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It's almost 2 am as I'm writing this, and looking up from my laptop, I just noticed that there are about half a dozen lights on in my house ... and not all of them are energy-saving fluorescents.
Oh, the shame! And it gets worse: In 2011, I threw out a few alkaline batteries; I used paper towels (because nothing cleans up after two elementary school kids with as much throwaway convenience); and I took the gas-guzzling minivan to the QuickiMart when I could've hopped on my bike.
Thankfully with the new year, everyone — including Green Dad — gets a fresh start. Resolutions, should we choose to keep them, are all about correcting course. And so, here's Green Dad's list of 10 resolutions for a greener and leaner 2012. Any one of these tips could make you an eco-friendlier person in the year ahead. Commit to all 10 and you could give Green Dad some serious tree-hugging (and cost-saving) competition.
1. Recycle Electronics
As much as I want to throw my iPhone 4 off a cliff when it drops a call, I'm not going to junk my obsolete cell phones or video games. Instead, I'm going to Target. In 2010, Target set up recycling centers at all of its 1,740 stores, which handle all sorts of items: MP3 players, phones, dreaded printer ink cartridges, and the like. Old computers can be repurposed, too, through non-profits 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 NiMH Batteries
The hardest part of playing Rechargeable Battery Bingo is purging all of your alkaline batteries. When making the switch to rechargeables, skip the nickel-cadmium batteries altogether, as they drain easyily and harm the environment worst of all. You'll have much better luck with newfangled NiMH batteries, which come close to alkaline batteries for shelf life. You're going to need a charger, too. The Duracell Value Charger with four AA Batteries ($9.49 via "clipped" $1.50 coupon with free shipping via Prime, a low by $5), can get you started, as it can charge both AA and AAA batteries, plus it includes four AA Duracell batteries.
3. Leverage Your Leg Power
Remember that bold Resolution about going to the gym? Already starting to feel a bit sore about that declaration, and it's not even 2012 yet, right? Why not just walk more and use the car less for running errands? And as soon as the weather gets warm enough again, dust off that bicycle and pedal from place to place. Haven't got a bike? Well, December is the best time to buy one!
4. Change the Oxygen Sensor in Your Car
If you must travel by four wheels, consider a tune up for your vehicle. A simple tune up can improve your gas mileage by about 4%. As a function of any proper tune-up, ensure that your mechanic also looks at the oxygen sensor, too. If it's not working properly, a simple repair to this part (commonly costing between $50 and $120) could boost your mileage by as much as 40%, according to the the U.S. Department of Energy.
5. Shop Local
Speaking of gasoline savings, here's a two-fer: Visit your local farmers markets that are in walking or public transit distance from your home. You'll be saving on transportation emissions and buying local produce helps sustain local businesses.
6. Paperless Is More, Part I: Switch to Online Banking and Bills
My former colleague at AOL's WalletPop, Jean Chatzky, makes an excellent point about a top virtue of going paperless: It not only saves trees, but 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."
7. Paperless Is More, Part II: No More Paper Towels
We can all agree that nothing beats the convenience of paper towels, especially when you've got spill-happy kids. But do we really need them? (The towels, that is.) Planetgreen.com, for example, claims paper towels create 3,000 tons of landfill waste a day. The obvious alternatives to paper towels include cotton hand towels and rags, which, while they'll create more laundry, certainly won't impact the environment the way throwaway towels do. Think: If a 12-count of paper towels costs $50, and you use one or more rolls a week, eliminating paper towels will save you about $300 annually.
8. Rethink Your Old Refrigerator
New appliances aren't just a luxury. "An older refrigerator could use three times as much energy as a new one," says Mike Rogers, a senior vice president at GreenHomes America. Aside from cutting your energy bills by a third, replacing your old fridge earns you EnergyStar tax credits. What's more, some electric utilities companies, like ComEd in Illinois will pick up your obsolete appliances when you replace them, and give you cash to boot — in this case $35!
9. DIY Morning Coffee
Financial guru David Bach refers to the "Latte Factor" as the dough you'd save by giving up $5 lattes each morning. I am a little scared to run the calculation myself, but I'm motivated to change just by realizing how much paper I've wasted on cups, sleeves, and the like. All a homebrewed cup of coffee takes is an extra 10 minutes in the morning. Plus you can carry it in a swank mug like the Thermos 16-Oz. Backpack Mug in Silver ($28.44 with free shipping, a low by $1) which keeps drinks hot or cold all day long, and during the summer fits perfectly in your bike's bottle cage.
10. Plug in to a Smart Power Strip
These nifty devices block power to plugs that aren't in use. Items that are plugged in, but not on account for about 5% of total of energy usage in the United States. The BITS Limited Smart Strip Power Strips Surge Protector ($25.74 with free shipping, a low by $2) is perfect for computer equipment and will generate enough energy savings to pay for the product in a year, assuming your electric bill averages $100 a month. Plus, you'll get the benefit of surge protection on laptops, stereos, and other valuable consumer electronic items.
Have a happy and green New Year!