At some point, even a Green Dad turns tomato-red with embarrassment.
As much as I care about the environment, I’ve made my gaffes, some measured in terms of years as opposed to the occasional slip-up. Take batteries: I used to throw them out. You’d think I would’ve changed when I learned how much damage those leeching chemicals do to the environment.
There you would be wrong. You see, I was too busy, lazy or otherwise distracted to figure out how to recycle batteries. Then I found out you can take them, in many cases, to the nearest pharmacy. Ugh. I felt like sticking my head between the Energizer Bunny’s proverbial bass drum mallets.
But now I know better. And armed with information I’ve gleaned over the last 12 months, I’ve decided to list 11 eco-resolutions for 2011 — changes in behavior that honor the spirit of this column, which is all about saving the environment and some cash at the same time. (They don’t call me Green Dad for nothing.)
And so, the resolutions:
1) Recycle electronics. I wrote about this in my Christmas Recycling column, but it’s good all year ‘round. I’m not going to junk my obsolete cell phones or video games. Instead, I’m going to Target. In April 2010, Target set up recycling centers at all of its 1,740 stores, and they can handle all sorts of items from MP3 players and phones to those dreaded printer ink cartridges, which beg you to throw them in the trash when you know you shouldn’t.
Old computers can be repurposed, too, through nonprofits such as InterConnection.org, based in Washington state. Did you know that computer reuse is 20 times more energy efficient than recycling?
2) Buy rechargeable cells. It's a great way to keep batteries out of landfills. Caution: Stay away from NiCd (nickel-cadmium), banned in Europe because of the environmental hazards of cadmium. Instead, go for the newfangled nickel-metal hydrides (NiMH), which last almost as long as lithium cells. And when they're spent after many, many charges, you will recycle them, right?
3) Leverage your leg power. Remember that Bold Resolution about going to the gym? Already starting to feel a bit stale on that one, eh? Here’s a thought: Walk more and use the car less when you have routine errands. And as soon as the weather gets warm enough for you, get out that bike and pedal from place to place. Imagine: You can put your feet to work and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.
4) Use your (shower)head. This one comes courtesy of the Lazy Environmentalist, Josh Dorfman. He recommends a low-flow showerhead called the Evolve Roadrunner, because it boasts good water pressure and an intelligent water-saving feature: Once the water heats to 95 degrees, water slows to a trickle until you pull a lever. "Evolve did some research and most people turn on the shower, then go make the bed or do something else while the hot water’s running," Dorfman says. And at $39.95, the Roadrunner "would probably pay for itself in a year."
5) Paperless is more. My colleague at AOL’s WalletPop, Jean Chatzky, makes an excellent point about a top virtue of going paperless: It saves not only trees but also your most valuable personal resource as well. "Banking online saves you time," Chatzky writes, "the time you’d spend going to your local bank branch to transfer funds, the time you spend dropping payments at the post office and the time you also spend looking for the bills you need to pay in the piles around your kitchen."
6) Learn your public transit lines. Not a week goes by where I don’t learn some new connection or alternate route in Chicago’s transit system. Put such knowledge to use and you can turn commuting time into getting-stuff-done time. It’s getting easier to gauge wait times, too, as more major cities unveil tracking systems for bus routes that go straight to smartphones. Before January is out, Chicagoans will be able to track local train lines, too.
7) Strategic planning for car errands. If you must drive to cover considerable distances, don’t do what I do and take the car out to go food shopping, then go out an hour later for something else. Instead, take five minutes to plan out all your errands and map them into a round trip that connects the dots of your to-dos into one sensible route. Over the course of a year, this can save you hundreds of dollars in gas.
8) Shop at local farmers' markets. Speaking of gas savings, here’s a twofer: Visit the farmers' markets that are walking- or public-transit-distance from your home. What’s more, buying local produce sustains a green approach where you’re not paying for edibles flown in from some remote spot on the globe.
9) Buy a bottle and carry it everywhere. Financial guru David Bach refers to the "Latte Factor": the dough you save by giving up $5 lattes at a BigBucks Coffee chain. I’d be scared to run the calculation myself, but I’m motivated to change just by realizing how much paper I’m wasting on cups, sleeves and the like. Solution: Go for the homebrew, and carry it in a swank mug such as the Thermos 16-ounce backpack mug, which keeps drinks hot or cold all day long. Best of all, it costs just $21.50, fits in your bike’s bottle cage and kicks the butt of any non-insulated bottle you’ll pay more for at a fitness store.
10) Reduce laptop power consumption. We live by our laptops, which love to lap up energy. But the makers of Granola (love the name) have a software solution that cuts power consumption on PCs without sacrificing a shred of performance. For Mac users, there’s Power Manager, which you can try in a free 30-day trial.
11) I have a bright idea: Fluorescent bulbs! OK, so they look all spirally and the first ones were harsh on the eyes. But fluorescent lighting is improving, and if you feel so inspired, you can experiment with funky colors, too. And here’s a green stunner: According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, if every U.S. household replaced just one incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent, it would prevent 90 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the equivalent of taking 7.5 million cars off the road.
I’ve been switching over gradually, and for most uses in my home, fluorescents work just fine. This year, I’ll go all the way and realize a savings of $30 in energy costs over the life of each regular bulb I replace.
What’s your Green Resolution for 2011? Join the discussion on our Facebook page to tell us how you plan to make it an eco-friendly year.