It's easy being green... if you follow our New Year's resolutions

Toni Court invites you to take 20 simple steps towards an eco-friendly future
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The Independent Online

CUT YOUR CAR USE

Transport is responsible for about a quarter of the UK's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the majority of these come from road transport. Emissions are increasing because rising traffic levels are eliminating the small gains being made in fuel efficiency. The environmental consultant Joanna Yarrow, the director of Beyond Green, says that we spend on average nine days a year in our cars. "If you need to drive, go slower," she says. "Driving at 50mph uses 25 per cent less fuel than at 70mph." Or, better, use public transport.

SWITCH TO A RENEWABLE ENERGY SUPPLIER

"Green energy comes from a variety of renewable sources, including wind power and hydro power. Regardless of where you live, you can choose any of these," says Mark Todd, the director of www.firsthelpline.com, which helps people switch to an environmentally friendly energy tariff.

"Currently, enough green electricity is produced for nearly 800,000 homes, but only 150,000 homes have green tariffs. It's not going to waste, as it is incorporated into all power generated by the national grid. But were more people to demand environmentally friendly tariffs, suppliers would have to step up production."

SAVE WATER

A third of the water that comes into your house gets flushed down the toilet. If you leave the tap running while you brush your teeth, nine litres goes down the drain in a minute. "Water tables are falling, and we're using more and more water," says Yarrow. "Fossil fuels have been used to cleanse it - it's easy to see how it can harm the environment."

Have a shower instead of a bath. Put a "hippo", or a full plastic bottle, in your cistern to reduce the water used in each flush. And turn off the tap when you're brushing your teeth.

LOWER YOUR THERMOSTAT BY 1C

Currently, 30 per cent of the CO2 that Britain produces comes from the way we run our homes. "Lowering your thermostat by just 1C will cut your annual fuel bills by 10 per cent and you probably won't even notice the difference," says Yarrow. "You can also reduce costs by closing curtains earlier and putting insulating strips around doors and windows."

RECYCLE

Newspapers, glass, aluminum cans - about 80 per cent of our waste is recyclable. But we're still not doing enough of it. In the UK, more than five billion aluminum cans are available for recycling each year, but only 1.6 billion are recycled. To find your nearest recycling point, log on to www.wastepoint.co.uk.

BUY ORGANIC, LOCAL, FOOD

Organic food production causes much less environmental damage than conventional agriculture, because it involves the use of less energy and animal-welfare standards are higher.

But, "you've also got to think about haulage," says Yarrow. The average meal travels 1,000 miles before it reaches your plate. Transport, particularly by air, is a major contributor to CO2 emissions. Buying locally produced food cuts down on these "food miles". It's mad to buy apples that have been flown all the way from New Zealand when we produce fantastic ones here.

DECLINE PLASTIC BAGS

Every person in the UK uses up to 134 plastic bags a year, which is more than eight billion altogether. "They're all sitting in huge landfill sites producing tons of methane gas and take around 500 years to decay," says Eugenie Harvey, the director of the fashionable green movement We Are What We Do and the person behind the book Change the World for a Fiver. "There is an alternative - it's called a shopping bag. Failing that, you could start by using fewer bags at the checkout, or, even better, taking old bags with you to the shops. One thing is certain: with very little effort, we could use fewer than 134 bags a year."

REDUCE YOUR WASTE

Even recycling uses energy, as it involves melting things down, collecting rubbish and trundling it in fuel-guzzling lorries to plants across the country. So, before you think about recycling, think about reducing.

"Eighty per cent of packaging goes straight into the bin," says Yarrow. Buy in bulk where possible, buy fruit and vegetables loose, and don't buy things in multiple layers of plastic or goods that are disposable.

PLANT A TREE

Trees take in CO2 and replace it with oxygen. On average, each one of us creates 11 tons of CO2 a year, which can be offset by planting trees. The good news is that trees aren't expensive - it would only cost each person around £150 a year to plant the trees needed to absorb their personal CO2. For more information, log on to www.carbonneutral.com.

TURN OFF UNNECESSARY LIGHTS

"Seven per cent of the UK's carbon emissions come from powering electric lights," says Harvey. "If you're not in the room, turn the lights off." You should also fit all your light sockets with energy-saving light bulbs. They last 10 times as long as standard light bulbs, but only use a fifth of the energy.

HOLIDAY AT HOME

With the average Boeing 747 burning 200 tons of fuel in one flight, aviation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse-gas emissions and is set to be the biggest contributor within 50 years. A plane's con-trails - the long trails of water vapour and ice that form in an aircraft's wake - also trap heat in the atmosphere by reflecting infrared radiation emitted from the Earth's surface that would otherwise escape into space.

"Cheap flights, no matter how appealing, are only making things worse," says Yarrow. "The irony is that even the most environmentally friendly people can undo all their efforts by succumbing to cheap breaks abroad. A single flight to New York releases the same amount of CO2 as the average family car does in a year."

Air passengers who are concerned about the environment can pay cash to offset the impact of their journey. Make a donation to the Climate Care organisation (www.climatecare.org) - typically £5 for a flight from London to Paris, rising to £25 for a flight to Sydney - and the charity will fund projects in the developing world that mitigate the effects of burning carbon.

RECYCLE YOUR COMPUTER

"Most people aren't aware that there are organisations that can pass your computer on to someone who can make good use of it," says Harvey. "Imagine the joy a seven-year-old in the Third World would feel if they could play the games that you feel are old relics." If you've got a computer that you don't need any more, contact www.computer-aid.org. This organisation has already shipped 50,000 machines to 90 different developing countries.

SLIM YOUR BIN

At least 30 per cent of the average UK household rubbish can be composted. If you haven't got a garden for a compost-heap, you can get a wormery that can be kept inside the house. Or use a "bokashi composter", which uses micro-organisms instead of worms.

GET A WATER-BUTT

These are the big, plastic barrels you see sitting outside houses, which catch rainfall from the roof. "Most roofs pour off thousands of litres of rainwater a year," says Yarrow. "This could be used, instead of high-quality tap water, for washing the car or watering plants." Most councils supply water-butts, which are made from recycled plastic, to their residents for nothing.

GET INTO TELECONFERENCING

Last year, by replacing meetings with teleconferencing, British Telecom prevented 47,000 tons of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere. Flying to New York generates half a ton of CO2 and the average vehicle travelling to a meeting generates 32kg, but one conference-call participant makes0.002kg of CO2 per hour.

GIVE A GREEN GIFT

Companies such as Good Gifts ( www.goodgifts.org) offer presents such as a hive of bees, an acre of rainforest, a donkey for a community in the developing world and a rainwater tank for areas where water is sparse. As well as a warm glow, the recipient receives a card to remind them that they have done something good for the environment.

USE BOTH SIDES OF PAPER

More than 350 million trees are cut down every year for paper that's used in UK offices alone. Ever noticed the "use both sides of the paper" button on the photocopier? Press it.

MAKE SURE YOUR HOME IS PROPERLY INSULATED

Insulating cavities in walls and roofs can reduce heat loss from a home by up to 60 per cent. "Not only will this save you up to £100 a year, but it will also reduce the amount of fossil fuels you burn for heating," says Yarrow. "The Energy Saving Trust [www.saveenergy.co.uk] can help you apply for a government or local authority grant to cover a significant chunk of the up-front costs of lagging your water pipes and tank, and insulating your roof and walls."

RECYCLE YOUR MOBILE PHONE

There are 15 million mobiles replaced in the UK every year, with the average user upgrading their handset every 18 months. But mobile phones are easy to recycle. If you upgraded this Christmas, drop off your old handset at one of the 1,200 phone outlets that offer the Fonebak scheme.

The handsets are sent to Sweden, where metals like gold, silver and platinum are extracted and used again, and the energy derived from the incineration process is then used to heat a village. The batteries are sent to a specialist battery recycler, where materials are recovered and put back into use, and the chargers are melted down and remade into useful items, such as buckets and traffic cones. To find out more, log on to www.fonebak.com.

TURN OFF APPLIANCES AT THE MAINS

The average television is left on standby for 17.5 hours a day. Other culprits include DVD players, videos, washing machines, dishwashers and stereos. "If everyone in Britain turned these items off at the switch, we'd save enough energy to power the entire country's street lamps," says Yarrow.

WE PROMISE...

JULIA STEPHENSON (THE GREEN GODDESS)

This year, I have hordes of things on my green to-do list. First up is to persuade my local council and neighbours to let me put up my wind turbine (it's tiny and practically silent, honestly) and solar panels on my roof. I also want to cure myself of my addiction to Perrier water, which incurs heavy air-miles in its transport. Meanwhile, I continue to dream of a day when long-distance air-travel won't be so detrimental - is anyone developing bio-fuels for planes, not just cars?

BILLY BRAGG, SINGER

My new year's resolution is to use a bit more of the natural resources around me. I live on the coast and the wind goes whistling by. I should be making more use of that. I am now going to look into getting some sort of domestic turbine. Of course, you've got to have a survey done, and you can't just stick it up, but that shouldn't stop me.

SIAN LLOYD, WEATHER PRESENTER

I'm a flawed eco-warrior, so there are many things I want to do better in the new year. One of the things I'm definitely going to do better is to resolve my transport issues. My life revolves around my car, but I've realised there's no point in having a fast one. I'm going to look into getting something greener - a dual-fuel car. I want to make myself a greener traveller. I also don't want to use the car in London, and I want to car-share with other people. There are too many cars with only one person in them.

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