| Ever gotten a parking ticket from the carbon-footprint police? I drive a gas-wasting Chevy Tahoe, and for a time someone in the neighborhood would routinely plant orange, “Violation: Earth’’ citations on my windshield. “To SUV Driver,’’ they read. “Time to buy a Hybrid!’’
My Tahoe has served me well, but it gets an abysmal 12 miles per gallon. Do I need such a big vehicle? No. But buying a new car can be expensive, let alone a new green car. While I am, in fact, saving up for a hybrid or a clean-burning diesel, I’m probably a year away from such a purchase.
Still, for those of you in my position, there are ways to “greenify’’ your not-so-green car. You can save gasoline by keeping your tires inflated and by driving in less of a rush. You can carpool. And you can buy environmentally friendly car parts, such as recyclable windshield wipers and air filters.
With Earth Day approaching April 22, here’s a list of some simple, green purchases for your clunker. I know I’m going to try at least a few.
Your oil-change guy points out how disgustingly dirty your air filter is, so you fork over $15 for a new one. The good news is you’ll be upping your miles per gallon, as clogged filters decrease engine efficiency. But your old filter is probably going to a landfill. Next time, buy a reusable, cotton air filter that you can wash out when it gets dirty. K&N Engineering of Riverside, Calif., has been making such air filters for more than 40 years, but others are on the market as well. They cost about $5 more. Buying one is “the single most important thing one can do to greenify their ride,’’ pledges the greenest auto mechanic I know, Somerville’s Frank Marotta Jr.
Jamak Fabrication, a Texas company, sells windshield wiper blades made from silicone, instead of rubber, that are being marketed as “the world’s first fully recyclable wiper blade.’’ When the blades fray, you send the squeegee portions back to the company, which grinds them into new manufacturing materials. The wiper frames go in your residential recycling bin. Tripledge Green blades save landfill space and require no oil to produce, as silicone rubber isn’t petroleum-based, the company says. And they cost about as much as standard, rubber blades.
Shock absorbers resemble pumps, right? So, what if you could capture the energy created when your shocks pump away on a bumpy road? Well, three recent MIT graduates have created shock absorbers that do just that. “Now more than ever, looking at all the sources of waste on the vehicle is essential,’’ says Zack Anderson, one of the cofounders of Cambridge-based Levant Power, maker of GenShock. The concept has won numerous awards, with the shocks promising to increase fuel economy by as much as 6 percent for heavy vehicles. The drawback is that GenShocks aren’t available yet for passenger cars. But stay tuned.
You know that famous quote about how laws are like sausages — it’s better not to see them being made? My guess is that G-Oil falls in the same category. The biodegradable oil is made with “renewable animal fats,’’ or, put more bluntly, waste cow fat from Oklahoma slaughterhouses. But if you focus on the fact that the product is organic, has won a Popular Mechanics magazine editor’s choice award, and is good enough to be the official motor oil of the American Le Mans Series racing competition, you might be swayed. “Our motto is save the Earth, sacrifice nothing,’’ says Courtney Jacobs, spokeswoman for Stamford, Conn.-based Green Earth Technologies, G-Oil’s manufacturer.
There are a number of them on the market — such as Freedom Waterless Car Wash and Laura Klein’s Green Car Waterless Car Wash & Shine — that claim to save hundreds of gallons of water per car per year. Just spray and wipe off the grime. Klein’s soap “is made with plant-based, nontoxic ingredients so it won’t contaminate our waterways or harm wildlife or pets,’’ says the company’s website. Sounds good, right? Well, before you buy, make sure you read all the ingredients, as no one’s monitoring such green claims, says Jonathan Scott, spokesman for Clean Water Action, the nation’s largest grass-roots water issues group. And if the prices scare you away — the soaps run about $20 a bottle — all is not lost, Scott says. Using a bucket, a light-mist nozzle on your garden hose, and a squirt of dishwashing liquid, all you need are a few gallons of water to wash a car, he says.
If your guilt over driving an SUV or some other big clunker is too much to bear, you can do what I just did: Purchase a carbon offset.
To make amends for the fuel you’re wasting, donate to an environmental project that helps society conserve energy or reduce emissions.
For instance, if you purchase an SUV offset at envirocitizen.org, your donation funds the Greater New Bedford Landfill Gas Utilization Project, which uses greenhouses gases seeping from the landfill to fuel generators that produce electricity.
You can find several offset programs online — some reward you with bumper stickers — but I picked EnviroCitizen because it supports a local cause.
“No calculators, no questionnaires. Just choose from the prebuilt offsets we have created and check out,’’ organizer Mike Valenti told me.
“We e-mail a certificate within 24 hours.’’
Maybe now the carbon-footprint police will leave me alone.