Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Commuters can offset their carbon footprint –- What actions would you support to reduce carbon emissions?

Commuters can offset their carbon footprint and through little actions, help stop catastrophes that have been claiming lives for the past few years. 

Do you see (or have you felt) the catastrophic effects of recent natural disasters?
Do you want to do something in order to help?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then read on to see what we can do to help by controlling excessive carbon emissions. If you answered ‘no’ then read about typhoon Ketsana or hurricane Katrina  or the tsunami in Japan and ask if you want that to happen to you and your family. If not, then read on. 

What's happening?

The volume of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere has been increasing at a tremendous scale greater than our forests', oceans', or soils' ability to capture it.  

Heat from the sun reflected from the earth's surface does not exactly escape into space. It bounces back into our atmosphere and the captured warmth actually makes our planet habitable.

Carbon dioxide is a good thing but too much of it is bad.  Because of how we live and how fast we consume our natural resources, we contribute to the production of too much carbon dioxide and the degradation of too many natural resources that are supposed to keep its volume under control. 

A lot of media has come out about the issue of climate change and global warming.  Experts and scientists concur that there is almost absolute certainty that the planet has a temperature caused by human actions.  

The hurricanes, droughts, floods, heat waves, etc., that have recently been claiming millions of lives are just some of its catastrophic manifestations.  Something has to be done now, and very rapidly, because scientists and experts believe that we might not have enough time to put things under control.

So what should we do?

There are many things we can do to help stop global warming.  Carbon offsetting is one of these ways. It is a way of doing good by reducing emissions from one activity in order to make up for emissions you can’t reduce or avoid from another. But it will only make sense if we use them for behaviors that we cannot avoid rather than as a substitute for changes we can easily make.   

Carbon offsetting can be a little complicated at first especially for regular folks like you and me. Doing research is very important since a lot of carbon offsets are of questionable value. We ordinary folks can, instead, simply choose to avoid or reduce our carbon emissions whenever possible. 

The way we move around is one of the biggest ways that we impact our planet (most of the time, in a negative way).  If you spend a large portion of your day moving from one location to another, this article may be able to give some suggestions on what we can do in order to avoid or reduce the carbon footprint we produce when commuting.

Tip 1: Calculating your carbon footprint is the first step to going green. 

Carbon footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment, and in particular, on climate change. It relates to the amount of carbon dioxide produced in our day-to-day lives through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation, etc. that heat up the planet or cause global warming.

I took my first carbon footprint test last April and for someone who refuses to own a car (yes, that’s even if my employer already offered me one) and chooses to take public transportation to get to places, I was a bit shocked when I realized my carbon footprint is still high compared to world average.   

Knowing how our actions and lifestyle affects the environment enables us to take the necessary actions to reduce any negative impact we cause. There are more sophisticated tools to calculate exactly how much emission we produce and how it affects our environment but the internet is filled with a lot of free tools to get us started.

I do believe that commuters can offset their carbon footprint and we can start doing so with an awareness of how much impact we are actually producing.

Tip 2: Walking, running, and biking are healthy ways to reduce our carbon footprint.

If you’d ask me for a tip on how to reduce weight or stay healthy, walking or running is definitely one tip I will give. You only not do your health a favor, you also make the planet happy.

I also know someone who owns a folding bicycle so he could bike from his house to the train station, fold the bike and get into the train, and then bike again from the station to his office.  Fun! And definitely a good idea! Not only does he reduce his emissions, he also gets to save on daily travel expenses, while staying fit!

Tip 3:  Live or stay near your place of work / study or drive less

I remember seeing a documentary on urban planning and one of the smart strategies they discussed to improve people’s lives in the city is to "force" people to stay near where they would normally be in a day, so that they would not need to use transportation. This not only reduces traffic, but I think, it is certainly a very smart way of reducing stress produced by daily commute!

Instead of spending 2 hours in traffic (and contributing to global warming), why not live near where you work or study? Not only will you earn more time to rest or do more productive stuff, it can also help reduce traffic in the streets.

There are more ways on how commuters can offset their carbon footprint or simply reduce or avoid it.  These include carpooling, proper scheduling of trips in a day, proper car maintenance, and a whole lot more.  David Bach’s book offers easy, useful tips on how to find carbon offsets so go and check it out as well.

Governments and businesses do have responsibilities to the environment to put a cap on carbon emissions and to either offset or totally reduce the negative impacts of how society lives.  However, I believe that little, simple actions like knowing your carbon footprint, walking or biking, and driving less also add up to more sustainable ways of going green.  It is important to remember that commuters can offset their carbon footprint.

Photo thanks to http://www. photos/ricephotos/.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Safe plastic drinking water bottles -- Is my water bottle safe?

Safe plastic drinking water bottles seem to be what everybody is looking for. 

We all know how important plastic material has become. We use it everyday in our compact discs and DVDs, mobile phones, computers, and in so many things we use everyday. The moment you wake up, plastic is one of the first things you see. It’s in your home, your place of work, the gym, your favorite park, your school, and practically everywhere!  

Imagine your day without plastic. Kinda tough, right?

But these days more and more people are questioning if plastic, when used to store the water we drink, is safe.

To know this, we need to know what our plastic bottles are made of.  Each bottle is marked with a number inside a recycling symbol. This number is key to knowing what’s inside your bottle so start flipping them over, know what harm they can cause you and which ones are safe plastic drinking water bottles.

#1 PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
  • Used for most water and soda bottles
  • Leaches phthalates that are known carcinogens.  They are known to cause endocrine disruption, reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy, and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals. They are also linked to liver cancer.
#2 HDPE (High density polyethylene)
  • Used for cloudy milk and water jugs and opaque food bottles
  • Leaches bisphenol A (BPA) linked to cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, hyperactivity. 
  • Studies of water samples from #2 bottles showed elevated levels of barium and zinc. High levels of barium can affect the nervous system and cause cardiac arrythmia, while excessive zinc can prevent iron and copper absorption.
#3 PVC or V (Polyvinyl chloride)
  • Used in some cling wrap, soft beverage bottles, plastic containers, plumbing pipes, children’s toys, vinyl windows, shower curtains, shades and blinds, and many more items
  • Polyvinyl chloride can cause cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, chronic bronchitis, ulcers, skin diseases, deafness, vision failure, indigestion, and liver dysfunction. It is also linked to asthma symptoms in young children and environment and autism spectrum disorders. 
  • It also leached phthalates (see #1)
#4 LDPE (Low density polyethylene)
  • Used in plastic grocery bags, plastic wrap, bubble wrap, dry cleaning bags, and flexible lids
  • LDPE is not considered a carcinogen or endocrine disruptor. However, it leaches small amounts of BPA (see #2)
#5 PP (Polypropylene)
  • Used in yogurt cups, some baby bottles, screw-on caps, toys, drinking straws
  • Considered one of the safest plastics for human health as it is not known to leach any chemicals
#6 PS (Polystyrene)
  • Used in egg cartons, foam meat trays, clear take out containers, plastic cutlery, toys, cups, CD containers
  • Leaches the solvent styrene that is known to adversely affect the central nervous system. It also leaches benzene that can cause digestive problems, harm bone marrow, and the immune system, and cause a decrease in red blood cells that can lead to anemia. It has also been linked to low birth weights in animals.
#7 Other (usually Polycarbonate)
  • Used in 5-gallon water bottles, some baby bottles, and lining of metal food cans
  • Leaches bisphenol A (BPA) linked to cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, hyperactivity. 

Safe plastic drinking water bottles can be difficult to find but many plastic alternatives are becoming more and more available now. Bio-plastic water bottles or bottles made from plants are also trickling into the market. But some are saying that companies producing these alternatives are only “greenwash” because producing these bottles requires more material to produce and are not really recyclable. 

Meanwhile, stainless steel metal or glass containers are safer alternatives. Better yet, a greener action is to avoid drinking bottled water altogether.

To know more about how you can reduce toxins in your home, check out this book about making your house clean and safe.

Ask yourself, is your water bottle safe?  Know what they are made of and see if you are using safe plastic drinking water bottles.

Information on plastic bottles, thanks to AZGreen Magazine.
Photo thanks to http://www. stevendepolo/