Welcome to Green Boot Camp

Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Week 28--Recycling DVDs and CDs

Every good green citizen knows the importance of recycling. If you're like me, you are diligently putting your plastics, paper, glass and aluminum out whenever it's recycling day. Or if you live in a state that has a bottle bill, you are religious about taking recyclable bottles back to the store so you can get your five or ten cents refunded to you.

Believe it or not, there is way more that you can recycle but that you can't put out at the curb. I've discussed this during other weeks on Green Boot Camp, such as Week 20, which talked about giving things away that you would normally throw away. And then way back during Week 3, we discussed "recycling everything else," which included motor oil and computers.

This week on Green Boot Camp we're going to focus on how to recycle some things that are actually pretty ubiquitous in most American homes. And that would be CDs and DVDs.

For starters have you ever really looked at a CD? They are kind of pretty, especially on the data side, which has all kinds of pretty rainbows and star burst patterns on it when you hold it in the light just so. That's why last Christmas I took some of my useless CDs, strung them with ribbon (recycled from somewhere else, of course), and hung them on our Christmas tree. I've also seen folks reuse CDs as drink coasters. And last spring, when my older daughter participated in an Odyssey of the Mind competition, we marveled at a team in her division that has crafted a butterfly costume out of used CDs. It was gorgeous--and food for thought for our costumes next year!

What about CDs or DVDs that are still in perfect working order but you're not interested in them anymore? Well if you have the cases for them, you could always put them up for grabs on Freecycle or Craigslist.

Might your library like them as a donation? I know that not every library can take books but with DVDs taking up much less room, perhaps they have room on their shelves for your used DVDs.

Or you could join some of the online swap sites that focus on DVDs and CDs (and books and computer games, too). The ones that come to mind are Zwaggle.com, SwapTree.com and, despite the name, Bookins.com.

Finally, if you've got CDs that you can no longer use and you can't figure out how to reuse them, then, believe it or not, you can recycle them. I just discovered The CD Recycling Center of America. Based in Salem, New Hampshire, not only does this company recycle the metal compact discs but also it will recycle the paper inserts and the jewel boxes that normally hold CDs, DVDs and software programs. This company works with everyone from individuals to schools that want to have a recycling drive, and you can get all of the details about sending them your CDs to be recycled here. Note: you will have to pay to send the CDs to the company, but at least it isn't charging you a fee to do the actual recycling, which some of the older-school CD recycling facilities once did.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Week 27--Drive Yourself Green

I don't need to tell you that gas prices are at an all-time high. Unless you can afford to buy a hybrid car--or at least find one without a waiting list--you're going to have to make do with the car you have.

This week in Green Boot Camp, your goal is to figure out ways to drive yourself green. In the process you should improve your gas mileage and, hopefully, cut down on how frequently you need to fill up on gas.

Start with checking the air pressure in your tires. (You'll find their proper pounds per square inch, or psi, on the side of the tire itself.) This is important because when tires are about 20 percent below where they should be as far as air pressure goes, you can expect to increase how much fuel you use by 10 percent.

Here's another reason to ensure that your tires are properly inflated: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that under-inflated tires (along with worn out or simply old tires) are a leading cause of traffic accidents. That means that if you keep your tires properly inflated--and you replace them when they get worn out--you'll reduce your risk of a tire-caused traffic accident.

Next, lighten your load by clearing out stuff in your car that your really don't need to be hauling around with you. You know how airlines are trying to lighten their loads to save fuel? Well the same applies to your car. If you haven't ever bothered to clean out your kids' heavy sports equipment or you've been toting around an extra case of bottled water (shame on you), just in case, then you are driving around extra weight that is weighing down your ability to get good gas mileage.

Try to practice hypermiling as much as you can--and I mean the safe kind of hypermiling, not the drafting kind that puts you in danger. This crazy term hypermiling is all about getting the most gas mileage out of each tank of gas by changing how your drive, brake and park. One excellent hypermiling tip is always to pull through a parking spot so that you're facing outwards to leave. If you park the traditional way, where you have to back out to drive away, you're using twice as much gas to get in and out of a parking spot. However, if you pull in nose first--and then pull all the way through--you can drive right out when you're done with your errands, thus saving you gas.

Finally, and I realize that this is a no brainer, probably the best way to green your driving is not to drive at all. Are there ways that you can work walking, carpooling or public transportation into your life? Figure out if any of these is doable, and I'll bet you'll see your gassing-up bill going down.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Week 26--Choosing the Right Cooling System for Your Home

Now that things are really heating up in July--well, at least they are in the Northern Hemisphere--chances are that you're spending time at home trying to get cool. We've already talked in Week 24 about using ceiling fans to move cool air around. But in some instances you've got to have air conditioning.

If you've ever wondered if your window a/c made the most sense or if you should upgrade to an Energy Star-certified central air conditioning system, now is the time to think about that. So this week in Green Boot Camp, I'd like you to determine which kind of air conditioning is the greenest--and most financially feasible--option for your home.

How do you determine if you should have a window a/c unit versus central air? There are a number of factors that affect whether or not you should use window units versus central air. According to experts what really matters is the climate where you live (hot and humid Houston versus dry Denver), how your home is insulated, and what your personal preferences are. Let's start with climate.

If you're looking to cool your home and lower the humidity, a central air system is your best bet, hands down, as far as efficiency goes. There are two reasons that window units are all wet when it comes to reducing humidity are that they tend to sweat (especially if they are overworked) and therefore introduce moisture into the room. And since it's harder to seal window units, you tend to get hot, humid air sucked in from the outside.

That said, if humidity isn't your problem but you'd just like to cool your home, you could get away with one window unit on each floor, if your home is well insulated. (Check out this Energy Star website to figure out the right-sized air conditioner based on a room's size.) Insulation isn't just in the walls, by the way. We're also talking about well-insulated windows and, believe it or not, a well-insulated attic.

Keep in mind that while window units are cheaper in the short run, if you're looking to purchase more than a few of them, you're probably better off going with a central air system. A central air unit will use less energy overall and cool more efficiently than a series of window units running in tandem. On the other hand if you need to cool only one or two rooms in your house--and you can live with the rest of the home being unairconditioned, then all you would need would be a window unit for each room you want to be cool.

Keep in mind that just like appliances with Energy Star ratings, air conditioning units come with their own efficiency ratings. This Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy website offers a guide to understanding central air efficiency ratings so you can make the best choice for your budget and the environment.

Air-conditioning talk aside, here is some parting advice for keeping your home cool, whether or not you have a/c.

* If your home faces south or west--or simply sits in the sun all day--and you don't have any shade trees helping to cool your home, you're going to have a tougher time keeping your house cool. (See Week 23 for more about "acting shady.")

* Having lights on throughout the day inside the house or even running the oven or dishwasher will inch up the indoor temperature.

* If you don't block out the sun, you're just going to bake inside your house. That's why window treatments play an important part in keeping a house cool--and your cooling bills lower.

Bottom line: to keep your home cool, with or without air conditioning, plant shade trees, keep curtains, blinds and shutters closed during the hottest part of the day, and limit lights on (especially halogen, that burn bright and hot) and appliances used during the heat of the day.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Week 25--Reduce Your Garbage

Recently, I wrote a post on The Lean Green Family about a new, "green" garbage bag that I'd discovered. It is green because it's coated with a "secret formula" to make it biodegradable (in ideal landfill conditions) and it's green because, well, it's a green bag, not a black bag.

Soon thereafter I heard from someone who was interested in this green bag but confessed that she rarely throws away any garbage, so buying garbage bags just wasn't a priority for her anymore. How the heck can she not have garbage to throw away?

I thought it was so great when we had cut our garbage output in half when we started composting last year. But not to have any garbage at all? How is that possible?

This week your goal is to reduce your garbage by at least one bag, and you can easily do this through composting. If you haven't already started composting, I want you to get started now. You can get a free or low-cost composting bin from your local state university's co-op extension program, your municipality's recycling facility or on Freecycle (like I did).

Here is a composting primer:

First, you can throw any organic matter in your compost--vegetable peels, apple cores, seeds, popcorn, coffee grounds, eggshells and more. What you can't put in the compost are three key things: no dairy, no meat, no bones. (These smell super rancid and they attract pests.)

Next, since you keep your compost bin outside, you should have a small collection bucket inside. I have a leftover sherbet bucket that I keep tucked under the sink. My mother used to keep a bucket right in the sink (we had a big sink, and I think she dumped the compost daily).

When your bucket is full, bring it outside to the compost bin. Every time that you dump "green" matter (i.e. your organic matter described above) into the compost bin, you need to cover it with a thin layer of "brown" matter. I use fallen leaves or extra dirt. Some people use mulch (though that seems to be an expensive option that could easily become cost prohibitive). I've also dumped cold fireplace ashes in the compost as my "brown" (even though they were gray).

Every week or so, you should turn your compost so that the air circulates and everything begins to break down into beautiful, dark dirt that, soon enough, you can use in your garden.

Because composting works with heat, your compost will decompose and turn to dirt faster in warm weather months (now!). During the winter, it won't look like much is happening--and it'll just seem like your food scraps are piling up--because they are. Just wait out the winter, and as soon as the weather warms again, the compost will start getting smaller.

Speaking of warmth your compost pile will do best if it's partially in the sun (to help heat things up).

You may be surprised to learn that there are ton of things around the house that you would normally throw away but which you can compost--and I mean things beyond the obvious food. Guess what else can go in the compost? Shredded paper, paper towels, coffee filters, cardboard toilet paper and paper towel rolls, dryer lint--even Sweet n Low packets.

Let me know how your garbage-reduction plan is going and how you like composting.