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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!

Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling
  • on May 2, 2010 -
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Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling

When I watch the news and see millions of gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the massive deforestation going on across the world, I sometimes wonder if my daily recycling of a couple soda cans and empty envelopes really matters. Part of the answer is that no matter how small my contribution is, it’s still the right thing to do, costs me only a few seconds of time, and I feel good about doing it. Of course the broader answer is that just like voting or volunteering, each individual’s contribution adds up to a whole that is millions of times more impactful.

We all know the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle trifecta, but in my experience only the last one—Recycle—gets much attention or conscious thought in our minds. What’s interesting is that the order they are listed in does matter.

While certainly important and worthwhile, recycling is the least effective and “last resort” solution for trash. Rather than sending something to a landfill, I can send it to be re-made into something new. It still needs to be hauled around though, and energy expended to recycle it, and its new form may end up in a landfill if the next owner is not as diligent.

Stepping up the ladder one rung, reusing items when possible is a significantly better choice. Now the item in question doesn’t need to leave my home at all, saving all that transportation and recycling energy. As an extra bonus, since it’s something I am now reusing, in some cases I’m also not spending money to buy a new one!

This leads us to the top of the ladder: reducing. Not buying (or accepting for free) an item in the first place not only means it doesn’t have to be sent away for recycling, it also means it doesn’t need to be manufactured in the first place—the ultimate in “green”.

My next three posts will address each of these options. I’ll be listing ways Kathie and I currently contribute to each “R”, and I hope you’ll leave some comments with other suggestions on how we can do more. We don’t claim to be an especially “green” household, but I think we do pretty well overall. If we can find a few incremental ways to improve, we’re looking forward to trying them out!

Landfill photo from



We didn’t panic, but we did lose power for two days (and went through pretty severe gadget and internet withdrawal, probably more-so than heat withdrawal). Between the news, facebook, twitter, and everything else, the big storm (32.4 inches of snow here in around 36 hours) has been well covered, so instead of going on about it, I’m just going to post some photos from the big event (and a couple from the December snowstorm).