Still thinking about Earth Day in May

Being healthy is easier in a clean environment. Earth Day helps us remember to pay attention to the planet. The litter clean up on Earth Day was thwarted by the amount of snow still on the ground. The day was also overshadowed by other events in the news. I have been thinking about it in May, instead.

At my day job, two of my longer-term projects have to do with the consequence of air pollution from burning fuel for energy. Combustion results in a number of different pollutants; my projects focus on mercury and greenhouse gases.

Because I think about air pollution a lot, I also think a lot about ways to reduce it. A key strategy is being smart about the energy we use – electricity and vehicles, especially. I have a friend who has said, but I’m only one person and how can what I do make any difference? If you have also thought that, I want to encourage to change your thinking. Energy is an area where lots of individual or small actions really do add up to a big impact. A large amount of the electricity produced goes to use in our daily activities in the buildings where we live and work.

I would guess that most of you know that it’s a good idea to turn off the lights when you leave a room and unplug chargers when they are not being used. I am going to suggest a few other, fairly easy things that you might consider doing. Pick one, and maybe add another later. Every bit helps! For more ideas, see The Energy Savers Guide.

1) Recycle.
Recycling rates in Minnesota definitely have room for improvement. One-sort in Minneapolis has already helped, and we can do even better. If you have been lackadaisical about recycling, this might be the one to pick. Recycling doesn’t just save landfill space, it saves energy. Making a new aluminum can from recycled material uses only 5% of the energy as making one from scratch. A 95% savings is pretty amazing!

2) Change some light bulbs.
Think of the lights you use most often. If you have traditional, incandescent bulbs in those lights, change them to compact fluorescent or LEDs. The light quality and costs have greatly improved. While the initial cost is higher, these bulbs use much less energy and last longer. Since they last longer, they are also a good choice for lights in hard-to-reach locations.

3) Combine car trips.
The engine in your car puts out the most pollution when starting up after it has been sitting a while. Combining car trips helps by reducing cold starting; restarting when the engine is already warmed up uses less fuel. Go to the farthest-away errand first, and work your way back home. For more ideas, see the Drive Smarter Challenge.

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