You’re Wrecking the Environment

You don't even have to try. The things you do as a matter of course can have grievous ecological effects

Everyday behavior, things that it’s easy to take for granted, have a significant effect on the planet. Some habits are easy to change, but others are more deeply entrenched. And so, despite your good intentions, you’re probably wrecking the environment as we speak. See the five ways you’re ruining things (and how to turn them around) here.

And check out PopSci‘s complete coverage of the future of the environment at

Leaving Your Computer On

Standby power, also known as vampire power, the juice used by all those DVD player clocks, coffeepot LEDs and cellphone chargers—accounts for more than 5 percent of all residential electricity use in the U.S., a tab that costs us an estimated $4 billion per year and pumps millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Solution? Turn off your computer at night, unplug your iPod when it’s done charging, or put those gadgets on a power strip for one-touch turn-off.

Jetting to Grandma’s House

The worst thing about your next flight won’t be getting stuck in the middle seat; it’s the carbon emissions your kerosene-guzzling jet will be producing. Aviation currently accounts for about 1 percent of carbon emissions in the world, but over the next 50 years—with China and India getting into the global-tourism game—flying will jump to 4 percent or more, and further contribute to ozone depletion and noise pollution. The solution for now? Try to keep your flights to a minimum.

Upgrading Your iPhone

What happens when you toss your old cellphone or computer monitor in the Dumpster? First, you’re contributing toxins like mercury, lead and cadmium into the environment. By some estimates, there are 500 million discarded cellphones in the U.S. alone. Second, you’re wasting precious resources: Electronics contain small amounts of precious metals like gold, silver and coltan, all of which can be reclaimed to reduce often environmentally destructive mining operations. What can you do? Plan your electronics purchases wisely—think about a new phone every three or four years, instead of every six months—and always drop your e-waste off at a recycling center.

Living in the ‘Burbs

Your little house may be cute, but under its toxic vinyl siding, it’s an environmental monster. Add the average 25-minute daily commute an American suburbanite makes to the emissions from a lawnmower (one hour of pushing is equivalent to 100 miles of driving), the toxic chemicals put on lawns, and the loss of green space and farmland created by sprawl, and your enviro-mojo drops pretty low. Compare that with an urban condo where you can bike to work or take mass transit and skip the lawn care, and downtown begins to seem a little rosier.

Buying Plastic Everything

It’s been said that in 1,000 years, when archaeologists dig down to the 20th and 21st centuries, they’ll deem our time the Plastic Age. The ubiquitous petroleum-based material will be our most prominent artifact, mainly because the stuff doesn’t biodegrade. Besides just making a mess that won’t go away, some plastics are known to leak hormone-disrupting chemicals and other toxins. Until bioplastics—made from vegetable starches and cellulose—become viable, opt for glass containers when you can, and take a reusable bag to the grocery store.