Looking for an easy New Year's Resolution that can really make a difference? Here are 12!
1. Just say no to paper -- and plastic -- and BYOB.
The average American tosses more than 300 plastic bags each year, many of which are floating in a virtual garbage dump in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that's twice the size of Texas. Small enough to fit in your pocket or purse, reusable bags expand to hold everything from groceries to boots, and you can use them over and over again.
2. Have an organic week.
Many pesticides have been linked to health problems, Unfortunately, the word "organic" holds no weight -- look for the "USDA Certified Organic" label, which means the food is certified to contain no pesticides, artificial ingredients, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers, bio-engineered materials, synthetic growth hormones or irradiated ingredients.
If organic isn't an option, you can lower your exposure by 90 percent simply by avoiding the 12 most contaminated, conventionally-grown produce, such as peaches, celery and strawberries, according to the Environmental Working Group. In a nutshell, opt for conventional fruits and veggies that you can peel, such as an orange instead of an apple, which can contain as many as 48 different pesticide residues. Remove the outer skin and you toss a significant amount of pesticide contamination.
3. Sniff out synthetic fragrance.
They're in our cleaners, air fresheners, beauty products and -- of course -- perfumes. And in addition to causing allergic reactions, reproductive problems and hormone disruption, synthetic fragrance might just make you fat: A study published by Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center recently linked phthalates in synthetic fragrance with obesity. Want to avoid them? Read your labels: If you see the word "fragrance" and it doesn't tell you what natural ingredient it is derived from, put the product back on the shelf. If you want a shortcut, look for the "USDA Certified Organic" label -- the same standards apply to home and beauty products.
4. Be like Mr. Rogers -- lose the shoes.
When we wear shoes inside, we track pesticides, insecticides and dirt into our homes. Worried about offending guests? Just keep a few pairs by the door and take yours off when entering; they'll get the picture, and if they don't, it's up to you if you want to boot 'em back to the Neighborhood.
5. Make it a meatless Monday.
We can talk ad nauseum about the effect that the meat industry has on our environment: The EPA calls animal waste the number one source of pollution in our waterways. But there's a human health problem as well: Dioxins are classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization; 95% of human dioxin exposure comes from animal fat and levels accumulate in the body over a person's lifetime. To reduce your exposure, choose to eat less meat -- going vegetarian at least once a week in support of the meatless Monday movement. If you do eat meat, make sure to trim the fat before cooking and look for free range, USDA Certified Organic options that typically come from more responsibly managed farms.
6. When it comes to cleaning, listen to Grandma.
Mother doesn't necessarily know best. Most of us clean our houses with the products that we remember from childhood -- if it was good enough for mom, it's good enough for us. But the chemicals in cleaning products introduced since the 1950s have been linked to illnesses like asthma and allergies, among other nasties too numerous to mention. Try simple, chemical-free formulas based on tried-and-true cleaners like baking soda and vinegar. You can even make your own for pennies, and add essential oils for a more pleasantly-scented experience. These are the cleaners your grandmother probably used. Maybe Mom should have listened to her!
7. Ban the can.
A hormone disruptor that was detected in 93 percent of the population -- including infants -- BPA migrates from cans and bottles into the substances inside; once ingested, it mimics estrogen and has been blamed for growing public-health problems such as obesity, early onset puberty in girls, small testicular size in boys and breast cancer in women. To go BPA-free as much as possible, reduce your use of canned food and/or look for "BPA-free" cans. Just three days without canned and packaged foods can reduce BPA levels by as much as 60%, according to the Breast Cancer Fund.
8. Buy less bottled water.
Bottled water may be convenient, but it's not exactly safe. Most plastic bottles contain hormone-disrupting BPA, which leaches into the water you drink. Plus, bottled water isn't required by law to be tested for safety, and has turned up positive for lead, copper, chlorine, mercury and -- ick -- giardia. A better bet is filtered tap water -- even a BPA-free plastic filter pitcher will do -- and a stainless steel reusable water bottle for when you're on the go. Plus, avoiding bottled water can save the average family $50 per month!
9. Raise your plastic consciousness.
In general, try to reduce your use of plastics. Don't microwave food in plastic -- transfer it to glass or dishware instead, where it's also safe for storage. If you have to use plastic, look for those labeled "BPA-free," and always let food cool before you store in plastic.
10. Open a window!
The EPA found that the air inside the typical American home is actually more polluted than the air outside because of chemicals in our household cleaners and furnishings. But opening your windows for just 10 minutes a day can make a difference to your indoor air quality.
11. Get poisons out from under your sink.
The American Academy of Pediatrics took a very firm stand against pesticides recently, linking them to "pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems." That's big news. But until your doctor gets around to talking about it, please note that 80% of pesticide exposure occurs indoors through pest control products such as the sprays and powders with the poison-control labels that live under your sink. Once you've nixed products that show skull-and-crossbones, move on to eliminating triclosan, an antibacterial pesticide in many soaps and sanitizers that can compromise your immune system, disrupt thyroid function and make you more susceptible to allergies. The FDA says soap-and-water is just as effective, anyway.
There are 160 million women in the United States. Women spend about $60 each month on clothes, and we dump an average of six pounds of textiles into the landfill. If we all stopped buying new clothes for one month we could save nearly one billion pounds of textile waste and $10 billion. Mind-boggling. This year, buy used, thrift or swap, but give up the mall for the month of January by joining the Mommy Greenest Shop Drop Challenge!