Buying less stuff will save you money, use fewer resources, and create less waste. Think about how necessary your purchases are before you buy. When you do need an item, invest in things that are built to last. Studies show a simpler life is a happier life. Check out the #2 and #3 for more ideas on reducing consumption and waste.
Once you start looking at how much plastic you use, it can be overwhelming. Start small by focusing on disposable packaging: grocery/ shopping bags, water bottles, sandwich and snack bags, etc. Use a reusable bag made from cloth or fabric instead of plastic grocery or produce bag at the store or market. Here’s a neat tutorial on a drawstring produce bag and a 10 minute craft, no-sew t-shirt bag. Check out reuseit.com for reusable stainless steel or glass bottles and containers.
About 40% of food produced in the U.S. ends up in landfills where it turns into methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. This wasted food means large amounts of fresh water and oil, and billions of dollars used in production and transportation are also wasted. Make a list and buy for planned meals, get creative with leftovers, and share with others (which can make you a happier person!). Check out Natural Resources Defence Council's Food Facts for more resources on reducing food waste. Lastly, turn any old food waste into beautiful soil by building a worm bin or backyard compost pile.
In the U.S. buildings are responsible for slightly more CO2 emissions than transportation (39% vs 33%). The biggest bang for your buck in home energy improvements according to Jason Bing, Ecology Center Healthy Buildings Director: air sealing and attic insulation. Weatherize by insulating the attic and walls, using storm doors and windows (or covering with plastic), and sealing leaks and drafts. You can save $200 – $800 per year on energy costs with proper weatherization. Eco Works, a local non-profit, has helpful guides for conserving energy and sealing air leaks. Other home energy-saving tips:
Walk more, bike, carpool, ride the bus. Individuals who use public transportation get over three times the amount of physical activity per day of those who don’t (approximately 19 minutes, rather than six minutes) by walking to stops and final destinations. And you will also pollute less. By switching a 20-mile round trip commute by car to public transit, an individual can reduce his or her annual CO2 emissions by 4,800 pounds per year. Overall, public transit reduces U.S. petroleum consumptions by 1.4 billion gallons annually (the equivalent of 300,000 fewer auto fill-ups each day). And if you have to drive, invest in an electric or other high-mileage vehicle.
Find a carpool at www.erideshare.com. Support local efforts for more transit.
As Kathryn Savoie, Ecology Center staffer, puts it, "We need a movement not just individual action to solve a global problem." Ideas include: getting involved with your local climate action group, letting your elected officials know that you are concerned about climate change, and supporting a fossil fuel divestment campaign. Stay tuned for other ways take action in the coming year as the Ecology Center continues to work with legislators in Michigan to expand the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Standards.
Join a consumer supported agriculture group, aka CSA (now is a great time to reserve your spot), shop your local farmers’ markets, or start a small garden in your yard or in containers. CSAs and farmers markets are not just for veggies. You can also get locally grown and produced eggs, dairy, and meat. And whether you are shopping directly with the farmer or at the supermarket, ask for antibiotic-free animal products.
These options will reduce fuel consumption, provide you with fresher, healthier food (more nutrients and fewer chemicals), and preserve the viability of antibiotics for human use. (Did you know that 80% of antibiotics used today are given to livestock?) Local resources:
The "active ingredient" listed on the label of most antibacterial soaps and cleaners interferes with our bodies’ hormone systems, pollutes local waterways, and may lead to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. The ingredient is triclosan and the FDA says its use may not be worth the risks. There is no evidence that triclosan is more effective at reducing illness than plain soap and water. Remember to wash with plain soap and water for 20- 30 seconds. Read Antibacterial Soaps May Carry Unnecessary Risks says FDA. Use a spray of white vinegar to kill germs on surfaces. Home Cleaning Recipes.
Fragrances are full of hundreds of secret ingredients and they are everywhere: cologne, perfume, air fresheners, scented candles, lotion. shampoo, soap, laundry products, household cleaners. Two major concerns in these undisclosed formulations are phthalates and VOCs. Phthalates are common fixatives and are associated with a host of health concerns including birth defects and cancer. Dozens of commonly-used VOCs are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal law. Many are respiratory irritants and neurotoxins. Some are carcinogens.
This doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying scents. Natural perfume/ cologne can be made or bought that contains essential oils, which are derived from plants. You can dab a few drops of lavender, orange, rose, or other skin-safe essential oil just as you would perfume. Companies, such as Aubrey’s Organics and Pacifica, offer fragrances using only essential oils and carrier oils or water—and they are less expensive than your average perfume.
Avoid other body care products with “fragrance” on the ingredient list, unless the label states that the fragrance is plant-based or derived from essential oils. In the home absorb odors with baking soda or vinegar; rather than covering them up with toxic air "fresheners."
Two thirds of the food crops humans eat everyday require bees to successfully produce a crop. Despite their critical presence in the global ecosystem, bee populations have declined drastically over the last several years with hives dropping 30% or more.
In response to the crisis, concerned gardeners across the continent have been expanding their gardens to include more “bee-friendly” plants. These flowers invite bees to visit, take a sip of nectar, and collect pollen. But, well-intentioned gardeners may be offering a poisonous cocktail to pollinators if they are using neonics and other pesticides in the yard or have purchased plants pretreated with pesticides. What to do?