New year’s resolution follow-up.

Now that we’re over halfway through the year, I figure I should publicly hold myself to account on how I’m doing on my new year’s resolution, which is pretty straightforward: Become conscious of the environmental impact of my actions and, with that knowledge, reduce my ecological footprint.

Here’s what I’m doing differently:

  • Recycling That’s right, this is new to me, at least since I moved out to the county from Charlottesville (via Blacksburg). We simply do not have the space for a proper recycling setup, and recycling requires a trip to the recycling center in town. These are stupid reasons not to recycle, I realized a few weeks ago. I stuck an old cat food bucket under the sink, and my wife and I have tossed in aluminum, glass, card stock packaging and #1 and #2 plastic (the only two types that are recyclable locally). When that fills up I put it into a garbage bag that lives in the trunk of my car. Then, periodically, I visit the recycling center, where I have to take a few minutes to separate out the bags’ contents to go into the proper bins. It ain’t pretty, but it works. We’ve reduced our weekly garbage output by 1/3, and I intend to content our private trash hauler to downgrade to a smaller bin.
  • Purchasing Recyclable Packaging A new consideration when I purchase goods is whether I can recycle its packaging. If I have a choice of recyclable packagings, then I factor in the energy requirement, since, for example, glass can be melted down and reformed far more efficiently than plastic.
  • Home Planning My wife and I have spent the last year planning to build a home, and the top consideration in every step of the process has been environmental compliance. (Well, our budget has been the top consideration. Everything else comes after that.) I intend to write much more about this in the months ahead, but, in our work with our builder, we have devised a home that demands little in the way of resources, both to construct and to occupy.
  • Line Drying Clothes Clothes dryers are enormous energy hogs. Running a dryer on a summer day is triply bad, because you’re paying to cool your house to 75° while also paying to heat the interior of your dryer to 100°, while also paying to cool down the air in your house that’s being warmed by the dryer. If it’s hot, why not string up the clothes on a line? Some things benefit from being run through the dryer, and I certainly don’t intend to stop using the dryer entirely. But it only takes a few minutes to hang a few things over the line and, honestly, I kind of like taking the time to doing it. I just started line-drying clothes yesterday, but I intend to continue. I’ll buy a drying rack and some clothes pins to simplify the task.
  • Auditing Home Energy Use Armed with my Kill-A-Watt, I have checked the energy usage of a dozen power vampires around the house, and changed the electrical setup as a result. The DirecTV remote is now programmed to turn off the stereo, so that it doesn’t suck down power all the time. I intend to wire up the whole home entertainment system to a smart strip, so that turning off the TV will shut off all power to everything — the DVD player, the Wii, the VCR and the receiver — all of which otherwise sit on “standby.” (It’s not even possibly to turn off the DVD player without unplugging it, which is the function of a smart strip.) Up until I got the iPhone, I’d started turning off my mobile phone when it was fully charged, after I discovered that it kept pulling down power even after it was stocked up on juice.

In addition to all of these big changes has come an overall change in mentality. (And these are on top of changes we’d made long ago: washing all of our clothes in cold water, keeping the house cool in the winter and warm in the summer, making insulating curtains to shut out the cold of winter and the heat of the late afternoon sun, etc.) Energy is not cheap enough to be functionally without cost. There is no “away” to which things can be thrown. Just because I don’t pay the hidden costs of reliance on foreign oil at the time of purchase doesn’t mean that those costs don’t exist.

The one change that remains to be made is my car, a 1994 Volvo, and its 21 mpg fuel economy. I drive an average of 1,000 miles each month, most of which under circumstances that a hybrid would not benefit from (little braking for power generation). Plus, the amount of energy required to create a new car dwarf the energy savings that would result from moving up to, say, a 30 mpg auto. Better to hold onto this car as long as it runs, I suspect, simply trying to save on fuel usage as best I can.

Honestly, I’m really happy with how this new year’s resolution has shaped my year, and I believe I’ve done a good job of reducing my ecological footprint. Much of that footprint reduction is potential, waiting to be released in the form of our new house, but that will have to wait until next year, the overflow from a 2007 resolution that, I suspect, will remain in effect for the rest of my life.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

6 replies on “New year’s resolution follow-up.”

  1. Just curious — what are your driving habits that a hybrid won’t benefit from? I’m not disagreeing with your conclusion, I’m just wondering — regenerative braking isn’t the only source of increased efficiency in hybrids (the lack of idling is another big one, for example.)

  2. I think the biggest element is his equation was the immense amount of energy required to produce an automobile; discarding a serviceable car before its useful life is over in order to gain a mileage boost just doesn’t pass muster in terms of net energy expended (manufacturing) v. saved (efficient driving).

    I’m driving a 1995 Subaru. It gets about the same mileage as his old Volvo. I drive fewer than 5000 miles per year, so there’s little big-picture sense to my ditching the Subaru in favor of a car that gets better mileage.

  3. Speaking of recycling, we have a cut off barrel (plastic) that we toss all the tin, steel, aluminum and plastics in. Then they get bagged according to what they are, and taken to the recycling center. Glass gets handled separately. Newspapers and other material like cardboard gets piled up where we have room.

    One word about our recycling efforts here in Cumberland (as a county): clusterf*%k.

  4. Just curious — what are your driving habits that a hybrid won’t benefit from?

    In addition to the energy needed to make the car, as Jeff mentioned, it’s the route that I drive. I have a straight shot to town, 50-55mph the whole way. There’s one stop sign, my where road intersects with the main drag, and that’s it. Somewhere between 10-20% of the time I’m stuck behind some fool tourist who goes 35mph the whole way, but that’s about the only potential obstacle. And, in terms of mileage, that accounts for the overwhelming majority of my driving. Which means that I’m missing out on regenerative braking, which is a significant source of the fuel savings in hybrids, but I also do very little idling, which is the other hallmark of traditional urban living. (And suburban-sprawl living, I gather.)

    No doubt there are other benefits to a hybrid, but I suspect that they’re just not significant enough over a high-mileage non-hybrid to warrant the additional price (and environmental impact of manufacture), given my driving pattern. Lord knows I’d like one — it’s my kind of toy. :)

    So what’s the plan to deal with the blinking 12:00 every time you turn it on?

    I have — and I love this — a VCR without a clock. My wife bought it for me, perhaps five years ago. It’s great, in the sense that it has one simple feature (it plays tapes) and lacks the annoying feature (blinking clock).

  5. Like I said, I wasn’t disagreeing with the decision — we kept our previous car to the end of its life before getting our hybrid. I was just interested in knowing a bit more about the driving pattern you based the decision on.

    Now a VCR without a clock — there’s an innovation I could go for! We have so many annoying clocks we don’t bother to set. I posted a rant on my personal blog a while back calling on all manufacturers of video equipment to simplify their products and stop including timed-recording features. Everyone who is capable of figuring out how to do it is using TiVo, because it’s so much simpler.

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