Tag Archives: waste

Every Fifth Flush is Free

One of the goals I had for 2019 was to replace the toilets in my house with high efficiency models.  A toilet’s efficiency is measured in the amount of water used per flush (e.g. 1.6 gallons per flush).

When my house was built almost ten years ago three 1.6 gallon per flush “builder basic” toilets were installed.  Up until the past year the toilets have worked with relatively little trouble save for the occasional clog from an overzealous use of toilet paper.  In the past month or so, two of the high use toilets have begun to develop the annoying habit of not sealing after a flush so the water runs continuously until someone jiggles the handle.

Repairing a toilet can send someone down the rabbit hole of wildly different parts.  Do you have a 2, 2.75, or 3 inch tank outlet?  Well, if you want to repair that leaky flapper get ready to find out.  Even if you happen to figure out the exact size be prepared for one brand of part to not fit quite right so you spend the day at Lowe’s or Home Depot staring blankly at toilet flappers, repair kits, or the mirage of a six pack of beer to get you through the nightmare.

Or, you can just replace the whole toilet. This is the route that I chose to take.  I chose to install a Kohler Transpose:

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I went the complete replacement route over a replacing the “guts” of the old toilet because as I disassembled the old toilet I found the rubber gaskets to be falling apart.  Not enough to cause a leak, but it did cause me to question just how much life was left in the entire system.

The Transpose’s selling point over similar toilets was its smooth sides.  No visible trapway snaking down to the drain hole, collecting dust, and just being kind of a pain in the ass to clean.  Not a problem now.

The new toilet uses 1.28 gallons per flush versus the old toilet’s 1.6 gallons per flush.  The .32 gallons per flush saved equals 1.28 gallons after four flushes, so the fifth is “free.”  At least that is the math that I am sticking to in my head.  A twenty percent savings per flush is a big deal.  Imagine the pressure on our municipal water systems that could be reduced if every toilet suddenly became twenty percent or more efficient overnight.

Per my New Year’s “goal” I was setting out to replace all of the toilets in my house.  I think, based on usage patterns, I am only going to replace the two high volume commodes.  The toilet in our basement is used infrequently and the water savings will hardly make up for the cost/embodied energy of a new toilet.

NOTE: I bought the Kohler Transpose toilet with my own money, installed it of my own free will, and receive nothing of any kind from Kohler. 

Friday Linkage 11/15/2019

I know that I have said this before, but I feel like we are living in a “bizarro” world where we all should have goatees and act in ways contrary to our nature.

How have we gotten to a point in America where the defense of a sitting president using his office’s power for personal gain is defended as “not as bad as it could be?”  That was almost the literal defense that was provided by the Republicans chosen lawyer in the House’s impeachment proceedings.

If that is the bar for criminality than the U.S. prison system is about to get a whole lot less crowded.

On to the links…

Little Ice Age Lessons–Take a moment and read through the article while reserving judgement until you finish.  I might quibble with the details, but the idea that we have the ability to adapt to dramatically different climate conditions is a little ray of hope in a generally cloudy forecast.

Mike Pence’s Office Pushed to Reroute Foreign Aid to Favored Christian Groups–Just a friendly reminder that Mike Pence is a horrible human being.

If the US Military is Facing up to the Climate Crisis, shouldn’t We All?–Yes.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions To Rise Through 2040–Well, that is just kind of depressing.  It also underscores the need to cut emissions today.

US Energy Dept. Has A Solar Power Message For Coal: Get Lost!–Even the U.S. government understands that the economic case for coal is a lost cause.  This is a U.S. government agency under the thumb of the corrupt Donald Trump administration where coal companies are welcome.  What happens under a president that does not kowtow to coal robber barons?

Bob Murray: The Last Coal Baron?–We can hope.

Colorado’s Cleanest Energy Options are Also Its Cheapest–Renewable energy is cheap.  As states build out plans to decarbonize the economic benefits will become clear.  Add in the environmental benefits and you have a recipe for an economic and environmental transformation on par with the Industrial Revolution.

Berkeley scientists develop better batteries for storing renewable energy–Battery technology is not all about improving EVs.  The ability to store energy as a way to moderate the delta between renewable energy production and electricity demand is probably just as important for our decarbonized future.

Electric Cars are Changing the Cost of Driving–No oil changes.  Check. No fuel system.  Check. No complicated cooling system, transmission, exhaust, etc.  Check. As people drive EVs they come to realize that it is just a better way to motor.  Now if I could just get a BEV pickup truck.

Should You Even Bother Recycling Your Plastics?–This is why it is so important to reduce before reusing or recycling.  Plastics that are never introduced to the waste stream are the best kinds of plastic.

In Honolulu, An Ambitious Plastics Reduction Bill Is Moving Through City Council–Cities, especially cities on islands, are the climate laboratories of the 21st century.  Policies that would not be adopted in places like Omaha, Nebraska can be passed in island cities and proven to work.

Air Bubble Barrier Traps Plastic Waste in Amsterdam’s Canals–Some ideas are so simple that it boggles the mind that no one thought of this before.  How can we get a group like 4ocean to pilot these bubble barriers in several rivers, canals, whatever waterways across the globe?

Silvopasture: The Benefits of Integrating Livestock and Trees–There are more ways to skin the agriculture cat than we usually consider.  Livestock can be part of a system that helps to regenerate the landscape or produce renewable energy.  It is not always a zero sum game.

11 Unbelievably Easy Swaps To Be More Eco-Friendly–Imagine a world where we all woke up and did these eleven things?  Ok, for the dudes out there the whole diva cup thing is not applicable so pick an extra thing to do.

Stuff I Like: FloWorks Drying Rack

So much handwashing.  I have lamented the state of handwashing in my house now that my focus the past six weeks or so has been the reduction of single use plastics in things like school lunches.  What this really translates into is eliminating single use zipper style bags for sandwiches and grapes.  Two lunches equals four bags per day which works out to twenty bags per week.

Seven or so weeks into the school year and we have already saved approximately 140 bags from making their way into the landfill.  However, this has meant a change in the evening ritual.  For me it means an additional four things to wash by hand and leave to dry for the next day.  Unlike water bottles or coffee mugs, reusable bags are kind of a pain to wash and dry.  The drying aspect is especially troublesome.

Enter the FloWorks Drying Rack:

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This thing works and does not look like a refugee from a baby supply store.  It claims to be made from repurposed birch and ash wood and plywood scavenged from furniture makers in Canada.  Good on them, eh.

The whole thing also skinnies down to a cylinder that can be stored in a normal size utensil drawer:

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This is super handy when you are spending a day cleaning the kitchen counters and want everything out of sight.  I am not going all Marie Kondo in my kitchen, but I do love it when there is a place for everything and the clutter is eliminated.

It may not be the biggest change you make this year, but eliminating the disposal of plastic bags on a daily basis is a good place to make a dent in your consumption of single use plastic items.

Note: I purchased the FloWorks Drying Rack with my own funds and receive nothing in return from the manufacturer.  I also receive nothing in return from the linked store, which in this case is Amazon much to my chagrin.

Pertinent Lessons from Our Recent Past

A little off the beaten path for tourists in London is the Imperial War Museum.  It’s still a quick tube ride from the central part of the city and it is just a two stops away from the always tasty Borough Market.  Plus, depending on the line you take you will get to stop at the Elephant & Castle station.  I think that name is just smashing.

The museum has all the usual exhibits that glorify the British Empire—one quarter of the world’s landmass, one quarter of the world’s population, the sun never sets on the British Empire, etc.—through World War I and II with a small, yet quite impactful, exhibit on the Holocaust.  However, the part of the museum that I found most interesting dealt with the home front during World War II.

The home front usually gets short shrift in any analysis of a war effort.  World War II in Britain was a little different because the horrors of war made it across the English Channel in German raids on London and other cities.  Children were shipped to the countryside where it was deemed safer and Londoners huddled in shelters as bombs or rockets rained down.  With a stiff upper lip, so to speak, the nation kept calm and carried on.

My daughter and I probably spent close to an hour in the home front exhibition looking at the types of food that were available or not available and why or the measures taken by households to conserve materials in order to supply troops.  The impression that my ten year old daughter was left with was how little a house could make do with if it had to. Her seven year old brother, naturally, loved the display of World War I grenades.

As we face an uncertain climate in the coming decades and the attendant consequences of that climate change we may be forced into a situation where our everyday begins to resemble the home front during an armed global conflagration.

Victory is in the Kitchen

Victory is in the Kitchen

It is my belief that we can make some of the biggest impacts from the comfort of our homes and the center of our homes is the kitchen.  It is the place where my family spends the most time together and it is probably where I spend the most time teaching my children.  Some parents play catch or go on hikes, I teach my kids how to dice onions, mince garlic, deglaze pans, and build flavors.

Change starts at home.  The food we choose to make and eat forms the core of our value system as self-described environmentalists.  If you are not trying to be a better human in the kitchen you might as well stop sweating the other stuff.

Food: Don’t Waste It

Food Dont Waste It

In the United States it is estimated that 30 to 40% of food goes to waste.  Given the impact of agriculture on climate change this is unacceptable.  Furthermore, given that in this age of abundance when we are dealing with diseases of over consumption, e.g. obesity related illnesses, there are still millions of people that go hungry every day.

Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend

Repair is the forgotten action that we can take to conserve.  Almost everything, save for our homes and automobiles, is basically disposable in modern capitalist economies.  Even big ticket items like appliances are seen as disposable, which blows my mind.  Here’s the thing, repairing stuff has never been easier.  The internet is literally chock a block full of people posting repair instructions, wiring diagrams, parts lists, etc. that can help even the least handy of us repair many of the items we once viewed as disposable.

Can I do Without It?

Can I Do Without

Is there a better question to ask yourself about any purchase that you make?  The most environmentally conscious purchase is usually one that we do not make.  Sure, there are the obvious wins like replacing high usage light bulbs with the most efficient LED bulbs or replacing a fifteen year old refrigerator with a more efficient model.  However, many of the “green” purchases we make are just adding consumption to the system that is destroying our planet.  It may be made of organic cotton, but do you really need another t-shirt?

Self-Indulgence at This Time is Helping the Enemy

Self Indulgence

I just love how direct some of the messaging was during World War II.  This poster is basically saying, “Don’t be a dick, we’re fighting a war here.”  How many of our problems, with regard to climate change, could be solved if people were just somewhat less self-indulgent?  I will let you stew on that thought for now.

What Impact Does a Single Aluminum Can Make?

About once a week, sometimes more, I pick up a discarded aluminum can on the side of the road in the last few miles of my usual thirty mile out and back.  Cyclists are not the source of these cans, I believe, since most of them are on a stretch of road well-travelled by garbage trucks, work vehicles, and jackasses who litter.

Aluminum, as we all learned in elementary school when Earth Day was new and shiny, is easily recyclable.  The problem is that less than half of the estimated 100 billion aluminum cans per year are recycled.  Now, a 50% recovery rate is pretty good compared to plastic or paper but considering the ecological impact of turning bauxite into aluminum it is unacceptable.

It takes a lot of raw bauxite ore and energy to make aluminum.  Recycling the aluminum flips that equation on its head.  The old saw that we learned as kids was that the energy saved from recycling one can could save enough energy to run your television for three hours.  When you are concerned about the environment and love watching Thundercats on Saturday morning this is a big deal.  Now?  Not so much.  Here’s the deal.  It takes twenty times the energy to produce an aluminum can from raw ore versus recycling said can.  Put in kilowatt hour terms it takes ~4.2 kWh to make an aluminum can from scratch. So, every can you pull from the waste stream and put into the recycling stream saves about 4 kWh of electricity and, by extension, about 4 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

That is for a single can.  If I pick up a single can across the 25 or so weeks of “prime” riding season here in eastern Iowa the end result is a savings of about 100 kWh of electricity or 4 to 5 days of solar photovoltaic production from my rooftop array.  Start multiplying that over all of the people taking a ride and it adds up to some real electricity savings.  Think about getting closer to 100% recovery of the 100 billion aluminum cans manufactured in the U.S. every year.  Those are big numbers.

How big?  For every one billion cans or four billion pounds of carbon dioxide not emitted that is like doing any one of the following:

  • Over 388,000 of the average car driven for a year or
  • Almost 196,000 homes energy use for one year or
  • About 460 wind turbines production for a year
  • And a whole lot more…play with the numbers, it’s fun.

This is why it is important, in my mind, to pick up the cans I see littering the road and trail when I am on my bike.  A few seconds every ride is all it takes.  Heck, in Iowa we have a freaking deposit law so every can also nets you a nickel.  Do it for the nickels!

Stop Buying Water for Your Shower

We all know that bottled water is bad.  It’s usually just tap water put into plastic bottles and dropped off in pallets at our local grocery store.  You end up paying dollars for something that costs cents when it comes out of the faucet in your home.  Add in the plastic waste and you get a bad environmental actor that no one wants to defend.

But what about your shampoo and shower gel?  Look at the first ingredient.  I am betting dollars to donuts that the first ingredient listed is water.  How much water?  Seventy to eighty percent depending upon the formulation. [1]  Shower gel is in the same boat and considering its rise to prominence over bar soap I am guessing that most people have multiple bottles of what is mostly water in their showers. [2]

Every one of those bottles of shampoo and shower gel are just a step up from buying bottled water.  I have always been a bar soap guy finding the entire loofah and shower gel combo unsatisfying on a number of fronts.  Foremost among those is what wondering what is lurking in the folds of that loofah that do not get clean.  Sorry for that image, folks.

Bar soap is the easy answer to shower gel.  Hell, it’s also one of the easiest things to get from a local provider because almost every farmers market I have been to over the past decade has a soapmaker or two.  Or you could get the soap that I like the bestPacha’s Dirty Hippie.

The shampoo angle seems a little harder until you do a little digging.  I would not have thought twice about it until a friend re-gifted me a Lush Seanik shampoo bar.   All I could remember thinking was why I did not come across this concept sooner.  Now, I do not care to afford Lush’s products although I do love their ingredients and social bent.  Once the Seanik bar ran out I bought some J.R. Liggett Old Fashioned shampoo bars and I am working through them currently.

Bar soap and shampoo bars come with none of the packaged plastic waste that comes from shower gel and liquid shampoo.  If we really want to make a change in the way we consume things we really need to examine the nature of the products that we buy and the packaging that those products come in.  A little paper wrapper seems like a much better solution than an empty plastic bottle.

 

  1. http://chemistscorner.com/how-shampoos-are-made/
  2. http://fortune.com/2016/08/25/bar-soap-declining-sales/

Is that Salsa Safe to Eat?

You know the tyranny of the sell by date, right? You find a jar of peanut butter, salsa, frosting, etc. in the back of the pantry where it languished for several months or more and the magic date printed in barely legible writing has passed. Into the garbage, right?

Well, if you were a college student who did not subsidize a lavish lifestyle with student loans you are too familiar with eating something “past its date” and wondering the next morning if gastrointestinal distress is going to be your companion for the weekend. Does ramen ever really go bad?

EatByDate is you new handy resource to tell you how much past that expiration date the food in your pantry can be without posing a risk your stomach’s health. Remember, most of the dates on food are “sell by” or “best by” dates, which do not necessarily correlate to a date at which the food is no longer safe to eat. A lot of these dates are figured by the manufacturer for various reasons not related to food safety. Just because that bag of Doritos is stale does not mean that those Doritos are unsafe to consume.

For example, take peanut butter. In my house we buy peanut butter at a warehouse store because my two children sometimes go on binges where peanut butter seems like the only menu item. However, children’s taste buds are fickle and that second jar in a monster size two pack sits for a little bit too long or we somehow doubled up buying peanut butter. If you enter peanut butter into the search tool and clock on the first result a chart like this appears:

EatByDate Peanut Butter

A lot of other information is contained on the page relating to telling if the particular food item in question has spoiled and how long an ingredient can be in a recipe before going rogue.

This seems like a tool for the cost conscious among us, but it is also an important eco-tool considering just how much food we waste in the western world. Estimates vary, but in the middle of the spectrum it is estimated that between a quarter to a third of food is wasted. When you think about the estimates for the increased in food production required to feed a growing human population this inefficiency cannot be ignored.