Boo! Week Five of the Slate Green Challenge had me doing some ghostbusting as I hunted down the Phantom Load.
Sorry, I couldn't resist. I just learned that as much as 40 percent of the electricity used in our country comes from appliances that aren't even turned on! That's right, every cord plugged into a socket is quietly slurping energy even when you think it's not, hence the term, "Phantom Load."
With small cords like cell phone chargers, simply pulling the plug out of the wall once you're done charging takes care of the problem, so I've made a habit of that. But if unplugging and re-plugging your TV, computer, coffeemaker, stereo, etc. every time you use them seem as daunting to you as it did to me, take the easy route and buy power strips, which run about $10. I have three of them, one in the living room, one by my bed and one in the kitchen, and the most-used appliances hook up there. When I need to use something, I just throw the switch, and it's ready to go. When I'm done, ditto. Why drain natural resources and my savings into an energy bill almost double what it needs to be?
A couple of other electricity-guzzlers are easy to fix, even in rental situations. For one, it's time to make the change to CFL bulbs. The price has come down to less than $2 per bulb, and the estimated electric-bill savings per bulb (each one lasts four-five years) is around $40; change out 10 bulbs, and you're talking serious cash.
The fridge can also be a big drain when not used effectively. Is your refrigerator sitting near a stove or a heating vent that might be increasing its workload? Try a little redecorating. My landlord nixed my hopes of moving the fridge, but little things can add up, too: Keep a reasonable setting at 38ºF for the refrigerator and 0º for the freezer, and vacuum the coils regularly to help maximize efficiency. Letting hot foods cool on the countertop before putting them into the refrigerator keeps the gadget from working overtime.
Week Six: Since the Green Challenge first launched around holiday time, this plan involves gift giving. It's not a top issue for me this month, but I did find myself face-to-face with the facts when I ordered a Valentine's present for my sweetie online. Sure, if I shop online, I save the gas that it would take to drive myself to the store and back. But some of that same gas is used to bring my product from the warehouse to my doorstep, and then, to top it off, the thing comes wrapped in a layer of bubble wrap, two plastic air-filled cushions and a cardboard box at least four times the size of the gift.
I avoided adding to the problem by using recycled wrapping paper. In this case, I used a piece of scrap cloth tied with a ribbon, but brown bags with raffia work, too, as do various types of more upscale recycled wraps you can buy. Still, the problem of wasteful gifts looms large: Why not opt for gift certificates for dinner, massage, mani/pedi, spa services, movie tickets, rock-climbing classes, or other fun splurges? The envelope is small, but the experience is a whopper. Disappearing treats like homemade cookies, jams, infused liqueurs or breads are another awesome way to show you care. Food gifts can be packaged in re-useable glass jars or classy tins, and including your recipe is an ultra-personal touch. Another awesome thing about food and experiences: They're not so likely to collect dust on a shelf, nor are they going into your giftee's re-gifting pile.
In the end, though, most of those gifts require more pre-planning than do the conventional kind, and I'll admit that's why a lot of people on my list got store-bought stuff last year even though the thought of making homemade truffles or pear butter had indeed crossed my mind. So, as it turns out, it's a good thing that I'm getting on this eco-gift trip early. If I can commit to the idea of minimum-waste gifts for now, I can start dreaming up ideas in fall that will bring loads of smiles come December.
After four greener-than-average college years as a co-op dweller-turned-aspiring-permaculturist, Julia Steinberger finds it hard not to feel guilty about her one-bedroom apartment, daily commute and indulgence in the occasional dollar burger. She'd like to dream that she could live in a tent/treehouse/rabbit hole, but the truth is, she'd rather stay in the city while doing her best to leave a lighter footprint on the earth. You can contact her here.