10 Steps to an Eco-Aware New Year
As 2008 slides into 2009, skip the expected resolutions—yes, you can still work on your novel, quit smoking, and hit the gym more often—and focus on something bigger. There has never been a more important time to focus on the planet’s well-being. Global warming and climate change are directly affected by the choices you make each day. The good news? Going green has never been easier—eco-awareness doesn’t require great sacrifice or compromise. A few simple steps will allow you to respect the earth while living a comfortable, happy life. This is the year to begin!
Text by Marisa Belger, a New York City-based writer specializing in alternative health and healing.
Go Back to the TapAccording to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of the plastic water bottles used in the United States end up as garbage or litter. And that’s just the beginning of bottled water’s negative environmental impact. The Earth Policy Institute found that the manufacturing of plastic bottles uses over 17 million barrels of crude oil annually and the transportation of bottled water requires massive amounts of fossil fuel. The EPA regulates the safety of tap water, so invest in a good filter (to rid your H20 of any pipe sediment), get a portable, reusable bottle and drink away.
Update Your Wardrobe the Right WayEveryone loves new clothes, but this year it’s time to redefine the concept of “new.” Vintage and thrift stores can be found across the country, and they offer previously owned clothing another chance in the spotlight. And it’s fun to hunt for treasures! If you insist on new, invest in quality clothing made in a responsible manner and seek out earth-friendly materials such as organic cotton (some 55 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed on 12.8 million acres of conventional cotton, the Organic Trade Association has found), hemp, and bamboo.
Be an Energy StarIn the market for a new dishwasher, refrigerator or washer/dryer? Look for the Energy Star brand while shopping. A collaboration between the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Star-certified appliances meet strict energy efficiency guidelines, which result in less greenhouse gas emissions and a lower energy bill—an eco win-win. You can also conserve energy at home by trading in your regular incandescent light bulbs for long-lasting CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and unplugging your electronic devices when not in use—they still use energy even when turned off or in stand-by mode (a phenomenon creepily called “vampire power” or “phantom load”). An easy solution is to plug your gear into a power strip with an on-off button and click off when not in use.
Use Natural Cleaning ProductsTake a good look at the collection of bottles huddled under your kitchen sink and you’ll likely find an array of harsh chemicals that are sprayed and wiped across the surfaces you use each day. Nature has provided us with natural cleaning agents—think lemon, vinegar, and baking soda—but if you’re not up for concocting your own cleansers, you can purchase natural cleaning products for every corner of your home at your local health food store and increasingly in the cleaning aisle of your go-to grocery store. Check out Seventh Generation and Green Works, the natural line from Clorox.
Consider What You Put on Your SkinSoap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, lotion, cosmetics, hair gel—whether you’re male or female, young or old, a good handful of personal care products find their way onto your body each day. Flip around that bottle of bubble bath or hand cream and see how many ingredients you can recognize. Unfortunately most conventional products use hard-to-pronounce toxic preservatives and synthetic fragrances, which have been linked to a number of diseases and conditions. Just as you’re conscious about what you put into your body, you should become aware of what you put on your body—your skin is the body’s biggest organ. Look for products made from ingredients found in nature.
Ditch Plastic Bags for GoodThe statistics are staggering: over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks, and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year (according to the EPA). The solution is easy: go reusable. Stash a couple of reusable bags by the front door, in the glove compartment or under the baby’s stroller and they’ll be there when you need them. Envirosax (envirosax.com) makes inexpensive, sturdy, stylish sacks that can be easily rolled into a ball and stuffed into a purse or coat pocket.
Eat Local and OrganicSeeking out food grown by nearby farmers not only boosts the local economy and reduces the need for fossil fuels used to transport goods, but also teaches us to appreciate—and utilize—seasonal fare. If you live in the northeastern U.S., you shouldn’t be eating tomatoes in winter. If you are, chances are good that the tomato on your plate was flown in from Mexico or South America. And when possible choose organic food that’s grown without the use of toxic herbicides or pesticides. The choice will be better for your body and better for the earth (all chemicals used in farming eventually end up in our water system).
Rethink TransportationThough it’s best for the planet, many of us are not in a position to give up our cars. What we can do, however, is trade in our gas-guzzling model for a hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicle, minimize the time that we spend behind the wheel (look into public transportation—you may be pleasantly surprised), consolidate shopping and chores, and create a car-pooling group for our daily commute.
Tap into Human PowerWhenever possible, skip the car or bus and use your legs to get where you need to go. Biking has never been cooler—or easier. Cities around the country (Portland, Ore., and Boulder, Colo., top the list) are becoming increasingly bike-friendly, with dedicated bike lanes, clear signage, and safe parking options. And when not on two-wheels, slip on your walking shoes and harness foot power.
Reuse and RecycleWe often seek out new things—clothes, toys, furniture, and so on—because we’ve grown tired of what we already have. But what happens to that easy chair or chest of drawers when we place them on the curb for pickup? The sad truth is that they end up cluttering our already overflowing landfills when they could be making somebody else happy. Sites like Craigslist.org and Freecycle.org make it easy to sell—or give away—the items you once loved.
by Marisa Belger