By Mark S. Kuhar
As we ring in the new year, here are some steps that we can all take to reduce our impact on the environment, according to Worldwatch Institute, a global environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C.; and Repurposed Materials, an organization dedicated to providing both economic and environmental solutions through the creative act of repurposing.
Recycling programs exist in cities and towns across the United States, helping to save energy and protect the environment. In 2009, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require all homes and businesses to use recycling and composting collection programs.
Turn off the Lights
On the last Saturday in March – March 31 in 2012 – hundreds of people, businesses and governments around the world will turn off their lights for an hour as part of Earth Hour, a movement to address climate change.
Make the Switch
In 2007, Australia became the first country to "ban the bulb," drastically reducing domestic usage of incandescent light bulbs. China also recently pledged to replace the 1 billion incandescent bulbs used in its government offices with more energy efficient models within five years.
Turn on the Tap
The bottled water industry sold 8.8 billion gallons of water in 2010, generating nearly $11 billion in profits. Yet plastic water bottles create huge environmental problems. The energy required to produce and transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year, yet approximately 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled.
Turn Down the Heat
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can result in savings of 5-15 percent on your home heating bill.
Support Food Recovery Programs
Each year, roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption – approximately 1.3 billion tons – gets lost or wasted. In response, food recovery programs run by homeless shelters or food banks collect this food and use it to provide meals for the hungry, helping to divert food away from landfills and into the bellies of people who need it most.
“Small Business Saturday,” falling between “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” was established in 2010 as a way to support small businesses during the busiest shopping time of the year.
Get Out and Ride
We all know that carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as our gas bills. Now, cities across the country are investing in new mobility options that provide exercise and offer an alternative to being cramped in subways or buses.
Share a Car
Car sharing programs spread from Europe to the United States nearly 13 years ago and are increasingly popular, with U.S. membership jumping 117 percent between 2007 and 2009.
Plant a Garden
Whether you live in a studio loft or a suburban McMansion, growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep.
And what better way to fertilize your garden than using your own composted organic waste. You will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you will also help to cut down on food and other organic waste.
Reduce Meat Consumption
Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. Yet global meat production has experienced a 20 percent growth rate since 2000 to meet the per capita increase of meat consumption of about 42 kilograms.
While traditional recycling involves re-manufacturing processes, mass participation and a lot of energy, repurposing gives used products a new life without having to change them at all. An example is one company that takes plastic advertising billboard material and repurposes it as tarps.