11 Things You Didn't Know Were Green

There are certain eco-friendly truths we hold to be universal: Organic food, compact fluorescent light bulbs and Al Gore. But what about canvas shoes? Or people who make lists? Read on to discover 11 things that are greener than you might think, a few of which surprised even us.

We all know that household items such as baking soda, hemp and houseplants are staples of the eco-conscious consumer. But there are other earth-friendly items — like the change in your pocket or that list that you keep on your fridge — that might not even be on Ed Begley, Jr.'s eco-radar. Here's our list of 11 surprisingly green things.

1. Cleaning your plate

We're not suggesting you overeat — just create less food waste. Although President Harry S. Truman started the Clean Plate Club in an attempt to conserve limited post-war resources, our goal today should be to put a stop to our insane amount of waste. Food-waste disposal alone costs the United States  $1 billion a year. Plus, rotting food releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. All the more reason to cook and eat only what you need.

2. Cheapskates

Sure, it irked you when your dad nudged you about shutting off the lights back when you were a kid, but he set a great eco-example. Last year, 2.2 million Australians turned off their lights for one hour, a small move that prompted a reduction in greenhouse gases. And, if those same people shut their lights for a year, they would have done the energy-reducing good deed of removing 50,000 cars from the highway. Visit Earth Hour and prepare to turn your lights off for an hour this coming spring. Invite your neighbors over for a candlelight game of Trivial Pursuit. Make it a party!

3. The local milkman

For the past 75 years, the lucky folks in the Boston-metro area have been able to count on milkmen who deliver fresh, ice-cold milk from Crescent Ridge Farms in environmentally friendly glass bottles. All of its milk comes from cows that are never treated with growth hormones. Best of all, this farm supports many local co-ops and just added 150 other items to their to-go list, so families don't have to waste gas driving to the grocery store. Find your own local dairy farm on LocalHarvest.org.

4. Hand-me-downs

For parents, hand-me-downs are a boondoggle. Free clothes! Fewer trips to purchase made-in-China-by-underage-kids clothing! For children, on the other hand, hand-me-downs can be traumatizing. But take heart, junior, hand-me-downs can be hip. Just the other day Zahara Jolie-Pitt was photographed wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt once worn by her older brother Maddox (thanks for the tip, Celebrity Baby Blog). See, even gazillionaires see the value in "vintage"!

5. Canvas

It's old news that canvas bags are a must when schlepping to the grocery store (plastic bags are so 2007). As it turns out, anything canvas — this plain-woven fabric is 100 percent biodegradable — is eco-dreamy because it's durable and long-lasting, which means you'll have to replace it less often than its skimpier brethren. Most canvas is still made with conventional, pesticides-drenched cotton, however, but you can now find canvas made from sustainable fibers such as organic or recycled cotton, hemp and linen.

6. Shelter pets

By giving a shelter animal a home (there are six to eight million cats and dogs entering shelters every year), you're sparing one of the three to four million dogs and cats that are euthanized each year. As it happens, euthanized animals cannot be buried in landfills because their chemical-laden bodies pose a risk to wildlife that might consume the carcass. We'll spare you the details of what happens with the end result (it involves rendering, or cooking). Visit The Humane Society's website to learn more about adoption.

7. Pennies

These days, pennies don't even buy penny candy, but that's no reason to keep them at home collecting dust in your favorite glass bottle or coffee can. Coins have a lifespan of 30 years, making them some kind of sustainable (visit Coinstar for more details). That's if they stay in circulation, however. If everyone's putting quarters in at-home piggy banks for a rainy day, the coin makers in Washington are going to have to crank 'em out. Use them so that we don't have to make more.

8. Early potty training

Most of us know a parent who insists on being the trailblazing early potty trainer. It may sound insane (and developmentally early, to say the least) to put a 10-month-old on a toilet, but this is one small step toward keeping out of the landfill some of the over 92 percent of single-use diapers that end up there (not to mention it's one small way parents can cut short the time that they're around that inimitable stinky smell of "baby ka-ka," to quote comedian Robin Williams.)

9. Lists

If you were always teased for writing everything done on a to-do list, we're about to change how you feel about yourself. It's list makers who get everything they need from the supermarket in one trip — instead of making multiple trips and polluting the air when they forget that ever-so-crucial bag of tortilla chips to go with guacamole. If you drive to the grocery store in a Prius, list in hand, even better.

10. The Bible

It turns out the Good Book is filled with many a sustainable message. We're not totally sure we get these passages entirely, but we love these two: "If a bird's nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young." — Deuteronomy 22:6, and "How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? The beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our last end." — Jeremiah 12:4. And talk about sustainable: Even though there's a Bible in pretty much every hotel room across America , at least they're being used and reused by weary travelers looking for a little comfort from a higher power. It beats being homesick!

11. Rental Christmas trees

Because artificial Xmas trees pack landfills and are made with toxic-chemical-containing PVC, we tip our hats to the genius team at the Original Living Christmas Tree Company, a Portland, Oregon-based company that, literally, rents out Christmas trees. Order a tree from the team at this six-year-old firm and they'll remove a fir from the earth, roots and all, place it in a pot and deliver it to your door. Once the caroling is over, the crew comes back to your house to pick up your tree. It's then replanted in a park, playground or backyard. This is the sort of Christmas miracle we truly dig — and hope comes to a neighborhood near you soon.



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