It doesn't take a genius to work out that human beings do not live in perfect harmony with their environment. In fact, we're destroying it. The ozone layer's diminishing, polar ice caps are melting, forests are vanishing, butterflies are disappearing... when is it going to stop? And what can we do about it? Obviously, there is a lot that governments can do on a bigger scale. But what about us? What can we do?
Well, quite a lot. If each of us as individuals make a concerted effort to be a little 'greener', then the knock-on effect across the globe might well be significant. Here you'll find lots of pointers on how to be planet friendly. Remember, a little goes a long way.
Bicycling is good for the environment as it uses no fossil fuels so there are no harmful emissions. However, many towns and cities have to change the community attitude towards bicycling among the drivers and the bicyclists, in order to truly make cycling an alternative means of transport.
In Europe, in particular, towns and cities were not planned for cyclists. Even the roads of London are narrow and windy and as a result they are congested for up to eight hours a day. Many major cities are making concessions by allowing cyclists to use bus lanes or by creating cycling lanes on busy routes. Although this is a start there are two disadvantages; the cyclist has to endure the wrath of car drivers who see them as stealing precious road space and he also has to wait in fume-choked traffic jams.
Stevenage is not renowned for anything in particular, but this plain market town is a pioneer for bicyclists throughout the world. Stevenage is a new town1 and was planned from scratch. The town planners decided to create two sets of roads - one for motorists, one for the cyclists. The result is an easily navigable set of bike routes that run parallel to the main roads. These are usually separated by a bank of green grass and run to all corners of the town.
Why is it that many people don't ride bikes everywhere, even though they are fit enough? Simple, it requires too much effort. Although we seem to be the biggest generation of health freaks in the world, it appears that many of us are not too keen on the idea of actually doing exercise to get to work.
The answer is the motorized scooter. This is basically a skateboard with a handle at the front and an electric motor nailed to the back. It has all the advantages of cycling and more; it's more environmentally friendly than a car, it's small enough to allow you to weave in and out of traffic jams with ease, and afterwards you can just fold it up and slip it into your suitcase.
The disadvantages are that it is illegal to ride one without a valid driving licence and a motorbike helmet - this goes for pavements as well as the road. Added to this, you'll need insurance to go on the road which can be difficult to get hold of for what is essentially a motorized skateboard.
Just for a moment imagine, if you will, a future where everybody has a motorized scooter. London, far from being a car crash away from total gridlock as it is now, would be full of bustling streets, with people buzzing up and down the roads in their thousands. The only large vehicles would be the (now incredibly well funded) buses, and the occasional car full of school children. Road rage would be virtually non-existent, since being angry at someone from behind a windscreen is much easier than someone who is practically a pedestrian on wheels. Emissions would be cut in half and oil would last a few more decades before completely drying up.
Although motorbikes are still fuel guzzlers, they are still more eco-friendly than your average car. Consider the following:
Many people drive around alone in a car. One person plus a ton of steel takes a lot of fuel to move about the place. You can still get two people plus luggage on a motorbike.
A three-lane motorway road could easily take eight lanes of motorcycles. Hence less localised pollution by traffic jams full of cars ticking over without going anywhere. Also, it is worth thinking about the fuel savings when moving along in top gear at 4000 revs, as opposed to creeping along at the same number of revs in first gear.
Motorcycles take far less natural resources to build in the first place than cars. It would be easy to set up a freight system on existing railways to stick motorcycles on board for the really long journeys.
Chicks dig guys on motorbikes - apparently.
Mass Transit Systems
Mass transit (train, tube, bus and tram) is often much more efficient than cars with only the driver in them. A train may need more energy as a whole, but per person it requires far less. Trains are also more comfortable and faster than cars. With traffic building up, trains will get you to your destination with slightly less frustration than sitting in a traffic jam. If you are delayed, at least you can share your emotions with your fellow commuters.
However, mass transit is only more efficient if people use it. Many of us have sat on trains in the middle of the afternoon where there were only about five people on them. At least with buses the operator can change to a smaller vehicle, but train operators are stuck pretty much with what they've got. One suggestion for those routes that have a light commuter/user record is to substitute them for light rail (tram type) systems as they seem to be popular with people and are more eco-friendly too.
Recycling has been around, in one form or another, for centuries. In medieval Europe, a noble lady's wardrobe was passed on from queen to queen (in the case of Henry VIII) or from mother to daughter. The greatest recycling effort the world has witnessed took place during World War II; families donated pots, pans and other non-essential metallic items so that they could be melted down to help build up a country's war machine.
After the war, we were all more planet friendly, we just didn't really realise it. We used to leave our empty milk bottles out for the milkman to collect and re-use; now we resort to the plastic carton. Shops used to encourage us to return our used beer and fizzy drink bottles by offering us a cash reward, redeemed on site at the shop.
It was only with the advent of the disposable society and the aggressive nature of the eco-warriors in the 1980s that we became aware of the importance of looking after our planet. As a result, we have seen the mushrooming of recycling banks throughout the world at various locations such as supermarkets, train stations and road lay-bys. Local authorities use many tactics to get us to recycle and here's one Researcher's experience;
Oregon, USA has a 'bottle bill' in that most drink containers for things like soda pop and beer have a deposit. You return them to the grocery store and you get money back. This applies to everywhere in the state.
I live in Portland and we have an excellent curb side programme. On the night you put out your trash, you also put out your recyclables in bins provided for you by the city. Now you don't even have to sort things much, just put it out and the recycling people take care of it. I actually went out and purchased some nifty stacking bins, and on my porch I have one for glass, cans (and bits of aluminium foil), paper/cardboard (the kind that cereal boxes use), and a larger bin for plastic containers. The refuse collectors will also pick up corrugated cardboard if it's put out as well.
So once a week all I have to do is make a few more trips to the curb side.
I find it hard when I'm on business trips and am visiting places that don't recycle. I'm terribly lucky to be living somewhere that it's easy to do, popular, and from what I understand, cost effective for the city as well. I wish more places would institute this kind of programme.
Don't we all?
For those of you who aren't fortunate enough to have the recyclers call at your door to take away your rubbish, here's a top tip for recycling bottles and beer cans. Rinse out any container after you use them, or else a month later when you take them for recycling, you may get a wave of putrid mouldy liquid washing over your hands and clothes.
Don't make a specific trip to the recycling centre by car as this uses up the energy you've just saved up. Try to find a recycling centre close to where somewhere you visit regularly - suggest recycling schemes at work or university if they don't already have them.
Being eco-friendly starts at home and one of the best places where you most help Mother Nature is your garden. You can start by disposing of all those products filled with chemicals, responsibly2. Let your garden breathe again. If you are worried that your garden is not getting enough vitamins and minerals, then how about building your own compost heap? The results can be used to enrich your soil.
There are quite a few every day items that you can add to compost heaps, such as:
- Plate scrapings
- Bits of shredded old clothes
- Dead plants
- Leaves and cut grass
- Any fruit of vegetable peelings
- Anything biodegradable
Really, just use your common sense in choosing what to put in your compost heap, and within months you'll have rich, nutritious mix that is a superb supplement to your soil.
If you find that your compost heap isn't doing very much, the most likely reason it's not doing anything would be a shortage of moisture or oxygen. If your heap is too dry it won't compost very well, so give it some water - finding an ants' nest is a very big clue that it needs more water. If it's still not doing anything, you can turn the heap to speed it up, although if you can't manage this, it will still compost - it'll simply take a year.
A compost heap must never be too small to begin with. You need to start off with a heap of at least 1 x 1 x 1 metre, otherwise there is insufficient material, it all dries out and composting continues, but at a very slow rate.
It's worth bearing in mind that you must be extremely careful with your compost as it attracts wild animals, such as racoons, skunks, deer, and a stray cat or two. Also, the stench can become overpowering, at times, so be sure to have it a good 20 yards from the house - but not so far away that you can never be bothered to put anything in it.
Frogs and Ponds
A great eco-friendly way to cut down on insects in the garden is to entice frogs and toads to gobble up any unwanted visitors. The best way to get our green friends into your garden is to install a pond, even a buried washing-up bowl will do. The frogs will eventually arrive in droves.
It's always best to make sure there are plenty of plants for the frogs to hide in - they'll repay you by eating any of the plants' natural predators. Plants also act as a great frog hiding place from cats and dogs.
Flora for Fauna
Flora for Fauna (FFF) was founded by Jill, Duchess of Hamilton, and run by the Natural History Museum in the UK. This is a website built to help UK gardeners find trees, shrubs and flowers which are local to their post code district, which they can grow in the garden to support fauna native to the area.
It is important to do this because such native plants are disappearing as hedgerows and other indigenous plants are being destroyed by housing developments. Domestic gardens are these plants' and animals' few remaining hopes, but home owners tend to prefer exotic plants from elsewhere in the world.
On entering your post code, FFF searches their database and gives you a list of annuals, biennials, climbers, and lots of other types of plants, right up to trees. The site also provides the common names, Latin names, and whether or not they're garden-worthy. It also gives you links to pictures of the plants, and you can find out if they're threatened or not. It then tells you about local birds, butterflies and mammals, and then provides links which supply further information about these creatures' preferred habitat.
The human race's mass consumption of electricity has a major effect on the world's ecology - including the burning of fossil fuels, the building of dams and the inherent dangers of nuclear processors.
There is something that we can all do that will ease the mass consumption of energy and prove more cost efficient too. Simply replace the usual 75-watt incandescent light bulbs with 18-watt compact fluorescent light bulbs. These provide about the same light output, use a fraction of the energy and last up to 13 times longer.
You save in two ways; you'll have lower electricity bills and you don't replace the bulbs as often as you would normal ones.
Being a world that is constantly on the move, portable power is increasingly important to our daily routine. We use batteries for our personal stereos, mobile phones, portable computers, children's toys, hearing aids and watches. With such widespread usage, batteries are an ecological disaster waiting to happen. Some batteries contain toxic metals such as mercury. By using rechargeable batteries you not only reduce garbage but prevent these toxic metals from being released into the environment. Failing that, buy batteries with reduced amounts of toxic metals.
In Germany, there are separate boxes/bins for old batteries. These are then disposed of separately. Any shops which sell batteries are also obliged to take back the depleted ones. This is especially important for the small button shaped batteries, which can easily be picked up if thrown carelessly away - or even eaten by animals or children.
Also in Germany, when you buy a car battery you pay a deposit for the disposal of it which is refunded when you return it to a dealer.
Bits and Bobs
Below is a list of common sense guidelines on being planet friendly... if we all do one of the following, the world will become a cleaner, fresher place to live.
Don't litter - a bin is never that far away. Better still, take it home with you and throw it away there.
Recycle cans, plastic, glass... if your neighbourhood doesn't have weekly collection days for specific recycling, then you should have recycling bins in your area for sure.
Use environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Encourage whoever buys the supplies for your office to purchase recycled stationery and toilet paper.
Use biodegradable plastic - be aware of which method it uses to biodegrade so you can dispose of it appropriately. When shopping reuse old plastic bags so you don't build up a collection of them - better still, use your own shopping bags.
Plant trees and tend to them well.
Take a shower instead of a bath - a power shower can use as much water as a bath, so chose wisely.
Install a grey water system, taking the water from the shower and washing-up and using that to fill up the toilet cistern. This saves using clean water for the tasks where the grey water will do.