7 Ways to Go a Little Greener

Screwing in some squiggly lightbulbs is on a growing list of “gimmes” for many who have taken some steps to go green. So what’s next, assuming you’re not so jazzed yet about making your own biodiesel or living off the grid?

1. Unplug!

… especially those big, blocky power plugs. They devour power — even when your cell isn’t in its charging dock or your computer or game box is shut down. In fact, 75% of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the devices are turned off, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Smart Power Strip

Make it routine: Pull the plugs before hitting the hay or leaving the house, or use power strips and just switch off the strips. Better yet, slash phantom watt-gobbling without reaching behind hulking sofas and media armoires with smart power strips that feature auto-off or let you kill the juice to your entire home theater system or workstation by hitting the regular power button on the TV or PC.

2. Buy some green power

Solar Farm

So maybe you’re not having solar panels hoisted onto your roof just yet. You can still buy some clean power. Over 500 utilities in more than 30 states offer programs that let you buy green power, or at least nudge your utility by supporting their investment in renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Read our full Green Power story online for a map of programs in your area.

3. Sing it: “I want my green TV”

Can you make toast with bicycle power? Insulate a crawlspace with recycled denim? Sub in “Living with Ed” for just one of those guilty-pleasure TV shows you indulge in — and you, too, can learn to do these and other uncommon yet simple things to shrink your footprint.

Actor and eco-activist Ed Begley, Jr., achieves these feats of green in this hit reality TV show without estranging his “poor, beleaguered wife who is more interested in aesthetics, while I’m mainly interested in how things work.” It’s a reality-TV “Green Acres for the new millennium,” he says. “I’m Eddie Albert and Rachelle is Eva Gabor.” Catch season 1 of “Living with Ed” on Gaiam DVD, watch HGTV for Season 3, and read the rest of our interview with Ed Begley here.

4. Beef up your insulation

A whopping 40-50% of our utility bills goes for heating and cooling our homes and businesses, according to the DOE — and those systems also emit 150 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Put your utility bill on a diet by adding more insulation in your attic or even having extra insulation blown into walls. … Or just start with insulated curtains, draft dodgers and radiant barrier foil. “Many existing homes are woefully underinsulated,” says green-living guru John Schaeffer in the Energy Conservation chapter of the Solar Living Sourcebook. “Exterior walls and underfloors are often completely ignored, and attic insulation levels are sometimes more in tune with the 1950s. For most of North America, you want a minimum of R-11 insulation in floors, R-19 in walls, and R-30 in ceilings — and higher in northern climes.” With the right combination of insulation levels, regular equipment maintenance and adjusted thermostat settings, you could cut your energy use 20-50% and reduce environmental emissions at the same time.

5. Recycle more than the no-brainers

Read our Recycling FAQ to go beyond glass, aluminum and paper, and find dropoff locations in your area for all manner of stuff there’s no sense sending to a landfill. From milk bottles to cardboard, batteries, cast-off cell phones, even foam packing material, there’s a lot you can recycle that you may be tossing in the landfill now. Most American households can easily trim their trash to one receptacle or less per week by recycling paperboard and cardboard packaging and composting food scraps.

Recycling Bins

If your community is one of the thousands across the country using a “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) system, where you pay a small fee per trash bag or container instead of one flat fee, you may even be able to save on your trash pickup bill. Since recycling services are often a set charge no matter how much you have, PAYT offers significant economic rewards for those who recycle more and therefore generate less waste; studies by the Environmental Protection Agency show that PAYT programs across the country have increased recycling 32-59% and reduced waste by up to 20%.

Don’t overlook “precycling.” Recycling is better than mindlessly tossing stuff in the trash if it can be turned into something new and useful. But reducing, reusing, repurposing, and buying items with less wasteful packaging save on the resources it takes to recycle those bottles, cans, cartons and printouts. Read 3 Ways to Slash Your Trash for tips.

6. Commute creatively

You knew we’d get this one in. Most experts agree it’s still the elephant in the room for the average Joe and Jane, ‘cause transportation gobbles half the world’s total energy usage. If you haven’t already, make an effort to get the heck out of your car more, especially if it’s a gas-guzzler. Carpool, bike or bus at least one day a week, telecommute, work flextime so you drive one less day per week, work closer to home, get a hybrid or other more fuel-efficient commuter car, buy a diesel and fill up at a biodiesel filling station …. Do whatever you can to step up to a more responsible way of getting around.

7. Get a green thumb

Growing a few veggies, even if you’re yardless and have only some big pots full o’dirt on a balcony, helps the planet because of the fuel and “food-miles” it takes to get produce to your supermarket, especially foods that aren’t in season or plants that don’t thrive in your neck of the woods. The food we eat travels an average distance of 1,500 miles from farm to plate, says CUESA, the Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture in San Francisco. Such road-weary produce can’t possibly be as fresh as local or homegrown fare, not to mention the effects that its processing and transportation have on the environment. Get some gardening tips here and if you’ll be planting in pots, start here.

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