We always hear about how to minimize pollution and carbon emissions, but the solutions are typically difficult-to-accomplish or impractical tasks, like buying a new hybrid car or running your home with solar energy. Don't get me wrong, those are great solutions, but they're not very realistic for the average person. I doubt many people are going to run out and buy a new car because they've just realized that their SUV is contributing to global warming.
In order to promote actually taking a step or two towards making a difference, I've compiled a list of simple things to do around your house that will help you help the environment. Simply being aware of a few small things and making some minor changes to your daily routine can make a big impact when they're all added together.
Some of these easy solutions to decreasing your carbon emissions might even end up saving you some money along the way. Wouldn't it be nice to reduce your electricity and water bills by a few bucks every month? You might even be able to squeeze a few more miles out of a full tank of gas. I know that has to be an incentive.
10 Simple Changes you can make to Reduce your Daily Carbon Emissions:
- Unplug your Electronics. Get a power strip and plug your computer, TV, DVD player, stereo, VCR, PS2 and other electronic devices into it. Then, when you're not using those machines, flip the switch off. Completely shutting these devices off will conserve approximately 500 pounds of CO2 a year.
You can also save energy by unplugging your cell phone and mp3 player once they're completely charged (don't leave them plugged in overnight if you can help it).
Note: If you have a DVR or TiVo, keep that plugged in so your shows will still record. Your TV doesn't have to be plugged in for your DVR to record all your favorite shows!
- Be Smart About Laundry. Wash your clothes in cold water. Only wash and dry full loads (yes, there are some people that don't let their laundry pile up until they're totally out of clean underwear). And make sure to clean the dryer lint out after every load. This will save about 500 pounds of CO2 from entering our environment each year.
- Turn Off the Faucet. If you grew up in the desert like I did, then you know that one of the worst offenses you can commit (especially during a drought) is allowing the water to run while you're brushing your teeth or shaving. What's the point? It's pretty easy to wet your toothbrush, turn the faucet off, then turn it back on when you're ready to rinse. It takes a lot of energy for municipalities to purify and distribute water. Why let that run down the drain?
On a similar note, fixing small leaks can help make a difference as well. Leaking faucets, toilets and pipes are responsible for up to 50% of the water wasted in cities. And you know you've been meaning to get on that drippy faucet anyway...
- Unload your Car. Don't carry around 45 pounds of extra weight in the back of your car. Some things like jumper cables, equipment to change a tire and chains in the wintertime make sense to have, but when summer rolls around get rid of those heavy chains. You're not going to need them and they're weighing you down. Don't drive around with your golf clubs in the trunk for 6 weeks after a day on the course. Don't drive around with your roof rack on all the time; put it on when you need it, then take it off.
All the little things cluttering up your car can add up. You may be able to improve your fuel economy up to 5% by simply de-cluttering your ride.
- Don't Drink Bottled Water at Home. Disposable plastic water bottles are made from petroleum and 3 million are thrown into landfills every day...in California alone. Couple that with the four-year study released by the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) that tested over 1,000 bottles of water and found that 25% of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle, which may or may not be treated further, and you've got no reason not to buy a Brita and filter the tap water yourself.
It's one thing if you're out and about and need to grab some water from the convenience store, but if you're sitting at home there's no need to drink from a plastic bottle. Invest in a funky-colored Nalgene (it's the cool thing to do), fill it with tap water that you've purified (or not) and head out knowing that you're an environmentally conscious individual.
- Inflate your Tires. Every gas station has an air pump that allows you to inflate your tires for free, or maybe $0.25. Get out your PSI gauge and check your tire pressure every few months. The inside of the driver's side door (on most cars) will give you a range for your tire pressure. If you're low, add some air the next time you stop for gas. This simple task can help you reduce your fuel economy by as much as 3.3% (and save 250 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere every year).
- Keep your Flow Low by Getting a New Shower Head. This one always makes the list. Get a low-flow shower head. It does require a little work, but a trip to Home Depot and a few minutes with your arms in the air should do the trick. Not only will this save an average of 370 pounds of CO2 a year, but it'll probably save you a few bucks on your water bill as well.
You don't even have to leave your computer to get a shower head. Just visit Gaiam.com and purchase their $12 ($17 with shipping and handling) lowest flow shower head. I just bought it today, so I'll have to get back to you on how easy it is to install and how well it operates. Update: The shower head is really easy to install, it didn't require any tools and took less than 5 minutes. The water flow is fine and my old shower head was leaking, so it's actually an improvement. I'm very happy with it.
If you love your shower head, or don't want to take the time to change it, you can still make a difference by taking shorter showers. If you can reduce your time in the shower by one minute, or even just 30 seconds, that'll save 365 or 182.5 minutes of running water a year (assuming you shower every day). As with everything else, just a little bit of thought and even less effort will make a big impact over time.
- Get Rid of Junk Mail. I know you hate junk mail, especially if you don't get your mail every day and it starts to pile up in your mailbox. Think of all the time you waste sifting through catalogs your don't want and loan offers you'll never use. And don't get me started on the credit card offers that seem to pour in by the thousands...I have all the credit cards I need, thank you very much! It takes 62 million trees a year in the U.S. to create all that mail that nobody wants. So, tell them you don't want it.
You can visit NewDream.org to download "don't send" forms for free. You'll have to do some leg work and fill out and send the forms yourself, but you can reduce your junk mail significantly if you're diligent. Or, you can take the route I did, and pay $41 to 41pounds.org and have them do it for you. It's pretty simple, you give them your address, the names of all the adults receiving junk mail at your home and pay $41. Within 2 months you'll see an 80-95% decrease in your junk mail. You can even log back in and add the names of specific catalogs and other publications that you unwillingly receive. So if you forget to tell them about some of the junk mail you get (or don't know about off-hand), you can retroactively add it to your list. They'll reduce your junk mail for 5 years, then you can sign up again.
If you think $41 is a lot to spend for 5 years free from junk mail, you can consider it a donation to the environment. One third of each new subscriber's fees goes to an environmental or community organization (and you get to choose which one). You can also think of it as saving 1.7 trees and a lot of time. Based on the amount of junk mail the average American gets, you'll save 1.7 trees, 700 gallons of water, 40 hours of your free time and you'll prevent 460 pounds of CO2 from entering the environment. So whether you want to invest the time and do it yourself, or the $41 and have someone else do it for you, reducing your junk mail can make a big impact on the environment, not the mention your sanity.
- Be Energy Efficient. Turn off unneeded lights (really easy), use rechargeable batteries (not a hard switch to make the next time you're at the store) and replace regular light bulbs with low-energy compact fluorescent bulbs or LED lights (LED bulbs are a little more expensive but use up to 90% less energy than standard bulbs and 57% less than even their energy efficient counterparts). Ok, so maybe that's three things, but they're all easy to do and can help you get one step closer to being carbon neutral.
If you don't feel like changing all the light bulbs in your house right now, it's not a big deal, but the next time you go to the store, buy the energy efficient light bulbs so when they do burn out you can switch to efficient bulbs without a hassle.
- Recycle! I know, I know. You already recycle. You take your aluminum cans and empty beer bottles to that shed behind the grocery store every 6 months and get $45 back (hey, that's enough to get your junk mail stopped for 5 years!). But you can recycle a lot more than cans and bottles now. Most neighborhoods provide recycling bins and have a separate pick-up every week or two.
Check with your local recycling plant and find out what you can recycle. Cardboard boxes, printer paper, newspaper, plastic bags and bottles, milk cartons...a lot of your trash can probably be thrown in the recycling bin instead.
And don't forget about the smaller items like ink cartridges for your printer. Don't throw those away, save yourself some money by taking them to a company that recycles and reuses them, like Cartridge World. You get a decent discount and they're usually attached to office supply stores anyway, so you can get all your office shopping needs out of the way at once.
If you're interested in finding out how much CO2 you emit, you can calculate it at MyFootprint.org. Maybe this will inspire you to make the little changes in your life that will make a big difference in decreasing your impact on your planet. I'm not asking you to buy a new car, just to buy a new kind of light bulb the next time you're in the store.