Start the New Year Right By Going Green

Most New Year's resolutions surround losing weight, quitting smoking or developing healthier eating habits. But have you considered using the new year as a motive for making choices that will affect not only your own health, but the health of the planet?

Through its Nourishing the Planet project, Worldwatch Institute, a global environmental research organization, offers 12 ways to go green in 2012:

1. Give your trash a second life – recycle. Recycling programs, which exist in cities and towns across the United States, help save energy and protect the environment. Recycling is easy and effective. Simply place a separate container next to your trash can or printer, making it easier to recycle your bottles, cans and paper.

2. Get comfortable in the dark. On the last Saturday in March every year, hundreds of people, businesses and governments around the world turn off their lights for an hour as part of Earth Hour, a movement to address climate change. This year, the event falls on March 31. While Earth Hour only comes around once a year, you can make an impact every day by turning off lights during bright daylight or whenever you will be away for an extended period of time.

3. Give compact fluorescent bulbs a chance. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use only 20-30 percent of the energy required by incandescent bulbs to create the same amount of light, helping reduce both electric bills and carbon emissions. In 2007, Australia became the first country to "ban the bulb." By late 2010, incandescent bulbs had been totally phased out and, according to Australia’s environment minister, this simple move has cut an estimated 4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.

4. Put down that bottle and turn on the tap. The bottled water industry sold 8.8 billion gallons of water in 2010. Plastic water bottles, however, create huge environmental problems. The energy required to produce and transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year, yet approximately 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled – instead, they end up in landfills, litter roadsides and pollute waterways and oceans. And while public tap water is subject to strict safety regulations, the bottled water industry is not required to report testing results for its products. So when you need to hydrate, fill your glasses and reusable water bottles with water from the sink.

5. Put on a sweater and turn down the heat. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees F for 8 hours can result in savings of 5-15 percent on your home heating bill. Turn down your thermostat when you leave for work, or use a programmable thermostat to control your heating settings.

6. Support food recovery programs. Each year, roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted, including 34 million tons in the United States, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Grocery stores, bakeries and other food providers throw away tons of food daily that is perfectly edible but is cosmetically imperfect or has passed its expiration date. In response, food recovery programs run by homeless shelters or food banks collect this food and use it to provide meals for the hungry, helping to divert food away from landfills and into the bellies of people who need it most. Encourage your local restaurants and grocery stores to partner with food rescue organizations, and donate any non-perishable canned and dried foods that you won't be using to your nearest food bank or shelter.

7. Local is lovely. Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your produce, eggs, dairy and meat. Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers. Buying other products from local businesses also may be more sustainable because these businesses often have smaller environmental footprints.

8. Pump up those tires and go for a bike ride. Carpooling or using public transportation is a great green move, but don't forget the mode of transportation that also boosts your health: biking. Some cities have bike-sharing programs that allow people to rent bicycles for short-term use. Even if you can't access a bike share program, many cities and towns are incorporating bike lanes and trails, making it easier and safer to use your bike for transportation and recreation.

9. Share a car. In 2009, car sharing was credited with reducing U.S. carbon emissions by more than 482,000 tons. As of July 2011, 26 such programs existed in the United States, with more than 560,000 people sharing over 10,000 vehicles. Even if you don't want to get rid of your own car, using a shared car when traveling in a city can greatly reduce the challenges of finding parking (car share programs have their own designated spots), as well as your environmental impact as you run errands or commute to work.

10. Develop a green thumb. Whether you live in a studio loft or a suburban McMansion, growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food to your doorstep. Plant some lettuce in a window box. Lettuce seeds are cheap and easy to find, and when planted in full sun, one window box can provide enough to make several salads worth throughout a season.

11. Get down and dirty – compost your food waste. Once you have a garden, you can fertilize it using your own composted organic waste. You will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you also will help to cut down on food and other organic waste. HowToCompost.org and organizations such as the U.S. Composting Council provide easy steps to reuse your organic waste.

12. Spare a cow and eat some beans instead. You don't have to become a full-blown vegetarian, but at least reducing your meat consumption can make a significant environmental impact. Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. Global meat production has experienced a 20-percent growth rate since 2000 to meet the per capita increase of meat consumption of about 42 kilograms, which means bad news for Mother Earth. Consider substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option. Web sites such as Meatless Monday offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment.

Act Now

The New Year's resolutions that stick are those that are practiced regularly and represent an important goal. Watching the ball drop in Times Square happens only once a year, but for more and more people across the world, the impacts of hunger, poverty and climate change are felt every day.

"The global community, and particularly people living in industrialized societies, have put unsustainable demands on our planet's limited resources," explained Robert Engelman, president of Worldwatch Institute. "If we expect to be able to feed, shelter, and provide even basic living conditions to our growing population in years to come, we must act now to change."

Thankfully, simple practices, such as recycling or riding a bike, can have great impact. Let’s all resolve to make 2012 a healthier, happier and greener year for everyone around the globe.

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