Saturday, August 30, 2008

Unplug Electronics

It turns out, simply turning off your TV just isn't enough any more.

Many appliances and electronics such as TVs, computers, stereos, washers/dryers, and power tools use energy even when they are turned off. This energy drain is commonly referred to as "vampire energy."

According to the Energy Information Administration, these suckers add up to around 20% of your monthly energy bill- and you are not even aware of it! On the website, it states, "that a TV with a remote could use more energy during the 20 hours it is turned off waiting for you to turn it on than it does while you are watching it for 4 hours in the evening." Crazy!

Consumers are paying more than 3 billion dollars a year for power that they are not using.

So, what can you do? Unplug electronics after you are finished using them. If you want an even simpler solution, just plug everything into power strips- it will be an easy one time switch off.

Remember, less energy use --> less fossil fuel use --> less pollution into our earth. Obviously, less money out of your pockets is a big bonus! So, unplug to stop the vampire drain!

This image is from TVA Kids.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ditch the Bottle

We live in a nation with one of the safest and most thorough water treatment systems. City tap water is checked regularly for to make sure it meets the safety standards. Fluoride is added to tap water (it's good for your teeth!).

Concerning the amount of water you normally drink and cook with, tap water is basically free. Now, how expensive is bottled water? One bottle from a vending machine can easily cost over a dollar. Bulk packages are a little easier on the wallet but by no means cheap. I recently bought a 24 pack of water for a road trip and even on sale, it was over 5 dollars with tax.

Sure, the bottled water companies try to dazzle you with their products. They design the bottle to be all slim and appealing and use catch phrases such as "spring water" and "pure and fresh." Did you know that a lot of bottled water really just comes from tap? It's really important to read the source on the side. A Dasani bottle says it is produced by the Coca-Cola company in Atlanta, Georgia. Hmmmm....don't remember any mountain springs located down there.

There's a new bottle design out, one that curves inward in the middle. It's supposed to use 1/3 less plastic and calls itself eco-friendly. This is one of them. Though it may be better than the old kind, its far removed from just plain old tap. Remember, not only does plastic require oil, but also the entire process of manufacturing the bottles requires energy. These bottles could end up in landfills, or use more energy in the recycling process. Energy= fossil fuels and fossil fuels= bad for the environment.

So, suck it up (literally) and try your tap water. I promise it isn't as bad as you might think.

This image is from Living Small.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reduce > Reuse > Recycle

Recycling is all the rage these days! Companies proudly label their containers with statements such as "Made of 100% recycled paper," while some people obsessively put away every scrap of plastic and paper into the green bins. However, there are strategies even better than recycling for the environment.

Many people do not think of it, but recycling does require additional energy to process. Fossil fuels are needed to break down the old material, remix, and reshape the final product. The reason why recycling is better than throwing away is because first of all, there is no need to extract more of the material (paper from trees, etc.), and second, landfills don't get further clogged.
Reusing is a strategy that eliminates one step from the process. Of course, you have the initial manufacturing of the product, but you don't have the whole extra processes related to recycling. Items easy to reuse:
  • Small plastic snack baggies

  • Paper bags

  • Glass jars

  • Cans (Be creative! Pencil holders, anyone?

  • Paper (Use the back of that scrap piece as your shopping list)

Reducing and reusing go hand in hand. If you reuse certain items, you obviously will reduce the amount you buy. Reducing is the best strategy environmentally, because since you cut down on the amount you consume, you skip both the recycling process and the intial manufacturing process. So, do you really need two paper towels for that little spill? Can you use two sides of the paper when writing? Little changes like those really can reduce the amount you buy.

You can't reduce everything, but what you can't reduce, you most of the time can reuse, and what you can't reuse, hopefully you can recycle. A combination of these strategies will lead to a more sustainable lifestyle.

This image is from the Penwith District Council.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Turn Down That Air Conditioning

I know it is summer and it is hot, but remember- people a hundred years ago didn't even have air conditioning units! They didn't even have electrical fans! And guess what? They led happy, productive lives. Of course, I'm not asking anyone to not turn on their AC for the summer. All I think is necessary is to use common sense. For most people, 80 degrees indoors when it is over 100 outside isn't too bad. No need to crank down the thermostat to below 70.

There are various ways to cool down. Obviously, wearing lighter, thinner clothes helps, such as shorts and tanktops. Taking colder showers will help cool you off. Drinking ice cold water definitely will chill your system.

Other strategies: remember to turn off the AC whenever you leave home, or at night when it is cooler and less humid. If you have different units for different rooms or floors, it is most effective to only turn on the unit of the area in which you will be staying. If you can control the air flow into rooms, turn off the AC in rooms you rarely use, such as a spare bedroom or a formal dining room.

You can save a lot on your utility bills with these simple changes. I know people who spend several hundred dollars a month just because of the AC! Now, doesn't it seem better to endure a few degrees higher temperature in return for that money? Not to mention the benefits of using less fossil fuel!

This image is from General Heating.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Avoid Individually-packaged Products

Individual packages are all the craze these days. Hello, 100-calorie packs, fruit snacks, oatmeal packets, mini-bags of pretzels, ice cream cups, ketchup, sugar, etc.? I've even seen cute little packets of peanut butter and saran-wrapped microwavable potatoes.

Of course, these little packages of joy are very convenient and portion-controlled. However, they do take a toll on the environment and on your wallet.

More plastic and other materials are needed to create the excess packaging. Because of this, more oil is used to create the plastic, and more fossil fuels/energy is used for the production. Also, ultimately more trash ends up in our landfills and sidewalks. These items also cost a lot more per unit. For example, a large bag of Cheetos is cheaper than a pack of several smaller bags.

In the end, I believe that portion-controlled packaging actually encourages an unhealthy lifestyle. Why, you ask? Well, most of these goods are processed and relatively nutrient-poor. However, because of the portion control, people believe that they are eating healthy.

Steer clear of these convenience foods! If you need portion control, buy a larger bag and divide it up yourself. You can reuse your own little plastic baggies and save some money. It's the lesser of two evils. However, the best thing for the environment would be to avoid most processed and packaged foods and eat naturally and locally.

This image is from ABC News.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Choose the Real White Meat

Though a vegetarian or vegan diet is best in terms of the impact it has on the environment, many people do not have the time, money, or desire for the huge lifestyle change. Therefore, the next best thing to do is to compare the different types of meat we commonly eat. Remember, unlike men, all meat are not created equal.

Let's think in terms of the amount of grain an animal must consume vs. the amount of meat the animal produces. According to BBC News, one cow requires at least 13 pounds of grain in order to make one pound of beef. Pigs need 6 pounds of grain to make one pound of pork. Chickens consume about 2 pounds of feed for each pound of meat. Fish, I believe, need a little less.

Let's say the standard serving of meat is 4 oz. per person (of course, nowadays the perception of portion sizes in blown out of proportion, with half-pound burgers and 12 oz. steaks). A family of four eats meat at two meals out of the day, meaning 28 meals a week. That's over 1400 pounds a year. Now, if the family chose chicken over beef each time, they would be saving over 16,000 pounds of grain annually!

Now multiply this number by the number of meat-consuming families in the world. It's an astronomical figure! We could do so much with this amount of food, including easing third world hunger.
Of course, this is the basic outline, but there are many other benefits.

Less water used (beef requires the most, then pork, etc.)
Less fossil fuels used (again, cattle require the most equipment/trucks/shelter)
Less land degradation

Generally speaking, beef is the most expensive, then pork, then chicken (fish is the exception)

Again, on average beef has the most saturated fat and cholesterol. Chicken and fish have many more health benefits.

If you just can't give up your meat, remember, fish> chicken > pork > beef. Obviously, there are many problems with the chicken and fish market (overfishing, anyone?), but this is a general guide you should use.

This image comes from