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It’s never too late to make changes in your behavior. Many of these ideas can help you save hard-earned greenbacks and make life more pleasant for you, your family, your neighbors, and Mother Nature.
1. Pretend you live in the 1950s
Instead of constantly running your dryer, use a clothesline (when it’s nice out) or an indoor dryer rack. If you hang out eight loads a week during the six warmest months of the year, you would save more than 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-generated electricity.
Bonus: Your clothes will smell fresh, they won’t shrink, and you won’t have to clean the lint trap.
2. Get the most out of your dishwasher
When using your dishwasher, use the air-dry option instead of the heat-dry, rinse-hold and pre-rinse features. If your dishwasher doesn’t have this option, prop the door open after the final rinse cycle to dry your dishes. Remember to only run your dishwasher with a full load (much more effective than running a half-empty dishwasher).
3. Think green with your washing machine
There’s no way around it – dirty clothes need to be washed. You can reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by washing only full loads of clothes in cold water instead of hot (don’t worry, they’ll still get clean). Doing this can save $120 or 3,000 pounds of coal-generated CO2 a year. It takes a lot of energy to heat water.
4. Cool those rising energy costs
When buying a new fridge, decide what features you really need and use. Through-the-door features like cold water or automatic ice dispensers can increase electricity usage by as much as 20 percent compared to similar models without these extras. Save energy by setting your fridge temperature between 38 and 42 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tips: Don’t waste energy by leaving the door open while you stare blankly at those leftovers, hoping they’ll transform into something more appealing. 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, they should be replaced.
5. Change your lightbulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs
Most of the wattage of “standardâ€ incandescent lightbulbs goes up in unwanted heat. Compact fluorescent bulbs use a quarter of the power, put out a quarter of the heat, and pay for themselves–fluorescent bulbs last up to 10 times as long as the incandescents. Don’t worry about being left in the dark, the new fluorescent bulbs are just as bright as their incandescent counterparts (using far less energy to achieve that brightness). To save even more on lighting, install dimmer switches and use timers, indoor and out. Go to www.energystar.gov for more info.
Tip: If every family in the U.S. switched out their five most-used incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bulbs, it would save as much energy as taking 8 million cars off the road.
6. Buy a programmable thermostat
When you buy a programmable thermostat, you can set the temperature to drop when you’re asleep or away, conserving energy usage at different points of the day. You’ll not only help the environment, you’ll also save money on your utility bills.
Tip: Reduce heat loss by keeping your blinds and curtains closed when you’re not home–a substantial amount of heat is lost via uncovered windows. Another way to prevent heat from escaping is to seal draft-prone areas such as the spaces under external doors.
7. Try a soap-less car wash
When washing your car, don’t use soap. Soapy water can run off the car into the gutters, going into the stormwater system. When soaps and detergents enter our stormwater system, they eventually find their way into our lakes and rivers – polluting the environment.
Tip: The next time you wash your car, use a big bucket of water (not a hose), a rag, and a lot of elbow grease. When you’re done with the muddy water, dump it onto your lawn or garden.
8. Don’t run appliances more than you need to
Wasting energy hurts your pocketbook and Mother Nature. When you’re not using your TV, DVD player, or stereo, shut them off. A desktop computer and CRT monitor can consume more than 300 watts; make sure yours is off or in sleep mode when not in use. A laptop uses considerably less power than a desktop computer. Washing your clothes in cold instead of hot water can save $120 or 3,000 pounds of coal-generated CO2 a year. Other water-saving tips = wash only full loads of clothes, don’t run water while your brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, and install water-efficient showerheads. By using less water while showering, a family of four can cut usage by more than 280 gallons a month and not feel much difference in water pressure.
9. Get rid of your gas-powered lawnmower
Buy an electric mower or push mower instead. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, using a gas lawnmower for an hour pollutes the same as driving a car 340 miles; other gasoline-powered yard tools may pollute even more.
10. Eat meat-free meals at least once a week
Eating less meat conserves water, land, and energy resources. Runoff from livestock operations may pollute rivers, lakes and even drinking water. Cows also produce excessive amounts of methane, the second most significant greenhouse gas.
11. Unplug electronics from the wall when not in use
Do you really need to keep your cell phone charger plugged in when you’re not home? How about your hairdryer or that alarm clock in the spare room? Even when turned off, certain electronics suck up energy.
12. Bring your own grocery bag
Paper or plastic? Neither if you have your very own reusable canvas tote bag. Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down, and they usually end up in landfills or in our oceans, contributing to the deaths of turtles and other marine creatures. You have to chop down a lot of trees to produce paper bags, and few are made from recycled materials.
13. Support local farmers
It’s not cheap to ship food around the world, so buy locally and feel good about that decision knowing the entire purchase price is going directly back to the farmer. You will get better quality food and help small-scale agriculture while being good to the environment. According to the Nature Challenge Foundation, “since shipping food long distances requires packaging and chemical treatments to prevent rotting and over-ripening, buying locally grown helps reduce the waste, energy and materials needed in this process.â€
14. Water smart
If you absolutely must water your lawn, water smart: water once a week, in evening or early morning, no more than your lawn can absorb (maximum: one inch). Or better yet, learn to love Minnesota’s climate. When it’s dry, embrace your brown lawn, and when it rains, applaud your green grass.
15. Choose products with recyclable packaging
Choose products based on packages you can recycle in order to get those packages into the recycling system. By doing this, you can have a real impact on the environment.
Tip: Bring your lunch to work in a reusable container with a lid.
16. Use nature’s method of bug eradication
Pesticides can contaminate soil and water. When it rains, pesticides are carried by storm drains into streams and rivers, potentially killing small plants and animals. Pesticides can also poison fish and wildlife. If your lawn has a pest problem, skip the pesticides and invite birds, bats, and toads into your yard to keep pests at bay. Birds eat beetles and grubs, bats and toads eat mosquitoes, and aphids can be naturally controlled with egg cases of Green Lacewings or Praying Mantises.
17. Recycle your plastic bottles
Domestic plastic recyclers are hurting, even shutting down, for lack of used bottles, less than a quarter of which get recycled.
18. Reuse, reuse, reuse
Garage sales, secondhand shops, upscale consignment stores, and eBay help our planet–and our personal budgets–by encouraging reuse.
19. Rely less on your car
Do less driving by consolidating your trips or shopping close to home. Or better yet–leave your car in the driveway and walk or bike to your destination, or take public transportation. Cars are the largest source of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants.
Tip: Start small; try using your car (at least) one less day every week. Avoiding just 10 miles of driving every week would eliminate about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year, according to www.climatecrisis.net.
20. Replace inefficient appliances
Old models suck up twice as much juice as current models. When buying new appliances, look for the Energy Star label, an internationally recognized symbol for energy efficiency.
21. Cut off junk mail
According to the Financial Services authority, the average American used 10,355 sheets of paper in 2005, indicating that individual conservation can definitely make an impact. One way you can make a difference is by lightening your junk mail load. Visit www.greendimes.com, www.reduce.org or www.41pounds.org to see what you can do.
Tip: Other ways to conserve trees is to recycle your toilet paper rolls (yes, they’re recyclable!) and buy recycled napkins. If every household in the U.S. bought recycled napkins instead of virgin-fiber napkins, we could save a million trees.
22. Rethink paper recycling
A 2000 study showed that 21 percent of household garbage in the Twin Cities metro area is recyclable paper. You can recycle more kinds of paper than you think such as mail, office and school papers, magazines, phone books, shredded paper in closed paper bags, cereal boxes, cracker boxes, pasta boxes, cake mix boxes, shoe boxes, gift boxes, electronics boxes, and boxes from toothpaste, medications, and other toiletries. For a complete list, visit www.greenguardian.com.
23. Plant a tree
Trees absorb harmful chemicals (such as carbon monoxide), give off oxygen, catch runoff, and filter and trap pollutants. They shade and cool, block the wind, provide us with nourishment, are home to a variety of birds, mammals, and critters, and make boring places beautiful. One tree can repay us for generations. For advice on planting, pruning, and maintaining trees, or to find a tree best suited for your zip code, visit www.arborday.org.
24. Check your tires weekly to make sure they’re properly inflated
Proper inflation can improve gas mileage by more than 3 percent. Since every gallon of gasoline saved keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, every increase in fuel efficiency makes a difference! www.carcare.org/Tires_Wheels/inflation.shtml
25. Buy organic as much as possible
According to www.climatecrisis.net, organic soils capture and store carbon dioxide at much higher levels than soils from conventional farms. If we grew all of our corn and soybeans organically, we’d remove 580 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.