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How Many Recycled Cans Does It Take to Make an Airplane?

Learn the answer, and more surprising facts about the environment in the Cheapskate's annual roundup of Top 10 Shocking Eco Facts of the Year.


February is the month I finally force myself to clean out and organize my office for the new year. It's an annual ritual worthy of a season-long special of Hoarders, a head-on collision between my weakness for made-to-be-broken New Year's resolutions and my deculttering phobia.

The good news is that my yearly office cleaning gives me a chance to sort out the hundreds of press releases and news clippings I've saved during the year for my annual Top Ten Shocking Eco-Facts blog post. Remember, being the Green Cheapskate, that's "eco" as in ecological as well as economical. Here are the top ten factoids that emerged from my desk top this time around:

We waste enough Sporks to circle the Earth, and then some.
Talk about a big table setting. According to the Clean Air Council, enough plastic eating utensils are thrown away every year to circle the equator 300 times. That's about 40 billion pounds of plastic knives, forks, and spoons, the vast majority of which end up in landfills where scientists say they'll take 500 years – give or take a couple centuries – to decompose.

crushed soda can

Airlines waste enough soda cans to build dozens of planes.
Coffee, tea... or a new plane? The U.S. airline industry has been encountering some turbulence over its reluctance to institute recycling programs for trash generated onboard. But here's a fact from the Natural Resource Defense Council that should grab the industry by its profit-centers and force it to take action: U.S. airlines throw away enough aluminum cans every year to build 57 new 747s.

Related: The 13 Coolest Things Made from Recycled Bottles

Amish businesses fail far less frequently than others.
Often teased for their backward ways, the Amish apparently have a lot of know-how the rest of us lack. And I'm not just talking about how to shoe a horse or milk a cow. A study in the Global Business and Economics Review showed that the failure rate for Amish-owned businesses is less than 10 percent in the first five years, compared to nearly 50 percent of non-Amish businesses. According to Eric Wesner, the study's author, the simple, value-based lifestyle of the Amish translates into a superior work ethic and better relationships with both employees and customers.

woman shopping

We shop 3.5 hours per week.
A weeklong shopping trip? Americans spend about 3.5 hours every week shopping for groceries, clothing and other items, according to a 2010 survey commissioned by www.CouponCodes4U.com. That works out to more than a week's worth of shopping – 24/7 – every year.

The U.S. has 78 square miles of self-storage space.
Of course if we're spending that much time shopping, it only makes sense that we also need to go shopping for a place to store all of the stuff we buy. According to the nonprofit Self Storage Association, one in ten U.S. households now rent a self-storage unit for their overflow stuff, with a total of more than 78 square miles of self-storage space now in use in the U.S. In case you're wondering, that's roughly three times the size of Manhattan Island. The self-storage industry now grosses about $22 billion per year. And in case you're wondering, that's nearly two and half times more than the U.S. film industry grosses annually.

Related: 18 Simple Tips for Decluttering Your Home

Indoor air can be 100-times more polluted than outdoor air.
Hold the mold, please. I discovered two surprising facts about mold in the past year: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside your home may be more than 100 times more polluted than the air outside, due in part to mold growing in the home. This fact was provided to me as part of "Mold Awareness Month" (September 5-October 5), the existence of which was the second surprising moldy fact I discovered. (How does one celebrate Mold Awareness Month?)

Related: 6 Surprising Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

Americans don't trust business, government (or even many charities).
Who you gonna' trust? According to a number of recent surveys, the answer for many Americans is "no one." With bailouts of the auto, insurance, banking and other industries, we don't like or trust big business – and that was before BP's slick deal in the Gulf, which brought corporate confidence to new lows. But a 2010 survey by the Pew research Center showed that 80 percent of Americans don't trust government either, and a poll sponsored by the website CouponCodes4U.com revealed that roughly a quarter of us don't even trust nonprofit charities. What we have here is a crisis of confidence.

We eat more than 650 gallons of water daily.
Projected population growth and the rising wealth of world populations threatens to lead to food shortages, placing unsustainable demands on arable land and water resources unless agricultural methods and our diets change. The World Wildlife Fund says that only 30 percent of the world's arable land remains unfarmed, and that is projected to decrease to only about 6 percent by 2050. Food production demands will also stress the world's freshwater resources. According to the WWF, it currently takes about one liter of fresh water to produce each calorie of food we consume, which translates into 2,500-3,000 liters of water per person per day (about 660-790 gallons).

texting while driving

Cell phones cause as much as 25% of all traffic accidents.
After years of denying a connection between cellphone use and traffic accidents (Has anyone not encountered a cellphone-impaired jackass on the highway?), people are finally wising up and more and more states are passing laws to limit cellphone use while driving (30 states have already banned texting while driving). The data is finally available to support what common sense should have told us all along: Cellphone use contributes to roughly 25 percent of all auto accidents, according to the National Safety Council. And according to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis those crashes result in about $43 billion in damage annually. That's equal to about a third of total revenues reported by the U.S. cell phone industry in 2010 – a petty hefty cost of doing business I'd say.

By 2020, 25% of federal spending will go toward interest on the debt.
Hey buddy, can you spare a trillion dollars? The Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2020 the U.S. will spend about $1 trillion per year – about a quarter of all federal spending – just on interest payments on the national debt. Ironically, according to an informal survey I did for my last book, that's also the approximate level of personal indebtedness (i.e. 25 percent of income) at which folks who eventually declared bankruptcy first turned to unscrupulous "pay day loan" business to make ends meet. The good news – if there is any – is that those who eventually turned to selling their plasma for quick cash only did so when their debt service reached closer to 50 percent of income. Uncle Sam, roll up your sleeves.

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Cheapskate Next Door and The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com.

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Being a Green Cheapskate isn't just about saving money; it's about living lighter on the Earth and sharing more with those in need. From frugal tricks to thrifty planning, cheap is cool and ultra-green. read more.
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