Do One Green Thing, by Mindy Pennybacker

Four stars, read May 2011.

Most people’s biggest problem with going green is not wanting to do a total overhaul of their lifestyle, and this book solves that problem by giving you the one most important change you can make in each area of your life. These are some of my favorites—the easiest to implement, the most interesting, or the ones that address an issue I didn’t even know about.

For seafood eaters, there’s a hefty section about the kinds of fish that are good and the kinds you should avoid—whether because of the amount of mercury they contain or  because those species are being overfished. (p 35)

Skip red meat at least one day a week. This is a health issue, but also helps reduce carbon emissions and save water, because meat production causes more environmental harm than the production of any other food. (p 55)

Wash your laundry in cold water—which I always do anyway out of laziness, because you don’t have to separate your colors if you wash everything on cold! I’m not particularly fussy, but I’ve never noticed my clothes suffering for it, and heating the water requires a huge amount of energy. (p 81)

If you don’t have a water-saving toilet (one that doesn’t fill the bowl all the way like an old one does), put a 1-liter bottle full of water in your toilet tank. I’m not completely sure how this works but apparently it keeps the bowl from filling up more than it needs to. (p 114)

Turn down your water heater to 120 degrees (the average is usually 130). Same reason as laundry. (p 109)

As you finish off the ones you have, buy household cleaners that don’t release toxic vapors. Don’t use anything with ammonia, lye, phosphates, or fragrance; if you only go green on a few, make sure they’re your oven, drain, and toilet cleaners. (p 117)

Here is one I’d never thought of: Buy a green mattress, because conventional ones are treated with chemical fire retardants that have been shown to cause behavioral and developmental problems. (p 127)

Don’t put things on top of your refrigerator, try not to put your fridge next to the stove, keep your freezer full, and make sure the door seal doesn’t leak. The refrigerator is one of the biggest users of energy in your home. If you’re buying a new one, go for the kind that has the freezer on the top; these use the least energy. The side-by-side ones use the most. (p 100)

Another one I knew nothing about: Find a green dry cleaner! Eighty-five percent of U.S. dry cleaners still use a highly toxic solvent that is listed as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. If you can’t find a green one, take off the bag at the dry cleaner’s and let your clothes air out on the way home. (p 137)

Try to find clothing made with organic, sustainably produced fibers,and this is actually a health issue as much as an environmental one. Babies’ sleepwear is required by law to be fire-resistant, and flame retardants can release formaldehyde or perfluochemicals, which have been linked to nervous system damage. (Same with wrinkle-proofing, permanent press, moth-proofing, and anything else-proofing.) (p 196)

When you are pregnant, avoid things that have added fragrances, like nail polish, perfumes, shampoos, deodorants, etc. Added fragrance is also the number one ingredient associated with allergic reactions and can trigger asthma attacks. (p 156)

If you want to recycle something but don’t know where, check out earth911.com to find the closest location for any kind of recycling that you want to do. It will tell you where you can take batteries, paint, etc.

There are so many excellent tips in this book, and I really recommend that everyone check it out. Obviously you can choose to skip anything that doesn’t work for you, and you can focus on whatever area needs the most attention in your life. Even if you only implement one of these changes, it’ll be a great way to start, and most of these efforts will make a difference for your own health as well as the health of the environment. We are part of nature, after all—doesn’t it make sense that what’s good for nature is good for us too?

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