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Recently, a local school district decided to start charging teachers for personal use of “refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, pizza ovens, toaster ovens and toasters” in an effort to save over $12,500 per year in energy savings (read full story).

The cost for using a coffee maker?  $10.  While this is a seemingly small fee for a convenience, maybe there is an alternative solution to help save money (and energy) and keep everyone happy.

Energy Efficiency: Not all coffee makers are created equally in their energy consumption.  Why not choose an energy efficient model?  A thermal coffee maker (like the Cuisinart DTC-975) uses less energy than a standard coffee maker, as the brewed coffee is stored in an insulated carafe.  Thus, there is no energy wasted heating a burner underneath a glass pot.

Economy of Scale:  Why not consolidate a few coffee makers into fewer, more centralized pots?  On my floor alone, there are at least 3-4 coffee makers that are used daily and often make only half pots each.  Having fewer pots that make a full pot at a time would reduce multiple uses of heating elements.  It makes sense to avoid single-cup brewing machines.

Opportunity to Learn: Combining both of these ideas could even turn into a class project, where students could use wattage meters (like the Kill a Watt meter) to monitor coffee makers to identify the most energy efficient models and brewing practices.


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In our recent interview with Bill Nye, he reminded us that the hardest thing for everyone to understand about the environment is that every single thing you do affects everybody in the whole world.”

Inspired by his words, I decided to replace some lightbulbs in my house with CFLs (compact flourescent lightbulbs). While I have been slowly replacing lightbulbs with CFLs as they burn out, I finally replaced a good number before they were burned out. It also helps that many companies are offering CFLs in different sizes and more attactive casings (i.e. flood lamps, decorative bulbs, etc). Thus, more than 90% of the lightbulbs in my house are now energy efficient.

Many stores will make this conversion easy for you with multi-packs and rebates as well. Energy Star even has a “choose a light” guide for you to help you decide which CFL suits your needs best. Nye suggests finding CFLs of the color you like, but with all things, the higher quality ones are usually more expensive.

Hear Bill Nye’s Opinions on CFLs

So you go to the store and you buy one [compact fluorescent light bulb]. Ok, but if you replace every lamp in your house, or every lamp in the main rooms… Replace every one of those lamps, and you will see your power bill go down… Now there are some whining, unbelievable-freakin’ whiners out there who tell you that we can’t change to compact fluorescents because of the mercury – “there’s no way to get rid of the mercury that’s in those lights and it’s gonna kill everybody.” So let’s keep in mind that it was the year 1951 when American industry went to buying more fluorescent lamps than incandescent lamps. That is to say, if you work at any sort of factory anywhere, they have fluorescent lights – ‘cuz it’s so much cheaper. And so those lights are required by law to be recycled and the mercury recovered. And there are services that recover the lights and recover the mercury. So we just gotta do the same thing for domestic consumers – for people that buy ‘em for their houses. For cryin’ out loud – this is not, if I may, rocket surgery. This is actually a little more complicated that: trying to motivate everyone to do the right thing with regard to their old lamps. And of course it can be done; it’s a metal. Who doesn’t want to recover a metal? It’s valuable, it’s shiny, you can see it – of course you can do it. Download the Podcast

CFL Links:

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Have you recently upgraded your computer at home, and have an older one neglected in disuse? Don’t throw it away – computer and other many other electronic devices contain heavy metals that should NOT be disposed of in your garbage. What should you do? Consider these options:

1. Donate it.

Many organizations may have use of your computer. If you do not know where to donate it, consider an organization like Tech Corps WI (some of you may remember that they donated many computers to West and Wilson a few years back).

However, do not just donate any old computer. Usually, there are restrictions. Most organizations do not have much use for any machine that runs slower than a Pentium II. For donation guidelines, visit Their Donation Guidelines Page.

2. Use Parts From it.

I recently resurrected a part of my first laptop – the hard drive. For a meager $15 investment from, I had myself a handy 30 GB portable hard drive. This helped me backup my H-drive and store large media files.

Want to know how to do this? I followed the advice from an article in “Turn an old hard drive into an external drive”

3. Recycle it.

Recently, Staples announced that they will recycle computers, monitors and laptops for a $10 fee. (Staples will recycle smaller devices such as cell phones, pagers and digital cameras)for free, regardless of the brand or whether the device was bought at Staples). [Staples in Oshkosh]

Alternatively, your county landfill probably has its own guidelines on computer recycling. These are from Outagamie County:

Computers can be brought to the Outagamie County Landfill for a fee of $10.00. If you choose to recycle your old computer the prices are as follows: Monitor – $10.00, All other electronics – $5.00