By Lisa Loomis

A typical American household creates 50,000 to 59,000 pounds of carbon emissions a year, according to David Gershon's Low Carbon Diet, the book upon which this carbon loss initiative is based. For The Valley Reporter, the first step was looking at our waste/recycling ratio with an eye to minimizing the amount of "garbage" we create. So far, so good. Our numbers are down. If we can reduce our weekly "garbage" from one 90-gallon trash container to a 35-gallon container -- which is doable -- we can save 5,270 pounds of carbon emissions a year.

But boy did we catch it for talking about compostable coffee cups in this series last week. For the record, we weren't endorsing them, we were just curious about them and we still are. Last week's cup is still melting away in a container in my office. We've added some orange peels, egg shells and coffee grounds and the paper is getting mottled and slimy. It's not an endorsement -- it's a science experiment.

Still, we thank Joan Rae, Fayston, for writing and offering this:

"Congratulations and thanks to those taking on the 'Carbon Diet' and not a moment too soon. Knowing that this is a four-week project to be tweaked, improved and then presented and I assume highly recommended for all to take part in the future, I have a few comments. Regarding the 'compostable cups': These cups are made from a corn product. The same issues that apply to ethanol apply to this product. Corn is one the most heavily fertilized crops, grown in an unsustainable method. Using corn for fuel or cups is causing the price of corn to rise causing real problems in areas where corn is the staple of the diet. The solution to this problem is easy: Don't use throwaway cups or any other throwaway products. Travel mugs are a very accessible replacement. And the payoff is that most places charge less if you bring your own cup. Recycled, brown paper towels, which are not bleached, are compostable. Better yet, use cloth towels, just like in the good old days before we used and then threw everything away." 
We asked Joan if the compostable cups could go in the recycling bin or whether it was better to use regular (recyclable) cardboard cups when travel mugs are not available. She suggested plain cardboard is better when one must use something other than a travel mug and offered this:

"BUT, the only answer is a travel mug. It is very easy to remember when you get used to it. Wait till you hear what else you should keep with you!"       


This week, we followed Gershon's book with a look at other lifestyle actions. Asking coworkers about showering and eating habits is sort of personal but could also be considered a team-building activity, like a ropes course!

How long are your showers? At The Valley Reporter, our answers were varied, with people guessing their showers are three to 10 minutes long. The goal is to come in consistently at five minutes using a low flow showerhead. Five-minute showers and low flow showerheads equal carbon savings of 550 pounds a year per person. And speaking of clean, let's talk about laundry.

How many people have a clothesline or clothes drying rack? Three of us do; more of us think it's a good idea. Most of us wash our clothes in cold water by choice, design or laziness (me). Switching one load of laundry a week from hot to cold saves one person 100 pounds of carbon emissions a year. Eliminating one dryer load a week gets you a credit of 260 pounds of carbon a year. Using an Energy Star front-loading washer gets you a 500-pound carbon savings!

Dishwashers: Most of us don't have them, or if we do don't use them. But note that an Energy Star dishwasher yields a credit of 125 carbon pounds and reducing dishwasher use by one load a week yields a 100-pound carbon credit.

Turning up and down the heat: In our office one person has a woodstove and keeps the backup heat at 48 degrees in the house, some keep it at 70 degrees when they are home and 60 when they are not, some keep it at 60 all the time and one person does not use heat at all because the person who lives downstairs keeps the heat high enough that the second floor stays warm. Setting thermostats at 65 to 68 when people are home and 55 to 58 at night will save 1,400 pounds of carbon emissions a year. At the office, the temperature is often set at 70 during the day and turned down at night. The office is heated a bit irregularly with parts of it colder than others, necessitating supplementing with electric space heaters -- the refined sugar of energy.

Power strips: Who uses them? Turning appliances all the way off can save 600 pounds of carbon emissions a year and, happily, shrink the electricity bill. Plugging televisions and stereos into power strips that can be turned all the way off saves and saves and saves. Not all of us here at The Valley Reporter have done this. One of us unplugged the television and saw her electricity bill go down $10 a month. Cell phone and laptop chargers are notorious electricity vampires -- try unplugging them when they are not doing their duty and see what happens to the electricity bill.

We didn't answer the question about using air conditioners to cool our homes because we don't have any. We have air conditioning here at the office and use it on the hottest days so our computer server (and we) won't melt. We're judicious about it and have fans for moving air when that's all it takes to keep us cool.

Driving: There's the rub. Several of us live in Waitsfield and would/could walk to work sometimes "if there were a sidewalk," my coworkers shouted in unison. (That's coming next year, in theory.) Some of us ride the MadBus (not operational in the summer and fall) and some ride bikes when possible. Only one of us sometimes uses cruise control for highway driving, with the rest of us driving at highway speeds which range from 65 to 75 miles an hour. Fully operational public transportation that operated year round would help all of us reduce the number of miles we drive.

This is the second in a series of articles about how to reduce your carbon footprint, undertaken by the staff of The Valley Reporter individually -- at home -- and collectively -- at the office.