These New Yorkers have had it with plastic. So they're getting very creative.

What happens when you combine politics and activism with bodega owners and artists? An environmental movement to stop plastic bag use.

Vote With Your Tote was launched by a pro bono team of creatives and environmental experts in New York City.

Their goal is to combat the city's growing toxic waste problem by reducing the use of plastic bags. Each year, NYC residents use and discard approximately 10 billion single-use plastic grocery bags, a whopping $12.5 million disposal cost.


"Plastic bags are just a terrible form of waste ... it becomes litter on our streets and an eyesore," said Brad Lander, NYC council member and deputy leader for policy. "People across racial and economic lines care about their neighborhood, and reducing toxic waste is meaningful to them. People who live in public housing love and care about their neighborhood, and that's important for people to see."

All images courtesy of Vote With Your Tote.

The program is part of a bigger movement encouraging people to support a statewide Bring Your Own Bag law.

In New York, local residents and lawmakers, including the founder of PlasticBagLaws.org Jennie Romer, joined forces to persuade the city to adopt a law that would encourage customers to rely on reusable cloth bags instead of plastic. The law would implement a charge of 5 cents for every plastic bag at a grocery store — but it's not about the money. It's about the fee encouraging more eco-friendly practices.

"It really helps when there are conversations about what the bag fee is and what it really means to change behavior," Romer said. "Initially, a lot of people we talked to were like, 'no.' They didn't really didn't like the idea of a fee because no one likes the idea of paying money for something. So when they talked a lot about 'the why' and a lot of people really came around. And that was powerful."

The law passed in NYC but then was blocked by the state government in early 2017.

Given the success of these bag fee programs in other cities and states and multiple studies showing a state-level bag fee can create a 45%-95% decrease in plastic bag usage, this block was a frustrating step back for the movement.

In spite of the government's inaction, community members, politicians, and lawyers have persisted. Romer is still working to get laws passed and implemented, and she continues to focus on the often unheard voices among community members to push the movement forward.

"I've worked on this for six years, and a lot of what we see on the videos is that — we see a lot of interest groups that are in Park Slope and the Upper West Side," Romer said. "So I wanted to talk to adults and I wanted to talk with people that were in communities that are often overlooked in these kinds of conversations. We were trying to think of, 'Who is an unexpected ally?'"  

Vote With Your Tote was there to encourage reusable bag use and push for the plastic bag law to be passed.

The project leaders had two primary goals in mind: To get locals to shop with reusable bags and to get Gov. Andrew Cuomo to implement bag legislation to help make NYC a cleaner and more environmentally friendly place.

Romer began working with Papel and Caneta, a nonprofit collective with leading industry ad industry creatives. The collective partnered with five bodegas across different NYC boroughs, pairing each with a talented artist who could design creative tote bags unique to their business. This direct relationship turned the movement into something that was up-close and personal, a particular and important approach to getting locals involved.

"All the creatives [at Papel and Caneta] volunteer on projects, and we spent the weekend with people ... going around and just talking to owners and different neighborhoods," Romer said. "We were seeking out people that already had an inclination that this [project] sounded interesting."

To change state and federal policies, action has to start at home.

The local movement to implement plastic bag laws is especially important right now. Within the past year, local political engagement has increased, a welcome sign that Americans care about the nation starting at the neighborhood level. Romer noted that plastic bag laws are a tangible, simple way to use local political action to positively impact communities.

"A lot of people feel overwhelmed by everything that's happening at the federal level," Romer said in a press release. "Plastic bags laws represent a way to act locally to address something that people care about in their community: plastic bag overconsumption and litter. Making people aware of the issues caused by plastic bags and effective solutions — bags laws! — is a great first step toward making real change in communities, namely empowering New Yorkers to talk with their friends and call their politicians."

Vote With Your Tote will continue its grassroots movement by getting more people involved and making sure that Cuomo makes good on his promise to address NYC’s most pressing environmental laws. By centering local communities and bridging the gap between art and activism, Vote With Your Tote can totally make it happen.

To learn more about plastic bag laws in NYC and around the nation, visit their website.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

The first few months after having a newborn are seriously stressful. It's tough to get any sleep and your entire schedule revolves around the needs of the baby.

It's expensive, too! It seems like you're constantly shelling out $25 for a box of diapers and $40 for a can of formula.

So it's understandable that a Facebook user who goes by the name of Chris Blaze asked for a deal when buying a Samsung washer and dryer set of a guy named Dave he met online.

Keep Reading Show less