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Green Living:  

Your guide to Earth-friendly practices and resources

10 Earth-friendly practices

1. Eat less meat & dairy

Avoiding meat and dairy is the single-biggest impact individuals can have on the environment. This was the conclusion reached by scientists who conducted the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet. Animal products create more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. The new data show that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% — an area equivalent to the U.S., China, European Union, and Australia combined — and still feed the world. You don't have to quit meat and dairy all at once: reduce consumption over time. Begin a meatless Monday routine with delicious recipes from a vegetarian cookbook

2. Drink tap water

It's usually purer than bottled, plus as much as half of bottled water is actually...tap water! Bottled water requires up to 50 million barrels of oil worth of energy to produce, truck to stores, and transport. It also contains microplastics, which you ingest when you drink. Need more convincing? On average, bottled water costs about 600 times more than tap water. Calculate your savings at

3. Skip the single-use disposables

Take your own metal, wood, or bamboo spoons, forks, knives, or chopsticks to work and on picnics. Why? Huge amounts of plastic are plaguing our oceans and wildlife. (Here's the scoop on on plastic cutlery.) Also, keep your own reusable bottle or mug handy to refill wherever you, car, or the local coffee shop. Many retailers, including Starbucks, offer customers a discount when they bring in their own tumbler for reuse. When shopping, remember to take your reusable totes so you don't need the store's plastic or paper bags. (If you do end up with plastic bags after shopping, keep them out of the waste stream: Collect them for recycling at major retailers including Jewel, Mariano's,Target, Walmart, and Home Depot.)

Accumulating plastics in our environment aren't a problem for tomorrow; they're posing a problem right now: the World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that the average person ingests about five grams of plastic a week — or about the size of a credit card. Based on that research, over the course of a year a person munches through more than 260 grams of plastic, or just over 9 ounces (more than a cup).

4. Choose renewable energy now

Homeowners in Illinois can power their homes with solar or wind energy without panels or turbines anywhere in sight. Here's how:

• review green options here

• decide on a new supplier

• click the link to the supplier's website

• fill out their form

The provider does the rest. There's no charge for changing, though your kilowatt charge may change. It takes one month before the switch happens. It's completely seamless: The only difference is that the supply part of your electric bill will say something other than ComEd. ComEd continues to deliver and bill you.

5. Get a free home energy audit and save $$, too

ComEd customers can reduce energy usage with a free energy assessment that includes free and discounted products for your home (low-energy light bulbs, efficient power strips, etc.). ComEd has partnered with your natural gas utility to bring electric and natural gas savings to you. Schedule your assessment now:

6. Walk or ride your bike, take a train or bus

If you're not heading far, consider leaving the car at home. It's good for your health and the environment when you go on foot or by pedal power. If you're traveling into Chicago or farther, opting for Metra, Amtrak, or a bus (Pace suburban bus, Chicago Transit Authority, GreyhoundMegabus) means less emissions and more relaxation. Avoiding air travel is also recommended. That's a hard one, especially when you need to get halfway across the world for business or family. But if you can reduce the number of air miles you travel each year, that helps.

7. Say 'no' to foam

Polystyrene (brand name: Styrofoam) is made of benzene, a fossil fuel derivative that takes 500+ years to decompose in a landfill. Ask your favorite restaurant to use Earth-friendly take-out containers (made of cardboard, foil, or other non-foam materials). If you receive Styrofoam, rinse and collect it, then drop it off at the Highland Park Recycling Center, 1180 Half Day Rd., Highland Park. 

8. Pick up trash whenever you see it

If you notice litter, pick it up and dispose of it properly. If you see an overflowing trash can, try to remedy it. Any debris that ends up on the ground is eventually washed into storm drains and then finds its way into a waterway that leads to the ocean. Plogging (picking up trash while jogging) is a thing. Find out more about this healthy habit in this PBS News Hour video clip.

9. Shop local & second-hand

The closer your food was produced to where you live, the fewer resources were used to get it to you...good news for carbon emissions. Plus, it's fresher. Visit your local farmers market to find seasonal, just-picked fruits and vegetables as well as locally made specialty items like baked goods, cheeses, and honey. (For inspiration on eating local, read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life or Julie Castillo's Eat Local for Less.)

If you're refreshing your wardrobe or looking for a household item, check out local resale shops or thrift stores first: great finds, great deals. Thrift shops are also a good source for board games and puzzles. While you're there, drop off a box or bag of items you're no longer using (old coats, sports equipment, baby gear certified as safe) so someone else can make use of it.

10. Borrow instead of buy

Whether it's tools, yard equipment, or items you need for entertaining, you'll save money and the Earth's resources if you borrow the things you occasionally need (bonus: you won't have to store this infrequently used stuff!). Think: branch trimmer, power drill, fondue pot, extra serving plates, yard games. Lots of neighborhoods offer message boards like where you can locate items to borrow or post things you have to share. Or, just ask a neighbor!

Curbside recycling tips

Do put in recycling bins:

• all bottles & cans — give a quick rinse and toss them in

• cardboard — unsoiled

• all paper — newsprint, envelopes, uncoated wrapping paper, paper bags

• some plastic containers — check your municipality's guidelines

Buffalo Grove, Lincolnshire, Long Grove: Waste Management

Riverwoods: Lakeshore Recycling Systems

Vernon Hills: Advanced Disposal

Don't put in recycling bins:

• plastic bags (they clog recycling plant machines): collect and recycle plastic bags at major retailers including Jewel, Mariano's,Target, Walmart, and Home Depot

• pizza boxes & other food-soiled cardboard; toss in the trash instead

• Styrofoam food containers & packing materials: collect and recycle at the Highland Park Recycling Center (all Lake County residents may drop off Styrofoam here), 1180 Half Day Road, Highland Park.

Green Academy

Come to an event that informs, sparks conversations, and provides actionable steps you can take to help reduce your carbon footprint. There are programs for every age group. Find out more about the Green Academy and sign up.

Reduce unwanted mail

Too many catalogs and other promotions in your mailbox? Stop the clutter and help save some trees at

How to dispose of...

Electronics, light bulbs, art supplies, medications, building materials...lots of things should not go in your curbside trash or recycling bins. Whatever you're getting rid of, find out where to dispose of it or recycle it properly.

Where do I dispose of this? (for Lake County, Illinois, residents)

The Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO), facilitates efficient, reliable, and environmentally sound regional solid waste disposal.

If you live in Buffalo Grove, dispose of some hazardous waste by contacting Waste Management.

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