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Low-Cost Green Ideas
by Linda Pinkham
Dare To Care! That's my new motto for becoming as green as possible in everyday life. Our family has always been one to recycle everything possible and to turn off appliances and lights when not in use. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we could go a step, or two, further, without too much inconvenience and expense.
Switching to recycled paper products (such as Seventh Generation) seemed initially more expensive. Well, maybe a little more up front but the extra absorbency of their toilet paper and paper towels meant that we were using less and, ergo, saving more! This revelation led me to experiment further. We soon discovered that earth-friendly laundry soaps and softeners worked just as well as the other leading brands and didn't leave soap residues. It's true that I haven't found a good replacement (yet!) for chlorine bleach but I'm working on it. Many household cleaners (such as Simple Green and Clorox's new line of natural products) work great and leave a pleasant scent instead of that "chemical cleanser" smell.
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Next, we moved on to plastic garbage bags (tall kitchen & 33 gal.) that contain mostly recycled components. OK, so they are a little more in price, but how many to you really go through in a day, a week, etc.? Isn't it worth a few more cents to make a big impact on our landfills?
Some of my favorite items in our new repertoire are the shopping bags that I discovered. They are made of parachute material, which is super strong, and light. I can get six half-gallon milk or juice containers in one bag! They wash and dry so fast that it's negligible. I just keep a couple dozen in one bag, which I can then grab and go. I liked them so much that I started selling them at our store!
Another thing to be conscious of is buying products made of quality materials that reduce waste and lower the impact on our environment. Not all plastics are bad. Surgical plastics (like that which Lego is made of) are virtually unbreakable and are as inert (free of toxins) as you can get. Products that don't break, don't end up in a landfill somewhere! Make sure that wood and cloth products are made of sustainable materials and use nontoxic dyes and paints. It does no good to buy wood products made from clear-cut forests in Asia (or anywhere else)! Go organic in the garden. You may have to wait a few days for natural products (and bugs) to "kick in" but they really do work! Shop smart!
The biggest experiment was switching over all the lights to compact fluorescent bulbs. First of all, let me say that you don't have to use those weird (and sometimes glaring) curled bulbs or long tube fixtures. I'm talking about regular, screw-in type bulbs. Yes, they take a few seconds to "warm up" but you won't believe the savings! We cut our power bill in half by switching out all our incandescent bulbs. Not only that, but, they don't put out any heat, which was really important in our store. Because the bulb heat was gone, our air conditioning needs decreased a little, too! You don't have to settle for that strange "daylight" blue-hued type of light. There are "warm glow" bulbs out there for those of us that prefer the "incandescent" look.
A word of caution to those who tend to "burn the midnight oil:" The "household" variety of bulbs (found at BiMart, Costco, Walmart etc.) are good for a long period of usage based on 4 hours of use per day. If you need more than that kind of usage, then you will need to switch to a "commercial" bulb. Any of these is not a cheap endeavor, initially. It definitely pays for itself very quickly! Just do a few at a time. You'll be glad you did.
While you're at it, sign up your household (and your business if you can) to Pacific Power's "Blue Sky" program. You can buy as little as a $1.95 "block," which buys 10% of your power use or up to $8.72 (on average) which buys 100% of your usage to offset what you would normally be getting in coal generated electricity to wind-powered electricity. The more wind you buy, the less coal is used. It's an inexpensive way for all of us to have a huge impact collectively! For just $2.50 more, you can sign up for their "habitat" package which is the same rate for the 100% use plan, plus $2.50 to be donated (in its entirety) to the Nature Conservancy Oregon salmon habitat restoration. Currently, Talent (10%) and Jacksonville (8%) have the highest participation in the valley. The national average is 2% and growing. Pay attention to the information about this in your next power bill and sign up now! Together we can be a part of the solution instead of adding to the problem. WE can do it!
Linda Graham, owner
Hello Linda, Thank you for sending in your suggestions for how we can all lower our environmental impact. People have long had the mistaken impression that it is extremely costly to be green, when in actuality, some of the biggest effects are achieved through the collective efforts of large numbers of people doing very small, but conscious acts.
For example, just using your own shopping bag can have a huge impact. A friend sent me a very persuasive PowerPoint presentation that outlined a few facts about plastic bags. When you use a cloth bag for your shopping, you save approximately 6 bags per week; 24 bags per month; 288 bags per year; and 22,176 bags over your lifetime. If one in five people in our country did this, we would save 1,330,560,000,000 bags over our lifetime.
A number of countries, including third world countries like Rwanda and Bangladesh, have banned plastic bags altogether. China has banned free plastic bags, and Ireland taxes them, which has resulted in a 90% decrease in their usage.
Plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which is a petrochemical (made from oil). China will save 37 million barrels of oil each year due to their ban of free plastic bags. If we want to help free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil, we should use a cloth bag when we shop. As you might imagine, doing all of the things in your list above would be quite significant if multiplied by large numbers of people across the country.
If anyone would like to receive the PowerPoint presentation that I received from my friend, send me an e-mail request. -- LP
Old School -- Clotheslines
Hi Linda, I just listened to another program about green homes and energy saving. Everyone is talking about it these days. On TV, on Jefferson Public Radio, etc.
I have never heard anyone mention the clothesline. They tell us that front-loading washers and dryers save energy. They tell us that cleaning the lint out of your dryer every time you use it saves energy. What about using a clothesline instead of a dryer?
Bad weather? If you are building a green home, build it with a sun porch with a clothesline. Takes too much time to hang the clothes? It's good exercise. Saves you from having to go workout. Towels too rough? You won't have to buy an expensive product to exfoliate. Clothes on the line ruin the look of the gated community? They are part of the charm of foreign countries. Thanks for listening,
Hi Camille, You're right that the clothesline is one of the most overlooked energy saving devices in this country. A typical electric clothes dryer uses between 5,000 and 5,400 watts. So if it takes your clothes dryer 45 minutes to dry a load, you've used a minimum of 3.75 kilowatt-hours (kWh). If you wash a load of clothes each day, that's 112.5 kWh per month; 1,350 kWh per year. And there's no such thing as an Energy Star clothes dryer.
Years ago, I lived in a cold climate in a house that was built in the 1800s. It had a clothesline in the basement, which also had a wood stove. It was quite convenient to the washing machine, as was the outdoor clothesline. Convenience makes a big difference, so planning ahead is everything. Sometimes old ways are still the best solutions.
Thanks for reminding us of a viable solution and shooting down the excuses. -- LP
Electric Vehicle Question
Hi Folks, Great issue! Much information for those of us who care about the future. Your feature "Eye on Green Eye" maybe has experts who can answer a question for our family: We're ready to invest in converting a vehicle to electric. We'd ideally have a small pickup, maybe 10 to 20 years old, very light... to use around town, and to haul supplies for our gardens in various community sites. Any specific suggestions about trucks that might be appropriate? We hope ultimately to fuel the truck via solar panels. Thanks!
Hi Kirk, Great question, and I referred it to one of the best technical experts on electric vehicle conversions in the country, Shari Prange of Electro Automotive. Shari and her partner Mike Brown are the technical transportation editors for Home Power magazine, and their company has been selling electric car conversion kits, components, books, and videos since 1979. Their Web site, electroauto.com, contains lots of information about electric vehicle conversions. Here's her reply to your question, and additional information from the Portland area publisher of Green Living. -- LP
Hello Kirk, Light pickup trucks in this age range make great conversions. Chevy S10s and Ford Rangers are very popular, but the Japanese pickups -- Nissan, Toyota, Mazda -- are also very good, and tend to be a little lighter, which is best. Look for a base model four-cylinder, two-wheel drive standard cab model with a manual transmission. Power brakes are good. Power steering can be accommodated. You can put batteries in the bed, or under the bed with access through hatches in the bed floor, or by installing a hydraulic tilt bed kit. Top speed will be 65 – 85 mph depending on your battery pack. A DC (direct current) system with a 120 volt (V) pack of 6V golf cart batteries will get you about 40 miles range and cost about $10,000. An AC (alternating current) system would offer regenerative braking, and would require a 312V battery pack, probably using 12V gel batteries. It would give you about 75 miles range, and cost about $15,000.
An electric vehicle is an excellent complement to a home solar-electric system. However, solar panels mounted on the vehicle aren't very effective. You would need output voltage at least as high as your battery pack voltage and at least 10 – 15 amps to get even a partial recharge during the few hours of prime sun angle at midday.
Shari Prange, Electro Automotive
Hello Kirk, You might want to look into the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association (OEVA). They are very active, have members who have done conversions and know the technical ins and outs of batteries, controllers, motors, etc.
Check them out at www.oeva.org and sign up for the OEVA List where you can ask questions and read Q & As from others. Great resource and these folks have monthly meetings, are friendly, and know their stuff. There is a lot going on with EVs.
Gary Munkhoff, Publisher
Dump the Ethanol
Dear Editor: The recent energy bill passed by Congress only addresses half of the equation, the vehicles we drive. In a feeble attempt to address the gasoline problem, they propose adding more ethanol to our gas. It's the wrong way to go. Gasoline by itself has a Btu rating of around 130,000 per gal. Ethanol is rated at around 75,000 per gal. Adding ethanol to gasoline reduces the Btu to around 113,000 at 10% ethanol. This makes gasoline 30 – 35% less efficient. The Oil companies like it this way because you get less fuel mileage and they sell more gas, which means we must import more. Adding ethanol to gasoline is like throwing water on a fire. It burns at a much slower rate, which increases pollution. It produces less power from the engine and it is not cost effective. It has been estimated to take 10,000 gal of irrigation water to make 1 gal. of ethanol from corn.
It was in the 70s when ethanol was first added to gasoline. It is now the 21st Century with 21st Century Vehicles. So why are we still using 1970s gas! The time has come to reformulate our gas so a gallon actually does more work. Dump the Ethanol. There are additives that can be added to gas that actually increase mileage and performance, and at the same time, reduce pollution as well as wear on the engine. If our Government can force the auto industry to produce vehicles that get higher mileage, then they can force the oil companies to produce a fuel that gives us better mileage as well and we shouldn't have to wait till 2020 to get it. It can be done almost overnight. All we need to do is pester the hell out of Washington till it's done.
Hi Jim, We actually agree on more things than we disagree. I'm certainly not a big fan of the energy policies of our government for the past several years because they fall very short of where they need to be. And I think that more can be done, without a doubt, by our government if they were motivated to do so. Perhaps the current fuel crisis will stimulate a more proactive response for getting better fuels from oil companies -- or elsewhere if they are unwilling.
I checked an online calculator for comparing flex fuel vehicle performance when driving with gasoline versus E85 (85% ethanol). You are correct that vehicles running on ethanol get lower gas mileage, and it may cost you more money to drive an ethanol blend. The savings advantage is in the lowering of some unhealthy and harmful emissions by 20 – 30% due to more complete combustion of the fuel.
Ethanol also is a better replacement for MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether), a very toxic octane enhancer that is used in gasoline. MTBE is an oxygenator that improves efficiency and yields more power. However, ethanol has twice the available oxygen of MTBE, a higher octane rating, and is nontoxic. And consider that whatever percentage of ethanol that you run in your tank, you are cutting your support of OPEC by that percentage.
You are also quite correct that using corn to produce ethanol is not the most cost effective raw material. It requires several more steps to convert corn sugars through processing, fermentation and distillation into ethanol over other plant materials, such as sugar cane. But even with that, ethanol has an energy balance of 124 to 167 percent, which means that for every Btu expended to produce ethanol, we get 1.67 Btu in return. Compared to gasoline, that's a bargain! According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), gasoline has a negative energy balance, i.e., for every Btu expended in its production, you get 0.85 Btu in return. Diesel has a return of 0.89 Btu. Biodiesel is the most efficient, with a return of 3.2 Btu for each Btu expended in its production.
Overall, I think that promoting more research into biofuels is a smart direction for our government to take. We just aren't there yet in terms of research, which has been chronically underfunded until lately, whereas the oil industry has long benefited from government subsidies. We should have moved away from using both fossil fuels, and food crops/farmland to feed our addiction to driving a long time ago. With the government's recent interest in biofuels, I'm hoping they will fund the extremely promising research into using algae, which has a very high oil yield and can be grown nearly anywhere. -- LP
Have a comment, question or concern? Write to us: lindap(at)greenlivingjournal.com
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