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Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Tips While in AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps Program

In July of 2021 I entered the AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps program. Going into this program I knew I was going to experience a lot of firsts and lots of challenges. One of the main challenges I knew I would face was being away from my controlled sustainable living environment that I had created for myself. Knowing this was going to happen there were things I did to prepare. Throughout the 12 month program I complied a number of tips, tricks, and products to help those in the program live as eco-friendly and sustainable as possible under the unique and ever-changing conditions.

How To Prepare:

Some of the products that I brought me with and used throughout the duration of the program were bamboo toothbrushes, laundry strips, cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, reusable silverware, food containers, and much more. Below is a link to the products I brought with me.

Bamboo Toothbrushes

Bamboo Silverware

Tru Earth Laundry Strips

Contigo Water Battle

Cloth napkins- years ago my mom used scrap fabric to make cloth napkins, I brought 3 with me

Handkerchiefs- years ago my mom made these for me, I brought 3, 2 different sizes

Lena Reusable Menstrual Cup

OrganiCup Menstrual Cup

Safety Razor

David's Natural Toothpaste

Hey Humans Toothpaste

Deodorant- Native, Hey Human

Ziplock Food Container

Things I Purchased During the Program:

Stojo Collapsible Sandwich Box

Plastic Plate and Bowl

Stasher Bags

Patch Bandages

Food and Grocery Tips:

Something that I did not bring with me because I do not nesessarily own something like it, but wish I did is a foldable reusable grocery bag. With most of the places I was deployed to or had a project the only options for grocery bags were single-use plastic. We reused the single-use plastic bags we got from the grocery store and recycled in the store drop off the ones we did not need when we left that project. Once we got to a location where paper bags were used we switched to that and reused the paper bags. We were gifted a reusable grocery bag half way through the program and used that whenever we shopped, but I wish I had bit the bullet and purchased a reusable grocery bag for myself to use from the start of the program. 

To avoid the use of single-use plastic food bags I used Ziplock Food Container. My tip is to bring your own and used them throughout the term. For me this meant mini stasher bags, a 2 cup plastic ziplock container, the Stojo sandwich container, and a small 2 ounce vintage tupperware. I found that the area I struggled the most with was food waste and packaging. This was the result of a number of different circumstances. The first being being on deployment and not having lodging with a kitchen means the daily food budget is increased to allot for eating out. Second when your teammates are making food for the team you are not in control of the type of packaging or lack of packaging they use. Third when you are eating out because you do not have a kitchen you are creating waste that in most places is not recyclable. Tips for how to manage or combat this issue is to save all your recyclables and once you have enough or the time find a recycling drop off to properly dispose of the waste. For me this meant taking recycling to a university campus. Do your research and find a place the does not require being a resident and know what items they accept and how they are sorted. 

If you are a vegetarian or vegan you can continue eating this way throughout the program. I will say it might be hard at times finding things to eat at resturants. You might also have to supplement your meals if you choose to eat with the team if your team is not accommedating. 

Always keep a water bottle with you. I am sure I do not need to explain to you how bad plastic water bottles are for the environment. Saying this I am going to give a warning because I noticed that my skin did not agree with the water in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I wish I had realized this sooner and stopped drinking and washing my face with it. For my health I should have used bottled water.

In the Office/on the Project Tips:

DHS and FEMA promote sustainability and paperless offices, but in my experience that is not the case for most Joint Field Offices (JFOs). To deal with this obstacle make those you are working with aware that you would like to use as little paper was possible and would prefer things to be sent to you electronically. In FEMA Training you will learn how to use Outlook. I recommend also taking the time to learn more about the different features that are available that can help you to be paperless. This includes calendars and to do lists. When it comes to keeping track of your hours for both NCCC and FEMA I suggest keeping a running Excel. This way you can track you quants throughout the day, week, and project. Doing it this way also makes it easier when you are adding to your resume because now you have a document that has all that you did that round all in one place. 

From my experiences at two JFOs people will want to buy you lunch. First, accept that food, second always have your cloth napkin and silverware with you in your bag. Even though you might have to use a paper plate or takeout food container at least your are decreasing your use of plastic silverware and napkins. 

Entertainment Tips:

As a reader I utilized my phone for reading throughout the program. This is not only something I recommend for saving space, but it is also the best environmental choice. Because this method can be pricey I also recommend finding thrift stores and used bookstores in the area. I was able to shop at different thrift stores all over the country. If you have a library account with your home address you can also use that to checkout and download digital books. Speaking of thrift stores, there might be instances during the program where you need something whether that's clothing, shoes, or something else. My number one tip for you is to check out local thrift stores first and then turn to online thrift stores/resell options before buying new. In addition to buying books I was able to buy clothing when an item of my ripped and I was unable to mend it. 
A main part of any NCCC program is team bonding. As one of the Health and Wellness Coordinators (HAWC) on my team a role of mine was to encourage team bonding outside of work hours. Most team bonding/entertainment options will be low waste unless they involve food. Two of my favorite team bonding activities that we did was Taza Chocolate Tour and 13th Gate Escape Room. I also can't forget to mention that I saw The Grand Canyon for the first time and fell in love. Other ideas for entertainments that are low waste are pumpkin patch tours, farmer markets, haunted houses, trampoline parks, rock climbing, hiking, bike tours, and museums. 


Luckily you have limited space and limited income so shopping really is not an option. The only thing I really purchased in the first 3 months was all silver keychains in the new states that I visited. This is something that I collect and means a lot to me. Some of my team members chose to buy stickers as their keepsakes from our adventures. I personally did not get the shopping itch until month 3. When this happened I channeled it into something productive and started Christmas and birthday shopping for my friends and family. I love shopping and giving gifts so this was a productive and practical way for me to relieve my shopping itch. 

Packing List:

When I first prepared for the program I wrote out a packing list in the notes app of my phone. After the time at campus I sent an entire duffle bag home of things I no longer needed or had doubles of. The following packing list is what I actually ended up using throughout the program from start to finish and what came home with me at the end. What you find important to pack is going to be personal to you, but I figured I would share a list to help guide you for yours. 

Clothing Tips:

I don't know about you but I am someone who loves to window shop. I find that even if I am not buying anything I just enjoy looking at things. This does not mean that I do not buy things. When I would get the itch to buy something during this program I was very strategic about it. Once I would find what I was looking for I would leave it in my cart or likes for a while to decide if I really needed it. During the program you will find that you get sick of the clothes that you have, that's okay. Buying a thrifted item to add to what you have it a great way to become inspired and excited to wear what you have. Thrifting it is the best enviromental option. This can be done in a store or online. The best way to stay inspired in what I had was to switch out most of my street clothes during Christmas break. This way I had 'new' clothes to wear for the second half of the program. 

Clothes Packing:

A tip is to look at the types of clothes that you have in your laundry leading up to the program. Is a majority of the clothes workout or activewear, loungewear, jeans and nice tops, take inventory before you start packing. When I was packing I was very strategic in what I brought. I brought activewear for all seasons because you do PT. I brought summer and winter pjs. I brought one pair of jean shorts and one pair of jeans. I bought one sweatshirt. Bring things that are versitale, that you like and that you won't get sick of easy. This means basic items and not trendy pieces. Also make sure you pack a nice top that is appropriate for job interviews. I also packed a baseball hat, knit hat, and gloves.

You can get more ideas about clothing packing from Greta Eagan's book Wear No Evil.

Bathroom Tips:

Going into the program I had a very low waste bathroom routine. I had brought a full size subscription bottle of lotion with me. I found that it was too bulky and honestly that lotion was not keeping my skin hydrated. I had to make the sacrifice of buying lotion in a plastic non-recyclable container for the health of my skin and for more space. I have entire blog posts dedicated to Zero Waste/Low Waste bathroom essentials. Check them out here: Ratings of Three Different Types of Zero Waste Deodorant and Going Zero Waste in My Bathroom.

Here is an example of a zero waste lotion: I have not tried it myself. 

I hope that this compilation of tips, tricks, and ideas is helpful in your preparation and duration of your AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps Program. Good luck and serve on!!


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