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Gazette Premium Content Earth Day: Steps you can take to be more friendly to the environment

By Jessica Reynolds Chicago Tribune - Published: April 22, 2014

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it's easy to overlook how much trash humans generate and the other countless ways we adversely impact the planet. From disposing mounds of single-use coffee to leaving lights on in an empty home, we all - often inadvertently - hurt our world. This Earth Day, vow to be more environmentally conscious. Here is a list of items that will help you reduce your carbon footprint and aid the Earth day to day.

Create new toys from recyclables. When searching for toys sure to please a toddler, look no further than your recycling bin. Any parent knows empty cereal boxes or paper towel rolls alone can entertain tykes, but Box Play stickers liven up these trash-to-treasure favorites. Transform an egg carton into a piano or a milk carton into a fire truck in seconds. But be sure to thoroughly wash all containers. The stickers, printed on 100 percent recycled paper with vegetable-based inks, are designed to fit standard-size milk cartons, tissue boxes, toilet paper rolls and more. $3 to 7 each; boxplayforkids.com

Use paper towels without immediately tossing in the trash. There's no denying paper towels are convenient, but after only one use, off to the landfill they go. Bambooee reusable towels, composed of bamboo-derived rayon, have a sturdier design than their paper rivals and, according to the company, can be washed up to 100 times. Toss dirty Bambooees in the laundry and they'll emerge refreshed and as durable as before. We tested them through several washes, and they held up. Bambooees are sold in rolls of 20 sheets, but after the first use, you'll have to find another way to dispense them. It's a small price to pay for the money - and trees - you'll save by switching. Bambooee partners with Trees for the Future to plant one tree for each roll sold. $15.99 per roll; bambooee.com

Clean without the packed-in chemicals. Certain household cleaning products are packed with chemicals known to potentially harm your family and the environment. But each item in the Clorox Green Works line is at least 97 percent naturally derived, making it ideal for households with children or anyone sensitive to pungent smells. The brand's original scent emits a subdued citrusy smell, while the fruitier scents - like lemon and water lily - seem to linger longer. The line includes an all-purpose spray, cleaning wipes, glass and bathroom cleaner and dishwashing and laundry detergents. $2 to $10 for most; available at many Target and Wal-Mart stores.

Check your electricity usage. Leaving appliances plugged in when they're not in use sucks energy and hikes up your electric bill. The P3 International Kill A Watt will allow you to see just how much power idle or outdated electronics can waste. How it works: Plug the Kill A Watt into any electrical outlet and then plug an appliance into that. The device will calculate consumption by kilowatt - helping you determine which electronics should be unplugged or updated. The results might convince you to unplug your TV during the day or finally buy a more energy-efficient refrigerator. $23.99 at shop.p3international.com; also available at Home Depot and Wal-Mart.

Get lunch away from plastic bags. Reusable lunchboxes have been around a while, but now there's one that eliminates the need for zip-close bags, tinfoil and other excess waste. PlanetBox is essentially a Western version of the traditional Japanese bento box, designed to store a sandwich, chopped fruits, nuts and other common lunchtime snacks. The tray folds together, securing its contents, and slides into an accompanying custom-fit polyester bag. $34.95 to-$74.95 at planetbox.com.

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