I’m not a Global Warming alarmist (there are more important environmental challenges–such as plastic contamination of the oceans and food chains), but I’ve always been a conservationist and recycler, so I thought it was time to post some real strategies average people can use to help the environment and reduce energy costs.
Many only recycle aluminum cans, paper, or cardboard. In reality, you can add plastic, tin cans, glass, batteries, lightbulbs, toner and ink cartridges (office supply stores will give you money for these), and electronic devices to that list. When I lived in community, we found cardboard and plastic were the major offenders. We were recycling three 11 gallon trashcans of plastic and two cans of cardboard for every single 11 gallon can of non-recyclable trash. S.H., now you see part of the reason I never seem to have enough reusable cloth bags in my car!
2. Switch to more efficient lighting.
Traditional incandescent lightbulbs are terribly inefficient, turning 90% of consumed power into heat rather than light. CFLs like the one pictured above are far more efficient, using about a third of their counterpart’s power. Halogen bulbs are somewhere in between, though there is a debate brewing over whether they might damage human eyesight. Changing your lighting can save you some dough, but isn’t without drawbacks.
Many CFLs last longer than old bulbs, but aren’t meant to be turned off and on repeatedly in short spans of time. Doing so reduces their lifespan. Secondly, they contain a toxic chemical (mercury), and must be carefully recycled.
LEDs (light emitting diodes) promise still greater energy efficiency than CFLs, and are increasingly being used in traffic lights to reduce municipal energy costs.
3. Reduce Your Water Use (Rig your toilet)
You’re seeing inside the tank of my old toilet. According to the USGS, toilet use consumes more water than any other function in the home (showers and baths being #2), and 36 states will experience a water shortage or crisis in the next few years. A low-cost conservation measure is to fill a large bottle with water, and place it in the tank after flushing the toilet. By displacing the water that comes back in, you’ll save a liter or more (depending on the container used) per flush.
If you want to be more extreme, you can do what I do (as a bachelor, and when I don’t have company) and live by the adage, “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
An added benefit is that in crisis (think Katrina or major earthquake), that sunken bottle of water is drinkable (while water in an old tank like mine might not be suitable for consumption).
4. Kill your Vampires (Install a Power Strip)
Many electrical appliances continue to suck juice even when they are powered “off”. This is because they’re internally set on “standby”, and pull a little power (10-60%) in order to turn on more quickly when you thumb the remote or switch. While the most modern appliances pull less electricity–and some even come with special software that automatically cuts the vampire drain to near zero–older appliances suck significantly more (and provide a reason why upgrading your electronics is actually good for the environment).
Letting your appliances stay plugged-in is wasteful and costly, and can be easily eliminated by putting all your electronics on a power switch (like the one pictured above). When you’re not using them, a simple flick of the trigger prevents your electronics from continuing to suck blood. It’s one major reason my electric bill is only $12/month.
5. Harness the Sun (Buy a Portable Solar Charger)
I bought this portable solar charger for $19.99 from overstock.com. Don’t pay the $80 they want in some retail stores. This highly portable solar charger (a little larger than a checkbook) gives me the means to recharge my iPod, cell phone, and perhaps a few other portable electronics. It takes a little longer to charge, but you’re drawing from a clean source of energy, and your purchase helped fund the solar manufacturing industry*.
*To be quite honest, solar is too inefficient to solve our societal energy needs–even the best solar panels aren’t even 20% efficient. Wind is still the more cost-effective alternative (currently on par with coal for cost of energy production), and we’d be better off sinking the money some want to send to solar into wind turbines.