YOU'VE HEARD When it comes to food, be an organic purist
WE SAY Go organic for some products
With signs screaming "organic" in every aisle, grocery shopping has become downright stressful (especially because organic food can cost 20 to 30 percent more). But filling your shopping cart with organic fare doesn't make you the greenest gal on the block. When you factor in the use of heavy machinery, extensive processing, and shipping food thousands of miles, organic doesn't necessarily mean better for the environment. Plus, USDA organic standards don't differentiate between farmers who go above and beyond organic growing techniques and those who follow the bare minimum, so the consumer doesn't really know the quality of what they're getting. (Experts do recommend buying organic for certain high-pesticide crops, such as strawberries, peaches, apples, celery and lettuce; for a full list of produce that contains higher levels of pesticides, go to foodnews.org).
Instead of opting for organic, experts advocate buying from local producers whenever possible to get quality food at a lower price. Besides the reduced processing and shipping involved with smaller, local farms, buying items grown close to home also enables you to develop a relationship with producers, so you can ask how they're growing their products (though many smaller farms can't afford to get organically certified, they may not be using pesticides). If you don't have access to a farmers' market, consider joining a community-supported agriculture group (CSA), where members pay a seasonal or monthly fee to a farm in return for food. To find a CSA in your city or region, go to localharvest.org/csa.
YOU'VE HEARD Redecorate with low-VOC paint
WE SAY Do it-and breathe easier
There's a reason a fresh coat of paint has that distinct smell-you're breathing in low levels of toxic emissions called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They not only pollute indoor air, experts believe they also contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer. Fifteen years ago, companies began offering low- and no-VOC paints, which have since been improved to match the durability and coverage of traditional paint, minus the off-gases. It's one of the easiest eco-friendly choices you can make in your home. Just about every company now has low- or no-VOC options. They do cost more [anywhere from 15 percent extra to double the price], but as companies continue to jump on board, prices will come down. A few of our favorite green paints include Benjamin Moore Natura (Benjaminmoore.com), Yolo (yolocolorhouse.com) and Devoe Wonder Pure (devoepaint.com).
If you have a perfectly good toilet and aren't in the process of renovating your bathroom, save yourself the hassle and expense of installing a low-flush model. Instead, for less than $2, you can drastically reduce the water you use by installing the Niagara Conservation Toilet Tank Bank (energyfederation.org). All you do is fill it with water and hang it in the tank and it's like you've put in a new high-efficiency toilet. (Standard toilets manufactured since 1994 use 1.6 gallons per flush; most high-efficiency models use 1.28 gallons. The Toilet Tank Bank reduces water usage by 0.8 gallons per flush.)
If you are ready to replace an old toilet, don't assume low-flush is the way to go. Try installing a dual-flush model instead. They're not as easy to find (check at Home Depot and at specialty home and kitchen stores) and cost about $100 more. However, you often have to flush more than once to get everything down with lowflush toilets. A dual-flush has two buttons-one for liquid waste, which uses just 0.8 gallons of water, and one for solid, which uses 1.6 gallons.