Posts in Environment

Black and Yellow Garden Spider

on September 13th, 2009 by

A few weeks ago we had a cool looking spider make a web in the corner of our deck. I took a picture but never got around to researching before hard rains came and wiped out the web.

Today, as I am in the living room watching my husband play video games while I blog, I noticed out the window what I thought to be the spider – it was back! I grabbed my camera and took a closer look, however, upon close examination, I found it to be the same type of spider but a little different in length of torso and legs.

After some researching this afternoon, I found out that both spiders are female due to their size (the first one was just a little longer than the new one). They are both Black and Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia) (Wikipedia has a really nice article too). I’ve never seen spiders like this before even though research tells me they are quite common. He is now our garden variety visitor for a little while.

Female Black and Yellow Garden Spider (top of torso)Female Black and Yellow Garden Spider (bottom of torso)Female Black and Yellow Garden Spider (top of torso)

Our New Electric Mower

on June 28th, 2008 by

We finally did it! We bought an electric mower.

Keep in mind, we did need a new mower. We are very aware of the fact that buying something “green” when you do not need to replace a product you already own does not pay off fiscally. In this case, our old gasoline mower is on its last wheel. My father-in-law has already repaired the thing several times (it’s something he really likes to do). In fact, he will be taking the old mower for parts on his next visit.

Did It Cost More than a Gasoline Mower?

Yes.

I compared the feature set of the new electric mower to the features of gasoline mowers until I found a functionally equivalent product that I would have bought were it not for the electric mower calling to me. The equivalent gasoline mower was about $400. I know that you can buy a mower for $150, but “you get what you pay for” resounds in my head. The old gasoline mower was originally purchased for $350 in 2001, so I feel confident that the $400 is an accurate price for a solid comparison. The new electric mower cost $474 (shipping was free).

Naturally, I felt compelled to calculate the return on investment (ROI) for the new mower. I sat down the other night with a spreadsheet open and began my research and calculations. The research involved finding out the tank size of the gasoline mower. I used our current mower for that and the amount of gasoline used to cut our yard. The funny thing is, you simply cannot easily find the tank size for a walk behind mower anywhere! We scoured the Internet for any reference and for any mower to no avail. I had to resort to my math background to estimate the tank size based on measurements and the shape of the tank.

Another very interesting bit of research involved finding out how much electricity is used to charge a battery. I know how to calculate kilowatt-hours from the rated wattage and amp-hours of a battery, etc., etc. However, I never thought about charging a battery…until now. I’ve been interested in getting a meter that sits between an item and a wall outlet, but we did not buy one just yet. Instead, I found an obscure post from an energy expert about how to estimate the amount used to charge a battery to capacity. He claims that you can multiply the rated watt-hours of the battery by a factor of 1.6 to arrive at the total watt-hours necessary to charge fully.

Note: When we actually purchase a meter, I’ll update my calculations and this post.

The Necessary Calculations

So, our battery’s watts * amp-hours = 360 Wh * 1.6 = 576 Wh to charge the battery to capacity. The tank volume of our gasoline mower * 0.5 (I use about 50% of the 0.80 gal tank to cut our yard) = 0.40 gal used per cut of our yard. Now, for the fun.

I have calculated the cost of gasoline and electricity on June 27, 2008. Gasoline was $3.9590/gal at the station we frequent, and electricity was about $0.1580/kWh. I also looked at my history of cutting grass here. I cut the grass once a week for about 25 weeks each year.

I am looking for the time it will take to catch up, fiscally, with the alternative purchase we could have made; a gasoline mower. The price difference of the two mowers was a flat $74. All I needed to do was to divide that difference by the difference in cost per cut of our yard.

Break-even Analysis

Here are the numbers for the break-even analysis.

Gasoline Mower Electric Mower
Cost per Cut (Jun 27, 2008) $1.5638 $0.0910
Weeks to Break Even n/a 50.24
Seasons/Years to Break Even n/a 2.01

Well, it looks like it will take about 2 years to break-even. That, of course, carries quite a few assumptions. The main unreasonable assumption is that the price of gasoline and electricity will remain the same as they are now for the next 2 years. Reasonable assumptions are as follows.

  • We would have purchased a new gasoline mower for around $400 had we not been interested in an electric mower.
  • The cost of maintenance on a gasoline mower is roughly equivalent to the cost of maintenance on an electric mower (e.g. replace the carburetor on the gas mower vs. replace the battery on the electric mower).

Conclusion

I am quite happy with our purchase of an electric mower instead of a gasoline mower. It is drastically lighter and easier to push. It is about 75% quieter than our old gasoline mower (I can actually listen to my iPod without having to deafen myself with the volume). I don’t inhale all those fumes that irritate my sinuses and increase my allergy symptoms.

Finally, I feel better that I am not contributing to the pollution statistics. Did you know that 5% of the nation’s pollution comes from traditional gasoline-powered mowers? In fact, they produce as much pollution in a single hour as a modern car driven 95 miles!

In future posts, I will expand upon these fiscal calculations in an attempt to achieve more accuracy.

Saving Electricity

on June 12th, 2008 by

My husband was looking up the wattage of common items around the home and stumbled upon this site Saving Electricity. Some of the information seems a little outdated, but there are signs of current information being added and some of the information is probably the latest you can get (like statistics from the government). When I started looking at the site, I found lots of neat information. I especially like that Michael Bluejay (the writer of the site) hosts his website with a provider that purchases renewable energy certificates that offset the their carbon emissions. We need to start doing that – purchasing renewable energy certificates to offset our carbon emissions – another thing to look into.

Can one person make a difference?

on May 27th, 2008 by

For the past week, I have had a one line phrase repeating in my head whenever I get into my routine duties like washing dishes, laundry, and cleaning the cat box:

“Can one person make a difference?”

It all started with a conversation I had with my dad. My dad, my husband, and I were out in front of our house having our spring yard sale. The Orkin man visited our neighbor’s house and he told us to give him a call if we ever need his services. We said thanks and I turned to my dad and husband and asked, “I wonder if they have a non-toxic chemical option”. My dad asked why and I talked about the pesticides going into the ground and then into the ground water. We are on city water, but it still just doesn’t seem right since the water eventually makes it to the streams and bay. And then my dad said something like “but you are just one person”. I can’t remember now if I said something or I just didn’t know what to say. I know that he meant nothing mean to me by it, it is just how so many people feel when we live in a system where is seems as if one person has no impact on anything.

As this phrase has been repeated over and over in my head, I have thought about it a whole lot. I first started to think about the positive ways someone can make a difference, but my mind soon turned to how one person can make a difference in a negative way – a horrible co-worker who can turn the whole office into a “toxic soup” with their negativity and pessimism, a driver who decides to drive drunk and hits someone who was innocently driving their vehicle and not harming anyone, an assassin who kills a leader of a country. These negative people show that one person can really make a difference. Negative impacts are always easier to find since they tend to be dramatic and immediate. But this is not the direction of a difference that I ever want to consider. I want to know how one person can make a difference positively.

I learned in high school to Think Globally, Act Locally. This means that what you want to happen on a global level, you need to do in your own life – locally – in your home, community, and and other places that you have impact. When more people catch on and start to participate, the group will get larger, and an impact will be seen. It really does start with one person – one person joining another person which forms a group.

I finally started thinking about how much in the last 3 years my husband and I have acted locally in a way we would like to see a global change and it has already changed our lives for the better…

  • Choosing healthier personal care and cleaning products so our bodies aren’t absorbing stuff that can make us sick now or years later… I don’t get sick anymore after I clean.
  • Choosing to replace a gas lawnmower with a rotary mower (soon to get an electric lawnmower) to reduce our carbon footprint and our pollution level… My husband no longer coughs all day and sometimes longer after he cuts the grass.
  • Choosing organic food and textiles when possible so that we are not ingesting or absorbing pesticides that can make us sick… I used to be stuffed up all of the time and I feel this is one of the changes that has made the most difference in my better breathing.
  • Choosing to shop at stores that treat their employees ethically and give back to their community… I feel better knowing that the employees I interact with are happier at the places I shop.

In addition to making our lives better, we are making others’ lives better too. By purchasing organic food and textiles, we are putting our money toward businesses where their employees aren’t exposed to pesticides that can make them sick.

Choices done by individuals everyday, for example through purchases, show companies what you want – that we want healthier choices – so each individual “one person” really is making a difference.

The environmentally friendly and organic movements didn’t happen overnight, they have been years in the making. Each aspect started with one person with a want for something different and the ideas grew.

The Neuton

on May 13th, 2008 by

My husband’s, step mother’s mom just bought a new electric lawnmower and absolutely loves it. It is so quiet that she says, “the only thing you hear from it are the blades spinning”. Now that is what a lawnmower should be like – no fumes, no sound, just cut grass so you can walk on your lawn without thinking you are in the woods. It is called the Neuton and currently (May 2008) they are having a 6-month risk free trial for residential customers. I know we are going to consider it, but it is quite a big purchase.

Check it out on the Neuton site if you like.

Tribute to Color: Green

on April 21st, 2008 by

April 22nd is Earth Day. I consider myself a conservationist and an environmentalist and I would not be doing my duty if I did not mention Earth Day on my blog. Green is the color most associated with Earth Day so I thought I would get a little creative and talk about color. Actually, each week I am going to do a tribute to a different color, so stay tuned and see what color comes next.

Green is a beautiful color. The hue alone is vibrant and best describes what we see in nature. That deep true green of the grass and tree leaves after a spring rain like we had today on the mid east coast. Below are some pictures of flowers blooming in the spring from around our yard with their lovely green backgrounds.

TulipsIrisDaffodils

Our house has two rooms that are painted green – one bathroom and one bedroom. Both are the same shade of green now (one was originally the color of grass but I needed a change so it became the same color as the green in the bathroom). We have tons of green accents all around our house on pillow covers, comforters, rugs, dishes, art work, and most of all plants – lots of plants.

Bedroom #2Bedroom #2Rug
Original Green in bedroom : Updated green in bedroom : Green Rug

To come to think of it, we have a lot of green in our house. It does make sense though since my husband and I are both earth signs.

So Much Research, So Little Time

on April 18th, 2008 by

This past week has been all about research… so much research… mostly about the things we put in and on our bodies. From clothes to food to personal care products.

When I posted my recent article about Earth-Friendly Products, I started thinking that these items are good for the earth (petroleum-free, chlorine-free, toxin-free, cruelty-free, and organic (where the option exists)), and while those things are good for our bodies, there are additional concerns when our personal care is considered. What is the specific toxin levels of the ingredients of these products we use on our bodies?

When you start to think about it too deep, your head starts to spin. So when the dizziness stopped for me, I found a company that is all about showing you the details of the ingredients in your personal care products. The company is Environmental Working Group (EWG). The section of their site that I have been using quite frequently recently is EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. I have found many of the products I have looked for, however, they are always updating their database, and some items just aren’t there. When you can’t find an item, look up its individual ingredients.

We have come along way in using more healthy products, however, through my research, there is still more work to be done. Some products we use everyday will soon not be in our cabinets because of what I have found out. Replacements will be made soon and I will update my product use list and add explanations and links to why a change was made.

I also did a little research to find where you can get a list of companies that really are not testing their products on animals since they can say it on the product and it not be true. PETA is the best place to find this information. PETA’s website has a link to PETA’s Caring Consumer.com who has a list of Companies That Do/That Don’t Test on Animals. I am happy to say that the three main companies that we buy personal care and household cleaners from (JASON, Seventh Generation, and method) are all on the Don’t Test on Animals list. Yea!

I am happy that we have the freedom to choose the products that we use. I am also happy that others are out there to help us with the facts that we just don’t see on labels.

Earth-friendly Products

on April 10th, 2008 by

Over the past couple of months, I have been asked a couple of times which earth-friendly products I use, so I thought I would share my knowledge and experience.

Most of the earth-friendly products we buy for household and personal care are made by 3 companies: Seventh Generation, method, and JASON. The products are petroleum-free, chlorine-free, toxin-free, cruelty-free, and organic (where the option exists). The reasons we buy these products are many and here are some of them:

  • reduce oil consumption by using smaller plastic bottles though concentrated products, using products that do not contain petroleum, and using items that are made with recycled plastic
  • reduce pollution of our water by using products that do not contain toxins, petroleum, chlorine, and the like
  • reduce air pollution in our home by using products that do not contain toxins, petroleum, chlorine, and the like
  • reduce toxins in our bodies by using products that do not contain toxins, petroleum, chlorine, and the like

Seventh Generation: Laundry, Dishwashing, Household cleaners, Household paper and supplies, For Baby, Feminine Care.
Places that I have found the brand: Drugstore, Amazon, Seventh Generation, Gaiam, Babies R Us, and many more

  • Dishwasher Detergent: Free & Clear Automatic Dishwasher Powder
    Our use: We use city water and the detergent cleans the dishes quite well. We only do minimal pre-washing when it is absolutely necessary. There have been a couple of times that there was still food on a dish or two, but it they were cases where the dishes sat in the dishwasher for a week (we only run the dishwasher once a week) and it was a food that likes to harden like concrete when dry.
  • Toilet Bowl Cleaner
    Our use: Cleans well. Major stains are a little rougher to remove, but I think it would be difficult with other cleaners too.
  • Glass and Surface Cleaner
    Our use: Doesn’t evaporate too quickly. I have not experienced any streaking as long as I wipe the cleaner on the windows until dry.
  • 100% Recycled Paper Towels
    Our use: It took a little for my dad to get used to them, but we love them.
  • Recycled Trash Bags
    Our use: Even though I bought the bags a couple months ago, we used our first one last week. It went well. No breaking or leaking and worked just like other kitchen drawstring bags but they are partially made of recycled plastic, so they are better for the environment.

method: Laundry, Dishwashing, Household cleaners, Aircare, Personal care, Cleaning cloths.
Places that I have found the brand: Target (in store), Drugstore, Amazon, and many more. Here is method’s store locator.

  • All-Purpose Cleaner: Spray & All Purpose Cleaner: Wipes
    Our use: It cleans the bathroom and kitchen beautifully. I have a bottle of spray and a container of wipes in each bathroom so a quick clean up can be done at anytime without running around the house trying to find a cleaner. Best part is that my eyes don’t burn when I clean which means that I enjoy it so much more.
  • Daily Shower Spray & Tub + Tile Spray
    Our use: The shower has never been cleaner. Both bottles hang inside the shower. The daily spray minimizes the hard cleaning and the tub and tile spray gets the job done for the good scrubbing. Again, no eye burning and breathing isn’t stifled from chemical – great stuff!
  • Laundry Dryer Cloths, Laundry Fabric Softener & Laundry Detergent
    Our use: I do all of the laundry in one day a week and I use one dryer sheet for all 3 loads. I know that Method says to use one for every 2 loads, however, that 3 load (and sometimes a 4th) doesn’t seem to get short changed with the extended use of one dryer sheet. The detergent gets our clothes cleaned the fabric softener gives the clothes that extra softness and in its concentrated format, uses less water and less plastic. Lots of pluses.
  • Aroma Soy Candle & Aroma Spray
    Our use: Certain scents are better than others and for different times of the season. There haven’t been any scents we don’t like, just ones that are stronger than others. I love the aroma spray for the bathrooms and the candles get used in every room of the house. I have been so happy converting to soy based candles since they are cleaner and healthier. I think there are only a couple of petroleum based candles left in our house and they are usually just tealights since I have not found a soy candle alternative for tealights yet.
  • Microfiber Cloth: Window + Glass
    Our use: I bought this cloth before there were others like it on the market (or at least before they were easy to find). I find that the texture of the cloth works perfectly on windows.
  • Hand wash & Foaming Hand Wash
    Our use: We use these two soap interchangeably. Most of the time though the foaming hand wash is found in the bathroom most used and the thicker hand wash in the other bathrooms. Once we bought a few of the foaming hand wash bottles, we just refill them by adding a certain amount of the thick hand wash with water and lightly shaking to mix. The mixture works perfectly and we are saving money and using healthier cleaning products… woohoo!

JASON: Personal care.
Places that I have found the brand: Vitamin Shoppe (online and in store), Drugstore, Amazon, GNC (online and in store), and many more.

  • Satin Shower Body Wash
    Our use: We have tried many scents and some are stronger than others, but most don’t noticeably hang with you for long. I love the pump feature. Personally, we usually fill a dispenser on the wall, but the pump is still really nice. It cleans. It smells nice. It’s great.
  • Shampoo & Conditioner: Lavender 70% Organic
    Our use: Just bought the Lavender, so I will have to update later on the use. We were using the Tea Tree Scalp Normalizing Shampoo & Conditioner and realized that it was just not necessary and the conditioner was thick. If we had scalp problems, then it might work really well, but I can’t comment on its effectiveness.
  • Toothpaste with Fluoride and CoQ10
    Our use: Cleans teeth well. There are options for no fluoride and no CoQ10 if that is your thing. I however like the fluoride and it works well for me. I have tried most flavors and some flavors are more powerful than others, however, unlike with other toothpastes, I can eat after brushing my teeth and not have my food taste differently because I just brushed my teeth.
  • Red Elements Skin Care: Daily Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 15 & Hydrating Night Crème
    Our use: Everyday use. I have had no breakouts from the product. The night creme is heavier than the daily lotion, but neither feel like you are wearing anything once it dries. I only thing I notice when I don’t wear the products is that my face feels drier which makes sense.

Compost Pile

on March 27th, 2008 by

I am continuing to be more environmentally friendly and I am always looking for new ways to improve. Back in October 2007, I decided the next step would be to compost bin. My anticipation was that our trash would decrease and not smell bad after a week and we could turn our food into compost that we can use in our yard. It has now been 5 months and our trash has decreased and doesn’t ever smell bad. The compost has been a little slow going but it is understandable since we just went through the winter months when the internal temperature of the bin is lower and doesn’t breakdown as fast. Below is the breakdown of my compost bin experience.

The Plan for building a compost bin:

  • Research Composting
  • Figure out the best area in the yard to set it up
  • Buy a bin or build one
  • Buy small bin for kitchen to collect food to compost
  • Collect food in kitchen bin
  • Take food outside and put in compost bin on a regular basis
  • Compost created in a little while

Filling of compost bin:

  • 1:25 ratio of green to brown
  • Brown = straw, hay, dried grass & leaves
  • Green = food, green plants
  • Layer brown and green
  • 8″ of brown on top
  • See website for more in depth instructions

The Result:

  • 2′ x 8′ plastic lattice from Home Depot
  • Twist ties to connect ends of plastic lattice together
  • scissors to cut end off twist ties
  • small bail of straw

CompostCompostCompost

Learned lesson:

  • Never leave food in compost pail in house for long before taking food out to compost – it breaks down and smells disgusting and/or grows mold

No More Plastic Bags… Almost

on March 23rd, 2008 by

In the news recently there has been news of many countries and cities banning and taxing the use of plastic bags. I am very excited to see that some places are taking action. We have to reduce our dependence on oil and this is a small step in that direction (actually it is potentially a big step with a majority of compliance). The US, however, has always had problems issuing blanket regulations due to stifling a freedom, states choosing to not follow, or one of many other reasons. We all choose what regulations we want to follow whether a law states it or not. While no one is telling me to, I am choosing to reduce my plastic bag consumption.

Where I live, over the last couple of months, I have seen a slight change in people’s perspectives with regards to the use of plastic bags. I am not saying that there is a significant movement to the non-use of plastic bags, just the acceptance of not using plastic bags.

I did some research and found some wonderful reusable bags at none other than ReusableBags.com. I have bought many different styles over the last two years and I use different styles for different reasons. I will get into the benefits of certain styles of bags in another post.

One of my first experiences using my bags that I bought from ReusableBags.com was at Wal-Mart. The cashier told me that if I wasn’t going to use plastic bags, that she wasn’t going to bag my groceries. Well, being the non-confrontational person that I am, I told her that I was going to use my bags so I would bag my own groceries. When I came home and told my husband, he said that she was lucky he wasn’t there with me. I think she would have received one heck of a feedback/complaint to her manager on the spot. I did write the details of the encounter on the receipt, but never did call back and complain. Instead over my next couple of trips to Wal-Mart, as I was asking the cashiers to use the non-plastic bags, I would tell them of my unpleasant experience with one of their coworkers. A couple cashiers even told me who they probably thought it was. I never did see the rude cashier again – I would have reported a complaint should it have happened again – maybe she didn’t last long with that awful attitude. She probably gave everyone a hard time about everything.

This experience just fueled my want to change to buying my groceries at someplace other than Wal-Mart. By this time, I had many reasons to not shop at Wal-Mart that I will write a-whole-nother post about. The one reason that I started going to Wal-Mart was a lack of money on our part. I know how evil the Wal-Mart corporation is in their doing of business, so I wouldn’t be going to Wal-Mart because I like the place. I rarely find nice shoppers during my shopping experience. From the people who run into your cart while you are standing still and never apologize to the people sitting outside of the front doors in their running cars looking like they are going to need to do a fast get away but in fact are just too darn lazy to get up off their butt and walk a couple of steps. Luckily, money is better now and I realized that if we modified our food habits that we could afford to shop at a nicer grocery store like Giant, Superfresh, or Food Lion (since those are our only other choices in the way of larger grocery stores).

Now that I have switched my grocery shopping to Giant, I don’t receive any opposition to my cloth and recycled plastic grocery bags. Actually, I don’t even have to ask. All I need to do is put them on the moving belt with the food in the front and they automatically bag the groceries into the cloth bags. In addition to the friendly cashiers, Giant even gives you a credit of $0.03 for each reusable bag you use during your purchase. Some of the lines at Giant were recently converted to Self-Checkout lines – I really enjoy those. There is a person over there that helps you if you need it and not a lot of the people use the lines so there is no waiting time. Plus, I actually love bagging my own groceries. I know how much I can fill each bag up and how heavy they need to be for me to carry. I like putting similar items together and while they do a really good job of that at Giant, I just wasn’t used to good bagging at Wal-Mart – who really wants 2 items per bag, oh maybe it is because the bags will break if they put too many items in or maybe it is just Wal-Mart’s was of being wasteful – that is probably it. I just need to figure out how to put in how many reusable bags I am using and get my credit and I will have mastered the Self-Checkout lines at Giant.

I do have to admit that I haven’t been fully converted to no plastic bags completely – not out of want but necessity (for now). We have 2 cats and I use plastic bags to clean their litter boxes. I haven’t figured out a sanitary way yet of cleaning their cat boxes without the plastic bags. I can say though that over the past 3 months that I haven’t been getting plastic bags at the grocery store at all, I am still going through the plastic bags that I had stock piled. They will eventually run out though, so before they run out, I need to find a solution.

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