The 2016 election cycle is bananas, and pretty much everyone can agree on that—regardless of their party affiliation. Between nasty Twitter fights, debates overshadowed by petty name-calling, and almost unbelievable headlines popping up daily, it’s never been easier to feel disenchanted with politics.
Not so for Erin Schrode. The 25-year-old environmental activist, who co-founded her student-led nonprofit Turning Green at age 13, recently decided to run for Congress. If she wins, she’ll be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
To Schrode, big change—whether you’re trying to reduce waste at home or make changes to local legislation—starts with small daily actions: “You want a better world? It starts with what you buy, who you elect to office, the choices you make in your life.”
Taking care of the environment and making your community a better place doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal. Here Schrode shares four easy ways to do your part to start changing the world.
1. Become your own advocate
“Don’t assume that someone else is looking out for your health and wellbeing,” Schrode says. “Become an educated consumer. There are certifications you can look for, and brands and vendors you can trust.”
The easiest place to start is by paying attention to the labels on your food and personal care products. Making the switch to organic, eco-friendly, and non-toxic formulations is better for you and the environment.
First, look for foods and products carrying the USDA certified organic seal. You can rest easy knowing they’re produced with absolutely no genetically modified ingredients, synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, hormones, or antibiotics.
And don’t feel like you need to toss every bottle of shampoo, deodorant, and moisturizer you own right this instant. “Make it gradual,” says Schrode. “You don’t have to throw out everything and start over.” Instead, aim to replace conventional products with eco-friendly, nontoxic alternatives as they run out. (Hint: we have tons of affordable organic personal care products at Thrive Market!)
2. Reduce your waste footprint
Ever considered why you have to take out the trash twice a week? Our society creates a ton of waste. In 2009 alone, Americans produced enough garbage to circle the earth 24 times.
Take baby steps to cut down on the waste at home. Start composting food scraps, or find ways to reuse them in the kitchen. Carry a reusable water bottle with you, and ask your local coffee shop to fill it up instead of giving you a disposable cup. Schrode brings a metal lunchbox when she goes out to eat to bring home leftovers. And for to-go juices and coffee, she takes her personal mason jar pretty much everywhere—and even uses the hashtag #jarjournal on Instagram to track the jar’s adventures!
3. Educate and empower those around you
Tell your friends, family, and coworkers about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Once they see that it’s really not any more work to use a reusable water bottle instead of a disposable one, and that it makes a huge impact on the environment, they might be willing to give it a try.
The key, Schrode says, is talking to people instead of at them.
“It doesn’t have to be preachy,” she says. “Some people tell me I’m the only vegan they can go to lunch with. Be conciliatory.”
4. Start with your own community
Before you try to change the world, focus on making a difference at home. After a 2002 a study revealed that Marin County—Schrode’s hometown—had one of the highest number of breast cancer diagnoses in the world, her mom took matters into her own hands. She started a door-to-door, grassroots campaign to find out why, and scientists at the University of California, San Francisco even got involved.
That experience stuck with Schrode, and years later, inspired her own activism. It’s why she’s running for Congress in California’s District 2, where she lives now.
“We have to take action in our own communities,” she says. “It starts at home and it ripples outwards.”
Photo credit: Erin Schrode