Jun 10, 2008

10 ways to go green for $50 or less

Buying a Prius or adding solar panels to your roof may seem like great ways to be nicer to the planet, but there's just one problem: they're damn expensive. When did going green get so pricey?

The thing is, it's not. There are plenty of cool, cheap ways to ways to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, hidden in the everyday things you were going to do anyway. Hit the Continue link for 10 ways to go green on small green, from eco-friendly footwear to self-charging batteries (everything on the list is available now or should be very soon). Put the money you save in that Prius fund.

1. Recycle Your Urine
COST: $15
WHAT IS IT? You’re a pro with putting out the paper, cans and bottles. Now Submersible Design wants to take you to the final frontier: recycling your own urine. Their DrinkPeeDrinkPeeDrinkPee project wants you to consider last night’s Corona as "a rich food source if it gets into the right part of the right ecosystem." Using a pioneering Swiss waste-treatment process and enough steps to make you want to try your hand at bomb disposal, you can take your phosphorus- and nitrogen-rich urine, some glassware, chemicals and seeds, and create not only a conversation-starter centerpiece for your next dinner party, but also a great appetizer, too.

2. Kill Your Junk Mail
COST: $41
WHAT IS IT? The average adult American receives 41 pounds of junk mail — catalogs, credit-card come-ons and other assorted crap — every year. It wastes your time, millions of trees, billions of gallons of water, and tons of greenhouse-gas emissions. Sign up for online non-profit 41pounds.org’s junk mail killer service, and you may forget who Capital One is. It costs $41 for five years’ coverage, and they’ll break the bad news to retailers and financial institutions for you. They’ll also donate to the charity of your choice.
3. Get Some Reusable Shopping Bags
COST: $5 or less
WHAT IS IT? Most supermarket chains offer reusable bags at the checkout counter now for a couple of bucks, and companies like Sage Green offer them in several styles. And Chico Bag offers them in multiple colors that come in fold-up pouches which addresses the biggest issue with these bags: remembering to bring them with you everywhere you shop, not just to the grocery store. Each bag saves about 500 disposable bags, and in some places, they’ll actually make you money. In Dublin, a 33-cents-per-bag tax means everyone has now broken their bag habit and keeps a reusable bag with them. Figure two to three bags per grocery trip per week, and a Dubliner pays for his $5 Chico Bag in five to seven weeks.
4. Use Sustainable Condoms
COST: $10 or less
WHAT IS IT? OK, have all the fun you want with the word "sustainability" in the boudoir context, but Brazil is the world’s largest importer of condoms, distributed for free to combat the AIDS problem. So state-owned Natex will soon produce condoms from sustainably harvested latex for condoms from the Amazonian Seringai tree, employing 700 farmers and 160 people making the love gloves. The country’s National Sanitary Security Agency says the green condoms are 10% more cost-effective to make and are more resistant to cultivated latex. But this is just the beginning of greening your nightstand (or perhaps the very back of the drawer in your nightstand): try the $59 Eco-Sexy Kit, too.
5. Ride an Electric Shuttle for Short Distances
COST: $5 an hour or more
WHAT IS IT? If you’re a commuter living in an era of $4/gallon gas and $300/month parking spaces, you might be looking for an alternative to the short trip from the train or bus station to home, or as transportation pros call it, the "last mile." Enter Colorado’s IntraGo. It's offering the rental use of small electric personal vehicles — a Segway, or a moped, or maybe something we haven’t even seen yet — for as much or as little time as you like. Just pick your ride, unplug it with your GoKey, and ride off into the sunset. Drop it off where you picked it up or at any other IntraGo rack; the onboard software tracks your usage. Intrago plans to roll out a college campus demo site this fall (now there’s no excuse for missing that 8 a.m. class ECON 101 class), but options could include paying by the hour or an all-you-can-eat monthly plan.
6. E-Cycle, Already
COST: $10 or less
WHAT IS IT? You’ve just seen that old cellphone again (cool — an antenna I can pull out!) in a drawer with the takeout menus. Time to send it on its way. If you live in the Bay Area, you have two e-waste collectors battling it out for your old, dead tech. Thanks to a state law mandating that e-waste not go into the trash, retail options to disassemble, grind up and recycle your old stuff are popping up. Green Citizen charges you up to $10 to recycle something as big as your old desktop PC, but takes batteries for free; they even sort them by brand so they can let retailers know just how much of their logoed trash they’ve kept out of landfills. And e-cyclerASL now has 70 GreenSpot locations to drop off your trash, allegedly no more than five minutes from anyone in the Bay Area. Whatever option you choose to recycle your tech, beware — sometimes old tech castoffs are "recycled" by being stuck in a shipping container and sent off to the third world, where they’re taken apart in less-than-safe circumstances and become someone else’s problem. So be sure to ask what your gadget’s fate will be.

7. Get a Green Plug
COST: Around $20
WHAT IS IT? Last November, we told you about California-based Green Plug holding their giant summit on the best universal power adapter. While they don’t make the adapters themselves, they do license their technology to manufacturers that allows devices to talk to their power source. The firm says they aim to "maximize resources, minimize solid waste from obsolete chargers, and eliminate wasted energy." Several manufacturers are working on power adapters using the Green Plug technology; hopefully they’ll be available to stuff your stockings by Christmas.

8. Repurpose Gifts
COST: $20 to 49
WHAT IS IT? We’re not talking regfting here (although that is environmentally friendly, if friend-unfriendly). But if you find yourself needing to buy a wedding gift that says you thought about the planet a lot, how about a flip-flop doormat? These beauties are made from colored crepe rubber footbeds of the ubitquitous beach sandal. Or maybe a wine bottle trivet, made from melting a real wine bottle and customizable with some words about how green and smug you are. Or maybe a Java-Log, the fireplace log launched by a thousand lattes. And these are just a start — the point is that there are a lot of cool items out there made out of castoff junk that will never make the gift registry at Crate & Barrel. Google "eco gifts" and go crazy.

9. Use Virtually Real Carpet Samples
COST: Free
WHAT IS IT? Eco-friendly design firm Tricycle Inc.’s Tryk sampling tool allows for a very realistic print of a carpet sample on paper stock, but is as recyclable as paper. The company estimates that since 2003, it created over 200,000 paper prints in place of carpet samples for various projects. So if you’re redecorating your living room or maybe an entire office tower, think about the waste you generate in the planning. Tricycle has an eco-impact planning calculator And when you do pick a new carpet, don’t just chuck it; contact the Carpet America Recovery Effort to find out how you can recycle your worn-out rugs.

10. Charge Your Cellphone with Kinetic Energy
COST: Less that $50 (we hope)
WHAT IS IT? Idaho’s ME2 Power Inc. wants to help you harness that wasted energy you emit by talking with your hands while on your cell. They’re testing a rechargeable battery powered by the user’s kinetic energy. The concept isn’t necessarily new, with some watch models that run on you swinging your arms now years old, but ME2’s innovations deliver three to seven times more power than competing kinetic-energy solutions. The company is testing it with a pretty good kinetic audience who often finds itself far from a wall plug: the U.S. military. Rumors are a commercial model will be out by the end of the year.

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