In a thoroughly predictable manner, here are ten New Year’s Resolutions you can make to help improve or protect the environment and your health. While few people keep all of their resolutions, there is something to be said for making them, posting them on your refrigerator or bulletin board, or making it your screensaver to remind you when opportunities arise. If you have any other suggestions, let's hear them!
1. Embrace Barrington’s Reusable Bag Initiative. C’mon, it’s not that hard to remember to bring reusable bags to the store. For big shopping days, consider using a plastic laundry basket - makes it easy to bring the groceries in the house.
2. Buy organic produce for you and your family, at least for the top 12 worst pesticide-laden crops (in order): apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines (imported), grapes (imported), sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries (domestic), lettuce, and kale/collards (list from Environmental Working Group).
3. Volunteer for at least one local environmental activity this year, such as town conservation land cleanups, or opportunities through local organizations such as the Barrington Land Conservation Trust, the Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island, Save the Bay, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, the Surfrider Foundation, or other organizations. Opportunities are easy to identify through web searches. Have your kids do it, too.
4. Support local farmers (and businesses) by purchasing locally-raised vegetables, meats, and eggs. Farmer's markets run throughout the year, and many of the items sold at farmer’s markets are raised by organic, sustainable, and/or humane methods. Make a dent in Big Agribusiness’ stranglehold on our food supply.
5. Reduce your energy use. Computers, TV/video equipment, printers, scanners and other equipment that have a “standby mode” draw power when allegedly off. Put these items on a power strip, and turn off nightly. Switch to LED or compact fluorescent light bulbs. Turn those unneeded lights off! Make sure any new appliances are “Energy Star” rated.
6. Use natural cleaning products. A 50% distilled vinegar and water solution with a few drops of liquid dish detergent makes a great cleaner, better than most commercial ones that make you cough. Baking soda makes a good scrub. Try making your own laundry detergent from bar soap (like Fels-Naphtha), washing (not baking) soda, and borax. It’s very inexpensive and works great; recipes abound on the internet. If you don’t want to make your own, buy from environmentally-friendly companies like Seventh Generation to help support the market for such products.
7. Start an organic vegetable garden and compost pile this spring. The food your grow yourself is better tasting and better for you, gardening is great exercise, and it’s fun to play in the dirt.
8. Recycle everything that you can; every last scrap of paper, every bottle cap, every little piece of aluminum foil. Make a game of it with your kids.
9. Make homemade bread instead of buying store-made bread. Homemade bread (conventional or flatbread) is easy (and not messy) with a bread machine, but doing it by hand is fun, as well. It does take some time, but most of it is spent waiting. Since you control the ingredients, it can be as healthy as you want, with no preservatives. And homemade bread, with whole grains, seeds, and/or nuts, rivals homegrown tomatoes or peas for delectability.
10. Learn to can or preserve food. If you have a garden or just like to stock up when our local harvest comes along, learning to preserve food is another way to control your food supply. There are certain skills and some equipment that is needed; just make sure you read up on proper methods before canning, in particular. Whether you limit it to one thing, like making and canning a year’s worth of pasta sauce, or you pickle, can, freeze, or dry the heck out of everything that’s ripe, learning these “old-fashioned” skills is very satisfying. And having home-made raspberry sauce over chocolate ice cream in the dead of winter is luxurious.
Personally, I do most of the above on a regular basis. My personal resolution is to eliminate genetically-engineered "food" products from my diet as much as possible. I want to do this for health and political reasons. It won't be easy - just eliminating soy products alone is daunting. But I'll try and let you know how it goes.