Archive for the 'stuff' Category

Progress: Impositions

Time is getting away from me these days- understandable, with illness, Inauguration, a visit from my Dad, a return to classes, and the gentleman friend’s birthday (today!) all this week.  I start every week with the most enthusiastic posting intentions, and get lost by Tuesdays.  I’m not hoping to make this daily all the time- I appreciate your attention, so I won’t waste your time when I really haven’t got much to say.  I just hope it evens out some day.

While there’s plenty going on in environment news, I’d like to ramble about something else today.  (If you’re interested in keeping up, the Wilkins ice shelf is collapsing in Antarctica due to Global Warming, Lisa Jackson’s appointment to the EPA is still raising legitimate concerns, and we’ve got hard data showing how much faster dirty air kills you).  But today it’s the monthly goal on my mind, and it’s leading to a larger question.  The uncluttering goal is going well, in so far as I’ve cleaned out my place and today I organized the gentleman friend’s closet for him, for his birthday.  I also found some nice sweaters or him at the Salvation Army, and I’m getting him a compost bucket so he can bring his foodscraps to my compost bin when he visits. What a great birthday for him, hunh?! He is very appreciative- he even seemed to like my suggestion that we spend some time tonight making a pile of his excavated clothing to donate.

That wasn’t all.  I am not so single-minded that I do not appreciate how underwhelming this birthday fun sounds.  There was computer hardware and music and dinner and a keg and Cheetos for his party.  Kegs are the ultimate reuseable drink containers, by the way, despite their frat connotations.  Check Total Wine for containers of good things- call them to check what’s in stock, it might be better than what’s listed.  I digress.

The GF supports me, and he makes an effort to reduce, recycle, and reuse.  But ultimately, this is my set of goals, and I know better than to assume they’re his.  While you can give a boyfriend a compost bucket, you can’t make him fill it.  After my initial rush of sustainable enthusiasms, I occasionally wonder if I’m pushing him too hard with my efforts.  He complains about the smell of my compost and the meatlessness of my cupboard, and my reluctance to use non-hippie toothpastes.  These are all understandable complaints.  

I don’t feel like I’m being held back because the GF’s not as pro-active environmentally, and that’s where we work.  I have asked him to post here on his view of this, so you might be getting a diatribe on compost buckets in small apartments from him soon.  

So, how do you balance your environmentalism with that of your friends and/or loved ones?  Do you do it all together, or does one of you take the lead?  Are there things you don’t do for the environment to keep your SO happy?  I am curious.

Good News, Everyone!

They saved almost 400 of the penguins in Brazil!  And Make It Right‘s first green homes are ready for displaced people in New Orleans!

Whew, let’s concentrate on that and forget the rest of the week.  Have a good evening.

Green Design in my Basement: Part 3

Part the last, mostly dealing with my decision to invest in a minifridge.

Minifridges are great.  They combine fridges, which make wonderful things wonderfully cool, with tiny-and-cuteness.  But:  1) There’s already a fridge upstairs, and 2) I bought it from Walmart.

Now, the fridge upstairs is usually full, and I can barely squeeze in OJ, milk, and a tupperware container or two.  With a fridge in my basement, my food is easier to access, they have more space upstairs, and I have plenty of room to keep beer and leftovers for lunches.  Upstairs, space is not guaranteed.  So, while the fridge was not necessary for survival, it solved lots of potential problems for everybody in the house.

Now, as to Walmart:  Since I decided on getting the fridge, it needed to be efficient.  I did some research on small Energy Star fridges.  Haier makes a 4ft^3 one with a tiny freezer, and it uses 270kwh a year.  That was about as low as I found on the EnergyStar site- Samsung and Sub-Zero also have a few models with very low energy usage.  Most minifridges with EnergyStar ratings use above 300kwh a year.  When I was trying to figure out where to buy it, however, Walmart came back as the area store that actually stocked Energy-Star minifridges, and they had the Haier model available online with free site-to-store shipping.  Go figure.

This maybe should not be a surprise, though.  Walmart has been making impressive efforts to add ecofriendliness to their entire process- pushing organics and CFLs on their customers, installing solar panels on their stores, bullying their suppliers into more environmentally friendly packaging, and so on.  Since they’re the hugest retail chain ever, this is having a massive impact on the supply and purchase of green goods around the country.  I’m all for supporting companies who are actually making big, helpful environmental changes, and I like to communicate my support by buying green products I need from them.

But.  But! Of course, these green initiatives are not without their mistakes.  Plus, Walmart is intensely skeezy to their workers.  I’ve read the Ehrenreich book, I keep up with their latest anti-union antics, and they’re still mostly selling cheap junk from China.  Also, their teen fashion section is terrifying.  I get all the very good reasons to not support them, or the way they run their business.

Here’s the conundrum.  Few places sell the eco-friendly things that I want.  But finally, a nearby store with the minifridge that only uses $24 of electricity a year!  Why does it have to be Walmart that’s providing the stuff I want?

So, there.  I’ve given you the various impulses surrounding my decision, I’ve told you how it worked out (I bought it, and it’s awesome, and having it’s made lunches much easier).  Under the same set of circumstances, I bet a lot of environmentally concerned types would have done the same thing- and many wouldn’t have gotten the fridge at all.  Some people might have searched further afield for it, or settled for a different model.

It’s hard to know the right thing to do when faced with these questions.  The answer lies somewhere between primitivism and consumer excess, and just where depends on what your particular priorities are.  Waste less water?  Buy only reusables?  Make it yourself? Buy nothing?  Recycling fiend?  Some combination of the above?  I think the act of carefully weighing the different impacts of your decisions is about 60% of the way to making a good one.  Which, I hope, is why I spend so much time agonizing over some of mine.

Green Design, In My Basement: Part 1

Moving is a gigantic hassle, but I really enjoy rearranging all my stuff.  I did a mostly good job keeping my last move as recycled and eco-friendly as possible (minus the trips back and forth with a pick-up truck, but that is the whole point of moving, I guess).  Here’s a tour of my new place, with green features:

The walls: My ceiling is low, and the lights are fluorescent, so I painted the walls to make the space more liveable.  Sherwin Williams has a store nearby, and their zero-VOC paint comes in a nice big range of colors. They have a really neat web tool where you can “paint” rooms in colors you like, trim and all, to test the combo- worth at least a half hour of play time. Plus, with a 20% discount that week, it was a good deal.  Typically their gallon cans of flat paint are $35, and there’s a 15% discount for signing up to be a “preferred customer”, which I understood to mean they send you coupons sometimes.  But the 20% was better, and so I got a can each of Osage Orange and Dill Green.

“VOC” is shorthand for volatile organic compound, which is a substance typically used by paint companies to dissolve pigments in their mixes.  VOCs are way toxic though– they’re the smell of paint drying, and why you should paint only in well-ventilated areas.  Inhale too much and you can get all sorts of damage to your central nervous system.  So, while zero VOC paint is a few bucks more expensive, and doesn’t come in the deepest colors offered (since other solvents can’t dissolve as much pigment as VOCs), it’s the way to go if you want to minimize indoor air pollution. It’s safe to paint during the day and sleep in the room that night, with this stuff. Even Sherwin Williams isn’t a chemical free, totally earth-friendly paint, though. I used it because I’m in a moldy basement, and the biocide aspect of the paint is appealing.  Plus, the store is close-by.  Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company sells a milk-based paint in a large range of colors, and it’s available at Woodcraft, down in Springfield.  It comes in a powder, you add water and mix it up, and it’s a lot harder to match colors across batches that way.  But still, it loves the planet, and is a safer alternative to chemical paints.

The curtains: I folded an old window hanging that had gotten sun-damaged, and hung it on extra picture wire behind a reed blind from Ikea (purchased 6 moves ago, languishing since that apartment).  I sewed a curtain for another window out of a fabric remnant and an ill-fitting thrifted skirt.  I could have donated it again, but it would have looked pretty bad on anyone, so I put it out of our misery.  It looks great as my curtain.

Another curtain was created from hanging all my scarves over a rod, and securing them with extra hair clips.  Inexpensive, keeps the scarves from getting obscured on the coat hooks, and looks pretty fantastic, what with all the color and texture.  It was the GF’s idea to do it- one of a couple great ideas he had for my room.  I shouldn’t have been so surprised about those, he’d done a great job setting up his own apartment.  Curtain rods were made possible by the donation of five long bamboo stalks from GF’s mother, because she has awesome ideas about moving-in gifts.  So far, we’ve cut curtain rods for the window, closet, and a strange recess in one corner that exposes the mechanical equipment.  I’ve got about 40 ft left, if anybody needs any.

The welcome mat: I now have an outside door, so I found a 100% recycled rubber doormat at Target.  Small victory in a Big Box.

Next time: Craigslist Shopping and New Appliance Guilt!

How Fair is Fair?

In an article yesterday, BusinessWeek explored a debate going on about the rise of fair trade certifications and labels.  Some fair trade organizations are criticizing the main US FT label, TransFair, for expanding the FT labeling program so quickly and widely in the past few years.  The label once mostly applied to coffee and tea has spread to fruits and flowers, and TransFair would like to take it into other industries, too, like garment production.

These critics say that giving fair trade certifications to large farms and plantations goes against the spirit of fair trading, given the history of worker exploitation on some of those  farms.  Plus, what with all the new groups being investigated for the labels, there aren’t enough oversight resources to make sure that the farmers, and farms, stay fair.

TransFair disagrees:

Part of the problem Rice and Wal-Mart face is the difficulty of applying the same standards of equity and economics to different types of crops. While half of the global production of coffee comes from small farms, it takes a larger operation to compete in bananas, tea, cut flowers, or sugar. “The disadvantaged majority would be locked out of the market if I were to look for only small farms for bananas and tea,” says Rice.

It’s a reasonable disagreement, and an important discussion to have while the movement is growing- but don’t let it dissuade you from buying Fair Trade.

Products that are fair-trade certified are made under better working conditions, and direct more resources back to the folks who make them than otherwise would ever happen.  It’s a sustainable way to grow both business and community resources.  But one definition of “fair” isn’t going to work everywhere.  Maybe they could have a label that was just for “Fair Enough”- or better yet, some kind of label information about what practices the group producing the item worked under.

In the end, though, I’d rather TransFair push their certification programs too far than not far or fast enough.

Way to Go, Scientific Inquiry

A teenage kid discovered how to decompose plastic with bacteria, and presented it at a science fair last month!  Bacteria eat almost everything else, so he set out to look for the ones that find plastic tasty. Here I was stuck in my two-months-ago mindset that all the plastic we make and use now is going to be sitting around long after we’re gone, piled up in landfills as vast cockroach playgrounds.  But this guy can make it all go away, like actually go away, not just get broken into tiny pieces, and leave behind just some CO2 and water.  This is also cool, because the kid is from Canada (won their national science fair with this thing), so now we have something else to associate our northern neighbors with, besides *insert your favorite Canada stereotype here*.  Through Wired, an article with details of the experiment.  No word on when this is going to be scaled up, though he’s using some of his prize money to look into patenting it and developing it further.  In the last article, his teacher makes a good point that, even though this research literally clears up all our problems with plastic disposal, it’s not a carte blanche to keep using the stuff, willy-nilly.  After all, it’s not just the disposal that’s a problem, it’s the oil and hazardous chemicals used in the production of it, too.

Next up, a group from the University of Leeds has invented a way to wash a load of laundry with a) a cup of water or less, and b) some plastic bits.  I’m guessing the secret is in the bits, which are of course proprietary.  The new kind of washing machine is going to be able to replace both wet and dry cleaning, and only uses about 2% of the energy of a washing machine today.  And there’s really no need to dry anything after.  They’ve set up a company, Xeros, and the first machines will be on sale in Britain next year, and they’re not projected to cost much more than a normal washer.  We’ll see if they’re still projecting that next year, but with the savings from dry cleaning, energy and water bills, and not having to buy a dryer, it’d have to be pretty pricey to be “too expensive”.

It’s comforting to know that somewhere out there, people are using science on their brilliant ideas, and coming up with totally cool, useful things.  Hard to get really depressed about this whole environmental crisis when you know that.

Until you read stuff like this again, anyway.  Gah.


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