Thursday, January 27, 2011

As Seen on Freecycle: WANTED: Going Green Items

What people are willing to request on Freecycle remains a constant source of amusement and surprise for me. I've talked about it before, because sometimes it surprises me that someone would ask for certain kinds of things on Freecycle - especially given the mission statement of the group as a place to find new homes for still usable items to keep them out of landfills. By definition, it's not a charitable group, and any Wanteds that have a "please help me" undertone are really violating the spirit of the group.

Still, I had to laugh when I saw this recent Freecycle request:

I'm trying to go green and would love some help so I can accomplish this without spending a bundle. Looking for Solar panels, low-flow shower, solar battery chargers, etc.

What makes it funny, to me, is the whole idea that in order to be "green" we need "stuff", because that sort of consumerist mindset is really what the whole "green revolution" was trying to change. It's all of this excess that's causing the problems, and so to say that one is desiring to "go green" with the implication that to do so requires a bunch of stuff is just ... well, wrong.

Undoubtedly, it's easier to be "green" if we don't have to make any real changes, and we can still watch our televisions and have electric lights, but the greenest people living on earth don't have any of those things. They are "green", because they've learned to live in concert with the earth, with the seasons, taking advantage of day light and sun light - not to power their solar powered electricity-generating equipment, but to passively warm their homes, grow and cook their food, bleach their clothes, purify their water ....

With that in mind, I have some advice for "WANTED: Going Green Items" on ways to go green that will cost him nothing.

  • Throw away the clothes dryer ... or better find a way to repurpose it into something useful that doesn't use any electricity, and then, hang-dry the laundry. This is how clothes were dried for THOUSANDS of years, and it's only in the last hundred years that we've decided that we need electricity to do what the sun and wind has done for free for millenia.

  • Toss out the television. We discovered that not having the television actually saved us a significant amount of electricity. We still watch videos - on the computer and through our Netflix subscription, but we watch a lot less and do a lot more these days.

  • Unplug the alarm clock. I like the snooze as much as the next guy, but there are alarm clocks out there that don't cost very much and which use NO electricity. The bottom line is that, while it's not a lot, anything that has an LCD readout uses some amount of electricity all of the time, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days per year. Even if the usage is really small - say 28 watts - if it's left plugged in every day, all day long, all of that electricity used can add up. I think I figured something like $3/month just to power the LCD alarm clock. I have a wind-up alarm clock for which I paid $12 at the hardware store. It paid for itself in four months, and now, in what it's saved me over time in the cost of electricity, the alarm clock will wake me for free.

  • Turn off the electric hot water heater and heat water on the woodstove (if you have it) or on the stove top in a pan or a kettle. Use this water for doing dishes and for bathing (a really crude "camp" shower can be made using an old gallon-sized bleach bottle. Either drill several holes in the cap an then suspend it on a pivot so that when you need to rinse, you turn it upside down to allow the water to flow, and when you're soaping up, you turn the bottle upright to keep the water in. Or drill a hole in the bottom and use a stopper to keep the water in except when it's needed). I'd heat the water to boiling and bring the pan of boiled water in the shower with me. Then, I'd mix the boiled water with cold water from the tap, as I needed, to make it the right temperature for my shower. That way, I could boil a gallon of water and end up with several gallons of tepid bath water ;).

  • Use candles instead of electric lights. Candles are much cheaper than light bulbs, even ones made from beeswax (non-petroleum based), and if one saves the wax from burned down candles, new candles can be made from the old ones, and I probably wouldn't blink an eye at someone who posted a "Wanted" for candles and candle holders on Freecycle stating that he was trying to go green.

  • Develop a fire-less cooking method. Simple solar cookers can be made with free cardboard boxes. Free materials can be acquired for a fireless cooker, which could save a lot of fuel.

There are a lot of ways to "go green" that don't cost a dime or that are very inexpensive and don't require high-tech gadgetry. In fact, the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) strategy applies. Reducing is always better when it comes to being green.

Some day we hope to generate our own electricity to power those few things we want to keep, but there are many more things we've decided to just do without or find other ways to accomplish that don't require electricity. The result has been that in the past four years, since we started cutting back, we've reduced our electric bill by two-thirds, and last months' electric bill, in the middle of a Maine winter, was $50. We used less than 400 kWh for the whole month, which is still more than we want to use, but much less than we were - even this time last year.

Ultimately, the reason we want to reduce is so that we can afford to produce our own electricity, and the less we use, the less we have to produce and less expensive it will cost when we're ready to buy whatever it is we decide to use to generate our power. Like "WANTED: Going Green Items" we want to "go green" without having to spend a fortune.

It can be done very inexpensively, but only if we first concentrate on reducing, and perhaps "WANTED: Going Green Items" is doing all of those things, too. I hope so, but more, I hope that if he really wants to "go green" he won't allow the lack of those items to prevent him from finding green solutions for his every day activities.


  1. I agree with you on the absurdity of (a) what some folks as for on Freecycle, and (b) that they've got the whole notion of "going green" wrong. I do some of the things you suggest, and I really like your idea of the gallon jug shower.
    And could you pass that person's phone number to me so I can contact them about the spare solar panels that I'm not using? ;)

  2. Farmgal - *grin* Yep - I'd like to get the phone numbers of all of those people on the freecycle list who are giving away solar panels. I mean, I suppose it's possible. Afterall, I did get some pretty nice kitchen cabinets, but I'm not going to hold my breath for very long ;).

  3. Thankyou for linking to my cooker:)

    I am pretty sure that all the materials in the cooker can be had from freecycle:)

  4. Fleecenik - hands down it's the best looking cooker I've seen ;). Very creative ...:).

  5. I would also add that making your own cleaners and sauces, dressings, etc is so much cheaper than buying them, reduces waste and can help anyone "go green"!