Tips 7 & 8: Make presents valuable & celebrate Green Christmas!

Because we had to skip one week out of our 52-weeks experiment due to personal circumstances, we challenge ourselves this Monday with two green tips.

Tip 7 is all about giving our loved ones really valuable presents that show that we care about them, about people in need, about the environment and about the future. In modern times there are many alternatives to buying useless mainstream things in the shops. We like the idea of buying or making something with our own hands that will give joy to another person, but will also support a social cause, create awareness of the sustainability issue, make someone else in the world happy and much more.

During this week we will explore all the possibilities available to us and report about it on 1st Christmas day. Coming days you can expect some gift ideas for your family and friends. We are excited to share them with you!

Tip 8 is to make the Christmas and New Year celebration as green as possible (well, we are still hoping for lots of snow around these days, but the rest should be definitely green). There are many tips out there on how to green up winter holidays and associated festivities from A to Z. We realize already that doing it from A to Z is beyond our powers both from practical and financial points of view. But we will try to move from A to maybe F, if possible. Christmas trees, Christmas cards, gift wrappings, lights, decorations, food – we will try our best to review our routine concerning all these and to change it for the better.

And again, please check up our blog coming Sunday for the findings of this challenging but very Christmas-powered week!

Knowledge is (saving) power

It’s time to assess our efforts to save as much power as possible! Regular visitors might have expected this blog post seven days ago, but some personal circumstances prevented us from uploading it earlier. However, we have some interesting findings for you.

What actually does saving electricity mean? That was the first question we had to ask ourselves. Turning devices in their off-mode is an easy way of suiting the action to the word, but how can we evaluate the impact of such handlings? A simple but trustworthy wattmeter can answer this question, since numbers tell the tale. It informs us in a simple way about the energy usage (and costs) of running equipment. Indeed, it might seem not sustainable to buy a device in order to get informed about the power usage of other appliances, but when one truly takes action based on the gained knowledge, it’s probably still makes sense. Moreover, we would be happy to lend this wattmeter to you, if you happen to be around.

In consequence, we got insight in our kilowatt-hour consumption. All rumors that a TV put in the standby mode still consumes energy are based on truth. This wasn’t our habit anyway, but now we will definitely turn the TV fully off when we don’t watch. Moreover, we can confirm the stories about fluorescent lights consuming a lot less energy than their incandescent variants. So yes, it makes perfect sense to buy a few. The extra money you pay at the cash desk will be quickly paid back through energy savings.

Another interesting conclusion that we can draw, is that our star-shaped Christmas decoration LED-lights use half of the energy that the ‘normal’ light in the same corner does! We never thought that Bianca Ryan’s most famous Christmas song could be interpreted from an environmental perspective as well.

Lastly we have to make a confession. Trying to save power is something we do already for more than a year. We switch off the light every time we leave a room. Only in special occasions we leave the computer on when we are not sitting behind it. We don’t iron our pyjamas, bedsheets or jeans. We don’t use redundant and energy sucking devices such as a tumble dryer. When we recently received the annual electricity bill we could conclude that our efforts resulted so far in a 10% power use decline. That’s heartening to us! May we challenge you to beat our 10% reduce?

Tip 6: Power off!

Electricity supply is one of those civilization privileges that people can hardly see their lives without. Electricity provides us with many conveniences, such as light, communication and entertainment. All we have to do is to plug devices into a socket and/or press a button. For us, those who are benefitting from electricity from birth, it seems to be something so obvious and so normal that we just don’t think of it. Because the generation of electricity is usually not an environmentally friendly happening, we will challenge ourselves this week to reduce our demand for electricity.

We automatically switch on the light when entering the room. We start a microwave when we are hungry. We easily leave the TV on while doing something else. And – one of the most obvious energy abuses – we let the computer work for hours and hours, whether we need it or not, whether we are at home or away, whether we are awake or asleep… Hundreds of such examples can be found in everyone’s daily routine, and that’s not something to be proud of.

Unless electricity is supplied to your place by renewable sources (such as windmills and solar panels) it should be used thoughtfully. People all over the world consume a disproportionate amount of electricity that mainly comes from fossil-fueled power plants. Electricity production and consumption is associated with many social and environmental issues, such as air pollution, acid rain, climate change, ozone layer depletion, oil spills and water pollution, loss of habitats, the construction of new power plants, foreign energy dependence and the risk of international conflicts related to energy supplies.

Fortunately, together with the new technologies electricity from renewable sources becomes more and more accessible, but there is still a long way to go to make it a “standard” for the majority of people. And while this shift in the mindset is very lengthy, electricity demands are growing with a huge speed.

We will dedicate this week to assessing the use of electricity in our household. We will try to find ways to conserve it. Stay tuned!

Laundry lessons

Today we report about the results of our attempts to green up our laundry. The benefits of having a washing machine were already obvious to us, but we hardly think of the fact that this appliance costs a lot of energy and other resources, like washing powder or gel, softer and water. That’s why we hoped to collect a handful of tips that can mitigate the impact of our laundry routine.

First of all, we had a closer look to the machine itself, a German made domestic device that was produced around 1995. Taking all technological developments of the last years in mind, it’s unthinkable that our washing machine can be considered as an energy efficient appliance. Buying a new one seems however not so sustainable when the old one still works properly. And more to the point, we aren’t the ones who decide about the purchase of devices in the house we live in.

The way of using your machine is nevertheless something we could influence. This week we tried to start the machine only when it was filled well, but not over-stuffed (that can cause damage to your machine). By doing so, we certainly avoided a couple of washes! We also tried to decrease the temperature of the washing programs we started, since heating water accounts for 90% of the energy consumption of washing machines. And have you ever realized that the “short program button” is another tool to easily green up your laundry?

Thanks to the insurgent “Ecowashball” we could make another difference. Adding this €25 costing ball (made of environmentally friendly plastic) to the wash allows one to use 80% less detergent, as the small ceramic pellets help to remove dirt from fibers. We can assure you that this is really true; your wash will still smell fresh! The investment of €25 will be earned back soon, taking the prices of detergents in mind and for the reason that the “Ecowashball” is said to last more than a thousand washes.

Lastly, we discovered that the detergent we normally use is not particularly environmentally friendly. Now we are aware that there a several brands that produce affordable detergents without the genetically modified micro-organisms, like Bio Futura. The products offered on this site are packed in recyclable materials and are not tested on animals.

Generally speaking the past week proved that there are different easy things you and we can do to green up your laundry. It seems that it won’t cost much effort to implement the mentioned tips in our washing routine. By doing so, you can help the environment and even save time, energy costs and money that you were going to spend on expensive detergents.

Tip 5: Green up your laundry

All of us do laundry. Most of us hate it, some of us find it particularly enjoyable. And do you know what is really disturbing about it? Not that it multiplies day after day, not that it has to be sorted by color, dried, ironed, folded, etc. and even not that it is quite expensive. What makes it really unattractive is that laundry uses lots of water, energy and chemicals to keep our clothes clean and fresh.

In our two-person household the laundry is done quite often: the washing machine runs approximately 7-8 times per week. We have a range of different washing gels, powders, softeners, spots-removers and other liquids with the “Attention, danger!” labels on them. The washing machine itself is at least 15 years old, which doesn’t leave any hope for the efficient use of resources. In other words, there is enough room for improvement.

This week we will explore as many green-laundry-tips as possible and will try to apply them to our laundry routine. Sounds challenging! If you have a good tip or idea, please drop us a line! Till Sunday!

Paper payoff’s

Let’s be honest: we all use paper every single day and we hardly realize how much of it we consume. This week we aimed to reduce our paper usage. Not for fun, but because most paper comes from trees, which often are not harvested sustainably. Certainly, the majority of all paper can be recycled, but this process requires still a lot of energy and bleaching, which is not good for the environment either.

And thus, our era of using unspoiled, unfolded and pallid A4’s as scrap paper is over. Instead, a ripped envelope served us the last days, giving a background to our to-do-lists, doodlers and some calculations. Moreover, we tightened our routine of double sided printing, used dishcloth in place of paper kitchen towels and asked our bank to stop sending us paper bank statements, since we are capable of finding the same information online.

Such actions hardly cost any time or effort. And there is more you and we can do. Have a look at this website if you are curious.

In addition, we tried our best to deal consciously with the inevitable cellulose pulp, the paper we still used. How? By searching for the FSC trademark on paper products from the shop, for instance. This trademark offers “a guarantee that products comes from responsible sources that support the conservation of forests and wildlife and helps people lead better lives”. Besides, we concluded that using fabricated toilet paper soft as silk is reasonably redundant. Flushing grey, 100% recycled variants into the sewage looks like a better alternative.

Tip 4: Reduce paper use

“Please consider the environment before printing this email. Thank you”. You might have read these phrases or some variants at the end of any electronic correspondence. It touches upon a very concrete example of conscious consuming: reducing paper use. That’s exactly what we hope to get familiar with the coming week.

Paper is everywhere in our daily life. Newspapers, commercial folders, toilet paper, receipts, tissues and so on: the whole day we are surrounded by it. Nevertheless we hardly realize the impact that the production of all this paper has. The paper industry is in fact one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, while paper accounts for not less than a quarter of all landfill waste worldwide.

Therefore we believe it makes sense to critically assess the way we deal with paper. The coming days we will provide different tips and tricks that might help in reducing paper use.  As always, we report about our findings based on our own experiences on Sunday.

Recycling: no waste of time

In 2010 an average Dutch person produced around 400 kilograms of waste a year, which is four times more than the mean of 1950. This seems striking (and it is), but the good news is that throughout the years many recycling options came into existence. The past seven days we tried our best to reduce our refuse-dump by unraveling waste as much as possible.

Separating kitchen and garden waste, paper, glass and plastic is already rooted in our daily routine for many years. In that context we are lucky to live in a region where the waste collecting infrastructure is well developed. Therefore, the challenge for us lied in learning about other recycling options and applying the new-gathered knowledge.

Did you know, for instance, that it is possible to hand in the cork of a wine bottle at the local liquor store? We didn’t. The corks are being used for the manufacturing of shoe parts, isolation materials for the constructing industry, table-mats, fashion accessories and more. Another example: empty ink cartridges are warmly welcomed at most printing shops. In all Dutch municipalities, old medicines can be brought to a special disposal area, in order to fill the container reserved for “small chemical waste”. This repository can be used as well for petroleum, fluorescent lamps, accumulators, sulphuric acid, mercury thermometers and similar substances.

Used clothes and shoes also can find a second life; that’s a task organizations like Humana take charge of. Annually not less than 80% of the 10 million kilograms collected textile and shoes finds its way to reuse via Humana; it gets sold to international textile traders and Humana spends the returns on development aid in southern Africa.  The remaining 20% is vended to recycling companies.

Moreover, we assessed the way how we separated waste. And indeed, our empty juice packages don’t belong in the paper bin, but in the normal waste container. The household film around cucumbers shouldn’t be thrown in the plastic container, but in the same “grey litter bin”. On the contrary, the foil around magazines is considered as a plastic. Every Dutch person who doubts about the right empty bin for a piece of waste can visit the online “Afvalscheidingswijzer” to find the answer.

All in all we can confirm our initial thought that a lot more than paper and glass can be recycled. The effort to really separate your waste is in our opinion not the main barrier to recycle products and materials. The main challenge may lie in answering the questions what can be recycled in the area you live in, and what is allowed to put in the different waste bins.

Facts about glass recycling

Glass makes up a large component of both household and industrial waste because of its weight and density. But the good news is that glass can be reused many times without losing its quality. Almost all glass can be recycled into new glass items. Moreover, glass recycling needs less energy than manufacturing glass from sand, lime and soda.

Municipal waste is usually made up of bottles, jars, light bulbs, broken glassware, windowpanes and mirrors, etc. What’s important to know, is that there are two types of waste glass: container glass (bottles and jars) and plate glass (windowpanes, mirrors, etc.). The municipal bottle containers that can be found next to the supermarkets and in the district centers are ONLY for the container/packaging glass. Oven dishes, fluorescent bulbs, light bulbs, table glass, windowpanes and mirrors DO NOT belong in the glass container!

Most of the recyclers collect different colors of glass separately since glass retains its color after recycling. The most common types of container glass are colorless (white) glass, green glass and brown/amber glass. Remember, if you can’t see through it, it doesn’t belong in the glass container. That applies to tops, covers and corks, porcelain cups and earthenware crocks.

In the Netherlands, where we live, waste glass collection is going well: almost 92% of all packaging glass ends up in the glass container; that’s the third best result in Europe. The amount of single-use packaging glass used by Dutch households each year is 550.000 tons. There are approximately 25.000 glass containers over the country that help preventing this waste ending up in the landfills.

If you click at the image below the link will lead you to one of the glass recycling companies. Click on the parts of the conveyor belt for information on every recycling stage. It’s fascinating!

Facts about glass recycling:

  • Every recycled glass bottle saves enough energy for a 100 watt light bulb to be lit for 4 hours or for a computer to work for 30 minutes.
  • Every 1000 kg of waste glass recycled into new items saves 315 kg of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere during the creation of new glass.
  • A typical glass processing company can recycle 20 tons of color-sorted glass per hour.
  • By 2013 glass manufacturers plan to use 50% of recycled materials in the production of new glass bottles. This step will save enough energy to power 45.000 households for a year and will prevent 181.550 tons of waste ending up at the landfills every month.

Tip 3: Learn about recycling and do it!

Recycling. Everyone has definitely heard this fancy word before. But how many of us are actually doing it? How many of us take an effort to create more than one litter bin in the house (for organic garbage, paper and the rest)? And how many of us pay attention what should be thrown to each of those bins? And what about keeping an eye on the calendar and putting the garbage bin out to the road early in the morning before going to school or to work?

Pfff, this all seems like a lot of effort already. Especially if you live in a small apartment or in a student room, or if you share a flat with other people…But wait a second, those little steps mentioned above are just the beginning.

Do you know that since some years ago it is also possible to recycle plastic? (At least in the Netherlands). And what are you doing with all those glass jars? Aluminium cans? Old clothes and shoes? Batteries? Ink cartridges? Waste electronics? Paint leftovers? Overdated medicines? Wooden objects? There are many more recyclable items in your trash than you could ever think of.

Even though we separate garbage already for several years, there is enough room for improvement. This week we will try to find out as much as possible about recycling: how to do it, where to do it and what are the alternatives if recycling certain things is not possible.