Tuesday, April 1, 2008

5 Easy things you can do to help the environment.

Many people would like to do their part towards "saving the environment" but stop short, usually with the idea that what they do, individually, won't make a difference. Read on and I'll demonstrate just how some of those easy to do little things can add up quickly. You'll be familiar with most of them, but may not realize yet what a difference they can make.

Let's use the people of the U.S. as an example for this exercise. First, we'll round the population down to 300 million people. In 2006 it was found that there are roughly 2.6 people per household -- even though the average household size is decreasing, we'll round that off to 3, to give roughly 100 million households.

1. Use compact fluorescent lightbulbs -- failing that, use a lower wattage incandescent bulb where possible. If every household replaced even just one 100W bulb with a 60W bulb in a lamp that they use regularly, the saved energy would be dramatic. Done with just one lamp in a household that's used 3 hours per night, in one year we'll have collectively saved more energy than the entire state of Colorado needs to operate for a month. Of course if you do go from a 100W incandescent to something like a 15W CFC, you'll more than double those savings.

2. Recycle your soda cans -- even if you don't return them for a refund. Common pop cans have around 13.6 grams of aluminum per can, or roughly 28 to make one pound. Just one can each week per household amounts to over 46,000 tonnes of aluminum. (If you don't have residential pickup of recycleables in your area yet, consider talking to your local politician)

3. Switch to getting your bills and statements online, if possible. If a household receives even just one statment each month, of only one page, the impact is substantial. On average, it takes "three trees" to produce roughly 25,000 sheets of paper. One sheet per household per month amounts to roughly 144,000 trees. Even if the people sending you those statements use paper with 50% recycled material, that still amounts to 72,000 trees every year -- just for one sheet a month! (Notice that we haven't even touched on the energy consumption and byproducts aspect of paper production -- this should be reason enough!)

4. Use a reusable travel mug when you get a coffee or tea to go. Let's be conservative and imagine that our coffee-cup use averages out to one paper cup per household per week. Even then that's 5,200,000,000 paper cups per year -- using old Starbucks numbers from 2000, that amounts to over 80,000 tonnes of paper, 174,000 tonnes of solid waste, and 14,100,000 trees per year. (Some places will even give you a discount when you bring your own mug!)

5. Use reusable grocery bags instead of disposable paper or plastic ones. We'll use the same conservative measure of one bag per household per week. That's 5.2 billion bags. That many plastic bags works out to 39,000 tonnes of waste, costs roughly $4 million to dispose of, and takes the equivalent of 429,000 barrels of oil to produce. Roughly 955,000 tonnes of paper bags were used in the U.S. in 1997 alone -- around 1.5 million trees worth of them. [EPA]


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  2. I would never consider myself a "tree-hugger" if you will, but it really does not take much to personally make a difference.

    Currently in a competition among US universities across the country, a team I am on, Pros In Motion, are developing a full campaign to promote "going green" by use of public transportation.

    With that being said I thought I would add a few facts of my own in regards to public transportation, something which many countries rely on more heavily than the United States.

    Each year, public transportation use in the U.S. saves 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline. This represents almost 4 million gallons of gasoline per day.

    The typical public transit rider consumes on average one half of the oil consumed by an automobile rider.

    Public transportation produces 95 percent less carbon monoxide (CO), 90 percent less in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and about half as much carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx), per passenger mile, as private vehicles. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions represent 82 percent of total US human-made greenhouse emissions.


    We found at the University of Pittsburgh that students when asked "If public transportation is a "green" form of transportation," 35% responded with "neutral" and 25% responded with "disagree."

    We found this number staggering since this is one of the easiest ways, and for University of Pittsburgh students who can ride the public transportation system for free, a very cheap way to help protect the environment.

    While we can't make students ride the bus, making them aware of feasible and cost effective ways to protect the environment is incredibly important.