I doubt anyone is sad to see the end of 2020, the year that seemed to last a decade.
A new year is a time to make a fresh start and despite the threat of COVID still lingering as the vaccines start to roll out, 2021 feels more hopeful. A terrible disease tamed, new administration and a likelihood of horrific anti-environmental policies rolled back, a resumption of activities that we used to take for granted.
Still, we are reaching a point of no return with climate change and it’s going to take each one of us, with actions large and small, to make a difference.
This isn’t something that can be left to government policy, it’s our actions, purchases and choices that will change the path. It appears that soon we’ll be able to resume a more normal lifestyle, seeing friends, eating out, shopping and traveling.
But before that happens, it’s time to take a hard look at what we used to take for granted and see if there are improvements to be made.
1. Food. Eat less meat. If you don’t want to go full vegan, chicken and pork are more sustainable than beef, and look for locally produced via farmer’s markets or butchers.
Make meat a flavor instead of the main dish – one chicken can provide multiple meals, ending with soup using the carcass for broth. Plan a vegetarian or vegan meal at least once a week. There are tons of recipes to try available online.
My family’s favorite is chickpea coconut curry, with chickpeas, carrots, sweet potato, onions and massaman curry paste simmered in coconut milk and served over rice.
Support local farmers and buy a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share this spring. Plan your menus, buy only what you are going to eat and eat your leftovers rather than tossing them two weeks later.
While 1 in 6 American children live in a state of food insecurity, somewhere between 30 to 40 percent of the United States’ food supply is wasted. Use the money you saved sticking to your shopping list to support organizations, both local and global, that work to end hunger.
2. Waste less. Cut back on disposables. Pick one thing to change out. I still see cases of bottled water going out of stores. This is just water from another municipality, and the over extraction by bottling plants in some areas has left homeowners with dry wells. All sorts of reusable water bottles are available. BYO stainless or bamboo straws if eating out, also widely available.
Bring a sippy cup for the pre-k crowd rather than asking for a covered take out cup. Use Swedish cellulose dishcloths instead of paper towels, they wash up in the laundry or dishwasher. My original pack of ten is still going strong after a year. Cloth napkins instead of paper. Recycle as much as possible – not just the No. 1 & 2 plastics, paper and glass at the curb, but by donating and purchasing from local consignment or thrift shops, using free cycle and ebay.
3. Travel. Carpooling will become a safe option again. Trains, buses, bikes and feet are all better options than a one-person car trip. If you need to haul home more than you can carry, package all your errands into one trip. If you are in the market for a new vehicle, consider hybrid or electric.
4. Garden. Insect biomass has dropped an alarming 75 percent in some areas and over 3 billion birds have vanished in North America since the 1970s. This is due to pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and loss of habitat.
Restore some habitat in your yard by planting native to our region perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees to provide an outdoor buffet and shelter for birds and bugs.
Don’t use a leaf blower- rake your leaves into garden beds – many butterflies and beneficial insects are over-wintering in the leaf litter. The beautiful Luna moth is close to extinction mainly due to leaf blowers. Start composting. Only veggie and fruit scraps, fats can attract scavengers.
We keep a stainless steel container next to the sink and it goes out to the compost bin 2-3 times a week, even during the winter. I’ve had the same 30” square compost bin for over 20 years, it doesn’t have to be fancy.
Turning the materials and making sure it’s balanced between brown and green materials and feeding it a shovel of dirt every once in a while are all good practices, but if you are not in a rush, compost will happen eventually.
Feed your garden with your homemade fertilizer instead of chemicals. Turn off the tap – irrigation is an enormous use of freshwater which is a limited resource on Long Island.
If you have a system, make sure it has a working rain sensor so it’s not going off while it’s raining. Obey watering restrictions, but watering for 20 minutes every other day doesn’t build deep drought-resistant roots. It’s better to water deeply (2 hours) only when the plants need it, which means not until a week or 10 days after a cumulative rainfall of an inch.
Saving the planet will happen one choice at a time. Make your resolutions for 2021 to green your life and community and support those in need.