On graduating, moving forward, making progress

The graduates of the SBU MS Journalism Fall 2015 crew, plus two professors (far left and right-center).

The graduates of the SBU MS Journalism Fall 2015 crew, plus two professors (far left and right-center).

Today I graduated with my masters in journalism-concentrating in science, health, environment and tech reporting. So...

WAIT, STOP.

I know exactly what you're about to ask me. It's the same thing the hundreds of thousands of other college students were asked at their graduations at the culmination of this fall semester. It's the same thing people asked me after I earned my BA in May 2014: 

"What's next?" 

For me, what's next is a continuation of what I know and love: freelance writing, art, and graphic/web design. But is a little - ok, kind of big - things I've been thinking about. And now that school's over and I have a little more time, I can actually get into the planning/decision-making/DOING stages of those things: traveling, exploring, learning new skills and knowledge, living....

But I will do all of these things while focusing on sustainability. With the state of the environment the way it is, from climate change to air pollution to plastic ocean gyres, it's critical now that we think and live for the long term. (Which, remarkably and somewhat ridiculously, our predecessors on this planet largely failed to do.) 

It's become my mission to learn about how to live more sustainably so that I can reduce my own impact and help others reduce theirs. By most people's standards, I'm already pretty good: I recycle, don't buy/cook more than I need, I drive as little as possible, I reuse tinfoil and plastic zip-top bags, I carry re-usable shopping bags to the store....

Before you shake your head and say, "One person can't make a difference," take a look at all the earth-friendly things I was able to accomplish as a part of TerraCycle, "a company that makes the non-recyclable recyclable." 

Let me begin by explaining a well-known fact: Runners tend to eat a lot of energy bars. Especially when they're on the go to practice and races. But these wrappers create a lot of waste. Better is to make your own energy bars, which is what I usually do (and I'm happy to share my recipe). But when I do eat energy bars, I save the wrappers. When I see my friends and family, and sometimes strangers, about to toss an energy bar wrapper in the trash, I stop them and ask if I can please have their wrapper. Though occasionally I get an odd look, most people don't mind.

No, I'm not a hoarder. I am able to earn "points" by sending these wrappers to TerraCycle. These points are redeemable for all types of sustainable charitable gifts. 

By collecting more than 15,000 wrappers over the past few years, today I redeemed my 16,215 points to "purchase" the following:

TerraCycle allows users (joining and sending in waste is completely FREE, by the way) to donate to many other important causes and purchase sustainable items, like the planters. You can even add your own charities, which will receive your donation in cash. Pretty awesome how easy it is to do good!

All the "waste" TerraCycle receives - check out what kind of things it accepts here on its website - it recycles or upcycles into useful items like messenger bags, binders and notebooks. I've been a member for about seven years, and in that time I have collected more than 700 drink pouches and more than 21,000 energy bar wrappers, allowing me to donate more than $300 to charities! Plus all of that waste was turned into other things. It was NOT left sitting in a landfill.

Pulling out a snack from my TerraCycle messenger bag made, entirely of Clif Bar wrappers.

Pulling out a snack from my TerraCycle messenger bag made, entirely of Clif Bar wrappers.

As I've mention above, reducing the amount of waste you produce in the first place is most important when it comes to living sustainably. But if you do create waste, it's certainly worth it to recycle, or TerraCycle it!

I want to note that my earlier recitation of the things I do to lessen my impact was not done to be boastful. In fact I am the first to admit I am not as sustainable right now as I would like to be. I only discuss what I'm doing to establish my sustainability "baseline" so as I learn more I can gauge my progress. "Being green" should be about progress, not perfection. Every small positive action is still positive. No bashing or put-downs allowed, so long as we're moving forward.

I hope this little anecdote and tidbit of knowledge have left you feeling a little more hopeful about what you can do to help the planet. I urge you to follow me on this sustainable journey. If you have tips, knowledge or leads to sustainable projects please reach out and let me know!