Monday, July 9, 2012

The Other 'R's In Recycling

We hear big pushes for recycling, it's always, recycle, recycle, recycle.  In most Asian countries you can see recycling bins next to every trash can, some recycle all types together, others separate them up.  You'll even see them at McDonalds and Subway.  Recycling is good, right? Well, you can find Penn and Teller's video on YouTube where they debunk recycling, but that's not really what this blog post is about.

The Three R's

We've probably all have heard this at one time or another, but how many of us remember these three?  How many of us that remember them, actually try to put them into action.  The Three R's are to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  In today's world of over sized soda's and triple cheeseburgers the first R seems to just fall by the wayside.  We like our disposable everything that we have nowadays, from razors to electronics.  It used to be that when the toaster broke down, you fixed it, now it's go to WalMart and buy a new one.  There was the time when we would pick up the fan and move it to another room, now we just buy another one to go with it.
    The only thing some of us seem to have improved on is recycling stuff.  We know newspaper and cardboard go in the recycling, and we feel good about doing our part to protect the environment.  But the truth be told, without the first two R's, the third one isn't really doing us a lot of good, and as Penn and Teller have pointed out, most of that ends up in a landfill anyway, we're recycle so much we don't know what to do with it all.

Reduce

It seems like the people who thought up this triplet put in a lot of consideration over the order of these three R's, with reduce being the first R seeming most suitable and appropriate.  If we reduce what we need to use, we then won't need to use as many resources to begin with, therefore creating less waste, and because we reduced what we were using we also don't have as much to recycle.
    Reducing can sometimes be the hardest one at times to do.  We spend so much time focusing on recycling, nobodies really taught us how to reduce what we use.  I'm struggling with this as I type it up.  I can only really think of a couple examples of reducing, particularly as it has to do with water and electricity, but in this day of electronic everything, most of us just sort of accept the electric bill as something that we can't control.  Nothing motivates us more than our pocket books, and fads.  The latest thing out right now are High Efficiency washers, which use much less water per load than conventional.
    Another example is similar to what we were taught in middle school about turning off the faucet while we aren't using it, like while we are brushing our teeth.  Some people do that also while showering. Water is a valuable natural resource, and it does tax the land and environment the more we have to use.
    One of the hardest I find is car pooling.  I would love to start car pooling, but it seems as if I can't ever find someone with the same hours and lives near me.  If everybody car pooled, we could cut traffic in half, and reduce our dependency on oil, foreign and domestic.
    If anybody else can think of examples of reducing, please leave them in the comments.

Reuse

Now here is where the conspiracy theories start coming into play, I'll let down a couple of my ideas that I have thought about over the years and we'll see what the readers think about them.  Back in the day of the revolutionary and civil wars, or going further back to even the Vikings, we see armies with beards or moustaches of all shapes and sizes.  But with the advent of toxic gases and chemical warfare coming to play during the world wars and up into the Vietnam war, there was a necessity for gas masks to be worn and to be flush against the face, which a beard would not allow.  A company called Gillette came up with a disposable razor that would allow soldiers to not worry and spend so much time shaving, and was cheap also.
    Fast forward a few more decades and slowly everything has become disposable.  Step in WalMart and other big box discounters and we find that people can live the life of luxury for much less than it used to cost.  The real cost behind though is quality.   Do you have an old dresser that your grandfather made?  Perhaps a hutch that has been passed down through the past hundred years?  Now think of anything recent that you have bought that you might pass on to your children?  Not thinking of anything, drawing a blank.  Exactly.  Things are made cheap, break easily, and manufacturers like this. If you made a bookshelf that could last 100 years, they would run out of business.  Gillette likes to sell you $15 of blades every month for the rest of your life, WalMart likes selling you a $10 camp chair this year, and next year, and the year after.  Sometimes it seems like we are so into getting a "deal" on something that we just forget about quality and think of the now and not the next year, decade or century.
    When I lived in Taiwan, there isn't much in the way of second hand stores.  Why is this?  People there use things to the point of not being able to use them any more.  Moreover they will repurpose it and use it until there is no  way to repurpose it again.  This is the ultimate form of reuse that is able to save the environment.  If we can't reduce the things that we use (e.g. drinking water) we can reuse what we do use (porcelain cups vs paper cups).  I even knew someone who's parents would take a shower and save the water to dump in the back of the toilet.  Same with the handwashed laundry water.  Reduce, and reuse what you can't reduce.

Recycle

At this point we finally arrive at where we need to recycle.  I'm not going to spend much time on this topic.  We have cut out any thing that isn't necessary, and reused what we do have.  Now there are the scraps left over afterwards.  There may be little distinction sometimes between recycling and reusing, but perhaps we could use the standard of recycling being something that you give to a recycle company.  We'll leave compost to the reader to decide if that is recycling or reusing.  With the above being done correctly we can reduce the amount of recycling that we have, meaning that less of the so-called recycling ends up in the dump.

Conclusion

By living the first two R's the third will come more naturally.  We will find out that a larger investment in finer, high quality items, may actually mean quite a bit  of savings down the road.  When your neighbour has bought their fourth set of lawn chairs in six years, you'll still be on your first.  You may have paid twice as much up front, but now you have more cash to spend on the other items you would like to enjoy.  Live frugal, spend wisely, and enjoy life.  Enjoying doesn't have to be wasteful, splurging on everything and not caring about the excess.  You'll find that it's much more cost effective to first reduce, then reuse before you recycle.
    If you like this article, share it with someone else and come back each week for more.  Feel free to leave suggestions for future topics in the comments or email me at blog@ohyonghao.com

Monday, July 2, 2012

Homemade Yogurt

Article has been moved to my blog at OhYongHao.com
This started while I was in Taiwan, one of the members in our ward had started making yogurt at home and that got me interested in trying to make it myself.  Of course I went to Google and started looking up all the do's and don'ts of yogurt making.  On June 20th, 2012 I received my first yogurt maker from Amazon.com, the Eurocuisine Yogert Maker Model No. YM80.  What I like about this model is that it comes with glass jars instead of plastic.  I don't know about you but I've had plenty of water that's come from heated plastic bottles that have sat in my car for 4-8 hours and just think that I wouldn't want to make my yogurt with plastic jars.

Unboxing

Here goes my first attempt at an unboxing... Okay, I forgot to take out the camera and take pictures.  I'll have to attempt this next time I have something cool coming.

My First Attempt

I recommend reading this blog on homemade yogurt, and her companion blog on how to reuse the same culture time and time again.
  As usual, I like to read through the manual before I start using things, so I read through the small booklet that came with the yogurt maker so that I could make sure I understood how to use one correctly.  There were small points in it that I would most likely have messed up on if I had not read through it.  I'll list a few of them here that I had not read in other places.

  1. Don't put the lids on the jars while they are in the yogurt maker.  You put the lids on them before you put them in the fridge.  Also, when removing the yogurt maker lid, be careful not to drip condensation into the yogurt.
  2. How to use the hour reminder. (It turns out this hour reminder is really just a notch on the lid that points to the hour of the day that you should take it off the heating pad.  In other words, it's a piece of plastic pointing at a number on the side and does absolutely nothing.  No beep, no alarm, no fireworks, nada.)
  3. Don't move the yogurt maker once you have started warming the jars, leave them be for the next 7-12 hours.
    Now, there was one point that disagrees with the blogs that I shared earlier, and I think is just another way of companies trying to not be obsolete after selling you something, and that is it mentioned to not reuse the culture that you used to start it with more than once.  Here's my untried advice about that.  If you are going to make more within three days, feel free to keep using it indefinitely, if it's going to be longer, freeze it first as soon as it is out of the incubator, and follow the steps in the blog I shared, namely to let it get up to room temperature before mixing it with the milk.  Doing this you should be able to always make yogurt from milk without having to repurchase starter.  This also significantly lowers the cost of making yogurt.

The Costs - Is It Worth It?

    This really is the question, at least for me.  I'm not a total health nut, and I don't believe that everything that comes out of a factory is bad for you, but for me it's about three things:

  1. Being self sufficient - I like to be able to do things myself and at least know how to do it.  Perhaps down the road I will decide it's not worth the trouble, who knows.
  2. Quality - Making it myself I can control the quality, and quantity, that I make.  I can have nice fresh fruits or preserved jams, eat it plain, extra thick, a little thin, however I want it, but I can know that it is of a good quality, nothing extra added in it, no added sugar.  Sugar is one of the things that comes out of a factory that I believe is bad for you, even if it is hard to avoid.
  3. Costs - I could work around the quality by buying brands I trust and getting plain yogurt.  Being self sufficient is nice when you have the time, but who has enough time to be self sufficient and make money?  Really, this is one of the things that it comes down to, how troublesome it is, and how much it costs in both time, cleanup, and raw materials.

    At the time of this writing I bought a gallon of milk for $x.xx, and a quart of Dannon yogurt (why does nobody sell the small 6 or 8oz size in plain) for $2.38 from Walmart (I despise going to this store and always have a bad experience whenever I go, but that's a rant for another day and my preferred grocer did not carry Dannon).  The yogurt maker was $34.75 from Amazon (with free two day shipping thanks to Prime).  A Tillamook flavored yogurt goes for $0.48/6oz container.  I'm going to ignore the difference in costs for me to make flavored yogurt for now, but I'll also do the math with the plain quart container I got.
    So far, this is what we know:

  • Gallon of milk - $2.49
  • Dannon 1 quart yogurt - $2.38
  • Yogurt Maker - $34.75
  • Tillamook Flavored Yogurt 6oz - $0.48

When making yogurt we will have exactly the same amount of yogurt as we do milk.  There are 128 ounces in a gallon of milk.  Therefore we should be able to make 128/6 containers of yogurt, or 21.33 6oz containers.
    To purchase the same amount from the store in flavored yogurt we would have to spend
            21.33 * $0.48 = $10.23.
    That doesn't sound too bad, one yogurt a day and you can eat it for three weeks.  Now what does that equate to in our costs?
    I'll first run the costs without the initial investment, then later I'll figure out how much yogurt I'll need to make to payback my investment.  What we have is, milk + yogurt (forget the negligible electricity costs, we live in Washington State, home of hydroelectricity).
            $2.49 + $2.38 = $4.87
    Wow, when we were thinking that about $13/mo for yogurt isn't bad, look at this!  We are saving $5.36 per gallon of yogurt, and I didn't even calculate that we would still eat the rest of the Dannon container, another 32oz, or 5 containers worth.  Adding that in the previous costs is more like this:
            (128+32)/6*$0.48=$12.80
    That's more nearly triple the costs now!  Maybe I should get into the yogurt making business.  Now, to be fair, I'll do a few more calculations.  One is to use the Dannon plain yogurt for the cost basis.  This is a bit easier because we know that there are 4 quarts in a gallon, therefore we need five containers (remember the extra container for a starter that we'll still eat).
            $2.38 * 5 = $11.90
    A modest savings over the flavored variety, but when compared to homemade, it's hands down cheaper to just make it yourself.  But wait, what about the next batch in which we don't use any Dannon? you ask. Well, it'll be on a parabolic curve, because we have to include the costs of saving one 6oz container as a starter for our next gallon (this could possibly be less, but I haven't had time to experiment with how much starter to actually use).
    Let's first calculate the cost per 6oz container, to have a more meaningful measurement.  We know that there are 160oz in our concoction, that equals out to
            $4.87 / 160oz * 6oz = $0.18 per 6oz container.
    Now we'll calculate out our new costs, keeping the same formula milk + yogurt:
            $2.49 + $0.18 = $2.67
    This time we only added a 6oz container, which will be the same 6oz that we take for the next batch, so we don't add that in here and just calculate out the 128oz.
            $2.67 / 128oz * 6oz = $0.125 per 6oz container
    Now this is what I'm talking about, under a quarter for a nice thing of yogurt.  Now our third batch will finally be where we are no longer acquiring the costs of our starter.
            $2.49 / 128oz * 6oz = $0.117 per 6oz container
    This time I left on the extra cents to show that it does get a little bit cheaper, but it doesn't really show out that well.  The final part is to figure out how much yogurt we must consume to have made back our initial investment.  This should be:
            Investment + 1st batch + 2nd batch + 3rd Batch * x < Dannon * 4 * (x + 2)+ 1 Dannon
            $34.75 + $4.87 + $2.67 + $2.49 * x < $2.38 + $2.38 * 4 * (x + 2)
            $42.29 + $2.49 * x < $2.38 + $9.52 * x + $19.04
            $42.29 - $21.42  < $9.52 * x - $2.49 * x
            $20.87 < $7.03 * x
            2.97 < x
    Therefore by our thrid batch we will have made enough yogurt to have earned our investment in savings. If you have a large family that enjoy's yogurt, this can be huge.  At a standard rate of consumption of 1 gallon per month, it would take 3 months to earn your ROI.  After that it's just more money in the bank.
    Sorry about being a little long winded about the costs.  This obviously doesn't account for accidently eating your starter, gas to the store to buy milk, adding sugar, honey, or fruits or anything else to the yogurt.  I'll leave it as an exercise for yourself to figure out the cost savings using Tillamook flavored yogurt vs making your own yogurt and adding fruit.

The Results

    Many words could be used to describe this concoction.  It was fabulous, smelled just like yogurt, tastes just like yogurt, eats just like yogurt.  By golly, I think I made yogurt.  I've tried it with maple syrup, cherries, and strawberries so far and it's just delectable.  My wife tried it with oranges, also good, although she really likes it with the maple syrup.
    In conclusion, I believe this contraption is a worthy investment, it makes making yogurt easy and not time consuming.  It took about 10 minutes prep time (perhaps a little longer, but we ate dinner while we boiled the water to sterilize the jars), then it just sat for 9 hours while we slept.  My recommendation is if you like eating yogurt all the time, just make it yourself, you're doing yourself and your pocketbook a favor.