Monday, April 26, 2010

What a Waste!

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Happy belated Earth Day, folks... but before you throw yourself a party with those reusable party favors and maybe a little biodegradable confetti, take note: there's still a LOT of work to be done to make our world greener.

Take America's waste management systems. On his morning commute, one member of the DinkyGreen Team (okay, okay, it was me) noticed that the village of Glen Ellyn (Village of Volunteers, I've since learned) must have been conducting one of their annual "unlimited trash" pick-ups today, as the typically manicured curbside was crowded with piles of furniture, snowboarding equipment, wood scraps, kids' playthings, screen doors and the like.

Maybe it's my inner pack-rat talking here, but I like sniffing around junk piles for anything still usable (I'm not saying I want to build a house out of old tires and chicken wire, but some people, in their spring cleaning zeal, will throw out lots of stuff that still has some life left in it). So I parked the car, walked the block and rescued a couple spare wood scraps that I can put towards a project around the house (in this case, I'll probably use them to make a nice border around the vegetable garden we're planning this year). Truth be told, I wish I had been able to investigate a bit more, but the garbage trucks were already rolling through the neighborhood, and I didn't want to be late to work, so I didn't come away with much.

Therein lies part of the problem: had I known of Glen Ellyn's trash day in advance, I might have planned to leave the house earlier, scout out some good locations, or maybe even ask my friends and family if they're in need of any particular items and want to get them on the cheap while at the same time preventing the landfills from being piled that much higher.

The other part of the problem as I see it is that too often we prefer the convenience of the curb to taking the extra step and making a drop off at Goodwill, or notifying AmVets, or posting the information on freecycle (if you haven't yet joined your local freecycle community, I strongly recommend doing so).

That's why I'm proposing (and I'm not the first to do so) that so-called "unlimited trash" days be publicized across the greater metro area in which they are to take place. If one man's trash is another man's treasure, we can foster a greener community simply by giving the latter man advance notice of the former's intentions.

Trust me, there are plenty of people out there looking for free stuff at the curb; as a kid I went on many a ride-along with my mom when she "went trashing" during unlimited trash days. And we weren't the only car coasting down the suburban street at 2mph looking for deals; in fact, there were dozens! Those who knew in advance took advantage of it; it stands to reason that if more people know, more people will take advantage...and that in turn has the potential to decrease waste and therefore, the size of your local landfill as well.

Now, I know I'm probably preaching to the proverbial choir, here. If you're reading this you likely already concentrate on reducing, reusing and recycling. Some of you probably practice the three R's until you're green in the face; but our consumer culture and the habits that come with it will never go away completely. That said, the goal here is to motivate the choir to "sing" about being green. How? Attend homeowners' association meetings and help organize community-wide yard sales or swap meets that keep stuff off the curb. Talk to your Village Board and see if you can convince them to place an ad in the paper about their unlimited trash pick-up days (I know they'll probably rail against it with some soliloquy about trash-day traffic or village property or what-not, but) this is a conversation worth having, not just for freebie-hunters like me, but for the sake of the planet. Sound good?

"Do you even bother to compost your own feces?" -Greenzo, 30 Rock

This blog post was typed on a 100% biodegradable keyboard.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day, Easy to Extreme

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Well folks, Earth Day has been around for 40 years now. How many times have you really celebrated it in all that time? Maybe not every year? I'm here to help. Don't worry, you don't have to give up meat or move to a commune.
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I like to think of Earth Day as another kind of New Year's celebration. In other words, don't just focus on the one day. Look forward. Make a change. Make an Earth Day's resolution!
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I have loads of ideas, whether you want to try an easy change or an extreme one. I'll let you think of the in-betweens. Here we go.
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REDUCE
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EASY:
  • Heating and cooling. Just go easy on the thermostat. No higher than 68 in the winter. No lower than 80 in the summer. You might even baby-step your way to more extreme comfort deprivation and save more than just a few bucks.
  • Water. Take a shorter shower. Set a timer for five minutes and see if you can finish before time runs out.
  • Driving. Just drive less. Several people in my office bike to work in the summer. The rest of the year they take public transportation. It's easy (and more convenient) to drive less in the city, but even in suburban and rural areas, you could walk, bike, or carpool a lot more often if you made the effort.
EXTREME:
  • Air conditioning. Live without it, I mean. Open windows, drink cold lemonade, wear skimpy clothes, lie in the shade, and use fans when absolutely necessary.
  • Driving. As in, not at all. Quit your car and rely on transportation by automobile as little as possible. I know people who have done it. Yes, they all live in the city.
REUSE

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EASY:
  • Grocery bags. One of our friends once wondered how anyone could still be using plastic grocery bags when it's so easy to switch to reusable bags. We were still on the plastic a year later, and it's all because of cat litter. In a future post I'll tell you all about it. In the meantime, switch to reusable bags like we eventually did. Any bag will do.
  • Water bottles. Lightweight, stainless steel water bottles are all over the market now. Get one, carry it with you, fill it with tap water (or filtered tap water if you must).
  • Coffee cups. One day earlier this year, Starbucks gave free coffee to anyone who brought in a reusable travel mug. But even on regular days, Starbucks gives you a 10-cent discount if you're using your own thermos (or even just an open mug). Ten cents off isn't much incentive, but if you instead think of it like they're charging you 10 cents for the paper cup, suddenly you want to avoid the fee, no matter how small.
EXTREME:
  • Water. Whole-house gray water systems collect and filter the water that runs down your sink, shower, dish washer, and washing machine drains and reuse it for watering the lawns and filling the toilets. Smaller systems set a sink above your toilet tank so that you're never using fresh water just to flush.
  • Material goods. Before you throw anything away, see if it might have another use. Len's good at repurposing scraps of wood and other things leftover from various projects. Out of scraps, he has built two compost bins, one little set of drawers for coffee and tea things, and several shelves, and he's also made many home repairs with project leftovers.
RECYCLE
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EASY:
  • Paper. Paper is so easy to recycle, you'd better have a grand excuse if you're not already doing it. If you don't have recycling pick-up in your neighborhood, there is probably a school or church near you that does have a big recycling dumpster on the premises just for paper.
  • Beverage cans and bottles. Again, if you don't have recycling pick-up at home, save aluminum, glass and plastic drink containers in bins or garbage bags. When you have a trunk load, drive it to your municipality's recycling center. It's just another errand, no big deal. Some restaurants and city sidewalks also have separate trash cans for recycling. Use them.
  • Fashion accessories. Whether you're looking for a real leather purse, a brightly colored tote bag or some unique jewelry, you can find almost any fashion accessory made from other recycled things.
EXTREME:
  • Building materials. Whether you're putting in new carpet or building a whole new house, you can order almost any of the necessary materials made from other recycled materials, including insulation made from old jeans and white picket fences made from old soda bottles.
  • Anything. Implement a recycling program where there isn't one. At your office, in your neighborhood, in your school district, or in your city.
What will be your Earth Day's resolution? What change, big or small, will you make to make a difference?
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I want to know your ideas! Click the "Comments" link at the top of this post and tell me!
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Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Earth Hour 2010 Report

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Earth Hour 2010 was the largest public demonstration in history, according to a press release by the World Wildlife Fund:
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4,000 cities
in 125 countries
including all 50 states
and Washington, D.C.
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In northern Illinois, ComEd registered a decline in electricity usage of about 1 percent during the 8:30-9:30 period. One percent doesn't seem like a big number (and of course it could be bigger, which would be awesome), but it is a noticeable difference: the equivalent of removing 124,320 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or planting 15 acres of trees. Nice work, people. Let's shoot for an even higher percent next year!

I encourage you to read some of the accounts from cities around the world on EarthHour.org's news page. The site also has some really neat photos and videos of the event.
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Here's just a sampling of Before-And-After photos:
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St. Louis Arch, MO, USA ©WWF/Steve Behrends

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Chicago Theater, IL, USA ©WWF/Chuck Osgood
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Burj Al Arab, Dubai, UAE ©Jumeirah Group

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View of Central Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong ©WWF/HKPPA .

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Tower Bridge, London, UK ©WWF/Jon Freeman

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Candlelit coffee (illuminated by battery-powered headlamp)

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Yes, that last one is ours. Len realized he needed to reheat his cup of coffee after everything was already unplugged. Setting a pillar candle inside a jug of similar diameter and balancing his mug on a cookie-cooling rack, he made use of the flame. It worked, but it also was quite precarious (as if you couldn't tell), and some coffee spilled on the carpet. Yeah, we cleaned it up by candlelight too, but not without the help of our awesome LED headlamps.