How to Keep Your Home Green

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By Lexi Dewing

Illustrations Alex Latimer

With the weather we’ve experienced these past few years, it’s difficult to deny the effects of global warming. Droughts one year. Flooding the next. And then snow. Is something’s not right with Mother Nature? Not really. These events have been going on for aeons. But it’s hard to deny that a billion cars coughing out carbon dioxide every day are not affecting the environment in a way that was uncommon in our great grandfather’s day* (see footnote at end of article).

So it’s back to the basics. The three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We may not believe one person changing their habits can make a difference, but it’s true: even the smallest effort helps fight a huge problem.

Be Water Wise

One of the easiest and most effective ways to go ‘green’ is by reducing the amount of water used at home. This way we’ll keep the dam levels up and our expensive bills down. It’s a win-win situation:

• Close the tap when brushing teeth or when shaving, this is said to save between 20 and 40 litres.

• A bath uses an average of 160 litres of water; a five-minute shower uses only 60 litres. Only have a bath at home? Rather try running a smaller bath, or sharing the bath water with a family member.

• Make sure the washing machine and dishwasher are fully loaded before starting them. This will mean fewer washes throughout the week.

• Think before rinsing glasses and cutlery under running water.

• Check for leaks. A dripping tap (one drop per second) can waste up to 30 litres of water an hour, which adds up to 10 000 litres a year.

• Recycle used water bottles, and start using a water filter and reusable container. This will reduce or completely eliminate the need for disposable plastic bottles, which makes a huge impact on the environment—the production of bottles will decrease and the amount of bottles floating in our oceans will diminish.

• Do away with washing the car with a hosepipe. Consider using two buckets of water rather. This is said to save up to 300 litres of water each time.

• Only water the garden before 10am or after 4pm so the sun doesn’t dry up most of the water.

Remember this: watering the garden less frequently, but deeper (for longer), actually encourages a deeper root system, which results in stronger plants. 

• Consider re-using bath water and sink water in the garden. Professional grey-water recycling systems are available on the market.

Zap Electricity Usage

Another thing to reduce at home is electricity usage. Switch off plugs at the wall and unplug idle cellphone chargers or laptop chargers. (Touch an idle charger—if it’s warm it’s using electricity.) Always turn off lights when not in a room—also, use only energy saving bulbs. Disable the ‘ready on’ button on TVs, DVD players, home printers, etc. Appliances in standby mode chew up electricity. Small changes such as these will add up and make a big difference.

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Reusing and Recycling Go Hand in Hand

Everything we can’t reuse, we should try and recycle. Pretty much every item in the house can have multiple uses. Can’t think of any? Look it up, there’s almost always a solution or a bright idea someone else has already thought of. Go to www.mytwodollars.com  for some ideas. 

On average, one family generates three rubbish bags a week, overloading landfills. About 80 per cent of this can be recycled. Here are some tips for getting started around the house:

• Find a convenient place to collect recyclable items. Most things come from the kitchen, making it a good spot to set up a recycling area. The great thing about recycling is, it lets us put your favourite old containers, bins or baskets to use. Assign containers for glass, plastic and aluminium.

• Take leftover plastic bags back to stores or recycling groups where they are collected and reused to make plastic lumber or other items. Or collect them at home and reuse them for shopping or carrying things around. Check the bottom of plastic items to identify what type of plastic they are. If the type is not recycled at your local centre, consider ways to reuse the container. 

• Know someone interested in making art from recycled materials? Offer to provide supplies. Many school children need items such as paper towel tubes for art projects. Older artists use everything from rubber bands to oven doors. And maybe it’s time to make a suggestion to the local art teacher, to put an emphasis on making art from trash.

• Let’s change the saying to, “If you don’t love something, let it go.” Charities always welcome donations. Give away clothes that don’t fit, the boxes used in the last house move, wine cartons, old magazine copies, or even scented soaps that don’t appeal to our sensibilities. Make it a rule in the house that nothing useable goes in the trash until we’ve given others in the community a fair shot at it.

• Composting is one of the simplest and most effective recycling methods. Both garden cuttings and green kitchen waste can go into an outdoor or indoor compost pile (with or without entertaining a population of worms). Live in a flat without a garden? Find neighbours or a community garden that can make use of the soil. Composting food scraps will mean the regular kitchen bin will fill up more slowly and won’t smell.

What Can Be Recycled?

1. Metal

• Cool drink and beer cans

• Food tins

• Metal lids from glass jars

• Aluminium cans (eg, Red Bull), foil and foil packaging

• Paint, oil and aerosol cans (leave labels on so recyclers can see whether they contain hazardous material)

2. Glass

• Beverage bottles

• Food jars such as tomato sauce, jam and mayonnaise bottles

The following cannot be recycled

• Drinking glasses

• Light bulbs: ordinary and energy-saving compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), and fluorescent tubes. Take them to your local Pick ’n Pay or Woolworths to be recycled.

3. Paper

 • White office paper

• Magazines and books 

• Newspaper

• Cardboard (wine cartons and cereal boxes)

The following cannot be recycled:

• Laminated or waxy paper

• Punch confetti

• Carbon paper

• Stickers

4. Plastics

 Plastics are made from oil, a non-renewable resource, and much of the plastic packaging we use every day is recyclable: 

• Ice cream and milk containers

• Fabric softener bottles

• Plastic bags 

• Cling-wrap 

The easiest way to determine whether a plastic product is recyclable is by looking for its recycling logo.

5. Tetrapak

Fruit juice and milk containers look as though they’re made out of paper but they are lined with aluminium foil and plastic, so they must be recycled separately.

6. Batteries

• Disposable batteries are non-recyclable, but should not be thrown away with ordinary household waste, because they contain toxic chemicals that can leach into the soil and groundwater. 

• Rechargeable batteries, on the other hand, are recyclable. Phone your local council or ask a store where you can take your old batteries.

For more handy tips go to www.treevolution.co.za.

* According to a report from Ward’s Auto released last year, the global number of cars exceeded one billion in 2010, jumping from 980 million the year before. China has the world's second largest car population, with 78 million vehicles. But the United States still constitutes by far the largest vehicle population in the world, with 240 million cars.