vulnerable populations
    • 10-4) Develop toolkit of building retrofit financing strategies
  • Strategy 11: Insure buildings against flood damage
    • 11-1) Evaluate the current flood insurance landscape
    • 11-2) Join the National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System
    • 11-3) Advocate for reform in the National Flood Insurance Program


The Climate Ready Boston report provides a comprehensive set of initiatives to protect the city and its residents from the various effects of climate change. Boston must act quickly to increase its tolerance of and resiliency to intense weather events and geographical changes. Without proper planning and mitigation, thousands of people and buildings are put at risk. Although Boston has big plans for becoming a more sustainable city, it is inevitable that climate change will continue to occur. Luckily Boston is already preparing itself for battle.


I feel lucky to live in an area so dedicated to the future of our environment, our city, and its people. Although I live in a neighboring town, my husband and I both work in Boston. It’s also where we spend our free time. The sustainable initiatives in Boston will affect us in many of the same ways they will affect residents, and I am glad to be a part of that.

I’d love to hear what’s going on elsewhere around the globe! What’s going on in your city or town? Are they taking action for a sustainable future?

Boston Is Planning A Sustainable Future aerial of Boston's downtown city skyline at the waterfront with the Charles River in the distance
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Deforestation Causes And Solutions illegally cut logs stacked in a freshly cleared forest area

Deforestation: Causes And Solutions


Over 18 million acres of forest are cut down every single year according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. This is the same as clearing 20 football fields of forest every single minute. Humans have already cleared half of the planet’s tropical forest area, and National Geographic has estimated the rest will disappear within the next century if the current rate of deforestation continues.

Who Causes Deforestation?

Many activities can cause deforestation, but we’ll focus on main ones: farming and animal agriculture, logging, and palm oil harvesting.

Farming and Animal Agriculture

One study has stated that agriculture is responsible for over 80% of deforestation worldwide. In Latin America, it accounts for two-thirds of the deforestation. Once the land loses its nutrients, farmers abandon it and move to newly cleared lands. Governments heavily subsidize the farming and animal agriculture industries which only encourage more destruction of these lands.

Agriculture has even more impacts than just deforestation, extinction of plants and animals, and reduction of indigenous peoples’ lands. Over 70% of freshwater used each year is used for agricultural purposes. Cows release methane (mostly through burping) which is a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than CO2.  In addition, pesticides and chemical fertilizers run off from farmland and contaminate surrounding soils and waterways making it much less likely for future fertile production.


Logging (especially illegal logging) is a huge problem for our forests. One study published in the science journal Nature estimates humans cut down 15 billion trees every single year. In the United States, timber production dropped during the 2008 recession, but has been steadily increasing ever since. Over 41,000 board feet of lumber were produced in the U.S. in 2016, which is enough to circle the equator almost twice. And that’s just one country’s production!

The tropical regions in Brazil and Indonesia alone accounted for 75% of illegal logging from 2000 to 2012. These countries’ total timber exports are 25% and 50% illegal timber respectively, and countries like Peru have an export makeup of over 70% illegal timber. People who log illegally are not following rules and restrictions that are in place to protect the forests.

Many times illegal operations are carried out by crime organizations and are even known to authorities. Organizations forge documents to make it look like the logs were taken legally, and oftentimes forced labor is involved.

Logging not only destroys animal habitat, but it also destroys indigenous lands granted to various local tribes. These tribes do sometimes agree to trades by which they receive timber profits or some other benefit by allowing loggers onto their lands, but the destroyed wildlife never receives a benefit.

Palm Oil Harvesting

Palm oil is the most popular vegetable oil used in the world. Millions of tons are used annually around the world, and the number is rising, which has led to the development of huge plantations in humid, tropical climates in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Palm oil plantations cover an area the size of New Zealand, and more lands are cleared every day.

Acres of a single species of palm tree replace diverse tropical forests in the name of producing palm oil. The operations force out indigenous people along with native animals on the brink of extinction like orangutans and rhinos. These plantations also sometimes rely on child labor and have poor working conditions.

The Importance Of Forests

Forests are the lungs of our planet. The Amazon alone provides 20% of the world’s oxygen. Microbes on the roots of plants also convert toxins in the air into nutrients for the plant and plant leaves trap particulate matter, taking it out of the air we breathe.

Not only do forests help us breathe, but they are home to 80% of life on Earth. Rainforests are home to half of all animal species, and at least two-thirds of plant species. Hundreds of endangered, threatened, and vulnerable species call rainforests home.

Forests help prevent erosion due to their root systems anchoring soil in place. They also sequester carbon and store nearly 300 billion tons of it.

Consequences Of Deforestation

By removing thousands and thousands of acres of forest, we put the entire planet in jeopardy.

  1. We will have worse air quality since less plants are creating oxygen and purifying the air.
  2. Deforestation will increase the rate of global warming because there are less plants to capture and convert CO2, meaning an increase in greenhouse gases that heat up the planet.
  3. Since forests are home to so many animals and plants (even the hundreds assumed yet to be discovered!), deforestation will lead to massive waves of species extinction.
  4. Deforestation results in a lower water table. A drier climate is not suitable for native species and could dry up rivers and lakes making it impossible to regrow.

We cannot survive without our forests. We must save them.

What Can You Do?

We can split what you can do to fight deforestation into two categories: voting with your wallet and activism.

Voting With Your Wallet

Buy recycled paper products and look for a high percentage of post-consumer content. Look for the FSC certification seal on products which ensures sustainable forestry practices. Go paperless with your billing. Even though this action is free, it shows companies you do not want paper bills and could potentially lead to their discontinuance in the future.

To combat deforestation due to animal agriculture, you can decrease or eliminate the amount of animal products you consume.  If you don’t want to go vegetarian or vegan, you can reduce your meat consumption and choose local meat.

Speaking of local, you should choose local foods as much as possible. Try visiting your community farmers market, natural food store, or co-op, or learn to grow your own produce. Buying local even better for the environment because it cuts out on transportation emissions to ship foods overseas or across the country.

Since palm oil farming is a major cause of deforestation, avoid palm oil as best as you can. Many foods contain palm oil such as margarine, ice cream, cookies, and dough. Palm oil is also used in many household products like soaps, detergents, shampoo, and lipstick, and in some biofuels. Always check the ingredients on products you are thinking of purchasing, but beware! Palm oil is sneaky and hides behind a lot of different names including:

  • Vegetable Oil
  • Vegetable Fat
  • Palm Kernel Oil
  • Palm Fruit Oil
  • Palmate
  • Palmitate
  • Palmolein
  • Glyceryl
  • Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • And lots more!

If you don’t want to fully give up the items you eat or use with palm oil, look for versions with sustainably sourced palm oil. Look for the RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil seal on the packaging, but know this does NOT necessarily guarantee ethical work practices.


Want to do even more? Write companies about their palm oil use and suggest they use an alternative oil or a more local source. Write your grocery store and suggest they add more local products to their aisles. You can also inform them you will no longer be buying those products because of their impacts on the environment. See this post for some sample letters.

Switch to using Ecosia as your search engine. Ecosia plants trees using the ad revenue generated from people using their search engine. They release monthly reports which fully explain their income and what portion they invest into planting trees around the world.

Get involved by signing petitions, being vocal on social media, and supporting organizations fighting against deforestation. Check out these great organizations leading the charge:

You can also get involved in politics. This can mean voting for candidates that share your views on the environment or running for office yourself.


I’m curious how others avoid the sneaky palm oil. Have you changed your diet and lineup of personal care items? Do you check ingredient names at the store to make sure they aren’t palm oil in disguise? Do you have any tips for going palm oil-free? Let me know in the comments!

Deforestation Causes And Solutions illegally cut logs stacked in a freshly cleared forest area
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Sustainable Packaging Alternatives green seaweed that can be transformed into compostable and edible food and drink packaging

Sustainable Packaging Alternatives


Ask any parent after Christmas morning and they’ll tell you our addiction to packaging is insane. From toys stuck inside scissor-breaking plastic to individually wrapped jelly beans (yes, these are a thing) to fruit and veggies vacuum sealed on a styrofoam tray and everything in between, we waste so many finite resources on packaging (and so much time opening it all). So what sustainable packaging alternatives can cure our addiction?

Our Packaging Problem

According to Recover USA, about 1/3 of all landfill materials in America are packaging. Around 65% of American trash is packaging and, despite most being recyclable, only a fraction ever is. In addition to the wastefulness of packaging, it is also costly. Packaging can even cost much more than the product it surrounds. By buying package-less items, you can save both resources and money.

Below is a breakdown of packaging waste in the European Union from 2016. The total volumes of each packaging material have remained relatively consistent over the past decade; however, they are on the rise since the recovery from the 2008 economic crisis. Despite increasing over time, the recycling rate of packaging materials on average is only around 70%.

Packaging waste generated in the EU in 2016 by packaging material
Credit: Eurostat

With all this waste going to landfill, it’s a good thing some brilliant entrepreneurs and artists have come up with innovative new packaging materials with sustainability in mind. We will take a look at three different types of sustainable packaging in this post: mushroom, seaweed, and scoby. These materials are 100% natural, can be made in a matter of days or weeks, and will completely decompose back into natural waste materials.

Mushroom Packaging

Last spring, IKEA announced its switch to a mushroom-based packaging material for all of its products instead of styrofoam. This material, called EcoCradle, contains just two ingredients: agricultural waste and mycelium, the root structure from mushrooms. The mycelium acts as a binding agent to hold the agricultural waste together. This material can be molded into whatever shape is needed for the packaging.

Ecovative Design developed EcoCradle over a decade ago in 2007. The production process takes only 9 days start to finish. The process consists of creating a Growth Tray to create the proper shape, letting a mixture of hemp, flour, and mycelium grow for 4 days within the sealed Growth Tray, popping the form out of the tray and allowing another 2 days to grow, then finally letting it dry out for a few more days. This process costs a tiny fraction of the energy as plastic production and slashes carbon emissions. Below are some of the benefits of this material:

  • Home compostable material
  • 100% natural
  • Moldable into any shape
  • Flame and water resistant
  • Grown in only 9 days
  • Fully decomposes in 1-3 months
  • Uses 98% less energy than styrofoam to manufacture
  • Emits 90% less carbon than plastics
  • Similar cost to styrofoam packaging
  • Can grow without light or water
  • Makes use of agricultural waste
  • Lightweight, yet strong and durable

Seaweed Packaging

Seaweed and algae are vital organisms for our oceans. Not only are they an important food source, but algae can also clean up polluted waterways by filtering out nutrient-rich pollutants as food.

Margarita Telap

Magarita Telap,  a Chilean designer, became frustrated with the amount of packaging in her daily life. So she decided to experiment and invent a natural algae-based packaging. The culinary world has used agar for generations. Boiling red algae creates this gel-like material. Telap adds water to the agar as a plasticizer and boils the mixture with dyes to create her packaging. She uses fruits and vegetables to naturally dye the material. She then pours the substance into a mold and leaves it to cool and become rigid.

This material can easily be heat sealed and is best suited for dry goods like pastas or grains. Telap can also adjust the ratio of water and agar to create different levels of rigidity required for specific product functions. This bioplastic will break down in just 2 to 3 months, depending on temperature and the material’s thickness.


You may have heard about the water pods handed out at the London Marathon last spring. Skipping Rocks Lab designed these edible pouches and dubbed them Oohos. The material itself is called Notpla, a combination of seaweed and plants that breaks down in just 4 to 6 weeks. With over 40,000 runners in the marathon, these little pods saved over 800 pounds of plastic.

Brown seaweed is the main ingredient of notpla and is a nearly renewable resource as it can grow over a meter per day. The seaweed requires no fresh water or fertilizers to grow, making it a more natural and sustainable process than that of other materials or crops. This sustainable packaging material can even be cheaper to produce than the plastic counterpart it is trying to replace.

In addition to the drink pouches, Skipping Rocks Lab uses Notpla to create sauce and dressing packets as well as a takeaway tray liner that is water and grease resistant. They are currently also working on heat-sealable films and nets made from Notpla.

Evoware/Evo & Co

A similar product to Margarita’s bioplastic is the seaweed-based packaging from Evoware (edit: now Evo & Co). The material is used to create a variety of commercially available products including food wraps, coffee and dry seasoning sachets, and soap and toiletry packaging. Evoware not only works to reduce the plastic waste and pollution problems our world is facing, but the company also addresses farmer wellbeing and ensures farmers are paid fairly.

This seaweed-based packaging is tasteless and odorless. Their food wraps and sachets are edible, and all of the products will dissolve in warm water, making them a truly zero waste product. Below is a quick summary of benefits of this material.

  • Some products are edible and nutritious, containing fiber, vitamins, and minerals
  • Dissolves in warm water and 100% biodegradable
  • Acts as a natural plant fertilizer
  • 2 year shelf life without preservatives
  • Halal certified, safe to eat, and produced in compliance with HACCP standards
  • Customizable taste and color
  • Printable material to add brand logos, images, etc.
  • Heat sealable


What’s scoby? Probably not as appetizing as a Scooby Snack but great for the environment! Scoby is actually an acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. By fermenting scoby with food and/or agricultural waste, the bacteria and yeast create layers of gel-like microbial cellulose. This cellulose either dries out into sheets or gets molded into different shapes (tray, bowl, plate, etc.).

Emma Sicher

Italian designer Emma Sicher’s “From Peel to Peel” project is “an experimental approach for packaging”. Scoby mixes with water, an acetic compound, sugar, and organic material for a period of 2 to 4 weeks in a warm environment to create the microbial cellulose used for packaging.

Similar to Margarita Talep, Sicher uses different fruits and vegetables to naturally dye her material. She can dye the cellulose either wet or dry using various pureed food scraps to provide the desired color.

Sicher wanted to follow a cradle to cradle approach in her sustainable packaging project so that food can be eaten then used to create the packaging for new food. After use as packaging, consumers can compost the cellulose to create a fertilizer to help grow more food.

She has created tableware, sachets, and bags with her material, which can be printed on for branding purposes. The can package both dry goods and food items that will be consumed quickly after wrapping, such as street foods. Sicher hopes to see a future with a more circular approach to packaging on a global scale.


Polish designer Roza Janusz is behind this sustainable packaging company that produces scoby packaging much in the same way as Emma Sicher. MakeGrowLab works with customers to create custom packaging solutions. The material takes just two weeks to produce and is appropriate for dry or semi-dry goods.

This packaging material requires no sunlight to grow and utilizes agricultural waste as the food for bacteria and yeast. Not only does it use a byproduct in production, but this material is also…

  • Edible
  • Home compostable
  • An oxygen and microbial barrier
  • Insoluble in water
  • Printable to add brand logos, images, etc.
  • Customizable


There is a way to reduce our packaging waste beyond all-naked products. By thinking outside the box and using the natural world around us, we can move toward a more sustainable future that does not compromise convenience.

These types of sustainable packaging materials are produced quickly using limited resources and return to the earth in a matter of weeks to months, unless you eat it yourself!

More concerned with reducing your packaging waste on an individual scale? Check out my post on How to Reduce Packaging Waste.

Sustainable Packaging Alternatives green seaweed that can be transformed into compostable and edible food and drink packaging

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