Smog alerts and illness and deaths due to air pollution have become commonplace -- and that's not healthy, for individuals or for society as a whole. While it's easy to assume that one person or family can't change anything, it's only through the combined efforts of all that we can affect the quality of our air. Yes, you should try to drive your car less often, but that's not the only thing that makes a difference. Try these seven suggestions for small changes you can make that will add up to cleaner air for us all.
1. Compost in your backyard
It's staggering to really contemplate the amount of gas consumed by garbage and recycling trucks picking up waste and trucking it to its final destination -- especially if your landfill is far from where you live. By decreasing the amount of waste you leave at the curb, you'll help reduce emissions from waste removal vehicles. You can make a big dent by composting your organic leftovers, from coffee grounds to eggshells to orange peels, so that they don't need to go farther than your backyard. Plus, the nutrient-rich compost you create can be added to your flowerbeds and veggie garden, reducing the need to purchase fertilizers. A win-win situation.
2. Buy local
Another way to help decrease vehicle emissions is to be conscious of where the products you buy come from. For instance, if you're picking up a few apples, go for the ones from your region rather than the imports from such faraway locales as Chile and New Zealand. This doesn't necessarily mean favouring Canadian goods -- if you live in B.C., buy a Washington apple rather than an Ontario one. And the policy doesn't just apply to produce. Pay attention to labels -- you may be surprised by how far your sugar, cereal and laundry soap travel to get to you.
3. Go for old-fashioned yard tools
Remember the days before leaf-blowers? Fall was a peaceful time then, undisturbed by the ear-splitting racket of gas-powered tools that really don't seem to get the job done any faster than a good, old-fashioned rake. And since when did the sounds and smells of summer include your next-door neighbour's lawnmower? According to an estimate by the California Air Resources Board, a gas-powered lawnmower running for one hour emits as much air pollution as a car running for 13 hours -- and weed-eaters and leaf-blowers are no better. So help the air -- and get some exercise to boot -- by using a push-mower, a rake and some pruning shears when doing yard work.
4. Have a salad for dinner
Air-conditioners use so much energy that summer has replaced winter as the peak season for electricity use in Ontario. And in much of the country, significant amounts of power come from coal-burning plants, which make a huge contribution to smog. So cut your electricity use by helping your air-conditioner out -- don't turn the oven on when it's hot and smoggy out. Eat a fresh salad from local produce, and if you must cook, use your microwave, toaster oven or barbecue, helping to keep the house cool. (Living in a province that doesn't burn coal doesn't get you off the hook, either. Visit www.bchydro.com/powersmart for suggestions on how to reduce your energy consumption.)
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5. Switch your lightbulbs
Another easy way to save energy is to use compact fluorescent bulbs rather than traditional incandescent ones -- they may cost more, but not only do they use way less electricity, they last a lot longer, too. The most important places to install compact fluorescents are the fixtures that get the most use, such as motion sensor lights outdoors or lights that get left on for long periods of time. And don't think you have to change every bulb in the house (although that would be nice) -- just switching one or two will make a big difference. (Encourage your friends to make the change as well!)
6. Eat less meat
Not only does meat production consume massive amounts of water and electricity, the animals eat a lot of food -- and that food has to come from somewhere. In much of the world, valuable forest land is being cleared to make way for agriculture, leaving less trees to act as the planet's lungs. In fact, there isn't enough land on Earth to produce a typical North American's meat intake for everyone on the planet. By cutting your consumption -- try having a vegetarian dinner a couple times a week, for instance -- you'll be reducing our need for cultivated land, not to mention reaping the health benefits of eating less animal foods.
7. Wait to buy gas (and other car-related tips)
Cars really do make the biggest impact on air quality, and we couldn't ignore them completely. So if you are driving on a smog day, try to wait until the evening -- or even the next day -- to buy gas, as gasoline vapours add to air pollution. Some other suggestions: Don't let your car idle (one minute of idling uses more fuel than restarting your engine), drive at moderate speeds (stopping and starting uses more gas), and keep your car well-tuned and tires well-inflated to use less gas. Who knows? By following these tips, you may end up with more cash in hand as well.
So there you have it -- small changes that, when added up, can make a big difference. After you've made them in your own life, pass them on to your friends and family. And for even more great help-the-environment tips, pick up It's Easy Being Green by Crissy Trask (click here for 23 of her great suggestions).
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