By: Ellie Long
If you’re anything like me, you’re starting out 2021 more than a little exhausted from the events of the past year. Yes, we’re surrounded by messages of “brighter days ahead,” but with COVID-19 still raging, an economic crisis disproportionately hurting the most vulnerable among us, and, oh yeah, a climate crisis spiraling out of control, “Happy New Year” can feel a bit premature.
While it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all this, taking small, concrete steps toward positive change can have a big impact on lending a sense of control, and even more importantly: hope. Once you accept that you’re not going to single-handedly stop the earth’s temperature from rising or save every tree in the rainforest, you can start focusing on what you CAN do in 2021. Here are a few ideas to get started – and tips and tricks for sticking with it.
1. Vow to volunteer.
Whether your schedule allows for once a week, once a month, biannually, or anywhere in-between, setting a firm, realistic target for when you can commit to giving back will help you stick to volunteering more in 2021. In-person opportunities can be harder to come by during COVID-19, but there are still many organizations across the D.C. area that could use extra helping hands – here are just a few to look into:
Washington Parks and People has virtual, in-person, and group volunteer opportunities available with safety precautions in place, including a park cleanup on the 3rd Saturday of every month.
EcoAction Arlington is hosting intermittent in-person cleanups around Arlington County, as well as virtual volunteer social events to connect with your fellow eco-enthusiasts.
Capital Area Food Bank is playing a critical role in providing food to those who need it most around the region. Opportunities include driving to collect and distribute food, sorting and packing, and staffing their community marketplaces.
2. Make 2021 your year of composting.
Composting is a win-win for the environment: by sorting out your food waste, you reduce landfill emissions while creating a nutrient-rich soil for gardening or agriculture. Make a resolution to sort out your compostables, such as vegetable scraps, grains, and egg shells, into a separate container, then drop off them off at one of the D.C.’s collection sites (there are also locations in Virginia). Or, if you want to use the compost in your own garden, consider starting an at-home composting system – local governments including D.C., Arlington, and Montgomery County offer bins discounted or free.
3. Plastic is so 2020.
COVID-19 can make it feel like we’re making backward progress on eliminating the wasteful use of plastic in our daily lives. Counter the trend when the use of plastic isn’t necessary for health and safety with simple steps such as always carrying your own reusable grocery and produce bags to the store (most stores allow this, but may ask that you bag your own items), purchasing a reusable straw, or requesting restaurants to reduce plastic in takeout when possible (e.g., asking that plastic utensils are not included).
4. Eat for two – the planet and you!
Eating healthier is a common New Year’s resolution, but how about eating healthier for the planet? Set goals in 2021 based on your current diet; for example, if you already eat largely plant-based, maybe you’re ready to commit to being vegetarian or vegan (going vegetarian can roughly half your food carbon footprint, while veganism lowers it by about 60%), but if you currently eat a meat-heavy diet, starting small with “meatless Mondays” may be more effective at creating lasting change. You can also think about goals for eating more organic, local, or sustainably sourced food, e.g., “I will only eat seafood that is on SeafoodWatch’s recommended list.”
5. Make Mother Earth the center of attention by informing others.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re probably already fairly interested in and informed about environmental issues. Confront disinformation and disinterest by spreading the word – a few examples of resolutions could include “I will always speak up when I hear or see climate disinformation this year,” “I will share at least one environmentally educational article on my social media each week,” “I will invite a friend or family member to every environmental event I attend,” or *ahem* “I will write a blog for DC EcoWomen!”
6. Learn about the ongoing shadow of environmental racism.
The past year brought the terrible toll of racial injustice front and center. In 2021, continue to listen, learn, and act – one way to start could be by reading up on environmental justice and how we can ensure our planet’s resources are enjoyed equally, that environmental catastrophes are not felt disproportionately, and that the movement for justice is all-inclusive. Here are a few resources to start:
“A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind,” a book on the impact of pollution on communities of color by science journalist Harriet A. Washington.
“Rise,” a Viceland documentary series on Indigenous peoples’ battle to protect their land and communities across the Americas, with the first two episodes focused on Standing Rock.
“Living Downstream,” a podcast series from Northern California Public Media exploring environmental justice issues around the world.
7. Don’t forget to donate.
If you have the means, helping to support the fight for a cleaner planet through donating can make a big difference. Consider establishing a certain amount of money you intend to donate each month, then setting a reminder on your phone so you don’t forget to make it happen. Or for an easy solution, set up a recurring donation with your favorite organization.
8. Take care of yourself with nature.
Resolutions around giving back are great, but in these stressful times, never forget to give back to yourself as well. If you have trouble finding the time, resolutions such as “I will hike once a month,” “I will join a birdwatching group,” or “I will go for a lunch walk every day” may help you make space for yourself.
I hope you’ll find in these ideas some inspiration for a resolution that will work for you in the year ahead. 2021 may not be the brightest dawn we’ve ever seen, but there’s still hope in new beginnings, and setting goals for the benefit of yourself, your community, and the planet can provide a ladder to keep moving forward – step by step by step.
Ellie Long is a Communications Associate with the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington D.C.- based nonprofit that advocates for energy efficiency policy. In this role, she assists with content development, media relations, grassroots advocacy, social media, and other marketing efforts for the Alliance. Ellie graduated in May 2020 from California Lutheran University with degrees in Political Science and Global Studies, and previously interned in a Senate communications office.