Q: I’m back at home with my parents after graduating from college this year. They are real energy hogs, but I’m hoping to help them make a few changes. Any tips on where to start?
A: I admire your effort to adopt a more energy-efficient lifestyle. As a college student, you are probably familiar with the concept of Meatless Mondays, so I’ll offer a few tips from my list of resolutions for 2010.
Waste less food
When I was a kid, my mother used to scold me about leaving food on my plate when others were less fortunate. Years later, I cringe when I throw out partially eaten cheese, wilted lettuce or other uneaten food.
Unfortunately, I’m part of a large problem. A new study by the Public Library of Science reveals that, since 1974, per capita food waste in the United States has increased by 50 percent, accounting for “more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and about 300 million barrels of oil per year.”
That staggering fact led me to shop with purpose and buy only what I plan to consume. When dining out, that means I split my humongous “single serving” and eat the second half as lunch or dinner the next day. Orange and lemon peels are scraped for their zest before getting chopped up as an all-natural air freshener for my garbage disposal. Encourage your parents to have a family dinner together on a regular basis, and brainstorm interesting recipes for the leftovers. Use baked chicken and roasted vegetables in an omelet during Sunday brunch. Toast the ends of your bread and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over casseroles.
Use natural resources
Winter weather makes it tempting to stay inside, curled up underneath a heated blanket while watching television, playing video games or browsing the Web. But I will work harder to enjoy natural resources, and I encourage your family to do the same. If weather permits, catch up during a long walk or hike together. Online calorie calculators can help determine how much you’ve burned.
Purge the junk
I’m sure the turkey drawing you made in the third grade was once a treasured work of art, but now it’s just taking up space. Take stock of the true treasures and encourage your parents to start tossing unnecessary items. If you haven’t touched the item in more than a year, consider it clutter. If your aunt left a collection of miniature ceramic elephants but your Mom’s more of a ceramic kitten fan, consider it clutter. Ditto for Dad’s jeans that fit a few decades ago. Get busy planning a yard sale every six months or skip the drama and donate usable goods to a local charity. You’ll have much more breathing room once the physical and emotional clutter is gone.
I’m much less likely to waste the fruits of my own labor, so I plan to grow some vegetables in 2010. Visit your local gardening center for a quick primer on what grows best in your area and then start planting. This could be a great family project.
Plug energy zappers like your computer, TV and DVD player into a power strip and turn it off when the items are not in use. “Sleep” mode on laptop computers still wastes energy, so turn off the machine when you’re done for the day. Also, unplug the toaster, blender, hair dryer, cellphone charger and other items that get occasional use. You’ll probably find an energy zapper or two in each room. Start an audit today.
My grandmother used to reuse paper and plastic bags until they were worn out. I happily follow her lead, reusing plastic carry out containers and foil that covered casseroles or pies. I also print on both sides of my recycled paper, recycling sheets again after use. Downloading the ecofont also extends the life of printer cartridges. This font has tiny holes that require 20 percent less ink and is available for Mac or PC users.
Make recycling easy
Do your part for the planet by making recycling easy for your family. Place clearly marked bins near the trash so there's no question where your folks should toss aluminum cans, glass, plastic or paper products. Once your family is on board, make it a neighborhood project. If your local sanitation department has a recycling program, sign up and spread the word throughout your community. If there is a neighborhood association, ask that they post enrollment information on the community website or share the good news during a neighborhood potluck.
Even if your family adopts just one of these tips, the impact will be huge. All the best!