Change your light bulbs. We're sure you've heard this before -- and we know it's tempting to buy the four-pack of bulbs for $2 -- but compact fluorescent bulbs use two-thirds less energy and last 10 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs.
The payoff:If Americans replaced just one bulb in their home, it would save enough energy to light 2.5 million homes in one year and prevent an amount of greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of 800,000 cars.
Bring your own mug to Starbucks. You'll get a 10-cent discount, and it's one less paper cup to end up in a landfill. While you're there, pick up some free bags of spent coffee grounds to use as "green" fertilizer in your garden.
The payoff:The store won't create more waste when they throw away a cup, and you can start growing carbon dioxide-eating plants au naturale.
Save water. Run the dishwasher only when it's full, and don't pre-rinse dishes (a waste of time, water, and energy). But the real water drain is the shower -- take shorter ones (and take them together!).
The payoff:By skipping pre-rinse, you'll save 200 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released and $40 a year. And by taking shorter showers, you'll conserve 350 pounds of CO2 and keep about $100 in your pocket each year.
Look into low-flow shower heads. They still have great pressure but conserve gallons of water from each shower.
Turn off your computer. When in standby mode, your PC is still using energy. In fact, 75 percent of electricity used in your home comes from electronics that are turned off. Stop this phantom electro rush by plugging your computer into a power strip and shutting down completely at the end of the day. Also, remove your iPod, digital camera, and phone chargers from outlets when not in use.
The payoff:Turning off a 75-watt monitor for 40 hours a week might only save $4.38 a month, but it reduces CO2 (greenhouse gas emissions) by 750 pounds, burning 450 fewer pounds of coal each year!
Cancel catalogs. Many of us have a steady flow of unwanted and unsolicited junk mail, catalogs, and magazines. Let's say everyone in New York City received 10 a month: That would make 240,248 tons of paper waste! Call 888-5-OPTOUT or get off the lists at NewDream.org. Make sure to recycle what you do receive. Find out where to recycle in your area at Earth911.org.
The payoff:Less energy is spent on creating paper (which kills trees we need) and less trash is created when we can reuse products. The immediate return? Less clutter at home!
Reuse plastic bags. Instead of chucking 100 billion plastic sacks a year (wow!), try and get a second, third, or tenth use out of them. Tote your lunch to work or your groceries home, or at least use them as garbage bags. Better yet, next time you shop, try a reusable bag. Learn how at ReusableBags.com.
The payoff:You're reducing pollution. The amount of oil it would take to make just 14 plastic bags would run your car for one mile.
Green your car. The next time you're in the market for a new car, check out an eco option like a hybrid model -- whatever you do, don't get an SUV. In the meantime, take care of your current ride with regular tune-ups and properly inflated tires.
The payoff:Driving a 13-mile-per-gallon SUV wastes more energy in one year than if you left your refrigerator door open for six years! Getting regular tune-ups, performing maintenance, and having clean air filters will help you burn less gas and therefore pollute the air less. And properly inflated tires could save around 2 billion gallons of gas each year.
Use recycled paper...in the bathroom. Most of the TP we use is made from virgin trees found in forests previously untouched by humans. Seeing as trees absorb carbon dioxide, we'd get better use from them living than we would as a roll in the powder room.
The payoff:If every household in America replaced one roll of toilet paper with a recycled postconsumer waste roll, 424,000 trees would still be standing. Look for eco paper towels and napkins too. If every household used recycled napkins, we would spare one million trees.
Buy energy-efficient appliances. The old fridge conked out. Great! Replace it with an Energy Star appliance (EnergyStar.gov) and you'll use at least 15 percent less energy and water in your home. It might be a little pricier to buy, but you'll be saving money on your utility bills and helping the environment.
The payoff:If we all installed one Energy Star appliance, it would be like planting 1.7 million acres of new trees.
Plant a tree. Adding green to your garden is aesthetically -- and earth -- pleasing.
The payoff:Just one tree (native to your region) will help make cleaner air and save the environment from 5,000 pounds of hot carbon dioxide each year.
Give and voice your support. Contribute or volunteer with the green organization of your choice. And tell a friend to do the same. Some we like: OnePercentForThePlanet.org, SaveOurEnvironment.org, SierraClub.org, and ConservationFund.org. Sign the "Emissions Petition" at EnvironmentalDefense.org, and send the message to your local government representatives that you want to undo global warming.
The payoff:Together time. Oh, and feeling like you're doing something about this Earth-destroying epidemic.