How to Practice Sustainability at Home: An 8-Week Transformation Guide

Sustainable habits should last a lifetime, not for just a few days or weeks. With the number of coronavirus cases increasing each day, government officials are strongly advising citizens to stay in their homes which leaves many of us with extra time on our hands. We’ve decided to use that extra time to practice living a more sustainable lifestyle. Do you want to try it too? Lucky for you, we’ve created an 8-week transformational guide that allows you to gradually transition to a more sustainable lifestyle! 

*Do not feel obligated to follow these steps strictly. These are only suggestions for those who are seeking to live more sustainably.

Week 1: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Donate

Take the first week to evaluate your cabinets for food and supplies and make a pile of items you can donate. We decided to create three categories: reusable items, single-use items, and trash, to help you take inventory. Later, you could replace and substitute items like paper towels, styrofoam, and plastic ware with more sustainable products such as washable towels, glassware, or bamboo products. Be sure to keep on the recycle grind while working from home. If you live in Milledgeville, save your glass bottles and recycle them using GC’s glass crusher at the beginning of next semester! (Just drop them by Miller Court Room 310!)

Week 2: Reduce Your Meat Consumption

This is arguably the hardest step, which is why we placed it early on in the process so your body has time to adjust. If you are a heavy meat eater, it might be best to reduce the amount of meat you eat each week. Strive to reject meat two or three days a week and replace it with plant substitutes. Protein consumption remains one of the most common concerns associated with plant-based diets. Check out this NBC article chock full of recipes and information to help you eat more plant protein! 

In the meantime, you’re helping animals, too! The Power of Plant-Based Eating by Dr. Joanne Kong, a short documentary discussing the impact of your diet, is available on YouTube. 

Week 3: Start Your Own Garden

Fresh produce can be great for your body and mind, especially after being cooped up inside all day getting down and dirty can be a great way to relax. Summer is just around the corner, so get to planting for your at-home produce to spring up in time to land on your dinner table! Check out this blog by Simply Quinoa that has a list of summer produce options so you’ll know what to plant, further helping you to transition into step 2! 

Week 4: Invest in a Reusable Water Bottle

Take advantage of a reusable water bottle. Most of the plastic water bottles we use end up in landfills. This Washington Post article explains that each year, an American sends about 100 water bottles to the landfill. If you’re at home, there’s no need to be drinking from single-use water bottles. So, keep those extra water bottles from entering the landfill altogether. After all, drinking all that water will keep your skin healthy and fresh!

Week 5: Go Tree Free

Reduce and replace the number of paper products in your home. Try cutting out paper towels and using washable towels. Reduce the amount of toilet paper you use and opt for a tubeless brand. We promise that three-four squares of single ply won’t hurt you. Also, single-ply toilet paper degrades more quickly in water making it more eco-friendly than its cushy competitors. Instead of tissues, try a washable handkerchief. 

Check out this Yale article on the impact of the logging industry. Your contribution may be small, but it does matter! 

Week 6: Switch to LED Lighting

Making the switch to LED bulbs can put money back in your pocket and reduce energy consumption. According to the United States Department of Energy’s article on LED Lighting, making the switch from traditional bulbs saves 75% more energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs also last much longer saving you replacement money in the long run!

Week 7: Adopt Tote Bags

Single-use plastic bags litter our waterways, parks, and other natural habitats. In fact, New York City has banned the distribution of single-use plastic bags due to the obscene amount of plastic waste created annually. Check out this NYT article with more information on the new law passed to ban plastic bags in NYC. To decrease your waste production, ditch plastic bags and carry a tote bag or keep some in your car for shopping trips. 

Week 8: Switch to Bamboo Straws and Toothbrushes

To conclude your 8-week transformation, switch out single-use plastic items like toothbrushes and straws for reusable metal, or our favorite, bamboo materials. Pencils, cutlery, and even floorboards can be replaced or created with these materials to reduce waste. Check out this blog post to help you replace plastic items with bamboo! 

We wish you the best of luck with your sustainability transformation. Remember, it’s okay to mess up, but try to stay mindful during your endeavors! 

GC Sustainability Enlightens Early College

Ava Leone

GC Sustainability members presenting to Early College Friday, April 6th.

Anyone who supports the well being of the planet knows we must support the education of the youth in order to foster environmental change. Ultimately, “the youth is our future” and their actions can either positively or negatively impact our planet. To help enlighten young people in the Milledgeville community and encourage them to practice green initiatives, members of the Georgia College (GC) Office of Sustainability partnered with Early College to educate students on issues related to environmental justice. 

The students were able to watch two videos. The first video describes the state of our planet and how much destruction we have done during our short time on Earth. According to the video, if the existence of the planet was condensed to a 24 hour period, humans have dwelled on it for approximately 3 seconds.

The second video visually demonstrates privilege through the metaphor of a race to win $100. The Early College students learned that even though some people deal with hardships everyone still must go through the process of life. This video addresses the idea that the effects of privilege on success are real and should not be ignored. 

If students come from low-income families or deal with other hardships, it may be more difficult to focus solely on their education. Check out this article published by the U.S. Department of Education that explains more. 

Many urban areas also tend to increase the number of trees to decrease air pollution but give less attention to lower-income neighborhoods or industrialized areas in the same city that need better air quality as well. By explaining these principles to students, we were able to rally their support, open their eyes, and inspire them to fight for environmental and social justice.

Mardi Gras Beads v. Environment

Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday. Whatever you call this feasting holiday, you’re probably familiar with the decorations, the large number of beads, and all of the parades and celebrations. These beads, whose bright colors represent justice, faith, and power, are thrown from parade floats to parade attendees, but where are these beads actually ending up after the parties are over? 

According to an article published by National Geographic, approximately 46 tons of Mardi Gras beads were found in the streets of New Orleans after 75 rounds of parades cycled through the city. On average, the U.S. orders up to 25 million tons of beads in total to celebrate the event. These beads add to the festive atmosphere but usually end up polluting our neighborhood streets and waterways. Usually, the bead necklaces will make their way to landfills where they take hundreds of years to decompose. The beads are also classified as single-use plastics therefore, they cannot be recycled. 

Street sweepers follow parade floats for attendees to toss their beads back so they can be reused at future events. This act of returning and reusing plastic helps reduce the amount of waste shipped off to landfills. Citizens are also encouraged to keep the beads as momentos or to incorporate them into craft projects instead of tossing them in the trash or leaving them in the streets. Check out HGTV’s list of 10 creative solutions on how to reuse your Mardi Gras beads!

To help reduce the amount of plastic waste generated, scientists created biodegradable paper beads as an alternative to the plastic. These beads are environmentally friendly and will allow party-goers to continue their traditions without causing harm to the environment. Mardi Gras wouldn’t be the same without beads, but next year, opt for the paper equivalent! 

Georgia College Students Visit Southface Institute in Atlanta

Ava Leone 

GC students learn about sustainable architecture at Southface tour Friday, Feb. 21st.
Photograph by Ava Leone

On Friday, February 21st, the Georgia College Office of Sustainability offered a free tour to Southface Institute in Atlanta. Southface is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that strives to “promote sustainable homes, workplaces, and communities through education, research, advocacy, and technical assistance” in the City of Atlanta and surrounding areas. The tour helped open students’ eyes to cutting-edge technologies and innovative methods for integrating sustainable architectural design into building structures. From compostable toilets to green roofs, the building designers rethought the use of traditional fixtures to help reduce the carbon footprint of the building and maximize the use of natural resources. 

Southface Institute is named after the placement of the building’s windows – 94% of them are located on the south side of the building in order to passively absorb the sun’s heat. Check out this article published by Utah State University that goes more in-depth! 

Southface Institute diverts approximately 88% of its waste and showcases sustainable design features such as light shelves, view dynamic glass, duct socks, mill hop carpet, compostable toilets, horsetail runoff water filters and more. Although some of these features are not the cheapest, they act as an investment and pay for themselves in savings over time.

Students posing with horsetail runoff filters.
Photograph by Ava Leone

Installations like the light shelves increase the natural lighting in a room by providing a platform for light to bounce off of while features like the view dynamic glass filter light by changing tint according to the amount of light exposure outside. The duct socks serve as an alternative to metal heating and cooling tubes. These socks are machine-washable and are sometimes threaded vertically through the building instead of the ceiling. Many features were made of reclaimed materials, such as the mill hop carpet and some benches. The compostable toilet collects human waste to use in flower beds and uses only .6 oz of water to flush while traditional toilets use up to 2-3 gallons of water per flush. Outside the building, small horsetail forests are used to help filter rainwater before it permeates into the ground. All of these units work in conjunction with one another to help reduce Southface’s environmental impact.  

Southface works with businesses in Atlanta and many other areas in order to help them build sustainable buildings and help develop their green initiatives. We hope to return in the future after such an inspirational tour! 

Oak Tree Down at old Wilkinson/Montgomery Parking Lot

The Georgia College campus community raised concerns regarding the removal of the large oak tree that shaded the former commuter/resident parking lot at the intersection of Wilkinson and Montgomery. Although the school, neighborhood, and environment lost a valuable addition to the local ecosystem, the reasons for removing the tree are more than what it seems.

At first glance, the tree seemed to have been removed in order to create space for the new Integrated Science Complex (ISC), but after talking with some officials, other factors, including rot deterioration and life expectancy of the tree played a role in making the decision to cut it. 

White rot in Oak tree after being cut down.

Lori Strawder, Chief Sustainability Officer for Georgia College, confirmed that an arborist came to evaluate the tree before it was removed. The arborist determined that the tree only had approximately 5 years left to live, therefore, it was decided that removal would occur before the construction was well underway. Salvageable parts of the tree will hopefully be incorporated into the interior design of the all-new ISC in commemoration of the great oak tree.

The tree’s interior consisted of white and black deteriorated wood rot which is commonly found in urban-dwelling trees. Most trees in urban areas have limbs that need to be trimmed or removed if they pose a risk to citizens or get tangled in power lines. After these limbs are removed, a wound forms in place of the missing limb, similar to a wound on a human. Open wounds are vulnerable to diseases and this is when most trees acquire black and white rot.

Black and white rot in oak tree interior

White rot refers to fungi that absorb nutrients from the tree and leave behind a wooden husk, which turns white from lack of nutrients. Black rot also refers to fungal decay of the tree itself, usually from the inside out, but leaves behind a dark color.

In addition, Shea Groebner, Assistant Director of Facilities Management for Environmental Health & Safety, stated that the asphalt and concrete that once was the parking lot will be recycled during construction. Although construction is not always environmentally-friendly, we are glad to know that steps are being taken in an effort to minimize the environmental impact of the construction for the ISC!

5 Sustainable Outlets in Milledgeville

Take advantage of the recycling spots Milledgeville has to offer! From Georgia College’s campus to local hot spots, here are 5 places you can count on for all your recycling needs. 

  1. Georgia College Office of Sustainability : Located at Miller Court, 302 N Wayne St., Room 310 

Help us promote a healthy and green campus by recycling on Georgia College’s campus. If you’re a part of the campus community, be sure to toss your clean plastics (grades #1 and #2), aluminum cans, cardboard, and paper in the bins inside of the buildings. You can drop off your e-waste, including batteries and ink cartridges, at the Office of Sustainability. Remember, if contaminated materials enter the recycling bin, like food or liquids, the whole batch becomes contaminated. So, when in doubt, toss it out! 

  1. Recycling & Convenience Center

If you’re living off-campus, request your own recycling bin from the Recycling & Convenience Center by Advanced Disposal. These 18-gallon bins are perfect for city residents looking for curbside pickup. They accept materials like newspapers, magazines, glass, chairs, and sofas. With such an easy system, there’s no reason you should wait to get your free bin! There is a small monthly fee involved, but it is no more than $15 a month to keep our neighborhoods cleaner. Call (478)-453-4435 for more information. 

  1. ECO ATM 

Hoarding that cracked phone from 2007 in your office drawer or at home? Take it to the ECO ATM at the Walmart in Milledgeville. This kiosk will appraise your old and unusable cell phones, then give you cash for your green donation. There’s no reason to hold onto your old technology, but make sure to dispose of it properly! 

  1. Campus Closet, Goodwill, & Salvation Army 

Clothing can take up to 40 years to decompose in landfills. Keep clothing out of the trash and donate it to someone in need at one of these three handy locations. Donate clothing to Campus Closet, where Georgia College students can take an item in exchange for an item. This is a new on-campus initiative located in Magnolia near the SGA office! Goodwill and Salvation Army are also great second-hand shops to donate to if you are out in the neighborhood. 

  1. Kroger & Walmart Plastic Bag Recycling 

Recycle all of those plastic grocery bags underneath your kitchen sink! Next time you’re at the grocery store, bring them along so that you can recycle them at Kroger or Walmart in Milledgeville. Both stores offer in-store plastic film recycling stations. Plastic bags are classified as single-use plastics and pollute ecosystems and natural habitats. Help keep Georgia College’s campus and the Milledgeville-Baldwin environment a little bit cleaner by properly disposing of these harmful plastics!

Is plastic-eating bacteria the answer to waste reduction?

Plastic. You can find it in the bottles we drink from, in the clothes we wear, in the chairs we sit on, and in many other products we use daily. Plastics can serve us for long or short periods of time depending on our demands, and by now, the majority of the world’s population is aware of the detrimental effects of plastics in our environment. Even with recycling programs, we still find almost 90% of plastics entering landfills or polluting our ecosystems. In 2016, scientists discovered plastic-eating bacteria to help reduce plastic pollution and reverse negative effects on the environment. 

An article published in 2018 by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) challenges the benefits of plastic-eating bacteria. EDF’s Chief Oceans Scientist Douglas Rader stated that although man-made bacteria could potentially help reduce the amount of existing plastic waste, releasing bacteria into the environment still poses a hazardous risk. We are unaware of how these bacteria will spread and should not be hasty to solve the plastic problem without further research. Relying on bacteria to decompose our waste is a great idea, however, it is not sustainable as we produce waste faster than the bacteria can break it down. Still, we should avoid planting man-made bacteria into natural habitats. 

Rader also noted in his article that: 

  1. Plastics can absorb toxic chemicals that can re-enter the environment if the plastic decomposes via microbes. 
  2. There are already natural microbes that exist and are feeding on plastic! 

On a positive note, an article published by the NYT this past October explained that in a recent study, scientists discovered that plastics can decompose in a few decades or centuries when exposed to sunlight. According to the article, plastic eventually breaks down into trace amounts of organic carbon when previously, it was known to decompose over thousands of years. Scientists are now concerned about available surface area exposure and buried plastics which are shielded from sunlight. You can read more here.

With all of this in mind, let’s work together to reduce our plastic consumption as a preventative measure. This important first step in the reduce, reuse, recycle hierarchy is often overlooked but can significantly help diminish plastic waste. So, try to avoid purchasing plastics all together!

Sensible Sustainability: 5 Easy ways to cut back on Single-Use Plastic!

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Americans tossed 3.01 million tons of plastic bags, sacks, and shrink wraps in landfills in 2017 while only about 9.4% of those plastics were actually recycled. That leaves about 91% of the plastics produced in America polluting oceans, beaches, rivers, forests, and other natural habitats, as well as our own neighborhoods! During the 2019 fiscal year, Georgia College alone recycled 62.65 tons of material which primarily consisted of plastics and cardboard. 

Even when we do recycle, many items are burned or shipped away to other places because repurposing the products can be expensive. China even stopped purchasing our recycled materials in 2017 because most of the materials they received were not actually recyclable. Check out this article published by WBUR that gives an in-depth look at the truth behind the plastics recycling industry. 

Plastic is found in the stomachs of innocent sea turtles and formed together into giant floating trash islands. In addition, approximately 1 million birds per year are killed after mistaking plastic for food. An article published by the Washington Post stated that by 2050, scientists expect there to be more trash than fish in the ocean. As you can see, plastic use is a big problem, so we have a few solutions to help you cut back on your day-to-day plastic use! Cities like Seattle and New York have already banned single-use plastics to cut down on municipal waste. Commit to these 5 simple switches to help reduce your single-use plastic waste so that we can have a greener GC campus and a greener world! 

  1. Substitute plastic straws with pasta straws 

Metal and silicone straws are fairly common alternatives for plastic straws, but they are not compostable. If you really want to switch to an eco-friendly product, try a pasta straw. These guys work just as well as a regular straw and can be composted after you’re done using them. They are a great option if you hate soggy paper straws as well! 

  1. Use reusable shopping bags when buying groceries

Caving into plastic bag use happens to many people. To avoid using these baggies, create a zero-waste tote kit to keep in your car or purse so it is nearby when you go out shopping. If you are forgetful, try shopping at a store you know will offer paper bags as a replacement so you can recycle after. Purchasing items like bagitos, made of recycled water bottles, are helpful when you do not have much space, but want to stay eco-friendly! 

  1. Switch your plastic ware to metal/glass containers

You can find plastic ware in kitchens across America. Replace these non-biodegradable products with metal or glass containers instead. For more inspiration to make the switch, eating from plastic products sends about 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles into your body each year according to an article published by National Geographic. We are uncertain how these plastics affect human health. For the sake of animals and your own well-being, ditch the plastic containers. 

  1. Exchange cling wrap for beeswax wrap or soy wax paper 

Cling wrap preserves food without the hassle of finding another container but unfortunately cannot be recycled. Instead, opt for environmentally friendly beeswax or soy wax paper to keep your food fresh. These products are reusable and work just as well as cling wrap and keep plastics out of landfills! Give them a try if you haven’t already. It’s worth the investment!

  1. Reusable Water Bottles 

Avoid purchasing those large containers of water at the store! Try a reusable metal canteen or other reusable drink container of your choice. If you absolutely have to purchase a drink stored in a plastic bottle, be sure that you properly recycle it afterwards! 

Living a green life starts with a choice. A choice of awareness, a choice of activism, and a choice to purchase products that will not harm ourselves and the environment. If you are just beginning to go green, take the switch one step at a time. Try moving through our 5-point list instead of taking on all of them at once. Going green should be a lifestyle, not a compulsive decision!

Sensible Sustainability: Clothing Edition

Purchase clothing that will last for years to come.

A little over a year ago, an elementary school teacher in New Jersey was praised for her sustainability efforts. Her contribution? One dress. In order to help influence younger generations into sustainable lifestyles, eighth-grade teacher Julia Mooney decided to wear the same dress for 100 days. She wanted to promote the idea of quality over quantity in a world where quantity often overrules. You don’t have to wear the same outfit for 100 straight days to support the idea of sustainability, however, you should try thinking about the quality of the clothes you are purchasing. 

Fast fashion, or mass-produced clothing by large retail corporations, has exploded in our demanding culture. We want things, and we want them now. This also applies to the clothing industry. Large corporations like Romwe and H&M create incredibly affordable clothing, sometimes selling products for as low as $3, but these clothes are not well made and often last for only one season and are then donated, returned to the store they were purchased from, or thrown away. 

Once clothing ends up in a landfill, it can take some clothing material up to 40 or 50 years to decompose, so it is important that we save clothing from the landfill and find ways for it to be recycled, or better yet, reused. Some clothing can be turned into insulation for homes, car seat stuffing, or even new fabric that can be resold. If you are not ready to shred up your tattered clothes, try up-cycling them into a new design or creating a DIY project with them. There are many different ways to keep your clothes out of the landfill. Check out this website for more inspiration.

If you’re a Georgia College student, check out the new Campus Closet located in the Student Activities Center near the SGA office. Students can donate gently used items, including clothes, shoes, and school supplies, and can take what they need and give what they don’t! 

Who says that sustainable clothing options can’t be cute as well? Check out Sustainability Chic for affordable, sustainable, and ethical clothing. Next time you’re out shopping, try purchasing more quality clothes that will last for years, just like Mooney. All it takes is altering your mindset. Yes, they may be a bit more expensive, but in the end, if you re-wear them enough times, the clothes will pay for themselves and our planet will be a little bit cleaner!

Australian Bush Fires: How Can Georgia College Help?

Kangaroos in aftermath of bush fires.

For the past few months, Australia has struggled to keep bush fires under control due to dry spells and increased temperatures. These relentless, unforgiving fires continue to burn urban areas, wildlife, and natural habitats, destroying not only the physical beauty of the country but also the spirits of animals and humans alike. The inferno requires constant attention from firefighters and rescuers, and although mandatory evacuations have been implemented in the country, many citizens desperately try to salvage what they have left and refuse to flee the area because they are afraid that yet another fire will engulf their new place of refuge. The fires also create thick smog that chokes out humans and animals. While some of the fires can be contained, the contaminated air spreads farther and more rapidly than the fires, affecting many more people beyond the burn areas. This air is at the mercy of the wind.

Australian hillside burning from bush fire.

The situation is tragic, but how can GC students help if we are so far away? Start by educating your peers. The more people that are aware of this heat epidemic, the more they can contribute to causes that can prevent it. Many people might think the fires in Australia have nothing to do with Georgians. That might be the case at first glance. Our cities are not burning. Our wildlife is not suffocating, but Georgia is not immune to the effects of increasing global temperatures. According to the States At Risk site, Georgia experiences about “20 dangerous heat days a year.” In about 30 years, the amount of dangerous heat days Georgia experiences is expected to more than triple. For now, Georgia can skate by, but in the future, we could experience similar disastrous effects in our region which means we should act now and support those who are struggling by educating, donating, and actively choosing to engage with green initiatives (recycling, reducing waste, using sustainable products). 

Koala in habitat before fires take over habitat.

The NYT compiled a list of articles perfect for staying educated on the topic, how to donate to those struggling in Australia, and rescue stories (The Australia Fires: Everything You Need to Read). CNBC also created a list of organizations that are willing to help wildlife and rescue organizations. While events like the Australian bush fires are not pleasant, it is important that we address such issues. Ignoring them will only worsen the situation. In honor of the new decade and the new year, make a resolution to go green and reduce your own waste, or donate to a credible organization in Australia dedicated to reducing brush fires.