a new beginning

After a long hiatus, this blog has been reincarnated to cover a broader range of topics, from the viewpoint of “everyday sustainable.”


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if green’s not green then what color is?

The color green might have killed Napoleon.

So says the New York Times in The Toxic Side of Being, Literally, Green.

Kermit was correct, being green really is tough, so tough that the color itself fails dismally. The cruel truth is that most forms of the color green, the most powerful symbol of sustainable design, aren’t ecologically responsible, and can be damaging to the environment.

“The color green can never be green, because of the way it is made. It’s impossible to dye plastic green or to print green ink on paper without contaminating them.” 

What the article doesn’t say is whether another color that would would have been less toxic and a better fit for what is now the “green” movement.  It’s unlikely that red with all it’s sociao-political connotations would have been the chosen, but would that be less toxic, historically and in modern times?

“Natural” would be the most green since it would mean no artificial colors — though there are natural dyes out there that can produce beautiful colors. But let’s face it, the Natural Movement or Natural Party probably would likely not have caught on. 

So I guess the lesson learned is that GREEN-colored products may not be green at all.  So opt for the plainest, least colorful product (I know, so boring sometimes), or go with the color you like best and are most likely to use often. (That is, until it’s a color that we learn later is more toxic than green.)

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Incandescent bulb kills the Easter Bunny! (Go LED)

This fun ad (for Cree, maker of LEDs)  illustrates a benefit of LED bulbs over incandescent lights: more (most) of the energy goes into creating light, not heat, which means LEDs are more efficient. And, as you see here, better for the bunny.

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S.U.B. (sports utility bicycle)

We call this bike “The Mule.” It was a super sturdy bike to begin with, but the addition of the 4 metal baskets elevated it to a new level of utility. Really, there is no excuse not to bike to the grocery store.

Which brings me to the importance of Everyday Sustainable Tools. These are the things that make it possible to actually live and act everyday as sustainably as possible.

So here’s the first of what I hope will become a regular feature of this blog.

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say bye-bye to extra refrigerators and freezers (especially if they’re from the ’80s or older) and save $

During an  energy audit today*, I was surprised to see the resident’s electricity usage on a recent utility bill. It was about “average” for a household in the area, but seemed  high for an elder one-person household. Most bulbs were CFLs or fluorescent, and no teenagers — and their computers and gadgets- nor giant plasma TV in sight.  I was puzzled.

That is, until I saw the old freezer in the garage. And then the 2nd even bigger full-sized refrigerator in the enclosed patio. These are definitely culprits in driving up this resident’s electricity bill!

The refrigerator is among the top household energy-using appliances (along with washing machine and clothes dryer, and pool pump). The newer Energy Star appliances are a lot better than the old ones, so this is a good place to think about tackling energy usage.

Here’s what I learned about the resident’s appliances. The freezer was very old — at least 20-25 years? — and the bottom half was filled with ice. She no longer needed to feed six people; she was planning to get a smaller one. “Good idea,” I said.

As for the extra fridge, she said she was planning to remove it, but I didn’t hear a sense of urgency. The temperature in the fridge and freezer was on the warm side, so instead of recommending she lower the temperature (and increase energy usage), I suggested moving the frozen food into the garage freezer — which was at a better temperature and had extra room– and take out the stuff in the refrigerator since most — many cans of soda — didn’t need refrigeration anyway.

Replacing old appliances with energy-efficient ones is often considered an unattractive option for older homeowners who won’t benefit from the long payback period.  However, this is a case where it makes a lot of sense.

  • This resident’s city, Palo Alto, has a refrigerator recycling program. Not only will they pick up the fridge (or two) for FREE, but they give a $35 rebate (for each appliance)!

According to the Energy Star Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator:

  • Replacing the freezer with a smaller one will save about $50-$70 in energy, annually
  • Removing the extra refrigerator will save about $140 in energy, annually

So let’s say this resident decides to buy a smaller replacement freezer (7.2 or 8.8 cu. ft)  that costs $300. With $70 in rebates, and annual energy cost savings of $190-$210, the payback period would be about 1.5 years!

Of course this is just one example, but I suspect it’s not unusual for people to have appliances that are no longer used like they once were; where once there was a need to have enough food for a family of 4 (or 6 in this case) and now there is only one with occasional guests.

Is that extra fridge or freezer in the garage really necessary? Could a smaller one do the job? Do you have a relative or neighbor who might benefit from a recycling/rebate program?

* I have been conducting residential energy audit’s through a local program which serves Palo Alto, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Menlo Park and Redwood City, California: Acterra’s Green@Home.

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UPS delivers by bicycle!

I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for UPS since they supported the AIDS Ride (bike fundraiser from San Francisco to Los Angeles) that I did many years ago.

THIS just makes me love them more.

They are addressing extra holiday deliveries with pedal power! In the South Bay area where it’s flat, instead of renting expensive — and polluting — trucks, they’ve bought bikes with trailers and hired temp workers. According to the SJ Mercury article, the driver likes his job, and neighbors and customers are curious and think it’s cool. And it’s saving UPS $45-50k in fuel and maintenance (in addition to what they save on truck rentals, I assume).

How do they keep the packages dry when it’s raining? I might have to go in search of a UPS bike delivery guy (I wonder if there are girls, too?) in Palo Alto.

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can line-drying clothes really be this much fun?

Um, no. But it’s true that if you go to a laundromat or use a machine in your building, you don’t have to wait around for the dryer to finish. Just bring your clothes home and let them dry naturally–on a line or a drying rack. Also saves money, energy (gas or electricity to run the dryer), and your clothes. Nothing’s going to shrink when it’s hanging.

And hey, why can’t it be fun? After all, everyone knows that people who line-dry their clothes more fun!

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What’s your cell phone radiation level? Is it safe?

Look it up with this tool: http://www.ewg.org/cellphoneradiation/Get-a-Safer-Phone

My phone (Treo 650) has high radiation. In fact, among the Top 10 Worst PDA/Smartphones!  (The super-popular iPhone 3G is not among the top 10, but it’s a high-radiator, too.)

What to do? Should I toss out my phone, even though it still works fine? Or should I hang on to it, as I do with most things, since one of my strategies for living as sustainability as possible is to use things as long as I can, even if it might not be as efficient as a new model–e.g., driving (low mileage) an efficient car that’s older versus buying a new hybrid: lower net impact.

However, in this case, continuing to use this phone may be bad for my health. According to the Environmental Working Group’s report on cell phone safety (based on radiation levels), studies show there may be a negative effect on health from long-term cell phone usage. Even if the studies aren’t conclusive, I know that I don’t like holding my Treo to my ear for long; my head feels funny.

For now, I’m using my headset as much as possible; unfortunately, the sound quality is not good enough at times.

How is your cell phone radiation? Would you change your phone based on its rating?  See the best and worst cell phones, and plug your phone into the widget in the right-hand column: http://www.ewg.org/cellphoneradiation/Get-a-Safer-Phone.

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how to get extra life from a printer toner cartridge: black tape

Don’t you hate having to replace the toner cartridge, especially when the printing seems to be fine? Surely, there must be more life in the toner.

Well, here’s a workaround in the spirit of responsible consumption: use up what you have fully to reduce waste, and, in this case, save money.

The tip is from a forum topic from fixyourownprinter.com and focuses on Brother printers, though I suspect it would work on other printers, too. You could get another 500-1000 pages printed, as reported by some on the forum.

The printer decided it was out of toner, even though the last page printed was fine. Rather than run out for a new toner cartridge I used a small (.5 x .5 in.) piece of black electrical tape to cover the sensor hole on the non-gear side of the cartridge. By covering the hole the printer is fooled into thinking the hopper is full of toner.

Read the full forum thread for more tips, including using masking tape and a black marker, if you don’t have black electrical tape.

Of course, I continue to advocate responsible printing, which saves paper, ink/toner and energy, which translates into $, too:

Posted in conservation, efficiency, energy saving, everyday, office, paper, sustainability, sustainable | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

how much plastic trash waste in a week?

Take the Plastic Trash Challenge to find out.

I’m starting today.  I don’t think I generate much plastic trash, but actually, I have no idea how much.

Similar to guessing how long I shower, I had only a vague notion until I started using a shower timer a few weeks ago. Now that I can see how long 5 minutes is, I’m definitely showering more efficiently. I’m hoping the plastic trash challenge will do the same. Knowledge = Power.

I’ll collect my plastic waste for a week, then photo, tally and post to Fake Plastic Fish. I’ll report back next week.

Want to take the challenge, too?  (Instructions on how to do.)

Posted in everyday, packaging, plastic, shopping, sustainable | Tagged | 2 Comments