25 low-cost, maximum-impact tips for a green 2009
Cameron Scott, Special to SFGate.com
1. The single largest impact you can have as an individual is to drive less by car-pooling, biking, walking, or using public transit. Find suggestions for decreasing your reliance on your car here.
2. Maintaining correct air pressure in your car's tires can significantly increase fuel efficiency. Check tire pressure once a month.
3. Help end the junk mail madness. Dramatically reduce the amount you receive by following these instructions, and sign a petition demanding a national Do Not Mail registry here.
4. Replace all incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and save about $100 over each bulb's life. Find low-priced bulbs by looking for PG&E "Save" stickers on bulbs at Walgreen's, Rite Aid and other local stores.
5. If you buy new appliances, make sure to buy energy-efficient models labeled "Energy Star." These models can cut energy use in half. Look for rebates here. A 2009 federal tax credit is also available for some EnergyStar products.
6. S.F. Public Utilities Commission customers can pick up free aerated faucets or showerheads at the PUC offices. EBMUD customers, inquire about rebates here. You'll reduce your water use — and the electricity required to treat and heat it — without even noticing a difference.
7. Stop buying expensive and toxic cleaning products. You can accomplish nearly all household cleaning and maintenance tasks with vinegar, baking soda, and boric acid. Download natural cleanser recipes here.
8. Unplugging electronics, including microwaves and chargers, when not in use will shave about 5 percent off your electric bill.
9. Buy only what you'll eat. Agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, and Americans waste at least 20 percent of their food.
10. Eat less red meat, and buy only grass-fed or organic meat. Feedlot operations produce large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and pollute water. Find tips on sustainable meat eating on Gastronicity.
11. Avoid processed foods whenever possible. Processing and packaging make processed foods' environmental footprint bigger than natural foods', and many contain palm oil, production of which is the primary cause of deforestation in Asian rainforests.
12. Wear a sweater this winter. Invest in an Energy Star programmable thermostat, and set it to 65 - 67 degrees when you are home. You'll make a big dent in your heating bills and reduce your carbon footprint.
13. You can save up to 30 percent on your energy bills by sealing all leaks in your house using caulk or foam. Learn how to locate leaks here.
14. Keep your hot water heater set at 120 degrees, or the "normal" setting. Water heating accounts for nearly 15 percent of your monthly bill.
15. Perform routine maintenance on your furnace, including filters and ducts, to keep heating costs down. Learn more here.
16. Wash only full loads of laundry and use natural detergent. Using the cold cycle can reduce your electricity use by 90 percent. Clean the lint filter before you put clothes in the dryer, and remove them as soon as they're dry.
17. Use the dishwasher! A full Energy Star model uses less water than hand washing does. Just be sure to choose the air-dry setting.
18. Maintain freezer temperature at 0 degrees, and refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees (but no warmer).
19. Replace as much of your yard as possible with native plants that require minimal watering. Experts believe California is entering a serious drought. Find SFGate's tips on water-conserving landscaping here.
20. If you're in the market for furniture, buy used. If you must buy new, avoid rainforest hardwoods including mahogany and teak.
21. Use paperless bill-paying for all of your bills, and ask about paperless direct deposit stubs at your place of work.
22. Ask the IT department at your office set computers to turn off after an hour and make double-sided printing the default setting.
23. Dispose of old electronics using a certified recycling program. Otherwise, your gadget may be shipped to China and dumped in a landfill there. Alameda and San Francisco counties offer services and information.
24. Make sure to take advantage of your city's recycling and composting programs. Many recyclables still end up in landfills. Learn more about San Francisco's program here, and Oakland's here.
25. Travel ready! Carry a portable mug for coffee stops and canvas or recycled-plastic bags to do grocery shopping. You can get a shopping tote by donating to some green groups or by making one yourself.