Tips for Living Green

Having a home that contributes to a healthy environment is important, but a home is only as green as the people who live in it. In and out of the home, there is a lot you can do to help protect the world’s air, water, land, wildlife, and climate.

At home, at work, at the grocery store, and everywhere in between, there are many ways you can live a greener life. What’s more, it isn’t hard at all. The key is to ask yourself some basic questions: Am I using more resources than I need? Am I using more energy than I need? Are my actions making my community a healthier place? These questions can lead to both subtle and dramatic changes in your daily behavior.

Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling

  • Recycling is important, but first and foremost: use less. Watch The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard to find out why.
  • The things you do use can often be used over and over again—either for the same purpose or for something totally new. Be creative. Not only are you cutting back on your resource use; you'll also end up with some cool, eye-catching conversation starters. San Mateo County's RecycleWorks is a great website to spark your imagination.
  • Set aside bins in your home to separate and collect recyclable materials, including newspapers, white paper, clear and colored glass, plastic water and milk bottles, aluminum, cardboard, batteries, and fluorescent light bulbs. Check with your local trash-collection company, municipal government, or business directory to find out what recycling services are available.
  • Packing peanuts and other loose fill will sit in a landfill for centuries, but there are lots of places you can take them for recycling. Call the Peanut Hotline at 1-800-828-2214.
  • Many computers, monitors, cell phones, and other electronic devices include toxic materials that should not be sent to landfills, where they can poison wildlife and contaminate groundwater. You’d be surprised how many retailers and other companies will take your old gadgets for recycling. The Environmental Protection Agency can help you find local electronics recyclers.
  • And that's not all: Did you know you can recycle athletic shoes? Mattresses? Dry-cleaning hangers and plastic? Here are seven items you didn't know you could recycle.


  • Use nontoxic, environmentally safe, biodegradable cleaning products, including laundry detergent. You can find these products at any natural grocery and even in many mainstream stores. Just read labels carefully.
  • Don’t pollute your indoor air or mask odors that could alert you to a problem. Choose fragrance-free products.


  • Buy a high-efficiency car if you can afford one. Check the U.S. Department of Energy’s list of most fuel-efficient cars to find the one that’s right for you.
  • Rather than driving to work every day, try other ways of commuting, even if only one or two days a week. You can walk, ride your bike, take the bus or the train, or join a carpool. You’ll be cutting down on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, oil consumption, and the cost of fueling and maintaining your vehicle. Plus, mixing up your routine helps you avoid falling into the workday rut.
  • Urge your workplace to have a van pool, environmentally responsible purchasing policies, and an improved indoor environment. Rid your workplace of secret energy addicts. They are everywhere.

Personal practices

  • Buy locally produced items, including food and other goods. Buying local reduces the amount of fossil fuels required to transport products from other parts of the country or world. It also cuts down on wasteful plastic and paper packaging.
  • Instead of using grocery stores’ disposable plastic or paper bags, bring your own reusable tote bags, which are available for sale at many grocers and other retailers. The bags are sturdier than disposable bags, making the trip home easier, and they don’t waste resources or end up in landfills. If you must use disposable bags, ask your bagger to avoid double-bagging whenever possible.
  • Use nontoxic gardening techniques. Many gardeners overapply or improperly apply pesticides, putting themselves, their families, and their pets at increased health risk. Our clean air and drinking water are affected by pesticides and garden equipment emissions. And nearly half of all households have pesticides stored within reach of children—a health hazard that is entirely avoidable.
  • Urge your school district to construct new green schools and undertake green renovations of existing schools for your children.
  • Advocate for green building codes and regulations in your community.
  • Switch to socially responsible investing.


  • Unplug appliances in your home when they aren't being used: TVs, VCRs, DVD players, cable TV boxes, computers and printers, video game consoles, microwave ovens, and AC adapters for cell phones, digital cameras, and other electronics. Most electronic equipment, including anything that uses a remote control, is designed to consume energy when it is turned off. That “off" setting is actually a standby or idling mode. Standby power in the average household consumes 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. That’s enough energy to power an entire home for two months or more!
  • More and more utility companies are offering residential customers the option to purchase green power—electricity generated by rapidly renewable resources like solar power, wind turbines, geothermal systems, and biomass. Generally, green power adds $2 to $3 a month to your utility bill while helping to combat global climate change and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs in your lamps and light fixtures.
  • Wash your clothes in cool rather than hot water.