We can’t all be eco-warriors — at least not yet. Some of us really do need the gas-guzzling SUV, or find it more economical to buy the food that has been transported thousands of miles because the organic stuff is too pricey. Some of us are just overwhelmed with the thought of leaving the energy-consuming, petroleum-wasting, carbon dioxide-spewing lifestyle.
No fear, said the Citizens Planning Association, which held a workshop Wednesday to teach people how to reduce their carbon footprint. The event was held at the Faulkner Gallery of the public library in downtown Santa Barbara.
While we can’t all ditch the car and bike everywhere, or give up the plasma TV cold turkey, there are baby steps we can take as we head toward a carbon-neutral society. Here are a few:
» When in doubt, recycle. “If you have one or two items that you’re not sure about, give them a chance,” speaker Leif Skokberg said. “It’ll get sorted out one way or another.” Now that the increasing scarcity of petroleum is creating a better market for recycled plastics, many of the plastics that couldn’t be recycled before are now recyclable. An upside to recycling besides the obvious, Skokberg said, is that it creates more jobs than landfilling.
In Santa Barbara County, plastics labeled No. 1 through No. 7 are recyclable. Plastic grocery bags are now recyclable at the bigger grocery stores.
» Keep your recyclables clean, particularly plastic. A little shake and rinse will do. Even a little bit of food can keep plastics from being melted down and reconstituted properly. Enough contamination and a whole bale of plastic will be rendered useless.
“Let’s say it’s shipped to China for recycling,” said Skokberg, who pointed out that about half of the plastic we recycle in the United States is sent to China for processing. “If it’s full of maggots and all sorts of gross stuff, they can reject loads and send it back, and it’ll probably end up in the landfill.”
» Paper or plastic? It’s become a tough choice for grocery shoppers everywhere. Paper is biodegradeable, and plastic takes less energy to produce. A good rule of thumb is to pick the type of bag you’re more likely to reuse. To spare yourself the dilemma, use a reusable tote bag.
» Use less energy. It’s a no-brainer, but conscientious use of energy will be better not only for the environment, but for your wallet, speaker Sarah Grant said.
“Energy-efficient choices can save you up to a third of your energy costs,” she said.
These choices include using energy-efficient appliances, turning down the heat and using a sweater on cold days and turning off the air conditioning and using a fan on warm days.
You can also air-dry your clothes, or replace incandescent light bulbs with compact flourescent ones. CFLs may cost a little more to start with, about $7 a bulb, but last 15 times longer and use a lot less energy.
Unplug the plasma TV, Grant said. Not only do the big and beautiful 60-inch TVs with eye-popping high definition use about three times more energy than your regular set, they continue to suck up a lot energy when they’re turned off but plugged in.
To assess just how much energy your appliances use, you might want to buy or borrow a Kill-A-Watt, a gadget that monitors energy consumption when appliances are plugged in.
» Use less water. “The average household uses 22,000 gallons of water a year,” Grant said. “If 1,000 people installed water-efficient faucets, shower heads and toilets, they could save 8 million gallons of water a year.” And the energy used in transporting and heating the water would be spared as well.
To find out more about reducing your water usage, try the county’s “20-Gallon Challenge,” which pushes people to find ways to cut 20 gallons from their typical monthly usage.
» Green your home. Sometimes, a little vinegar and baking soda will do the trick instead of caustic cleaners such as bleach and ammonia (which, by the way, you should never mix). Salt is a good scrub if you want to avoid cleansers. You’ll do local streams and the ocean a favor by avoiding harsh chemicals.
If you’re fixing up the home, go for low-toxicity paints and renewable materials such as bamboo.
“Read the labels,” Grant said. “But even so, manufacturing companies are not required to put all their ingredients on their labels.” Your best bet, she said, would be to go with companies that offer full disclosure.
» Choose the rechargeable batteries. Like compact flourescent bulbs, rechargeable batteries may cost more to start with, but will pay for themselves in the long run.
“Fifteen billion batteries are sold a year,” Grant said. “Triple A batteries actually take 50 times more energy to make than the energy they give out.” Since batteries can’t be properly disposed of as easily as recyclables or trash, the next best thing to do would be to go with the long-life, low-toxicity Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) variety.
» Buy local, when possible. Food will travel an average of 2,000 miles before it reaches your plate. That’s halfway across the country, with the associated costs of packaging, refrigeration, transportation and storage. This also applies to almost anything else we consume.
» Travel conscientiously. Ride your bike if you can, or take the bus. MTD can provide online and telephone information that can take the mystery away from public transit. Likewise, the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition’s Web site provides information on how to get around in Santa Barbara on two wheels. It even holds a class for people new to the world of urban cycling.
If you must use your car to run errands, for instance, plan it so you can get as much stuff done in one trip, and hypermile. There are techniques you can use to maximize your fuel economy. They include not using the air conditioning, cruising at a speed that allows your car to use fuel efficiently (generally 30 to 50 miles per hour), coasting (with engine on), as well as maintaining your car in good condition.
Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at email@example.com.