Written by Ariana Palmieri. Contributed by Sydney Montagna.
Ah yes, New Years. You know what that entails: Resolutions you don’t intend to keep. But what if your New Years resolutions could help save the world? Here, I list 15 ways you can help protect the planet this year, and in the process, create a better, healthier you:
1. Get rid of single-use plastics
Plastic bags are notorious for being used once and can end up polluting the ocean. Lets put an end to that.
Fur and leather are made from animals. In order to get fur and leather, animals are treated inhumanely. In some countries, cows are raised just to make leather. In India, for example, cows are forced to march hundreds of miles, and workers sometimes rub chili peppers or salt in their eyes to keep them moving. Sometimes they’ll even break their tails. It’s certainly not a cruelty free process. To produce fur, animals are sometimes caught in the wild or raised on fur factory forms. Either way, they are killed brutally via neck-breaking, asphyxiation, and anal electrocution. These methods are done to ensure the fur doesn’t get covered in blood. However, if the pelt gets too bloody or mangled, they won’t be used, meaning an animal was killed for no reason. To prevent this needless cruelty, purchase faux fur and vegan leather from trust worthy sources such as Payless, Target, and Imposter. Or, simply check inside shoes and purses before you purchase them: if they say “All Man Made Materials”, go for it!
3. Upcycle: Aluminum never looked so good
Aluminum cans can be used to create so many new things! You can use old soup or sauce cans as pots for your garden or to simply grow some basil on your windowsill. Aluminum cans are also great for storing office supplies, like pens and pencils. You can take the wrapping off and paint the can to give it a personal touch too. Also, you can make wall art with aluminum cans: simply clean them off, spray paint them, fix them together, and attach them to a wall to create a modern, chic look. Aluminum pull tabs can also be used to create jewelry.
4. Make Ecosia your new search engine
This is probably the easiest thing you can do to help the Earth, trust me. Ecosia, a search engine dedicated to helping the environment, donates 80% of its income to planting trees. How does it work? Well, like every search engine, Ecosia gets its money through advertisements along side the search results. Each time someone uses Ecosia, they earn about 0.5 cents through ads. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, Ecosia currently has 2,485,024 active users who do about 720,044 searches per day. That adds up, and they’re able to plant a new tree every 13 seconds. Inspired? Go add Ecosia to your browser now and get searching!
5. Switch over to organic pet products
Pets deserve the best, which means you should seriously consider to switching them over to organic pet food brands. Why? Organic food is free of chemical pesticides and have more nutrients than regular food. Also, out of 14 animal studies, ten showed that animals fare better when fed organic food. So give brands like Oragnix,Newman’s Own, or Natural Planet Organics. Don’t let it stop there: did you know most pet toys can contain harmful toxins in them? Avoid that by getting your pets organic plush toys, catnip toys, or recyclable, nontoxic chew bones. Have a bunny or ahamster? No problem, just make them a toy out of cardboard!
6. Upcycle: Make paper into art
Don’t be so quick to throw paper away: it can be used to create new, beautiful works of art.
Paper is everywhere and reusing it is super easy. You can shred paper and use it for the cage of a pet like a bunny or guinea pig. You can alsomake fun origami using paper or improvise and use paper as gift wrap or a textbook cover. Non-toxic newspaper is even good to add to garden mulch, as long as you shred it up! Like being artsy? Try making a collage out of old magazines and newspapers or weaving your own basket out of paper. The possibilities are endless!
7. Reduce your water usage
Water is precious, and believe it or not, we only have so much of it. Even though 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, only 1% is available for human use. This means that once it runs out, we won’t be able to make any more. The sad thing is, Americans use an average of 100 gallons of water a day, while there are so many people who don’t have access to clean drinking water. By reducing how much water you waste, you can help the environment. Thankfully, there are so many ways to help. I could probably write a whole blog post about this alone, but here are some ideas to get you started:
Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, since it can save over two gallons of water.
Only run the washing machine and dish washer when they are full.
Dispose of chemical substances properly- never pour it down the drain, sewer, on the ground.
Use mulch in gardens to help absorb water and keep the soil moisturized longer.
Avoid pesticides and herbicides so you do not contaminate water or harm children/pets.
If you use a slow-flow showerhead, you can save 15 gallons of water during a 10 minute shower.
Showers are the more water-efficient way to bathe. It takes 70 gallons of water to fill a bathtub.
Fix dripping faucets. One drop per second can waste up to 2,700 gallons of water.
Weigh down two plastic bottles with pebbles, fill it with water, screw the cap back on, then put them in your toilet tank. Or you can go buy an inexpensive tank bank. This saves up to ten or more gallons of water a day.
People can waste 30% less water by installing water-efficient fixtures.
8. Upcycle: classy glassy
Glass can be turned into so many different things: just remember to be careful working with it! Any broken pieces can be made into mosaic art. You can even use old or blank CD’s to decorate a million different things like mirrors, tissue boxes, tables, glass ornaments, and so much more! Actual glass bottles, like wine or beer bottles, can be turned into candle holders or vases. Just be careful and learn how to cut wine bottles first! Then you can pretty much make anything. If you’re iffy on cutting glass, no worries. You can simply paint glass bottles with acrylic paint, as I’ve mentioned in aprevious blog post, and make it into a vase. Personally, I’ve done this and use it to water my plants now: glass bottles have easy-to-direct nozzles, after all!
9. Plant organic, eat organic
Nasty pesticides aren’t good for the planet, or you. To avoid that, try organic gardening. Better yet, plant what you eat! You’ll be saving money as well as growing healthy food that isn’t sprayed with toxins. There’s not much to organic gardening: after all, your great grandparents probably did it, since there were no genetically mutated plants back then. All you need is a space to garden, a desire to learn, and the proper tools. For outdoor organic gardening, check out this article by Better Homes and Gardens. Limited space? No problem, just get yourself someterra cotta pots, organic soil, seeds, and fertilizer. Then you’re ready to go! If you’re new to gardening, try growing basil from seed, since it’s easy to do and magical to watch. Simply follow the instructions on the back of the packet. All you’ll have to do is pour the potting soil into the terra cotta pot, but make sure it’s not filled too high. Then place the tiny black seeds onto the soil, making sure they’re not too close together. Cover them gently with a little soil, but not much, then give them some water. Make sure you have a saucer underneath the terra cotta pot to catch excess water, seeing as the pot should have a drainage hole at the bottom. Place your plant in an east or west facing window and then you’re done. Make sure to water once a day, as long as the soil is dry!
10. Upcycle: rubber for the win
Remember playing on those tire swings when you were a kid? Turns out they’re great for the environment. They promote upcycling!
Prefer to help from a distance? Make a donation to an animal charity. Check out this site for over 170 animal organizations you can help support: www.animalcharityevaluators.org/recommendations/list-organizations/ . Each organization listed has a legend which makes it easier to identify what sort of charity it is. Passionate about industrial agriculture and animal testing? Look for the little chicken and bunny symbols. Just want to donate to something that protects general animal rights? They have that too, along with 8 other organization types aside from the ones mentioned.
12. Know what’s in your makeup
Be careful: there could be toxins in that mascara you love so much. Read the ingredients and do your research!
Can you confidently say you know the ingredients in your makeup? If not, maybe you should read the label and see what it says. You’ll probably see things you can’t even pronounce, like Triclosan, and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. If that’s the case, it’s a bad sign. Some ingredients put into makeup can be toxic to your health (and the environment). It’s a good idea to research the chemicals you see in your products and make your own decision as to whether you’re comfortable with putting that on your face and skin. Remember, 60% of the products you use seeps into your bloodstream. Here are some ingredients you should avoid at all costs: Fragrance (synthetic, used as a euphemism for nearly 4,000 different ingredients), Phthalates and Parabens (preservatives linked to breast cancer), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (exposure causes eye damage, depression, diarrhea, and many other ailments), Triclosan (disrupts hormones, can affect sexual function and fertility, and may foster birth defects). There are several other toxic ingredients not listed here, so do your own research before you buy anything. If you want to play it safe, try using organic, natural beauty products instead, like Honey Girl Organics, and 100% Pure. Honey Girl Organics is USDA approved, which is something you should look for on all beauty products. The USDA seal guarantees that at least 95% of the ingredients in the product are organic. Honey Girl Organics focuses mainly on skin care, but if you’re looking for a vegan product, it might not be your best bet since it contains bee byproduct. However, 100% Pure, while not USDA certified, is 100% cruelty-free and has the Leaping Bunny seal to prove it. I’m okay with there being no USDA seal because most ‘organic brands’ sadly don’t have it. However, I’ve been using 100% Pure for a while and I trust them because they list their ingredients openly on their website. After carefully studying them, I’ve decided they’re better than most other ‘organic brands’ that still have harmful chemicals in them. However, feel free to experiment and search around on your own!
13. Upcycle: Get creative with plastic
Haven’t stopped drinking bottled water yet?
Get creative with it instead!
Recycling is great, but getting creative with old plastic can be fun as well as functional. Why not try making those plastic bottles into pencil holders, watering cans, bird feeders, lanterns, or jewelry holders? The possibilities are endless. You can also collect bottle caps and use them to create 3D art. Also, another great, artsy idea is to create a 3D plastic painting. All you would need is a piece of paper, a few plastic bottles, scissors, a hot glue gun, acrylic paint, and some brushes. You could decide to wing it, or plan out exactly what you want to create. When I did this, I made a fox but didn’t plan it out. I cut up the plastic bottles and used the hot glue gun to glue them into place. I had to be careful because I almost burnt myself and the plastic became a little distorted from the heat! However, the final result was cute and once I arranged the plastic pieces on the paper, I got painting! So go on and give it a try to see for yourself.
14. Read up: books and magazines worth the time
Staying up to date with all the latest environmental issues is a great thing. While social media and news outlets can help you stay up to date, magazines and books are great too. Some great non-fiction books I recommend are the Plastic Purge, The Emotional Lives of Animals, and National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs. The Plastic Purge by Michael Sanclements talks about how plastic impacts not only the environment, but human health, and how important it is to use less plastic. The Emotional Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff is a moving text that gives numerous accounts of animal emotions, ranging from happiness to jealousy, in multiple animals such as birds, wolves, lions, and even fish. The National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs by Rebecca L. Johnson, Steven Foster, Tieraona Low Dog, and David Kiefer, is a great guide to the world’s most effective healing plants for all sorts of ailments, ranging from diabetes to a cold. As far as magazines go, I prefer OrganicLife and Audubon. OrganicLife is great because it’s content matches it’s title: it covers a wide range of organics in home, food, gardening, and wellbeing. If I ever wonder what my next step should be in making my life greener, I turn to OrganicLife magazine. As far as Audubon magazine goes, its main focus is on bird conservation. Many species are endangered, and Audubon works to save them. The magazine and the website are both beautiful, plus they have great birding tips!
15. Use eco-friendly cleaning supplies
Mrs. Meyers is one of several natural cleaning supplies. Just be careful: some claim to be organic and still don’t have a USDA seal! It’s ultimately up to you to decide what you’re comfortable trusting.
Ah, nothing like the smell of bleach to make you want to barf, right? Instead of using chemical-based products, why not swap it for ecofriendly cleaning products? That way you won’t have to worry about the toxins anymore. Some great brands to give a try are Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, Nature Clean, Method, and Ecover. If you rather DIY your own eco-friendly cleaning products, that’s an option too. Lemon juice diluted with water works wonders on cutting boards, counter tops, and mirrors. Or try mixing 1/2 cup of vinegar, 1/2 gallon of water, and 1/4 cup of baking soda together to create an all purpose cleaner.
Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.