The Tissue Issue

“Ultra” brands of toilet paper such as Charmin, Cottonelle and Quilted Northern may feel soft on your bum, but they’re hard on the environment because they’re made from virgin fiber and bleached with chlorine. Virgin fiber typically comes from trees grown for pulp production or from sawmill leftovers after trees are cut into lumber. The alternative: brands made from 100 percent recycled fiber, preferably with at least 80 percent postconsumer content. You can download a wallet-size buyer’s guide from Greenpeace (www.greenpeace.org/usa/campaigns/forests/tissueguide) or the Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org/land/forests/gtissue.asp).

Really Local Food

Planting a vegetable garden is an inexpensive way to obtain fresh, pesticide-free food that hasn’t traveled hundreds of miles to reach your plate. For novice gardeners, seed company W. Atlee Burpee & Co. has created a “Money Garden” seed pack that costs $10 and can produce $650 worth of easy-to-grow carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, peas and peppers. It’s only available online at www.burpee.com/product/id/112011.do. If your space is limited, consider the Kitchen Garden Planner from Gardener’s Supply Co. (www.gardeners.com/Kitchen-Garden-Planner/kgp_home,default,pg.html) to learn how to get 50 pounds of produce from a three-by-six-foot garden.

Get Out!

Sending a kid outside to play can improve his or her concentration and fight climate change. A study published in 2008 by researchers at the University of Illinois found that children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder who took walks outdoors raised their attentiveness scores and that kids who walked in natural settings did better than those who walked city streets. A dose of nature was just as effective as a dose of Ritalin. Of course, the more time kids spend playing outdoors the less time they’ll spend at video-game consoles—which consume an estimated 16 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, about four times the output of Hoover Dam.

Not So ExtremeHome Makeover

Building or remodeling a house? Consider buying used flooring, doors, indoor and outdoor fixtures, and other salvaged construction materials. You’ll keep these items out of the landfill and reduce your consumption of raw materials. To find nearby sources of items from disassembled buildings, try the Building Materials Reuse Association’s directory (www.bmra.org/listings) or Habitat for Humanity’s chain of retail ReStores (www.habitat.org/env/restores.aspx). Most of these groups will also accept donations of your own used building materials if they are still in good condition.

Handy Energy Savers

Cut down on electricity use by replacing these common kitchen appliances with hand-powered tools:

  • Can opener
  • Coffee grinder
  • Juicer
  • Stick blender
  • Electric knife

Chemical Decoder

Read the label on your shampoo or skin cream bottle and you’re very likely to find all sorts of mysterious chemicals lurking in the fine print. Is polyquaternium-10 safe for you and everything that lives downstream from your shower drain? And why do toothpastes and toilet bowl cleaners share some ingredients? For answers about the thousands of chemicals that appear in household products and cosmetics, consult the Green Media Toolshed’s Scorecard (www.scorecard.org/chemical-profiles/), the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetic safety database (www.cosmeticsdatabase.com) and the National Library of Medicine’s Toxicology Data Network (http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov).

Better Boating

Savvy skippers can help prevent the spread of the zebra mussel, an invasive species that wreaks havoc by clogging water pipes and outcompeting native freshwater mussels. The fingernail-size creature can infest new lakes and rivers by hitching a ride with “promiscuous” boaters who visit multiple lakes. The steps to keep zebra mussels and other invasive species in check are well known—and worth repeating, given that more than a few busy sailors “forget” to follow them:

  • Remove all vegetation from your boat and trailer before leaving the boat ramp.
  • Drain water from the motor, bilge and wells before leaving.
  • Dump leftover bait on land, away from the water’s edge.
  • Back home, rinse your boat, motor and trailer; let them dry in the sun for several days before visiting a different body of water.

Powering Down PCs

U.S. companies waste almost $4 billion annually on nighttime electricity for computers, according to New Boundary Technologies, a company that says its Green IT Solution software (for Windows computers) can slash computing energy costs by up to 60 percent. After employees go home, the software puts their PCs into hibernation by automatically adjusting power management settings—and overriding any changes the employees may have made during the day. Similar systems include the 1E Nightwatchman, Faronics Power Save and Verdiem Surveyor.

Pay by Electron

Paying bills online not only saves postage, it also makes a serious dent in your consumption of energy and natural resources. According to the “green calculator” devised by the PayItGreen Alliance, the average American household receives 19 bills and statements monthly and makes seven payments in paper form. Switching to electronic billing would save 6.6 pounds of paper, 63 gallons of wastewater discharge, 4.5 gallons of gasoline and 171 pounds of greenhouse gases a year. A study by the alliance, a nonprofit group supported by the banking industry, claims that if just 2 percent of American households switched from paper to electronic billing, more than 180,000 trees would be spared and greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by the equivalent to taking 32,572 cars off the road. You can add up your own potential savings at http://payitgreen.org/green-calculator.html