Major Anti-Green Culprits: Cars and E-Waste

15 Jun

I’ve talked about everyday household and personal products, and ways to go greener and healthier (while saving money) on those. Today I will talk about some of the other areas in which sustainability practices make a huge difference in our impact on the planet’s resources: Automobiles and E-waste.

Car Use

This is a big area for most of us in our everyday lives. Our gasoline consumption in the U.S. is nearly six times higher per capita than Europe, and almost 30 times higher than developing countries! While switching to a more fuel-efficient car is clearly a big step in the right direction, there are many other things I have learned to be more conscious of an incorporate into my daily routine to improve in this area. Driving habits can improve your efficiency and maintain your car longer.

Make your next car a hybrid or smaller, fuel efficient vehicle. I drive a Mini Cooper, which gets pretty good mileage, and is a 2003 model. So I am making it last longer and maintaining it rather than buying a new car every few years. When I do get another car, I would love to get a hybrid vehicle.

Get eco-friendly oil changes. I just bought a Groupon during this experiment for a Green Earth Oil change using biodegradable, renewable oil that is higher performance than standard motor oil.

Buy regular, low-grade gasoline. Most cars do not need premium fuel, and in fact regular unleaded gas results in more complete fuel combustion, which improves gas mileage and reduces emissions.

Don’t speed (admittedly a hard one for me on the highway) – each 5 mph above 60 that you drive lowers your gas mileage by 2.5 mpg.

Keep your tire pressure as high as possible for your tires – underinflated tires is a huge culprit for worse gas mileage.

Use cruise control on the highway when driving long distances.

Be more mindful about use of the air conditioner. In Texas (where I live) it’s pretty important in the summer, but don’t just default to it if the breeze through open windows would be fine.

Don’t let your car sit idling if you can avoid it. The last time I went to Walgreens I noticed SIX CARS in each of the two drive-through pharmacy lanes – and hardly anyone parked in the lot. I see it all the time at fast-food places too. Are people really that lazy? Avoid situations such as drive-throughs with a lot of traffic, where your car will be idling a lot. Parking and going in is probably a lot faster, and it gets you walking and moving more too.

If you have a lot of stuff in your car or the trunk, unload it. Especially heavy things like golf clubs, textbooks, heavy gear, etc – it takes a lot of extra gas to tote around more weight.

Car-share if possible, and take public transportation when you can. Even though I have a car, I share it frequently with my daughter and let my neighbor (who got rid of her car altogether!) borrow it sometimes; and I sometimes take public transportation when it’s convenient even though I have a car. There are lots of cool car-share companies now too, like ZipCar. This goes hand in hand with the next practice.

Consolidate your errands and plan car use. This is a big one for me, and I think it makes a big difference. Because I work at home, there are often days when I don’t use my car at all; either I don’t go anywhere, or if I just need to go up the street I ride my bike. I plan my appointments, meetings and errands so that they are done as efficiently as possible – I save my list of errands for days I already have an appointment somewhere, or on the way to/from yoga class, etc. This really makes a big difference compared to just jumping in the car multiple times a day to run down the street or make a bunch of different trips.


E-waste dumping in Ghana. Photo by Basel Action Network. Copyright BAN 2009

It’s great having all the new and ever-changing technology in a lot of ways, but the downside to that is that even with electronics we have become a disposable society. E-waste is a huge problem in this country. Most people don’t keep a mobile phone for more than a year, and it’s often cheaper to get a new one than have a broken one repaired. Televisions, computers and other electronics also go in the landfills by massive amounts each year.

Not only are we increasingly filling our own landfills with discarded electronics, more and more this e-waste is being exported to developing countries in Africa and Asia. I had no idea about this and was shocked to learn of it. These trashed electronics are often “recycled” by poor workers and slave laborers – many of whom are children. My guy once referred to this type of thing as “first world trash in a third world country.” They are also exposed to hazardous waste and toxins – which are going into our environment at the same time.

Here are some ways to avoid creating more e-waste and being a contributor to this problem.

Watch "The Story of Electronics" video from The Story of Stuff project

Remember that the device you own already is the most eco-friendly choice, even if there are newer models that are made with recycled materials, less toxins or the latest technology.

When you do buy a new device, get the most efficient one you can find. For example, an LCD or rear-projection television consumes 50% less electricity than a plasma screen.

Don’t leave all your electronic devices constantly plugged in, where they are still sucking energy in stand-by mode. Between the TVs, stereos, DVD players, gaming consoles, computers etc. you are using a lot of needless energy. Plug them into a power strip that can be turned off at night – some of these even come with timers which make it even easier to do.

Turn off the TV when you aren’t watching it, and set your computer to go to sleep mode when not in use. It’s amazing how many electronics are on when they aren’t even being used.

Dispose of your e-waste as sustainably as possible. When you get a new cell phone, donate your old one to a domestic violence program. Donate old TVs and other electronics to a local nonprofit, or post a craigslist ad to give them away – even if they don’t work, plenty of people will repair and reuse them. You can find a responsible e-cycler at

Til next time!

3 Responses to “Major Anti-Green Culprits: Cars and E-Waste”

  1. Shelley Seale June 20, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Here is some additional information that two wonderful readers, Dawnene and Forrest, provided:

    Three-fourths of the millions and millions of plastic water bottles sold in the U.S. alone every week go to landfills or to the incinerator which releases harmful toxins in the air including some of the most damaging artificial chemicals. The landfills are such a problem that they are now dumping the bottles in landfills in India. According to the Corporate Accountability International, landfill costs of plastic bottles are ranging $70 million every year. This is another reason to switch to tap water.

    Another alternative, one not discussed in the video is harvesting rain water. When I lived in Panama, the city water was so bad that people did not even brush their teeth with it, and using it to wash clothes was a futile effort. Thousands of people had no safe option other than buying bottled water. No one was responsible enough to promote recycling and the locals just threw the bottles on the ground when they were done. The expats in my community all harvested rain water and used it almost exclusively. The city of Chennai, India has a very conspicuous program to encourage citizens to harvest rain water, not only for water safety but because of droughts.

  2. Shelley Seale June 22, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    Here is a great story I just saw in USA Today about personal car sharing, and how popular (and easy!) it is becoming:

  3. Chandler July 2, 2011 at 12:43 am #

    I had no idea either about used electronics being dumped off in third world countries until I found out at work… I am learning so much more about the minor things that can be done to not create so much waste. It’s hard for a lot of people to see the effects when they don’t recycle, because once you throw it away it’s non existent to you anymore. Sad thing is half of the recycled products we recycle aren’t even properly disposed of by the consumers and therefore the recycling companies don’t have time to do what we were too lazy to take the extra step to correctly dispose of trash and recyclables. So a lot of what we think is recyclable is just thrown away also. Companies who make the plastic, aluminum or glass containers for their products need to start being more conscious of their products because they could help make a huge impact on the environment and waste if they could make that simple step to cut down on how much trash their product is rather than ACTUAL product, and how many different types of plastic they use also. Not all plastic is recyclable!

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