Earth Week 2012 Challenges: Unplug Tuesday

Day 2: Earth Week Challenge -- Unplug Tuesday

From April 16-22, HuffPost Green invites you to take on one simple endeavor per day to reduce your impact on the planet. We can't extend a challenge without attempting it ourselves, so our team will tackle each goal as well and share with you the highs and lows of our experience.

CHALLENGE: Unplug and power down unneeded electronic devices and appliances

Even if you shut down an electronic device or place it in standby mode, it is likely still drawing current if it is plugged into a wall. An easy way to cut down on electricity consumption is to just unplug. Chargers, computer peripherals, home entertainment devices and other appliances can all be unplugged when not in use, reducing your utilities bill and carbon emissions simultaneously.

Another way to cut down on your electricity usage is to plug your device into smart strips. These power strips will kill the power to devices in standby mode, saving you money and reducing your carbon emissions. HowStuffWorks explains that "standby power consumption" could account for between five and 10 percent of your total household electric consumption and "about 1 percent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions."

If you do need to use an electronic device, consider enabling any power-saving features it may have. According to the EPA, a computer and monitor that have their sleep features enabled and are shut down at night save a combined average of 98 kilowatt hours annually.

The EPA explains that one kWh is, on average, equivalent to just over 1.5 pounds of CO2 emissions. Note that "energy efficiency or renewable energy programs" are "not generally assumed" to affect "the emissions from power plants that run all the time," according to the EPA. Rather, efficiency efforts will reduce emissions from "non-baseload generation" or "power plants that are brought online as necessary to meet demand."

When making purchases, also consider buying Energy Star certified devices and appliances that will use energy more efficiently. In the 20 years since the program's inception, "upwards of five billion products" have been sold in the U.S., according to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. She blogged for HuffPost, "American families and businesses have saved a combined total of nearly $230 billion dollars on their utility bills with help from Energy Star, and prevented more than 1.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions."

While thinking about your energy usage, be sure to visit the EPA's website, enter your ZIP code and find out where your power comes from. Is your region reliant upon coal-fired power or do natural gas, nuclear or renewables make up more of your energy mix?

Another important things to consider with electronic devices is e-waste. Currently the "fastest-growing category of municipal waste in the U.S.," e-waste that doesn't degrade in landfills is often sent to developing countries where it may be unsafely recycled, explained HuffPost's Lynne Peeples. Click here to learn how you can properly recycle your old electronic devices.

Today, our Green team took on the challenge of unplugging unnecessary devices and enabling power saving features:

Sasha: This morning, I unplugged the low-hanging fruit: printer, toaster, laptop cord and iPhone charger. I don't use any of them during the day, when I'm at work. And I use the printer and toaster only occasionally even when I'm home. I can easily plug them back in if and when I need to use them, so leaving them plugged in was really just laziness. I did keep the TV, cable box and modem plugged in, though. The thought of the modem possibly not turning back on, leading to hours on the phone with the cable company's customer support team, made it seem overly risky. Given that 21 percent of Americans say they would give up sex for a year rather than go without internet, I'm sure I'm not the only one who fears not being able to get online.

Joanna: I'm one of those people who has to set my alarm an hour early because I hit snooze 10 times, and then I need to turn on every single light in my apartment to stay awake. Today, I drew my window curtains instead, and despite the extra 45 seconds of manual labor required, the natural light really woke me up. I also unplugged and stashed away my camera charger (I lost that camera 5 months ago and it was time to accept it wasn't coming back). At work, James and I went to our office manager and requested a smart strip -- they didn't have one, but they gave us a power strip to share for the time being. We moved all of our plugs to the strip, and plan to switch it off at the end of each day. I also changed my computer's energy saving preferences. I don't get to the office at 5am, so there is no reason for my computer to be awake before I am.

James: Today, I adjusted my Mac's power saving settings to put the computer to sleep more quickly and as Joanna mentioned, I plugged it into a power strip. When I get back to my apartment this evening, I'm going to check for power-sucking accessories that I've left plugged in and disconnect them.

Jessica: Today I turned my computer brightness way down... not exactly the easiest way to work! But after my eyes adjusted, it really wasn't so bad.

Becca: I got in trouble with my roommate recently about leaving all the lights/fans/AC on when I wasn't even in the apartment. But it's a terrible habit to have, not just because it raises our electric bill, but because it's a huge, mindless waste of energy. So today, I wanted to be extra-conscious of my energy usage. I turned lights off when I change rooms, I adjusted my laptop power off settings to 5 minutes instead of 20, and I let my laptop die before plugging it in again. It doesn't need to be constantly charging (plus, I hear it's better for the battery).

How did you do with this #EcoChallenge? Tweet us your experience and check out tweets about our other eco challenges from participants below. Scroll down for photos of our team taking on today's goals and a list of challenges for the rest of the week:

Joanna and James install their new power strip:

James adjusts his computer's power saving settings:

Challenges for the rest of the week:

Wednesday: Reusable Bottles & Mugs. Eliminate the use of all paper coffee cups and plastic water bottles.

Thursday: Cut Paper Waste. Reduce your use of paper, adjust your printer settings, cancel junk mail subscriptions.

Friday: (Reusable) Bag Lunch. Bring your own lunch in reusable containers or bring the containers to your favorite take-out restaurant and pass on the plastic utensils, excess paper napkins and bags.

Saturday: Second-Hand Clothes And Products. Instead of purchasing new items, reuse and upcycle old items.

Sunday: Waste Less Water. Take shorter showers, turn the faucet off while brushing teeth, do only full loads of dishes and laundry.