Bring your own bags
Not only are plastic bags made from petroleum, you can’t recycle them. Major stores are beginning to transition to paper, but you can head them off at the pass and buy your own reusable shopping bags. It isn’t as much of a hassle to carry them as you might think. Get the mesh bags that retract, or the ones that fold up into tiny, pocket-sized pouches for travel.
Make your own cleaning supplies
All you need is vinegar, baking soda and water, with a little lemon for scent. Most good commercial cleaners are little
more than variants of that, backed by big-money marketing campaigns. It’ll save you money and save the energy that goes into making the
thousands of chemical-heavy cleaners on the market. Visit www.eartheasy.com for mixology on dozens of task-specific cleaners.
Drink from the tap
It’s higher in fluoride, which concerns some folks, but it’s highly regulated, something bottled water isn’t. Not to mention that most bottled water is shipped from thousands of miles away in petroleum-based plastic bottles, most of which eventually end up in landfills. Filter if you want, though there’s no hard evidence that drinking municipal water is a health risk. And besides, most of the bottled water you’re buying comes from the tap anyway.
Nobody’s making a moral argument here or suggesting you quit meat cold turkey (pun totally intended). But meat, even if it’s organic and local, takes significantly more energy to produce — estimates range from multiples of 7–15 times — than other food. Try skipping the steak at least one night a week.
Get a tune-up and drive the limit
It’s not rocket science: The faster you drive, the more gas you consume (and as an aside to the maniacs who fly down Blaisdell Avenue — are the 45 or so seconds you save really worth it?). And a tuned car — clean filters, properly inflated tires, etc. — operates more efficiently than a neglected one.
Organic is nice, but think about the massive amount of jet and truck fuel it took to put those Chilean grapes and that Basmati rice from India and that Belgian microbrew in your Minnesotan hands. Of course, you can’t get a great local tomato in January, and globalization of the food market has given us remarkably delicious and diverse cuisine, but even committing to buying a small percentage of locally produced food goes a long way.
Turn it off
Turning off lights and appliances not in use can significantly cut electricity bills. Remember to unplug power strips when they’re not in use; otherwise, connected devices, whether they’re on or off, will still suck what’s called standby power. Alternately, buy some of the new strips capable of cutting standby power — they cost around $40, but if you have things like plasma TVs, you’ll recoup the costs within a year.
Bike or bus or train • From a strict energy-consumption standpoint, biking is by far the most efficient form of transportation in the world. An average person can bike about three miles in 20 minutes without breaking a sweat, and Southwest is a pretty flat place. If that’s not your thing, consider mass transit, even if only on occasion. The energy math is easy on that one: More people + fewer vehicles = less energy.
Use low-flow fixtures
Installing low-flow showerheads, faucets, toilets and other fixtures can save thousands of gallons of water a year. And no, they won’t leave you wishing for more pressure. Studies show that consumers don’t notice a difference in fixtures unless they produce less than 1 gallon per minute (the current standard is around 2–2.5gpm), and many fixtures with that spec include an aeration system that blends water and pressurized air.
That’s compact fluorescent lights. They use about 75 percent less energy and can last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Plus, they just started making them in all sorts of cool party colors.
Buy energy-efficient appliances
Check for the Energy Star symbol, the government program that sets efficiency standards for all appliances. Studies have estimated that people who replace major energy-sapping appliances (furnace, water heater, television, etc.) with Energy Star-approved ones can cut their energy bills by up to half.
Even though your garbage is likely going straight to Wisconsin (Minnesota hasn’t opened a new landfill in several years), that’s no reason to continue torturing cheeseheads; after all, we all live on the same planet. The conscientious recycler puts bags of aluminum and glass and plastic and newspaper curbside every other week. The heroic recycler takes cardboard and electronics and other things to suburban centers, which can accept practically anything.
Keep a steady hand on the thermostat
Each degree you turn the thermostat (up in summer, down in winter, that is) saves about 3 percent in energy costs. Even better, buy a programmable one that limits cooling and heating during daytime hours when you’re away.
Nobody’s suggesting a steady diet of Dumpster diving and thrift-store shopping (though if that describes you, more power to you). But if you’re remodeling, think about the ReUse Center for unique, quality supplies. If you’re clothes shopping, remember that thrift stores do get in all sorts of unused discards from department and other stores.