A New Year and a New Resolve to Protect the Health of People and the Planet

By Melissa Sargent, Green Living Resources Director

New Year’s resolutions are about creating new habits. The tips offered below are not hard to do, but, breaking old habits can be. We need to break habits like automatically accepting single-use plastics when they are given to us. And make new habits, like bringing our own reusable items when we’re on the go. As with all resolutions, it doesn’t help to feel guilty if we don’t do it every time. Just try again. Studies have demonstrated that It can take an average of 66 days to break or start a habit.

So here’s to a new year, new habits, a healthier you and a healthier planet. And, here are some tips to help you make a difference.

Protect yourself and loved ones from toxic chemicals

Limit your exposure to toxic chemicals, especially indoors. Scientific research shows simple measures reduce our intake of chemicals like phthalates, BPA, BPS, and flame retardant chemicals. Here are 3 things to DO:

Wash hands. Proper handwashing not only removes germs and microorganisms that can cause colds or the flu. It also eliminates chemicals with which we come in contact every day.

Use a wet cloth or mop to clean up dust. Those same household chemicals breakdown and get into our household dust. Wet mopping or dusting captures them without redistributing them into the air.

Remove shoes at the door. No need to bring in pollutants from outside. Shoes can track in oil, gas, lead, pesticides, and more. Designate indoor shoes, slippers, or sandals to change into when you get home.

Reduce your waste impact or Take zero waste actions

Consider the lifecycle of a product—including packaging—before you buy it. Anything we buy has a beginning and an end; a creation and disposal that we don’t see. A plastic item likely got its start at a fracking well. Where will it go when it leaves your house? The landfill, an incinerator, the ocean?

Stop using single-use plastics! We throw “away” disposable products because they are cheap (or free!) and break easily. But, they don’t go away. They last hundreds of years and are contaminating life the world over.

Bring reusable cutlery for take-out and eating on the go. Create your travel set by wrapping utensils in a cloth napkin. Disposable bamboo is another option.

Bring reusable straws, which come in many varieties, including those that fold up and fit in a pocket or purse. Try stainless steel, glass, bamboo, or disposable/ compostable paper.

Keep reusable bags handy in your backpack, purse, car, bike rack, etc. Include light cotton or muslin bags for produce and bulk foods. Take reusable bags everywhere you shop; not just to the grocery store.

Consider packaging; Opt for products with less packaging that’s less toxic packaging.

Go meatless, it’s better for your health and the planet.

Try a meatless menu. Follow the lead of local health care provider, St. Joseph’s Hospital, which has added more vegetarian and vegan options in its cafeteria as a simple, yet significant strategy to address obesity. Production of plant-based foods uses fewer acres of land, requires less water, and involves significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than animal agriculture, a sector responsible for 14% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown that consuming a plant-based diet also significantly reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers. Try new meatless recipes, download a meal planning app (which can help reduce food waste too), pick a day or multiple days each week to eat vegan or vegetarian.

Ask the companies you purchase from to make and sell safer products.

Push companies to do better. Support the Ecology Center and other nonprofits that use this strategy.  Our studies on flame retardant (FR) chemicals in child car seats have led to first one, then three, and now even more car seat companies developing FR-free car seats. We will continue to test products for FRs, PFAS chemicals, and other hazards. These strategies work because consumers care. Keep signing petitions, write letters, and talk to store managers about their offerings. Together we can change the market.

Get politically engaged at the state and city levels.

A lot of environmental and human health protections happen in the state legislature.  Know who your Michigan (or other states) representative and senator are. Tell them what matters to you, and follow them so you can voice your support or opposition for bills related to important issues such as clean energy, PFAS contamination, lead, or pesticides. Possible upcoming bills include a PFAS bill package, which would require testing of public water supplies and private wells and provide notification of results.

Stay informed about utility programs and proposals at the state level, such as the Michigan Public Service Commission’s Michigan Energy Assistance Program. Take advantage of utility energy efficiency programs and rebates.  

Cities can make a difference through procurement policies and ordinances. The Ecology Center recently helped Ann Arbor adopt one of the most progressive procurement policies regarding products that contain PFAS. Encourage your city to follow suit. If you live in Ann Arbor, thank your local government when they do the right thing.

Raise concerns and suggestions at city council meetings. If you are concerned about an issue, like pesticide use, talk to municipal decision makers about making local changes, like maintaining a public, city-owned land without chemicals.

Donate to support our work

We’re working tirelessly to protect human health and the health of the planet. Without the donations of our supporters, this work would not be possible.

Our strategies:

  • Pushing manufacturers to make safer products
  • Advocating state and city government to protect people and the planet through good policies
  • Campaigning to hold polluters accountable and protect our air and water
  • Environmental education at local schools,
  • Developing innovative solutions to help deal with the ecological challenges of our time.  

We’ve proven these methods successful since 1970. The work is never-ending, and the need is dire. Join the movement and support the Ecology Center work toward a healthier future for people and the planet.