It’s a New Year: Resolve to Reduce Your Impact on Mother Earth

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? What did you resolve to do? If you’re like many folks, you may have resolved to quit smoking, to exercise more, or to keep in better touch with far-flung family members. Whatever resolutions you made (or even if you didn’t make any at all) we have a great suggestion to add to your list: make a commitment to do three things to make your life a little greener.

We’re not talking major, life-changing adjustments here. We mean making simple, but effective changes that have a real impact on your life, on the planet, and in many cases, on your wallet.

To get you started, we’ve put together a list of simple things that you can do to start or sustain a greener, healthier life. Pick three, and see what happens! Of course, there are hundreds of little changes you can make that result in greener living – we’ve compiled a few to get the ball rolling.

  1. Recycle. If you don’t do it already, then start. If you already recycle, then kick it up a notch. Yes, it can be a bit of an inconvenience at first, but with practice you’ll be experiencing “recycler’s guilt” (hanging onto a soda can during that entire 50-mile drive so you can recycle it at home) in no time. Remember to close the loop and buy recycled!
  2. Limit the use of paper products – especially things like paper plates, napkins, paper towels, and cups. Sure, these products make sense at times — but when you do need them, try to use unbleached products. Paper’s natural color is brown, so chlorine bleach is used to whiten it. Chlorine is bad for you and the earth, and there are plenty of unbleached choices out there. If you must have white paper, look for items that are peroxide bleached – it’s a much healthier and environmentally friendly choice. Also, consider items that have recycled content. This can be disposable dinnerware, copy paper, scratch pads or even toilet paper. They’re a smart consumer choice.
  3. Revisit your throne. Call it what you will – the loo, the toilet, the porcelain god, the john – they all are huge water wasters. If you need to replace your toilet, be sure to choose a water-saving model. If you’re not ready to replace it, take a quart-sized plastic bottle, fill it with water, and place it in your toilet tank (make sure to keep it clear of any moving parts). This displaces enough water to save up to 8 gallons a day for the average family. That adds up to a whopping 3,000 gallons a year.
  4. Install compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)(click here). CFLs have come a long way in producing flicker-free, bright lighting. They also can help you save big bucks: on average, they last eight times longer than standard incandescent bulbs, and they cost significantly less to run. Today, there are many styles and shapes to choose from.
  5. Buy organic milk. If you or your kids are dairy drinkers, then this is a must. Dairy cows are routinely fed pesticide-laden grains, given antibiotics to fend off illness, and injected with hormones to create a higher yield. All of these unnatural products are transferred into the milk. Organic milk is priced competitively, and sends a definite statement to the dairy industry to clean up their act. To answer the most common question we get regarding organic milk: yes, it tastes the same as regular milk! In fact, many argue that it tastes better.
  6. Buy organic produce. Many stores stock certified organic foods at competitive prices. At the market yesterday, this author purchased organic Granny Smith apples at $.30 less per pound than the conventionally-grown ones in the next aisle. The most common, pesticide-laden produce items include strawberries, green beans, apples, grapes, and peaches. Buy local, and buy in season. That way, you not only reduce pesticides, but you also help reduce the gas and resources required to get the products to the market.
  7. Buy organic or shade-grown coffee. Shade-grown coffee producers employ many of the same practices as organic coffee producers, but their practices offer a few added benefits. Shade-grown coffee is grown under a large canopy of multi-tiered trees, as well as under crop trees such as avocado, citrus, and various hardwoods. The combination creates an environment similar to a natural forest, and encourages birds and wildlife to create habitats there. Other benefits include: minimal or no pesticide use, since the canopy is home to a multitude of insect-eating bird species; no fertilizer use, since the trees find nutrients in compost from falling leaves and animal droppings; and alternation of crops, which brings stability to local communities and reduces dependence on a single crop. Farmers and local inhabitants benefit, too, because they are not surrounded by dangerous chemicals. Look for shade-grown coffee in your local market or check out for online ordering. Organic and shade-grown coffee tastes fabulous and is available in many flavors and decaffeinated.
  8. Terminate your weekly or monthly pest control. Pest control treatments frequently perpetuate an ongoing problem rather than solving it for good. In short, they act like a band-aid but don’t actually get to the root of the problem. The solution: load your caulk gun (or you can use white glue – it’s even less toxic) and take a careful look around your house for cracks, crevices, and holes where critters and insects can enter.For ants, put out a little cornmeal – when they eat it and then drink water, they’ll pop. Or, you can put boric acid ant traps deep into cabinets (avoid these if you have curious children or pets – they can be harmful if eaten). Another effective way to rid ants is to use dish soap. If you can locate the ant hill, simply take a bucket of hot water with an environmentally friendly dish soap added and pour directly on the hill.For rodents, a great solution is cats. If that’s not an option, professionals recommend the old-fashioned mousetrap. The best bait is peanut butter with a little cornmeal added. Place the trap in a brown paper bag and disposal is a snap. Don’t be stingy on the traps – the more the better until the problem is under control. After you have taken these steps, put out a few sticky traps and start to keep track: if you stay on top of it, after about two months you’ll probably have solved your insect/rodent problem and you’ll save a lot of money as well.
  9. Plant a tree (or two). Trees help clean the air, provide shade, and supply a much-needed habitat for birds and other wildlife. Check out American Forests Historic Tree Nursery to get a tree with a past.
  10. Use a green cleaning service. Green cleaning services are popping up all over the country. The cleaning service is the same – they simply use “green” cleaning products. The result? A clean and healthy home! Prices are usually competitive with traditional cleaning services, and you’ll be doing a service to yourself, the planet, and the cleaning people. Check your local yellow pages under “Cleaning Services” for listings.
  11. Switch to natural household cleaners (click here). If you don’t have a cleaning service (and the majority of us don’t), then make the healthy choice for cleaning supplies. There are many companies that produce superb, competitively-priced cleaners. These products are very effective, can help reduce the suffering of those with asthma or chemical sensitivities, and can improve the general overall health of you and your family. (See this month’s article on indoor pollution) Better yet, consider making natural cleansers yourself. The recipes are easy to make, and after a few weeks you’ll be throwing them together in a flash. We promise you’ll be shocked by how much money you can save each month by making your own safe, effective cleaning products.
  12. Patronize eco-friendly dry cleaners. “Wet” cleaning is the environmentally-friendly way to dry clean clothes. Dry cleaning itself actually involves washing clothes with a detergent and solvent that prevents the water from penetrating the fibers, but still removes dirt and grime. Wet cleaning uses a similar process, minus the toxic solvents. If that’s not enough to change your mind, then here’s another good reason to support eco-friendly dry cleaners: Perc, the solvent most commonly used in dry cleaning, is a known carcinogen, and has been proven to permeate walls into adjoining spaces and products. Many supermarkets are rethinking the idea of having dry cleaners as immediate neighbors. Perc and other dry-cleaning chemicals are not only bad for the environment, but they can also directly affect the health of workers and even customers. Most of the time, clothes are dry when bagged; but if they are damp, the solvents stay trapped, and when brought home create a common source of indoor pollution. The solution? Check out the Greenpeace directory for eco-friendly cleaners in the U.S. If you don’t have an eco-friendly dry cleaner in your area, then unwrap your clothes when you get home and let them out (preferably in a well-ventilated area).