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Issues Of The Environment: New Year’s Resolutions For Healthy People And A Healthy Planet

Ecology Center
Wikipedia Media Commons

2017 has begun, so it's time to make some resolutions, especially for your personal and environmental habits.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair speaks with Melissa Cooper Sargent, Green Living Resources Director for the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, about tips for being and healthier and more environmentally responsible for the New Year.

Here are the Recommendations of the Ecology Center: 

1. Consume Less!

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.

2. Reduce Your Plastic Use

Once you start looking at how much plastic you use, it can be overwhelming.  Start small by focusing on disposable packaging: grocery/ shopping bags and water bottles.  Use a reusable bag made from cloth or fabric instead of plastic grocery at the store or market. Need a new bag that doesn’t cost anything?  Try a no-sew t-shirt bag.  Check out reuseit.com for reusable stainless steel or glass bottles and containers.  When you are ready to take the next step replace plastic produce bags and plastic snack and sandwich bags. Here’s a neat tutorial on a drawstring produce bag.  Opt for washable, reusable containers for lunches and snacks or disposable wax paper bags.  And remember, reusable bags are good for every store,not just the grocery store.

3. Keep Your Food Waste to a Minimum

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.  One way to make a difference, according to Forgotten Harvest, a food rescue organization in Southeast Michigan, is to adjust your expectation of cosmetic beauty and buy “ugly” produce.  Oddly-shaped produce often sits on the shelf and becomes waste before it is even sold.  

Other ideas include making a list and buying for planned meals, getting creative with leftovers, and sharing with others (which can make you a happier person)!  Check out Natural Resources Defense 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.

4. Conserve Home Energy: Save Money and the Environment

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:

   *   Upgrade to Energy Star-certified appliances when possible,

   *   Unplug unused appliances and chargers,

   *   Program your thermostat to reduce heating when not at home or when sleeping.

   *   Read #5 and #6 for more ways to help the climate.

5. Lower Your Transit Carbon Footprint.  And Fulfill Your Exercise Resolutions!

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.

6. Take Action on Climate

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.

7. Eat Local and Sustainably-Grown

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:

   *   Michigan Organic Food & Farm Alliance has an on-line guide to Michigan’s Organic and Ecologically Sustainable Growers and Farms.

   *   Edible WOW magazine features local food entrepreneurs, restaurants, and growers each season and includes a list of in season foods.

   *   LocalHarvest.org allows you to search products and growers.

8. Ditch the Antibacterials

The FDA recently ruled the risks of consumer antiseptic washes outweigh the benefits of the "active ingredient" listed on the label.  Triclosan interferes with our bodies’ hormone systems, pollutes local waterways, and may lead to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. There is no evidence that triclosan is more effective at reducing illness. Remember to wash with plain soap and water for 20- 30 seconds.  The Rule only applies to antibacterial soaps, and hand or body washes; it does not apply to dental products, deodorant, household cleaners or other products.  Avoid triclosan in these products as well.  Use a spray of white vinegar to kill germs on surfaces instead of antibacterial sprays.  Find Home Cleaning Recipes here.

9. Free Yourself from Fragrance

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."

10. Plan for a Pesticide-Free Yard

Pesticides are harmful to human health and the environment.  They have been shown to cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, birth defects, learning difficulties, reproductive problems, and cancer.  Pesticides are also linked to the drastic decline in beneficial insects, such as butterflies, honeybees, and native bees.

A few tips for supporting beneficial insects and foregoing pesticides in spring:

   *   Plant native perennials, shrubs, and trees to attract pollinators, as well as beneficial pest-eating insects and birds.  Visit The Native Plant Nursery of Michigan, this list of Bee Friendly Wildflowers & Flowers, or this listof 5 Spring Plants That Could Save Monarch Butterflies.  Remember: Using pesticides will poison all the bugs (including the beneficial ones) and the birds that eat them.

   *   Avoid weed and feed products—they are pesticides!  Most contain2,4-D, a dangerous herbicide linked to cancer in humans and canine lymphoma.  Learn how to Maintain a Lawn Without Pesticides.

   *   Treat grubs naturally with beneficial nematodes or milky spore; not Merit ® or other products that contain neonicotinoids.  Refer to Pest Patrol: Grubs for more tips on grub control.  Wondering if your garden product contains neonics?  Check this list of Brand Name Products Containing Neonicotinoids.

   *   Learn more about "Green Gardening."

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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