Eco Talk: Six ways to start the decade more sustainably
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Eco Talk: Six ways to start the decade more sustainably

Washing day with laundry on clothesline

The end of the decade is approaching and with the start of a new decade, perhaps you are ready to make some resolutions for the new decade! But where did the idea of making New Year’s resolutions start? It seems it started some 4,000 years ago with the ancient Babylonians. They made promises to their gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions.

Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly secular practice. Instead of making promises to the gods, most people make resolutions only to themselves, about health, money and relationships. But for 2020 have you considered adding the environment to the list?

Many people are becoming overwhelmed by reports about our changing climate and environmental issues. To gain a sense of control, many are actively taking small steps towards reducing their impact on the environment. Through some thoughtful actions, you can avoid wasting money and have a positive environmental impact:

Consider composting. Avoid throwing away food waste where it creates methane when landfilled. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Use finished compost to fertilize landscaping and avoid purchasing chemical fertilizers. Your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office can provide information to start a compost pile.

Start cooking from scratch. From farm to factory to store to table, processed, packaged convenience foods are dripping in wasted energy, oil, water and trees. To compound this processed foods contain little to no nutrition and usually have to be sweetened, fortified, preserved and “flavor enhanced” to be edible. Batch cooking on weekends, meal planning and cookbooks specializing in easy, fast preparation can make cooking from scratch easier. Start with just one or two days a week, or a batch-cooking session every weekend, and then work up from there. Check with your local extension office for recipes and tips.

Avoid fast fashion. Americans have accepted inexpensive clothing that we wear for only one or two seasons. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, after the oil industry. Fast fashion utilizes petroleum-based synthetic fabric and dyes, in addition to fossil fuels used during manufacturing and shipping. Recycled or vintage clothing use less water and chemicals than virgin fabric. This year, consider purchasing some of your clothing either vintage or second hand (it’s also better for your wallet) or aim to purchase clothing made in the USA, in timeless styles and high quality materials, so they will last.

Hang your laundry to dry. According to some sources commercial, industrial and residential clothes dryers use 15-20% of the domestic energy in the U.S. In 2007 alone, clothes dryers in U.S. homes emitted 60.33 tons of climate changing carbon dioxide. If all Americans used a clothesline or folding drying racks once a week, the savings would be enough to close several coal fired or nuclear power plants.

Forget the paper towels. I understand how easy it is to rip a towel off the roll. But this practice generates 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year or 45 pounds used per person. In fact, using one less paper towel a day per person could save some 570 million pounds of paper waste per year. If you need to use them, remember they can be composted or try using cotton towels and fabric napkins that can be dropped into the laundry with your clothes. With a little practice, it will become automatic.

Buy local foods. Purchasing local helps by keeping dollars in your community, supports local farmers and provides delicious, fresh food for the family. There are several ways to but local foods. Consider joining a CSA, which stands for community supported agriculture, shop your local farmer’s market or farm stand in season or purchase foods from local farms in the grocery store. When the distance food needs to travel, referred to as food miles, is reduced the carbon footprint from your food is reduced and local farms are supported. Local food is shown to have more nutrients than food that is shipped long distances.

Resolutions are all about the future. As we start the new decade take time to consider the impact your actions may have on the environment and seek ways to reduce any negative impact. It seems that the ancient Babylonians knew the importance of planning for the future and we might consider taking this lesson from the past. Have a happy and healthy New Year!

Judy Wright is the senior agriculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. For more information, visit or call (315) 539-9251 ext. 109.


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