Thursday, January 17, 2008

Conserve Water With the Lowest of Low Flow Shower Heads

If you're like me, you love a nice hot shower, and sometimes you enjoy a loooong hot shower. It's one of life's simple pleasures, and something that few of us would be willing to sacrifice. But of course, there's a price to be paid for every hot shower. Fresh water is precious and showers can use thousands of gallons per year in a typical household. On top of that, every time you turn on the hot water, your water heater has to kick on, burning gas or electric energy. All of that comes out of your pocket, even if you forget the environmental ramifications.

So, short of taking shorter, colder showers, what's a green person to do? Install a fantabulous low flow shower head, that's what! Now I know what you're thinking: I don't want some pansy-ass dribbly fixture ruining my showers. Well, I'm here to tell you that I installed a very inexpensive water conserving shower head last night, and this morning's shower was better than ever. It was hot, strong and satisfying. I'm a clean dude today, trust me.**

What is this miracle shower head? It's the $12 "Lowest Flow Showerhead," and you can order it from Gaiam. I learned about the device on Treehugger and it really seems to work. According to Gaiam, the head's "maximum flow is 2.25 gallons per minute (gpm) at 80 psi, and 1.2 to 1.4 gpm is about average for most folks." Just to compare, the maximum allowed by law is now 2.5 gpm, so you're beating the average by quite a lot.***

The device even has a handy pause button that lets you cut off the water while you lather up. Oh, and did I mention that it has a 10-year guarantee? All for a measly $12 investment. That's one hott shower head.

According to the EPA, here's how to see if your shower head needs to be replaced:

1. Get yourself a bucket and a stopwatch--anything with a second-hand. It helps if the bucket has lines indicating gallons.

2. Hold the bucket directly under the shower head and turn on your normal water pressure.

3. Time how long it takes for the water to hit the one-gallon line.

4. If it takes less than 20 seconds to fill a gallon, go ahead and install a low flow shower head.

Note: If you don't have a bucket with gallon lines, just collect water for 20 seconds and then pour it into a measured pitcher or something. If you collected more than a gallon of H20--bingo. Get the new shower head!

TreeHugger's take on the Lowest Flow Showerhead
Buy it on Gaiam
EPA Consumer Guide to Conserving Water

**Except for my mind.
***There are a few shower heads out there that claim to have lower flow rates, but I don't know of a better value than the one I'm recommending.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Macbook Air is as Green as it is Thin and Awesome

Most of my friends, enemies, and even some of my frenemies know that I love Apple products. I've used their computers since I was a wee lad, and I'm one of the many fanboys who sits at work furiously reloading macrumors to get the latest updates whenever Steve Jobs gives one of his famous keynote speeches at the Macworld Convention. I just plain like Apple gear. It makes me happy.

So, of course I was all geeked up to learn about the spankin' new Macbook Air that was announced yesterday. I read every speck of information about the new notebook on Apple's site, even knowing full well that I can't afford the darn thing. Well, here's a speck of information for you. Buried on the technical specification page for the Macbook Air, Apple included a little "Environmental Status Report":

"MacBook Air embodies Apple’s continuing environmental progress. It consumes the least amount of power of any Mac and is also designed with the following features to reduce environmental impact:

Highly recyclable aluminum enclosure

Mercury-free LCD display with arsenic-free glass

PVC-free internal cables

Largely recyclable, low-volume packaging

Meets ENERGY STAR requirements

MacBook Air received a Silver rating from EPEAT"
What are we to make of this information? Apple hasn't had a particularly good reputation for its environmental responsibility and Greenpeace pummeled it in 2006, ranking it lowest among top tech manufacturers for their actions and policies. They cited the company's weak (at the time) take-back recycling program and lack of timelines for eliminating yucky polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs).

Probably in response to the activist pressure (which Jobs once called BS), Apple has improved its practices and Mac nerds in the United States can trade in their old computer to be recycled for free. You even get a 10% discount on a new iPod when you trade in the old one. Apple has also commited to completely eliminate PVC, BFRs and arsenic from all of its products by the end of this year. It's hard to believe that I've been buying computers full of deadly ARSENIC and other carcinogens for so many years, but thank God that's going to stop.

What do I think about Macbook Air? If you're choosing a notebook computer based upon its green properties, the Air isn't a bad choice. In fact, it may be the greenest laptop currently on the market. It uses less power due to its LED display backlighting; it has less PVC and BFRs than previous models (but not none); and its aluminum enclosure is ripe for recycling. If you have $1,799 hidden under your mattress and your old lappy is truly obsolete, then I say trade the old one in and go for it. I'll grit my teeth and stick with my 2000 Pismo Powerbook for now. Must... resist... new... toys...

Apple's Recycling Program
Apple's Official Environmental Stance
Macbook Air is Greener (GreenTech)
Macbook Air: Green Equals Sexy (Eco Chick)
Macbook Air is Greenest Apple to Date (Ecofriend)
Apple Grows Greener (Earth2Tech)
Apple Gets Greener (Inhabitat)
Your Computer is Bad for You (Wired)
Greenpeace's Take on Macbook Air

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mailbag: Recycling Microwaves & Printers

Chris Mesure from Philly asks:

"I have an old Microwave and Computer printer, both of which I am trying to dispose of in the most earth-friendly way I can. Do you know of any recycling, or disposal program in Philly (or the area) for both?"

Thanks for the question Chris. If your printer and microwave are still in working order, my first recommendation would be to try Freecycle, a global grassroots network where you can list items that you have to give away, as well as items you're seeking. Phillyfreecycle has a very active membership, with more than 8,000 participating, so if you have working appliances, there is a good chance you can find someone to happily take them off your hands.

I have not personally tried Freecycle, but I have friends who swear by it. It takes 100% less energy and raw material to reuse than to recycle, so by all means take advantage of any opportunity to give your old items new life in new homes.

Now if your electronic gadgets are all busted up, you can head over to Pottstown and take them to Recycling Services, Inc. RSI is a non-profit organization that accepts many, many materials for recycling, from wire coat hangers to clothes to used fishing line. God bless them!

You'll have to fork over an $8 donation for each carload, and $5 extra if you're dropping off something really large, like TVs, copiers and computer monitors. This covers the cost of recycling your junk and I think it's a small price to pay for a clear conscience. RSI is open for collection on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Recycling Services, Inc.
365 Elm Street Pottstown, PA 19465
Phone: (610) 323-8545

View Larger Map

Please keep the questions coming! They makes me a happy eco-nerd.
blukas (AT) gmail (DOT) com

Friday, January 4, 2008

Blog Roundup: From Balls to Cork to Crystal

Eco Balls Clean Laundry and Make Me Giggle (got2begreen)
Moscow to Host Monstrously Wacky "Crystal Island" Building (got2begreen)
Watch the Story of Stuff. Seriously. Go Watch It. (La Marguerite)
These Cleantech Ideas Could Be Huge in '08 (Sustainablog)
Cool, Yet Pricey Cork/Rubber Floors Worth a Peep (Jetson Green)
Meet the Future of Solar Panel Technology (Practical Environmentalist)

Also, I've added Scream to be Green to my blogroll. It's a relatively new blog (like this one), so it's not on too many blogrolls yet, but I think that will change. The content is good and he has a sweet template. Go ahead and take a look-see.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I Will Attempt to Answer Your Burning Questions

Dearest Reader,

Since you've found your way to this blog, I think it's safe to assume that you care about your impact on the environment and you're striving to make a difference. However, you've probably figured out that the "right" thing to do is not always so clear. Paper or plastic? Fake tree or real tree? Bamboo or cork? Sprite or Sierra Mist? Can you recycling a milk carton with a built-in plastic flange? Just how clean do your used cat food cans need to be? Mulch your grass clippings or rake and compost them? And on and on.

Well, I'm here to help. I want you, yes YOU, to send me your environmental questions, no matter how small, and I will do my best to answer them. If I don't know the answer, I will find someone who does. So, go ahead and fire me an electronic mail message and ask your eco-question. If you're curious about something, chances are other folks are wondering too.

One more thing: Happy Thursday.

blukas *AT* gmail (DOT) com

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Review: Mike McGrath's Book of Compost

If you've ever listened to public radio on a Saturday morning, there's a good chance you've heard of You Bet Your Garden, hosted by the always-energetic, awesomely alliterative Mike McGrath. If you haven't caught the show, let me tell you this guy is an absolute walking Wikipedia of plant knowledge. He knows EVERYTHING you could ever want to know about organic gardening. The man won four consecutive Best of Show awards at the Philadelphia Flower Show. 'Nuff said.

That's why I was so excited when Santa (he reads my blog) brought me a copy of Mike McGrath's Book of Compost. The book is a slim and trim 120 pages and I tore through it in just a few hours. By the end, I was so excited about composting that I literally dreamed about shredding leaves that night. Sweet, nutrient-packed Fall leaves. Mmmmmmmm...

McGrath writes how he talks: with tremendous enthusiasm and copious dry humor, complete with plenty of italics, parentheses and all-caps. Normally these typeface techniques would irritate my inner English major, but in this case it just seemed to be part of the fun. Mike McGrath simply loves to compost and he's not afraid to SHOUT IT. I respect that.

The book makes composting dead, rotting simple. (Spoiler: all you really need for compost are shredded leaves.) You're not going to see charts with carbon and nitrogen ratios or anything of the sort. And if you're looking for elaborate explanations of thermophilic bacteria and the like, you should go elsewhere. Instead, what you'll get is a thorough schooling on how to compost, why to compost, and how to use compost in your garden while ditching harsh fertilizers and pesticides. Plus, don't forget the wonders of compost tea.

You'll come away a true believer that compost is the bees knees when it comes to gardening. As McGrath says, "Two to four inches of compost... will feed every single one of your outdoor--and indoor--plants; and it will feed them better than any chemical fertilizer (and better than just about any packaged organic one, too)!" As I read the book, I began to wonder if compost could cure cancer. Can someone look into that?

As an added bonus, McGrath even teaches you how to have the greenest grass in your neighborhood using only--you guessed it--compost. After you amaze and astonish your neighbors by taking all of their leaves off their yards in the Fall, you'll make them green with envy over your luscious lawn come Springtime. It's fantastic, and by golly I'm gonna do it! With Mike McGrath's help, I'm a real-life beginner composter and proud of it!

Mike McGrath's Book of Compost (Amazon)
You Bet Your Garden