Top ten ways to go green

Carefree living may be synonymous with the Caribbean, but saving the environment is serious business everywhere.

CFLs, baking soda, vinegar, table salt—all protect the environment in different ways. Photograph by Shirley BahadurEating locally grown fruits and vegetables helps the local economy, the environment and your wallet. Photograph by Andrea De SilvaSave some kilowatts by unplugging idle chargers and using surge protectors. Photograph by Andrea De Silva

1 Beware of the vampires and phantoms among us- No, I don’t mean the characters that scare us in the movies. There are actual energy vampires and phantom loads all around us, disguised as idle electronic devices and standby power. Even though your cellphone or iPod isn’t plugged in, it doesn’t mean the charger isn’t drawing power.

So unplug all chargers before heading out. While the standby power of each household appliance is very low, in the long run, it all adds up. You feel it where it hurts—your wallet. Is it worth it to have your VCR, microwave or stereo keeping time, even when you’re not home, silently adding to your electricity bill?

One way to tackle this is to plug all your appliances into surge protectors, so all you have to do is flip one switch to turn them all off.

2 Change incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)- With countries around the world banning the use of incandescent bulbs, soon you may have no choice.

Since CFLs use less energy and give more visible light for the same amount of electrical input as traditional bulbs, you may be getting the better part of the bargain.

As an added bonus, when power plants derive their power from fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas, reduced energy use translates into reduced greenhouse emissions.

3 Cloth or recyclable bags- More and more countries are banning plastic shopping bags altogether or imposing levies on their use.

So before you have to leave a store bagless, carrying your goods in your hands, get into the habit of carrying a reusable cloth bag. Visitors to the Caribbean can use these bags as carry-on luggage, then use them during their shopping excursions at their destinations.

4 Reduce indoor and outdoor water use- Just turning off the tap while you brush your teeth saves four to ten gallons every day!

If you prefer baths to showers, filling the tub only halfway saves 25 gallons per bath. Plug the bath before turning on the taps and you save three gallons more, since the initial cold water warms as hot water is added.

Wash your car using a bucket, or, if you insist on using a hose, attach a nozzle that you can turn on and off as needed.

Unless you suffer from allergies or have sinus problems, use brooms or rakes to clean around the house, before thinking about turning on that hose.

5 Use manual tools- Obesity is a growing concern worldwide, and a surefire way to counter that and save energy is by using manual tools, such as lawnmowers or brushcutters. It’s a great way to get much-needed exercise, and at a time when the world faces record oil prices, it will certainly reduce fuel costs.

6 Eat local and in season- By eating local foods, you boost the economy, and visitors get an opportunity to sample new foods.

Consumers need to calculate the shipping and hauling costs involved in bringing imported fruits and vegetables to their neighbourhood supermarket, when there are local foods that can be used as substitutes.

7 Use a water filter instead of buying bottled water- Sure, bottled water is convenient, you can get it anywhere and in different sizes—but what are you really paying for? Several manufacturers have admitted that the “glacial springs” they claimed their water came from were really public taps!

Tap water in most cases faces higher regulatory standards than the chic bottled version. If you’re a tourist, you may be understandably wary about drinking local supplies. In that case, consider carrying water purification tablets.

8 Go meatless once a week- When it comes to greenhouse gases, methane (produced by cattle) warms the earth 23 times more than the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), while nitrous oxide has 296 times the global warming potential of CO2.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s report Livestock’s Long Shadow—Environmental Issues and Options says eating meat has long been seen as a sign of prosperity. But as suppliers increase production to meet ever-rising demand, the world’s cattle produce more greenhouse gases than driving cars.

By treating meat as a luxury item and going meatless every so often, not only will you be helping the environment, but you will be improving your health.

9 Smart driving- Since oil prices have crossed the US$100 mark, the focus is on using alternative fuels for vehicles.

But before running out and buying a hybrid car, consider this: you can save fuel by simply changing your driving habits. Aggressive driving wastes gas, lowering your gas mileage by 33 per cent at highway speeds. So pull out slowly, avoid hard braking, and drive only as fast as you need to.

10 Make your own cleaning supplies- Baking soda, vinegar and table salt are just a few environmentally friendly, non-toxic ingredients you can use to clean windows, deodorise carpets, remove stains, soften fabrics, etc. While other cleaners are usually flammable and carry warnings against substance abuse, you avoid those risks by using natural ingredients.