Going green

World Environment Day

EarthAn email went around noting that today is World Environment Day, and it provided a list of tips for reducing your impact on the planet. It made for some interesting reading.

Turn down the heat – reducing the thermostat by 1 degree can save 5 – 10% of energy
When I use the heat, I generally set it to about 18 degrees. That’s enough to take the chill off the house. I’m happy to wear a jumper indoors.

Switch off lights, TVs, computers, microwaves and other electrical appliances when not in use
Despite the switch to efficient bulbs, I’ve been much more careful about turning things off recently. Well, mostly. Turning off lights in particular is just a habit you get into. Making better use of natural light during daylight hours obviously helps, too.

Unplug equipment once fully charged eg mobile phones, shavers and electric toothbrushes
Hmmm. Well I know my mobile phone uses a trickle charge once it’s full, so it may make little difference. Dunno about my shaver; must check. My toothbrush is analogue. But the more important thing to do is switch off appliances at the wall — some of them keep burning up the juice even when they’re “off”, and Choice notes that a Playstation 3 can use more power than a fridge.

Switch to GreenPower
Done! 100% wind power. Which is where I’ll sit for now, as the Federal Government’s stupid changes to solar power rebates effectively rule out that option for me.

Use energy saving light bulbs
90% done. There are a couple of light installations which don’t yet have them, as it may not be possible. But certainly I’ve now got CFLs in the most-used lights around the house. If you’re quick enough, this web site is giving away two CFLs per household, though note that their survey of green energy providers is based purely on price — this survey is better at indicating “how green” the providers really are.

Install water saving shower heads and/or take shorter showers
Done the shower head. I found it makes little difference to the shower, but did cut my water usage noticeably — by about 20%. The kids and I probably need to do a little better at shorter showers though. At the old house, the kitchen was next to the bathroom and you could set the microwave timer to four minutes. Now I have a microwave that won’t do that and is too far away, and the kitchen timer keeps bloody beeping when it’s finished; it won’t shut up. (This is worthy of a rant some day.)

Use washing machines and dishwashers only when you have a full load
Well duh. Who doesn’t do this? Unless it’s essential that something be washed by itself, why would you do anything else? In fact I stocked up on extra cutlery and glassware to help with the dishwasher, and bowls and things which don’t stack efficiently in there get handwashed.

I try and avoid handwashing dishes more than every couple of days, but that’s probably laziness.

Dry your washing outdoors & only use the dryer when absolutely necessary
Oh, for sure. I’ve heard tell of some people who don’t really think about this. They just chuck everything in the drier. Personally I put most things on the washing line, and there’s a clothes horse that has a spot indoors, for the cold weather.

Think Before You Print – only print what you ABSOLUTELY need to & always collect what you print
Well, indeed. I’m amazed at how much stuff some people print. Particularly irksome in most offices is the amount of stuff sent to the printer that is then never picked up by its owners. Not to mention the number of people who never bother to find out how to print double-sided from the printers. In most cases it’s not that hard — though it’s the sort of thing IT departments should switch on by default.

Aim for “zero” plastic shopping bag usage – take your own, say “no thanks” when buying one off or smaller items
Yup. In fact I found a foldable re-usable shopping bag, which fits into a pocket or briefcase easily. (A couple of bucks from that discount grocery place near Bentleigh Station.) That said, I end up with some plastic from time to time. But they’re definitely reducing, and increasingly those I use for bin liners are pulled from the stack I piled up years ago before I had re-usable bags.

Reduce waste
Well, yes. Pretty self-evident. I’m attempting to only buy the food I know will get used… and in fact there’s many a Sunday night when I chuck together stuff left in the fridge into a big omelette. (Delicious, but not pretty — not the way I cook ’em.)

Consume local, organic, seasonal food
Haven’t really looked into this yet. Not high up on the to-do list to be honest, though I can see it’s a good idea. Pricing pretty much determines what’s in season, so I mostly stick to the reasonably-priced/in-season stuff by default.

Eat less meat
I’ve not yet made this move. Yeah, I know there are sound reasons for doing so — in terms of water consumption and greenhouse gases… and diet. I tried kangaroo meat actually, but I think I need to learn how to cook it to be a bit closer to the taste of the traditional lamb/beef.

Avoid processed foods
Probably should for health reasons as well as green reasons. I’m not the world’s greatest or fastest cook, so we do eat some pre-fab food for dinner — no doubt I can do better at this.

Buy products in bulk and with minimal packaging
Try to where possible, though sometimes it’s impractical. The 3 litre juice bottles, for instance, are too heavy for the kids to lift, and are made out of very thin material which wobbles so much that you splash juice everywhere when you first open it. The 2 litre milk bottles have similar problems.

Buy products made from recycled materials eg toilet paper
Yep. I have problems with the concept of chopping down forests to wipe my arse. Unfortunately recycled tissues have vanished from the supermarket again.

Recycle EVERYTHING you can
You bet. My recycle bin consistently has about three times the amount of stuff that my general waste bin has.

Mulch and compost as much as possible and/or consider getting a worm farm
Not something I’ve done so far, but am certainly considering. If I can’t really use the mulch on my garden, is there really a benefit to having food produce degrade at my house vs being taken away to degrade somewhere else? Tiny reduction in garbage truck fuel I guess.

Store leftover food in the refrigerator in bowls covered with a saucer or a small plate, rather than plastic wrap
Probably a fair point, though you end up washing more stuff. Not sure it’s space-efficient for everything.

Start collecting corks & drop off to collection points for recycling eg Dan Murphys, the Body Shop & Girl Guides
Don’t drink that much wine really. And some of it comes with screw tops now, not corks. The schools periodically collect corks for charity, so if I ever have a surplus, they tend to go there.

Place a ‘NO ADVERTISING MATERIAL’ notice on your letter box.
Yes! (No more days of dozens of pieces of junk mail in one day).

Give old clothes, toys, furniture and appliances to charity.
Yep. Well, charity, relatives, or Freecycle.

Repair clothing, appliances and toys, rather than buy new ones
Sometime I must have a go at darning my socks. Even the Holeproof brand ones get holes.

Reduce your car usage by sharing journeys, walking and cycling more or catching public transport
Yep, I know a bit about this. :-) Last time I checked my driving was about a third of the Australian average. (But really, this myth that sharing journeys/car-pooling can make a substantial difference is yet to be proved.)

Avoid short car trips
Kind of, yes. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but certainly I prefer using my feet for a lot of short trips. And we know that “active transport” has health benefits. If I was braver I’d get the bike out more.

Interesting to see is now scoring my neighbourhood as 58 out of 100. If it knew about all the other stuff in the vicinity, I reckon it’d be much higher.

Plant native and drought-tolerant plants
Happily, my garden is made up of Australian natives that, for the most part, are thriving with little water. My predecessor designed the garden well, and Andy keeps it well-maintained.

There’s lots of things people can do. There’s certainly more I can do.

And there’s lots of things governments can help people to do… which they haven’t really woken up to yet.

The good news is, if we do nothing, the Earth won’t die. The bad news is, us humans, however, could be in a lot of trouble.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

15 replies on “World Environment Day”

Some of these are much more straightforward than others, but like you, we are doing what we can. We also use the drier as little as possible (although not nil in winter), only use washing machine & dishwasher full, have set heating to 18.5, our garden is composed of dry-weather natives (and citrus trees / herbs), switch off things not in use, buy seasonal produce and very little processed / packaged food (my Coeliac disease is an asset here, as I can’t eat 90% of packaged food anyway), and tend to buy bulk where feasible. We also compost our organic waste (no worm farm though) and have a No Advertusing Mail sticker. Mu husband car-pools home from work the 2 or 3 nights he isn’t on the bus.

Other things are a bit harder. Our car use is as moderate as I can make it, but what do you do when transporting small children who tire easily in a suburb with exactly no local pt worth speaking of? And while “making do and mending” is a nice philosophy and I do mend clothes (including darning socks!), sometimes there is a harsh economic reality that dictates that it’s much cheaper to buy something new, making it a difficult economic choice to repair an aged and faulty appliance. (Eg our oven which recently died, although we did replace it with a reconditioned second-hand oven rather than a new one).

I measured the power consumption of lots of things and found the following useful information:

– the electric toothbrush, mobile phone charger, clock radio and microwave oven all used less than 1 watt (unless microwaving something of course)
– the washing machine used about 20 watts when ‘off’, so I turn it off at the wall
– my computer’s (Mac mini) power supply uses 7 watts all the time, but the computer only adds 2 watts to this when it’s sleeping and uses about 60 watts when running
– my Acer 22″ monitor used the same power whether ‘off’ or sleeping, but I can’t remember how much that was
– my printer (HP 5L) and its print server use 9 watts when sleeping.
– the dishwasher on its normal cycle at 65 degrees uses about 40% more power than the same cycle at 50 degrees, and the lower temperature allows the use of detergent with enzymes and so is more effective
– the dishwasher uses 0.7 kWh for one load in a quick wash at 50 deg, and 1.1 kWh on a normal wash at 50 deg. A wash with pre-wash uses 1.4 kWh at 50 deg.

My washing machine has five water levels, with the lowest being really low, so I can do a smaller load without wasting water. I am yet to measure power consumption for various loads. However anyone with a front loading machine will need to fill it with clothes every time because it won’t have a variable water level. It will use more water and power per kg of clothes than my efficient top loader unless it is used efficiently.

I’m not sure on specific facts on figures, but I would hazard a guess that much of Australia’s emissions could only go down with government policy change. That is, away from Coal, logging, nuclear and any other nonsense they propose.

I am amazed at how quickly composting is catching on in main stream society. I think this has occurred in large part due to the fact that the general public are herders. It is just a matter of time before composting becomes chic. But for how long.

Walmart and target sees this as they are just now test marketing Rain Barrels in some of their stores. Kmart as well. Go figure. Rain Barrels made in China?

Not to sound cynical but society is so fickle that the whole idea of green living will just fall to the wayside. It will take people like those on this site to take the reigns and make the difference.

The best we can do for the future of our environment is to teach our children. My kids (I have 4) Love taking turns at the composter. They know what recycling is and how important it is.

Teach the children.

The dishwasher has two hands and answers to “The Spouse”.
The washing machine also has two hands and answers to “Jayne”.
Interesting to hear Hills Hoist is starting to make inroads in selling clothes hoists in USA, as “only the poor people hang their clothes out” apparently !
Indeed, I must be poor :P

Do dishwashers use less water than hands?

I use a smaller dishwasher and always load it up before I turn it on. I’ve convinced myself that it uses less water and is more efficient but I don’t know whether that’s true or just pure laziness. :)

@Reuben yes, in Victoria a substantial proportion of the emissions is from brown coal power stations. No amount of saving in households can stop that.

@Mark absolutely agree. This stuff should become everyday routine, and be taught to the next generation.

@Alan I’ve heard anecdotally that (efficient) dishwashers save water, but haven’t verified it for myself. Worth looking into.

For helping to reduce power consumption – I highly recommend one of these meters for the home (or office, at a push).

Tells you how much power kW you are using in real time (plus CO2 & cost). Also has a historical record of the various parameters, such as kWh.

Is wireless, so you can walk around the house with it as you turn stuff off. Is good for getting data on those things you can get at with a plug-in meter ( Saves lots of trips out to read the meter on a cold morning or in the dark!

I picked one up yesterday at the Going Green Expo ( for $99. Think they will start to sell in Bunnings – but not sure how much for.

There’s another (Cent-a-Meter: which seems a bit higher quality, but more than twice the price.

Dishwashers do indeed use much less water than handwashing and the energy savigs from heating less water more than cover the amount of power used by the machine itself. The savings are greatr if you have an electric water heater. The dishes are washed better too because the water in a dishwasher is much hotter than hands can stand. Put the dishes in without pre rinsing and let the machine do the work. Pre rinsing wastes water and the worst that will happen if you don’t pre rinse is the occasional dirty dish when the cycle is finished. In the USA by law all dishwashers must have a switch that lets you turn off the heating element for the drying cycle thus saving more enegery. I have not seen this switch on the machines I have seen in Australian stores.

I don’t have a dishwasher in my new Australian apartment but I have had and used one in most of the places I have lived in the USA.

Most of what Jed said is incorrect. Dishwashers use between 15 and 20 litres of water to do a wash which would take at most 2 sinks full by hand. I have verified this over and over in my own house.
Of course, my water comes from the water tank so I don’t waste mains water on this.

And the heat in a dishwasher is 50 degrees if you use the Eco mode, which is the same as you’d use in a sink. The hottest is 65 degrees but I don’t use that mode and nobody needs to. As I stated earlier, it wastes power due to all the extra heating.

If you have solar hot water (as everyone should if they own the house), your sink water will be heated largely without the use of electricity or gas, so the electricity used to heat the dishwasher’s water will always be an increase in resource consumption and emissions.

I don’t pretend that I’m saving water or electricity by using a dishwasher – it is purely a time saving luxury.

Phillip, I base my information on an article I read in Consumer Reports Magazine a few years back. It is put out by Consumers Union, an independant testing organization in Yonkers, NY. In the USA I would regurlarly read this monthly magazine that tests various consumer products and accepts no advertising or free samples from manufactures. Secret shoppers buy the test products on the open market just like a regular consumer would. They also forbid manufactures to use their name when promoting their products. They were sued by Suzuki Motors for deeming the Suzuki Samuri unacceptable due to a high rollover risk and recommending people not buy this model. Check out their website, I think you will like them as much as I do. Most new machines use far less water than older models. If you can wash and rinse the same amount of dishes that a fully loaded machine will hold in 2 sinkfuls of water you would indeed be saving water. Many people don’t do this and instead soap up their dishes and rinse them under a running tap. This method does indeed use more water than a dishwasher would.

Thank you very much for the link to choice Daniel. This looks like a great organization like Consumer’s Union. This will be a great help as many Australian products and brands are new to me. A video on the choice website and a recent article about dishwashers on the Consumer Reports website both concur that a dishwasher properly loaded and used will indeed save water over handwashing in the sink. If, like Phillip, one is able to wash dishes in the sink and be able use less water than a machine would for the same amount of dirty dishes by all means do this to save water.

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