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Five Simple Steps to Save Money and Help the Environment

Every day the average American contributes to billions of gallons of wasted water, landfill garbage and air pollution. However, taking steps to reduce harmful and expensive impacts to the environment does not necessarily require major alterations to everyday habits.

Read on for five ways people may be unintentionally harming the environment, and the small steps that can be taken to reduce the impacts.

The Habit: Excessive Trash

The Environmental Protection Agency reports nearly 180 million tons of trash is produced in the United States each year. More than half of that waste ends up in one of the nation's nearly 2,000 landfills.

A University of Arizona Professor William Rathje found in 1990 that garbage in landfills does not properly decompose. Trash that was 15 years old was discovered to still contain legible newspapers and chicken bones with lasting bits of meat. These landfills produce methane gas equivalent to 8,800 cars.

With materials that are typically biodegradable unable to break down, products such as plastics are especially problematic in landfills. Eight percent of the trash produced in the United States is plastic, accounting for about 14.4 million tons.

What to Do Instead:

To help cut down on landfill refuse, simple steps to reduce, reuse and recycle can help limit greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere and save on space in dumps. Using refillable water bottles can help cut down on the 2.5 million water bottles that Americans are estimated to use every hour, of which 76.5 percent end up in landfills.

More than 13 million tons of the annual refuse produced in the United States is wasted food. To help save waste and save money, be more conscious at the grocery store. Only buy fresh produce if intending to use it quickly. Freeze perishable foods that are unable to be used quickly. Save leftovers for future meals, such as taking leftover meat from a roast and using it for a stew or casserole. People can also compost some foods, such as corncobs, eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and breads.

The Habit: Wasting Water

Americans waste an average of 7 billion gallons of water every year. With much of the West in the grips of exceptional drought, unnecessary water usage and waste can quickly compound the potential for water shortages.

What's more, the World Heath Organization states that 10 percent of the world's disease burden could be relieved by increased access to cleaner water.

What to Do Instead:

Little ways to help save water can quickly add up. To help save water, be sure to fix leaky faucets, which, according to the USGS, could account for more than 100 gallons of wasted water a year. Turn running water off when not actively being used during routine chores such as brushing teeth or washing dishes.

You can also save excess water to use for water-intensive chores. A 10-minute shower uses 25 to 50 gallons of water. While waiting for your shower to warm up, place a bucket inside of it to collect some of the water. Use that water to water plants, mop floors or for other tasks that would normally waste clean water. You can also collect rain water for similar use.

The Habit: Killing Honey Bees

Honey bees have been mysteriously dying off in the millions across the globe, alarming many scientists about the potential future impact on invaluable food sources for people.

Part of the problem has been traced to certain pesticides. People may be unintentionally killing bees if they add plants to home gardens that have been treated with certain pesticides, even those labeled as "bee-friendly."

What to Do Instead:

Research plants before adding them to a yard or garden, and focus on adding native plants. Even when buying the right kind of flowers to attract bees, make sure that you buy them organically or know where and how they have been treated. Buy utilizing wild flowers and native plants, you will also cut down on the care required for your flowers (and often the amount of water used on them), as they will already be well suited for the environment they are in.

According to gardeners.com, it is important for home gardeners to include a variety of plants to attract bees at different times of the year. They also recommend blue, purple and yellow flowers with only a single layer of petals for attracting the widest range of bees. Popular types include clover, black-eyed Susans, bee palm and annual poppies.

Additionally, should you find bees nesting in your home or another unwanted place, do not call an exterminator. Instead, call a beekeeper to come and safely remove the bees without killing them.

The Habit: Wasting Electricity

The Energy Information Administration says that the United States used nearly 3,856 Billion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2011, which is 13 times greater than the amount used in 1950. Their 2012 Annual Energy outlook estimated that 55 percent of that use went to household appliance and lightning.

According to Business Insider, $146 billion is thrown away each year in wasted electricity. Electricity also accounts for 32 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted in the United States, more than transportation or agriculture.

What to Do Instead:

There are small steps that can be taken that will reduce wasted electricity, which will cut down on harmful gases and also save homeowners money. Turning off lights and appliances in rooms that are no longer being used is one way, but appliances can still draw energy even when they are switched off. Unplugging appliances, such as toasters, flat irons or gaming consoles, when they are not being used can cut down on that energy waste.

Homeowners can also switch to energy efficient products. ENERGY STAR certified LED lights, for example, use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, and can last up to 25 times longer.

Energy costs can also be reduced by making sure all appliances are running effectively. Changing air filters will cut down on energy use for heating and cooling systems. People can also make sure that the sealing on doors and windows is intact to keep temperature-controlled air from leaking out of the house.

The Habit: Adding to Air Pollution

The World Health Organization states that air pollution is not only bad for the environment, but can also add to respiratory problems such as allergies and asthma, or can even contribute to strokes and lung cancer.

The National Parks Service lists four main causes of air pollution in the United States: mobile sources such as cars and buses, stationary sources such as power plants and factories, area sources such as cities and wood-burning fire places and natural sources such as volcanoes and wildfires.

Leaving cars idling, wasting electricity and running improperly-cleaned fire places are among some of the largest ways the average citizen will contribute to air pollution.

What to Do Instead:

The key to reducing air pollution in small steps is to abide by many other waste-reducing processes. Following the tips above to cut down on electric and landfill waste will help to reduce air pollution. Increasing the efficiency of vehicles by keeping tires properly inflated, walking or using public transportation, when possible, or keeping cars properly maintained will also help save on gas costs and cut down on air pollution.

People can also help clean the air by taking active steps, such as planting deciduous trees.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Samantha-Rae Tuthill at SamanthaRae.Tuthill@accuweather.com, or follow her on Twitter @Accu_Sam. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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