If your thoughts frequently turn to the environment these days, you're in good company. Going green has become a global priority; everyone, it seems, is more tuned in to environmental issues. The citation was based on statistics for more than 30 categories, including transportation, green living and recycling.
With Earth Day on April 22, this month is a good time to take stock of the small changes we can make to help the environment and create safer havens in our homes. The collective impact of what we put down our drains, what we buy and how much energy we consume is monumental. Individual actions do matter, and it's important to realize that we each take a stand with every dollar we spend.
1. Look at the labels on your household cleaning products. Do you see hazard symbols for Poison, Danger, Warning or Caution, or the words Corrosive, Flammable, Reactive or Toxic?
These symbols and words indicate products that are toxic to you and the environment. It can be especially unsafe to use these on floors where babies crawl and young children play. Beware of artificially scented products, which often rely on toxic chemical formulas. Many environmental cleaning experts recommend using water, baking soda, vinegar and borax for household cleaning. For other natural cleaning alternatives, visit Frugal Cleansers, part of the FrugalFun.com Web site developed by consultants and frugalists Shel Horowitz and Dina Friedman.
2. How many water-saving devices do you have in your house?
Did you know that installing a low-flow faucet aerator or eco-friendly showerhead can save hundreds of dollars a year in energy bills and water consumption? Toilets made prior to 1993 can use as much as eight gallons of water per flush, while new models use as little as 1.6 gallons. Newer appliances, such as dishwashers and washing machines, with an Energy Star rating use up to 50 percent less energy and water.
Appliances aside, all family members should turn the water off when brushing their teeth, shaving or washing dishes. For more information, visit http://h2ouse.org for a unique, interactive home tour and a water use calculator created by the California Urban Water Conservation Council.
3. You're out of light bulbs. What do you look for when you go to the store?
The elongated or squiggly-shaped compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are the best choice for most household fixtures. They use 66 percent less energy than a standard incandescent bulb and, on average, last 10 times longer. If every American replaced just one light bulb with a CFL, we could save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars. To learn more, head online to Energystar, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Calculate Your Family's ImpactA "carbon footprint" measures the environmental impact of our activities and choices in terms of how much greenhouse gases they produce, measured in units of carbon dioxide. For example, each time you burn a gallon of gas in your car, you create 20 pounds of CO2. To estimate how much energy you use, visit carbonfootprint.com.4. Where do you store your reusable grocery shopping bags?Don't have any? Then get into a new habit: Forgo plastic or paper and rely on your own reusable bags. Keep a supply in your kitchen or car and bring them with you every time you shop. Plastic and paper bags consume large amounts of natural resources to manufacture and are costly to recycle. Some stores sell reusable bags, but you can use any canvas, nylon or cotton bags that you have on hand.
5. At this very moment, how many plastic bottles of water are in your house?
Yes, it's convenient. But bottled water is also wasteful. It requires 17 million barrels of crude oil to make the estimated 29 billion plastic bottles used for water in the United States alone. When you figure in the transportation and energy costs, the industry uses enough fuel to run 3 million cars for one year. Visit Think Outside the Bottle, a campaign of Corporate Accountability International, which is working to build support for strong public water systems.
6. Working on your home's landscape this spring? If you're considering adding a few small trees or shrubs and creating a garden out back, what's your first priority?
Look beyond those hybrid roses that will lots of pampering and bug spray. Start with native plants that thrive in your climate and soil and need less water, fertilizer and insect control. Planting a tree that will soon shade your house can reduce heating and cooling costs annually by as much as 40 percent. Plant a vegetable or herb garden in a sunny spot of your yard. Food that travels more than you do requires fossil fuels for transportation. For more information, head to this Environmental Protection Web site.