5 Little Ways to Make A Real Difference In Your Community – And the World

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Part of sustainable living is building strong and lasting relationships with those around you. Here are 5 simple ways that you can connect and make a real difference in your community this year.

The start of a new year is a time when many of us make commitments for self-improvement such as better eating, weight loss, or other health goals. But what about the health of the world around you?

Studies show that one of the best ways to be happier is to do something for someone else. Why not set a goal to make a difference in the world by helping others this year? Your local community is a great place to start!

In fact, some of these start in your own backyard – and you’d be surprised at what a real difference even one person can make…

Below are 5 simple ways that you can make a positive difference in your community and neighborhood this year:

1. Grow healthy food

Garden-fresh fruits and vegetables grown naturally in your backyard with homemade compost and without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are more nutritious than refrigerated produce shipped from long distances. Less reliance on transportation also means lower fossil-fuel use and fewer carbon emissions that cause health-harming climate change. Organize a healthy produce swap with neighbors who also have gardens or start a community garden. You can use an empty lot or work with local officials to find park space.

If gardening isn’t popular or doable in your neighborhood, start a centrally located farmer’s market or buy a bulk membership in a CSA (community-supported agriculture) to get farm-fresh seasonal produce for you and your neighbors. Also ask local grocery stores, restaurants and schools to offer more healthy food and drink options.

2. Shop local

Buying from businesses in your community doesn’t just help them thrive, it also helps you and your neighbors in a number of health-promoting ways. For one thing, if stores are nearby you can walk or bike there, improving your physical fitness and reducing car use (see the previous tip). When shops are close and goods aren’t shipped from far away you minimize traffic jams, energy consumption, carbon emissions and habitat loss from sprawl. In addition, supporting community merchants strengthens the local economy, which in turn improves the health of your neighborhood and saves lives. Lower income and economic insecurity is widely linked to poorer health and lower mental well-being.

3. Test tap water

The lead-contaminated drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a sorry reminder of how essential clean water is for human health. If you and your neighbors get water from a public water system, you may feel reassured by the water-quality report you receive each July. All public water agencies are required by law to list contaminant levels, including heavy metals and pathogens. Learn more about how to find out what’s in yours here.


4. Reduce neighborhood waste

Litter isn’t just unsightly, it’s also dangerous for kids, wildlife and everybody else in your neighborhood. Improperly discarded cigarette butts, old tires, junk food wrappers, plastic soda rings, beer cans, chemicals and other trash can hurt or kill animals, start fires, promote harmful bacteria and clog stormwater drains (which causes flooding and contaminates groundwater).

Pick up trash when you see it or organize regular neighborhood cleanups. Start a compost pile in your yard instead of dumping food scraps and yard waste in the garbage, or set up a community compost center. Composting not only transforms waste into healthy nutrient-rich soil for your yard and garden, but it also cuts greenhouse gas emissions from the breakdown of organic matter in landfills and from fuel used to transport waste.

5. Opt for natural, organic lawn care

A beautiful yard may give your home curb appeal, but it can also exact a steep environmental price. Americans apply more than 70 million tons of toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides to their lawns and gardens every year, which can seep into groundwater and run off into rivers and streams. Residential yards are also one of the nation’s biggest water guzzlers, and gas lawn mowers release far more carbon emissions per hour of operation than the average car.

Eco-friendly lawn care helps protect the environment and the health of your neighborhood. Stop using synthetic pesticides and herbicides in favor of organic alternatives, use homemade compost to fertilize naturally (as mentioned in tip 4), plant drought-resistant grass and other native plants that don’t need as much water, and mow with an electric or push mower. Get your neighbors on board and you’ll make a bigger collective impact.

Find more simple tips for making a difference at MNN.com


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