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Save Resources at Home
Recycle household refuse - Make an effort to participate fully in your town's or your building's recycling program. If there's no recycling program where you live, encourage local officials to start one. If you have a recycling program where you live, work to expand it. In the meantime, learn where you can take items such as paper, cardboard, glass, aluminum, plastic, and tires to be recycled, then make an effort to go there.
Make recycling convenient - Put collection bins in various places around your home and office to make recycling convenient. Use different bins that follow your city's recycling policies so you don't have to separate it out later.
Recycle used electronics - Depending on where you live and the products you want to recycle, you can: find an e-waste collection event in your town, send your used tech stuff back to the manufacturer, or head to a nearby retailer that accepts old electronics. You may also be able to take advantage of the United States Postal Service's free e-waste recycling program. As of 2008, 1,500 post offices will provide free envelopes for you to mail back small electronics such as inkjet cartridges, PDAs, digital cameras and MP3 players. USPS started the program in 10 areas across the country, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego, but may expand it to other regions if it proves successful.
Use durable goods - Bring your own cloth bags to local stores. Replace plastic and paper cups with ceramic mugs, disposable razors with reusable ones. Refuse unneeded plastic utensils, napkins, and straws when you buy takeout foods. Use a cloth dishrag instead of paper towels at home, and reusable food containers instead of aluminum foil and plastic wrap. Most cities in the United States have clean, drinkable water, so use tap water (you can filter it if you'd like) and refillable water bottles instead of buying bottled water.
Don't forget to reuse - Paper, plastic, glass and cans aren't the only items that should be diverted from incinerators and landfills. Reduce the environmental impacts of organic waste by composting food scraps, and by leaving short grass clippings on lawns to decompose. Donate old clothing to homeless shelters, thrift stores, animal shelters and other community organizations. Take advantage of manufacturer take-back programs for your unwanted electronics.
Compost - Composting reduces the burden on overcrowded landfills and gives you a great natural fertilizer for plants and gardens. Buy a composting setup at a garden supply or hardware store. Start with yard trimmings, fruit and vegetable food scraps, and coffee grounds.
Leave grass clippings on the lawn - Grass clippings make good fertilizer when they decompose. Leaving them on your lawn keeps them from occupying limited space in the local landfill.
Save Energy at Home
Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs - Change the three bulbs you use most in your house to compact fluorescents. Each compact fluorescent bulb will keep half a ton of carbon dioxide out of the air over its lifetime. And while compact fluorescents are initially a lot more expensive than the incandescent bulbs you're used to using, they last ten times as long and can save you $30 to $60 per year in electricity costs.
Turn off the lights - Turn off lights and other electrical appliances such as televisions and radios when you're not using them. This is a no-brainer, but it's surprising how many times we forget. Install automatic timers for lights that people in your house frequently forget to flick off when leaving a room. Use dimmers where you can.
Set heating and cooling temperatures correctly - Set your thermostat in winter to 68 degrees or less during the daytime, and 55 degrees before going to sleep (or when you're away for the day). During the summer, set thermostats to 78 degrees or more. Get an electronic thermostat that will allow your furnace to heat the house to a lower temperature when you're sleeping and return it to a more comfortable temperature before you wake up.
Use sunlight wisely - During the heating season, leave shades and blinds open on sunny days, but close them at night to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows. Close shades and blinds during the summer or when the air conditioner is in use or will be in use later in the day.
Keep your water heater at the right setting - Set the thermostat on your water heater between 120 and 130 degrees. Lower temperatures can save more energy, but you might run out of hot water or end up using extra electricity to boost the hot water temperature in your dishwasher.
Cut your fridge's energy use - Set your refrigerator temperature at 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit; your freezer should be set between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the power-save switch if your fridge has one, and make sure the door seals tightly. You can check this by making sure that a dollar bill closed in between the door gaskets is difficult to pull out. If it slides easily between the gaskets, replace them.
Use your other appliances more efficiently - The way you use an appliance can change the amount of energy it wastes. Make sure your oven gasket is tight, and resist the urge to open the oven door to peek, as each opening can reduce the oven temperature 250. Preheat only as much as needed, and avoid placing foil on racks -- your food won't cook as quickly. Your second biggest household energy user after the fridge is the clothes dryer. Dryers kept in warm areas work more efficiently. Clear the lint filter after each load, and dry only full loads. And don't forget that hanging clothing outside in the sun and air to dry is the most energy-efficient method of all.
Unplug seldom-used appliances - Do you have an extra refrigerator in the basement or garage that contains just a few items? You may save around $10 every month on your utility bill by unplugging it.
Unplug your chargers when you're not charging - Every house is full of little plastic power supplies to charge cell phones, PDA's, digital cameras, cordless tools and other personal gadgets. Keep them unplugged until you need them.
Use power strips - Use power strips to switch off televisions, home theater equipment, and stereos when you're not using them. Even when you think these products are off, together, their "standby" consumption can be equivalent to that of a 75 or 100 watt light bulb running continuously.
Buy energy-efficient products - When buying new appliances or electronics, shop for the highest energy-efficiency rating. Look for a yellow and black Energy Guide label on the product. It compares the energy use for that model against similar models. New energy-efficient models may cost more initially, but have a lower operating cost over their lifetimes. The most energy-efficient models carry the Energy Star label, which identifies products that use 20-40% less energy than standard new products. According to the EPA, the typical American household can save about $400 per year in energy bills with products that carry the Energy Star. Did you know your refrigerator typically accounts for 20 percent of your electric bill? On the average, new refrigerators and freezers are about 75 percent more efficient than those made 30 years ago, so investing in a state-of-the-art refrigerator can cut hundreds of dollars from your electric bill during its lifetime.
Check your utility's energy-efficiency incentives - Some utility companies have programs that encourage energy efficiency. Check with your utility to find out if it offers free home energy audits, cash rebates for using energy-efficient lighting and appliances, and lower electric rates for households meeting certain energy-efficiency criteria.
Weatherize your home or apartment - Drafty homes and apartments allow energy dollars to leak away. Seal and caulk around windows and doors. Make sure your home has adequate insulation. Many old homes do not have enough, especially in the attic. You can check the insulation yourself or have it done as part of an energy audit.
Choose renewable energy - Many consumers can now choose their energy supplier. If you have a choice, choose an electric utility that uses renewable power resources, such as solar, wind, low impact hydroelectric, or geothermal.
Save Resources at Work
Buy energy-efficient office equipment - Energy Star-rated equipment is an option at work as well as at home. Energy Star equipment has power management features that allow it to reduce its power use or turn itself off when not in use. According to the EPA, Energy Star-labeled equipment can save up to 75 percent of total electricity use.
Recycle - If your office doesn't have a recycling program, work with your office manager and custodial staff to set one up. Paper, aluminum cans, and plastic bottles are easy to start with, and additional materials can be added as the staff gets used to recycling. Set up bins in convenient areas to collect each type of material your office recycles, and make sure everyone knows they are there.
Commit to environmentally friendly purchasing practices - Encourage your company to make a commitment to purchasing paper and plastic materials made with post-consumer recycled content. Companies should avoid paper products made from 100 percent virgin fiber content, and switch to paper that is 30 percent post-consumer content at minimum. Also look for plastic and metal products made with recycled or scrap material.
Be thrifty with paper - Don't print out each memo or email you receive. Read and delete the ones you don't need to save and electronically file others you might refer to later. Make sure your office copier can make two-sided copies, and encourage others to get into the habit of doing so. High-speed copiers that are set to automatically make two-sided copies reduce paper costs by $60 per month -- and, of course, save paper. Save even more paper by using the blank sides of used sheets of paper for note-taking and printing drafts.
Use reusable utensils for office parties - If you work in one of those offices where there's no excuse too small for a mid-afternoon get-together, encourage the office manager to invest in a set of dishes, cups, and utensils that can be used each time, rather than breaking out plastic utensils and paper plates.
Bring a waste-free lunch - Store your food in reusable containers rather than wrapping it in foil or plastic. Keep a knife, fork, spoon, and cloth napkins at work to avoid the need for plastic utensils and paper napkins. Bring your hot or cold drinks in a thermos, and drink them from a mug you keep at your desk or in your work area.
Save Energy In Your Home Office
Set Computers to Sleep and Hibernate - Enable the "sleep mode" feature on your computer, allowing it to use less power during periods of inactivity. In Windows, the power management settings are found on your control panel. Mac users, look for energy saving settings under system preferences in the apple menu. Configure your computer to "hibernate" automatically after 30 minutes or so of inactivity. The "hibernate mode" turns the computer off in a way that doesn't require you to reload everything when you switch it back on. Allowing your computer to hibernate saves energy and is more time-efficient than shutting down and restarting your computer from scratch. When you're done for the day, shut down.
Save Energy on the Road
Keep your car in good condition - Get your engine tuned up regularly, change the oil, and keep your tires inflated properly. A tune-up could boost your miles per gallon anywhere from 4 to 40 percent; a new air filter could get you 10 percent more miles per gallon.
Use Good Motor Oil - Choose a fuel-efficient motor oil marked with an "Energy Conserving" label by the American Petroleum Institute. Motor oils with additives that reduce friction can increase a vehicle's fuel economy by 3 percent or more.
Commute Smarter - Share a ride to work, telecommute or use transit. If your daily commute is just 10 miles each way (the national average) and you normally drive a 20-mpg vehicle, you would save 236 gallons of gas each year by opting to carpool, telecommute or use transit. If each commuter car carried just one more passenger once a week, we would cut America's gasoline consumption by about 7.7 million gallons.
Slow down - Ease up on the pedal. Slowing down from 75 to 65 miles per hour will drop your highway gasoline consumption about 15 percent. That's money in your pocket.
Leave the car at home - When possible, choose alternatives to driving (public transit, biking, walking, carpooling), and bundle your errands together so you'll make fewer trips.
Encourage streets for bikes and pedestrians - Encourage officials in your community to increase features such as bike lanes and pedestrian malls, and push for traffic-calming techniques like speed bumps, raised crosswalks and extended and widened sidewalks. The more pedestrian- and bike-friendly an area is, the more people will walk and ride and the less they'll drive. This means less congestion, less energy consumption, less pollution.
Conserve Water and Keep It Clean
Install a low-flow showerhead - Showers account for 32 percent of home water use. The law now requires that all showerheads sold be low-flow models. Low-flow showerheads deliver no more than 2.5 gallons per minute compared to standard showerheads that release 4.5 gallons per minute. A family of four using low-flow showerheads can save about 20,000 gallons of water per year.
Install an ultra-low-flush toilet or a toilet displacement device - Toilets are water hogs. About 40 percent of the water you use in your home gets flushed down the toilet. That amounts to more than 4 billion gallons of water in the U.S. each day. That's why federal law now mandates that all new toilets installed for residential use be low-flush toilets. Conventional toilets generally use 3.5 to 5 gallons (sometimes more) of water per flush, while low-flush toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less. If you're not building a new home, you can still benefit by installing one of these toilets. Still have an old toilet? You can save more than 1 gallon of water per flush with a displacement device -- a brick or plastic milk jug filled with water or pebbles placed in the toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used per flush.
Install flow restrictor aerators - Placing these inside faucets saves 3 to 4 gallons per minute when you turn on the tap. Of course, you can also help out by doing simple things such as not running water in the sink while soaping your face or brushing your teeth.
Repair leaks - Fix those leaking and dripping faucets as soon as possible. A dripping faucet can waste up to 20 gallons of water per day. A leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons every day.
Use water wisely in everyday activities - Water is wasted more quickly than you might think. An open faucet lets about 5 gallons of water flow every 2 minutes. In the kitchen, you can save between 10 and 20 gallons of water a day by running the dishwasher only when it's full. You can save even more by washing dishes by hand in a sink or dishpan containing water, rather than running the tap continuously as you scrub. Run the clothes washer only when full as well. Taking a shorter shower and turning off the showerhead while soaping will also save a lot of water. Sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them down -- washing a sidewalk or driveway with a hose uses about 50 gallons of water every 5 minutes.
Choose nontoxic alternatives to household cleaners with harsh chemicals - You can use baking soda, for example, to deodorize drains, clean countertops and polish stainless steel.
Don't pour chemicals down the drain - When you dump paint, oil, harsh cleansers and other hazardous products down the drain, they can find their way into nearby bodies of water. Contact your local sanitation, public works or environmental health department to find out about hazardous waste collection days and sites.
Maintain your septic system - Have your septic tank cleaned out every three to five years. Such maintenance prolongs the life of your system and can help prevent groundwater contamination.
Direct runoff to soil, not street - Rain gutters and spouts on your home should lead to soil, grass or gravel areas, and not blacktop, cement or other hard surfaces. Wash your car on the lawn instead of on the street or driveway. Sweep your driveway and sidewalks, rather than hosing them down.
Clean up after your pet - Don't leave pet waste on the ground. It could contain harmful bacteria and excess nutrients that can wash into storm drains and eventually pollute local waters. Flush it, or look for signs in public parks that direct pet owners to appropriate trash receptacles.
Landscape in tune with the natural environment - If you're landscaping, use plants that are native to your area. Growing native plants can save more than half the water normally used to care for outdoor plants. Raising thirsty plants in arid areas will mean having to water them almost daily in gallons of sprinkler or irrigation water. In dry areas, use plants that need little water, thereby not only saving water and labor, but also preventing pollution from the use of fertilizers. If you must water your lawn, either water early or late in the day or on cool days to reduce evaporation. Allow your grass to grow a bit taller to reduce water loss by providing more ground shade for roots and promoting soil water retention.
Use natural fertilizers - Apply natural fertilizer such as compost, manure, bone meal or peat whenever possible. Ask your local hardware and garden supply stores to stock these natural fertilizers. You can also buy a composting setup at a garden supply or hardware store, or by mail. Composting decreases the need for fertilizer and helps soil retain moisture.
Avoid over-watering lawns and gardens - Use slow-watering techniques on lawns and gardens. Over-watering lawns can increase the leaching of fertilizers into groundwater. Trickle or "drip" irrigation systems and soaker hoses are 20 percent more efficient than sprinklers.
Decrease impervious surfaces around your home - Having fewer hard surfaces of concrete and asphalt will improve drainage around your home and in your yard. Do your landscaping with vegetation, gravel or other porous materials instead of cement; install wood decking instead of concrete, and interlocking bricks and paver stones for walkways. Redirect rain gutters and downspouts to soil, grass or gravel areas. Planting vegetation at lower elevations than nearby hard surfaces allows runoff to seep into soil.
Recycle used motor oil - A single quart of motor oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water. Resist the temptation to dump waste oil on the ground or pour it into gutters or storm drains. Inquire about local programs that buy back waste oil and dispose of it properly.
Keep up on vehicle maintenance - Make sure your car isn't leaking oil, coolant, antifreeze or other hazardous liquids. Bring it to a mechanic for regular checkups.
Buy recycled products - Purchase paper and other products for your home and office that are made with post-consumer recycled content and packaged in recyclable materials.
Buy in bulk - When you can, buy in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging that gets thrown away.
Buy products with less packaging - A large percentage of the paper, cardboard, and plastic we use goes into packaging -- much of it wasteful and unnecessary. When you buy a product, look at the packaging and ask: Can it be reused? Is it made of post-consumer recycled materials? Is it necessary at all? Reward those companies that are most enlightened about their use of packaging by purchasing their products. Contact companies that over package and tell them you will be more likely to buy if they change this policy.
Going Green Around the Holidays
Lights - There are a variety of LED options that run on about a tenth of the energy of conventional lights and, since they produce no heat, don't present the fire risk of traditional bulbs. Forever Bright's traditional strawberry-shaped bulbs, round "razzberry" bulbs and mini-icicles are all festive choices. As with conventional lights, the plastic in some strings may include lead, so wash hands after use.
Decorations - Watch out for lead paint on old or imported ornaments, which can flake off on hands and be ingested by kids. Homemade garlands of popcorn and cranberries as well as gingerbread cookies, cards, and origami patterns are all traditional favorites and non-toxic to boot. You can also choose lead-free Fair Trade Federation (FTF)-certified options such as Crossroads Trade's South African beaded stars or Kenyan wool critter ornaments or Lucuma Design's lead-free gourd ornaments. Another option are the beautiful beaded animals produced for Monkey Biz by disadvantaged women in Cape Town, South Africa.
Give a plant as a gift - While plants can't cure major indoor pollution problems on their own, they are an ideal antidote to the minor contamination introduced into our indoor environments through everyday household products and building materials. Plants produce oxygen, add precious moisture and remove toxins from the air through the tiny openings in their leaves. In fact, as few as 15 houseplants in an average-size home can offer a significant reduction in the number of indoor contaminants in most homes and offices.
Check out NRDC for a variety of green gifts that will support all of NRDC’s projects
Make the wrap a gift - A scarf, sweater or throw can be wrapped securely around small to medium-sized gifts and form an attractive package. Or search your basement and local thrift shops for vintage hatboxes, picnic baskets, attractive totes, satchels and tins that would be appreciated in themselves and hold surprises to boot. For larger gifts, a table cloth or even bed sheets can do the trick. Just be sure to keep fabric wrapped gifts far enough from the tree to avoid damage from sap.
Recycle magazines, maps and other paper goods - For smaller gifts, dig through the recycling pile for images from glossy magazines that might suit the recipient or the gift itself. You may want to avoid colored newsprint images since they can smear on hands; however, newsprint is generally made of soy-based inks and should not contain the toxic metals that were a concern with petroleum-based inks. Old calendars are another attractive option.
For larger gifts, old maps provide a great decorative wrap and are usually heavy enough to be reused several tims. Or take the plain packing paper that frequently comes with mail order gifts and draw or stencil your own designs.
Create a reusable gift box - This is a simple project and you can create several at a time. Shoe boxes are perfect, but any box with lid will serve and it’s helpful to have a variety of sizes. Select a light—but not translucent—gift wrap, preferably last year’s wrap reused. Cut it to size for the lid and container, crease it around the sides for a tight fit prior to gluing, and adhere with a glue stick or rubber cement. Take care to work in a well ventilated area when applying rubber cement.
Gift bags - If you have a stack on hand from birthday parties and other events reuse them. You can bury the contents beneath shredded or crumpled images from old magazines for colorful tufts. If you’re fresh out of bags, Native Leaf Gift Bags from Global Exchange are fair-trade certified options that come in small, medium and large sizes. Or try recycled-fabric gift bags from Patagonia.
Recycled-Content Gift Wrap - If other options are unsatisfactory, look for gift wraps with high levels of post-consumer fiber content indicating that they are derived from paper recycled after use. Seltzer Goods produces 100% post-consumer recycled gift wrap or you might try Paper Mojo’s tree-free gift wrap made from jute, lokta or banana fiber. And, of course, remember to save and reuse all your gift wrap.
Cards - Americans send 1.9 billion cards during the holidays, which adds up to a lot of trees. But paper cards have a lot of competition from their electronic equivalents that create no waste at all. Ecards.com, Bluemountain.com, Hallmark and many others offer online and emailed holiday cards often free of charge. But if hard copies are essential, Doodle Greetings and Seltzer Goods both have lines of 100% post-consumer recycled cards. Global Exchange offers handmade occasion cards on recycled paper made by “young people in Rwanda who have lost their parents to conflict or disease.” What better way to celebrate the spirit of the holidays?