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Summer break is the perfect time to kick back, relax, reduce, reuse and recycle!

For most students, summer has either already arrived or is glistening on the horizon. Now that the stress of the school year has passed, it’s the perfect time to pay a little due respect to the environment. Here are seven simple steps you can take to make this summer the most sustainable one yet.

1. Bottle It Up

One of the easiest ways you can reduce your impact on the environment is by avoiding plastic water bottles. The average American uses around 167 plastic water bottles a year, but only one in five of those bottles can be recycled. For those other four bottles thrown in the trash, they take anywhere from four-hundred to a thousand years to fully decompose. So, instead of hitting the cooler for a plastic water bottle, try bringing your own reusable one. There are plenty of great options, from Nalgene to Hydro Flask to Camelback. Not only will it benefit the planet, but it also gives you another excuse to buy some stickers and customize it like a true modern hipster.

2. Ditch the Plastic

In fact, staying away from plastic in general is an admirable summer resolution. When you go out to eat, try simple switches, like forgoing a plastic lid on your drink and ditching the straw. Saying no to plastic is a more ambitious goal, but straws are actually one of the more insidious scourges on the environment. In the past twenty-five years, over six million straws have been removed from beaches, and those are just the ones that were caught before getting swept into the ocean.

Some unnerving images have made the rounds on the internet of animals like birds and sea turtles with plastic-filled stomachs or straws stuck in their nostrils. It may seem like a small change, but think of how many straws you can personally keep out of the ocean through your own actions. I know drinking straight out of a cup from a restaurant might gross you out, but think of the turtles. Do it for the turtles.

3. Decrease the Meat

Summers and cookouts are synonymous, and with both comes the consumption of copious amounts of burgers. However, meat production alone contributes to around 18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and it takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef.

image via williams-sonoma

So, at the very least, eating less beef could help contribute to a reduction in not only water usage, but also carbon emissions in the future. Maybe try out Meatless Mondays, or make the main event at your cookout the fruit salad or veggie kebobs instead of burgers.  Also, though poultry still contributes to gas emissions, it makes almost half the impact of beef, so perhaps chicken could be your go-to dish this summer.

4. Green Thumbs Up

There exists a pure and unique joy in harvesting and eating foods that you have grown with your own hands. Summertime is peak season to get your green thumb on and start your own garden, and there are so many options to choose from, such as tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries and spinach. You could plant some grape vines and start your own mini vineyard. You could grow your own herbs, like cilantro, basil and rosemary, and flavor all your dishes without straying form your garden.

Not only would you get to reap the benefits of the literal fruits of your own labor, but you’d also know exactly where your produce is coming from—no questionable labor tactics or added chemicals. Your carbon footprint will surely shrink a few sizes, too.

5. Get Thee to the Market

Maybe gardening is not your speed. Understandable. Luckily, most cities now operate some version of a farmers’ market during the summer season, and most farmers’ markets are not only relegated purely to produce. You can find anything from the expected greens and goods to soaps and locally roasted coffee beans.

image via ferrybuildingmarketplace.com

And there are plenty of hidden benefits to shopping at a local farmers’ market, too. Not only are you reducing the amount of fuel it takes to ship in goods, but you also stimulate the local economy and support farmers that own local land, preventing the increasingly common destruction of farmlands in the community.

Local farms also support biodiversity in their goods, as opposed to the hybrids with high-yields that are common in the industrial agriculture business. Plus, farmers’ markets are a great excuse to go for a morning walk, buy some local pastries and see how your own community gets their organic on.

6. Compost About It!

Humans produce natural waste from food products, but finding an effective way to deal with that waste can offset a lot of the negative consequences. Building a compost bin in your own backyard is an easy way to deal with organic waste and can also help out your own garden.  Some people might think that throwing away simple items, like apple cores and banana peels, is harmless since they are biodegradable, but actually, it’s hard for almost anything to biodegrade in a landfill. Most of the time, they get stuck under piles of other garbage and stagnate. When they do break down in the absence of oxygen, they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

By composting, the production of harmful gases can almost entirely be avoided, and the compounds from the organic material can help reinvigorate soil. Also, building a compost bin yourself provides another one of those hands-on opportunities like gardening. Why not try your hand at some light carpentry this summer?

7. Take the Time

Lastly, don’t forget to simply do your earthly duty and recycle. So often, the easiest thing to do is to mindlessly throw away cans or bottles, since the process of recycling can honestly be a little time consuming.

image via discountpowertx.com

But taking that extra effort to recycle not only lends Mother Earth a hand, but also provides you with a way to make a quick buck. Maybe try collecting the recycling from a few houses or businesses in your own neighborhood, and those refunds are sure to add up.

Even if you only try out a few of these suggestions, every small step can make a difference. Enjoy the summer, and be kind to the earth.

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