The federal government’s Citizen Information Center, located on their official web site, lists the most popular New Year’s resolutions, with links to helpful information for achieving them. Six of them focus on an individual’s health, such as quit smoking, drink less, lose weight, reduce stress and eat healthier. Two on the list deal with an individual’s finances and four have to do with education, work or leisure. The last one is to volunteer and help others.
I normally don’t make formal resolutions, but decided that this year I wanted to focus on two areas where I could be a better steward of the environment.
Reduce my use of plastic bags. The memory still haunts me. As my friend Barbara and I drove along the dirt road to a land fill – always a prime place to spot birds – refuge trucks thundered past us. In their wake the road and adjoining area were strewn with scraps of black plastic. I had never thought about where those bags ended up after I tossed them in the trash. As I rode past the scattered shreds, I had a sinking feeling they would litter this site for a long time.
According to Planet Ark, Reuters World Environment News, plastic bags can take from 15 to 1,000 years to break down. Plastic bags – whole or random fragments – aren’t confined to land fills. They are blown to other environments where their damage is more tragic – often ending up in the guts of birds and animals. Pieces of plastic bag have been found in the stomachs of endangered California Condors in the deserts of Arizona, and off the coast of Australia an autopsy determined that a whale died after ingesting a large quantity of plastic.
Most of my groceries go home in cloth bags recycled from the many conferences I attended over the years. I keep a stash in the trunk of my car; however, sometimes I forget to take them in the store with me – particularly if I only run in for one or two items. When offered ‘paper or plastic,’ I choose plastic, believing I was saving trees. And, I have to confess, I never think of reusable bags when I shop at other types of stores.
According to the Sierra Club, the environmental impact of paper versus plastic is similar. They stress that a consumer can make a positive impact from reusing bags. The Sierra Club projects that when a ton of plastic bags is reused or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil are saved. During my childhood, washing and reusing plastic sandwich and storage bags was the norm, a habit developed during the war years. Over the years I began to scoff at my mother’s ritual of reusing plastic bags.
A resolution is a goal, so some action plans will make it more plausible that I will achieve my goal. To reduce my use of plastic bags, I plan to:
• Purchase and use biodegradable bags for yard waste.
• Expand my use of cloth bags beyond the natural food stores where I purchase groceries.
• Reuse plastic bags whenever feasible.
• Recycle bags I cannot use.
Use less gasoline and natural gas. According to a publication of the Energy Information Administration, the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases, eighty-two percent, is fossil fuels. The largest use is for transportation. In addition, because fossil fuels are non-renewable, our reliance on them has impacted our foreign policy and placed our own natural resources at risk from increased drilling.
As I tabulated my carefully collected volunteer mileage, I was delighted to learn that despite being out and about in my car more since I retired, I actually reduced my monthly mileage. I have worked hard at planning ahead to consolidate trips, and normally carpool on birding excursions.
I checked out the tips for improving automobile fuel economy on several websites. The recommendations include following regular maintenance, refraining from idling, using cruise control, keeping the car clean and waxed, and checking tire pressure monthly. I am conscientious about having my car serviced regularly and agreeing to the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations for my vehicle, even though the cost makes me cringe. Using cruise control leaves me feeling out of control, so I keep in eye on the speedometer when out on the highway. Unfortunately, because I cannot squat anymore, the tire pressure does not get checked until my oil change. And, I am pretty lax about taking my car to the carwash.
It will take the personal actions of each one of us to begin to make a difference in global warming. I am not ready to take public transportation, so I looked to the Alliance for Climate Protection for suggestions. To reduce my use of gasoline and natural gas, I plan to:
• Make a real effort to share rides whenever possible.
• Weather permitting, walk to accomplish errands within one mile of my home at least once a week.
• Use intermittent exercise to maintain body warmth so I can keep my thermostat set at 65 degrees during the months when I use my heater.
Behavior change on resolutions tends to fade after a few months. A study conducted at the University of Washington indicates that “resolutions are a process, not a one-time effort that offer people a chance to create new habits.”
Accountability is a motivator for me, which is how Judy’s Jottings was born. Therefore, look for periodic check-ins on my progress of creating new habits. I will post them on my blog, and hope you also will share your own efforts.