Earth Day: 7 easy ways to be greener and healthier

Consumer Reports News: April 22, 2010 12:38 PM

When it comes to your wellness, it’s not easy being green. Green for your home? Yes. Green for your car? Check. Green electronics? Of course. But green for your health seems a bit more complicated, but in fact there are some earth-friendly ways you can look after your health. Take a look at these 7 easy steps to greener, healthier living, and oh, and there’s a bonus: Most of these tips will save you money too.

Cut down on your "food miles." Who doesn’t prefer a fresh tomato that tastes like it came out of your own garden? Experts say local fruits and vegetables may retain more nutrients than produce shipped hundreds of miles, and some people swear it tastes better as well. And since local food travels shorter distances and requires less packaging and refrigeration, it can cut back on carbon dioxide emissions. You can go local by supporting farmers markets near you, or even go hyperlocal by joining a community garden, or starting one in your own backyard. Fresh fruits and veggies are part of a heart-healthy diet and all the planting and picking means you’ll burn calories at the same time.

Green clean. Freshen up, cut grease, and remove stains with non-toxic ingredients from your kitchen, such as lemon juice, baking soda, and vinegar. For example, add 3 tablespoons vinegar per 1 quart water in a spray bottle and you've got a safe, eco-friendly window cleaner.  Homemade cleaners are not only green and less toxic, they can help you save money as well.

Know your brew. You can’t live without your coffee—it helps you start your day and research shows it’s good for your heart and brain. If you’re buying green beans to make a difference in the lives of the people who grow coffee and to benefit the environment, make sure you understand the labels. For example, "bird friendly" coffee means the beans are organic and are grown under conditions that benefit bird habitats, and "fair-trade certified" indicates the brand advocates sustainable production and fair prices for small farmers. Double-check "organic" beauty product labels. "Natural", "organic", and "paraben- free" cosmetics and body-care products are more common than ever—you can find them on the shelves of many drug and beauty stores. But labels on many beauty products can be misleading. Make sure the products you buy have a USDA certification seal which means just 5 percent or less of the product can contain synthetic chemicals. And check the ingredients. Look out for nonorganic ingredients and the word "fragrance" which might indicate the product contains harmful phthalates.

Safely dispose of expired meds. If you flush or pour your unused drugs down the drain, they could end up in the drinking water supply and cause harm. So dispose of them the responsible way—take advantage of pharmacy take-back programs that will take unused drugs and dispose of them properly, such as the one some CVS pharmacies are currently running. Check with your local pharmacy or with your state waste-management authority about drug collection programs.

Use a water filter. On average, each American drinks about 28 gallons of bottled water annually. That’s a lot of plastic bottles mostly made from crude oil, not to mention the sizable energy costs of transporting and packaging all those bottles. If you’re drinking bottled water because you’re worried about safety, check your water’s contaminants on the EPA’s website and consider a good water filter (we recently rated them).

Choose fish wisely. There are lots of healthful reasons to eat more fish, but not for eating species of fish that are in trouble. Choose sustainable sources of fish whenever possible by consulting with one of the four guides that group fish based on the environmental impact of catching them. The guides come from the Blue Ocean Institute, Environmental Defense, or Monterey Bay Aquarium. For a list of seafood substitution recommendations, check out the Smart Seafood Guide from Food & Water Watch.

Ginger Skinner


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