Archive for the ‘Green Basics’ Category

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BeingGreen: Care2’s Click to Donate.

March 7, 2009

(I have got to quit doing this.  Either I need to start writing my BeingGreen articles on, say, Tuesday, and setting them to go up on Friday, or I need to start keeping better track of which day it is.)

Here’s an easy one for the aspiring greenie.  It’s free, it takes only a few seconds of your time, and it’s easy to access.  I’m referring to Care2‘s Click to Donate feature – a collection of links that enables you to generate money from various causes just by clicking each image and following the “Click to Donate” link.  There are ten different categories: Global Warming, Rainforest, Baby Seals, Oceans, Big Cats, Primates, Needy Kids, Pets, Stop Violence [against women], and Breast Cancer.  You can click each one once per day.

I realize it’s  not the most high-impact thing you can be doing.  But it is the easiest.  And if you can commit to doing even this every day, you may find it easier to start making other green changes in your life.

http://www.care2.com/click2donate/

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BeingGreen: Fluorescent Lighting.

February 13, 2009

There’s not a lot to be said about fluorescent lighting, really.  Sure, in the old days it was pretty complicated; you had to get these special fixtures to hold these ENORMOUS glowing tubes and they made this weird artificial light that flickered a lot.

Well, the light still looks funky, but newer bulbs no longer flicker, and now you can get them in sizes that fit standard light sockets.

This is quite possibly the second easiest green thing you can do.  It’s very simple: go to town, buy fluorescent lightbulbs, take home and use to replace any lightbulbs that have burned out.  Fluorescent lightbulbs have several advantages over incandescents: they last longer (assuming you treat them well), they’re brighter, and they use less energy to operate.  Plus they come in really interesting shapes, which is significant if you get kicks from staring at lightbulbs.  (It DOES leave a neat shape in your vision, but it can be damaging to the eyes.  Don’t do it.)

The one thing you have to watch out for: mercury.  Fluorescent lightbulbs contain significant amounts of mercury, and so should not be tossed in the regular trash, as explained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

“[Regular] disposal methods can lead to a release of elemental mercury into the environment through breakage and leakage and ultimately contaminate the food chain.”

A bit ironic that the most energy-efficient lightbulb of our time is also the most potentially toxic, but if you take care of your bulbs properly it’s well worth the mercury use.  To do that, you need to find a hazardous waste disposal facility or a recycling center that services lightbulbs.  The EPA pulls through again with their Where You Live page, which tells you who you can contact in your area to find out about disposal facilities.

It’s no accident: at least a third of the effort you put into being green, especially at first, will go into recycling.  It can’t be helped.  People go through tons of garbage every day; it all has to go somewhere and the landfill is not the way to go.  Though I understand the need to use and dispose of garbage in our daily lives, I hope that if people start taking responsibility for the things they throw out they will become more aware of the huge impact that they are making.  I also hope that some day it will become less of an effort for people to be green than to clog up the earth with tons of junk – because, in all seriousness, it’s the only planet we have, and no matter who you are or what you believe in, there’s a very real chance that your great-great-grandchildren will have to live in it.

tl;dr: RECYCLING IS GOOD.

(Note: It may be possible that incandescent lightbulbs have already been phased out of the market by this point.  I haven’t been lightbulb-shopping in some months, so if they have it is without my knowledge, much like the time they phased out VHS’s.)

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Being Green: Green Stain Removal

February 6, 2009

I’m hitting a bit of a dead end here.  According to recent studies (aka State-the-Obvious fests), chlorine bleach is harmful to humans and should be avoided whenever possible.  And while I’m not going to jump the gun and ditch all bleach entirely, knowing as I do the things bleach can do to the human body, I thought it might be nice to find a safer alternative that I can use to cut nasty counter stains.

I have yet to find one.

I started my search today by trying four different remedies popular in the green-cleaning community: baking soda, vinegar/lemon juice, baking soda & vinegar/lemon juice together, and hydrogen peroxide.  In the best scientific method, I tested their stain-removing ability by staining separate sections of the counter with Kool-Aid, then covering the stains with the bleaching solution and allowing them to sit for a few minutes.

The results: Not good.

Baking soda’s true power is in scrubbing, not soaking.  Even then, it only lightened the stains.  Vinegar, lemon juice, and hydrogen peroxide were equally as effective.  The best method was to sprinkle baking soda on the stain and add vinegar or lemon juice, but even this left much more color than desirable.

It becomes apparent that while most things in your life can – and should – be made greener, some things are a little more difficult.  So for now I’ll be sticking to bleach for stain removal.  If you’re concerned about getting chlorine into your system, a quick baking-soda flush will remove the chemical from your counter, leaving it clean and food-grade.

And if anyone figures out a green stain remover that comes anywhere close to the effectiveness of chlorine bleach, please let me know straight away.

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Recycling: Part 2.

January 31, 2009

Now that we’ve taken a look at what happens to the things you take in to recycle (and learned that, yes indeed, it does get recycled) we can move on to the instructory phase: how to take your trash in for recycling.

First you need to examine your trash (not piece-by-piece; just glance at it and see what it’s made of) to find out which of it can be recycled.  Aluminum cans, glass bottles, pop bottles, and milk jugs are all a given.  Cardboard and gloss-free paper (including newspaper) are also good.  Plastic is a bit trickier.  Most of it can be recycled, but not every recycling center is equipped to take every kind of plastic.  To make this simpler, your recycled plastic should be marked with a triple-arrow with a number on the inside.  These numbers range from 1 to 7 and denote the type of plastic used.  1 and 2, respectively pop bottles and milk jugs, are the most common and the most widely supported (as stated above), but 3 and below are a bit trickier to process.

The next thing you should do is find a recycling center in your area and find out which materials they accept.  Many older facilities are not equipped to handle plastics 3-7 and will discard them.  If you cannot find a center in your area that takes these, you are better off to either discontinue purchasing the product that uses those plastics or finding alternative uses for the used containers.

Finally, prepare your trash for recycling.  This is probably the hardest part, as it requires you to segregate all of your trash by composition (metal, glass, paper, fabric, and the various kinds of plastic should all be separate from one another).  Anything that cannot be recycled (paper layered with metal or plastic, plastic that the center does not accept, and any kind of garbage not listed above) goes into its own container for regular trash disposal.  Once you have full sacks of recyclable material – as many or as few as the family vehicle will hold – you’ll need to drive them in to the center.  For convenience and gas savings, this is best done on your way to perform other errands such as grocery shopping.

Once you get it into the center, it’s a pretty simple matter of dropping the stuff off.  Often your things can be deposited outside, but it may be necessary for you to take your recyclables into the building proper.  From there, the center employees take over and you get back to your business.

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Being Green: Recycling.

January 30, 2009

Recycling is a subject with which most people are probably familiar.  We see its advocates and pieces almost constantly – recycling bins, recyclable labels on packaging, and friendly TV spots reminding us to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t give us a very good idea of what recycling is. Or, for that matter, how to do it (properly).

Recycling is a rather tricky process.  You take your material – for the sake of argument, pop bottles – into a collection station, usually referred to as a recycling center.  You drop off your bottles, they give you some money (sometimes), and you drive home, fairly sure that you’ve done something good from the environment but a bit confused and perhaps a bit discouraged as to what good you’ve actually done.

Meanwhile, at the collection station, they dig themselves into the stuff you’ve brought.  If you sorted the stuff out at home, it can go straight into processing; after being sorted by color, the bottles are crushed into blocks and sold to the processing companies.  Once these guys get ahold of your bottles (and by now, several other people’s bottles), they grind them up, sort out the bits of labels and plastic lids, and use the resultant material to make things.

But where, we may wonder, are these things they’re making?  We pump tons of recyclable materials into the centers each year, but it’s rather rare to actually see anything in a store that’s made from any post-consumer products.  With that in mind, it’s easy to wonder whether they’re actually making use of this stuff that we’re taking our precious time to deliver to them.

Rest assured, though, these materials are being used – especially if cleaned properly, as mentioned last Friday.  PET flakes – the stuff left over once the wrappers and lids are removed – are frequently used to make plastic fibres (such as found in clothing, pillows or those neat reusable shopping bags), or sometimes made into new bottles.  Other kinds of plastics are made into lumber, construction material, picnic tables or other things.  Glass and paper have their own applications.  Aluminum, possibly the most valuable recyclable resource, can simply be remade into new cans for a huge reduction in carbon output.

On the other hand, if you just throw this stuff in the trash, it is hauled away and dumped into a huge trash pile where it will spend the next few decades slowly decomposing and emitting huge quantities of toxic chemicals.  Your choice.

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Being Green: Identifying Green Packaging.

January 25, 2009

I missed out last Green Friday (and the Friday before that, due to Internet downtime, so I thought I’d fill in today.  Come to think of it, I think I did iLOL’d today, too.  I’m starting to slip on my schedule here.   Let this be a lesson to you folks: Never let Internet downtime get in the way of your blogging, because it seriously borks your schedule.

But on to identifying green packaging.

I’m not just talking about paper packaging, although it’s often greener than plastic alternatives.  Nope, there are certain other qualities to look for in packaging that make them greener.

The first and most obvious one is: Is this package recyclable?  If you’re not sure, examine the label.  It should have a triple-arrow sign (the little triangular one) with the word “recycle” somewhere nearby.  If it’s plastic, it may also include a notation as to what type of plastic it is, but sometimes not.

The second thing you should check is: Is the package refillable?  It’s greener to keep re-using the same package over and over than it is to keep tossing stuff into recyclables.  Recycling, though useful, still uses up energy and produces carbon; reuse requires no such effort.  Most packages, like hot-dog wrappers, obviously aren’t refillable, but clean produce bags, water jugs, and rechargeable batteries (think of them as containers for electricity) can be used several times over before you have to toss them.  You might even consider buying dedicated containers for some of your favorites – rather than cycling through several fragile convenience-store drink cups, buy one good mug that will last you for years.

Next thing you want to check: Can the package be cleaned easily?  You can’t re-use a dirty wrapper or box, and recycling dirty things leads to low-quality products.  A decent rinsing to remove any food particles is usually sufficient, though you may want to treat some packages for oils.  (Wow, that sounded professional… what I mean is that you want to rub a little dish soap on the greasy parts and rinse it off in warm water.)

Another good option you might like to look for: Can I reuse the package for something else?  Around here, we save cottage-cheese containers and breadbags and use them to store frozen foods.  Aluminum food cans are used to hold small crafting objects or tools (not that we don’t recycle a lot of those, too).  There’s no point in hoarding mass amounts of containers, but it’s nice to have a few for various purposes.

Of course, there are some materials that just can’t be reused or recycled, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for these.  Anything that combines two different materials (like paper with a plastic or metal lining) can’t be recycled; neither can Styrofoam.  There are also certain plastics that don’t lend well to recycling; dyes and fillers are costly and difficult to remove, and biodegradable plastics have an adverse effect on the quality of the recycled product.  Then there are certain plastic types which just may not be supported by the recycling centers in your area; these can include plastics with the triple-arrow sign.

Another thing you want to watch for is wasteful packaging.  This refers both to packaging that wastes itself (excessive packaging) and packaging that promotes quick ruin of the product.  Excessive packaging includes plastic-wrapped fruit as well as many old-fashioned toy packages.  For product longevity, choose packages that minimize oxygen contact (for meat) or allow some breathing room without too much exposure (for fresh vegetables/fruits).  Also avoid buying food in quantities larger than you can use, unless you plan on freezing the excess for later.  For nonperishable products, choose bags and boxes that fit their contents well and cans in quantities that you consume before they go off.

Of course, no packaging is greener than the nude, but for products other than fresh fruits and vegetables that just isn’t going to work.

(As an afterthought, this and the follow-up article on recycling are considerably more complex than eliminating vampire power. Nonetheless, they are considered Green Basics as they are easier to incorporate into your current routine than other trash-reduction methods.)

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Green Friday: Cutting Vampire Power.

January 9, 2009

Here we go: the first installment of what I hope to be a weekly… what do you call it?  Newsblog?  Blog letter?  Blewsletter?  Just… definitely not the last one.  I’ll go with “educational blog entry” for now.

Despite all the big, shiny words I used in my article a few days ago on being green, what it means to me, and the fact that we all should be doing it, the phrase “going green” still puts images into my mind of funny-smelling hippies in grass huts.  Well, obviously this isn’t going to work.  Very few people I know how to live like that, and methods to genuinely green yourself in your lifestyle seem to be few and far between.

Fortunately, in my time on the Internet, I’ve encountered a few methods – some of which are just as overwhelming as the green movement itself, but many of which are easy to do with just a few adjustments to your daily routine.

One of the very basics is cutting vampire power.

I touched on vampire power in my entry “Being Green: A Primer”, and now I’m going to expand on that.  (Most importantly, I’m going to explain what the heck it means and what you can do about it.)  Vampire power, sometimes called “phantom power”, is the electricity being used by an electronic device that is supposedly inert.  Like your Wii, after you turn it off.  See the little orange light on the front?  It’s a helpful indicator that the Wii isn’t completely shut down.  Rather, it’s in “standby” mode.  It’s not doing any actual work, but it’s utilizing electricity to keep it in a semiconscious state so that the next time you turn it on, rather than waiting for the machine to boot up you can go straight to processing.

If your Wii is anything like the one around here, it – well, for that matter, all of your power-hogging electronics – gets a decent amount of traffic during the day, so I’m not going to insist that you unplug it every time you get done with it.  But any time your family won’t be able to use it – at night, for example, or while you’re away – you should definitely pull the plug to keep it from sapping electricity.  The same goes for any other electronics: DVD players, computers, and any other non-critical device that is constantly running a little light or seems to boot up unusually fast.

Unplugging goes a bit beyond undercover power use, though.  Anything that you don’t actually need to leave running should be unplugged or at least switched off.  If you, like me, have a bedroom clock that never seems to be set right, either set it to the correct time or pull the plug*.  And while it may seem prudent to leave your TV running to ward off burglars, it may save more money in the long run just to invest in a burglar alarm**.

Lights are another energy-draining bear.  It probably goes without saying that nightlights – those cute little shaped thingies that you stick directly into the wall socket – are a considerable power waster, so unless you absolutely cannot sleep without its reassuring glow (try it for a few nights), take it out of the wall.  Also shut down any unnecessary¹ house lights, including your porch light, and any decorative lights you may have up¹¹ (such as Christmas tree lights).

At this point, you’ve probably got all your critical systems shut down.  The house is still, dark, quiet and maybe a little scary.  There’s still a bit more that you can turn off, though, if you want to go the rest of the way.  Plug-in clocks with a battery-based memory system can be unplugged, as can chargers for fully-charged electronics.  (Some of them don’t really pull power unless the device is charging.  If in doubt, feel the adaptor box after it’s been plugged in for a while; if it’s warm, take it out.)  Going beyond the nighttime realm, heated waterbeds may be unplugged during the day (provided they don’t get too cold; you might like to do some testing).  Christmas lights that you don’t get around to taking down until June should at least be shut off after the first of January.

The benefits of all this aren’t quite as apparent as those of other green efforts, but they are certainly there.  Cutting down on your power helps simply by reducing demand, leaving more energy out there for other to use.  It helps to reduce environmental impact, by cutting down on the work done by coal or nuclear power plants.  And of course there’s the part that you’ll really like: it cuts down on your power bill.  You might say that, in a way, you’re getting paid to do this stuff every night — and how cool is that?

*I’ll be doing one of those today.  Haven’t decided which one yet.

**The usefulness of leaving your TV running is questionable anyway.  It becomes pretty obvious after observing your house for a few days that no one’s actually using it.

¹Unnecessary house lights do not include those used to ward off burglars.

¹¹You can green these a step further, by replacing old-fashioned Christmas lights with LED lights.  Having tested them personally, I can honestly say that these look very Christmasy and otherwise festive.