Go Green in Prague - Things to Do

How climate change threatens the Czech Republic -- and what you can do to stop it (Page 2 of 2)

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OK, let's get to the point. Coming up are some things that can be done today, here, now, and by you to decrease your ecological footprint.

Some of these ideas are adapted from the 10 Things to Do proposed in An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's interesting, popular, and partisan film.

His focus is on decreasing your carbon dioxide output, which is the main culprit behind global warming.

(He does actually acknowledge that the USA has done a good job of reducing, almost to the point of elimination, most chlorofluorocarbons.)

Avoid Products With a Lot of Packaging

Even wonder why "recycle" comes at the end of the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" catchphrase? That's because recycling is the least beneficial of the three.

The first step is reducing the amount of packaging you consume -- and also, perhaps, the number of products you buy.

The next is reusing products that you already own, be they containers, shoes, baby toys, roller-skates or hope-powered jetpacks.

Recycling should be the final step, not the first thing we do, acting all magnanimous about it...

Reduce, Reuse... and Recycle

OK, so recycling is still far better than nothing.

In Prague, it's possible to recycle most materials.

There are designated areas all over the city, where you'll find large, colored bins, usually overflowing with recyclables.

Plastic/Polyethylene (plasty in Czech; yellow bin): From plastic bags to plastic bottles, wrapping, and containers, it's all recyclable. Anything plastic goes.

The problem is that recycling plastic also pollutes -- from its delivery to the recycling plant in diesel-fuelled trucks, to the burning of the filtered plastic in order to make new polymers.

And because people think it's OK to use plastic if you recycle it, the world is recycling millions of tons each year, which only increases our demand.

(For a simple guide to recycling plastics, aimed at American children, see the Energy Information Administration's Energy Kids Page website.)

Paper/Cardboard (papír in Czech; blue bin): Recycling paper products in Prague is easy because you don't have to differentiate between colored paper or cardboard and regular, white paper. Again, anything paper goes.

Recycling doesn't solve the problems caused by massive paper use, however, which continues to strip the planet's rapidly disappearing forests of trees. It's better to use electronic means of transmitting information --Prague TV, for instance... :-)

Glass (sklo in Czech; green bin): Any kind of glass can be recycled in these bins, colored or not. (Some bins are partitioned, however, with one half for clear glass and one half for colored glass.)

Most beer bottles can be returned to the store where you bought them for a small deposit. (See below.)

Otherwise, recycling glass is pretty straightforward, and you get the satisfaction of breaking stuff in the bins.

Actually, I think it's better to break the bottle, creating more space in the bin and increasing the amount of glass that can be delivered to the depot in one trip. But I may be wrong -- this might be painful for recyling workers.

Juice/Milk Cartons (tetrapaky; orange bin): These containers are relatively new, and aren't found in all recycling areas.

These bins are for recycling the thick, foil-lined boxes that juice, milk and cheap wine are sold in.

Aluminum beverage cans, which aren't as popular in the Czech Republic as they are in many Western countries, don't have their own recycling bin.

Return Your Beer Bottles

If you return your empties to a store that accepts them (výkup láhvi -- redeem bottles), you get 3 CZK back for every bottle -- 7 CZK for Bernard.

As a friend delicately rhymed, "If I return three, I get one for free!"

And because the breweries reuse the bottles, rather than recycling them, this is a more environmentally friendly process.

Stores of all sizes, including supermarkets, usually accept bottles. If in doubt, point to your empties and say, "Přijímáte láhve?" (Do you take bottles?)

Smaller stores (potraviny) may give you a receipt you can only exchange for goods rather than for cash.

At larger stores, you may have to use a machine.

Put a bottle in, in an upright position, and push the start button. If all goes well, the mechanism will revolve, the bottle will disappear and a digital counter will record the entry.

When you're done, push the button that prints your receipt. This can be redeemed at the cash register.

Change a Light

Al Gore says that replacing a single regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 150 pounds (68 kilograms) every year.

CFL bulbs last longer, use four times less electricity, and create less heat.

If you're weird enough to calculate your light bulb costs over the course of 10 years, you'll find that you saved thousands of crowns by installing CFLs.

These are not the long, fluorescent tube lights that torture office workers day and night. CFLs come in different shades, including a warm soft-white shade.

You can buy CFL bulbs in large stores, like IKEA and Tesco, and they're cheap too.

Under European Union law, a light bulb's packaging must carry an energy efficiency rating. Bulbs are graded on an A-G scale, with A being the most efficient.

There's a downside to CFL bulbs though: because they contain traces of mercury, which is poisonous to humans, they aren't easily recyclable.

The benefits, however, clearly outweigh the costs.

Plant a Tree

Planting trees is so beneficial to the environment that it should be publicly enforced.

Not only does it counter deforestation, which affects animal populations and the entire food chain, but trees also create oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.

Plus they also make awesome forts.

Killing trees sucks and it makes our air quality worse.

Do you need a better reason than that?

Unfortunately, you can't just plant a tree anywhere you feel like -- it has to be planned in advance.

It's possible, however, to have a tree planted on your behalf by making an online donation, and it doesn't necessarily have to be in the Czech Republic.

The Nadace Partnerství foundation's website also contains a lot of information on environmentalism in the Czech Republic.

Turn Off Electronic Devices

If you piously turn off radios, computers, DVD players, and printers when you aren't using them, you can reduce your carbon dioxide emissions by thousands of kilograms every year.

By consuming less electricity, you reduce the massive amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by power plants.

For some, this is where the nuclear power issue comes into play.

Nuclear power is possibly the best alternative to burning fossil fuels, but it's expensive and, should something go wrong, the effects could be devastating.

As a political and military target, nuclear power plants are difficult to protect and contain, and then there's human error -- something else that people will try to blame on marijuana.

"Remember HBO's Chernobyl Heart? Well, like, I heard that was based on a true story about a guy and a few defective rolling papers..."

Use Less Hot Water

If you bathe only in ice, you'll save the environment.

Actually, that's not true, but if you change the way you use water just a little, it prevents a lot of carbon dioxide getting into the environment.

A low-flow shower-head would be a good bet, but finding one in Prague isn't easy.

In fact, it's better to use less water in general.

Fresh, drinkable water isn't something that most of the world has easy access to, and I believe Mos Def's song New World Water eloquently underscores the necessity for sustainable water treatment -- “f*©k a bank, I need a 20-year water tank...”

Fill up the sink instead of running water when washing dishes.

Also, take shorter showers. I frequently put on some music, and when two songs are over, I turn off the water.

Drive Less

For every mile you don't drive, you stop one pound (around 0.5 kilograms) of carbon dioxide getting into the environment.

Not only is driving in Prague infuriating and dangerous, but it's also completely unnecessary, because of the city's excellent 24-hour public transportation system.

Beyond Prague, trains and buses connect the capital with cities across the Czech Republic and Europe -- you could conceivably take a 39-hour train ride from Hlavní nádraží to Istanbul.

Of course, cars are sometimes necessary, but think about walking or riding your bicycle next time.

The city has bumpy roads, aggressive drivers, almost no bike racks, buses and trams that don't even stop for nuns, and few marked bike lanes. In other words, it's no Amsterdam.

But once you learn a neighborhood's shortcuts, cycling can be a fun and surprisingly quick way to get around.

Additionally, decent bikes with good components are available comparatively cheaply in Prague.

Sadly, the city's bike trail network is developing at a very slow rate, but it's theoretically possible to find a route from Prague to Vienna.

For a map of the city's bike trails, see the Cycling in Prague section of the City of Prague website.

Donate Some Money

To help improve the environment in the Czech Republic, it's possible to donate money to the Nadace Partnerství foundation, who are involved in various ecological projects around the country.

Money can be transferred directly from your bank account to the account number listed on their website.

Another way to put money towards eco-friendly projects is to sign up to the Prague power distributor Pražská energetika's (PRE's) PREKO tariff.

At your request, you'll be charged an extra 10 hellers on every kilowatt hour of electricity you use, and this money will be put towards the development of renewable energy sources.

Bear in mind, however, that PRE recently paid out 800 million crowns in dividends to shareholders. Wow, it's great that we have guys like that around to ensure a total monopoly on a completely necessary utility like electricity...

If You Have to Drive, Drive an LPG-Powered Car

LPG (liquified petroleum gas, also known as propane or autogas) is becoming more common in the Czech Republic.

It's the fuel to which we always say, "What the hell is that? It's half the price!"

Hovering around 15 CZK per liter (approximately 3 USD per gallon), as opposed to nearly 30 CZK per liter for petroleum, autogas is smart, cheap, and efficient -- it produces 20 percent less carbon dioxide than petrol, and it is used as a replacement for chlorofluorocarbons.

It also produces a generally higher octane level than regular petroleum.

Higher octane fuel uses more horsepower when the engine is at its maximum power.

These car makers all produce vehicles that support both LPG and petroleum: Citroën, Fiat, Ford, Hyundai, General Motors vehicles (including Daewoo, Opel, and Saab), Peugeot, Renault, Toyota and Volvo.

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