So you want to save the planet, but you can’t afford to buy a Prius or build a solar-powered house off the grid.
Environmentalists and eco-friendly entrepreneurs say one way to start living a greener life is to make just a few simple changes in your habits.
Among more than 200 exhibitors at a “Go Green Expo” June 26-28 in Atlanta were businesses hawking wares designed to help people use less energy, produce less waste and have less of an impact on the environment.
From their products and advice were drawn this list of five things those of more modest means can do to live a greener life:
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Bring your own bags. The Georgia nonprofit GreenPlate Inc., which tries to persuade people to quit using petroleum-based plastic products, says consumers in the United States daily use more than a million plastic bags. Though many bags can be recycled, a lot of them still wind up in the trash, or on the roadside, or in the ocean.
According to GreenPlate’s Web site, “In the Pacific Ocean there’s an area twice the size of Texas where the plastic to plankton ratio is more than 6:1. We now know 90 percent of marine trash is made of plastic — and 80 percent comes from land and local watersheds. Plastic is being mistaken for krill, eaten by fish, and is now entering our food chain.”
Try to break the plastic-bag habit. Get cloth bags and keep them in your car to use when you buy groceries or other goods.
Bottle your own water. Polly Sattler of GreenPlate said a consumer can save from $375 to $1,500 by filtering water into a reusable bottle instead of buying bottled water. For $39, GreenPlate sells a stainless steel bottle with a filter inside. The filter can clean 100 gallons of water before it needs replacing, she said. A replacement filter costs $22. The steel bottle takes the place of 750 plastic water bottles, she said.
According to researcher Marcus Eriksen: “Our ‘throw away’ society produces 120 billion pounds of plastic in the U.S. alone, and recovers less than 5 percent.” When it comes to plastic water bottles, only 20 percent are recycled, said Wayne Griffin of Aqua Filter King, another producer of stainless steel, filter water bottles. The company’s campaigning to get college students to stop buying water in plastic bottles, noting that if 20,000 students each buy one bottle of water a week for 40 weeks, it adds up to 800,000 bottles, or 12 tons of plastic waste. Aqua Filter King is sending its product overseas to countries where water-borne diseases are a deadly threat.
Change your light bulbs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs use 70 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than conventional incandescent bulbs. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, taking out one 60-watt incandescent bulb and replacing it with a 13-watt compact fluorescent bulb can save you $30 before the bulb burns out. Incandescent bulbs burn hot, heating rooms and jacking up air-conditioning costs.
Another option: light-emitting diode or LED lights. They’re eight to 10 times more efficient than standard light bulbs, but according to RedBird LED of Atlanta, they can cost $24 or more, depending on the model. The benefit is that an LED light uses so much less energy that it soon pays for itself in reduced power costs. And it produces less heat, too. At the Atlanta expo, RedBird had a 46-watt halogen light and a 15-watt LED light each shining on a dark surface. Each light was equally bright, but the temperature on that black surface was 96 degrees under the LED, and 170 degrees under the halogen light.
Stop driving so much. When it’s practical, try taking the bus, biking or walking to work or to run errands. Besides burning gas and costing you money, cars contribute heavily to air pollution, and to water pollution, too, in parking lot runoff. Columbus is investing $12.5 million in a bike trail from downtown to Psalmond Road, and the Chattahoochee Riverwalk can be a scenic alternative for commuters or shoppers whose routes parallel the river.
If you think it’s too hot to pedal, consider this: Among the exhibitors at the Atlanta expo was Steven Bodenstein with Worldwide Electric Bikes Inc. of Marietta, who has come up with a kit that enables bicyclists to power their bikes with a rechargeable lithium-phosphate battery. It has a three-speed control. It can make a bike go up to 22 mph. It can last three years or 1,000 recharges, and you can ride your bike to work, slide the battery off, take it inside and plug it in by your desk. The battery-powered system will go 18-25 miles before it needs a recharge. The kit costs $650, but Bodenstein says it will work on any bike, including one he got at a yard sale for about $15. He also sells battery-powered bikes you can fold up and stick in your car trunk, for $779.
Grow your own food. Gardening is not just a satisfying hobby; it’s a money-saver, once you’re good at it. According to Daron Joffe of Farmer D Organics, a properly prepared 4-by-8-foot garden bed planted with greens, tomatoes, garlic, spinach, lettuce and peppers over the course of four seasons can save the grower $500 in grocery costs. Because of the weakened economy, more people are going green by growing their own goods, Joffe said. The nursery industry reports that vegetables and herbs have surpassed perennials in sales, and seed companies have more than doubled their business. Don’t have a yard to plant? Farmer D sells boxed beds that can rest atop a kitchen counter or out on an apartment balcony.
But of course you don’t have to mail-order a garden. You can get all you need at local shops, and get advice from your local extension service office. The one here in Muscogee County is now taking applications for a fall Master Gardener Class, held 9-11:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays Sept. 1-Nov. 6. For more information, call Jennifer Davidson at 706-653-4200.