Latinx Heritage Month

October 22, 2020

Author’s note: During Latinx Heritage Month celebrations, we acknowledge that many non-white Latinxs do not identify with the notion of Latinidad, defined as the collection of attributes and experiences shared by members of the Latin American identity. Many Black and Indigenous members of the community reject a unified notion of Latinidad because it ignores the violent, racist history of Latin American colonization and erases the different histories experiences of peoples in Latin America. For these reasons, this Latinx Heritage Month, we honor the contributions of Black and Indigenous Latinxs to the conservation/sustainability field.

Feliz días de la independencia a mi gente Latinx! Con orgullo nicaragüense, les presento cinco pionerxs que están desafiando la definición de quién es ambientalista.

Happy (belated) Latinx Heritage Month! Between September and October, we celebrate the achievements, contributions, and influence of the Latinx* culture in the United States. Celebrations begin on September 15, when Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua gained their independence from Spain in 1821. Mexico celebrates the day after, and Chile recognizes their independence on September 18. Join us in celebrating Latinx Heritage Month by recognizing activists who call attention to environmental conservation while paying homage to their roots. 

 

Xiye Bastida is an eighteen-year old Xiye BastidaMexican-Chilean activist and member of the Otomi-Toltec Nation. She is from San Pedro Tultepec, Mexico, where she was raised with Otomi indigenous beliefs that emphasized the reciprocity of taking care of the Earth. Her community experienced a severe two-year drought followed by extreme flooding events, which prompted her to examine how the extreme weather events are exacerbated by the climate and how this disproportionately impacts BIPOC** communities. Upon moving to New York City with her family, where she witnessed the lingering damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, Bastida focused her energy on indigenous and immigrant visibility in climate activism. She is one of the principal organizers for Fridays for Future NYC, has mobilized people of all ages to participate in the Global Climate Strike, and is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Xiuhtezcatl MartínezXiuhtezcatl Martínez is a nineteen-year old activist who wrote a book entitled We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement That Restores the Planet. His book examines the failures of world leaders to solve the climate crisis and suggests tangible steps that youth can take to mobilize their communities. Martínez is a youth director for Earth Guardians, and has advocated for large governments to address climate change at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit and the UN General Assembly. Martínez cites his Mexica (Aztec) heritage as the motivation for his activism, and believes that all humans have a responsibility to protect the environment. Martínez shares his indigenous beliefs, stories, and experiences growing up as an activist in the spotlight through his hip hop music. 

 

Katherine Lorenzo is an Afro-Latina climate activist who began her career Katherine Lorenzoby volunteering during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. She studied political science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and has worked with advocacy groups such as Mi Familia Vota. Lorenzo frequently mentions that conservation is an inherent part of Latinx culture. While families are motivated to save money, there is an added benefit of reusing and wasting less. Lorenzo worked on environmental justice programs through CHISPA Nevada, and focused on the Clean Busses for Healthy Niños campaign to switch districts to clean, electric school buses. She currently works at a nonprofit, Energy Foundation, which promotes policy solutions to advance renewable energy and teach the public about the benefits of a clean energy economy.

 

Solimar FiskeSolimar Fiske is an activist who uses her Instagram feed #TakingUpSpaceOutdoors to amplify voices of color in outdoor spaces. Fiske speaks on the isolating experience of walking into outdoor clothing retail stores and not seeing anyone who looked like her, or clothing geared towards her frame. She says that engaging with her online platform has led her to find a community of activists (such as @melaninbasecamp and @unlikelyhikers) who are working towards the same goals she is, and that she is continuously learning about land acknowledgment, conservation, and environmental awareness. Fiske acknowledges that many people of color only see a narrow advertisement of what the outdoors is actually like, and face barriers of time, travel, and funds. She aims to educate others by emphasizing that experiences in nature are not out of reach, being a role model for other people of color who want to get involved outside, and taking up space as a woman of color, immigrant, person with mixed indigenous heritage, working class person, and person with a large body.

 

Melissa Cristina Márquez Melissa Cristina Márquezis a Puerto Rican and Mexican marine biologist and the founder of Fins United. The Fins United Initiative teaches people of all ages about Chondrichthyes (shark and ray) conservation, education, and co-existence. Márquez travels around the world speaking about the importance of diversity and inclusion in science. She has been dubbed the “Mother of Sharks” and has been featured on various nature programs, including Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. As a proud #LatinainSTEM, Márquez emphasizes the need for open communication between the scientific community and the general public, law and policy makers, and diverse stakeholders. 

 

*Latinx: gender-neutral term for someone of Latin American origin/descent

**BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color

Sustainable Beauty

September 11, 2020

Editor’s Note: During these times of uncertainty, finding ways to proactively care for ourselves and our surroundings can have a grounding effect. However, we must recognize that having this opportunity is a sign of our privilege. I encourage you to take a moment to appreciate the labor of essential workers.

16 Top Ethical and Sustainable Beauty Brands You Should Know [Space Nation Orbit Blog]

Eco-conscious consumerism may seem like an unlikely investment of time during a global pandemic, but quarantine has allowed many of us to slow down and listen to our bodies. Practicing self-care can take many forms and adopting a skincare routine is one. When we discuss personal care products, however, we should also consider the life cycle and environmental impacts of their packaging.

According to a report compiled by Statista, the 2020 United States skincare market has generated $18.1 million and the average consumer has spent $55 on skincare. The bottles, tubes, and containers used annually by the cosmetic industry adds up to 120 billion units of plastics packaging. But how does this hurt our planet?

Of the 120 billion units of plastic packaging used each year, 70% ends up in landfills. Bioplastics do not degrade naturally or within the average human lifespan. They can be composted, but require such an intense degree of heat to break down that they must be returned to an industrial compost site.

Through the dumping of waste in developing nations and irresponsible waste collection practices, plastic ends up in our oceans and breaks down into microplastics. When ingested, plastics and microplastics jeopardize the health of marine life and move in such a way mimic the movements of prey consumed by fish and seabirds. Plastic pollution, which PEW Research Center estimates currently totals up to 8 million pieces of plastic in the ocean, can also become entangled with aquatic life. This has resulted in the strangulation of sea turtles and marine mammals’ necks, and the asphyxiation of aquatic life.

Alternative forms of packaging have been used by companies in response to rapid deforestation and plastic pollution. An increasingly popular material is bioplastic, which is made from the sugars in corn starch, cassava, and sugar cane. Bioplastics are defined by being composed of 20% or more renewable resources, and are free of the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA (bisphenol A). This alternative seems appealing compared to the use of petroleum-based packaging, but the conservation community warns that there are many contingencies to the success of bioplastics. It is often cited that they emit less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based plastic, due in part to the fact that they are not unearthing trapped liquid carbon dioxide. However, a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that extensive land use, as well as fertilizer and pesticide application, lead to more pollutant emissions than traditional plastic. Not only are these agricultural practices harmful to the environment, but they also threaten our hormonal and skin health.

The use of “natural” ingredients in products and packaging disproportionately impact people of color. On the agricultural side, migrant farmworkers in the United States experience routine exposure to pesticides and other environmental hazards associated with industrial farming (such as California’s continued wildfires), heat stress, and contaminated drinking water. These laborers are essential to the $200 billion agricultural industry, yet farmworkers make about 40 cents per bucket of produce picked. On the consumer side, there has also been an uptick in lawsuits based on exposure to toxic ingredients in household brand health and beauty products. A notable example is litigation based on mercury contamination in skin-lightening products. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology issued an opinion that women of color are disproportionately exposed to unsafe ingredients in beauty products due to the societal pressures they face to conform to Western beauty standards. For these reasons, looking at sustainability through the lens of human rights and racial/social justice is key to the growth of the sustainable skincare/beauty industry.

So where does our beauty waste go?

Our demand for resource-intensive products contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. This is because skincare products contain ingredients like soy, palm oil, and sugar cane, which are grown on large-scale farms that consume extensive stretches of land. Not only are the effects of our consumption felt on land, but also seen in the oceans. Alarm has been raised surrounding the ethical implications of agricultural sourcing. By diverting land and energy away from food production, companies are exacerbating food insecurity in many developing countries. Ecovia (formerly Organic Monitor), a market research firm that examines the organic beauty industry, compares the debate over “beauty crops” to that of biofuel. While both are striving to improve sustainability in their markets, advancing technology while failing to address food security ignores the basic human right to food. Developments in the industry, such as the commitment to sustainable palm oil-sourcing (see Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), have been created to address these concerns. Similar roundtables exist for soybeans and cocoa, all with the intent to responsibly and ethically grow consumer crops.

How can you find sustainable skincare products?

Greenwashing has frequently become more apparent as brands jump onto the eco-conscious trend. This term refers to the marketing strategy which deceives consumers into believing that the product is better for the environment (i.e. by having a lighter carbon footprint or donating to an environmental organization). Usually, greenwashed products use earth tone colors, have pictures of natural landscapes and/or leaves, and include key words such as “eco-,” “natural,” and “sustainable.” Greenwashing misleads consumers to think they are making decisions that positively impact or vaguely-reference the environment, when in reality, these companies continue to package in plastic and encourage wasteful consumption patterns. Many argue that bioplastics are an example of greenwashing due to inadequate composting infrastructure or consumer understanding of the waste process.

Along with greenwashing, be wary of the word “organic.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a certified organic label indicating that the crops “are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing… soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible” (USDA 2012). According to the New York Times, an amendment to the certification allowed 38 synthetic ingredients into organic products. With this in mind, conducting research on specific company policies in regards to ethical and sustainable sourcing is key. Look for Fair Trade Certified and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Certified products when possible, and explore package-free products/options! Becoming more environmentally conscious doesn’t happen overnight – and it isn’t always financially sustainable for many people. Mindfulness about our practices and consumerism doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right, but that we’re conscious and working towards change.

Thank you. Gracias.

Considering Sustainability During the COVID-19 Pandemic

July 6, 2020

By Lauren Pawlowski

Plants growing at the community gardens in Derby, CT.

Personal, financial, and health requirements may prevent you from being your most environmentally-friendly self right now, but there are still small steps you can take each day to support a more sustainable lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health and safety is of utmost importance at this time, but if you have the time and means to do so, you can try out the following tips for living more sustainably during a pandemic. 

  1. Use washable, reusable masks. Many people hand make them out of extra fabric or other materials and sell them on Etsy, Facebook sale pages, etc. You can also make your own, if you have free time. Wearing disposable masks every time you need to use one creates a great amount of waste that can be avoided if you are able to wash and wear reusable masks. 
  2. Try to stick to reusable containers, towels, etc.  You’ll need to wash them more frequently, but this will prevent unnecessary waste.
  3. Buy in bulk when you can.  This reduces wasteful packaging and helps minimize grocery store visits. 
  4. Clean up your spaces and declutter!  Now’s a great time to clean out any junk drawers or messy spaces in your home. Donate these materials to Goodwill, Savers, the Salvation Army, or other organizations near you. Many of these organizations will sell the donated items if they can, or send the unsaleable materials to other processing centers for reuse or recycling. If you want a new project to tackle, repainting furniture from a thrift store can save you some money and make your stuff more meaningful.
  5. Spend quarantine free time reading new books – audio books and earbuds allow you to multitask while you learn. You might even get a head start on the UConn Reads book this fall, Amitav Ghosh’s “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” which addresses climate justice from a Global South perspective. Many websites, such as Alibris and Betterworldbooks, have great selections of used books online for low prices. This saves you money while also encouraging reuse of materials! You can also choose to go paperless and tune into TV shows, YouTube videos, movies, and podcasts.
  6. Volunteer at a community garden, urban forestry initiative, coastal cleanup, land trust, watershed group, or other environmentally-focused organization. This can include planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, grounds maintenance and more to benefit your local community. Helping out sustainable community initiatives provides support to people in need and also the local environment. 
  7. Get outside! Now is the perfect time to explore the great outdoors, where there is plenty of room for social distancing. Go hiking, walking, running, biking, kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming, picnicking or gardening. Travel to new places nearby or visit a local park. Get your friends and family outside to spend some time together in nature. Take a garbage bag with you to make sure you leave “nothing but footsteps” or even to clean up after others!
  8. Research and support sustainable brands. This can include cosmetics, clothing, household products, and more that produce durable products and are committed to protecting environmental and human health.
  9. Grow your own fruits and veggies, visit local farmers’ markets, and try new recipes that are meatless or more sustainable. Some farmers’ markets are still operating even in these times by offering goods for sale online or by outdoor vendors. Individual farms may have their own stores operating as well, although you should call ahead or check online for hours and restrictions. If you have free time, it could be fun to test out some new recipes with different vegetables, grains, and other ingredients that are healthy and sustainable.  
  10. Start a compost pile. This prevents food waste from entering the waste stream in landfills, where, in CT, it will be incinerated as trash. Instead, you can use the healthy soil from the compost in your garden or for any plants you have!

 

Disclaimer: CDC, state, and local health department guidelines should always be followed in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and risk of infection. The above recommendations should not supplant health guidelines from public health agencies and the medical community.  These suggestions should only be employed as they align with CDC, state, and local health guidelines.  

Congrats and Farewell: Our Seniors

May 13, 2020

Four of our interns are now officially UConn graduates! Although this was not the senior year we wanted for them, and our office graduation traditions are now happening over WebEx, we are still so proud of them. They have all been integral members of the office over the past four years, and they will be greatly missed. Below we share everything they have accomplished during their time at UConn, what the future holds for them, and our favorite memories with these special people.

 

Matt McKenna

Matt joined our sustainability staff in the spring of 2018 and has been a key contributor on many of the Office’s more technical assignments. He was the author of UConn’s 2018 and 2019 Greenhouse Gas Inventory and served on the Bicycle Friendly University working group. In 2019 Matt took a more active role in outreach and engagement initiatives and led a volunteer team in trailblazing the Blue Trail in the Hillside Environmental Education Park (HEEP) while helping advise on the design of a Pollinator Garden and Pavilion which will be constructed in the HEEP in the near future. He also provided critical leadership in completing UConn’s 2019-2020 AASHE STARS report. His “steady Eddy” demeanor in the office made him a reliable teammate and provided reassurance in his abilities to turn around an assignment quickly and accurately.  In the summer of 2019 Matt had the opportunity to further round his engineering skill set while working on wastewater effluent treatment methods for nutrients and chlorine during his internship with Arconic in Davenport, Iowa. Outside the office, Matt is a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and is well known for his Duck Pin bowling prowess. He is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering. Matt’s post grad career begins in Plainville, CT, where he will be working for Loureiro Engineering. His presence will be greatly missed in the office. 

 

 

Sophie MacDonald

Sophie joined our Sustainability staff in the spring of 2017 and has been a talented intern and truly supportive leader. She has been the graphic designer and webmaster for the office during her time here, using her skills to elevate the brand of the office via a new office logo, a complete overhaul of the website, and countless graphics for t-shirts, events, the campus sustainability fund and more. Sophie was also a lead on many projects, including the Green Office Certification Program, where she led the effort to reach 100 certified offices and before that took on completion of the 2017 campus greenhouse gas inventory.  Outside the office, Sophie has an incredible passion for renewable energy, and has been a valued team member of countless labs and projects on campus from developing community microgrids to studying solar cells to analyzing termites. She co-authored the student declaration that was a vital part of this September’s climate strike, and her honors thesis is a holistic assessment of renewable energy implementation options on campus. In her free time, Sophie enjoys hiking, climbing, and writing philosophy essays. This year she received the 2020 UConn Spirer/Dueker Student Humanitarian Achievement Award. Sophie is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and a minor in Philosophy. Starting this summer, Sophie will continue her passion for ethical renewable energy as a design engineer at MPR Associates in Alexandria, VA.

 

 

 

Charlotte Rhodes

Charlotte joined our sustainability staff in the spring of 2018. With a level of professionalism and organization that we were all inspired by, Charlotte brings whatever initiative she leads to the next level, whether it be the annual Climate Change Cafe, the office’s newsletter, UConn fundraising events or any other communication piece. She is also always coming up with new ideas to bring the whole office to the next level, whether that be the photo contest she created and executed her first semester in the office, or a creative promo video she filmed and edited documenting the student experience at COP24. In her free time, Charlotte was just as impressive, completing internships that included being a Public Service & U.S. Forest Service Sustainability Operations, Climate Change, and Wildlife Ecology Intern as part of the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership and an REU at the University of  Maine where she completed an independent project titled Documenting Human and Societal Impacts of Extreme Weather Events. In her free time, Charlotte can be found collecting bugs for her classes, taking notes in calligraphy, and color-code organizing her planner. Charlotte is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  After graduation Charlotte will be moving to College Station Texas to attend Texas A&M University to pursue a PhD in entomology.

 

 

 

Jon Ursillo

Jon joined our Sustainability staff in the fall of 2017. He has been the OS’s waste guru, working to streamline UConn’s recycling procedures during his time as an intern. With the ability to inform as he pushes for sustainability, Jon has created personal connections with different stakeholders across campus in these efforts to move UConn towards zero-waste. Jon has brought a wonderful sense of professionalism mixed with humor to our office environment. Outside the office, Jon played a key role in the formation of the President’s Working Group on Sustainability and the Environment, and has been an active member of the working group and its report writing sub-group. Jon is also an undergraduate researcher for EPA-funded clean water valuation research, which he is incorporating into his honor’s thesis. In his free time, Jon is a member of the fraternity Zeta Beta Tau, and has a passion for connecting business & sustainability. Jon is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Environmental Sciences and a second major in Economics. Jon’s post graduation plan is to obtain a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and pursue employment that unifies his interests in sustainability strategy and financial analysis.

 

 

“Campus Cup” project brings free menstrual cups to UConn. Period.

May 1, 2020

The fight against plastic continues. Single-use plastic is pervasive in our lives and there is no exception for menstrual products. The products themselves and plastic packaging of tampons, pads, and panty liners generate more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. In the US alone, 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are thrown out and end up in landfills, sewage lines, and our oceans annually! 

Students Posing at USH Womxn's Health & Empowerment Fair
Emma MacDonald (left) and Natalie Roach (right) posing at the USG Womxn’s Health and Empowerment Fair at the Office of Sustainability booth!

Luckily, many different reusable products have been popping up as alternatives on the market. This movement has been led by empowered feminists looking to redefine the quality of products available and take down the stigma of periods while shifting away from these single-use menstrual products. You can find reusable cloth pads, period underwear, menstrual disks, menstrual cups and many more creative solutions and continued innovations!

OrganiCup, a women-led Danish menstrual cup company, is one such company focused both on empowering menstruators and tackling this menstrual waste problem. By providing silicone menstrual cups that are reusable for years and come in multiple sizes, this company is breaking barriers, destigmafying periods, and generating much less waste. 

Organicup has launched the “Campus Cup” program, an initiative to introduce their reusable menstrual cups to college students as a sustainable alternative to traditional menstrual products by providing students with free menstrual cups. Identified via our GreenMetric rating, UConn served as a pilot for this initiative.

USG Tampon Time volunteer opens an OrganiCup package to display a Size A menstrual cup to fellow student.
OrganiCups, with their minimal packaging, lined up, ready to be picked up and used by UConn menstruators!

The UConn Office of Sustainability brought the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Tampon Time program on board in order to effectively distribute 500 menstrual cups during USG’s Womxn’s* Health and Empowerment Fair on March 2nd, 2020 for the OrganiCup Campus Cup launch date!

During the Womxn’s Health and Empowerment Fair, excitement and chatter filled the Student Union Ballroom, as students and attendees engaged with different booths highlighting organizations catered towards supporting female/womxn students. At each booth, students could learn about how resources on and off campus connect sustainability, physical & mental health, sex, gender-based violence, intersectional identities, and other topics related to female health & empowerment. The Office of Sustainability even had our own booth with giveaways where we highlighted the cost of different menstrual products and the connections between climate justice, sexual assault, & female empowerment. The biggest draw to the fair, though, was by far the free menstrual cups given out, with students lining up out the door to pick up their very own.

The line for free menstrual cups was out the door for most of the event.

With the opportunity to try out one of the many reusable products on the market for free, menstruating college students on a budget are able to test something potentially out of their comfort zones without spending anything, all while getting one step closer to a more sustainable lifestyle and bringing sustainability to a part of their life that they may have never thought of. 

Students walked away that day excited and ready to try out their free menstrual cup! This was a wonderful reminder to support continued efforts to talk about periods, provide comfortable and cost-saving products & resources for menstruating students, and find creative opportunities to incorporate sustainability on the college campus. And this fair was just the start; there are many more menstrual cups that will be distributed at UConn, through the Women’s Center and in public bathrooms across campus alongside USG Tampon Time’s disposable menstrual products.

Keep your eyes open as OrganiCup launches their nation-wide Campus Cup program this fall! Feel free to reach out to the UConn Office of Sustainability with any questions.

To learn more about OrganiCup and the company goals/impact: https://www.organicup.com/impact/

*Womxn: term used, especially in intersectional feminism, as a way to move away from patriarchal language and explicitly include non-cisgender women and women of color.

“The Pollinators” Film Screening

April 13, 2020

By Maizey MabrySmith

Looking for something to watch while you’re stuck at home? Eco House has a suggestion for you. On February 25th, the Eco House learning community held a screening of the exciting new documentary, “The Pollinators.” The event, held in the Student Union Theatre, was open to all students as well as members of the general public. Over 90 students turned out and many more watched remotely.

The film profiles large-scale American beekeepers whose jobs are getting increasingly harder as the years go by. As pesticides such as neonicotinoids become more widespread, bees are dying in record numbers, and bee die-offs are becoming part of the daily routine. To keep up with demand despite this challenge, there is now a constant and large scale movement of hives back and forth across the United States by freight trucks. The almond industry plays an immense role in this, as they rent almost 100% of the nation’s hives for their pollination period. The almond industry’s high demand leaves behind only a small number of bees to pollinate other crops for that period. One emerging solution explored in the film is the regenerative agricultural practices, such as no-till farming, silvo-pasturing and creating habitats for beneficial pollinators. Many of these practices work in conjunction with one another to support the bee population. For instance, the growth of nitrogen-fixing cover crops between normal planting seasons allows for no-till practices and reduces the need for harmful pesticides.

The film was followed by a lively Q&A session with the director, Peter Nelson and producer Sally Roy. The audience came prepared to discuss solutions to the issues facing bee populations and ways in which we can keep the pollinator industry alive. Nelson promoted the importance of supporting local farmers and beekeepers, but also focused on spreading knowledge. The film itself is available upon request for screenings by towns and other large groups, like UConn. Nelson emphasized the importance of spreading the knowledge of these issues so that they can be better understood by the general public, either through the documentary or through alternative educational efforts.

Nelson, a beekeeper himself, personally explained the struggles within the work force and is excited to get to work on his next big project!

The event was co-sponsored by the Office of Sustainability, the Institute of the Environment, the UConn Honors Program and the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.

 

The Three Rs: Order is Important

April 7, 2020

By Emma MacDonald

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Students learn these words at a very young age. But their meaning and importance are often swept aside as kids grow older. Instead of forgetting about these fundamentals, we should be expanding upon them. Recycling, while accessible and easy, is not the best option of the three for environmental health. In fact, of the three, it is the least environmentally friendly. It is better to reduce your consumption of all items in general, but since consuming nothing at all is impossible in the current state of the world, at least reducing consumption of harmful materials would lessen a person’s environmental impact quite a bit. Reusing an item is also better than recycling it, as less energy is consumed in order to make and recycle one item that someone used over a period of time than two or three or four of the same item in that same window. So here is a list of ways to first reduce, then reuse your items before you recycle them.

 

Reduce:

  1. Replace single use items with reusable ones once you have used up all pre-owned single use versions
    1. Plastic bags → Rope/Canvas produce bags
    2. Plastic/Paper grocery/shopping bags → Canvas reusable bags
    3. Single use plastic water bottles → Metal/Glass/Reusable plastic water bottle
    4. Plastic disposable razor → Metal razor
    5. Face wipes → Washcloth
    6. Toothbrush → Electric toothbrush with replaceable heads
    7. Plastic wrap, Foil, Ziplocs → Tupperware, Fabric Pouches, Beeswax Wrap
    8. Paper Towels, Napkins → Washcloths, Cloth Napkins
    9. Water Bottles → Brita Filter or Tap Water
    10. Straws → Bamboo or Metal straws
    11. Cutlery → Bamboo cutlery goes well with straws in a zero waste kit!
    12. Menstrual Products → Period Underwear, Menstrual Cups
  2. Replace items that come in lots of packaging with ones that have none, less, or biodegradable packaging.
    1. Unpackaged shampoo/conditioner bars can replace liquid shampoo with a bottle
    2. Cardboard dispensers biodegrade whereas plastic dispensers don’t
  3. Buy high quality, less often.
  4. Borrow items if you only need them once or twice
  5. Buy in bulk for items that last
    1. Laundry Detergent
    2. Cleaning products
    3. Pasta
    4. Rice

 

Reuse:

  1. Reuse items you have lying around the house
    1. If you forget your reusable bags at the store and need grocery bags, reuse them as small bin liners or to pick up after a pet.
  2. Buy items secondhand
    1. Clothing
    2. Furniture
    3. Dishware
    4. DVD’s/CD’s
    5. Electronics (buy refurbished)
  3. Donate unused items to secondhand shops
    1. See bullets for #2
  4. Repair broken items rather than recycling them or throwing them away
    1. Repair Cafes are places where experts can help people to learn how to fix their own items or help to fix them. Look online to find one near you!

 

And finally, if all else fails, recycle whatever you are unable to cut down on or reuse.

 

In a blog post like this, we would be at fault if we didn’t mention the privileged nature of individual action. Many sustainable tips include buying a reusable item that is much more expensive than a single use product would be. While, in the long run, these switches can save some people money, the upfront cost may be too much for others. If you happen to be fortunate enough to be able to afford all these tips, please consider also donating money or a box of these reusable items to a shelter or to a charity of your choice.

A scene from the Willimantic No Freeze Shelter

 

Some local to Storrs suggestions follow:

 

Sources:

https://communityoutreach.uconn.edu/semester-long-programs/#SS

https://communityoutreach.uconn.edu/philanthropy/

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/reduce-reuse-recycle-most-all-reduce

Natural Resources and Climate Change

March 13, 2020

Editor’s Note: Climate change requires humans to adapt and modify their behavior to preserve natural resources for generations to come. Our fellows identified a number of natural resource issues at the COP. Some areas have shown growth in adaptation measures, but other sectors require much more work if we hope to address and adapt to climate change.

Agriculture: The Forgotten Sector and the Food Security Crisis – Georgia Hernandez-Corrales

“Help, I Can’t Breathe!” – Air Pollution and Global Health – Himaja Nagireddy

 

Agriculture: The Forgotten Sector and the Food Security Crisis

Georgia Hernandez-Corrales – M.S. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

[English version]

The biggest rebellion that a community can do in the face of the current climatic crisis is secure its food independence.

Dhanush Dinesh from the CCAFS given his talk about “food transform XII. Levels to transform food systems under climate change”.

One of the discussions that most impacted me at COP@25 was the issue of food security. Especially because I come from a country (Costa Rica) in which we are giant producers of pineapple, banana, and flowers. What would happen if a global catastrophe happens and we could not continue importing all our food? Would we survive with fruits and flowers?

This is the situation of many countries in the world where governments have looked away from the importance of food security. This issue was discussed in the side event on actions for future food security. Panelist Dhanush Dinesh (CCAFS) was very direct in stating that the collective imaginary is to think farming is desperate decision but should be a decision for prosperity. Unfortunately, this is how governments and society in general think about agriculture. They think agriculture is a symbol of poverty and lack of education. The irony is great when the entire population depends on this forgotten sector. Farmers are a fragile group which already has to address intrinsic problems and are more vulnerable now than ever because of climate change.

Dhanush talked about the need to transform the production system through simple steps so that governments and communities can easily adapt their production systems to better environmental practices.

Among the most important mechanisms are eliminating crop expansion and concentrating on increasing soil health, reducing food waste, and improving crops with new production technologies. He mentioned agriculture must be seen as something “cool” in order to encourage new generations of farmers that seek prosperity. Of course, this has to be coupled with a government that increases the resilience of markets and supports the social mobility of agricultural sectors. In addition, it should go hand in hand with the promotion of social change for more sustainable decision-making, such as more friendly environmental diets and reduction of food waste.

If we modify our behaviors as consumers, the market will be forced to change according to current demands. It seems that countries are not going to agree at the COP@25 negotiations, but against this, what is left is to safeguard the future through local governments. Now, the change has to begin at a very personal level, such as buying food locally, demand that local governments protect local producers and protect them from climate change and eliminate food waste. At the level of local government there must be a transfer of knowledge from universities and institutions towards production, zero agricultural land expansion, encourage agroecology, and to eliminate myths around technology that improves production.

[Spanish version]

Seguridad alimentaria para el futuro

La rebelión mas grande que una comunidad puede hacer ante la crisis actual es asegurar su independencia alimentaria.

Uno de los temas que más me impactaron en la COP@25 fue el tema de seguridad alimentaria. En especial porque vengo de un país (Costa Rica) en el que somos gigantes productores de piña, banano y flores. ¿Qué pasaría ante una catástrofe mundial y no pudiéramos seguir importando todos nuestros alimentos? ¿Sobreviviríamos con frutas y flores?

Esta es la situación de muchos países en el mundo donde los gobiernos han apartado su mirada de la importancia de asegurar la producción alimentaria nacional. Este tema se discutió en el Side Event sobre acciones para la futura seguridad alimentaria. El panelista Dhanush Dinesh (CCAFS) fue muy directo al mencionar que es inaceptable el imaginario colectivo que se tiene de que tornarse hacia la agricultura sea una decisión desesperada, sino que debería ser una decisión para la prosperidad. Lamentablemente así es como ven la agricultura los gobiernos y la mayoría de las personas en el mundo. La agricultura es símbolo de pobreza y falta de educación. Esto es irónico al pensar que toda la población depende de este sector olvidado y que ya es frágil para atender problemas intrínsecos, y aún ahora más vulnerable ante el cambio climático.

Dhanush habló de la necesidad de transformar el sistema de producción mediante pasos simples para que los gobiernos y comunidades se puedan adaptar fácilmente a sus sistemas de producción.

Entre los mecanismos más importantes están eliminar la expansión de los cultivos y concentrarse en aumentar la salud de los suelos, reducir la pérdida de comida, y mejorar los cultivos con nuevas tecnologías de producción. Mencionaba que de alguna manera hay que hacer ver la agricultura como algo “cool” para fomentarla entre las nuevas generaciones y que sea vista como un símbolo de prosperidad. Claro está, esto iría de la mano con un gobierno que aumente la resiliencia de los mercados y apoye la movilidad social de los sectores agrícolas. Además, debería de ir de la mano con la promoción de un cambio social para la toma de decisiones más sustentables, como el caso de dietas más amigables con el ambiente y una reducción del desperdicio de alimento.

Si modificamos nuestras conductas como consumidores, el mercado se verá obligado a cambiar conforme a las demandas actuales. Todo parece ver que los países no se van a poner de acuerdo en las negociaciones de la COP@25, pero ante tanta inoperancia lo que queda es salvaguardar el futuro mediante los gobiernos locales. Así que el cambio comienza a nivel muy personal, desde que compremos alimentos locales, exijamos a los gobiernos locales la protección de los productores locales para resguardarlos ante consecuencias del cambio climático, y hasta eliminar el desperdicio de comida. A nivel de gobierno local debe de existir una transferencia de conocimiento de universidades y centros de conocimiento hacia la producción, evitar la competición de productores locales con exteriores, fomentar la agroecología mediante la eliminación de monocultivos y que toda práctica esté a favor el ambiente, y finalmente, eliminar la misticidad alrededor de técnicas de mejora en la producción.

Georgia is a graduate student from the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at UConn.

 

“Help, I Can’t Breathe!” – Air Pollution and Global Health

Himaja Nagireddy –  B.S. Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology

Himaja interviewed prominent climate scientist James Hansen, whose 1988 Congressional testimony brought climate change into the national discussion. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

Far too often, we take the air we breathe for granted. A COP25 exhibit made it a point to draw attention to the air pollution that millions are experiencing on a daily basis, to help us understand why addressing air pollution is key to our fight against climate change.

The immersive art installation contained five pods which mimicked air pollution in four of the most polluted cities in the world (London, Beijing, Sao Paulo, and New Delhi), as well as one of the cleanest air environments in the world (Tautra in Norway).

The pods themselves were safe, containing perfume blends and fog machines to imitate the quality of the air at these different locations. The temperature was also controlled in the pods. A heater was added in the Delhi pod to mimic warm temperatures and an air conditioner was added to the Beijing pod to mimic the cold temperatures this time of year.

As soon as we walked into the first pod, which mimicked the air conditions of London, the decrease in air quality was clearly visible- the air was much foggier and smelled strongly. Walking into the New Delhi pod, one immediately felt the humid and sticky atmosphere of the city and the fog was a bit thicker. It was hard to see objects that were over 15 feet away with the smog. The transition into the Beijing pod was a stark temperature difference. We could see our breath turn into fog and merge with the heavy smoke in the room. The Sao Paulo pod was warmer but with a similar fog density. This lead to the last pod mimicking air quality conditions in Tautra, Norway. Here, the air was clear and smelled fresh, a welcome change from the other pods that were difficult to breathe in.

Walking through the pods put into perspective so much of what I had known but never really understood. It is one thing to read articles about air particulate matter in cities that exceed safe air pollution limits and ano ther to experience what degraded air quality feels like.

According to the World Health Organization, outdoor air pollution caused an estimated 4.2 million deaths in both urban and rural areas and has been linked to stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

As a student interested in understanding the intersections between health and the environment, walking through the pods helped me better understand why addressing air pollution is critical to our fight against climate change and our goal for achieving social health and well-being globally.

This is but one example of how COP25 hosted a variety of platforms for stakeholders to raise their voices in an effort to bring global climate change issues and their relevance to social health and well-being close to home. As a first time COP attendee, I walked away from the event with a strong sense of hope and personal responsibility to continue fighting the fight against climate change, to ensure a more equal and fairer world for all.

Air quality exhibit at COP25 that immersed attendees in the air quality conditions experienced by populations around the globe. (Photo: Himaja Nagireddy)

Himaja Nagireddy, from Acton, MA, is a senior undergraduate student pursuing three degrees in Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology with a minor in Chemistry.

The panel for the side event ‘Science and Innovation in Support of Climate Action for the Poor and the Vulnerable’. (Photo: Himaja Nagireddy).

Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Rights

Editor’s Note: Despite contributing little to climate change, indigenous groups will likely be among the first to suffer the consequences. These communities have been quick to advocate against climate change, but have struggled to make their voices heard amongst the global community. 

Disproportionate Representation at COP25 – Matthew Yang

The Power of Indigenous Communities and Traditional Knowledge – Megan Ferris

 

Disproportionate Representation at COP25

Matthew Yang – B.S. Civil Engineering

Coming back from COP25 I’m overwhelmed with mixed emotions. On one hand I’m suffused with exuberance and a sense of fulfillment. Attending the UN Climate Change Conference was a once in a lifetime experience. I got to participate in a conference convening thousands of the world’s leading scientists, politicians, business leaders, students and activists. In Madrid I gained new experiences, insights and met genuinely inspiring people. Yet there was constantly this underlying feeling that I didn’t belong. This discomfort didn’t stem from the presence of intimidating ambassadors and overpowered prime ministers. Moresoe it came from a gradual awareness of the voices absent from COP25, the presences absent from the discussion.

Coastal, island, and sub-saharan communities in non-western countries are disproportionately affected by climate change. I had the privilege of hearing from ambassador Ronald Jean Jumeau of Seychelles, a small island nation off the eastern coast of Africa. He fears that rising sea levels are destined to make thousands of islands like Seychelles uninhabitable. Millions of people from island nations will be forced to flee their homes, abandoning their culture, way of life, and even their language. The COP is intended to be a space for nations to negotiate and propose a unified response to the climate crisis. Despite having the most to lose, nations like the Seychelles lack the representation and political clout needed to make their problems relevant in negotiations.

Nations like the Seychelles face tremendous logistical, economic, social and political barriers just to attend the conference. The COP was originally planned for Santiago, Chile, but violent protests in the weeks before forced Chile to withdraw. Scrambling officials were able to find a replacement venue in Madrid, Spain.

Thousands of people had to try their best to reschedule flights, rebook hotels, and recuperate expenses. We were some of the fortunate, who were able to still attend the conference in Madrid. However this logistical nightmare prevented hundreds of representatives from nations like Peru from attending the COP. For those representatives able to attend, the stakes were extremely high. The livelihood of thousands of people weighed on the handful of delegates sent by these disenfranchised communities. As the negotiations carried on, many of these delegates became more and more pessimistic. It was becoming evident that little to no progress was being made.

I am extremely grateful and honored to be among the 21 delegates UCONN sent to COP25. I’m also disturbed and upset by our school having representation not afforded to entire nations and impoverished populations bearing the brunt of climate change. There is a clear disparity in representation between western and non-western countries at the UN Climate Change Conference. Climate change and global superpowers inattention to developing and at-risk nations are rooted in economic disparity and the extractive economies of the west. After disenfranchising non-western countries for centuries, it’s vital western nations listen responsively to the communities suffering from climate change. We must be able to propose solutions for all, and not just for the hegemony.

 

The Power of Indigenous Communities and Traditional Knowledge

Megan Ferris – B.S. Environmental Science

Map of the Pacific Islands. (Photo: Megan Ferris)

Reflecting on all my experiences and encounters at COP25, I have decided that one of the most powerful lessons I learned was how resilient indigenous communities are and how important their role is in mitigating and stopping global climate change.

These communities have produced the lowest amounts of carbon dioxide that have entered the atmosphere and more importantly, they have an influential tool many developed countries don’t utilize — the power of storytelling.

Most of my memories gained from COP revolved around stories I heard from various people I encountered. Stories link people and communities to each other by appealing to the emotions. Many people have a hard time understanding the complicated numbers that are involved in discussions on global climate change. However, hearing firsthand stories of how nations, islands, and people are personally being affected allows others to truly comprehend the devastation involved in this global crisis, and thus I’m hopeful these indigenous voices and their work will get more people to act.

One story that left a lasting impact on me was from the people of the Polynesian islands.

Angelica Salele, from the island of Tuvolu, told me her experiences with her island sinking and how the salt water from the seas rising has destroyed much of the vegetation on the outskirts of the islands, leaving them with less food to eat.

She also told how she was a mother and her biggest desire is to have her child know the island she has grown to love. But she fears that the sea will one day swallow everything she calls home and her child will only know fear for the ocean and not the life and love she knows.

Another woman named Shawna Larson reflected on how her community in Alaska has some of the highest rates of cancer and illnesses due to DDT and other chemicals making their way into the sea and up into the Arctic, where it is in the fish they eat and then gets passed to children in the breast milk. She also commented on the power of storytelling and how it “makes you feel and feeling gives you responsibility and relationship to things.”

Shawna Lawson from Alaska and I discussed the importance of storytelling. (Photo: Megan Ferris).

Indigenous communities not only understand the power of storytelling but they also have traditional knowledge. Traditional knowledge works to simplify the scientific jargon and numbers for communities. It attempts to bridge this communications barrier in order to allow more people the opportunity to be informed and to open a space for dialogue in order to have action.

Local people need to be involved and traditional knowledge is another tool that can work to bring their voices to the table.

One speaker from the Polynesian islands said how she used to contemplate if she was “good enough” to discuss and take on this climate change emergency. She said people of their islands always look to others for the answers, until they realized their own worth and traditional knowledge.

She remarked, “I’m talking as an expert about being a human in the Pacific, not as an expert about climate science.” But because she wasn’t a scientist it doesn’t mean her voice should be any less important. She wanted to humanize the Pacific and other indigenous communities and leverage them into positions of power, which needs to be done.

Sustainable Development

Editor’s Note: We must rethink how we structure our society and create our buildings. Building a greener, more sustainable world, is crucial if we hope to mitigate the effects of our changing environment.

Need vs. Greed: Balancing Economic Development and Sustainability – Spencer Kinyon

Sustainable Development and Youth Partnership – Sarah Schechter

 

Need vs. Greed: Balancing Economic Development and Sustainability

Spencer Kinyon – B.S. Political Science and Economics

Throughout COP25, UConn students had the unique opportunity to talk with people from different countries and organizations about the discovery and implementation of solutions to climate change. On the last day we attended COP25, myself and two other UConn students had the chance to interview C.K. Mishra, who is the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for India. Secretary Mishra discussed how climate change is impacting India and the solutions involving mitigation and adaptation that the nation is pursuing. With over one billion people, India is an extremely large economy that is constantly growing. Therefore, India has had to find a way to balance economic development with sustainability.

This quote from Gandhi is true now more than ever in light of the climate crisis. The quote was displayed on the India pavilion at COP25. (Photo-Spencer Kinyon)

Under the Paris Climate Agreement, every country established Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), whereby each country agreed to reduce their emissions by a specific amount. Currently, India is only one of four countries that is on pace to fulfill its nationally determined contributions. As a result, Secretary Mishra stated that the country is pursuing “sustainable growth” in order to meet the needs and demands of the people, while thinking about their impact. Secretary Mishra highlighted that India is pursuing a goal of 40% renewable electricity by 2022 and moving away from coal to renewable energy.

Our conversation was fantastic because it allowed me to better understand how leaders in government are thinking about climate change and its real effects. He highlighted the point that individuals want to be sustainable, but also want cars. As a result, people’s lifestyles must change Secretary Mishra further inspired us to think of Mahatma Gandhi quote: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” I believe that Mahatma Gandhi’s message is one that everyone in the world should be thinking about. We might not all be from the same country, but we all share this world, and we need to ensure that our world is sustainable.

The India pavilion at COP25 was a celebration of Mahatma Gandhi. (Photo-Spencer Kinyon)

In a separate discussion at the Chile pavilion, I learned that one of the methods through which India is pursuing climate adaptation is using artificial intelligence. Google has developed an initiative called “AI for Social Good”, whereby the company partners with governments and organizations to develop methods to use artificial intelligence to address problems in the world. Carla Bromberg, who is the Program Lead of AI for Social Good at Google, spoke of how they have accepted many projects related to climate change. Due to the increase in flooding r elated to climate change, Google partnered with the government of India to improve flood forecasting. Using data provided by India’s government, Google is able to utilize machine learning to forecast flooding and then notify people about potential floods. I found this use of artificial intelligence and data to be a fantastic method to adapt to climate change. It was inspiring to hear about Google’s efforts to use their technology to better the world and potentially save people’s lives.

 

Spencer is a Senior from Cheshire, Connecticut pursuing a degree in Political Science and Economics.

 

Sustainable Development and Youth Partnership

Sarah SchechterB.A. Environmental Studies and Anthropology

Student action on campus is powerful, present, and pushing universities towards progress. When youths have the opportunity to collaborate, there is no end to amazing projects that can be created.

This year UConn partnered with other institutions from the United States and had a booth where students could discuss the programs at their schools that related to COP25. Some of the students also spent the semester working on projects related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and presented them during “SDGS for the SDGS: Students Doing Goal-Oriented Science for Sustainable Development Goals” on Tuesday, December 3.

Students resenting at the “SDGS for the SDGS: Students Doing Goal-Oriented Science for Sustainable Development Goals” event. (Photo: Sarah Schechter).

I spent some time talking with two students, Alexis Pascaris and Adewale Adesanya from Michigan Tech, who were focusing on SDG #11: “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient & sustainable.”

One of the case studies they discussed, was the implementation of a Sustainable Demonstration House (SDH) at the university. This building, first constructed in 1979, has been more recently renovated with the help of the Alternative Energy Enterprise in order to make it more sustainable and energy efficient. Changes included adding solar panels, installing low-flow faucets, switching to LED bulbs, performing a blower test to check for heat leaks, committing to composting, recycling, and utilizing aquaponics. A small group of students live in and maintain the SDH, ensuring that tasks are being carried out. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nDxTl61OTnuNOKuNk-ptNBKResNzIFWn/view?usp=sharing

After learning about the feature of the SDH at Michigan Tech, it sounded very similar to many of the sustainable actions at Spring Valley Student Farm at UConn.

At the farm there is the use of solar power, composting, recycling, some implementation of aquaponics for a period of time, beekeeping and also the students grow a great deal of food that is then distributed at Whitney Dining Hall.

Additionally, other students from campus have the opportunity to get involved with the farm through Farm Fridays, attending the Spring Valley Student Farm Club, or through the EcoHouse learning community. This interaction allows the farmers to share their sustainable lifestyles with the rest of campus, which will hopefully encourage others to do the same.

I was very interested to listen to the presentation and see that Michigan Tech and UConn have been working on similar projects. It is the hope that these projects will continue to spread throughout each school and in others as well.

One of the many projects ongoing at Spring Valley Student Farm. (Photo: https://dining.uconn.edu/spring-valley-farm/)