This guide, entitled “Living the Green Life” is meant for real people (with kids, budgets and mortgages) who want to do better by the environment. For the most part, it focuses on lifestyle changes—minor adjustments in daily behavior that may seem inconsequential when one ponders the big picture of global warming. But taken in aggregate, as a nation (when all of us do even one thing), these little lifestyle changes have a huge impact.
Photovoltaics on the roof. Geothermal heating under-ground. Spiffy dual-flush toilets all about. This Green guide won’t make any mention of such things!
This compilation consists of 50 of the best ideas for reducing household waste ever printed: tips from engineers, chemists, environmentalists, recycling experts, government agencies, medical professionals, appliance-makers, and gardeners. Everything from cleaning and pet products to microwave tips can be found here.
50 Simple Tips for a Greener Life, 1-25 (Part 1)
26. Printer Cartridges: Recycle. Office Depot, OfficeMax, and Staples take back ink and toner cartridges—and hand you a $3 store coupon for your effort.
27. Printer cartridges: Refill. Walgreens and OfficeMax offer in-store refilling stations in some of their stores. Bring in your empty printer cartridge and a store clerk will refill it on the spot (or in a matter of 10 minutes or so) and at a price that beats buying a new one. Walgreens charges $10 for black cartridge refills, $15 for color. Check the Web site (walgreens.com) for the list of refillable cartridges and for the list of participating stores. OfficeMax charges $12.49 to $26.99; call stores to inquire about participation; visit officemax.com for store locations or call 800-283-7674.
28. Batteries: Recylce. Walgreens stores in Chicago take back household batteries for recycling. So does any Chicago Public Library. All Office Depot stores take back cell phone and household batteries. All Staples and OfficeMax stores in the Chicago area take back rechargeable household batteries. Or visit earth911.org for a battery recycling site near you.
29. Discrete Recycle Stations. Don’t be quick to say, “I don’t have room to recycle all that.” Or: “I hate the look of recycling bins in my kitchen.” Try scattering (pretty) wicker or rattan baskets in bare corners of your apartment or condo or in any home where space is at a premium. They will add warmth to your place and be your catchall for recyclables such as batteries, printer cartridges, magazines you plan to pass along to friends and family.
30. E-Waste: E-liminate it. Recycle your electronic waste—computer monitors, desktops, laptops, fax machines, printers, scanners, peripherals, keyboards, telephones, digital cameras, VCR players, DVD players, televisions, etc., which could be chock full of lead, mercury, plastics, etc.
- Visit Illnois Recycles  and click on “E-cycling” for a list of collection sites (some take items without charge; others charge a small fee). Visit Earth911  for more of the same
- Office Depot offers a Tech Recycling program. The store will recycle as much e-waste as shoppers can fit into one of Office Depot’s small ($5), medium ($10) or large ($15) Tech Recycling boxes. The only charge is for the box. Visit officedepot.com/techrecycling for the list of acceptable items.
- Staples stores in Chicagoland also invite consumers to bring in a wide variety of e-waste (but not TVs) for recycling. There is a $10 fee per piece of large equipment; no charge for small computer peripherals such as mice and keyboards. Some of the items will be refurbished by Staples’ partner, Collective Good, and sold with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. For more information, visit Staples .
- And finally, OfficeMax has extended its pilot program for electronics recycling. Through February, customers can bring obsolete computer equipment to any Chicagoland OfficeMax store (downtown Express stores excluded). Cost to recycle: $5 to $20 a piece. For their effort, customers get an in-store coupon ($5 to $30) to use on selected items.
31. Plastic Bags: Bring your own (string, canvas, any kind of reusable) bags to grocery stores and say “no” to the store’s plastic bags. Americans toss some 100 billion of those low-quality polyethylene plastic bags annually and the recycling rate for them is just 0.6 percent. Each high-quality reusable bag has the potential of eliminating hundreds or even thousands of plastic bags over its lifetime.
32. Pesticides: Avoid using them in your garden and yard. Build up healthy soil instead to help prevent disease. Use barriers such as netting or cutworm collars. Wash aphids away with spray from the hose. Encourage beneficial insects that eat harmful ones. And learn to tolerate a few weeds, spots or insects if it’s only an aesthetic problem.
33. Fertilizers: Don’t over-fertilize. Plants only can absorb so much; the rest washes away to pollute waterways. Follow directions or err on the side of less. Look for organic fertilizers that release nutrients slowly.
34. Native Plants: Use them in your garden. They know how to fend for themselves; they’re adapted to the local climate, soils and pests. That means less watering and fewer chemicals.
35. Watering the Garden. Don’t sprinkle more than necessary or in the heat of the day when much water evaporates. Put drip irrigation and soaker hoses on timers to water at night or in the early morning. Water lawns long and deep once a week, not lightly and frequently.
36. Save the Rain. Put a rain barrel under a downspout to collect free water for the garden. And/or make yourself a rain garden by making a bed designed to collect rainwater so it can be absorbed by deep-rooted natives and perennials.
37. Compost. It is the basic ingredient of good soil. Start with a simple heap of plant material or buy a bin to keep out animals.
38. Garden Plastics. Keep them at bay. Take cardboard boxes to the nursery and leave plastic nursery flats behind. Look for plants grown in biodegradable containers. And start seeds in yogurt cups or other recyclable containers (poke a hole for drainage and wash in a 10 percent bleach solution). Or make your own pots out of yesterday’s newspaper (see chicagotribune.com/pots).
39. The Organic Seal of Approval. The term “organic” should mean produced without chemical fertilizers, fungicides or herbicides—but it’s best to ask. If you see the OMRI (Organic Materials Research Institute) seal, it means the product has met a strict standard.
40. The Organic Price Tag. Expect to dole out some green, for the green. Organically grown plants generally cost more. So do organic fertilizers. But they’re worth it.
41. Garden Power. Consider electric yard equipment—and your own muscles. Electric mowers, string trimmers, leaf blowers and hedge trimmers create less pollution and are more energy-efficient than gas ones. Even better: manual equipment.
42. Trees: Plant them. They’re like giant air filters. One mature tree takes care of the pollution caused by 13 cars.
43. Screen-Savers. Get rid of them. It takes more energy to run those floating toasters or even a static image than it does to have your computer and monitor go into a low-power mode. Unlike 10 years ago, the screen-saver does not extend the life of your monitor. Killing it could save $50 to $100 a year on your electric bill over a year’s time.
44. Old clothing: Reinvent clothes. Turn children’s jeans with worn-out knees into shorts. Reinvent clothes that you still like and still fit, but have minor “style” problems—for example, hemlines that need to be shortened significantly. Many dry cleaners employ seamstresses for those who can’t (or can’t find the time) to do it themselves.
45. Old clothing—Part 2. Be conscious of how you dispose of well-worn clothes. They’re not likely to end up on the shelves of your local thrift store. (In 2005, an estimated 11.1 million tons of textiles were generated as municipal solid waste, only 15.3 percent of which was recovered for export or reprocessing.) The Salvation Army, AMVETS, and Unique Thrift Stores are three organizations that work hard to divert all types of unsold fabric from landfills. (Many charities sell unsold clothes to textile recycling companies, which in turn sell wearable items to wholesalers overseas, where demand is high. The really worn stuff could be turned into cleaning cloths or filler inside your mattress or car’s interior roof.)
The non-profit Gaia-Movement, USA  (773-651-7870) and USAgainLLC , a commercial textile recycling company, have drop boxes in and around Chicago. Call them for locations. Both of these organizations also ensure that worn clothes find a second home overseas or a second life through reprocessing.
46. Driving: Three simple ways to improve your mileage.
1. Don’t drive aggressively. Speeding, rapid acceleration and hard braking can lower your highway gas mileage by as much as 33 percent and city mileage by as much as 5 percent.
2. Don’t go super-fast. Driving 75 m.p.h. instead of 65 m.p.h. can cut fuel economy by as much as 15 percent.
3. Keep up with your car’s maintenance. Clean air filters can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent. Properly inflated and aligned tires improve mileage by about 3 percent.
47. Re-Use: Check out freecycle.org . It’s a kind of eBay experience—but without the financial gain. The city-specific site allows people to post items they want to get rid of and others who live close by, in turn, to “shop” for something they need. No money is exchanged between parties.
48. Study: Check out these Web sites:
49. Thermostats—Part 2. Use your programmable thermostat—even if you have a leaky old home and are worried that your furnace is working too hard to bring the house back up to your comfort zone two times a day. Without getting into the issue of proper insulation, it saves more energy to let the house cool down when you’re not home during the day and while you sleep at night than to keep it at the comfort zone continuously. But, if you’re setting it back to, say, 60 degrees, that may be too far for a Chicago winter, especially if your home isn’t well-insulated. At 60 degrees, countertops and dishes will seem cold. Try setting the thermostat back to 63 to 65 degrees in the winter. That way the recovery is not so steep, but you still get some benefit from the set back.
50. Kitty Litter: Consider alternative litter. There are more earthy-friendly, organic options than the standard clay litters, which pile up in landfills. Among them: Feline Pine (made of pine), Sweat Scoop (wheat) and World’s Best Cat Litter (corn). When it’s time to change the litter, you can let organic litters biodegrade naturally by dumping them in your yard—far, far away from where kids may roam and from the veggie garden and compost. If you would rather not engage your yard, you still can go green with a biodegradable liner for the cat pan. (Biobags makes one; order at dirtworks.net ).
50 Simple Tips for a Greener Life, 1-25 (Part 1)
This article is reprinted from WomenCo.