Archive for September, 2007

Progress: Lunches

attractive rocket ship lunch boxThis month’s goal is progressing pretty well. I’ve been packing my lunch in this convenient and attractive rocket ship lunchbox, and keeping track of the things I still throw away in order to make/eat it. I’m wrapping my sandwiches in aluminum foil, since it’s easier to recycle (toss it in with the cans) as long as it’s clean- plus if you fold it gently, you can reuse it once or twice, so that’s cut down on plastic bags. The oatmeal creme pies are a constant source of package waste, as well as the granola bars, so either I need to find unwrapped snack foods, or snack foods with recyclable packaging. Apple cores I generally toss also, but as soon as I start composting I can start bringing those home, too.

Once I got used to the idea of thinking about lunch before 11:30am the day of, and procured a lunchbox, packing lunches was a lot simpler than I thought it would be. The food tastes a lot better than the frozen dinners I used to bring. I have spent more time cooking, but that’s not altogether a bad thing, though it takes a lot more thought at the grocery store. The nice thing is I can make a few things on Sunday (some chicken, some pasta, some other type of pasta) and have enough to combine in various containers throughout the week, so by “more time cooking” I mean “I have to cook one night.” This is a very large change for me. I feel like it might be building character, and now I finally have something to do with my cookbooks besides display them in an attractive manner.

I’ll have the final update (will she continue to purchase oatmeal creme pies?) in a couple weeks, but in the meantime, (goal for the month) I’ll be gathering the necessary equipment (bike, helmet, other things are also involved, I am led to understand) and starting to bike to work. This is more of a challenge than last month, since I like food, but I don’t very much like biking. The thing is I probably like jogging less than biking, so by biking to work I will feel compelled to jog less often. Expect photos of the ford I will have to cross on my way (yes, I will ford a stream on my ride to work) and my bicycle basket/rocket ship lunch box launch pad.

Havel writes

Everybody’s favorite playwrite/dissident/statesman is being a wise moral force again. Vaclav Havel has weighed in on the whole environmental thing. He doesn’t offer any specific policy solutions- instead he fairly and succinctly restates the problem in terms that not many others are using.

The planet (systems, cycles, and all) is in a constant state of flux- many not convinced of global warming use this fact as “proof” that since the weather/topography/nature always changes, its changing now isn’t a big deal. Pass the coal-burning plants, we’re good. Havel makes the eloquent point that just because the planet loves to change, doesn’t mean that those changes we’re seeing now won’t kill us. It is an eloquent point because Havel is not preaching doomsday- he is pointing out an opportunity, a moral choice that we must make.

We will either achieve an awareness of our place in the living and life-giving organism of our planet, or we will face the threat that our evolutionary journey may be set back thousands or even millions of years. That is why we must take this issue very seriously and see it as a challenge to behave responsibly and not as a harbinger of the end of the world.

Read this article in small chunks to catch all the meaning behind his few words- he’s assuming that we’re going to flesh his reasoning out with a lot of details that are already known and unnecessary to rehash. He’s saying volumes beyond the “take personal responsibility”. The bit in the middle, about moral considerations- that’s absolutely crucial. This struggle is about moral and ethical decisions, not government policies or economic factors- despite what the bulk of coverage on “the environmental problem” is. It’s not an environmental problem- the death of species aside- it’s our problem.

Less conceptually, I’ll be posting a photo of my lunchbox next time. Until then, Havel nice day.

Summary: If we must dryclean

I don’t dryclean clothes often, but after an entire winter’s worth of run-ins with mud and soup, my coat needed a bath. A few alternatives to the perc-full traditional dry cleaners now exist, and the two most discussed are the Greenearth franchise and “wet cleaners”.

Wet cleaning is a real thing, and if you want to know more about it, read the wikipedia article. I couldn’t find any locations in the area that do this kind of cleaning because there aren’t many places that do. It involves possibly deconstructing clothing, washing it carefully in biodegradable solvents, then maybe reconstructing it. Most “dry clean only” clothing actually can be cleaned in water and soaps, very very carefully. With computers. Still, hard to find a place that does it, and I don’t know any geishas (read the article), so I looked into the Greenearth people.

Greenearth cleaning uses a silicon based solvent that, in very very high concentrations, causes cancer in lab rats. The same chemical is also found in many personal care products, like shampoo, and has been very widely used for about 30 years, and no studies have definitively linked it with people cancer. NPR reported on the cancer findings, but several other reports dismissed the link with assertations and even some science. Whatever the health effects it’s generally agreed that the chemical is less harmfull than perc- making it easier to get approval to use it on location and cheaper to clean up for franchise owners- plus by all reports the Greenearth process is gentler on clothing and doesn’t have a telltale smell. More importantly, stores that do this actually exist in the greater DC area. It appears their franchises are springing up everywhere- they have a pickup service in Kingstowne, Springfield, a branch on North Quaker in Alexandria, presence in Arlington on Washington Blvd, and locations in Bowie MD and Silver Spring MD. The storefront on North Quaker is large and very professional- looking, with uniformed staff and lots of signs posted about safety processes and environmental credits. Prices range from fine to really good- less that 20$ for my long cashmere-blend coat. Shirts are $2.70, according to a sign. No other prices were posted. While they did swathe my clothing in plastic upon return, they didn’t give me all-new hangers, so that was a nice little conservationist “perk.” Har.

My clothes smell nice and look good- all the unscientific tests say that Greenearth treats your clothes much better than normal drycleaners- and the prices seemed ok to me. If you’re balking at paying more for shirts, consider that the shirts will probably last longer with the Greenearth people.

Driving Corn Too Far

This article from the International Herald Tribune says it all, quite succinctly. Relying on corn as the main source of biofuel is going to cause a lot more problems than it solves, and the sick twist of tariffs, subsidies, and tax breaks is distorting the real impact of political decisions to push corn-based ethanol production as The New Way to drive cars. I’m excited about biofuels, and one day soon they will make economic sense: especially the really efficient ones that we don’t also need to eat, export, and feed to our livestock. Check out the first picture (then the rest, it’s neat stuff) in this slideshow from Wired magazine. Green slime+water+sun+CO2=ethanol. Sounds so simple- maybe it can get off the ground and to consumers without all that government price fixing.

Take It All With You

Marketplace (of NPR) is preparing for a series on sustainable consumerism (oxymoron) by having one of the hosts haul her family’s trash around with her all week. All. Of. It. The project blog is here and contains a link to some other sites for the series “Consumed”. (Hint: The game is just a quiz, and all you win is guilt. And my score was 4 earths. Beat that! No, seriously, please beat that.) I’ll be listening to the series when it airs, and hoping it, being an economy-centerd show, ponders how in the world our consumer driven economy is going to work when people stop buying so much stuff. Now I will ask vaguely theoretical questions, so stay with me. I’m betting there are better questions to ask- I’ll let you know if I come up with any, let me know if you do too- but here’s a start.

Is sustainable consumerism an oxymoron? Is it our social responsibility to support our local/national/global economy by getting stuff? What would the economy look like if people didn’t buy things they didn’t need or at least seriously desire for more than an hour, or even repaired stuff they already had instead of scrapping it for new stuff? We’re mostly a service/consumer economy, so if we don’t buy enough things, who will employ salesmen/cashiers/other retail types? New market sectors will grow of course (maybe we could pay displaced workers to ride bikes to generate power or something, and also solve the obesity problem (I am kidding but just a little) ) but it’ll take time and people could get laid off, and businesses will either evolve or whine, and it is always cheaper to whine. Probably any answer lies in some balance of sensible consumption, or consuming only sustainable things, or a return to a barter system. Or not. This is all speculation until people actually do start changing their purchasing patterns, but it’s nice to have some concept of where we might want to change to.

Meanwhile, back in doing-stuff-about-it-world, (goal for the month) I’ll be reducing the amount of stuff I throw away and the amount of stuff I buy by packing my lunch (in reusable containers) instead of taking frozen boxes. I suspect this will mean a lot of PB&J, but I know that’s made with love and raspberry jelly, whereas I really have no idea what’s in that block of icy “lasagna”, so it should be cool.

How-To: RSS

So as to not bore you with frequent, fruitless checks for new material, I should let you know how to get an RSS feed of these posts (in case you don’t already know). Basically, 1) get an RSS reader, and 2) insert into it. If you don’t have a feed ticker you like, I can’t recommend one right now (I don’t know of any “good ones” myself). However, if you use gmail, you can insert my feed into the RSS ticker at the blue header bar. In gmail, go to Settings (probably in the upper right corner of your screen), then select the Web Clips menu tab, and search for “virescent” or “”. Stuff will pop up, find and add my /feed site, and then my posts will pop up on your gmail with some frequency, depending on how many other news feeds you also have.

From now, I’ll be more frequently updating, and I’ll try to warn you of any long delays between them.  If there is any interest, I’ll add an email function that will email you my latest posts, and I’ll be on the lookout for RSS tickers to recommend for those who want a separate one or who don’t use gmail (if you know of any useful ones, do tell).

Measuring PC Greenity

BusinessWeek’s special report on green tech (investing in, new trends, etc.) includes an article on a new rating system for measuring the greenness of PCs. The Electronic Product Environmental Assesment Tool (EPEAT) was

“designed by manufacturers and environmental groups to help institutions such as governments, schools, and businesses pick eco-friendly PCs. Computers submitted for EPEAT ratings have to first meet 23 required criteria covering hazardous materials, recycling, and power consumption. That scores them a bronze rating. To nab a silver or gold, they have to meet at least half or 75%, respectively, of a second list of 28 more rigorous criteria.”

BW points out that while businesses buying in bulk will pay attention to the EPEAT guidelines, most individual consumers care more about upfront cost and nerd cred than the environmental impact rating of a product. They conclude that since this is true, there’s not a reason to give consumers the additional information contained in this new rating.

Since this is a business mag, the lack of faith in the informed consumer must be forgiven. Though we shortsighted masses probably make our purchasing decisions based on cost, styling, or ability to frag n00bs, it’d still be lovely to have a chance to make an environmentally conscious decision (while fragging n00bs in style, cheaply). Not included in the article is a link to the EPEAT rating systems. 617 products have been reviewed and are searchable by product rating in the gold, silver, and bronze categories. Only 14 products got the gold- one of them is the $100 laptop design for the One Laptop Per Child program. Would tech people care to comment on whether or not the Gold medal winners are sweet systems and thus good choices for reasons beyond tree-hugging hippyness?


First, a link: this New York Times article details Ikea Hacking, or turning Ikea furniture into either more-bizarre and personal furniture or something else entirely (like a guitar). As the reporter elaborates, such-like highly manufactured materials- whether found or purchased- are now being used by some as the raw material for design and craftiness, which is a nice way to prop up the global economy while also sticking it to the Man.

This also ensures that you’ll love your disposable Ikea furniture for years to come: use ingenuity and tools to make it entirely yours so you’ll love it forever, treat it well, and not want to throw it out. Plus people will be jealous of your neat stuff.

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