It really doesn’t take a lot of thought or effort to make a few basic changes to your life that will give you some real green bragging rights. Resolving to try these simple tips can save you money, cut your carbon footprint, decrease your home’s waste stream and improve the quality of the earth.
1. Switch to cloth napkins and kitchen towels vs. paper towels and napkins.
When you consider the resources spent in harvesting, processing, packaging, shipping, and stocking single-use paper products, you won’t be surprised to find that paper napkins and paper towels are twice as energy intensive, create more pollutants, and drastically affect the environment in a negative way. Cloth napkins and towels are a much greener option. They can be reused over and over again, and washing isn’t as energy-intensive as some claim when you toss your towels and napkins in with a weekly laundry load. Plus, electric dryers are twice as efficient as the process to manufacture paper napkins and towels. To avoid swapping cold germs around the table, give each family member their own napkin ring and let them reuse the same napkin until washday.
2. Swear off buying bottled water.
Did you know that 1.5 million barrels of oil are used annually to make plastic water bottles? By installing a kitchen faucet filter or using a filtering pitcher, you can do your share to make a difference, not only in reducing oil consumption, but also in landfill space taken up by plastic water containers. You’ll make a positive impact on the environment, and you’ll also stand to save some serious cash. The average bottled water costs $1.00-$2.00 for 16 ounces. The average cost for 100 gallons of filtered water is $.11. That’s a huge savings. Pair your filtered water with a reusable bottle made of glass, aluminum or recycled plastic and your good to go.
3. Bag plastic shopping bags and grab a set of reusable totes.
More than 1 million plastic shopping bags are being tossed into the trash every minute! Taking your own reusable bags to the store is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint. You don’t have to spend a fortune to acquire a collection of bags that will meet all your shopping needs. Check out on-line sites that offer bags for between $1.50 and $2.50 each or take advantage of free bags offered by some large retailers. Around our house we used to ask for paper bags vs. plastic and saved them until we had a huge pile. Now we take our own paper bags to the store. It’s amazing how long they will last if you fold and stack them between uses.
4. Turn to the cold water setting for all of your laundry.
Unlike dishwashers, clothes washers don’t require hot water for adequate cleaning. You can reduce your energy expenditures by operating your washer on the cold water setting for washing and rinsing. If you are in the market for a new clothes washer, look for energy efficient models. Front loading machines use less water and energy than top loaders and washers that spin-dry your clothes more effectively can also save energy needed for drying them. Look for the ENERGY STAR label that signifies energy efficiency.
5. Install a clothesline.
Using a clothesline is a cheap way to be earth friendly. A clothesline and about 50 clothespins costs $15 or less. While clothes dryers are a convenience, especially on rainy days, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, they consume 6% of total electricity consumed by American households. The average homeowner spends as much as $85 a year just to dry clothes! Taking advantage of the sun and breeze is free and sunlight is a great disinfectant! Try hanging your sheets and pillowcases on the line to dry. You won’t need artificial products to make your wash smell like a mountain meadow, when you can get an even better effect in your backyard.
6. Go vegetarian two days a week.
By cutting meat out of your diet just two days a week, you can reduce your carbon footprint by 1/3 ton. Coming up with meat-free meals is much easier than it sounds. Try pancakes and fruit for breakfast, a PB&J sandwich and fruit for lunch and a veggie pizza, hearty bean soup, or vegetarian chili with a fresh salad for dinner. The possibilities are practically limitless.
7. Replace your lightbulbs.
Replacing you old incandescent bulbs when they burn out with new energy-efficient lights is so easy, yet can make such a big difference. Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs last longer, while cutting your energy use by as much as 80 percent. If every American home replaced just one incandescent bulb with a CFL that’s earned the ENERGY STAR, it would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars.
8. Stop phantom power suckers.
Virtually every appliance in your house is draining electricity even when it’s not in use – even when it’s turned off. Not only do they steal your money, but the energy they drain causes needless production of greenhouse gasses. “Leaking electricity” is estimated to be responsible for up to 45 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity consumed by U.S. households each year. That costs us more than $3.5 billion! Most appliances, including your toaster, microwave, coffee-maker, clock radio, TV and computer, all have stand-by functions, digital clocks, little lightbulbs, sensors, or other features that keep working as long as the appliance is plugged in. Even the chargers for your cell phones, iPods and other portable electronics use power when they’re plugged in – regardless of whether they are charging or idle. Believe it or not, a television draws 10 to 20% of its total power usage – when it’s turned off.
How can you stop these power suckers?
1. Pull out individual plugs where possible – except when you are actually using an appliance.
2. In areas near computers and home entertainment equipment with lots of components, plug everything into one power strip – just make sure you get one with surge protection – and, when you’re done for the night or weekend, flip off the illuminated switch.