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In warming world, time to reconsider the clothesline

In an age of global warming, this low-tech device may be poised to stage a modest comeback.

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On the first warm Saturday in April, our neighborhood hums with springtime activity.

Flowering trees are bursting into glorious pink bloom as families push strollers and walk dogs. One man rakes while his wife plants pansies around a lamppost. And at the end of the street, a woman hangs shirts and blouses on a backyard clothesline. Could there be a surer sign of good weather than that?

Hers is one of the last clotheslines in the neighborhood, a quaint reminder of an era before dryers reigned supreme. But now the low-tech clothesline may be poised to stage a modest comeback. In an age of global warming, lists of energy-saving tips routinely include suggestions such as "Hang clothes outdoors to dry when possible."

It's good advice, of course. A dryer is typically the second biggest electricity-using appliance after the refrigerator, according to the website laundrylist.org. It costs about $85 a year to operate. Multiply that by the nation's 88 million dryers, and the energy costs spiral.

The dryer, with its round-the-clock availability and shiny push-button convenience, has also created energy-wasting habits. As one mother says, "I've noticed the big conversation about energy-saving appliances. Where is the conversation about the habits of the people who use these appliances? Many of my friends who have teenagers say that their children wear an outfit only once before they put it into the laundry hamper. One of my friends only uses her bath towel once."

That kind of wastefulness is on the minds of hotel executives, too. More and more hotels are placing small cards in the bathroom, spelling out how many gallons of water and how much soap they use each month. They encourage guests to consider forgoing a daily change of towels and sheets.

Little by little, such moves can create a new awareness of how modern laundry equipment, with its spin cycles and extra rinses, feeds our energy wastefulness.

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