Switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs)

We have been using regular, old-fashioned, 60-watt incandescent lightbulbs in our house.
Incandescent light bulb

Incandescent lightbulb

 But compact fluorescent lightbulbs, or CFLs, are a quick and easy way to reduce your energy consumption. CFLs are four times more efficient and last up to ten times longer than incandescents, according to Earth Easy, an environmental blog.

They are cheaper, and they give off a softer light than incandescent bulb.

We’ve tried them at my house. I personally like them. Besides the warm fuzzy feeling I get from burning less energy, they give a soft, dimmer light when you first turn them on. That’s great for people like me who can’t stand to wake up and turn on a jarringly bright light in the morning. And in a couple of minutes, they are at their full brightness.

My mom doesn’t like the slow brightening. It annoys her, but she can’t explain why… 🙂 My dad got worried about the mercury inside them, and took them all out! 

CFL (the green choice)

CFL (the green choice)

CFLs contain small amounts of mercury inside. It’s very small, but the light bulbs are made of glass, and therefore, they can break. If you handle them carefully, that shouldn’t ever happen. But if it does, don’t panic, because you can clean it up at home (and you don’t need a hazmat suit).

I let my dad know, and he said he’d consider putting them back in, but he doesn’t seem to convinced yet.

He may not have much of a choice. The Energy Independence and Security Act, signed in 2007, will force us all to have more energy efficient bulbs in 2012!

Home Depot is already on board: If you look at the lightbulb categories, there are nine incandescent options and 99 fluorescent!

In the meantime, I’ve also been using IKEA’s low-energy SPARSAM bulbs on two lamps I purchased from the Swedish behemoth. They’re cute and seem virtually impossible to break. They two have the slow brightening effect–something I’m not sure my mother will warm up to anytime soon.

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Sustainability is Sexy reusable coffee cups

About a month ago, I blogged about plastic water bottles and mentioned how wasteful disposable coffee cups are.

Nicholas Fusso runs the Seattle-based organization Sustainability is Sexy, which focuses on eco-ideas for coffee, and he left me a comment about the polyethylene coating on disposable cups, which leaves them sitting in landfills.

His organization, Sustainability is Sexy, started as an eco-project at the University of Washington. Fusso told me in an e-mail that using disposable coffee cups is a big environmental no-no. But reusabe coffee cups, he said, can help you go “green” in more ways than one.

“They impact our planet’s ecosystem in a positive way by conserving natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions,” Fusso said. “Reusable cups also save businesses money, and can often save you money too.”

Plus, he said, reusable cups help preserve the temperature and flavor of your beverage.

SIS sells biodegradable cups made out of corn-based plastic, which Fusso said is more environmentally friendly than most reusable cups.

cup

“The cup is compostable, which eliminates the tiny amount of garbage created by when other reusable cups are finally thrown away,” he said.  “The cup is made using corn – a much lighter eco-footprint than stainless steel or plastic.”

Fusso sent me one of the SIS cups to try. Though the colors reminded me a little of John Deere, I like them. They’re bold, and they they definitely convey the message about going green. And here’s an added bonus–it’s really hard to misplace your bright green coffee cup somewhere.

Anyway, the cup is lightweight, which makes it easy to carry, yet much stronger than a flimsy disposable cup. When I handed it to a Starbucks barista to fill up, she said, “Ooh I love it!” Looks like the message is one that people definitely identify with.

(Side note, Starbucks is selling a line of travel coffee cups that they say are eco-friendly because they use “less plastic.” That may be true, but I like knowing that when mine is thrown away years and years from now, it won’t wreak havoc on the environment.)

Sustainability is Sexy sells the resuable coffee cups, T-shirts and other merchandise on their Web site. For more  on the environment and coffee, check out the Sustainability is Sexy blog.

Fusso also blogs about politics, economics, and the environment at  Smart Sense.

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Cleaning with environmentally friendly products

I have been thinking about using green products to keep our house clean, rather than conventional cleaners which can be toxic.

I found this great video on explaining the importance of using green cleaning. A lot of conventional cleaning products can lead to indoor air polution and other health problems, “Umbra” says.

She also shows you how to make a lot of green cleaning products at home, with baking soda and water.

green-cleaningIn my home, we’ve been using Green Works. Carrie, a reader, told me last week that she’s found this brand works the best as well. It seems to me they have a large selection. 

The products are made with all natural ingredients, and it’s all biodegradable.  

Frankly Green put up a list of a lot of other environmentally-friendly brands that also:

Ecover – Dishwashing, Laundry, Household, Personal Care

Seventh Generation – Dishwashing, Laundry, Household, Personal Care, Baby, Paper

Shaklee – Dishwashing, Laundry, Household

Mountain Green – Laundry and Household

Method – Dishwashing, Laundry, Household

Nellie’s Laundry Products – Laundry

Mrs. Meyers – Household, Laundry, Pet

Ecos – Household, Laundry, Personal Care, Pet

Dr. Bronner’s – Soaps and Body Care

biokleen – Dishwashing, Laundry, Household

I’ve used Mrs. Meyer’s in the past, and they worked really well, and they come in cute bottles with great scents.

And if you want more ways to make your own green products at home, here’s another really cute tutorial.

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Bags: from plastic to permanent

Plastic bags are cheap and crunchable, and great for picking up dog waste. But they are a killer on the environment.

A 2003 report from National Geographic stated that “somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year.”

They are littered all over the environment, (who hasn’t seen one blowing around on a windy day or lying in the street,” and they take hundreds of years to break down.

My family has always had plastic bags when grocery shopping. I even remember my mom requesting plastic over paper when we were little, and explaining how it was better for the environment because it didn’t kill trees. So much for that argument.

Anyway, this is the plastic bag-bounty after a typical weekend grocery run in my house:

Too many plastic bags

Too many plastic bags

Obviously, those can add up fast. So I convinced my parents to invest in some reusable bags.

My mom admits that we were using way too many plastic bags, and that they were cluttering up our house. The ones we have left, we reuse as wastebasket liners or packing material.

My mom then bought some canvas bags. She keeps them in her car, because if she forgets them when she runs out to the store, she feels guilty.

Reusable bags for all our grocery needs.

Reusable bags for all our grocery needs.

She likes them better than plastic bags because they create less waste, they’re stronger and they protect food better than plastic or paper ever did. And because she limits herself to the bags she brings in, she buys less too.

She said she sees more people using them all the time.

“It’s embarassing to not have them,” she said.  “If you don’t have reusable bags, you’re kind of a social outcast.”

My mom also pointed out that Fry’s, the grocery store she frequents, gives her a .20 cent discount for each reusable bag she brings in.

She’s tried a lot of different brands, but said by far, the Walgreens reusable bag  is the best, (those are the cream colored ones in the picture.) They are the widest and strongest, she said, and they don’t have a flashy pattern that makes you self-conscious when carrying them.

Reusablebags.com has a lot of different types of bags, so you can find the kind that works best for you.

If you’re still not convinced that plastic bags are bad, (I know some people who aren’t,) Treehugger has a great article called, “Paper Bags or Plastic Bags? Everything You Need to Know.”

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Plastic water bottles

Everyone in my family is trying to eat better and take care of themselves. I’m proud to say that there are no longer soft drinks in our house, and we all primarily drink water.

At some point, we fell into this habit of only drinking out of plastic water bottles. I know a lot of families drink water with those, but this is the only way we drink water. My parents buy four or five cases of Arrowhead water each week and use them to keep our mini-fridge stocked.

The mini-fridge in our dining room is stocked with bottles from the 32-packs shown on the left.

The mini-fridge in our dining room is stocked with bottles from the 32-packs shown on the left.

People are always surprised that we have so many bottles. I found five  sitting on my brother’s bookshelf. I promise I didn’t arrange the photo below; it’s exactly as I found it.
Five half-empty bottles I discovered on my brother's bookshelf.

Five half-empty bottles I discovered on my brother's bookshelf.

That is kind of embarrassing.
The 32-packs of water bottles cost $4.46 each. At the rate we  buy them, my family is wasting at least $70 a month by using disposable bottles rather than the alternatives.
Nalgene

Nalgene

My dad explained the purchase as a matter of convenience and safety. Convenience because you can just grab them and go,  and safety because of potential tap-water contamination.

“How are they bad for the environment?” he asked.

I realized I wasn’t really sure, so I looked it up. The problem with plastic water bottles is that most people don’t recycle them. When they are thrown out with garbage, they can sit in landfills for 1,000 years. The plastic is made from petroleum, a finite resource that is wasted when a bottle is used once and thrown away.

Sigg

Sigg

My dad said we recycle most of the bottles, so he doesn’t think we’ll stop buying them, especially because he’s still wary of tap water. He did promise to talk to my brothers and vigilantly enforce the recycling of them.

I switched to a Nalgene bottle last year, but because the chemicals in plastic bottles can be dangerous with constant use, I switched to a metal bottle.

I bought this Sigg bottle in Flaggstaff last month, for $19. I like the Sigg better because when I drank out of the Nalgene, it seemed to run down my face.

The Nalgene was just way too large to carry everywhere, while the Sigg fits easily in my purse.

Now I use the Sigg for everyday use, but I’m keeping the Nalgene for things like hiking.

For those of you with a Starbucks habit, the paper cups and plastic lids can’t be recycled because they have coffee and other residue on them. Unless you rinse out your Starbucks cup, all that plastic and paper is wasted, (not to mention the cardboard holders that keep you from burning your hand.)

The MoMA store sells this cup that looks like a disposable coffee cup, but is actually  made of porcelain. It’s $20, but that’s the the same as one week’s worth of lattes!

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Foes of the Earth

My family members have a lot of things going for them–but adapting is not one of them. Despite the overwhelming barrage of information about global warming and dwindling resources, my parents and my two brothers have been merrily living the same lifestyle for the last 20 years. In fact, they’ve almost gotten more environmentally reckless over the past few years, perhaps in some unconscious form of rebellion. I can’t say I’ve lost my carbon footprint, but after I spent five weeks in Quebec  this past summer, I felt so guilty about my lifestyle. Canada is such a beautiful country, and I was struck by the efforts everyone made to consciously preserve that beauty.

To start with, here are some things that need to change:

Over-consumption: my family buys far too much stuff. As proof, our house is full of junk. For example, some items are old, but a lot of them are things that were purchased without a need, (i.e. my brother’s ninja costume, which he wore once). Our house is so full, that we have a storage unit filled with furniture and other junk my parents are unwillng to part with. It’s good that they’re not throwing it away, but we didn’t need all those things in the first place.

Food: Again, over-consumption. My mom is the primary grocery-shopper in the family, but that should be changed. She buys things without looking at what we already have, and buys multiples of things, which eventually leads our pantry and fridge to be overflowing. Too much of it goes bad and is never used.

Plastic Bags: Obviously, when you buy lots of food, you end up with lots of those plastic bags from the grocery store. It will make you cringe to see the pile of bags we end up with every Saturday.

As I start to figure out ways for my family to be more eco-friendly, I’m going to keep an eye out for eco-friendly products and technology.

By the way, I am loving this sustainable townhouse on Re-Nest today.

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