10 Things You Can Do to Help Save the Earth
By Katie Lambert and Sarah Gleim
The United Nations suggests that climate change is not just the defining issue of our time, but we are also at a defining moment in history. Weather patterns are changing and will threaten food production, and sea levels are rising and could cause catastrophic flooding across the globe. Countries must make drastic actions to avoid a future with irreversible damage to major ecosystems and planetary climate.
But what about individuals? What can we do to pitch in and help save the Earth? There are plenty of things you can do every day to help reduce greenhouse gases and your carbon footprint to make a less harmful impact on the environment. Taking care of the Earth is not just a responsibility, it's a necessity. In that spirit, HowStuffWorks has come up with 10 things you can do now to help save the planet.
1. Conserve Water
The little things can make a big difference. Every time you turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth, you're doing something good. Got a leaky faucet? You might be dripping as much as 90 gallons (340 liters) of water down the drain every day [source: EPA]. So fix it! It's easy and cheap. And stop drinking bottled water. Switch to filtered tap water. You'll save a ton of cash and help reduce a ton of plastic waste in the process.
2. Be Car-conscious
If you can, stay off the road two days a week or more. You'll reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,590 pounds (721 kilograms) per year [source: EPA]. It's easier than you think. You can combine your errands — hit the school, grocery store and dog daycare in one trip. And talk to your boss about teleworking. It's a boon for you and your company. But being car conscious also means maintaining your car on a regular basis. You can improve your gas mileage by 0.6 percent to 3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure, and be sure to make necessary repairs if your car fails emission [source: EPA].
3. Walk, Bike or Take Public Transit
Walking and biking are obvious ways to reduce greenhouse gases. Plus you'll get some good cardio and burn some calories while you do it. If you live in an area that's not walkable, take advantage of your local mass transit if you can. Or carpool. Even one car off on the road makes a difference.
4. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
You can help reduce pollution just by putting that soda can in the recycling bin. It really does make a difference. Paper, too. Case in point: If an office building of 7,000 workers recycled all of its office paper waste for a year, it would be the equivalent of taking almost 400 cars off the road [source: EPA]. But you can also take reusable bags to the grocery, and avoid using disposable plates, spoons, glass, cups and napkins. They create huge amounts of waste. And buy products that are made of recycled materials. It all makes a difference.
5. Give Composting a Try
In 2015, (the last year figures were available) Americans generated 262.4 million tons (238 metric tons) of trash. Only 23.4 million tons (21.2 metric tons) of that was composted. Some was recycled and some was combusted for energy, but almost half of it — 137.7 million tons (124.9 metric tons) — ended up in the landfill. Imagine if you could divert more of that to your own compost? It would help reduce the amount of solid waste you produce, and what eventually winds up in your local landfill. Plus, compost makes a great natural fertilizer.
6. Switch to LEDs
Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are great. They can last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and they use at least two-thirds less energy, but even CFLS have issues. They're hard to dispose of because they contain mercury. Enter light-emitting diode, or LED bulbs. They emit light in a very narrow band wavelength so they're super energy-efficient. Start replacing your old incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs now (if you haven't already). They do cost more than CFLs and incandescents, but equivalent LED bulbs can last around 25,000 hours compared to the 1,000 hours that incandescent bulb might have lasted.
7. Live Energy Wise
Make your home more energy efficient (and save money). Your home's windows are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of residential heat gain and heat loss. If they're old and inefficient, consider replacing them. Also be sure your home has proper insulation. Insulation is measured in terms of its thermal resistance or R-value — the higher the R-value, the more effective the insulation. The amount of insulation your home needs depends on the climate, type of HVAC system, and where you're adding the insulation. Smaller things you can do right away include replacing your air filter regularly so your HVAC system doesn't have to work overtime. Keep your window treatments closed when it's extremely hot and cold outside. You can also consider installing a programmable thermostat like Nest so your system isn't running (and wasting energy) when you're not home.
8. Eat Sustainable Foods
Today, large-scale food production accounts for as much as 25 percent of the greenhouse emissions. So how do you eat sustainably? Choosing food from farmers that aim to conserve the natural resources and have as little impact on the land as possible. But even buying as much as you can from local farmers makes a different. Eating more whole grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts, and less red meats and processed foods does too. Grow your own fruits and vegetables. You can grow a garden!
9. Plant a Tree (or Two)
In 2018 the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the U.N. suggests an additional 2.5 billion acres (1 billion hectares) of forest in the world could limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) by 2050. That's a lot of trees, but you could plant one or two, right? One young tree can absorb CO2 at a rate of 13 pounds (5 kilograms) per tree. Every. Single. Year. And that's just an itty bitty baby tree. Once that tree reaches about 10 years old, it's at its most productive stage of carbon storage. Then it can absorb 48 pounds (21 kilograms) of CO2 per year. Trees also remove all other kinds of junk from the air, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and small particles. So go ahead, plant a tree. It's good for everybody.
10. Give Up Plastics
The statistics are shocking: People around the world buy 1 million plastic drinking bottles every minute, and use up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags every year. Humans are addicted to plastic, and hardly any of it — about 9 percent — gets recycled. A staggering 8 million tons (7.25 metric tons) ends up in the ocean every year. Break the cycle. Stop buying bottled water. Say no to plastic shopping bags and use cloth bags instead. Don't use plastic straws. Drink from a reuseable cup instead of a plastic one. Avoiding plastic can divert a ton of waste from the oceans and landfill.
This story originally appeared in HowStuffWorks and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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Plain Naturals is making waves in the CBD space with a new product line for retail customers looking for high potency CBD products at industry-low prices.
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As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.