Environmental problems like climate change and air and water pollution may sometimes seem unsolvable, but there are many simple and inexpensive things you can do every day to help. The best place to start is your home. The average home in the United States causes twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as the average car, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so there’s a lot of room for improvement.
“It was the sum of billions of little actions that got us to this point,” says Patrick Gonzalez, a climate change scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “It’s really only the sum of a billion small solutions that will solve the problem.”
Replace Your Lightbulbs
If every American household replaced just one incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent one, the carbon savings would be the same as taking more than six million cars off the roads, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Talk about a small change with a big impact! “We could cut our nation’s electric bill by several billion dollars a year and prevent the need for two dozen power plants,” says Jennifer Powers, a spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
To maximize efficiency and savings, opt for lightbulbs approved by the EPA’s Energy Star program, which have passed rigorous quality tests.
Maximize Heating and Cooling Efficiency
Heating and cooling account for roughly half of a home’s energy use, on average. “Most homes have enough leaks and cracks — it’s the equivalent of leaving a window open all year,” says Maria Vargas, a spokesperson for the Energy Star program. To counteract this, she recommends air-sealing and insulating your home. Vargas also recommends changing the filters in your heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems regularly. Other easy tweaks? Insulate your hot water heater with a special insulating blanket and use a programmable thermostat to minimize the use of energy while you’re sleeping or away from home.
Eat Local and Organic
The NRDC estimates that the average American meal includes foods from five different countries. The shipping of these foods carries a heavy burden of increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Buying local foods is an easy way to help the environment and your local economy. Check out the NRDC’s Eat Local Web site to see what’s growing near you.
Also, make an effort to eat organic foods. “Not only is there a health benefit to you and your family, but pesticide production is very energy intensive and damaging to the environment,” says Powers.
Unplug Energy Vampires
You may not know it, but vampires are lurking in your home. Electronics that are left plugged in, such as cell phone chargers and computers, constantly use energy. “We suggest people in home offices plug their computers and printers into a power strip and turn the power strip off when they’re not using them,” says Powers. “This cuts off the vampire power that continuously leaks into the socket.”
You might think a screen saver cuts down on your computer’s energy consumption, but the computer is actually still running at full speed. If you can’t turn your computer off completely, be sure to put it in “sleep” or “hibernation” mode.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
It’s nearly impossible to overestimate the environmental benefits of reducing waste and recycling. For example, if every household in the United States replaced just one 250-count package of virgin fiber napkins with 100 percent recycled ones, one million trees would be saved, says Powers.
“You have multiple benefits from recycling paper — you not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but you actually conserve forest ecosystems,” adds Gonzalez.
Cans, bottles, computers, cell phones — anytime you recycle something, it helps reduce the amount of energy needed to produce and transport new products. It also saves space in our limited landfills.