With all of the challenges facing Americans at present, it’s not always routine to be concerned with green living. But improving the environment and lessening our carbon footprints is an important investment in our country’s future, and something that every American can contribute to. In honor of Earth Day, immediately begin reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (and saving money) by implementing some of these basic green tips in your daily life.
You may not realize it, but when your computer or television is turned off, it still uses electricity. When you leave phone chargers, electric toothbrushes and shavers, coffee makers, and hand-held vacuums (just to name a few) plugged in indefinitely, the cords continue to drain energy, hiking up your bill and wasting an important energy source. Often called “phantom” power, this loss of electricity often accounts ­for five percent of your electricity bill. Doesn’t sound like much, right? According to the Department of Energy, the result is an annual nationwide loss of 64 million megawatt-hours of electricity — equivalent to the output of 18 average power stations in one year, and over $3 billion. Plug appliances into power strips and cut power from there — a power strip will not drain energy if the switch is off. Also available are Smart Strip surge protectors that monitor electronic use and cut off power when an appliance goes idle. By eliminating the use of phantom power, the U.S. could lower CO2 emissions by 100 billion pounds per year.
This phrase has come to mean having your account statements sent to you via email and paying bills online. Both are great ways to contribute to green efforts, but you can lessen your carbon footprint even further. With the following steps, perhaps we can also improve our record — with only five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. consumes 30 percent of the world’s paper, according to a Worldwatch Institute report.
• Say “no thanks” to ATM receipts. Americans take so many each year that the roll of paper could circle the equator 15 times.
• Each year 53 million trees are cut down and fossil fuel is burned to print and ship 19 billion catalogs. Reduce the number of catalogs you receive at www.catalogchoice.org, where you can cancel any mail offers you no longer want.
• Print double-sided on recycled paper and only when necessary. Reduce photocopies and share in meetings when possible. Edit documents on the computer with the “insert comment” function rather than printing them. Reuse and recycle paper when possible.
• Ditch paper towels for washable microfiber cloth towels. If every household in the U.S. replaced one roll of paper towels, it would save 544,000 trees.
Ask For Help
In light of the drought California is facing, and the prospect of water rationing in the near future, now more than ever we must focus on conserving our most precious natural resource. The San Diego Water Authority can provide you with information on the various rebates you can get for improving your water conservation efforts, and the many opportunities to reduce water usage around both home and office, especially when it comes to landscaping and irrigation. Free-of-charge water survey programs run by the Olivenhain Water District and the Santa Fe irrigation District, as well as through the City of San Diego, will provide a detailed audit on how you can save water. For more information on these opportunities, as well as water conservation tips, visit www.20gallonchallenge.com.
When it comes to solar energy, Solana Beach is one of the first few cities in California that offers a financing program to help homeowners and small business owners purchase solar panels utilizing long-term payment plans rather than having to pay the full price upfront. Other cities like San Diego and Encinitas are working on similar proposals.
Pack Lunch With Reusable Containers
Based on statistics from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the average brown bag lunch generates 65 pounds of garbage per child per school year. That’s not even considering what adults use when they take their own lunch to work. Those 100-calorie packs may be convenient and comforting, but each wrapper adds to the devastatingly large amount of waste getting added to our landfills every year. To reduce your impact, find a reusable lunch bag and invest in sturdy reusable containers to replace Ziploc bags and aluminum foil. Consider reusing Cool Whip, cream cheese, or lunchmeat containers rather than purchasing new Tupperware. Buy foods in bulk rather than individual snack bags and dish out single servings. Replace plastic utensils with forks and spoons from home, and use washable cloth napkins rather than paper.
Avoid Bottled Drinks
Refrain from drinking bottled or canned beverages — everything from water and tea to soda and sports drinks. The manufacturing, transportation, use, and disposal of the 50 billion water bottles used in the U.S. each year results in the use of 30 million gallons of oil, or enough to fuel almost 2 million cars for a year. Aside from helping with environmental impact, you can save hundreds of dollars on water a year by investing in a BPA-free refillable bottle and sticking with filtered tap water. Local restaurants and other businesses are catching on to this campaign. For example, stop by Global Heart boutique in Carlsbad to fill up your reusable water container with free ionized water. If you want something with flavor, mix juices, teas, and even sports drinks from powders, and get soda from a soda fountain or home soda maker. Recycle any aluminum, plastic, or glass bottles you use — an estimated eight in ten plastic bottles wind up in landfills every year.
Clean Your Coils
Your refrigerator uses more electricity than any other appliance in your home, typically accounting for one-fifth of your electricity bill each month. Your fridge can work 25 percent more efficiently if you clean the condenser coils (located on the back or the base) every six months. When dirt and dust accumulate on the coils, they trap in heat, causing the fridge’s motor to work even harder. Use a vacuum with a brush attachment to remove the unwanted mess and reduce your CO2 emissions by 25 pounds per month.
Refuse Paper And Plastic
Of the 100 billion plastic bags used by Americans each year, only five percent are recycled. The rest of the non-biodegradable bags end up packed in landfills or scattered across the landscape as litter. One of the most astounding cases is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and San Francisco where harmful plastics have amassed on the ocean’s surface in a clump the size of Texas. These floating materials are poisoning marine life and contributing to the deterioration of the oceanic food chain. Paper bags aren’t a better alternative to plastic — manufacturing a one-year supply for the U.S. requires cutting down over 14 million trees and requires four times as much energy. To lessen these numbers, always use cloth shopping bags. Reuse any other bags or return them to the store to be used again.
Cut Cell Phone Waste
Most people have an old cell phone or two lying around the house collecting dust, and some estimate that more than 85 percent of those phones are not at the end of their life when a replacement is purchased. Rather than using energy on disposal, erase all of the data and find a way for the phone to be reused. Try selling the cell at www.gazelle.com, or donating it to Secure the Call, an organization that utilizes old phones as dedicated 911 dialers. Find free cell recycling programs at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park. For every 1,800 phones recycled, donated, or sold, the energy saved is equivalent to turning off the electricity in 70 homes for a month. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average cell phone in the United States is replaced every 18 months. If everyone increased that period to two years, 25 million fewer cell phones would be produced and sold each year, resulting in 13,000 fewer tons of cell-phone waste.
Use energy-saving light bulbs
Compact Fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) will not only last 10 times longer than a regular light bulb, but they will also reducing your energy consumption from lighting by anywhere from 50 to 75 percent. Though more expensive up front, CFLs will actually save you $30 over their lifetime. On average, each light bulb that you switch to a CFL will reduce carbon emissions each year by 260 pounds. Be sure to recycle the bulbs when they no longer work.
Transportation produces about 30 percent of the greenhouse gases released by the U.S., and on average each car generates 990 pounds of CO2 per month. Along with driving less by walking, biking, or carpooling, reduce emissions by making sure your tires are not over- or under-inflated. Proper inflation can make your car 3.3 percent more fuel-efficient. This may not sound like a lot, but if all Americans did the same, U.S. gas consumption would lessen by over 90 million gallons per month. That translates to approximately 1.8 billion fewer pounds of CO2 every month.
Be conscious of the products you buy, and when possible, buy green products and/or products made by green companies. You can find green products in almost every category, from food and household items to fashion and personal care. Switch to chemical-free cleaning products like Greenworks to reduce the chemical residue in your home left behind by harsh cleaners. Do the same for your body by using organic and all-natural personal care products from Jergens or Trader Joe’s, to name a few. Buy clothing made from certified organic cotton, bamboo, or recycled plastic from local companies like +E Positive Energy and GreenEdge Kids, and look for paper items made from 100 percent recycled paper. Stick to products with less packaging, and buy in bulk to avoid excess packaging waste. The possibilities are endless as more companies catch on to the green effort.
Any of these small adjustments can help to make a difference. For other ideas on changes that can have a direct effect, calculate your environmental impact with issues related to home and transportation at www.lowimpactliving.com. The site will provide your score in comparison with the national average and give you a slew of ideas on how to improve your lifestyle and save money by going green. RINA VAN ORDEN
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