Monica Buck26 easy ways to help save the planet, today and every day
When You're at Home
Use a water-filter pitcher
Bottled water isn't necessarily cleaner or better for you than tap water. Get a Brita water-filter pitcher ($22, www.bedbathandbeyond.com) or an in-sink faucet filter. Take advantage of what you already pay for and save the environmental cost of transporting bottled water to the grocer's shelf.
Skip red meat once a week
Meat production -- especially in mass-produced beef -- is extremely resource-intensive. It can take seven or more pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, and livestock consumes 70 percent of America's grain. Eat less of it and choose pasture-fed, sustainably raised beef whenever you can. If you alone gave it up once every seven days, you would save the 840 gallons of fresh water it takes to produce a single serving.
Clean up your dishwasher
Switch to a dishwashing powder that's biodegradable and plant-based (try Ecover Ecological or Trader Joe's powders). These cleansers cut through grime, but they do it without the bleach and phosphates that threaten river and marine life and leave chemical residue on your dishes.
Curtail junk mail
The Federal Trade Commission website, www.ftc.gov, spells out how to remove yourself from lists. (Click on "For Consumers," then "Telemarketing," then "Unsolicited Mail, Telemarketing and E-mail: Where to Go to 'Just Say No.'") You'll save trees, water, and emissions, too. If everyone in the United States reduced the junk mail he receives every week, 100 million trees would be spared each year.
Install a better showerhead
If you have a wrench, you can preserve the diminishing fresh-water supply and reduce expensive water-heating costs. Install faucet aerators and high-efficiency showerheads and in a year's time you'll save between 1,000 and 8,000 gallons of water. Bonus: The added air makes the pressure feel greater, too.
Turn off the tap Monica Buck
The average faucet releases about three gallons of water a minute, so shut it off while you brush your teeth or shave.
Set a programmable thermostat It will automatically adjust the heat or the air-conditioning to match your daily patterns. You won't waste energy while your home is empty, and you won't have to remember to turn the thermostat up or down. Want to do better? Turn it down two degrees in the winter and up two degrees in the summer and you'll keep nearly 880 pounds of carbon dioxide from warming the earth.
Don't wash it
Standard washing machines use 40 gallons of water per load. If your clothes don't stink, don't wash them -- and save a load a week. If American households were more judicious about laundry, each year they would save enough water to fill more than 7 million swimming pools. When you do wash, put full loads (saving 3,400 gallons of water a year) in cold water.
Free lint bunnies
The average U.S. household spends up to $135 a year in energy costs drying clothes. A dirty lint filter can use 30 percent more energy to get the job done.
Use biodegradable cat litter
Most cat litter is made from bentonite clay, which is mined and never breaks down. Americans dump 2 million tons of this into landfills every year, so it's worth rethinking what you buy. Try the biodegradable, flushable brand Scientific (sold at www.petecology.com), which can be delivered to your door.
The good news: Americans already recycle about a third of their trash (double what was recycled in 1990). The not-so-good news: We need to do more and save more energy. To learn which items you can leave out for curbside pickup, and how to dispose of those you can't, log on to www.earth911.org for contact info for local recyclers of more than 250 materials - from cooking oil to hazardous waste (including batteries).
Buy green power from your utility
In many states, you can opt to purchase renewable energy from your local power company for a few extra dollars a month. Visit the Green Power Network's U.S. map at www.eere.energy.gov/greenpower to get started. Then rest easy knowing the light you read by comes from your wind- or methane-powered lamp.
Plug in a laptop, not a desktop
In the market for a new computer? A laptop uses about half the energy of its desktop counterpart. Choose a model with the federal government's Energy Star rating and use 70 percent less energy than a noncertified model.
Change your mind-set and think twice before throwing anything out. Resealable plastic bags that held carrots today can hold crayons tomorrow. Coffee-cup cardboard sleeves from this morning's brew can be tucked in a purse pocket to be used again at 4 p.m. Mom might just like that cashmere sweater you're sick of wearing. And Fido doesn't know the difference between a new chew toy and the one you make yourself out of old dish towels. (To learn how to make one and to find other new uses for old linens, visit www.realsimple.com/linens.)
Choose the right appliance for the job
Electric kettles use less energy than stovetop ones. A toaster oven uses up to half the energy of a conventional electric oven. An electric slow cooker makes soups and stews using less wattage than a stove. It truly pays to pick the right appliance.
Monica BuckWhen You're Out
Carry a water bottle with you
Buy a reusable bottle that fits your lifestyle (and your purse) and skip buying a new one at every lunchtime stop. Need a reason? Americans use 3.3 million plastic bottles every hour but recycle only one in five.
Pausing somewhere? Shut down your engine: Idling for any length of time burns more gas than it takes to restart the car. Offset your emissions Visit www.drivinggreen.com and the site's simple calculator will figure how much globe-warming greenhouse gases your car emits and calculate the equivalent cost of its impact on the environment. (For example, a 2006 Toyota Camry driven 12,000 miles a year equals $32 in carbon dioxide emissions.) You can then pay that amount at the site's checkout to offset your pollution. The money helps farmers install equipment called digesters, which convert animal waste into renewable energy.
Give your car -- and driving habits -- a tune-up
Speeding, fast accelerations, and hard braking waste gas. Maintaining your car saves it. Tune up your car according to your owner's-manual schedule (usually every 30,000 miles) and raise your car's fuel efficiency anywhere from 4 to 40 percent.
Donate old cell phones
About 130 million mobile phones are retired every year, resulting in more than 65,000 tons of waste -- including potentially hazardous materials, such as lead and mercury. Recycle yours with Call2Recycle.org (log on to find a drop-off location near you) or programs like www.collectivegood.com (a clearinghouse for nonprofit phone-recycling efforts) to benefit groups such as the American Red Cross.
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Monica Buck26 easy ways to help save the planet, today and every day