Ashtabula SWCD’s Top 5 New Year’s Resolutions

By Suzanne Westlake, District Technician, Ashtabula SWCD

We here at the Soil and Water Conservation District like to start the New Year off with resolutions, just like you do. And while we are kicking the ever-present “eat right” and “exercise three times every week” back on to this year’s list, we are adding some small things with big impacts.

We like to think globally and act locally, so here are 5 things that you can do to help out the world without leaving your house, or at least your county.  I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, and I don’t expect any of us to get these right 100% of the time, but if we all made small changes in the following  areas, we would definitely make a positive impact.

#1 Reduce your single use plastics.

Sandwich baggies, plastic wrap, plastic utensils, straws, produce bags, salad containers; we are bombarded by one-time use plastics every day. We deserve better. There are reusable or at least eco-friendlier alternatives to each one of these. Sandwiches can be wrapped in paper or reusable zip bags. You can make a reusable produce bag out of cotton mesh or cheese cloth. With just a needle, thread, and terrible sewing skills the bag could be made in an hour. Yes, you will have to remember to take them to the store with you, and wash them periodically. You’ve got this, though, I know you do!

At minimum, stop buying cotton swabs with plastic stems. There is no reason that these can’t be made with rolled paper. Something that is used for less than a minute should not stick around this planet for millions of years. You know how many you use, multiply that by a few billion people globally, and all of them could be made of compostable materials. Let’s use our wallets and make that happen. If you really want a gold star – there are reusable swabs. You could buy one and be done. Especially since you aren’t using them for cleaning your ears because you know that your ear doctor frowns upon that, right? Wink, wink… 

#2 Live on less palm oil

But Suzanne, I don’t buy palm oil. Oh, dear reader, you buy far more than you realize. The fruit of the oil palm tree produces this amazing and abundant oil that is versatile enough to be in food, cosmetics, detergents and automobile fuel. On paper it looks like a miracle oil – soap made bubblier, lipstick application made smoother, ice cream made to melt slower, foods preserved longer, adhesive for particle board – and all on far less land than other oils need. It’s so great that about 50% of the goods we use every day in the US contain palm oil, according to the German group AGEB. Ecologically, though, it comes at a very steep price. Only able to be grown near the equator, primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia, palm oil plantations have decimated biodiverse rainforests and are quickly wiping out sensitive habitats. It’s the primary driver of orangutan extinction. The explosive growth of palm oil plantations has also led to millions of people being exploited and abused, forced into quenching the world’s thirst for oil.

According to Palm Oil Investigations, you aren’t necessarily going to see “palm oil” on labels. There are a whole slew of names it could go by. I’m more inclined to tell you to find brands that have decided to go palm oil free, like Ben & Jerry’s or Skippy’s Creamy Peanut Butter, than to try to memorize all the names and derivatives of palm oil. A great article to read is Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser’s piece “Palm Oil”.   

Like it or not, this may be a good case in favor of sunflower seed or soy oil. They would require four to six times the land, respectively, to match palm oil production but throughout a much larger growing region that would impact less sensitive areas.

#3 Pick one soap in your house and make it a bar soap

This one piggybacks #1 and is made more difficult by #2, but I have faith in you. Take a look around your house. I am willing to bet you have hand soap, body wash, shampoo, dish soap, laundry soap, maybe even pet shampoo and dishwasher detergent. Most, if not all of these are liquid, right? And there’s no barrel at a store you can go to refill those bottles, so they get tossed or cleaned out and recycled. So, pick one. Maybe it’s one that you say I am (or my dog is) worth better than some cheap dollar store stuff and you buy a bar of good shampoo.  Bar soaps and flakes are usually packaged in paper, making a nice biodegradable sustainable alternative to liquids in plastic bottles. Even bar soaps will have palm oil in them, so if you want to knock out two resolutions in one here, you may end up ordering from LUSHTM or EthiqueTM, but don’t stress out about this. Less plastic is very much a win.

Even Walmart carries bar shampoo, so you don’t need to go out of your way. Even better you could get homemade local bar soaps by doing resolution #4.

#4 Visit one of our local farmer’s markets once per month in their season

This region –northeast Ohio through northwest PA, is blessed with some great local farmers. We’ve got hard working vegetable, dairy, fruit, and meat producers that can reduce your carbon footprint by cutting down how far your food needs to travel. Buying at a farmer’s market ensures that you are getting that produce in its season, increasing the nutritional value you get out of that food. They use less packaging, and you have a reusable bag from resolution #1, right? With four scenic rivers in Ashtabula County, our water quality proves that our producers are doing the right things to protect our (and theirs too!) natural resources. So let’s give back to them by purchasing their products.

I need to be better about buying local. I’m so spoiled by our great apple producers, I never buy apple cider from a box store. I go to the orchard. And I buy local pumpkins for Halloween, spreading the love throughout the county. But, for the most part, I just go to a grocery store. This year is a great year to change that! You and I do not have to travel far for a farmer’s market. For many of us it’s within a few miles of our house. If you use SNAP or WIC, many of them accept it. We are running out of excuses! Check out the Ashtabula Local Food Guide (https://ashtabulalocalfood.org/local-food-guide/) and try to make one locally sourced meal per month.  You, the local farmers, and the environment all win!

#5 Go meatless once per week

Nothing political here, because I enjoy meat myself. But you and I deserve better! I’m saying, let’s start demanding better quality. Our food should have flavor! So let’s splurge on that fabulous expensive cut or that fresh local meat and in return we give our bodies a break once every week by eating just grains, fruits and veggies. That one-two punch combo– local meat plus a meatless day – makes a huge impact to factory farming - cutting down ammonia emissions, reducing water pollution, and reducing manure that needs a place to be spread. It also helps your body out, since you and I aren’t always the best about the “5 servings of fruits and veggies a day” rule. 

I still want meat producers, but I want the kind of producers who name their animals because they don’t have 4,000 of them to care for. The ones who look at their animals with love in their eyes that I can see when I’m talking to them about how to make their farms better for them and the animals. Those are the ones focused on quality that you can taste.

Alright, there’s the list. If you have read this far, thank you! You may not do every one of these, but you will think about it once in a while. That alone is a huge step forward! If we try these little things, we make a difference for all of us without upheaving our lifestyle. Next year, we may be able to change a little more because my friends, we all do deserve better. If you need any help with how to do these, or you want even more resolutions from me, email me at ashtabulaswcd@gmail.com.

Here’s to a fantastic 2022 for you! Cheers!

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