Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Single Stream Recycling


After a very green Thanksgiving, spent volunteering at the local homeless shelter, our family's 10th year of the tradition, I came home and watched some NFL football at my parents house.  Tony Romo and the Cowboys were given quite a scary by the wily Miami Dolphins squad, but they pulled it out in the end.  My father asked me to take a bag of garbage down to the trash and next to his garbage barrel, was another one marked "single stream recycling."  This was news to me, so I decided to research more.



Single stream or "fully commingled" recycling basically means that all recyclable materials: papers, plastics, glass, metals are combined, and then sorted at the recycling facility.  Traditionally, separate collections of paper and other materials was the norm, and required separate containers.  I think the new single-stream method is far superior and offers significant benefits, but obviously these come with added costs.


The benefits end up making recycling more attractive.  People are busy and if a process requires too much time, it will simply be cut out, even by those with the best intentions.  Separating and maintaing different locations for different types of recyclables is a time consuming process and many people may simply opt to throw everything into the garbage instead of bothering with sorting.  Single-stream makes it much easier, since all recyclable material is combined, making recycling much easier for people to implement.  Collection costs go down as well since trucks can simply combine all materials together, instead of needing separate locations for paper or glass only. 

The downside is that all new things come at a cost.  There is the capital investment required to produce new containers and to educate people about the new system.  Then there are extra ongoing costs for processing the combined recycling into separate piles.  Another legitimate concern is the fact that the recyclables will be contaminated by extra dirty things being thrown in due to careless recyclers.  For example, if paper is contaminated it can only be recycled to a lower quality use.


The chance to increase recycling, by making the process easier, far outweighs the added costs.  The costs could be funded by other recycling taxes such as bottle deposits or a small tax.  Any reasonable measure to increase recycling participation should be considered and gradually implemented.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hartford, CT Power Outage



The recent power outage in the Hartford, CT/New England area was a hard and unexpected look into what our society would be like without the abundance of energy we use on a daily basis.  Almost all facets of life were affected, from work, entertainment, and education to our more basic needs such as food, warmth, transportation, and hygiene.  all of these things require natural resources, and our society has been optimized to run on affordable resources.


Several situations made me think how important it is to develop strategies and prepare for when resources become more scarce.  Immense lines at the gas station and lack of quality foods on the few grocery stores that were open are two such examples.  Taking steps to limit their use now will help give us more time to solve these issues.  Finding robust sources of renewable energy should be a key goal of corporations and governments.
 
People were completely shocked and in many instances crippled by the lack of power and the flaws of the distribution system which I believe wastes resources and keeps minimal stock on hand, so essentials are gobbled up rapidly.  I am aware that people have become used to modern conveniences and I am not suggesting that we take a step back in technology, because thats not practical.  

I am simply saying that we take advantage of this as we have been prompted pretty harshly.

PS: I hope all readers are well and no one suffered extensive damage to body or property!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Follow Up: Drink Bottled Water

" In 1976 Americans drank an average of 1.6 gallons of bottled water every year. Roughly 30 years later consumption increased to 30 gallons per person, according to the Earth Policy Institute —- despite the fact that bottled water can cost anywhere from 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water, which is brought right to your home for pennies a gallon. " (link)
Solution: Buy a reuseable water bottle!



Thursday, October 13, 2011

Give Green Gifts

 This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.


With the holiday season on the horizon, we are entering the busiest retail time of the year.  While many see this as a time to purchase as many new goods as possible, regardless of their cost, for their family and friends.  Those of us who read Think, Act, Prosper also see it as a time of increased environmental damage.  Traveling all over creation to visit shopping plazas to purchase items imported from the other side of the planet, increases pollution and damage signifcantly.  I choose to see it as an opportunity to go green by giving environmentally friendly gifts.


The easiest way to do this is to make something yourself.  This low environmental impact strategy will result in a personal gift that literally represents you, while allowing personal tailoring to specifically fit the intended recipient. Give a food lover an excellent home-cooked treat, home brew some excellent homemade beer.  If you know how to knit, knit blankets or something else useful.  Don't stop at just the gift, give homemade cards or ornaments as well. 

Send an electronic Christmas card instead of a paper one!  This will save paper and reduce clutter and waste.


For gamers consider gifting an online video game or game subscription such as World of Warcraft or Xbox Live.  If you are a sportsbettor, give him some money to bet on an online sportsbook or a ticket to a local professional sporting event.  Another idea is a gift card to a local, sustainable restaurant that the person would love.   Take your dad out for a day of golf or give the less handy an oil change gift card, or offer to do it for them!  If its in your gift budget, give a bicyle or a less expensive piece of sports equipment that will keep them outdoors and fit.


Wrapping paper is one of the most egregious and foolish wastes of the holiday season.  It may look pretty, for a few seconds, but the environmental costs FAR outweigh any momentarily aesthetical benefit.  Instead use older boxes, bags or something more creative. 


Most importantly, do not settle for the "cheap" $40 made-in-China sweater that is ill-fitting, and probably wont be appreciated.  This contributes to environmental destruction and wastes your money!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Use Rechargeable Batteries

 This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.


Batteries can be a cause of extraordinary environmental damage if disposed of incorrectly.  They can leak corrosive acids into the earth and poision it for years to come.  First of all, dispose of all electronics in a responsible manner, do not simply dump them in the trash and hope for the best.  This type of laziness will be the cause of terrible consequences in the years to come.


Rechargeable batteries are a great way to go green that will save money and help the environment.  For a small initial investment, you can re-use your batteries many times.  Batteries are already pretty expensive, and rechargeables do not have a huge premium.  A small price to pay for preventing potentially destructive waste from old forgotten batteries thrown into landfills!


Cameras, remote controllers, old toys, xbox control sticks, flashlights and other appliances can all use rechargeable batteries, and many times a universal charging station can be head to simultaneously charge these different formats.  Check a local hardware store, support local businesses!  Make sure to fully charge batteries, as partial charges are known to negatively affect battery life.

As always, turn off appliances when not in use.  Even though you are recharging the batteries, we always want to conserve all energy when possible!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Make Things Yourself

 This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.


Homemade/DIY projects are fun to do and can be extremely beneficial to the environment.  If you are not ready to grow your own food then buy fresh, local, unprocessed foods and cook up a nice recipe.  If cooking isn't your forte, then maybe arts and crafts are.  Consider giving homemade greeting cards based on your own photography!


The reason that making things yourself is green is because it does not require much economic activity.  You are not buying plastic goods produced at an environmentally degrading factory halfway across the world, then paying for pollution causing transport and then retailing costs, both financial and environmental. 

Many people like to make household items that the can actually use.  For example, instead of buying wasteful paper towels, re-use old rags or make new ones from old garments.  Others may consider making their own soap, cleaning solutions, or toothpaste.  This saves a TON of money and also limits the damage done by commercial factories.


In general, making or doing things oneself allows us to totally control and thus limit environmental damage.  When you buy something at a store, you never truly know all the details regarding where it came from and what methods were used to produce it, including their relevant environmental damage.  In addition, it can be extremely satisfying to make something using your own creative meddle.  Making something could spark a new hobby or even a potential small business!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Conserve Water in Everyday Situations


 This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.


Conservation of resources is one of the tenets of going green.  Society has made possible many luxuries that are quite affordable, but can have far-reaching costs for the environment and our future.  Running water is taken for granted by many, as it is nearly universal and affordable.  However, wasting this water is not green and should be avoided, no matter what.  Some of the earlier tips including running full loads will save both electricity and water.

 One simple way that I try to employ and think will be incredibly easy to implement in your lives is taking shorter and less frequent showers.  I am not advocating any stop bathing completely and become a dirty hippy, but certainly there are ways to shorten your showers so you can save valuable water.  Showers use gallons and gallons of water, and at minimum 25% of the water used is probably wasted.  There are water conserving shower-heads available as well, for those who want to take the next step.

Another pet peeve of mine is when people leave the water running while brushing their teeth.  This is completely unnecessary and pure laziness.  Simply turn of the water while you are brushing, and turn it on and off to rinse off.  This also applies to washing dishes by hand, turn off the stream while you are scrubbing!


I truly believe that water will and should become much more expensive in the next years.  Whether this is from a "green tax" imposed by governments, which would go to providing for other green pursuits, or if it is due to dwindling resources.  Like the bottle deposit, there should be a high cost for wasting water, which will cause people to reconsider their water usage.  Punishment, especially financial, works a lot better than rewards.  The people who decide to continue wasting should suffer a much larger penalty and some of those dollars diverted to other ways of going green.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Do not Run Partial Loads in Dishwasher/Laundry

  This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.


Of course it is probably more green to wash your clothes and dishes by hand, but with modern green technology, the difference is fairly minimal. Also, this series is seeking to provide practical ways to go green that will actually have results. In the words of some economist, "the low hanging fruit."

This tip follows the same thought process as driving less. Strive to get the maximum utility out of the energy we use. In the case of driving you don't take a trip for each errand, instead wait until you have a number of stops to make and hit them all at once. In this case, when you have dirty dishes or laundry wait until you have a full load to run the washing machine.



These machines are designed to run with full loads, and are more efficient this way. Waiting for a full load will conserve water, electricity and cleaning soap in one fell swoop.

Don't wear your clothes just a single time. Often they aren't dirty yet, and can be worn a couple more times. The less often you wash a piece of clothing, the longer it lasts. Also there is more $ in your pocket from spending less on energy and using cleaning soap slower.

For dishes, wash off sticky sauces by hand before putting in the dishwasher, so you don't have to wash again after the cycle. Also feel free to wash by hand if you have time, but make sure to shut the water off while scrubbing.



A final step is to not overuse soap. It is bad for the machine and will cause it to break down earlier. Also you will conserve more soap. Consider eco-friendly soap options if your budget can afford it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Turn Off the Lights

 This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.


We have already touched upon conserving gas when driving and we all know that we should reuse and repurpose old clothes and furniture.  Another aspect of our life that we can improve our green footprint is electricity consumption.  The easiest and most effective is to shut off the lights!

When you are done in the room, shut the lights off.  Leaving them on wastes electricity and causes more pollution by needing to produce more.  You do not need the lights on downstairs if you are upstairs, so shut them off.  This applies to other electronics, such as TVs, video games, computers, and even microwaves, just shut them off once you are finished using them.  Some people advocate unplugging them completely to save a tiny bit more energy, but not here on this list.  I am trying to offer and promote tips that are practical to implement but will actually provide results.


Another tip is to use energy conserving light bulbs and appliances, which I totally support.  Although, I believe you should use the items you already have before buying new ones.  Even for green products, there is a cost to producing each of these units, so finish using the items you have, and when it's time to replace them, consider the environmentally friendly options.

A final trick that I learned from my father is to automate the shutting off procedure for appliances.  Lights outside, inside, heating, and fans can all be set on timers instead of switches.  If you are handy, which is definitely green, then go ahead and still these timers yourself!  At my parents house we had the bathroom/shower fan set to a maximum of 20 minutes, then it would shut off automatically.  If you are taking longer than 20 minutes in the shower, that is not green!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Green Garbage?

This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.


Garbage in the US is a major environmental problem.  Landfills are disgusting and they are rapidly growing, they waste potentially beautiful space, and are a symptom of our toxic culture.  We know that putting all that trash in one place can't be good for the earth, so learn to effecitively deal with your waste in a way that harms the environment as little as possible. 

In our house, there are three places that we put trash: compost, recycling and the trash barrel. (as a last resort)  Many things can be composted and recycled, so they do not have to be thrown out.  Old food can be composted and used as a fertilizer for you to grow your own food.  Almost all paper plastic and metal can be recycled, and since we have single stream recycling, they all go in the same barrel. 


Finally, if all else fails and you simply have to throw it away, then do so.  Make sure to dispose of electronics properly as chips and batteries contain corrosive ingredients which can hurt the environment substantially, if thrown into a landfill.  Also consider donating items of clothing, furniture, and media to thrift shops or onto the free section of Craigslist.  This will give others a chance to give your stuff a second lease on life!

As you can see, none of these suggestions will take that much additional time or effort, but I assure you the benefits will be worth the increased effort.  Consider the implications of what you do before you do it, that's the motto here at Think Act Prosper.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reusable Water Bottles

This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.

 This tip may seem pretty obvious and simple to many of you readers, yet everyday I see discarded Poland Springs, Dasani, and Smart Water bottles all over the place. First of all, buying these bottles is a raw deal, the markup is insane! Even when bought in bulk (which is bad for the environment) the cost is still high considering it's just filtered water. Don't even get me started on the LA restaurant Bazaar's "water bar".




The solution is to buy a reusable water bottle, I have a Sigg and Nalgene, and my wife has a Camelbak, I'm sure there are other quality vendors like Klean Kanteen, etc, but that doesnt really matter. The point is to get one, it should be available locally for under 20 bucks. Wash it out and start carrying it daily. 


Fill it everywhere you go, the tap at home, if your water is good, or through a filter such as a Brita. Public water fountains and many workplaces offer filtered water, the bubbler at the gym, whatever. Every time you refill it you are saving .25-2$, and you are not potentially creating waste and by limiting reliance on plastic bottles lowering pollution!

If you do have to resort to buying water, buy a large gallon or other container, return it for a bottle deposit where applicable, or put it with your other plastic recyclables.  Then when you are done with it, re-purpose it, like used shopping bags, as its own reusable water bottle (consider BPAs which many water bottles have)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shopping Bags

This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.


Almost all retailers provide plastic or paper bags for every transaction and customer.  These are often provided at no additional costs, and thus customers do not value them.  This adds up to lots of waste and pollution, since people discard these bags after bringing home their purchases.  There are many easy solutions to this issue that would significantly curb this unnecessary waste.  


My favorite is reusable bags.  This could mean a burlap sack, cloth bag, or a plastic bag that is durable.  Packing these on the way to your store is a simple step, then simply bag the groceries/items yourself or give them to the bagging person.  These bags can be acquired in many ways; given out free as marketing or promotion, purchased from a dollar at a retailer or given by family and friends.  Even consider using a backpack especially when you are not driving. Many retailers even offer small incentives for bringing your own bags.  Trader Joe's enters your in a drawing for a gift card and Whole Foods offers 5 cents a bag.  
For those times that you forget to bring your reusable bags and need to use store provided ones, there are a few things you can do to limit harm.  First, fill the bags up, so you don't use more than you need.  Second, reuse or re-purpose these bags at home, there are tons of different applications, something will always come up that gives these bags a second lease on life.  Finally, after they have run their useful life, recycle them properly, rather than putting them into the garbage.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Grow Your Own Food

This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.

Food is one of the primary reasons that civilization was formed.  Specialization in agriculture allowed a smaller number of people to dedicate their lives to food production.  The rest of the population were free to think up other ways to contribute to society, and coincidentally degrade the environment.  Now, I am not suggesting that everyone quit their jobs start a self-sustaining farm, but the food industry and our role as consumers presents a great way to go green.  I have advocated buying local before, but lets take it a step further, what could be more local than your back yard.


Check out JD's garden project @ Get Rich Slowly.  He uses his land to grown his own vegetables, and takes detailed notes.  If you are new to gardening, which I assume most of you will be, I would avoid taking on such a large project initially.  Figure out what is normally grown locally, then research on the internet or library, so you are comfortable with how to plant, maintain, harvest and store your chosen crops.  Don't be too adventurous at first, buy already started plants, and use their seeds in the coming seasons.  Just try to get started, the first step is everything is always the hardest. 

Although there will be some upfront costs and labor, it will be worth it when you harvest your first crops, knowing that you are not contributing to the environmental damage of factory farms and commercial agriculture.  I wager that the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor will be much tastier and more nourishing, than their store-bought cousins.

I know that a lot of you live in urban areas and probably think its impossible to grow food in these areas.  This should not stop you though.  Look into getting a parcel at a local community garden, such as Boston's Back Bay Fens. Another option is to grow herbs or a potted vegetable plant on the apartment balcony. 

If you want to take it even further, and have the space, consider raising livestock.  Chicken are probably the easiest, and only require a chicken coop, and the necessary food.  Your chicken will have offspring quickly, and your flock will develop providing you with eggs and roasters, if you are so inclined.  

If you are extremely busy or absolutely do not have a green thumb, at least take steps to source food locally or from organic sources.  This will not have the same effect, but will lower environmental damage.  Vote with your dollars to support the local economy and companies or individuals involved in green agriculture.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Drive Slowly

This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.


As I mentioned in yesterday's tip, driving is one of the largest contributors to pollution.  In addition to driving less often, the manner in which we drive can have a huge impact on the environment.



Every time you hit the brakes you are wasting energy expended to get you up to that speed.  Driving slowly, at or below the speed limit will make you waste less from braking.  Also more fuel is used to attain and maintain higher speeds, which means driving slower will conserve gas.  Speeding up to 70 MPH from 55 MPH does not save you much time on your commute, so don't do it.

Another benefit is safety on the roads.  As a reader of this blog, you are someone who cares about going green you do not want to ever do harm to others.  Driving fast is not as safe, and by driving more slowly, lowers the risk of accident.  If a car accident occurs, expensive new parts or even a replacement is not a good use of resources, especially if it could have been avoided by driving slower.

Another green driving tip is to always maintain your car with scheduled oil change and emissions checks.  This limit damage done to the environment by dirty emissions.  This will also lower the rate of break downs and save you from costly repairs and replacements.  Not idling in your car, when it is unnecessary, will also conserve gas.  Turning the AC off and opening your windows will help the environment as well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Drive Less, Walk, Bike, or Use Public Transit instead



Driving in the car is one of the biggest problems with pollution in our society.  Although, it may be unavoidable, especially in the suburban sprawl that most the US population is located in, there are many ways to mitigate the damage of this unnecessary evil.  The first way to go green in regards to the car is to drive less.  If you don't need to go somewhere, don't just take a drive on a whim.  Consider carpooling, so multiple people do not drive to the same location, wasting fuel and polluting the environment.  Make sure to take a well-planned trip, when you do drive in the car, get multiple things done in a single trip, rather than leaving the house each time you need a single item.


There are many transportation alternatives, although they are most applicable in urban environments.  Public transport is very convenient in many cities and is a great way to go green.  Moving multiple people in a single vehicle, rather than each of them driving in their own vehicle.  Many buses use clean natural gas, and subway trains utilize electricity.  If the trip is short, then just walk, you will get exercise, and also benefit the environment.  Consider riding your bike for short-mid length trips, that don't require you to carry many things, it uses no energy and is quite fun!

Other options to consider are hybrid vehicles, like the Toyota Prius, which get 50 MPG.  When shopping for cars, consider their environmental impact, especially based on your needs.  For example, as a single commuter, you don't need a Jeep SUV, go for something smaller.


This is part of my series: 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.

Monday, September 12, 2011

20 Ways to Go Green that Make a Difference

You always see tips to go green that are very small and will not make a difference.  I have drawn up a list of 20 effective tips that will do the most overall good.  Please feel free to leave any posts in the comments that you think I missed, lets only include things that will really make an impact and is practical to implement.  I am going to also expand on each of these in a separate post, and will edit this page with the links each time.

1) Drive less 
2) Drive at or below speed limit, saves gas and is safer
3) Eat local food, less resources used for transport and supports local farmers
4) Grow your own vegetables, even if its just herbs in your window
5) Bring your own bags to the grocery store, fully reuse paper/plastic bags if you forget
6) Drink from a reusable water bottle
7) Green garbage?
8) Turn off lights when you are not using them
9) Run full loads in the dishwasher/laundry
10) Conserve water in everyday situations
11) Make things yourself
12) Use rechargeable batteries
15) Give green gifts
19) Limit food packaging, buy food in bulk