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Going green: 20 small steps that make a big difference (by Leslie Crawford)

We all want to protect the planet. After all, our children's future is at stake, as well as our own. But for most moms and dads, hybrid minivans and solar panels are out of reach — and who has the energy to give up diapers or dishwashers?

The good news is, small changes can make a big difference. (Consider: If all 4 million BabyCenter monthly visitors swapped one regular light bulb for a fluorescent one, the carbon dioxide savings would roughly equal taking 76,000 cars off the road.) We went to top environmental experts to get their best tips for busy parents and parents-to-be. Their advice will help you leave the world a healthier place for your child and save you money to boot. What could be better than that?

In your home
Make your fridge efficient
"The single biggest electricity user in your house is the refrigerator," says Lisa Moore, climate and air scientist at Environmental Defense, who notes that you can reduce the energy drain with a few simple tricks. Cleaning the coils every six months will help you use less energy and save money. (Flip up or remove the kick plate or toe grill, and clean with a vacuum attachment or bottle brush. Make sure to unplug the fridge or turn off its circuit breaker first.) So will keeping the fridge set between 38 and 40 degrees and the freezer between 0 and 5 degrees — the settings where it's most efficient.

Stop standby waste
Unplugging TVs, DVD players, computers, and other major electronics when they're not in use could keep thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air each year, according to Al Gore's site An Inconvenient Truth. (Even when they're turned off, their standby consumption is about equal to running a light bulb continuously.) To avoid the hassle of constantly plugging and unplugging, here's an easy solution: Plug several electronics onto one power strip and switch it off. As for small gadgets like cell phones, digital cameras, and hand-held vacuums — once they're charged, keep them unplugged until needed.

Light up right
"Switching from traditional incandescent bulbs to fluorescent is the easiest and most cost-efficient fix for saving energy," says actress Rachelle Carson-Begley, wife of actor and eco-activist Ed Begley Jr. Even though fluorescent bulbs cost more, you'll save up to $60 in energy bills over the lifetime of the bulb. If you don't like the look of fluorescent, switch out the garage and hall lights, and save the mood lighting for bedrooms and bathrooms. Or, mix iridescent and fluorescent in multibulb fixtures.

Flush water waste
A whopping 40 percent of the water used in your home goes down the toilet. A low-flow toilet can cut the amount you use by half or more (and yes, it'll work just as well). A low-tech alternative: Put a brick or plastic milk jug filled with pebbles in the tank. The space it takes up reduces the amount of water needed to fill the tank, so you'll save gallons (and money) with each flush.

Fix drips and leaks
A leaky faucet? Time to call the plumber. That slow but steady drip, drip, drip can waste up to 20 gallons of water a day. Extra credit: Replacing standard faucets and showerheads with low-flow versions will help a family of four save 20,000 gallons a year.
There are plenty of other small but significant ways to conserve, says Joanna Yarrow, author of 1001 Ways to Help the Earth. "Keep a pitcher of water in the fridge so you don't waste water as you wait for it to get cold from the tap," she recommends. "And turn the water off when brushing your teeth."

Use dishwasher smarts
"A lot of people think washing by hand is more environmentally friendly than running a dishwasher," says Yarrow. Not necessarily so. You can save up to 20 gallons of water a day by waiting till your dishwasher's full to switch it on. You'll save even more energy by letting dishes air dry on the racks instead of using the heat dry cycle. Plus, most new dishwashers don't need you to prerinse. Simply scrape off food and load, and you'll conserve another 20 gallons.
And if you're in the market for a new dishwasher (or any appliance), look for the Energy Star label. It'll save you more than $40 a year in utility bills, and many power companies offer rebates as well.

Wash in cold
"By washing clothes in cold water rather than warm or hot," says EcoMom Alliance president Kimberly Danek-Pinkson, "you can eliminate 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year." (Bonus: Your clothes will last longer.) If cold water isn't going to cut it with your kid's grimy duds, opting for warm water over hot still saves energy and gets clothes clean.
To make laundry day even more energy-efficient, wait until you have a full load. Danek-Pinkson also advises rethinking what constitutes dirty. "Kids go through lots of outfits that wind up on the floor, and then you toss them in the laundry basket," she says. "Ask yourself, 'Is this really dirty?' If not, think of all the energy you'll spare — for the planet and yourself — by not washing them."

Get the lint out
"If you clean out the lint filter of your clothes dryer before each load, you'll reduce your energy use by up to 30 percent," says Jennifer Hattam, green living expert for the Sierra Club. (That's nothing to sneeze at, considering the dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in the house.) As with the washer, waiting till you have a full load saves lots of energy.

Adjust the thermostat
"Turning the thermostat just two degrees up or down saves a lot of energy and money," says Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers, who headed up the Two Degree Campaign. Rogers recommends setting that thermostat dial to 68 degrees in winter and 72 in the summer. For winter nights, lower to 65 degrees and pile on the blankets. And if possible, opt for an energy-efficient fan instead of air conditioning during summer.

On the road

Pump up tires
"If you'd properly inflate your tires, you could reduce global warming and have cleaner air to breath," says Savannah Waters, who founded Pump 'Em Up at age 9. She makes a good point. If all American drivers kept their tires at the recommended pressure, we'd save about 4 million gallons of gas a day (and our tires would last longer, too).

Drive smart
When waiting to pick up kids after school or soccer practice, you'll spare the air — and the lungs of the children waiting for their rides — if you don't let your car idle. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends turning off your engine if you're going to be in one place for more than 30 seconds.
Also, be a steady driver. By avoiding sudden braking and acceleration, you'll increase fuel efficiency by as much as 40 percent. And if you set your highway cruising speed to 55 to 60 miles per hour, you'll save even more gas.
"Driving the speed limit and at a steady speed, without sudden stops and starts, is safer for you and your children anyway," Jennifer Hattam points out.

Plan your trip (or just walk)
Given that roughly a quarter of daily car trips are one mile or less, there's a health-friendly alternative way to get to the local market or park. "Get out of your car," says Rachelle Carson-Begley. "Walk a little and get your exercise." And when you do climb into your car, plan your trip so you hit all your stops along the most efficient route — you'll save time, money, and gas.

Trim your trash

Rethink the baby wipes
Most baby wipes take several hundred years to break down, says Joanna Yarrow. Considering the number of wipes used in the United States (about 5,000 per baby), that's a lot of landfill. The most earth- and baby-friendly alternative, Yarrow says, is to make your own by cutting cotton fabric into small squares and washing them when dirty. At the very least, when just a quick swipe of a wipe is needed for easy cleanups, rip a wipe in half.

Bring your own bag
It takes 12 million barrels of oil, and 14 million trees, to make all the paper and plastic bags Americans go through each year. Next time you shop, take cloth bags (keep a few in the trunk to have on hand). Or just reuse — sturdy plastic bags or double-bagged paper ones hold up for months, and they're free. Extra credit: Reuse plastic produce bags, or pick up a few cloth ones (you'll find them at

Break the bottle habit
Making and even recycling plastic water bottles uses energy and releases pollution, and every year, millions of them wind up in landfill. It's not worth the waste, argues Gina Solomon, senior scientist for the National Resources Defense Council. "Bottled water is often just tap water with a fancy label and a high price, and it's not any better for you," she says. In fact, Consumer Reports found that about a quarter of bottled water comes from the tap.
A more earth-friendly alternative is to fill reusable aluminum or stainless steel bottles with tap. If you're concerned about water quality or don't like the taste, try a filter (our food safety area has info on the various kinds).

Buy recycled paper
Yes, it costs more. But the paper industry is the third largest contributor to global warming, according to If your budget doesn't allow for it, try to reuse. For instance, take home used paper from the office and use the clean side for to-do lists, phone messages, and art projects — and then toss it in the recycle bin.

It sounds old-fashioned to mention recycling — until you consider that an incredible 69 percent of Americans still don't do it. For tips, including what's recyclable in your town, go to Earth 911. Extra credit: Try to steer clear of food and toys wrapped in excess packaging.

Have a kid swap party
No, we're not suggesting you trade in your temperamental toddler. In the spirit of community and recycling, Grist president Chip Giller swaps kid items with other parents. "All our friends are having kids now, and we pass clothes and toys from one person to another," he says. If you make a party out of it, you get a twofer: new duds and toys, plus plenty of fun.

Involve your family

Grow a garden
"Mucking about in the garden is a great way for kids to interact with nature in a meaningful and rewarding way from an early age," says Yarrow. Even urban kids will enjoy planting seeds in flowerpots for a windowsill garden.

Use your voice
If you or your child is concerned about an environmental issue, sit down and write a letter together. "One letter sent the old-fashioned way, as opposed to e-mail, can greatly influence your congressperson or senator," says Moore. You can find contact information for your elected congressional representatives and senators online.

(Sourced From BabyCenter.Com)

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