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EDITOR'S NOTE:

This year is the 43rd celebration of Earth Day, the annual party for our planet that started in 1970. The millions of Americans who turned out for the first Earth Day helped instigate a nationwide move to green awareness, including the formation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act.

Since then, we've embraced changes large and small, including, many readers have told us, the simple suggestions eco expert Danny Seo has been offering with his weekly Just One Thing column. So in honor of this 43rd Earth Day, we are offering a corresponding number of Seo's small things you can do to help the environment:

1) It's getting close to that time of year when weekends will be spent mowing the lawn, so take the time now to get your lawn-mower blades sharpened. Your local lawn-mower repair shop will sharpen the blades to help make sure you leave a clean cut on each blade of grass. Properly sharpened blades will make your lawn more resistant to disease and better able to retain moisture, which means you won't need chemical herbicides and fertilizers all summer long.

2) A teakettle is one of those items you never really think about cleaning until your cup of tea tastes a little strange. Cleaning it is simple: Fill the kettle halfway with water, then fill the rest with white vinegar. Bring the contents to a boil and set it aside to soak overnight. The next morning, pour out the vinegar mixture, fill the kettle with water and bring to a boil to remove any trace of vinegar smell and taste. An added tip: Use the freshly boiled water to kill weeds so you don't waste any water. The hot water will scald the weeds to death.

3) Did you know your old jeans can help charities such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army? Denim is the No. 1 most resold item in thrift shops, and distressed, well-worn and torn jeans are coveted by fashionistas and collectors of old denim. Even if your jeans are worn beyond fashionable, still give: Unsellable garments are often sold to textile recyclers. So the organizations make money either way.

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4) Many of us take our shoes off at the door when we get home since shoes can drag in dirt, toxic chemicals and other things from outdoors into the home. But walking around barefoot can also cause damage. Natural oils in our skin can be deposited on the floor, attracting dirt and debris. The solution? Walk around with socks on. It will keep your floors clean and your home healthy.

5) In the spring, line drying your clothes is the most energy-efficient way to do laundry. But for people with allergies, line drying also means bringing pollen and other allergens into the home. The best solution? Line dry for energy efficiency, and then tumble dry in the dryer for a few minutes to eradicate the allergens. You'll reap the environmental rewards and won't be sniffling or sneezing.

6) Now that spring has sprung, it's a good time to clean outdoor solar lights so they shine even brighter. Solar lanterns have integrated panels on top that use the sun's rays to charge internal rechargeable batteries; when the sun goes down, they use that power to illuminate energy-efficient LED bulbs. But if the solar panels are dirty, they can't charge, and the lights won't work. Use a damp cloth to wipe the lanterns. It's a quick task that will make a big difference.

7) When working at home or in an office, choosing to turn on a desk light instead of overhead lights can result in a huge savings in electricity and money. Task lighting -- targeted lighting where you need it -- uses up to 40 percent less electricity than turning on overhead lights. Add energy-efficient LED or CFL bulbs into the mix, and the savings adds up even more. So instead of lighting up a whole room, just light up the area you need.

8) Do you have some old house or car keys in your junk drawer that you are not quite sure what to do with? Donate them to Key for Hope, a nonprofit organization that collects old keys, separates them based on metal type and recycles the scrap metal to raise money for its work to end hunger, poverty and homelessness. All of the money raised goes to food pantries, and it's as simple as mailing your keys to the organization. Learn more at keyforhope.org (or 800-949-5424).  

9) If you want to control static electricity in your freshly dried clothes without resorting to chemical-laden dryer sheets, try this tip from home design site Apartment Therapy: Use aluminum foil. Roll up a sheet of foil into a small, solid ball about 3 inches in diameter. Toss it in the dryer with your wet clothes, and dry as you normally would. The foil helps control static electricity and won't leave any artificial fragrances on your clothes. You can reuse the aluminum ball for several months, and when it's time to replace it, just toss it into the recycling bin.

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10) Bees are important to our natural world because they help pollinate flowers. But bees can be bothersome when you're outside. Instead of using an insect killing spray, try a natural bee repellant. Fill a reusable spray bottle with witch hazel oil and add a few drops of tea tree oil. Shake the bottle and spray the solution on your skin whenever you go outdoors. The medicinal smell from the witch hazel is obnoxious to bees (and other insects) and will encourage them to stay away from you.

11) Most new bedding comes packaged in heavy-duty plastic covers that zip closed to keep sheets, comforters and blankets fresh. Instead of throwing away the plastic packaging, reuse it to store your winter wardrobe during the spring and summer. Fill the bags with sweaters, jackets, scarves and gloves, and zip them closed. They will keep your clothes protected from moths and other insects, and you can see through the bag to grab something quickly if you need it.

12) Around 40 percent of Americans enjoy a cup of hot tea every day, so the question is, is it more energy efficient to heat water in a teakettle or in the microwave? The easy answer is: in the microwave. According to Energy Star, an Environmental Protection Agency program, heating a mug of water in the microwave can save up to 80 percent of the energy it takes to do the same task on the stove. Microwave heat waves concentrate solely on what you're warming, and you are heating only what you're drinking instead of a whole kettle of water. The same principle also applies when you're reheating leftover food.

13) With spring around the corner and the harsh winter months behind us, many of us have unused bags of de-icing salt sitting in the garage. Left unattended through the spring, summer and fall months, the salt can clump and become useless when winter rolls around again. The simple solution? Toss charcoal briquettes into the bag and seal it tightly. The briquettes will absorb excess moisture and help keep the salt loose and crumbly.

14) Here's a gardening trick to lighten your flowerpots' weight and help your plants thrive: Recycle packing peanuts in container gardens. Fill your potting containers with a few inches of polystyrene packing peanuts you've gotten in packages, then top with potting soil. This will help lighten the pot to make it easier to move around, and it will help with drainage to keep your plants healthy and happy. For large pots you can use empty plastic water bottles.

15) If your home has a septic tank, it's important to have it maintained regularly. Tanks that are not inspected and pumped every two or three years (depending on usage) can be susceptible to breakage or failure. A failing septic tank will cost you thousands of dollars to fix or replace and it can leak pollutants into our waterways, causing groundwater contamination. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, you should avoid putting certain things down the drain, including dental floss, diapers, cigarette butts, paper towels, paint and any harmful household chemicals.

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16) Here's an easy and eco-smart idea to organize your closet: Save soda can tabs to double your closet space. Thread the tab over the hook of a wire hanger. Hang another hanger on that loop so the second garment rests neatly on top of the first hanger -- just a little lower. You can instantly double your closet space by simply upcycling those little metal tabs.

17) If you forget to bring reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, it can be tempting to raid the plastic bag recycling bin and reuse those instead of getting new bags. But the reality is that you risk cross-contaminating your groceries with unknown foodborne illnesses from those bags. It isn't worth the health risk, and it's better to get new plastic bags and recycle those the next time you go shopping -- just remember to bring reusable bags next time you shop.

18) Those little UPC stickers on produce do more than help speed up the checkout line at the grocery store. The numbers on the sticker -- called the PLU code -- also tell how that apple, orange or cucumber was grown. Four numbers means the produce was grown conventionally using pesticides; five numbers starting with an eight tells you it was grown using genetically modified seeds; and five numbers starting with a nine means it's organic and grown without any genetically modified seeds.

19) One of the biggest gripes about nontoxic cleaning is that it can be nearly impossible to get the grout between tiles to look sparkling clean using only natural ingredients. Try this foolproof recipe: Mix 7 cups tap water,  1/2 cup baking soda,  1/3 cup bottled lemon juice and  1/4 cup white vinegar. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and spray away. It'll loosen grime, brighten the grout and give the whole room a fresh, clean smell.

20) Here's an easy upcycling idea to keep the small cords for your cellphone, digital camera and other devices neatly organized and ready to go: Use an old eyeglass case. Coil your cords and stash them inside the case. They'll be neatly organized and can be stashed in your bag or suitcase when you travel, too. If you don't have an old eyeglass case, try using old pencil cases.

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21) Reusing glass jars with lids is an eco-friendly and economical way to store food, spices and other perishables in the refrigerator. But sometimes glass jars can have a slight odor. Use newspaper to remove the smell. Since newspaper is designed to absorb ink, it absorbs others things, too, like odors. Just crumple a page you're done reading and place it inside the jar. Let it sit for several days. Remove the paper, rinse and you've got an odorless jar.

22) Before tossing that empty bottle of vino into the recycling bin, think about upcycling it into a handy automatic water dispenser for your houseplants. Rinse out the bottle and fill to the top with cold tap water. Invert it right into the potted plant so the neck of the bottle is immersed into the soil. The set-up will give your plant a slow trickle of water. This is perfect if you're planning a vacation and need to keep your plants hydrated -- just use a large wine bottle for a large plant and a glass soda bottle for smaller plants.

23) If you love fragrances and want your perfumes to last longer, keep them out of the bathroom. Fragrances are susceptible to two things: light and temperature shifts. A bathroom heats up and cools down quickly when it's used (imagine a hot steam shower filling the room). By displaying bottles on a tray, you're exposing them to UV light that speeds up the degradation process. Instead, keep your fragrances in the boxes they came in, and store them in a dark, cool place like a drawer or closet.

24) It takes only two commonly found nontoxic ingredients to make the ultimate bathroom cleaner for your home: white vinegar and dish detergent. Heat 12 ounces of white vinegar in the microwave for 30 seconds. Mix in another 12 ounces of colored dish detergent, and pour the mixture into a spray bottle. The colorful mixture shows you where you've sprayed, the dish soap breaks down grease and dirt, and the white vinegar dissolves mineral deposits. It's one of the best bathroom cleaner recipes out there, and it's eco-friendly to boot.

25) Many of us are incorporating salmon into our diets as a protein source, but not all salmon fillets are the same. Many varieties contain high levels of chemicals and contaminants. Scientists have found that wild-caught Alaskan salmon have high levels of heart-healthy omega-3s, are low in contaminants and are caught sustainably through tough Alaskan regulations and government monitoring of the fishing industry. Farm salmon, on the other hand, are fish "grown" in tightly packed pools where diseases run rampant, and, consequently, the fish are fed high amounts of antibiotics. So when choosing your next salmon dish, think wild instead of farm-raised.

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26) Another reason to eat fresh fruit whenever possible: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows mold in frozen and canned fruit. The FDA calls the accepted levels "food defects" that are allowed in the processing of fruit because they believe it poses no health hazards to humans. This includes up to 60 percent mold count on canned or frozen berries, 45 percent mold count on frozen whole or sliced strawberries and 20 percent mold in canned pineapple.

27) Use common sense when picking produce and using it at home. Look for produce that is not bruised, moldy, slimy or sick-looking. Smell the produce: If it smells bad, leave it behind. Produce that has been misted with water from automatic systems can be full of bacteria, especially if your supermarket recycles water as many stores do. When you get your produce home, wash and dry it well to remove any traces of germs, mold or bacteria before eating. Most important: Pack your produce and meats in different bags to avoid cross-contamination.

28) Waxy cardboard containers that milk and juice products are packaged in can be rinsed out and reused. Crafty people love to use these containers when making homemade candles or soap. Just fill the containers with melted wax or glycerin soap, add a wick, dye or scent, and chill in the fridge. In an hour or so, you can peel off the paper and reveal a perfectly molded new candle or block of soap. When done, you can toss the peeled cardboard into your curbside recycling.

29) A recent study figured out how many times you need to reuse a reusable cup before it actually begins to save energy and resources in comparison with using a throwaway paper cup. When comparing a typical paper coffee cup, it found a reusable ceramic mug would need to be used 39 times before you begin to see environmental savings, a plastic thermos would need to be used 17 times, and a heat-resistant glass mug just 15 times. What's taken into consideration is the amount of materials and resources needed to make a reusable cup, plus the amount of water and energy to wash it. So buy one reusable cup and use it over and over.

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30) Cast iron cookware has been around for generations, and it is extremely durable. But you may want to eventually replace your skillet and might wonder if you can recycle it. The answer is yes: Iron is the main component of steel, and cast iron cookware is highly desirable and recyclable. While you can't recycle old cast iron in your curbside recycling, a scrap metal dealer will take it, and you might even get paid for it.

31) When renting cars, ask about getting a hybrid car at the rental counter. Many chains like Hertz, National and Enterprise now have hybrid cars in their fleets at regular prices, which means you can save money on fuel expenses without paying a premium for the rental. Another bonus: Many hotels have reduced or free parking charges if you show up in a hybrid. Most Kimpton hotel properties offer free valet parking if you arrive in a hybrid, which can add up to hundreds of dollars in savings.

32) Another reason why investing in a hybrid car is a smart choice: It gives you more free time. A recent study by Ford Motor Co. showed that investing in a fuel-efficient hybrid car significantly reduces the number of trips you need to make to the gas station to refuel. Over the course of just one year, the average hybrid car owner saved about 10 hours of time at the pump.

33) Today, many new cars contain smart glass: car windshields and windows that have integrated SPF to help block the sun's harmful rays from hurting you. But many older cars do not have this feature, which means people who spend a significant amount of time in their cars can get a sunburn or worse from the sun's rays permeating the glass. Instead of replacing it with costly new glass, you can invest in clear sheets that cling onto the inside of the window and effectively block 99 percent of the sun's harmful UV rays and help reduce glare. They're a cinch to install and nearly invisible.

34) Ribbon is one of those gift-wrapping items you never have enough of and can also be very expensive. Instead of buying new, crack open an old VHS and use the shiny black tape inside to create fanciful bows for your gifts. Each VHS has hundreds of yards of tape, so you really need only one to wrap lots of gifts. To make fancy curls with your ribbon, simply run the blade of a pair of sharp scissors across the tape. If you don't have an old VHS tape to spare, visit your local Goodwill or Salvation Army to buy one.

35) If you love pistachios, then this tip is for you: Save the shells for your fireplace. Pistachio shells are high in oil and are an excellent fire starter. The curved shape of the shell keeps them from flattening, so the air pockets between the shells create a slow-burning fire. Just collect the shells as you eat them, and when you're ready to start a fire, toss a handful into the fireplace with crumpled paper, and light.

36) Buying a digital camera gets rid of the film, the film packaging and the chemical processing to develop film. But one downfall: The rechargeable battery can have a short life span. One way to extend the life of your rechargeable battery is to turn off the instant photo previewing option on your camera. The LCD monitor uses a lot of energy, which drains the battery. By viewing photos only when you're ready, you'll save the battery.

37) Once a year, many of us go around the house and replace the alkaline batteries in our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and replace them with fresh batteries. This is a great idea. But those batteries are far from dead, and they shouldn't be tossed in the trash. Save those batteries and use them for other items like remote controls or children's toys.

38) In older homes, fireplaces often go unused or have a broken damper inside. An open fireplace is like having a small window open all day every day, so it's a good idea to have the damper repaired. But if the repair costs are too high, do the next best thing: Invest in a chimney balloon. This inflatable plastic pillow is made from a superstrong poly plastic that inflates and creates a tight seal inside your chimney. It's also reusable, so if you do have a working fireplace, you can easily deflate and reinflate it between fires.

39) Most water heaters are automatically set to 140 degrees when installed in homes. If you lower your default setting to 120 degrees, it will still give you hot water and nobody in your family will even notice a difference. This one simple step can reduce your overall water heating costs by 6 to 10 percent over time and will save energy.

40) Just because a package or container has the three-arrow symbol on it, it's not necessarily recyclable curbside. Depending on what your trash hauler's recycling program accepts, many items -- particularly different grades of plastic -- are not accepted. Check your garbage or recycling collection website to find out exactly what it accepts, and put only those items in your curbside recycling. Mixing in items that are not accepted can contaminate a load of recyclables and send it to the landfill.

41) If you are switching cellphone carriers, you may not need to buy a whole new phone. Many cellphone companies that are courting your business will activate a deactivated phone for you if you switch to their plans. This cuts back on the electronic waste piling up in our homes. The only way to know if your new carrier will do this is to bring in your old phone and ask.

42) Installing new marble or granite countertops can be very expensive, but for the resale value of your home, it can be a great investment. Here's a simple way to save money and "reuse" a mined material: Visit your local fabricator and ask to shop its yard of discards or leftovers. These are giant slabs that were either returned or are leftover from other jobs. Most stores will sell these to you at a significant discount and even cut, smooth and install them.

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43) Today's the day to go the extra distance: Bike to work, make a generous donation to an environmental charity, plant a tree with the family, start a vegetarian diet or take on any other major green commitment you've been thinking of doing.

Give it a try and join millions of others celebrating this wonderful planet. Start a blog and write about making a big green change so you can inspire others and they can start a dialogue, too.

-- Danny Seo

Universal Press Syndicate

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Source : http://www.oregonlive.com/hg/index.ssf/2013/04/43_simple_things_to_do_for_ear.html

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