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Posts Tagged ‘green living’

reusable bags

A free reusable bag from a local store

Here’s a question: Is it morally or socially acceptable to use a product for just 20 minutes but have it linger for a thousand years in our environment? Most of us would agree: NO! However, this is the situation we face with our dependence upon single-use plastic bags.

Just how dependent are we? Across America, we toss out a hundred billion polyethylene bags EVERY YEAR. Only a very small percentage of plastic bags are recycled; the remaining bags enter our landfills or clog up our waterways and oceans, where they irreversibly alter ecosystems and marine life.

Why should you bring your own bag every time you shop? If the stats in the first paragraph were not scary enough, how about these? Renowned 5 Gyres Institute estimates that there are currently 268,000 tons of plastic floating in our oceans made up of plastic bags and single use water bottles. While many of us have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the gigantic plastic patch found between Hawaii and California), there are actually four other plastic gyres swirling in our oceans, and all are growing rapidly.

A host of states and many countries have made progressive change towards banning single-use bags. To find out more about plastic ban legislation in your state, go to Ban the Bag for current information. To get excited about the progress being made for plastic bag bans around the world, check out this cool interactive map.

Committing to reusing bags is not just a quick fix. Instead, it is indicative of a larger behavioral shift towards thinking beyond our immediate needs and being conscious of the long-term effects of our daily actions. So, how can you make this shift? Make it easy for yourself and keep a few reusable bags handy at all times: in your purse, your car (not your trunk), a backpack, or wherever fits your lifestyle. If you need to purchase reusable bags, check out your local thrift store to find reused ones, or check with your favorite local stores to see if they offer a free bag to customers. If you need to buy some bags as a gift or just need to feel fancy, Chico Bags, Eco Bags, and Project Green Bag offer great products. You can find more tips here about shopping without plastic bags.

Want to get even crazier? Take your BYOBag commitment one step further and find alternatives to other types of plastic bags too: reusable lunch bags, produce bags, and bulk bags are all available. Solutions like this are a clean, green way to reduce your plastic impact and shift your habits. Also, how cute are these lunch bags?

reusable bags for lunch

Ditch the plastic for lunch with reusable lunch bags.

reusable produce bags

Reusable produce bags are another great solution to the plastic conundrum.

If you’re like us,  you probably have a collection of plastic bags under the kitchen sink or in the pantry just waiting to be recycled, reused or… crafted? For some innovative DIY projects, check out Saved by Love Creations and Pinterest: Reuse Plastic Bags. Who knew you could do so much with plastic bags?

Snack Taxis image and mesh bag image from Flickr; reusable bag image from Kanu Hawaii

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Rechargeable BatteriesThinking of making the switch to rechargeable batteries? Like other energy efficiency tweaks, rechargeable batteries have an upfront cost, but the long-term benefits are very worth the investment and pay for themselves in just two years. One set of rechargeables can replace hundreds of single-use (disposable) batteries, billions of which are used each year in the US alone. Most of these disposable batteries are not recycled and there is no way to reuse them, making batteries quite the climate mess!

The good news is that rechargeable batteries work great, outperforming regular batteries in most situations (except when used in cameras). Rechargeables also consume up to 23 times fewer natural resources than disposable batteries. Upgrades in technology have allowed rechargeables to become slightly more affordable and better functioning over the years, too. There are now batteries that can be charged using a USB port, eliminating the need for a separate battery recharging station.

Here are some tips to make the switch to rechargeables:

  • Choose high quality batteries to power your life: Here’s a list of the best rechargeable batteries for 2015. Many of the same battery brands you are accustomed to using also offer rechargeables, and there are lots of new companies making great options. Stock up on a few sets, get a charger, and get started with the savings!
  • Don’t forget to charge ‘em up: One of the hassles with rechargeable batteries is that they need to charge, sometimes for a few hours each. Having backup batteries charged and ready to go can help alleviate the stress of an important toy or game that suddenly stops working (doubly important if you have kids who want to play NOW). Many rechargeables also come pre-charged for last-minute needs.
  • Be aware of the power slide: As batteries age, they may not store energy for as long as newer batteries. Rechargables also tend to lose juice as they sit, so charge a batch of batteries every few weeks if you find that you’re running out of power often. If you use a lot of batteries, perhaps keep a few regular batteries around as you get accustomed to regularly charging up your rechargeable stash.

Want to learn more about rechargeable batteries? Check out these great resources:

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battery image from America’s Best Organics

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energy efficiency for computersMost of us are pretty dedicated to the digital lifestyle, and with good reason. Who could possibly edit a photo, find the way to the bar, or make a meal without all the wonderful websites that make our lives so much easier? As you might suspect, our fascination with all things screen-based requires a lot of energy for both the source but also for the data: about 10% of global electricity usage is for the digital economy alone. According to Greenpeace, “if cloud computing were a country, it would rank sixth in the world on the basis of how much electricity it uses.” Yikes!

While there’s no way to truly eliminate our use of digital technology, there are some ways that you can make your computer and devices work smarter for you and for the planet.

Here are some tips to reduce the energy use of your computers:

  • Use the energy settings on your computer: Set up your energy saving mode as soon as you get your computer, as they are not set automatically by the manufacturer.
  • Put it to sleep or shut it down: Tucking your computer in for sleep mode (if it’s not automatic, see above) is the most efficient thing to do if you’re going to step away for a coffee break. If you are done for the day, you should turn it off completely. Energy.gov says that most computers will not wear out their on/off capabilities in their lifespan. These actions can save you up to $75/year in energy costs!
  • Use a smart strip: A smart strip is like a power strip but has “master” plugs that turn on other plugs. For example, if your desk has a computer, a printer, a charger and speakers, the computer would be the “master” that limits when the other items turn on and draw power, reducing the vampire power of the other items. When the computer turns off, all other items immediately turn off and are unable to draw any power. (Here’s more info about smart strips.) You can unplug all phone and tablet chargers when not in use to avoid the vampire power they suck up, too.
  • Darken the screens: For Androids and other devices with non-LCD displays, setting your screen (and themes in apps) to black or other dark colors can make a difference in battery usage and thus electricity use.
  • Skip the screensavers: They are mesmerizing indeed, but screensavers don’t actually save electricity. In fact, Energy Star says they can actually increase the energy usage of computers! Instead, turn your screen to black, put your computer to sleep, or turn it off entirely.
  • Clean up your cloud: The data that we store in the cloud seems safe and far away, but it is creating serious energy demands every day. All those apps, games, Instagram photos, and everything else saved in the cloud means your iPhone uses more electricity overall than a refrigerator! To reduce your overall cloud impact, delete what you don’t want and keep your files clean.

Want to learn more about how to decrease your digital footprint? Check out these great resources:

keep calm86054Leaf computer image from here; keep calm image from here

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energy-star-logoEnergy efficiency for electronics is a big action that can make a big difference. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that the average house has about 25 different electronic gadgets, including televisions, phones, video game consoles, cable boxes, computers, and probably many more if you have little kids! All these gadgets and electronic items consume lots of energy throughout their short lifetimes — including when they are powered off, leading to several billions of dollars of wasted energy yearly.

Here are some actionable tips to help you make your gadgets as efficient as possible:

    • Do your research: Energy Star is a starting place for more efficient gadgets, but it can also be helpful to do some research to find which item is truly the best for your needs.
    • Choose second-hand carefully: Electronic technology evolves so quickly that an item only a few years old could be light-years behind technologically. Compare the energy needs of secondhand televisions, blenders, toys or other gadgets with their newer versions before making the purchase.
    • Be vigilant with the vampires: Even efficient and Energy Star electronics will use juice when they are turned off, so squash the vampire power by using a power strip, a smart strip or simply unplugging all your electronic items when not in use. 
    • Check the charge: Use a watt meter to determine how much energy your item is using, then make adjustments to reduce the flow. Learn about stand-by modes for gaming consoles and other gadgets. Some gadgets (like cell phones) will have built-in energy meters so you can see what’s using the most power. Take advantage of the energy-saving settings, and find hacks to continually reduce your usage.
    • Don’t forget to recycle the goods: At the end of their useful life, gadgets can give back by being recycled. Check out the EPA guidelines for e-waste recycling and read more about why electronics recycling is so important in our blog post.

Here are some more great resources for getting the best bang for your electronics buck:

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Making compost is gratifying and wonderfully filthy, since it turns garbage into gold. Food waste, yard waste, and even human waste can be made into compost that boosts the fertility of gardens and farms, removes biodegradable matter from landfills, and helps reduce climate change. It’s a winning trifecta.

composting compost pile

composting turns green to (black) gold

How can funky, mucky compost help us build a better climate? Let us count the ways:

composting compost pile

build your compost bin to fit your life

  • Reducing food waste: Composting helps reduce the amount of food waste and green waste headed to landfills. Both food and green waste breaks down into methane, a potent greenhouse gas. NRDC says that the average American wastes 40% of food grown and produced each year. Learn more about food waste here.
  • Compost reduces the need for water and synthetic fertilizers: A healthy, compost-rich garden or farm can improve moisture retention, saving water and reducing runoff. Beneficial microorganisms and nutrients within the compost will ensure plant health by boosting nutrients and deterring pests.
  • Compost can build and maintain healthy soils: Due to monocropping, over-application of pesticides and other agricultural missteps, soils around the world are being depleted of their natural components. Compost can help bring balance and restore farms and fields to a healthier state. Compost also functions as a major carbon sink: compost adds carbon back to the soil and, with increased plant growth, pulls more carbon from the atmosphere in a virtuous cycle.
  • Compost is FREE and EASY: Like most of our Actions, composting is accessible to everyone, whether you’re a townie or living off the grid in the forest. Compost can be as complicated as a DIY compost bin for a big yard, or a small worm compost bin for your apartment balcony. Many cities offer green waste and food waste collection too, making it easier than ever.

Want to learn more about composting and making “black gold” from your food waste? Here are some great resources:

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Compost image from Flickr Creative Commons; compost sign image from Flickr Creative Commons

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sports and sustainability how to green the games

How can we rally the passion and dedication that people feel towards sports into a passion for climate change? Working for climate change can seem pretty boring compared to a deflated football scandal or game between rival universities, but what if we we able to combine the passions for sports and sustainability? Can we harness the power and dedication of sports fans to make a positive change for climate action?

No doubt sports evoke passion, inspiring powerful emotions before, during, and after games, and can bring people of all backgrounds together, acting as a universal language. Collegiate athletic events include millions of students and fans, the Olympic Games reach over two-thirds of the planet, and the FIFA World Cup was estimated to have had over seven hundred million people watching the 2006 championship game. Seen in this way, sports are a great way to leverage collective passion to inspire change and elevate environmental awareness.

Despite this power, many sports do not coexist sustainably with the environment: thousands of gallons of water is needed to maintain fields, tremendous amounts of energy is used to power stadiums, and millions of pounds of fuel is used to transport teams around the world. When I played collegiate soccer just a year ago, there were few environmental actions associated with our athletics department. We were provided with unrecyclable gear, plastic waterbottles and unhealthy food, and frequently traveled in airplanes and busses that were far from fuel-efficient.

However, many teams and groups have started to take huge steps to green their sport. For example, environmental factors are now a key component when selecting Olympic host cities, and Games are to be held in ways that “promote sustainable development in sports.” Additionally, the Seattle Mariners introduced “sustainable Saturdays” by creating an environment-related trivia contest requiring fans to check out various recycling points around the stadium. The National Hockey League recently made headlines for their environmental initiatives too. The most recent Superbowl was played under LED lights, reducing energy by 75%, and dozens of other stadiums are being powered by solar. And it’s not just at the professional levels. At Yale, student athletes created the nation’s first Green Athletics Team Certification program for teams.

Despite these examples of professional and college sports teams going green, there is still much need to recognize the dynamic relationship between sports and the environment. Coaches, players and fans need to leverage the power that sports events and team affiliates have to create a more sustainable world. Groups like Sustainability in Sport and Green Sport Alliance are connecting the passion of fans with their favorite teams.

You can also help bring sustainability to the sport events and teams that you are passionate about! Something as simple as taking public transportation to sporting events or bringing your own waterbottle can make a difference. You can create or become a part of a Green Team at sporting events, or lobby for the implementation of recycling bins in stadiums and arenas. Bringing petitions to your own teams, schools and community to encourage universities and team affiliates to adopt sustainability plans can make a huge statement. Learn more using the links above to inspire your local and university level teams to bridge the gap between sports and sustainability. Together, we can share knowledge about the tangible relationship between sports and the environment, and take steps to ensure a win for us all.

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Stadium image from Flickr Creative Commons

maddie wienerAbout the Author: Maddie Weiner is a writer and activist based in San Francisco. She is a recent Brown graduate with studies in International Development, Environmental Studies, Social Entrepreneurship and Spanish.

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energy efficiency for your kitchenThroughout your kitchen there are dozens of ridiculously easy ways to boost energy efficiency. These tips will make you and your appliances more efficient, saving both money and time. Making just a few changes will help you improve your carbon footprint, drop your energy costs and boost your eco-credibility, whether you’re eating like a college student or a locavore gourmand.

As you might guess, the appliances sucking up the most energy in the kitchen are the refrigerator and the oven. These appliances are sort of like the Hummers of the home, taking up a ton of space and using excessive amounts of energy. But, unlike that beastly vehicle, the fridge and freezer can be tamed into energy submission. We’ve connected with our friends at Pono Home, a Honolulu-based residential energy efficiency  franchise that, along with Oroeco, was a winner of the 2014 Energy Excelerator business competition. The smart folks at Pono Home have some great tips to keep your kitchen in tip-top energy shape:

Five Efficiency Tips for the Refrigerator:

  • Practice the two-thirds full rule. It doesn’t matter if your fridge is full of fruits and veggies or beer and pizza, keeping the fridge and freezer mostly full ensures that less air escapes each time you open the fridge. Each item acts as a “cold battery” helping to keep the fridge at a cooler temperature after it’s been opened.
  • Clean your condenser coils 2-3 times per year. It’s a really icky task, but it can make a huge difference for the function of your fridge. Condenser coils direct the airflow throughout the fridge and often build up with dust, pet hair and other stuff. According to Green Living Ideas, you can save 15% of the electricity by keeping the condenser coils clean.
  • Ensure airflow around your fridge. Keep a few inches on each side of the fridge, and try to avoid using the top of the fridge as a storage unit, which keeps the fridge cooler overall.
  • Keep frost at bay: Not only does that frosty buildup in your freezer decrease the available space for awesome vegan ice cream, it makes your appliance work harder than is necessary. Remove any frost thicker than about a quarter-inch.
  • Think before you open and close: Nearly 7% of the electricity used by the fridge is just from opening and closing, so think before you open!

Five Easy Efficiency Tips for the Oven:

  • Match the pot size to the coil size. It’s imperative to choose a pan that fits evenly or slightly larger than your coil. Tf you have a gas stove, choose a flame that’s slightly smaller than your pot or skillet.
  • Use the right appliance. A small toaster oven is great for cooking small batches of cookies, trays of roasted veggies and so much more. The energy use is still high, but because it heats up so much quicker it uses less energy overall. An electric kettle is another quick energy (and time) saver for tea and coffee.
  • Make the most of the heat: Turning on the oven generates a lot of heat (and a lot of energy!). Use the oven light to see the food rather than opening the oven door. Cook in double batches to make use of the heat, since the oven is already warm. This means you should plan on two batches of cookies instead of just one!
  • Cast iron cookery: Cast iron cookware seems old-fashioned, but it’s super retro-cool and mega functional. As your grandmother probably told you, cast iron is very durable, made from iron (rather than petrochemical based Teflon), lasts forever, and can be used with lower heat settings because it retains heat so well.
  • Pre-measure your water for boiling. When making tea or coffee at home, pre-measure the amount of water before heating — this is both energy efficient and water efficient, since you heat only the amount you need for each cup. When you make coffee and tea at home, you can save time and money.
  • For even more efficiency tips for cooking, check out this post on Green Living Ideas.

What are your favorite kitchen tips to save energy, water and time? Share in the comments below what helps you in your kitchen!

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andrea head shot circleAbout the Author: Andrea Bertoli helps to spread awareness of personal climate impacts via social media, blogging, advertising and community outreach for Oroeco.

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