Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

10 Easy Ways to Save the Planet

Earth day

What difference can one person make? That’s a question or justification I hear too often from people who do not recycle, reuse or believe in environmentally conscious practices. Being from California, I don’t understand this mentality since I was brought up being green, and therefore make informed choices about the way I live my life and how it affects others. But I’m not a tree hugger or wearing clothes of wheat, so don’t roll your eyes.

In India, the majority of its people are responsible for disposing the garbage they create. Think about that for a moment — there is NO garbage truck coming around to pick up your bakery boxes, one-time batteries and plastic bottles. Some might say it’s backwards or uncivilized, but I think it’s smart. Why? Well, wouldn’t it force you to make more informed decisions about avoiding waste if you were responsible for its fate?

Let’s make every day Earth Day and celebrate by adopting new habits to help save our wonderful planet and its inhabitants (us!). Here are 10 easy things:

1. Use a coffee cup at work instead of paper or Styrofoam disposables. If you stop at Starbucks, they sell and give credit for reusable containers; perhaps your local cafe would do the same or at least let you bring your own travel mug.

2. Bring a reusable bag to the grocery store and laiki (AB sells them and gives 1 point credit for each use). That one-use bag takes 1000 years to degrade; with 500 billion distributed every year, that’s a lot of landfill going nowhere fast.

3. Look for a compact fluorescent light (CFL) or “energy saver” bulb instead a common incandescent, which will be illegal in some countries by 2010. CFLs initially cost more at the store, but in the long term last years longer, use a quarter of the energy and reduce your electric bill…so, they’re really cheaper.

4. Stop using shower gel, it takes 800 years to degrade. Soap anyone? Further, consider a shampoo bar instead of bottled shampoo — it’s biodegradable, it won’t explode in your luggage, and there’s nothing to throw away when you’re done.

5. Buy rechargeable batteries for your remote and portables. Duracell makes a nice charger holding both AA and AAA batteries, which are powerful and take less than an hour to recharge. Saves tons of money, saves toxic materials from degrading over 3000 years. (If you want to be extreme, get a Solio solar charger for your iPod, digital camera and cell phone.) If you must use normal batteries or get rid of your final set, Carrefour, Alfa Bita and Praktiker have recycling programs.

6. Shut off your stuff and unplug your phone charger. Up to 75 percent of your home’s electric bill is *standby* power for the TV, laptop, VCR and stereo when it’s “sleeping” (aka, if there’s a light or display on, it’s still ‘on’ not ‘off.’) I have everything I want to shut down each night on a strip. Shutting down your computer also saves approximately 83 percent carbon emissions.

7. Filter your own water with a Brita pitcher or faucet attachment. Saves you money and keeps one-time bottles out of landfills. Carrefour has them, maybe others do too.

8. Eat fresh, not packaging. Get your muscles moving and cook something instead of giving the microwave a workout. Sit at a restaurant to eat instead of using takeout containers.

9. Check your tire pressure. The car or motorcycle will need less gas thus reducing carbon emissions by up to 90 kg/year, just like that Firestone commercial says.

10. Sign up for paperless statements and pay your bills online, if possible. I know options are limited in Greece for the moment, but some establishments are getting on board.

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Have fun with it and thank you for doing your part!

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  melusina wrote @ April 22nd, 2007 at 23:41

Ok, the shower gel thing is a little creepy. I used it for awhile in my youthful days, but have long since given it up (I’m a dork, I used soap and THEN used the gel). I’m glad I gave it up now – I can’t imagine that something that takes so long to degrade is good for your skin. Ugh.

Those are all really good “doable” green options. I’m dreading when we move into our house because our carbon footprint is going to get so large there it will be in danger of crushing us (because we’ll have to commute, two cars, drive to the grocery, etc. – for the past two years we haven’t even used our own car, and it is sitting dead in its parking spot). The way our house was built and the heating system it uses, I just don’t see how we can make green options. I guess we’ll just have to look for the greenest heater/boiler option we can find.

I was begging my husband for a dryer for years and he promised in our house, but now I’ve changed my mind. It just isn’t worth adding more crap into the atmosphere.

  Kat wrote @ April 23rd, 2007 at 09:25

I’ve got 100 things on a list that can be done, but I chose 10 simple ones with impact, customized to Greece because I know some things aren’t realistic (i.e. going vegetarian isn’t something people will do, though it would make a huge difference.)

I also know the government is stalling contracts to make technology available. This is displeasing citizens calling for greener solutions and the EU, which is pressing Greece to meet overdue goals.

Shower gel is scary, isn’t it? The only safe shower gels are those with biodegradable ingredients, i.e. Pangea, Tom’s of Maine (which aren’t available here and cost a pretty penny).

We moved our home closer to our work, so now my fiance bikes to work most days and leaves the car at home. I haven’t owned a car in 10 years and walk or take the bus — I don’t like the aroma that develops in summer, but what can we do?

I handwashed everything after my washer broke down and couldn’t afford another on my Greek salary…that was a lot of work; it developed an appreciation for small things. Then I got one of those little ones, and it worked perfectly good. We were given a washer/dryer combo as a gift in order to not have crispy towels, but I can’t say we use the dryer option that often.

For your new house (congratulations!), the best thing you could do is get insulation (if possible), put a special blanket on the water heater (ours is on the roof and solar heated — works pretty good too) and choose appliances with the ‘energy star’ on them if you are buying new ones (they may cost an extra 100 euros initially, but oh how they’ll pay off in the long-term).

I used to want a big house, but now I’m thinking an apartment or townhouse is perfectly good. Someone has to offset the mansion (literally) that my brother lives in.

  melusina wrote @ April 23rd, 2007 at 18:47

Yes, at least our new house is well insulated (or it is supposed to be), and we usually buy energy star stuff. We are looking at spending a little more on air conditioning to get more energy efficient units that also help with mold problems. I thought we would get solar paneled water heaters but I don’t actually know if we did. My in-laws have actually taken care of all the construction and some of those particulars, so I don’t really know for sure. If I mention energy efficient, “green” things to them, they just have no idea what I am talking about. I love the new house, but I hate the idea of going back to using the car again. I’ve really enjoyed being in the city and walking, although yea, the air here isn’t always the best.

I’d go totally vegetarian if I had the absolute will power to do it. And I know my husband won’t. After the Easter fasting period I told him we would stay strict vegan, but the reality is we just can’t do it. I gotta have my milk and cheese and eggs! I don’t need meat that often, and I’m trying to steer my husband away from such a heavy meat diet (I never ate so much meat until I moved to Greece), but it is difficult.

Still, if every person in the world does just one thing to improve their carbon footprint, it will make a difference. Maybe not enough – maybe it is already too late. But it can’t hurt to try.

One thing I don’t like the sound of is this latest idea to pump carbons from factories back into the underground areas where they mine the natural gas and what have you. They say it shouldn’t be a problem because these areas held gases for millions of years. But it is one thing to hold gases that were natural resources and a whole other thing to pump them back in! That just scares the hell out me.

  rositta wrote @ April 24th, 2007 at 12:42

I do a lot of thinking on the subject of global warming. I have said for years that the earth will self destruct some day. The problem is that not “every person in he world” will not do one thing. Just think of the millions in China, India and Russia who do nothing. Can we combat that? I doubt it, the solution they tell us is to buy carbon credits. We as a society have become accustomed to having stuff and buying stuff thanks to the industrial revolution. Going back to the old ways of our great grandparents is not an option. No one will do that, no one stops buying, if we did factories will close and unemployment will be rampant. Maybe there are just too many people in the world. Medical progress allows people who would otherwise have died to now stay alive crowding the planet. What is the solution? Beats me, but hanging laundry out (which I do) is really a small, tiny drop int he bucket. Feel free to disagree, I don’t mind.

  Kat wrote @ April 25th, 2007 at 00:29

I’m glad you stopped by, Rositta. I enjoy your blog and welcome your comments anytime!

There’s no easy answer to global warming.

While I agree there is increased pollution in places like Delhi (I couldn’t breathe after 20 minutes outside) and Mumbai, much of the country has little or no pollution. China is a big polluter, I agree, but it’s going to be tough to deny a farmer the use of coal because without it he can’t cook or stay warm since electricity is unavailable and oil and gas are too expensive. In both countries, maybe even Russia, natives are often a hard sell either because they’ve finally achieved a little wealth and want to enjoy it or are quite poor and have more pressing needs.

I also agree that developed countries won’t stop providing consumers with goods, and consumers won’t stop buying them. The government cannot prevent businesses from making money or consumers from a free market.

In developing countries, there is a movement to educate people about the benefits of having fewer children (aka, less resources consumed, less financial burden on the family, less polluters). This is a tough sell because in places like Ireland and Africa, large families are a part of culture and even encouraged. Some say this is an infringement on freedom, some say it’s a thoughtful choice.

But is that any different than denying people medical treatment instead of using it to extend lives? Some would say this is a cruel choice, some say it’s nature’s course.

In the end, the only thing I can control is myself. I want one child instead of two, live in a small townhouse instead of a two-story home and cook from scratch instead of buy stuff in cans, tetrapaks, plastic and paper. It’s my choice to be a small part of a collective whole making some difference (many tiny drops in a bucket can overflow). For me, it doesn’t matter what other people do.

There’s a saying that goes, “change or die.” Well, if people don’t change, this planet is going to die. I won’t be here to see what happens, but at least I know I did what I could when I was. 🙂

  Kat wrote @ April 30th, 2007 at 20:41

Mel, I meant to tell you that whatever part you’re contributing is much appreciated, whether or not you and your husband go vegan or not! That’s pretty strict.

I’ve tricked my fiance into only eating meat twice a week. OK, he might know, but over the past year, I’ve slowly been taking away the meat and I don’t think he really notices that much.

There’s something about me that likes a nice steak once in awhile and I like sushi as well, but I think twice whenever I find something in my egg.

Pumping carbons under the planet’s surface sounds scary to me as well, just because I haven’t seen proof that it’s a sound practice. But is it better to have carbon above? That’s not safe either. 🙁

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