April marked the one-year anniversary of this column (see ). It’s been great fun, and a learning experience for me, as I try to keep my wits (and wit) about me while offering eco-information and “green” tips. After all, it wouldn’t be right to take myself too seriously in this, considering I still use plastic bags because I keep forgetting my canvas ones -- you might even see me doing this at Stop and Shop -- and I have to admit I have hidden a peanut butter jar or two in the regular garbage because I was too busy to clean the sticky mess out to recycle them. Thank you to everyone who has come with me on the journey so far, and welcome new readers!
Now, for this column.
Although helping Mother Earth should be reward in itself, it’s often impossible to see the results in terms of cleaner air or reduced greenhouse gases. That’s why I thought it might be nice for a change to offer a few “green” tips that you can benefit from directly or immediately. Just a few things that can put a little of that other kind of green in your wallet -- greenbacks, you know, dead presidents.
"Help the earth and help yourself" should be the motto of the website Earth Aid.
The site not only tracks your major household energy use by linking to your utilities -- LIPA, and probably Aqua Water around here, plus your particular natural gas supplier -- but it also suggests a variety of steps for going “green” and then actually rewards you for taking them.
Whenever you help the environment by cutting back on your usage, you accumulate points. You can redeem the points for a variety of products and services. I just redeemed points for a discount at an online gardening supplier.
The idea is the same at the site recyclebank.com, although the approach is a bit different.
There is no tracking your energy usage, but you do earn points whenever you make eco-friendly choices. Once registered on the site, you earn points for actions such as recycling cereal boxes or completing a “green” home challenge, for example. Points are redeemable for thousands of goodies, everything from household products to gift cards.
BYOB or BYOC … as in Bags and Cups!
Reducing plastic, Styrofoam and paper usage alone is a great incentive to bring your own bag or cup, but now some major retailers pay you for these good “green” deeds.
At you earn $1 on a special CVS card for every four trips on which you "Bring Your Own Bag" (BYOB).
At , 5 cents are deducted from your total shopping bill for every shopping bag brought from home -- whether it's a paper, plastic or a reusable canvas bag.
At Starbucks, be sure to "Bring Your Own Cup" (BYOC) to save 10 percent off your next cup of java. That may seem like a drop in your commuter mug, but that adds up if you stop by before work each day, or more. Oh, and if your register online, you get a free cup of Joe for your birthday and other special offers!
Try the same at , since sometimes they charge a special “refill” price rather than full price, but it depends on the location. Other retailers are fast following suit, so be on the lookout for other offers and be sure to ask about “green” policies.
If you hear of any, please e-mail me or drop a line below in comments area so your neighbors may benefit!
Solar Power Payback
By now, you probably know that I handle the marketing communications for a local solar energy company, so my advocating this transfer of power in your home may seem suspect, but I'm really just a believer. All I can say is do your own homework, and please consider that it was solar energy itself that convinced me, long before I began to help educate others about its facts versus its myths.
The truth is that a solar energy system on a home is the only home improvement I know of that actually pays you back, not only increasing home resale values the way an updated kitchen or bathroom can (see the recent study reported in the New York Times, for example).
The typical solar electricity system installed in a Long Island home is paid for with dollars that would otherwise have gone to electricity bills, and its cost to begin with is reduced by way of LIPA cash rebates and federal and state tax credits.
Beyond that, quality solar panels are generally warrantied for 25 years, and it typically takes five to seven years to pay off a system -- contrary to the myth that it takes a dozen or more years -- so that can mean as many as 20 years of free electricity, while traditional electricity bills keep rising.
Sounds like a little more green in your pocket, doesn’t it?
Know What’s Watt!
As oil prices rise, so do electricity costs, so learning how many watts you expend without even realizing it can help you cut down on them -- and that means dollars to spend elsewhere.
A plug-in power gauge device, such as the aptly named Kill-A-Watt or the Belkin Conserve Insight, available at most for about $30, can be your guide. It will tell you how much electricity each appliance or electronic device uses, and if it makes any sense to keep them plugged in.
You just connect the device to any appliance, and a display will show your consumption by the kilowatt-hour, same as on your LIPA bill. It also calculates your electrical expenses by the day, week, month, even an entire year, and monitors power quality so you’ll know how efficient it is.
Warning! This little gauge can be addicting. I went from room to room, appliance to gadget, and then tried to do the same at homes of friends and neighbors. It was interesting to find out that my phone charger was costing me money even when my phone wasn’t being charged, and that my kitchen mixer was using wild amounts of watts when not even making a stir.
As part of its commitment to the environment, which has taken the form in eco-friendly mailing materials in the past, the U.S. Post Office recently introduced a “Go Green” series of Forever stamps.
As you probably know, Forever Stamps can be used to mail a one-ounce letter, regardless of when the stamps are purchased -- right now at 44 cents apiece -- or used, and no matter how prices may change in the future.
The Go Green version features 16 designs, each depicting a simple way each of us can help our environment, from choosing to walk to composting. Find them at your local post office.
Help yourself while you help the Earth! Also, if you come across other ways to be paid back for going “green,” let me know via e-mail (I will credit you if used in a future column).