Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 83: Pee on the Compost Pile: Yellow is the New Green!

Tony: I think I found another use for milk jugs that could help us save money and your precious planet.

Megan: I thought this week you were only doing urine-related postin...oh no!

For most of my childhood, I lived in a small farmhouse purchased by my great-grandfather, Willis Irvin nearly 100 years ago. When he bought it, it had dirt floors and no indoor plumbing. By the time I lived in it, wooden floors had been laid and a small closet under the stairs was converted into a bathroom. The water source was a well near the house and my Dad was constantly worried about it running dry. Perhaps that was the reason why he, my brother, and I would typically stand behind the house to pee when we got home rather than taking turns in the lone bathroom.

Once I moved to the city, there were obviously a lot fewer opportunities to urinate outside. (Peeing in Paris is one of the few exceptions.) Thus, I forgot this part of my upbringing until Megan asked my to look up what items could and could not go on our compost pile. Number 34 on the list of 75 Things You Can Compost But Thought You Couldn't: Urine. An interesting article in the Telegraph last November also mentioned how the the National Trust in the UK is encouraging people to pee on straw bales outside for composting.

Checking Out the Compost Pile

I have tried going out to our compost pile a few times at night to add my own personal nitrogen to the mix. Even during the day, with our enclosed back yard, there is sufficient privacy to pull this off. However, sometimes it is cold and muddy and I don't feel like making the trek. What to do, what to do? Over on YouTube, OrganicGarden123 has a solution in a short clip showing his collection of "natural liquid nitrogen" with milk jugs.

Besides being used in the compost pile, it is possible to fertilize plants with diluted. While most websites touted the benefits of adding urine's nitrogen, one article I found by Kirchmann and Petterson at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science suggested that phosphorus was absorbed by plants from human urine faster than from regular fertilizer. My favorite site on the topic featured a book by Carol Steinfeld, Liquid Gold, the Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants. On it, I learned that "Pee on the Earth Day" is June 21! I will definitely be ordering that for Elon's library.

To sum up, if I collect rather than flush my own urine, I will spend less money on my fertilizer, waste less water, and have healthier soil for the fruits and vegetables in our home garden. Milk jugs FTW!!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 82: Pee in the Shower for Fun and Profit

Megan: Did you know that peeing in the shower saves water and money?
Tony: You are so gross. How much money?

While Megan thinks my Pepsi belches and Claire's incessant flatulence are disgusting, she has always joked that peeing in the shower was perfectly acceptable.

I truly thought she was a bit nutty about this until I saw a very cute public service announcement about peeing in the shower created by the Brazilian government and covered by the US media.

How much money could this save me? Randomly grabbing my December 2009 water bill, our family used 2900 gallons in one month. We pay 0.4 cents per gallon to get it and we pay the city 0.6 cents per gallon to take it back as sewer water. I couldn't believe it was only one penny per gallon! I guess Evian, Dasani, and Aquafina have give me an inflated sense of water's cost.

Let's assume I take one shower a day and need to "drain the main vein" just beforehand. This is true for me and the ~3 people in my house most mornings. Annually, that saves about 1000 household flushes at 3 gallons per flush for my fairly standard old toilet. (I measured this out, just to be sure, using leftover milk jugs from Day 34: The Freezer Experiment.) Thus, while saving water doesn't save that much money, this little exercise does decrease water bill by about 1/12th. Thus, my new water mantra is:


As Megan said yesterday, "One drop doesn't look like much, but a continuous drip will fill up a very big bucket."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

On "impact"

One drop doesn't look like much, but a continuous drip will fill up a very big bucket.

Weekend Update

This week Megan wrote about getting free stuff by the side of the road, giving away free stuff just for fun - including smiles, reading classic books for free, planning out this year's small garden, making better kid lunches, and The Great Lunchables Experiment.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day 81: Start a garden

I'm not known for my green thumb, but I'm going to branch out from herbs and houseplants this year and try really hard to do a bit more gardening. I've got friends who are really good at this, with their online planning tools and whatnot. I don't know. I think I'm going to start slowly and dip a toe in this year, and add projects as I see I can handle them. (We're thinking about our quadruple bottom line including "practicality" and "peace"/simplicity in all this.)

So, the garden plan so far is:

1. Continue herb garden outside in front and on side yard. Make a list of all plants and label them. Make little signs. (Tony really wants this.)

I know we have the following herbs still growing from last year:
-lemon balm

I already planted the following this year:

I still need to plant:

2. Use containers to start peas and lettuces (we actually planted these a few weeks ago and they are starting to poke out now).

Growing so far:
-swiss chard
-sugar snap peas
-shelling peas

To come (later):
-more lettuces
-blackberries or some other vine type of plant to grow up the trellis to the left of the house.

3. As my inside plants die or get too unwieldy, I want to replace them with things we can eat. After reading The Urban Homestead, I decided I don't really want to grow anything I can't eat.

Low-stress gardens like this save money and cut down on grocery store purchases. (In the interests of the quadruple bottom line, low-stress gardening also increases time spent outdoors and contributes to a higher quality of life. I'm not sure how sustainable it will be during those hot summer months when I might just want to sit in the AC and gaze outdoors from behind glass. But we'll see.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 80: Pack better kid lunches

The food at school is not great, and Claire really likes to bring her own lunch rather than eat cafeteria food. I am in favor of this wholeheartedly. However, coming up with a kid lunch made up of "real food" that doesn't need refrigeration, doesn't have to be microwaved, and that she will eat and not waste is difficult.

Here are some of the items that we both can basically agree to have in her lunchbox:
--homemade applesauce (both)
--mini pepperonis (her suggestion) and cheese cubes (my suggestion)
--pbj sandwich with homemade bread, natural pb, and all-fruit jam (me) and the crusts cut off (her)
--yogurt cup (both)
--pickles (her!)

Here are some of the things I pack for her that she doesn't really like but suffers with:
--bananas (I usually pack these as "snack" so she is faced with eating it at midmorning and can't ignore it like she could at lunch time)

Here are some of the things I pack that neither of us is crazy about, but they're easy and expedient:
--granola bar
--container of "trail mix" type stuff (nuts, goldfish crackers, pretzels mixed, raisins, etc)

Here are some of the things that I pack for her that she does not want and will not eat (they come home still in the package, untouched):
--baby carrots (yes, I've tried including dip)
--any fruit that requires peeling or purposeful biting (whole apples, oranges, pears)

Here are some of the things she says she will eat, but then they still come home in the lunchbox uneaten:
--green pears D'Anjou
--sliced apples
--nuts (hit or miss, sometimes she eats, sometimes not)
--dried fruit
--grapes (hit or miss)

Have not tried celery sticks yet. Not sure there's much nutrition in a celery stick anyway. If I make it into "ants on a log" she might eat it more readily. (Probably about the same nutrition as what's in a pickle though!)

One thing that definitely happens is that she'll see something in the lunch that she does not like, so she won't eat it, but then she'll end up ravenously hungry by after-school time. The after-school program, bless their hearts, feeds the kids pretty poor-quality snacks most of the time, although sometimes I am surprised by a good offering here or there. So by after-school time she's starving and the snack is usually engineered food in a pretty package. She ends up with an overall school-hours food profile that is nothing to be proud of. I've seen the after-school program offer everything from packaged honey buns (sick) to some sort of bagel bite thingie that I couldn't identify (sicker) to chips (not looking so bad now are they?) to whole fruit. It's really hit or miss. I've also packed extra after-school snacks for her, but she'll forget them or eat them for lunch...

So, the best thing to do is to really concentrate on getting a wider variety of healthful foods into the lunchbox, and hopefully these are things that she'll eat over the course of the day.

Now, depending on what we put in there, a homemade healthy lunch of "real food" is probably not cheaper than buying from the cafeteria, so I'll have to code this as a win for planet. (However, truth be told, I think this is one of those cases where I don't really care about how "cheap" it is, because it's so much more healthy and wholesome to fix her a high-quality lunch than to save a few cents buying cafeteria food.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 79: Get kids involved with their food

Claire asked me several times about Lunchables, these gross (to me) pre-packaged lunches. Some of the kids at school had them, and Claire was asking me why I didn't want to get them for her. My reasons were as follows:

1. The food is poor quality and probably tastes gross
2. Too many chemicals and preservatives, too much salt, unhealthy
3. They are expensive ($1.99 for the cheapest one)
4. Wasteful packaging

However, Claire called my bluff on #1 and #3. She said she'd like to be the judge of whether it tasted bad. And I admitted that a Lunchable might go on sale some time and then it would be cheaper.

I was trying to be a good mom, the kind that doesn't deprive the child but at the same time sticks to the principles of a healthy family. I pointed out that the #2 hurdle is pretty major here - the cost and the taste can't outweigh the unhealthyness. And the #7 plastic container is 100% garbage, non-recyclable trash. (By the way, I find this utterly appalling. Why can't they use a recyclable container? Or something compostable like paper?)

We decided to perform an experiment. We would purchase one Lunchable, of Claire's choosing. We would then replicate a homemade version of the Lunchable and compare taste, cost, waste, and healthyness.

She chose Pepperoni Flavored (!) Sausage Pizza. That's "sausage" that has been "flavored" to be like "pepperoni". (Just so you know.) It cost $1.99.

Here is the photo set showing Claire assembling and eating (should I say 'devouring' the Lunchable):

The Great Lunchable Experiment, Phase 1

Believe me, I really hoped she'd hate it. But, she did not hate it. She rather liked it, in all its partially hydrogenated glory. That mozzarella cheese food product went down like butter. She licked the plate. ("I did not!" ...she is helping me write this...)

On the other hand, the mommy-made version was healthy, hot, steaming, fresh, and, according to Claire, not nearly as good. The crust was too doughy. Sigh.

The Great Lunchable Experiment, Phase 2

Link to the whole Lunchable Experiment Photo Set

Here is the link to the Lunchable nutrition info for the one Claire picked out. Ugh.

Needless to say, we will not be purchasing this again, but I'm glad we did the experiment. I'm glad she got to try one so she won't feel deprived or as if she wasn't heard. And I feel fairly good about the lunches I pack in general, but tomorrow I'll post a bit more about lunches for kids.

Day 78: Smile more

At the risk of sounding really trite on an Oprah level, I'm going to suggest smiling more. I was in a tough meeting earlier this week, and there were a few times where I had to invoke my miracle of mindfulness "half-smile superpower". There were a few times where I should have invoked it and I forgot!

This is something I read about in Thich Nhat Hanh's The Miracle of Mindfulness. Picture the Mona Lisa's half-smile. It's a smile that evokes "humor, serious but not too serious, non-commitment to a response, open, opening to others to share in the smile... an attitude of humor and openness to others and the universe".

It's not a pinched sarcastic smile, it's not a "flip" smile, or a coy smile, or a smug smile, or a fake smile, or a grimace. Nor is it the kind of smile you'd make after hearing a joke. It's not much of a smile at all if you see it in the mirror. Actually nailing the half-smile is part of the challenge. Because if you're feeling pinched or sarcastic or fake or smug, it won't work. So you kind of have to modify both your face (your outlook) and your attitude (your inlook?) at the same time in order for this to work. But that's sort of the point.

What I like about this technique for dealing with stress is that you can remain engaged. I saw another person in the meeting deal with stress by becoming argumentative. (They are perhaps still engaged, but at what cost? I did this once myself but managed to squelch the tendency the other five times I wanted to do it...) Another person left the room several times. A third person withdrew and looked at the floor or doodled. The cool thing about the half-smile is that it not only sends the right message outward but seems to actually cool the mind inwardly as well. You can't maintain a proper half-smile in anger.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 77: Read free books

Yes, the library is great and I am an extremely heavy library user. Highly recommend you all take advantage of your local libraries. But there are also tons of free books available online that you can load onto your Kindle or iPhone or laptop and read 100% free of charge. Right now I'm reading Walden, and just got done with the Scarlet Letter. These things take on entirely new meaning when you read them again as an adult, by the way. I don't know why Hawthorne is wasted on high schoolers... we sort of pigeonhole these classics into "I read that in high school" and then we never read them again. What a mistake!

Anyway, Project Gutenberg has tons of free stuff there, classics and interesting weird old books. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 76: Get free stuff by the side of the road

On the free theme... Last week our neighbors across the street began their move-out process. From their trash pile, we scavenged: a VCR tape storage rack which I'm turning into a plant stand, a Razor scooter, a plastic tub for the garage, a VCR, and some Playstation games (Tony sold these to a store for $5).

The other day while running through Mill Point, I noticed it was trash day. If I'd only had a car! There was an enormous amount of perfectly good trash out there - storage tubs, garden trellises, computer printer, laundry baskets, even an office chair.

I was tempted to call Tony and have him do a drive-through with me. Unfortunately, it was Friday and I had class.

Now that I know what day is trash day over there though, I'm all about it... Might plan ahead a bit for this. I can get to school "the long way" once a week.

From a pride (Oh! there's another P word; are we ready for a quintuple bottom line?) standpoint, it doesn't feel particularly good to go poking around in people's trash. On the other hand, it does feel nice to save perfectly good things from the landfill. ("One man's trash is another man's treasure.") And obviously this is good for pocket if we find something we needed in someone's trash.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 75: Give away things I don't need

Driving around yesterday running errands, I said to Tony, "You know what would make me so happy right now? Finding something neat for free by the side of the road." Sometimes it is nice to get an unexpected free thing.

I didn't happen to get anything free yesterday, but today we're starting a giveaway program. You may recognize some of the items from the Haiti yard sale... We'll take photos of the items, and they're free for the taking to readers of this blog or to friends on Facebook or whatever.

First item: some old jewelry.

There are some gold pieces in here, some cheap costume pieces, dozens of earrings, 11 necklaces, 3 watches, pins, some silver, Diamonique (yes QVC!) earrings, opals, some matching sets, pearls, etc. I kept all the sentimental pieces (mostly rings), but I'm done with these pieces and they are just taking up space now. I figure maybe they can bring someone else some joy. Do what you want with them -- take them apart (and make new pieces?), give them to little kids to dress up in, sell them at a gold store, perform science experiments, whatever you want to do.

The whole collection is in a 3" x 3" x 5" rainproof plastic box sitting on my front porch. First one to come get it, gets it. You don't have to knock or tell me you're taking it... just pick it up and go. (Unless you want to, in which case, ring the bell and maybe we're here. It's spring break so no promises...)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Weekend Update: Electricity Week

After having used my Kill-A-Watt meter to test possible energy savings with the freezer a few weeks ago, I tried using it again to gauge savings with my computer, my television, and the washing machine.  It turns out that I can decrease these by a few percent, I should probably focus on saving energy by running the air conditioner less in the summer.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 74: Cooling Off

I decided to log into Duke Energy to find out what they might suggest as the primary electricity culprits in my house. After filling out some basic information about the appliances and the size of the house, I got the following chart:

It turns out the biggest impact I can have is to reduce the cooling during the summer. I can also try replacing the rest of the bulbs in the house with low-wattage bulbs. Time to head to Home Depot!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 73: The Washing Machine

For its shear volume and weight, I thought that operating the washing machine might require a lot of energy. While it is one of the new "high-efficiency" models, it must take a lot of work to spin that heavy drum so fast, right?

Running a load of clothes (using cold water, of course, after seeing Megan's reminder) for 70 minutes required 0.120 kWh. This averages out to only about 100 Watts. That's less than some light bulbs!


I think that tomorrow I need to do some research on the web (gasp!) to find a better strategy for cutting energy consumption. It turns out that my big and bright appliances are not using as much as I thought.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 72: Television!

Teacher, mother, secret lover. The centerpiece of the modern living room. I chose my Pioneer 50" plasma because it closely resembled the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I have read that larger televisions consume much more energy so I decided to test my own out.

Even when "off," the Pioneer still requires 28 Watts.  Turning it on,  it jumped up to several hundred Watts.  For a few seconds, I was confused that I couldn't get a steady reading on my Kill-A-Watt meter. Then I realized that the power consumption depended on the image on the screen: a bright image needed a lot of power and a dark image needed much less.

For comparison, here are three screens that owners of the Nintendo Wii should be familiar with. The mostly black warning screen only requires 191 Watts while the mostly white menu screen requires 326 Watts. To try to tweak this a bit, I went to the television's energy settings and changed it from STANDARD to SAVE2, lowering the consumption from 326 Watts to 246 Watts.

Black Wii Warning Screen: 191 Watts
Wii Warning Screen

White Wii Main Menu: 326 Watts
Wii Main Menu

White Wii Main Menu (TV Set to SAVE 2): 246 Watts
Wii Main Menu (TV Energy Set to SAVE 2)

If our family watches TV or plays computer games for about two hours each day, the TV would need 240 kWh to run each year. With SAVE 2 enabled, that drops to 180 kWh. At a cost of $0.11 per kWh, the savings is only $6.

So far, I haven't found a significant pocket savings in my energy reduction search. In her quest to "be green" versus "save green," Megan asked me yesterday how much coal would be saved by making these lifestyle changes. In the link she posted, I found that 1 kWh requires roughly 1 pound of coal. Thus, changing the setting on my television might saves only 60 pounds of coal each year, less than one wheelbarrow full.

Given that my electric bill is much higher than that, I'm convinced there must be a few bigger energy hogs in the house. Since we have a gas water heater, a gas stove, and a gas furnace, I know those are consuming energy but aren't the ones responsible for the my high Duke Energy bill. I'll keep looking for the culprits tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 71: The Computer Corner

I had heard about the concept of "vampire power" a long time ago. I think the first mention of it came in the form of an email sent out by Elon University's energy expert, Paul Holt. Checking my archives, I found the following from him way back on 8/30/2008:
Have you ever wondered how much that appliance is costing me to run? Can I get a more efficient appliance and save enough energy to justify buying a new one? How can I identify the “vampire” loads in my house? That is, the power that an electronic device might use when it is not operational...

There are several types of simple plug-in monitoring devices that can help the homeowner with these questions and more. You can Google “residential plug-in monitors” and find several brands. I have attached a link to one that I have purchased. It is inexpensive ($24.95+tax+no shipping cost) and can answer these questions for you.

While I remembered the term "vampire power" from that email, I had completely forgotten (in my conscious mind) about the Kill-A-Watt meter. Somewhere deep in my brain, however, I must have remembered it because I bought that exact model a few months ago to run the Day 34 freezer experiment.

Today, I've hooked it up to the power strip in my computer corner to find out how much energy each item uses when it's on and when it's "off." The picture below shows my setup (click on it for details on each component):

Energy in the Computer Corner

Everything on: 104 Watts. Everything off: 14.5 Watts. That latter number is equivalent to running my stepdaughter's night light 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Looking at my electric bill from last month, I see that I was charged $48.35 for 458 kiloWatt-hours or $0.11 per kWh. If I assume 8,766 hours per year, this rate equals $0.93 per Watt-year. Since this is pretty close to $1, I'm going to adopt it as a new "rule of thumb."

Reducing "always on" energy use by
1 Watt saves $1 in 1 year.

This is a little depressing. I had already wired all of my computer components to a power strip that I would dutifully shut off and save money. At most, I would save $14.50 the whole year (or enough for three trips to Irazu Coffee.) This is a start, but there must be a way to make deeper cuts into the energy bill.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 70: Our House, Unplugged

I always liked blackouts when I was growing up. Of course, for all of us kids, digging out the candles and flashlights was a treat. I was also fascinated with the hush that fell over the house, with no television on or no radio blaring. When the power came back on, it was always a bit of a let down. The sudden blast of light and noise would signal the return to the modern world. The clock would again tick as we slipped back into normal time.

In the twenty-first century, we are accustomed to ignoring the rainbow of LED power lights and the low, soft hum of fans in refrigerators, computers, and furnaces. When you visit a Bose Audio store and try on the QuietComfort 3 Noise Cancelling headphones, you discover that for only $300 you can experience near silence.

I want it for less.

This week, I'm going to work on unplugging as many useless appliances as possible at our little white house at the end of Brookfield Drive. I don't plan for us to quit using our washer and dryer and start cleaning clothes in the bathtub. After all, I'm still the kind of guy that likes ironed pants and dry-cleaned shirts. I simply would prefer that appliances in my house be off when I'm not using them. Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weekly Roundup

This week we decided to use up cleaning supplies before buying new ones, even if they're not eco-friendly. Megan talked about reducing tissue use, using castile soap, not wasting food, and making homemade granola.

In addition, Megan talked a bit about how it feels to try to make a good life with less overhead, and then we discussed peace and practicality as bottom lines, in addition to just planet and pocket.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day 69: Use up supplies, before buying new

When we moved to the new house, we consolidated two houses worth of cleaning supplies, and then the family that lived here left a very large amount of supplies (out-of-state move - we assume the movers refused to pack chemicals).

Some of the cleaning agents are greenwashed junk, and others are conventional chemical bombs, but we've decided - for pocket reasons - to use up all the cleaning supplies we have before buying new ones.

This includes dish soap (although dishwashing soap we ran out of a while back and covered that on this blog), glass cleaners, floor cleaners, multi-surface cleaners, etc.

Clearly, this is a pocket win. We could rationalize a bit for the planet in terms of not wasting and not buying new things, but I'm not sure the chemical impact in the sewer system outweighs or not?

As for peace/simplicity, and practicality, I'm not sure they're even involved. (See day 68 for info about this new quadruple bottom line.) Boo.

Pocket: 8, Planet: 13, Win-Win: 45

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 68: Consider Peace and Practicality

In making these small and big changes, we've been considering pocket and planet a lot in this experiment. We even named the blog after the two greens: pocket-green and planet-green. But what we've been kicking around recently when we talk about this is a quadruple bottom line. (Whoa - all you guys that thought the triple bottom line was the goal, take that!) To planet and pocket we've added peace (includes simplicity?) and practicality (includes convenience and sustainability for the long haul).

Any "green" action can be measured in terms of this quadruple bottom line.

What about selling the car? Originally, we chalked that up to a pocket and planet win. But does it bring us peace and simplicity? Is having one car sustainable for the long haul? Not sure yet.

Selling the car has had some unintended consequences. We have become more cooperative about our schedules, since we have to coordinate about transportation. I have shopped a lot less since I don't have as much access to stores. This is a great side benefit.

What about something like baking bread instead of buying store bread? Also a pocket and planet win, but isn't it a hassle to make bread all the time instead of just buying it? No, no, no. This has been one of the most pleasant surprises of really committing to making bread. It's been completely easy and stress-free. It fits perfectly into an after-work activity slot. Any night that we're at home can be a bread night. I can start a loaf while making dinner and by bed time, it's done and ready for the next day. Peaceful and practical.

You might recall the shampoo debacle from Week One. While it was technically cheaper and eco-friendly to reduce shampoo use, Tony's experiment to reduce it to near ZERO turned out to not bring peace and not be sustainable at all. Sure, we might have been able to see this coming, but we ran the experiment anyway. Similarly, running barefoot turned out to be great for pocket and planet, but was basically unsustainable in the long run (highly imPRACTICAL) due to cold, discomfort, crappy road conditions and any number of blisters.

I'm calling this the new quadruple bottom line: pocket, planet, peace, practicality. I'll try to measure our activities in terms of this new standard from now on. Hopefully it will be instructive to our readers as to why a particular practice is or is not something we've decided to do for the long haul.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day 67: Reduce tissue use

I've tried switching to handkerchiefs instead of tissues when I'm not sick (it's rare that I get a cold - I got one in February right before I went on that trip to CA). It seems very wasteful to use tissues for every little sniffle, especially when so much of the wood for tissues comes from ancient boreal forests.

So, I've got a stack of handkerchiefs that I've collected, some bandannas, some cotton squares of differing thicknesses. I use them, toss them in the wash, and they come out good as new.

Everyone has their own threshold for germs and stuff. I'm sure the handkerchief did not fall out of favor for no reason. This article on hankie fashion agrees with me. And even though Kimberley-Clark is now trying to make their tissues from sustainable forests, that doesn't take into account the logging, the bleaching, the cutting, the factories, the boxing, the shipping, the sheer consumption on a mass scale -- all for something so trivial -- a square of paper to blow my nose on?!?

so far...

Pocket: 7, Planet: 13, Win-Win: 45

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On Living "Like This"

Tony said the other day that we should spend a bit more time talking about how it FEELS to try to be "green" or "green". What does it feel to really live "like this"?

I'm not sure people really care how it feels when I give up X or Y, or when I decide to spend time making A or B instead of buying it. They might ponder why I would do it, or question our math, or wonder if there's a better path from P to Q. But given that I'm doing the work, I'm not sure anyone cares what it feels like. Most people are pretty happy to sit back and read about it.

Still, in the name of full reportage, I'll admit that it feels pretty crappy sometimes to try to live "like this". When I'm walking home at 10 at night in the dark and cold because I don't have a car, wearing my very thin-soled vegan shoes, and blowing my nose into a handkerchief instead of a tissue, and I pass a giant pile of fast food trash that someone has just chucked out their car window, that feels pretty crappy. I feel stupid. I feel as though nothing I do will matter because no amount of walking home or using castile soap or making yogurt or eating my leftovers will make up for the wasteful choices that everyone makes, including myself - what does it matter if I give up meat if I'm still drinking coffee? What is the point? Is my freezer experiment really going to save humanity? If I don't pick up the pile of trash because I have no room in my arms left to carry it, what should I do?

Then I have to remind myself to keep my side of the street clean and not worry about what's going on over on the other side of the street.

(And likely if I keep my own side of the street clean, when I have enough energy to go back and clean up the other side of the street, the trash will still be there.)

It turns out that by doing this daily experiment (which I admit may in fact be entirely pointless in the "pocket versus planet" sense of things, I mean, does it really matter that I saved $0.47 on yogurt this week and there's one less carton in the landfill?), I've actually learned a lot about myself and what I value. Turns out, it's actually pretty hard to live by values like "I don't want to be wasteful" and "I want to eat real food" and "I don't want to buy stuff I don't need". I didn't know that before. But I sure know it now.

So maybe that's the real point of the experiment. It's not about following some list of rules about making the granola or walking home or never shopping here or there. Instead, it's about crafting a life that makes no assumptions about what a good life is supposed to look like.

Day 66: Use castile soap

After reading about both Colin and Vanessa using castile soap during their eco-stunts, I decided to find out for myself if this works. Lowe's Foods on University Drive carries Dr. Bronner's castile soap in both bar and liquid forms. I decided to buy liquid and almond scented (the green bottle, pictured below).

The soap works pretty much just like "regular" soap, so no real story there. When I peeled the paper inside-lid cover off, one drop got in my eye, and that was pretty painful, so be careful.

The oddest thing about the soap is that it's packaged in a very strange bottle covered in words about things I don't understand, most of which sound vaguely or explicitly religious, though it's hard to tell what religion they're from.

The bottle claims to be made from recycled materials, and it says that all its ingredients are fairly traded, etc etc.

The soap cost $6.99 but I only have to use 4 or 5 drops to get a decent clean - and it even has some lather. I'd say this is very economical. I've been using it for 3 weeks now and I've probably only used 5% of the bottle. Win-win!

so far...

Pocket: 7, Planet: 13, Win-Win: 44

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day 65: Not wasting food

Turns out Americans waste an enormous amount of food, 27% actually. About one pound per day for every American is thrown away. And we're not alone:
In England, a recent study revealed that Britons toss away a third of the food they purchase, including more than four million whole apples, 1.2 million sausages and 2.8 million tomatoes. In Sweden, families with small children threw out about a quarter of the food they bought, a recent study there found.

One of the places I sometimes am guilty of being wasteful is in not eating leftovers before they go bad. I love cooking so much that I often want to make a new meal before I've completely finished the previous meals. So we get a lot of leftovers stacked up. A few days of me or Tony "forgetting" to pack a lunch and we've got a major leftover problem on our hands.

Here are some ways we could cut down on our own food waste (such as it is), and I'll try to tackle these as themes in individual posts in the days ahead:
1. Make smaller dinners
2. Eat leftovers right away
3. Pack lunches the night before
4. Be judicious about buying an ingredient to be used in just one recipe; try to re-use immediately
5. Mark leftovers with a pen so I know how old they really are (reduce paranoia about how old something is)

This will be a win-win.

Pocket: 7, Planet: 13, Win-Win: 43

Monday, March 8, 2010

Day 64: Homemade Granola

Well this post is beyond past due. For some reason I thought I had written this post, but I guess I didn't.

Ok here's the easiest way to make your own granola.
1. Start with a base: 6 cups of oats, 2 cups of chopped nuts. Put these in a big bowl and mix them up.

2. Add some sorts of seeds or whatever you have that will make this interesting (no fruit yet). At this stage I add flax seeds, nutritional yeast, stuff like that.

3. Now you need a binder. This is a liquidy and perhaps slightly sweet part that will cause the oats to stick together and brown up. You'll need at least 1 cup of binder. Try maple syrup or applesauce, or both!

4. Mix all this really well and put in the oven at 300 degrees in a thin layer. I use large two sheet pans ("jelly roll pans"), placed on two oven racks in the middle spots.

5. As it's cooking, stir every 10 minutes. I usually do this 3 or 4 times. The most important part in this stage is NOT TO BURN IT. You must be vigilant about the stirring.

6. When it's done, take it out of the oven and add your dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, whatever). Stir one last time. If you add the fruit during or before the cooking process they'll get all hard and disgusting and they will break your teeth. Yuck.

Let cool completely. Store in a tightly sealed container in the pantry. At this point you can treat it like cereal: mix with yogurt, add milk, whatever. Enjoy!

Let's figure out how much this costs, compared to regular store-bought granola. High quality store granola costs about $5 per pound. This recipe makes about 3 pounds and costs about $7. Win-win.

so far...
Pocket: 7, Planet: 13, Win-Win: 42

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Day 63: Weekly Roundup

I'm sitting here, enjoying a cup of homemade yogurt and granola, and I am reminded that I never did do a post on how to make your own granola. I promise I will rectify this soon.

This week's roundup is as follows: coming off the Week of Eating In, we still managed to eat in almost exclusively, except for one night out at Anna Thai where we supported the Company Shops Market owners-only event. Delicious dinner and Tony was a good speaker, even without a microphone!

This week, I talked about using cold water in the laundry while managing hot water for my face. I re-used old envelopes, organized the pantry with glass jars, and found a place to mail back #5 plastic. Finally, I chatted about how to save money by cooking your own beans rather than using canned.

COMING UP: homemade granola, not wasting food, and getting free stuff by the side of the road.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Day 62: Cook your own beans

It's easy to cook your own beans rather than buying canned. Raw beans are cheaper and don't have any of that BPA found in cans. (Pocket and planet win!)

The process can vary depending on how much time you have. Tonight I was pressed for time so I made beans in about 90 minutes while I chopped the rest of the ingredients for vegetarian chili and started that cooking. When the beans were done, I added them to the chili and simmered for a while longer.

The basic procedure is pretty easy: put beans in a pot with a lid. Cover with water and an extra 2" of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until you like the consistency. Most books say between 30 minutes and 4 hours.

If you get your act together ahead of time, you can do a longer soaking method, such as overnight.

Pocket: 7, Planet: 13, Win-Win: 41

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 61: Reuse envelopes sent in the mail

I got in this habit a few years ago when I was temporarily moved to another office on campus and the folks over there (wisely) re-used envelopes.

This is easy to do at work, but also at home if you haven't switched over to totally paperless billing yet, you can re-purpose the envelopes sent with your bills. Just keep a little stack of these and when you need an envelope but it doesn't have to be "fancy", use one of these old ones instead of a new one.

Reuse old envelopes

And of course, recycle your envelopes with the rest of your paper. Yes, even if they have the plastic "windows" in them. Win-win!

Pocket: 7, Planet: 13, Win-Win: 40

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 60: Organize the pantry with recycled glass jars

I've been trying to re-organize the pantry with re-purposed glass jars. Over on flickr, I have a picture of my top pantry shelf in which I've labeled each jar to show what's inside.

I'm coding this as a win-win since it costs nothing, and keeps glass out of the recycling stream.

Pocket: 7, Planet: 13, Win-Win: 39

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day 59: Find a way to recycle #5 plastic

Number 5 plastic is the bane of my eco-existence. It's not recyclable in our area, and there's only so many yogurt tubs a family needs. It's actually one of the things that drove me to start making my own yogurt. Still, though, every once in a while I'll run out of starter yogurt because I eat my whole batch. Then I have to buy a cup of Stoneyfield to get going with my homemade yogurt again.

So, I looked into donating the yogurt tubs to one of those artist craft marts (e.g. The Scrap Exchange) but they don't take food containers. I was using them in the pantry, but with my ongoing pantry re-organization project (posting soon), I've been converting over to glass since I can see it better.

What to do, what to do. Today I happened across the Preserve: Gimme 5 web site. Hallelujah! They have drop-off locations for #5 plastic (closest ones: Durham and Chapel Hill Whole Foods) AND... wait for it.... they accept your mailings. They state:
Before starting the mail-back Gimme 5 program, we wanted to make sure that we were taking a positive step for the environment. We produced a single factor Life Cycle Assessment to analyze the impact of the Gimme 5 program. The results showed the benefits of keeping #5 plastics out of landfills and remaking them into new products outweigh the environmental impacts of shipping them back to us.

They recommend that you ship via ground in order to make these calculations valid.

Today I shipped out 15 yogurt and cottage cheese tubs and their lids. Because it cost money to ship them out, I've got to code this in the "planet-only" column. But I am SO HAPPY that I finally have a solution here. Don't worry, I will not go back to consuming mass quantities of #5 plastic. But I am so glad I have a place to send them now, even the few I have!

Now, does anyone know how to make homemade cottage cheese?

Pocket: 7, Planet: 13, Win-Win: 38

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day 58: Wash clothes in cold water

According to the US Department of Energy web site, "About 90% of the energy used for washing clothes in a conventional top-load washer is for heating the water. There are two ways to reduce the amount of energy used for washing clothes—use less water and use cooler water."

The default setting on my front-loading high efficiency washer "normal cycle" is for "warm". I'm going to try to remember to change it to cold for all but the very dirtiest loads or whites that need it. To do this, I'm going to tape a sticky note over the power button so that it will remind me to change the temperature.

Since this saves gas in the hot water heater, and that costs money, I'm going to code this as a 'win-win'.

so far...

Pocket: 7, Planet: 12, Win-Win: 38

Monday, March 1, 2010

Day 57: Wash my face with water heated in the microwave

It seems to take forever in this new house for hot water to reach the tap. This is especially a problem at night when I want to wash my face before going to bed. The first chilly night last fall, I wanted to wash my face in hot water, but it seemed to take a really, really, really long time. So Tony got a bucket and we measured how much was wasted waiting for the water to get hot. We collected one full gallon of water! We promptly used that gallon to flush the toilet, and I vowed not to use the hot water from the tap again unless it came out hot right away.

Instead, I have this new routine: I take a glass bowl from downstairs, fill it with about a cup of water, heat it for 30 seconds in the microwave, and voila, hot water for my washcloth. Problem solved, win-win.

so far...
Pocket: 7, Planet: 12, Win-win: 37