Trimming CO2 pounds at home and in the office.

Help the planet.
May 29 2007 3:49 PM

Paper Tiger

Trimming CO2 pounds at home and in the office.

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Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click to launch this week's action quiz.

We've talked about how you can defy your carbon cravings when it comes to big-ticket energy items like your heat, your electricity, the food you buy, and the appliances you use. What about that beloved pursuit of environmentalists everywhere, recycling, and other ways you can spruce up your home, yard, and office, carbon-wise?

The manufacturing of paper, one of the six most energy-intensive American industries, accounts for about 35 million tons of CO2 each year, according to the Energy Information Administration. And using virgin wood to make paper helps deforest the planet, a major factor in global CO 2 counts. Consider that the average American office worker throws out about 150 pounds of office paper per year, and you may see the scope of your own CO 2 problem in this area. Here are a bunch of ideas, recycling and otherwise, for trimming carbon pounds at work and at home: 

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• Save paper—and CO2 emissions—by being selective about what you print out, making double-sided copies and using scrap paper to take notes or print drafts.

• Use high recycled-content paper.

• If an office building with 7,000 workers recycled all of its paper waste for a year, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 630 tons, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Recycling used aluminum to make cans takes 95 percent less energy than making new aluminum from scratch.

• Look for office products and packaging made from recycled materials and that are  biodegradable or can be composted. (Find green office products that meet these and other criteria here.)

• Unwanted junk mail wastes loads of precious paper. Click here  and here  to opt out.

• Invest in energy-saving fax machines, copiers, scanners, and printers, which use about half as much electricity as standard equipment and also default to a low-power sleep mode. Lobby your employer to do the same.

• Turn off your screen saver and let your computer sleep, or turn off the monitor completely. Moving-image screen savers consume as much electricity as a computer in active use. A blank screen saver is only slightly better.

• When it's time to go home, shut your computer down. Don't believe the myth that it's more efficient to leave it on than to reboot the next day. Bonus: You'll extend the life of your machine.

• From dead batteries to cell phones to copiers, recycle equipment whenever possible. Click here to find electronics and other recycling centers in your area. 

• Ask your workplace to stock break areas with real plates, silverware, and cups instead of paper and plastic. Or bring your own.

• Many household cleaners are made from petrochemicals, and most come packaged in plastic. Making your own household cleaners from natural ingredients is easy (and they work, we promise). By reusing spray bottles, you'll save plastic, and, hence, more CO2 emissions.

• If you have a place to do it, composting household waste is pretty simple, helps reduce your landfill contribution, and leaves you with nutrient-rich soil.

• Yard waste (grass clippings and leaves) accounts for 12 percent of the junk that goes into landfills. Next time you mow the lawn, leave the clippings where they fall. They decompose quickly and return nutrients to the soil, which reduces the need for fertilizers and reduces landfill waste, which in turn reduces CO2 emissions. (Click here for more mowing tips.) You can also mulch leaves and then use them to bed down your garden for winter.

• Use organic fertilizers, which are made from natural materials, instead of fossil-fuel-intensive synthetics for house plants, gardens, and lawns.

• Switch to a hand-push lawn mower this summer (and get a good workout). Forgo using a leaf blower in the fall—rake by hand instead.

(Click here to launch this week's action quiz.)

Meaghan O'Neill is a freelance writer and founding editor of treehugger.com, an eco-Web site and Slate's partner on the Green Challenge.

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