10 ways to save the planet and your wallet every day
By Janine Theriault, staff writer
LOS ANGELES (RPRN) 04/22/09 – While it may be true that many earth-friendly products still come at a premium, and while itâ€™s most certainly true that the green choices consumers now face are almost overwhelming, take heart; there are many easy and affordable ways to save a little greenâ€“both environmentally and economically.
Below youâ€™ll find a list of small, subtle, but substantial changes you can pledge to make to your habits this Earth Day â€“and then keep throughout the year. And all of these recommendations will actually save you money, so you and the planet can both win.
1. Take the Three Râ€™s to heart â€“ These would be reduce, re-use, and recycle â€“ with reduce being the most important link in the chain. If you donâ€™t truly need it, donâ€™t buy it. If you must buy, buy recycled (2nd hand or post-consumer). Use it till it canâ€™t be used anymore (this does not apply to plastic water bottles, see # 5 below), and then recycle. Just because an item can be recycled is not an excuse to buy with impunity.
2. Unplug when youâ€™re done â€“ â€œOffâ€ doesnâ€™t always mean off when it comes to your electronics; up to 50 Watts of electricity may still be absorbed by an appliance, whether itâ€™s in active use or not. Eliminating this â€œstandbyâ€ electricity loss by simply unplugging home electronics could save up to 26% on electrical bills, a University of California, Berkeley study found. The biggest culprits are cell phone chargers, computer printers, cable boxes and personal video recorders – but to be safe, just unplug anything not in use.
3. Be water wise â€“ Before water gets to your facet, it must be treated, transported, and then often heated â€“all of which takes energy. Consume less water by turning the tap off while you shave, brush your teeth, or hand-wash dishes, and consider a water barrel for outdoor watering (choosing native plants over water-intensive lawns is best). Heating water is the second largest use of energy in the average North American home, so using less hot water is definitely wise. However, by insulating your hot water tank and pipes, lowering the water heater temperature to 140ÂºF (60ÂºC), washing clothes in cold water and installing a low-flow showerhead, you can also make a good dent in the amount of energy you consume and pay for.
3 â€“ Switch over to better bulbs â€“ Start replacing your burnt out incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs, known as CFLs. Yes, they may cost a bit more up-front, but CFLs use up to 75% less energy and last up to 10 times longer than conventional incandescent bulbs â€“so the long-term energy savings will more than make up for the initial difference in cost. For those with aesthetic concerns, there are many more options available in the newest CFLs, including warmer light quality. Plus, as an added incentive, many rebates exist to encourage the switch-over (as with all new electrical purchases, look for the ENERGY STARÂ® label).
15 â€“ cut down on meat consumption â€“ If youâ€™re not a vegetarian (and canâ€™t bear the thought), choosing vegetable protein over animal, even once or twice a week, can have a real effect – especial if that animal protein is beef. According to a Japanese study published in New Science magazine, producing 1kg (less than 2 1/2 lbs) of beef results in more CO2 emissions than going for a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home. If thatâ€™s not inspiration enough, beans are unquestionably cheaper (not to mention better for you) than filet mignon. If you simply canâ€™t say goodbye to beef entirely, try beef organically raised on grass rather than feed. A 2003 Swedish study claims that raising cattle in this manner reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and consumed 85% less energy â€“ so go this route if you must. Eating less beef and substituting legumes (or even poultry), despite paying for organic, will likely still leave your wallet more flush. And, of courseâ€¦
13 â€“ Buy locally, if not organically â€“ â€œAbout 10% of all the energy used in America goes to farming food, processing food, transporting food, from the seed to the plate,â€ says Denis Hayes, coordinator of the first Earth Day and current president of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle. â€œIf you can just buy that same vegetable from somebody that lives on the outskirts of your community, the energy savings are stunning.â€Plus, local in-season food is often cheaper, and you get the added feel-good factor of supporting the economy of your own community (This suggestion applies not only to food, but to clothes, cleaning supplies, construction materials – you name it).
5 â€“ Say goodbye to plastic â€“ The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating island of trash in the Northern Pacific Ocean twice the size of Texas, where scientists have found plastic particles are more abundant than plankton (and plastic never, yes, never biodegrades in marine environments). This may sound unbelievable, but when you consider that Californians alone use 19 billion plastic bags annually, it begins to sound more plausible. Another major and equally unnecessary source of pollution, plastic water bottles are bought by North Americans at a rate of about a billion bottles per week, using the equivalent in oil of a quarter of each of those bottleâ€™s volume for production, transportation and disposal. Ending your part in this calamity is as simple as choosing reusable cloth bags and water bottles; saving yourself the roughly $1,400 a year you would have spent for those eight daily glasses of water in plastic, tax dollars for trash clean-up, and exposure to toxic petrochemicals that may leach into plastic-bottled water (for this reason it is recommended you not reuse regular plastic water bottles – choose one specifically made to be refilled instead such as Eco-mom turned entrepreneur Lynn Hasselberger’s bottles from her site MyEarth360.com (see bottles here).
8 â€“Get passive â€“There are many passive techniques (read: require no energy and next-to no effort) that can help in heating and cooling your home. In winter, heat loss from windows can account for 10% to 25% of your heating bill; window coverings are a quick and cost-effective way to cut heat loss and save 5% to 15% of your energy expenses. Simply keep window coverings on south-facing windows open to allow sunlight to enter and warm your home. In the summer, just do the opposite and close your internal blinds or drapes over sun-filled windows â€“ this undemanding act can block up to 65% of the heat that would otherwise be cooking your home. (For a less passive approach, home-energy audits will bring you to the next level in addressing your homeâ€™s efficiency; see this Energy Department site for more information.)
2 â€“ Commit to car-pooling, public transport (or bike it!) â€“ Weâ€™ve all heard this one before, but to put it in perspective: A 2002 study by the Brookings Institution found that â€œprivate vehicles emit about 95 percent more carbon monoxide, 92 percent more volatile organic compounds and about twice as much carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide than public vehicles for every passenger mile traveledâ€. On the economic front, the CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) calculates the average Canadian spends $ 9,060 a year on their cars (as compared to a typical annual cost of around $750 for public transport), not to mention the billions of tax dollars needed to treat illnesses caused by transportation-related pollutants. At these numbers, itâ€™s worth giving it a try.
10 â€“ Try your hand at composting â€“ unlike gardening, you donâ€™t need a green thumb to compost – just a green state of mind (and enough space for a composter). According to the EPA, yard trimmings and food scraps make up 23 percent of garbage in the U.S., but only 2.6 percent of food waste was composted as of the year 2000 â€“this means the rest was sent to landfills or incinerators, were it contributes significantly to CO2 emissions. If you do any gardening, compost can eliminate the need to buy fertilizer, humus, and pesticides, and reduce the amount of watering required. Despite an erroneously bad reputation for odors (see the EPA’s site on composting to dispel any myths), composting can be very rewarding and worth the extra effort.