Moms

Consumers can take steps to have a powerful impact on the planet

The 40th Earth Day is coming in full force Thursday, and even the Great Recession isn't stopping it.

The green movement is still strong and growing, said Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, which is organizing a rally Sunday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

"I'm feeling optimistic about the integration of people's pocketbooks and the environmental movement," she said.

With the Earth in mind, here are 10 steps consumers can take to have a practical yet powerful effect on the planet.

1. Buy renewable electricity. Renewable plans have taken off in the Texas deregulated electricity marketplace. Where a few years ago there were a handful of offers, there are now 62 offers posted at the Public Utility Commission's comparison shopping Web site, www.powertochoose.com. Offers as of Thursday ranged from as little as 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour for a variable, month-to-month plan to as little as 9.9 cents for a 12-month fixed plan.

Switching to renewable is one of the biggest things Texans can do to reduce their carbon emissions, according to a carbon footprint calculator by the Environmental Protection Agency.

2. Check your carbon footprint. One of the more in-depth calculators is on the EPA's Web site. Go to www.epa.gov/climatechange and click on GHG Emissions Calculator. You'll learn your household's emissions by entering your gas and electric bills, car mileage and recycling efforts. The EPA then suggests how to lower your impact.

Because of a renewable electric plan, my family of five came out pretty well. Our $300 monthly electric bill would have been the equivalent of 35,000 pounds of greenhouse gas a year, but with a 100 percent renewable plan that falls to zero. By recycling and owning cars with pretty good gas mileage, our total family estimate was around 30,000 pounds of CO {-2} a year. The U.S. average for a family our size is 103,750 pounds a year.

3. Stop using plastic bags. China and Los Angeles have been added to the list of places where disposable plastic grocery bags are banned. The new grocer in town, Aldi, doesn't use them. So jump on the wagon and get some reusable bags, which can hold more and allow you to carry more groceries securely than plastic bags. Better handles, too.

4. Go to Prairie Fest. The fifth annual Prairie Fest is from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 24 at Tandy Hills Nature Area, 3400 View St. (off Beach Street and Interstate 30) in Fort Worth. It's free and includes almost 100 green product vendors and educators, entertainment, food, a space for children and wildflower tours. This is the 50th anniversary of Tandy Hills. Proceeds from Prairie Fest go toward preserving the area and helping the Fort Worth Parks and Recreation Department. For more information, go to www.tandyhills.org. For parking, try the Green Taxi or the electric GEM car shuttle.

5. Monitor your electricity use. Households with smart meters can see their usage at www.SmartMeterTexas.com. Enter in your new meter number and electric service identifier (ESI) number from your electric bill and you can track your electric usage in 15-minute increments. It takes at least three weeks from receiving a smart meter to be tied to the Web site. Look for Oncor Electric Delivery, the local utility, and retail electric providers to start offering in-home monitoring devices to also track your usage.

6. Support green charities. GuideStar, an online service that provides information on charities, reports that green charities increased from 2,656 in 1990 to 16,254 today. Listings are based on charities registered with the Internal Revenue Service as nonprofit environmental or beautification organizations. GuideStar recently added a free navigator with recommendations for charitable giving on its Web site, www.guidestar.org. Other places to check for environmental charities include Network For Good (www.networkforgood.org) and Just Give (www.justgive.org). All three sites allow credit card donations, although a charge of around 5 percent applies. Be wary of donating in response to a telephone request or an e-mail, GuideStar spokeswoman Suzanne Coffman advises.

7. Buy nontoxic cleaning products. Green versions of everything from glass cleaner to bug spray exist, often at competitive prices and right by the toxic stuff on store shelves. Jenna Wann, a Fort Worth eco-consultant with Green Irene, sells green products in the home, similar to Mary Kay and Avon, and offers green home makeovers for $99.

8. Buy organic foods. The Environmental Working Group lists the best fruits and vegetables to buy organically and the best that can be bought without an organic label on its Shopper's Guide to Pesticides. To avoid pesticides, buy organic peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce and grapes. Nonorganic foods with the lowest level of pesticides include onions, avocados, frozen sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus, frozen sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya and watermelon. Go to www.foodnews.org.

9. Stop junk mail and catalogs. Dan Shapley, senior editor of The Daily Green (www.thedailygreen.com), recommends a visit to the Direct Marketers Association (www.dmachoice.org), which asks that you track your mail and find out what you don't want. Then use the Web site to click on what you don't want. They send the information to the businesses and get you off mailing lists. The process can take up to 90 days. CatalogChoice.org does the same, but can take 12 weeks.

10. Buy recycled products, then recycle them. Check packaging for recycling labels, and put all paper products in your recycling bin, Shapley said. Those with curbside recycling can call to get an extra bin for free.

Happy Earth Day.

Teresa McUsic's column appears Fridays.

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