January 05, 2007

Saving Money and Saving the Environment

Global warming is real, and anyone who lives in New England can feel it this winter, with above 50 temperatures virtually all of December, since the 9th, which was the last day of cold weather, and near the high 50s yesterday. It would have been even warmer today -- perhaps it was, but I did not go out later on -- had it been sunny. We have not seen snow, not even flurries, not once. And so far as I know, no big change is predicted for the near future. This is very scary to me, having worried about global warming ever since it was first discussed in the 70s, when we were warned what would happen. We were told that southern New England would have a climate much like Washington DC did then (which would itself be more like Georgia) and lo and behold, what are we seeing today? Global warming comes from greenhouse gases which largely comes from our use of fossil fuels, gas and oil and coal, which is now being used even more than ever in this country, because we have a huge supply of it. Plastic is made froom oil, and while it doesn't produce greenhouse gases unless burned, making it does, and it does contaminate the environment with plastic garbage everywhere. We need to reduce both our energy use, esp. electricity from coal-fired electric plants, by using fluourescent bulbs, and reduce our dependence on oil by recycling plastics or reducing our use of them altogether.

But I cannot convince doubters; the willfully blind will remain blind because they want to, not because there is no evidence. (Just like W.) For the rest of you, the following fact that Joe pointed out to me might be of interest: he bought tall kitchen garbage bags for a certain price and discovered that each bag came to approximately 10¢. Since that is a 10¢ equivalent of oil (plastic being a wholly oil-based product) or electricity, you could translate it to half a kilowatt hour, if a kilowatt costs approximately 20¢ these days (it used to be 10¢ but we are estimating a doubling of that now). So the use of 2 garbage bags, or say around 8-10 grocery bags, is equal to a kilowatt hour of energy, which is 1000 watts, or ten 100 watt bulbs burning for an hour. If you use fluorescent 100 watt equivalents, that is 37 watt bulbs, you have more than 2 and a half times that. Think about it -- what you could save on your electricity bill and on the environment if you used fluorescents, and stopped using plastic grocery bags and purchased a string bag or used one of the many tote bags we all have lying around, sometimes gotten for free at a conference or meeting. I have a total of 3 NAMI bags from NAMI conventions and I never mind advertising NAMI when I go shopping.

Not using kitchen garbage bags is problematic though, at least in Connecticut, where by law you must place all trash in plastic grabage bags that tie at the top before the trash collectors will pick it up. Even here in my building we can't put unwrapped garbage and trash down the compactor chute (sp?).

A few more ideas: For the last 25 years Saint Jude's Ranch, a non-profit youth home, has operated a holiday card reuse program. The ranch provides counseling and opportunities for troubled youth. The kids operate a business taking used greeting cards, neatly cutting off the front covers, gluing on new back covers, and selling the result. The kids earn money, and gain experience and a sense of purpose.

The St. Jude's program has been such a success that they don't need any more cards, ever! They have millions. But you can buy the cards, helping them, and helping to close the recycling loop. Here's the link: (Dunno why it keeps repeating itself but hopefully one will take you there!)

Unwanted Household Goods (small appliances, tableware, clothing, furniture, toys, sports equipment, children's books, white elephants, etc.)

Your unwanted household items can have a life again if you donate them to charity. Organizations such as Goodwill Industries will take your donations, sort and sometimes repair them, and resell them in thrift shops nationwide. Broken items are fixed, and scrap materials (like worn-out textiles) are sold for recycling. Goodwill provides jobs and job training for tens of thousands of people who would otherwise have trouble finding work. In 1994 alone Goodwill assisted 25,000 people finding placement in the private sector, helping many people get off public assistance. Wash the clothing, and try to include manuals or brochures on appliances (especially if broken). Surf the net, scan the white pages or look in the yellow pages under "Thrift Shops" for a charity anddrop-off center near you.

Nonstick metal cookware and utensils can be refinished (See Fry Pan Man for one provider).

Another great option is the local repair shop. Don't expect to sell your old appliance, just give it to the shop for use as spare parts.

Here's a link to a great recycling site:

Again, if two links appear, as it looks like is going to happen from how it appears on my editing site, I hope one of them will take you there. If not, try putting the address in manually.

Finally, I am lifting, that is, STEALING, two sections from an opinion piece in the NYTimes, by an Eleanor Randolph, because she said it first and better than I could have. Please give her the credit.

"Christmas Trees. First, if you have a real tree, you get three stars. The argument against cutting down a tree for the holidays makes no sense, especially if the replacement is a plastic tree — i.e. a tree made from all kinds of unnatural and maybe toxic substances. In a few years, when this mock tree looks dusty and sad, it will have to be thrown away — and how much landfill space will that take? Christmas tree farms, on the other hand, keep large patches of land from turning into storage warehouses or highways. When the trees grow, they emit oxygen into the air. Best of all, when a real tree is finally past its glory, it can be recycled into lovely mulch. New York City, like many others, recycles trees for free, and for a few hours, those mulch machines can make whole neighborhoods smell unusually sweet.

"Stuff. Here is where recycling starts to become really important. Save any unusable or unreturnable gift to pass along to somebody else (in “Seinfeld”-speak: “regift” it). If you plan to do this, be sure to record the name of the giver when you receive it. This is so you don’t regift to the original gift giver, like my aunt once did to me. I think she said something like, “This just reminded me of you” when she handed over the silver tree ornament. Well, no wonder it did. At some point, I realized that it is entirely possible that she gave it to me before I gave it to her before she gave it to me. I decided to break the cycle, however long it was, by keeping it.

"Then, of course, there’s eBay, although you have to hope the giver doesn’t shop there. And if you can send the gifts back to the store, use shredded paper (credit card applications are excellent) not plastic peanuts.

"And finally, there is goodwill, where my own personal challenge is always to leave more things behind than I take back home.

II. Recycle Your Computer, Keep Your Secrets

"One of the hardest issues in recycling is what to do with computers — one that looms large right now, as people plug in the new computers they got for the holidays, and try to decide what to do with their newly obsolete ones. They shouldn’t go in the trash any more than a barrels of toxic dioxin should, because the monitors contain pounds of lead, a toxic substance that can poison groundwater near landfill.

"The best thing, of course, is to donate it to a school or a charity that could use an extra computer. But if it doesn’t work well enough for that, it should be recycled.

"Some manufacturers will help you out. If you buy a computer from Dell, the company will take care of recycling your old one. Many communities have set up special procedures, like New York City’s “recycling events” for electronics.

"There is, however, an underreported catch. The hard drive that you hand over to a stranger in a recycling T-shirt probably contains all sorts of personal information. That might include your private financial data, medical information, or stray bits of your personal life. Mine has letters to my husband and other people that I have written and never intended to mail.

"There are ways to scrub a hard drive clean. A really strong magnet would “probably make it very tricky” for anyone else to dig into all the embarrassing stuff, says Peter Eckersley, staff technologist at Electronic Freedom Frontier. An even surer route is to use a program to overwrite the disk a couple of times. As Mr. Eckersley explains, “Many geeks swear by a free open source program called Darik’s Boot and Nuke, or DBAN for short.” "

If anyone has other ideas on how to save a buck and save the environment, there are thousands more out there, do share them!

Posted by pamwagg at January 5, 2007 07:14 PM


Dear Pam,

Yes, global warming is starting to wake me up too. It has been too warm around here and though I like not having to drive in the snow, I also like the idea of NYC staying above water. I really respect Al Gore for what he's been doing and is still trying to do--wake people up. We have to collectively take responsibility for what we can in our everyday lives.

I've been switching over to flourescent bulbs, and I hope it becomes a trend. It's such a simple thing. Do people really think that paying a bit more is such a deterent? My God, it's the least we can do. I recycle most of the plastic I use. The supermarket I go to recycles plastic bags, so I have to keep pushing myself to remember to bring them with me when I go shopping. So I store them when I don't recycle them but I rarely throw them away. For some reason the inordinate amount of paper we use really bothers me, mostly in public restrooms where there should only be heat blowers for hands and no paper towels. Especially in airports like JFK and in stadiums, any place where a large number of people congregate. Having said this I still must confess that I buy paper tissues and paper towels. With the tissues after I've used them I let them dry out and then use them one more time and then throw them away. Sounds a bit gross but it really isn't. Though I should be using an old fashioned hankerchief. With paper towels, I just don't use them a lot but I still have some around. I try to rely more on the dishtowels. But there must be more to do. Please anyone let us know what you do.

Posted by: Kate K. at January 7, 2007 07:21 PM

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