Monthly Archives: October 2014

Powering on

saving-energy car largerOur electricity bill has arrived for the last quarter. Apparently we are using around 50% of the power of a typical one person household, which our power company tells us is around 1.205 kWh. Our bill before last was 485kWh, a reduction of almost 50% on the same period last year, which was 966kWh. The last bill was 684 kWh, almost half of the 1.234 kWh of that typical one person house for this quarter. Given how power prices have risen, we think this is a pretty good result. We find there is always a slight rise in winter, because we use the electric oven a little more, and find that in wet, cloudy weeks we need the solar hot water boosted or need to occasionally use the drier to finish of clothes that refuse to dry beyond ‘damp’. With longer nights, we use more lighting.

There are various ways we try and cut down on our power consumption. We have the aforementioned solar hot water, which is a big help. Only on the bleakest rainy days do we need the electric booster, and only after we have had a few poor weather days.

Our regular cook top is gas, and we mainly use the wood fired oven in winter, which also heats the house through radiators on the walls in very room. Our wood fired slow combustion stove is an ingenious contraption, sending hot water from its wetback to all the radiators. It keeps our house quite cosy in winter, and as the stove has two ovens and an enormous hotplate area, we also cook on it during the colder months were possible.

We have tried to make the place into as much of a passive solar house as one can an old Federation house. It is fully insulated, and we have installed Smart Glass in the windows that face north and west. Our solar panel consultant has installed an ingenious fan in our roof. It runs off the solar panels by day and on thermal heat at night, reducing the temperature in the roof cavity. We set the thermostat on this fan to a reasonable temperature, and it happily sucks out hot air at no cost to us until the desired temperature is reached.

On the advice of an eco-consultant, we put in outdoor awnings on the western and northern windows, and replaced our vertical blinds with solar curtains. I have been amazed at how much heat these curtains keep out, even when the sun is at its fiercest. We have no air conditioning and use ceiling fans when it is hot and humid. During summer, it is rare for the ambient temperature inside our house to rise above 28 degrees. On the 45 degree days we had last summer, it was 38 degrees in our house. We have consistently measured our household room temperature at around 8-9 degrees less than that outside. People often walk into our house in summer and comment on how cool it is, and think it is air conditioned.

We use the standard power-saving things such as compact fluorescent globes and LED lights. And we turn lights off when we aren’t in the room, and use one of those power boards with the foot switch so we can turn TV, DVD etc off at night and kill the standby lights.energy-saving-tips

With our electronic equipment, we have agreed with each other to only use the battery capacity at night. We charge up the batteries of laptops phones and ipads during the day when the solar panels are working, and run them on their batteries at night as we Facebook and do our work. Once the battery runs out, that’s it. No more use of the device in question. This has been inconvenient at times, but we figure a rule like this is good for us.

Putting these measures in place has been pretty straightforward. The cost of the glass, curtains and awnings wasn’t a huge amount, and it certainly wasn’t hard to change light globes to those that are more efficient.  I have a built in anathema to clothes driers, only using ours once I have hung the clothes out for as long as reasonable, and it is clear they aren’t going to get any drier due to unpropitious weather. One of the good things about our radiators is we can put damp clothes directly on them, and they dry beautifully.

I have to say our Thermalux wood fired slow combustion stove with radiators is an expensive heating and cooking option, but we are very happy with it. It is Australian made, uses recycled metal, and it is very efficient. In my opinion, it cooks the best pork roast ever. If you are interested, you can find them at http://www.wiseliving.com.au/slow_combustion_cookers_&_stoves.html

The other items which are big consumers of power in the house are the fridge and chest freezer. We buy our grass-fed, organic meat from local farmers in bulk, hence the freezer. It has a good star rating, but still chews up the power. We have it on a timer at night , to try and cut back its energy chomping habits. In our hot and humid summers, going without refrigeration is not an option. The toaster is another energy chewer, though we generally don’t use it more than once or twice a day.

For those looking to reduce their carbon footprint and their power bills along with it, there is plenty of information out there in cyberspace to help you cut costs. Google produced 799,000 results when I asked it to find energy-saving tips.electric-bill

As well as helping us save money, taking energy saving measures also helps each household tackle climate change. Average Australian households produce around 21 % of Australia’s carbon emissions. This equates to around 14 tonnes of greenhouse gas per household per year, including vehicle use. That is a lot of emissions we could be reducing with a bit more thought.

If you are interested in what your household emissions are, you can check them at the excellent Australian Greenhouse Calculator ( http://www.epa.vic.gov.au/agc/home.html ) which will calculate the emissions your create  from your electricity use and your personal transport and any other energy-consuming habits you have. It also has a comprehensive information and analysis section on issues relating to climate change.

Most of us just tinker around the edges when it comes to reducing our carbon footprints.  We surgically trim off some of the fat of our lifestyles rather than taking to them with a Crocodile Dundee-style knife.  We resist making sacrifices that inconvenience us, like unplugging the TV and going for a bike ride. We feel deprived if our towels are not warm and fluffy from the drier.

Apparently more than a third of people who want to help do something about climate change don’t really know how to go about it. The easiest things we can do that are easily within our power to change is to reduce our emissions by driving less and having a more fuel-efficient car, improving how we use and conserve energy in our homes (especially heating and cooling), and to eat less meat. And you might think about changing your power source to include a proportion of cleaner energy from renewable sources, such as solar, wind or hydro power.

It is difficult to encourage people to get involved in social change, which is what is needed if we are to combat the menace of climate change. Personal lifestyle changes like this should not only reduce our own impacts, but also encourage the big social and political changes that are needed across the board. One person changing might not look like a lot, but collectively, this can build to an irresistible force that can begin to change the world.

light bulbs

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Trees and toilet paper: the bottom line on why our bottoms are costing the earth

One of the most basic things we take for granted in the Western world is toilet paper. According to the Toilet Paper Encyclopaedia (http://encyclopedia.toiletpaperworld.com/), 69% of people say that toilet paper is the largest convenience taken for granted; 49% would see it as a greater necessity than food on a desert island, and 72% prefer to hang toilet paper with the first sheet going over the roll. A standard toilet paper roll lasts around five days in the most used bathroom in the house. On average apparently, people use 8.6 sheets per trip – a total of 57 sheets per day, making an annual total of 20,805 sheets. That is 1.66million sheets per person in a lifetime, and equates to around 8300 toilet rolls.

toilet-paper-OVER

That is an awful lot of toilet paper. You would be forgiven for thinking that it grows on trees. Hang on, it does grow on trees. Or at least, is made from trees. Around 270,000 trees everyday if the World Watch magazine (http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6411) is to be believed. We either flush it or dump it in landfills every day. Even more disturbing is the fact that less than 10 percent of all paper production is for toilet paper, but it accounts for around 15% of deforestation. In other words, one out of every seven trees we cut down goes straight down the toilet

According to the article, “growing populations, adoption of Western lifestyles, and sanitation improvements in developing countries are driving the increased use of toilet paper. The result is that forests in both the global North and South are under assault by paper companies competing to fill consumer demand.”

And of course, we can always rely on Western companies to create consumer demand. Toilet paper is being promoted as a ‘civilized’ more sanitary way of dealing with life’s refuse. Countries where millions of people still use water for self-cleaning represents new marketing opportunities.  Apparently each year toilet paper sales grow around 4%, presenting an industry that looks like a good economic investment.

Part of the problem is advertisements that convince us we need the ‘ultimate in cushiony softness’ with ‘unique air-weave texture’, in order to attend to the daily business of our bottoms. In a time of climate change, when we need all the trees we can get, is it really necessary to them down to produce the ‘softest tissue’ impregnated with unicorn oil-soaked woven texture?

Trouble is, until quite recently, old growth forests were logged to provide that downy soft comfort for our rear ends. And while some brands spruik they are made of plantation wood, this solution often comes at the expense of more biologically diverse habitats, displacing native plant and animal life. Plantations also use large amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and can require enormous quantities of water. This can’t be considered ecologically sustainable either.

It just doesn’t make sense that our delicate, sensitive and tender rear ends are causing more environmental devastation than the large 4WD cars we are so fond of in Australia.

I like the way the Earth Island Journal (http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/not_a_square_to_spare) puts it: “How can we meet the most basic of our needs without wrecking the planet? Or, in this case, how can we maintain our personal hygiene without wiping out virgin forests?”

One answer is to use toilet paper made from recycled paper. Tonnes of paper ends up in landfill when it could be used for purposes such as producing toilet paper. Recycled toilet paper also requires far less water to make, and many brands of recycled toilet paper also eschew chlorine bleach.

The Earth Island Journal states that it is time to draw the bottom line for our bottoms. They suggest that the time “has come to launch a Slow Toilet movement that can highlight the forest-to-flush chain of production and waste. By revealing the source of this seemingly indispensible product, we might get people to understand the environmental cost of the paper they use every day”.

Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council states that “this is a product that we use for less than three seconds and the ecological consequences of manufacturing it from trees is enormous.”

“Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution.” (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/feb/26/toilet-roll-america )

While he is talking about Americans, the same could be said for Australians. We are continuing to flush perfectly good trees down the toilet. So what can be done about it?

The first thing one might do is switch to recycled toilet paper. It takes far less water and energy to produce, and keeps paper out of landfill. Recycled paper preserves habitat, protects forests, and lessens chlorine type contaminants entering our water. One concern is that It also can contain very small amounts of BPA, from thermal paper being used in the recycling process. While this is probably not significant in terms of our health, if it concerns you consider going toilet paper free.

As icky as that might sound, that is what we have done in our household (we do have toilet paper for our guests if you intend to stay with us and are feeling squeamish)  and we have found it really easy to use and deal with. We could have got a bidet attachment, but in the interests of conserving our water we decided to go down the route of reusable toilet paper, often euphemistically known as “family cloth”. This involves keeping clean cloth squares beside the toilet and washing and reusing them every few days or so. No paper waste, no possible BPA contamination, and it saves us money.

Washing the used cloth is surprisingly easy to deal with. It is no different to washing cloth nappies, which all of us managed to do before becoming convinced disposable was the only way to go. And it is actually a lot less messy. During a conversation on this topic at a family gathering, among the predictable cries of ‘yuck’! my mother somewhat acerbically observed that she had raised four children using family cloth (reusable nappies) and couldn’t see what the fuss was about.

Our ‘family cloth’ was made by cutting up into squares three second hand soft cot sheets purchased at local op shops. I didn’t bother making them fancy or hemming them, I just cut them up with pinking shears so they wouldn’t fray. I wash them in hot water (from our solar hot water) and don’t put the washcloths or tea towels in with them. We have not contracted any nasty diseases and they are much nicer to use than toilet paper, which feels rather harsh now. The best article i have found on family cloth is at http://www.frugallivingnw.com/reusable-cloth-toilet-paper-faqs/ and you can read more there.

FamilyCloth2

I am going to leave the last word to Aaron from Wipeout.org, (http://www.wipeitout.org/ever-wondered-how-much-toilet-paper-you-use-each-day/) a movement which bills itself as changing the world in the toilet. The founder states in his opinion that it is a crime to cut down 270,000 trees per day, to make toilet paper, “a crime that we are committing against our children”. I agree. The world our children will inherit is really going to be hit by the impact of our choices now, and it isn’t looking like being a pretty place.

As Aaron says, “Yes, it is only toilet paper. But, for the 57 sheets you will use today, every wipe counts. Spread the love. Change the world.”