.. lf quickly in reduced fuel costs and a warmer, more comfortable home. Unfortunately, the finer points of insulating a home are beyond the scope of this article. An excellent resource on maximizing your home’s insulation is Home Insulation by Harry Yost. Your local library should have, if not this book, several books on insulation that will at least get you started. Beyond updating your furnace and insulating your home, consider your personal use of heat in the home.
The average American household’s temperature during the winter is slowly rising because of increasingly sedentary lifestyles and lighter dress. The healthier we eat and the more exercise we get, the more internal heat our bodies will produce. The more above the outside temperature a home is heated, the less efficient its heating system becomes. If we simply wear more clothes, we will need substantially less heat. Wearing sweaters and slippers, eating nutritious food, and getting plenty of exercise are simple but frequently overlooked ways we can reduce our heating energy needs.
Next to furnaces and stoves, the air conditioner is the second most energy-hungry appliance in American homes. Unfortunately, air conditioners rely on lots of electricity, the most polluting form of energy available. The use of air conditioners should be avoided at all costs. If you live in a climate with extreme heat, consider your air conditioner and its placement carefully. The EPA has outlined efficiency standards for most household appliances, air conditioners included. Make sure, if you buy an air conditioner, that it has the EPA’s Energy Star mark of approval.
This does not mean that the air conditioner is good for the environment, but that it uses its electricity efficiently instead of wasting it as many older models do. If you must have an air conditioner, purchase a small, efficient model and place it in a small, closed-off room where you spend most of your time. Make sure this room does not contain any heat-producing appliances like a washing machine or clothes dryer, and that sunlight does not enter through windows. Under these conditions, air conditioning can be relatively efficient and economical. Central air conditioning, on the other hand, is extremely inefficient and usually goes largely unused.
Outside of heating and air conditioning, almost all of the energy used in our homes is electricity. Many Americans take electricity for granted, leaving unused lights and appliances on without thinking. A simple awareness in turning things off can greatly reduce our electric bills. Further, choices can be made in the kinds of lights and appliances we use, and whether they need to be used at all. As for lights, there are several high-efficiency bulbs on the market that, for slightly more money than a typical light bulb, can get by on a fraction of the electricity.
Fluorescent lights, for instance, are five times more efficient than incandescent (typical) lights. Standard incandescent light bulbs use electricity to heat a filament that glows to create light, whereas fluorescent lights send very rapid and brief charges of electricity through a filament. The days of flickering long tube fluorescent lights are over. According to Edward Harland, new Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) flicker at more than 20,000 cycles per second (compared to 60 in tube lights), are 30% more energy efficient than tube lights, and come on almost instantly. These lights, while more expensive, will significantly reduce your electricity bill and last five to ten times longer than standard light bulbs.
Before even turning on the lights, make the best possible use of natural light in your home. Place your reading chair by a sunny window instead of in a corner facing out a window. Consider adding skylights to your home. These can create a surprising amount of natural light during the day, and contribute to your house’s heat during the winter. Mirrors strategically placed on walls can also make better use of light and heat from the sun coming in through the windows. Use only what electric lighting is necessary: low-wattage task lights for individual applications instead of high power lights to illuminate a large area.
If you must use outdoor lights, consider purchasing a motion detector that will turn the light on and off only when it senses movement. When purchasing appliances, check to see that they are EPA Energy Star approved. These appliances use energy more efficiently than others. Most refrigerators, for instance, have compressors at their base which produce significant heat and cause the refrigerator to work against itself. During fair weather, consider drying clothes on a line outside instead of using a dryer, which inefficiently uses electricity to heat cold wet clothes.
Your clothes will last longer, and you’ll see the difference in your electric bill. When undressing at night, ask yourself whether your pants can be worn again before washing. Americans, in particular, tend to balk at this sort of a suggestion. Allowing ourselves to think logically beyond social qualms and customs will allow each of our personal environmental movements to transcend many of our unsustainable habits. If you work in an office or at home, chances are your clothes aren’t that dirty at the end of the day.
You’ll be surprised at the decrease in your weekly laundry load. The last big source of energy consumption in our homes is our favorite appliance of all. The average American household television is on 7 hours and 20 minutes per day, and 98% of all households have at least one television. At 170 watts per hour, that comes to 452,965 watt hours (or 453 kilowatt hours) of television use per year in an average household using one 25 television. Look at the breakdown of your electricity bill to put this number into perspective.
You’ll see that America could save a lot of electricity and money by simply turning off the television. Instead, we can read a book, go for a walk or hike, work in a garden, or talk or play a game with our families. Quite simply, the less television we watch, the richer our lives will be, the less we will spend on electricity, and the more we will be doing for the environment. All of the information in this section has focussed on minimizing the use of energy in the home. Imagine if you could use electricity in your home without burning any fossil fuels and without any monthly electric bills. This is not only possible, but a reality for thousands of Americans.
With one initial investment in a photovoltaic system (silicon cells that convert the sun’s light into electricity), you can end your dependence on polluting power companies and begin a new life of clean energy self-sufficiency. You can get started with a simple photovoltaic setup for a single zone of your home for less than one thousand dollars, or go all out with a top-of-the-line fully self-sufficient photovoltaic power center for about $13,000. If these prices sound high, consider the savings. If your monthly electric bill is $100, a top-of-the-line system that requires only a moderate degree of energy efficiency would be paid for in less than eleven years. And there is a whole spectrum of cheaper systems that can easily power a typical home.
For less than four thousand dollars (paying for itself in about 3 years) the Real Goods Trading Corporation sells a system designed to handle all the lighting, entertainment, and small kitchen appliances for a modest, energy-conserving household of one to four people in a full-time home. This description is taken from the Real Goods Solar Living Source Book, 9th Edition. This seven hundred page tome covers everything from taking care of the land to water conservation and every alternative form of energy from solar to hydro to wind. It is a must-have for anyone who wants to live lightly on the earth, and is available at most major book stores and libraries. Recycling and Waste Management There is no environmentally sound method of dealing with the 200 million tons of municipal solid waste produced in America each year. There are many things we can do, however, to minimize, if not eliminate, our personal 4 1/2lb-a-day contribution to that figure.
The now ubiquitous threesome, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, still defines what we all must do to bring our personal trash production down to a sustainable level. With the media and certain high-positioned nay-sayers claiming that recycling is worse for the environment than it is good for it, and laws making recycling just another stupid rule rather than a social imperative, perhaps a redux of America’s trash situation is called for. Households and other residences produce 100 of the 200 million tons of annually produced garbage in the United States. Most of that goes to land-fills, where it is covered up (if not purposefully sealed to prevent leakage) and starved of the oxygen needed for biodegradation. Here is just a taste of some garbage statistics from Geoffrey C. Saign’s well-researched book, Green Essentials: More than 1/2 of U.S. landfills have closed in the past 10 years, and nearly 1/2 of the remaining 5,800 landfills do not meet federal or state standards for human health and environmental protection.
More landfills are being closed as they fail to meet 1993 and 1994 guidelines and as communities resist allowing new landfills in their area; 22 states will run out of landfill capacity within 10 years or less. The nation’s 10 largest cities use a land area for their garbage that is larger than the state of Indiana. And this is just landfills. Incineration is quickly becoming the chosen method of dealing with garbage. Incineration actually concentrates the toxicity of garbage by mixing volatile chemicals at high temperatures and reducing its harmless biomass content.
Approximately 1/4 of the ashes produced in a typical incinerator escape into the atmosphere, where they combine with the toxic gases emitted to cause acid rain, smog, and global warming. The remaining ashes are highly toxic and dumped in landfills or stored in toxic waste facilities. A few states mix this ash with pavement, where it will slowly decompose and leach into the ground. The simple fact is that most of this waste could be recycled or composted instead of burned or buried. Green Essentials offers this breakdown of garbage ingredients by weight: Ingredient % by weight Alternative disposal methods available Paper and paperboard 34% Recyclable Yard trimmings 20% Compostable Plastic 9% Recyclable Food waste 9% Compostable Metals 8% Recyclable Glass 7% Recyclable Wood 4% Compostable, can be used as fuel Rubber and leather 3% Recyclable (tires) Textiles 2% Donate Other 4% ??? As this chart displays, 58% (not counting the 3% for rubber and leather) of our garbage is recyclable; 33% of the remainder could be composted.
That means that 91% of all the garbage produced in this country (that’s about 182 million tons annually) could be kept out of incinerators and landfills. Even a fraction of this ideal estimate would have a profound impact on the environment. Despite the amazing potential for waste reduction that recycling makes possible, The New York Times joined the media’s misinformed recycling myth extravaganza in their June 30th, 1996 article, Recycling is Garbage. From the beginning, pessimists and special-interest industries have spread incorrect myths about recycling. These claims frequently charge (among other things) that landfill space is abundant and cheap; there is no market for recycled goods; and recycling doesn’t pay for itself.
Consider the facts on these three points: Landfill space has become a precious commodity in the U.S., with many states paying to export trash to other states or countries. Recall Geoffrey Saign’s statement that 22 states will run out of landfill capacity within 10 years or less. The market for recycled goods, while fluctuating like any burgeoning market, has increased with the amount of recycled goods available to create a powerful new industry. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, U.S. pulp paper manufacturers have voluntarily built or expanded more than 45 recycled paper mills in the 1990’s, and are projected to spend more than $10 billion on such facilities by the end of the decade. To argue that recycling doesn’t pay for itself is like arguing that landfills and incinerators don’t pay for themselvesof course they don’t. Recycling plants, even in the industry’s infancy, cost about as much to operate as conventional disposal methods, but are considerably more environmentally sound (costing less when environmental damage and cleanup costs are considered) and reduce pollution from manufacturing and mining for new production. Recycling is an easy thing to do, and good habit to get into as many towns and cities are requiring their citizens to recycle by law or charging by the pound for non-recycled garbage.
First, find out what your town recycles by calling your local waste management facility. If your town or city doesn’t recycle or recycles only a few materials, consider getting a recycling-only dump permit for a near-by pro-recycling town or city. Next, reorganize your home’s main trash area to include receptacles for all the different materials you will recycle. Food containers like tin cans and bottles should be rinsed to keep your recycling receptacles from smelling. You’ll be amazed at the decrease in waste the next time you take out the trash.
If we make a commitment to recycle our garbage, we must support the effort on the other end by buying recycled goods. Many products’ packaging claims 100% recyclable. This is good, but keep in mind that it doesn’t mean the material is recycled. Look for the percentage of post-consumer waste to tell you if it is and how much of is recycled. Recycled products like paper and cardboard have come a long way in quality and price.
Seventh Generation, a producer of a full line of 100% recycled and earth-friendly household products, posts a convincing advertisement on the side of their bathroom tissue packages: If every household in the U.S. replaced just one 4-pack of 430 sheet virgin fiber bathroom tissues with 100% recycled ones, we could save 1 million trees, 4.1 million cubic feet of landfill space (equal to 4,618 full garbage trucks), and 427 million gallons of water (a years supply for 12,300 families of four). About 33% of the garbage we produce, like food scraps and yard trimmings, can be composted. Composting is nature’s answer to garbage control, converting organic waste back into the soil it came from. While many people compost to create nutrient-rich soil for their garden, you don’t have to be a gardener to compost your organic waste.
You should cover your compost pile, but not suffocate it. The organic waste needs plenty of oxygen to feed the microbes that decompose the matter. You can build a box for your compost, or buy one pre-made at your local garden shop. Look for an organic gardening book at your library for instructions on building a composting container. While recycling and composting can help many of our waste management problems, the Reduce and Reuse methods are still more environmentally sound.
Recycling does take energy and cost money, and material quality (especially plastic) typically degrades each time it is recycled. Avoiding garbage altogether is the best answer to our waste management problems. This means reducing our personal consumption levels and changing some of our buying habits. When shopping, choose products that use the least packaging, and buy products whose packaging is wholly recyclable. Packaging makes up approximately 30% of all U.S. garbage. Many grocery stores now carry a significant amount of food in bulk, allowing consumers to reuse durable containers for food rather than disposable cardboard or plastic containers. An easy way to change wasteful habits is to put a note by your home’s garbage and recycling center.
Every time you throw something away, ask yourself if it could have been replaced by something reusable like a sturdy container or cloth rag. You’ll soon find yourself collecting and using reusable items for many common tasks that once required disposable materials. You can also extend your garbage-awareness to your work place. Advocate for a double-sided printer, for instance, if you work in an office. A convincing letter to your boss (if you’re not the boss) might convince him or her that the amount of money saved in paper will eventually pay for the printer.
When you go to the grocery store, bring your own bags instead of using paper or plastic. Consumers often wonder which of the two is better; the answer is: neither. When shopping for smaller items, tell the clerk not to give you a bag (frequently their default action) if you can simply carry the item in your hand. Buy durable, quality items that will last and lend themselves to repair when broken. When things do break, remember that fixing is almost always cheaper than replacing, and you’ll have the satisfaction of minimizing your garbage output. When you no longer need something, give it away instead of throwing it away.
Organizations like The Salvation Army will gladly accept almost any used household item. Remember that Benjamin Franklin’s maxim, A penny saved is a penny earned, goes for the environment, too. Every time we reuse something, we’ve saved another like it from having to be made. Every time we recycle something, we’ve saved energy, pollution, and the materials from being mined from our natural.