Ways to save the planet… that really work

By at home

world illustration 01 3 12Although the heat seems to have gone off ‘going green’, there is still an urgent need for all of us to make changes to protect our environment…

According to Greenpeace, ‘climate change is not inevitable’ but this is only if we are all prepared to make a few changes. And although it seems the media has become a little less vociferous about ‘eco stuff’, there are still big issues out there that we can all help with – from using public transport instead of taking the car  on short journeys, to cutting down on the amount of water we use in our homes. Such changes do not involve making big sacrifices, but will still have a big impact, especially if more people take notice and actually do something about it.

Waste not
We waste so much water and the facts are frightening. According to findings of the second United Nations World Water Development Report, if consumption continues at the same rate, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in areas of a severe water shortage by 2025. The UK has less available water per person than most other European countries: London is drier than Istanbul and the south east of England has less water per person than Sudan and Syria. So it’s time to start thinking about how much we’re all wasting on a daily basis.

  1. Fix it
    A dripping tap can waste up to 15 litres of water a day, or almost 5,500 per year. Fitting a new washer is a cheap way of saving water and only takes a few minutes to install.
  2. Speed up
    Yes, showers are better than baths, but they still use between nine and 45 litres of water per minute. So keep yours short, especially if you have a power shower.
  3. Bin it
    Think about your toilet-flushing habits. You use a cistern of water every time, so don’t flush away face wipes and cotton wool – bin them. This could save 27 million litres of water each week in the UK.
  4. Down the pan
    To save water, put a Hippo in your cistern. This polyethylene bag sits at the bottom and when the toilet is flushed, up to three litres of water are held in the bag, preventing it from going down the toilet. Obtain one free from your water company, but dual flush toilets don’t need one. www.hippo-the-watersaver.co.uk

Turn it down
There are so many simple, effective ways you can save energy in your home and cut your heating and electricity bills at the same time. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go cheap
    Most of us have a heating system with one boiler that heats up the water and the house. Gas is the cheapest fuel to run this type of heating system and has the lowest carbon emissions, apart from wood.
  2. Replace
    You can make a difference by replacing your old boiler with the most energy-efficient model you can buy, and ideally switch to a lower-carbon fuel or technology such as wood-fuelled heating.
  3. Try wood
    Wood fuel is one of the best renewable energy technologies for heating. Modern boilers and stoves can heat your whole building and work well with radiators and underfloor heating. Your fuel choice includes wood pellets, wood chips, logs and grain. For more details, visit www.forever-fuels.com
  4. Use electric
    Another alternative to the more traditional heating methods is to go electric – there is a range of electric heating methods that are cheaper, more energy efficient and kinder to the environment, from Infrared heating panels, to electric radiators. Visit www.ecowarmth-sw.com
  5. Insulate
    Making sure your home is properly insulated and draught-proofed also ensures you are not wasting fuel and energy, not to mention money, as a good percentage of the heat you pay for can escape through bad insulation.

Energy efficient
One third of your household’s energy bills, as well as over a quarter of your carbon dioxide emissions come from electrical appliances. Entertainment and kitchen appliances use up the most power, and computers and their accessories are now taking up an increasingly larger amount of an average household’s electricity consumption.

  1. Switch it off
    You can save up to £35 a year by turning off electricity after using the microwave, computer or television. Leaving equipment on standby wastes money and energy.
  2. Load up
    Restricting the number of times you use your washing machine or dishwasher can save huge amounts of water every week, but avoid half loads as they use much more than half the energy. Surprisingly, using a dishwasher can need less water than washing up by hand, but only if your model is efficient and you use the machine as recommended.
  3. Less is more
    Kettles are one of the most commonly used appliances in the kitchen, and on average a UK household boils theirs 1,500 times a year. If everyone in the UK used only the water they needed, instead of filling to the brim, we could save enough electricity in a year to power the UK’s street lights for two months.  Also, when cooking, use a lid on your saucepans: they boil quicker and you don’t have to put in so much water.
  4. Lifeline logo
    The Energy Saving Trust (www.energysavingtrust.org.uk) now recommends energy efficient equipment – look out for the logo. Refrigeration appliances must all have an A+ or A++ energy rating. However, because this is based upon classification by size, a smaller A rated fridge could use less energy than a larger A+ rated one. You can compare the total energy consumption of appliances by looking for their yearly energy consumption in kWh per annum displayed on the bottom right of its energy label.

Smart driving
The UK is tenth on the world list for emitting the most carbon emissions and has cut down by 8% from 2009, but there is a long way to go. Cars make up a significant total of carbon emissions in the UK and road transport is one of the major sources of emissions that harm health. Thinking about the way you drive will help to reduce emissions, wear and tear on your vehicle and fuel bills.

  1. Drive off
    You don’t need to warm up the engine in modern cars – you are just wasting fuel.
  2. Smooth operator
    Sharp braking and heavy acceleration wastes too much fuel.
  3. Don’t Accelerate
    When slowing down or driving downhill, remain in gear but take your foot off the accelerator early. This reduces fuel flow to the engine.
  4. Slow Down
    Driving within the speed limit is safer, as well as being the law, and reduces fuel consumption.
  5. Turn off
    Modern cars use virtually no extra fuel when they are restarted without pressing the accelerator. Turn off the engine if you’re going to be stationary for more than a minute to save fuel.

Small changes, big savings…
You could save yourself loads of money and reduce your carbon footprint just by making a few small, but vital changes. Did you know:

  • The average home in the UK could save around £280 and 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by being more energy efficient.
  • Heating water for use in taps, baths and showers makes up around 23% of an average heating bill – that’s around £160 a year.
  • Walking or cycling your children a mile to and from school each day would save around £120 and 250kg of carbon dioxide each year, compared to doing these journeys in the average car.
  • Fitting a room thermostat saves around £70 and 280kg of carbon dioxide a year.
  • If every UK household turned their appliances off when not in use, collectively we could save £530 million every year. As much carbon dioxide would be saved by taking 660,000 cars off the UK’s roads.

Facts from the Energy Saving Trust. www.energytrust.org.uk

This article was first published in at home with Sarah Beeny in December 2011. [Read the digital edition here]

Illustrations: iStock

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