10 (Free) things you can do to save the planet

In my first post over at the new blog, I listed 10 free and easy things that anyone can do to help save the planet. As part of that post I issued a challenge to all bloggers who read the list, to re-post it on their blog. So, I’m picking up my own challenge and posting it here too.

1. Don’t drive 1 in 5. This means that one day out of the week… carpool, bike, or ride public transportation to work. C’mon, just one day… you can do it. If it works out well, add more days.

2. Keep your fridge full. An empty refrigerator uses more energy. If you’re not keeping it full with food, keep it full with gallon-jugs of water.

3. Turn stuff off. It’s easy to remember to turn big things off, like lights or TVs , but don’t forget about the small stuff… like VCR, DVD, computer speakers, and printers. If they’re on, they’re using energy, even if you aren’t actively using them.

4. Stop that Junk Mail. Junk mail wastes tons of paper every day, and you don’t want it anyway. Here’s some info about having your name removed from junk mail lists.

5. Take your own bags to the grocery store. Canvas tote bags work great, but you can also take back the plastic bags that your got from your last trip to the store. Reuse them over and over, and then recycle them. Many stores give you a small discount for bringing your own bags.

6. Water at night. If you water your lawn and other outdoor plants at night, or early in the morning, you’ll lose less water to evaporation, so you’ll be able to water less.

7. Run appliances at night. Many electric companies actually lower their rates during off-peak hours. Running your dishwasher or washer/dryer at night, can save you some money, and reduce the amount of electricity that the power-plant needs to generate. Check with your power company for a list of off-peak hours.

8. Do full loads. When you do run your dishwasher or washer/dryer, make sure they’re full. running a half-full dishwasher is very wasteful.

9. Maximize trash bags. Wait till your trash is full before taking it out. The less bags you put into a landfill, the better.

10. Recycle! Most cities offer recycling programs. Recycle everything you can… at home, and at work. There’s no sense filling up a landfill with items that can be recycled. If your work doesn’t offer a recycling program, start one.

Like I said, these are things everyone can do. You don’t have to go out and buy a new hybrid car, or energy efficient appliances to make a difference. Although, those things are good too.

If you have some no cost / low cost tips, feel free to leave them in the comments.

12 thoughts on “10 (Free) things you can do to save the planet”

  1. I saw a study once that said recycling paper causes so much polution that it kills more trees a year than if we were to just harvest the trees on our tree farms. Same study said the only worthwhile thing to recycle was aluminum. If I can find it, I’ll post it here. Very interesting, and something to think about. Recycling may not be all its cracked up to be.

    Also, I believe my county doesn’t recycle anymore, although they give the guise that they do. About 15 years ago, an ordinance went into effect that forced residents to use county-run recycling pick-up (so the county could make money on our trash), but as it turned out, the scheme was not profitable, so instead of repealing the ordinance, the county still picks up our recyclables, but they go in the landfills next to trash. Many residents don’t know this.

  2. Tim, yes, please find that study. I have never read anything like that. All the information I can find says that making new, or ‘virgin’, paper is far more polluting than recycling paper.

    New paper production requires heavy chemical treatments, and chlorine bleaching. It’s my understanding that modern recycling processes use little to none of those chemical processes.

    Everything I can find on recycling paper says that the 3 main benefits are less pollution, less deforestation, and less space required in landfills.

    I know there was a time when we wouldn’t de-ink certain papers, because the printing on them was too intense. The process for recycling that paper was more destructive then it was worth. But, it is my understanding that those papers were discarded, and not recycled.

    Is it possible that the study you read was either old, or talked strictly about the feasibility of recycling those heavily inked papers.

    Here are a few links with more information on paper recycling and pollution:

    Recycled paper’s role in clean water
    Recycled Paper: the Best Choice
    Environmentally Sound Paper: Overview

  3. “the county still picks up our recyclables, but they go in the landfills next to trash. Many residents don’t know this.”

    Sounds like a good cause to get behind… raise a stink, force some change ;)

  4. In most cases, recycling isn’t worth it. It takes more energy/creates more pollution to recycle some things than just making them from scratch. It’s far better to reuse items than recycle them. Instead of recycling water jugs, put them to use (maybe find a water filling station so you can use the same jugs over and over). Also, you can reduce the ammount of waste you produce by reusing items which is better in terms of landfills.

  5. Heya Paul,
    Just remembered what it was that I was, uh, remembering. It was an episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit! on Showtime from like 3 years ago. Hardly scientific, and hardly un-biased, but admittedly so, and very interesting nonetheless. They had some very convincing evidence to suggest that recycling paper was very bad for the environment. That may have changed in the last 2 or 3 years, however.

    I found the website for the episode at

    There is a clip and links to some of the experts they had on the show.

    If you’ve never seen the show before, it is really good — in general — but also, at the very least, its good at making you look at issues a bit differently (not necessarily with the viewpoint that they sometimes take). I would definitely say to check it out.

    …Or even borrow the DVD from the library and just check out the Recycling episode. If memory serves, the PETA episode is horrific and probably the best one I’ve ever seen them do. That looks to be part of the same season.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to downplay being green (hell, I drive a Prius). I’m just skeptical of everything pretty much.

  6. UsrBinBoy – I totally agree that Reducing and Reusing are extremely important. Afterall, they are the first 2 Rs in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But, I wouldn’t agree that “In most cases, recycling isn’t worth it”. Once you get past the point of Reduce and Reuse, Recycling is the best option.

    Tim – You drive a Prius? Awesome! Thanks for the tip about the show, I’ll try to get my hands on it. The clip in the link above didn’t really show too much.

    I would have to say that I totally disagree with the description of the episode though:

    “Season 2: Recycling
    Here’s the truth: recycling is garbage. The recycling industry creates pollution, has to be subsidized by the government because it’s cost ineffective, and is completely unnecessary. Contrary to popular belief, our landfills are not running out of space – we have enough room to last for thousands of years! So how did the bullshit of recycling get started?”

    I don’t think our landfills have thousands of years of space left in them (at our current rate of consumption), but even if they did… that sounds like we shouldn’t try to reduce at all. That’s just bad advice. Also, they list government incentives as ‘evidence’ that recycling isn’t cost effective. I don’t have the numbers, but I can say that the government subsidizes things all the time, to promote adoption… not just because things are cost prohibitive, but because sometimes people just won’t do the right thing unless there is enough financial gain to be had. They have, and continue to subsidize hybrid cars as well.

    While I’m still a believer in recycling, I do think it’s irresponsible to buy things in excess, under the mantra that you can recycle them. To me. recycling is a last resort. As mentioned above, the real work should be done in reducing and reusing… and then recycle what’s left.

  7. Shoot! All the P&T BSs are on google video.
    Here is the recycling one:

    Altho I am sure that is basically the position that they take, it is kind of baseless without seeing the argument that they make. At any rate, they’re just trying to sell the show, and controversy sells almost always :)

    Oh, and I love my Prius. Best car I’ve ever owned or driven.

    Thanks for making my day far far more interesting. Your blog is a clear example of the blogosphere at its best!

  8. thanks for the tips! will try some of them. i’m sorta trying to go “green”. Whatever that means. But i’m not giving up meat anytime soon. But I have started soy milk and shopping at the whole foods market.

  9. “Your blog is a clear example of the blogosphere at its best!”

    Thanks for the compliment. Flattery will get you everywhere. :)

    I watched the episode. I would have to say, I’m even more resolved that recycling is a good thing.

    Here are a couple of their main points:

    “Recycling causes pollution because it’s an industry, that requires trucks for transportation and facilities for processing”

    Ummm…. duh! Of course it requires transportation and facilities. They seem to forget that ALL manufacturing is an industry that requires transportation and facilities. No one is saying that recycling is a totally clean alternative. The idea is that it is LESS polluting than using new materials. Hell, even if it was the same amount of pollution being generated as using new materials, at least we’re not eating up more resources and filling landfills.

    “Recycling is subsidized by the government because it costs more than throwing stuff away”

    ummm… duh, again! I would be really shocked if recycling costs less than throwing garbage in a hole and covering it with dirt. Of course it’s going to cost more than throwing stuff away. The idea is that in the end, you have materials that can be sold, and reused, rather than just a big hole full of trash.

    Now, I’ll be the first to admit that here is where the process breaks down. Most recycling centers are operating at a loss, but not because the philosophy is unsound, but because businesses would rather buy cheap new materials over more expensive recycled materials. The centers just can’t sell enough recycled materials to make it profitable.

    I don’t see this as a fault in recycling, I see it as a fault of businesses. It’s a paradox. Businesses won’t buy recycled materials because they are too expensive… recycled materials are too expensive because businesses won’t buy them. What do we do?

    Well, businesses need to start (even slowly) moving towards using recycled materials. Hopefully, recycled materials will (even slowly) start coming down in price. At some point a balance will be achieved. But, we can’t do this if we don’t have the recycling infrastructure in place. So, it will just have to operate at a loss for a while.

    The show also mentions the use of bleaching, when recycling paper. They are correct (sort of). Bleaching is bad. When buying recycled paper products you should look for ‘chlorine-free’. The technology exists to recycle paper without bleaching it, but bleach is still used in some locations. That needs to change.

    Recycling is far from a perfect process, it has it’s share of problems. But I think it is a good, and necessary step in the right direction. As time goes by it will hopefully overcome it’s own shortcomings.

  10. Thanks, you too :)

    I’m glad you pointed me to that movie. It’s always good to look at things in a new way… and it’s good to be skeptical. Question everything.

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