22 August 2014

Goodbye phone books

Phone books make great door stops.

They also contain lots of contact details for people I don't know and businesses I will never use. So recently we opted out of receiving any for the next five years.

Probably in five years time I will get myself an updated business & government directory (White Pages) and then cancel for another period. I doubt I will ever opt back in to the Yellow Pages.

Initial Time: Five minutes to go online and opt out. Go to https://www.directoryselect.com.au/action/home

Initial Cost: zero

Ongoing time or cost commitment: We do use our hard-copy phone books occasionally, and it generally takes a little longer to get the Yellow or White pages up on Tyson's phone than to flip open the book (or longer again if we have to fire up an actual computer) but its a few extra minutes a year. Updating the book every five years instead of every year would be enough to keep it useful.

Impact: Sensis, who print phone books for Australia, is 'proudly carbon neutral', encourages recycling and from what I could find prints within Australia, so it is doing its best. Nevertheless, millions of phone books are printed and delivered every year that are rarely or never used, and however you off-set it or recycle it, that is a lot of unnecessary paper. When the company changed from opt-out to opt-in for residential phone directories a couple of years back only 2% of suburban households requested to still receive books, suggesting a lot of people had little use for the ones they previously had delivered every year. I couldn't find a figure for how many books are currently printed but from various data about percentages in particular areas my estimate is around 15 million phone books in Australia each year. At 800-1000g each, that's approximately 13,500 tonnes of paper. If only 2% are actually wanted or used, that could be reduced to 270 tonnes. Even if I have wildly over estimated, it is still a lot of paper that could be avoided. And that is just the product itself - there are also factors like resources used to run the printing factories, wrap books in plastic, transport them and dispose of them at the end of each year.

(For those not in Australia: every household in this country until recently was supplied for free every year with paper phone directories - some years four fat volumes - as part of the main telephone provider's legal obligations to provide a directory service. White Pages books are alphabetical listings of all registered land-line phone numbers; Yellow Pages are commercial directories that businesses pay to be included in. In the four largest cities, which together account for over half the nation's population, the 'residential' volume is now opt-in, and the others have been stream-lined, but two volumes are generally still delivered)

07 August 2014

Hand warmers and hot water bottle

When working from our home office I have committed to, wherever possible, warming myself rather than warming all the air around me.

The office is often the coldest room in the house and I have spent a lot of time there this winter. Besides wearing warm clothes (including ugg boots) and often wrapping myself in a blanket, I also started to put a hot water bottle under my feet at the desk. I am amazed at how successful this is at keeping me warm. One hot water bottle, wrapped in a towel, lasts a whole work day.

I also purchased hand warmers from our good friend Megan of Granny Funk Crochet.

Sometimes I will also warm a heat pack in the microwave and sit it in my lap for a while in the morning when it is most cold, or if I am working at night. With these aids, I virtually never turn a heater on for the office. I think better with cool air on my face, so these are both sustainability and productivity measures.

Initial Time: Boiling a full kettle for a hot water bottle takes about 5 minutes. Purchasing hand warmers involved some emails with Megan and a few days to wait for delivery.

Initial Cost: Extra hot water bottles purchased recently cost $12.95 each. They now have covers made out of cut up old jumpers, and I also wrap my office foot-warmer one in an old towel - no cost. Hand warmers were $30. Or you could sign up for one of the Granny Funk crochet classes and learn to make them yourself.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Five minutes for the hot water bottle each time. A cost saving due to reducing the amount of energy used for heating (see below).

Impact: Boiling a full kettle of water (1.75L) when the temperature is 10°C uses approximately 661.5kJ of energy, or 0.184kWh ('units' in our system) - 184Wh, or about the same as leaving a 60 Watt light bulb on for three hours. (see my previous kettle post for the formulas). Microwaving a heat pack (wheat bag) uses around 42Wh to give warmth for about two hours.

When all attempts to warm myself with body heat, clothing and a hot water bottle fail, I use an electric oil-fin heater. This is a 1000W device, but as I would never run it flat out and it heats a confined space, the actual use is less than this. If I were to run it for nine hours of work day, it would use approximately 3.5kWh.

Using one boiled kettle instead of the oil fin heater for a day of warmth saves over 3kWh (units) a day, around 2.5kg of carbon dioxide every winter work day. 

Running the reverse cycle air-conditioner in our living area to warm enough house to reach the office is hard to measure, but the office is the far corner of the house from the aircon. A fairly conservative guess would be 5-6kWh per day to use the reverse cycle to heat the office, which is why we don't do that.