Going Green during Covid-19 – An Earth Day Action ListPosted by Whole Earth | 04.21.2020
An Earth Day Action List
Whole Earthling Raanan Robertson has been studying ways to go green at home for quite a while. Here are some of his findings that can help us make everyday Earth Day.
ELECTRICITY CONSERVATION TIPS
1. Spend more time in your backyard
It may not surprise you that the best way to reduce the energy consumption indoors is to spend time outdoors instead. Social distancing means that many parks and recreational areas currently have limited access or are completely shut down, but most of us have a small slice of nature in our own backyards. Turn off those lights, ease up on the thermostat, give the fans a break and dust off that hammock or lawn chair you’ve been neglecting in storage.
2. Take advantage of natural lighting, open windows and mirrors
If you don’t have a backyard, the weather is crummy, your batteries are low, or your work demands the accommodations of indoor life, the next best thing is a window.
Consider relocating your desk to the nearest window and hike up those blinds. This might allow you to turn off a couple lights, maintains the added benefits of vitamin D, and the sun’s yellow rays are much gentler on the eyes than your standard, blue-wave fluorescent or LED lighting.
If you are struggling to get natural light distributed throughout your home, try mirrors. If light is entering your home and going unused, chances are good you’re paying for it in more ways than one: it may be radiating heat on your walls or refrigerator door, causing your HVAC and fridge to work even harder to maintain homeostasis. Redirect that natural light with a few well-placed mirrors to your workspace, and you save on electricity multiple times over. A mirror uses no electricity and does not have to be unplugged.
3. Solar panels, solar lights and portable power
You don’t have to break the bank on an installment plan for a rooftop solar array although if you can afford it initially you’ll be rejoicing about your utility bills for years to come. Small portable solar exists at approachable prices and is more than adequate to offset your utilities.
There are small solar lanterns and even solar fans that take care of themselves, recharging during the day when you don’t need them, and ready to go at night when you do. Pro tip for solar lights: solar lanterns and panels can absolutely be powered by the lights in your home. So on a cloudy day, or any time while you need to run those bulbs at their maximum 60 Watts, take full advantage of the energy you’re burning by converting some of it with the photovoltaic cells on your solar devices! True, incandescent light bulbs are nowhere near as effective as the sun, and LEDs even less so. But each one does your solar lantern more good than the zipped-up duffel where it sits in darkness.
Sunlight > Incandescent bulb > LED > moonlight
4. Keep your idle devices unplugged
Most of us have left devices plugged into our car’s USB ports from time to time, and suffered the frustration of returning to a drained car battery. This is an ample and familiar illustration of the energy draw that small devices can place on an electrical system over time.
While your house doesn’t run on a giant lead-acid battery the same way a car does, the toll small devices place on efficiency nevertheless remains. So to reduce both carbon footprint and electricity bills, it is best to unplug those idling devices and appliances. An easy way to achieve this is to plug as many devices as you can safely afford into central power strips, and use the on/off switches on the power strips to cut voltage for items not in use.
5. Seek non-digital indoor activities
Many of us find ourselves bored during off-work hours, swiping through social media, watching random YouTube clips, streaming shows, or flipping through apps on our phones. The energy required to support streaming online content is far more than people realize.
The good news about books and puzzles is that their batteries never die, they’re easier on the eyes, they engage your attention span for longer periods, their carbon footprint is extremely low, and they teach you something! (In the case of puzzles, spatial reasoning.) Learning an acoustic instrument, how to bake or juggle, or playing board games with your homebound companions all engage your body and mind in ways that electronics fail to do and without the destructive effects of our screen’s excessive blue light.
6. Change your air filters
In addition to improving the air quality of your home and thereby your family’s health, replacing your air filters approximately every three months will improve the efficiency of your ventilation system and also reduce costs on your energy bill. Old air filters will have accumulated contaminants and possibly mold, rendering the air you breathe less pure. On top of this, they will make your HVAC work harder to pump the same amount of air to effectively cool or heat your space. As a result, you pay more for dirtier air.
7. Plant native trees around your house
The benefits of trees are too numerous to list here exhaustively, but apropos of electricity, they are excellent providers of natural shade and will cool your house during hot summer months. Trees will purify the air, provide more oxygen (that’s a handy element useful for all kinds of things), and sequester carbon dioxide. The more that trees inhabit shared spaces, the more they retain soil during floods, keeping your lawn in good repair, and form information networks with vital microbiota that benefit your garden. What a virtuous cycle.
WASTE MANAGEMENT TIPS
1. Convert old cotton clothing into rags
Paper towels and napkins are ubiquitous - you cannot order a to-go meal these days without receiving five times the necessary quantity of napkins. Ditch those household disposables, ask your local restaurants to hold the napkins, and do this instead: go through your dresser or unearth that bag of discarded clothing you’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill and convert your unwanted 100% cotton clothes into reusable kitchen rags!
Why cotton? It is highly water-absorbent (therefore an effective sponge), and friendlier to the environment when put through the washer and will biodegrade. The new cotton rags you’ve created (a single shirt will yield as many as 8 rags) can also replace disposable sponges in your sink, which are hotbeds for bacterial growth and are rarely cleaned effectively.
Pro tip: the verdict on using laundry lint as a campfire starter is mixed, largely because polyester fibers are often involved. But if you run all cotton loads by combining your kitchen rags with other linens, the lint produced is much cleaner to burn, and a more effective firestarter to boot. Just remember to store your lint in sealed, fire-safe containers, and away from flames or flammable substances.
2. Check your composting options
Many cities have started municipal composting programs along with garbage and recycling curbside pickup. The programs will accept a wider array of items than might typically work for your home garden compost pile: egg shells, any paper products (minus foil or plastic caps), cardboard, paper towels, vacuum cleaner contents, sawdust from untreated lumber, even pet hair! It simply depends on the intended use for the compost being collected.
Check your city’s website for collection best-practices, you may be surprised to find things you’ve been throwing away or recycling that can be composted instead. Those toilet paper wads you used to blow your nose or wipe your sink after a shave, for instance, might be compostable in your area, and keeping them out of the sewer system reduces costs associated with sewage processing, not to mention the excess water required to flush them and the potential for pipes clogged by hair shavings.
3. Run your sink’s garbage disposal minimally
A garbage disposal consumes a fair amount of water and energy, and ultimately combines its output with your septic system, further burdening the job that sewage plants must do. The material collected by your drain plugs that might normally go down the disposal system can instead be rerouted to your compost.
4. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, in that order
The slogan may be hackneyed, yet nevertheless rings true. Before recycling, it’s better to reuse, and before reusing, it’s better never to have acquired at all. You can reduce waste by refusing the disposable plasticware offered by restaurants. You can reuse items by repurposing found materials, as in the case of dish rags mentioned above. Delaying those recyclables from the processing stream a little longer will flatten the load and demand on processing facilities, thereby streamlining the sorting phase.
The sad truth is that some recyclables still wind up in the landfill due to mixed/corrupted streams, and it is worth mentioning that the processes required for recycling certain products levy their own small carbon footprint. Reusing recyclable containers delays the rate at which recycled goods reach their final destination.
5. Avoid landfills if possible
The cost of landfills on the environment is a double whammy. Beyond their incursions to wildlife, soil quality, water quality, available space, and the health of local residents, believe it or not, they are also a major contributor of greenhouse gases. Landfills produce a liquid substance known as “leachate” which results from rainwater runoff mixed with chemicals and decomposing matter, a toxic byproduct that is simultaneously a notorious emitter of methane gas.
The bottom line: keep what you can from reaching the landfill whenever possible.
6. Eat less meat
Speaking of methane, animal agriculture is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, largely due to its methane output. Furthermore, animal agriculture causes a devastating amount of deforestation, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. This doesn’t mean you have to go completely vegetarian or vegan, but finding ways to reduce your meat-intake throughout the week will lighten your impact as well as your grocery bill. Furthermore, animal bones are not compostable, and therefore rot away in landfills, further adding the leachate volume and producing more methane post-use.
WATER CONSERVATION TIPS
1. Keep a wash tub in your sink
If you’re accustomed to washing dishes by hand, a wash tub in your sink can reduce the amount of water that goes down the drain. Fill it with hot water (or catch excess water from a rinse and heat it later), add soap, and wash your dishes without a constant stream on tap. If you have a dishwasher, however, they are incredibly water efficient, so that is often the best choice when you have enough dishes to make a full load.
2. Keep a bucket in your shower
For the same reasons that a wash tub can conserve sink water, a bucket can save shower water. So-called gray water is not potable, but can be applied to other uses depending upon the soaps and chemicals in your shampoo-of-choice. Water for plants is perhaps the easiest application, but you can also use it to flush your toilet bowl instead of flushing fresh water every time. And of course, keep your showers short and as infrequent as hygienically/socially possible.
3. Rethink your lawn care
Many lawns need far less water than people realize. Although heat spells can cause grass to turn yellow in patches where moisture has dried up, the grass itself does not exactly die during the common drought -- it lives on in its roots, and will reappear during the next plentiful rain. If watering your lawn is purely a matter of aesthetics, perhaps rethink how often you turn on that sprinkler if your neighborhood association will allow it.
When it comes to trees and certain shrubs, “spoiled trees” that have been overwatered will grow quickly (just as with excess fertilizer), but will not learn how to cope with major droughts on their own. On the other hand, if you allow them to weather the occasional drought without watering, they will learn to adapt naturally, holding water in reserves, and kicking in their own water conservation methods. Some trees close up their stomata pores and reduce photosynthesis when they sense arid climates, changing the appearance of their leaves.
4. Meet the problem at its source
This principle is similar to the observation about lighting in the home -- much of it goes unused. Rarely do we require faucets on at full blast, and when we forget to turn them off while brushing teeth or shaving, the volume of wasted water can be both costly and unsustainable. Low-flow attachments are inexpensive, and earn back their upfront costs many times over. Before we reuse the excess water, the best thing we can do is meet the problem at its source by turning down the faucet. An apt metaphor for virtually all environmental causes.