Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Challenge #8: Every Watt Counts

Reduce electricity use,standby electricity, to reduce carbon footprint I've been wondering if it is more energy-efficient to turn my computer off or to let it got to sleep. I already have it set to turn the monitor off after 10 min of inactivity, with no screen saver, and the computer set to go to sleep after 20 min. Since I didn't know, I did some reading on the 'net to see if I could find some answers about simple habits I could do around the house to save some electricity.

First off, I didn't realize how many seemingly innocuous things are sucking electricity. I saw estimates around the web that standby power squanders 5% of the total electricity used by residential customers. Not only do these sneaky transformers and appliances cause the senseless burning of coal, it costs me money!

Here is a short list of some energy wasters:
  • Cell phone chargers (anything that has one of those big boxes on a plug) draw a bit of electricity even when the phone is not being charged or the attached electronic is turned off. I am going to keep these unplugged!
  • The TV always draws electricity as it is waiting for the remote's signal ALL DAY and NIGHT! It's been suggested to plug the TV into a power strip so that it can be flicked off when no one is not watching the tube. On an aside, I know that my DVR sucks electricity all the time (I often hear the fan running). The problem with unplugging it is that it records shows throughout the day, which is kind of the point of having a DVR. Hm, ethical dilemma here, because I really love not watching commercials. Well, I guess I am saving electricity when I spend just 40 minutes to watch an "hour-long" program sans commercials (that's what I am going to tell myself).
  • Clocks on appliances use electricity. Yes, it's kind of obvious, but worth the reminder. I looked in my kitchen and counted four clocks (and I still never know what time it is). I've unplugged the coffee maker, as I'm not really drinking much coffee anymore, and I can always plug it in when I want to brew up a cup. I guess I could unplug the microwave, as we don't even use it on a daily basis. The stove is impossible to unplug. The fourth clock is a decorative one that is run by a battery- and is hopelessly always on the wrong time. I guess I'll climb up there and remove the battery.
Wow. I am doing pretty bad so far. All of these electricity leaks can really add up. We've spent a lot of time and effort to increase the weatherization of our old, creaky house, but we've let these small, bad habits undermine our efforts.

  • I am also going to get back to hanging my laundry to dry. I've got two lines down in the basement, and I used to be pretty good at hanging clothes on them, but I have gotten lazy. Line drying my clothes not only saves electricity from the dryer, but also cuts down on the heat input into the house, and thus should reduce my cooling requirements. I hung up some laundry yesterday; it was rather relaxing. I can hang the laundry just to hang the laundry (a la Thich Nhat Hanh)
  • These last few weeks I've been trying to not turn lights on every time I walk into a room. Sometimes I really think it is more of a habit than a necessity. If the sun is shining outside, must I turn the light on when I run into the bathroom? It's not like I actually need to see what I am doing (I do know where the toilet is, after all). Yesterday, my husband came home, and I was chopping the veggies for dinner without the kitchen light on. He knew I was up to some new habit-shift, and jokingly asked me if we would now be cooking in the dark. In my defense, it was pretty sunny when I got into the kitchen, and he had walked in from the bright outdoors. And yes, I still have all my fingers.
  • The computer is a big thing for me. I work here for a bit, go off and do something, then come back. Since I let it go to standby, I think it is not really drawing that much electricity. I am going to set a limit for myself: if I plan to be away from the computer for more than 1.5 hours, I will turn off the computer. Last night, I also switched off the power strip. This is something that I remember doing back in the day when a computer was still a new thing in the home. I think we did it in case it stormed, so that the computer would be protected. Now, I plan to get back into the green habit of switching my power strip off every night to reduce the leaky electricity going to my computer peripherals.
  • To update you on my refrigerator-opening challenge, we wrote down that we open our fridge an average of 11 times a day. This is calculated from the 10 days that we remembered to jot down our ins-and-outs and this is while we were trying to consciously open the fridge less! I am astounded by how much we open this cold box and let hot air in. Although I will admit, I have decreased the number of times I just open the fridge just to see if there is anything to maybe it's helped with my diet.
I found two sites that contain good information regarding wasted electricity in the home. I like the now banished term "leaking" electricity. Maybe if it was still called leaking electricity, it would have more impact on consumers, and that's how I am going to think about it.

Electricity Use by Computers

Standby Power

1-Watt Plan

Conserve Electricity Conscientious electricity use will REDUCE my household's carbon footprint.

Be Green
All around for anyone that can reduce their "standby" energy use!


Monday, July 28, 2008

Challenge #7: Worm-powered Composting

Worm bin for composting kitchen scrapsA few weeks ago I inherited a worm bin. This was excellent timing, as I wanted to start one, and even more excellent because it was free for me and kept the tubs that house the worms out of the landfill.

I've wanted to start either a compost bin or a worm bin for my kitchen and yard waste. I don't really have a great space to put a yard bin, nor have I wanted to spend the money, so I've procrastinated on getting one for almost five years. Last year I had looked into getting a worm bin, because I could actually keep it in my basement (the promoters of worm bins say you can keep it right in your kitchen), and would not have to take my kitchen scraps out in the cold winter weather (I really hate winter).

Well, serendipity stepped in and a worm bin, chock full of already-trained worms, landed in my yard. Since it had been an outside bin, I've kept it in the shade under my carport, and the worms don't seem to be negatively affected by the St. Louis heat and humidity.

Let me just say, this worm bin is awesome! I collect my kitchen waste in an old yogurt container as I am cutting up the veggies for dinner or cracking eggs for brownies. I've been told not to throw onions in there - I imagine it gives the worms indigestion - so I have a separate yogurt container for non-worm-feed-able items, like bottle tops, plastic, and difficult to break-down stuff like peach pits. The worms prefer a low-fat diet so I avoid feeding them meat, oil and dairy. They've recently been fed cupcake wrappers and a biodegradable cornstarch fork, and I am very curious to see how long these take to become unidentifiable.

Every once in awhile I peek into the second layer, where I can see the worms working away. Vermiculture equals worms taking MY trash and making compost for my garden There is a distinctly squishy sound going on in there, but the compost looks great...these worms are surely earning their keep.

My plan is to bring the bin into the basement for the winter. I will fish out the worms and empty the compost into my garden. The worms will have a fresh start to the winter and I'll see if I like having worms and compost in my basement as much as I have enjoyed having it in my backyard.

I poked around in there today, and it looks like I need to sort the worms from their castings in the second layer, as it is getting a bit crowded. I'll let you know how this goes.

Since I am no vermiculture expert, I send you off to these pages for tips and directions on building your own worm farm:

Composting With Red Wiggler Worms

Cheap and Easy Worm Bin

CompostSince I got my worm bin from someone relocating, the materials that made the bin are being REUSED and kept out of the landfill.
By filling the bin with my kitchen scraps I am RECYCLING organic material back into my garden, using the labor of these wiggling red worms.

Worm Farming REcycles Organic Wasteto anyone who gets their own worm bin going, whether it's homemade or purchased commercially.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Challenge #6: Magazine Mayhem

As the August magazines started arriving in the mail, I decided to collect them in one pile to see just how many magazines I receive in one month. I was somewhat shockMagazine Subscriptions Piling Up is not Environmentally-friendlyed by the height of the pile, and I really can’t believe that I read that much. In fact, I doubt that I read the majority of the words contained on these pages, with the exception of the National Geographic magazine.

I noticed in last month's issue of Organic Gardening that they offer an online version of the subscription. This seems like a nice green alternative.

However, I like reading my magazines around the house, in a comfy chair, at the breakfast table, or outdoors. I also think it is important to unplug and to get away from my computer each day.

I will cancel at least three of these magazines at the end of their current subscriptions, maybe even 2 others that I don’t need to read, but come as part of a membership to MediaBistro. This year I had received, and accepted, an offer for four of these current subscriptions for a total of about $6. How could I pass up that bargain?

Which leads me to ask, why were they offering these bargains? Likely because the magazine and print industry is suffering, and they are hoping to gain a customer for next year. Newspapers have been losing print readers for at least 20 years, and were down 2.6% last year.

Consumer habits are changing, as the public continues to go online, reading short articles on-demand, and likely while at work. Just yesterday, the newspaper delivery man was canvassing the neighborhood to obtain subscriptions, lamenting that his route was down by 40%.

I also do a lot of online reading. I use Google Reader to follow several blogs, and I just started a free subscription to Good Magazine. It seems that I am receiving the same content as the print version, and the online subscription is free.

I looked into the online subscriptions for Organic Gardening and Kiplinger’s to see if I could save some paper. The subscriptions are offered through a company called Zinio, which basically seems like a reseller. I couldn’t find a way to transition my subscription into Zinio; I would basically have to buy a new subscription. I will do this when these expire or with any new magazines that I would like to try. Kiplinger’s was a good price, $12 for 12 issues, while OG was about $24.

Last week, I looked into an online-only subscription to Scientific American. It was actually more expensive than the print edition. This I do not understand, as I think printing would be more expensive than web layout and hosting, although you receive access to the archive. I am not going to subscribe at this time, not for that price.

For those subscriptions that I still receive, I will start taking the copies that I am done with to waiting rooms or sharing them with friends, so that at least they are read a few times before being recycled.

How many newspapers and magazines do you receive at home, and do you read the majority of the material? Where do you do most of your e-reading, at home or at work?

Canceling print subscriptions will REDUCE the demand on paper, chemicals such as ink, and the gas used by the post office. Sharing issues that I am done with will get that copy REUSED. I usually RECYCLE my old copies, but really, REDUCING is the best option here.

To anyone that has absolutely no printed reading materials coming into their mailbox or front stoop!
Extra BONUS POINTS to anyone who subscribes to the GreenUP Challenge blog!

I will be challenging my mailbox in the next few weeks- so stay tuned! I am forcing myself to keep each post to a very narrow topic, as each post requires action, from me and from you!


Stumble It!


Monday, July 21, 2008

Challenge #5: Shop…Drop the Plastic Bags

The plastic shopping bags in my pantry seem to multiple when the door is closed. Once they get to flood stage, I pack them up and toss them into the basement, thinking I will eventually use them for something. I recently went down there and collected a car trunk-worth and hauled them to the recycling box at the grocery store. That sealed it for me, I need to change my habit!

The Local Harvest Grocery here in St. Louis asks you if you need a bag, in a way that doesn’t insult you but seems more like a mindfulness mantra. I have carried into that store whatever bag I can find in my car, anything from a bag emblazoned with another store’s name to an empty gift bag, to save myself the guilt-trip.

The problem is, I always leave my canvas bags at home, then decide I need to stop at the store for a “few” items. I am going to gather up all the canvas bags I have and divide them between our two cars. When I come home and empty them, I will sit them by the door so that they get put back into the car the next time we go out, instead of stashing them in a closet where they will be forgotten. I found that I have amassed about 6 bags. I am also going to stash some paper bags with handles in each car and some of the closeted plastic bags, so that there are extra bags always available. I hope to not have an overflowing collection of plastic bags anymore!

I have also recently bought a big “purse” that is a cross between a canvas tote and a fashion accessory. I usually just carry my pocket-sized wallet, my keys and my cell phone in my hand, my pocket, or more likely, my husband’s pocket. I am now trying to be a “purse person.” I use this big cavernous “carry-all” if I am going to run a few errands. I can fit many small purchases in here without getting bags at each store. It is also big enough that I can carry a plastic bag in the bottom, for re-use. I can also carry a book, for when I am waiting at an appointment.

As the grocery stores have become more accustomed to their shopper’s use of canvas bags, they have even started selling reusable bags. Now, the biggest challenge for me will be to move this practice into my large, infrequent trips to buy household supplies.

Changing this habit will REDUCE the use of plastic and paper shopping bags and will REUSE canvas bags.

Take reusable bags to venues that are even less accustomed to them: like T@rget or the mall.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Al Gore's Challenge

Last night I found a full length video of Al Gore's challenge speech and listened to it while I followed along by reading a transcript. The thank you's take up the first two minutes, with the speech actually starting at 2:19:

Here is a full length transcript annotated by a science reporter at the NY Times. He indicates statements in Gore's speech that are perhaps more hyperbole than fact.

Well, what did you think?

This speech did really speak to me, and I hope that people will rise up to the challenge. I believe this "generational moment" is a call to my generation - not in relation to age, but to attitude - and that it is time for us to shake off the "complacency" of the old guard, the old way of thinking. Naysayers can "step aside" and keep their no-can-do attitude to themselves.

I ask myself, who are these naysayers? Gore states that our current economic, environmental and national security problems are all held together by the same string and can be solved by ending "our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels." Perhaps the naysayers are the very people that profit from the status quo, the war machine, and the desperate economy.

Gore calls for a mindset and push into bringing the cost of clean fuels down through increasing the scale of three energy sources: solar, wind, and geothermal. These technologies all exist and need refined and to be demanded by business and personal consumers.

Perhaps my favorite line is: "our democracy has become sclerotic at a time when the crises require boldness." The word sclerotic is related to the plant science term sclerenchyma, which is the lignified, or tough, tissues in a plant that makes it possible for the plant to stand up. These tissues are one obstacle to making biofuels.

The one alternative that he distinctly did not mention is biofuels. The biofuel concept is to use plants to harness the energy from the sun to convert carbon into either sugars, that can be converted into ethanol, or fatty acids, that can be converted into oils. This is still the old way of thinking - it is a carbon-based fuel. What do you think of the potential of biofuels?

The one concept missing from his speech were questions about and an impetus away from the environmental hazards in making solar panels, wind turbines, and digging for geothermal hotspots. I think these new technologies need to not create new problems. Of course, that can be easily outweighed by the decrease in oil drilling and the natural resources, such as metal ores. that go into getting oil out of the ground.

What if one of the American car companies converted their entire fleet to electric, and the electricity was made from solar and wind sources? Would that company then have any problems selling cars, or would they have problems keeping their cars on the lot, much like today's Prius and Hybrid Camry? I don't get why the auto manufacturers don't think this way? Are they so stuck, are they so vested in oil, are they joined at the hips to the oil companies?

I think this challenge can spark America's great ingenuity and innovation, traits that have lapsed since the times of the space race and the arms race. There is no red enemy now. The enemy now is ourselves, our bad habits, and our reliance on our leaders to do what is in our best interest. The race is a race against time.

To anyone who listens to the whole speech! Double bonus points to anyone who shares their (rationally and politely stated) thoughts, by clicking on the link below this post that says "comments." If you need to, you can create an account with Blogger. You won't get any junk mail or be sold out.

all statements in quotes are from Gore's speech


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Al Gore: A Generational Challenge to Repower America

Today, Al Gore gave a speech in Washington, DC. I haven't had time to read it in its entirety and digest this yet, but I wanted to share the transcript with you as soon as I could:

We Campaign

I also have to verify if these were the planned words or what was actually said at the live speech.

Enjoy, and comment!


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Challenge #4: For the Penguins

I’ve noticed that my husband puts the groceries away as he unpacks them: cereal to the pantry, a can to the island, juice into the fridge, spaghetti into the pantry, meat into the freezer, cheese into the fridge. You get where I am going? My new challenge to my family, and yours, is to sort the groceries out and then open the fridge and the freezer just once, each.

I am going to expand this to the daily ins and outs of the refrigerator, too. I am going to try to get all of my cooking ingredients out onto the counter with one trip into the fridge. After I’m done with each ingredient, I will stack everything up at the fridge and put them away when I am completely finished. Our house is air-conditioned, so I am not too worried about a perishable item being on the counter for maybe 10-20 minutes. My goal is to open the door just twice to prepare dinner.

This will go for cleanup after dinner too - put all the leftovers into their containers, pack our lunches- and stick it all in the fridge all at once.

I remember that this is what my parents used to have my sister and I do when we were kids. We always said we were saving the penguin a trip to the switch.

I am also putting a tablet on the door. My husband and I will mark how many times we open the fridge in a day. I think I maybe shocked…how about you?

Meeting this challenge will REDUCE my use of electricity, as the fridge will maintain its cool temperature.

I am going to try to organize my fridge so that I can get in and out more quickly!


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Challenge #3: RECYCLE the Basics

Dumpster divers can sure make a profit in my neighborhood.

I live in a city block that has an alley behind my garage. This alley is also used by the people that live behind us. The alley has dumpsters every 3 or 4 houses. Some of the dumpsters are for “yard waste only.” The other dumpsters are for household trash.

When I take my trash out, I am often shocked to see garbage bags full of aluminum cans and a few party plates or napkins. Someone on my block is certainly not recycling even the most basic items!

Our city has at least two recycling options for its residents. One option is to pay for weekly curbside pick-up. The other is to collect recyclables and drive them over to a city park where there are 18-wheeler-sized dumpsters in which to sort mixed containers, paper, and cardboard.. This is the option that my family uses, because we take our dog so that she gets a weekend car ride and walk in a different park. We ask her “Do you wanna go for recycling?” and she runs to the car.

Obviously we already recycle, but I want to be more comprehensive and also follow the guidelines a little better. We are not great at washing things out or removing caps (although we use very few soda or water bottles).

From what I can tell, our city has a thorough recycling program. We can send all plastics except #6. We can recycle aluminum, glass and steel. They do not accept aluminum food plates or foil. We can recycle cereal boxes, cardboard, Kraft paper (like grocery bags-with the cardboard), newspaper, and junk mail. I shred all incoming mail envelopes and anything with personal info or addresses, and chuck the shredded paper into the recycling dumpster.

To me, this is just as easy as taking out the trash. We have two recycling bins on our back porch, off the kitchen. It neither stinks nor attracts ants.

I just need to find somewhere to recycle #6 plastic or stop buying foods packaged in this material. I also have to figure out what to do with egg cartons (I think one of the grocery stores accepts these). I don’t use Styrofoam.

I also want to be more organized in harder to recycle items like batteries and compact fluorescent bulbs. This will be a separate challenge!

Please, join me and challenge yourself to be a better recycler! Please, share with us in comments how you make your recycling efforts easy.

RECYCLE. Need I say more?

I am planning to challenge my alley neighbors to recycle more. I will post my “plan” in a few weeks. Until then, I will rely on the dumpster divers to pick out the recyclable metals, which they turn in at the junk yard for cash.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Challenge #2: Use Cloth Napkins

A few months ago, I started throwing my used napkins in the recycle bin. I had thought “they’re paper, why don’t I recycle these?” Well, I sleuthed around and found that paper napkins, paper towels and tissues are not actually recyclable. They are a “low” grade of paper and also considered “unsanitary.” Now, I want to get rid of this bad habit of using a paper napkin with my meals. I often use one with breakfast, one with lunch and yet another one with dinner. Between my husband, me, and any guests, we go through a large pack of generic napkins in two to three months.

I looked around my house and found 10 cloth napkins that I could use for daily dining (aside from the four that match some place-mats that I use for special occasions and a set that goes in the picnic basket). I need to increase this supply.

I found a pack of four cloth napkins at T@rget for $7.99. I looked on an end cap and found packs on sale at $5.58. I figure, if I buy a pack of four napkins, maybe once every two months, I will have a large enough supply for this two-person family within a year. I will buy them off the sale end caps (almost always something is there since the patterns are seasonal) and I don’t really care which season they are supposed to reflect, as long as the pattern isn’t atrocious. The generic paper napkins cost about $3.20 for 500 (and certainly are ugly). Over one year, my cost for paper napkins would be approximately $16. I think I need, at most, to buy 10-12 more cloth napkins, so four packs, coming to a cost of approximately $24 for the year, but without the need to buy so many the following year. I shouldn’t need to buy any for some time, but might wish to round out my collection for when we have guests.

I plan to wash these with the kitchen towels and washcloths. I don’t plan to iron them for everyday use. If I am having guests over, I probably will hit them quickly with the iron. That much ironing is within my skill set- square pieces of cloth with no seams!

Join me in this self challenge: replace your use of paper napkins with reusable cloth napkins.

This challenge will REDUCE the use of nonrenewable paper pulp by REUSING washable cloth napkins.

Buy cloth napkins made of organically grown and non-bleached cotton.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Challenge #1: Dress Appropriately Indoors

After the short spring-like break at the end of June and beginning of July, summer has returned with a vengeance. A few nights ago it was still close to 90ºF at 9 PM with at least 80% RH. That’s summer in the Lou; thank modern technology for the cool air cranked out by my A/C. Some of us are very spoiled with climate control, although I know I’ll “pay” for it with this month’s electric bill.

My challenge to myself is to dress for the season, even when I am indoors. I should be able to walk out of my house and be able to handle the weather outside, at least to some degree. St. Louis is a city of extremes, and today it is extremely hot and humid. I may even avoid going outdoors! But, here I am wearing flip flops, shorts and a light T-shirt. I could go outside, if I really had to!

Right now, my thermostat is set for 79ºF. I usually feel cold when the A/C is actually running, and I have the vent in my office partially closed. My husband always thinks it is too hot in the office, but when the air cranks in this tiny room, it makes my toes cold. I am going to turn the thermostat up to 80ºF; I doubt the husband will notice. I am also going to find the small, four-inch fan that we have down in the basement, to help keep that air moving around.

Turning my thermostat up during the summer will REDUCE my use of energy resources. In my area that probably means coal-generated electricity for the A/C. Where does your electricity come from?

If I can set, and keep, my thermostat to 80ºF. Another Bonus goes to anyone who buys a programmable thermostat (on my list for Santa this year).


Thursday, July 10, 2008

The GreenUP Challenge

Is it really all that hard to be green?

I am setting out to prove that I can make small, everyday decisions to be more “green,” more environmentally friendly.  We live on an average middle class budget.  While I can’t go buy a new hybrid car, I can challenge myself to make incremental changes, substitutes, and habit-shifts that will tally up to a real difference. 

I think that I am starting at a half-way decent point.  I don’t own a mansion that has 30 spot lights illuminating the house’s glamorous front.  I recycle the basics.  I try to consume "less".  However, I know I can do more. 

Please join me in this challenge.

I am going to implement micro-changes in my life to reduce my family’s “footprint,” and I  challenge you to incorporate these modifications, too.  I will research alternatives to some aspect in my life, decide on my course of action, and let you know.  Through periodic updates, I will report back to you on how I am doing, which efforts need redoubling, and which just didn’t work out.  

I am also dragging along my husband, Van, my dog and my cat.  Each of these challenges may be small, but if we all make these changes, together we will have a big impact. 

Each post will be summed up in terms of how it meets the golden mantra of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. 

Each post may also contain a suggestion that will warrant 

I hope, for our planet's sake, that we all find great success in this endeavor! 


Wednesday, July 9, 2008


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