It wasn’t that long ago that the American Dream included a home in the suburbs that was located far away from the city. The mass exodus from American cities has created a suburban sprawl that just keeps growing, and growing right along with it is the negative environmental impact.
As people move away from the core areas that provide their educational, social and employment needs, they have to drive farther to get what they need and where they need to go. Also, as more people chase the antiquated American Dream, more land and other natural resources are required to build single family residences. The more we learn about how detrimental our actions and choices are to the environment, the less the stereotypical American Dream makes sense. It’s time for an Eco-friendly American Dream. It’s time to reverse course and take a look at the benefits of a true urban core way of life.
Urban Versus Suburban Crime
Those who oppose urban living point to crime, car and pedestrian accidents, and noise, among other things, as reasons they prefer suburban life. Crime is, of course, the biggest concern, but, according to a comprehensive study done by the Brookings Institution, between 1990 and 2008, the crime rates fell or rose together in most city and suburban metropolitan areas. So, crime is not strictly an urban problem, and the suburbs are not immune to it. Crime is a metropolitan problem that encompasses both suburban and urban areas.
As far as car accidents go, more vehicle fatalities happen in less populated areas than in cities. The reasons for this vary, but distance between destinations and speed play a big role. Of course, there are always exceptions. In Chicago, for example, there was a 17 percent increase in vehicle fatalities from January to July 2012, when compared to the same period in 2011. It certainly must have been a busy time to be a Chicago car accident lawyer.
Benefits of an Urban Core
Life in the city comes with an almost endless list of advantages, many of which include environmental benefits. As discussed earlier, less land is needed to house people, since most urban dwellers live in apartment homes.
Another benefit of urban living is that the infrastructure is already intact. City dwellers have the benefit of mass transit systems. They save gas and money, and in many cities, the transportation systems are so efficient that owning a car is literally an inconvenience. Libraries, hospitals, schools, and government buildings are all within easy reach by way of public transit, bicycle, or even walking.
Easy access to the arts and exposure to other cultures also count as advantage to living in an urban area. Since everything is so close, there’s no need to drive to the museum or theatre. The close proximity and effective public transit systems make it easy for people to expose themselves to the arts. Additionally, living in an urban area requires people of every walk of life to live and work with, and close to, each other. When we open ourselves up to the dynamic personal growth opportunities afforded to us by city living, we become more aware of the value of diversity.
Intertwined with the personal benefits of urban living are the environmental advantages. According to a report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), those who live in an urban setting have smaller carbon footprints than those who live in less populated areas. In fact, the study, which looked at 11 major international cities, found significant differences between big city dwellers and their country’s respective national average. For example, those who live in New York had carbon footprints of 7.1 tons each. That’s less than one third of the U.S. average of 23.92 tons per person. Two primary reasons for the notable difference are denser housing and public transportation.
It’s clear that there are personal perks, such as convenient public transit systems, that make urban life attractive. For those who are eco-minded, however, the advantages are much broader. Those who choose to live in cities have a significantly less negative impact on the environment. So, for them it’s both a personal and an environmental win.
Just about everybody knows that driving an electric or hybrid vehicle is better for the environment, but not everybody is in the position to buy one. When it comes to driving, there are other green things you can do that also add some "green" to your wallet. From inflating tires with alternative gases to choosing upcycled tires, our tire guide will help you green up your ride.
Inflate tires with nitrogen for improved fuel efficiency
According to the Environmental Protection Agency's Fuel Economy guide, under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. Because nitrogen has more stable pressure than oxygen (due to its larger molecules), it is less likely to seep through the permeable tire walls. Tires that stay filled longer are better for the environment because:
If you want to compare your fuel savings between air- or nitrogen-filled tires, check out the Get Nitrogen Institute's nitrogen calculator.
Right-size tires on your vehicle = less wear and petroleum waste
Most of us assume that the tires our vehicles come with are the best option for our make or model. Tire size, driving conditions and materials used in manufacturing matter too, though, when it comes to wear and tear. If your two-ton vehicle is riding on an inadequate-size tires, you're literally going to burn rubber faster. Consider if touring tires, winter tires or all-season tires will provide better wear than what you drove off the dealer lot with. You can find the various performance grades of Continental tires at TireBuyer.com.
Discover if your car can use recycled retreaded tires
Retreaded tires offer eco-conscious drivers a reliable and affordable way to make use of upcycled materials. The Retread Tire Association reports that significant savings of raw materials exist by retreading, including synthetic and natural rubber, sulfur and sulfur compounds, silica, carbon black, steel wire, zinc oxide plus additional other materials and ingredients.
If you're wondering where you might find recycled tires to fit your vehicle, Earth 911 enables users to search using their zip code to find a dealer. We hope to see more recycled tire availability as the process of de-vulcanizing rubber takes off.
Green your tires by going orange
Adding orange oil in the tire manufacturing process can cut down petroleum use by four-fifths, according to greencarreports.com. While they won't appear orange or smell like citrus, these tires are even more slow-rolling than ones designed for hybrid models like the Toyota Prius. While most tires are made from petroleum, these eco-friendly tires get their orange oil from discarded orange peels from juice manufacturers and rely largely on renewable resources for the other design components. Unlike many slow-rolling tires that have fallen out of favor due to slippage on cold, wet surfaces, the orange oil heats up when the tire is in use, actually making it grippier.
The appeal of having an environmentally friendly car has led many consumers to purchase a hybrid. With the onset of global pollution and the need to find a healthier solution to transportation, these vehicles became available to keep the air clean and make an individual feel good about their driving habits. They can either be powered by fossil fuels, or electricity, and can put an ease on the amount of gas that is consumed. The market for hybrids was relatively tiny in 2003, but is now booming, with Americans annually buying them by the millions.
Before you decide to purchase a hybrid vehicle, there are a few things you should consider. Firstly, what is your price range? This is a far less painful question now, than it used to be a few years ago. Don’t be fooled, even though prices have become more competitive, hybrid cars are normally set at a higher price than their gas fueled counterparts. However, because this green vehicle can ultimately save you money in the long run, the money you’re saving can offset any monthly car payments if you can’t provide payment upfront; Auto Credit Express can help you with an auto loan calculator that will provide further insights.
It is up to you to do research prior to buying about the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. A dealer may not tell you this information and you don’t want to find yourself unpleasantly surprised when you first visit the gas pump. As the price of gas continues to make many drivers pale with fright, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy the perks of driving with minimal 40 miles per gallon. Next, you should consider the importance of the vehicles battery. Find out what state is the battery in and how long it has been sitting? No matter how new a battery is, it can still cause problems if it has been sitting for over three months. Make sure to ask the salesman for the lowdown on the battery, and know what kind of driving you’ll be doing.
When searching, take into consideration how unique a hybrid might be. Because they are not as prevalent as a normal ride, the list of specialists and mechanics equipped to handle fixes and inspections may be limited. This will likely lead you to maintaining your car through the dealership you bought it from. When talking to a salesman, find out the details of your warranty, as you may be able to have some work done for free by an authorized dealer. Hybrid cars tend to have better longevity than their gas-guzzling cousins; while they will still need routine maintenance checkups, you won’t have to deal with the pain and money strains of frequent repairs that are necessary to keep many older, traditional vehicles.
Because of the reduction in consumed resources and the lessened carbon footprint of these vehicles, both local and national governments often provide tax incentives for hybrid drivers. There are other geographically based rewards as well, like being able to drive by yourself in the carpool lane and cheaper parking. Even those car insurance companies so many of us love to grumble about, like Farmers Insurance, provide financial breaks to those who make the environmentally friendly leap.
Now is the fun part, when you select the type or brand you would like to buy. Toyota, Nissan, and Mitsubishi are just a few of the companies to make top class and affordable vehicles for the hybrid consumer. Nowadays, Nissan is the leader in electric-powered vehicle sales with the Nissan LEAF that requires not a drop of gasoline. So feel good as you pull into the driveway with a new hybrid vehicle; after all, you’re doing your part to ensure that both the earth and your wallet retain plenty of green.
An EPA-reported $5,250,000,000 is spent on fossil fuel-derived fertilizers for American lawns. That alone is reason to lead the crusade for greener, more eco-friendly backyards. Along with the fact that 30 to 60 percent of urban water is being used on lawns, it's time to start rethinking the traditional concept of your lawn being a lush carpet with perfectly groomed grass.
Take a look around your backyard. What changes can you make to become more environmentally responsible?
Reduce Lawn Size
Gas lawnmowers, power equipment injuries, toxic fertilizers, pollution... no more. Reduce the size of your lawn to a small area, plant a garden in its place. Add native flora because it usually thrives in local conditions which eliminates extra energy. Consider an herb bed or suburban meadow. Alternates to grass include clover, artificial lawns and putting-green grass. Reducing the amount of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in the lawn offers healthier ways to go outside to play.
A win-win, composting reduces trash output by hundreds of pounds a year and naturally fertilizes gardens. Get an adjustable home compost bin (Planet Natural $35) or dedicate an area away from the house as your compost pile. Start putting your green materials like yards clippings and food scraps into the bin to supply the necessary nitrogen, allowing breakdown of composting materials. Mix in brown materials like paper and leaves (high in carbon). Composting will release nutrients to plants as you improve your environmental standings and reduce household waste.
If you have an existing pool, you could drain it and cover it or switch out the toxic chlorine with saltwater. A salt chlorine generator converts salt into chlorine, naturally sanitizing your pool. You will pour large bags of plain table salt (non-iodized) right into the pool. Because they eliminate the need for expensive chemicals, saltwater pools are better for the environment and for your personal health, skin and wallet. Click here for inground pool products.
Another option is to use a constructed wetland as the pools water filtration system. Pumped water will pass through different types of plants and soil, naturally taking the impurities out as they become nourished. You end up with a balanced aquatic ecosystem.
Use a Pool Cover
Heat reduction is an ecological benefit to having a pool cover. Also, evaporation can be reduced by 90 percent, saving water usage and energy.
Put a rain barrel out during a shower (or under a downspout) and have water free of chlorine and additives to water your garden and clean your patio.
Invite Bug Eaters
Ladybugs eat aphids that destroy crops and flowers. Plant bright flowers to give the little ladies a place to live and reproduce. Birds eat plant and herb destroying pests like slugs, snails and caterpillars. Welcome them into your backyard by offering birdseed and bird houses.
Cover photo from Flickr user Maegan Tintari / ...love Maegan.
Hybrids are hot right now, having dramatically increased their share of the overall vehicle market in the past several years. The Toyota Prius is in particularly high demand, displaying an impressive sales increase of 9.5 percent between May, 2012 and May, 2013, for a total annual volume of more than 23,000 vehicles. While drivers are buying hybrids for various reasons, given the combination of an economic slump and high gas prices, affordability is often listed as a deciding factor.
But are these fuel efficient vehicles actually more affordable than their standard counterparts?
Ownership Costs For Standard VehiclesA basic understanding of ownership costs of standard vehicles can help you better understand the implications of buying a hybrid. Typically, the upfront cost is greater for a hybrid, with some or all of the difference being made up through the hybrid's fuel efficiency. The American Automobile Association (AAA) listed the annual cost of owning and operating a mid-sized sedan at $9,122 a year, or 60 cents per mile. This figure assumes that the driver owns the sedan for a minimum of five years and racks up an estimated annual mileage of 15,000. Costs included in AAA's estimate include fuel, maintenance and insurance, all of which have the potential to be impacted by the hybrid label.
Ownership Costs For Hybrid VehiclesThe easiest way to compare long-term hybrid vehicle costs is to simply compare the hybrid version of a given vehicle to the original model. Edmunds lists the five year cost of owning a Honda Civic at $35,188. Compare this to the Civic Hybrid, which offered a slightly lower cost of ownership at $34,237. Thus, the conclusion is that, over a five year period, it is less expensive to own and operate a Civic Hybrid.
The economic benefits of hybrid ownership are also exemplified by a cost comparison of the Ford Fusion Sedan to the Ford Fusion Hybrid. During the course of five years, the standard Fusion costs $39,698 to operate, while the hybrid totals $34,465. Either Fusion is an affordable option, with www.drivetime.com listing the vehicle at just $18,965.
Let's Not Forget As with AAA's ownership cost estimate, Edmunds' calculations include fuel, repairs and auto insurance expenses. Most of the savings of a hybrid come from spending less time at the gas pump. Maintenance costs for the hybrid are slightly more expensive, simply because the battery pack will need to be replaced. However, this cost may be offset by federal and state tax breaks for hybrid owners.
Ultimately, a hybrid becomes more affordable the more it is used. Thus, if you do not anticipate driving your car over 10,000 miles per year, the hybrid may not yet serve as the more economical vehicle option. But for frequent drivers, the long-term reduction in gas prices is enough of offset the upfront cost, ultimately making a hybrid model the more affordable option.
Creative Commons image by mariordo59
If we don't curtail our wasteful ways, the demands we place on our planet will limit generations to come. We may have a separate bin for our recyclables, and that's a great start—but we can do more to assist the efforts to save the planet.
Join the green revolution by incorporating these eco-friendly habits:
Switch to a Sponge
How many bulk packages of paper towels do you go through in a year? It's too many. Get a pack of sponges and start cleaning your counters with them instead. Worried about bacteria that could grow on your sponge? Remove food particles, keep it dry (bacteria loves moisture), and every couple of days or so, microwave the wet sponge with a half-cup of water or run it through a dishwasher cycle.
Reuse Your Bags
Keep reusable canvas tote bags on hand at all times. Why? National Geographic reports that they are refined from crude oil and natural gas and are not biodegradable. Invest in a couple of strong totes and keep them in your purse or in your car. You just never really know when you'll need them.
Stop Printing at Home
A study from the National Institute of Public Health found that laser and ink-jet printers emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone and particulates that harm both nearby users and the environment. In addition, the process of manufacturing at-home printers releases unsafe air emissions. You and the environment would be better served by using a service like DigMyPics.com, which makes digital copies of your media for emission-free sharing.
Replace Your Light Bulbs
Do you know the most environmentally friendly light source? OK, it's the sun. But the second is an LED light bulb. By replacing your incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs you get longer bulb life, use less electricity and save money in the long run. Choose Energy Star-rated LED lighting to be sure it's as efficient as can be.
Take Your Foot Off the Gas
Hybrids are settling into the mainstream now, paving the way for completely electric vehicles. In addition to using greener transportation modes like bike riding and public transportation, conserve gas by avoiding rapid and unnecessary acceleration and keep your car parts clean and well-maintained.
Shop at local farmers markets for fresher, more flavorful foods and your money will go back into a sustainable system that advances the local economy. Investing in your community creates jobs and helps solidifying a city's infrastructure. The Austin Independent Business Alliance is campaigning to get people to shift 10 percent to locally owned businesses from chain stores. It will add hundreds of millions to the local economy and create thousands of new jobs.
Ditch Plastic Water Bottles
Get a stainless steel water bottle to fill throughout the day instead of buying single-use bottled water with toxic polycarbonate plastics. While plastic bottles are recyclable, a reported 75 percent of water bottles end up in landfills and pollute waterways because people don't recycle them, according to worldwatch.org.
Some people are never satisfied. Ignoring the fact that gasoline has done a terrific job of powering motorcycles for many years, they insist on exploring alternative fuels. Of course, there are good reasons. Although a small and lightweight motorcycle is an eco-friendly way of getting around town, gasoline is an imperfect fuel source.
Exhaust emissions are top of the issues list. Modern machines are cleaner than those of yore, but still put out a cocktail of smog-creating chemicals— most notably, CO2. The source of the gasoline concerns many people too. Derived from oil, there's a finite supply, and much of it has to be imported. And last, in urban environments where two-wheeled transportation is at its most useful, the noise generated by those mechanical motorcycle parts is a significant problem.
Electricity: The Obvious Alternative
A growing proportion of our electricity comes from renewables, but even when generated from coal or gas it's easier to control the emissions at source. An electric motorcycle has zero emissions at the point of use, but it has other selling points for biking enthusiasts. Electric motors generate instantaneous torque, making these machines remarkably quick. The smoothness is also a boon to riders, and the hush benefits everyone but those who love the throb of a Harley.
Harley riders may enjoy maintaining their machines, but for most bikers it's a chore. Electric power eliminates many motorcycle parts like spark plugs, oil and filters, so maintenance costs are almost zero and reliability is exceptionally good.
As with cars, the Achilles' heel of electric power is battery storage. The energy density of batteries is far less than that of gasoline, meaning range is limited. That's not necessarily a problem in cities though, where riders don't cover great distances, charging points are relatively plentiful, and regenerative braking puts power back into the battery.
Brew Your Own?
If batteries are such a nuisance, how about generating the electricity on-board when you need it?
That's the idea behind fuel cells. These generate electricity from hydrogen, producing water as a byproduct. As Forbes reports, the technology is well established— car manufacturers like Honda and BMW have had fuel-cell development cars running for several years— and a number of motorcycle manufacturers are working on fuel-cell bikes. But if you want to buy one, you'll need to wait a while.
Other fuel sources have been tried. An Argentinean motorcycle company, Zanella, promoted a bike that would run on compressed natural gas, while several enthusiasts have experimented with biodiesel. As a fuel, biodiesel is interesting because it's renewable, but the downsides are noise and exhaust emissions.
This is Not Science Fiction
Electric motorcycles are available now from companies like Evolve, Brammo and Zero. There is more evidence that these are practical alternatives to the old gasoline machines. Consider this: Gizmag.com reports that police forces from Monterey, Calif. to London, England, have tested and are using electric motorcycles.
So what's the future for eco-friendly motorcycles? Electric power is here but range concerns will likely hold back long-distance cruisers. Those folks will have to wait for fuel-cell bikes, but for city use the green motorcycle should satisfy most riders.
As you get started on your spring cleaning, forget about using chemical-filled commercial products. These can waste your money and pollute your breathing air. Instead, make non-toxic natural cleaners with these simple recipes:
In all rooms, use two cups of white vinegar and water to clean hard surfaces. Add drops of essential oil to mask the smell of vinegar.
Garbage Disposal Deodorizer
If smelly odors are creeping out of your garbage disposal, try this trick. After using a lemon (or lime), slice it into strips and cut the pulp out. Throw it down the disposal with a sprinkle of baking soda and splash of vinegar.
Hopefully you have a lot of lemons on hand because here's another cleaning recipe with this small citrus as the main ingredient. Fill a bowl full of warm water and lemon slices. Put in the microwave and cook for one minute. Let sit for three minutes, then wipe clean with a damp sponge.
Put an old tube sock on your hand like a sock puppet and dip it in a bowl of warm water mixed with vinegar. Wipe greasy, dirty, dusty blinds clean. If you have wooden blinds, use lemon oil (not water) to dust them. In some cases, you may be better off tossing the blinds and investing in grommet curtains made from eco-friendly materials or energy-efficient solar shades.
Pour 1/4 cup undiluted white vinegar into a spray bottle. Add a tablespoon of cornstarch and fill with warm water. Shake to blend and wipe dry with crumpled newspaper, a cotton rag or coffee filter.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Mix several squirts of liquid dish soap into a cup with about a fourth cup vinegar. Pour mixture into the toilet and let sit for 15 minutes, then start scrubbing.
Carpet Stain Remover
Using a broom, vacuum or warm rag, remove any particles from the carpet before beginning. Next, sprinkle stain with cornstarch or baking soda. In a small bowl, combine one tablespoon clear dish washing liquid, two tablespoons vinegar and two cups of warm water. Blot stain until it's gone.
Leave sprinkled baking soda on the carpet for about 30 minutes before vacuuming it up. If you have young kids or animals that are prone to spills, consider pulling up the carpet and investing in laminate or softwood floors.
Don't let dust get the best of you. Combine several drops of pure lemon oil with two tablespoons of lemon juice. Add a drop or two of vegetable or olive oil and use a cotton cloth to wipe dust away.
Electric cars have come a long way, but there's a reason why hybrids are still topping the charts and pushing EVs out of sight. Hybrids make sense financially and in terms of range — and they're obviously eco-friendly. On the other hand, electric cars are pricey, time consuming and still in the new stages of development. Either way, you're driving green technology, and that's better than nothing. But realistically speaking, here are four reasons why hybrids win:
Electrics Don't Go the Distance
No matter what anyone says, when it comes to range, EVs just aren't there yet. Out of the newest generation of compact and mid-size electrics, the 2013 CODA gets about 88 miles per charge while the Ford Focus Electric averages 76 miles per charge and the Nissan Leaf came in at 73 miles per charge, according to Fueleconomy.gov. That can cover the average American's commute, but what about road trips? With seven to 12 hours of charging time, electric cars aren't reasonable for anything but a short commute.
Until electric cars can meet society's needs, they won't compare with hybrids. The 2013 Toyota Prius c can run 428 miles on a tank, and uses regenerative brakes to recharge its batteries. If you're looking for a used Toyota in Arlington, the 2010 Toyota Prius gets 536 miles per tank, according to Fueleconomy.gov. Yeah, that's more than the newest all-electric types, and despite driving an older model, you'd still be driving clean, green technology.
It's a Crime How Much They Cost
Let's talk price. First, let me show you something.
MSRP for EVs
MSRP for Hybrids
Do I need to say anything more? Price wise, even with the potential government tax credits (if qualified, totaling to about $7,500), EVs still can't keep up with hybrids.
Charge Time — Too Much Time
Electric technology is improving that I can't deny, but how much? Over the years, the time it takes to charge an electric car has diminished from 10-12 hours to four to seven hours — a big improvement but still — HOURS. Even if the technology is reducing our dependence on foreign oil supply and can help reduce greenhouse emissions, who has hours to fuel up? Until you can get a full charge while grabbing your soda and a pack of gum in the convenience store, electrics won't match up with hybrids.
Way Too Many Other Options
In general terms, the green movement groups across America are what lead people to electric and hybrid vehicle options. But there are also those who want a form of transportation that doesn't cost them hundreds at the gas pump. In looking for a way to save the planet, reduce their personal carbon footprint and save money at the pump, people are interested in seeing what else is available. In comes flashy technology about all-electrics. But here's the catch. Technology is improving across the board. Conventional cars are also seeing advancement, and in order for electric technology to keep up they're going to have to speed up.
The thought of a decomposing pile of waste sitting in or near the home might be a little off putting to some people, but it's not nearly as much of a hassle as it may seem at a glance. In fact, compost not only provides health and vitality to your garden and lawn, it plays a major part in cutting down greenhouse gas emissions, landfill overflow and even weed control.
You've probably seen scary statistics, like the World Wildlife Fund's study that claims we will need two earths to sustain ourselves by the year 2050, or that the earth's fish supply will run out by the year 2048, but that doesn't have to be the case. As buzzy and ubiquitous as the green movement has become nowadays, there's a reason it's everywhere. According to the EPA, the amount of landfills that exist in the U.S. has been steadily shrinking for the past 20 years or so. This may sound like a good thing, but in actuality we produce more garbage, so the land fills are bursting at the seams with greenhouse gas and sometimes toxic substances. Some landfills, like Cecil County Central Landfill in Elkton, Maryland even require relocation and remediation by third-party companies like Sevenson Environmental. The growing garbage problem is starting to get stinky. Luckily, there's a lot you can do at home to combat it (and look like an earth-saving hero to all your friends), starting with the simple act of composting.
Why It's Helpful
The EPA reports that approximately 17 percent of all methane gas emitted in the U.S. comes from landfills, which lump dangerous refuse with helpful organic material. By starting a compost bin or area for your family, you are lessening toxic contributions to already overcrowded landfills. The EPA estimates that if every household composted their yard trimmings and food scraps, it could reduce the municipal waste stream by up to 25 percent. Furthermore, The United States Composting Council's findings show that for every one ton of composted waste, .25 metric tons of greenhouse gases are prevented. A Sierra Club study concluded that a family of four could easily create 500 pounds of compost in a year.
A Quick How-To
Did you know that you can compost egg shells, cardboard pizza boxes, nail clippings, old wool or cotton clothing, bills and even condoms? And the list goes on. All you need is a bin, bucket, soil and motivation to make the world a better place for your children. The recipe for compost is simple: use approximately a 1/1 ratio for soil and scraps, alternating approximately four-inch layers. A properly tended compost bin doesn't smell or breed harmful bacteria, as long as you don't add any fats, meats, dairy or oils. Once you begin your foray into greener pastures, be sure to aerate the soil with holes or earthworms. This also quickens the decomposition process. It is also important to stir your compost intermittently so it doesn't become impacted. From there you can use it to make the most beautiful, nutrient-rich garden that your home could ever need— and the earth will thank you.