Measuring the Cost of Shower Indulgences

As I stood under the showerhead this morning, contemplating my day and allowing myself a few extra minutes in the warmth and the moisture, I pondered whether I was wasting more water in the shower than I would be if I were to take a bath. I don’t really relish baths since they require that I clean the tub more thoroughly before each use (I’m a stickler for grit-less and hair-free tub experiences), but if that method of washing were to save me water, energy, and therefore money, it might be worth a look.

To my computer I went to find the answer to my query. And I guess the conclusion I came to is that “it depends.”

That’s because in large part, the answer lies in whether my showerhead is efficient or not. Which of course begged the question as to how much water my showerhead actually uses. Here’s how I determined that: holding a bucket under my showerhead, I ran the water for 1 minute, after which I measured the amount of water released into the bucket. It was approximately 2.2 gallons, which is, thankfully, not bad at all. By and large, most new showerheads must now be rated at 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) or less to be sold to consumers. Of course, less might be better (1 gpm is ideal), but at least I’m not guzzling 4 gpm like some really old fixtures are in the habit of doing.

Back to the debate at hand… If I take a 10 minute shower, I use about 22 gallons of water. Since apparently the average bath requires between 30 and 50 gallons of water, I guess I’m doing better than average on that score.

That said, I think I’d like to improve. I’ve read a few places that shortening your shower time can really help to reduce the amount of water you use, so I think I’ll try one of those cheap shower timers to see if I can shorten the time I spend under the waterfall. And I’ll think about purchasing a more efficient fixture, too.

– Lucy

Dealing with Toxic Holiday Waste: Recycling E-Cast-Offs

We really scaled back on the number of gifts we gave this year in order to adjust to a smaller budget, but it was a very nice season and we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

That said, we’re still left with some items that need recycling now that the holiday is over. For instance, my husband received a new cell phone as a gift, and so we’re left with his old one. We weren’t exactly sure what to do with it until I did a little digging. Here’s what I found:

Donate your old phone to a charity or phone reuse campaign: Our old phone happens to still function fairly well (why did we need a new one you ask? Beats me), so a donation program is likely the way we will go. These programs allow you to give your old device away so that it can be used by someone else. In many cases, these old phones go to communities where it would otherwise be impossible to afford a new device. And when they connect communities, family members, or business women, it’s even better since a phone can truly be a lifeline. Here are some options:

  • AT&T Reuse and Recycling program for used phones and PDAs
  • CollectiveGood Mobile Phone Recycling programs in Staples stores
  • Recycling for Charities
  • Sprint Buyback and Project Connect programs
  • Verizon Wireless HopeLine recycling and phone donation programs

Recycle your old phone: Of course, if you’ve dropped your phone in the toilet or run over it with the car, then you likely won’t be able to donate it to anyone. But there are still great programs to ensure these devices land in good hands. After all, like most electronics, cell phones can contain heavy metals and other nasty chemicals that would poison our planet if thrown into the landfill. So check out to find an e-waste recycler in your area to be sure they’re handled properly. Many big box stores now offer recycling bins for PDAs, chargers, cell phones, and more right in their stores.

– Lucy

Low-Power Toys: Minimizing Toy Energy Use

Whether I’m shopping for a birthday, a baby shower, or holiday gifts, I’ve recently been thinking about sustainability when it comes to toys. Not only are many toys made poorly so that they break in no time, wasting resources in the process, but a vast majority of them now rely on energy in order to be enjoyable. A no-battery xbox or remote-controlled car would never do (insert sarcasm here)!

Add to that the fact that many energy-hogging toys contain toxic components, like mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead, and more. In fact, electronic toys can contain more than 1,000 toxic substances and chemicals. Many toys also contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), carcinogen as well as phthalates, which can damage kidneys, the liver, lungs, and reproductive systems in people, big and small.

And of course, if they rely on batteries, they create battery waste and cost more money to run! And dead batteries, when they’re thrown into landfills instead of recycled, can leach into the earth or vaporize into the air.

Consequently, I’ve decided to look for battery-free, energy-free toys from now on. Here are some characteristics I’m going to look for when shopping for new toys in the future:

  • Natural wooden toys: A child can have a lot of fun with wooden toys, whether it’s a puzzle, a train set, a miniature kitchen, doll furniture, or blocks. I’ll also be sure to choose those finished with nontoxic paints and stains, as they can contribute to indoor air pollution.
  • PVC-free plastic toys: Apparently you can recognize something made of PVC by looking for the letter “V” in the three-arrow recycling symbol stamped into plastic products. I’ll be avoiding that as much as possible.
  • Organic fabric toys: Dolls, bears, and other cuddly toys are wonderful for girls and boys of all ages, and can be found more and more made of organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, wool, and other eco-friendly fabrics. Ones made with plant-based dyes are even better.

And if I must by a battery-powered toy, I’m going to be stocking up on rechargeable batteries since these create much less toxic waste… and save a ton of money, too!

– Lucy

Is a Light Left On More Efficient?

I’ve worked in many offices, most of which are lit up by those yellow-ish, flickering fluorescent bulbs that buzz all day long. While I like that they’re more efficient than other options, I sure don’t appreciate how they make me look!
But the other thing that often bothers me is that they are left on perpetually! Whether or not a room is being used—a board room, the lunch room, the bathrooms—they’re just left on all day long. I’m not sure whether this is because it’s too much work for individuals to flip a switch, but it bothers me how much energy we waste with lights left on unnecessarily.

Someone once told me that one of the reasons these lights are left on all day is because they waste a lot of energy during the start-up phase of their operation. But not according to the experts. Speaking to those who believe that it takes more energy to re-start a fluorescent light than to leave it on all day, scientists have spoken out about some research that dispels the misconception.

Apparently a fluorescent light will use a fraction more energy when they are first turned on because they draw a higher level of current, but the quantity of energy is so small and lasts for such a short period of time that it’s really not worth mentioning. The scientists therefore caution that leaving these lights on wastes significantly more energy than if they were shut off. Turning them off if they’re sitting idle for more than 3-5 minutes could actually save about $4 in energy costs over the life of the lamp.

That said, the swirly CFLs that we use in our homes are more prone to damage with frequent on-off cycles. That’s because the most damage done to a CFL occurs when it is first turned on. Experts at Popular Mechanics therefore recommend that you place CFLs throughout your home where they will be left on for longer periods of time, such as in living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens rather than in a closet or the bathroom. Good advice.

– Lucy

Lessening the Poop Quotient: Keep dog poop out of your food

I’ve talked about canine poop containment in the past, urging you to try out a doggie doo compost option (either homemade or premade), but scooping can be such a nuisance. Close to 4 million tons of dog waste is purportedly left where it lies every year by dog owners. That’s because on average, 40 percent of all Americans fail to scoop their pooch’s poop.

Is there a way to lessen the amount of poop produced? More than likely your dog will poop less when he’s eating a well-balanced diet filled with top-notch ingredients. Many lower-grade canine foods contain all kinds of animal byproducts. In fact, although the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is tasked with monitoring feed standards for both livestock and pets, each state in the US is allowed to enforce those guidelines as they see fit, and that can mean some pretty unsavory menus for Fido.

A good portion of many doggie diets on the market are filled with waste foods that are not fit for human consumption. Up to 50 percent of every food animal (lungs, intestines, hooves, hair, etc) is not used to produce human food, and these byproducts often find their way into dietary products for animals. By choosing healthy food for your dog, you can ensure their food is short on byproducts and high on nutrition, which essentially will cut the poop problem at the source.

Higher-quality food that contains good sources of protein are easier for your dog to digest, which means a greater percentage of the calories in the food are digestible and nutrient-rich. In the end, your dog will poop smaller, firmer stools, which means less mess for you!

Here are some characteristics to look for in a healthy dog food:

  • Look for protein (meat) to be the first thing on the ingredient list: lamb, chicken, and beef for instance. Avoid foods that contain things like “chicken meal” “beef byproduct” and other non-specific ingredients.
  • High-quality ingredients like eggs should also be listed in the top three to five ingredients. What you don’t want one type of meat followed by a list of grains.

– Lucy

Trading Meat for Cars: What makes better sense, giving up meat or a car?

Want a way to reduce your carbon emissions more powerfully than giving up your car? Give up meat!

A recent report put out by the WorldWatch Institute suggests that we can make a more positive impact on climate change by giving up our meat fetish than by driving a Prius or carpooling even.

The report, called Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are cows, pigs, and chickens? provides some pretty compelling evidence for going vegetarian (vegan, even since there are a lot of greenhouse gas emissions associated with dairy, too). They point out that there are many ways the livestock industry contributes to climate change, including:

  • Livestock digestion (including flatulence and belching)
  • Land use inefficiencies
  • The release of fluorocarbons needed to cool meat products (this take a lot of energy and releases potent greenhouse gases)
  • Energy for cooking meals at high temperatures
  • Liquid animal waste which emits greenhouse gases
  • Production, distribution, and disposal of animal byproducts such as leather, fur, skin, and feathers
  • Energy expended to deal with zoonotic illnesses and chronic degenerative health problems related to the consumption of meat

In all, they estimate that as much as 51% of all carbon dioxide equivalent emissions worldwide are a result of the livestock industry. This doesn’t even begin to cover all of the other reasons for eating less meat (water efficiency, animal cruelty, human health concerns, etc), but when you consider the impact our meat-eating diets have on the climate, that’s reason enough in my mind to choose to eat less of the stuff.

So I’ve made a commitment to eat less meat. I think I’ll start by eliminating one meaty day each week (let’s say Tuesdays!) and then add another day each month. It’s a lofty goal, but I think I’ll be able to do it with some good vegetarian recipes and a little help from library books.

– Lucy

Pervy Cleaning Chemicals: washing the eco-friendly way

If you want a good laugh, then head over to YouTube to take a look at this hilarious, yet somewhat disturbing new commercial produced by Method, an eco-friendly cleaning company. Squeaky clean, singing bubbles and suds make the poor woman think she’s really making her bathroom clean, but what she’s really doing is leaving behind residues and chemicals that are harmful to her and her family. It’s a good reminder of what we unwittingly bring into our homes in the name of clean.

The creepy singing bubble image may not be far off, really. Conventional household cleaners contain some pretty nasty, oft-untested chemicals that make the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention. Things like:

Pervy Cleaning Chemicals

If you want a good laugh, then head over to YouTube to take a look at this hilarious, yet somewhat disturbing new commercial produced by Method, an eco-friendly cleaning company. Squeaky clean, singing bubbles and suds make the poor woman think she’s really making her bathroom clean, but what she’s really doing is leaving behind residues and chemicals that are harmful to her and her family. It’s a good reminder of what we unwittingly bring into our homes in the name of clean.

The creepy singing bubble image may not be far off, really. Conventional household cleaners contain some pretty nasty, oft-untested chemicals that make the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention. Things like:

  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs)—have been identified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as endocrine disruptors
  • Chlorine bleach—reacts with organic material in our water systems to create dioxins, which are powerful carcinogens
  • Diethanolamine—a foaming agent used in lots of products that’s a suspected endocrine disruptor
  • Ammonia—used in glass cleaners, metal polishes, and other spray cleaners, this can cause kidney and liver damage
  • Perchloroethylene or 1-1-1 trichloroethane solvents—these are used for dry cleaning, but also in carpet cleaners, rust removers, and spray polishes and are known carcinogens.
  • Ethoxylated nonyl phenol and thymol—ubiquitous in disinfectants, laundry detergents, air fresheners, weed formulas, and even mouthwash, these are hormone disruptors and may contain ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen.

I like to make some of my cleaning products so that I can really control what goes into them, but when convenience is important (which it often is these crazy busy days), I buy premade eco-friendly cleaning options. I’m actually relatively impressed with Method’s products, though they aren’t the only good, green cleaning company on the market. Others I like include: Seventh Generation, Norwex’s microfiber (no chemicals required for many jobs!), Ecover, and Biokleen.

– Lucy

Steppin’ Out: Cleaning Up After Your Canine Companion

Ten million tons. That’s the estimated weight of cat and dog waste produced by our furry friends every year in the US. And it’s no wonder, considering that over half of all Americans now share their home with at least one cat or one dog. In fact, the total domestic dog population in the US is over 67 million, a group that eats an enormous quantity of food every year, with the market for wet and dry canine delights over $10 billion.

Whether you’re familiar with backyard composting or not, you may want to consider processing your dog’s poop at home by setting up a composting system for it. While you should never compost your pet waste with your regular kitchen garbage because of pathogens which may contaminate your food, you can dedicate a composter just for your dog waste. This simple solution reduces the amount of garbage you produce each week while keeping potential toxins away from our water systems, too.

Commercially-produced dog waste composters can be purchased, making your setup low-maintenance. Doggiel Dooley and the Tumbleweed Pet Poo Converter are two such options.

But if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, a home-spun version can also be built out of supplies you may have sitting in your garage. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A shovel.
  • A large plastic garbage can or compost bin with a good-fitting lid.
  • Septo-Bac, which is an enzyme-active biological compound that increases the digestion rate of sewage purchased a home improvement stores in the plumbing section.
  • An unused corner of your backyard that’s situated away from your vegetable garden or any food-bearing plants.

Putting it altogether is mostly a matter of a little shovel-work. For a pictorial tutorial on making your own doggie waste composter, check out this City Farmer slideshow.

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