1 Unplug chargers for phones, iPods, computers and other electronic devices when not in use. Despite being "turned off," a charger still consumes energy and wastes about 75 percent of electricity used to power the appliances themselves. Instead of plugging and unplugging your chargers into the wall, plug all of them into a single power strip with its own on/off button. This way, you simply press one button to turn all of the chargers off, without having to unplug them.
2 Turn off your computer if you’re not using it. Screensavers don’t count because they still burn energy. According to Thedailygreen.com, a Dell 19-inch flat panel monitor alone uses over 34 watts per hour – the equivalent to driving almost 1,400km in terms of carbon emissions. And that is only for the screen; it does not include the computer, which requires even more energy. If you’re looking for a new computer, choose a laptop over a desktop. Laptops use 50 percent less energy than desktop computers, according to National Geographic. Also, look into sustainable computers rated by Energy Star. Energy Star qualified computers need only 380 watts per hour while a standard computer uses 1,680 watts per hour. Look for the Energy Star label on other household products, such as washers, dryers, refrigerators and air conditioning units.
3 To conserve energy, keep your thermostat above 25°C during summer and below 21°C during winter. According to Energy Star, the average American household spends more than USD 2,200 a year on energy bills – nearly half of which goes to heating and cooling. According to Carbonfund.org, cooling and heating accounts for over 70 percent of energy used in the home.
4 Wash full loads of laundry using cold water to conserve both electricity and water. Simply switching to cold water reduces up to 90 percent of the energy used to wash a standard load of clothes. You can also cut back on the chemicals in your home by using all-natural soap nuts instead of standard laundry detergent; find them at the World Health Store.
5 A standard 30-minute shower requires almost 300 liters of water, with an average flow of 10 liters of water every minute. Limit showers to five minutes; use a timer and make it a daily goal. Better yet, install a low-flow shower head.
6 Install water filters on your home’s taps and stop buying bottled water. Each year, around 1.5 million tons of plastic are used to bottle 89 billion liters of water, as reported by the World Wide Fund for Nature in 2001. And that bottled water may not be clean: A 2007 Reuters article quoted Guangdong’s commerce bureau, stating that of 111 water cooler shops in eight cities across the province, only 36 percent of the samples tested satisfactory – others had high levels of bacteria. To purchase home water filters for drinking and/or showering, contact Aquasana. Their US-made products are bio-safe, non-toxic and remove contaminants such as chlorine and heavy metals. World Health Store also supplies basic shower filters.
7 Change standard light bulbs to the energy-efficient variety. A 15-watt fluorescent bulb produces the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb, making it four to six times more efficient. Check out Ikea’s lighting section for energy-efficient bulbs.
8 Use cloth diapers or alternate with disposable ones. According to Associatedcontent.com, the average child will use nearly 6,000 disposable diapers in two years, which take around 500 years to decompose. Furthermore, cloth diapers are reusable and can later be used as a household rag.
9 Invest in an air purifier. IQ Air provides free home air quality assessments and guarantees that their purifiers capture 99.97 percent of particulates. A 2007 report by the World Bank says air pollution is the major cause of respiratory symptoms, chronic bronchitis, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, and even premature death worlwide. To combat air pollution, Dr. Richard Saint Cyr of International Medical Clinic suggests leading a healthy lifestyle, which means not smoking, exercising at least 150 minutes per week and incorporating fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and good fats into your diet.
10 Cut carbon emissions by eating less meat. Whether it’s beef, pork or chicken, raising and slaughtering livestock uses 17 times as much land, 26 times as much water, 20 times the fossil fuels, and six times as many chemicals than it does to produce tofu, according to Plenty magazine. Beef remains the most destructive. One kilo of beef requires seven times the amount of land needed to produce a kilo of chicken and a whopping 15 times more land for producing a kilo of pork.
11 When eating out, bring your own reusable chopsticks and discourage the use of disposable ones. A China Daily report estimates "45 billion pairs [of disposable chopsticks]are used and thrown away every year – equivalent to 25 million fully grown trees." Find them at Yashow or online at Tabao.
12 Switch to green stocks and invest in environmentally friendly companies. Green companies range from metal recycling plants to organic farms, and offer good returns along with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you’re not investing in harmful practices.
13 Reuse containers whenever possible to minimize waste. For instance, carry your own takeaway container for restaurant leftovers. While a banana peel takes three to four weeks to break down, it takes 200 years for an aluminum can to decompose, 450 years for a plastic bottle and an estimated 900 years for a Styrofoam container. Despite the appearance of recycling in Beijing (with thousands of people collecting trash every day for resale), the city faces a huge waste problem. The local government estimates that Beijingers generate 18,000 tons of waste every day, which is 7,000 tons more than the capacity of municipal disposal plants. Waste expert Wang Weiping tells the Guardian that "all landfill and treatment sites in Beijing will be full in four years."
14 Save on plane emissions and transport costs by buying as few imported products as possible. In the UK, food travels 30 billion kilometers each year and is responsible for adding nearly 19 million tons of CO₂to the atmosphere per year. In 2005, the import of fruits, nuts, and vegetables into California by plane released more than 70,000 tons of CO₂- the equivalent to the emissions of over 12,000 cars on the road.
15 Avoid e-readers like the iPad and stick with paperbacks. Some environmentalists praise e-readers as a way to reduce logging and improve CO₂levels, among other benefits. But how many books would you have to read on your iPad before it makes a difference? According to the New York Times, with respect to fossil fuels, water use and mineral consumption, the production of one e-reader equals roughly 40 to 50 books. When it comes to global warming, it’s 100 books. Also worth noting: Making one e-reader is estimated to be 70 times more detrimental to a worker’s health than making a single book. So unless you read 100 e-books a year and plan on responsibly recycling your iPad when it’s time to upgrade, you can feel good about staying old-school.
16 When traveling by air, make sure you pack light: Planes flying with excess baggage use more fuel. When you do fly, choose economy class. According to the UK’s Guardian Online, flying first-class on British Airways gives you a carbon footprint around 5.5 times larger than that of an economy passenger, while a business seat creates 3.5 times more CO₂than the economy option.
17 Be sensible about the food you buy and how you consume it. According to Nextgenerationfood.com, if we stopped wasting food, the CO₂impact would be the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road. Visit Lovefoodhatewaste.com to find out how you can manage your portion sizes and what to do with all those leftovers.
18 Save money and minimize the pesticides you consume by growing your own herbs. A small potted herb garden will fit nicely into most Beijing kitchens or apartment balconies. Make sure the herbs you choose grow well together. Good combinations include sage, rosemary, oregano, and thyme; lemon balm and basil; and parsley and cilantro. Use either a terracotta or wood pot and be sure to water your herbs once a day as they’re prone to drying out. Pick up your potting supplies from Liangma Flower Market (see Directory for listing).
19 Don’t just throw away your unwanted clothes and household items – donate them to a worthy cause or give them to friends. In the UK alone, it is estimated that over 1 million tons of textiles are thrown away every year, most of which come from household sources. (See Feature p62, for charity store listings.)
20 Order your dairy, fruit, vegetables and herbs from any one of Beijing’s local organic farms. Buying organic supports local business, reduces carbon emissions by shortening the distance your food has to travel, and cuts back on pesticides and air-borne pollutants. Organic food is also just plain tastier. You can also save on packaging by bypassing store-bought baby food in favor of homemade. Simply use your organic fruit and veg for a safer, more eco-friendly alternative. For details on Beijing’s organic farms, see Feature p57 and p62.