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Myth Buster

Things You May not Have Known about Recycling and Saving Energy

Fabrics and Textiles

Torn, stained or otherwise unwearable clothing can be recycled.

Charities accept all sorts of used textiles, including those deemed too worn or damaged to donate.

Instead of throwing out a wine-stained blouse, socks without mates, or ragged jeans, give them to Goodwill or another charity. Other textiles (such as sheets, towels and bedding) can be donated as well.

Charities make money selling donated textiles, useful textiles are kept out of landfills, and 95% of them are reused.

Put textile donations in the large collection bins outside Goodwill stores, other charities and churches.

Plastic Bags

Since 2009, larger retail and grocery stores in New York State must make collection bins for plastic bag recycling available to customers in a visible, easily accessible location. In addition to shopping bags, most stores also accept the following types of plastic bags (clean and dry, of course):

  • Retail bags (string ties or rigid plastic handles removed)
  • Newspaper bags (sleeves)
  • Dry-cleaning bags
  • Produce bags
  • Bread bags
  • Cereal bags
  • Frozen food bags
  • Food-storage bags (zipper closer removed)

In addition, stretchy plastic wrap (again, clean and dry) and plastic wrap from paper products are recyclable. To avoid having to recycle altogether, remember to take reusable bags and totes when you go shopping.

Electric Cars

Cars that are completely electric don't emit any greenhouse gases, so even though an electric car is charged with electricity from a coal-fired plant, overall emissions (including those from the power plant) are about 30% lower than a car with a gasoline engine. Electric engines are also more efficient than standard gasoline engines.

Another benefit is that electric cars use no motor oil. They need transmission and brake fluid, but these fluids require fewer changes than oil.

Light-emitting Diodes LEDs

By now, it's common to see LEDs used in traffic signals, flashlights and Christmas tree lights. The technology has advanced significantly, and LED bulbs are available for lamps and recessed lighting and for other applications.

LEDs offer some significant advantages over compact fluorescents; they:

  • Use less than half of energy of a compact fluorescent and 1/8th to 1/10th of the energy incandescent bulbs use
  • Last a long time--more than 20 years
  • Are now dimmable (without buzzing), and there's no delay in the light
  • Work well in cold weather
  • Are free of mercury

LEDs don't burn out or fail, but the amount of light they produce declines over time. Although they can be used in recessed lighting fixtures and similar enclosed spaces, their lifespan is shortened due to waste heat that's trapped around the bulb.

To find the best bulb for your needs

Look for lumens--the unit used to measure light output--not watts. LED bulbs come in standard brightness levels: 1,600 lumens (=100-watt incandescent); 1,100 lumens (= 75 watt); 800 lumens (= 60 watt).

LED bulbs is closer now to the soft or warm white of incandescent bulbs. Color viewed in LED light, however, may seem off. For more true-to-life colors look for LEDs with a "Color Rendering Index" of at least 80 or higher.

Although the cost of LED light bulbs significantly reduced, they remain pricey, ranging from $13 to $40 per bulb. But their lifespan is nearly three times that of CFLs, making them a good investment.

Solar Panels

Before purchasing any type of renewable energy, have a professional assess the suitability of your proposed site for solar panels. Also, make sure your home is as energy efficient as possible.

Solar panels aren't just for your roof. Free-standing panels or a "solar pergola" may be options if your property have a sunny spot.

Free-standing panels (typically mounted on a pole) can be oriented at precisely the right angle for maximum efficiency (vs. the existing slope and orientation of your roof). Some systems slightly adjusts the angle of the panels over the course of the day, further increasing efficiency.

A solar pergola collects solar energy and provides shade. Its photovoltaic panels form the roof of the structure, which can be attached to or separate from your house. Solar pergolas also can serve as a carport or sheltered space for lunging or storing wood.

Replacement Windows

While high-performance replacement windows are the best cure for old, drafty windows, interior storm windows can cut your energy loss from a single-pane or leaky double-pane windows for a fraction of the cost.

Sealing a single-pane window with a sheet of plastic will cut heat loss by 50 percent. And installing an interior storm window over a double-pane window provides a 33 percent improvement. Interior storms also reduce condensation and frost on the interior window pane, eliminate drafts and reduce outside noise.

Although they work, plastic interior storms that attach with double stick tape and shrink to fit with hot air from a hair dryer can't be reused. Consider instead, reusable interior storm windows with a channel and spline combination (like a zip-lock bag) that holds clear, heavy-duty plastic in place. The channel attaches to the window frame with an adhesive backing and can be easily cut to size with scissors. In the spring, remove the plastic and store it until fall; the channels remain in place. If you're careful with the plastic, this system can last for several years. Cost for a typical 38"x 64" window is under $10.

For best performance, leave a 1/2" to 3/4" space between the plastic storm and the existing window pane. Heat loss, drafts and noise will still be reduced if the space is larger, but the insulating value is slightly decreased.

For greater durability and better appearance (and more money, but still much cheaper than the price of replacement windows), check rigid plastic interior storm options. These use lightweight plastic; or plastic films surrounded by custom-fitted frames. The storm is typically attached with clips (or magnets, etc.) and can be removed when not needed.

Live Holiday Trees

Almost all holiday trees are grown as crops on Christmas tree farms, not in forests. Using live trees instead of artificial trees benefits the environment in several ways:

  • While trees are growing, they absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
  • Trees are renewable. Growers plant one to three seedlings for each tree harvested.
  • Discarded trees are collected by municipalities to be turned into mulch--in other words, recycled.
  • Locally grown holiday trees save on both fuel and greenhouse gases because shipping (if any) is minimum. Look for the "Pride of New York" emblem on your real tree to make sure it was grown in New York, or search for a Christmas tree farm in your area.

Note: The best tree is one that can be planted outside after the holidays.

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