Two Easy Tips for a Lower Waste Lifestyle

Does the idea of a more natural and lower waste lifestyle sound appealing, but daunting all at the same time? It doesn’t have to be a monumental task! I started this series in October 2018, and then took a break for the holidays. January and February, I posted some products that I love and make a lower waste lifestyle easier. Now I’m back, to give you two more super simple tips to help lead a lower waste and more natural lifestyle!

For the first three easy tips, see my October 2018 post.

Two Super Easy Tips for a More Natural and Lower Waste Lifestyle

Turn Off Water

This may seem like an obvious one that gets shouted at you from childhood: turn off the water when you’re not using it! Even hearing it from teachers, parents, caregivers, friends, roommates, billboards, etc, a lot of people still leave the water on when they’re not using it. Unfortunately, that wastes a lot of water.

The average kitchen sink, when turned on full blast, dumps just over 2 gallons of water down the drain in one minute (info from Hunker). If you’re washing dishes, and leave the water running the entire time, you’ve wasted a lot of water! It takes about 30 minutes for us to wash an entire days worth of dishes in our house (two adults and two kitties). If we left the water running the entire 30 minutes, we would have dumped 60 gallons of water down the drain! (60 gallons is about 227.4 liters.) Can you even imagine 60 gallon jugs of water in your kitchen? And then dumping them down the drain? Yikes!

The most economical and least wasteful way to wash dishes is to fill up the sink (or a washtub) with soapy water, and use that to wash your dishes. Start with the cleanest dishes and work your way to the dirtiest. Instead of rinsing them individually, put the clean dishes into a clean washtub (or the clean other half of the sink) then rinse them all at once when you’re done. Washing dishes this way saves a lot of water! The washtub (or dish pan) that my grocery store carries is 3 gallons and it takes about 5 minutes to rinse an entire sink full of dishes. If it takes you 5 minutes to rinse the dishes and you have a 3 gallon washtub, then you will use 13 gallons of water instead of 60! That saves 47 gallons of water! (The “dish pan” at my grocery store costs less than $5.)

Another common time for people to leave the water running is when they’re brushing their teeth. Bathroom sinks use anywhere between 1/2 a gallon and 1 1/2 gallons of water per minute (info from Hunker). According to the American Dental Association, you should brush your teeth for two full minutes twice per day. That’s four minutes a day, total. If you leave the water running that entire time, you are wasting between two gallons and six gallons of water! (Between 7.57 liters and 22.71 liters.)

Turning the water off when you’re not using it saves a lot of water! If you wash the dishes every day, and brush your teeth the recommended 4 minutes total every day, and you’re turning off the water when you’re not using it, you could save up to 371 gallons of water per week! That’s saving over 19,000 gallons per year!!!

Turn Off Lights

This is another one that you’ve probably heard since childhood: turn off the lights when you’re not using them. This particular section was difficult to figure out the exact environmental impact of using lights, as you’ll see in a moment. The most obvious impact is on your wallet, which I will touch on at the end of this section.

(This is a long section, and highly technical. I put subheadings in it so you could navigate to the parts you’re interested in. If you only want to see the savings, skip to the bold text.)

Assumptions & Example Situations

Incandescent Bulbs

There are a lot of different types of light bulbs. To illustrate the impact of lighting, we’ll assume that all the light bulbs in an apartment are 60 watt incandescent light bulbs (just to make the math easier). For this thought experiment, we will assume that this is a two bedroom apartment with a single adult couple living in it. Let’s figure out the amount of light bulbs in this theoretical apartment:

  • two side table lamps per bedroom (4 lamps total)
  • a three bulb fixture in each bathroom (6 bulbs total)
  • a 5 light track light in the kitchen and a light bulb in the vent hood (6 bulbs total)
  • a 3 bulb chandelier in the dining room
  • a corner lamp in the living room with 4 overhead can lights (5 bulbs total)
  • a single bulb fixture in the entry
  • a single bulb in the laundry area

Total: 26 light bulbs

A standard 60 watt incandescent light bulb uses 0.06 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy in one hour (source: PawPaw). Kilowatt hours (kWh) is the standard unit used to measure energy. To find the wattage of the light bulbs in your house, look at the bulbs; every light bulb should have a wattage on the bulb itself or on the “neck” (where it screws in).

This next part is a little obscure. I wanted to be able to say “you’ll save this amount of carbon dioxide from being dumped into the atmosphere” by only using lights you need. Unfortunately, every single power plant produces a different amount of carbon dioxide. Why? Because there are so many different sources of power, and they all have different carbon footprints. If a power station gets most of its power from coal, it will have a larger carbon footprint that the same size power station being powered primarily by wind.

While I couldn’t find a true average for the United States, due to the vast variance in power sourcing, I was able to find a Quora answer that said the United States had an “average carbon emissions per kWh” of 1.4 pounds of carbon dioxide. While the number is old, and almost impossible to estimate, it’s the only number I could find. I figure using this average will give a rough idea of the impact each light bulb has on the environment.

Again, for the sake of this thought experiment, we’ll assume it gets dark at 6pm every night, and you go to bed (and turn off all the lights) by 10pm. That means that you need lights for 4 hours every day, or 28 hours a week. Obviously, seasons change this dramatically, and a lot of rooms need light at twilight, but 4 hours is an easy number to use for the calculations.

Thought Experiment: Process

For the first part of the experiment, the couple living in our theoretical apartment turns every single light on at 6pm, and doesn’t turn them off until 10pm. That’s 26 of the 60 watt incandescent bulbs turned on for 4 hours every day. That’s 6.24 kWh in one day! And using our theoretical average carbon emissions, that means that in one day the couple in this apartment is producing 8.74 pounds of carbon dioxide from their lighting needs alone!

Now, let’s say they come home and only use the lights they need. They turn on the entry light when they enter, but turn it off as soon as they get their shoes off and coat hung up – this only takes a few minutes, so we’re going to keep our math simple and not count that. One of them turns on the corner light in the living room as soon as they get home, while the other turns on the kitchen track light and cooks dinner. They leave these lights on for an hour. Then, they turn off the living room light and kitchen light and turn on the dining room light to eat dinner, which takes another hour. They turn off the dining room light, turn on the living room light, and relax for an hour. Then they turn off the living room light, and move into the bedroom and bathroom to get ready for bed, which we’ll also say takes an hour. Then they turn all the lights off and go to bed. Using this routine, they will use:

  • Living room corner light, one light bulb: one hour while cooking and reading, one hour while relaxing; two hours = 0.12 kWh
  • Kitchen light, five light bulbs: one hour while cooking; one hour = 0.3 kWh
  • Dining room, three light bulbs: one hour while eating; one hour = 0.18 kWh
  • Bedroom lights, two light bulbs: one hour while getting ready for bed; one hour = 0.12 kWh
  • Bathroom light, three light bulbs: one hour while getting ready for bed; one hour = 0.18 kWh

Total kWh for one evening: 0.36 kWh

Thought Experiment: Results – Carbon Emissions

As you can see, that is a humongous reduction compared to leaving every single light on in their house for four hours! Leaving all the lights on for four hours used 6.24 kWh, while only turning on lights when they were needed used 0.36 kWh. Using 0.36 kWh, produces 0.5 pounds of carbon dioxide! That means that only using the lights you need prevents 8.24 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment in one day! (That number comes from the theoretical average as outlined above.) That means you prevent almost 3000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere in one year by turning off unnecessary lights!

Thought Experiment: Results – Price

I recognize that these numbers may be difficult to visualize, or that you have no reference for how much of a difference that will make. (Honestly, I barely understand the context for them.) One thing that I can tell you for sure is how much money turning the lights off will save you! Using this chart found on Choose.org, with average price per state in December 2018, I calculated the average price per kWh for energy (I added them all and divided by 51, because they included DC as a separate “state”) in the United States. The average cost per kWh in the USA, in December 2018, was about 13.29 cents ($0.1329). To make the math easier, we’ll use 13 cents per kWh.

The couple in our theoretical apartment left all the lights on in their apartment for four hours every evening, which used 6.24 kWh per day. That means it cost about 81 cents per day, or $5.68 cents per week. Each month, assuming four weeks in a month, their lighting cost them $22.71. And in the course of one year, that adds up to $295.28! (6.24*$0.13*7*52)

The couple in our theoretical apartment has switched to only using the lights they need when they need them, so they’re now using 0.36 kWh per day. That’s about 5 cents per day. In the course of one year, they’re now spending $17.04 for their lighting. That means, that in the course of one year, they’re saving $278.24! That’s a huge financial impact!

What You Can Do

As well as turning off your lights when you’re not using them, you can save money (and lower your personal carbon emissions) by switching which types of light bulbs you’re using. All the calculations above used the “most wasteful” (least energy efficient) light bulb: incandescent. Incandescent lights are the traditional bulbs that have a round bulb and a little piece of string looking thing inside them (the string is a filament and is heated with electricity and glows to produce the light). The 60 watt lights are the most common in residential use, which is why I chose that wattage for the calculations. There are more efficient light bulb options, that use less wattage (which equals less kWh) for the same amount of light. Equivalents to a 60 watt incandescent light bulb are: a 15 watt compact fluorescent (CFL), the twisty light bulbs, and an 8-9 watt LED (source: Lowe’s).

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL)

Yes, incandescent lights cost the least up front. Most people cannot afford to buy 26 LED light bulbs all at once. A more affordable option is to leave your incandescent bulbs in place until they burn out, and then replace them with a more efficient bulb that you can afford at the time. In our house, we probably have at least six different types of light bulbs around the house! Unless people can see the physical light bulb, most people won’t notice the difference. (Pay attention to the light “color” and make sure you’re getting matching “color temperature” bulbs. Color temperature is how blue or yellow/red a light is. Most light bulb boxes have the number on them, or a little scale, so match those numbers or ask a store associate for assistance.)

Why would you want to switch light bulbs? A 15w CFL would use 0.015 kWh in an hour, while an 8w LED would use 0.008 kWh in an hour. Using the “all the lights are on for four hours every day” example, that means that switching all 26 light bulbs to CFL would use 1.56 kWh per day, and using 26 LED light bulbs would use 0.832 kWh per day! (The 26 incandescent light bulbs 6.24 kWh per day.) Both CFL and LED light bulbs will save you significant money in the long run! Plus, both CFL and LED light bulbs last longer than incandescent bulbs, meaning you’ll need to replace them less often.

If you can’t afford to switch the light bulbs to a different type, turn off your lights when you’re not using them! You could end up saving yourself more than $200 per year. No wonder your parents were always yelling at you to turn the lights off!

Conclusion

Because the lights section required so much research, and is overwhelming to read (but super simple to execute, I promise), I am going to leave it at just two tips this month.

Please turn off your water when you’re not using it. Fresh water is not as prevalent as our modern lifestyles lead us to assume, so using only what we need is extremely important for ourselves and all future generations! And the amount of money you can save by turning off lights when you’re not using them is incentive enough, let alone the humongous environmental impact those lights can have!

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