Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Last year I made four New Year's resolutions. I did a reasonable job of keeping the resolution to eat at least one potato every day. I ended up modifying that resolution to include pumpkins or any other vegetables I could buy locally without packaging. I also did a good job of planning elevator trips wisely and writing more letters. (Most letters aren't posted here, because they were written under my legal name.) I'm afraid I did an abysmal job of keeping the resolution to wake up earlier.

For this year, I resolve to:

Continue with last year's resolutions, focusing especially on waking up earlier.

Discuss local issues with other environmentalists in my city. Local environmentalists still face the insanity of stores with bulk bins insisting that we use plastic bags to package our bulk items. We are also facing cutbacks in public transit. Furthermore, there's little enforcement of safe driving regulations, which discourages walking and bicycling. Individuals aren't able to fix these problems, but a group of dedicated environmentalists, banded together, might be able to achieve something.

Be more open about picking up other people's litter. I have allowed embarrassment to deter me from picking up stinky beer cans on many occasions. I resolve to go ahead and pick up whatever needs picking up, and explain why I am doing it to anyone who looks disgustedly at me. As an interim step, I resolve to look for soundbites on the benefits of recycling. It would help if I could tell people that recycling ___ aluminum cans prevented ___ square feet of land from being strip mined for bauxite, or that the energy saved was enough to power a CFL for ___ minutes.

Why stories on No Impact Man annoy me

When I first came across an interview with No Impact Man, I was delighted. Most of us who are trying to live eco-friendly lifestyles aren't visible to the public, and here was someone who was getting in newspapers and on TV talking about the benefits of bicycling, buying books used instead of new, etc.

Then, as I read more and more features on No Impact Man, I became increasingly annoyed. Story after story made it sound as if Colin Beavan was a revolutionary who was the only person on the planet living environmentally. Writers gaped at the notion of someone getting around town on foot or bicycle. Even those writers who self-identified as green seemed stunned by the thought of washing clothes by hand and hanging them up to dry.

I don't understand these reactions, and am annoyed by them. So many of the "radical" things Colin Beavan did have been a part of my life, or the lives of people I know, for years, even decades.

Let's take clothes drying as an example. When I was a child, I knew one family who owned an electric clothes dryer. Every other family hung clothes to dry on a line in the back yard. Line drying clothes wasn't the act of an eco-radical. It was simply what people did. I confess that after moving to my current home, I used a dryer, but eventually I realized how idiotic that was and now always hang my clothes indoors to dry.

Another thing we did when I was little was compost our food scraps. This wasn't something everyone did, but frugal gardeners did it. It wasn't difficult, and we didn't consider ourselves special for doing it.

As for walking and bicycling, almost everyone I know does one or the other of them, and has since early childhood. The only close friend I have who owns a car has bad knees and can't walk well. Other locals with cars are regarded as lazy idiots who could save a fortune if they stopped driving. (I should mention that I live in a densely populated area. Driving may well be a near necessity in some places, but this isn't one of them.)

I can't honestly say I've ever attempted to go without toilet paper, but that, too, is something that's common among certain populations, generally those living in warmer climates where washing with water doesn't lead to frostbite. It's certainly not unheard of, even here.

No Impact Man isn't even that much of an environmentalist, now that No Impact year is over. His family was ready to hop on board airplanes as soon as their one year commitment to planet-friendly living was up. Couldn't they at least have traveled by train instead? Sure, it would have taken longer, but a point Colin made again and again in his writing was that slow travel gives people time to stop and smell the roses. Air travel is horrible for the environment, and many other environmentalists have chosen to walk the walk and avoid flying.

So, why, oh why, is No Impact Man afforded accolades for doing things like bicycling to work that millions have done before him? Is the media really that oblivious to all the other environmentalists that could be featured in news stories? Can't we please move beyond being wowed by someone whose lifestyle would have seemed unremarkable to my grandparents?

New brands, varieties, or packaging types found September-December, 2009

I've continued picking up other people's discarded recyclables, but have stopped keeping tallies. At first, it was because concern over swine flu meant that I was tossing recyclables in whatever recycling bin I first came across instead of taking them home for logging. Then, things became really, really crazy at work, and I just didn't have the time or energy to deal with blogging. Now, I find myself itching to use my precious personal time for other things, including reading and commenting on other people's blogs. I may go back to entering tallies again in the future if I have more time on my hands.

Meanwhile, here is a tally of new brands, varieties, or packaging types found over the last few months:

  • glass bottles: Howl beer, Paul Masson Grande Amber Brandy
  • aluminum cans: Sprite Zero, Watermelon Four Loko Premium Malt Beverage (found outside an elementary school)
  • plastic bottle: Sobe Fuji Apple Pear Lifewater
  • metal bottle (really!): Bud Light beer (not sure where/how to recycle)

The metal Bud Light bottle was completely new to me. I went to to see if there was any information on where to recycle it, and was shown this message:

Our site requires Flash 9 in order to present you with the highest level of interactivity available.
Please click here to visit the Macromedia site and download the free Flash player for your Web browser, then return to our site to experience our site at its best.

Messages like that annoy me no end. I'm using an old computer that can't handle Flash, and don't appreciate being kept out of the site just because I can't view flashy animations.

Anyway, I'm not sure what to do with the bottle. The local recycling contractor separates ferrous metals from other recyclables by using magnets, then sorts the remaining materials by shape and weight. The Bud Light bottle isn't attracted to magnets, and is light enough that I fear it could end up being sorted into a load of plastic bottles, which it would contaminate. What should I do with it?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Items collected during August 2009

  • 16 plastic bottles (1 Lemon-Lime Gatorade, 1 Tropicana Strawberry Orange, 1 Sprite, 1 Paul Masson VSOP brandy, 5 Deer Park water, 1 roadkilled Nestle Pure Life water, 1 Great Value water, 1 Safeway Refreshe water, 1 Kirkland spring water, 1 roadkilled Sam's Choice water, 1 water bottle without a label, 1 bottle of unknown contents without a label)
  • 7 aluminum cans (2 Heineken, 1 Coors Light, 1 Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, 1 Hurricane High Gravity Lager, 1 Miller Lite, 1 Schlitz Red Bull Xtra Long Malt Liquor)
  • 5 glass bottles (1 Mistic Orange Carrot Juice Drink, 1 Sprite, 1 Heineken, 1 Budweiser, 1 Smirnoff Ice Malt Beverage)

  • 3 plastic carrier bags
  • 1 black pen

  • Lots! Individual items weren't logged. Included were many cigarette butts.

The "Great Value" brand is new to me. The label says it's bottled by Niagara Bottling and distributed by Wal-Mart.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Items collected during July 2009

I'm still avoiding bringing home other people's recyclables, out of concern I'll bring home H1N1 flu. Instead, I've spent quite a bit of time picking up non-recyclable trash, which seems preferable at this time because the bags of trash can be tossed straight into a trash can without having to enter my home. (Recyclables almost always need rinsing.) I didn't even attempt to keep a list of the trash I picked up during the month of July. I did note, however, that it included an unusual quantity of foam packaging, much of it broken into pieces.

When I picked up recyclable bottles and cans that didn't have visible contaminants, I sometimes threw them into a recycling bin at work without bringing them home for logging, so I can't provide a complete list of recyclables collected. However, the following list should be fairly complete.

  • 12 aluminum cans (1 Natural Light beer, 2 Diet Pepsi, 2 Heineken, 1 Miller Lite, 1 roadkilled Coors Light, 1 round Coors Light, 2 Miller High Life, 2 roadkilled Diet Coke)
  • 20 plastic water bottles (7 Deer Park, 2 Aquafina, 6 Kirkland, 1 water bottle without a label, 1 VASA, 2 Poland Spring, 1 Dasani)
  • 1 torn plastic bag

  • 2 black pens
  • 5 plastic carrier bags
  • 1 small plastic bag
  • 1 very long, very narrow plastic bag

One odd thing about the July tally is that it doesn't include any glass bottles. It's possible I picked some up and threw them in a recycling bin at work without logging them, but it's still odd that there would be such a discrepancy between the number of glass bottles and the number of aluminum cans. I can't explain it.

I have largely given up on picking up plastic bottles, because I find the environmental benefits of recycling plastic less clear than the benefits of recycling aluminum or glass. However, one day I felt compelled to pick up numerous plastic bottles. I was participating in a group walk for a cause I believe in, and was dismayed to find my fellow participants tossing their used water bottles onto the ground. I always find it disconcerting when people who are activists for one of the causes I believe in turn out not to care about one of my other causes, in this case the environment. I wanted to say something, but settled for whipping out a bag and filling it with discarded bottles. I wish I could also have collected the hundreds of bottles that were "properly" disposed of in overflowing trash cans, but I lacked the time and bag space to do anything about those. I'm already thinking ahead to the next walk, and am wondering how to raise the issue of plastic pollution with the organizers and participants. Any suggestions?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Buying Recycled-Content Products for Others

I've pretty much run out of ways to green my own life. I avoid packaging as much as practical, buy local foods at a farmer's market, buy paper products only when they are made of post-consumer recycled fiber, buy clothes only from yard sales, do not use a clothes drier, do not own a car, and never, ever travel by plane. There are several things I'm not yet doing, e.g., powering my home with solar energy and composting food scraps, but these are unfortunately not practical where I live at the moment.

Having reached a plateau in my efforts to green my own life, I've turned my attention to other people's lives. I don't mean that I harass people who drive hummers, or lecture friends whose toilet paper is made by Kimberly-Clark. That isn't my way. Instead, what I've been doing is helping people who want to live a green lifestyle but are constrained by their finances. In particular, I make bulk purchases of toilet paper, facial tissues, and office paper made of post-consumer recycled fiber, and give a portion of each purchase to eco-minded people of limited means who would otherwise be stuck buying whatever brand was cheapest.

This has proven very popular with environmentalists whose earnings are at the minimum wage level or below. They are happy to be able to live in accordance with their green values without going broke, and I'm happy to have a way of helping both my neighbors and the planet at the same time. So far, I'm giving supplies to only a handful of people, but I'm willing to give to more people if requested. I like knowing my money is doing some good for the environment, which is something I've lacked confidence in when donating to environmental groups.

I'm thinking about expanding the range of eco-friendly products I offer to people in need. One thing I'm uncertain about is what type of product brings the most benefit per dollar. I would welcome feedback from my readers. If you could spend $50 on eco-friendly products for low-income people, what would you buy? Organic produce? Rechargeable batteries and a battery charger? Other ideas? Keep in mind that these are low-income people, therefore renters, so they (like me) are unable to install solar water heaters or make other changes to their homes.

Driven crazy by blog software

I've been having a number of problems with blogging lately:

  • Blogger/Blogspot no longer shows me formatting buttons when I create blog entries. If I want to use bold text, bulleted lists, or any other formatting, I have to enter the HTML code myself. Another thing I can't do is preview my entries before posting them, which I used to be able to do.

  • I cannot find a way to make the URL for a blog entry anything other than the full title of the entry. For example, the blog entry titled "Hassle-Free Junk Mail Reduction" has the long URL "". I would like to be able to create shorter URLs, e.g., "". Is there any way to do this?

  • I am unable to leave comments on one of my favorite blogs, Awake Anew. The "Comment as:" drop-down menu doesn't display any items, and without an identity (not even "Anonymous") I can't leave a comment. I had the same problem at Fake Plastic Fish, another favorite green blog, but was able to get around it there by clicking on Preview, which seemingly made Blogger wake up and realize that I had to be allowed to enter an identity. This technique isn't working at Awake Anew. Danielle, if you're reading this, please know that I'm reading your blog, I just can't comment on it.

  • When I try to view pages at Fake Plastic Fish, my browser often displays the banner at the top and the advertisements at the side but doesn't show the actual text of the blog entry for ages. I've sometimes had to give up and shut down the computer because half an hour has passed, I've finished everything else I needed to do on the computer, and there's still no text visible. I've tried to get around this by using Yahoo's and Google's translation programs, hoping they would translate just the text and ignore the graphics, but, again, just saw lots of graphics and had to wait and wait for the text. Is there any web site out there where I can enter the URL of the page I would like to read and be shown only the text?

Please, no suggestions that I upgrade my computer. The last thing the planet needs is for me to buy more electronics. And, ironically, my computer works 100% perfectly for everything except blogging about environmental matters. I can access every other web page I want to read, including several blogs, just not the ones about the environment.