According to the EPA, the environment inside your home is two to five times as polluted as the environment outside -- and we spend about 90 percent of our time indoors. There are plenty of ways you can reduce allergens and increase your level of green at home and at work. Here are a few suggestions:
- Replace your household cleaners.According to Anca Novacovici, founder of Washington, D.C.-based Eco-Coach, more than 90 percent of reported cases of poisoning occur in the home, and the majority of them are caused by household cleaning products. Chemicals in some of these products have been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, asthma, and neurological problems, among other issues. Household cleaners are not regulated, so check the ingredients carefully, even with so-called “environmentally friendly” products.
- Stop using plastic bags.If you need another reason to keep your reusable shopping bags handy, here you go: Novacovici points out that Americans throw away 100 billion polyurethane bags each year, which is equivalent to almost 12 million barrels of oil. Less than 1 percent of those bags get recycled. Have a stash of them at home? Reuse them (for shopping, or as liners for small garbage containers) or find out if you can recycle them at your local grocery store.
- Replace your light bulbs with CFLs or LEDs.Compact fluorescents use 50 percent to 80 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs, and last as much as 10 times longer, Novacovici says. (If you think they cast a harsh glow, check out the newer versions, which do a great job of mimicking the warm, soft light of a regular light bulb). Worried about broken CFLs and mercury spillage? Choose light emitting diodes (LEDs) instead.
- Cut your energy usage. Check out our suggestions for lowering your heating bill (a programmable thermostat could make a big difference), reigning in your cooling costs (try using fans instead of or in addition to your air conditioner), or using less gas when you drive (combining trips and heeding the speed limit can help).
- Find an alternative to pesticides.Up to 80 percent of contact with pesticides happens indoors, not out in the garden. A 2005 report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that most 6- to 11-year-olds tested for a study had four times the EPA limit for certain pesticides already in their systems. Go green by seeking out alternative solutions to your pest problem; Novacovici suggests visiting BeyondPesticides.org for more ideas.
At the office
- Recycle, recycle, recycle. You probably already recycle a lot of paper and cardboard waste, but did you know that aluminum can be recycled indefinitely? And you can recycle your old electronics as well. Best Buy stores will recycle some TVs, computer monitors, DVD players, audio components, cables, and cell phones for free, and some other small appliances can be picked up and recycled for a fee, regardless of where (or when) you bought them; check out Bestbuy.com for more details. Digitaltips.org also offers several recycling options.
- Conserve energy. Turns out it doesn’t harm your computer if you turn it off at the end of the day after all -- and it can help the environment. Timers or motion-sensing lights can help when employees are prone to forgetting to flip the switches themselves.
- Save paper. Ninety-eight tones of resources are used to make just one ton of new paper, including the wood from 20 trees and 16,000 gallons of water. (A ton of 100-percent recycled paper uses no new trees and just 9,000 gallons of water.) Email or electronically fax documents instead of printing and snail-mailing them (Efax.comis one great way to do this), and use the print-preview function to see how your document looks instead of printing out an extra copy. Hosting a big meeting? Email the materials to participants, and use a projector to view them during the meeting itself instead of printing out many copies, Novacovici suggests.
- Bring your own mug. Disposable dishware takes up room in the landfills, and some chemicals leech from them into your food when they’re heated. Keep your own coffee mug at your desk, and consider having a set of silverware and a plate of your own as well.
- Keep your wardrobe green.Seventy percent of the environmental impact of clothing comes from garment care, Find an eco-friendly dry cleaner or, better still, buy clothing that can be watched with cold water, biodegradable detergent, and no bleach.