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.

Stay safe. Be prepared for the next swine flu outbreak.

Swine flu (H1N1), like all influenza, tends to follow seasonal cycles, meaning there is a good chance it will return, and public health experts speculate that it could appear in a more severe form. This is not a reason to panic, but it is a good time to establish preventive measures and prepare for potential future outbreaks.

You can prepare yourself for this or the next influenza outbreak just as you might for other types of emergencies, such as power outages and natural disasters. Stock up on water and non-perishable foods such as ready-to-eat canned goods and juices, protein or fruit bars, cereal, dried fruit and nuts, crackers, canned or jarred baby food and, to be sure, pet food.

Other emergency supplies to have on hand for an extended stay at home include: soap and water, medicines for fever, a thermometer, antidiarrheal medication, vitamins, fluids with electrolytes, tissues, toilet paper, disposable diapers and, if someone in your home requires them, prescribed medical supplies such as glucose and blood-pressure monitoring equipment.

Be prepared for the next swine flu outbreak.

Influenza can infect young and old and can quickly spread through populations in cities and towns. Schools in some locales are already planning closures for up to two weeks, and there may be major disruptions in normal services if swine flu reaches your area. It’s important to consider in advance how you will care for family members who are ill or have special needs if the services they rely on are not available.

Talk to your doctor about getting an advance supply of your regular medications. Keep some cash on hand in a safe place for quick trips to the store. Find out if you can work from home. Talk to your child’s teachers or school administrators to learn what plans are in place should the school close for an extended period. Consider alternative child-care arrangements, and have books and home-learning activities at the ready. Finally, if you are traveling you can check on outbreaks along your route using the Google map at FluTracker.

Keep fish healthy. Avoid dumping pharmaceuticals down the drain.

As regular readers of OnEarth.org know, hospitals and nursing homes routinely dump leftover or expired pills down the toilet, and consumers have been advised to do the same. But drug-laden effluent passes right through standard treatment facilities, ultimately making its way into our rivers and streams. The EPA reports that antidepressants can have a profound effect on spawning and other behaviors in shellfish and that calcium-channel blockers (used to relieve chest pain and hypertension) can dramatically inhibit sperm activity in some aquatic organisms. Even at extremely low levels, ibuprofen, steroids and antifibrotics—a class of drug that helps reduce the development of scar tissue—block fin regeneration in fish.

Avoid dumping pharmaceuticals down the drain. Instead, mix them with waste and put them in the trash, following the procedures recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Check out NRDC's Coastal Dwellers Guide for more things you can do at home to keep waterways clean.

Keep pets safe from fleas and ticks without hazardous chemicals.

Flea and tick treatments may contain toxic chemicals that can poison pets and harm people. Even when applied as instructed on the box, these chemicals are not safe. Avoid toxic chemicals by taking care of your pet:

* Regularly combing pets can help reduce fleas and also helps monitor the success of a flea-control program. Fleas caught in the comb should be drowned in soapy water.

* Weekly baths and washing pet bedding in hot water can help get rid of existing fleas and their eggs.

* Vacuuming picks up fleas and eggs from carpets, floors, crevices and furniture. Immediately after vacuuming, throw vacuum bags away to prevent fleas from escaping and reinfesting the area. Severe infestations may call for professional carpet cleaning with steam.

* Keeping grass and shrubbery clipped short in areas where your pet spends time will increase dryness and sunlight, which will help reduce the flea problem. Nematodes, available at garden supply stores, can be used as a non-chemical, biological aid to help control fleas in these areas.

When chemical control is necessary, choose a safer treatment and avoid the most toxic chemicals. All pesticides should be used with caution and in consultation with a veterinarian. Ask your vet about one of the products or treatments marked with a two crossed-out paws in NRDC's GreenPaws Flea and Tick Product Directory.

Note that not all essential oils used to treat pet pests are safe for pets or people. Herbal or natural products containing citrus, cinnamon, clove, d-limonene, geranium, tea tree, lavender, linalool, bay, eucalyptus and rue oils should be used sparingly because they can cause allergic reactions in people, and severe reactions in cats and dogs have been reported. Avoid the use of any flea or tick product containing pennyroyal oil. It can cause seizures, coma, and even death in animals. Herbal or natural products that contain cedarwood, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary and thyme are likely safer. Learn more by visiting NRDC's GreenPaws Flea and Tick Product Directory and looking under "oils."

Check out what's local and in season near you.

Long-distance transport of food requires more pesticides and preservatives, packaging, refrigeration and fuel. Every step of the way, it generates huge amounts of waste and pollution, including global-warming gases. By choosing to eat more locally produced food, we can help to curb the emission of heat-trapping pollution, reduce the use of toxic pesticides, support farmers in our region and enjoy fresh, more nutritious food.

Check out what’s local and in season where you live using NRDC’s Eat Local widget, then find recipes for dishes that use those items. Your options may be fewer in the winter, but seek them out anyway—you might be surprised by what you find.

Stock up on produce and fresh foods at a farmers' market near you.

Today there are nearly 4,800 farmers' markets operating throughout the nation. These markets, 3,300 of which accept vouchers from the WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, are an excellent source of locally grown, farm-fresh produce and a great way for communities to support their regional growers.

There are two great online resources to help you locate farmers’ markets as well as groceries and eateries offering locally sourced foods of all kinds—eggs, dairy, chicken, meat, breads and a full array of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Both LocalHarvest and the Eat Well Guide provide quick and easy-to-use search engines that allow you to tailor your hunt, whether you are looking for a farmers’ market or a pick-your-own farm.

Prices at farmers’ markets vary, but generally they are comparable to those you will see at a good supermarket. You’ll save in the end, however, by preparing your meals from scratch, using fresh ingredients that are not heavily processed, packaged and shipped long distances.

Love music? Save the tonewoods. Buy shade-grown coffee.

The future of the guitar and a number of other wooden instruments may be in jeopardy, because many of the forest species that give them their unique sound are in jeopardy. According to the conservation group Fauna & Flora International, more than 200 species of trees are used to make musical instruments, and 70 of those are threatened with extinction. These include mahogany, Honduras cedar and Honduras rosewood, all of which are used in guitars.

In response, major guitar manufacturers like Gibson, C. F. Martin, Fender and Taylor have joined forces with Greenpeace to launch the Music Wood Campaign, an effort to increase the supply of tonewoods certified as responsibly harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council. Gibson and Martin already make guitars from certified woods.

What can you do to help? Buy shade-grown coffee. The connection may not be obvious, but Greenpeace says that many of the forests where tonewoods are sourced are being clear-cut to make room for coffee plantations. Shade-grown coffee (look for the certified by the Rainforest Alliance is grown under protective rain forest canopies, not on plantations.

Keep fish safe to eat. B.Y.O. shopping bag.

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.

Plant vegetables in raised beds made of safe, untreated wood.

Long-distance transport of food requires more pesticides and preservatives, packaging, refrigeration and fuel. Every step of the way generates huge amounts of waste and pollution, including global warming gases. So really cut the distance from soil to table by growing your own produce. You don’t need a lot of space to grow vegetables; a sunny terrace or even a windowsill can produce a steady supply of lettuce and tomatoes.

If you have a yard or a rooftop, consider putting in some raised vegetable beds (raising them helps to keep weeds down). But be careful when choosing the material you will use to construct the beds. Whether using scrap or buying new boards,  avoid wood that has been treated with hazardous preservatives (pesticides added to protect the wood from fungi, bacteria or insects).

Pentachlorophenol (penta) is an extremely toxic wood preservative that builds up in the food chain and our bodies and is passed on to our children through breast milk. Chromated copper arsenate (CCA), often used in “pressure-treated lumber” commonly available in retail outlets, contains both arsenic and chromium. According to recent studies, arsenic, an extremely potent carcinogen, can be absorbed through the skin on contact with treated wood, and can collect in the soil under most CCA-treated wood applications. Exposure to chromium can increase one’s cancer risk.

If you want to use treated wood, to reduce the potential for rotting, look for those preservative ingredients that are less toxic, including copper compounds, zinc compounds, and borates, but individual product hazards vary widely. Or you might want to consider alternatives to wood, such as recycled plastic lumber or cinder blocks, which last virtually forever.

How much you spend to start a garden will depend on its size. But the return on investment is huge, as you enjoy fresh homegrown vegetables all season long. In fact, why stop with just the growing season; freeze some of your own tomatoes and enjoy garden-fresh sauces, soups and salsa all year round.

Save energy. Stay cool with less AC.

Keeping cool isn’t just about comfort. In the worst of recent heat waves, whether Chicago's in 1995 or New York's in 2006, hundreds have died. And climate change will only make this worse. But every time you crank up the air conditioning, power plants pump out more greenhouse gases, making the problem worse. Is there a way out of this cycle? Actually, yes. Recall the wise ways of your parents or grandparents and try some passive cooling techniques. They will cut your AC use and your energy bills and shrink your carbon footprint, too.

During the day: Shut curtains, shades or blinds on the sunny side of the house. If you are considering new window coverings, look for venetian (or horizontal) blinds in highly reflective, light colors, which can halve the heat buildup in your home. Blinds with two-inch-wide slats are especially nice since they open up the view without letting in more light.

At night: Turn off the AC and create a convective cooling system with your windows and a couple of fans. Crack open the windows on the first floor. Don’t throw them open wide; just raise them an inch or two. This will create a strong draft. Place portable and window-mounted fans in your upstairs windows, facing outward to remove the rising hot air. You’ll sleep well, knowing you are spending less and reducing your carbon footprint.