Conservation Saves More Than the Environment

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, July 15, 2007

I used to bathe my daughters together when they were little.

To tell you the truth, I didn't wash them together just to save time. I was trying to save money and water. I might still force the issue, even though my 12-year-old would be horrified at the thought.

Okay, I wouldn't do that to her. But American families could save about $170 per year by retrofitting their homes with water-efficient fixtures and appliances, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

That may not sound like a lot to some. But as I always say, when you sweat the small stuff, the money adds up.

Being environmentally friendly has a double impact. You save money and the planet. That point was driven home to me by former vice president Al Gore's recent documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." If more of us paid attention to the things we waste, we wouldn't have as many of the global environmental issues as we're dealing with now. Plus, we'd have a little more left in our wallets. And it's not just being water-wise that can help you save a few bucks. What about the trash you throw away?

In 2005, U.S. residents, businesses and institutions produced more than 245 million tons of municipal solid waste, according to the EPA. That translates to about 4.5 pounds of waste per person per day. Invite me to a party and it's likely I'll go through the trash to rescue recyclable plastic and cans.

In light of my conservation mood these days, I thought I should make my annual Penny Pincher of the Year Contest a themed challenge. This year, I'm looking for penny-pinching entries that have a positive impact on the environment.

For example, one of my all-time favorite penny pinchers is Louise Meyer of the District. She won the first Penny Pincher of the Year Contest in 1997 by writing about how she put solar cookers on her roof and used them to fix chicken, rice, stuffed peppers, even pasta.

At the time, Meyer said she saved about $40 a month on her electric bill during the winter and $140 in the summer months by solar cooking her food and not using her clothes dryer and air conditioning.

To solar cook, all you need is a sunny day, water-resistant, aluminum-laminated cardboard, a clear plastic oven-roasting bag to create a mini-greenhouse effect, and a dark pot with a tight-fitting lid for maximum heat absorption. To find out more, visit the Web site for Solar Cookers International (, a nonprofit organization based in Sacramento. For less than $50 you can buy a solar cooking kit, which includes a cookbook.

I try to be considerate of our country's hardwood forests by reusing every delivery box that arrives at my house. When I have to mail a package, I just go to my closet where I keep recycling and regifting items and look for the right size box (I also recycle the protective packing material). I use labels to cover up the old shipping information.

Another previous penny-pinching champion took a plastic milk jug into the shower with him to capture the cold water that came out before the water heater kicked in. He then took the cold water and used it to fill his toilet tank to flush. By doing this, he was able to cut his water bill.

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