By Cookie Cho, Member-at-Large for the GCI
Happy New Year from the GCI! We hope 2014 is treating you well. Did you make any Yew Year’s resolutions this year? Are you still following them, or have you given up? New Year’s resolutions are sometimes too vague and impractical to be achievable, so what people often need are specific, realistic goals that do not require a complete lifestyle revamp. Below is a list of some environmentally-friendly, low-commitment goals that we recommend, as they do not require you to change your way of life, but will hopefully help change your ecological footprint.
1. Switch to High-Efficiency Light Bulbs
It’s not news that Light-Emitting Diode (LED) and Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs use 75-80% less electricity than incandescent bulbs – so why aren’t more people using them? Sure you have to pay more for them up front, but since they use less energy your electricity bill will be lower and they will last much longer than incandescent bulbs. Some people might be concerned because they have heard that these new bulbs are dangerous and require special handling compared to incandescent bulbs. While there may be some reasons for concern, here is how to take on these important changes safely:
a) CFLs contain 3-5mg of mercury, which means two things – first, be careful not to break the bulbs, and if one does break dispose of it right away and don’t leave it lying around. Secondly, there are collection centers that safely handle and recycle the new tech bulbs. It might seem like extra work, but since these bulbs last much longer it’s really not going to be a huge sacrifice to drop them off every 6-10 years.
b) There is also some concern about higher exposure levels to UV radiation. This is not a problem if you are one or more feet away from the bulb and do not stare directly into the light bulbs.
2014 will see the start of the incandescent light bulb ban in Canada. This means that the stores will not be able to resupply their low-tech bulb stockpile, so join your neighbors and start enjoying your savings early! For more information, check out the full article by National Geographic here: http://energyblog.nationalgeographic.com/2014/01/08/separating-myth-from-fact-on-cfls-and-leds-five-concerns-addressed/
2. Recycle! Especially Aluminum
It is easier than ever to recycle today – with municipal recycling pickups in most areas, recycling chutes in new condo buildings, and waste stations in restaurants like Tim Horton’s that show you exactly what is meant to go in which bin. So I find the sight of aluminum soda cans thrown in the garbage very discouraging, to the point that I often pick it up from the garbage and place it in the recycling bin myself. What’s so special about aluminum you might ask? Reproducing aluminum from recycled cans uses 5% of the energy required for producing new cans. So by making sure aluminum finds its way into the recycling bin you are helping to reduce the cost required to produce all those cans of soda you drink, and preventing the cans from making their way into overfilled landfills.
3. Reduce Electronic waste (aka E-waste)
Your cell phone and the other electronics you own are composed of toxic and/or scarce materials such as barium, cadmium, copper, germanium, indium, lead, mercury, etc. While it would be great if these materials were not required to make the technologies we can’t seem to live without, innovation isn’t quite there yet. The one thing you can do is be conscious of how often you upgrade to the latest model and where your used electronics end up. Think about your last cell phone – how long did you have it for and what did you do with it when it had outlived your desire for it? PLEASE make sure it finds its way to a safe place. When electronics get thrown out with your regular trash, their toxic materials can leak from your local landfill and get into the water supply. By recycling your used electronics (which can be done through free programs offered by stores like Best Buy and Staples), you help prevent toxic materials ending up where they can be harmful, and the materials that are becoming scarce can be collected and reused in the future. Try to prolong the life of your electronics, make sure they are properly recycled when you are done with them, and when the time comes to purchase new electronics, we recommend you check out Greenpeace’s list of the more environmentally friendly electronics companies: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/toxics/electronics/Guide-to-Greener-Electronics/
I know many people often fail at completing their new year’s resolutions – but if you can accomplish even one of these goals this year you will be doing a great service to the environment! Happy New Year!