Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Composting and Recycling ... In The Bathroom!

Now that you have a basic understanding of how a landfill works from my last post, why not apply the practice of recycling and composting in your bathroom? Add a small bucket (or two) next to your bathroom trash bin and set it aside for plastic (numbers 1, 2 and 6) and paper products and other recyclables. If you’re interested in composting you can compost the following bathroom items:

  • Cotton swabs
  • Hair from your brush
  • Lint
  • Plant trimmings
  • Soap scraps
  • Paper products (e.g. paper towel, toilet paper*, kleenex, cardboard rolls. *you should definitely flush your toilet paper down the toilet. It breaks down relatively easily in water, but if you use it to blow your nose or blot your face, you can dispose of it in the compost bin if you'd like)

Recycling allows us to reuse material. Composting allows us to produce rich and fertile soil (called humus) in a cost-effective way for use in vegetable, fruit and flower gardens. Many cities and townships like San Francisco are trying to encourage recycling and composting and offer free or discounted pick-ups of your blue (recycled) and green (compost) bins. If you’re interested in learning more about getting your compost and recycled waste picked up at your home, check out the EPA's "Where You Live" composting map and recycling map.

If you live in an apartment building, ask your landlord to provide your complex with this service. My apartment complex recycles but does not compost so I recently wrote the following short and simple letter to my landlord in the hopes of changing this. Feel free to send the same letter to your landlord (or even to your office building).

As a tenant at your apartment complex, I was wondering if you would consider getting our apartment a composting bin. The green carts are picked up at no additional charge and could greatly reduce our building's garbage volume every week. Let me know what we can do to make this happen. Thank you.

I also attached a link to a local composting service. And guess what? The next day I received an enthusiastic reply from my landlord that said they had ordered a composting bin for my apartment. The green bin was delivered the next day! Being green is very trendy these days. Your landlord may jump all over the composting and recycling idea if you express interest.

One more composting tip. If you plan to compost, you will need to use a compostable trash bag liner. You should be able to find these liners at Whole Foods, some Walgreens, and possibly your local hardware store. Try BioBag - their bags are 100% biodegradable.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Landfills 101: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Paper or plastic? Which do you prefer? Which do you think is better for the environment? Unfortunately there have not been many studies on the subject, but most people think paper is the lesser evil because if it were to end up in a landfill it would degrade more quickly than plastic. But this isn’t true! Biodegradable wastes are only able to breakdown into harmless substances under normal environmental conditions. There is nothing normal or natural about a landfill.

I recently heard a discussion on NPR's KQED where scientists visited a landfill to sample its contents. They found perfectly preserved guacamole and lettuce from the 1970’s! Ugh. Think of all those food scraps you’ve thrown away in the past 30 years – they are still there. Landfills tightly seal in waste to protect the outside environment from contamination (thank goodness!) but, as a result, any biodegradation that does take place happens very slowly. In the absence of oxygen and moisture, bacteria must degrade landfill waste through anaerobic digestion which releases methane gas and carbon dioxide (which must be controlled and regulated by the landfill because of its explosive nature).

According to the EPA, in 2006 Americans generated 4.6 pounds of waste per person per day. This equates to 251 million tons of waste every year. 32.5% (or 82 million tons) of this waste was recycled or composted and 12.5% is burned. That means 55% of our waste goes directly to landfills. Much of that waste can and should be composted or recycled. For example, in 2000 only 2.6% of food waste was composted. You can help by composting and recycling in both your bathroom and kitchen.

I’m hoping to take a field trip to a Bay Area landfill and will report back on it as soon as I go. In the mean time, both the Environmental Protection Agency and How Stuff Works are great resources for learning more about our landfill and municipal solid waste systems. I believe understanding what happens to our trash after we dispose of it is an important step in reducing our waste and our consumerist habits. So think twice when you throw things in the trash, and the next time you’re at a store, don’t choose paper or plastic. Bring a cloth bag instead.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bathroom Water Usage Calculator

I recently ran across a nifty water usage calculator on the U.S. Geological Survey website. To find out how many gallons of water you use in the bathroom every day enter the number of times you flush the toilet, wash your hands, brush your teeth, and take a shower on a daily basis into the appropriate cells. Leave the dishwasher and laundry machine cells at zero if you want to look at just your water usage in the bathroom.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Showers: Money & Fresh Water Down The Drain

Do you know how many gallons of fresh water you use in the shower every day? How about every year? Most likely it's much more than you realize. Being aware of the amount of water you use in the shower is important. With awareness you'll be more likely to reduce your daily water usage and as a result you'll reduce your water and energy bill and also do the planet some good.

How Much Water Do Showers Use?
On average 30% of household water is used in the shower. Homes built in the U.S. before 1992 have showerheads that use between 5 and 7 gallons per minute (GPM) or between 15 and 20 liters per minute (LPM). In 1992, however, the U.S. government began mandating that new buildings install low-flow showerheads that have a 2.5 GPM or less.

Check your showerhead to find out your shower's water flow per minute. If your showerhead uses more than 2.5 gallons per minute (or more than 9 LPM) you may want to seriously consider replacing your showerhead. If you already own a low flow showerhead and are due for a replacement, you can find high quality showerheads that use even less water than 2.5 GPM.

What Are You Saving?

Using less water will not only reduce your water bill but it will also lower your energy expenses (because you are heating less water). You'll also be doing the planet a favor by saving water and reducing greenhouse gases.

By switching to a showerhead with a lower water flow a family of four can save hundreds of dollars every year. Check out this shower calculator to determine your savings. Fill in your household statistics and try adjusting the showerhead GPM to see how much you could save if you purchased a showerhead with a lower GPM.

Types of Low Flow Showerheads
Aerated showerheads mix water and air together which reduces the amount of water used and helps maintain water pressure. Even though the flow of water is lower, the air mixture will make the shower feel more like a high pressure shower.
Non-aerated showerheads, on the other hand, pulsate individual streams of water. The water pressure of these showerheads is equally as strong. If you are partial to massage showerheads, the non-aerated showerhead is best for you.

Be on the lookout for showerheads that offer shut-off or pause buttons. This will allow you to stop the water while you are lathering up or shampooing and resume the water at the same temperature when you are ready to continue.

Eco-Friendly Showerhead Brands

Low GPM/LPM showerheads do not need to sacrifice your shower experience. Here is a compilation of eco-friendly showerheads that have gotten positive reviews and use less than 2.5 GPM (or 9 LPM). If you recommend any other brands or have some opinions about the brands listed below please add a comment or write me an email.

Check out this Consumer Report to learn more about other low flow showerheads.

More Tips
It’s easy to daze off while you’re in the shower. Don’t let time pass so quickly - try using a timer to monitor how much time you’re spending in the shower. Use a timer that you already own or check out Neco's Sand Shower Timer and Digital Shower Timer. Limit yourself to a certain amount of time in the shower every week.

Finally, try playing a mind trick on yourself. Imagine that the water coming out of your showerhead is actually money. Or imagine that it’s transparent gold. Don’t let all that money go down the drain!