How the Internet can help save the environment

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by Jodi Mullen, Technology Correspondent

Technology has been blamed for many of the world’s ills, not least our ever-increasing carbon emissions and global warming. But is it possible for modern technology, and the internet in particular, to actually reduce our environmental impact on the planet? Expecting to save the whale and reverse global warming overnight is perhaps unrealistic but its surprising the difference that just a few minor lifestyle tweaks can make to our personal green credentials. Below are three of the best websites offering green solutions to some of the most pressing problems of urban living.

[caption id=”attachment_1772” align=”aligncenter” width=”300” caption=”Waste not, want not”][/caption]

Walkit Route-planning websites are nothing new but promises a fresh twist on an old idea. While most mapping sites have traditionally focused on directions for motorists, Walkit promotes getting about on foot as a viable alternative to other forms of urban transport. Just enter a starting point and a destination in any one of twelve UK cities and the site will work out the best walking route between the two.

As well as a map and comprehensive directions, Walkit provides all sorts of additional information including estimated walking distance and time and the number of calories burned. The site also calculates the amount of carbon dioxide pollution avoided by walking. If you’d rather take a quieter route than a fast one, Walkit can provide alternative ‘less busy’ directions which will avoid streets with heavy traffic.

While trekking across snowy Edinburgh in the middle of winter probably isn’t most people’s idea of a good time, many - myself included - have actually found that it’s faster to walk than to put themselves at the mercy of public transport. My Walkit-optimised route may only cut about five minutes off my commute but it saves me a bus fare and gets me some much-needed exercise. Walkit is set to expand to cover more UK cities over the coming months and you can be sure this won’t be the last you’ll hear of it.

Freecycle Millions of items are thrown away every year despite being perfectly fit to use. The Freecycle Network aims to ease the burden on our landfills by promoting the recycling of unwanted but still useful items on a non-profit basis. Originally founded in Arizona, USA in 2003, Freecycle has since gone global and has expanded to encompass over 4,500 recycling groups and nearly 6.5 million individual members.

Most Freecycle activity centres around the organisation’s website and city-specific groups. Users who have an unwanted item list it on the site and make it available to other group members free of charge. In turn, recipients are expected to offer their own unwanted goods to the group rather than simply dumping them in the nearest landfill.

What’s most surprising about Freecycle is the sheer range of items available: everything from furniture to computers are offered by members, all for free. Edinburgh’s Freecycle community currently has more than 21,000 members and has been going for nearly five years. Getting involved is as simple as creating a Yahoo ID and joining the Edinburgh group. While the perpetually skint may wince at the thought of giving away valuable items for nothing, the environmental benefits and undeniable feel-good factor of using Freecycle are hard to beat.

LEEP Recycling Waste management is serious business, especially for those living in busy city centres. While local authorities have taken steps in recent years to increase access to recycling facilites, the fact remains that it’s often impractical to do anything but dump recyclable waste in the nearest wheelie bin. LEEP Recycling, a free service offered by Edinburgh-based environmental awareness organisation Changeworks , aims to promote local recycling facilities with the long-term aim of reducing people’s impact on the environment.

As well as offering advice and tips on waste reduction, LEEP also provides an extensive list of recycling facilities around Edinburgh. At the moment the list covers more than 450 centres around the city. LEEP also offers an excellent Interactive Recycling Map which allows users to view all recycling centres in an area or to search by specific types of waste. A quick search reveals that there are only three sites in the city where one can dispose of a car battery, for example.

LEEP is regularly updated and the list includes plenty of recycling centres which are well-hidden on side streets or in other unexpected locations. I was surprised to find that there are no less than nine recycling points located within about 250 meters of my doorstep. LEEP may not be the slickest or most exciting site but it’s an extremely useful resource for anyone who cares about recycling in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh seems unusually well-served by green internet resources compared to most British cities, perhaps due to its sizeable student population and a disproportionately large number of people working in education, government and technology-based industries. With new grassroots environmental organisations springing up all the time, the city’s green credentials seem set to become even more well-established.


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