Four simple tips to improve your home and its impact on the environment


Example: Mercury is found in many common household items such as fever and cooking thermometers, tilt switches in many thermostats, steam irons with 15-minute automatic shut-off, neon lamps, older batteries, fluorescent lamps, switches that stop washing machines when the top is open, "silent" wall switches, mercury vapor, high pressure sodium and metal halide lamps.

When buying these types of products, look for non-mercury alternatives, like digital fever thermometers and alcohol-based cooking thermometers. Replacing your home thermostat? Consider a digital or electronic one that contains no mercury.

Benefits: It is against the law to throw mercury-containing products away in the garbage. Proper management of mercury-containing products means keeping the mercury intact and bringing it to a citizen drop-off facility. Efforts like these to remove mercury from our garbage has meant lower mercury emission levels from waste disposal.

2. Prevent food waste and compost organics

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 27 percent of the nation's total food supply -- 97 billion pounds -- went to waste in 1995. Food is wasted in many ways, such as preparing too much, letting fresh food go bad and buying too much.

Example: Planning meals and creating a list of what you need before you go to the grocery store will help you buy exactly what you need. Composting leftover fruit and vegetable food waste with your yard waste helps create high-nutrient compost. Donate excess canned goods to a food shelf.

Benefits: Making better use of the food you buy will save you money and reduce how much food you throw away. Composting the remaining food waste will provide you with a great additive for your garden.

3. Use the least hazardous cleaning products

In a state the size of Minnesota -- about 4.4 million people -- approximately 572 tons of liquid cleaners and 132 tons of toilet bowl cleaners are washed down the drain each month.

Read the labels of cleaners and look for the signal words -- caution, warning, danger, poison -- which indicate the level of hazard. Use the least hazardous product to do the job. ("Caution" is least hazardous and "danger" is most hazardous. Extremely toxic products must also include the word "poison.")

Read the instructions on how to use cleaning products and be sure to use the correct amount. Remember, you won't get twice the results by using twice as much.

Example: Reading labels gives you information on how to use a cleaning product correctly and how dangerous a product might be. You could also consider using a substitute for cleaning projects around the house. For example, vinegar and water work well to wash windows and floors. Another idea is to share any excess products with someone else who can use them, such as your neighbor or friend. Instead of buying many different types of cleaners, use one general-purpose cleaner.

Benefits: Buying cleaning products with the least dangerous signal word and using substitutes will reduce the amount of hazardous chemicals in your home.

4. Buy the right amount of paint for the job

In 1998, almost four million pounds of excess paint were collected at Minnesota's household hazardous waste sites. A large volume of this paint was still usable. If stored correctly, paint stays in good condition for a long time. If it mixes smoothly, it can still be used.

Example: Before you begin a painting project, measure the area first. Calculate the area to be painted (height x width = total square feet). One gallon covers about 400 square feet. Go directly to our online paint calculator at to make more exact measurements.

To prevent paint from drying out, cover the paint can (use its original container) with plastic wrap, replace the lid securely and store upside down. Protect your paint from freezing. Use leftover paint for touch-up jobs, smaller projects or as a primer.

Benefits: Using low-VOC or water-based paints, stains, finishes and paint strippers will help keep hazardous chemicals out of your home. Prevent waste through wise purchasing; calculate the right amount of paint for the job. Use leftover paint up instead of throwing it away.

For more information, call 348-3RRR (3777) or go to

Source: Hennepin County Environmental Services