Don’t trash that can, man

Yesterday, a college student chugged the last of his 7-Up and neatly dropped the empty aluminum can in an overflowing trash bin on the UNR campus. The bin spilled over with cans and plastic bottles. I walked past, feeling glum.

The energy wasted from tossing one 12-ounce aluminum can in the trash is equal to six ounces of gasoline. That’s what it takes to power the electrometallurgical process used to make a new can out of aluminum ore.

Making new cans from used cans uses 95 percent less energy, according to the Aluminum Association Inc., the manufacturers’ trade association. Recycling makes sense for the industry—and for us. Yet Americans throw out 100 million cans a day. That’s like wasting millions of gallons of fuel.

Explain to me again why we don’t collect a deposit on aluminum cans in Nevada? Why we don’t we make it easier for young people to recycle by placing recycling bins in places like, um, schools?

When it comes to energy conservation, we’re a bunch of dinosaurs—myself included.

That’s why the high cost of gas is a good thing. The idea of paying around $60 a week to fill the gas tank of a Jeep (specifically the one that my Significant Republican drives) forces me to consider my consumption habits.

Gas prices are a reflection of supply and demand, as we’ve heard over and over again.

Demand is up—it’s that “expanding world economy” bringing Western joys like TV and Internet to the masses. (Just don’t do a Google search for “democracy” in Beijing.) Supply is sketchy—it’s those improvised explosive devices across the Middle East.

As I write, committees in Washington are convening to investigate “options.” Americans didn’t exactly applaud the $100 vote-Republican rebate check idea. Few support the lifting of regulations that keep our air, water and land cleaner and less likely to cause cancer outbreaks. We’ve no delusions that investigating George and Dick’s oily buddies will generate lower gas prices.

What can we do?

While I await useful policy decisions made by lawmakers (roll eyes here), I’ll pursue an agenda of change that starts with me. I can’t afford a hybrid car right now. But there are some simple changes that, as a side benefit, save me dough.

I’d like to reduce gas consumption by car-pooling, using public transportation and riding bikes. So far, not so good. But I am cutting back on unnecessary trips.

I plan to use less juice by switching to efficient, longer-lasting light bulbs. Lower wattage, when possible. I turn computers off when not in use, watch almost no TV and haven’t yet used air conditioning. Nevada nights are blissfully cool.

To cut back on petroleum product waste, I’ve bought reusable canvas bags for shopping trips. They’re sturdier, easier to stack in my car and, as a bonus, stores usually offer some discount as an incentive to canvas-bag users. Also, no more plastic bag build-up under the kitchen sink.

Instead of buying cases of water bottles, I reuse water containers I have. It’s safe as long as the bottles are cleaned thoroughly. (The fear that water-bottle plastic breaks down into carcinogens is an urban myth.)

What I can’t reuse, I recycle.

I know one person’s bottles and cans don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But if we all lived a bit more mindfully, we might put a dent in demand.

Rising energy costs are here to stay. We must adapt.

That crazy woman you saw reaching into the trash to rescue a 7-Up can? That’s me, saving six ounces of gasoline.