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  • on May 12, 2010 -
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In this first follow-up to Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling, I’ll be talking about reducing consumption, eliminating the need to reuse or recycle.

I’ve come to realize there are two types of things we can reduce – one is usage-based consumables like water, electricity, or gasoline, and the other is more traditional items we buy individually. Here’s some examples of what we do today. In many cases they’re minor, but that’s OK!

  • When shopping for just a couple items, we ask the check-out clerk to not put them in a bag.
  • Avoid accepting (or buying!) “junk”. For example, at work, vendors love to give out low-capacity USB memory sticks, gimmicky toys, or junky pens. These usually end up in the trash a few days later.
  • I recently switched to Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries due to the rate my wireless keyboards, mice, and noise-canceling headphones were chewing up AA and AAA batteries.
  • We are very reliable at eating our leftovers, whether from a restaurant or our home-cooking. This means less new food to buy, and less trash!
  • Minimize printing, or print double-sided when possible.
  • Part of our morning routine used to be picking up the various free “Examiner” style newspapers from our driveway, and depositing them in our recycle bin. A quick call to the papers, and they now skip our house.
  • We’ve found that a half-sheet of Bounce works just as well to prevent static cling in the dryer, and the clothes don’t smell as strongly of Bounce.

The “usage-based” ways of reducing are probably much better understood and commonly followed:

  • Gasoline: we don’t use a lot, mainly because we don’t drive much (my commute to work is 6 miles, and I’ll sometimes be biking to work this summer). Our cars aren’t particularly fuel-efficient though, something we should improve the next time we replace them.
  • Water: We have a high-efficiency washing machine that uses very little water, and I’ve installed adjustable flappers in our toilets set to use the minimum amount of water possible. Outside however, we have a very large yard and irrigation system. We program it to use as little water as possible to keep our yard green, and ensure our sprinklers aren’t “watering the road” like many others on the street, but it still uses a lot of water. When we know the forecast calls for a fair bit of rain, we will turn off our sprinklers until they are needed again. On the bright side, the water goes into the ground to support the water table, rather than down the sewer.
  • Utilities: Fortunately, our house is very well insulated, so our heating and cooling energy usage is low for a house this size. When our air conditioner/heat pump failed last year, we replaced it with a 15-seer model which is 15-20% more efficient than the current government standard 13-seer. Our washer has an ultra-high-speed spin cycle that squeezes out more water than most which means less drying time needed.
  • Electricity: We’re pretty diligent about turning off lights when not in use (home automation FTW!), and our entertainment center is powered via a smart power strip that cuts power to all our accessories when the TV is turned off, eliminating so-called vampire power draws. That said, our TV is a power-hungry plasma, all our light bulbs are incandescent (they’re on dimmers, making fluorescent problematic), and we have lots of computers and other equipment drawing power all the time.
  • We use programmable thermostats in the house to use less heat/AC while no one is home and close vents in all the rooms we do not use. During the summer, we move our TV and office into the basement where it is cooler. This allows us to keep the main floor warmer than usual in the summer. In the winter, we move back upstairs onto the main floor and thereby reduce the need to heat the basement.

Have other suggestions? Leave a comment!


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