We all love the good life but as we’ve come to learn, it must be accompanied by a conscience. There’s simply no excuse any longer for being a ne’er-do-well, no matter how popular or pretty your friends, finances or foibles are. Scientific American offers twelve easy steps you can take right now to make your life a little greener and the rest of us a good deal healthier and happier. The planet will thank you.
1. Mow Down Emissions
Battery-powered push mowers have been on a roll in 2008. Cut the grass, then plug your mower into a standard wall outlet to recharge it. The emissions savings can be substantial: according to the Environmental Protection Agency, running a typical two-stroke, gasoline-powered push mower for an hour creates as much pollution as driving a typical sedan for four hours.
The area of lawn an electric machine can mow on one charge depends on the height and thickness of the grass, of course. But according to the National Gardening Association, as a general rule machines with 12-volt batteries provide 30 to 40 minutes of mowing time, 24-volt batteries last 40 to 75 minutes, and 36-volt batteries run for up to 90 minutes. The batteries should last five to seven years. Although it may be late in the year for a new lawn mower, an end-of-season sale could be enticing. A few sample models follow:
Black & Decker: 24-volt battery, runs about 1.5 hours on a charge, fully recharges in 10 hours
Neuton: 36-volt battery, 45- to 60-minute run, fully recharges in 8 hours
Remington: 60-volt battery, lasts up to 60 minutes, fully recharges in 10 hours
2. Dead Bulb Depository
Everyone’s rushing to replace old incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which last longer and use far less electricity. The bulbs contain tiny amounts of mercury, however, so tossing them in the garbage when they do finally burn out poses an environmental hazard. Most trash collectors won’t take them. To help, Home Depot is now accepting used CFLs at all its 1,970 building supply stores. A few other retailers such as True Value and IKEA are also taking the dead lamps.
3. Blow Up the Car (Tires)
You’ve heard it before: making sure your car’s tires are properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by up to 3 percent. But when was the last time you actually checked how they were doing? While you’re trying to remember, consider this: if you drive 15,000 miles in a year and get 25 miles per gallon, a 3 percent improvement will save about 17.5 gallons of gasoline, which at four dollars a gallon is $70. And of course, the gain means less oil consumed and fewer greenhouse gases emitted.
While you’re at it, consider getting a tune-up; it can improve mileage by 4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And the biggest gain of all: replacing a clogged air filter can raise fuel efficiency by as much as 10 percent.
4. Wrap the Heater
Water heaters more than five or six years old may not be as energy-efficient as they could be. How to tell? A tank that feels warm to the touch needs more insulation. A jacket or blanket that wraps around the appliance can be purchased from most home centers for only $10 to $20. The collar will pay for itself in a year and continue saving you 4 to 9 percent in water-heating costs—as well as reducing carbon emissions by the local electric utility. The Department of Energy recommends choosing a blanket with an insulating value of at least R-8.
5. Kid Power
If you have children who might be interested in flexing a little political muscle, tell them about the Energy Action Coalition. The grassroots network, whose slogan is “Youth united for clean and just energy,” has a small staff and a larger council and steering committee that help young people organize rallies and publicity campaigns. The coalition can even coordinate work among youth action groups in different countries. One early success is the Campus Climate Challenge, which organizes university students to get their school’s administrators to commit to making the campus climate-neutral; to date, more than 550 schools have agreed to a plan. The current push is to register 18- and 19-year-olds to vote. The group’s Web site, www.energyactioncoalition.org, also offers standardized letters that children, tweens and teens can send to their elected representatives, asking them to pledge to improve conservation and energy efficiency in their districts.
6. Addicted to the Bottle
Bottled water might well be one of the most needlessly wasteful products of modern times. The plastic is made from petroleum, at manufacturing plants that consume plenty of energy and spew emissions. Once filled, the bottles are shipped across the country on trucks that consume more fossil fuel and emit more pollutants. And in the ultimate irony, the Pacific Institute has found that three gallons of water are consumed by industry to produce every gallon of bottled water. Also ludicrous: about 40 percent of the water sold in containers comes from regular city water supplies. Then there’s the garbage: Americans purchased 28 billion single-serving water bottles in 2007 and recycled only about 20 percent of them; the rest went into landfills.
The solution is not hard to decipher: drink water from the tap. And if you must have a bottle with you to fend off certain dehydration in case you’re stranded miles and hours away from any possible source of freshwater, buy a reusable bottle and refill it.
7. Save the Beach
Beaches everywhere are vulnerable to ocean pollution and algal blooms. The U.S. had a record number of beach closures and health advisories in 2007. If you would like to protect your favorite beach, contact the Surfrider Foundation at www.surfrider.org. The organization supplies advice and resources on how to test beach water and organize cleanups and provides handy online tools for bringing out volunteers, including the many members of Surfrider’s own network. The site also provides links to services that regularly report on the water quality at specific beaches around the country.
8. Driving 65 miles per hour instead of 75 mph can improve fuel economy by up
to 15 percent.
9. Junk the Mail
The mail you want consumes enough paper. The junk mail you don’t want wastes much more. You can have your name removed from many promotional lists by signing up free at DMAChoice.org. Links to stop telemarketing and e-mail solicitations can be found there, too.
10. At the Office …
- Print only what you need
- Acquire recycled paper
- Walk, bike or carpool once a week
- Report leaky sinks and running toilets
- Unplug seldom-used machines
- Turn off lights and computers
- Lower the heat after hours
11. Running hot water at a sink for five minutes uses the same amount of energy as burning a 60-watt lightbulb for 14 hours
12. Recycling Hard Stuff
Cell phones: www.recyclewirelessphones.com