The Reader’s Digest Version of Going Green

Simple answers to 13 common questions.

By Andy Simmons from Reader's Digest | April 2009

See the slideshow of 13 Ways to Go Green

AT HOME

Q. Should I turn off the lights every time I leave the room?

Let your bulb answer that. You save energy with the lights off, even for a few seconds. But flicking that switch shortens every lightbulb’s life. Incandescent lightbulbs are cheap, so turn them off when you can. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) aren’t cheap — about $4 each — but one will save you about $30 in electricity charges throughout its life span over an incandescent. And don’t worry, turning on a lightbulb doesn’t burn a lot of energy. The Department of Energy’s office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy says that the amount of electricity needed to turn on a bulb equals a few seconds of its burning brightly.

Green Ideas for Better LivingComstock.comA small amount of food won't gum up the recycling works, so don't waste a lot of water making empty jars pristine.
Reader’s Digest Version: Turn off incandescents if you’re leaving the room for more than five seconds; CFLs, if you’ll be gone at least 15 minutes.

Q. Do I really have to unplug my TV, phone chargers, CD player …?

Even when they’re not on, electricity courses through the plugs of your electronic gadgets so that they’ll jump into action more quickly. This “vampire electricity” sucks up $4 billion a year in energy for things that aren’t even on. Your laptop alone, turned off but plugged into the wall, will cost you $9 a year. Cell phone chargers that aren’t connected to a cell phone cost 14 cents a year. With some 260 million chargers out there, it adds up.

Reader’s Digest Version: Unplug. Even easier, plug everything into power strips with on/off switches.

Q. I know cold-water washes are greener, but will they get my clothes clean?

For a hot-water load, about 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes goes to heat the water, not agitate your clothes. The good news is, washing your clothes in warm or even cold water will get rid of almost any grime, except for the worst dirt or oily stains.

Reader’s Digest Version: Switch from hot to warm water to cut energy use in half; cold, to cut it even more.

Q. Dirty dishes: by hand or by machine?

By the time you wash a sinkload of dirty dishes by hand, you’ll go through 4 to 5 gallons of water. Modern dishwashers use as little as 2 gallons. Sure, dishwashers require electricity, but new ones use 95 percent less electricity than machines built 30 years ago, and they clean well enough that in most cases, there’s no need to pre-rinse.

Reader’s Digest Version: Stick to full loads, use the pot-scrubber option only if necessary, and hit the no-heat or air-dry option.

Q. Peanut butter jar: a simple rinse or a full-on scour before recycling?

A small amount of food won’t gum up the recycling works, so don’t waste a lot of water making that peanut butter jar pristine. You should do it mostly to keep pests away. And that lime in your empty beer bottle? Leave it.

Reader’s Digest Version: Rinse out what you can, then recycle.

Q. Soda bottle tops: on or off before recycling?

It depends on where you live. Some localities insist on no tops; others are more laid-back. Leave them off because 1) the caps are not always made from the same plastic as the container, and 2) they can jam the processing equipment.

Reader’s Digest Version: Off with their heads!