Poop, plastic, meat and online shopping: 4 Everyday Changes to Preserve the Planet and its animals

[Article by contributing writer Melissa Grant, North Bend resident, wildlife enthusiast and owner of Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs.]

In general, I make silly frivolous New Year resolutions. This year I resolved to stop falling for Facebook ads for purses, bras and nail polish. So, January 1st found me sitting at my computer telling Facebook that every ad for those three things was no longer relevant to me. As I poked along, resisting the temptation to go buy one more bottle of temperature reactive nail polish, I came across an article detailing all the species that went extinct in 2018. Intrigued I read the article, decided for the first time ever I’d make a serious resolution and try to personally reduce my impact on the growing problem of species extinction.

I have to say, I went into this research feeling pretty cocky about my own personal ecological footprint on the environment. I recycle after all! However, I learned some of my human habits, as inconsequential as they seem, are responsible for causing changes in the environment that hurt animals and plant species. I mean I knew that ,but what I didn’t know was because human populations are growing so fast, animals and plants are disappearing 1000 times faster than they have in the past 65 million years. Scientists estimate that in the 21st century, 100 species will become extinct every day.

Wow. 

So, what and who did we lose this past year? Remember the cute movie “Rio” made in 2011? The star was a Spix Macaw named Blu. These birds lived in a small area of Northeastern Brazil and fed on the berries of the caraiba tree. Now due to habitat loss and the illegal wild bird trade, they are thought to be completely gone in the wild. Several other lesser known birds – the Cryptic Treehunter, the Alagoas Foliage-gleaner (also of Brazil) and the Hawaiian Po’ouli – also soared into extinction in 2018.

Spix Macaw

Last year the Eastern Cougar was officially declared extinct. It’s been 80 years since the last one was seen and subsequently killed in Maine. The last Northern White Rhino died and the smallest marine mammal on earth – the Vaquita – will likely be extinct next year. The 30 left in the Sea of Cortez will likely meet the same fate as the rest: caught in illegal fishing practices. 

So, what does all this have to do with me? Surely, I can’t be held responsible for something happening in these far-flung places? We recycle. We keep our trash inside all week so the bears don’t get it. Heck, I didn’t even have kids. My carbon footprint should be so clean. I should be able to buy an Escalade….right?

Wrong. 

In the last few days I’ve found little habits I have contribute to larger problems of pollution, loss of habitat, deforestation, overconsumption of natural resources and yes, animal extinction. 

Habit #1: Not always picking up my dog’s poop and disposing of it properly. This one I’m at about 90%. Every coat pocket has at least one poop bag in it, but sometimes she poops twice and I’ve already tossed it or I’m wearing something with no pockets. It happens. I’ve seen the posts on social media about the volume of poop NOT picked up – so I know it happens to you, too. The thing is, the consequences of not picking it up are truly horrifying. Not only is there the issue of fecal coliform bacteria, zoonotic transmittable diseases and parasites – but there is also the issue of Eutrophication. Simply put, dog (and cat) poop contributes nitrogen and phosphorus to ground and surface water, which can change the growing environments for plant and animal life. Invasive plant species, such as brambles or nettles, can take over forest undergrowth making it unsuitable for its native species. If this contaminated water makes it to the ocean, it can reduce harvestable fish and shellfish and decrease biodiversity over all. I will NEVER miss a poop again. 

Habit #2:  Using and throwing away plastic bags. Recently North Bend’s city council voted to ban carry out plastic bags. I rolled my eyes and thought “Man, how inconvenient. ” I found out these bags cannot be thrown into a recycling bin and if they are, they clog the machinery. They do not biodegrade and will take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill. Lastly, they are the most common source of ocean pollution and are frequently mistaken for food by birds and fish. Learn more of the horrifying effects on our oceans here. I’m taking a load of my reusable bags to my car RIGHT NOW. No more excuses. I’ll pay for the paper bags if I ever forget. 

Habit #3: Eating factory farmed meat. This is a tough habit our household has tried to change in the past. We went on the Eat Wild website, found a farm in Ellensburg that is Animal Welfare Approved and USDA Certified Organic, and were determined to not support the incredibly environmentally damaging meat industry. It was really good, but you have to get a whole cow and was prohibitively expensive. As that side of beef disappeared slowly, so did the resolve to continue and I fell back into our previous eating habits. After reading about how many acres of rainforests are cleared to grow soy crops and grains to feed cattle, and how big a source of climate pollution those cattle are, my resolve has returned. I asked for and got tentative approval from my significant other to try one (or two?) meat free days each week. 

Habit #4: Overconsumption of online shopping. And here we are back to my nail polish, bra and purse habit. Amazon Prime is a wonderful thing for my sense of instant gratification, but not so great for the environment. I can go online and buy that thing that I realized I needed right then, its great! But what if I buy those things every day? The boxes to ship one thing a time to me, and the gas required to get it to me, make it less environmentally sustainable than making a list and driving to the store once a week. The resources used to get me my temperature reactive sparkly nail polish are stupidly vast. Will I stop using Amazon? No, but I will make a list; try to knock off the little frequent orders; and have things shipped together when I can. 

If I have these habits, likely you do too. If we all change just a little bit, perhaps we can prevent some of these extinctions in the future.  I fell far down a rabbit hole of research into why all these animals went extinct. Along the way I found many more animals that are poised to tip over into extinction with the Vaquita, the Rhino and the Spix Macaw. I’m going to stop my bad habits. Will you try and stop too?

White Rhino

Eastern Cougar

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