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Green Guide: Simple Ways to be Green

Photo by Morgan Lane Photography

Here are easy ways to make a difference in the planet’s health, and consequently, humankind’s health.

By Anne Minard

If you’re reading this, you’re probably part of the solution already. Our community has a reputation for eco-conscious citizens, businesses and government officials, and it’s richly deserved. But we can always do more.

Photo by Morgan Lane Photography
Photo by Morgan Lane Photography

As a country we still consume more than our fair share. Take water: In the past half century, our country’s population nearly doubled while our water use more than tripled—up to 1,600 drinking glasses, per person, per day (that figure includes all water uses, from drinking and bathing to washing and lawn watering).

In the same time frame, the amount of waste created by each person in our country has increased from 2.7 to 4.3 pounds per day. And waste isn’t just generated by what we throw away. It occurs throughout a product’s life cycle—from the extraction of raw materials and their processing and manufacturing, to the transportation required to get the products to us. Most of us can make simple changes to help stem this increasing tide of waste. Some of the following tips will be familiar, but hopefully some will help you up the ante in terms of conservation. Most are win-wins: They help save the planet and keep more money in your wallet.

To the Last Drop
Photo by Alexander Sysolyatin 1
Photo by Alexander Sysolyatin 1

Action: Fill the watering can while waiting for hot water, or use the water from steaming your veggies to water the plants. Benefit: Your plants will enjoy the drink and you’ll help curb outrageous water waste.

Action: Sweep driveways and sidewalks instead of hosing them down. Benefit: You’ll get more exercise and save many more gallons of water.

Action: Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth, or even better, do it “camp-style” by using just one glass of water to rinse both your mouth and toothbrush. Benefit: About 2 gallons of water a minute flow from the average bathroom sink faucet. This simple twist alone can save up to 4 gallons of water each day when you do it morning and evening.

Action: Anchor a half-gallon water bottle in the bottom of your toilet tank to save water with each flush. Benefit: If your toilet can function with the reduced flush volume, this is a great solution that stops short of shelling out for a new low-flow toilet. And it addresses the appalling volume of water Americans flush every day: nearly 5 billion gallons.

Photo by Yellowj
Photo by Yellowj
About That Car

Action: In frigid weather, skip warming up the car. Benefit: Modern cars with electronic fuel injection can handle bitter cold. You’ll burn less gas, which saves dollars at the pump and cuts down on carbon emissions.

Action: Get a tune-up, including checks of the engine, air filter, tires and alignment. Benefit: You’ll save up to 20 percent on fuel costs. For a Suburban, that translates into a savings of nearly $800 in a year.

Action: Regularly check tire pressure and keep tires properly inflated. Benefit: According to fueleconomy.gov, under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. By keeping tires properly inflated, you can improve your mileage by up to 3.3 percent. Properly inflated tires are also safer and last longer.

Action: Drop off used tires at shops that recycle or retread them. Benefit: Tires are banned from most landfills, and tires left in the yard or (worse) illegally dumped become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other pests.

Action: Wash your car and bicycle with a sponge and bucket instead of a hose. Benefit: Hoses churn out more than 6 gallons a minute, while a bucket only holds a few. If you’re in a hurry, it’s better to use a car wash than the hose at home, because car washes most often recycle the water.

Action: Bike, walk, carpool or take public transportation instead of your car. Benefit: You’ll save fuel, reduce air pollution and carbon emissions, and ease traffic in your community. You’ll also be more social—and reduce your risk of traffic tickets!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Photo by Paul Prescott
Photo by Paul Prescott

Action: Use the library instead of buying new books, puzzles, movies and CDs. Some libraries even loan toys. Benefit: You’ll save cash and reduce the demand for new consumer products and the resources that go into them. You’ll also divert paper and plastics from landfills.

Action: Inventory cupboards and fridge, make your grocery list and plan your week’s meals at the same time. Benefit: Besides the ease that comes from knowing your meal plans, this can help tackle a wasteful truth: As Americans, we throw out up to 25 percent of the food we bring home from the store.

Action: Leave a small collapsible bag in your backpack or purse so you always have one when you dash into the store to pick up items on the spur of the moment. Benefit: The manufacture of plastic bags is resource-intensive, and although the percentage of recycled plastic bags is rising, those sacks last a very long time in landfills and in the oceans, where they threaten marine life. (You can recycle your plastic bags at King Soopers and Vitamin Cottage.)

Action: Use “real” plates, cutlery and containers instead of throwaways for picnics, and recycle all bottles and cans. Take a spare container to restaurants to cart home leftovers. Benefit: Besides reducing resources used to produce throwaway supplies, you’ll keep garbage out of the landfill.

Action: Encourage your office to recycle paper, newspapers, beverage  containers, old electronic equipment and batteries. Check with the local recycling facility, the city or county for options. Benefit: In addition to keeping stuff out of landfills, including hazardous wastes, you’ll likely spark ideas your coworkers can take home.

Action: Sign up for electronic bill paying at your bank and have paychecks directly deposited. Benefit: Reducing the paper trail helps save trees.

Action: Reuse gift wrap, bows and ribbons. Benefit: Most recycling centers don’t accept these items. By using them to rewrap presents, you’ll keep materials out of the landfill.

Energetic Ideas
Photo by GoodMood Photo
Photo by GoodMood Photo

Action: Hang sheets, towels and clothes outside to dry. Benefit: You’ll save energy and money. Automatic dryers use a significant portion—just over 5 percent—of overall household energy. Sunshine and breezes are great fresheners that do the job for free.

Action: Take off your shoes upon entering the house. Benefit: This cuts down on allergens and toxins in the home. Plus, it saves money, energy and time, because you won’t need to vacuum or clean carpets as often.

Action: Insulate hot-water pipes. Benefit: Nestling pipes in foam, wrap or fiberglass can keep water up to 4 degrees hotter, letting you lower the thermostat on your water heater. This is a great idea if you just can’t seem to shorten your shower.

Action: It’s almost tax-refund time, so consider swapping out older appliances for newer, energy-efficient units (and donate your old ones). Benefit: Appliances and home electronics rack up about 20 percent of the energy bills in a typical American home.

At the Store
Photo by Lightpoet
Photo by Lightpoet

Action: Read labels and select products with nonhazardous ingredients. If you must use hazardous materials, like paint, use as little as possible and share the leftovers so others don’t buy more. Better yet, opt for low- or no-VOC paint if you can afford it. Benefit: There’s a monetary benefit to using less of anything, and cutting back on these products reduces toxic wastes. Landfills have been built for decades using the best available technology, but not all landfills keep toxins out of our soil, air and water.

Action: Buy products in concentrate or bulk, with minimal packaging that can be recycled or refilled. Benefit: These products consume less at every stage of production and disposal—and this often includes the step where you pay at checkout.

Action: Invest in rechargeable batteries. Benefit: Overall, steering clear of ­single- use, disposable items saves you money and the resources required to make them.

Go the Extra Yard
Photo by Suzanne Tucker
Photo by Suzanne Tucker

Action: Compost food and yard waste. Benefit: These wastes combine to make up 26 percent of the municipal solid-waste stream. Compost fortifies soil and helps it retain moisture. It also diverts waste from landfills.

Action: Set the mower blade higher and leave the clippings. Better yet, opt for an electric mower to cut your carbon footprint. Benefit: You’ll decrease mowing chore-time up to 40 percent by not bagging clippings, which nourish the soil.

Action: Cover gardens and flower beds with at least 3 inches of mulch. Benefit: Pine needles, straw, hay, leaves, wood chips, sawdust, grass clippings and compost help the soil retain water, preventing up to 70 percent of evaporation so you don’t have to water as often. Mulch also evens out temperature swings, prevents erosion and adds nutrients to the soil.

Action: Screw an automatic shut-off nozzle to the end of your garden hose. Benefit: You’ll save 6.5 gallons of water a minute and be in absolute control of the water stream.

Electric Turnoffs
Photo by Olivier Le Queinec
Photo by Olivier Le Queinec

Action: Use a power strip to shut off electronic devices when not in use. Benefit: Today’s electronics, including cell-phone chargers, draw power even when not in use. That flat-screen plasma TV alone could be costing you $200 a year. A power strip costs only about $30.

Action: Turn off your computer or set it to “sleep” mode when not in use. When you do power up, opt for a laptop instead of a desk computer. Benefit: You’ll reduce wear and tear on your hardware and save around $90 a year in electricity costs. As for laptops, they demand only about 20 watts during regular use, compared to 150 watts for a desktop computer.

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