If you’re tuned into the applicable channel, news of climate change and global warming is everywhere. Water shortages, air pollution, dwindling wildlife habitats, wildfires, flooding, other natural disasters and animal extinction rates are all on the rise. It can sometimes feel a bit hopeless. But when your lens is focused on promising community, governmental, and corporate actions, the hope returns. As an individual, you hold more power than you think, especially when coupled with like-minded individuals. You can be a driving force within your home, neighborhood and larger community. Here’s how.

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A sink with running water

1. Conserve water

This is a global issue, but every one of us can do something to help. Start with the obvious reductions like turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth and washing dishes. Install restrictive shower heads and faucets and put a spray nozzle on the hose.

Related: How the Sunrise Movement is changing the climate activism game

In your yard, vow to go native. Eliminate the lawn and replace it with native plants. Native plants thrive in the natural environment without the need for copious watering. When you do need to water, use a timer and irrigate when it’s cool.

At a community level, drive a campaign for water-efficient agriculture and buy from local farms that participate in water-saving practices. Also, educate community leaders about the benefits of native plants in all parks and other public areas.

2. Understand recycling

Post-consumer waste is a huge problem. Many natural materials (like food) can be diverted from landfills through processes such as industrial composting. Recycling is also a way to reuse materials that will otherwise be trucked to the dump. Nearly every major community has some form of recycling center. The problem is they all vary wildly in the services they provide.

Start by finding out what your local recycling center is capable of. Nearly all of them will recycle metal, glass and cardboard. Others can tackle electronic waste, light bulbs, batteries and automotive oil.

Perhaps the biggest variation comes in which types of plastic can be recycled. Some will only take large jugs while others will take almost everything. Knowing what can and can’t go into the recycle bin is essential for the best recycling outcome, since polluting plastics and other waste can cause the entire line of materials to be dumped.

Once you have a good understanding of your local process, you can inform others at your home, office and community.

A small farm with a silo

3. Let your diet help

Food waste is a huge issue, both in the supply chain and at home. It’s estimated that 40% of all fresh food ends up getting thrown out. Part of this happens during long transports, so buying local avoids this pitfall and reduces transport emissions. Buy from a co-op or farmer’s market, or sign up for a CSA box during the summer. Buying fresh also reduces the amount of packaging that comes with your produce.

For meat, also go with a local farm. Plan ahead and buy meat in bulk that you can freeze. Farm fresh meat is packaged in paper and without styrofoam trays. Plus, you can ensure the fair treatment of the animals.

Better yet, minimize the amount of meat you eat. Skip it a few times each week or adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. Raising livestock consumes vast quantities of land and water. In addition, it’s a top contributor to the release of greenhouse gases. Reducing our reliance on meat directly gives Mother Nature the opportunity to catch her breath.

4. Be a conscientious consumer

There are a thousand ways to be a conscientious consumer. In addition to the suggestions above, such as buying local, package-free produce, take your own grocery and produce bags to the store. When selecting products, look at the packaging. Stuff apples into a reusable produce bag instead of buying pre-filled plastic bags or plastic bubble packs (these make great holiday ornament storage if you find yourself with one). 

Keeping the excess packaging from coming into your home and office is the best way to reduce landfill waste. Look for companies that package goods in cardboard or glass instead of plastic. Avoid buying individually packaged items. Instead, buy bulk and place servings in reusable containers. 

Avoid making unnecessary purchases around holidays and special occasions by giving the gift of experiences rather than material items. Take friends and family to the movies, theater, or zoo. Give the gift of skydiving, iFly or a hot air balloon ride. 

A bag of oranges in a reusable mesh bag

There are almost always alternatives if the packaging is wasteful or non-eco-friendly. For example, instead of a board game that comes in a plastic case, go with a puzzle in a cardboard box. Skip the liquid hand soap in plastic containers, opting for a glass one instead. Ditch the large plastic laundry detergent jugs in favor of laundry pods or strips that are packaged in cardboard. These are just a few examples. The point is to get in the habit of evaluating packaging before making a purchase. 

The same holds true for the ingredients in a product or the materials of your rugs, clothes and furniture. Read labels and do research. Avoid home and garden products that include toxic chemicals, which are bad for you and the environment.

The textile industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet. Help out by avoiding fast fashion. Instead, invest in a quality capsule wardrobe or buy secondhand. Look for products made from recycled materials rather than virgin materials and invest in durable clothing, linens and home decor items that will last a long time.

5. Get involved at a community level

With your understanding of the importance of your personal decisions, scale that within your community. Push recycling at every level of your community. Get involved with local non-profits on topics that interest you, such as saving green spaces, protecting wildlife habitats or restricting new housing. Create a community garden. Organize carpools between parents or co-workers. Put together a community clean-up. Attend meetings through your local watershed. There is no limit to the ways you can protect nature. Get involved and make a difference.

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