Earth Day Eco-Tips 2008

April 7, 2008 6:20:19 PM PDT
To learn more visit Durham Earth Day Festival on April 19 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Durham Central Park.

  • If you change oil yourself, drain the used oil into a clean milk jug using a funnel. Take it to one of the many oil-recycling centers in the area.
  • Avoid cleaners containing phosphates - they can cause algae blooms in our rivers and streams, which can ultimately kill marine life. Minimize the use of chlorine bleaches, which can create toxic compounds in wastewater. Use non-toxic alternatives, such as baking powder, for scouring and white vinegar in water for floors and windows.
  • Have you seen anyone dumping used motor oil, antifreeze or transmission fluid down the storm drains or on a vacant lot? What about batteries, paint products, bug spray or other hazardous waste? Not only is this dangerous, it's illegal! These are toxic wastes and need to be disposed of properly to prevent poisoning our drinking water supply.
  • Consider a gas-electric hybrid when thinking about your next vehicle purchase. These vehicles combine gas engines with electric motors. By getting more mileage per gallon, you'll be reducing air pollution, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
  • Trying to decide what to do with your leaves, grass clippings and garden "waste?" Do your yard and our landfills a favor by composting and mulching. This natural fertilizer will improve your garden soil's fertility and will help to retain soil moisture.
  • If you're putting too much fertilizer on your lawn and garden, you might not only be wasting time and money, but you also may be stunting the plant's growth, as well as contributing to the pollution of our local streams and rivers, like the Eno.
  • Did you know that it is the law to recycle in Durham? You must recycle aluminum and steel cans, glass bottles and jars, newspaper and corrugated cardboard. Residents and businesses may be issued citations for not recycling.
  • Burning leaves produces pollutants that can harm your health. Instead, build a compost pile for leaves, kitchen refuse and other natural debris.
  • Every day, Americans spend an extra dollar more for every $10 they spend on groceries. Why? To pay for the boxes, bags, and other packaging that those products come in. Here are some tips on how to keep the cost and waste down: Bring your own reusable bag to the grocery store. Buy your food in bulk instead of individual servings so that you cut down on waste from packaging. Use reusable containers for leftovers and for your lunch bag.
  • Here's an activity to do with your family: Have your kids hold on to all of the trash they generate in the course of one day. At the end of the day, look through it. Talk about what can be recycled, what is simply waste and what trash could have prevented by using reusable containers?
  • Did you know that toilets are the most common source of household water use? A leaking toilet can waste more than 150 gallons per day! Although you may not see or hear water running, your toilet may have a silent leak. To test for a silent leak, drop a little food coloring into the tank. Wait for about 20 minutes, and don't flush. If the food coloring appears in the toilet bowl, your toilet has a leak. These leaks are easy to fix with parts from you local hardware store ? make the repair and save water and money!
  • Transportation consumes about 25 percent of the total energy used in the United States. Carpooling to and from work and other activities with people that live in your neighborhood vicinity can save you money by lowering your vehicle maintenance costs, while it also reduces traffic congestion, helping keep air pollution down ? not to mention your stress level! The average commuter can expect to save $300 to $1000 a year in transportation expenses by participating in a rideshare program. So try carpooling and be part of the solution to air pollution!
  • Most of us rely on our cars for transportation, but there are simple things we can do to be more environmentally friendly drivers when we do. First, avoid revving or idling your engine over 30 seconds. Always accelerate gradually, maintain the speed limit and use cruise control on the highway. Avoid waiting in long drive-through lines ? turn your car off and go in. Minimize use of air-conditioning if you can. Use an energy-conserving grade of motor oil and get regular engine tune-ups, and don't ignore "check engine" or "service engine soon" lights. Fill your gas tank during cooler evening hours to cut down on evaporation, avoid spilling gas and don't "top off" the tank.
  • To conserve water in the bathroom, try to take shorter showers, about 5 minutes. Want to do even more? Try a "Navy Shower." Due to a lack of fresh water aboard ship, sailors were taught to get wet, turn off the water, soap, lather, and scrub, and then briefly turn the water on to rinse ? a good routine for all of us! As a part of the long-term solution, install water-efficient or "low flow" showerheads. They deliver 2.5 gallons of water per minute or less and are relatively inexpensive.
  • There are many ways to reduce waste in your home. Use a lunchbox and thermos for school or work. Share magazines and newspapers with a friend, neighbors, a nursing home, hospital or library. Donate used goods such as clothing, furniture and toys and appliances to a thrift shop, day care center, or charity instead of throwing them out.
  • If you care about clean air and clean water, get involved and make your voice heard! Let your elected officials know that the environment matters to you! Write or email your local, state and federal legislative candidates and tell them what you're doing as an individual. Then, ask them how they plan to protect your health and the environment.
  • Not too far? Don't take the car! If it's a short trip downtown or to a friend's house, don't drive. Instead, hop on your bike or simply walk! You'll be saving gas, reducing air pollution from your car's exhaust and getting some exercise. Transportation consumes about 25 percent of the total energy used in the United States. When people drive, they are responsible for releasing harmful chemicals into the air. So, combine all of your errands into one trip.
  • At the office, each of use can do a few simple things to help conserve energy. Start by turning the lights off when you leave the room for more than a few minutes. Do not leave electric heaters on when not required. Turn off your computer, monitor and lights when you go home for the day. Dress yourself for a variation in indoor temperatures. And, if you're the last person out at night, turn off the lights, printers and photocopiers. Less electricity will be used, less coal will be burned and less pollution will be released into the air, and the less water will be used in making the electricity.
  • Here are a few simple tips on how to save water in the kitchen: Run your dishwasher ONLY when it's full. Your dishwasher uses the same amount of water whether it's full or just partially full of dishes, so make the most of it! If washing dishes by hand, fill the sink and use a stopper instead of leaving the water running. Keep drinking water in your refrigerator instead of letting the faucet run until the water cools down, and thaw out food in the refrigerator or in the microwave oven instead of under running water.
  • Here are some no-cost tips on how to conserve energy in your kitchen everyday: Use the right size pot or pan on the stove for the item you're cooking. Don't preheat your oven except for baking, and cover pots and pans when cooking. Set the refrigerator's temperature to somewhere between 36 and 39 degrees F, and the freezer to somewhere between 0 and 5 degrees F. Make sure to clean the refrigerator coils and switch the refrigerator to its power-miser setting. Finally, turn your water heater down to 120 degrees F.
  • Here are some tips on how to help save water in the laundry room: always select the proper water level for laundry. With most washing machines, you can control the amount of water used for each load. And did you know that a front-loading washing machine uses 1/3 less water than a top-loading machine? To save energy, use cold water for wash, and try to wash full loads.
  • Have you ever wondered what to do with things like old appliances, bicycles, computer equipment, scrap metal and mixed paper? Much of what you may consider trash may be someone else's treasure. You can visit the A to Z Recyclery on the City of Durham's website to find out ways to donate or recycle items that cannot be collected curbside in your recycling bin. You'd be surprised at what can be donated or recycled at many Triangle locations.
  • Do you have a pest problem in your home or garden? Think twice before you spray a pesticide. Pesticides are poisons! Is the weed or insect problem really worse than the poison to you and your family? Find out everything you can about the pest. Make sure to try natural solutions first. Chemicals should only be used as a last resort, after you have learned all you can about the chemical and its effects on your health. For more information about natural alternatives to pesticides, contact the Agricultural Resources Center at (919) 967-1886.
  • Did you know that the average vegetarian lives six years longer than the average meat-eater? While wheat gluten might sound foreign to you, meat substitutes are nothing new. The Chinese were eating tofu more than 1,000 years ago, and the earliest meat alternatives in the West were developed by John Harvey Kellogg. In the 1940s, meat substitutes gained wide popularity as a penny-pinching alternative during wartime. In the '60s, they became a big hit with "flower children," and today are earning a permanent place in today's health-conscious cupboards.
  • One of the best ways to help the environment is to learn more about your surrounding ecosystems. Local nature centers can make environmental education fun ? take a hike, go on an animal watch or have a simple picnic. Spending time outdoors will give you a better look at the natural world around you. Having knowledge about local plants and animals and your impact on these habitats will allow you to make more informed decisions.
  • There are a number of ways to save water. Outside, check your sprinkler system frequently and adjust sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk, or street. Divide your watering cycle into shorter periods to reduce runoff and allow for better absorption every time you water. At the most, water your summer lawn only once every three days. Use a layer of organic mulch around plants to reduce evaporation and save hundreds of gallons of water a year.