End the Trunk Shuffle: No more junk in your trunk

After a long day of running errands, chauffeuring people from one activity to another, picking up groceries, and so on, I was in the process of doing the trunk shuffle once again. You know what I mean: shifting the stuff that’s been sitting in your trunk perpetually for months trying to make room for the things you’re attempting to bring home. My trunk is full of all sorts of things: the windshield scraper, the reusable bags, an emergency kit, and things like that. It all takes energy and sure does have the potential to create aggravation when I’m short on time and energy and just wanting to get home. Banging my head on the hatch hood in my re-gigging efforts didn’t help any either.

Later that evening, after I got home and was emptying out the trunk, I decided to take a few minutes to clean up the mess and remove the things I don’t really need. Among the necessities that need to stay in the car (reusable bags being chief among them), here’s what I found:

  • Golf clubs for my husband who hasn’t golfed in months and likely won’t be golfing for several more given the snow around here. Umbrellas were another casualty of my cleaning frenzy—don’t need those until the seasons change again.
  • A large CD and DVD collection that was supposed to be for on-the-road tunes and entertainment but which is never used.
  • A box of miscellaneous items we were supposed to deliver to my Mom’s house several months ago but keep forgetting about.

It all went back into the house. I now have more space in my vehicle’s storage space and my mileage is the better for it. According to FuelEconomy.gov, removing 100 pounds of weight from my car can improve my fuel efficiency by as much as 2 percent. Now that’s easy money.

– Lucy Goes Green

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

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

Changing Direction: Free Energy Savings with Your Fan

Do you ever get lost in the spin of your ceiling fan. That gentle, whirring motion and the quiet movement of air. Not quite as intoxicating as a fire, but it can be quite mesmerizing!

And little did I know, but I can actually save energy by changing the direction on my fan now that it’s winter! Direction? I’ve never really thought about what direction my fan turns—I just set it going and enjoy the benefits. And I’ve certainly never considered using it during the winter. You learn something new every day, don’t you?

According to the Look Up campaign, using your ceiling fan strategically can save the average homeowner a reasonable amount of money in heating and cooling bills. And with the average heating bill this season at about $1,182, there’s plenty of room for savings.

Here’s how it works. By turning your ceiling fan(s) on in a clockwise direction during heating/winter seasons, you help to mix the warm air trapped at the ceiling with cooler air at the floor level of the room. Doing this warms up the entire space, and in turn will let you turn down your heating system slightly so that you use less energy. Of course, when summer comes around again, you should change your fan rotation to counter clockwise to get similar benefits only in reverse. I think I’ll set a calendar reminder for myself so that I don’t forget.

And if you’ve got an old fan and want to maximize its performance even more, you may want to consider upgrading to an ENERGY STAR model. These spinners use much less energy (about 50% less) and move air 20% more efficiently, so they’re a good bet when it comes to efficiency.

Now… on to spinning my way to energy savings…

– Lucy

Lucy goes green: Outsmarting the Fruit Flies

I’ve got a vermicompost bin in my home and I love it! It’s a great way for me to get rid of my organic kitchen leftovers (including my tea bags, floss, and even dryer lint!), which helps put my mind at ease about methane emissions from anaerobic digestion in landfills. And, it makes for a much less messy garbage carry-out—a trash can full of sloppy, rotting organics is a nasty thing to take to the curb.

But, fruit flies are sometimes inevitable with an indoor compost bin like mine. The populations of these annoying critters ebbs and flows from month to month, depending on temperatures and how well I’ve been caring for my worms. And while I’m a pretty tolerant person when it comes to doing something in the name of the environment, I can hardly stand another fruit fly in my water. Enough is enough!

So, I’ve started to strategically place fruit fly traps around my kitchen, and, much to my surprise, they seem to be working! Here’s how I constructed them:

  1. Cut a 500 mL soda bottle (plastic) in half, keeping the bottom end.
  2. Roll up a piece of paper (any paper will do, really) into a cone shape and tape it so that it can rest inside the open mouth of the bottle bottom. Snip a very small hole in the end of the cone.
  3. Pour some apple cider vinegar into the bottom of the bottle with a drop of dishwashing soap.
  4. Place the cone inside the bottle so that the snipped hole sits just above the liquid (without touching). Tape the paper cone to the bottle, being sure to leave no escape routes.

That’s it! The idea is that while fruit flies can find their way into the contraption, they can’t find their way out again through the tiny hole. The way I figure it, they’ll die happy with their bellies full of delicious vinegar…

– Lucy

The Green Challenge – Day 29

Join me on this Green Challenge – Thirty Days of Serious (and Silly) Green Commitments! Each day, I’ll challenge myself to introduce a new green thing in my life, and I invite you to get on the bandwagon to make a difference. If all goes well, we’ll be living a greener life that will continue well beyond this Earth Month!

I love the dishwasher (probably because I hate washing dishes by hand), so it’s a good thing that it uses less water and energy than the average dishwashing session at the sink. But I wonder about how much dishwashing soap I use—I never know if it’s enough or too much. Of course, we use eco-friendly, phosphate-free, biodegradable automatic dishwasher detergent, but I hate to waste if I don’t have to.

I did a little reading (off the bottle of detergent) and found that the amount really does depend on the hardness of our water. To find out how hard our water is, I called our local water utility and they gave me a generalized number which I then used to determine how much detergent I needed (according to the bottles directions). Now I know that I only need to fill the main cup three-quarters full, which is less than I was using. This will be an easy habit to form, and one that will benefit our cleaning product bill, too.

– Lucy

The Green Challenge – Day 28

Join me on this Green Challenge – Thirty Days of Serious (and Silly) Green Commitments! Each day, I’ll challenge myself to introduce a new green thing in my life, and I invite you to get on the bandwagon to make a difference. If all goes well, we’ll be living a greener life that will continue well beyond this Earth Month!

While on the topic of my fridge… There seem to be no end to the number of thermostat adjustments a person can make to help reduce energy consumption! There’s the programmable thermostat for heating and cooling, the water heater thermostat for hot water, and then there’s the refrigerator thermostat. The average refrigerator is a big energy user in the home, so it stands to reason that if we can cut energy costs here, we’ll save a bit, and this is an easy win.

The Rocky Mountain Institute recommends setting the fridge thermostat between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (this is still safe for food storage). Most are set to colder temperatures than this, which isn’t necessary, and apparently 10 degrees colder means 25% higher energy consumption. We don’t have an actual thermostat in our fridge, but I’m going to use an analog one that’s hanging in the middle of the fridge to adjust the temperature over the next few days.

– Lucy

The Green Challenge – Day 25

Join me on this Green Challenge – Thirty Days of Serious (and Silly) Green Commitments! Each day, I’ll challenge myself to introduce a new green thing in my life, and I invite you to get on the bandwagon to make a difference. If all goes well, we’ll be living a greener life that will continue well beyond this Earth Month!

It’s so easy for me to keep the car running when waiting for things. Today, I was sitting waiting at some train tracks as the grain cars went by. Then I realized that my car was still running and got to thinking that it would probably be best to turn it off while I waited, especially since 10 seconds of idling is equal to the more fuel than is needed to restart the engine. It took the train a full two and a half minutes to clear the intersection. I’m also going to endeavor to shut the engine off as I wait for my kids or my husband. A simple action like this, though it may seem small, will add up over time.

Update: We’ve been using the Leftover Board for a few weeks now and it seems to be going quite well! I find that we’ve had much fewer meals thrown away, and it’s nice not to have to cook so often because we actually eat what we have rather than putting together another meal. This is one habit we’ll continue!

– Lucy

Next Page »