Archive for February, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Reuse Ideas

Last week, we talked about how “REDUCE” fits into the lives of “Practically Green” people. This week, let’s look at REUSE. REUSE is both the easiest and the hardest for those of us in the “practically green” lifestyle. We all get the concept of reusing things instead of throwing them away. BUT, so many of the ideas I’ve seen out there are either ridiculous in terms of time to remake the item (crocheting old shopping bags into a new shopping bag comes to mind – I tried it…) OR they are not items we actually WANT to have in our homes or on our persons (using old CD’s as coasters? – or converting a keg into a side table – a little too college dorm for my 50 year old tastes). This entry in my blog is going to be a simple list of great REUSE ideas that you can pick and choose from. I’m going to try to limit myself to items that require NO crafting skills, and insignificant amounts of time or instruction. More complicate ideas will be their own entries.

Reusing things? In OUR throwaway society? WOW! What a concept! How does this work? I touched on one easy idea last week as a part of REDUCING consumption. Shopping bags! In fact, these two concepts (REDUCE and REUSE) can be quite linked together. By reusing things, we are essentially reducing consumption of stuff. I try to think about REUSE as I’ve purchased something to perform some specific task, but instead of throwing it away afterward, I find another use for that thing. It’s all about reducing the amount of stuff getting sent to the landfill.

My mother was a small girl in Oklahoma during the depression. She remembers not having enough to eat every day and having to wear hand-me-downs from her older sister until almost the start of World War II. When I was growing up, she would make my lunch every day, I was expected to bring home the tin foil, and the paper bag for reuse until they were just too nasty. I was frequently picked on for this habit. Little did we know that my mom was just WAY ahead of her time when it comes to conserving resources. It turns out those little money saving tricks ALSO conserve precious resources.

Here’s my list. Feel free to add your own in the comments:

  • Margarine, sour cream or cottage cheese tubs for food storage. Need I say more? Do check the seal for the lid and make sure the plastic is microware safe before reheating your soup.
  • Water bottles refilled from the tap With Caution, most of those bottles are not intended to be refilled. I suggest only doing this for ONE day. Toss the bottle at the end of the day. BETTER IDEA: buy those bottles for your bike and fill them with filtered water. They can be washed and reused 100’s of times.
  • Shopping bags bad idea – except as small trash can liners or when you go to the grocery store. Frankly, almost all of the ideas I’ve seen look like you’re trying to use up shopping bags. If you’ve accumulated too many, take them to your nearest megamart, they almost always have a recycle bin for these. PLEASE don’t just throw them away. Bad for all kinds of wildlife when they start blowing around at the landfill.
  • Coffee mug I have so many coffee mugs. While I can give them to a second hand store, I suspect they don’t sell well. I think it’s better to find uses around the house. Let’s see: As a pencil holder on my desk (both at work and at home), as a small vase – especially the interesting ones. As a candy holder – potentially for a cute gift for those silly occasions where a small gift is needed.
  • Old tote bags and purses I’m talking about the ones that are a little too frayed for office or travel use here, not the ones the dog ate. One bag has become my garden equipment stash. Makes it easier to have all those little tools handy. Another is my mobile “to-do” paper stash. Has recipes, magazines, print-outs, etc that I need to look over and think about. Keep one in the car with car stuff that doesn’t fit in the glove box.
  • Print on BOTH sides of the paper We were astounded to discover that our run of the mill laser-jet printer could actually print on BOTH sides of the paper as a default. Turns out that many of them can. Look for “duplex” in the settings. 99% of the time, we can print stuff on both sides.
  • Paper towel cores – OK, I do have one or two uses that don’t entail turning these into Christmas decorations. I keep my silicone baking mat rolled up inside one these and stashed with my baking stuff. Also, during my big baking season (Christmas cookies, anyone?) I’ll stash parchment paper in a paper towel tube. (see the next entry)
  • Parchment paper – It can be reused 3-4 times before it gets too brittle and tears. Stumbled across this when I ran out and didn’t want to run to the store in the middle of my baking spree.
  • Shredded paper. Packing material. Skip the styro peanuts. It also works as mulch, but looks a bit strange on the plants…
  • Styro peanuts – Speaking of which… Most mailing and shipping places will take them from you instead of sending them to the landfill. OR, use them instead of rocks in the bottoms of your planters. They weigh a lot less and make the plant easier to move. Do test if your peanuts are Styrofoam or the new cornstarch based babies. Just run one under some water. If it disintegrates, you have cornstarch peanuts – put them in your compost pile or out in your garden and they’ll melt away.
  • Newspaper. Yes, it is recyclable, but far better to reuse it instead. Save newspapers if you are anticipating moving or storing breakables. The stuff the moving companies use is just “virgin” newsprint. Polish glass windows with it. Mom used to make me do this as a kid. Still works today.

Got some more ideas? Add a comment. We’ll test it and if it works well, add it!

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February 16, 2009 at 9:55 pm 2 comments

Hot water recirculation Systems

I was walking around our favorite big box discount store the other day to see what new and great ways are out there to save money – and perhaps save the environment. Big section of shelf devoted to a product that promised instant hot water at every faucet in the house AND to save 11,000 gallons of water a year in the process. Wow! This I need to evaluate further. If it’s true and the savings pan-out, DH is in for another plumbing project.

Turns out we are going on a road trip in our hybrid car instead. Let me take you through the math on this device…

First, just what is this thing and how does it work? If my review were more positive, I’d link you directly to the manufacturer’s site and let them explain. BUT I don’t think they will appreciate my “advertising” so let me muddle through an explanation.

The problem that we’re trying to solve here is one of reducing water use. Most people don’t like to jump into the shower, turn the water on and start their shower before the water gets hot. SO, what we do, is turn the water on and let it run until the cool water in the hot water pipes is flushed out with water from the hot water heater before we get in the shower.

This device recirculates the water in those hot water lines by placing a sensor and a valve at the farthest end of your hot water line that senses when the water in the hot water line has dropped below 95° F, opens the valve and “trickles” the water out of the hot water line into the cold water line until the water in the hot water pipes gets back up to 95° F or so.

Got it? Make sense? If not, google “hot water recirculating systems” and look at some of the web sites, they have nifty diagrams. On to a review of the economics (and by extension the “ecologics”)

First, let’s take the manufacturer’s claim on face value. Let’s assume we really will save 11,000 gallons of water/year. Our current cost per gallon for water is just under $0.05 USD per gallon (includes supply and sewer charges). At that cost, 11,000 gallons/year is worth about $51.70. The shelf price of the unit at the big box discount store was $180. Even ignoring the additional electrical costs for operating the unit and some potential installation costs for adding this somewhat complicated system, it would take 3.7 years to pay for the unit. The warranty on the unit is only ONE YEAR.

But, you say, I’m saving the environment 11,000 gallons of fresh water every year! It’s worth the cost. However, one needs to consider the cost to the environment of manufacturing the unit in the first place. The rule of thumb I’m using is to look at the warranted period on the unit, and expect that the device should at least pay for itself within that warranty period. If not, then it probably is also not recovering the ecological cost within the time period either.

The story gets worse and worse as I continued to consider this particular device. I tried to confirm the 11,000 gallon of fresh water per year. It turns out that the manufacturer has assumed about 3.1 gallons of water is wasted each time you want hot water from any faucet in the house. They have also assumed that you will flush this much water TEN times every day.

Hmmmm, let me think about that.

3.1 gallons is reasonable for the end run in OUR house. DH did a test this morning, it took 1.5 minutes to get hot water with our low flow (1.5 gpm) showerhead. That’s more like 2.25 gals, but I’ll give them the 3.1 for this exercise.

10 systems flushes a day. Let me think about that. We take two showers (on average…) per day. We wash our hands several times a day in the bathroom – good for us! 🙂, but I don’t wait for hot water, instead I use … SOAP! to make sure my hands are clean. (As an aside, hot water doesn’t kill many germs, to be hot enough to do that, you will scald yourself…) So those, don’t count. We DO run the kitchen sink out to get hot water to do the dishes. OK, I’ll accept three times a day there. Where else? Laundry? no, the washing machine doesn’t flush the line, nor does the dishwasher. I’m thinking… really hard… nope, not coming up with other reasons to flush the hot water. The kitchen is less than half the distance, BUT I’ll give them that as well.

So, now, I’m at saving only 5,500 gallons of fresh water per year. And my savings has dropped to $25.85 per year. Now we’re looking at 7.5 years to payback. REALLY not making any sense… This is 6.5 years beyond the warranty. And I haven’t even looked at the additional electric costs of running the pump, and reheating the water that’s being recirculated back into the water heater.

Nope, that dog show in Charlotte is looking like a great trip for the weekend! No plumbing projects in our house.

February 10, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: How to REDUCE?

Ok, The mantra for anyone claiming to know about (and write about) GREEN living, is “REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE”. Seems a pretty obvious phrase. Reduce what we use, Reuse what we can, Recycle the rest. The trick is, of course, in the application. There are some folks out there who have taken this to an extreme that the rest of us can only shake our heads at. They are living “off the grid” and growing their own food. The rest of us? Sorry, we have jobs to go to, kids to haul to soccer practice, and our favorite shows to TiVo. So… what does REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE mean to a “practically Green” person like me? That’s the whole point of this blog.

Let’s look at each work in this phrase and see where we can go with it.

REDUCE: hmmm, reduce what we use. Easy enough, but where to start? Let’s look at this another way. Reduce what we DON’T use. For us “practically green” types, the first step in REDUCE is to eliminate the stuff in our lives that we don’t use. Like… plastic bags for the groceries (and everything else you buy). It’s easy and in more and more stores, you get a rebate for bringing your own bags. In fact, I switched grocery stores because Mega-Mart #1 didn’t recognize my small contribution to the fight and Mega-Mart #2 gave me “in store cash” worth a nickel for every bag I brought with me.

A nickel?

Hardly seems worth it. Let’s put that in context of cost and benefit. First, you can actually REUSE (I know, the next article is on REUSE, but bear with me) the bags that you got the last time you went. I’ve found they survive about 3 trips before tearing out with the cheap lightweight variety. The heavier weight ones, (like from mega bookstores) will last numerous trips. I use on average 3 bags at the store each time. So, I get $0.15 USD for my effort, no time involved, and no expense.

Better option is to scrounge up those bags you’ve accumulated as give-aways for just being you. Without buying a single bag, I now have collected 7-8 cloth bags of various levels of sturdiness. I can put more groceries in each bag than the cheap plastic and don’t have to make as many trips to the car to retrieve the groceries. I’d say it’s a winner!

WORST case, you have to buy cloth bags. Your local mega-mart is probably selling them for $1USD each. Insulated bags for bringing home the Ben and Jerry’s might run $5. It will take only 20 trips to the store to pay for that regular bag at a nickel each time you use it. AND now you have a bag to use at the local farmer’s market, etc, etc. Hold the thought on the insulated bag – I’m not recommending purchasing that – I have a better idea. But that’s for another article!

But wait, there’s MORE! Now that we’re all thinking about ways to REDUCE consumption, or NONconsumption, where else can we REDUCE without actually giving up something? Consider…

  • Water in shower
  • Plastic water bottles
  • Keeping hot stuff hot (and cold stuff cold)
  • Unplugging the vampires- all of those power adapters that are plugged into the wall, but not into your cell phone (except when it’s charging)

What have I missed? Send in comments and let’s add more entries! As we get the articles added, I will come back and link them into this one!

Next post: REUSE

February 7, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Save the shower!

Evolve Ladybug autoshutoff device

We just bought a new showerhead attachment. DH had installed a low flow shower head with an option to shut it off a year ago or so. I must confess, I rarely use the shut off feature. I luxuriate under hot water, especially in the cold winter months early in the morning before coffee. I’m trying to do better, but it is a mental struggle of my will power and my selfishness.

The real point of this blog is the attachment we added. It’s an Evolve Ladybug. This little device works by sensing when the water reaches 95°F (35 °C). At that point it shuts the water down to a trickle. The trickle keeps the hot water in the pipe and the shower head, but lowers the water and energy usage to nearly zero. I like a really hot shower (bad for my skin, but that’s me) so 95° is a little cool, but it warms the rest of the way VERY quickly.

What does this save you in real dollars and how long until you recoup the investment? Well, the company advertises that it saves $75 in energy costs and 2700 gallons per year. This assumes a standard 2.5 gallon per minute (gpm) showerhead and 1 minute of water running for three showers a day. Based on water, sewer and electricity rates for my area (water and sewer combined are about $3.75/1000 gallons and electricity is about $0.06/kwh), I calculate a per shower savings of about $0.10 per shower for a standard shower head. If you’ve installed a low flow shower, it will be about ½ that. The total cost at the time we purchased the device was $38.23 including shipping. My DH installed it in about 10 minutes, so no installation fee. Since we already have a low flow shower head, we will save about a nickel with each shower. That means it will take 765 showers to recoup our investment. With two people using that shower pretty much every day, it will be a year before we recover our investment.

Still the device comes with a three year warranty. Assuming it lasts that long, we will save about $80 over the life of the warranty. Based on the cost, though, we will NOT be installing this device on any other shower heads in our house. The rest of them get only occasional use from visiting guests. Usage is far too low to warrant the change over.

February 5, 2009 at 4:51 pm 1 comment

Hello world!

Margaret Harding is a middle aged engineering manager with time on her hands. Up until recently she was employed full time spending most of her waking hours just trying to get her job done. She thought about how she could be more green. – in BOTH senses of the word.

She was born in Iowa and raised in the small towns in the northern part of the state. She remembers her mom drying the laundry outside in the sun and the breezes that are a daily part of summer life there. In fact, that part of the world has become a wind energy mecca because of those constant winds. BUT, as she grew up and moved out on my own, got a career and a family, these money and energy saving ideas took too much time and effort.

She wanted to spend her precious free time with her family doing something FUN, not hanging laundry out and raising chickens and all of those “green hippies” did. Maybe that was fun to some, but she’s a geek and proud of it. BUT, she was frustrated because she KNEW deep down in her engineering heart, there were some simple things that she could do, with the right equipment to save money AND to save resources.

In the early 90’s while living in Morgan Hill, CA, during some terrible drought years. She actually used a trashcan and a garden hose to divert the gray water from the washing machine to water for her precious roses. Add a little iron amendment to the soil and it work GREAT! BUT it requires close watching and a washing machine located where this is practical (the garage worked nicely.)

This blog is about finding those practical solutions – either already available via web or local merchants. OR showing you how to build them cheaply and easily, so that YOU can go practically green and still enjoy the REST of your life.

We’re going to explore all aspects of life in a normal household (OK, not ALL aspects), that each of us can change simply and easily to save money, energy, and precious resources of this planet – since it’s the only one we’ve got at the moment!

February 5, 2009 at 4:32 pm Leave a comment


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