For those of us who are enjoying this year of wellness by creating healthy changes one step at a time, July takes us outside of ourselves—to focus on taking care of our environment. This is not to say, of course, that being eco-conscious doesn’t have tremendous payoffs for our own health and well-being.

For example, walking or biking instead of driving the car to take care of errands not only saves the gas we’d use and the ensuing pollutants we’d spew, but could also keep us slimmer, placing us at lower risk for obesity-related health concerns such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

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Eco-consciousness in your life

  • Consider your vacation choices and focus on environmentally friendly options, including eco-friendly luggage.
  • Use less water by turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers, and observing watering restrictions in your community.
  • Choose organic, fair trade food and other products, such as chocolate, coffee, fruit, tea, wine, cotton, and flowers when available.
  • Avoid disposable containers for coffee, water, and food items.
  • Look for sustainable products for your household, such as glass or stainless steel food storage containers or utensils and cutting boards made from Forest Stewardship Council certified wood.
  • Renovating outside? Check out eco-friendly options for roofing, siding, driveways, decks, and paint.
  • Renovating inside? Look for leftover building supplies at Habitat for Humanity ReStores, such as organic or low odour/low VOC paints, eco-friendly flooring such as bamboo or cork, energy-efficient appliances, low-flow showers and toilets, and organic mattresses and linens.
  • Choose clothing made from sustainable fabrics, such as hemp, organic cotton, and bamboo, or buy gently used items at a consignment or thrift shop.
  • Keep your gift giving environmentally friendly by choosing sustainable products and wrapping them in reusable gift bags.

Week 1: June 30 to July 6 - Ditch the car

Walk, bike, or take public transit to do errands. When my kids were young, I walked them to and from school every day. The benefits, aside from navigating the walk safely, were many: it was a nice time for us to chat, to meet up with other friends, and to get some fresh air and exercise.

When we live in communities where walking or cycling is embraced (through infrastructure, community planning, and education), we tend to use these modes of locomotion more than our cars, according to many studies. In one study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that in European countries where walking and cycling rates were high because of these factors, obesity rates were half of those in North America.

What to do

At least once this week, walk, cycle, or take public transit, instead of taking your car, when you have an errand to run. You may have to allocate a little more time, but it will be well worth it.

Not only will you get some exercise and an opportunity to de-stress, but you’ll also get a chance to enjoy the sunshine, maybe meet a fellow traveller, and even stop to smell the roses along the way.

Walk the kids to or from school when you don’t have time restraints. Relax, and enjoy your time together.

Week 2: July 7 to 13 - Buy natural products
Eliminate chemical-laden cleaning products and cosmetics.

Did you know that Canadians spend about $275 million per year on household cleaning products? Of those millions of dollars spent, only a very small fraction goes to natural or environmentally friendly cleaning products. The amount spent on cosmetics each year is even higher—more than $5 billion, according to Health Canada statistics.

One of the big challenges in setting yourself on the path to toxin-free cleaning products is that government regulations don’t enforce the inclusion of all ingredients.

Government regulations do enforce ingredient declarations on cosmetics and personal care products, however. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, there are at least 12 ingredients commonly used in cosmetics that we should avoid:

  • BHA and BHT
  • coal tar dyes
  • DEA (also MEA and TEA)
  • dibutyl phthalate
  • formaldehyde-releasing chemicals such as DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, and quaternium-15
  • parabens
  • parfum or fragrance
  • PEG compounds
  • petrolatum
  • siloxanes
  • sodium laureth sulphate
  • triclosan


What to do

  • For cleaning products, read the labels carefully and avoid those that list “parfum” or “fragrance,” which have been linked to chronic allergies.
  • Although all ingredients aren’t required to be listed, a product that includes a third party eco-label, such as EcoLogo or Green Seal provides some assurance that the product is safe to use.
  • Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning for ratings of more than 2,000 products.
  • For cosmetics and personal care products, scan ingredient labels carefully and avoid David Suzuki’s “Dirty Dozen” (listed above).
  • You can also find a comprehensive list of more than 80,000 cosmetic brands on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, which rates products and ingredients for safety.

Week 3: July 14 to 20 - Buy less packaging
Be an eco-savvy shopper—and save money in the bargain.

It was a public relations nightmare when an Austrian supermarket chain decided that it would be a good idea to sell bananas—the fruit for which Mother Nature provided the perfect biodegradable package—peeled and in cellophane-wrapped Styrofoam trays. Thankfully, their customers declined to be persuaded.

Reducing the amount of packaging when making purchases can have a big impact on the environment by reducing household waste destined for the landfill. The costs of excess packaging—to produce, transport, and dispose of it—are passed on to the consumer, so opting for less packaging means you pay less.

If you’re buying less packaged food, it also means you’re likely buying more whole foods—much better for your health than highly processed foods that generally come in packages.

What to do

  • Take reusable shopping bags to the store.
  • Look for options before you buy. If your purchase is packaged and no alternatives are available, check to make sure the packaging is recyclable or biodegradable.
  • Avoid buying anything packaged in polystyrene foam (Styrofoam), which is a petroleum product that takes hundreds of years to break down.
  • Avoid single-serving packaged foods such as yogurt and veggie or fruit snack packs.
  • Buy in bulk wherever possible, and use reusable containers to pack smaller portions.

Week 4: July 21 to 27 - Start composting
Turn food scraps into gold for your garden.

Not only is sending our food scraps to the landfill a bad idea for the environment, but it’s also a terrible waste of a valuable resource. The environmental impact of burying organic waste in our landfills is twofold: the liquid that trickles down through the other garbage can pick up contaminants, sending toxins into the groundwater, and the buried organics also create methane, a greenhouse gas, when they decay.

  • The benefits of composting our food scraps and yard waste are many:
  • It reduces greenhouse gases and air pollutants at landfills.
  • It reduces use of chemical fertilizers (with compost as replacement).
  • Compost can be used for reclamation of industrial lands.
  • Biogas from industrial composting can be used to produce electricity or refined as a fuel to replace fossil fuels.


What to do

  • Many municipalities across Canada have programs in place to collect organic waste; some use drop-off depots or community collection sites while an increasing number of municipalities are implementing curbside collection programs. Check with your local government to find out how you can participate.
  • You can also compost your own organic waste at home. Composters may be available through your municipality or you can build your own.
  • Many municipalities and other government departments, such as Environment Canada, offer online information and workshops on how to compost, as do nonprofit organizations such as the Compost Council of Canada.

 

Green Your Bathroom Giveaway

Shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, shower gel—often these items are loaded with harmful chemicals and fragrances. Reboot your bathroom essentials with our Green Your Bathroom Giveaway, packed with carcinogen-free natural products safe for the whole family. To see what’s included and to enter for your chance to win, visit alive.com/contests.

Week 5: July 28 to August 3 - Cut out the meat
At least once a week, go meatless.

One of the leading contributors to climate change is our heavy reliance on meat that is largely produced through factory farming. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.”

According to Statistics Canada, the average consumption of cooked meat is 100 grams a day, though one in four of us eats more than 300 grams a day. We can have a dramatic impact on the environment, saving water, land, and energy, by choosing to eat meat less often—and we’ll be improving our health in the bargain.

According to a National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 people, eating 4 oz (113 g) of red meat or more a day was associated with a 30 percent greater likelihood of dying of any cause during a 10-year period compared to those who consumed less. Reducing meat consumption can reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.

What to do

  • Replace or forgo meat in your diet at least once a week.
  • Choose meat alternatives such as tofu, grains, legumes, seeds, or nuts.
  • When you do eat meat, choose organic and lean options.
  • Reduce serving sizes of meat to no more than 3 oz (85 g)—about the size of a deck of cards.
  • Try our Meatless Monday recipe options on alive.com.

About the Author

Sandi Gauvin, senior editor at alive, who always walks to the grocery store with her reusable shopping bags, will never buy a peeled, plastic-wrapped banana.