Entries Tagged '90% Reduction' ↓

90% Reduction: Garbage Update

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch -
twice as big as the continental US

  • American average:
    4.5 lbs/person/day
  • 90% reduction for 2:
    0.9 lbs/day
  • Our 2007 garbage:
    1.69 pounds/day
    19% of the average
  • Current garbage:
    0.5 lbs/day
    6% of the average – nearly half the goal – we’ve reached the goal in at least one category!
Reduce Waste
Our current trend towards more whole, unprocessed foods cuts out a lot of the non-recyclable cardboard food packaging that comes into a typical American home – butter boxes and most other cardboard containers intended to be refrigerated or frozen have plastic coatings and aren’t accepted for recycling.

Back in 2007 I talked about reducing junk mail, and I continue to do my best to cancel catalogs we don’t want. We do get a weekly circular, but I’m now saving up the non-glossy pages and local newspapers to build new garden beds via sheet mulching.

One place I’ve noticeably failed recently is mushrooms – the chain store across the street periodically has ridiculous sales on those 8oz blue foam containers of mushrooms. At least I’ve used some of them for seed-starting this year, which brings us to…

Reuse or Repurpose
I reuse many of the plastic tubs that come into the house for freezing leftovers for future lunches, and last summer I canned a fair amount of garden produce (in jars from the thrift store). All of these containers just get washed and wait for the summer to be filled again, and again, and again – nearly infinite reuse! Plastic produce and store bags are reused for more produce, home-baked bread, etc. until they fall apart or get too gross to keep using. Aluminum foil used to cover casserole dishes or half-used cans in the fridge gets folded and put away to be reused later – same with ziplock bags used for things other than meat. We keep a can for bacon grease by the stove and use it for frying.

We save and use pop-top beer bottles for home-brewing, as well as periodically raiding other people’s recycling bins. Some other glass bottles get cut up for making recycled colors of Sundrops.

All the cardboard boxes and packaging that come into the house either get recycled or saved for packaging and mailing Sundrops. Unfortunately, I am still keeping up with our shipping just fine from my stockpile of bubble wrap and packing paper.

I’m not sure if composting comes under the heading of ‘reuse’ or ‘recycle,’ but either way it reduces my trash. I compost nearly all our food scraps (excluding meat and dairy), and I nab my housemate’s used guinea pig bedding to compost whenever he cleans their cage. I’ve also been grabbing the neighborhood’s bagged leaves this spring to compost, so I guess I’m reducing their garbage. :) (For anyone in Minneapolis not yet aware, it is now required that you bag yard waste in compostable bags – if you don’t, they won’t pick it up anymore.)

Recycle What You Can
Every other week, the city collectors come by to pick up our recyclables – dead batteries (even rechargeables die eventually), glass, aluminum, paper (I keep a recycling bin under the mail slot for immediate dumping of spam, envelopes, used paper, magazines and glossy inserts), some corrugated cardboard (not pizza or beer boxes – they have coatings to make them semi-waterproof), and plastic bottles (although recently I’ve been hoarding all the plastic bottles to reuse for winter sowing – they’ll still get recycled eventually). We can also recycle some other plastics (1, 2, 4, 5 and 6) by dropping them off at Eastside Co-op on designated days.

What’s Left in the Trash?
  • Broken glass, from cutting up bottles to make recycled Sundrops.
  • Plastic wrapping and other non-recyclable plastics, and much of the plastic that isn’t accepted for pick-up recycling. Although we could take it to Eastside Co-op, I’m afraid in general we don’t. It’s a little too much trouble to plan my errands carefully enough to cart bulky plastic a mile without a car on their designated days.
  • Any non-recyclable cardboard.
  • Meat, oil, and dairy food scraps.
  • Kleenex (no, we haven’t really moved to handkerchiefs yet), bathroom stuff like empty shampoo bottles, etc.
  • I’m sure there are some categories of trash I’m not thinking of at the moment.
What about you? How do you reduce, reuse, and recycle?

90% Reduction: Natural Gas Update

Therms used Apr08 - Feb10

My natural gas use since April 2008.
Usage peaks every Jan, and is lowest May-Sep. Red line indicates base gas usage during non-heating months.

The 90% Natural Gas Goal
(see project rules if you use wood or oil for heating and cooking)
  • American average:
    1,000 therms/household/yr
  • Goal for my household:
    100 therms/year
  • Our 2007 consumption:
    211 therms/year
  • Mar 2009 – Feb 2010 consumption:
    352 therms/year
    35% of the American average
Current Situation
We use natural gas for space heating, water heating, and cooking (gas stove). The red line on the graph above indicates our base usage of natural gas during the non-heating months – it’s at about 7 therms/month. Admittedly, that 7 therms/month for cooking and hot water adds up to 84% of the goal, but the vast majority of our natural gas usage is due to space heating, so I’ve been concentrating on ways to reduce that.

Thermostat and Basement
Obviously, the largest change is moving from Colorado to Minnesota and consequent change in houses. Our Colorado condo was smaller than our current home, but we don’t actively heat the finished basement of this house. All the heating ducts run along the basement ceiling, so there is some heat leaked down there, but mostly we just bundle up when doing stuff in the basement (TV, elliptical machine, Shaun’s office, and the laundry room). We have a programmable thermostat and in the winter we keep it set at 67° F mornings, evenings and weekends, 65° when I’m the only one home during the day, and 50° at night. We generally wear more sweaters and slippers and drink lots of tea. My mom gave me some fingerless gloves for Christmas which were very appreciated when I needed to do some computer work down in Shaun’s office rather than mine. :)

When we bought the house, we added blown cellulose insulation in the attic, bringing it up to the recommended level of R-47 for Minneapolis. We do have some recessed ceiling lights that the installers were unable to insulate because they were too far under the eaves, and I think the cans get pretty cold; I switched to CFL’s and the bulbs start out really dim and take a good 40 seconds to get bright. That probably means we’re losing some heat there, but I don’t think heat loss through our roof is too bad, given our lack of the ice dams and icicles hanging from our neighbor’s roofs this winter.

Our windows are old single-panes with exterior storm windows. I’ve caulked the storm windows on the main floor, making sure to leave weep holes open so moisture doesn’t build up between the two. For the basement windows, I applied rope caulk around them and added bubble wrap insulation as a ‘temporary’ measure. Yep, the bubble wrap is still there.

I’ve got some projects on my home improvements list that all together would move us from 35% to 29% of the American average usage for heating and cooking energy (and save $63 per year). That’s still not reaching the goal, but it’s a start. I’ll get to some of these in my upcoming tip of the week posts.

90% Reduction: Electricity Update

The 90% Electricity Goal
    Electric Lines
  • American average:
    11,000 kilowatt hours/ household/year
  • Goal for my household:
    1,100 kWh/year
  • Our 2007 consumption:
    7,201 kWh/year
  • 2009 consumption:
    5,201 kWh/year
    We are using Xcel Energy’s Windsource program, so according to the project rules our usage produces 1/4 as much emissions, making our effective consumption 1,300 kilowatt hours/year – just over the goal.
Current Situation
While we’ve gone down quite a bit in our consumption, some of the difference is in our housing situation while some is due to behavioral changes. We now have a gas rather than electric stove and no central air conditioning – we didn’t even install the window AC last summer. We’ve switched to CFLs, and I used a Kill-a-Watt to see how much energy various appliances use. Based on the information, I got a smart strip to shut down the peripherals when Shaun’s computer is powered off, and I turn mine off with a power strip every night. I air dry our laundry, and turn lights off when we don’t need them. We do use an electric space heater once in a while during the winter.

The big things that can’t be shut down (at least, we’re not willing to) are the refrigerator (525 kWh/year, estimated at the Energy Star website), chest freezer (est. 357 kWh/year), entertainment center (139 kWh/year while not in use – I just fixed this), and computer server which uses a whopping 925 kWh/year (extrapolated from a few days this week measured with the Kill-a-Watt). That is 18% of our annual electricity usage, or $125 just to run the server! Actually, it was probably more – the server had been running really loud (the fan was running almost continuously) for months, until I finally took it apart last fall and vacuumed out all the dust that had collected inside. I’m quite certain that the dust had been upping it’s energy consumption considerably more before it was cleaned.

Obviously, we need to look seriously at that server.

90% Reduction: Gasoline Update

Metro Transit Bus The 90% Gasoline Goal
  • American average:
    500 gallons/person/year
  • Goal for my 2 person household:
    100 gallons/year
  • Our 2007 consumption:
    242 gallons/year
Current Situation
Shaun and I haven’t owned a vehicle since we sold our car in the middle of my original 90% Reduction series, almost three years ago. We get a ride very seldom (once every couple of months-ish) from our housemates or friends. Originally, we figured that renting a car once a month would be cheaper than owning and would allow us to do all the errands necessary to pick up bulky items or were far away. In actuality, we’ve rented a car once (I think, possibly twice).

Mostly, we’ve stopped needing to travel so far – I work from home, Shaun works 2 miles from home and walks nearly every day, we’ve stopped shopping at Costco because we no longer have to buy candy for our laundromat vending machine and we have started eating more local (and it’s farther away here in MN), we live across the street from a Home Depot and chain grocery store, and the co-op we prefer to shop at is only a mile away. I bike many places in the summer. A bus line that goes straight downtown runs right by our house, so even getting to other areas of the city isn’t too hard, including the airport (light rail from downtown). The only thing I really miss having a car for is to go garage sale-ing or pick something up I found on craigslist, and I’m certain that not having a car saves us a lot more money than garage sales and craigslist would. :)

Go-To Transit Card Calculation
Shaun and I both have Go-To cards with the Twin Cities’ Metro Transit. These are stored money cards, so it’s not that easy to estimate distance traveled, but I’ll give it a go. We put $280 on our cards in the last year. Each ride is $1.75 or $2.25, depending on whether it’s rush hour, so I’ll estimate $2 per ride, and the automatic transfer lasts for 2.5 hours. I’m going to estimate that we make about 4 round trips to the airport per year on one transfer, meeting visiting friends and relatives, which is 27 miles round trip (4 * 27mi = 108mi for $8), and the two of us took 3 plane trips together last year, adding up to 12 one-way trips of 13.5 miles per trip (12 * 13.5 = 162mi for $24). We probably take an average of one 1.5-mile trip per week (52*1.5 = 78mi for $104). That leaves $144. For the remainder of the trips I usually manage a round trip to and from downtown on one transfer, 8 miles per ride ($144 / $2 = 72 trips * 8mi = 576mi). Our total public transit mileage is thus 924 miles per year. Public transit is deemed to get 100 mpg for the purposes of this project, so our 924 miles equates to 9.24 gallons of gas.

I estimate we get a ride with a friend on average about once a month, about 12 miles round trip, adding up to 144 miles per year. Half the time they would have been driving anyway, and the other half they kindly go out of their way for us (like taking the cat to the vet). Since the cars vary, I’ll use the American average miles per gallon for passenger cars in 2009, 22.4 mpg. That equates to 6.43 gallons of gas.
  • Our 2009 consumption:
    9.24 + 6.43 = 15.67 gallons/year
    This is ridiculously lower than our 90% goal of 100 gallons.
Air Travel Not Included
Airplane The 90% Reduction Project did not include gas from air travel anywhere in the project. Terrapass’ Carbon Footprint Calculator estimates we produced 6811 lbs CO2 in our three trips together in 2009. PuraVive estimates 17.8 lbs CO2 emissions per gallon of gas, leaving our gas usage for flights at 382.6 gallons.

Thus, our true total is 398.27 gallons for the year. That’s still only 39% of the American average for transportation, but obviously the only way to reduce our gasoline impact is to reduce airplane trips. And I think my mom might be a bit upset if I refused to go home and visit her in Alaska.

90% Reduction Project Update

The Human Footprint As promised, this post starts the nearly-three-years-later update on the 90% Emissions Reduction Project, Riot for Austerity. The project is broken down into seven categories:
  • Gasoline
  • Electricity
  • Garbage
  • Water
  • Consumer goods
  • Food
  • Heating & cooking energy (natural gas, wood or oil – I use natural gas for both)
The original goal of the project was to reduce emissions and/or usage in every category by 90% from the American average over the course of a year, and then keep it there. I admit, I made my original series of posts to calculate my baseline, found I was doing pretty well (although never actually reaching the 90% goal) in most (not all) categories, and then let the whole thing slide.

Now Shaun and I live in Minnesota rather than Colorado, share a duplex with friends (the duplex is larger, but we don’t heat the finished basement, and it doesn’t have the vaulted ceilings of our Colorado condo to trap the heat), still don’t have a car, have a second cat, generally eat more locally, and garden a lot more. Up til now, I haven’t been concentrating directly on the project or calculating my numbers, just generally “trying to do better,” so this will be more in the way of an updated baseline report, in large part for me to see how I currently stand, rather than how well or poorly I’ve succeeded. Once I see the new baseline I’ll start working on my specific problem categories.

On to the baseline!

90% Reduction: Food

[This was originally posted Oct 26, 2007 on my Sundrop Jewelry blog. I will be starting a series of updates soon, and figured the original posts should be available here too.]

An American family with all the food
they eat in a week.
Starting Point: Food

This is the most difficult category to quantify usage and impact. Money isn’t a good metric because buying cheap food from Wal-Mart is certainly not better or less polluting than buying slightly more expensive food at a local farmer’s market (not only is the latter grown locally, it is more likely to be organic, and the all proceeds go to small farmers). Counting food miles is difficult in all but a few stores, and the relevance of the system is controversial.

The method chosen by the 90% Project coordinators is not to compare your usage to the average American, but to set some goals concerning your food sources, and try to live by them. These goals are expressed in terms of trying to get certain percentages of your food intake from the more desirable sources…

Food CategoryGoal
1) Local (or homegrown) and organic:70% of your diet
2) Dry, bulk, unprocessed:25% or less of your diet
3) Conventional, transported goods:5% or less of your diet

Personal food habits
We buy most food in bulk from Costco (categories 2 & 3). For the last couple years we got an organic produce box every two weeks (some of which is not local, especially in winter), but stopped it midway through this summer intending to go to a farmer’s market. Unfortunately, we only went twice. We discovered some difficulties with transporting produce on bikes – squishy fruits don’t handle the jarring of hitting bumps very well if you don’t take a lot of care packing them. I found a couple apple trees next to the recycling bin up the road, and in the spirit of Fallen Fruit I picked a bunch each time I dropped off some recycling – over the summer we made a couple quarts of applesauce, a couple pies, apple challah, and plenty of dried apples for adding to oatmeal and granola and for snacking on all winter. I made a drying rack out of some cube shelving slid between a couple tabletop CD racks I found at Goodwill. Since Denver is so arid, I just left the apple slices on the shelves for a couple days until they were dry.

Although we aren’t particularly good about buying local or organic, we do eat a lot of whole and homemade foods and little highly processed foods (we use a fair amount of canned food though – beans, diced tomatoes, pineapple, etc). I make nearly all the bread we eat, homemade granola, and some pasta (thanks to Shaun’s mom for the pasta machine). I tried making hard cheese once, and sometimes I make yogurt, but it’s not worth it unless there’s a good source of milk. A few years ago I worked at a petting farm for a summer and made lots of fresh goat cheese (the most basic, unripened kind) and yogurt, and brought home eggs every day. I made a bunch of apple, plum, and berry jam at the same time that we are just now finishing up (stretched by our mothers’ wonderful homemade raspberry jam). Sadly, I haven’t found any public fruit in Denver aside from the apple trees.

This 10-person family in Ecuador
grows almost all of their own food.
I decided to try container gardening for the first time this summer (tomatoes, radishes, peas, etc). Some attempts were more sucessful than others – some plants died while we were out of town for a few days (Denver is dry!), my radishes never really developed (I think I needed some compost/fertilizer but I used the greens in salads), and I only planted enough of each plant to have a single cherry tomato or snap pea at a time to pop in my mouth. First try, I now know better for next year.

My best guestimate of our household food consumption is about 5% local and organic, 50% dry, bulk, and relatively unprocessed, and 45% conventional, transported goods. Not that great by Project standards, but we plan to make better use of farmer’s markets next year.

Obviously, many of us in America could reduce our food impact another way as well: stop overeating. :) Easier said than done, I know.

90% Reduction: Consumer Goods

[This was originally posted Sep 24, 2007 and Oct 13, 2007 on my Sundrop Jewelry blog. I will be starting a series of updates soon, and figured the original posts should be available here too.]

Starting Point: Consumer Goods

  • American average:
  • 90% reduction goal:

Every dollar spent produces about 1/2 lb of carbon. In the 90% project used goods (e.g. craigslist, yard sales, etc.) count for 10% of what you pay1, and purchases from Goodwill and other thrift stores have no emissions cost2. From Aug ’06 to July ’07 we spent…

Yard sale items:       $224 * 10% = $22
Thrift store items:        $54 * 0% = $0
New consumer goods:                      $1,189
Cash transactions:                           $309    
  • Spent in the last 12 months:     $1,520/year, or 15% of the average American
I included all the cash as if it had been used to purchase new consumer goods, even though it was actually spent on a variety of things including eating out, farmer’s market and thrift store purchases as well as new consumer goods. We’re pretty tightwaddy, and I bet that if I could determine where we actually spent that $309 in cash we would be within a couple percent of the goal.

Note: the previous calculations do not include purchasing and assembling our electric bicycles. Another rule of the 90% Project concerning purchases is: Items purchased in order to directly aid in reducing your emissions over the long-term only count for 50% of their purchase price. We bought our bikes at pawn shops (count for 10% of the total $140 we paid), and the e-bike kits, helmets, locks, new tires, etc. count for 50%. The kits cost $484 each, and all the extra stuff necessary to get the bikes in working condition and have carrying capacity added up to $260. So…

Two used bicycles:            $140 * 10% = $14
Two ebike kits:         ($484 * 2) * 50% = $484
New bicycle paraphanelia: $260 * 50% = $130
Total (that counts for the project)          = $628

… the bikes all by themselves are already 63% of our yearly allotment of $1,000. So, although we were only a few percent over the goal during the last 12 months before the bikes, if they’re included I don’t think we’re going to make it this year. :) I’m not too worried though; our gasoline consumption is now down to zero aside from public transportation (which counts for 100mpg).
    1Although the stuff is being reused, the seller will presumably just go out and buy more new stuff with the money you paid, so there is still an impact.
    2These items are far enough down the re-use ladder that if they were not bought they would certainly be thrown away.

Clarifying Note:

It seems that I got distracted by telling everybody how well I’d done in this category and forgot to adequately explain the category itself. Oops. :)

The Consumer Goods category basically encompasses spending on material goods that aren’t food or included in any of the other categories they outlined.
    “…what we’re mostly talking about is things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper goods, etc…”
Another thing about consumer goods that I just noticed in their FAQ: local, sustainable consumer goods only count at 50% of their actual cost. That’s one problem with this 90% Project: it defines many things rather arbitrarily and not all in the same place.

90% Reduction: Water

[This was originally posted Sep 7, 2007 on my Sundrop Jewelry blog. I will be starting a series of updates soon, and figured the original posts should be available here too.]

Starting Point: Water

The most accurate way to determine your water usage is by looking at your water bill or reading your water meter. I don’t receive a separate water bill – water is included in the HOA fees at my condo complex. We do have a water meter, but it isn’t quite the same as the instructions telling me how to read a water meter. For one thing, it measures up to millions of cubic feet.

My water meter, which reads:
1,142,000 cubic feet
  • American average:
         100 gallons/person/day
  • 90% reduction for 2 people:
         20 gallons/day

The meter moved from 1,139k to 1,142k ft3 over 21 days (3k ft3 / 21 days = 142 ft3/day; 1 ft3 = 7.48 gal) which means we supposedly used 1,062 gallons/day. Somehow I don’t think that’s right. I don’t know whether this meter is for the entire complex or includes the nearby swimming pool or what, but it’s obviously not just for us.

I tried a few water calulators to at least get a general idea of the amount of water we use. We have an early low-flow toilet (abt 2 gal/flush), each take a short-ish shower every 2-3 days (although we have been showering more often since selling the car – you get sweaty biking everywhere in summer), we don’t leave the faucet running while brushing our teeth, wash dishes by hand, and have no yard (although landscaping water is not supposed to be included according to the project rules anyway). The calculator results varied by about 20 gallons/day:

  • Current water usage:
         47-68 gallons/day, or 23-35% of the average American.

We could easily get a low-flow shower head (the highest calculation had us at 24 gallons/day for showers), and washing dishes over a tub instead of with the water running (even though we are relatively careful) would probably let us reduce some more. I suppose these online calculators don’t include drinking or cooking water, so our usage could be a bit higher than these numbers indicate.

90% Reduction: Garbage

[This was originally posted Aug 28, 2007 on my Sundrop Jewelry blog. I will be starting a series of updates soon, and figured the original posts should be available here too.]

Starting Point: Garbage

How can we throw away less stuff? We can re-use and recycle all we want, but fundamentally it is necessary to reduce the junk that comes into our house.

  • American average:
         4.5 pounds/person/day
  • 90% reduction for 2 people:
         0.9 pounds/day
  • Our current trash:
         1.69 pounds/day, or
         19% of the average
In 21 days we threw away 35.4 lbs of trash, and this seemed to be a normal amount for us. We recycle (no pickup, but I found a recycling bin nearby). However, since we sold the car, taking the recycling to the bin has become a much more difficult proposition (we have to move everything via relatively small bicycle baskets). We might have to stop recycling bulky cardboard boxes, but I’m still intending to recycle the items that are most beneficial for their bulk: aluminium cans and glass.

Apparently, the
eyeball monster
in the Death Star
trash compactor has
a name: Dianoga.
Who knew?
I am trying to reduce our paper trash (mostly mail) via paperless billing and signing up for don’t-send-me-all-this-
lists. Plastic trash is a problem: light and bulky, it is difficult to bike it to the recycling bin. It is getting very difficult to buy even fresh, whole foods without a large amount of plastic packaging – e.g. Costco is selling much of it’s fruit in plastic clamshell packaging. At least farmer’s markets don’t use them. A more insidious problem with plastic is that a large portion of it isn’t recycleable (but the guidelines at our bin don’t list the numbers they recycle, just descriptions – what’s the point of the numbers then?!) and many recycleable items are not worth recycling (and get landfilled even though it went to the recycling center) because the sorting labor costs too much.

We don’t compost (we live in a condo), but I have considered starting a worm bin.

90% Reduction: Natural Gas

[This was originally posted July 30, 2007 on my Sundrop Jewelry blog. I will be starting a series of updates soon, and figured the original posts should be available here too.]

Flaring a new natural gas
well in Texas.
Starting Point: Natural Gas
  • American average:
         1,000 therms/household/year
  • 90% reduction goal:
         100 therms/household/year
Another easy calculation from our utility bills:
  • Our usage in the last 12 months:
         211 therms, or 21% of the average American
We only use natural gas for heating, which means only in the winter. We keep our thermostat at 68 degrees F in the winter. Aside from lowering the thermostat, the best way to reduce heating energy is to insulate and weatherize. With our vaulted ceilings and high windows we do obtain some passive solar heat during sunny days, but when it’s cloudy or stormy all the heat just rises and dissapates through the windows. Halfway through last winter I cobbled up ‘storm windows’ out of clear garbage bags for our high windows and it seemed to make a huge difference in how warm it felt inside. However, we can’t discern any difference between our usage before and after putting up the plastic when looking at the average monthly temperatures and our utility bill.

Unfortunately, this turns out to be a very complicated question. There are just too many variables (e.g. sunny vs. overcast, windyness, whether we remember to open shades during the day, and probably a lot more I can’t think of right now). Also, average monthly temperature is essentially useless for an analysis of this type – if half of the month is extrememly cold and half extremely warm the average monthly temperature will be the same as a completely moderate month, but gas usage will be quite different. We don’t have the data necessary to determine which variables are relevant and to do the analysis necessary to figure out whether the storm windows actually helped reduce our natural gas consumption.

However, on a really cold day you can stand next to our windows and feel the cold pouring off the windows into the room. Putting up the plastic helped a lot with this, so I think I have good reason to believe that the plastic is helping.