Green may be the new black, but let's hope not. Reducing pollution and conserving natural resources has to be more than a trend, because the challenges facing the planet aren't going to resolve themselves. The beauty of trying to help the environment is that making even small adjustments to your life can have far-reaching benefits. Consider the compact fluorescent light bulb. No doubt you've heard that they last longer and use less electricity than incandescent bulbs. But they also reduce strain on pollution-spewing power plants. In that spirit we offer this list of tips for sparing the environment. Most are easy. Some are not. But all are packed with hands-on information that elevates them from the preachy to the pragmatic.
1. Tune Out, Turn Off
Many electronic devices remain on, in standby mode, even after you've hit the off button. In fact, when your TV appears to be dormant, it's sucking down as many as 20 watts per hour. The same goes for most computer-related, entertainment, and kitchen devices. Switch them to "power save" mode if they have one; if not, unplug them or flick the power off on the surge protector when you're not using them.
2. Clean More Kindly
You paid a mint for those Gucci slacks, but that doesn't mean you have to leave a trail of toxins to keep them clean. Traditional dry cleaning uses perchloroethylene, the potentially toxic and carcinogenic chemical that the state will phase out by 2023. Perc-free cleaners are popping up all over town, including Brentwood Royal Cleaners (256 26th St., Ste. 100, Santa Monica, 310-451-3663), which uses a nontoxic liquid carbon dioxide to permeate the fabric (in a Consumer Reports test, the process was found to provide the best cleaning results). The GreenEarth chain of cleaners uses a silicone-based solvent that's considered environmentally safe. "Wet" cleaners, such as the Wilshire District's New Image Cleaners (682 S. Cloverdale Ave., L.A., 323-939-8557), use water and detergent and special cleaning, drying, and stretching machines. You can find other perc-free cleaners on the South Coast Air Quality Management District Web site.
3. Plant a Tree
Trees can increase your property value (they look good), act as a sound barrier, and help cool your home, reducing the need for air-conditioning and thus demand on pollution-causing power plants. They also eat carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas. According to the American Forestry Association, if every American family planted a single new tree, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be reduced by a billion pounds a year. You can even get a free tree from the city, thanks to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's push to plant a million new trees. E-mail your name, address, and phone number with the subject line "Request for a tree" to firstname.lastname@example.org. One not enough? You can receive up to seven free trees if you attend a Department of Water & Power workshop, in person or online.
4. Bypass The Trash
Those aren't mere yard clippings, orange peels, and papers in your trash can. They're filthy lucre. Or something like it if you turn them into compost. Composting saves water and electricity (by reducing use of the garbage disposal). It conserves space in landfills while reducing the methane (a greenhouse gas) they produce. It saves on fossil fuels and tax dollars (less garbage being hauled to the dump). It cuts down on the use of plastic bags as well (less trash and store-bought compost). And the end result, nutrient-rich compost, makes your garden greener. To learn how to compost and to pick up a discounted compost bin, head to one of the free workshops sponsored by both the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation and the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works.
5. Save Water
Last we checked, L.A. was still located in a semiarid desert. There's only so much water to go around. You already know that simple measures such as turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth can save hundreds of gallons a month. You can conserve far more by replacing your old toilets, which use three and a half to seven gallons per flush. Low-flow models, which use 1.6 gallons a flush, are widely available, and ones with "gravity-power" or "pressure-assist" technology get a lot of force out of that small amount of water. Better still is the dual-flush Aquia from Toto, sold at George's Pipe & Supply (99 Palmetto Dr., Pasadena, 626-792-5547), with which you use a 0.9- or a 1.6-gallon flush, depending on the job. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California provides rebates of $30 to $165 on all low-flow models. If you've got the coin, opting for a high-efficiency clothes washer can conserve buckets more: A standard top-loader uses up to nine gallons per cubic foot of laundry; the Bosch Nexxt 500 Series WFMC3301UC uses a fourth of that. Did we mention there are MWD rebates for these, too?