Last month I started this two part series on ways you can both improve the quality of your life as well as save the planet. All too often, it seems that ‘saving the world’ is painted as a black and white picture of either you are with us or against us. Instead, with the ten simple tips offered in this Geospatial Frequently Asked Question (G-FAQ) series, I hope to show you that helping the world can be a color of grey achieving multiple end goals.
In this G-FAQ, I answer one simple question, How can I save money, improve my health and, well, if I have too, help the planet along the way?
In December, I offered the first five of ten life-improving and earth-saving tips, now let’s finish up the list:
1. Buy local produce, food items and products – many grocery stores are increasingly featuring local produce and other food items; in fact, all local items at my grocery store of choice are flagged accordingly. If you shop somewhere that does not flag these items or you are shopping for non-food items, spend the extra few moments to look at the label and figure out the product’s source.
Improve Yourself: Buying a product or food item that was created/grown locally has reciprocal economic benefits as the dollar you just spent stays in your community to be spent again. Economic studies suggest that billions of dollars could be added to the local economy if all of us spent even a small amount on local products. When you buy locale produce, you can often find tastier fruits and veggies as they have not traveled the distance that a tomato (for example) grown in another country does.
Improve Our World: In the US, transportation accounts for some 70% of all gasoline used and the average piece of produce travels 1,300 miles from the farm to your table. As such, anything we can do to reduce the distance our food and non-food items travel to reach us, can and will make a huge impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Further, local ‘green market’ farmers grow thousands of fruit and vegetable varietals versus the hand-full of high-yield varietals grown by large-scale agribusiness. Maintaining local biodiversity is important to a healthy ecosystem.
Read More on the Topic: University of Nebraska; The New York Observer
2. Combine multiple errands into one long trip – if you are like me, there are never enough hours in the day, so why not try and be as efficient as possible by combining multiple small errands that can wait into one long trip. And for bonus points, use a bike to complete these errands for the added benefit of exercise!
Improve Yourself: Did you know the average American spends 500 to 1,000 hours per year behind the wheel of a car? So anything you can do to reduce the time in your car means extra time to enjoy your life. Then there is the economic benefit of increased efficiency as driving in town consumes even more fuel than does highway driving.
Improve Our World: The average car produces about 9,000 pounds of carbon dioxide so anything we can do to reduce the number of car trips we make to run errands will make a difference. If every American just saved a single gallon of gas per year by combining errands, we could save an amount equal to the average day of gasoline consumption in the USA.
3. Let your laundry air dry – alright so I know it’s not possible to air dry all of your laundry, but when you can, give it a try. I tend to use the dryer for smaller items like hand towels and socks; and then air dry thick items, like towels, and more delicate ones, like button down shirts and jeans.
Improve Yourself: Drying clothes is not cheap! If you go to a laundromat, you likely pay $1.50 or more to dry each load, and that could total more than $125 if you do just an average of 1.5 loads per week. If you own your dryer, you likely spend between $40 and $100 per year to use it. As an added bonus, clothes last longer when they are not subjected to the heat and motion of a dryer and they are often wrinkle free when air-dried.
Improve Our World: Clothes dryers are responsible for an estimated 6% of American residential electricity consumption and then 2% of natural gas consumption. This equates to 40 million metric tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions so any load (or part of one) you can air dry can and does make significant difference.
Read More on the Topic: Natural Resources Defense Council; UrbanHomestead.org
4. Air dry your dishes – hmm, do you see a trend here? Many newer dishwashers have an air dry setting, if your does, use it! If not, I am guessing your dishwasher is loud enough to know when the wash and rinse cycles are done; when they are, prop it open to dry.
Improve Yourself: Let’s assume you run two loads of dishes per week with an average efficiency dishwasher at 1,800 watts, this means you spend about $45 per year washing your dishes. A larger percent of the energy used to wash your dishes is used in the heated dry cycle. So air drying your dishes will put dollar bills back into your piggy bank.
Improve Our World: Appliances consume some 13% of an average American’s energy use and dishwashers are a major part of this, especially if the heating element is turned on during the dry cycle. Also consider that approximately half the time a dishwasher is running, it is using power to dry your dishes. Letting dishes air dry then will have a significant impact on your energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
5. Replace dead light bulbs with LEDs – light bulbs are not cheap and throwing working ones away is a waste of the resources used to make it in the first place. So I am one to believe in replacing dead bulbs with more energy-efficient versions, which nowadays means LEDs. They are funky looking for sure but they last ‘forever’ and use a fraction of the wattage, even compared to their older sibling, the fluorescent (i.e. CFLs) bulb.
Improve Yourself: Okay, so you might be saying to yourself that LEDs are expensive and sure, they can cost $5 to $10 per bulb or even more; while a CFL might only cost $1 or $2 per bulb. But you have to consider that LEDs use even less energy than CFLs and can last five times as long. So over the lifetime of an average LED bulb (50,000 hours), you can save more than $100 versus a CFL and more than $850 versus an incandescent.
Improve Our World: No matter what type of bulb you compare it to, the LED is clearly superior. Some 20% of the world’s energy is currently used for lighting, this could be reduced to just 4% if all bulbs were LEDs. The use of incandescents and CFLs release far more mercury into the atmosphere than do LEDs; and the shear bulk of trash created by these out-dated bulbs is obscene as compared to LEDs. Widespread use of LEDs in the US along could eliminate more than 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
When I put together the notes that became this G-FAQ series, I asked Katie to help me widdle down the much longer list I started with. But if you know anything about my G-FAQs, you know they tend to be, well, perhaps a bit wordy! So too not break with this tradition, I finish off this two-parter with the best tips that missed the Top Ten list of ideas to save you money and improve your life:
- Use reusable containers for packed meals instead of plastic bags.
- Drive the speed limit.
- For you apartment dwellers, grow lots of plants on your deck; and for you home/townhome owners, start a small veggie garden in your yard and/or a compost pile.
- Sleep your laptop (or desktop) at night and turn it off when it will stay dormant for extended periods.
- Turn the bathroom water faucet off when you brush your teeth, wash your face, etc.
- Turn down the temperature on your water heat.
- Wear an extra layer so you can turn down your thermostat even more.
Do you have an idea for a future G-FAQ? If so, let me know by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brock Adam McCarty