Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Greener Choice

Recently, one of my relatives bought a house up in the northeast. My aunt and uncle told me that their house was typical of the northeast-it was a 'green house', much more environmentally friendly than any of the houses down south. This perplexed me because I had lived up north for about 11 years before I'd moved down south, and I'd never noticed any major difference in the two.They asked my family and me to come visit them over summer, so we made a trip up north, and ended up going to their house for the first time yesterday. It was, as all new houses are, absolutely beautiful-but it also had a lot of new features that I'd never seen in a house before. Not only were there the usual granite counter tops and hardwood floors, but it also had many energy saving and water conserving upgrades.

For example, their house has new low-flow shower heads that waste less water, and they even have organic paint on the walls. They get their electricity from a green tariff, have energy saving light bulbs, and have extra insulation around their windows to stop expensive, gas powered heating from escaping. They've gone so green in their new home, that they even have a water conserving toilet-but I won't go into the specifics of that! All of the green upgrades to their new home came as surprise to me, because I didn't know that you could even go so green in a house. I researched a little bit more when I got back from visiting their house, because all their features got me thinking-what can we do, in our houses that aren't brand new, to go green? And the results I found astounded me. There are so many ways that you can save energy, conserve water, and just in general, go green. Some ideas are:

-faucet aerators: they restrict some water flow, but make the flow feel stronger

-replacing an old dishwasher: apparently, if you replace an old dishwasher from before 1994 with any brand new model, you can save up to ten gallons of water per cycle

-installing ceiling fans: they help to better circulate the air around the house-taking the cool air from the ac and distributing it around the room

-replacing older toilets: older toilets can use up to 3.5 gallons per flush, whereas the newer models have use up to as little as one gallon per flush

-switching from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs: they last up to 10 times longer, and use much less electricity.

These are just somethings you can do to your home to make it 'greener', but the rest is up to you. Next time you're out shopping for your house, before buying anything, think twice- can I make a greener choice?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Day in the Life of an Ordinary Piece of Trash

Everyone litters, so by that logic, it should be an okay thing to do, right? Wrong. Littering might seem like it's not that big of a deal- the trash collectors always come by and pick up all of the trash left lying around, so it shouldn't matter whether or not the citizens pick up their trash. The unfortunate reality is much worse. Let's take a look at a day in the life of a piece of ordinary trash lying around in a street:
"Hello there, I am your ordinary piece of trash named water bottle. I was thrown away by my owners who were kind enough to put me into the plastic bottle section of their recycling can. I got to meet a lot of trash in there, that surprisingly, had the same name and looked just like me! It was the weirdest experience that I've ever had, but that didn't mean that I wasn't sorry to be torn apart from my family, mere minutes after I'd met them. I had just been hanging around talking to my amigos, when all of a sudden, a huge gust of wind knocked our trash can house down. I rolled down the steep side of my trashcan & found myself lying in the back alley street in dog poop, with some of my family members close by. Thankfully, soon after, my owners came by and righted our trashcan and picked up my family of water bottles-except for me. Maybe I was discriminated against, because my dress said Dasani on it and everyone else's said Aquafina, but I didn't know and I guess I never would. I lay there for many hours, pondering my fate, when an innocent dog came by. He picked me up and started running alongside the river that was nearby my owner's house; when he heard his owners shout his name, he dropped me into the riverbank, leaving me stranded helplessly, as always, in between many reeds. It was a while before the wind picked up again and I was violently dropped into the river, resulting in a great big splash. I started floating down the river with various fishes coming by and nudging me along; their touch felt like something was tickling me and I felt the remnants of the dog poop swirling around me and sticking to the fishes. Eventually, the river emptied into the ocean and I could feel the water changing from the nice freshwater, into a somehow more menacing saltwater. I bobbed out at sea for many days, & the only thing that kept me from dying of boredom were the fish that usually followed me around and mistook me for food; it wasn't very fun being partially swallowed, but at least it kept things interesting. I suddenly realized that for some reason, all the fish that usually followed me around had disappeared. This was getting very strange, and for some reason the Jaws theme song started playing in my head. Unexpectedly, I felt myself being bitten swiftly by sharp teeth- that definitely had not felt like an ordinary fish, especially since I hadn't been spit out immediately, like I usually was! I believed this was the end for me, but unbeknownst to my predator (which I believed to be a shark), this would be the end for him too. Silly shark, water bottles aren't food-and eating one might not make him die, but it would poison him-just like it had done to all the other fish. I didn't want to die so soon, but I was happy that it was now, after I had achieved so much in my short life as trash. At least I had accomplished my goal, my parents would be proud of me now-I had poisoned many animals and hurt the habitat of many others by contaminating it with the dog poop I picked up along the way and my sheer presence. I was a successful piece of trash, and even now as I was going down, I was taking one with me. I had a nice life and as I saw the insides of the shark, though I was not happy to be obliterated, I was still proud."

We can see how much impact is caused by just one, measly, little water bottle left in a random back alley-now imagine what happens every day. It's not like in our whole world we've only got one water bottle lying around, people litter all the time, assuming someone else will pick it up. This might come true sometimes, but not always. This story may be exaggerated a little, but not by much-everyday all the litter on the ground does damage the environment. Whether it's by ending up in a bird's nest or by floating out into the ocean, our world is being hurt. Can we do something to stop this?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Creating your own Compost Magic

Compost has evolved significantly from its humble origins in farming over a few millennia to something even us Plano urbanites can practice under a sink or in the backyard. I can personally attest to its growing popularity around the neighborhoods. Heck, ever since I learned about worm composting, I’ve been taken hook, line, and sinker—my apologies to worms for the fishing metaphor. In my cabinet, I maintain my mini ecosystem of compost wizards in a storage container.

There’s just something kind of magical about watching seemingly worthless materials transform into rich, usable earth. And with the Harry Potter series coming to a close, I’m up for some wizardry. Your ingredients of choice are newspaper, twigs, leaves, most non-meat food scraps, digestive critters (certain worms like red wrigglers), a container and water. This holds true for indoor and outdoor composting.

The beauty of soil manufacture lies in the variety of styles available. Whether you’re interested in it as a casual hobby or time investment, there’s a tried and true method for you. You can start with a small sealed container indoors, have an outdoor open bin that gets ruffled through every once in a while, or even a closed tumbling container. So have some fun, research and if it’s for you start one. Be sure to give us an update on how it goes! Let the magic begin.

For more detailed information on composting, here’s a good overview from

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vrooom –The sound of Zero-Emission

Cayenne Red Nissan Leaf

Recently, one of the City of Plano volunteers, Joni, bought a Nissan Leaf, and brought it in for us to see. Joni learned about the car from a Plano article and, since she always wanted an electric car, set out to buy it. The Nissan Leaf is a totally electric car that runs on 100% electricity and has zero-emissions, meaning that it essentially carbon-footprint-free. From the outside, the Leaf looks similar to any other car. With a more careful inspection, you’ll discover that there is no tailpipe, and that there are two hoods: one for charging plugs, and the other for the engine. Compared to a regular, gasoline-run car, the Leaf has many features that make it even more eco-friendly; for example, its seats and carpets are made of recycled water bottles, and its tires are specially made to be low resistance, giving you better mileage. When riding around in the car, the car runs very smoothly and is almost silent, and many viewers said that the driving experience was like that of the Toyota Prius. Joni said that the maintenance for the car mostly included an annually diagnostic of the battery and refilling of the windshield fluid—much less than a regular car! Even better, the battery has a life of about ten years. Since the Leaf is totally electric, some may be concerned about being stranded on a road because of a dead battery. But, Joni said that the car tells you in 5 different ways that it’s running out of battery and that charging stations are being set up all over the city (in fact there’s one near the Half-Price Books at Northwest Hwy). Manufactured in Japan and now in Tennessee, the Leaf takes about 8 hours for a full charge, but only 30 minutes for a fast-charge (which fills up the car 80%). Joni feels grateful and proud that she is able to afford the Leaf, and believes that her car is a good investment. Being environmentally aware, I can definitely see the advantages of owning an electric car, especially the Leaf. Although the car is pricey ($35000 for the car and $2300 for a home charging station), the Nissan Leaf is definitely not as expensive environmentally.

For more information and pictures, visit

~Lucy Hao

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Water Conservation?

Being a teenager, I tend to take long showers. The only bad part about these nice, long, and relaxing showers was that, about halfway through I would hear my mom yelling up the stairs, "Turn it off! You're wasting water!" It was pretty annoying because I just didn't understand what she meant by 'wasting water,' or how it even mattered. It was just a couple....or twenty extra minutes, I couldn't be wasting that much water, could I?

Well, last year I had to do a project at school. I was in student council, and that week we were trying to make our school, 'Go green!' by educating our classmates with 'fun facts' about recycling, littering, water conservation, alternative energy sources and air pollution. Everyone was assigned a topic on which you had to research and then have a poster ready for the next day. Ironically, I got assigned water conservation as my topic of research. That night I went home and read up about water conservation-and was astonished to find that my mom had been right. I found an exorbitant amount of information about the various impacts of spending just one extra minute in the shower.

Apparently the average American household is fueled by nearly 2,000 gallons of water a day-almost twice the global average. The amount of water coming out of one shower head inside a normal home is 11.6 gallons, now multiply this with the amount of shower heads in your house and you'll get your total amount of water spent. However, in a water conserving house only 8.6 gallons are used from one shower head, resulting in less water consumption. Five minute showers use up 10 gallons of water...which means that my 25 minute shower wastes 50 gallons of water!

After reading all this information, every time I got into the shower and actually spent my normal 25 minutes in it, I felt guilty. Gradually, the time I spent went down by itself, and amazingly, my mom stopped yelling at me too. Not only was I conserving water by the end, but I didn't get yelled at either. It was a win-win situation for everyone.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Add some Yard Spice

Have you ever considered going native or reducing turf? Seeing the drought we’re in and water use skyrocketing has been a real motivator for me. Using natives instead of plants unadapted to the harsh Texas summers can significantly lower maintenance and worry. That and incorporating more mulched gardens or pebble paths can reduce the hassle of a wilting and water-needy yard.

One of my favorites is Red Yucca. The plant produces vibrant red flowers and an artsy design while being a glutton for punishment—water it too much and you won’t have nice blooms! Now that’s a plant my garden can handle. Complement the stalwart yucca with a classy rock setup around it, and you’ve just created a zen zone of less neediness.

Butterfly mist is another good friend to gardens. It turns out with nice little flowers and packs on the butterflies, all while sipping water rather than guzzling. You can always make room in a forgotten corner of the yard or along a walkway. Simply remove some grass from there and plant this beauty with a few friends. You’re not going to miss the grass. Plus, the plant adds some more color and value to your yard setup.

Consider changing up the yard a little and adding some new flavor. It’s definitely taken my yard space from a boring, water-needy lawn to a more vibrant, satisfying space.

Contributed by: Alex Ransom