This may be a cliché, however, the best way to be Earth-friendly is to cut down on what you consume and recycle whenever you can. Every little bit helps; recycling just one glass bottle saves enough electricity to light a 100-watt bulb for four hours.
Get rid of that old refrigerator in the garage. Getting rid of it could save you as much as $150 a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Appliance use comprises about 18% of a typical home's total energy bill, with the fridge being one of the biggest energy hogs. If any appliance is more than 10 years old, the EPA suggests replacing them with energy-efficient models that bear their "Energy Star" logo. Energy Star-qualified appliances use 10%-50% less energy and water than standard models. According to the Energy Star site, if just one in 10 homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would be equivalent to planting 1.7 million new acres of trees.
Consider what you put in that energy-efficient refrigerator. Pesticide use, transportation costs and packaging are all things to consider when stocking up. Buying locally cuts down on the fossil fuels burned to get the food to you. Organic foods are produced without potentially harmful pesticides and fertilizers.
Stop buying household cleaners that are potentially toxic to both you and the environment. In his book, "The Safe Shopper's Bible," David Steinman suggests reading labels for specific, eco-friendly ingredients that also perform effectively. These include grain alcohol instead of toxic butyl cellosolve, commonly found in carpet cleaner and some window cleaners as a solvent; coconut or other plant oils rather than petroleum in detergents; and plant-oil disinfectants such as eucalyptus, rosemary or sage rather than triclosan, an antifungal agent found in soaps and deodorant. Or, skip buying altogether and make your own cleaning products. Use simple ingredients such as plain soap, water, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), vinegar, washing soda (sodium carbonate), lemon juice and borax and save money at the same time. Check out these books by Annie Bertold-Bond for cleaning recipes: "Clean and Green" and "Better Basics for the Home."
Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) use 66% less energy than a standard incandescent bulb and last up to 10 times longer. Replacing a 100-watt incandescent bulb with a 32-watt CFL can save $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.
Bamboo is considered an environmentally friendly flooring material due to its high yield and the relatively fast rate at which it replenishes itself. It takes just four to six years for bamboo to mature, compared to 50-100 years for typical hardwoods. Just be sure to look for sources that use formaldehyde-free glues.
Conventional paints contain solvents, toxic metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause smog, ozone pollution and indoor air quality problems with negative health effects, according to the EPA. These unhealthy ingredients are released into the air while you're painting, while the paint dries and even after the paints are completely dry. Opt instead for zero- or low-VOC paint, made by most major paint manufacturers today.
You can buy "tree-free" 100% post-consumer recycled paper for everything from greeting cards to toilet paper. Paper with a high post-consumer waste content uses less virgin pulp and keeps more waste paper out of landfills.
Remove yourself from junk mail lists. Each person will receive almost 560 pieces of junk mail this year, which adds up nationally to 4.5 million tons, according to the Native Forest Network. About 44% of all junk mail is thrown in the trash, unopened and unread, and ends up in a landfill.
Buy unbleached paper. Many paper products, including some made from recycled fibers, are bleached with chlorine. The bleaching process can create harmful byproducts, including dioxins, which accumulate in our air, water and soil over time.
Finally, here's a third answer to the old "paper or plastic" question: ‘No thanks.’ Carry your own cloth bags to the store to avoid using store bags. Each year, we throw away billions of polyethylene plastic bags — from grocery and trash bags to those ultra-convenient sandwich bags. Unfortunately, plastics are made from petroleum — the processing and burning of which is considered one of the main contributors to global warming, according to the EPA. In addition, sending plastics to the landfill also increases greenhouse gases. Reduce, re-use and recycle your plastics for one of the best ways to combat global warming.