Archive for the ‘The Stuff of Life’ Category

This article in yesterday’s New York Times about concert pianist Soyeon Lee’s efforts to raise awareness about recycling and reusing was really neat. She wears gowns made from recycled juice pouches and plays pieces that have been “recycled”. After watching the Story of Stuff together, my daughter and I decided not to use juice boxes anymore. I now give her milk every day in a little Rubbermaid Litterless Juice Box instead of the Soy Dream juice boxes I had been using.


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Winner of Friends of the Earth’s Best One-minute green film award. This simple film documents the horrors of plastic overpackaging of a child’s toy.  After wrestling with all the packaging, the child is too tired even to play with her new toys.

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There was an article in today’s New York Times about people who illegally re-pipe their houses to take advantage of graywater (any water that goes down the drain besides the toilet). Here is a link to the article and some excerpts:

The Dirty Water Underground

Greywater Guerrillas, a team focused on promoting and installing clandestine plumbing systems that recycle gray water — the effluent of sinks, showers and washing machines — to flush toilets or irrigate gardens.

To her, this house is as much an emblem of her belief system as a home. Although gray water use is legal in California, systems that conform to the state’s complicated code tend to be very expensive, and Ms. Allen and her fellow guerrilla, Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, are out to persuade the world that water recycling can be a simple and affordable option, as well as being a morally essential one.

They are part of a larger movement centered in the West — especially in arid regions like Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California — that includes both groups that operate within the law and ones that skirt it. The goal is the reuse of home gray water as a way to live within the region’s ecological means. Using their own experience and contributions from others, they have just published a do-it-yourself guide to gray water systems that is also a manifesto for the movement, “Dam Nation: Dispatches From the Water Underground.”

Obviously, the point of plumbing codes is for public health reasons – you wouldn’t want gray or black water getting mixed in with drinking water or even with bathing water. I’m not sure I’d be willing to fiddle with my plumbing any further than running a pipe directly from my kitchen sink into the garden. But even that would be an act of “guerrilla” conservation.

How far would you be willing to go to live by your principles? Would you break the law?

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My new friend in the kitchen

Over the weekend, I got myself a slow cooker (aka crock pot). I’m hoping to use it once or twice a week to increase the number of homemade meals we eat (as opposed to eating out or resorting to pre-packaged food). All in all, I think this will be a good thing mainly by reducing the amount of packaging we generate from store-bought meals and styrofoam from restaurant takeout.  But while running it for 8 hours on Sunday, I started wondering about the net energy impact of this new appliance. Turns out, it’s not so easy to figure out whether we’re coming out ahead. One problem is that we have a gas stove, so it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Just for giggles, though, here’s a summary of what I’ve found. You can draw your own conclusions.

According to Clallum County, WA Public Utility Division, a crock-pot runs at 100 watts (Typical Appliance Energy Use and Costs) so running it once a week for 8 hours means 3.2 kWh/month. If you have an electric stove, the range runs at 12,500 watts, while burners average 1300 – 2400 watts apiece.  Any smarties out there who can compare kWh to natural gas use by the typical stovetop, I’d love to be able to compare the amount of energy I would normally use to simmer soups and stews during the month on my gas stove….

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission recommends using a crock-pot rather than gas oven and/or stovetop (Pennsylvania Utility Choice) as does the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (Pollution Prevention and You). Crock-pot use even gets the thumbs-up by GreenerChoices.org (appears to be a project by Consumer Reports).  No hard numbers to help compare though….

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… I had to travel to the coast for a meeting yesterday, and I’m still recovering a little.

I drove near the area of a huge fire and was delayed a little while on the way back due to a fire in the median on I-95. Today is apparently the beginning of the “smog season” here and the smog alert was code orange this morning. I feel terrible that I contributed to the problem with this trip by burning two tanks of gasoline. Quite a few other people at the meeting had driven a long distance as well. Kind of goes back to the problem I wrestled with in this post about the relative harm and benefit of doing my job. There may be a lot more travel in my future and I’m a tad ambivalent about it.

Thanks, by the way, to everyone who posted comments on that post. I do appreciate the thoughtful comments.

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What is worse?

Here is something I have pondered about my own life, but also about other people who I admire. Imagine you had to choose between having an all-consuming career that overall had a strong positive impact on the environment but left you with little time or ability to make sustainable choices (i.e., eating out a lot, flying frequently; think: Al Gore) OR work only as much as you have to in order to support your direct needs and otherwise live a low-impact lifestyle.

Which is the “better choice”? What would you choose?

My career is in the environmental sciences. I have at times been extremely busy and unable to devote much attention to my personal impact on the environment, but felt that the positive impact of my work was multiplied through its higher profile than if I worked less or not at all. At this point, I have an ok balance between work and home, but I’d rather do more on the work end and I may soon have the opportunity to do so. My personal impact will suffer, though.

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Selling…. out?

In yesterday’s New York Times, there was an e-commerce article on the growth of the “Green” Online Publishing industry, fueled by increased ad revenues from “green” products and mainstream companies wanting to project a “green” image. So, mainstream media outlets such as the Washington Post have responded with “green” wings, such as sprig.com, which is intended to appeal to:

…the 95 percent of people who want to be 5 percent green,” said Jeanie Pyun, Sprig’s editor in chief. “Not the 5 percent of people who want to be 95 percent green.”

The site features:

food, fashion, beauty, home and lifestyle, with videos liberally mixed into each section. In the beauty section, a video features an eco-friendly manicure and pedicure, while in the food section, visitors can watch organic cooking demonstrations. The site will post about six new articles a day, written in a way one might characterize as Green Lite.

Hmmm…. not very appealing to me.

On the other hand, the article got me thinking, or anyway got me to thinking more about the reason why I blog on this subject, what I hope to get out of it, and what I would ever do if the opportunity came along to profit from it, and if so, under what circumstances. A lot of blogs sustain themselves by carrying advertisements. Let me just say right now that I do not have a problem with bloggers who do this; I understand people need to make a living and the internet right now is driven by advertising. However, I am determined not to ever become part of the marketing machine, whose goal after all, is to convince people to buy things they probably do not need.

And, I’m skeptical of all this bandwagon-jumping by publishers and corporations alike. I think it’s great that the environment is getting more attention. But as I’ve said in previous entries, I won’t be greenwashed and I’m wary of those who are.

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