There’s no better time like the present to begin your journey of living better and making the planet a better place for you and your neighbors! Be prepared for the adventure of a lifetime.
- 1. Use fluorescent light bulbs. Yes, they’re more expensive than incandescent light bulbs ($2 vs. $.50), but switch out your incandescent bulb for compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) in your house, and you could save up to 30 percent on your energy bill. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program, CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than incandescent and last 10 times longer. This, on average, results in $30 savings for the life of the bulbs. [Editor’s note: Since this article was written in 2009, the price of L.E.D. bulbs has dropped dramatically and offer significantly even more energy and heat savings than both incandescent and fluorescent lights. Therefore, in most cases, they are the preferable option for most lighting arrangements.]
- 2. Keep your car in excellent condition. Of course, it’s best to walk, bicycle, carpool or use mass transit for your daily commuting, but for those who must use their own vehicles, improving even the most inefficient of cars’ fuel mileage is as easy as keeping your tires properly inflated and changing your oil and air filters regularly. And follow those traffic laws – your car burns less fuel when you drive slowly and obey the speed limit on highways.
- 3. Make sure your dishwasher and clothes washer and dryer are full before using them. Major appliances consume large amounts of energy! Reduce their use as much as possible by only running them with full loads. If you’re in the market for new appliances or other electronics, look for the ENERGY STAR label to purchase the most energy efficient models available. In addition to saving energy and water consumption, they also will save you money.
- 4. Wash clothes in cold water and line dry, if possible. Using cold water rather than hot in the washer saves electricity and works just as well with most clothes. Line drying is not only more environmentally friendly, but it also keeps clothes from shrinking and fading.
- 5. Shut down and unplug idle electronics. Your computer might be asleep, but if there’s a light on, it’s still using energy. Turn off and unplug your computer, printer, television, radio – or any electronic device that you’re not using.
- 6. Skip the bottled water. Sure, water is good for you, but the process of harvesting, processing, and manufacturing the raw materials needed for the petroleum-based plastic bottles and then shipping them to market, is extremely energy intensive. So filter your own water and fill up your own reusable bottles for water on-the-go.
- 7. Supply your own bags and leftover containers. If you’re headed to a restaurant that you know serves king-sized portions, you can keep one fewer Styrofoam container from the landfill pile by bringing a small piece of Tupperware along to take home the leftovers. When shopping, opt out of the paper/plastic debate and bring your own canvas tote bags. Although many supermarkets recycle used plastic bags, the process still requires much energy to be used to transport and process the materials. Not only are reusable bags more sustainable, they are also becoming more of the norm, especially as more municipalities around the country are adopting zero-waste goals and banning the use of plastic bags.
- 8. Buy items with less packaging. Individually portioned snacks and goods are almost too good to be true, especially if you’re a busy mom or a person on-the-go; but they are also wasteful and expensive. These items usually have much higher unit prices that their bulkier counterparts and create much more packaging waste that just buying the full box. Consider buying in bulk and using small reusable containers to create your own personalized portions!
- 9. Support local farmers. Food grown or produced halfway around the world didn’t just appear in the supermarket-it was shipped by plane, boat, truck or rail, and no matter which method of transportation it took, greenhouse gases were emitted along the way. Also, because it hasn’t been sitting in a warehouse, local produce tend to be fresher and more nutritious! Support your regional food system by picking the apple grown in your state instead of the banana grown in another country.
- 10. Plant a tree in your backyard. It seems simple, but just one tree can offset tons of carbon over its lifetime. If planted appropriately, its shade can cool your home on a sunny day, perhaps reducing the use of energy for air-conditioning in buildings and homes.
- 11. Try used products first. Need a couch? Check newspaper classifieds, thrift stores, www.craigslist.org or www.freecycle.org to see if you can find an acceptable used option before going to a showroom to buy a new one, which will have required both new energy and materials to make and ship.
- 12. Ask about green power. Many utility companies offer renewable energy options, such as power generated by wind or solar energy. For those who are unable to install renewable energy equipment on their homes or businesses, many energy utilities offer programs that allow consumers to support the growth of the renewable energy market in the United States by paying a small price premium. This is not an option for everyone, but it is one way to help spur the market for renewable energy technologies.
Contributed by Steve Slaughter, Science Teacher