Keep your electronics out of the trash

If you received new electronics this holiday season and are still holding onto your old products, it may be time for you to clean out your basement. By now, most people know that they shouldn't be throwing old televisions and other electronics into the trash. But, how many actually know what to do with them instead? Properly disposing electronics may be as atypical as it is because many people don't understand how important it can be.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be prevented by recycling 1 million desktop computers is equal to the yearly emissions from 16,000 cars. In addition, roughly 7,500 pounds of gold can be recovered from 100 million cell phones and reused in other products. If that amount of gold wasn't mined from the earth, that means 12 billion pounds of soil, sand and rock wouldn't need to be shifted, mined and processed.

Considering that they aren't exactly the most environmentally friendly products, what should you actually do with your old devices once it's time to get rid of them?

While your four-year-old Macbook may seem like an ancient artifact to you, it could save someone else a lot of money. The EPA says that schools, nonprofits and low-income families may be more than willing to take your old laptop or television off your hands. If it's not working completely, don't hesitate to offer it anyway. Some places have the ability to repair certain electronics, but make sure you are upfront about its issues if they can't fix it.

If it's beyond refurbishment or it's not a particularly useful device, recycle it. Some areas have electronic recycling drop-off centers, but stores that sell that particular device, repair it or manufacture it, will likely take it off your hands and make good use of it.

To find out where you can recycle or donate your old electronics, visit the EPA's website here.

Making the world greener one label at a time

When it comes to reducing carbon emissions, every detail counts. From unplugging cell phone chargers to remembering to turn off lights, minor adjustments to your everyday routine diminish energy consumption quickly. When a company mandates that its employees shut off their computers everyday, that dramatically reduces their carbon footprint. So, if the entire industry of suppliers and manufacturers changed this one small habit, the impact could be enormous.

In that vein, Sato, a Japanese labeling solutions company, is attempting to change the industry one label at a time. When items tagged with labels such as radio-frequency identifications (RFIDs) are incinerated, they release carbon dioxide. Sato's new line of labels, named Econano, is designed specifically to reduce the amount of carbon emissions these labels produce when they're destroyed.

"Reducing carbon emissions is a challenge for all businesses today," Etsuo Fujii, president of Sato, said in a statement. "But, the cutting-edge technology Sato employs in its Econano series labels offers our customers a helping-hand in achieving their environmental targets, and provides them with solutions beneficial to all levels of consumer goods product identification and supply chain labeling."

The adhesive on the Econano labels is made with a carbon dioxide absorbent additive that reduces the amount of emissions produced by the labels by more than 20 percent compared to other labels, according Sato's website.

If 1 million standard labels were replaced by Econano labels over the course of a year, the amount of eliminated carbon emissions would equal the sum of the similar gases that are released by incinerating 4,814 plastic bags, according to the site.

This isn't the first of Sato's environmentally friendly products though. The company's Nonsepa linerless labels were made with less material to reduce the amount of carbon-emitting substance that gets burned. Sato's website says that combining the Nonsepa labels with the Econano absorbent adhesive could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 50 percent over conventional labels.

USDA makes funding available for rural renewable energy development

On January 20, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to make more funding available to facilitate renewable energy use in the agricultural industry.

In 2008, Congress passed the Food, Conservation and Energy Act also known as the Farm Bill, which featured provisions for renewable energy that promised funding increases by 2012. President Barack Obama asked for 80 percent of America's electricity to come from clean sources by 2035, a goal he believes can be achieved with help from the rural development energy programs featured on the bill, according to the USDA's website.

One of those initiatives is the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which helps agricultural manufacturers and small businesses invest in renewable, clean energy. Since REAP went into effect, agricultural producers and rural businesses all over the country have experienced overwhelming success. In Illinois alone, 290 agricultural producers and small rural enterprises have received support through the program the USDA stated in a press release.

"We have seen remarkable results in energy savings in rural Illinois," USDA Rural Development State Director Colleen Callahan said in the release. "Our applicants have installed solar panels, geothermal systems, wind turbines and manure digesters. Others have upgraded equipment to more energy efficient models. All these awardees are experiencing energy savings of at least 30 percent."

The USDA has approximately $25.4 million allotted to fund REAP projects in 2012, which will support no less than $12.5 million in grants and about $48.5 million in guaranteed loans. Applications for a combination of loans and grants must be submitted by March 30, and applications for loans only will be accepted until June 29.

To learn more about the USDA and its energy programs, visit its website here

In case you missed it: Energy, environment issues addressed in SOTU

Last night, President Barack Obama spoke to the nation with his State of the Union Address. Of course, some of the hot topics he discussed were taxes, terrorism and education, but he also had a lot to say about the environment and energy consumption.

Obama stressed that the United States has become significantly more reliant on domestic energy sources. In the last three years, he said the country has opened millions of new acres of land to find new oil and gas sources, and that he has instructed his "administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources." The president added that American oil production is at an eight-year high, and as a result, the nation's dependence on imported oil is lower than it has been in 16 years.

While that may be great for the United States, it still means that the country is dependant on fossil fuels – American or otherwise – and as is well documented by now, that's bad for the environment. Obama said that the country has only 2 percent of the world's oil reserves, which means it's important to find an "all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy."

With that, he explained that the government has invested heavily in renewable energy, and as a result, the use of clean energy sources has nearly doubled and thousands of green careers have opened up.

"We've subsidized oil companies for a century. That's long enough," Obama said in his speech. "It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits. Create these jobs."

The president said he is directing his administration to fund the development of enough clean energy to power 3 million homes. He also suggested that reducing manufacturer's waste and encouraging businesses to upgrade their buildings could lower energy bills by $100 billion in the next decade while reducing carbon emissions.

Is seaweed a legitimate source of renewable energy?

When oil companies build large offshore drilling rigs, they may actually be pushing a viable source of renewable energy to the side. The results of a peer-reviewed study published in the January 20 issue of Science suggest that seaweed, of all things, is an ideal source of biofuel.

Researchers from Bio Architecture Lab, Inc. (BAL) and the University of Washington found that by successfully breaking down the complex sugars found in brown seaweed, they could produce ethanol.

Seaweed lacks a polymer called lignin, the compound that makes plants stiff, and therefore more difficult to extract biofuel from. While this alone makes seaweed, or macro-algae, a more appealing source of biofuel than corn or sugar cane, the complex sugar compound it does have, alginate, has been impossible to break down until now.

To complete this process, the researchers needed to find a microbe that could metabolize alginate to produce ethanol. Since there are no industrial microbes that can do that, the team modified the DNA of Escherichia coli bacterium, or E. coli. By introducing both the genetically tailored microbe and an "enthanol-producing" pathway to the seaweed, ethanol was created.

So, if drawing biofuel from macro-algae is so complex, what makes it a better option than corn? It turns out that experts say it's remarkably cleaner and more efficient to produce. Seaweed is harvested in a field that takes up two-thirds of the planet – the ocean – which means there would be no need to clear fertile land for cultivation, and the crop doesn't take up space that could otherwise be used for food production. Additionally, harvesting seaweed doesn't require freshwater or fertilizer.

Dan Trunfio, BAL's chief executive, told The New York Times that at a fraction of the cost, seaweed produces 50 percent more ethanol per acre than sugar cane and triple that of corn. He added that BAL could be selling renewable chemicals by 2014 and fuel made by this process by 2017.

Creating a greener Habitat for those in need

Habitat for Humanity International has organized projects and built affordable housing for families in need of new homes since it was founded in 1976. In total, the nonprofit estimates that it has helped more than 2 million people around the world find affordable housing, according to the organization's website. With some new initiatives, Habitat has focused on doing its part to help the environment at the same time.

Matt Clark, Habitat's national director of construction technology, spoke to USA Today for a January 4 article, saying that the organization has asked each of its 1,550 or so affiliates to meet Energy Star requirements when building new homes for low-income families. The new program aims to build green housing that is energy efficient and makes the already-inexpensive homes even more economical.

"Proportionately, that segment of the population pays more of their income toward utility bills," Clark said to the news source. "If we can cut those bills down, we can really help them."

All of the houses built since 2008 by the nonprofit's St. Louis branch have been Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Kyle Hunsberger, Habitat St. Louis director of construction, told the media outlet that even though these eco-friendly houses have twice as much square footage as the families' rental units had, utility costs are cheaper.

Habitat homeowner Casey Greer told USA Today, for instance, that she hasn't paid more than $80 for a bill, while her cheapest bill at her last home was almost $200.

If you are interested in volunteering for or donating to your local Habitat affiliate, visit their website at http://www.habitat.org/.

Get healthy by going green: Change your exercise routine

It's no mystery that exercise makes you healthier, but you may be improving your own well-being at the expense of the environment's. If you make your workout a greener one, though, the benefits you'll receive go far beyond better physical condition.

The results of a meta-analysis of 10 studies published in Environmental Science & Technology in 2010 showed that green exercise can be more beneficial than an indoor workout. The research, which was obtained with the help of 1,252 participants, revealed that those who exercise outdoors may see immediate improvements in their mood.

"You get a very substantial benefit from the first five minutes [of green exercise]," said Jules Pretty, one of the University of Essex researchers that conducted the studies. "We should be encouraging people in busy and stressed environments to get outside regularly, even for short bits of time."

The green exercise that Pretty and her colleague Jo Barton studied wasn't exclusive to running or walking though. The two researchers also observed the participants as they practiced recreational activities like gardening and sailing.

By replacing your gym membership with an outdoor routine, you're also cutting back on your carbon footprint. Gyms provide an atmosphere that's conducive to working out, but avoiding them will reduce your amount of energy consumption

If being indoors is more convenient or comfortable for you, make your own green gym at home. It shouldn't be too difficult to find secondhand weight sets and pull-up bars online, but that may not even be necessary. There are plenty of ways to reuse common household items as exercise equipment. Old tires can be used for core workouts, while empty milk bottles filled with sand, rocks or concrete can serve as makeshift dumbbells. 

Get healthy by going green: Eat better and smarter with local produce

Going green is all about cutting back on the use of limited resources so you can be mindful of the planet, yourself and those around you. One of the best ways to do that is to multitask. That said, the ultimate way to go green is to combine improving your health and reducing your impact on the environment.

It's often the case that the not-so-eco-friendly option is one that appears to require less effort by the consumer, but at what cost? There are countless ways to lead a healthy lifestyle with environmentally friendly products. Once you introduce them more frequently into your daily life, you'll wonder why you hadn't done so yet.

One easy way to do this is by buying food from a local farm or farmers market. Agricultural industrialization has it's benefits, sure. But ultimately, the monolithic amount of carbon emissions produced through the shipment of the produce and the abundant use of pesticides on the crops has a considerably adverse effect on the environment, and quite possibly, your health.

Local produce doesn't need to be shipped across the planet on planes, trains and 18-wheelers. And with a significantly shorter distance to travel, the goods you buy locally don't require questionable amounts of preservatives that damage your health and take away from the taste of the product.

Marvin Batte, a professor at Ohio State University who researched the level of interest in local produce, explained to LiveScience.com that while many people buy locally to reduce their impact on the environment, that wasn't the number one incentive.

"It's better quality food, it tastes better, it's fresher," Batte said.

To find the closest farmers market to you, visit http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/.

Breaking down corporations’ largest impact on the environment

Manufacturers need supplies. That's obvious, sure, but in order to make a computer, those pieces must come from an enormous series of suppliers based all over the world. But those pieces, like modems, for instance, are assembled with parts from even more suppliers. This series of manufacturers and suppliers is known as the supply chain, and research into the process has shown that it has a substantial effect on the environment.

As a result, even though a company may be producing an environmentally friendly product, it might have already left a bigger carbon footprint than you'd think.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an independent not-for-profit organization, researches the impact that businesses and cities have on the environment. Each year, the CDP releases a series of reports about its studies on a handful of different industries. Among them is a detailed breakdown of how their members, some of the largest corporations in the world, are disrupting the ecosystem by acquiring supplies. According to the 2011 CDP Supply Chain Report, more than 50 percent of the average corporation's carbon emissions come from its supply chain.

Among the CDP's many members are Google, PepsiCo, IBM and Bank of America. Taking into consideration the size of these corporations and the others that are members of the CDP, the organization's work could dramatically change the amount of carbon emissions produced through the chain if companies pay attention to its research.

For example, the CDP's 2011 Supply Chain Report revealed that about 2,500 of the largest global corporations create roughly 20 to 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

The study serves a reminder that if you're looking to truly go green when you buy products, it may be wise to look for businesses that make homemade goods or get their supplies locally.

Can pouring water into a volcano create usable energy?

Alternative renewable energy is a hot topic in Oregon, where geothermal energy developers have devised a plan to capture the power of volcanic heat and turn it into a usable resource.

Though innovative and surprising, the idea behind the process is relatively simple: by heating up some 24 million gallons of cold water in a dormant volcano, steam hot enough to produce enormous amounts of energy will surface. While the technique will only work with geothermal energy generated by volcanoes, it benefits from not depending on inconsistent variables like wind or sunlight.

The Newberry Volcano, 20 miles south of Bend, Oregon, will host the project in mid-2012, but the process to actually capture energy from the experiment isn't quite as straightforward as boiling water in a teakettle. The new technology that geothermal energy developers believe can do this effectively is called Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS). EGS is based on a technique called hydroshearing, which creates small fractures in the volcanic rock by pumping water through wells.

While similar in theory, hydroshearing is different than hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which is used to recover natural gases from deep formations of a sedimentary rock called shale. The fractures created by fracking are much larger than those intended to be produced from hydroshearing, and have been the apparent cause of earthquakes in Oklahoma and Ohio.

Ernie Majer, a seismologist from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told The Associated Press that there isn't much risk of danger in the Newberry experiment, but if there is an earthquake, the U.S. Department of Energy will temporarily shut it down.

Despite concerns, however, the U.S. government has shown great support for the project. The Department of Energy is funding half of the $43 million project with stimulus funds. The rest of it will be funded by private investments from organizations including AltaRock, a renewable energy development company, and Google, which will contribute $6.3 million, the AP reports.