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?