Money Laundering: Are High Efficiency Washing Machines Worth It?

As part of our personal economic stimulus home purchase, H and I have been replacing quite a few appliances around the house – most of them because the existing ones were either too small and woefully old, or they were terribly inefficient.  The washing machine is old, and uses a lot of water – something that really angers me because I see it as a monumental waste.  H doesnt really care about this fact, but after we were getting clothing coming out of the washer (or the dryer) with holes in them, that was the last straw for her.  We went to the store to poke around once, and took the truck just in case of an impulse purchase, but we were able to look around, and hold off on the purchase.

After this, I decided to do some research on which washing machine would be best in terms of efficiency.  This is kind of an odd ball as far as appliances go, because you have to watch use on two fronts – electricity and water, where as most appliances you just need to concern yourself with how much energy is being used.  First, I went to the energy star website and tried to find out which units used how much water an electricty per load.  Of course, since this program is run by the EPA, nothing is simple.  They’ve done all this analysis and scored each unit based on something they call a ‘modified energy factor’ and a ‘water factor’.  Of course, this didnt really do much because the explanations are not that clear, but they offer a spreadsheet (g0 to clothes washers resources, then qualified clothes washers) you can download to look at all the data and see for yourself.

Once I got the spreadsheet downloaded, I did a double sort – first on the water factor, then on the energy factor.  I pulled the top ten out of the list, because the numbers were virtually the same.  It seemed that when one washer did better with water, it wasnt quite as good in the energy side, and vice versa – but again, we were talking about a very nominal amount.  Once I had this information, I looked up each make and model number just to see about how much they would cost – and I got glaringly different results.  For all but 3 washing machines on the list, they were $1,200+ units (for just the washer – dryers were about the same price)!  I am not about to pay that much for a washing machine, and I got even more curious about the prices because the others on the list were around $600, or 50% less!  Since there was virtually no difference between the amount of resources used between each unit, it couldnt be that one unit was more efficient.  The extra expense was in the features – which I don’t need.

When I ran some quick numbers on wether or not the more expensive units would save more money than the other units in the group, I determined the payback period to be over 100 years!  By that time, I will have gone through at least 3 washing machines, if not more.  Due to the extremely small difference in efficiency and the large difference in cost, it got me thinking about the models on the very bottom end of the spectrum, and how they would compare to one of the $600 units, as well as one of the $1200 units.

The cheapest unit on the market right now runs about $400, and is not energy star certified – while all the ones on my list are.  According to the product fact sheet, the unit uses approximately 470 kWh/per year, while the ones on the energy star list ranged from about 90 kWh/year on the low end, to 284 kWh/year on the higher end.  Where I live, energy prices are about an even 8 cents per kWh, so we are talking a yearly cost difference of somewhere between $27 and $12 per year, depending on the unit selected.  You’d pay about 34 per year for  the cheapest unit on the market, 12 for one of the $1200  and  7 for the $600 unit .  Given the approximate life span of a washing machine of 15 years (I’m being generous here) you’ll save approximately $405 over the lifetime of the unit, if you picked the $600, and compared it to the cheapest unit on the market.  The initial cost of the most expensive unit, however, is over $1,000!  Even counting in energy savings (based on prices in my area) I still wouldnt be able to get a positive return over 15 years!

Like I mentioned earlier though, there’s also some water useage to consider, which is a lot harder to price out (in my area anyway).  Our water is sold in “blocks” where we pay one price for the first 1,000 gallons, then a higher price for the next 1,000 gallons, and so on.  Where this could really save a person money was if they were able to use a more efficient unit to keep themselves from going into a higher water usage block that would be unavoidable with the cheaper unit.  As I mentioned, this would be hard to pin down, and even more so with laundry needs changing over time.

What seems to have happened in the washing machine industry is the companies are larding up the units with tons of (unneeded, in my opinion) features that they can sell for high margins.  If you look carefully however, you’ll be able to find a very high efficiency unit at a low price – making it easy to get the return on the investment that you’re seeking.  The cut off, however seems to be the $1,000 price point – once you get above that, no amount of efficiency will be worth the extra cost you paid for all the bells and whistles of the fancy unit.  (Who needs to control the washing machine from a cell phone app, or have a washing machine delay the start time, anyway?)

To add an interesting caveat, I got an email from a reader named Lupi, who had the following to say about High Efficiency Washing Machines:

Good article. Here’s what you missed. It appears that the newer more expensive HE machines have about a 5 year lifespan. This makes it almost impossible to get a payback from energy savings. In addition, we need to think of the environmental impact of all those machines in our landfills. I would happily trade the old Maytag I had that lasted 15 years for the newer Maytag HE Bravos that required a new bearing ($415) after 4 years. Apparently manufacturers have decided that people would prefer to upgrade after 5 years. Washing machines are different from cell phones and computers. I want to keep mine as long as possible.

Once I got her email, I knew she had a point and decided that it was worth adding to this article. I had not had any problems with our washing machine, so I couldnt be sure if there were some bad brands or models, but I have noticed that there are still a ton of old washing machines floating around out there, and the new ones dont seem to have as long of a life span, though I’ve found nothing solid to back this up.

As if almost on cue, my our washing machine breaks a few months later, and we need a new electrical control board to get it working again. It has been over a month, and we still dont have the part, but we had the debate that Lupi mentions – should we just buy a new one, or fix this one? We ended up fixing it (though it’s not fixed yet).

So, are high efficiency model washing machines worth it?  It depends, like everything.  The cheaper units on the energy star list will always give you a positive return on your investment though depending on the amount of energy used, payback period will vary. While the ones that cost $1,000+ will most likely not be worth it in the end.  Here’s a handy sheet on the energy star website that has estimated lifetime operating cost, as well as MSRP (which you shouldnt have to pay – you should be able to find it on sale somewhere).

In the end, H and I got our washer for about 575 (est yearly operating cost: $11), and our dryer for $650, for a total cost of $1200.  Our payback period versus the least efficient machine on the market should be about 8 years, give or take.

Readers:  Are you in the market for a new washing machine (or any appliance)?  If so, do you take as much time as me deciding what to purchase, and consider all relevant factors that are important to you?  Or do you just search out the best deal and be done with it (I have the luxury of waiting because my old washer is not broken).  If you’ve recently bought a new washer (or other appliance) did you rank initial cost, or lifetime cost higher in your decision making process?

Honeymoon: Thailand pt 2 – Phuket

For the second portion of our honeymoon in thailand (first portion here), we went to southern thailand to relax at a beach resort, and take some tours.  We were only there for 3 days 🙁 but still had a great time.  For the first day, we didnt really do much as we left bangkok mid afternoon and didnt have a full day there.  Thankfully, the resort had a portion of the beach specifically for its guests, so we were able to relax at the beach and by the pool for most of that day.  It was nice for me to finally be able to get back into the ocean – I havent been near one in ages.  (This is a picture heavy honeymoon post, so feel free to skip)

Below is a picture of “the beach” (apparently it was a movie, I had no idea).  We took a speedboat to the beach, and as I found out fishing in alaska, I dont do well on small boats on the ocean.  Thankfully I didnt puke, but for a while I felt like I was going to.  This beach was really nice (I believe the island was phi phi don) but it was super crowded – because all of the tour companies too their groups here for the first stop.

This is a picture from what the tour guides called monkey island.  There were monkeys everywhere, and we stopped quickly and fed them bananas – once again, there were tons of people here too, and while I was fine with feeding the monkey a banana, there were quite a few people who fed the monkeys other things, and quite a few people who got careless and the monkeys took  their things.  I saw a monkey drinking coke from a can that someone had given him (which I thought was funny) but I couldnt help but wonder: Were we actually doing the monkeys a favor by feeding them, or were we making them depend on the tourists for food?

If I remember correctly, this monkey below was kind of the king of the island, and stole lots of bananas from the smaller monkeys.  If you look really close though, you’ll see why – this monkey had a baby monkey that was clinging to its chest (you can kind of see the ear under the monkeys arm).  This monkey was obviously the favorite of the tourists because of the baby monkey.

Another shot of a monkey doing something that my mind typically reserves for human behavior – It was pretty funny I thought.

Below is a view from the boat – lots of nice little islands and such sticking out of the water – it reminded me a lot of some of the pictures that I took when I was in alaska.

This is a view of the coast when we were returning to the island – there were a lot of huge homes tucked into the hills behind the trees, and I kind of wondered who they belonged to – it didnt really seem like many thai people could afford something like that, though you never know.

This is from the boat tour on the second day.  We were on a much bigger boat and I didnt feel crappy on this day.  One of the things that we got to do frequently was get out of the boat and kayak – this is a shot of us entering the first kayak cave.  Unfortunately the tide was too low for us to do what they normally did and go as far in, but it was still an amazing sight.

This is a picture from when you got out of the cave.  You ended up in this valley that from what I understood has water most times, but if the tide is very low, it would be completely dry in there – though I dont remember exactly.  H and I had a lot of fun in the kayak here, but once again, as we were leaving the people started to fill up the very small passageway in the caves for the boats, and that was kind of annoying.

Below is what they call “James Bond Island” or Khao Phing Kan.  This island was used in the set of the james bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun (Rodger Moore).  The island was super cool but again, there were a ton of people there and a few areas to buy some gifts (we bought magnets).  It was actually part of a national park (Ao Phang Nga National Park), so there were quite a few protections on the island, which was nice – there were also a lot of geographical protections, as the area was quite steep and not really suitable to build something.  With this park, i’ve been to national parks on 3 continents.

That is the last of our beach times in thailand (unfortunately) and will be the last of the pictures for the honeymoon.  H and I had a great time, and it was nice to sit and relax and not really have to worry about anything while we were over there.  The honeymoon is over now though, and it’s back to reality and work and all of that not-so-fun stuff.


Tenets of Sustainability: Sustainability can be Cheap

A lot of the time that I’m thinking about sustainability, the cost is one of the first things that come into mind.  There are a lot of great sustainable things out there, but some of them cost a whole boatload of money.  Some of these expensive things will have a pay back period (time it takes to recoup your investment) in the tens of years, if the item ever recoups cost before it needs to be replaced.

The thing with sustainability for most things though, is that it’s cheaper over the long term.  Some of the things you may buy will be more expensive at first, but will be made of a higher quality material and will last much longer, lowering your cost of each use.  Not only are you saving money over the long term, but by not buying something that will need to be replaced in 4 years, you’re keeping garbage out of the landfill.  So, if you’re focused on sustainability, look into high quality items that will last a while – they may be initially more expensive but will most likely be cheaper in the long run.

Over the last 10 or so years, one thing that I’ve noticed at the store is a whole boatload of new “green” products coming out, that are supposedly better for the environment in some way than their “non-green” counterpart.  Of course, the company doesnt really go into detail about why it’s greener, they just say that it is because it uses (or does not use) some ingredient.  Of course, this “green” product often comes with a nice price increase over the non green item, lots of times north of 10%.  I feel like a lot of people are concerned about the planet and want to do the right thing, so they purchase this product that claims to be greener, feeling like their extra money has done some good.  Typically though, the product is just called green and is only marginally better (or not at all) than whatever they non green version is.

One of the best parts about green cleaning solutions (and other green products) is that you can be much more sustainable and use less harsh chemicals if you simply make the product yourself!  I didnt do much of this up until two years ago because I thought that it was difficult, but it really, really isn’t.  Most cleaning solutions can be made with vinegar and water, and perhaps something else to make it smell good, and you can get vinegar for like 1.50 per gallon, where a normal sized bottle of green cleaning solution is like 4 bucks!  Depending on how much you use, you can save a ton of money making your own stuff!

Sustainability isnt just about buying the product with the expensive product with the green label.  Most times, you can save a truckload of money while trying to be more sustainable at the time of purchase as well as over the product lifetime.

Readers: Do you find green products to be more expensive as well, and does that prohibit you from buying them?  When you buy them, do you know why they are greener than their counterpart?

The ABCs of Sustainability

Just like everyone, I have trouble remembering all of the things that I can do in my day-to-day life that will help me become a more sustainable person (and help me save money or get healthier).  To help me out, I developed this post – sustainability from A to Z.  Here you’ll find tips beginning with each letter of the alphabet that can help you out in your day to day life.

A is for Air Dry.  Lots of dishwashers have a heated dry cycle that uses a lot of energy.  When you have dishes in the dishwasher, typically you’re not in dire need of something that’s in there, so you won’t need the heated dry to speed things up.  You can just turn off the dry cycle all together and let your dishes air dry in the dish washer.  If it turns out that you do end up needing something, just open the dish washer and pull it out and dry it with a towel.  Air Drying dishes can help you save money by using less heat when operating your washing machine, and  can help you save the earth by using less energy.

B is for Buy Used.  Buying used is a rather simple process:figure out what you need (or want)  and find a store that sells it used.  You can check local antique or consignment shops in your area, your local craigslist, or even ebay.  Don’t worry if you think that what you’re looking for is too off of the wall or crazy, sites like ebay have everything.  Buying used can get you what you need for cheaper (and possibly better quality) than buying new, and you’ll keep something out of a land fill as well.


C is for Clothesline.  This is probably one of my favorite sustainability tips as everyone who wants to can do this (even you’re apartment people!)  Many of those in homes can easily string up a clothesline or may already have one that just needs repair. H and I had to make our own by buying some clothesline string and stringing up a few lines over the corner of our fence.  If you live in apartment, you can always use one of those clothes drying racks.  Clothes dried out on the line smell so good and feel so fresh when they are done too!  You can save money by using less electricity, saving wear and tear on your dryer, and you can save the environment by reducing emissions from   your local energy generation station.

D is for Driving.  There are plenty of things that will burn gas at a higher rate than normal, such as constant jackrabbit starts (gunning it off the light) constant stopping and starting, and speeding.  It’s pretty simple to avoid these habits (once you graduate high school) by paying attention to how fast you’re going and watching the lights to make sure you don’t have to come to a complete stop before your light turns green.  Of course, this will help you save gas, which will save you money and will help out the environment by using less petroleum based resources.

E is for efficiency.  Specifically, I’m talking about fuel efficiency.  You know that your commute is going to be X number of miles to work and back home, right?  If that’s the case, then why wouldn’t you want to maximize the amount of miles that your vehicle can operate per gallon of gas?  Well of course you would, because you want to be more sustainable, and you know that getting a more fuel efficient car will help you save money by using less gas than you would with a less efficient vehicle, and will help save the environment by lowering emissions and using less petroleum based resources.

F is for Full.  Many things operate better and use less energy when they are full.  Freezers use way less energy when they are full because the things that are already frozen will help freeze the newly put in things.  Many other home appliances work in a similar way.  Why run the dishwasher or washing machine when it’s half full, simply wait a day or two until you’ve got a full load and you’re on the road to sustainability.  This can help you save money by using less energy (on freezer, dishwasher, washing machine and other home appliances) and saving on wear and tear, and will help you use less energy or water depending on the appliance.

G is for Garden.  Most food that you eat has traveled 1500 miles (on average) to get from the production area to the shelf of your local store.  Clearly that’s a lot of miles and a garden is a great way to cut down on food miles.  Even those of you with apartments can plant a pot full of your favorite herbs like basil and mint and avoid buying some things.  Starting a garden will help you save money at the store by lowering what you’ll need to buy, save the earth by cutting down your food miles, and could help you become a bit healthier by removing additives and pesticides from your food.

H is for Homemade.  For just about everything you buy, you can do it yourself.  People just think that it’s cheaper to buy what someone else has made (while it does happen sometimes, it’s far less often than you think).  I haven’t been into the homemade movement for long, but since I started digging in, I’ve found tons of things you can make at home that I’d typically buy, like dryer sheets, drain cleaner, food, cheese and so much more.  When you make things yourself you can control what goes into the product and how it tastes at the end – and you also get that great feeling of having done something productive that day.  You can save money and the environment by going the homemade route.  This tip provided by staff writer Beatrice.

I is for Information.  The more information you have about something (be it a service or product) the more you can decide if it’s as sustainable as you would like it to be.  Don’t like how many miles your food travels?  Get some information and figure out how you can start producing some of your own food.  There’s plenty of ways to become more sustainable, you just have to look around for them. Honestly, I didn’t know you could make your own laundry detergent, dish soap, etc until I started this site.  This can save you some money by cutting down costs of things you’d normally buy but start making instead, and can help save the earth (and your heath) by using less toxic ingredients.

J is for Join. If you look at the definition of join in the dictionary here is what you will read, “ the shape or manner in which things come together and a connection is made;  make contact or come together.” Use this to your advantage in living sustainable. See if there are community programs you can join that work on green projects, like community gardens for example. Or, join a Community Supported Agriculture Progam (CSA) and use it to source your fruit and veggie groceries. Or, bring your friends together who think like you and ‘come together’ to form an environmental advocacy group. The sky is your limit when it comes to connecting with the planet.  Tip provided by Miss T from Prairie Eco Thrifter.

K is for Knowledge.  There are a ton of things that you can learn about from a sustainability perspective.  You can learn about life cycles of products, how things are made and how the inputs used are harvested, mined, or otherwise created.  There is sustainability in each one of those steps, and the more you know about the most sustainable methods, the better you can make decisions on the day to day.  For instance, when I bought laundry soap I would always buy the powdered kind in the box because all of the fancy designed bottles are wasting a ton of space in the truck.  Less space wasted = more room for product = less trips.  So, there’s sustainability everywhere, you just have to know about it and make decisions based upon what you know.

L is for Low Flow.  Low flow showerheads and toilets are awesome.  Simply purchase a low-flow showerhead and install and it will regulate the water flowing out of the head.  Low flow toilets work a bit different – some use less water per flush and some will have two buttons – one a half flush for number one, and the other a full flush for number two.  You can cheaply lower the water in your toilet by filling a few jugs with water and placing them in your toilet tank, lessening the amount of area the water has to fill every flush.  Low flow treatments can help you save money and the environment by using less water.

M is for Mindful Spending.  A lot of sustainability can be boiled down to resource use.  If you buy things that you don’t need just to buy them, you’re wasting resources.  When you think about what you spend, you’re giving thought to what’s actually going to happen to the item when you take it home.  Is it something like a tiddy bear (full disclosure: I didn’t know about this before I started writing this post) that seems totally useless and will only be used a few times before it stored away, or will you use it a couple of times every week?  Think about your purchases, if you do this, you’ll end up saving yourself some money and stopping resources from being used for no reason.

N is for New Life.  Anything that you feel like you’ve outgrown or no longer have a use for, consider donating to a local chairity.  Even though you may not have a use for it anymore, there very well could be someone who has a need for it and would be more than happy to have it.  This could be anything from movies to books to old clothing.  You’re keeping things out of the landfill helping you become more sustainable and saving the person purchasing it some money because they are getting it secondhand.


O is for Overboard.  Don’t go overboard with your sustainability measures needlessly, as it could cost you money that you’ll never recover.  When I was in college we got assigned a task to try and figure out where we would save the most money if we could only replace one incandescent with a compact flouresent bulb.  Obviously, this meant replacing the light that was on the most for whatever reason.  Think about it – should you put the light in a high traffic area like the living room where the light is on 2 hours a day, or the closet in the basement that gets turned on once a week.  You can save some money by not buying needless bulbs and still be exponentially more sustainable.

P is for Programmable Thermostat.  Programmable thermostats operate pretty simply – you tell them what time and what temperature to turn the heat to on any given day and they do the rest.  They take probably an hour to install and cost about 50 bucks, but can easily make that back during the winter, and then some.  Once you’ve got this done, you can sit back while it saves you money and helps out the earth by using less energy than  you would if you heated/cooled your house when you were not going to be there.

Q is for Quality.  One of the most important things I have discovered on my eco-living journey is the importance of quality over quantity.  I have discovered, in terms of food, I prefer an approach that is less about how cheap and easy to make the food is, and whether or not the food is of good quality. Quality over quantity, in this sense, means going slightly against your natural spending habits, at least on the surface, and embracing an added short term expense to minimize a long term one. Investing in your health and the planet now by modifying your diet to include organic and humanely-raised animal products will benefit you in the future with lower health care costs. It also benefits the planet through sustainable farming practices. Already eat sustainable? Then here is another example.  Think of the consumer marketplace. How many people buy a cheap, plastic item and eventually have to take it to a landfill because it no longer works, or the plastic cracks, sometime not long after they bought the item? The numbers are staggering. Don’t believe me? Go and pay a visit to your local garbage dump. In my experience, not many consumers in general question the quality of the items they buy. They just buy them and forget about the origins of the product, or the sweatshop conditions of those who laboured to make them. It often doesn’t enter into the consciousness of everyday people. Do the planet and yourself a favour and start paying attention to quality over quantity.  Tip provided by Miss T from Prairie Eco Thrifter.

R is for Reuse.  I used to want to buy a lot of stuff – something for every purpose and something crazy for some far fetched idea I had at one fleeting moment.  Thankfully, I didnt do 98% of these ideas, but a lot of people do buy a lot of stuff for one reason or another.  Eventually they’ll tire of the item and will be willing to sell you something perfectly good for cheap, or even better, FREE!  Of course, this doesn’t have to include a friend – you can find something in your house that you no longer use and re-use it for something different.  It doesn’t have to serve its original purpose, it just has to serve a purpose to be reused.  You can turn old shirts into dishrags, hand down clothing to younger children or just about anything else you can think of!  This will help save you money by preventing you from buying things you don’t need to buy and will keep stuff out of landfills by extending the lifetime of the product.

S is for Shower with a Friend.  We increasingly hear about water and electricity becoming increasingly scarce while subsequently increasing in value.  Rolling brown outs in the northeast a few summers ago and a quick look at the water resources in Arizona are no longer isolated resource deficiency stories – the problems are getting larger and more wide spread.  Solution? Shower with a Partner!  The dial on your water meter (if you don’t have one now, you will …) will slow and you will save electricity heating (and keeping warm) a large tank of water in your basement.  That and the quality time with your partner – can’t put a price on that!  Tip provided by Simon at Sustainable Personal Finance

T is for Trees.  Who doesn’t like trees, right?  They are there when you need them to sit under in the shade on a hot summer day and they are there to fall on top of your car when the snow comes too early :).  In all seriousness though, trees are great for saving energy in the summer – they can protect your house from excessive heat by providing shade if they are planted nearby.  This will help you save some money on electricity costs and help the earth by planting trees to fix nutrients into the soil and remove CO2 from the air (you can also solidify your sustainability cred by taking a photo of yourself hugging said tree).

U is for Utility Usage Data.  Some utilities providers don’t offer this yet, but some do.  You get a website to go to that will tell you how much energy you’re using and at what time of day.  I think some of them can even tell you what appliance is using the energy!  Knowing all this information can allow you to tell the utility companies to cut power to your house on days where they have high demand (usually in the summer when lots of air conditioning is turned on).  This can save you some money because you’ll be using less electricity (and some companies give rebates for joining a program like this), you can also help the environment by delaying (or preventing outright) the construction of a new power plant, and reducing all the not-so-great things that comes along with new power plants.

V is for Vampire Draw.  I’ve talked about vampire draw a bit before, but for those that missed it: it’s when something is plugged into the wall but not connected to something charging on the other end.  One of the common culprits is cell phones – you leave your charger plugged in to the wall, but carry the phone with you.  The charger will still draw energy.  Obviously, this won’t cost you a lot of money but waste not, want not, right?  This will help you become more sustainable and save you money by saving you energy and lowering your electric bill.

W is for Walking.  All throughout high school, I thought that you had to drive everywhere.  When I got to college and my dad said I couldn’t take my car, I quickly learned I didn’t have to drive everywhere.  Once I started walking everywhere I had to go, I realized how much I enjoyed it and wanted to do it after I left school.  Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way for me right away, but after switching jobs, I’ve been able to walk to work for 9 months.  I’d prefer never to drive again.  This helps me save money on gas as well as wear and tear on your vehicle, stay healthy by getting you to walk more, and be more sustainable by driving less.

X is for Xeriscaping.  Xeriscaping is mostly done outside, and involves planting plants and native grasses that would naturally grow in your area anyway, to reduce water use.  Native grasses and plants are used to the conditions and won’t need any special treatment, making them fairly hard to kill if you’ve got a black thumb like me.  You can save some money and help the environment by using less water – gotta love 2 birds with 1 stone!


Y is for Yearn. When we yearn, we have affection for; feel tenderness for something. Yearn for our home, our planet. Be eager to experience mother nature’s beauty; to connect with her on a deeper level. Look around you and see what she has to offer- how beautiful she is. One of the ways I do this is by camping. I pack my tent, hike into the forest and escape into the wild. I listen to the sounds of the breeze touching the trees. I see the birds and squirrels playing. I awake to the brightness of the sun. I soothe myself to sleep with the glow of the moon. I take in the peace of the fresh air and heal myself with the silence. I yearn for my home.  Tip provided by Miss T from Prairie Eco Thrifter.
Z is for Zero Waste.  While this may be out of reach personally (but maybe not!) lots of events are beginning to head this direction.  I have been to multiple events that have forks, cups and spoons made from corn products, plates made out of recycled paper, and composting for food and paper waste.  While I personally don’t think they can get to absolute 0 waste, I’m glad they are trying.  Even though you may not be able to get to total zero waste in your household, even trying will help you become a far more sustainable person.  You can help the earth by looking at the whole lifecycle of your purchases, and figuring out what you’re going to do at every step.

Well there you have it – 26 sustainability tips.  Do you have any that I left off?  If I get enough tips in the comments I’ll put them together for another post.

Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 3

One big part of sustainability (to me) is food.  What you eat, how often you eat it, what your food eats, where it comes from, how it gets to your fridge and so on.  There are so many variables to how your food comes to your plate that affect all of my favorite topics: finances (cost), sustainability (transportation/”food miles”, growing practices/feeding, inputs/fertilizers/hormones/etc) and health (what you eat/how much/how often).  In an effort to lower my own impact, I’ve been focusing on getting my own food – mostly meat, but hopefully next summer I can try my hand at gardening.  When I do go out and get my own food, I like to do a bit of cost/benefit analysis.  Was it worth it for me to get it, or should I just save the time/money and buy it at the store?  If you’re curious you can find part one (halibut) and part two (duck) on the site.

This time, the hunt was for elk.  Here’s what it cost:

  • Elk Tag: $52
  • Conservation Stamp for 2011:  $12.50  – This is something anyone in wyoming who is hunting or fishing has to purchase.  Usually they use the money for land conservation.  The stamp is good for 1 calendar year.
  • Conservation Stamp for 2012: $12.50 – Unfortunately, these stamps are good for a calendar year, not from year to date purchase.  Since I didnt get an elk in 2011, I had to buy a new one.  Feeling like I was buying these things all the time annoyed me (and I didnt want to forget), so I bought a lifetime conservation stamp for $180.50.  I just used the yearly cost here though.  If the price stays the same, I’ll be money ahead in 15 years, and sooner if the price goes up.
  • Gun/Ammo: Borrowed/given to me – but this will be an expense in the future.  Obviously the gun will be a 1 time expense, but not the ammo.
  • Gas: $200 – This area isn’t really close to my house at all and I’d guesstimate I used 3 tanks of gas I wouldn’t have used otherwise.  I went up a total of 5 times and I took my truck 2 of those times, using a full tank both times.  The third was for meeting the rest of my group.
  • Foil/Saran Wrap: $8 – Yes, even though I bought some in Alaska, I needed more to process my elk meat.
  • 750 mL of whiskey: $11 – Needed.
  • Grinding: Free – Usually I pay to have the tougher cuts ground into burger meat, but a co-worker has a grinder that she is willing to let me use, which is a huge score!

Obviously, that’s quite a long list, and the total is $297, which is about what I spent on the halibut (go figure) but  is still a whole slew of money.

Before I went out last Saturday, I was pretty pessimistic about the whole thing, figuring that I’d thrown all that cash down the drain and not gotten anything from it (for the second year in a row)!  Even after I ate my lunch on Saturday, and we had finished our loop and were headed back to the truck, I was ready to go home and had made the decision to give it up for the season.  Thankfully, we stumbled upon some tracks and I was able to bring one down after some stalking.  So once I drug the thing back to the truck (2 miles!) and went home, I had to get to work processing and weighing. After everything was deboned, I had 58 lbs of meat.  This is meat of all different grades and qualities, from things that need to be slow cooked or ground because they aren’t tender to things that are very, very tender and tasty.  (Pictures: Pre deboned meat from 1 rear leg, and a de-boned rear leg [pic1, pic2]).  I basically spent most everyday from Saturday to Thursday trimming the silver off, and spent about 3 hours last this Saturday wrapping everything up.  Obviously, it doesn’t end once you’re out of the field.

I had to cut all of the silver off so the meat wouldnt taste gamey, and I’m guessing that was about 5 pounds, leaving me with about 53 pounds of useable meat.  This puts my total cost per pound at $5.12, which I think is pretty good.  While not all of what I got is “steak” quality, it is all organic, grass fed, pasture raised, etc.  Overall, that’s a pretty cheap price per pound for meat like that – I’ve done the math on buying a side of beef and it comes out somewhere between 6 and 7 bucks a pound (at least around here).  I figure this is a pretty good comparison, so I’m happy with the results.

I also don’t think I’ll need to do this again next year.  H is a vegetarian, so I’ve got all of this to eat myself or give away.  I’ve already given some away  and will probably give away more. I’ll save the ground elk meat for my bachelor party this summer and probably keep the rest and hopefully find some good elk sausage recipes or elk chili recipes (shockingly, I had enough freezer room after my quest to eat freezer stuff).  The unfortunate thing about this is that I could have spent all of that money and came up with nothing, but that is just how it all works.  Buying a tag isnt like buying the meat off the carcass – it does take a considerable amount of time and effort, but to me it’s worth it.

Since this was my first elk hunt, I needed to do a lot of work to figure out what I needed to bring and everything else like that. There were a lot of great hunting websites around, and one of the best was at

Some thoughts on the cost: I try not to put a price on the time I spend outdoors in some gorgeous country (if you want to know what the area looks like, check my facebook picture) because that is subjective, and I could derive more value from it than others (or less).  I also don’t count the benefit of the workout I get, but I do count it towards my workout total for the month – it’s a lot of walking.

Readers: Do you hunt, or are you interested in it?  Are you lucky enough to have a friend that just gives you meat instead of you having to go get it yourself?  Have you ever considered hunting as a (long-term) strategy to save money and increase the quality of your food?

Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 2

A while back, I wrote a post on the costs I incurred while going halibut fishing in Alaska.  When I wrote the post, I was relatively unsure of the street value of the fish, and was pretty sure that I was getting soaked in the deal.  Even though I used a pretty high price point, it looked like I came close to breaking even in the end, and I have some great memories from the trip to boot.

After I wrote that post, I figure it would be interesting to do this with all of my adventures getting my own food, so here’s the next chapter.

A while a go, my fiancee’s friend mentioned that he wanted to come up to Wyoming and hunt antelope and I offered to take him with my future father in law.  Unfortunately, the dates didnt work out and I was at fincon during the only weekend available, so I was unable to go.  After he got back (he was successful) he invited me to go duck hunting with him.  I’ll be the first to admit that I know nothing about ducks, duck hunting or anything like that.  Along with that, I’ve only even eaten duck once in my life.  Even so, I decided I’d go.

I already had a shotgun, so I didnt need to buy one of those.  What I did need was ammo, license, a state duck stamp and a federal duck stamp.  Most of the stuff I still have left and can be used again within a certain time frame.  I believe the federal duck stamp is good for the season, and the state duck stamp is good for 45 days.  Here was what I paid

  • 2 boxes ammo ~$22.  I can use this again, because I think I shot 3/50 shells.
  • Federal Duck Stamp/State Duck Stamp (State good for 45 days, federal for a year): $20
  • 1 Day waterfowl hunting license , non resident. $11
  • 1 Tank gas ~55
Unfortunately, this was a bit of a slow day out on the pond.  Of course, I’ve never been before so I didnt know, but the guy I went with said that usually he bags out and gets 6 ducks.  Unfortunately, we only shot two.  He was nice enough to let me take home both ducks as I assume his freezer is already full of them.  As I found out when I was processing the animal at home, there’s really not much to a duck.  You basically just want the breasts to eat, and some people save feathers if the make files for fly fishing (I don’t, and the guy I offered them to at work didn’t want them).  I didnt really know what to do with the rest, so I just got rid of them.  I’d like to find something to use what’s left of the animal for, but I dont know anything.  If you’ve got ideas, leave them in the comments 🙂
All in all, I think that I got meat for about 4 meals out of it, but I could have gotten more.  One of the duck breasts was compromised during the trip and had to be discarded.  So this was kind of an expensive trip at a cost of 108, and a cost per meal of $27.  Of course next time I go, It will only cost $11 for a duck license and whatever I use in gas.  This may not have as high of a return as my fishing trip did, but once I go a few more times I’ll have (hopefully) staggeringly lower cost per meal.   This may not best return, but it a good time – not nearly as bad as my dad described it “standing in a freezing ass duck blind at 5am”.
Readers: Do you hunt?  Are you interested in hunting?  If so, why?  Would you like a natural source of meat, a cost effective source, or do you hunt so that you can get back to the land and know where your food came from?

Alaska Pictures, Part 4

Unfortunately, this is going to be the last post of my pictures from alaska.  Even though I took north of 375 pictures, I didnt want to spend weeks and weeks on this series, so I broke my events down into days and selected some of my favorite pictures from each activity.  Hopefully this made you want to go to alaska a just a little bit.  I enjoyed my time up there and will hopefully be going back soon!   If you missed the first three groups, you can find here and here and here.

This group of pictures was because of a bartender that  I was talking to over dinner.  I asked him for some nearby trails and he sent me over here.  It was about a mile walk out of town (I didnt have  a car) just to the trailhead, and I was on the trail for about 2 miles 1 way. It was quite a bit of walking that day and it was tiring, but it was a great hike.

The hike was mostly along the coast south of seward, so there were quite a few rivers and other bodies of water flowing into resurrection bay.   This was one of them.  One of the best parts about this hike was that I saw 2 other people and 2 dogs throughout my hike.  It’s nice when you can get out there and truly be by yourself.

I took this picture because I thought this was funny – this is supposed to be a bridge over this shallow creek.  It wasnt really sturdy or anything like that, and it didnt really work.

I thought this was a pretty nifty tree, it looks like it had been cut down at one point and is regrowing as a new tree.

This is a ghost forest.  I wrote about them last time, but I think they are really cool!

This bird scared the crap out of me.  All of the sudden something broke the silence that I had enjoyed for the past 2 or so hours and made all this noise as I was standing on the bridge.  I was taking pictures of the fish in the water, but I got an ok shot of this guy considering.  There was also an eagle flying around, but I was unable to get a good picture of it.

You can see a bit of seward and the mountains behind it in this picture, but my favorite thing is the very well defined snow line on the mountain.

This is one from the walk back to town on the road.  I thought the boats looked neat in front of the mountain.