Here are 10 great Earth Day ideas from the editors of Mother Earth News magazine. Accept our Earth Day Challenge ? share them with your friends and family.
1. CHOOSE AN EFFICIENT RIDE
by Bryan Welch, Publisher
Before you plunk down a lot of dough on a new hybrid car, consider whether a used motorcycle might be more fun and might get you more total miles per gallon. I love my 1988 BMW K75S. It cost me about $3,000 and gets about 60 miles per gallon. I can't ride it every day, but when I average it out with my car, my overall mpg is terrific!
2. SUSTAINABLE LAWN CARE (AND FREE ORGANIC
by Cheryl Long, Editor in Chief
Conventional American lawn care is about as unsustainable as you can get. First, people buy expensive fertilizer that makes the grass grow faster, which means they have to mow more often. Then they send the nutrient-rich grass clippings to the landfill, rather than leaving them to decompose and return nutrients to the soil. Plus, most people tend to mow their grass too short, making it easier for weeds to move in. Here's a better way: Fertilize sparingly if at all, leave the clippings on the lawn, and cut your grass high.
You can help further reduce the amount of yard waste sent to landfills by using the bags of clippings that your neighbors put out with their trash. The clippings are rich in nitrogen and other nutrients and make a great organic garden fertilizer (be sure they're herbicide-free). A 1- to 2-inch layer of fresh clippings applied once a year will provide plenty of slow-release nutrients for most crops. Plus, the clippings do double duty as a great mulch to prevent weeds and conserve soil moisture.
3. CHECK TIRE PRESSURE; IMPROVE FUEL ECONOMY
by John Rockhold, Managing Editor
One of the easiest ways to maximize your car's gas mileage ? and make a significant difference for the environment ? is to maintain the correct tire pressure. Seasonal temperature changes and normal wear and tear cause tires to lose pressure, which can cut fuel economy by up to 5 percent ? costing you an extra $50 to $100 a year, depending on your vehicle's mpg. If every American drove with properly inflated tires, we would annually save 1 to 2 billion gallons of gasoline and slash global warming emissions by as much as 20 million tons, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
So resolve to check your tire pressure at least once a month. Do so when the tires are 'cold' ? before you drive or after driving less than a mile. For the recommended inflation level, check your owner's manual or look for a sticker on or near the doorjamb of the driver's door (don't use the number that's on the tire itself). Simple gauges the size of a pencil cost a couple bucks, more accurate digital gauges cost $20 or more. I keep a gauge in my glove compartment and check the pressure every other time I get gas.
4. TURN YOUR GARBAGE INTO GREAT GARDEN SOIL
by Megan Phelps, Senior Associate Editor
For an easy way to reduce the waste you send to the landfill, try composting! Composting transforms your kitchen scraps and yard waste into nutrient-rich garden soil. To get started, all you need is a simple compost bin or tumbler. Then add a mix of 'browns' (dry leaves, straw, dirt) and 'greens' (grass clippings, vegetable food scraps). Add water to keep the compost moist, and occasionally stir it up to keep it aerated. You can learn more about how to compost from the Mother Earth News archive.
5. STOP JUNK MAIL
by Scott Hollis, Associate Editor
If you get large amounts of unwanted advertising through the mail, you can reduce this wasteful and annoying 'junk mail' by registering your name and address with the Mail Preference Service sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association. Once you register, many (but not all) companies will remove your name from their mailing lists and after a few months you will receive less unsolicited mail. To register for this free service, go to www.dmaconsumers.org.
6. PROGRAM YOUR FURNACE TO SAVE
by Charles Higginson, Associate Editor
You can cut heating and cooling costs dramatically with a superefficient tool, the programmable thermostat. The simplest models cost as little as $35 ? less than some standard thermostats ? and can work with conventional heating and cooling systems and some heat pumps. Set the thermostat to hit target temperatures when you're home and to pull back by 8 to 10 degrees while you're away or sleeping. In a typical home, that could reduce fuel use by 10 percent, reducing annual carbon dioxide emissions by about 1,000 pounds and cutting annual utility bills by $100. If you can operate a screwdriver, you can install a programmable thermostat in less than half an hour. Set it, forget it and save!
7. A WIN-WIN APPROACH TO EATING
by Tabitha Alterman, Associate Editor
The average American meal travels 1,500 to 2,500 miles before it is consumed. It's not hard to imagine how much it would cost us to make that trip, but when the supermarket is just a few blocks away it's easy to forget about the environmental costs of all that fuel consumption. Meanwhile, I've been witnessing an encouraging grass-roots movement: The number of farmer's markets in the United States has increased more than 900 percent since the 1970s. So what's happening? People are eating locally.
By purchasing food from as close to home as possible, you can help reduce America's addiction to oil while giving the environment a much-needed break. Plus, when farmers sell directly to consumers, they are able to keep all the profits. (Typically, only about 20 percent of the money we spend on food trickles down to the farmers who actually grow it.) To find food produced near you, check out Local Harvest and enter your ZIP code.
8. SAVE WITH COMPACT FLUORESCENT LIGHT BULBS
by Heidi Hunt, Assistant Editor
Replacing your standard incandescent light bulbs with superefficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) can decrease your overall home energy use and save you money in the long run. CFLs cost a little more upfront (prices start at about $3), but use a quarter of the electricity of comparable incandescents, and last up to 13 times longer.
Replacing a standard 75-watt incandescent 'long-life' bulb (which lasts about 1,500 hours) with an equally bright 20-watt CFL (which lasts about 12,000 hours) can save you more than $50 over the eight-year life of the CFL. If you replace just five standard light bulbs with CFLs, you could save more than $250. This is one simple thing you can do for yourself and the Earth. CFLs are available almost anywhere you find standard light bulbs.
9. CLEAN OUT THE CLOSET AND REDUCE LANDFILL WASTE
by Stephanie Lingafelter, Assistant Editor
Do you have a closet full of things you no longer want, or old furniture that needs a new home? Join The Freecycle Network and convert your junk into someone else's treasure. The Internet-based network is a grass-roots, nonprofit effort started in 2003 that helps people swap items locally as a way to reduce waste that would otherwise go to landfills. More than 2 million people worldwide participate in nearly 3,500 different communities. Membership is free ? all you need to join is a valid e-mail address. Visit www.freecycle.org to find a network in your area.
10. REUSE AND RECYCLE E-TRASH
by Katie Moyer, Editorial Intern
Twenty to 50 million tons of electronic products are discarded worldwide every year. In addition to the bulk of this e-waste, there are toxic substances ? such as lead, chromium and mercury ? in computers, cell phones, televisions and other electronics that can contaminate our soil and water.
Do your part to reduce and recycle e-waste: Sell or donate your unwanted cell phone; donate your old computer to a local school or contact the manufacturer for recycling information; take your old electronics to a local drop-off or community recycling center.
Find the nearest electronics recycling organization by visiting these Web sites:
International Association of Electronics Recyclers
EIA Consumer Education Initiative
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