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Big Water

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“All water is holy water.” Rajiv Joseph, Animals Out of Paper

Our water filter purification system at work went on the fritz recently, and I was shocked — shocked, I tell you — by the number of my co-workers who refused, even temporarily, to drink the tap water directly from the faucet citing either (a) its bad taste or (b) its questionable safety. This prompted a tirade from me about how if no one was going to use our tap water for drinking, we should let Mexico have it, because they would be thrilled, and that it was pointless to keep it up to FDA standards if we were going to use it solely to flush down the toilets of this great city. This tirade, like most tirades, convinced no one. Even so, I can’t quite let it go.

Bottled water companies have hoodwinked the public, solving a problem that doesn’t exist. For one thing, tap water is more heavily regulated than bottled water. According to the Environmental Working Group, which has studied millions of records from 45 U.S. states, about 44% of bottled water comes directly from the tap, anyway, some of it with no additional filtering. Even if it is filtered, it’s almost always difficult to find out exactly which “contaminants” are being filtered, and why. The upshot of which is: you could be spending 1900 times as much money on your water simply because it comes in a bottle. You can see this list to see how your local municipality compares to others, and what potential contaminants there might be.

What about taste? I concede that I, too, drank the water from the purification system (provided by ChungHo, a company I find dubious based on their Facebook feed citing a Vanilla Ice song alone) because it tastes more refreshing than the straight tap, though I suspect some of its good taste comes from its chilly temperature alone. Variation in local plumbing may account for this. However, study after study shows that people often can’t taste the difference, such as one by Good Morning America showing New York tap was far tastier than any of the bottled water options.

You don’t live in New York? A 2011 study at Boston University which recruited 67 students to drink both tap and bottled water showed that only a third of them could identify which was bottled, a third thought the tap was the bottled water, and the remaining third had no opinion. Correct me if I’m wrong, statisticians, but those results would be the same as random guessing. And what about health considerations? The Earth Sciences department tested both the Vermont Pure and the tap water and found they both met FDA guidelines, though the bottled water contained higher levels of magnesium and calcium, which can potentially affect flavor.

In fairness, I live in L.A., which does have some of our nation’s worst tasting water, and I ran across this BuzzFeed video in which a small but convincing sample size of participants could tell immediately the difference between L.A. tap and the other bottled water. So if you live here and don’t like the taste, you can always get a filter for your faucet or refill those multi-gallon jugs at the supermarket. Surely you can find some option that doesn’t mean buying bottle after bottle of an overpriced, life-giving beverage you can get for almost nothing, lining the pockets of Big Water.

 

Fun at Haz Mat

haz_matOkay, not exactly fun, but your local hazardous material drop off event is probably coming up soon, and it is a convenient way to rid yourself of dangerous household items and substances that are inappropriate for the trash. Collected items usually include batteries, paint, household cleaners and garden supplies, light bulbs (not incandescents) and electronics. I went to mine several weeks ago and got rid of my growing collection of unwanted items, and it was super easy and efficient. Also, since everyone was dressed up in protective gear, it made it feel more dangerous than it actually was. Exciting!

Why bother? Substances collected at hazardous material events have toxic components that can leach into the ground and water supply if they’re simply chucked in a landfill with everything else. It’s also pretty unpleasant (and potentially unhealthy) for your garbage handler.

Coats for Cubs

Bassarisk_fur_coatUsed clothing chain Buffalo Exchange is sponsoring their annual Coats for Cubs program, where they collect fur apparel and donate it to various animal rehabilitation centers to use as bedding for animals. It sounded kind of weird to me, but once I saw these baby squirrels hanging out on a old fur coat, I was totally won over. They accept donations through Earth Day, April 22nd.

If you have fur coats or hats you would like to donate outside of their drive period, they provide a list of rehab centers to contact.

Dishing It Out

IMG_20150131_142836020You know what sucks? When you break a dish. And you know what sucks even more? When you break a vintage dish that is crucial to your beloved set.

Several months ago, I knocked over my Crooksville creamer from my grandparents’ old set of dishes and broke it. If it were a plate or a cup, it would have been no big deal, because I have many of these. But it was the creamer, of which there was only one. Sure, I could have bought a new creamer and matching sugar bowl. But what about the sugar bowl I already had? Could I really leave it hanging like that?

If this were twenty years ago, I would have visited a few flea markets and then given up in defeat. But in this magical age where anything can be found if you look hard enough, I simply ordered a replacement creamer from Replacements Ltd. It arrived, lovingly packed, about a week later.

I’m not going to lie to you; this wasn’t a completely straightforward process. First I searched for Crooksville items on ebay and came up empty, and then tried a few other sellers of old dishes. But once I found Replacements Ltd. I was able to determine the pattern name (CRO5) and, $19.95 and shipping costs later, I was back in business.

You may lack the commitment and/or non-medical grade OCD to do this research. For that, I cannot fault you. However, if it is a key piece of dishware, it’s totally worth it to save the set.

If you have your eye on a not-quite-complete set of dishes somewhere, it might be worth an advance look at Replacements Ltd or one of the other dish replacement sites to see if you could supplement your purchase and make it work.

Now if only I knew what to do with my broken creamer! If someone near me was working on mosaic project I’d gladly hand it over!

No one likes a pill

IMG_20150127_202730237And that goes double when it comes to your pants! I recently experienced the pain and anguish of realizing that both my beloved pair of purple Nanette Lepore pants and my red BCBG pants were getting unattractively pilly. While I contemplated a sad future of black and brown trousers, I remembered my friend Kim had given me a fabric shaver a few years back. It saved the day on both counts!

Just a reminder that oftentimes your precious items may have a little life left in them when the proper tools are applied.

Going Solar…with Todd Kreisman

10422233_10153002354944557_5642750807133000150_nMy friend Todd Kreisman and his wife recently added solar panels to their Southern California home, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the process.

1. What made you decide to go solar?

We were approached by Zero Energy, who had representatives going door-to-door in our neighborhood and who told us we were qualified for subsidies through Energy Upgrade California.** In the last few months, we’ve had insulation put in our attic and walls, gotten weather stripping, more energy efficient shower head and other devices replaced, etc.

2. Do you own your panels or did you lease them? What are the terms?

The deal was $0 down and then we make a monthly payment so that eventually we’ll own them. The tricky thing is that it’s built into the cost of everything else they did, so I’m trying to figure out how much it was for just the panels… I think it was in the $5k range all together.

3. What were your average monthly summer and winter electrical bills when you were using conventional energy sources? How much of that cost do you anticipate being able to cover with the new panels?

DWP bills were getting pretty insane – in the $300-500 range per two month billing period. Hoping/expecting we can get that down to around $100-150.

4. Are you able to sell your extra energy back to your local provider?

Never heard anything about that mentioned, so assuming no.

5. Were there any surprises about the process that you didn’t anticipate?

Yes. We have a metal roof, and they couldn’t install the panels on top of them. Fortunately for us, the guy who came out originally goofed and said they could do it, so when it came time to install them, I ended up being put in contact with the (I think) CEO of Zero Energy who said it was their bad, and they were going to pay to have another company come out and re-tile that portion of the roof so that the panels could be installed. There were also some major delays in getting the work done (we initially signed up for these in September and they were finally installed this month.)

**Note that it appears that subsidies for solar panels appear to be exhausted. Will look into this further, but I know the state periodically funds these upgrades, companies like Zero Energy aggressively market to homeowners until the subsidies are gone, and then you typically have to wait for the next round. I tried the subsidy finder for my zip code and came up with nothing. However, there is still a relevant tax credit available.

Thanks, Todd! Would love to get an update in six months or so to see how your new bills compare.

CropMobster

If you live in one of four counties in northern California (Sonoma, Alameda, San Francisco, or Marin) and would find it useful to know about local food surpluses that may be available for you for free, I highly recommend CropMobster. This is a great service for food banks who distribute to the hungry public, provided you can handle the sudden influx of 200 pounds of ripe tomatoes! Sign up for alerts on social media to keep updated!

The same goes, obviously, if you might have half a ton of cucumbers of 100 chickens to give away.

They also list farm jobs, potential barter opportunities, and thematically-related events!

Non-profit wish lists

Seals_001My boyfriend and I visited the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, California, this weekend, where sick and injured seals and sea lions are treated and re-released into the ocean. In times of great stress, they’ve cared for 500 animals at a time — and that means they go through a lot of supplies. If you happen to have a significant amount of Karo (light corn) syrup, distilled water, duct tape, vitamins (C, B-1, and E), or kitchen supplies, like paper towels, laundry detergent, trash bags, and latex gloves, they would be glad to take them off your hands. They have an extensive wish list.

If you don’t have anything immediately on hand and you want to help them, you can donate through their Amazon wish list or send them cash. Money is always a better alternative than buying new supplies because it allows them to buy in bulk (and possibly at a discount) and gives them flexibility to address their most pressing supply needs.

Note that, like most small non-profits, the MMCC can always use office supply gift cards, toilet paper, coffee, and other standard office items. Check out your favorite non-profit’s wish list to see how you can help them out!

Unwanted Baby Stuff

Outfitting babies with everything they need can be dauntingly expensive for low-income parents. Luckily for those on the east coast, Room to Grow collects and distributes clothing, strollers, blankets, swings — and pretty much everything else a growing baby needs.

used-jogging-stroller-baby-trend-expedition-21560925Breast pumps, bottles, and a few other items are only accepted in new condition. And some things — diapers, formula and stuffed animals — are turned away for hygienic reasons.

There are dropoff locations in both New York (on West 21st Street) and Boston (corner of Berkeley Street and Columbus Avenue). So if your baby isn’t a baby anymore, pass on their stuff to a baby who can use it!

All My Trash Fits in a Mason Jar

Not my trash, unfortunately, but this woman’s, and two years’ worth! As a New Yorker, she notes that this kind of minimalism it a lot harder to pull off in a city like Los Angeles, which does not have the widely available composting programs that New York does. As a Los Angeles resident, I can attest to this, as well as the general complexity of the recycling programs. Still, very inspirational!