If you’re thinking about New Year’s resolutions for 2024, here are five suggestions that will conserve natural resources, save energy, and help you start out the new year on a positive note while helping the planet!

1) Reduce Landfill Waste There are so many great “R” words associated with keeping waste out of landfill: rethink, refuse, reuse, reduce, and recycle. But what’s so bad about landfill? Landfills generate greenhouse gas emissions like methane and carbon dioxide -- as much as 10% globally by 2025! Garbage in landfills often contains heavy metals like lead and mercury, which affect air, water, and soil. These toxins contaminate nearby communities and reduce property values. Gases and chemicals from landfill can also cause fires and explosions. The constant supply of rotting food dumped at landfills has even been known to alter bird feeding behaviors and disrupt migration patterns.

Keep Beauty Product Waste From Getting Ugly While most of us dutifully use bins for compost, landfill, and recycling, and we may be vigilant about making drop-offs to our household hazardous waste stations, there are some categories of garbage that defy recycling and get tossed into the trash. One such category is beauty waste from toiletries and cosmetics. The combination of paper, plastic, and metal in most make-up products creates a baffling conundrum for disposal.TerraCycle is an international leader in finding solutions for recycling hard-to-recycle products that can’t go into your curbside recycle bin. There are programs for cities, corporations, and government agencies, but for people like you and me there are countless solutions that reduce our impact on the planet.

One example mentioned on the TerraCycle website is local BEAUTYCYCLE bins at Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack. These bins accept those pesky pump caps, hair spray triggers, mirrored compacts, lipstick cases, eyeliner pencils, and mascara tubes with wands. The program will take empty, reasonably clean and dry beauty products and packaging from all make-up brands, not just ones bought from Nordstrom, and at no cost! The program does not accept aerosol or pressurized cans, electronic items such as blow dryers, perfume bottles, nail polish bottles or removers, wooden eyeliner pencils, bio-medical/ bio-hazardous waste, or partially full and full packaging. Check out this fascinating 3-minute video on how TerraCycle recycles beauty products.

Look for a future article on toiletry refill stores in Contra Costa County!

2) Get Medieval On Eliminating Single-Use Plastics Swear off drinking water from single-use water bottles once and for all. According to the EPA, each week, Americans buy enough water bottles to circle the earth five times! Buy a nifty reusable water bottle in your favorite color and design and take it everywhere every time you leave the house along with your wallet or purse, sunglasses, phone, and keys. Commit to using it, even if that means going thirsty until you can find a drinking fountain or place that can provide a glass of water. Even if those corrugated cardboard sleeves and plastic lids from take-out coffee cups make them partially recyclable, the paper cups themselves have a thin coating of plastic to keep them waterproof, which makes them not easily recyclable (and recycle bins are often nowhere in sight). Consider keeping a second, designated mug or insulated bottle in your car as back-up.

Speaking of plastic bottles, replace those bottles of toxic cleansers that are cluttering up your cupboard with one or two homemade cleaners. All you need is a few inexpensive ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice, which are better for the environment and safer for your health. Check out these simple recipes. You can also eliminate those big plastic jugs of laundry detergent (and save space) by using laundry sheets. They look like a small sheet of paper infused with detergent and are easy to use, effective, and packaged in a recyclable cardboard box.

Plastic bags made from petroleum can take up to 400 years to break down, and other plastic items just break down into smaller and smaller pieces that never degrade entirely. Swear off plastic or paper shopping bags forever (or at least until recycling and compost operations start accepting plant-based plastics) and leave reusable bags in the car. There are also super thin bags that fit in your purse or backpack for quick drugstore trips. If you forget to bring bags into the store, just leave loose, store-bought items in your cart and waltz out to your car, then load everything into the bags later. The more you remember to bring reusable bags, the more it will become a habit. You can always reuse excess plastic bags and mailers for cleaning out kitty litter or collecting dog poop.

Other single-use items that get used briefly and then tossed include Ziploc bags, plastic cutlery, plastic straws, and paper napkins. Every time you buy these items, manufacturers make more, which utilizes fossil fuels and harms the environment. Invest in glass containers for leftovers. (Get extra green points for taking them with you when eating out!) Keep bamboo or metal cutlery and metal drinking straws in your car, purse, and backpack so they’re readily available for fast food. Keep a note on your dashboard to remind you to ask your friendly drive-through attendant for “no straw, sporks, or forks, please!” Trade out paper napkins for cloth napkins you can launder and reuse often at home. Even if you still use a few paper napkins from time to time, using cloth napkins regularly will greatly reduce the need for them. Boycott paper plates and plastic cups when entertaining. Avoiding plastics will also reduce your exposure to PFAS and toxic chemicals.

3) Buy Less Food (especially beef) and Clean Out Your Fridge Before Buying More You’ve heard the statistic that we waste about 30% of the food we buy. "Scavengers" resolve to reduce food waste by buying and preparing just enough food to begin with and then making more meals out of leftovers or whatever is available in your fridge before buying more. You can make frittatas, fried rice, and countless other recipes like THESE out of leftover meat, cheese, rice, and veggies. Incidentally, according to studies by the University of Michigan, if you eat a vegetarian meal just once a week, you can save the equivalent energy of driving a gas powered car 1,160 miles. If you replaced all beef consumption with chicken for a year, you would reduce your carbon footprint by 882 pounds of carbon! Ordering more realistic portions from restaurants also reduces packaging for sending home leftovers and generates less waste when you don't eat the extra portion later.

4) Eliminate Phantom Energy In Your Home or Office “Phantom Energy,” also known as “vampire energy,” is energy used by electronic devices that keep drawing power even when they are “off,” on “standby,” or “instant on.” When dozens of devices in your home are turned “off” but are really on standby mode, it wastes energy. While your refrigerator must stay on 24/7, your washer and drier don’t need to. Neither does your phone charger, your computer when it’s on sleep mode, or your television. According to the Department of Energy, phantom energy from dozens of devices in the average household can use up to 10% of its monthly electric bill. Smart power strips save both money and energy. Advanced Power Strips (APS) can prevent electronics from continuing to draw power when not in use by using an automatically timed off switch, and will also protect sensitive devices during power surges. You can buy chargers that stop drawing energy when the device’s battery is full. Check HERE for information on Smart Power Strips from the Cleaner Contra Costa Challenge.

5) Boycott Fast Fashion And Buy Used Clothing We’ve talked about fast fashion before and how it is one of the biggest drivers of global pollution to the air, soil, and water. Sustainable fashion brands that support “slow fashion” use innovative materials, practice fair labor practices, and generate less greenhouse emissions.

Go one step further and shop for used clothing. It can save you money, too. Whether you are buying or selling a used item, you are extending its life and saving resources because the resources have already been used and aren’t depleting any more. Used clothing might not sound very glamorous, but actually you can find high quality, one-of-a-kind items made of sustainable materials. Amazingly, 85% of clothing winds up in landfill; buying used clothing keeps them in circulation. Plastic microfibers from polyester clothing get  into waterways during production, consumer laundering, and after disposal into landfill, which causes pollution as well as danger to wildlife and marine life. Check out 15 Best Places To Sell Used Clothing Online. These include thredUP, Poshmark, Vinted, Varage Style, eBay, and Depop. Also sell or buy used clothing via social media platforms like Facebook Sale Groups and Instagram. Luxury brands are sold on The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective, Tradesy, and Fashionphile.

Keep an eye out for hundreds of more tips from this monthly newsletter, and have a very Happy (and Eco-Friendly) New Year!

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash



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  • Plastic is such a nuisance. I wish I were better about the good "rs". Thanks for the tips.
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