Is it Easy Being Green?

My daily adventures in attempting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle

No Impact Experiment, part 3: Transportation February 1, 2010

My efforts to lower my impact continued into week three’s focus: transportation. I was a little worried about this one but I thought I’d give it my best go. I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what No Impact Man and his family did: they eliminated all forms of non-human powered transportation, so they got everywhere on foot or bicycle. Impressive! The No Impact Experiment instruction manual suggested making a list of all the places I needed to go and to figure out what alternative transportation I could use, altering routes if necessary. I have to admit that living in downtown Chicago gave me many advantages in this challenge; this city is very walkable, and the “El” train is one block from my apartment. I walk or take the train or bus to many of my destinations already. I still do regularly drive though, so I decided to challenge myself and try to not drive at all for a full week.

I found that it really wasn’t difficult at all to accomplish this goal–I just had to plan things out a little more sometimes, give myself more time to get places and make sure I was dressed for the weather (brrr!). Another advantage, although a little embarrassing, is that I just didn’t have that many places to go during the week. I’m unemployed/working from home, so I didn’t have a job to commute to as I would normally. Even so, there were times I wanted to drive somewhere and just stayed put or went to my corner coffee shop instead. I was a little surprised that I was actually glad not to just go to the “safety” of my car, but find alternatives for transportation and ways to spend my time. (There may be something to this whole quality of life thing.) Frankly, although driving seems like the easy answer, it’s often such a hassle and traffic is so frustrating that I’m thankful to get out of the car, so the week without driving as an option was more peaceful. The only downer was the day I had to walk in the cold rain for longer than I would have liked. But, I survived just fine. It was actually almost fun. Almost.

The trickiest part I encountered was when I went grocery shopping. I’m used to loading up and then just getting the groceries in and out of my car, but on foot I had to make sure to buy only what I could carry. So, I wasn’t able to always buy everything I needed, making it necessary to make multiple trips to the store. I decided to look at it like I was living the exotic European lifestyle, so that made it feel a little more intriguing at least. I did my first shopping at the awesome new French Market that’s just a couple blocks from home–now that was fun!

After completing my challenge, I’m ultimately still glad I have a car, but I have realized that I can be a little more selective about how often I use it.

 

A new way to print January 16, 2010

Filed under: reducing waste — isgreeneasy @ 3:48 pm
Tags: ,


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
Tags: ,

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!

 

No Impact Experiment, part 1: Consumption November 25, 2009

Ok, I’ll admit it right away: I totally blew the No Impact Experiment. By Tuesday (I was supposed to start on Sunday) I hadn’t done anything and after finally reading the how-to manual, I was feeling overwhelmed and behind. I didn’t want to give up but needed to rethink how to do this. Thanks to a friend’s idea, I decided that what would work best for me would be to do one part each week, rather than each day. I wanted to give this thing proper attention and time and it’s a lot to do in a week. So, feeling much better I focused on the first topic last week: consumption.

The instructions for the consumption day were to: 1) create a list of the things I need to buy this week, then delete the items I can do without and figure out if I can get anything second-hand, borrow them or make them myself; and 2) try not to shop for new items (other than food). For this particular week this task turned out to be pretty easy; I didn’t feel like there was really anything I needed to buy beyond food. I avoided dangerous places like Target. I pulled out the needle and thread to mend some socks (my husband loves to call it darning for some reason; I guess it makes him feel old fashioned). I definitely enjoyed being a non-consumer for a week.

But that’s the thing–it was only for a week. No Impact Man did this for a year! That would be very, very hard. Just this week I bought several things to prepare for Thanksgiving. And then the TV broke, so we’ll be getting a new one soon. Although I’m not No Impact Man and won’t just “do without” no matter what, I did think about what I could do differently long-term. I could be shopping second-hand more (Craigslist is such a great resource–husband recently found an electric keyboard with all the bells and whistles for $20. It’s older but works great!), and although I don’t think I’m purchase-crazy, I could put some more thought into what I buy and think about whether I really need what I’m about to buy.

The No Impact Experiment shared this video that I saw awhile back that helps you get into the mode about thinking (probably way too much) about stuff:

 

Time for a carbon cleanse! November 15, 2009

Filed under: sustainability — isgreeneasy @ 7:09 pm
Tags: , ,

Lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been back in coasting along-mode with my eco-conscious behaviors. I have started some new habits in the past several months, but I’ve been feeling like it’s time to revisit and kick it up a notch again. Since I was feeling like things needed a little shaking up I was intrigued to find out about NRDC and No Impact Man’s “No Impact Week” that starts today. They’re cleverly calling it a “carbon cleanse”–an abbreviated version of what No Impact Man did for a year. (He spent a year trying to live with no net environmental impact. Here’s some background on that project. It was a cool idea, and ended up turning into a book, documentary and non-profit project.)

The words “no impact” are intimidating, and also impossible, but I guess the idea is that it’s something to strive for. So, I signed up and I’m ready to go. So far I’ve just filled out an online survey that consisted mostly of questions about my environmental behaviors. Interestingly, there was a section that focused on quality of life issues; it made me get more reflective than I expected to when I had to answer questions about how happy I am with my life. I was wondering why those kinds of questions were included and I imagine it has to do with material possessions not equaling happiness, the satisfaction of simplyfing and ideas along those lines–the kind of stuff that sounds great and makes so much sense but doesn’t always translate easily to daily life.

We’ll see if this week-long experiment will have much effect or spur me on to create some changes that I haven’t gotten around to or just haven’t taken the leap to do. I have a lot of questions running through my mind right now (Will I have time to do these things? Will I be able to afford it? Will I have to do things that will label me an eco-freak? Will I be told to do something I just can’t do that day, or give up something I just don’t want to give up?) but I’m ready to give it a shot. Want to join me? You can sign up here.

Here’s a video that gives a good idea of what the No Impact Week is:

Ok, now I have to go figure out what I’m supposed to today. And tomorrow. Yikes!

 

Sigg-nificant frustration October 30, 2009

Filed under: Green Foodie,plastic,reducing waste,water — isgreeneasy @ 5:20 pm
Tags: , , ,

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.

 

Art meets green on PARK(ing) day September 25, 2009

Filed under: green space — isgreeneasy @ 3:18 pm
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How happy I was to stumble across the PARK(ing) Day website on the actual day of this annual event! I had heard about it probably about a year ago and thought it was such a cool idea–it’s a global event where people independently but simultaneously temporarily transform metered parking spots into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public parks. I’m not always a fan of “making a statement”-type stunts, but I couldn’t resist the creativity of this event, because what I do love is when fun meets art in public spaces.

The original PARK(ing) Day.   Photo credit: Rebar/Andrea Scher

The original PARK(ing) Day. Photo credit: Rebar/Andrea Scher

PARK(ing) Day (PD) started in 2005 by a San Francisco art collective; the point was to explore how public space is allocated. Hint: lots more space is allocated to vehicle-related needs than to green space. The idea caught on and now people in cities all over the world participate by creating their own little parks in parking spaces on the same day.

I had to see this in person, and fortunately I found out about a PD spot a short distance from my home, at the University of Illinois-Chicago.The parking spot was actually in a parking lot, so it lacked some of the drama that a space on a busy street might have, but it was still great to see. The group participating were students in UPPSA, the Urban Planning and Policy Student Association. They had quite the set up in their temporary park-lawn chairs, snacks, games and music-to make a great day of it.

Looks like a great PARK(ing) Day, complete with chess set!

Looks like a great PARK(ing) Day, complete with chess set!

 

The space was clearly visible from the street, and they drew plenty of curious attention.

The space was clearly visible from the street, and they drew plenty of curious attention.

All of the flowers, plants and sod were donated by a generous landscaper.

All of the flowers, plants and sod were donated by a generous landscaper.

I don’t know how much impact this effort will make on city planning or increasing green space, but it’s still a great example of what a little imagination and playfulness can create. It kind of makes me wonder about what else you could do with a parking spot after paying the meter…