The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 9, 2008

Help! I’m on the Low Carbon Diet and I need some advice.

So a few weeks ago, I started to write about how I and a couple of guys from Green Sangha had begun the Low Carbon Diet challenge (as if we all need one more freakin’ challenge right now!) but I was tired and feeling fluey and never finished the post.

Well, I’m back on it. But I’m stuck. The guys and I pretty much flew through Section 1, patting ourselves on the back for having done almost everything on the list already:

1) Reducing garbage — I have next to none.
2) Turning down hot water heater and using less hot water. Check.
3) Reducing dishwashing water. Check.
4) Washing and drying clothes efficiently. This needs work. We do wash everything in cold water. And we can’t afford to buy new appliances right now. But I have been remiss about looking into drying racks or clotheslines. Mainly cuz I just don’t want to. (Don’t be mad, Burbanmom.)
5) Turning down the thermostat, and getting a programmable one. Check.
6) Dealing with electricity vampires. Check. We use Smart Strips.
7) Turning the temp up on the A/C. Check. (We don’t have one!)
8) Reducing vehicle miles. Check. (We don’t have a vehicle!)
9) Driving efficiently. Check. (See number 8)
10) Eating low on the food chain. I pledged to have one vegan day per week. So far, I have not remembered to actually do this one. I don’t eat a lot of meat. But I keep forgetting and putting milk in my coffee (or now, tea) or using butter or mayo or what have you.

All in all, Section 1 was not too bad. But a few days ago, I started on Section 2. And I have issues. Section 2 is all about making your home more energy efficient. As renters, there are only so many things we can or are willing to do. But also as someone trying to reduce my plastic consumption, a few of these steps are challenging.

That’s where you come in. Can you help?

1) Where can I find an effective door sweep that is not made from vinyl? Vinyl (aka PVC) is one of the most toxic plastics, and I simply don’t want it in my home. I can’t avoid vinyl-covered electrical cords. But I am hoping to avoid other types of vinyl. I saw this aluminum and felt door sweep. Before I order this thing that will inevitably come wrapped in plastic, does anyone know about this kind? Does it work? Do you have a better idea?

Please don’t suggest a traditional draft dodger. Burbanmom was kind enough to sew one for me this past winter, and the cats destroyed it within weeks. Plus, the problem with draft dodgers is that you have to keep moving them back into place. And how can you put it back in place when you’re leaving the house? I have seen somewhere a way to make a draft dodger attach to the door, but once again, it had better be made out of really sturdy stuff or the cats will take it apart.

2) Window and door weatherstripping. This is a mystery to me. It seems there is some felt weatherstripping in some of our windows and door cracks already, but how can I tell if it’s still good or needs replacing? I don’t want to use vinyl foam, for reasons already stated, or any other plastic if I can avoid it. But the metal weather stripping seems to be hella expensive, and we have a lot of windows. Plus, we are renters! Yeah, maybe the landlord would go in on it, but then again, probably not.

And why does weatherstripping only come in 17′ lengths? I’d need way more than that to do all my windows and outside doors, and each 17′ roll comes in its own plastic bag. Why can’t I buy a bigger roll? And what is the most effective and also least plastic type to get? Suggestions?

3) Outlet insulators. Necessary? I’d never heard of them until reading this chapter.

4) Furnace tune-up. Have you heard of this? Have you done it? Once again, as I proved in my post about Ducts, I’m kinda clueless in the ways of houses and their heating systems. Anyone in the Bay Area have a good heating company to recommend to tune up our furnace? (It’s a gas furnace in the attic, if you didn’t read or don’t remember the Duct adventure.) Also, apparently, we need to insulate those same ducts. How did I ever make it this far without knowing these basic facts of life?

Chime in, please. This may be my last post for the week, as I’ve got a lot to do to prepare for the Send-Off Ceremony this Saturday, another step towards the upcoming vision fast on July 21. I’ve given up quite a few things that were weighing me down and discovered a few more tonight in our group meeting.

Doing without my psychological and emotional crutches hasn’t been as agonizing as I thought it would be because crying is still allowed. And what I mean is that crying is a great way to release pent-up emotion and frustration without resorting to substances or other distractions. And you feel great afterward, if maybe a little headachy. I highly recommend it.

So along with your home weatherization tips, how about a few good crying stories? That’ll make us all happy!

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15 years ago

Crying — I bawl any time I have to get a card for anyone. Seriously, even the funny ones make me cry. I make my own now — partly for environmental reasons, and partly because I’m tired of being a drippy mess in the card store. It’s so embarrassing. Huge things can happen and I’ll keep the tears in. But the little things always get me.

Furnace — I have a friend who owns an appliance parts store. She says furnace tuneups are kind of a rip. If you can clean the filter yourself, you probably don’t need a tune up — unless something’s wrong with your furnace, I think they just check that the filter is clean and give you a bill. I’m not 100% on that, but I’m pretty sure.

Amy K.
15 years ago

A small comment on “Washing and drying clothes efficiently” – making sure things are actually dirty when you wash them, not just worn. I have a drawer of my dresser dedicated to clothes worn once or twice around the office, that are presentable enough to wear again. If I wear everything twice, rather than washing it after one use, I only do half as much laundry!

15 years ago

Here’s something I just read by Kathy McMahon that makes sense:

“A Formula for Hopelessness

Hopelessness may be more common in people who are required to change a major portion of the way they are living, and less common in those that have already made (or didn’t need to make) huge life transitions. Here’s a formula I’m playing with:

Hopelessness = Uncertainty + A Belief in the Need for Overwhelming Lifestyle Shifts + No Social Supports

If you live on a thriving farm in an area with a huge group of active PO community members with lots of practical skills, you’ll feel more “can do” than if you live in a suburban locale and know only other techies that are planning their in-ground swimming pools, and you, yourself, have never seen a cabbage grow.”

The full article, “Three Types of Doomers and Fantasy Collapse” is at

15 years ago

I have a question for the brain trust here:
where do you personally draw the “carbon line?”
is trucked in from 600 miles away vegan subs better in your eyes that the local dairy?

I have been dealing with this aspect of veganism for many years (and it’s why I can’t truly call myself one).
I’m always trying to find a balance between critters and planet.
So far, I say I have imperfect answers.
for example: I have non biodegradable shoes (Chacos, all bought before they moved to China) I justify this with maintaining them to the best of my ability.
I will be very torn when the footbed has to go on, but I think the company has a recycling program.
Same on my grocery bags. they are reused at the end of their life if I send them in.

But I’ll buy used silk over poly any day. new silk, I don’t thing I could do.
I’ll buy used wool over acrylic yarn, but polarfleece is a miracle in my winters.

applying that to food, I make almond milk (better to ship the almonds than a septic box imho)
eat a smattering of local dairy (not a long-term solution for me, and I am talking a few times a year)
I’m blessed that Denver has a company that makes tofu from Colorado-grown beans. Packed in plastic, though. grrrr. I’d be so down for a glass jar/ deposit situation like milk.

How do you weigh the not so great choices?

Thanks for reading, and I hope, answering.

15 years ago

If you have old single panes, you can EASILY make them MORE efficient than new vinyl (PLASTIC) windows by adding a storm window. You can find cast off storms (wood) for cheap a lot of times… they require a simple hook at the top of each window, and a latch at the bottom, and you can get outside OR inside storms.

MOre useful knowledge brought to you by old house people! It’s a myth that replacing good old wood windows is more energy efficient, and I’d like to spread the truth!

15 years ago

Door sweeps – felt? Make your own!

Some metal like attached-to-the-wall bookshelving and DIY closet organizer kits come w/…superglue…and felt.


Only thing is, you’ll have to find a buddy with a “saws all”–and a “metal blade” attachment.

Not hard to cut the metal to size if someone has that tool. It’s a power tool–a hand saw. I held the metal steady with two hands while my boyfriend handled the saw.

15 years ago

Wow, I read all of the comments and there isn’t even ONE crying story as suggested!

So here’s one. If I concentrate hard on the thought that Fake Plastic Fish suddenly disappears from the Net, I get the feeling that if I were to continue to do so, tears would gather in my eyes. But, I guess this is only a potential crying story?

I have been following your advice on writing to companies about their over-use/un-necessary use of plastic. No replies. Could it be the profanity is off-putting? Beth, maybe you should compose a polite “form letter for the rest of us” where all we’d need to do is fill in a blank or two and pop it in the mail. But that would be giving you one more thing to do! Forget it. I’ll just limp on by myself and make it a rule to use only words with more than four letters.

15 years ago

Hi Beth!
I’m sorry I didn’t read the 4th of July post the day you posted it, but I still want you to know that I admire that you were able to open your heart like you did, and showing it to the world.
Like other readers, I completely relate to what you wrote and hope someday I will be able to embrace my freedom. I really really think you can.
I have no cool suggestions about doorsweeps but I can give you a nice crying story:
Today I was in Biochemstry class (I’m a Biology student in Argentina)and the professors brought a 3 lab rats to kill them, take the liver and use it for the experiment we were about to do.
He said those rats were old so they couldn’t be used in any other experiment and they were to be killed anyway.
As he was talking my heart started to beat faster and faster and harder, I had to breath very deeply to keep myself in control. And when he finished the explanation I went to the toilet and cried and then I just went home. Couldn’t stand it. Even though I knew it wasn’t cruelty, ’cause the rats were going to be overdosed with anesthesia. Oh well.

By the way I love, love, love your blog and someday soon I will have my own and I’ll translate it for you if necessary :-)


Lara Sumiacher

PS: I’m argentinan, sorry if I have grammatic mistakes. My e-mail is just in case you want to answer or anything

15 years ago

Good heavens, instead of creating impossible hurdles, let’s encourage everyone to do what they can…80% of the benefit from 20% of the effort. Instead of making people feel as though they are slackers for ocassionally using a plastic bag, let’s encourage them to change one or two light bulbs to CFLs. If everyone did a tiny bit, it would have a much larger impact then a handful of zealots doing it all. Don’t allow the perfect be the enemy of the good enough.

15 years ago

In regards to the foam…there is supposed to be a foam made of 100% enviromentally friendly products like vegetable bases (corn) I did a quick search and this is what I found

knutty knitter
15 years ago

We just used a few screws in the fabric draft stop to attach them to the door. We did make them extra strong because of chainsaw and skillsaw (the cats that own us) but they have been fine.

viv in nz

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Thanks for the advice so far! Some additional things I forgot to mention in my post:

1) Since I live in the Bay Area where we don’t actually have much in the way of actual seasons, it’s never cold enough to putty the windows closed for the winter. All winter long, there are days when it’s nice to open the windows to let in some fresh air. The really, really cold days (and for us, those days are still above freezing) only last for a few weeks. So while it gets cold enough to feel uncomfortable at times, it’s not so cold that we would want to seal up the windows for the whole season.

2) Arduous makes the point that maybe because I live in the Bay Area where it doesn’t get too cold, I’m doing enough already. But honestly, I’d like to make the house more energy efficient so that I don’t have to constantly bundle up inside the house in the winter. We have old single paned windows that do let in drafts and make us uncomfortably cold. Taking care of those would make Crunchy’s Freeze Yer Buns challege next year so much less challenging!

3) Clothesline — still working on where to put it. We don’t have an actual yard. We do actually have an old clothesline out on the roof deck, but it’s really dirty. I should just figure out a way to clean it, I guess.

4) Dajara, your suggestions for a floor sweep are cute, but I am looking for a door sweep, the thing at the bottom of the door that keeps out drafts.



15 years ago

BOURBAN MOMMIE already answered everything- LOL

15 years ago

Re: floor sweep. Depends if you have carpet, but if you don’t I’d suggest an old fashioned broom, made from twig and wood. That’s what we used on our wood floors in the last house we owned, and it worked a treat.

If you have carpets (built-in), ask a neighbour if you can share theirs. It’s only something you use once a week anyway. Offer something of yours in return to be shared. And for rugs, an old fashioned bent wood carpet beater can’t be beat (pardon the pun!).

Door weatherstripping: you know those wheat bags people use in beds to keep themselves warm that they zap in the microwave? Try making a skinny one to go next to the doors, to keep drafts out. You can make it from material and wheat, no plastic required. As for cat avoidance, check for herbs that animals hate – I think mustard is one of them – and include it in the sacs.

For door gaps, material layered and glued on would have the same effect as foam, bt I’d be wary of making any long term changes without the approval of a landlord. Check first.

WTF is an outlet insulator? Forget it. Deal with the big issues first. The fact that you’re not using plastic puts you SO far ahead of the game that this whatever the hell it is is so tiny as to be pointless!

There’s a really good book by the Union Of Concerned Scientists that pretty much says it all about sustainability. They pointed out that a few big choices account for most of the problem, and then there are a host of small dcisions that people worry about that are really pretty insignificant.

From memory, these included getting your electricity on a green tarriff, the amount of oil you use (petrol, plastic, LPG), the amount of animal products you use (which increase your footprint of water and land use), and the size of the house you live in. I think they were the biggies. Get them right and you cover most of the problem. I’ll try to remember the title of the book, but it should be pretty easy to locate.

15 years ago

Hudson coffee has hemp milk and often rice milk – avoid the soy milk like the plague… it’s just not good for you. :)

Back to tying up tomatoes…

Village Green
15 years ago

Hi Beth,

I just came in from hanging up a load of laundry. It’s a glorious sunny day in Akron and it feels good to carry a basket outside and reach down for clothes then stretch up to pin them on the line. I never think of it as a chore, but as something that feels good and right to do.

Yes, soymilk in the coffee is good and veganism is not so hard these days. Here’s a trick I just learned, you can replace the egg in your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe by using a mashed up over ripe banana instead. I’ve also been using Veganiese to make macaroni salad to serve with tofu hotdogs.

Anytime you want to veganize a recipe just google it and add the word vegan. Chances are somebody else has already figured it out.

You continue to inspire me, Beth. I bought a bike this summer after some 15 years of auto only transportation. It feels really good to be back riding. And I bought Soda Club maker a few months ago and am so thrilled not to be tossing plastic bottles into the recycle bin every week. Thanks as always!

Lisa Sharp
15 years ago

I understand your problems, we are living with the in-laws right now (they are not eco freaks like me) and so we can’t do a lot of the things we want thought when helping them replace things we have talked them in to more eco things. I don’t know how you live without plastic, I wish so badly I could but I don’t now how I could get by so I buy plastics that can be recycled, or better yet recycled plastic and I do try and pick glass if I can.

Also I have an eco-friendly giveaway right now. I don’t think there is any plastic in it and I will ship it in packing I got something else in, I think it’s got plastic on it but I’m saving it from the trash. :)

Amy K.
15 years ago

A thought on the door sweep vs. Draft Dodger: Maybe Burbanmom or other thoughtful party could make one like this that has thick insulation on btoh sides, and stays with the door so you don’t have to think about what happens when you leave the house?

I have carpet in my entryway, so I doubt it would glide enough, but I think they’re a neat option.

15 years ago

Beth, how much energy are you using in the winter? Because I know you live in the Bay Area, and having lived there for 18 years, I also know it doesn’t get THAT cold. So if you are leaving your thermostat low-ish (like 65)then maybe that’s enough?

I mean maybe not, but how much energy does it take to produce all these things? And how much energy would you be saving? And how much of a headache is this causing you?

I say, if your electricity bills are still pretty low, even in winter, and if you are using green energy, and if you’re putting on sweaters instead of wearing tee-shirts in your apartment, then maybe you’re good in this area which would free you to work on something else?

Anyway, feel free to ignore me, but you’re a wonder woman, and you do SO SO much, and I thought I would mention that maybe it’s okay if you don’t worry too much about retrofitting your rented apartment.

15 years ago

1. Could you just make one? A thin 3″ x 36″- 1/4″ plywood strip… then staple and glue very thick wool felt to the bottom. YOu could probably salvage all the materials, too, and if you don’t have a saw or access to one, home despot and similar will make 2 free cuts on any boardyou buy AND they have a scrapbin full of other’scastoffs for CHEAP that might be the right size.

#2 Coming from an old house afficianado… the best weatherstripping you can buy is old fashioned bronze, stainless steel, or copper v-stripping… it works better than the vinyl any day. Plus, you can likely get itwithout any plastic packaging. It is expensive, though. What we did for the windows this last year was rollup hand towels and tie them off, then lay on the sills of everywindow, and full towels in front of every door. Might work better than a draftdodger foryou?

#3 Never heard ofit.

#4 YEs… and change your filter, too. Helps a LOT!

As far as weatherization, make sureyour storm windows arein goodshape. They are your first line of defense!

15 years ago

And some more advice:
1. Doorsweep — I’m still working on this myself. And while I know this won’t be a problem with you, avoid any sweep with plastic bristles, the bristles break off with time and wow, do those things float around and last in the environment. I finally figured out that the weird 2″ pieces of plastic that I’m picking out of my compost are pushbroom bristles.
2. Weather stripping — while it may qualify as plastic but probably not PVC,there are products that are designed to be removed at the end of the season. I’d talk to your landlord (and check your lease) about what he/she will do for you, share cost maybe, and if you are using nonremovable products, what he will prefer. Same goes for ductwork insulation, re talking to landlord. Also, draft dodger type things work along windowsills — and proper curtaining can be pretty effective too.
3. Outlet insulators and don’t forget light switches on exterior walls — these really can help, you’ll probably only find them in plastic and you might consider them plastic (neoprene or some kind of foamy thing). I’m hesitant about making my own for safety reasons. I may be able to send you some especially if you need light switch as I bought wrongly a season or so ago. Then the plastic packaging’s on me too.
4. Furance tuneup — will probably cost you about $75 to hear that everything’s okay if it’s a relatively new furnance. I’d check with the landlord on this one. Some utility company’s do it for a nominal charge before heating season begins. And if any of your friends are real estate agents, they might be able to refer you to someone inexpensive.
Good luck —
Susan (from the Brita group)

15 years ago

Hi, Beth — We have a doorsweep that is constructed as follows: a wooden strip with a groove in it is nailed to the bottom of the door, and a metal strip with brush-bristles along it slides into the groove. (I know, the bristles are plastic…but maybe if you or Terrible Person is a little handy you could make something similar with a piece of fabric or something attached to the metal strip instead of bristles.) We’re renters, too, so I don’t know where this came from, unfortunately.

15 years ago

We put our draft dodger in between the screen door and the door, that way it solves the “what do we do to seal it when we’re gone” issue.

But I know not all rentals have screen doors.

Good luck! We feel your rental un-control. I’m in a fight with the landlord at the moment to put curtains up to help with the leaky windows.

15 years ago

Beth, we’ve done most of these. I can tell you that the outlet insulators do help with draftyness in the house, and I highly recomend them. They are very cheap and easy to install. Furnace tune-ups are a must. I would think your landlord would pay, but, whether he does or not, it’s good to have it done annually, for both efficiency and safety. If you don’t want to go to a lot of expense with weather stripping, once it gets cold you can run a bead of roll putty around the windows you won’t be opening, and leave it there until spring. It’s not glamorous, but it works.

Anarres Natural Health
15 years ago

Great advice from burbanmom!

But put soymilk in your coffee!!! It’s delicious foamed up, too.

You can make outlet insulators from similar foams such as packaging sheets found in the trash.

As renters, you should ask for the landlord to pay for furnace maintenance. Insulation the duct work? Wow! That’s a big leap as a retrofit, let alone a retrofit by a tenant!

One story about your completely unfounded self recrimination. You have radicalized me, Beth, and I started out pretty hard core. Your blog is the only one I read and I count it as one of the blessings in my life. Years ago when I attended an Orthodox Church, I asked the bishop what I could do on fast days since I was a vegan. He said nothing more, you are already fasting. I had heroic thoughts of giving up solids or something! A friend of mine from my vegan commune spent several months in a monastery. He pointed out that they were using “non dairy” creamer on fast days that actually contained casein from milk. Did they freak out and feel guilty? No. They just used it up and didn’t replace it.

Sometimes we are doing more than enough. Like you.

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

15 years ago

So many questions, so little time! Let’s see what I can get to before the kiddos wake up…

1. Door sweeps – aluminum & felt should work fine. I’ve also seen aluminum and rubber (I think it’s rubber) ones at HD.

Draft Dodger – if you’re allowed to put velcro on your door (or on your new sweep!) than I can make you a new dodger with velcro on one side to stick to it. This time I’ll leave the catnip out ;-)

2. Weather stripping – get yourself an incense stick. Light it and slowly move it along the sides of the windows. If the smoke tries to escape, you’ve got a small leak and need to add/replace weather stripping. Also, I have seen weather stripping in cardboard boxes at Home Depot, but don’t remember the brand.

3. Outlet insulators – Any exterior walls with outlets should have insulation in them. When you frame a house, you put in electrical boxes that are roughly the same depth as the framing lumber. So when you go to insulate that wall, you have to cut out little squares so it fits around the electrical boxes. So those boxes have no insulation behind them. Again, try your incense trick to see if you actually need the outlet insulators. As I’m sure you’ll find them only packaged in plastic! (although I have some leftovers I could mail you – then the plastic’s on my shoulders, not yours).

4. Furnace tune up – ask your landlord when the last time he had this done was. If he’s smart, he does it yearly to save on heating costs. If he’s cheap, he does it when it breaks. Maybe offer to split the cost with him. You can call any HVAC contractor. As for your ducts, it depends on what type of ducts you have. Most newer homes have flexible ductwork that comes pre-insulated. But if yours is the old, square, metal kind — you’re in for some work!

And, to make this a more lengthy comment…

Just because you’ve given up the vodka, doesn’t mean you can’t lean on the ‘Burban. I’m here for ya :-)