Filter contaminants such as lead and chloroform, along with the taste of chlorine, from your tap water with a water-filtering pitcher or a faucet-mounted system. You'll also save money over buying bottled water, and the energy used -- and the pollution created -- to produce, ship, and dispose of all those plastic containers. Try the Brita Deluxe Pitcher (shown; Target.com, $24.99). Other models include the PUR Ultimate and the Shaklee Perfect pitchers. Faucet-mounted filters ($20 to $60 at home centers) are easy to install; they simply screw onto the faucet, and a valve lets you choose to bypass the filter (for example, when washing dishes).
Attach a low-flow aerator to your kitchen faucet to mix air into the stream and cut water usage without affecting pressure. Find aerators at hardware stores and home centers for under $10. Look for one with a flow rate of 2.2 gallons per minute or less, saving from 1.4 to 2.7 gallons each day.
No need to feel guilty about running your dishwasher; it actually uses less water than doing dishes by hand. Run it only when full and use the most efficient setting -- light rather than heavy wash and air dry instead of heat. Don't bother to pre-rinse before loading. Tests by the Consumers Union show that rinsing is unnecessary and wastes up to 20 gallons of water per load.
Automatic dishwashing detergents and dish soaps can contain phosphates that, when released into local waterways, cause algae growth that threatens marine life. Many detergents also release chlorine into the dishwasher's steam and indoor air. Two brands without these ingredients are Ecover Ecological Automatic Dishwasher Powder (drugstore.com, $5.89) and Shaklee Dish Wash (shown here, shaklee.com, $8.10).
Throwing food into the trash wastes a valuable resource. Turn your coffee grounds, banana peels, and eggshells into a rich soil conditioner for houseplants, lawn, and garden by composting them. Keep a small bucket or crock
(white-enamel retro trash can, World Market, $14.99) near your prep area to collect waste, then add the contents to a backyard compost bin. If you're a serious gardener, compost indoors with an odor-free system, such as the NatureMill Automatic Composter (naturemill.com, $400). To learn more, visit epa.gov/compost.
Do you really need broccoli shrink-wrapped to a Styrofoam tray? When shopping, avoid overly packaged and single-serving products and select large packages instead. Transfer the contents, such as applesauce or yogurt, into individual servings to go in reusable containers. At home, skip plastic wrap and aluminum foil in favor of washable containers with lids.
Rather than store leftovers in plastic, try old-fashioned glass, ceramic, or stainless-steel containers. While many types of plastic can be recycled, they're all made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. So cook up a double recipe of a favorite dish and pack it in your Pyrex or glass covered dishes. Or try Martha Stewart Everyday 5-cup Refrigerator Dishes (shown, Kmart.com, $6.99) or the Container Store's Vintage Glass pieces (Containerstore.com, $5.99-$7.99).
It makes sense: A small appliance is more efficient than a big one. For cooking modest portions or heating leftovers, a microwave or toaster uses less energy than an oven or stove, and an electric kettle eats less power than heating water on a cooktop. Shown: Capresso H20 Glass Water Kettle with chrome finish (AbtElectronics.com, $69).
Create a convenient recycling center with bins for glass, plastic, metal, and paper. Some bins or carts have wheels, making it easier to roll them out to the curb for pickup. According to the EPA, U.S. recycling programs diverted 32 percent of our solid waste in 2005, saving resources and energy. Approximately half of the country's population is served by curbside recycling programs; for details on these and drop-off services in your area, check earth911.org.