September 24, 2008

Laundry on the Brain

In case you're not familiar with Going Green, it's 'Burban Mom's blog about taking baby steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle. It's also one of my daily read blogs. Well, over the past few weeks, 'Burban Mom has been giving us suggestions for how to reduce our water use. For instance, today's outlined how to repair a leaky faucet. I'd highly recommend checking it out if you have a minute or ten.

Anyway, in the spirit of Going Green, I've been thinking about our household water consumption lately. You see, our old washer has been on the fritz off and on for years, and the dryer just decided to conk out. After eight years of service, the set has now officially been retired. Last month we received our brand new Samsung laundry set, and I’ve been having fun figuring out how to use the appliances to their best advantage. Since I apparently have laundry on the brain, I thought I’d share a few statistics and tips for how to green your laundry. After all, a few changes to the way you do laundry can help you save money, be healthier, and save our natural resources at the same time. What could be better?

According to
Project Laundry List, about 35 billion loads of laundry are washed each year in the U.S. The average household washes about 50 pounds of laundry in 7.4 weekly loads, cleaning some 6,000 items annually. About half of all loads are done in warm water, 35% in cold, and 15% in hot. Some 90% of those loads are dried in a gas or electric dryer. That much laundry can have huge consequences for our environment. Here are a few suggestions for how to lessen the load on our planet.

  • Don’t wash every item just because you’ve worn or used it once. Towels can go at least one week between washes, and some people have been known to wait much longer. For men who wear undershirts, your outer shirt, sweater or vest is probably not dirty after just one wearing. Khakis and other casual pants can also generally be worn more than once – if they’re a little wrinkly, you can spray with a little water and pop them into the dryer for a few minuets and they’ll freshen right up. Socks, underwear, undershirts are always washed after one wearing in our house. As far as I'm concerned, everything else is subject to a visual test (does it have spots, is it ridiculously wrinkly), and occasionally a smell test. Items that pass both of these tests generally go back in the appropriate closet or drawer to be worn again.
  • Whenever possible, wash in cold water. We wash our towels, linens, socks, underwear and dog blankets in hot with a cold rinse. Everything else gets washed in cold. According to Seventh Generation, washing in cold can save 85% of the money and energy consumed by a hot water load. Not bad.
  • Only wash when you have a full load ready. Some newer machines use a weight sensor to determine how much water to use, but the amount of energy expended does not drop proportionally. Washing only full loads will allow you to maximize the efficiency of the water, energy and detergent you’re using to get things clean.
  • Use laundry detergents made from natural, biodegradable ingredients. Natural laundry products use eco-system-safe ingredients such as vegetable oils to clean your clothes. Conventional detergents often contain polluting compounds like alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which can seriously harm the planet. Among other things, these nasty chemicals have recently been linked to the devastation of lobster populations off the eastern seaboard. We use Seventh Generation products, but there are several other good brands on the market these days if you look around a bit. Whole Foods or your local co-op store may carry multiple options so you can shop around for the product that fits you best. As I noted in this post, you can use vinegar instead of chemical-filled fabric softeners.
  • Never use chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach can combine with organic matter in your wash water to form toxic by-products. Hydrogen-based bleaches work just as well, are gentler on your clothes (extending their life means less resources spent on new clothes), and are much better for the environment.
  • Air dry as much of your laundry as you can. Clothes dryers use quite a bit of energy to dry your clothes, and most cost over $75 a year to operate. Air drying uses zero energy and is completely free! If your neighborhood association won’t let you set up a line outside, or if you’re worried about pollen or critters, a rack or retractable lines in your basement or available space somewhere else in the house can be a great solution. I tend to air dry everything except towels, socks and underwear. All other items are either hung on hangers or set out on a rack in our basement. I do tend to run super-wrinkly pants and shirts in the dryer on its “air dry” setting for about 10 minutes when it seems necessary.

Hopefully this will help you maximize the efficiency of your existing washer and/or dryer. If you are looking to replace your current washer and/or dryer, there are a few things to consider.

  • Consider a front-loading washer. Front loaders are gentler on clothes, use up to 36% less water, and suck down 60% less energy than top loaders. They will have a longer wash cycle that you’re used to, but drying times are greatly reduced due to a higher speed spin cycle. They’re more expensive, but they will recoup some of that cash outlay by reducing your all the rest of your laundry costs. You can also check with your local power and water companies for rebates on water-saving washers. We didn’t have these bonuses available in our area, but I know my parents received a significant rebate when they bought their front-loader.
  • Look for the Energy Star label. If you run the numbers and don’t think the initial expense of a front-loader is ultimately affordable for you and your family, then Energy Star is the place to be. This Department of Energy designation is given to machines that use less energy and/or water than the industry average, meaning that appliances with this label will likely save you on detergent and your power and water bills throughout the life of the products.

Okay, that’s it for now. How about you? Do you have a tip to share about your laundry habits? I’d love to hear them, as I’m always trying to improve…

September 23, 2008

The EPA Makes Another BAD choice!

This afternoon I found a highly disturbing article through another blog I read on occasion, and had a minute to jump to the link and take a look. I can't say I'm shocked that the EPA has made yet another decision that disregards the health of the American people and protecting harmful practices, but this one has to be one of the worst I've heard yet.

If you don't have time to read the whole article
here, this is an excerpt:

The Environmental Protection Agency has decided there's no need to rid drinking water of a toxic rocket fuel ingredient that has fouled public water supplies around the country. EPA reached the conclusion in a draft regulatory document not yet made public but reviewed Monday by The Associated Press. The ingredient, perchlorate, has been found in at least 395 sites in 35 states at levels high enough to interfere with thyroid function and pose developmental health risks, particularly for babies and fetuses, according to some scientists.

The EPA document says that mandating a clean-up level for perchlorate would not result in a "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public-water systems."

Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight in Mountain View, Calif., added: "This is an unconscionable decision not based upon science or law but on concern that a more stringent standard could cost the government significantly."

The Defense Department used perchlorate for decades in testing missiles and rockets, and most perchlorate contamination is the result of defense and aerospace activities, congressional investigators said last year.

The Pentagon could face liability if EPA set a national drinking water standard that forced water agencies around the country to undertake costly clean-up efforts. Defense officials have spent years questioning EPA's conclusions about the risks posed by perchlorate.

Yet again, an agency under the Bush administration has made the "easy" choice and let the American people down in the process. I don't know about you, but I'm counting the days until a new administration (in which those in charge actually care about the people!) comes into power...

September 12, 2008

Get Thee Outside!

Tomorrow, Rob and I are headed out for a week in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where we've rented a cabin. We're looking forward to lots of hiking, reading, playing a bit of scrabble, and generally just hanging out outside. I'll be out of blog-touch until we get back, so have a great week!

September 11, 2008

Defining Affluence

The topic for this month’s APLS blog carnival is…

Affluence. What do you think of the term? Does it apply to you? Do you dislike the word? Feel uncomfortable with it? Are there certain responsibilities that come with accepting that term?

As I mentioned in my entry entry into the first APLS carnival, I’m still warming up to using the term affluence to describe myself. If you read that entry, you already know that I’m a huge word person, and I like to look at others’ definitions before I form my own. The definition I found here is three-fold:

  1. A plentiful supply of material goods; wealth.
  2. A great quantity; an abundance.
  3. A flowing to or toward a point, afflux.

The first two definitions are perhaps the more common understanding of what this term means, and the ones many APLS (including myself) react fairly negatively to, at least at first. I think my reluctance to define myself as affluent (definitions 1 and 2) comes partly from the way my sister and I were raised. When we were growing up, our family didn’t have everything we wanted, but our parents did manage to find (whether new, used, or borrowed) everything we actually needed. We went without many of the newest, coolest toys and widgets, but we didn’t truly want for much, if anything I can remember. At the same time, I wouldn’t say we were particularly well off or that we had a “plentiful supply of material goods.” We could afford to go on vacation every year, but we always traveled inexpensively, driving our A/C-free Volkswagen Rabbit from Seattle to Chihuahua, Mexico or borrowing a family friend’s tiny RV so we could drive from Seattle to Washington, DC. We attended public schools, watched free network TV rather than cable, often rented movies instead of heading to the theater, bought used cars and drove them until they were absolutely non-functional, rode the bus, shopped at Sears and Value Village, and ate mostly home-cooked meals rather than take-out or restaurant food. Were we poor? No. But neither did we consider ourselves materially wealthy.

Today, my husband and I both have stable jobs, a mortgage we can handle, and manageable bills. As a result, we can afford most of what we want, in addition to what we need. In a global sense, and even in a national sense, we know that this makes us truly lucky and relatively affluent. The choice we’re currently shifting toward is to deliberately choose to pare back what we have to more closely match what we need, not what we want. Ultimately, we hope that this downscaling will allow us give more back to our community, reduce our (future) children’s student loans, and save more for a rainy day. We're working toward a more sustainable community, family, planet, and overall future.

Continuing through the definitions of affluence, I was particularly intrigued by the third one, along with the synonyms listed on the same page. These include ease, comfort, prosperity and exuberance. Interesting. If you define affluence as a flow toward a point, where in this case that point or goal is sustainability, then it makes perfect sense. We’re flowing toward a common goal. If you define Affluence as exuberance, I’d say that most of us APLS would be considered affluent. Many of us make a point to talk and blog about living sustainably, building community, becoming activists, and projecting exuberance about our point of view and our passion for the cause. Ultimately, we’re all trying to work toward a sense of ease and comfort in the idea that we’ve done as much as we can to save our planet (or at least as much as we reasonably can). I know I’m also working to achieve prosperity, which the same source defines as good fortune, strength and well-being.

So, do I feel comfortable calling myself affluent? Not entirely. But I do agree that, in many sense of the word, it does seem to fit.

Thanks for reading. If you haven’t visited this month’s gracious host, Green Bean Dreams, for links to the other carnival entries, please do so here.

September 4, 2008

Woo-hoo! And thank you!

According to Sitememeter, this morning I officially received the 1,000th visit to my blog. Wow! As far as I'm concerned, that's not bad for just over four months. Some highlights of how people seem to reach my pages:

  • My sister's site seems to be the number one referring site. Thanks, sis!
  • Chile Chews, Green Bean Dreams, and the APLS blog are also great referral sites.
  • About 30% of folks clicking through on google searches of "webster groves" have actually stayed to read a page or two. I wouldn't have expected that, for some reason.
  • My favorite google search so far is: "does senator biden have dentures?" I guess that came from keywords in my vinegar post (it's apparently great for cleaning dentures) and my post about governor Palin's environmental record (Biden has a great record of voting for the environment).
Some highlights on who is visiting:
  • Nearly 650 visits originated from the USA. So far, 44 states have been represented.
  • Other countries represented are Australia and Canada. I've had hits from elsewhere, but it seems that most non-English-speaking folks don't seem to stay to read any posts. Go figure, since it's written in English.
  • Apple / Mac machines seem to be outnumbered, but the ratio is just 2 to 1.
  • It appears there are roughly 100 people who have visited this site more than 9 times; 60+ have visited more than 20 times. Thanks to all of you for your loyalty!

And a list of the most popular posts so far:

So thank you. I'm honored that you come to visit, and that many of you seem to stop and stay a while. Please let me know if there's a topic I've touched on that you'd like to hear more about, or if you'd like me to cover a related topic. Hopefully I'll "see" you around here again soon...