Simple tips to live the green life
By Karen Klages
Photovoltaics on the roof? Geothermal heating underground? Spiffy dual-flush toilets all about?
That isn't the nature of this article.
Our project, Living the Green Life, is meant for every-day people who want to do better by the environment.
For the most part, our focus is lifestyle changes — minor adjustments in daily behavior that, taken in aggregate, can have a huge impact.
We considered ways of reducing household waste.
We looked at less-toxic housecleaning products, green gardening techniques and pet products. .
Here's a compilation of the best ideas — tips from engineers, chemists, environmentalists, recycling experts, government agencies, medical professionals, appliance-makers, gardeners and, of course, readers.
Use it. Contrary to popular eco-belief, it's greener than hand-washing — if you run it with full loads and scrape rather than rinse. The average dishwasher in American homes today uses 8.7 gallons of water a load. Washing by hand for 10 minutes with water running can use 20 gallons. If you fill the sink, you still use about 5 gallons for washing, 5 for rinsing.
Do not over-dry laundry. An electric dryer operating an extra 15 minutes a load can cost you up to $34 a year in wasted energy; a gas dryer, $21 a year. If your dryer has a moisture sensor that turns the machine off automatically when clothes are dry, use it.
Wash only full loads of laundry and save, in an average American home, as much as 3,400 gallons of water a year.
Power them off when they're not in use. A home office with a computer, printer, fax machine, computer speakers, scanner and cordless phone could consume as much power as two 75-watt lightbulbs left on 24/7. And that could cost you $100 a year in electricity. Plug equipment into a surge-protector power strip. Power off all the equipment and then turn off the power strip at the end of the day. If you have a high-speed cable connection to the Internet, plug that modem into a separate outlet and keep that "on" for updates. If you have DSL (high-speed Internet), it's OK to power off that modem. In fact, technical folks recommend it, to preserve a modem's life.
Get a programmable thermostat and save. Set it way up, even in hot weather, when everyone's at work or at school and when they're asleep. And program it to save the air conditioning until shortly before folks get home.
Switch to eco doggie bags that biodegrade in the landfill — which means Fido's poop won't be forever preserved in the landfill, in the plastic bag you grabbed without considering its end-of-life issues.
A year's worth of papers from a big-city daily weighs nearly a half ton. Every ton of paper that gets recycled saves the equivalent of 17 trees, saves enough energy to power an average home for six months, saves 7,000 gallons of water and keeps 60 pounds of pollutants out of the air.
Switch to compact fluorescent lightbulbs. If you replace five of your most-used incandescent bulbs with CFLs, you can save $25 to $65 a year in energy costs. CFLs use two-thirds less energy than incandescent bulbs, generate 70 percent less heat and last up to 10 times longer. They do contain a small amount of mercury — but the benefits of using CFLs outweigh the mercury issue.
Get rid of CFLs — recycle them — responsibly. The mercury in compact fluorescent lightbulbs should not be accumulating in a landfill or, even worse, incinerated.
Visit www.epa.gov/bulbrecycling to find waste collection sites.
Check out www.earth911.org for more on bulb recycling.
Create your own (linen, storage) closet systems with inexpensive clear plastic boxes or bins. Stash all sorts of household essentials in their own box — for instance, tape, ribbon, razors, soap, shampoo, etc. That way you can see what you already have at home and won't be tempted to overbuy.
Pay attention to all those single-use items in your daily life — the throwaway plastic water bottles, paper napkins, paper towels, disposable wipes. And try to figure out alternatives: reusable water bottles, cloth napkins, microfiber dusting cloths that can be washed and reused, etc.
• Rinse out cans and bottles before throwing them into a recycling bin, to discourage vermin and keep food waste off paper.
• Remove caps from plastic bottles, since they are made of different materials. But don't bother trying to remove the plastic or metal rings that are often left from caps on glass bottles.
• It's best to keep paper recyclables dry until collection day. But a night in the rain isn't fatal.
They're small, but not insignificant. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television or operate a computer for three hours.
Reuse the plastic sleeves your newspaper may come wrapped in. Wrap paintbrushes in them if you're midway through a project but have to stop for the day. The plastic sleeve will keep the brush soft for up to a day and saves water normally used for rinsing brushes. You can also slide shoes into them when packing.
Visit www.earth911.org to find a battery recycling site near you.
E-liminate it. Recycle your electronic waste — computer monitors, desktops, laptops, fax machines, printers, scanners, peripherals, keyboards, telephones, digital cameras, VCR players, DVD players, televisions, etc. — which could be chock full of lead, mercury, plastics, etc. Visit www.earth911.org for a list of collection sites (some take items without charge, others charge a small fee).
Bring your own bags (string, canvas, any kind of reusable) to grocery stores and say no to the store's plastic bags. Americans toss some 100 billion of those low-quality polyethylene plastic bags annually and the recycling rate for them is just 0.6 percent.
Each high-quality reusable bag has the potential of eliminating hundreds or even thousands of plastic bags over its lifetime.
Avoid using them in your garden and yard. Build up healthy soil instead to help prevent disease. Use barriers such as netting or cutworm collars. Wash aphids away with spray from the hose. Encourage beneficial insects that eat harmful ones.
And learn to tolerate a few weeds, spots or insects if it's only an aesthetic problem.
Don't over-fertilize. Plants only can absorb so much, and the rest washes away to pollute waterways. Follow directions or err on the side of less. Look for organic fertilizers that release nutrients slowly.
Use them in your garden. They know how to fend for themselves; they're adapted to the local climate, soils and pests. That means less watering and fewer chemicals.
Don't sprinkle more than necessary or in the heat of the day (when much of the water will evaporate). Put drip irrigation and soaker hoses on timers to water at night or in the early morning. Water lawns long and deep once a week, not lightly and frequently.
Consider electric yard equipment — and your own muscles. Electric mowers, string trimmers, leaf blowers and hedge trimmers create less pollution and are more energy-efficient than gas ones. Even better: manual equipment.
Plant them. They're like giant air filters. One mature tree takes care of the pollution caused by 13 cars.
Get rid of them. It takes more energy to run those floating toasters or even a static image than it does to have your computer and monitor go into a low-power mode. Unlike 10 years ago, the screen-saver does not extend the life of your monitor. Killing it could save $50 to $100 a year on your electric bill.
Reinvent clothes. Turn children's jeans with worn-out knees into shorts. Reinvent clothes that you still like and still fit, but which have minor "style" problems — for example, hemlines that need to be shortened significantly.
Many dry cleaners employ seamstresses for those who can't (or can't find the time) to do it themselves.
OLD CLOTHING, PART II
Be conscious of how you dispose of well-worn clothes. They're not likely to end up on the shelves of your local thrift store. (In 2005, an estimated 11.1 million tons of textiles became municipal solid waste, only 15.3 percent of which was recovered for export or reprocessing.) The Salvation Army works hard to keep its unsold fabric items out of landfills. Many charities sell the unwanted clothes to textile recycling companies, which in turn sell wearable items to wholesalers overseas, where demand is high. The really worn stuff could be turned into cleaning cloths or filler inside your mattress or car's interior roof.
Three simple ways to improve your mileage:
• Don't drive aggressively. Speeding, rapid acceleration and hard braking can lower your highway gas mileage by as much as 33 percent and city mileage by as much as 5 percent.
• Don't go super-fast. Driving 65 mph instead of 55 mph can cut fuel economy by as much as 15 percent.
• Keep up with your car's maintenance. Clean air filters can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent. Properly inflated and aligned tires improve mileage by about 3 percent.