Lately the problems of global warming, contaminated water and gas guzzling have moved so far into the mainstream that doing something about them on a small scale (or just talking about it!) verges on the trendy. But studies show that air pollution, illegal dumping and power plants are more likely to occur in African-American and low-income communities. These hazards have been linked to disproportionate rates of asthma, severe allergies and lung cancer—once again, look who gets the brunt. [See “Seeing Green” Winter 2006]

So what can you do to make your space safer? Better question: Does it have to cost a fortune? Larry Merritt, spokesperson for Chicago’s Department of Environment teamed up with RH to suggest ways to go green without breaking the bank:

  • Pass on plastic: Not only are some plastics toxic, but they take hundreds of years to break down so they end up in the water and back in our food. Merritt suggests using plastic as little as possible. “When shopping, especially at the grocery store, use some type of cloth bag instead,” he says. RH  suggests checking out your local Salvation Army or to find a durable canvas bag for your fruits and veggies.
  • Conserve energy: “The less energy we use, the less energy is coming from the power plant,” explains Merritt. “Plus, this will save you money. That’s a win-win.” Replacing incandescent bulbs with energy saving fluorescent bulbs, turning off all unused appliances (the computer monitor, for example), and not pre-heating the oven when baking are great ways to cut back.
  • Move your feet: Getting behind the wheel to run errands may be more convenient, but try replacing one or more trips a month with walking, bike riding or public transportation. Merritt says, “This is going to improve the air quality, which can make a difference.” Not realistic? Try car-pooling.
  • Watch the water: Next time you are scrubbing your molars, turn the water off. Experts say the average American wastes 2-5 gallons of water during this twice-daily ritual. Merritt suggests, “Think [what would happen] if [millions] of people who brushed their teeth every morning made that small change.”
  • Recycle!: This tip is like flossing: We all know we should, but we don’t. (69% of Americans do not recycle). But most areas of the country have some sort of system for recycling that makes it as easy as taking out the trash. “You can recycle aluminum cans, vegetable cans, cardboard, plastic and paper,” says Merritt.

To learn more, check out the following:

  • The Green” on The Sundance Channel, airs every Tuesday at 9pm (Eastern)
  • The Everything Green Living Book: Easy Ways to Conserve Energy, Protect Your Family’s Health, and Help Save the Environment (Adams Media Corporation, $14.95)
  • National Resources Conservation Service,
  • Bureau of International Recycling,