Plastic Free July Livestream Recap
If you’ve been interested in finding out about the benefits of living low-waste, how to get started on living a “greener” life, or learning more about Jersey City’s efforts to become more sustainable and eco-friendly, Plastic Free July is the perfect time to dive into the plastic-free, environmentally conscious pool! We brought together an amazing panel of sustainability leaders in our community who are at the forefront of these significant efforts for a Facebook livestream to discuss the importance of sustainable living and what that means for the world, especially now in the midst of a global pandemic.
Read on for a recap of our livestream or check out the recording below for a more in-depth, informative discussion on ways to be more sustainable at home through composting, zero-waste practices, reducing waste, and more, as well as Jersey City’s green initiatives that are set to help the community as a whole.
What Does it Mean to Be Sustainable and Why Should We Care?
The word “sustainability” can be interpreted in many different ways, but as Kate Lawrence, Director of The Office of Sustainability in Jersey City, pointed out, most organizations follow the United Nations’ definition: “Development that is able to meet the needs of the present without hurting the needs of the future. Those are the three pillars of sustainability: the community, the economy, and the environment”
Presently, the world is suffering from diminishing natural resources like clean air, soil, and animals, but that is not a new problem. So why care now? “It always has been an issue,” said Kate. “But it was something for a while that was easy for us to ignore.” During the 1970s environmental movement, legislation passed that has protected us up to this point, but as technology and concerns we weren’t aware of or that didn’t exist 50 years ago grow, those protections are not enough. We need to reform and re-educate people on what needs to be done to protect ourselves now against climate change and avoid problems for future generations.
“Everything is made out of plastic,” said Stephanie Silva, STEM Educator at Liberty Science Center and Eco Ambassador with Sustainable JC. “We’re seeing that plastic stays in landfills forever, so we need to adapt and make better choices to help the environment, to make the world cleaner.”
BYOB – Bring Your Own Bag
One way Jersey City is combating plastic in landfills specifically is with the plastic bag ban that went into effect in 2019, banning businesses across the city from using single-use plastic bags. While the ban was a success and is still in effect now, it’s understandably hard to prioritize sustainable practices, like remembering to bring a reusable bag to the store, during COVID times.
“Everyone has, hopefully, gotten used to wearing a mask outside,” said Erin Hill, Energy & Sustainability Analyst and Chair of Greener JC. “So it’s just one more thing to add on when you leave the house: phone, keys, wallet, mask, and now, reusable bag or item.”
Just like a mask, reusable bags and containers are critical to safe health practices during COVID.
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“This is a really critical time for us to have less fingers touching things,” said Stacey Flanagan, Jersey City Director of Health & Human Services. “Having your own bag is probably one of the most important ways to reduce the number of hands in your food because you pack your own bag at the end. If you’re bringing things from your own home, and you’re the only one touching it, it is still safe.”
This is especially true for visiting places like open-air farmers markets where shoppers are able to choose what they need and avoid unnecessary contact by adding produce to their own bag, therefore helping to protect themselves and the people running the booths. What becomes difficult with reusable items, however, is with refilling containers like reusable coffee cups and growlers that still need to be handled by business employees, potentially putting them at risk, so there is still work that needs to be done to create sustainable yet safe practices to get us closer to a zero-waste future.
Reducing Waste to Zero
Sustainable practices don’t just start and stop with reusable bags, though, and it also doesn’t stop with the consumer. Businesses too contribute to immense plastic and food waste, especially in kitchens. There are practices to adopt to avoid adding to the plastic pile, as demonstrated by vegan food market Plant Base, located in Bergen-Lafayette, which is the first zero-waste market in New Jersey. For shoppers, they can load up on bulk chia seeds and pasta by bringing their own jars and containers or picking some up in the store, and behind the scenes in the kitchen, they use all compostable packaging or no packaging for incoming and outgoing food items. While it might sound daunting to run a business or live day-to-day without the convenience of plastic, Plant Base co-owner, Dhruva LaTorre, assures us it’s not impossible.
“It’s a really easy thing to get used to if you make an effort and do it on a daily basis where you tell yourself you’re not going to buy something with waste on it,” said Dhruva. “We want to make it easy for people to make that transition.”
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Come On, Compost!
For businesses and individuals, a big first step to reducing waste is adding composting to their daily lives. It’s as easy as adding a bucket for scraps alongside the normal cardboard and plastic recycling bins already present in our kitchens. It’s when the scraps start piling up do we begin to see how much food (and money) we truly waste with every meal.
“Composting and food waste go hand in hand,” said Andrea Rodriguez, Sales & Marketing Manager at Community Compost Co. “You may start composting and realize you’re throwing away perfectly good apples, then cut down on the amount of apples you’re buying. Or you’re making too much food and by the end of the week, you’re not eating all of those leftovers, so you see that start to pile up once you separate that from your waste. It makes you rethink how much you’re buying and what you actually need.”
There are a ton of ways to get started composting, like signing up with Community Compost Co. to have someone pick up your scraps – including fruit and veggie peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, paper towels and napkins, animal bones and byproduct – weekly or biweekly, or drop off your compost, excluding animal products, for free at locations around the city hosted by the Office of Sustainability to be used by residents and those who maintain community gardens.
“For those of us lucky enough to have backyard space, rooftop, or fire escape, it’s really easy to compost on your own,” said Andrea. “It’s such a cool process to see and to actually get your hands dirty and do it. And the city provides amazing resources for backyard composting, too!”
Farming Gone Vertical
One exciting Jersey City green initiative touched on was the upcoming installation of 10 vertical farming Aero Farms throughout the city. With these energy and space efficient indoor gardens, the city estimates it will grow 20,000 pounds of greens annually to feed the community.
“Vertical farming is basically taking advantage of all the technology that’s been developed in the last few decades to grow indoors, which allows for much faster growing,” said Fabian Schvartzman, Strategic Research and Tech. Development Lead at Aero Farms. “In Aero Farms’ case, we are able to produce leafy greens up to 390 times faster and more effectively than growing in soil, while using 95% less water.”
To stay on the zero-waste trend, the greens will not be packaged in plastic and instead, residents stopping by to pick up a bundle will be encouraged to bring their own reusable bag or container.
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Final Two Cents on Starting Sustainable Practices
We asked our panelists to leave our viewers with their advice for one quick tip to help those just starting their sustainable journey:
Stephanie: “Start with replacing one item that’s single use with a reusable item, and then just see how it grows after you get into a routine and habit of trying something new and better.”
Andrea: “When it comes to composting, I think a lot of people are scared about the smell … don’t let that deter you from starting. My tip would be to start by saving your scraps in your fridge or freezer in a Tupperware container. That helps so many people to not be scared anymore.”
Dhruva: “For me, it was really fulfilling to be able to tell myself that I was doing everything I could to minimize the amount of waste I contribute. Once you start to really question your decisions when it comes to shopping or cooking, and you’re confident that you’re doing the best you can do for yourself and the planet, it does a lot for your mind and helps you feel like a better person.”
Kate: “Find someone to take the journey with you … have someone in your corner who’s going through the same process that you are, who you can bounce ideas off of and keep you on the right path, just like a workout buddy!”
Stacey: “Meatless Mondays are the easiest way to start. At the Health Department, we even incorporated that into our senior Meals on Wheels … we integrate that into our work because we believe it is such a simple way to make one little change.”
Erin: “If you need a new item, instead of shopping online where it’s going to come in a plastic package wrapping, there are so many awesome vintage shops in Jersey City, or shop locally at some of our stores for reusable ware.”
Fabian: “Just get better educated because there are so many low hanging fruits of ways to improve, and if everyone took a low hanging fruit, we’d be in a much better situation.”
For more helpful sustainability resources or information on Plastic Free July, click the links throughout the article to visit our speakers’ sites and check out our constantly updated Live Sustainably section for green businesses, donation and drop off locations, and Jersey City government initiatives.