Sunday, November 28, 2010

How much water does the average person use?

Why do we care how much water the average person in the United States uses? Isn’t there plenty of water for everyone? 

Well, depending on where you live, there may or may not be plenty of water.  In the United States we take running water for granted, but if you live in a third world country, you might spend a good part of your day retrieving water and boiling water to survive.  Since the water we use today is the same water that the dinosaurs, Christopher Columbus, and Abe Lincoln drank and used for daily living we need to be sure that water resources are conserved, used wisely, and shared equitably.   

Although 75% of the Earth’s surface is comprised of water, 97% of that water is saltwater, 2% is frozen, and only 1% is usable freshwater.   Kids in elementary school learn at an early age about the three phases of water and the water cycle, how water from the dinosaurs is recycled, and how water is vital to life on Earth.  They learn how we all live the Water Cycle on a daily basis, and why water is such a precious resource.  

Most Americans are very familiar with one part of the Water Cycle, precipitation, and tune in daily for the weather, specifically rain, sleet, hail, or snow.  American students learn about other parts of the Water Cycle as well.  They learn that the sun evaporates water from lakes and oceans (liquid water turns into water vapor), and about condensation of water vapor into tiny water droplets within the clouds.  Students learn that water is stored in glaciers, snow, ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans.  Later they may learn the importance of natural filtration and storage of water in wetlands and marshes, and how it percolates into underground storage called aquifers that are pumped for drinking water and other uses. 

Luckily, the water cycle never stops; it keeps on going making life on Earth possible.  Unfortunately, some countries such as the United States use more of the limited freshwater resources, and have a water footprint that is double the global average water footprint.  According to,

“A country's water footprint, as opposed to simple water use, is the total amount of H2O needed for the production of goods and services. Figuring out a country's water footprint means adding all the water used plus the water inherent in products imported, then minus the water in exports. Using this top-down method, the average water footprint in the world is 1,243 cubic meters a year. As you already might have guessed, in the U.S. we are water hogs - we use more than twice the world average, or 2,500 cubic meters. That's equivalent to an Olympic-sized swimming pool for each and every one of us, or 2.5 million liters each. The Chinese, to compare, use 700 cubic meters annually.

The top five biggest average daily users of water are the U.S., Australia, Italy, Japan, and Mexico - all five of these use well over 300 liters daily (about 79.25 US gallons). The countries where water poverty is the worst and water usage is the lowest are Mozambique, Rwanda, Haiti, Ethiopia, and Uganda - these five use 15 liters (3.96 gallons) or less daily.”

So in answer to the question, "How much water does the average American use?", the answer ranges from about 80-100 gallons per day!  Surprisingly, the largest amount of water used daily is flushed down the toilet, with most toilets using about 5 gallons of water per flush!  Luckily you can reduce the water you use for flushing with simple devices such as the Dual Flusher (read more at and  Showering, uses between 25-35 gallons (depending on length of shower, and whether you have a new low flow shower-head or not), the dishwasher about 9-15 gallons, and washing clothes in a washing machine accounts for about 15 gallons.  In addition, we use water throughout the day to wash hands, brush teeth, and for other miscellaneous uses (not including outdoor water uses).  

So Americans need to think about how important the Water Cycle is to life on Earth, and be sure to conserve water resources whenever possible.   Keep reminding yourself and your  teens to take shorter showers, teach your children to turn off the faucet while brushing teeth, switch to low flow shower-heads and toilet flushing systems, and when replacing old appliances, buy Energy Star dishwashers and washing machines which are more water and energy efficient than older models.  Lastly, think before wasting precious water, life on Earth isn't possible without it..    
Sources:, 11/28/2010, 11/28/2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How much energy is conserved by switching to CFLs?

Regular bulbs, also called incandescent bulbs, glow when a tiny coil of wire is heated by electricity.  Energy-saving light bulbs, usually called compact flourescent bulbs or CFLs, produce light when electricity runs through mercury and gases inside of a spiral-shaped bulb.  For comparison sake, the cost for one regular 75 watt bulb is about 50 cents, and each bulb produces 1,200 lumens, while a CFL that also produces 1,200 lumens costs as little as $2.53.

So why would you pay approximately 5 times more for a CFL bulb?  Well the cost of energy used to light a regular bulb for 4 hours per day, in one year is $9.30, and the cost for the same time period and usage for a CFL is $2.50, a difference of $6.80 for just one light bulb.  Additionally, the regular bulb uses 75 watts of energy, while the CFL uses a mere 20 watts of energy, yet they both produce the same amount of light!  Another major benefit of the CFL is that it produces10,000 hours of light, while a regular bulb produces only 1,000 hour of light.

So back to the original question...

How much energy is conserved by switching to CFLs (comparing 75 watt regular bulb which is equivalent to a 20 watt CFL bulb, each producing 1,200 lumens of light)?  55 watts of energy are conserved by using a CFL bulb. 

If you replace one regular 75 watt bulb with a 20 watt CFL bulb, how much money is saved on energy costs in a year? $6.80 per year in energy savings per light bulb will be realized by making the switch.

How many regular bulbs would it take to light a lamp for the same amount of hours as one CFL bulb?  It would take 10 regular bulbs, at  50 cents a piece, or $5.00 for 10 regular bulbs, and the one CFL bulb that produces the same amount of hours, can be found for as low as $2.53-$4.00 per bulb.

Why do regular lightbulbs use so much energy as compared to CFLs?  Regular bulbs are making light and heat, and the heat is wasted. 

So what are the pros and cons of regular bulbs vs. CFLs?
One disadvantage of CFLs is that they take time to warm up to full brightness, and regular bulbs are at full brightness within a second, and only some CFLs are labeled for dimming control..  Another issue is that CFLs contain small amounts of mercury as vapor inside each bulb.  However, the retail price of the CFL includes an amount to pay for recycling, and manufacturers and importers have an obligation to collect and recycle CFLs.  The Home Depot stepped up and became the first retailer to make CFL recycling options widely available at it's stores, and collection bins are easily accessible.  Many other retailers also provide recycle centers for CFLs.  According to Wikipedia, the first step of processing CFLs involves crushing the bulbs in a machine that uses negative pressure ventilation and a mercury-absorbing filter to contain mercury vapor. The crushed glass and metal is stored in drums, ready for shipping to recycling factories.  Conversely, regular light bulbs can not be recycled.

On the bright side :) 
CFLs can be recycled.  The mercury inside the bulbs can be recovered and kept out of landfills.  Using CFLs results in energy savings of $6.80 per bulb.  CFLs last 9,000 hours longer than regular bulbs.  CFLs save 55 watts of energy.

So here's to a brighter future with energy savings and lower electric bills with CFLs :)  

Sources:, November 18, 2010.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Q is for questions

We’ve probably all heard that there is no bad question, except for the one not asked…and there are many  famous quotes about questions.  Here are a few of my favorites...

The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.  ~Thomas Berger

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.   ~Albert Einstein

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?   
~Henry David Thoreau

Better to ask a question than to remain ignorant.  ~Proverb

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever
~ Chinese Proverbs

So what are some questions we can ask about our human footprint?  And what green baby steps can we take to alleviate our human footprint? Here are a few questions related to our human footprint.  
  1.  How much energy is conserved by switching to CFLs?               
  2.  How much water does the average person use?
  3.  How much food does the average person eat?
  4.  How many diapers did you wear as a baby?
  5.  Won’t going green cost more?                      
  6.  How much water does the average shower use? 
  7.  How much food is wasted in the US each year?
  8.  Why should I buy locally grown and produced foods?
  9.  If milk is good for me, how can it be bad for the planet?      
  10. About how much packaging does an average American toss each year?                                              
If you are curious like me, tune in tomorrow to learn the answers to these green conundrums!  Some of the answers may shock you. And remember what Einstein said, "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.  The important thing is not to stop questioning."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

P is for plastic

Plastic is everywhere.  Can you think of a day when you don't use plastic in some capacity?  Can you think back to a time when you don't remember plastic?

From the moment you are born, plastic is part of your life.  There are clear plastic "bassinets" in the nursery, petrochemicals in your disposable diapers, the plastic wristband placed on you and your parents, the plastic rattles, toys, legos, Barbie dolls, trucks, high chairs, non-breakable plastic bowls, sippy cups, and silverware.

And as you grow older, there are plastic containers to store cheerio snacks in, store leftovers in the fridge, plastic containers that strawberries, yogurt, milk, peanut butter, and ketchup come in.  Frozen peas, frozen chicken nuggets, frozen fish sticks, frozen french fries all come in plastic bags.  Oh, yes, plastic bags are used for groceries, sandwich bags, and handiwrap, lunchmeat bags, and there are bags of apples, lettuce, carrots, bread bags, and of course ziplocks are used for all kinds of things.  Plastic water bottles, juice bottles, soda bottles, energy drink bottles, etc.  Plastic is used for all kinds of medical equipment, tubing, toothbrushes, makeup containers, vitamin bottles, prescription bottles, etc.  The list goes on and on, suitcases, storage bins, trash cans and bags, car parts, game pieces, etc. etc. etc.

So we are surrounded by, and use plastic from the day we are born, until the day we die.  Sadly, every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists.  It may get crushed into smaller pieces, and eventually break down to smaller polymers, but with the exception of  a small amount that is incinerated (which results in the release of toxic chemicals into the air), it still exits in our landfills and the oceans.  The massive Eastern Garbage Patch, which is caught up in the currents of the North Pacific Gyre is estimated to be the size of the United States, and extends to a depth of  about 100 feet.  The plastic and trash is harmful to the marine life which often eats the plastic bags and other trash mistaking it for food.  Sampling has found that the overall concentration of plastic is seven times greater than the concentration of zooplankton, which are the basis for the aquatic food web. That's just not right.

So what can we do?  We can each control how much plastic we consume, and we can control how much plastic we recycle or up-cycle. While I agree that there are many great uses for plastic, there are some uses that can be eliminated or reduced.  For example instead of buying disposable water bottles, use a stainless steel refillable bottle ;  instead of plastic baggies and ziplocks for lunches use reusable cloth pouches or use washable containers for pretzels, sandwich, grapes, etc.; the list goes on and on  If we each do our part, and make smart choices ...we can make a dent in the piles of plastic in landfills, and help clean up the ocean, and make our planet safer for future generations who will be exposed to plastic from the moment they are born to the day they die.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Candy Haul

Yikes!  My lil goblins hauled in just about 20 pounds of candy!  A dentist's dream come true...

So what is a mother to do?  Well, first comes the trading between siblings.  The kids each shared a few pieces with me and hubby too :)  Then they sorted out the types they don't care for (not as much as I'd hoped) and turned those over.  They also set aside some Hershey's bars for future s'mores or to melt down to make chocolate covered pretzels or fruit. 

In the past, the kids traded in a certain number of pieces for a Webkins.  Sometimes I offer to trade them for iTunes gift cards :)  When we make the trade, I put aside some candy such as m&ms, skittles, tootsie rolls, etc. to decorate gingerbread houses and cookies, freeze, to be added to cookies/brownies, or take it into work.   

The "trick" is...waiting until the candy is old news, they forget about it, or grow tired of it.  Then it's easier to make a trade, or make it disappear into candyland, and spread it out for future use :)

Now don't get me started on all the packaging, candy wrappers, etc that result from all these sweet little "treats"! 

Winks from a chocoholic!