Friday, March 16, 2007

Displaced Daylight

In our home we quit observing time changes. Part of the reason is that our digital alarm clock, circa 1990, has become temperamental about having its buttons pushed. But I also just plain don’t appreciate having to drastically re-adjust my perception of time twice a year. I truly prefer to glean the hour of day by the angle of the sunlight and the season, not by social convention. So instead of changing our clocks every equinox, my husband and I prefer to stick to summer time and tabulate the difference in our heads through the cold, dark days of winter.

I figure we are somewhat atypical in this respect, but my mother alerted me to the fact that my maternal great grandparents – also avid gardeners -- were the same way. So obstinance runs in the family, I guess.

This nouveau daylight savings time schedule has me a little puzzled. I can’t see how more energy will be saved.

This new schedule was introduced to try to help save energy, since people aren't expected to need their lights on as early in the evening. But there is still some debate about how effective the change will be at reducing energy consumption.

A 2006 report from the U.S. Department of Energy anticipated electricity savings of four-tenths of a per cent per day of extended daylight savings time, totaling three one-hundredths of a per cent of annual electricity consumption.

As to the environmental impact, the non-profit group American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimated 10.8-million-tonne drop in carbon emissions. (source)

I get that people will not need their lights on in the evening for that extra hour, but what about the extra hour of darkness in the morning as they prepare for work? I don’t know about you, but in the evening I’m more sedentary. I only use one or two light bulbs at a time. In the morning, I’m scrambling around the house, so I tend to require at least three light bulbs. That may just be me talking, because not everyone awakens or leaves the house at the same time as I do. Does anyone else have a perspective on whether they think this will work?

What I do like about the change is that it allows me more time to get out in the garden after work. This has been a treat. I’m not complaining at all. After all, I prefer summer (daylight savings) time all year round.

Green Kitchen Tip #11

Shopping Habits

In the last few years I have drastically changed my shopping habits. Part of this is due to my growing older and knowing how to spend my time more wisely, but part of this is also due to increased fuel prices. While I still am of the mind-set that it is ideal to shop daily for whatever it may be that sounds appetizing or looks fresh and inspiring, unless you live near your market and are vigilant about walking there regardless of the weather, catching a bus, or combining your trip with other necessary travels, there are obvious advantages to consolidating shopping runs. Now when I shop with my car, I make it count. I hit all the stores on the same day and I stock up for at least a month. Of course, I still make regular trips to the grocery store down the street, but most of my shopping is very energy efficient – except, of course, in terms of my own personal energy efficiency, because I’ll tell you, by the time I get home from “power shopping,” I’m exhausted! I’m definitely not of the shop-till-you-drop set. That said, my exhaustion is well worth the time I can spend the remainder of the month not shopping!

While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, this is a great way to conserve fuel, as well as time. Drive once. Eat for a month! Of course, that said, it helps if you can supplement fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs from your own garden. And believe me, it helps to prepare in advance a separate list for each store you plan to hit.

Once at the store, as you reach for one of your favorite products, consider buying the largest container available. There are several advantages to buying items in bulk, whether you browse from bulk bins, you brave big box stores like Costco, or you just grab the biggest lot on the shelf. Buying in bulk means you make fewer trips to stock up on the items you use regularly. Additionally, it typically costs less to buy in bulk. This may correlate with another important advantage – less packaging per unit. Because apparently, “Consumers spend approximately ten cents of every grocery dollar on packaging, making packaging the fourth largest industry in the United States” (source). To top that off, I’ve noticed that when I shop at Costco I have no need for shopping bags of any sort, nor do I require any of the cardboard boxes that they graciously offer for re-use.

If your bulk purchase is non-perishable you can store your bounty and use as needed, knowing well in advance when your stockpile begins to dwindle. Some products, such as dish soap, are easier to manage in bulk if you portion them out into smaller containers. If you are short on space, or the item spoils before you can use it all, consider splitting your purchase with friends or family.

And speaking of friends and family, if you live close to them, consider either shopping with them or asking if you can pick anything up for them while you are out. Chances are high that they will return the favor at an opportune time, and that some fuel will be saved in the deal.

For more environmentally friendly shopping tips, please visit this site.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Green Kitchen Tip #10

Grocery Bags

It seems like everywhere you shop these days, whatever items you purchase are automatically slipped into a plastic bag or two. Unless you inform your checker, the assumption is made that even one easily hand-held item necessitates wrapping in a thin plastic sleeve. When you think about it, most of the produce we buy either gets grouped into its own plastic bag or else comes in a pre-packaged plastic shell.

Apparently every year 500 billion plastic bags are dispensed from stores across the globe. Many of these plastic bags are showing up in the ocean and in the internal organs of ocean mammals, of all places. Probably the majority of plastic bags end up in landfills, but only 1-3% will ever be recycled.

And it isn’t just hearsay that plastic bags have environmental advantages over paper bags. It takes four times as much energy to produce paper bags than it does to extrude plastic ones. 14 million trees were sacrificed in 1999, in order to fabricate 10 billion paper bags for American shoppers. Those were trees that once contributed to sinking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The paper bag industry avoids recycled pulp, because that would undermine the integrity of the finished bag. During production, paper bags contribute 70% more air pollution and 50 times more water pollution than do plastic bags. At recycling time, it takes 91% more energy to recycle the equivalent weight of paper bags as it does plastic bags.

But that doesn’t negate the fact that the decomposition products of plastic bags are rather toxic and that plastic can be difficult to recycle unless it is free of contamination (including dyes often used to brand the bags with a store’s logo). In fact recyclers find plastic bag recycling to be uneconomical, therefore many of those to-be “recycled” plastic bags are showing up in India and China, where an absence of strict environmental laws allows them to be incinerated. During incineration plastics release toxic chemicals, including dioxins, which can lead to increased cancer rates.

So how do we stem the tide of plastic bag saturation?

Many grocery chains have noticed it is profitable to market their own re-usable grocery totes. I have found that the capacity of these totes is much higher than a plastic bag, which is handy when I buy a large amount of groceries. Juggling too many plastic bags can be encumbering. The trick with these totes is to get into the habit of bringing them not only with you, but also into the store with you. Store them in your car, or by the door if you walk to buy your groceries. Make sure they are in a very visible location, so you see them as you exit your vehicle, or your house. Keeping them in the trunk may seem the tidy thing to do, but they are easily forgotten there.

Even with the best intentions we can still attract miscellaneous plastic bags. The clean ones with holes should probably be recycled (hope for the best), the ones without holes can be re-used. Here are some ideas for re-using plastic bags:
  • Why buy additional plastic garbage bags, when you can reuse your grocery bags for this purpose? Purchase a small garbage can that is short enough to support the weight of a filled bag. You may have to take the trash out more frequently, but this will reduce the chances of any lingering trash odors in your house.
  • Store some in your car, or in any bags or purses you own. You never know when you might need a garbage sack. If you like to hike or walk in parks, you can do a good deed and pick up litter along the way.
  • Donate them to daycare centers or thrift stores.
  • If you walk your dog, or if pets use your lawn as a rest-stop, use them as temporary gloves to pick up deposits, then carefully turn them inside out, and knot them up.
  • If you are particularly crafty, you can cut them in strips and crochet yourself a beautiful hand bag that will be more durable than a single plastic grocery bag. You could also weave floor mats in this manner. Someone should seriously sell these, for those of us who don’t enjoy crocheting. However, be careful to avoid exposing such items to excessive sunlight, as the plastic will degrade in UV light.

Source for most of my statistics.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Green Kitchen Tip #9

Those Ubiquitous Rubber Gloves

Those of you who have already made the switch to environmentally friendly dishwashing soaps, have probably noted that you no longer require rubber gloves to protect your hands while hand-washing dishes. If you haven’t yet made the switch, here is a review of several brands of greener dishwashing liquids. These formulas are based upon vegetable oils rather than petroleum and they avoid harsh chemical additives.

The less frequently you require gloves to hand-wash dishes, the less likely you are to accidentally tear a hole in one of the fingers, which means whatever gloves you own will last longer.

Those of you who have quit or reduced your use of bleach, have probably noticed that your household cleaning gloves last much longer, since they aren’t regularly bathing in a caustic solution.

But inevitably rubber gloves have a finite lifetime. Often we are left with a lonely glove that has lost its mate. And most likely these widowed gloves will refuse to pair up with another bereaved glove, due to handedness factors.

Rubber gloves have an undeniable impact on the environment, both in production and disposal. Synthetic rubber is made from petroleum. Additionally, synthetic rubber production is energy intensive and involves the inclusion of many additives – polymers, vulcanization accelerators, activators, vulcanization agents, fillers, fire retardants, anti-degradants, colorants, and plasitcizers. So how can we best put these gloves back to work?
  • Patch the torn finger from the inside with duct tape. They won’t be fully water-tight but can be used for other tasks, such as gardening.
  • Cut the remaining fingers from the glove, add them to your first-aid kit and use them as finger “condoms” to protect bandaged fingers from moisture and messes. Secure them to your finger with first aid tape.
  • You can cut your own rubber bands out of the forearm portion, if you are clever with a pair of scissors
  • Cut out the palm portion and use it to aid in opening tight jar lids
Rubber can be recycled. In fact, recycling rubber is less energy intensive than producing new rubber. However, since gloves are small compared to tires, it appears that recycling them is currently mostly overlooked. Perhaps some day all our rubber gloves will be granted a second life as tree-saving sidewalks.