1 Watch what you eat. Organic farming promotes nutrient-rich soils, uses less nonrenewable energy sources than conventional food production and is healthier for the farmers growing the crops as well as consumers.
According to numerous animal studies, exposure to pesticides causes many negative health impacts—from cancer to nervous and reproductive-system damages.
2 Bring your own tote for grocery shopping. Paper or plastic? According to the American Forest and Paper Association, Americans use 10 billion paper bags a year. In order to produce these, oxygen-producing trees must be cut down, which contributes to poor air quality and global warming.
At the same time, more than 500 billion petroleum-based plastic bags are consumed worldwide in a year, according to National Geographic. The production of plastic bags requires petroleum and often natural gas, both nonrenewable resources. The toxic chemical ingredients needed to make plastic produces pollution during the manufacturing process.
3 Use nontoxic cleaners. Cleaning products stored under the kitchen sink can contribute to poor indoor air quality. The chemicals in cleaning supplies vary in toxicity levels. The warning labels refer to acute exposures only and often provide inadequate information. Exposure to some of the ingredients can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders and memory impairment.
Switching to eco-friendly, nontoxic-cleaning products is a great place to start making your home greener. You can buy some in the store or try making your own. Vinegar and baking soda will clean just about everything in your home.
4 Drive less or use fuel-efficient cars. Vehicles produce most of the key chemicals that pollute the air, causing smog and health problems. Global warming is also related to automotive exhaust emissions.
Leaving your car at home is the most effective way to protect the planet, reduce congestion and create more livable communities. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if you can stay off the road just two days a week you’ll reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by an average of 1,590 pounds per year.
5 Support local vendors and farmers. Shopping your local farmers market supports the local economy and provides the freshest produce you can buy. It also helps reduce your carbon footprint. Produce that is flown or trucked in creates greenhouse-gas pollution, which contributes to global warming and air pollution. Most produce in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles before being sold to consumers.
6 Buy less bottled water, and recycle more. Americans drink from more than 30 billion single-serving bottles of water a year, and less than 15 percent of those people recycle their water bottles. Most disposable water bottles are made from plastic derived from crude oil, and transporting the water across the world uses resources and contributes to air pollution.
Recycling saves resources and CO2 in a few ways. Many materials, such as aluminum and steel, take lots of energy to dig ores out of the ground and refine. Recycling these materials saves huge amounts of energy, keeping large quantities of CO2 out of the air.
7 Avoid products with a lot of packaging. Many staple produce items come already prepped and packaged in individual bags or sealed containers. But by purchasing a head of lettuce from the display case instead of the pre-bagged salad mix, for example, you not only cut down on excess packaging, your greens will taste much fresher. If you eat a food in quantity, such as applesauce, purchase the large container and make your own individual servings instead of buying several individual tubs.
8 Store food in glass or lead-free ceramic containers. Plastic containers can leach chemicals, such as dioxins and phthalates, into your food. Dioxins are carcinogenic and phthalates interfere with hormone function in the body. Heating and freezing plastics increases the release of these toxins into food.
9 Use compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs. A simple switch to one of these types of bulbs can help reduce the amount of electricity you use. LEDs are 20 to 30 times more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent light bulbs, and they last up to 50,000 hours vs. incandescents’ 2,000 hours. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are still much more energy efficient than incandescent light bulbs and are generally less expensive than LEDs. But if you use CFL’s be sure to dispose of them properly. Do not throw them away in the trash, since they contain small amounts of mercury.
10 Adjust your thermostat. By moving your thermostat down 2 degrees during cold months and up 2 degrees in the summer, you can prevent as much as 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the earth’s atmosphere—the approximate equivalent of greenhouse-gas emissions generated by a car driven from Cleveland, Ohio, to Los Angeles, California.
Rebecca Metz is co-founder of Green This Life (www.greenthislife.com), a Web site that offers organic solutions to green our planet, homes and bodies.