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The new year is thought of as a fresh start -- and if citizens of the world fail to take action to protect the planet, we might not have many fresh starts (or years ahead of us) left. That's why many homeowners are making a pledge to be more energy efficient and eco-friendly overall in 2020. But if you don't want to take on massive renovations or even sacrifice your relative comfort, can you still be sustainable?

The answer is a resounding "yes." By implementing some simple changes, you can make your home more environmentally sound, reduce your carbon footprint, and maybe even save some money in the coming year. Here are a few ways to go about it.

Add Some Green

If you want to go green, you might want to add green. That might mean spending some green up front, as well, but most people will tell you that it'll pay off in the end. Not only can landscaping add as much as 14% to your home's resale value, but it can potentially do wonders for your surrounding community. In fact, one tree can remove 26 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year, equalling 11,000 miles of car emissions! Although it may mean a bit more yard work for you to take care of, planting some trees can improve air quality. And if you're strategic about where you place your trees, you can provide some shade that will keep your home cooler and reduce how hard your HVAC system will need to work. Planting a vegetable garden can allow you to save money on groceries, as well, while focusing on native plants can support local wildlife (like our endangered and oh-so-important bees and other pollinators). Ultimately, a more self-sustaining life will translate to one with greater energy efficiency. This is also a great option for the almost 43 million renters in the United States who can't modify their homes to their liking.

Seal the Escape Routes

This section may sound extreme, but we're not talking about barring your windows and doors completely shut. Your home's doors and windows need to stay accessible to you, of course, but they need to keep air from being able to travel in and out. If there are gaps, you'll end up wasting energy. In fact, 30% of a home's heating energy is lost through its windows. That means you're paying extra for your HVAC system to work overtime. And since a good portion of your home is probably made up of windows, you'll have a bit of work to do to ensure your home stays comfortable and your bills stay low. Conduct an assessment of where your home seems drafty and seal or caulk any areas where air can escape. You may also want to call in a professional to take a look at your home's insulation, as air can easily escape through the attic, roof, or crawl spaces. These small adjustments can ensure the warm or cool air stays inside and the extreme weather stays out. Subsequently, you'll feel a lot better in your home and won't be stuck with unnecessary expenses each month. As a bonus, your heating and cooling system can work more efficiently and will likely last a lot longer.

Ponder Your Power and Appliances

Speaking of your heating and cooling system, it's time to consider your appliances -- and what's powering them. Although many American homes still rely on conventional utilities to supply electricity, solar panels are becoming more popular with each passing year. It's easy to see why, as cost reductions have made them far more accessible to the masses. If PV panels were installed on just 0.6% of the nation's total land area, these panels could supply enough energy to power the entire country. If you've been considering swapping out your utility company for solar panel installation, the new year might be a good time to finally take the plunge. Eventually, you'll be able to provide all the power you need and you'll end up saving money. This is essential given that 30% of Americans have bad credit. And because you'll probably be a bit more aware of the power you use, you'll likely end up being a bit more conservative with your usage.

Of course, if you're going to completely change your power supply, you might want to rethink your major appliances, too. Homes that are a bit older may come equipped with appliances, but these appliances may not meet current energy efficiency standards. This means you'll end up requiring (and wasting) more energy to use them. Some statistics show that a refrigerator that's a decade old can use twice the energy that a new model does! If you haven't yet switched to Energy Star models, there's no time like the present. You may even be able to take advantage of seasonal deals to save a bit of money -- though you'll end up lowering your energy bills as a result anyway.

Setting -- and keeping -- New Year's resolutions may not seem easy, but it's simpler than you think to make your home more energy efficient in 2020. By opting for eco-friendly practices, you can reduce your adverse impact on the world and reduce costs at the same time.

Published in For the Home

We rely on plastics for nearly everything. From the decor in our homes to the machines we use at work (many of which might be made using the reaction injection molding process of combining two liquid components in a mold), this material is ubiquitous in our world. But unfortunately, it's also doing a lot of damage to the planet we call home. As a result, there's a need for more sustainable alternatives -- particularly biodegradable ones, as plastics can sit in landfills for a thousand years before ever breaking down. Now, a group of researchers from the University of Valle de Atemajac in Zapopan, Mexico think they've found the answer: the prickly pear cactus, which is the very species featured so prominently on the country's flag.

Global plastic production grew from 225 million tons to 311 million tons between 2004 and 2014. While this is excellent news for the plastics industry, it's not a positive development for the environment. Data shows that 8 million metric tons of plastics end up in our oceans every year -- and that's in addition to the 150 million metric tons that are already affecting our marine life. It impacts humans, as well, seeing as the plastic in our waterways and in our landfills makes its way into our food supply. In fact, we ingest more than 50,000 pieces of microplastic each year.

That's a startling statistic for many, but there may be hope. According to lead researcher Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, Mexico's popular prickly pear cactus could hold the key to creating an eco-friendly plastic that safely and quickly breaks down. Ortiz explained in a statement that the cactus pulp is strained into a juice, which is then combined with natural, non-toxic additives and stretched into sheets. The sheets could then be colored with pigments and used to create packaging. If the product ends up in a landfill or on the ground, it would dissolve in a month; if it comes into contact with water, it would take only a few days to break down completely. And if animals or humans happen to ingest it, there would be no negative health effects.

Although Ortiz admits her invention would not be the answer to all environmental issues, she hopes that it could potentially replace all other kinds of single use plastics being used. Tests are still being conducted and the process is currently restricted to the laboratory, but Ortiz hopes to have her patent request join the other 500,000 applications that will be received by the USPTO this year. She plans to look for development partners in early 2020 in order to pursue large scale production in an industrial facility.

Already, a number of companies have expressed their interest in supporting the venture, which means it may not be too long before we see this plant-based plastic on the market. But for now, you might want to keep reducing your single use plastic use and find additional ways to become more sustainable in your everyday life.

Published in Tech