The effect is melodic — clankety clank, clankety clank — the sound of bicycles plugging along. At first you don’t notice — the absence of taxi horns squawking with ire, or tailpipe exhaust assaulting your lungs, or stressed-out drivers mouthing invectives behind the wheel – but as soon as you do, as soon you notice the beauty of a car “light” society, it becomes your new optic. NOW I see. Cities like Los Angeles and Manhattan truly suck.
If you send trash directly to a landfill not much happens, but if you recycle it a series of business touch the trash and that creates jobs. Here is a report from a few years ago that shows recycling creates 25 jobs, while sending trash to the landfill only creates one job (per ton of trash). A huge economic impact and one that highlights my favorite green idea – the double impact.
I’ve always believed the key to our green future is to find ways to improve lives as we go green. It can’t just be about sacrifices and volunteering, it also needs to help people. And that is usually the way it works, it just sometimes takes a little extra time to think things through.
The recycling report, from the Institute for Local Self Reliance, also gathered data for specific items, and it’s impressive: 85 jobs for clothes recycling, 93 jobs for plastic, and 296 for computers.
Which makes recycling a valuable sector of the economy employing hundreds of thousands of people. A report from the EPA says there are “56,000 establishments that employ more than 1.1 million people, generate an annual payroll of nearly $37 billion, and gross over $236 billion in annual revenues.”
Now that is a double impact – jobs, GDP, and businesses for greening the planet.
Living a zero waste lifestyle isn’t hard if you start simple. And the first step is to get rid of some of the trash cans in your home. Leave a few in the major areas and make sure to leave one for recycling. Soon you will find the majority of your trash to be recyclables and the trash you send to the landfill dropping like the rain.
When I made this change, I found a trash can in each room. Most contained only a few pieces that I had to empty every week. I thought about it and determined that the kitchen and the bathroom were key places to keep a trash can. Everything else was put in storage, or converted into a recycle bin. The fewer trash cans freed up a little time and allowed me to focus on what I was throwing out.
It happened that I wasn’t recycling enough. I visited the website of my trash company and found their list of approved recyclables. I was recycling only half of what I could and quickly doubled the amount in the recycle bin. It’s amazing how this one step – reducing the trash cans – led me to the easiest and biggest step towards zero waste. I was halfway there.
The next step was a little harder. No big reductions, just making one small change at a time. I noticed my shampoo and conditioner bottles weren’t recyclable, so I switch to a brand that was. The little yogurt cups weren’t recyclable but the big ones were. I began paying attention to each item I was sending to a landfill, and found that each had a recyclable alternative.
And that’s it. The path to zero waste is simple and easy. At first glance it sounds like an extreme lifestyle and impossible to do. But it’s not and everyone I recommend this to is shocked at the simplicity. A little step in the green direction and we all do our part.
More reading on zero waste:
- What Does ZeroWaste Mean?
- Zero Waste: Stopping all that junk mail
- Zero Waste: The recycled toothbrush
- Zero Waste: The coffee maker
- Zero Waste: Moving boxes – Recopack
I’m an emotional person. The kind that says I love this when I find something good to eat. I have to tell everyone about it – saying I’ve found my fruit of the season. The one item I can eat every day, all day and feel perfectly content. Last month it was watermelon and this month it’s the pomegranate.
This can only happen at the farmers market where seasonal food comes and goes like travelers at an airport. At first there’s just a few of them, the farmers doing an early harvest to get a jump on their neighbors. Then the crowd rushes in and everyone is selling it. For a few weeks you’ll find it everywhere and then it’s gone.
There’s a science and a history to this. It goes back centuries and is in our genes. We are made to live off the land and follow the seasons – which until recently meant watermelons in summer and pomegranates in fall. For every month there was an ideal food, but then airplanes came along and brought us South American watermelons in February.
And here is where most would talk about food miles or unsustainable practices, but those are secondary to health. Eating out of order disrupts our natural pattern of eating with the seasons – one perfectly suited to our bodies. That allows the bacteria in our gut to squeeze every last bit of nutrients out of food. Like little factory employees working overtime. And when that food is done another shift of workers comes in for the next food item.
The biology behind this starts in our guts where the bacteria live. They break down our food into essential items, like proteins and carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. And the more you feed them the more they grow, getting more efficient each time. Which means you can eat less and get more out of it.
And when I eat those watermelons and pomegranates, I get even more. They are peak of the season, so filled with nutrients that I can eat one and feel full for hours. Which prompts, “that’s all your going to eat,” or “all you had for lunch was watermelon?”.
Yep, I’m following the seasons.
I know what you’re thinking, how can a McMansion be green – especially with tiny homes becoming popular – and when you see the photo below you’ll be even more skeptical. Add in the $2.5 million price tag and it sounds like a bridge-to-nowhere disaster. But before you pass judgement let’s learn more about the home.
It’s a 2,700 square-foot house with two stories, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and an oversized two-car garage. Not your average American home, more like something designed for a wealthy neighbor. And that fits because this home has the best green fixtures money can buy. The multi-million dollar price purchases:
- Configurable solar panels
- High thermal efficiency building materials
- Solar water heater
- Smart thermostat (rooms can have different temperatures)
- High velocity, insulated heating/cooling air system
- Ultra-efficient windows
- Full details – pdf, page 2
The design allows the National Institute of Standards and Technology to turn the home into a laboratory, where they will test all the features – with no one home. Lights will turn on in the morning and after work. There will be fake microwaving and fake cheering for a football team on the TV. Garage doors will open and close several times. All to simulate the energy use of a typical family of four.
All kidding aside, this is a serious scientific experiment, “buildings account for 40 % of the primary energy consumption and 72 % of the electricity consumption in the United States, while accounting for 40 % of the CO2 emissions…will develop and deploy the measurement science to move the nation towards net-zero energy, high-performance buildings in a cost-effective manner while maintaining a healthy indoor environment.”
It’s a great goal – to have net-zero energy homes – but why did they have to do their research on a McMansion?
Learn more about the home – Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF)
To learn more about the best plants for wall gardens – and their history – visit Low-Impact Living.
From a Calgary Herald report:
“The Holy Grail is figuring out how to get the public engaged on this issue. The problem is that the typical output of climate studies is statistical information that’s impenetrable to most people,” said Karen Akerlof. “If you can help people feel they’ve actually experienced what’s happening, they may be able to better acknowledge the risks.”
Researchers found 27 per cent of people felt they had personally experienced global warming…(this feeling) was so meaningful, it positively predicted concern for local risks related to climate change: think forest fires, drought, changes to animal and plant species, and public health.
This is obvious but still worth reporting because I’m finding people more open to the question, do you think this is global warming?
Mostly I receive warm responses and pleasant discussions. Which is so different from years ago when it would spark political arguments or a heated debate on the merits of being environmental.
I want to urge you to ask the question and discuss it with people. You may find yourself engaged in a charming conversation. And maybe pass along a green tip or receive one in return.
From Cyprus Mail (the island in the Mediterranean):
Find out how much electricity you consume compared to your friends, those in your neighbourhood, or even your district with Facebook application ‘Social Electricity’, which uses data from the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC) to help people save energy.
I love this idea. I’ve always wanted to know how much my neighbor uses, but could you imagine the privacy implications? Opt-in is a must, but I do like bringing in the community element of being green.
What do you think?
Here is a report that studied water trends from the past 50 years (pdf) and found both good/bad news.
A household in the 2008 billing year used 11,678 gallons less water annually than an identical household did in 1978.
To investigate the causes of this decline, a local study of statistically representative households of the LWC was conducted in Louisville. Adjusting for weather, water use per LWC customer fell from 208 to 187 gpd between 1990 and 2007, a decline of 21 gallons.
The bad: declines are leveling off.
Most homes have installed low-flow appliances and that accounted for the biggest drop. There was a drop in family size, from 3.38 to 2.59, and that’s not going any lower.
There were no recommendations for next steps. Future declines may be up to us.
A friend recommended these to me after her company installed them. From UGE, they are streetlights combining solar panels with mini-wind turbines. They are quite amazing:
From the brochure (pdf):
- Our hybrid model operates entirely off-grid.
- Can be installed in remote locations which are inaccessible to the electric grids.
- Lower utility costs – avoid the high cost of wiring grid-connected lighting