Sometimes when confronted with the enormity of our environmental challenges and the seeming lack of urgency displayed by our leaders, it’s easy to feel we are all doomed and that any contribution we make is pointless. However, as individuals we can make a difference. We have enormous power – it’s just that we often don’t realise it. For every pro environmental action we take this year we are contributing to the solution.
Just imagine… if every person that paid a £3 per month standing order to their favourite charity said “what’s the point, £3 isn’t going to rescue an abused child, feed a family in the developing world, or save habitat for a threatened species”, then pretty much every charity in this country would disappear.
It’s those few hundred thousand people, each paying a small amount per month, that enables them to make a difference; for the NSPCC to help vulnerable children, for Oxfam to feed families in developing world countries, for the RSPB to buy land to protect wildlife habitats.
It’s the same with the environment – every action you take makes a difference. Your choice is; will it be a positive difference or a negative one?
Recent research showed that 45% of people said they would recycle more if they thought other people were. Why does it matter whether other people are recycling or not? Lets make 2010 the year to stop being a sheep. Stop worrying what the rest of the flock is doing and whether they are eating more or less grass than you. Decide what you are going to do – and do it! If they want to follow you – that’s great. If they don’t – it’s their choice.
Here are a few simple things you can do – that will make a real positive difference over the next year.
1) Eat less meat.
For example if you had just one meat free day per week for a year you’d reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 3/5th of a tonne, you’d save 84,000 gallons of water. You’d also save 245lbs of grain that could be used to feed people instead – that’s about 6 months food for someone in the developing world. For more savings and ways to cut your meat consumption go to www.munchlessmeat.co.uk
There are plenty of materials that can easily be recycled and the benefits are huge!
For example recycling metal leads to considerable energy savings. The figures below are the energy savings made by recycling rather than virgin extraction and production. The figures from the British Metal Recyling Association [http://www.recyclemetals.org/] take into account the sorting and transportation.
Aluminium – 95%
Copper – 85%
Lead – 60%
Steel – 62 – 74%
Zinc – 60%
Aside from the energy savings, the more metal that can be recycled, the less we need to mine, the slower the destruction of our environment. Although some recycling could be argued to produce toxic materials; mining certainly does.
For every tonne of plastic that is recycled we save 5,774 KWH of Energy, 16.3 barrels of oil, 98 million BTUs of Energy and 30 cubic yards of landfill space. Recycling plastics uses only roughly 10 percent of the energy that it takes to make a pound of plastic from virgin materials.
Again, the savings aren’t just in energy – plastics are still mostly made from petrochemicals; i.e. crude oil. Nearly 10 percent of U.S. oil consumption, which equates to approximately 2 million barrels a day – is used to make plastics.
According to www.wasteonline.org.uk, for every tonne of glass that is recycled we save 1.2 tonnes of raw materials. Plus, after taking into account the transport and processing needed to recycle glass, nearly 700lbs of carbon dioxide is saved per tonne of glass that is melted down to make new bottles and jars.
Recycled glass uses less than two-thirds of the energy needed to manufacture glass from raw materials according to the Glass Packaging Institute (http://www.gpi.org/)
Recycled glass isn’t just used for making more bottles – it can be turned into fiberglass (which is also used in house insulation), and as a component of bricks; requiring less energy to create the bricks and as the product is lighter, less energy is used in transport. Glass can be recycled indefinitely.
One tonne of recycled glass saves 42 KWH of Energy, 0.12 barrels of oil (5 gallons), 714,000 BTUs of Energy, and 7.5 pounds of Air Pollutants from being released, plus 2 cubic yards of landfill space.
And the good news is – over 30% of the raw material used in Glass production now comes from recycled Glass.
By recycling one tonne of Paper we save 4,100 KWH of Energy, 9 barrels of oil, and 54 million BTUs of Energy, 60lbs of Air Pollutants (excluding carbon dioxide!) from being released, 7,000 gallons of water and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
And there’s more – recycling a tonne of paper also saves up to 31 trees and uses about 60% less energy than making paper from new materials.
All of these items are easy for householders to recycle. Most councils will collect them from your doorstep, and all councils have civic amenity sites that will recycle these materials (and many, many others). All Things Eco has a useful recycling directory at http://www.allthingseco.co.uk/directory/Recycling
But beware the recycling trap!
Just because an item can be recycled doesn’t mean that excess consumption is now OK. Remember, recycling is the last of the 3R’s i.e. Reduce, Reuse… lastly, Recycle.
Reduction of consumption means that less needs to be produced in the first place (and you’ll save money too). Reusing gives old products new life with little or no energy being used for repurposing, whereas recycling still does require substantial energy.
3) Composting There are lots of benefits to composting and if you have a garden you’re also creating a great resource for yourself.
* It reduces the amount of waste in your bin
Research into the composition of an average bin by the Waste and Resources Action Programme [www.wrap.org.uk] suggested that 17% was made up of kitchen waste while 20% was made up of green waste. So by composting you are reducing the amount you send to landfill by at least a third.
* It diverts organic waste away from landfill
Sending organic waste to landfill causes additional problems (beyond those normally associated with landfill). Organic waste that breaks down in landfill does so in anaerobic conditions. It is a natural process, but one that creates methane, a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
* It saves you money and the environment in the process
By producing your own compost, you can save money that might otherwise be spent buying compost from a garden centre.
If you don’t have a garden and are lucky enough to live in area where your council collects compostable waste – take advantage of it! Creating more available compost has many environmental benefits (see: http://www.epa.gov)
* Compost helps enrich soils
Compost has the ability to help regenerate poor soils. The composting process encourages the production of beneficial micro-organisms (i.e. bacteria and fungi) which in turn break down organic matter to create humus. Humus (a rich nutrient-filled material) increases the nutrient content in soils and helps soils retain moisture. Compost has also been shown to suppress plant diseases and pests, reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers, and promote higher yields of agricultural crops.
* Compost helps cleanup (remediate) contaminated soil
The composting process has been shown to absorb odors and treat semi-volatile and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including heating fuels, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and explosives. It has also been shown to bind heavy metals and prevent them from migrating to water resources or being absorbed by plants. The compost process degrades and, in some cases, completely eliminates wood preservatives, pesticides, and both chlorinated and nonchlorinated hydrocarbons in contaminated soils.
* Compost helps prevent pollution
Composting organic materials that have been diverted from landfills ultimately avoids the production of methane and leachate formulation in the landfills. Compost has the ability to prevent pollutants in stormwater runoff from reaching surface water resources. Compost has also been shown to prevent erosion and silting on embankments parallel to lakes, and rivers, and prevents erosion on roadsides, hillsides, playing fields, and golf courses.
* Using compost offers economic benefits
Using compost can reduce the need for water, fertilisers, and pesticides. It serves as a marketable commodity and is a low-cost alternative to standard landfill cover and artificial soil amendments. Composting also extends the life of landfill sites by diverting organic materials from landfills and provides a less costly alternative to conventional methods of cleaning contaminated soil.
So whatever actions you choose to take, they may seem small to you, but they have a big impact.
The more you do them – the bigger the impact and the more likely it is that others will follow.
Remember, every change has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is the small steps that we each take. So, here’s to making 2010 the year we started to make the most of the power we each have as individuals.