We've put in an ongoing effort in our family to make simple changes to minimize our trash and resource consumption. Here are a few:
* We use washcloths instead of paper towels. I bought a 50-pack at Costco about five years ago and they're still going strong.
* We replaced most of our incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents and make sure to recycle them when they're replaced.
* We combine our errands to drive less and burn less fuel.
* We keep the furnace turned down to 68 or below in the winter, and 60 at night with our programmable thermostat
* We try to buy locally-grown, organic produce that is in-season to reduce use of pesticides and fuel to transport goods cross-country (or from another hemisphere!).
* We use either non-toxic (e.g. Mrs. Meyer's concentrates) or homemade cleaning supplies (recipes for everything are here).
Most importantly, though, we try to teach our kids about why we do it and have them participate as much as possible. We've taught both of the older kids to recycle anything made of glass, metal, or paper, and to check the bottom of plastic things to see if they're recyclable in our neighborhood (we can do 1, 2, and 5). We encourage them to wear their clothes another day if they're still clean, to use their towels for several baths, and to turn the water off when brushing teeth. We also read books about recycling and nature and discuss the reasons for our efforts to conserve.
Today, we're planning a walk around the neighborhood to pick up trash, and a recyling craft planned (we're making flowers out of egg cartons, instructions are here). All told, I think they're getting the idea, but I think that as a family we could really do better. I'd love to hang the laundry out to dry (not enough time), drive a more fuel-efficient vehicle (too many children), be better about using my reusable bags at the store (too much chaos!), and buy less stuff (my own fault).
Here are some Earth Day statistics to share:
* The average American contributes 1,859 pounds of air pollution to the atmosphere each year.
* Every minute, 37,000 empty soft drink bottles are thrown away in the United States.
* Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours.
* The EPA estimates that 75% of what Americans throw in the trash could be recycled, but just 25% is. If Americans could improve that number to 35% that would reduce emissions as much as taking 36 million cars off the road.
* The average American uses seven trees a year in paper, wood, and other products made from trees. This amounts to about 2,000,000,000 trees per year!
* Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water. This represents a 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution!
* The 17 trees saved (above) can absorb a total of 250 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Burning that same ton of paper would create 1500 pounds of carbon dioxide.
* Recycling plastic saves twice as much energy as burning it in an incinerator.
* Every month, we throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill up a giant skyscraper. All of these jars are recyclable!