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Archive for October, 2007

On the second day of the Daily Footprint Project, my attention is drawn to a single plastic bag. I inherited it when I bought the prepackaged red organic grapes at Whole Foods. We have eaten all the grapes. Now, what to do with the bag? It has holes in it for airing the grapes, so we can’t really use it for anything else. I look for any kind of recycling directive. No indication that the stuff is recyclable. What to do?

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Interestingly, earlier in the day I found the New York Times Science Section’s article on microscopic plastics in the ocean. The article is a nice complement to the ‘Synthetic Sea’, the video I featured in one of my earlier posts. Here is what the article says: The researchers looked at how plastic particles picked up a pollutant, phenanthrene. They found that plastic adsorbed far more of the chemical than sediments. The particles could be carried by currents and eaten by organisms far from the sources, or they could sink to the bottom. The researchers estimated that even tiny amounts of plastic could significantly increase the concentration of phenanthrene in a common sediment-ingesting worm, the lugworm, and from there accumulate up the food chain.

Reading the article, and then staring at the plastic bag with holes, made me come up with this image. It’s called ‘The Circle of Plastic’ and it goes like this:

plastic bag is not recyclable → I throw it in garbage → plastic bag ends up in landfill → storm comes and washes it down into stream → plastic bag makes its way to the ocean → plastic bag gets broken down into microscopic particles → particles pick up phenanthrene → lugworm eats the stuff → small fish eats worm → big fish eats small fish → man catches big fish → big fish ends up at my grocery store → I buy piece of big fish → fish man wraps it up in plastic bag → I feed phenanthrene impregnated fish to my family → plastic bag is not recyclable

Circle completed. Next time, I will buy grapes at the farmers’ market where they come in bulk. And I will ask the fishman to bypass the plastic bag. Two paper wrappers should be sufficient.

I also went on the town’s website for recycling instructions and looked up their guidelines for plastics:

  • Recyclable plastics: #1 and #7 containers (e.g., beverage. milk, soda, water, detergent, shampoo, lotion, yogurt, margarine)

  • Non recyclable plastics: food contaminated plastics, film plastic (e.g., plastic bags, shrink wrap, bubble wrap)

Prad thinks we can gather all our non recyclable plastics, and bring them directly to the town’s recycling center, where they have a special bin for it. One solution could be to gather all our reject plastics and bring them once a week to the center. I will need to investigate this some more.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #2

Water

personal:
toilet flush 2
wash hands 5
showers at gym 2
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
mom:
communal:
run dishwasher full load
rinse dishes
rinse salad

Electricity/gas

personal:
desk light 3hours
laptop on since all day
laptop plugged in overnight
microwave tea 2'
microwave oatmeal 4'
microwave soup 2'
mom:
toaster oven for toasts 2'
microwave hot chocolate 2'
communal:
run dishwasher full load
fry two eggs on stove

Food

personal:
organic raspberries
cup of tea with organic milk
organic oatmeal with organic whole milk
cup of soup (leftovers from Whole Foods)
organic grapes
mom:
toast two bread halves Catherine’s breakfast
hot chocolate
communal:
two organic eggs
organic salad

Garbage

personal:
mom:
one toasted bread half
communal:
three newspaper wrappers
grapes bag, are these things recyclable?
1 spoiled tomatoe
1 old radishes
1 old bunch of thyme

Transportation

personal:
mom:
wife:
pick up Prad at airport 44miles
go with Prad to gym 6miles extra 3 miles to get rope for Catherine
communal:

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
synthetic gold rope 10yards for Catherine’s Halloween costume
communal:

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Please check my new post on Groovy Green:

Halloween Horror

Halloween is not just about scaring people off. Once you start looking at it with a green lens, it is also pretty horrifying.

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This is not a meal.

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Although it could very well be. No, this is the picture of all the food waste that made its way to the garbage last night, on Day 1 of the Daily Footprint Project. Two day old wilted salad with romaine and radishes. One third uneaten steak from Catherine’s dinner. She does not like to eat leftovers, and I don’t care for red meat. Three quarter left of Angel Food Cake, that I bought for the kids, except it was only Catherine this week, and she can only eat so much of the stuff.

I had never done that before, line up all the food I throw away every day. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture did more to convince me of the decadence of my habits, than days of lecturing from Green Guru. From yesterday’s experiment, I learned a few other things:

  1. The act of simply writing down all of my actions, made me a lot more aware of what I consume in a day. I consider myself a compulsive label checker, but now I know, a lot escapes my relaxed scrutiny. Sensodyne, the toothpaste I have been using for months, bad stuff. It says to not use it for more than four weeks straight. I am switching to Tom’s. The Mango Tango Odwalla juice? Not organic. The 90% dark chocolate? Organic, but from Ecuador. I also discovered that the paper bags at Whole Foods are totally recyclable. Still I will continue to strive for the green bags . . .
  2. I got into a dilemma with the raspberries. I could either buy organic ones from Mexico, or local ones that were not organic. Between organic and local, what to do?
  3. I became a lot more conscious about my driving routes, and tried to make the most of my trips. I was able to squeeze in a grocery stop on the way back from my appointment yesterday.
  4. I put aside all the fruit and vegetable peelings. There was a whole mountain of it that could have made some nice composting material. Instead, I had to dump it in the garbage. The composter is overdue. If Prad does not come through, I am taking over the compost project.
  5. When Prad is out of town, I do not cook for myself, and just get takeout soups at Whole Foods. I realize with takeout, I lose control of the sourcing for the ingredients. Organic? Local? No idea. Also, there is the problem of the paper containers for the stuff. I usually put them in recycling, but I am not sure they belong there, with all that wax coating. Takeout is a bad habit. I should go back to cooking more. Or bring my own containers. I have not seen anyone do that yet. Maybe I can lead the way?
  6. I had a business meeting at the coffee shop. Only there, did I consider the problem of the paper cup. Something else to think about! Bringing my own cup next time.
  7. All three of my car drives averaged six miles, a perfect distance for biking. I need to conquer the inertia of old habits, and also my fears of getting run over by cars, and invest in an old bike.
  8. There is this voice in my head that keeps wanting to decide what is wasteful and what is not? I have been doing some research into the environmental habits of developing countries,and I realized, an African woman would have much different standards, and expectations than I do. What constitute a spartan lifestyle to me, may very well be luxury to her. Nowhere did I feel this more than with water. I take water for granted.
  9. So many of my actions are automatic, that they are not in my ordinary consciousness. It’s not just the toilet flushing, it is using paper towel to wipe every drop, leaving for Whole Foods without the bags, not being aware of what I throw away every day, grabbing the car keys for short errands, . . . It’s been the hardest part, remembering to pay attention, and step out of automatic pilot mode.

I dream of a world where green would be the only option available, so I would not have to think so hard, about what to do, and not do. Right now, it takes a lot of vigilance to navigate around my not so green world.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #1

Water

personal:
flush toilet 11
wash hands 2 11
wash face 11
brush teeth 1i
rinse off shower at gym
shampoo shower at gym
mom:
rinse dishes 11
communal:

Electricity/gas

personal:
microwave tea 2’
electric toothbrush 11
laptop on all day
microwave soup x2
microvave cup of milk 2’
mom:
cook cream of wheat on stove3’
stir fry artichokes in wok
boil artichoke on stove
heat bread in toaster oven
broil steak on stove
communal:
lights in the morning, kitchen and office

Food

personal:
organic: local grapes
Chocolate, Rainforest Alliance producer, from Ecuador
soup from Whole Foods takeout in paper carton
coffee at Peets, paper cup, plastic straw, paper wrapper
organic raspberries
organic oatmeal, organic milk
slice of organic bread
cup of soup from Whole Foods
3 madeleines, non organic
mom:
organic: grapes
Odwalla Mango Tango
Krafts cream of wheat with organic milk
steak, asparagus, bread, artichoke, all organic except for bread from Al Fornaio
communal

Garbage

personal:
scraps, should be composted
mom:
saran wrap prepackaged asparagus
half of whole salad (head of lettuce and bunch of radishes)
almost whole angel foodcake
1/3 uneaten steak
communal:
two newspaper plastic wrappers

Transportation

personal:
Round trip drive to appointment 6 miles, stopped at grocery store on way back
Round trip drive to appointment 6 miles
Round trip drive to health club 6 miles
mom
communal

Non food shopping

personal
mom
communal

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It is my pleasure to introduce Cass Nevada, my new guest in the BlogActs Series. Cass was one of the very first commenters on this blog, and over the months, has become a long distance friend and faithful supporter. Cass always surprises me with the depth of her writings. I feel so zen whenever I read her! When not blogging, Cass works as a consultant in social media, online customer experience and support, as well as support training and management development.

The automobile is arguably a key component to our culture–not Shopping, not Monday Night Football, but the Car. Without the automobile, Shopping and Football games would take on a whole new look. In January of 2007, while living and working in El Salvador, I realized how much I enjoyed not having a car–how it changed my brain somehow. Every time I came back to the States and resumed my normal car-focused behavior, I was aware of a growing contempt for my car. I decided then to begin a year-long project to see if I could live without my trusty car. Not all cars, just mine. That was the beginning of My Life with Car–a project that has changed a lot more in my life than just my transportation habits.

First, about “BlogActs.” I really love what La Marguerite is doing by calling out BlogActs–it’s a stellar idea! But in my case, action seems like such a…well, an active thing. And I don’t quite think of my year long project as an “action” Maybe at first I did, but I don’t now. Now it’s just part of my life, and that’s good. But I got to thinking about my project and realized, you know when you commit to change something in your life–something fundamental or maybe even not so fundamental–so many other aspects of you life change as well, not to mention your consciousness.

For example, you can’t start taking the bus or riding your bike for most errands or meetings downtown and not have that impact your thinking about how much more relaxed you are than when you’re in traffic…and wonder what other parts of your daily routine are driving you slowly out of your mind–like shopping, consuming, wanting and wanting and wanting. It’s also not possible–at least I don’t think it is–to become conscious about one part of your life without other things popping up for attention. And that’s been the interesting part of this project. Let me diagram this in my own case, my year long project to change my transportation habits and perhaps even ditch my car:

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So again, I’ve discovered and re-discovered this all along the way: it’s the small steps that count. The single BlogAct I took on was to chronicle a year of learning about my transportation habits. The hundreds of offshoots from that one commitment–now that’s action.

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Link to my post in Environmental Graffiti, on Berkeley going all solar:

Berkeley’s Solar Revolution

All those brilliant, radical minds, always working towards serving the people . . .

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One hundred ten minutes. For one hundred ten minutes, I was transported into gypsy magic, thanks to Gypsy Caravan, the new movie about the Roman people. So moved I was by their spirit, that I came out of the movie wanting to sing, and dance, and share the joy I felt from them.

And I was made conscious of what is cruelly missing in our American culture. It’s called soul, and passion. The majority of us lead empty lives, fed by an orgy of mediocrity. Britney Spears has become our tragic heroin, the malls are our new congregations, and the young people’s favorite past time is to ‘hang out’. In 1933, C. G. Jung wrote the book, ‘Modern Man in Search of a Soul‘. I believe most of us are searching indeed, although we may not necessarily know it. We are searching when we make ritualistic shopping trips. We are searching when we drink ourselves into oblivion. We are searching when we starve ourselves to death. We are searching when we can’t stop wanting bigger houses, and more cars. We are searching when we can’t stop taking in more and more food. We are searching when we sit for hours at end in front of the TV or video games.

In her post, ‘A radical rethink of our lifestyles is required to save the planet‘, Anja Merret, worries about what she sees as almost unsolvable, ‘the main problem will be to persuade the ordinary folk like you and me living with all mod cons in the developed world, to radically re-assess our lifestyles and go back to very very basic living. Can you see that happening?‘. Anja, I think I have an answer for you. Not an easy one, but an answer nevertheless.

I already touched upon it in ‘The King of Buthan‘. Tonight, the gypsies reminded me. Anja deals with the substractive part of the climate crisis solution. She is right to think that it is in our human nature to not want to give back some of what we have become entitled to. My big house, my three cars, all my things, my American way of life, I want it. I think I want it. Until I find something even better, that will truly satisfy me. That’s where the gypsies come in. Although very poor, by American standards, the gypsies are in reality very rich. Their lives are filled with community, soul, passion, nature, all the important stuff. If we start reintroducing some of that gypsy spirit into our lives, it won’t be so hard to give up the rest. We won’t even want it, anymore.

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Link to my post in Environmental Graffiti, this week:

Science? What’s That?

Inspired by a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle. First nature, now science . . . We are preparing ourselves for a future of young people totally unequipped to deal with the challenges ahead of us.

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With the Southern California wildfires, there has been a lot of talk about people building houses where they shouldn’t. Carl Pope, from the Sierra Club has a great post on the subject in the Huffington post. There is also a very well researched article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, which I will quote from: ‘There are homes and structures in virtually every county along the urban-wildland boundary in California, much of which has an eco-systems of dry grass, thick brush and dense trees that Mother Nature destined to be periodically burned.’

This reminds me of the mountain lion incident that took place a few years ago in my town. A young lion had gotten lost and made its way to a yard near the public library. The city quickly divided in two camps. On one side, Mother Nature’s advocates who defended the lion’s rights. We had been encroaching on the animal’s natural habitat, after all. On the other side, the civilized citizens who were up in arms that the lives of their little ones was being threatened. The lion had to be shot at once. It was. I happened to be there when the police woman aimed her riffle at the oblivious creature. I still remember the fall, and the big thump when it touched the ground. I was relieved, I could now walk safely in the neighborhood. And I felt something bigger than just the lion incident had just happened. A case of Man and Mother Nature gone very wrong.

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I wonder what happened to our survival instinct, the primal part within ourselves that should tell us where we belong within the ecosystems? It is as if our ego has taken over, and we refuse any limits set on our rights as humans. Over and over again, I am struck by our arrogance and our lack of respect for the laws of nature. And I am thinking about the post I wrote recently, about ‘Nature, What’s That?‘, regarding children’s increasing alienation from nature. Things are only going to get worse. The less we know nature, and about nature, the more likely we are to act stupidly, and do things like build houses right in the middle of mountain lion or bear territory, or fire cleansing prone areas.

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I spent this week thinking about what would make sense for the daily footprint project. Here is what I decided:

  • to make things as simple as possible
  • yet be as detailed and accurate as possible
  • to make it easy for anyone else to replicate the experiment
  • to document with photos whenever applicable

The 6 main categories of impact I will document are:

  • water
  • electricity/gas
  • food
  • garbage (take photos)
  • transportation (in miles)
  • non food shopping (take photos)

Each category will be divided between activities/consumptions that are:

  1. strictly personal
  2. parenting related
  3. tied to overall functioning of household

That should cover everything. I will also document whatever thoughts, feelings, ideas, come up in the process. That part of the experiment is probably the most important. I will continue the experiment until I feel I have learned as much as I can from it. A second phase will involve quantifying the various types of activities in terms of water use and carbon impact.

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The bags again, forgotten. After a sleepless night, I figure I can cut myself some slack. ‘Paper of Plastic?’. Images of the ‘Synthetic Sea’ flashing, again. I’ll go for paper. Better cut down a tree, than fill up the oceans with plastic bits masquerading as plankton. Plus, I figure I can always use up the paper bag later for gift wrapping.

I respond to images. They come back to haunt me, and grab me where it matters most. In my guts. Imagine if Whole Foods had videos of the ‘Synthetic Sea’ showing at every checkout line. I think something would happen. Of course, I would want to also see another video about paper bags and what that does to the trees. Retailers could do so much with their captive audiences of shoppers, if they wanted to. Whole Foods people, are you listening?

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