Conservation: It’s more than saving the Amazon rain forest. It’s more than preserving wetlands. Believe it or not, some of the most important acts of conservation can actually begin in your own home. When you get home, take a look around. Is the TV or stereo on, with no one paying attention? Are the lights on? Check out the wastebaskets. In your room, look at the dead batteries from your portable CD player lying next to a slice of stale pizza. How about soda cans or old school papers and magazines? And that’s just from the weekend! It’s all going to the dump, right? It doesn’t have to. Not if you’re conservation savvy.
Your wastebasket is one small tributary into your family’s waste stream–the flow of trash and garbage you put into the environment. In just the last 35 years, Americans have nearly doubled the size of their waste streams. By the year 2000, experts figure that Americans will produce more than 200 million ton of garbage each year.
Safely disposing of this garbage is a growing problem. Today, almost 67 percent of the waste stream ends up in the ground in landfills and dumps. Another 16 percent is burned in incinerators. The fact is that only 17 percent of our waste is recycled. Clearly, we need to change the way we handle our trash at home.
And the best way we have to do this is to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Reducing the waste stream in your home means not automatically throwing everything away so that less garbage goes to the dump.
Reuse means getting more than one use out of a product to reduce the waste stream. Many so-called disposable items, such as plastic cups, knives, and forks, can actually be washed and used several times.
Recycling is a form of reuse. But when you recycle, you reuse the raw materials rather than the product. When you recycle a soda can, the aluminum, not the can itself, is reused. Buying goods made from recycled materials encourages manufacturers to use more recyclables in their products.
The Paper Chase
The biggest part of the home waste stream is not plastic or glass or even food. It’s paper. Nearly 40 percent of our trash is newspapers, magazines, old phone books, packaging material, and junk mail.
What’s more, we are finding out that paper in landfills does not decompose. In one landfill, scientists found 40- and 50-year-old newspapers in perfect condition. Another landfill contained a layer of old phone books several feet thick–all still readable.
Reducing the paper in our home waste stream can make a big difference. What would happen if we recycled half the newsprint we use each year? We’d keep nearly 6 million tons of paper out of our landfills. And landfills wouldn’t fill up as fast, so we’d need fewer of them.
Here are some easy ways to slash your wastepaper output:
* At school, be sure to use the recycled-paper bins. If your school doesn’t have a recycling program, start one.
* Buy recycled-paper products. This makes it more likely that manufacturers will use recycled materials.
* If you bring your lunch to school, carry it in a lunch box or reusable cloth or vinyl bag. The plastic bags and aluminum foil you wrap your food in can be taken home, washed, and used again and again.
What a Waste!
Another 25 percent of the home waste stream is made up of food and yard waste. All of these natural materials can be composted. The compost can then be used as mulch or fertilizer.
The other main parts of the waste stream include plastic, metal, glass, and other materials. Many of these can be recycled, but they must be cleaned first. Other materials such as motor oil, batteries, and solvents need extra care because they can be hazardous. Follow the rules in your community for recycling or disposing of these hazardous materials.
You can conserve other home resources such as power and water, too. Here are some simple suggestions:
* Keep your shower time under five minutes. Consider installing a low-flow shower head to cut water use. You not only save water but the energy needed to heat it.
* Turn off lights and appliances! It sounds simple, but it can make dollars of difference.
* Talk with your family about buying new energy-efficient light bulbs and fixtures. They cost more than regular bulbs initially, but they use one-fifth less power and last 10 times as long.
* Wash dishes by hand, but don’t keep the water running. You use half the water and much less energy doing dishes by hand than with an automatic dishwasher.
Hey, nobody said saving the planet would be all fun! But the results will make a real difference in the environment today and tomorrow.
Bright Ideas: New Lighting Technology Gets the “Green Light”
Did a light bulb go off over your head the last time you had a great idea? Light bulbs have been going off over the heads of people who design . . . well, light bulbs! New lighting technology that promises to conserve energy and cut electric bills is coming soon to a socket near you.
Currently, 25 percent of all electricity generated in the United States is used for lighting. Two shining examples of the new lighting technology that could change that figure:
A new light bulb uses radio waves to make a gas glow inside the bulb. Standard incandescent light bulbs generate light by heating a wire until it glows. The advantage of the new bulb is that it uses only a quarter of the energy to generate the same amount of light as the old-style bulbs. What’s more, the bulbs will last 10 years or more, depending on how much they’re used.
The other new technology could be in action over your head as you read this. The long fluorescent tubes and their fixtures, so common in schools and offices, are being replaced by new bulbs and fixtures using one-third less power. Even without the new bulbs, a new electronic fixture will cut electrical usage by up to 24 percent.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is encouraging businesses and other organizations to upgrade their lighting through its Green Lights program. The EPA provides participants with products, information, and services to help them move to more energy-efficient lighting.
The Green Lights participant agrees to upgrade 90 percent of its facility’s lighting within the next five years. Is your school one of them?