Part II: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. A Mantra for Our Time.
Part II of our “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” series concerns reuse. When it comes to reusing, Americans know their stuff. Used products from angora sweaters to zippered coats are bought and sold on Craigslist, eBay, and thousands of garage and yard sales. Reportedly, at 165,000 garage sales each week, 690,000 people spend more than $4.2 million to buy almost 5 million items. Those numbers are impressive, but much more must be done to offset the adverse effects of climate change.
Fortunately, we don’t have to do it one garage sale item at a time. Startling technological advances in energy production and water reuse offer us the best chance for success. These advances will require changes in how we live. We must understand, embrace and support these changes.
As explained in last week’s “Reduce” blog, the atmospheric temperature must be lowered by drastically decreasing fossil fuel and methane emissions. Each time we buy a used plastic bowl, for example, we take a small step toward this goal because we eliminate the use of petroleum products to manufacture and transport a new plastic bowl. Individually, we can do more by getting creative, by making changes at home, and, most importantly, by supporting communities and businesses that undertake large reuse projects.
REUSE BY BEING CREATIVE
Artists worldwide reuse found rejected items to create pieces of art. At home, the worn-out T shirt may become a dust rag and, in the spring, be cut into strips to stake the tomatoes. Small children will create imaginary cars, animals, and dolls from all kinds of miscellaneous objects. The list of creative, unintended, secondary uses of common objects is probably endless. And in almost every occasion, your decision to reuse, rather than to buy a new object, decreases the harmful emissions ever-so-slightly.
REUSE BY CHANGING AT HOME
You can reuse the sun, wind and water to reduce the amount of dirty energy needed at home. These changes will be more significant, but may be more complicated and may cost more, at least initially. Those living in multi-family buildings may need to join with their neighbors to achieve results.
Install rain barrels to collect water from the roof to reuse for yard irrigation. If you do not have a yard, ask your building manager to install the barrels. And talk to your public officials. Rain barrels are perfect for public buildings such as schools and libraries. Reportedly one inch of rainfall creates 1,250 gallons of water per 2,000 square feet of roof. Reusing this rainwater will lower your water bill and reduce the demand on the municipal water system.
Install a greywater system which typically reuses water from the washing machine or shower. According to the non-profit Greywater Action, this wastewater is safe and often nutritious for lawns and gardens. For homes it recommends simple, low tech systems that rely on gravity to move the reused water. Greywater systems reduce water bills and keep dirty water out of the sewer system and rivers and streams. Contact Greywater for more information.
According to energy.gov there are three principal types of home alternative reused energy sources: solar, wind turbines, and hydropower.
Solar power is increasing rapidly, driving down the installation cost. In addition, federal and state tax benefits and innovative new solar financing arrangements may be available. Community-owned solar energy systems are increasingly popular. If you install a solar electric system, also known as a photovoltaic (PV) system, power companies must purchase your excess power. A bi-directional switch in your home keeps track monthly of the incoming and outgoing energy amounts. If you provide more electricity than you receive, the power company will pay you for the difference.
If you have more than one acre of available land, individually or collectively, consider a small wind turbine system that may reduce your energy costs by 90%. They require more planning and, normally, the approval of your local zoning department.
You will need a source of running water on your property with water rights. Careful planning and permitting also are required. Energy.gov has several online guides and energy experts to assist you.
REUSE BY URGING BUSINESSES AND COMMUNITIES TO CHANGE
Momentum now favors reusing energy and water. Major corporations are powered by alternative energy. Many governmental entities have received federal money for water reuse projects. Waste-to-energy plants are increasing.
Five Representative Large Companies Reusing Renewable Energy
Intel. Kohl’s. The National Hockey League. Walmart. Apple.
Intel last year topped the EPA’s list of largest green power-using partners reusing energy from wind, solar, geothermal, low-impact hydro, and biomass.
Kohl’s has met its goal of net zero emissions annually since 2010.
The NHL became the first sports organization to make the EPA’s Top 100 Green Power Partnership list.
Walmart became the top US corporate solar installer in 2016.
Apple powers 100% of its operations in the US, China and 21 other countries with renewable energy.
Last month, the Department of the Interior awarded $23.6 million for new water reuse projects in seven states. In existing projects, reused water replenishes aquifers, and provides water for municipalities, and agriculture.
Waste-to-energy (WTE) Biomass
This is one of the fastest growing segments in the alternative energy industry. About 800 WTE plants in more than 36 countries make fuel such as biogas, biofuel and ethanol from reused food waste. Not only does this carbon neutral process help replace fossil fuels, but it also reduces the methane gas produced in odious landfills.
We need to reuse together to reduce the atmospheric temperature, from those who reuse their garage sale treasures to the homeowner who reuses rain water to the giant corporations that reuse renewable energy. Technological advances give us a chance to survive climate change.