Earth Day 2k12: 5 Things You Can Do To Decrease Your Impact

In honor of Earth Day this Sunday, I thought it would be good to give five simple suggestions on how to live a wee bit greener life. These suggestions really aren’t difficult, you’ve probably heard them a million times already, but humor me and hear them again. Decreasing your impact on the planet doesn’t necessarily require you to spend heaps of money or to put up a wind farm in your back yard; it’s about breaking old bad habits, and creating new ones that are a little easier on our wallets and less stressful on our planet.

#1. Unplug. If it doesn’t need to be plugged in, unplug it. Even if you shut down your menagerie of electronics, chances are they’re still drawing power just by being plugged in. Huffington Post provided an article in HowStuffWorks to explain that standby power consumption could account for 5-10% of your total electric consumption. Combined with everyone else’s standby power consumption, this equates to about 1% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.

Granted, it’s a little frustrating when you’re first getting started to realize your toast is not in fact toasting because the toaster’s been unplugged since last Tuesday, but after a few mishaps you’ll remember (hopefully) to check first, then unplug when you’re done.

If things do need to be plugged in, consider changing power saving settings or sleep settings, or go big and invest in a smart strip which shuts off power to electronics in standby mode.

#2. Turn Off. Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of the dark. If my parents left me home alone they would return to find every light on in the house. Now that I live on my own, I’ve become a bit neurotic about turning off lights–I find myself residing half the time in semi-darkness with only one CFL light bulb burning in the corner. As this probably isn’t most people’s style, just be conscious of the fact there isn’t a little elf that lives in your room that needs the light on after you walk out.

If you’re at work, school, what have you, make sure you’re heater or air conditioner isn’t running full speed ahead while no one is home.

#3. Reusables. I’ve used some form of a reusable bottle since high school. When I started working, I got in the habit of making my tea or coffee at home and bringing it in a mug. I do cheat on Fridays when I reward my hard work for the week with a triple soy latte from the coffee shop down the street, but now that I think of it, they probably wouldn’t be opposed to putting my caffeine addiction in my mug.

In an effort to save money, I bring lunch from home, but after a few months I was going through a foolish amount of plastic ziplock baggies! I decided to cut the baggies out of my lunch life and got an Eco Lunchbox. This little bento style box fits my sandwich, and a good couple of snacks for the day.

Reusable Trifecta

My Reusable Trifecta

Some cities in California have recently instituted plastic bag bans, but if yours hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon, invest all .99 cents most reusable bags cost and bring them when you go to the store. If you’re like me and realize halfway to the store you have no canvass bags, stash some in the trunk of your car.

Plastic is a huge source of waste in the U.S. It comprises of 12% of our waste, 27 million tons of which ended up in landfills in 2005, according to Time.

#4. Buy Local. Buy Organic. Food travels extraordinary distances to get to your table. Not only does this mean you’re probably not getting the highest quality or freshest produce, but it has serious implications for the climate in terms of energy consumption and emissions released.

According to a Health Facts article by the NRDC, imports of fruits, nuts, and vegetables in 2005 released more than 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide, that amount is equivalent to 12,000 cars on the road.

Buying local helps your local economy. Buying organic means no pesticides or fertilizers tainting your food, bringing better quality produce to your table. Bring your recently acquired reusable bag to your local farmers market this weekend!

#5. Turn Off the Tap. If you leave the water on when you’re brushing your teeth, and you brush your teeth twice a day, you’ve just wasted 24 gallons of water. Everyone likes a long, hot shower after a rough day (myself included). Most shower heads use 2.5 gallons of water per minute. If you usually shower for 20 minutes, you’ve lost 50 gallons of water, not to mention the energy it takes to heat that water. Try cutting your showers down by 5-10 minutes a day.

Personally, I know I waste the most water when I’m doing dishes–I’ve developed the bad habit of leaving the faucet running while I scrub my Eco lunchbox clean. I’m contemplating putting a post-it on the wall behind the sink reminding me to turn of the tap when I’m scrubbing. If you do your dishes in a dishwasher, make sure you’re running full loads.

These suggestions are kind of no-brainers. Like I said, it’s about breaking out of our wasteful mindsets and creating new, contentious habits that we practice in our daily lives to help lower our impact.

Happy Earth Day to all!

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From Plastic To Glass: 5 Reasons To Make The Switch

In a throw away society, people rarely think about what happens after they toss their plastic water bottle in a trash can instead of the recycling. After many years of personally using plastic, I decided to make a small change to a more environmentally friendly life style.

In my first attempts at a more sustainable daily life, I first used a Nalgene bottle. Like most people, upon learning more about the dangers of PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) I retired my trusty UC Santa Cruz Nalgene. Shortly there after, I jumped on the Kleen Kanteen train. Though I still use my Kleen Kanteen from time to time, I decided to shift towards a different kind of reusable water bottle, a corked, 750 ml, glass bottle.

Glass Water Bottle

I would argue using a reusable water bottle of any kind would be preferable to plastic, but here are the top five reasons why I’ve chosen glass instead of plastic or stainless steel:

1. In order to be more environmentally friendly, cut down on the petroleum used to manufacture plastic and to decrease the amount of waste in landfills, I have chosen to opt out of using plastic water bottles. Though recycling receptacles are readily available in most public places such as the park or the mall, and found in most homes and neighborhoods, plastic rarely finds its way to the recycling center. According to an article in Time Magazine, in 2005 the US produced 28 million tons of plastic waste, 27 million tons of which ended up in landfills. A mere one million tons of plastic was recycled, despite recycling containers, despite children being taught to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, and despite many peoples rational that they should use plastic for the sole reason it is recyclable.

2. Plastic was created to be a durable material. Because of this, it’s life span is very long. Approximately 1,000 years of durability. If you think to a thousand years from now, our children and children’s children, will still be burdened by the waste we’ve left in landfills. According to TIME magazine, plastic now take up 12% of our trash in comparison to the 1% in 1960; these bottles are taking up space in landfills that could be designated to other waste.

3. Dangers to my health. When I used plastic water bottles, I would leave them in my car, taken them to school, the gym, work, and use them for days on end. My thinking being of course, that if I was going to use plastic, I was going to get the most out of each bottle. Little did I know, by doing this, I could have been putting myself at unnecessary risk of PCBs. By exposing plastic bottles to heat and normal wear and tear, harmful PCBs were leaching into the water I was drinking.

4. As a recent college graduate, saving money is always a priority. I found myself buying cases of water from Costco, or just getting a bottle or two a day at the store. Say I would buy a case a month, 5 dollars a month, for a year that cost me $60. Now that number won’t break the bank, but if I was buying a bottle of water day from the store at two dollars a day, I was spending $720 a year! Buying a Brita filter for my fridge cost about $15 dollars. Filling up my glass bottle with water from the Brita paid for itself in a matter of days.

5. Glass is an expensive material, however unlike plastic, it can be reused multiple times. When exposed to heat, it does not leach out any undesirable chemicals into my drinking water making it safer for me. In countries like Denmark, refilling glass containers is actually preferable to using plastic containers. In poorer countries like Brazil, refilling glass bottles for things like soda, is cheaper and recommended instead of A) making new glass bottles or B) using plastic.

Reusing glass saves about 315 additional kilograms of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere from the production of new glass. And drinking out of a glass bottle instead of a water bottle is more fun and interesting! It’s a great conversation starter and you can explain to others why you’ve chosen to be more environmentally conscious by making the switch to a safe reusable drinking bottle!