A guide to eco-friendly living on the North Fork

It’s time to stop recycling. Don’t separate your plastics from glass or aluminum. Skip breaking down cardboard boxes. Though recycling is one of the three R’s learned in school, it does not really address the problem of plastic pollution. Reducing consumption and opting for reusable and eco-friendly alternatives is what will mitigate concerns about waste.

But plastic isn’t the only culprit. Fashion is one of the top polluting industries in the world. It takes 1,000 gallons of water to produce one pair of denim jeans, not to mention the carbon emissions resulting from creating fast fashion. It takes 1,000 gallons of water to produce one pair of denim jeans. The quick, cheap production of fast fashion adds to the millions of tons of annual carbon emissions related to textile production. More food ends up in landfills nowadays than on plates, and a plastic water bottle actually takes more water to manufacture than it can hold. With climate change being one of the biggest issues facing the planet, sustainability is key. 

Break bad habits with these eco-friendly living suggestions from North Forkers who walk the walk to live that good green life. 

Go Plastic-Free

Acknowledge your consumption — and its impact — and make a change. A standard Plastic-Free July challenge is to collect your used plastics and place them in a mason jar, providing a visual of what is used and quickly discarded. As a stewardship coordinator for Group for the East End, Christine Tylee often picks up plastic trash while monitoring shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. When traveling abroad and volunteering in marine conservation, she takes home recycled plastic goods to serve as inspiration. To go plastic-free, she recommends switching to stainless steel straws, aluminum water bottles, reusable bags, bamboo toothbrushes and biodegradable floss in a refillable dispenser to cut down traditional plastic waste.

“Leading by example is definitely one of the most impactful things you can do,” Tylee explains. “People do want to be told what to do and not do, but you can show them it can be done by living it yourself. It’s tangible and you can accomplish little changes in daily life. It’s really not so hard as people think.”

In plastic production, 40% is single-use plastics. These items often fall through the cracks, ended up on local beaches. For a quick, zero-waste fix, simply say “no” to the straw.

Cut Kitchen Waste

Chop, slice, sprinkle and … toss? Over-purchasing perishables and discarding leftovers means food accounts for a large percentage of what’s in landfills. When it comes to cutting down on kitchen waste, composting for the garden and buying smaller amounts of produce at a time can help. After hosting friends for dinner, Alicia Ekeler, a trained chef and director of tasting rooms at Lieb Cellars and Bridge Lane Wines, says the freezer is your friend.

“Citrus on your counter looking sad? Don’t toss it,” Ekeler says, noting that nearly everything can be frozen. “Juice those lemons and freeze the juice. Had everyone over for chicken? Don’t you dare toss that carcass! Break it up, freeze it, and make chicken stock when you have time. I freeze chicken fat trimmings to render in the future. The beauty of this seemingly obsessive behavior is that if I have a busy week, I have a freezer full of ingredients waiting to be a meal.”

It’s not just food that is wasted in the kitchen. Using kitchen towels in lieu of paper towels cuts consumption down significantly. Save the paper for drying raw meats or fish and cleaning up messes that are not ideal for the washing machine. Use reusable produce bags, or none at all, when grocery shopping. Break the plastic wrap habit. Reusable containers and plant-based food wraps, which can be found online, are excellent alternatives. Even when prepping, reuse bowls and utensils to cut down on water use.

Shop Vintage

Fast-fashion garments often capitalize on trends, designed to be worn just a few times and then discarded. With all of the waste and carbon emissions produced by clothing manufacturing today, not to mention unfair labor practices, buying vintage is both exciting and eco-friendly. The clothes of decades past were of higher quality and made to last, and often come in funky designs and textiles that are only replicated as cheap prints today. Liz Sweigart’s passion for thrift and vintage extends beyond the materials.

“It’s not only recycling materials, but also recycling energy; the energy it took to make the clothing and also the energy or aura of the person who previously owned it,” said Sweigart, owner of The Times Vintage in Greenport. “I think when people buy vintage the connection is deeper than one might think, therefore I feel that vintage shopping is not just consuming but also feeling and that makes for a much more meaningful as well as eco-friendly experience.”

Sweigart’s bottom line: Wouldn’t you rather Granny’s groovy vintage clothes ended up in someone’s closet, on the dance floor, at a party or on a first date than in a landfill?