OPL Spotlight: A Love of Nature Sparked a Focus on Sustainability for Yvonne Dwyer

OPL Spotlight: A Love of Nature Sparked a Focus on Sustainability for Yvonne Dwyer

“It’s not something I have to force” is how Yvonne Dwyer describes her focus on sustainability.


For Yvonne Dwyer, sustainability has become an extension of a lifestyle immersed in nature. As a Master Naturalist and writer for One Planet Life, Dwyer places particular importance on sharing how the natural world can enrich our lives.

“This is stuff that I’ve been interested in my entire life,” she said. “I can remember back to when I was five, six years old, creating my own fort out of bifold doors in the woods.”

While working for REI, Dwyer found joy in having an outlet to share her love of the outdoors. When the Pittsburgh store where she was employed closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, it was time to reinvent herself. Lorie Buckingham, a lifelong friend of Dwyer, asked if she would like to write for her new sustainability-focused website, One Planet Life.

“I was applying for the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program, so it seemed to be a good fit,” she said. “It makes us more credible to people than just sharing information. We are doing the things that we’re talking about. It’s important to be authentic and genuine in whatever you do.”

And it’s easy to see that Dwyer carries that authenticity into her work.

Sharing the Good News About Nature

As a naturalist, Dwyer aims to create stories that inspire positive messages. Getting out into nature is her best method.

“There’s research now where doctors are prescribing nature instead of medicine; that’s so wonderful,” she said. “Taking in the woods, the smell of the Balsam. You can’t recreate that. You’re using all of your senses.”

Enjoying the journey – not just the destination – when taking a walk in nature can be one of the best ways to encourage sustainable living because you’re experiencing the beauty at stake. 

“People go from point A to point B, or I’ll say point A to point C and totally miss what’s happening in point B – the journey,” she said. “The red newt salamander you might see on the ground or a mushroom – there’s always something unusual happening in the woods, no matter what time of year you’re going there. It doesn’t have to be in the woods; you can be in a city park or your neighborhood.”

Yvonne on a hike
Dwyer encourages a “big picture” perspective to get the most out of outdoor adventures.

“The big picture for me is to use all of my senses, create a story, and inspire others to go out and take it all in,” she said. “Just to go out and explore and see what happens. See what your senses pick up.” 

She’s also found inspiration in the naturalists who have come before her, women like Robin Wall Kimmerer and Anne LaBastille.

“Women like that inspire me,” she said. “It’s not that John Muir and [Ralph Waldo] Emerson and [Aldo] Leopold don’t – they inspire me to, but it’s cool to listen to what women are doing, their journeys, and how they’re affecting things that are happening. They’re not just sitting by; they’re on the park agency committee or a land trust committee. When we work together with everybody in diversity across the board, we all win.”

Nature offers a wonderful path toward more sustainable living. There is a tremendous amount of free information from naturalists like Dwyer, who are eager to share what they know. And there are inspiring online communities like One Planet Life and other apps. 

“There are more ways than ever to educate and inform people about what is happening in our natural world, share that, and hopefully inspire others to go out and observe – maybe use iNaturalist or eBird, one of these apps. They can easily become citizen scientists, helping with climate change or bird migration.”

Committing to a Natural (and Local) Lifestyle

When Dwyer had her first child over 30 years ago, she focused on providing as much natural sustenance for her family as possible. 

“We ate naturally. Our water was filtered, and I grew my own vegetables,” said Dwyer. “One of the reasons why it became important to grow my own vegetables is because the baby food company we bought our food from had glass in it. So I grew the vegetables, pureed them, put them in little ice cube trays, and froze them. That spurred my love for gardening.”

She remembered the guidance her grandmother offered as well. 

“My grandmother was a big inspiration for my cooking,” she shared. “She told me, ‘When you get married, you never feed your family from a box.’ I never did.” 

The One Planet Life Team
What she couldn’t grow on her own, Dwyer sourced as much as she could from local farmers.

“I think what started me on my journey shopping locally is that my oldest son was diagnosed with leukemia when he was three and a half,” she shared. “At the time, commercial farmers were putting in antibiotics and growth hormones. I wasn’t aware of what was being injected into our animals and how that would have an effect. So I found a farm near us.” 

Shopping for pasture-raised meat, eggs, and dairy at a little farm store provided Dywer with transparency and freshness not often available at the supermarket. 

“Our country exists on small businesses,” she said. “If we don’t protect small businesses, we are going to be locked down with the big businesses, their costs, and all the things that go along with it – our selection of choices may be lowered, protection for our workers, our natural resources. We can’t have a monopoly. We need to protect our small business owners to help preserve them.” 

Joining Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), shopping for what is currently in season, and learning ways to preserve fresh food at home through freezing and canning are great ways to lower your carbon footprint when it comes to eating sustainably.

“I try to encourage people to join CSAs because you’re not only helping the farmer, you are also saving money in the end,” Dwyer said. “If you go to your local farmer or CSA, you won’t pay as much as you do in the big box grocery stores. It’s going to be fresher because it came from right here.”

She tries to encourage others by giving them samples to try. Once tasting the difference in freshness, it’s easy to make the switch to local.

“If you’re buying in season, you’ll be getting the freshest food,” she added. “It can be sustained if you buy extra, put it in your freezer, or make a soup out of it, put it in your freezer, and you can have it during the winter months when produce selection is a little bit lower.”

And the best part of it all?

“It’s relationship building,” Dwyer said. “You never know who you’ll meet at one of these little places that might become your best friend, someone to walk with. There are a lot of people from COVID who are still wary of going to these big box stores. You go into smaller businesses and somehow feel a little bit safer. You feel a little bit more welcome.”

Through a lifetime love affair with the outdoors, a keen interest in learning about the natural world, and dedication to providing her family with fresh, natural meals, Dwyer’s sustainability journey has been decades in the making.

“All the things that I do, it’s natural,” she said. “It’s not something I have to force.”

And that mentality shouldn’t seem so difficult – returning to our roots. After all, our climate crisis has only been accelerating within the past few decades. If we all make an effort to support our local food chain, consume the plethora of free resources available from experts, and revel in the wonder of the outdoors, a sustainable lifestyle could quickly become “natural” for all of us.

 You can read more about Yvonne’s Sustainability Journey here:

My Journey to Reduce My Carbon Footprint Started With Trash

An Easy Guide to Backyard Composting

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and REFILL to Benefit the Planet

The staff at One Planet Life are serious about sustainable living. That’s why we decided to share the struggles and successes of our individual sustainability journeys. We will share tips directly from our team members, curated through authentic personal experience. We hope that by sharing our stories, we can help foster a community committed to helping each other – and the planet!

Read about One Planet Life Founder Lorie Buckingham’s sustainability Journey.

OPL Spotlight: Lorie Buckingham’s Sustainability Journey Began with a Craving to Learn More

OPL Spotlight: Lorie Buckingham’s Sustainability Journey Began with a Craving to Learn More

“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” advises Lorie Buckingham. “Living sustainably is a journey that will take time.”


Decades before founding One Planet Life, Lorie Buckingham had already embarked on her own sustainability journey. With a background in science, Buckingham became interested in learning more about what harmful additives can be found in our food and environment.

“Majoring in chemistry and learning about the impact of chemicals, I became intrigued,” she said. “I started wondering what really is in my food. That led to being shocked that companies did not have to put ingredients on labels – they could keep the information from you.”

Finding sources of information that were based on facts and could be trusted for their credibility was challenging. Through environmental science classes at Harvard, she learned how to have a keen eye when researching information.

“It’s actually incredibly hard to find what I’ll call trusted resources,” she said. “There’s so much information, and you don’t even know what to trust or not trust. They really helped me understand that I’m not going to find everything I want, but how I could parse through, know what I could trust, and that it was always evolving.”

That experience confirmed the need for continuous learning and establishing a centralized hub for sharing this specialized information with the greater sustainability-focused community.

“That’s part of One Planet Life – I want to keep putting information out there because we don’t know enough, and there are so many false claims,” she said. “Every time I think there’s more qualified information, I’d like us to share it. Knowledge is power.”

Feeding the Family with a Focus on Sustainability.

Buckingham’s journey didn’t solely weave through the pages of scientific study, though – she was moved to take action because of the impact on her everyday life. 

“The moment that brought it home to me was when I had my daughter,” she shared. “When she was little, we realized that when she would eat beef, she would have an incredible allergic reaction. Supposedly, you can’t have an allergic reaction to beef.”

It turned out that her daughter had developed a reaction from excess penicillin that had treated ear infections in her early years. Factory-farmed beef has so much antibiotics in it that it triggered severe allergic reactions in my daughter (and others).

That experience caused a shift in the way Buckingham looked at feeding her family.

“For my family, I really started avoiding anything but the exterior aisles of the grocery store,” she said. “I’m looking for fresh fruit, vegetables, everything fresh. The next thing was local and then, where possible, organic.”

As with building any new habit, it wasn’t always easy.

“It’s not balance; it’s more of riding the wave,” she said. “There were times when I didn’t have a lot of time to focus on it. I’d make strides with what we ate, and it was an easy way to do that because I controlled the shopping. My husband helped with the cooking. The other thing I think you have to do is not force your family. I’m never going to have my kids not eat sugar and not have snack foods. We’re not going to be what I would call a ‘never family.'”

So Buckingham focused mainly on leading by example, and years later, she saw changes that resonated with her family.

“There were a lot of complaints made by my kids because their friend’s house had much ‘cooler’ food,” she said. “But now they both cook. They’re into being healthy. I think when you do things honestly, and you have some type of consistency – even consistency that has its moments when you don’t have it – you do create that ripple effect.”

One Planet Life is born.

When Buckingham decided to take the leap and give life to the idea that’s been on her mind for years, she quickly realized as she started building a team that One Planet Life would be fulfilling a long-awaited need. 

“What I found fascinating is that they were all thinking about journeys but couldn’t say whether they were on a journey,” she said. “Each of them cared about this, wanting to be on a journey, but felt frustrated by what they could and could not do. They’re all living busy lives. This idea of having an app that helps you understand how you’re making a difference really resonated with them.”

The idea of helping individuals find their voice and make a difference has been intentionally built into the foundation of One Planet Life.

“For One Planet Life, maybe that can be the place where we can bring people together who care about these things – all different types of people and start with little steps that are doable but that add up over time,” she said. “I call it the ripple effect. Before you know it, you’ve made some pretty amazing changes in your life that do make a difference in the world and in your life.”

The One Planet Life Team
One Planet Life App
Embarking on a sustainability journey for the first time?

Sometimes, people are just too hard on themselves, Buckingham has come to recognize. Easing into the journey can be a better approach to help make changes stick.

“When you’re starting something out, don’t be afraid to make just one small change; don’t pick the hardest thing, don’t pick ten things, just pick one or two,” she said. “It can be one that you can do and just enjoy it – be happy about it. Just make one change, track it, and enjoy that you’re doing it.”

Accepting that success can often be the result of compounding failures, and it’s also important to grant yourself some grace along the way.

“It’s about doing things that you can have your headspace into,” she said. “If it backfires, then stop and do a different one for a while. Pick out the level of difficulty that you’re ready to take on. People have busy, stressful lives. There’s no need to make this something crazy.”

Everyone is on their own journey. You can’t force it.

“Don’t expect others you live with to do the same,” she said. “Know that they’re on their own timing. They’re going to do their own thing. Honor them to choose when to do things because that also adds stress if you’re trying to do it and you’re trying to make others do it.”

But having support from others going through this journey is also essential. That’s where One Planet Life comes in.

“I’d love to see One Planet Life continue to be this safe place where I can try on my journey, and everybody makes a difference,” she said. “At the same time, we can become a powerful voice making the world better, one person at a time. We do have this ripple effect. There are so many people in the world that are suffering and don’t have the advantages we have. If we could raise our voices and help them – that would be the dream.”

The staff at One Planet Life are serious about sustainable living. That’s why we decided to share the struggles and successes of our individual sustainability journeys. We will share tips from our team members, curated through authentic personal experience. We hope that by sharing our stories, we can help foster a community committed to helping each other and the planet!

How to Shop Smart and Save the Planet This Holiday Season

How to Shop Smart and Save the Planet This Holiday Season

Shop Sustainably This Holiday Season and Give the Best Gift – A Greener Future for All

As the holiday season kicks into full gear, it’s understandable to feel a little overwhelmed when trying to choose the perfect gift for your loved ones. When trying to shop sustainably, it can become even more challenging. But look no further! One Planet Life’s 2022 Holiday Gift Guide is here to help you find the perfect gifts for your friends and family that also align with your sustainability goals.

Eco-Friendly Companies

Just in time for the holidays, One Planet Life launched its very own online store to help our community easily make joyful changes to live more sustainably. We offer a wide selection of reusable totes, travel utensils, water bottles, and more. Check out our e-store for gifts that your friends and family will love – and help the planet by cutting the amount of single-use plastics that end up in landfills. 

But OPL isn’t the only place you can shop with the health of the planet in mind. Did you know that there is a special certification companies can qualify for that measures their impact?

Certified B Corporations participate in a thorough assessment to determine if their business practices meet high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors such as fair treatment of workers, customer service, and community and environmental impact.

The following B-Corps have caught our attention for going above and beyond to not only create products in a sustainable way but give back in other ways that add up when it comes to treating our environment with care:

Patagonia Works

Patagonia Works became one of California’s first B-Corporations in 2012. The outdoor apparel and gear company has been a leader in ethical business practices for decades. In September, founder Yvon Chouinard and his family announced they would transfer all ownership to two new entities: Patagonia Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective. This move establishes that every dollar not reinvested back into Patagonia will be distributed as dividends to protect the planet. Projections estimate an annual dividend of roughly $100 million. That will go a long way to fighting climate change!

“It will help ensure that there is never deviation from the intent of the founder and to facilitate what the company continues to do best: demonstrate as a for-profit business that capitalism can work for the planet,” a press release from the company explained.

Organic Basics

Organic Basics is a B-Corp that takes responsible fashion to the next level. Each garment, constructed from sustainable materials, carries an Impact Index that helps you better understand how the items you buy and wear contribute to your environmental footprint. This information is part of a larger effort, the Impact Report, that takes a holistic look at the company’s impact across several categories. Additionally, the company is a 1% for the Planet member, partnering with environmental groups and grassroots activists and donating the equivalent of 1% of sales to positive environmental efforts. 

“As a fashion brand, we have a massive responsibility to consider the environmental impact of our choices,” the company website reads. “Everything we do uses precious resources like water and energy and creates carbon emissions along the value chain.”

Grove Collaborative

Looking for gifts other than apparel? Grove Collaborative earned its B-Corp status in 2014 and has been growing its reach ever since. Known for its subscription boxes of home and personal care products that are better for the planet, Grove Collaborative focuses on curating products that “go easy on the Earth, prioritize sustainable packaging materials, and carbon offset every shipment that goes out the door.” The company has also implemented a five-year plan to move from its current status of 100% plastic neutral to 100% plastic-free by 2025.

This year, Grove Collaborative has made it easy for eco-conscious holiday shoppers, featuring an array of eco-friendly brands and products for the beauty guru, chef, gardener – and even the pet-lover – in your life. 

Interested in learning more about B-Corporations? Read our article to dive deeper. 

Thrifting is Trendy and Sustainable

Buying secondhand makes a significant impact, as “fast fashion” is filling up landfills at record rates. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all CO2 emissions globally and is expected to surge to more than 50% by 2030. Help offset these troubling statistics by shopping secondhand. Patagonia offers its own marketplace to buy and trade gently-used Patagonia clothing and recrafted clothing on its Worn Wear site

Shop for name-brand clothing and accessories on sites like Thread-Up or Poshmark for the fashionista in your family – giving the gift of on-trend items without the negative impact.

Shop Smart at Thrift Stores
Are you involved in an annual Secret Santa? Switch up the rules and see who can find the most outrageous gifts under $10.

The catch? You can only shop at your local thrift store! This year, my family decided to do a secret Santa book exchange with one caveat – we had to find a book at a thrift store. My husband and I plan to make a date night of scouring Goodwill stores and used bookstores to find some fun books for our designated gift receiver. 

If you plan to gift books this year and don’t have much luck locally, check out Better World Books. The company, funded through literacy grants, donates a book to match each one purchased. They also help keep books out of landfills by selling secondhand and have reached 87,000 tons of carbon offsets through carbon-balanced shipping. Books are great gifts that keep on giving! 

You never know what you’ll find at your local thrift or antique store, which makes holiday shopping even more fun. You may just stumble upon a unique item that triggers a cherished family memory, making a positive, thoughtful impact that your loved one – and the planet – will appreciate!

A Homemade Touch for the Holidays

The best gifts come from the heart. Throughout the pandemic, a lot of people picked up new skills and hobbies. Now that you’ve had some time to hone your craft, devote your December weekends to making homemade gifts this year!

Knit or crochet a cozy scarf, recycle fabric to make something completely new, or break out your paint set and brushes to make homemade tree ornaments. 

Shrubs Handmade Gift Idea

Everyone likes edible presents. Bake fresh bread from scratch, pull together a meal gift basket, try your hand at making holiday candies, or even plant some starter kitchen herbs for a loved one this year. 

Check out our most recent recipe for Fruit Shrubs, a delicious vinegar-based syrup known as “drinking vinegars” that are a perfect gift for the cocktail or mocktail enthusiast. 

Canning is another option for edible presents. Homemade canned goods are easy to travel with and last a long time. There are so many ways to spruce up the presentation, utilizing fabric for the lids or even using foraged items, like pine cones, to tie around the jars. Jams, jellies, soups, and sauces are just a few of the many possibilities. Read our recent post to learn how to whip up a delicious Pepper Jam to include in your gift baskets! 

Skip the Stuff, Support a Non-Profit

With a rocky economy on many people’s minds these days, a lot of families are scaling back on the number of items they buy this year. Plastic knick-knacks that collect dust, general gifts that end up in a landfill or donation bin a month later, or the thousandth coffee mug that won’t fit in the coffee addict’s cupboard – all these scenarios are avoidable. 

Instead, skip the physical gifts and make a donation to your friend or family member’s favorite non-profit. For that person on your list that seems to have everything, this is a great opportunity not only to show that you’ve taken notice of causes they care about but also to make an impact for those less fortunate this holiday season.

OPL has curated a list of environmentally-focused non-profits to help you find the perfect organization that supports specific goals for a healthier planet.

Support Your Community by Shopping Local

For every dollar spent in a local store, as much as $3.50 goes into the local economy. Skip the big box stores and shop locally this year. 

By supporting local artisans and small businesses, you are helping your neighbors and community thrive. Some of my favorite items to pick up each year include honey from our favorite local apiary, Buzz Worthy Apiary in Hagerstown, Md., homemade chocolates from the candy store in our community, and small-batch roasted coffee beans from my go-to coffee shop. 

Buzz Worthy Apiary

Read more about another local favorite apiary, Bedillion Honey Bee Farm, located in Hickory, PA. 

Take some time to explore small shops in your hometown, and you’re sure to find some new favorites to share with others!

This time of year is known for generating tons of unnecessary waste. By making sustainable choices that support eco-conscious and local offerings, you can do your part to make this holiday season less harmful to the environment and more fulfilling and maybe establish new holiday traditions in the process.

Written by Carley Kimball

Written by Carley Kimball

Freelance Journalist and OPL Content Contributor

“I’ve always tried to implement planet-friendly practices in my life but didn’t quite realize just how much of an impact individuals can make until I was introduced to One Planet Life. I’m so excited to be able to utilize my professional skills to contribute valuable information and positive personal experiences to help make the world a better place.”

America’s Recycling Programs are in Disarray, You Can Help

America’s Recycling Programs are in Disarray, You Can Help

Recycle More Effectively by Checking Out One Planet Life’s Comprehensive Guide

Today marks the 13th annual America Recycles Day. Established in 2009 by the 501c3 non-profit Keep America Beautiful, the day has been set aside to help Americans gain a better understanding of the recycling process and how to help cut down on the amount of trash overwhelming our environment.

In 2022, America Recycles Day focuses on the economic impacts of recycling, job creation, and reduced manufacturing costs due to the reuse of limited resources and savings arising from not having to source new raw materials.

Each year, Keep America Beautiful encourages individuals to take the#BeRecycled Pledge and complete the following goals in November:

  1. LEARN: “I will find out what materials are collected for recycling in my community.”
  2. ACT: “Within the next month, I will reduce the amount of waste I produce, I will recycle more, and I will buy products made with recycled content.”
  3. SHARE: “In the next month, I will encourage one family member or one friend to take the #BeRecycled pledge.”

It’s no secret that the state of recycling in America needs improving, which increases the importance of raising awareness of the topic. While the issue will take a multi-faceted approach to fix – including legislation, corporate responsibility, and more – individuals have a huge opportunity to make a difference through knowledge sharing and devotion to a more sustainable lifestyle. 

What’s Wrong With the System?

To positively impact the state of recycling in America, it’s essential to understand the process and issues plaguing recycling efforts nationwide. 

In the most recent figures available by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 94.2 million tons of the total 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. was recycled in 2018. 

The most-recycled products and materials included:
  1. Corrugated boxes – 32.1 million tons
  2. Mixed nondurable paper products – 8.8 million tons
  3. Newspapers/mechanical papers – 3.3 million tons
  4. Lead-acid batteries – 2.9 million tons
  5. Major appliances – 3.1 million tons
  6. Wood packaging – 3.1 million tons
  7. Glass containers – 3 million tons
  8. Tires – 2.6 million tons
  9. Mixed paper containers and packaging – 1.8 million tons
  10. Selected consumer electronics – 1 million tons

Collectively, these products accounted for 90% of total municipal solid waste recycling in 2018.

The EPA also collected data related to composting and food waste management.

Composted waste accounted for a total of 25 million tons, including approximately 22.3 million tons of yard trimmings (more than a five-fold increase since 1990) and 2.6 million tons of food waste (4.1% of generation of wasted food).

Other methods of food management were estimated for the first time in 2018, tracking 17.7 million tons of wasted food managed through animal feed, co-digestion/anaerobic digestion, bio-based materials/biochemical processing, donation, land application, and sewer/wastewater treatment.

The current recycling rate nationwide is 34%, according to Keep America Beautiful. While the recycling rate continues to increase, so do production and consumption. In fact, each American averages 4.9 pounds of waste each day that ends up in landfills.

But how is all this waste given a second life? Well, experts are still trying to come up with an effective solution.

Prior to 2018, most recyclables were shipped to China for reprocessing.

But when the nation implemented its “National Sword Policy,” the global recycling system took a hit. By imposing strict contamination limits on recyclable materials and prohibiting imports of low-quality recyclables altogether, recycled material quickly began piling up at materials recycling facilities (MRFs) and eventually in landfills.

In a 2022 University of Buffalo study analyzing the impacts of China’s policy, researchers determined the quantity of plastic landfilled in the U.S. alone increased by 23.2%.

Though there has been a rise in technology and other tactics to increase cleaner recycling streams, the U.S. continues to struggle to find cost-effective ways to recycle the massive amounts of waste Americans produce yearly.

Residential recycling service costs hit $6.85 per month per household due to repercussions from National Sword – up 11% over 2018 costs, according to The State of Recycling Today Report conducted by RTS.

However, efforts are being made to overhaul the system and create a better process for recycling across America. The EPA is following a five-step approach, outlined in The National Recycling Strategy, to try and reach a National Recycling Goal of increasing the recycling rate to 50% by 2030.

The objectives, which aim to create a more resilient and cost-effective national recycling system, include the following: 
  1. Improving markets for recycling commodities.
  2. Increasing collection and improving materials management infrastructure.
  3. Reducing contamination in the recycled materials stream.
  4. Enhancing policies to support recycling.
  5. Standardizing measurement and increasing data collection.

As Americans wait for change on a governmental level, what if, in the meantime, they put more thought into what they consume overall and how they can do so in a more sustainable way?

The EPA offers a comprehensive look at what can be recycled in most communities across the country. 

The top 10 items to toss in your blue bin include:

  1. Cardboard
  2. Paper
  3. Food Boxes 
  4. Mail
  5. Beverage Cans
  6. Food Cans
  7. Glass Bottles 
  8. Jars (Glass & Plastic)
  9. Jugs 
  10. Plastic Bottles & Caps
Recycling goes awry when contamination occurs. 

Entire batches of recyclables can end up in landfills if too many unrecyclable or dirty items are mixed in. Since the U.S. relies on single-stream recycling systems, where different types of items are tossed into the same bin, the trend of “wish-cycling” wreaks havoc. In this practice of recycling items that cannot be recycled at all, cannot be recycled at the local facility, or cannot be recycled in a contaminated state, Americans are causing more harm than good.

Knowing what can and can’t be recycled through your local service is essential to recycling responsibility. Are you unsure about what your local service can handle? Check out the company’s website or give them a call so that you are helping provide a solution, not contributing to the problem.

As people call for more accountability from corporations and governments, more studies are being conducted on the recyclability of consumer goods. In 2020, GreenPeace published the Comprehensive U.S. Survey of Plastics Recyclability, providing a factual look at the shortcomings of the system and suggesting solutions such as transparent labeling, honest advertising, and more to turn the tide. 

In a 2020 report from the Columbia Climate School, education is listed as the first strategy to implement change.

“Minimizing contamination of recyclables and the flow of recyclable items to landfills requires consumer awareness,” Renee Cho, staff writer for the Columbia Climate School, explained. “Community events, campaigns, and brochures are necessary to educate residents about the importance of reusing, recycling, and composting, as well as how to properly recycle in their particular community. They need to understand which items are actually recyclable and which are not.”

A Solution: Use Less, Help More

With so many factors at play, how can one remain hopeful about the future of a planet piling up with waste? Recycling is only one facet of a three-step approach that has been around for decades but is more important now than ever: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

The world continues to generate massive amounts of single-use plastic – one of the largest contributors to pollution on a global scale. Individuals can make a tremendous impact by not only recycling waste but by reducing the amount they consume in the first place.

By saying “no” to single-use plastics altogether and replacing them with sustainable, reusable options, you are cutting down on the amount of recyclables that could end up in a landfill from contamination outside of your control.

There are so many ways to give items a second life. Here are just a few ways that your individual contributions can make an impact: 

Reduce: Swap out single-use plastic water bottles for a refillable option. Prefer a clean taste? Invest in a water filter!

Reuse: Clearing out your closet? Don’t throw away the items you don’t wear anymore; instead, donate them to someone in need. Looking to switch up your wardrobe?  The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all CO2 emissions globally and is estimated to surge to more than 50% by 2030. Check out a local thrift store before buying new.

Recycle: Start composting! Even if you live in an urban area, there are plenty of ways to start composting your kitchen scraps. Using a composting service, you can divert 360 lbs of food waste from landfills per year, which creates 182 lbs of compost and equates to offsetting 1,065 miles driven by a car. Learn how to get started by checking out these resources on our website. 

Refill: Keep packaging in mind when you make purchases. Shopping in bulk cuts down on the amount of packaging we consume. Check out our interactive map to see where you can bulk shop locally. Take it a step further and find shops that enable you to skip the packaging and bring your own reusable containers!

Bonus: Do some research on what items your local facility can actually recycle, so you aren’t clogging up the system with contaminants. Share this information with your community to increase efficient recycling on a larger scale.

While the United States undoubtedly faces an uphill battle in streamlining its recycling system, individuals can implement Joyful Changes in their everyday lives to make a difference. By “Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling” in creative ways, we can collectively cut the amount of waste that is funneled into landfills each year, paving the way to a cleaner future.

Interested in Learning More

CAN I RECYCLE THIS? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single-Use Plastics By Jennie Romer is a wonderful resource for those just diving into the world of recycling. While we know the mantra – reduce, reuse, recycle, do we know what is recycled, what goes into a landfill, and what goes into our oceans? Romer is a leading expert on single-use plastics and reduction and recycling in the U.S. and has the answers to your questions about recyclables. Read One Planet Life’s review.

Don’t Forget! 

Sign Keep America Beautiful’s #BeRecycled pledge to spread awareness of recycling to your friends and neighbors! 

The One Planet Life team encourages you to take this challenge a step further:  
  1. LEARN: More about simple ways you can cut down on carbon emissions in your everyday life through OPL posts, shared resources, and social connections.
  2. ACT: By tracking your Joyful Changes through the One Planet Life App, you can see, in real numbers, how small changes carry a heavy impact. 
  3. SHARE: Our app with your friends and family. Make a collective impact by joining challenges together. When 16 of us each reduce our CO2 emissions by one metric ton, that’s equivalent to one person going net zero! 
Written by Carley Kimball

Written by Carley Kimball

Freelance Journalist and OPL Content Contributor

“I’ve always tried to implement planet-friendly practices in my life but didn’t quite realize just how much of an impact individuals can make until I was introduced to One Planet Life. I’m so excited to be able to utilize my professional skills to contribute valuable information and positive personal experiences to help make the world a better place.”

Save the Planet from Plastic Pollution, One Refill at a Time

Save the Planet from Plastic Pollution, One Refill at a Time

‘Reduce and Reuse’ are the Real Solutions to the Planet’s Plastic Problem.

It may surprise you, but the vast majority of plastic you toss into your recycling bin each week actually ends up being dumped in a landfill. 

According to a 2022 report from Greenpeace, an international non-profit devoted to raising awareness about environmental issues, only about 5-6% of U.S. plastics were recycled last year, down from a high of 9.5% in 2014 and 8.7% in 2018. 

Considering that the world now produces more than 380 million metric tons of plastic every year, it’s easy to see how quickly waste can add up.

Single-use plastics have exploded in recent decades. In the U.S. alone, plastic waste generation has increased 263% since 1980 – from an average of 60 pounds per person per year to 218 pounds per person per year in 2018, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Contrary to popular belief, not one single type of plastic food service item, including the polypropylene cup lids that Starbucks touts as recyclable, has ever been able to be recycled per the FTC Green Guide legal definition, according to the 2022 report, The Real Truth About the U.S. Plastics Recycling Rate.

Toxicity risks in recycled plastic prohibit “the vast majority of plastic products and packaging produced” from being recycled into food-grade packaging, the study further explains. 

Without radical action to curb demand, increase product lifespans, and improve waste management and recyclability, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates plastic pollution to triple by 2060. 

In its report, Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060, several high-level solutions are presented to control the rising volume of plastics plaguing the environment, including:

  • Taxes on plastics and plastic packaging 
  • Incentives to reuse and repair plastic items
  • Targets for recycled content in new plastic products
  • Extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes
  • Improved waste management infrastructure
  • Increased litter collection rates

While these solutions could make a significant impact, they could take years – if not decades – to come to fruition.

But fortunately, individuals can implement changes into their everyday lives right away that can help cut down on consumption and create a future less cluttered by plastics. 


What are Single-Use Plastics?

To cut single-use plastics out of our lives for good, we must first understand how it infiltrates our habits and households. 

The National Resource Defense Council defines Single-Use Plastics as “goods that are made primarily from fossil fuel based chemicals (petrochemicals) and are meant to be disposed of right after use—often, in mere minutes. Single-use plastics are most commonly used for packaging and serviceware, such as bottles, wrappers, straws and bags.”

The popularity of single-use plastics skyrocketed in the 1970s when traditional paper or glass packaging was overwhelmingly replaced with lighter or more durable and affordable plastic alternatives. Since the 1950s, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been produced, half of that in the past 15 years alone.

While using a plastic fork on your lunch break may seem harmless, the total number of single-use utensils that end up in landfills each year is staggering – 40 billion plastic forks, spoons, and knives. On top of that, the U.S. alone tosses 500 million plastic straws every day, according to Habits of Waste.

5 Ways to Reduce Your Energy Consumption
How Can I Cut My Dependency on Single-Use Plastics?

Changing habits isn’t always easy. However, the team at One Planet Life shares their personal journeys on how they shifted focus to living more sustainably, hoping to offer a few tips on how to make the switch. 

Lorie Buckingham, the founder of One Planet Life, started her journey by eliminating single-use plastic from her life. 

“It was easy when going to the grocery store, as I would keep my reusable shopping bags and my reusable produce bags ready to go in my entryway closet,” she said. “I grab the set and head off to the grocery store or farmers market. I love coming home with fruit and vegetables not covered in plastic and without a pile of waste.”

Making spur-of-the-moment purchases still plagued her with waste. “The problem was solved when I started carrying a foldable, reusable bag in my purse or backpack,” she said. “Voila, I pull it out and, once again, get home with my purchase – no single-use plastic bag needed.” Shopping weekly, Buckingham estimates saving at least 600 plastic bags per year.

Switching to a reusable water bottle, on the other hand, was a bit more difficult. “I am picky about the taste of my water,” she shared. “This was resolved with a countertop Berkey Water Filtration system, glass bottles that fit perfectly in the refrigerator, and several to-go water bottles. Now, I have great-tasting water at home and on the go.” Since changing her habits four years ago, Buckingham estimates saving over 4,000 water bottles from going to the landfill.

Yvonne Dwyer, One Planet Life’s Naturalist, switched to a refillable water bottle after seeing how many empty plastic water bottles ended up in her weekly recycle bin.

“It was time for a change,” she said. “I learned that not all plastic is recycled, and the expense of paying for bottled water just seemed crazy. Instead, I could use my reusable hard plastic tumbler cup, which I eventually changed to a Nalgene bottle, and then to Hydro Flask and Corkcicle bottles, which keep water cool. My Hydro Flask, Corkcicle, and Yeti bottles go with me on whatever adventure I pursue.”

Amy Bates, CMO of One Planet Life, reduced dependency on single-use plastics after seeing the sheer volume of plastic her family was throwing away. 

“I made three simple changes that significantly reduced our plastic waste and saved money and effort,” she said. “First, I switched to reusable k-cups to make our coffee. Not only could we enjoy any coffee, but it was also much less expensive. Second, I stopped buying plastic ziplock bags for snacks and storage. Now, I use reusable snack and storage bags, I prefer the Russbe brand, and they work great. I wash them in the dishwasher and enjoy another cost savings! Finally, we use our reusable water bottles daily, for travel, and while on our boat at the lake.”

Her family went from buying a couple of cases of water in plastic bottles each weekend to using quality, insulated bottles on their boating trips. 

“It’s much easier to know which drink is yours, and we significantly decreased the amount of waste to clear off the boat at the end of the day,” she shared. “These joyful changes were easy to make and delivered many benefits.”

As the OPL team shared, switching to reusable options often carries more benefits than just reducing waste. 

To help make this switch easier for those on their journey to live a more sustainable life, One Planet Life is launching its very own e-store.

Shoppers will find eco-friendly, reusable products to replace single-use options, including:

  • A Travel Utensils Set in Cloth Pouch, with a glass straw and brush, fork, knife, spoon, chopsticks, and a cloth napkin
  • Foldable and reversible Tote Bags
  • Larger Canvas Tote Bags 
  • Insulated Reusable Water Bottles
With a reusable water bottle alone, two fill-ups daily would save 720 plastic bottles per year or 0.63 pounds of carbon emissions. 

If communities worked together to lower their dependency on single-use everyday items by substituting reusable alternatives, the hope of a cleaner future unmarred by mountains of plastics could become a reality.

Written by Carley Kimball

Written by Carley Kimball

Freelance Journalist and OPL Content Contributor

“I’ve always tried to implement planet-friendly practices in my life but didn’t quite realize just how much of an impact individuals can make until I was introduced to One Planet Life. I’m so excited to be able to utilize my professional skills to contribute valuable information and positive personal experiences to help make the world a better place.”

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