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A greener planet begins under the kitchen sink

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• Organic, locally grown food. Because it doesn't use pesticides, it immediately helps water quality, species protection, and health.

• Energy-efficient appliances. That can be as simple as energy-efficient light bulbs. When replacing an appliance, choose the most energy-efficient model.

• Fuel-efficient cars. "Buy the most fuel-efficient vehicle you can get in your class and price range," she says. "That will have a direct impact on air quality."

• Nontoxic cleansers. "It's ironic that so many cleaning products are linked to toxic chemicals," MacEachern says. "This whole notion of the dirty kitchen and the deadly bathroom – we have been sold such a ball of nonsense by manufacturers of cleaning products. All we really need is water, baking soda, distilled vinegar, and common liquid soap."

• Shade-grown coffee. US consumers drink one-fifth of the world's coffee. "It should be grown in rain forests, but instead it's grown in equatorial countries. Coffee plantations cut down rain forests." A shade-grown coffee industry is developing to renew the rain forest.

• Phthalate-free cosmetics. Because the cosmetics industry is not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency, power for change resides in the marketplace. (Phthalates are plasticizers found in some perfume, nail polish, deodorant, and more. Researchers have linked it to health problems in laboratory animals.)

Unregulated labeling is a problem

But even the best efforts to wield consumer clout face obstacles. One involves labels. "There's no regulation of words like 'ecofriendly,' 'green,' and 'good for the planet,' " MacEachern says. "Anyone can smack those on the label."

Generally, she finds that the more ingredients on a label, the less safe a product may be. The more understandable the ingredients, the safer it probably is. Availability poses another obstacle. Only about 4 percent of food is organically grown.

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