Doggie waste

Switch to eco doggie bags that biodegrade in the landfill -- which means Fido's poop won't be forever preserved in the landfill, in the plastic bag you grabbed without considering its end-of-life issues. Among them: Chicago- (and corn-based) Poop Bags ( and biodegradable Pooch Pick-Up Bags from PetSmart stores.

Leaky toilet

Fix it now. A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water a day. Check for leaks by adding food coloring to the tank. If you have a leak, color will appear in the bowl within 15 minutes. Flush as soon as you're done with this test to avoid staining the bowl. A footnote: It is estimated that 2 out of every 10 toilets in the U.S. leak. Those two leakers can waste as much as 146,000 gallons of water a year. That's enough water for a family of four to wash clothes in their washing machine for eight years.


A year's worth of papers from a big-city daily weighs nearly a half-ton. Every ton of paper that gets recycled saves the equivalent of 17 trees, saves enough energy to power an average home for six months, saves 7,000 gallons of water and keeps 60 pounds of pollutants out of the air.

Light bulbs

Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. If you replace five of your most-used incandescent bulbs with CFLs, you can save $25 to $65 a year in energy costs. CFLs use two-thirds less energy than incandescent bulbs, generate 70 percent less heat and last up to 10 times longer. They do contain a small amount of mercury -- but the benefits of using CFLs outweigh the mercury issue. (See story inside for tips on CFL recycling.)

Hand soap

Rediscover good ol' bar soap. And eliminate the plastic bottle waste that comes with using liquid soaps.

The microwave

Yes, use it instead of the oven/stove to reheat food or cook small portions. You will reduce cooking energy by as much as 80 percent.

Cooking on the stove

Match pots to the appropriate size burner. A 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner wastes more than 40 percent of the burner's heat. Using the right-size pot can save you as much as $36 a year with an electric range, as much as $18 with a gas range.

Water for laundry

Forgo the hot water when doing laundry. Heating water to "hot" accounts for 90 percent of the machine's washing energy; only 10 percent goes to power the motor. Switching to "cold" can save the average household more than $400 annually with an electric water heater and $300 annually with a gas heater.

More on water for laundry

And get over the idea that you need hot water to kill nasties. Cold-water laundering is perfectly healthful in most situations at home, with a couple of caveats. One: If you suffer from allergies, you might need a shot of heat, which you can get from tossing the laundry into a hot dryer for 10 minutes. Here's how it goes: If your problem is pollen or mold spores, cold water (and detergent) can rinse those out of your laundry as well as hot water. You need no heat on the situation. If your problem is animal dander or dust mites, you need some heat. Putting your laundry in a hot dryer (120 to 130 degrees) will kill those allergens. You don't need to precede that with a hot water wash. It's overkill.

The other big caveat: infectious diseases. If your family is dealing with something like E. Coli or norovirus (the cruise ship virus) or food poisoning or excessive diarrhea, all of which result in high levels of bacteria or virus in the environment, you need bleach. The hot water setting on most home washing machines is not hot enough to kill these. Add bleach with a cool or warm water setting and then follow with a hot dryer.

More on drying laundry