Blog
aster - The Green Way
The Easter holiday is about a religious experience but is also commercialized with plastic eggs, cellophane grass and chocolate. These things are fun but not environmentally friendly. Here are a few easy alternatives to make your Easter as green as the spring grass. 

As always, reuse and recycle this holiday starting with the Easter basket. Instead of buying a new one reuse from a previous year or find a second-hand basket. If you buy a new basket store it to be reused next year or passed on to a younger sibling or neighbor. And if you're crafty, try making your own Easter basket by using materials you have at home.

Eliminating the plastic Easter grass is an obvious way to go green. Use paper from your office shredder or use packing peanuts or decorative cloth. Again, save and reuse this material next year. 

There are alternatives to chocolate treats. Use coins or marshmallows, stickers or chalk to fill the prize eggs. Using plastic eggs can be done as long as you are also reusing them year after year. Plush toys that squish down are great alternatives or use books, garden tools, flower seeds and scarves to add trinkets to the basket and give a much longer-lasting treat. 

Make homemade bubbles and place them in older containers, small Tupperware or glass jars that you would have recycled anyway. Here is a homemade bubble recipe for non-toxic bubbles. 

1/4 cup natural dishwashing detergent 
3/4 cup water
5+ drops of glycerin 
Mix together in a small bowl, or add to a mason jar and shake gently. 

As we dye eggs for the kids to hunt, there are great alternatives to commercial dyes and kits. Here is an at-home recipe for several colors made from natural products you probably already have.

Robin’s Egg Blue: 2 cups coarsely chopped red cabbage and 2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
 
Vivid Pink: 2 large beets, peeled and shredded and 2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
 
Tropical Orange: 2 cups loosely packed yellow onion skins and 2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
 
Spicy Yellow: 1 tablespoon ground turmeric, a big pinch of saffron threads and 1 teaspoon white vinegar
 
Deep Purple: 1 cup thawed frozen Concord grape juice concentrate, 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar and
3 cups water

For blue, pink, orange, or yellow, combine the ingredients along with 4 cups water in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes to extract the color and reduce the liquid. Let cool and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Add cold water to bring the total to 3 cups if necessary.
 
Place the eggs in the dyes for 20–30 minutes. Using the slotted spoons, lift the eggs out of the dye and place them in the egg cartons. Allow the eggs to sit until dry about one hour before handling.

Happy Easter!

eet KMUW From a Green Angle

KMUW is a National Public Radio member station on the WSU campus. I recently had the opportunity to attend a presentation about KMUW’s “green” transmitter building in Colwich, KS. It was exciting to learn about the great features of the building and the sustainable building materials used. The foundation is made of flyash concrete. I learned that flyash is a by-product from coal-fired power plants. In flyash concrete, 20% of the cement is replaced with flyash which results in a stronger foundation. Another product that was new to me was agriboard. It replaces cinderblock walls and can withstand F-5 winds. Agriboard provides structure and insulation as it is filled with compressed wheat straw.

As I think about businesses in Wichita, I know that each one has their own environmental challenges. A unique challenge for KMUW was how to protect their new building from falling ice from the 1,000 foot broadcast tower.  First, they installed a 4-inch thick layer of light weight concrete. This was topped with a modular green roof. I had been told that a green roof was impossible in Kansas because the weather fluctuates so wildly and the summers are so hot. However, it can be done! The plants are succulents, so they are very drought –tolerant and do not need to be watered once they are established. The plants and soil not only absorb the impact of the falling ice chunks, but also cool the building, reduce rainwater run-off, and protect the roof from UV damage.

Finally, cooling is a significant issue for a transmitter building. KMUW chose to incorporate a geothermal cooling system into their building. According to Renewable Energy World, geothermal heat pumps take advantage of the fact that the ground within about ten feet of the earth’s surface stays at a steady temperature around 50°F. KMUW’s geothermal system uses pipes buried four to five feet underground over a surface area about the size of a football field. The liquid circulating through the underground pipes is cooled by the surrounding soil. This system yields 30-40% energy savings on cooling. This is a great example of the economic benefits of “going green.”

I guess it should have been a red flag for me when my co-worker replaced some light bulbs in January and asked me if I knew how to dispose of them. I looked up online how to dispose of CFL’s. Hmmm…if you have to take something to the Sedgwick County Household Hazardous Waste Facility – and they will only accept it if it is unbroken – you might have a hazardous product. At the time, that did not cross my mind.

A few weeks ago a client came into my workplace, looked up at the CFL’s above me and commented, "You know, those are bad for the environment. They have mercury in them." I smiled and replied, "Oh, really?" I thought the man must be mistaken. I had heard that compact fluorescent lights are supposed to be a better environmental choice than regular incandescent bulbs. I realized I didn’t really know much about incandescent bulbs, CFL’s or LED lamps, so I decided to enlighten myself on the subject.

I read a post on the LED Source webpage entitled Bye Bye 75W Incandescent Light Bulb – Phase-out Continues. The post describes how some incandescent bulbs are being phased out due to their inefficiency. The technology of these bulbs has changed minimally over time. It is surprising that they convert only 10% of the input energy into light and the rest is dissipated as heat. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires light bulbs to be 25% more efficient. Thus, traditional 100W, 75W, 60W, and 40W bulbs are gradually being phased out because they cannot meet this target.

According to the EPA, the mercury contained in CFL’s is not a significant environmental hazard. Because CFL’s require less electricity, less coal would have to be burned at a power plant. Since the process of burning coal releases mercury, if we burn less coal to generate electricity, we also release less mercury into the environment.

My conclusion is that CFL’s really are better for the environment than incandescent bulbs because they use significantly less electricity. Last fall my mom asked me to help her replace a couple of incandescent bulbs with LED lamps at my parents’ winter cabin. She was eager to do the replacement because the LED’s would require much less electricity. I was so concerned about which wire I had to connect to which other wire that I didn’t think to ask how much less electricity the LED lamps would save. The U.S Department of Energy gives a comparison on their site. The information below is an excerpt from their table. While the table shows the life of an LED lamp to be 25,000 hours, other sources list it as high as 50,000 hours. The annual energy cost in the table is based on having the light on 2 hours per day and the cost of electricity being $0.11/kwh.

Comparisons between Traditional Incandescent and Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs

 

60W Traditional Incandescent

43W
Energy-Saving Incandescent

15W CFL

12W LED

Energy $ Saved (%)

~25%

~75%

~75-80%

Annual Energy Cost*

$4.80

$3.50

$1.20

$1.00

Bulb Life

1000 hours

1000 to 3000 hours

10,000 hours

25,000 hours

 

What’s the catch? Why have we not all switched to LED lamps? The initial cost of an LED lamp is higher than for an incandescent bulb or a CFL; however, over time the difference is made up by the efficiency and the lifespan of the lamp. I am looking forward to the next time I see the client who informed me that CFL’s are harmful to the environment – I can’t wait to tell him what I have learned. That will be right after I inform my boss that we really ought to replace our office CFL’s with LED’s – to save money and the environment.

To see detailed comparisons of cost and other features of incandescents, CFL’s, and LED’s check out the Eartheasy website.

 

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This week, I have had several conversations with people about the water situation in Wichita. You may have read the following articles:

http://www.kansas.com/2013/02/25/2691188/wichitas-water-supply-dwindling.html

 

http://www.kansas.com/2013/03/01/2697598/brownback-kansas-needs-to-plan.html

The first article states that if the draught continues, Wichita will run out of water by the summer of 2015. Peak water use occurs during the summer because of irrigation. Solutions could include the recharging of the Equus Beds (known as the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) program), voluntary water conservation and higher water rates for people who consume the most water. Unfortunately, the tone of this article is not optimistic about any long term solutions.

The second article highlights the unpredictability of the drought duration and describes Governor Brownback’s response to the current conditions. Brownback advocates for statewide conservation by individuals and businesses, as well as development of alternative water sources. Farmers may have to plant crops that require less water. People who pump excessive amounts of water from wells will be penalized. The lack of water also affects recreational areas. Many lakes in Kansas have become inaccessible to boats because the water levels are so low. Conservation, higher water prices, and improvement of the Equus Beds wells to allow increased pumping, will only stretch the city’s water supply by about 4 years. Unfortunately we cannot predict how long the drought will last.

I have been thinking a lot about water conservation, especially as I consider my yard and what landscaping I might do this spring and summer. My professor alerted me to a graywater bill that was introduced in the Kansas Legislature on February 13, 2013. Household graywater is water that has been used once in washing machines, showers, bathtubs, or bathroom sinks and is safe for watering plants. The bill proposes that graywater from homes could be used for gardening, composting, or landscaping, but not for watering fruit or vegetables. The water would have to flow through a drip-irrigation system or an underground system and could not spray into the air or flow onto pavement or onto other people’s property. Homes with graywater systems would have to have the graywater tanks and piping clearly labeled as non-potable. It is exciting to see that it might become legal in Kansas to use household graywater for irrigation of a flower garden or landscaping. In order to use graywater, it has to be simple to collect. For me, the most accessible source of graywater would be my washing machine. I discovered that there are many cities in the U.S with graywater programs. A great resource specifically on using graywater from washing machines comes from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

May we all find creative ways to conserve our precious water!