Minute, Morning, Month

There are so many simple ways to save money, protect health, preserve the environment and better daily life. Use the filters to the right to find the actions you can take in the time you have.

Get your kids' school to serve local, organic milk.
Month

Milk is a vital part of young children's diets, but childhood is a sensitive growth period for the brain and for the reproductive and immune systems. "Conventional milk comes with a high toxic load," says Gina Solomon, a scientist with NRDC's health program. This can put kids at a higher risk for cancer, thyroid and reproductive troubles, and reduced IQ scores.

What milk, then, should your kids drink? As reported here, it is important to serve organic milk to kids and pregnant mothers, and the very best milk choice for everyone is low-fat, organic and local. Switching to organic milk at home is simple, since you make the purchasing decisions. Getting your children's school or day care to switch over shouldn't be too much harder, but it may take a bit of time, and you should be prepared. Ask for a meeting with the director and/or the head of the cafeteria to discuss what kind of milk is served. Come ready with facts about the health and environmental benefits of organic.

If school officials would like to know more, offer to help research distributors of dairy products from local and organic farmers. They might be interested to know of the USDA's Farm to School Program, which connects schools (K–12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias; improving student nutrition; providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities; and supporting local and regional farmers. Who knows? Once they are comfortable with the idea of serving organic milk, they may be interested in adding other organic products.

Check to make sure your drinking water is safe.
Morning

Through the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the U.S. EPA regulates the community water systems that supply drinking water to most Americans. Every system is required to publish a yearly “consumer confidence report” detailing contaminants or violations of water quality standards. You can see the report for your water system by contacting the system directly. To find yours, visit the EPA's water systems Web site.

If you are on well water, you should have it tested annually. Wells, which are not typically regulated by the SDWA, are more likely to contain contaminants than municipal water systems. Your municipality, county or state health department may offer free or low-cost testing services; otherwise, use one of the certified laboratories in your state listed here.

Ask for guidance from the lab or your local health department on which contaminants to test for. Find out whether radon or heavy metals like arsenic are present in underground rocks or soils in your area. Tell the laboratory if you live near a farm, an industrial cattle-feeding operation, a gas station, a mine, a factory, a dump or other possible source of contaminants that can find their way into the groundwater.

If you find your water is contaminated, click here to learn how to remedy your particular problem. If a filter is necessary, consult our Checkout Counter: Water Filters for help selecting the filter that best meets your needs.

Stop the waste. Support an opt-out for paper phone books.
Minute

Did you know that up to 5 million trees are cut down each year to create the white pages phone book, and that taxpayers are spending $17 million a year to have these books recycled? Online directories, social networks and mobile phone applications now provide many alternative ways to get the contact information you need. So if you don't want the printed version of the phone book, you shouldn't have to get it.

That's why banthephonebook.org is urging you to sign a petition requesting an opt-out delivery program for the white pages phone book. Once you've signed the petition, which takes only seconds, share the link with your friends. Just think of all the resources (trees, energy and money) our communities will save by not having to print, deliver and recycle the millions of volumes of white pages produced each year.

Ready for another way to save the forest and reduce paper waste? Find out here how to reduce the junk mail that's clogging your mailbox.

Check the water safety at your favorite beach.
Minute

What is the water like where you swim—not the temperature, but the quality? An annual report released by NRDC, Testing the Waters, rates the 200 most popular U.S. beaches. The most recent installment concludes that beach water quality is not improving. Not only does every coastal state suffer from polluted and contaminated beaches, but those problems resulted in more than 20,000 closing and swimming advisory days in 2008 alone. Unlucky beachgoers can suffer infections, rashes, stomach flu, hepatitis and worse. Before heading off to the beach, check out the Testing the Waters interactive map to see how safe your favorite beach is. 

The hopeful news is that one of the major causes of beach pollution, stormwater runoff, is something we can help prevent through simple changes around the home. For ways to reduce stormwater runoff, look here, and check out this NRDC slideshow with examples of communities across America cleaning up their water—and saving money—with low-impact development. For more, see what these Smarter Cities are doing to protect water quality: Burnsville, Minnesota; Norwalk, Connecticut; Kansas, City, Missouri; Ann Arbor, MichiganSanta Monica, California; and Denver, Colorado.

Keep fish safe from nurdles. Recycle plastic bags
Morning

Would it surprise you to learn that the seemingly innocuous plastic bag we use to bring fish home from the supermarket is contributing to its contamination with highly toxic chemicals way out in the ocean? It’s widely known that plastic bags are often mistaken for jellyfish by endangered sea turtles and other wildlife, which die from ingesting them. But what do you know about “nurdles"? A serious threat to the food chain, they are yet another reason to seriously and immediately rethink our reliance on plastic bags. 

Nurdles, formed in the ocean from broken-down plastic debris, are lentil-size pellets that absorb and carry harmful polymers like polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Fish mistake the little pellets for food and ingest them. The POPs bioaccumulate in their fatty tissues, becoming something that might end up in your evening meal. A study sponsored by the California State Water Resources Control Board estimated that nurdles now account for 10 percent of plastic ocean debris. The United Nations Environment Programme recently banned nine more POPs, bringing the total to 21. But these toxins are called “persistent” for a reason: they don’t break down quickly.

You can help to reduce the bioaccumulation of toxins in fish by keeping plastics out of the ocean. Make it a point to bring your own bags every time you shop. Recycle plastic bags responsibly. Check earth911.org for nearby drop-off spots. And urge your city council members to ban the local use of plastic grocery bags—as San Francisco, a top-ranking Smarter City, has done.

Keep kids safe. Test your park's wooden play equipment.
Month

For decades nearly all outdoor wooden structures—play sets, picnic tables, fences, decks—were made with pressure-treated wood injected with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). This insecticide and preservative is 22 percent pure arsenic, a known carcinogen that can also cause nerve damage. The problem is that arsenic can leach from wood onto kids’ hands and into the soil below. Making matters worse, arsenic leaching doesn't decrease with time. Structures that are 15 years old release just as much arsenic as newer ones.

With studies showing that soil from 40 percent of U.S. backyards and parks exceeded EPA's Superfund levels for hazardous waste cleanup, manufacturers agreed to halt production of CCA-treated wood for home use and playgrounds beginning in 2004, though they were allowed to sell existing stock. If your kids are regulars at the neighborhood playground (or your family enjoys picnics in the park) and the play equipment, tables and benches are made of wood, test them to see if they are leaching arsenic. Test kits are available for $20 from The Safe Playgrounds Project. Test during dry weather, because rain can wash surface arsenic away.

If the tests turn up arsenic, talk to the city parks department about a plan for replacing or sealing arsenic-treated wood. If officials are already taking action, find out how often they reseal, what kind of sealant is used, and how any future demolition will be handled. Wood should be sealed with a solid or semitransparent deck stain; AFM Safecoat recommends low-VOC Durostain with low-VOC Safecoat Watershield (www.afmsafecoat.com). Organize a volunteer day at your local park or playground to seal all arsenic-treated wood. This should be done at least once a year.

Until the park equipment is safe, be vigilant about contact with treated lumber, and wash hands thoroughly afterward. Don't allow food anywhere near treated surfaces such as old picnic tables.

Save water and reduce runoff. Install permeable pavement.
Month

Stormwater runoff is a major cause of beach and water pollution (see NRDC's annual rating of water quality at 200 popular beaches in the report Testing the Waters). One way to reduce stormwater runoff is to replace impermeable surfaces such as driveways and sidewalks with permeable pavement. The Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department at the North Carolina State University provides descriptions of types of paving and research on their effectiveness.

For other ways to reduce stormwater runoff, click here and here. Also, check out this NRDC slide show with examples of communities across America cleaning up their water—and saving money—with low-impact development. For more, see what these Smarter Cities are doing to protect water quality: Burnsville, Minnesota; Norwalk, Connecticut; Kansas, City, Missouri; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Santa Monica, California; and Denver, Colorado.

Reduce stormwater runoff. Plant rain gardens.
Month

What is the water like where you swim—not the temperature, but the quality? An annual report released by NRDC, Testing the Waters, concludes that beach water quality is not improving across the country. Not only does every coastal state suffer from polluted and contaminated beaches, but those problems resulted in more than 20,000 closing and swimming advisory days in 2008 alone.

Stormwater runoff, a major cause of beach pollution, is something we can help prevent through simple changes around our homes. Cities such as Burnsville, Minnesota, are encouraging residents to install rain gardens, often consisting of hardy native species planted in depressions that collect rainwater as it runs off driveways, roofs or other areas. By modifying the curbside, rain gardens can help divert rainwater from streets. For help planting your own, see this guide from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

For other ways to reduce stormwater runoff, click here and here. Also, check out the NRDC slide show with examples of communities across America cleaning up their water—and saving money—with low-impact development. For more, see what these Smarter Cities are doing to protect water quality: Burnsville, Minnesota; Norwalk, ConnecticutKansas City, Missouri; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Santa Monica, California; and Denver, Colorado.

 

Green your business.
Month

Business and the environment are closely linked. Although some businesses have a more obvious impact on the environment than others, all of them have some effect, through the products they manufacture or purchase, the energy and water they use, the transportation associated with employee commutes, and many other factors. Similarly, the health of a business is often contingent upon a healthy environment and the availability of abundant natural resources. No business can operate for long without clean water, clean air and a chemically stable atmosphere. By improving the environmental performance of your business, you help to ensure a clean and healthy environment for future generations as well as a strong and efficient economy. Green your business with NRDC's Greening Advisor, which provides a list of opportunities for cost-conscious environmental improvement ranging from air quality to water use.

As a start, businesses should reconsider their sourcing and use of paper. Environmentally preferable paper products can often be purchased at little or no extra cost. In addition, paper use often can be decreased by taking a few simple steps, such as double-siding copies and reducing the number of printers in use. These measures can cut your company’s overall paper budget. Use the Greening Advisor to implement a smart paper-purchasing and reduced-use program in your office.

Once you've tackled paper, return to NRDC's greening advisor for additional ways to make your business more environment-friendly. You'll find advice on many aspects of your business's purchasing needs and day-to-day operations, including construction and renovation projects, energy use, transportation, waste management, air and water quality and water use.

Keep waterways clean. Help your city address stormwater runoff.
Month

The best way for communities to keep their waterways clean is to address the problem of stormwater runoff. Bring to the next meeting of your city council examples of what other cities around the country are doing to encourage private homeowners and institutions to use landscaping and changes in drainage patterns to reduce the amount of water enteringmunicipal stormwater and sewage systems. Start here to see great examples from cities and towns near you. NRDC provides many more strategies and examples for addressing stormwater runoff in new development and redevelopment in the report Stormwater Strategies: Community Responses to Runoff Pollution.