-Challenge 5-

Challenge 5: Earning our Blue Belt

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This is the infamous EcoTeam coming to you LIVE from the warm and cozy EcoHouse! (If it weren’t for the promise of Thanksgiving, we would probably be hibernating already).


This week our battle against water rages on. It’s very fitting that we earned our BLUE belt, because we fought hard to conserve the precious blue stuff on our planet- WATER!


This enemy was pretty shifty. After days of minimal dishes, two minute showers, and all sorts of strategic clothes washing- we found out that the computer monitoring system only tracks HOT water and not our TOTAL water consumption. Apparently the overall water monitoring has not been set up yet.


So in terms of data gathering, it was a wash (haha- #waterpun). But we are pretty quick-thinking ecoheroes so we drafted a new strategy:


Up until this week, we had never used our dishwasher, doing all our dishes by hand. We wondered, though, if we were making the sustainable choice. Is a dishwasher more efficient? Or is good old hand-powered washing the way to go? We set out to find out.

Although we had no way of measuring overall water use, we assumed that the dishwasher would use hot water, which we do have data for. We ran the dishwasher at night while we were sleeping so we could be sure that the water usage was not influenced by anything else. Our dishwasher was as full as could be with 29 pieces of silverware, 7 plates, 8 bowls, 8 cups, and one mixing bowl. To wash all of this, it used a total of 4 gallons of hot water. However, when we inspected the results of our experiment, we found that at least in one sense hand washing is more efficient- the mixing bowl and one plate were still dirty and had to be rewashed.

We then washed some dishes over a large pot to collect and measure the water it takes to do hand-wash our dishes. The amount of water we used is as follows:

1 plate: 4 cups

1 bowl: 2 ⅔ cups

1 cup: 2 cups

Silverware: 4.5 ounces= 0.562 cups


4 cups/plate x 6 plates= 24 cups

2 ⅔ cups/bowl x 8 bowls= 21 ⅓ cups

2 cups/cup x 8 cups= 16 cups

0.562 cups/silverware x 29 pieces= 16.298 cups

TOTAL: 77.631 cups


…which is equal to 4.8 gallons. However, this doesn’t mean that the dishwasher is necessarily better. Our monitoring system measures water used per gallon, which means that using less than a gallon is counted as no water use. Since the dishwasher ran for three hours, the total water use could have been closer to 7 gallons than 4 gallons. Also, we don’t know how true our assumption is that measuring hot water would measure the total water use of the dishwasher. So where does that leave us? It seems that both hand washing dishes and using the dishwasher are valid eco-friendly options, and with more practice in water-efficient dishwashing, hand washing could beat using the dishwasher.


Dishwasher water use:

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Locavore-ous Lavagirl: As a continuation of the hot water challenge the week before, I tried to keep my showers as short as possible- overall water use means continuing to conserve hot water! I also tried to remember when washing my hands or my face to turn the water off when I soaped up. While one occurrence might not save much water, it adds up quickly when they happen multiple times each day.


Waste-reducing Wonder Woman: This week was interesting for me. I realized how soaking dirty dishes is just laziness… they could probably get washed right away with a little extra elbow grease. What a waste of water to let it soak and then use water again to wash it later! I also paid a lot of attention to my use of water when showering. I tried to turn the water off when putting soap/conditioner in my hair and then turning it back on to rinse. This is a super easy habit to build. (Although I admit this technique is much easier in the summer. Right now that water is such a great source of heat!) Coincidentally, I had to read a lot of academic papers this week about how much water it takes to frack and to produce beef! While I have arguably less control over hydraulic fracturing, I did make sure that I wasn’t eating beef… even when it was offered to me at a dinner for free! Not eating beef is rather easy as a poor college student, but this week made me realize that I need to consciously avoid beef in all settings of my life- not just while I’m in the MacBubble.


Sustainably Savvy Superwoman: I recently learned that the average shower time of US citizens was 8 minutes, so I decided to time my shower as a part of the challenge. I had my water-proof phone near me while I was in shower and run the stopwatch while I took shower. I consciously turned water off when I was washing my body or head and not rinsing anything. As a result, I managed to take a shower just under 8 minutes. A lesson from this is that we may not be able to keep our overall shower time under 8 minutes but we can shower with less than 8 minutes worth of water! I will take this challenge again to make it under 7 minutes once it gets warm.


We’ve answered some important questions this week; Is it better to use the dishwasher or the sink to wash dishes? Answer: both are ok


Are there easy ways to conserve water around the home that every person can do? Answer: yes


Are there still old crew-team onesies in our livingroom closet?

Answer: yes, of course- what else would we wear to fight eco-crime!

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Thanks for tuning in this week for our eco-escapades! Join us again in our next green scheme as we take on the public. That’s right- as we split up and journey to our separate thanksgivings, we will each have an in depth conversation with 3 different people explaining something to them about the environment or sustainability or whatever eco-topic they want! (Should be interesting…)


EcoTeam to AlphaControl: Mission accomplished. Waiting on our next assignment.



-Challenge 4-

This is the Eco-Team coming to you LIVE from the Snowy Steps of Macalester’s Eco-House. With Snowvember in full swing, we decided to strategically conserve our HOT water this week. Although the shower has become a welcome reprieve from the frozen tundra, we forgo our comforts in order to set a sustainable example for all the world! Well- mainly for Mac campus 😉


Challenge 4: Earning our Green Belt

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The Eco-House is specially equipped with super stealth solar panels. What does that have to do with gas, you ask? Well… if we shower while the sun is shining, then the sun heats our water (instead of our gas doing the work). The temperature of our water must be above 100 degrees for our shower to be solar powered. Therefore, this eco-team must be dedicated to fight climate change by strategic showering! This week’s motto: Gotta make suds when the sun shines! We can check the power of our solar panels on our system here:

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(Those in the know will note that this is not the data from the actual week of the challenge, our system did not store data from far enough back)


Unfortunately, the week ended up being really cold and snowy! This meant that our solar hot water supply never made it above 100 F 😦 That doesn’t mean all our efforts were in vain, though. Only later shower times would be ineffective due to this, and it’s still always a good idea to make good habits. We still had a pretty good week in terms of hot water use, shown in comparison to previous, non-hot-water-challenge weeks:

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(Green arrows represent the week of our challenge)


According to the American Water Works Association, the average American uses 20-30 gallons of hot water per day. Since there are three of us in the house, we each used around 10 gallons of hot water per day. Way to go EcoTeam!!


This mission meant changing showering habits, laundry habits, dishwashing habits and more. Let’s see if the EcoTeam survived:


Sustainably Savvy Superwoman: Let me be honest… If I could choose a challenge that I do not participate in, it would have been this one. That’s how much I enjoy taking a nice warm shower. I do everything —  from turning off the water while brushing my teeth to washing dishes with little water — to have excuses to take a long shower. Well, this week was the time for me to give up listing them and take a step further. Shower during the day was not too hard for me as I’m free from 11-12 for most of the days. Taking a short shower was harder than showering during the day but not as hard as I thought it would be especially when I was warm before showering. I wonder if using the override system (our thermostat program that allows us to “ignore” the preset room temperature for a short period of time) to save hot water is eco-friendlier than taking long hot shower in a cold bathroom.


Locavore-ous Lavagirl: I already wash my hands in cold water, wash my face with cold water, wash most of my clothes in cold water, and wash all my dishes with cold water.. So I decided to focus on showers to reduce my hot water use. I normally shower in the early morning (which by now means when it is still dark out!), so I changed it up and showered in the early afternoon instead. Except for one day when I didn’t have any time in the afternoon, I was able to rearrange my usual patterns and delay my morning showers for a couple of hours. Hopefully no one in my morning classes figured out why I was suddenly rocking buns and braids all week… While showering after the sun had a chance to come out and warm our water supply meant leaving the house uncleaned, it did have the perk of letting me sleep in a little longer! I also tried to take shorter showers too, which was easier in the afternoon when I wasn’t still half asleep 😉


Waste-reducing Wonder Woman: This week was the most challenging yet. I tried showering immediately after class, but this probably was not effective, as the sun was starting to set just as I got home. I’m honestly never home during the day for long enough to shower. I’m not sure if my attempts made any difference. However, I definitely limited my time under the water. The average shower is 8mn so I aimed for 4mn. I also washed dishes in cold water and only did laundry in cold water. Did you know that you can do pretty much all of your laundry in cold water? So why not! 🙂


EcoTeam to AlphaControl: Mission accomplished. Waiting on our next assignment.


-Challenge 3-

This is… THE ECOHOUSE! Home base for the heroically sustainable EcoTeam. The EcoHouse is brought to you today by the new, improved, environmentally friendly drying machine: The Clothesline! With no extension cord needed, no batteries required, and zero carbon footprint, the Clothesline is the perfect dryer for that sustainable someone 😉 It comes in both hanging and stand-up models. The Clothesline is the proud sponsor of the EcoTeam’s battle against the Evil overuse of gas, which began on a cold and windy day not too long ago…

Challenge 3: Earning our Orange Belt

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After a relaxing fall break, this EcoTeam is back in action and ready to roll. A lot has been happening around here lately; suffice it to say we’ve got some new toys! Every superhero enjoys their gadgets. Where would Batman be without his constant Batmobile upgrades and fancy laser beams courtesy of Lucius Fox (*cough*cough Morgan Freeman)?

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The EcoTeam’s very own squad of crafty techno geeks convened in our living room last week to instal the very latest and greatest monitoring system. As our tech team patiently explained to us, this monitoring system gives us top secret information on temperature, water consumption, hot water consumption, gas use, and electricity.


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The EcoTeam with our new gadgets. (Crew team, we still have your uniforms)


This data helps us decide when to shower.


Yup, that’s right! We can check to see if our solar panels have heated our water enough to shower. Now we try to shower during the day to maximize our sunshine power!


This knowledge also helps us save electricity. This part is super stealth. We can actually set the thermostat to 65°F while we sleep and have the heat kick in so that it is 70 by the time we wake up. Naturally, we turn it down again while we are away during the day. SO MUCH ENERGY SAVED!


This week, we are going to actually keep track of exactly how much energy this tactic saves. #hardevidence

Check out these graphs!


Unfortunately, halfway through the week when we went to check how we were doing and adjust the temperature to save more gas, we realized that while our new gadgets give us lovely graphs of what the temperature was during the day, it doesn’t have any information about how much gas we are using to heat the house. Disappointing, we know. So while we can’t tell you what our temperature-setting impact was, we can share this lovely graph of the house temperature during a typical day:

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Locavore-ous Lavagirl: It took a few minutes to figure out what setting the different times and temperatures would mean, but after we set it all up it was kinda crazy to see how many hours we were keeping the house at 65 that had previously been set at 70 or 68. The biggest impact for me was the much colder temperature during the afternoon. We set the thermostat to not heat the house until it drops below 65 F after we all leave in the morning and until 5pm in the afternoon, but I typically come back to the house to eat and do work for at least a few hours between those times on every day of the week. Suddenly, the house was much colder! However, I had started bundling up for the colder weather outdoors, so I just kept my sweatshirt on once I came home. I also tried to save gas by hanging my towels to dry after I washed them instead of using the dryer. It was an experience to say the least… Unlike coming out of the dryer soft and fluffy, my hung-dry towels were stiff and scratchy :/ And that didn’t change after I used them. Although I feel bad about the impact of drying my towels in the dryer, I don’t think hanging them to dry is a reasonable alternative, and I won’t be doing that again.


Waste-reducing Wonder Woman: This week was an experiment in itself. We had a meeting of the minds to set our thermostat strategically. This meant that the temperature settled at 65 degrees during the day, when we were gone and the heat kicked in around the time we came back home. It took some time getting used to these settings. For example, I felt much colder at night (when the heater stopped), but I learned to bundle up appropriately. If I was feeling chilly while doing homework at 1am I would take a break and do some pushups to warm up. Yup- saving money, carbon, and getting fit 😉 We also had an automatic override system which we could use in case it got too cold and we needed to turn the heat up. We only did this on very few occassions, so I’m proud of our eco-team! I think we will continue to use these eco-friendly settings indefinitely. Also, we made conscious decisions to use less gass this week. I did this by using the microwave instead of the oven. (Our oven seems to use A LOT of gas). I also hung up all of my clothes to air dry as per usual. Overall, I think we’ve made some serious impacts this week with very little changes in our daily life!


Sustainably Savvy Superwoman: Adjusting the room temperature to our lifestyle made me more active and efficient during the day. I used to wake up in the middle of the night and had hard time getting out of the bed in the morning due to the cold. After the adjustment, I get sound sleep and start working right after I wake up. To wake up feeling warm shortens my shower time too because I no longer have to spend too much time and hot water to warm up myself. Also, despite lowering the temperature during the day, I usually do not feel too cold. Even if I do, I do not feel stressed since I can just wrap myself up in a blanket or wear fluffy socks (unlike when I’m sleeping and can do nothing). Overall, being able to preset room temperature by day is definitely helpful — not just environmentally but for your well-being too!


Tune in next week when we can only shower while the sun is shining! EcoTeam over and out.


EcoTeam to AlphaControl: Mission accomplished. Waiting on our next assignment.


-Challenge 2-

This just in…. Eco House updates coming to you LIVE from well, the Eco House (duh). Last week ended with the EcoTeam battling it out against the evil Dr. Unnecessary Electricity Usage. While the fight continues, this week the EcoTeam took on a new foe: physical waste.


As per usual, we’re fighting to earn our black-belt in sustainability. Are you with us?


Challenge 2: Earning our Yellow Belt

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The EcoTeam are no strangers to composting and recycling- we’ve got that down (but if you’re unsure check this out). Our main focus for the week was to pay attention to what we consumed: How much packaging did it have? Was the packaging recyclable? Was there a better alternative?


Like any good waste-reducing detectives, we documented the evidence of our exploits:


Trash- Before

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Trash- After



So, it seems that in terms of trash…. we created more that the previous week. But what about compost?


Compost- Before


Compost- After

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…we ended up with more compost than the week before as well. The same was true for recycling. Is this because the challenge turned the EcoTeam into mindless consumers? Or were our needs and activities week to week drastically different? Our photos demonstrate the reason why scientific methodology requires data averaged over multiple trials before you can really have any idea what is going on.


Therefore, we will have to rely on our individual reports to determine our success (and hopefuly explain our wastefulness).


Sustainably Savvy Superwoman: I was the most aware of the challenge when I went grocery shopping for a potluck. We as the eco team were in charge of bringing a dessert and decided to provide fruit. By making this decision we already reduced the consumption of gas (because we didn’t have to use the oven) but there is more to the story. At the supermarket, I consciously chose fruit with the least packaging (this a lot of thought). I chose a packet with a large quantity of grapes over one with a small amount for less plastic per volume. (The container was recyclable.) I went for kiwis in a compostable package rather than those in a plastic wrap. I also did not buy berries which come in plastic containers but I did buy a cantaloupe, a watermelon, and bananas. It was a unique and fun experience to wander around a store calculating the total price versus the total trash that comes with food!


Waste-reducing Wonder Woman: Although eco-heroes always compost, recycle and throw away trash responsibly, this week was a challenge for me. While shopping, I definitely had a difficult time picking out food that didn’t have plastic packaging. It seems like almost everything is individually wrapped. Kowalskis was challenging, but I also traveled home for fall break. As I was shopping with my mom, she tried putting a pepper into a plastic bag. I got seriously distressed and wouldn’t let her do it- which made her laugh very hard. (I’m still bitter). This was an interesting experiment in living outside of a sustainably conscientious community. I’m so lucky to be living with a supportive bunch of eco-heroes!


Locavore-ous Lavagirl: Like my fellow eco heroes, I was no stranger to recycling and composting before this week’s challenge. My main focus was to choose groceries when shopping that would produce as little waste as possible. The goal I had in this regard was to choose items with as minimal packaging as possible; after that, to choose packaging that would be either compostable or recyclable over packaging that would end up as trash. I ended up making some opposite decisions to what I would normally choose, going with one brand over another due to the amount of individual wrapping, and not buying some food items at all that I usually get every week. I tried as hard as I could to not get anything that was individually wrapped, though that ended up being impossible for frozen fish. Because all of my usual breakfast options involved more packaging than I deemed acceptable, I ended up getting muffins from a local bread store instead- a definite plus to my experience this week!


After reviewing our efforts this past week, we have decided to chalk our trash up to “life experiences”. The fact that we had more trash, doesn’t mean that we were worse at composting; we had more compost too! I think we’re going to keep working hard at this challenge and see how our trash levels fluctuate week to week.


Mainly though we are all going to be more conscious consumers at the grocery store! You can be an EcoHero just by saying “PAPER” instead of “PLASTIC” and choosing bananas over kiwis wrapped in plastic(since when has this become a thing anyways?).

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EcoTeam to AlphaControl: Mission accomplished. Waiting on our next assignment.


-Challege 1-

Hey everybody, this is the EcoTeam coming to you LIVE from New York City… just kidding- 200 Vernon next to Macalester College 🙂


We are the residents this year at the EcoHouse where the countertops are made from recycled paper, solar tubes give us natural light during the day, and the basement is filled with lost artifacts and treasures from previous years. (P.S.- Crew Team, if you are reading this- we have your onesie uniforms).

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We try to live sustainably around here. We compost, recycle, buy local, and conserve energy, but could we be better? Could we up our game without living like cavemen?


We aren’t foraging in the woods, but we are testing our limits. Every week, we will challenge ourselves to take one specific step in becoming more sustainable, more eco-freindly. We want these weekly challenges to be things that ordinary people could accomplish. Hopefully, we can prove that saving water, saving electricity, and basically saving the world is as easy as pie. It doesn’t require an extensive lifestyle change- just little steps.


We’re going to earn our black-belt in sustainability. Are you with us?


Challenge 1: Earning our White Belt

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This might shock you- for our first week we focused on saving electricity! On Thursday night, we sat on our comfy couch and set goals. We decided that we would unplug all of our appliances. Who needs a microwave clock anyways? We also decided that we were going to keep the light off as much as possible and use small lights versus overhead lights when possible. We unwillingly got up off the couch and unplugged all our lamps, phone chargers, ect.


Sustainably Savvy Superwoman:I learned how to cook with little light and not to charge my phone overnight. A regret is that I feel like I spent more electricity overall by studying longer for my midterms.  I felt  sad waking up early to study with sunlight and ended up turning light on anyway because it was dark outside until 7!


Waste-reducing Wonder Woman: The biggest hassle for me, was having to pull out plugs and plug my laptop and phone charger back in as need be. Honestly, if that is my biggest complaint, then I’d say this is a challenge that anyone could accept! This week, I learned to do my readings while the sun was still shining and do my laptop work at night. I even stole coffee from my work-place instead of brewing it myself at home. I saved energy, but I used pre-packaged creamer at work. 😦 I also stopped leaving the lights on in the kitchen for the last person to come home. It’s a nice gesture, but we’ve gotta be ruthless.


Locavore-ous Lavagirl: I usually leave my computer plugged in constantly, so it was hard for me to remember to unplug when I wasn’t using it. I had to switch around my extension cords so I could have my phone plugged in at night (aka my alarm clock) but leave all other lights and electronics unplugged. That said, having to plug in appliances to use them was no hassle at all. I also found success turning on as few lights as possible, by keeping my window blinds open and turning on a small desk lamp when it got too dark. I also stopped turning on the light in the bathroom during morning showers (which was only feasible due to the solatube that kept it rather dim instead of pitch black).


All in all it feels like a successful week, though the final verdict awaits until we get some stats up in here. #Hellastats

Tune in next week to find out just how much electricity we were actually able to save by doing such simple and easy tricks!


EcoTeam to AlphaControl: Mission accomplished. Waiting on our next assignment.