MARQUETTE - New Year's - the season of resolutions, diets and exercise.
According to the government Web site USA.gov, the most popular New Year's resolutions include losing weight, getting fit, drinking less alcohol and quitting smoking.
The coming of a new year signifies for many people the chance to start over and start taking better care of themselves after the parties and food associated with the holidays. But why not use the new year to start taking small steps around your home to benefit the environment as well as yourself?
Whether paper or plastic, disposable grocery bags take energy and resources to create. With many stores selling reusable canvas or nylon bags, it’s easy to keep several on hand to use while shopping. Employees at Super One Foods in Negaunee said they have seen an increase in customers using reusable bags. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
Luckily, many of the steps that can be taken to make a greener household are relatively simple and may even save you some money in the process.
Almost any household task can be made "green" by making just a few simple changes.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action organization, large appliances like clothes washers, refrigerators or dishwashers take up much of the energy use in a typical household.
In the average home, 90 percent of the energy used by a clothes washer comes from heating the water, not from the motor or other electrical components.
Switching just two loads of laundry to cold water per week would save almost 100 pounds of heat-trapping pollutants and almost $11 annually on your electric or natural gas bill.
"Unless you're a miner or an auto mechanic, warm water doesn't do much," said TJ Brown, programming coordinator for the Marquette office of Michigan Energy Options, a non-profit organization that promotes energy-efficiency and sustainability. "It's the chemistry of the detergent, not the temperature of the water."
The clothes dryer is another appliance that eats up a lot of electricity, creating up to 1,446 pounds of pollutants, like carbon dioxide, annually. Using the dryer's temperature and moisture sensor can reduce the amount of pollutants, and drying laundry using a drying rack is more energy efficient still.
According to the NRDC, drying two of four laundry loads on a drying rack would save nearly 65 pounds of pollutants and $32.13 on energy bills annually. Making sure you only dry full loads is also a good choice.
Even more power-hungry than the clothes dryer is the refrigerator, which almost every home has. Setting the internal thermostat for the fridge to 40 degrees and the freezer for 0 degrees will ensure food is kept from spoiling and doesn't produce too much cold air. Upping the temperature slightly saves 88 pounds of pollutants and $7.85 on energy bills.
Just as keeping the refrigerator too cold can waste electricity, not keeping your home too warm during the winter when you aren't in the house can also save on energy bills.
The Daily Green, an online green living magazine, suggests setting the winter thermostat at 68 degrees or less during the day and 55 degrees for the nighttime temperature or when no one is home. The NRDC estimates that turning down the thermostat 8 degrees will save between 755 and 1,759 pounds of pollution, depending on your type of heat, and could save between $90 and $197 annually on your utility bill.
"A great New Year's resolution would be to learn to use a programmable thermostat," Brown said.
Another simple suggestion offered by The Daily Green is to switch to reusable shopping bags while grocery shopping. According to the magazine, 12 million barrels of oil were used to make the 88.5 billion plastic bags used in the United States last year. Paper bags take four times as much energy to produce.
Luckily, many retail stores in the area have started carrying large, reusable cotton or nylon bags for as little as $1.
"We've probably carried the bags for two years," said Robin Lenards, assistant manager of SuperOne Foods in Negaunee.
Lenards said that although the reusable bags haven't eliminated the need for plastic or paper, he has begun to see the bags come through the store.
"I see a lot of (customers) that use our own bags and bags from other businesses as well," he said.