Saturday, June 19, 2010

What You Can Do About the Gulf Oil Despoilation?

You have lots of choices.

You can fret.
You can curse at BP and call them all kinds of nasty names.
You can  wash oiled seabirds (probably doing more good for your ego than for the birds.)
You can send assistance to the people whose livelihoods are affected.

Or you can start using less fossil fuel.  Here's one simple thing you can do:

Hang Your Laundry Out to Dry

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says
. . .dryers are the most energy-intensive "white good" in the house, so it pays to use them efficiently.

HA!  Even better is to use a clothesline.  Michaelbluejay writes on a page devoted to calculating energy use related to washing and drying:
The Japanese are way ahead of us on that one -- they use most of the modern conveniences we do, but clothes dryers aren't among them.  Even in the luxury apartments, you'll see the residents hanging their laundry out on their balconies.  I asked my Japanese friend what they do when it rains for a solid week, and she said, "We just hang the laundry up inside."
I wanted to be able to tell you exactly how much one load on the line instead of the dryer would impact US energy use.  It's not easy because it varies and because there are different ways to calculate.   Most sites focus on how much you save in dollars per year (assuming, I guess, personal gain is more appealing that doing general good.)  But here are some numbers.  The US Department of Energy has a chart which shows energy consumption per appliance.  It shows about 9000 Kwh/year for the average US household dryer use.

Note:  You need to have a sense of humor when you read all these statistics.  Earlier I had a quote that says that dryers use the most energy of "white goods" in the house, which this chart doesn't show.   And the The California Energy Commission says, "A dryer is typically the second-biggest electricity-using appliance after the refrigerator."  Maybe refrigerators come in more colors.

A March 2009 Wall Street Journal article that looks at the carbon footprint of five products (Cars, shoes, laundry detergent, jackets, milk, and beer)
The U.S. emits the equivalent of about 118 pounds of carbon dioxide per resident every day, a figure that includes emissions from industry. Annually, that's nearly 20 metric tons per American -- about five times the number per citizen of the world at large, according to the International Energy Agency.
See, this isn't easy.  (A lot of the 118 pounds per day is industrial, not household.) First kilowatt hours now pounds of carbon dioxide.  And this WSJ article focuses on washing, not drying.  But, hidden in the article is perhaps the most useful (though who knows how accurate?) bit of information:
The biggest way to cut the environmental impact of cleaning clothes, however, is to stop using a clothes dryer. Drying laundry outside on a line, Tesco says, will cut the carbon footprint of every load by a whopping 4.4 pounds.

It's clear that dryer use is an area where we can, without a lot of trouble, reduce energy use.  Yes, it will take up a little more time to hang up the laundry, but it will also provide some exercise, get you outside, and perhaps you can also notice the flowers and the birds.  Plus the laundry has that great outdoor smell. Though I've talked to some people who always got their laundry from a dryer and think the feel and smell of dryer clothes are natural.

So, big deal.  What difference will it make if I hang up the laundry instead of using the dryer?  It's the collective impact, not just one person.  But as you hang up a load and a million others do the same it starts to matter.  Just like the impact of one potato chip is no big deal.  It's the second and third and one hundredth potato chip that leads to headlines like in today's ADN for this NY Times story: "Plus-size trend grows on retailers."

Look, you don't have to stop using your dryer altogether.  But if one million households (the Census Bureau estimates  (p. 7) about 103 million households in the US,  so that is just under 1% of all the households)  dried one load a week on the line instead of in the dryer it would save 118 million pounds per year, which happens to be the same amount as the average American uses per day times one million.

It's a start.  It's a couple of potato chips less.  And once you get used to doing it once a week, adding a second load a week isn't all that hard. 

Technology was supposed to make our lives easier and there is no doubt that the washing machine has liberated American women from hours of hard work per day. (I know that might sound sexist, but when washing machines were introduced, women did most of the household laundry.)  But sometimes the old technology works better in the long run and the new technology isn't better, it's only better for corporate profits.  (OK,  corporate profits help the economy, except nowadays a much larger proportion of those profits are going to executives rather than to the workers and suppliers.)

My 88 year old mother has never had a dryer and to this day hangs her laundry to dry every load.  Now she does live in Southern California so that helps.  But you can hang things out to dry inside as well.  And in the winter when heating systems suck the humidity out of the house, hanging the laundry to dry adds a bit of moisture to the air.

And there are lots and lots of ways to hang out your clothes.  We have a 25 year old Cordomatic that we can use outside or inside.  

Tiptheplanet gives you more options for air drying racks than you ever thought existed.

And when you've gotten used to hanging out the laundry, here are some other things you can do:

Energy-saving strategies (from

Here's how much various strategies can save you.
Easy Strategies
Strategy Up front cost Savings per year
(1) Use space heaters to heat only the rooms you're in, (rather than a central system that heats the whole house), and turning off the heat when you're not home. $80 $1023
(2) Use ceiling fans instead of the air conditioner $100
if you don't already have ceiling fans
(3) Turn off lights you're not using $0 $274
(4) Use a clothesline or a laundry rack instead of a dryer $20 $196
(5) Sleep your computer when you're not using it $0 $178
(6) Wash laundry in cold water instead of hot or warm none $152
(7) Turn off a single 100-watt light bulb, from running constantly $0 $131
(8) Replace ten 60-watt light bulbs with compact fluorescents $32 $123
Total $232
every year

And everyone is responsible for getting two more people to hang up their laundry once a week too.  This is something you can do and know that you are making a difference instead of fretting about the oil gushing into the Gulf. 


  1. same in Germany, at least among my relatives...nobody owns a dryer...cloth get hung out on balconies, in yards , in attics or inside the apartment

  2. I don't even own a dryer.

    Here's some fun stuff that I've yet to see covered on any of the Alaskan blogs, so I'll drop a little link here.

    Is the BP Gusher Unstoppable? — By Julia Whitty
    Jun. 16, 2010

    This post by Dougr over at the Oil Drum is starting to get some legs on the internets and is the main source for the above-linked write-up at Mother Jones.

    There are some some interesting comments at MJ that are worth a read too.

    The Coast Guard had ROV's deployed almost immediately after this incident, they know what's going on down there.

    There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now? the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

    It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.

  3. We have 60 watt bulbs and we hang out wet clothes. I have never heard about cloth drier.

  4. all our lights are flourescent low wattage, and I mow my lawn with a push rotary mower. But I won't hang up my laundry. Allergy issues with hanging outside, and mildew on the walls if we hang clothes inside. Oh well. We all have to cut back where we can.

  5. Even Olbermann has picked up on Dougr's assessment.


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