Is it Easy Being Green?

My daily adventures in attempting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle

Big Green Bellies April 29, 2013

I love strolling through the streets of downtown Chicago—you never know what you might see. But when winter rolls in, those walks become far and few between. It’s not too fun to be outside at all, let alone go on a leisurely stroll. But, earlier this winter the combination of cabin fever and a fairly mild day (despite piles of slush and gloomy gray skies) spurred me to put on my most toughest boots and warmest coat, and head out for a few errands on foot. It turned out to be a great time, partly because there were enough distractions to keep me from throwing in the towel and jumping in the first taxi home. It seemed like on almost every block I noticed something new (doughnut shop!), interesting (creative wintertime flower boxes) or beautiful (endless architectural details). I managed to get my errands done, feeling like I really embraced the day and the weather, as opposed to just trying to get through another hard winter day.

One of the great things about walking is stumbling across the unexpected. Things you wouldn’t notice if you were zooming by in a car. One day last summer—ahhh, summer—I noticed some new garbage bins downtown that were a complete surprise. I know, how can garbage bins be interesting in the slightest? Well, for one thing, these were combo recycling/garbage bins, which I thought was pretty cool since previously it was impossible to find a public recycling bin downtown and I would have to carry my recyclables home with me like a big green geek. But the really unusual thing that caught my attention was that they were solar compactors. At first I didn’t even really understand what that meant. After looking into it, I found out that there’s a sensor in the can that signals when the garbage reaches a point where it needs to be compacted, enabling the container to hold a great deal more garbage.

solar compactor

It turns out the city installed several hundred Big Belly solar garbage compactors around town with the intent of not only being able to collect recyclables along with garbage, but to cut down the number of garbage pickups. This is a really forward-thinking green move, and I’m proud of the city for making this change. I couldn’t find any stats for Chicago at this point, but in one year Philadelphia was able to go from 17 collections a week to just five and save $900,000. That means less greenhouse gas emissions and fuel use by garbage trucks, not to mention increased recycling. Since the garbage cans have pull-open doors* like mailboxes, they contain the garbage better than open cans, reducing litter. Not too shabby. Makes me wonder what I’ll see on my next walk…

solar compactor side

*My only concern is the fact that you have to pull the handle to put garbage in. That means you have to touch something I don’t think most of us really want to touch. As time goes by and the cans get dirtier, will people avoid using them? Will littering actually increase? I hope this isn’t too much of a deterrent, but even I’m a bit wary. I’ll be using the compactors, but along with a healthy supply of hand sanitizer.

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A new way to print January 16, 2010

Filed under: reducing waste — isgreeneasy @ 3:48 pm
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Still obsessing on reducing waste, I’m trying out the suggestion from the No Impact Experiment of downloading a program called “Green Print“. After watching the video tutorial, I learned that after you download Green Print and select it as your printer when printing a document, it will enable you to remove images and/or text from your document before actually printing it out. This seems especially useful when printing from the Internet; I don’t know how many times I’ve printed and ended up with way more pages because of unrelated images I didn’t want (no, I do not want the latest IPhone app, and no thank you, I do not need the unbelievable weight loss miracle), or ended up with the last page having two lines of text that I didn’t need anyway (thank you, Craigslist). I’ve often copied and pasted text into a Word document to avoid these annoyances, but that can be a pain and can create some new formatting problems to deal with, so it’s not the perfect solution.

I’ve tried Green Print out once (the free version) and I think it’ll come in handy. One cool thing is that Green Print keeps a tally for you of how much money and greenhouse gases you’ve saved by reducing the number of pages you print. It’s a small thing, but over time may really make more of a difference than I realize.

 

No Impact Experiment, part 2: Trash January 13, 2010

Filed under: composting,recycling,reducing waste,Reuse — isgreeneasy @ 5:56 pm
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The second week of my No Impact Experiment focused on one of my favorite subjects–trash. I think about trash a lot–maybe a little too much. But this gave me a chance to think about it even more! The instructions were to save all of my trash for one day and separate it into piles of stuff I used for more or less than 10 minutes, and then think about how it made me feel. Then I was supposed to put together a no trash travel kit consisting of a reusable water bottle and mug, tupperware, old t-shirt or handkerchief and reusable produce bags. Throughout the week I was to keep track of what I absolutely had to throw away and couldn’t find an alternative for.

So what I found out is a) I’ve been dropping the ball on reusing a durable coffee mug when I buy my americanos; b) I use a decent amount of tissues; c) food waste is definitely, by far, the thorn in my trashy side; and d) the answer to how creating trash makes me feel is: crazy. I weighed my waste one day and had 1.7 pounds, most of which was food waste like vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells, plus a hefty five pound turkey carcass (it was a couple of days after Thanksgiving and I made turkey soup). Food waste is heavy and takes up a lot of room in the garbage. Since starting my little composting project I’m able to compost some food waste, but because I have a small bin I can only compost a fraction of what I create, which is so frustrating! I looked into how No Impact Man was able to compost everything in the middle of NYC, and he had worm bin for some of the waste and dropped off the rest for a local environmental group that does composting.

I also looked through my recycling bin, because even though it’s not going to the landfill, these are still resources that I used for a short time and will be “down-cycled” to the point of not being able to be recycled anymore at some point. Our recycling bin always fills up fast, which is definitely better than throwing things in the garbage, but it still isn’t ideal. Many of those things could just not be there in the first place. I had one pound, 12 ounces of recycling from two days, and it consisted mostly of paper–newspaper, mail, packaging–and then also included a milk container, apple cider jug and a couple of glass jars.

So where can I make improvements? Since the trash week I’ve been much better at taking my own mug when I buy coffee; I’ve used it probably half of the time which isn’t too bad. I’ve also worked on reusing produce bags when I shop; I’ve been good about using durable shopping bags, but I’ve been pretty inconsistent with the produce bags. I’ve been thinking a little more about packaging, for instance, I’m trying to never buy meat in the plastic or styrofoam containers–instead I’m getting the paper-wrapped meats from the butcher counter. That will still create waste, but it’s not quite as evil as the plastic. Those are a few changes I’m working on so far, and I’m still thinking about other changes I can make. I don’t know if I’m willing to replace tissues with handkerchiefs, just don’t know about that one right now.

The unavoidable food scrap waste is just going to be an ongoing dilemma I fear. I am going to look into giving my food scraps to a local farm at my farmer’s market; I’ve heard that some of them may take organic waste. I’m at least working on wasting less food buy buying/cooking more realistic amounts, so hopefully that will help a bit. Fortunately my husband is a leftover-eating king, so he’s doing his part for the team! More trash-reducing updates to come!

 

Sigg-nificant frustration October 30, 2009

Filed under: Green Foodie,plastic,reducing waste,water — isgreeneasy @ 5:20 pm
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I just went on my third trip to Whole Foods to attempt to exchange my old Sigg bottles with no success. It’s my own darn fault–I just can’t find bottle designs I’m happy with, so each time I’ve gone to return them, I’ve decided to hold out and hope for some better designs to come in. Why am I doing this? Well, in case you haven’t heard, a couple of months ago Sigg announced that their bottle liners have trace amounts of BPA in them. What’s worse is that they knew about this for a few years without telling the public. There was quite the hostile and disappointed response on the web from people who had put their faith in what they thought was an eco-minded company.

Some people have trashed their bottles, but the company has been offering a free exchange program so that people can return the old tainted bottles for bottles with the new “EcoCare” liner that is BPA-free. So, since I have four Sigg bottles I decided to go with the exchange rather than waste the investment I put into the bottles (they’re not cheap!). But now I guess I can’t quite do it; I think due to bitterness about the whole situation and ambivalence about continuing to use Sigg bottles. It’s disappointing (I trusted this product) and scary (what else am I being misled about?) when you think you’re doing the right thing for the environment and for your health, only to find out that that wasn’t as much the case as you thought. It’s hard enough trying to live green without feeling screwed over by the company that makes those stylish bottles!

This all goes back to my quest to get my husband (and myself to a lesser extent) off of plastic water bottles. About five years back, I would buy a case of water at Costco fairly regularly, and it was really bothering me. Not only was it wasteful, but there were pesky bacteria and leaching issues if we reused the bottles. I also didn’t want to be contributing to the crazy amounts of bottled water being consumed in the world. So, I bought several reusable bottles, filled them with water and kept them in the fridge so we’d always have water ready to go. It’s worked really well and has been totally worth the investment, even with this Sigg setback.

I’m sure I’ll pick out some bottles sometime soon and have my new and improved Siggs. But, I won’t feel quite as cool while using them, and I won’t be buying them anymore. There are a lot of other good options out there. They might not look as hip, but oh well.

 

Time to Revive Earth Day April 20, 2009

Filed under: reducing waste — isgreeneasy @ 3:27 pm
Tags: , , ,

earthday2005Ah, Earth Day. It’s been around for a long time. It used to be the only time of year you’d find an environmental article in the newspaper, see people doing a park cleanup or be able to attend an environmental event. Nowadays, being green has gotten so much more popular and environmental issues are covered often by the media; fortunately environmental awareness has become more of a constant in our lives. Still, there’s a lot of eco-hype every time Earth Day comes around. It’s not that that’s a bad thing, it just adds to the idea of Earth Day feeling a bit old and well, pointless to me.

But, this year I’ve decided to change my attitude about Earth Day and revive its true meaning! (Does this sound like a familiar Christmas movie theme?) How will I do this? I’m going to find something new to do for the Earth each day of this week. I think that by embracing Earth Day and really doing something (hopefully with lasting effects) I’ll feel that Earth Day is more than just some token day when people who normally don’t do anything to live sustainably come out and pretend to care. Yikes, I sound cynical! That’s why I’m taking charge and making Earth Day more meaningful personally.

I started out by visiting the Center for a New American Dream website. This is such a great resource for taking action toward living green and being a responsible consumer.

Thanks to links on the New American Dream website, my first day’s task was revisiting reducing my junk mail. I signed up a long time ago to not receive junk mail and it worked pretty well, but I think moving to a new address has caused more junk mail to arrive in my mail box over the past several months. I visited the Direct Marketing Association’s DMAchoice website, which allows you to manage the mail (and e-mail) you receive. I was happy to be able to opt out of receiving all of those annoying credit card offers!

Opting out of magazine and catalog offers got a little tedious because I had to go through them individually, but now that I’m registered on the website, whenever I get some pesky item in the mail that I don’t want, I can go to the website and opt out of that company’s mailings.

I feel better already! Now, what to do tomorrow…