By on August 26th, 2008

As an environmentally conscious person, I’m flawed.  I admit it.  I’m no “No Impact Man.”  He’s the guy who is trying, while living in Manhattan, to have absolutely no negative impact on the environment.  No air-conditioning, no purchasing new things, no washing machine.  I’ve even heard they don’t use toilet paper. (!)

I use toilet paper.  And I use A/C, although I keep my thermostat at 78.

There are some things, however, that I think I ought to be able to give up, but I just haven’t.

Number one on the list: soda cans.  My wife, my 14-year-old stepson and I all like to drink soda out of cans.  Diet Coke, Sprite Zero, and even Tropicana Lite Lemonade.  We tried buying the soda in bottles, but it tends to go flat before we use it up.  The cans alleviate this problem.

Of course, we recycle the cans.  And we’re not alone: according to The Aluminum Association, Americans recycled 54 billion aluminum cans last year, 2 billion more than in 2006.  Aluminum cans are recycled at a 53.6% rate, which sadly is thought to be a good percentage.  The aluminum can is 100% recyclable into new cans and the aluminum can be re-used indefinitely.

Still, recycling takes energy.  It must be more efficient to buy larger containers of liquids, right?  So we continue to feel that we are using lots more of this resource — aluminum — than we should. 

Maybe, after writing this little blurb, I will feel guilty enough to at least buy bigger bottles of the Lite Lemonade.  That doesn’t go flat.

I’ll keep you posted.

Anybody else want to reveal a guilty secret about some wasteful part of their lives they’re not willing to forego?

By on July 26th, 2008

I missed the actual Earth Hour this year. Earth Hour, as you probably know, was started in 2007 in Sydney Australia as an experiment to see how much electricity could be saved if everyone in the city was asked to cut down or eliminate their electrical usage for one hour. (See the before and after photos to the right.) The idea was to raise a little awareness of our individual and collective use of energy. This year, on the last Saturday in March, dozens of cities around the globe participated. It was a raging success, by all accounts.

Of course there are skeptics who note that cities like Sydney really only cut their power consumption for the hour by 15%, and that there was a corresponding spike in electricity demand in the hours before Earth Hour — as if everyone just decided to run their dishwasher early in order to avoid the designated hour. Even given these cranky naysayers, I do believe that the experiment is a good one, even if it’s just to make everyone a little more aware of how they use electricity in their own house.

So, since I missed Earth Hour, I decided to try my own. I even thought I might make it a monthly event, as suggested by talkgreen’s Tara Benwell.

We tried it this past Thursday night. I made sure to schedule it on a night when my 14-year-old stepson was with us, and also made sure it was after dark for full effect. I thought the stepson would hate the idea, but when we decided we would turn off everything and then play a board game, he was surprisingly into it. Even better, he chose the game “Clue,” a murder mystery game, perfect for playing by candlelight. It just so happened that my mother-in-law was also with us, so it was a big family affair.

As the appointed time approached, everyone actually seemed to be looking forward to it. “Is it time yet?” I was asked more than once. When the hour arrived, we all rushed madly around the house turning off lights and unplugging televisions. I thought I had explained that only things that can’t be shut off (like TVs that constantly draw power) need to be unplugged, but I guess I wasn’t very clear since my wife and her son went around happily unplugging everything.

Here’s the “lazy man” part: we wimped out a little, I’m ashamed to say, when it came to things that were a little more difficult. If I unplugged the yard’s sprinkler system, I explained to my wife, I will just have to reprogram it — a pain in the neck. So we left it on. And, we could not figure out to shut off the little digital clock in the oven — wired in the wall somewhere. But still: when we started the hour, the little wheel in our electrical usage meter was spinning madly, and when we were done it had slowed to a crawl. We felt pretty good.

The rest of the hour was spent playing “Clue” as Lincoln would have, by the light of several candles. This was probably the first activity that the four of us — me, my wife, her Mom, and my stepson — had participated in together for months. So, dear readers, you don’t even have to care about the environment: Earth Hour is good for family togetherness!

Now one other thing I must admit: we didn’t even make it to the full hour. I had promised to take everyone out for ice cream when the hour was done, as a reward, and the second game of “Clue” ended with five minutes left to go in the hour. We all looked at each other, then jumped up and headed for Baskin-Robbins. Yay!

Tune in next month, in which I commit to turning off the electric sprinkler system, even if it means I then have to reprogram it. I really want to see if we can get that spinning electric meter wheel to stop entirely.

By on July 19th, 2008

I think it’s pretty clear what the concept here is.  Who doesn’t love the idea of washing your clothes and then using the soapy, dirty water to flush your toilets?  Not me.

Advantages: space savings, grey-water re-use, nice environmental feeling while flushing.

Disadvantages: the occasional dropped sock, and perhaps a bit of a bumpy ride if you can’t wait to sit down and go until after the spin cycle.