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Earth Action Week is over, but you're not off the hook: Six eco-saving tips

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Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Sunday, April 27, 2014, 2:02 PM -

Well, Earth Action Week 2014 is over, and although quite a few people do make an effort to adopt some more eco-friendly habits, too many people keep the effort confined to just this seven-day stretch.

It only really works if you keep it going beyond the 'season', and most of the changes you can make are simple enough.

Here are six things to put on your to-do list.

Keurig K-Cups

Author’s confession: I love K-Cups. For the coffee aficionado (okay, more like hopeless addict) on the go, what’s more convenient than sticking in a K-Cup and drinking the results two minutes later?

But the nightmarish truth is: You can’t recycle them.

Not yet anyway. Keurig acknowledges that it can’t be done right now, but the company says it’s working on it, with a goal to make 100 per cent recyclable K-cups by 2020, and make the individual components easier to separate.

There are other companies working on making biodegradable versions, but the single-use format is so popular it’s growing exponentially.

If you’re concerned, this gardening website has a few tips on how to re-use or recycle at least some of the materials in a K-Cup.

A great solution to all that waste: Get yourself a re-usable filter! Not only will that completely staunch the flow of non-recyclable K-Cups, you can fill it with your favourite ground coffee dose.

Plastic bags

Here’s another thing I’m guilty of: Using plastic bags rather than reusable ones.

It’s not clear how many of them are used by Canadians, but the numbers are huge. A parliamentary study in 2008 put the figure at 2.86 billion a year, but other sources say it’s at least double that, and could be as high 15 billion.

One study says plastic bag recycling facilities are available to around 93 per cent of the Canadian population, but as in many cases, the best way to deal with that kind of pollution is not just recycling, but cutting down also.

Enter re-usable bags, which are pretty much everywhere now. Your local supermarket almost certainly offers them, and some Canadian cities have banned the plastic ones altogether.

There are some drawbacks to the re-usable format, though. Things have been improving, but some kinds use more energy to produce than the plastic ones, and had to be shipped from further away sources such as China. Others contain trace minerals or chemicals that are themselves harmful for the environment when the time comes to throw them away.

Still, the bags are getting better, and if you use a cloth bag, here are some handy tips on how to wash them, and pack the food that goes into them to cut down on bacteria build up.

Energy efficient lighting

Beginning January 1 this year, sales of 75W and 100W incandescent light bulbs have been banned in Canada, and by the end of the year, that will include 40-60W bulbs as well.

The thing is, the ban doesn’t cover sales of existing inventory, so many Canadians still have a stock of them.

If that’s you, we’d encourage you to switch over to more energy efficient bulbs sooner rather than later, although for consumers, this is one change that can really hit the pocket books in the short-term.

Your average incandescent could cost less than a dollar apiece, compared to more energy efficient varieties that can go for $3 apiece, up to higher-end LEDs that can cost upwards of $40. Another downside is that CFL bulbs contain trace amounts of mercury, meaning they need to be disposed of in special centres.

But while the upfront costs are steep, they’re coming down slowly, and the savings through energy efficiency mean they’ll pay for themselves. Unlike incandescents, which lose more than 90 per cent of their energy as heat, use between 28 and 90 per cent electricity, and all varieties last longer than incandescents. LEDs can last 25 times longer (check out this breakdown by the Toronto Star).

The government says it’ll pay off in the end, with total savings for the consumers in the range of $750 million by 2025, not to mention the long-term benefits of cutting down electricity use.

NEXT PAGE: Don't throw out your batteries

Batteries

Whether it’s your regular AA alkaline batteries, all the way through to the rechargeable cell in your phone, nearly all our non-plugged-in power sources can be recycled.

They’re packed with useful metals and, in many cases, chemicals as well, which makes them ideal candidates for reclamation, rather than spend a few thousand years decomposing in a landfill.

And in Canada, that’s a LOT of batteries. Environment Canada estimated in 2007 that 671 million non-rechargeable batteries were sold in Canada, making up 95 per cent of all battery sales.

Rechargeable are probably more common now, but the number of single-use cells is expected to grow to almost 750 million sold by 2015.

Recycling is getting traction among people who formerly used to throw them out. It varies from province to province, but many municipalities across Canada offer to recycle batteries if you turn them in, and nationwide programs, like Call2Recycle, set up collection depots across several Canadian cities not only for a staggering variety of usable and reusable batteries, but also old cell phones.

Disposable razors

Disposable razors are way safer than the old straight razors, but as with most other disposable consumer products, the price we pay is not being able to recycle them.

So rather than risk your skin with an old-timey barber blade, try make the disposable one last as long as you can.

Simply keeping the blade dry will cut down on the rust that inevitably creeps in with prolonged use, and some sites recommend using isopropyl alcohol as part of that method.

You can also keep them sharp, though not with a whetstone. Numerous sites suggest running the blade backwards along a strip of denim, some in combination with mineral oil.

The motion will work out tiny imperfections in the blade that combine to make for an increasingly rougher shave (others say even doing that on your forearm works just as well), to the point where you can make them last many months past their advertised lifespan.

Motor Oil

Most mechanics who change your motor oil for you will dispose of it safely, but for handy types who prefer to do it themselves, there are lots of options for you.

Almost all provinces and territories have some kind of collection program, although they are most advanced in the western provinces and Quebec (click here for a province-by-province view).

They partner with industry associations, businesses and even municipalities, and most will take not only motor oil, but oil filters, containers and other products like transmission fluid and lubricants.

And it’s not for nothing. One litre of oil can contaminate up to a million litres of water, but recycling eight litres of oil rather than producing an equivalent amount of new oil can conserve enough energy to power your home for a day.

Recycled oil can be refined and reused, but it’s also useful in producing asphalt for roads and highways.

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