FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Each April, we hear a lot of discussion about changes we should implement in order to help save the planet. We are urged to reduce, reuse and recycle; to plant trees and gardens; to carpool and to donate old household items to charity. Aside from the substantial benefits to the environment, conservation also can save you money.

A large portion of the typical American's grocery bill is composed of cleaning supplies, many of which are quite pricey. The great news is there is a natural, homemade replacement for virtually any household cleaner in existence. Replacing these cleaners with natural, homemade options is both healthier for your family and for your wallet.

Household cleaners
The majority of household cleaners can be replaced using white vinegar, which can be purchased for approximately $4 per gallon. These cleaners are just effective as bleach- and ammonia-based solutions, less expensive, and safer for children and pets. You also can add a drop or two of lemon oil or lavender oil to your vinegar-based solutions for a light, fresh scent.

Try using a vinegar solution for these cleaning tasks:
* Use a solution of 50 percent water, 50 percent vinegar to clean countertops, showers and hard surfaces.
* Use a rag soaked in full strength vinegar to clean mold or mildew in the shower or sink.
* Mix equal parts white vinegar and olive oil to create your own furniture polish.
The Environmental Protection Agency website also lists several alternatives to popular household cleaners, which are made without hazardous constituents.

Natural alternatives include the following:
* Use 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in one quart of water as a window cleaner. As an added bonus, you can use old newspaper in place of paper towels for window washing.
* Sprinkle dry carpets liberally with baking soda to neutralize odors.
* Add a small amount of brewer's yeast or garlic to your pet's food to keep fleas and ticks at bay.
* Use rosemary, mint or white peppercorns in place of mothballs.

Using rechargeable batteries in your household appliances and devices also can save a great deal of money over time. Although the initial cost is approximately four times more than the cost of single-use batteries, rechargeable batteries quickly recoup that cost as they are used and re-used.

It is estimated that the typical NiCd (nickel cadmium) rechargeable battery can sustain somewhere between 500 and 800 charge-recharge cycles. This translates to a savings of more than $300 per battery.

All batteries, whether single-use or rechargeable, contain toxic substances and must be disposed of properly.

"New York state now has a law on the books that makes disposing of rechargeable batteries in the trash a fineable offense," said Heather Wagner, Fort Drum Public Works environmental educator.

Regular alkaline non-rechargeable batteries can be recycled in the white bins attached to dumpsters in all of the main housing areas on post, or they can be placed in a plastic bag to be picked up with regular office recycling. Eligible rechargeable batteries can be turned in at the Hazardous Waste Storage Facility, Bldg. 11144, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays or from noon to 2 p.m. Thursdays. For more information, call Hazardous Waste at 772-6111.

Buying in bulk
Buying food in bulk is another way to decrease your carbon footprint while increasingly your savings.

According to the EPA, buying in bulk saves packaging, and it saves you trips to the grocery store, thus saving you gas money and reducing fuel emissions. An added bonus? Your refrigerator and freezer function more efficiently and use less energy when full.

For optimum savings, buy bulk foods in reusable packaging, or take your own reusable containers to the butcher shop or grocery store when possible.

Although Earth Day is celebrated annually on April 22, our real focus ought to be implementing small changes daily. As the adage goes, we only have one earth, and it is up to us to
preserve it for posterity.