Rodale editors offer environmental tips

Earth Day was officially recognized last week, but there are small steps you can take every day to improve the world around you. Some of Rodale's editors from leading magazines offer a few easy-to-follow ideas on how to "go green."

Jonathan Dorn, Executive Editor, Backpacker

Hold a dirty sock contest

Do this with a bunch of friends or coworkers in a parking lot to demonstrate how auto emissions affect air quality. Each contestant places a clean white sock over his or her car's exhaust and runs the engine for 30 seconds. The contestants with the cleanest and dirtiest socks earn prizes, like a free dinner for the winner and a tune-up for the loser.

Stencil storm drains

Discourage dumping of harmful waste in public sewers by stenciling "This drain leads to such-and-such watershed" beside local storm drains. A simple reminder that someone else's drinking or swimming water may be on the other end of that drain can make a big difference. Ask your local water company for permission -- and supplies.

Make a pledge

This is a great way to teach your kids about small habits that -- when added up -- can make a big difference. Have the entire family sign an Earth Day pledge that includes statements like, "I will turn off the lights when I leave the room," "I will turn off the water while shaving or brushing my teeth," and "I will wear a sweater rather than turn up the heat." Post the pledge on your refrigerator or in another visible place.

Organize a hike

Getting 20 people to explore a local forest or wetlands that are at risk for development will create 20 new advocates when the issue comes up for public debate. Plus, the fresh air will do everybody good. Best strategy: Work with a hiking club in your area to coordinate the event (find one at http://www.backpacker.com/community.

Rosemary Ellis, Editorial Director, Prevention

Here are a couple of tips from Prevention's April and May issues that will save money and keep you and your home healthy:

Wash 'em, don't trash 'em

We're talking about those plastic Zip-lock bags you use for storing everything from lunches to frozen foods. Save money and the planet's resources by using the nylon Bag-E-Wash gadget. It snaps into your dishwasher rack to hold bags open and secure them for easy cleaning and drying. One box of 30 plastic bags washed and reused 10 times each will save you $30 -- and keep 300 bags out of landfills.

The best green cleaners

A 2003 study found that women who clean houses for a living have a 46- percent-greater chance of having asthma and a 61-percent-greater risk of chronic bronchitis than women in other professions do. Most green cleaners contain no phosphates, chorine, petroleum, distillates or carcinogens -- in fact, no hard-to-read chemicals at all.

Jeanie Pyun, Editor, Organic Style

Tips on how to make a difference on Earth Day and every day!

Support your local farmer

What do all the top chefs have in common? They all rely on local produce. It makes perfect sense: Vegetables raised nearby are fresher, and they taste better because they're bred for flavor and not for their ability to hold up in transit. By buying from farmers nearby, you'll not only cut down on pollution, you'll also keep money circulating within your community.

Change your bleach

Cleaning with chlorine bleach is a dirty job, potentially toxic and dangerous. Gentler and just as effective, choose hydrogen-peroxide-based bleaches (Chlorox 2) or borax, like Earth Friendly Oxo-Brite Non-Chlorine Bleach (available at Whole Foods) and 20 Mule Team Borax (available at any grocery store).

The lightbulb that makes YOU brighter

Three great benefits to compact fluorescent bulbs: One, they last 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb, so they rarely need changing. Two, they use 1/3 of the electricity of a regular bulb, cutting pollution and saving you about $7 per fixture a year. And three, they cost less than the 10 ordinary incandescent bulbs they replace. Look for models with the energy star label, which are guaranteed to last at least 6,000 hours.

Scott Meyer, Executive Editor, Organic Gardening

Five steps to a better, more natural lawn:

  1. Mow high. Set your lawn mower at its highest setting when you cut the grass -- taller grass has deeper roots, which are better able to draw up nutrients and moisture from the soil. (And taller grass looks thicker!)
  2. Leave the grass clippings. Rather than bagging the clippings, let them fall on the lawn and they'll add nitrogen to the soil, and you'll only need to fertilize your lawn once a year.
  3. Feed sparingly, and when you do, use a slow-release natural fertilizer. High-nitrogen, fast-release lawn fertilizers are like steroids -- they pump up the grass's growth (so you have to mow more often), and they make the lawn susceptible to diseases. (They also contribute to freshwater pollution.)
  4. Water when necessary. Newly seeded lawns need to stay consistently moist while they are getting established. After that, don't water cool-season grasses in summer; they're dormant and the water makes them susceptible to stress. Unless you have an extended dry spell, an established lawn with the grass mowed high almost never needs watering. When you do water, don't sprinkle it lightly and often -- this encourages the grass to grow shallow roots. Rather, give the lawn a good soaking infrequently.
  5. Sow your grass. Whether you are seeding a new lawn or just trying to make an existing lawn thicker, you want to plant varieties that suit your conditions. In the North, use cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, turf-type tall fescue and perennial ryegrass. These varieties grow vigorously in spring and fall and go dormant in the heat of summer. Check http://www.organicgardening.com for more details about what grows best in your neighborhood.

Steve Madden, Editor-in-Chief, Bicycling

Once you learn, you never forget

Try riding your bike to work at least one day a week. Americans make 4.5 billion car trips each week; the average one is 9.86 miles long. If we all replaced at least one car trip per week, we'd reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2.4 million tons/week; 126 million tons/year and lose a collective 37,714,286 pounds/week.

Find out more about how a bicycle can help the environment -- and your health -- by visiting Bicycling.com.

Stacy Sindlinger, Creative Director, Organic Style Boutique

Trust What's Inside

I suggest "instinct math." When you make any purchase, check the labels, and if you don't see answers to the What, Who and Where questions, ask (or better yet, get your kids to ask -- they will love it!). Once you know what the product was made from, who made it, and where it was made...let your conscience be your guide. Your instincts will tell you if it's a good buy, and you'll be amazed at how great it feels to start "voting with your dollars."

And, to bring a little more style to your home this Earth Day, try rifling through your jewelry box full of inherited clip-on earrings and pins that are "not-quite-you" but full of sentimental meaning. Consider adding them to curtain tie-backs, lamp- or overhead-light chain-pulls.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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