After reading climate scientists' reports warning humans that we only have 12 years to protect Earth from catastrophe, I freaked out. As a vegan who puts effort into limiting my plastic and consumption of environmentally harmful products (as obnoxious as that may sound), nothing is more frustrating than watching people ignore the facts and put zero effort into conserving our home, just because it's a little less convenient.

However, I realized that the problem is not that people don't want to help, it's that it feels overwhelming to go "zero waste" and cut products out of your life altogether. What they may not understand is that in order to help the Earth, you don't have to overhaul your entire life. It's okay to start with the small stuff; skipping a plastic straw, buying a bamboo fork, or eating one vegan meal a week. These small actions all make a difference in the long run, even if they feel insignificant now. If every historical figure thought that one person couldn't make a difference, our world would be extremely different.

Whether you want to go completely waste-free, or are just beginning to educate yourself on sustainability, any effort is better than none. Here are some tips, tricks, and easy ways to live more sustainably—now is as good a time as ever.

1. Keep a Reusable Tote With You

Ditching plastic bags is one of the easiest ways to reduce your waste. In New York, we use a billion per year, which helps me understand why we have a literal island the size of Texas made up of the plastic bags we so carelessly accept. All you have to do is keep a small, reusable tote in your backpack or pocket... or just carry what you bought.

2. Reduce Your Food Waste

From a young age, we were taught to eat everything on our plate and feel guilty for wasting food. Now I realize that there was a reason for it. The amount of food waste produced every year is more than enough to feed 1 billion hungry people.

You can reduce your food waste in so many easy ways, like pre-making grocery lists so you don't overbuy, purchasing funny-looking produce that may otherwise be thrown away, eating leftovers, freezing what's about to expire (you can use it up in a smoothie, soup, or dish later on), and store food properly (aka fully close your tupperware, put that cilantro in some water, and freeze that almost-moldy bread).

3. Invest in Zero-Waste Products

While it may feel like overkill to buy items when trying to be more eco-friendly, it actually makes a big difference and is not very expensive. Twelve pint-sized mason jars are under $9, which you can use for grocery shopping (so you can skip the plastic bags), coffee, pickling (don't waste the wilting carrots!), and way more. My favorite set of bamboo utensils cost $12 and come with an entire cutlery set, a straw, straw cleaner, chopsticks, and a case. These items (along with others like a reusable coffee cup, silicone "ziploc" bags, and metal straws) are truly worth it and will make a difference.

If you really think about the amount of single-use items humans consume and how wasteful that is, it feels easy to purchase a little in order to help the environment a lot.

4. Cancel Junk Mail

We receive and consume far too much paper. Do you really read all three Fisherman's Guide catalogs every month? Are you sure they aren't for the person who lived there before you? Stopping unsolicited (or solicited) mail is way easier than you'd think. Here are some guidelines, and while it may be an inconvenience to you to spend 5-10 minutes on this task, it will save a whole lot of paper, and a whole lot of trees.

5. Stop Buying Plastic Water Bottles

Seriously, just stop. Carrying a reusable bottle with you is not hard, you just have to add one more thing to your mental checklist. "Keys, wallet, phone... water bottle." It will save you time, money, and is a whole lot healthier for the planet.

1,500 plastic water bottles are bought every second in the US. If that doesn't make you think taking an extra second to grab your reusable bottle is worth it, maybe this documentary or this Instagram account or this report will. Mistakes are made, and that's okay, but there's no reason not to try.

6. Buy More Items IRL

As you may know, online manufacturers use a sh*t ton of packaging to send you something as small as a singular pen. Bubble wrap, plastic lining, styrofoam, and a huge box take a toll on our Earth, especially when billions of people are ordering things online every single day. Instead, you can make the small effort of going to pick up some of these items in person, and thus reduce your waste. For example, I may buy a bag of lentils online that comes in a plastic bag in bubble wrap in a box, when I could've just brought my mason jar to any grocery store near me that has a self-serve section, tared it, filled it up, and been waste-free. Easy peasy.

7. Recycle

If you aren't ready to transition to plastic-free just yet, at least recycle. This is the most basic task on the list, yet so many people neglect to throw away their plastic in the right spot. Internally, I'm screaming, "An inch to the left is the recycling bin!!! It takes less than two seconds!" Sadly, I don't have the guts to actually scream it, but I can tell you in this article that every piece of plastic you recycle instead of throwing away does help, so please reserve those two extra seconds out of your day to do so.

8. Be Conscious About How Much You Really Need

Hi, I'm Ella, and I am a paper towel addict. Yep, I admit it. From my napkin at dinner, to cleaning up my daily spills, I use way too many paper towels. However, I'm trying to reduce my usage by remembering that a dish towel or wash cloth is just as handy, and so much better for the environment. But, if I am going to use a paper towel (treat yo' self), do I really need to grab five sheets to wipe my face? No. Do I really need two plastic straws for my iced coffee? No. Nobody is perfect when trying to live more green, but do your best to remain mindful about the amount your consuming, if nothing else.

9. Eat Fewer Animal Products

I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you want to significantly reduce your carbon footprint, live more sustainably, and literally save the world, eat more vegan food. It takes 100 to 200 times more water to produce a pound of beef than it does to produce a pound of any plant food. You'd be saving 15,000 liters of water just by skipping one kilogram of beef. Eating vegan also majorly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and your energy consumption.

One study found that an 80% increase in global greenhouse gas emissions from food production alone can be avoided if the global diet transformed into an equal mixture of Mediterranean, pescetarian, and vegetarian diets.

The evidence is clear, though so many people who know the facts still don't make change. As I said earlier, I believe humans fear too much becoming different at one time. They don't want to "take the plunge" into veganism. And, to that I say, don't! I believe so strongly in this lifestyle, but if you're afraid of it, you don't have to go all in at once. Maybe have a meatless Monday, or try to cut out dairy every other week. Anything and everything helps. You can't make change if you don't take action.

10. Educate Your Friends and Family

Shifting your lifestyle to be more eco-friendly is awesome and does make a difference, but we need to continue spreading the message in order to raise awareness. Kindly inform your friends and family on some of the easy ways they can live more sustainably. Send them a link to this article or a picture of a bamboo toothbrush they can purchase. And, if you are passionate about this issue, make sure to have a balanced conversation rather than shoving the information down their throats, guilting them, and thus keeping them from taking action.

Anything Change Better Than No Change!

Even if you read this entire article and are not planning on implementing a single one of these easy ways to live more sustainably, that's okay, because it's a start. Changing your life to change the world is amazing, but don't beat yourself up if you forget your reusable water bottle or subconsciously grab that paper towel. Any shift in your lifestyle or second thought on plastic is better than none, so help the Earth how you can and continue to educate yourself on this topic. Climate change is scary, but denial and lack of knowledge is scarier.