Archive for June, 2012

Nowadays recycling programs (e.g., curb side pick-up or communal drop-off areas) in communities and cities are fairly common.  Further, parks, airports, retailers, etc., are commonly offering recycling bins along-side rubbish bins.  The infrastructure and support for recycling continues to expand, making it easier and more convenient to participate in the recycling loop.  As such, you may be fairly set and comfortable in your recycling routine, but it is helpful to think of recycling as a circular process – one that does not end with collection or drop-off centers.

Think of the recycling process as a continuous loop, with three primary action points, (1) collection and processing, (2) manufacturing, and (3) purchasing recycled products.  With benefits throughout the loop, including energy conservation, reduced landfill usage, conservation of natural resources, and manufacturing job creation and expansion, among others.

It is important to remember there are two action points in the loop where consumers contribute to the recycling process – collection as well as purchasing.  The purchasing step completes the recycling loop, but also plays an important role in creating demand and expanding the market for recycled products.

There are thousands of recycled content products currently available, with the number and variety of products continuing to grow.  Products from recycled content are made from materials that otherwise would have been thrown away.  Common recycled content products include aluminum cans, egg cartons, glass containers, and newspapers – the complete list is much more extensive and continues to expand.

The bottom line being that recycling only works when there are markets for recycled products – so support the loop and purchase recycled products!

Reusable grocery bags are a common site these days.  They are easily accessible and generally inexpensive, being sold at most grocery and retail stores near the check-out counters or various strategic locations throughout the store.  This article does not dispute the benefit of reusable grocery bags, but does point out that not all reusable bags are created equal and that some care is required in the use of these bags.

Reusable bags are typically made out of heavy duty plastics, cotton, canvas, or synthetic fibers.  It depends on the production process, but generally the primary advantage to the bag is that it is reusable – that in effect you are recycling it with each use.

An issue that is not highlighted much is the care and washing of these bags – they are going to get dirty and they are going to get germs and bacteria in them.  Consider that many of these bags remain in your trunk, which during the summer is potentially a warm haven for germs and bacteria.  Although they may cost a bit more up front, sturdier canvas or cotton bags, in plain colors (without logos and advertising), may be a good choice in terms of holding up through washings and multiple uses.

From an eco-friendly perspective, reusable shopping bags are preferred to single use bags (such as the paper or plastic available at stores).  However, if you find yourself without your reusables and in need of a bag, remember that single use bags are easily recycled as trash bags or bin liners, among other various uses.  Not to mention, many stores offer recycle or take back programs.

Still, it is worth adjusting to reusable bags now (if you haven’t already) and finding the ones that work best for you, as the trend of moving away from (and even banning) single use bags continues to gain momentum across the nation.  A handful of cities have banned single use plastic bags while others are charging customers on a per-bag usage.

Production of energy management systems that monitor your residential or business energy use is ramping up to become more accessible and more user friendly – this trend is only expected to continue as utilities conduct pilot programs and early adopters continue to lead the way in demonstrating the benefits of energy management gadgets.

Think of older thermostat models.  Their basic functionality was to adjust the temperature – up or down.  You could easily leave the house or fall asleep with the heat blazing or air conditioning blasting needlessly, for hours on end.  Newer thermostat technology allows for programming, tracking of energy usage, remote functionality, and adjustments based on weather or even adapting to your schedule.

Now think of an energy monitor that displays your real-time energy usage.  If you had a gadget that provided a snap-shot of how much energy your house was using and how that related to your peak usage and utility rates, you would be much more aware of energy usage and more likely to turn off unused lights or appliances or adjust the thermostat accordingly.  The main idea behind using an energy management system in your home is the awareness and readily accessible real-time data it provides and the impact that has on your behavior.

The key advantage to the smart energy monitoring technology is the immediacy of the results.  Energy management technology eliminates the lag time of your energy usage to receiving the monthly utility bill in your inbox or mailbox.  Programmable thermostats are fairly common.  Energy monitors are available today but are not yet considered mainstream.  This is a technology worth researching and staying on the lookout for, as it provides an invaluable tool for reducing your energy consumption and saving on your utility bills.

Residential energy efficiency measures are often simple and easy to implement, resulting in a quick way to reduce your energy usage as well as monthly utility bills.  Whether you rent or own, several options for decreasing residential energy consumption exist and are worth investigating.

Reducing electricity use is a primary method for shaving dollars off your utility bills as well as decreasing your energy usage.  Residential lighting is an accessible place to start.  Three common energy-efficient lighting options include, (1) incandescent (or halogen) bulbs, (2) compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and (3) light emitting diode (LED).  Halogens provide roughly 25 percent energy savings over traditional incandescent bulbs, with CFLs and LED providing roughly 75 percent energy savings.  Although the savings may not seem like much on an individual level, the cumulative impact matters.

Purchasing energy efficient appliances and electronics is another method for decreasing energy use.  On average, appliances and electronics are responsible for 20 percent of the utility bill in a typical U.S. home.  If you are considering upgrading a major appliance (such as the washer/dryer or refrigerator), take the time to investigate purchasing an energy-efficiency model.  Although the upfront cost may be more, the impact on your utility bill and energy usage will offset your investment.  Also, several rebate programs exist, incentivizing the purchase of energy efficient appliances, which can further help to offset upfront costs.

Upgrading a major (or even small appliance) is not always in the budget.  However, simply being aware of your electricity uses and adjusting behavior can decrease your usage.  It is easy to leave lights on or unused electronics plugged-in, but this habit contributes to unnecessary energy usage and higher electricity bills.  Using a power strip allows you to easily turn-off the strip when you know electronics or appliances will not be in use for a period of time.  Many computers available today have their own power management features, automatically putting the monitor and CPU in “sleep mode”, helping to reduce energy usage.  You can adjust these power management settings to fit your user needs.  It is best if you can completely power down your computer, but this will not always practical.  But if you are headed on vacation or know you will be away for a while, consider unplugging your television and powering off computers.

Increasing insulation and filling any gaps in your home’s protective envelope can reduce heating and cooling costs.  One quick, easy, and inexpensive way to reduce summertime cooling bills that isn’t widely known is to install perforated radiant barrier in your attic – this aluminum based product will reflect the heat of the sun back out of your house before it has a chance to heat up your attic and upper floors.  In your living spaces you’ll want to do a draft test around all of your windows, doors, and outlets to determine if you have air leaks that could be filled – this will keep warm air in during the cold months, and prevent the hot air from outdoors invading your home in the summer.  It always helps to max out the R value of your fiberglass or cellulose insulation too, but that can be a bigger investment than tackling the attic and gaps.

As a home-owner or landlord, getting an energy assessment or audit can help you determine the efficiency of your property’s heating and cooling systems.  The assessment can tell you the trouble areas (if any) that when corrected can result in significant economic and energy savings over time.  Several sources and websites exist that detail steps for a “do-it-yourself” energy assessment.  Your local utility may actually perform them, or can recommend energy audit companies.


Increasingly, there are options for you to support the production of electricity from renewable sources from your electric utility by directly purchasing green power or participating in a green pricing program.

Green power refers to electricity supplied (in whole or in part) from renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, biomass, hydropower, and geothermal.  Options to support green power are expanding as electricity markets open to competition and regulated utilities offer green pricing programs.  In an open market, customers are provided electricity supply options, which could include purchasing electricity from a renewable source.  In electricity markets that remain regulated, utilities are increasingly developing and implementing green pricing programs.  Green pricing programs offer the customer an option to pay a premium on their electric bill to support any above market cost for acquiring electricity from renewable sources.

Purchasing green power or participating in a green pricing program can help offset air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the burning of fossil fuels.  Your purchase and/or participation of green energy products also helps create and expand renewable energy markets.

Pricing and availability vary widely by market as well as renewable source (e.g. wind, solar, biomass).  If interested in green energy products, your initial step is to determine the status of your market (open competition or regulated) and continue from there.  Green energy products provide a way to leverage individual support in the effort to cost-effectively produce green energy.