Why concentrated detergent helps

I’ve been sooo busy, so just a couple of quickie posts this week.

This one was also found in Redbook in January — an article that was surely based on a public relations effort by Procter & Gamble, about why smaller bottles of laundry detergent are a good thing.

PR notwithstanding, the statistics are amazing. By late spring, Procter & Gamble (maker of Tide, Cheer, Dreft, Era and Gain) will eliminate large detergent bottles and switch completely to concentrated versions of its detergents.

The results of the switch, purely from the perspective of the bottles’ environmental impact, will be huge:

  • 35% less water.
  • 43% less plastic (equivalent to about 2 billion plastic shopping bags each year).
  • Total packaging reduction equivalent to the municipal solid waste of 40,000 people per year (about 32,000 tons, according to Redbook’s garbage data).
  • Greenhouse-gas reduction equal to the annual emissions of 40,000 cars (that’s as if 16,000 households gave up their average 2.5 cars).

Of course, it’s also a good idea to pay attention to what’s inside the detergent bottle — making sure it has as few chemicals, brighteners, whiteners and especially phosphates as possible. But for the United States and the environment as a whole, smaller bottles are at least one helpful step.


Talking trash

I was pleased to see, in the January issue of Redbook magazine, a list of eye-opening statistics about our trash, as a nation.

Their information includes:

  • 4.4: In pounds, the average amount of waste generated per person per day in the United States as of 2001 (in 1960 we generated 2.7 pounds per person per day).
  • 50%: Percentage of the world’s garbage produced by the United States (we have 6 percent of the world’s population).
  • 500,000: Number of trees that could be saved each week if everyone recycled their Sunday newspapers.
  • 50%: Percentage of all U.S. paper that’s now recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

I’m not sure about some of those numbers — does the last one mean we purchase 50% recycled paper, or we recycle 50% of the paper we use? — but it is fantastic to see a huge magazine (that I’ll recycle, after hopefully giving it to someone else to read first) talking trash.

My new old lamp

lampAbout two weeks ago, Mr. Cheap and I were evaluating our living room and decided that what we want is less modern, more cozy. And especially, we need more light in a room with no overhead fixtures and some very dark corners.

Thinking about what would best replace one floor lamp and one table lamp that each boasted one (CFL) bulb, I said, “You know, we need one of those floor lamps with multiple bulbs that was in everyone’s grandma’s living room.”

A few days later, we walked over to our local antique shop and there it was! $29 with a note: “It works!”

The next day, I brought it home, thinking I would pop a CFL flood light in the top fixture, get some CFL candelabra bulbs for the side lamps and voila.

Well … not quite that easy.

The top bulb, it turns out, is a “mogul” bulb (and thus, these are called “mogul lamps”) — something I’d never heard of. It’s a bulb with a larger than standard base in a porcelain fixture to accommodate ferocious wattage.

I can tell you a 300-watt bulb ain’t entering my house, so I bought an adaptor on eBay to fit my standard-base 16-watt CFL bulb. With the adaptor you lose the three-way capability, which is OK with us. If we decide later we must have it, we can remove the adaptor. While I was at the eBay shop, I ordered three new “sleeves” for the side lamps to replace the grimy tan cardboard sleeves.

As for the side lamps, notice anything in that photo? That’s right, I have three different bulbs. Here’s why.

  1. I went to Home Depot, purported to be a big supplier of CFL bulbs, but they had no low-energy candelabra bulbs. Lowe’s did, and I bought two packages (4 bulbs). They have small bases but screw into a converter. Alas, on one of them, the base broke, and another bulb did not work. (Back they will go to Lowe’s when I’m in the neighborhood.) Only one of the side lamps lights up with the candelabra bulb in it. On the other lamps, the candelabra bulb stays stubbornly dark.
  2. One of the side lamps will not light if it has a CFL bulb in it. It has an incandescent bulb as a concession.
  3. The other side lamp won’t light with a candelabra bulb, but will permit me to use a twisty CFL.

Fortunately, Mr. Cheap had suggested a lamp shade to cover the side lamps and globe. Once the three-light-bulb thing occurred, I agreed. After a false start with a shade from Lamps Plus that didn’t look right, Lowe’s had just the thing. lamp with shade

It took me a couple of weeks and a bunch of hassle (but not as much hassle as if we’d had to rewire the lamp, which I really expected we might have to do). Now we have a classy ol’ recycled floor lamp — that gives us good light and sucks up relatively little electricity — for a total price of about $95. (Last week, a couple of these lamps were listed on eBay for $175 to $250 each.)

This experience is a lesson in why the “green” movement is not necessarily permeating all levels of society, however. I didn’t tally how much time I spent running around trying to re-use a lamp instead of just buying a 300-watt halogen torchiere, but it was a lot. It involved two trips to Lamps Plus, one to Home Depot, one to Lowe’s, another pending trip to Lowe’s to return the non-working bulbs, and an online purchase (and three-day wait) for the bulb converter, plus the original purchase and a willingness to possibly rewire the lamp if necessary, not to mention the time to figure out the bulb situation. All to re-use something old instead of getting something new; all to save energy and resources (not my own, obviously) rather than just plugging in a three-way mogul bulb and three incandescent bulbs and being good to go.

For me, it’s worth it. But most likely, things will have to get a lot easier to make it worthwhile for more people to dive in. The Internet is a good start.

Now that’s a lightbulb moment. Or three.

Weekly Wrap-Up: Green film, green poo, Greenpa

Think Green, Live Green challenge: I’m no filmmaker, but if you’re handy with the videocam, here’s a chance to put your green life in action: http://verdavivo.wordpress.com/2008/01/18/think-green-live-green-challenge-2/


And you thought not using toilet paper was radical! Ha ha ha ha ha … Check out Greenpa’s “poopsicle” post for a really green bathroom routine: http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/2008/01/sigh-mel-brooks-found-out-too.html

In with the butter, out with the butter tubs

butter bellWe don’t eat a lot of butter or spread around our house, but we do eat some. Butter comes out of the refrigerator too hard to spread, and spread (which is arguably healthier for your heart) comes in tubs.

Some of the few plastic items we can’t recycle at our municipal recycling are yogurt tubs … and spread tubs.

I’ve mostly done away with the yogurt tubs by making our own yogurt (or skipping it because I like fruit in it, and it’s winter, so we don’t have a lot of fruit).

To do away with the spread tubs, I dug deep into the back of my china closet and pulled out our old butter bell. (I like how our version is the spokesmodel on the official site! No longer true.) You can buy one from these guys, or you can often find similar models at pottery shows or kitchen shops — the company trademarked the name, but it’s an old idea.

Anyway, you soften a stick of butter and pack it into the lid of the butter bell. Then you put cool water in the base, and when you flip the lid over, the water seals out air and germs and keeps the butter cool, but soft enough to spread.

Butter doesn’t go bad very fast — fat is a preservative when it is kept clean, and in a kitchen like mine, which averages about 58 degrees in the winter, it should stay good for a while. If you sense a problem, you can confirm any baddies in the butter with an “off” or rancid taste or, of course, that telltale pink dairy-product mold. (And then, obviously, don’t eat it.)

Meanwhile, bell it and enjoy it.

butter bell

Updated Sept. 2, 2008, to correct link information.

Pulling a fast one on phone books

I don’t know about you, but I use phone books.

Well, sometimes.

In fact, I used three this weekend. One to stand on while I did calf raises when I was too lazy to go to the gym, yet wanted to work out — the big fat book is good for that. And I used two of the skinnier ones to boost the lid of a chest we were re-doing while I screwed hinges into the main body of the chest.

To look up phone numbers? Not so much. In fact … no, I can’t remember the last time I looked up a number in a telephone book.

Yet the phone company insists on delivering phone books to my home. Not just one company; at least three companies. Not just one phone book, but two or three at a time. And now they slap a bunch of magnetized plastic advertisements on the front and inside, to make it even harder to recycle the books.

So last week, when Schnauzer Cheap started going crazy, I looked out the window and spotted the phone book delivery guy, parked right in front of our house. He put the books in plastic bags and then carried a few bags at a time to houses on the block. When I looked out, he had just dumped our bag at the door. By the time I unlocked the door, he was leaving our neighbor’s and heading on down the block.

I slipped outside, picked up the bag, and headed down the sidewalk, with the plausible excuse of bringing in the emptied recycling bin. I detoured to his car, dropped my bag back into the open hatch of his car, scurried over to the recycling bin and sauntered back up to my property.

One small victory for using fewer resources.

I peeked out to see if he noticed anything when he got back to his car, but he just shut the hatch lid with no visible change in affect, and then he drove away.

I know it’s not a permanent solution, but it was kind of fun.

p.s. If you are really a good citizen and you don’t need phone books, call the phone company to opt out. You’ll help prevent unneeded books from even being printed — and maybe save some gas in the delivery vehicle, too — if your opt-out succeeds, although this story from a year ago indicates you might not get lucky.

Whole Foods gives plastic bags the boot

All right, I seldom can afford to do much shopping there (and the one closest to me is often too crowded to maintain the tranquil anti-grocery atmosphere that makes organic groceries so pleasant), but Whole Foods is doing something amazing: Eliminating plastic bags from its checkout lines by Earth Day, April 22.

That’s right, three more months to stock up on your beige Whole Foods sacks.

They say they’ll eliminate 100 million plastic bags through the end of the year.

Read all about it: http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2008-01-21-whole-foods-bags_N.htm