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Sustainable Living:  

The headlines about our climate can be overwhelming. But, take heart: there are changes you can make to reduce your carbon footprint right now. And those changes add up. Bonus: a lot of Earth-friendly habits are also easy on your wallet. Read on.

Top 6 ways to make your day Earth-friendly


#1 - Eat less meat & dairy

Avoiding meat and dairy is the single-biggest impact individuals can have on the environment:

  • global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods and more than the transportation sector
  • 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 completely or suddenly; reducing your consumption makes a difference. It also helps to avoid or limit the biggest offenders — beef, dairy, and pork. Start with a meatless Monday routine, made delicious with recipes from one of these vegan cookbooks. Bonus: There are lots of health benefits to eating a plant-based diet.


#2 - Drink tap water

Tap water is far better than bottled water:

  • tap water is usually purer and the quality is monitored; check your community's annual drinking water report by searching for your community name and "Consumer Confidence Report," for example "Lincolnshire Consumer Confidence Report"
  • a lot of bottled water is just filtered tap water: get a filtering pitcher or install a filter at the tap to save money and eliminate plastic
  • whenever you drink bottled water, you're ingesting microplastics (read on, to #3, for more on this)
  • bottled water costs as much as 2,000 times as much as tap water

Bottled water has created a huge waste problem that didn't exist before beverage manufacturers began marketing and selling water a few decades ago. It requires oil to produce and transport to your home. And even if you toss that empty bottle in a recycling bin, it requires energy to collect it, get it to a facility, and recycle. Learn more about the problems created by bottled water in this 8-minute video from the Story of Stuff.


#3 - Skip single-use disposables

Huge amounts of plastic, including disposable cutlery, are plaguing our oceans and wildlife. Plastics accumulating in our environment isn't problem for tomorrow; it's a problem right now. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that on average we each ingest about five grams of plastic a week — which is like eating a credit card. Based on that research, over the course of a year a person munches more than 260 grams of plastic, or just over 9 ounces (more than a cup). Styrofoam also poses a serious waste problem: It takes a long time to decompose (some estimates say as long as 500 years!), and as it does, it leeches chemicals. Avoid:

  • plastic utensils — use and wash your own metal, wood, or bamboo spoons, forks, knives, or chopsticks instead
  • plastic bags — take reusable bags to the store with you, but remember to clean them every now and then
  • Styrofoam containers — ask your favorite take-out restaurant to use a different container for their delicious food


#4 - Reduce unwanted mail

Save trees: stop the delivery of unwanted catalogs. Get started at


#5 - Recycle

Put these in a recycling bin:

  • 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

Don't recycle:

  • 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 — rinse, collect, and drop them off at the Highland Park Recycle Center, open to all Lake County residents; drop-off hours are limited so check before you head out


#6 - Get renewable energy, no installation required

If you're an Illinois homeowner, you can power your dwelling with solar or wind energy without panels or turbines anywhere in sight. Here's how:

The supplier does the rest. There's no charge for switching, though your per-kilowatt charge will likely change. It takes one month for the switch to take effect. It's completely seamless: The only difference is that the supplier on your electric bill will be different; ComEd continues to deliver your power and bill you.

Read up

Browse and check out books sustainable living.

cover of Under the Sky We Make by Kimberly Nicholas
cover of The Climate Diet by Paul Greenberg
cover of Live Green by Jen Chillingsworth
cover of Our World Out of Balance (children's book)
cover of An Almost Zero Waste Life by Megean Waldon
cover of Repair Revolution by John Wackman
cover of The Stuff We Buy
cover of Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles
cover of Future Sea by Deborah Rowan Wright
cover of How to Change Everything by Naomi Klein
cover of This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
cover of Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

Don't landfill all household waste

Be careful about what you put in your trash: some waste is hazardous to the environment and won't biodegrade. Check these resources to find out how to dispose of common and uncommon household items.

How do I 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. From the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO). 

Residential pick-up service

If you live in a community serviced by Waste Management, you may be able to dispose of CFLs, paint products, batteries, consumer electronics, household and garden chemicals, and other hazardous wastes by contacting the hauler for a pickup. This service applies only to certain ZIP codes (including Buffalo Grove and Long Grove, Illinois). 

SWALCO guide to neighborhood programs

Input your village, town, or city, or select from the list to view waste disposal and recycling programs in each community. From the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO). 

Clean without toxins

Find out how to keep your home clean using natural ingredients. DIY solutions, made with inexpensive items like vinegar, can help you save money, too.


Clean Mama’s Guide to a Healthy Home by Becky Rapinchuk

Green Clean by Jill Potvin Schoff

Natural Home Cleaning by Fern Green

Organically Clean Home by Becky Rapinchuk

Websites - Author Becky Rapinchuk provides lots of good tips in her blog - The nonprofit Environmental Working Group promotes healthier living in a healthier environment - Practical tips and inspiration to help you create a healthy home

Green your holidays


According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins end up in landfills. Instead of putting your gourds in the rubbish, try composting them or leaving them for wildlife to eat (no painted gourds, please; they're toxic to animals).

Holiday lights 

If replacing fuses or bulbs doesn't relight the string, don't send it to the landfill, where the chemicals leach into the soil and water runoff. Recycle holiday lights instead at these Lake County locations.

Christmas trees 

December 26 and February 1: Drop off evergreens at selected Lake County Forest Preserve sites for reuse and recycling. Donated trees are chipped and used for trails and landscaping at forest preserves throughout the county.

Afikomen bags for Passover

Make your own bag or let the kids do it with these instructions and other tips from the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Easter baskets & eggs

Instead of lining baskets with artificial grass, run scrap paper from the recycling bin through the shredder. 

Skip artificial coloring: Use fruits and vegetables you have around the house to get beautifully colored eggs, naturally.

Green your ride

Switching to a reliable hybrid or electric vehicle is a great way to cut emissions, especially if you drive a lot. There are all sorts of hybrid and electric cars, including SUVs and mid-size sedans. Car-buying always takes research; understand a few key terms, then check out these reliable resources:

Websites - General info on electric and hybrid vehicles from the researchers at the Project Drawdown, a nonprofit. - U.S. Department of Energy information about energy efficiency of and tax incentives for all-electrichybrid, and plug-in hybrid vehicles. - Info & ratings from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Library resources

car magazines on Flipster - Read current and back issues of Car & Driver, Motor Trend, and Road & Track. Log in with your Vernon Area Library card number, then search by title or select "Automotive" from the categories list.

Consumer Reports - Hybrid and electric car ratings. Log in with your Vernon Area Library card number, then navigate to

e-books on electric cars - Check them out in the Hoopla app (Vernon Area Library cardholders only).

magazine and trade journal articles - In the search box at, key in your term ("electric cars" or "hybrid cars"), then click the arrow at left and select "articles" before you search. Your Vernon Area Library card number gives you access to all articles.

Learn more

Explore the issues - on the Sierra Club website; includes opportunities to take action

15 ways to shrink your plastic footprint - from The Guardian

Green Living - tips from Green America, a national nonprofit

The Lazy Person's Guide to Saving the World - actionable 4-level guide published by the UN

My Plastic-Free Life - blog by Beth Terry, author of Plastic-Free

The Story of Stuff - blog and other resources from the global project

TED Talks about climate changeconservation, sustainability, or biodiversity 

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals - a blueprint for a better and more sustainable future for all