Spring is a time of change, from budding flowers to April showers and the inevitable spring cleaning. It's also an opportunity to clean up not just the house but the environment as well.
The good news is that not only are the changes simple to make, but in the long run, they can end up saving money on shopping trips and utility bills. It's something everyone from kids to adults and environmentalists to state officials can agree on.
Here are 10 simple changes that can be made in the home or in your daily lives that all go a long way in leading a much more green lifestyle not just in the spring but throughout the entire year.
Calculate your carbon footprint or have an energy audit conducted on your home. The first step toward figuring out solutions is to know how much energy you're using and what appliances or activities use it up the most. According to Jeanne Fox, the president of New Jersey's Board of Public Utilities, these services can now be done for free online at the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site at www.epa.gov and the BPU's clean energy Web site at
Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. "This simple change can cut your energy use for lighting by up to 75 percent, and the new bulbs will last 10 times as long," said Matt Elliott, a clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey. The light bulbs are more expensive initially than traditional bulbs - usually about three to 10 times as expensive - but since they last longer and use less energy, they end up paying for themselves after only a little bit of use.
Turn off appliances completely when they're not in use. It can be an inconvenience to turn everything back on, especially something such as a computer, but it can shave up to 10 percent off your electric bill. And sometimes, it's not enough to just turn something off. According to Jeff Tittel, appliances that stay plugged in use a small amount of energy just so it can be ready to be turned on again at a moment's notice. "It used to take a lot longer to turn appliances back on," Tittel said. "People don't realize that something that simple will save them money."
Weatherize your home. Open windows instead of letting the air-conditioning unit run nonstop. When it gets colder, make sure to seal small openings around doors and windows to keep the warm air in and the thermostat turned down.
Reconsider the refrigerator. According to the BPU's Fox, refrigerators made prior to 1993 use much more energy than current versions. Even if it's being used in the basement or garage as an extra appliance, Fox said it's time to get rid of it. As for modern refrigerators, clean the coils using a brush to remove the dirt. "It's an easy way to have your refrigerator use less energy," said John Imperatore, Rowan University's director of resource management.
Look for the Energy Star label on appliances. It's not a new green company but rather a certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy that signifies a product is energy- efficient. According to the Energy Star Web site, the amount of energy saved through Energy Star products was the equivalent of what would be consumed by 27 million cars.
Buy locally produced food. As the temperatures warm up and local produce becomes more widely available, it can make a huge difference. It's not necessarily the carbon produced from driving to the grocery store. Instead, it's all the carbon used to transport the food to a supermarket, with an average trip for food taking up to about 1,500 miles, according to the BPU's Fox. "It's a chain carbon footprint," said Rowan's Imperatore.
Buy reusable bags for shopping. Most supermarkets and department stores sell reusable bags that prevent people from relying solely on plastic bags. When shopping, you may also want to consider buying products with minimal packaging whenever possible. "If you never produce it, you don't have to deal with it," said Rick Dovey, president of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority. "You've reduced the problem."
Use less energy while driving. It might be difficult to afford a more energy-efficient vehicle these days, but simply inflating tires and not letting the car run while it's idle are two easy ways anyone can save on energy as well as minimize the exposure to carbon dioxide. "At every school, you've got SUVs lined up to pick up the kids, and they're usually lined up by the ballfields or the playgrounds," said Green Living Solutions' Schwartz.
Cut out bottled water. Using a filter purifies tap water for drinking. According to Schwartz, if you're on the go, use a metal water container instead of plastic since it can last much longer.
E-mail Ben Leach: BLeach@pressofac.com