Monday, December 31, 2007

Return Pot Turns PLA Plastic into Compost

The Philadelphia Inquirer had an interesting story this weekend about the Electrolux Design Lab competition. A number of interesting devices are mentioned in the article, but I'm most fascinated with the "Return Pot," which uses a magnetic field to turn polylactic acid (PLA) resin into compost for plants. Here's how it works:

"As the user spins the battery-less Return Pot, a ball bearing moves through a coil tunnel, creating a magnetic field that generates electricity to power the return cycle. The result is water, compost and a small amount of carbon dioxide, according to the inventor."
This is basically a home device that turns plastic into plant food. Wow. From a sustainability point of view, that's virtually a miracle. However, there is one major catch. The Return Pot decomposes PLA plastic, not petroleum-based resins, and there just isn't much PLA being used as of yet. D'oh!

If you haven't heard of PLA, it's a relatively new corn-based plastic that is very slowly being adopted in some packaging, such as water bottles and cups. On the downside, it takes corn to create the product, which could be used for food. Also, because the product decomposes, it can't be used in packaging that has to last a long time or stand up to very warm conditions. However, given the right conditions (heat, humidity and micro-organisms), PLA will fully decompose into nutrients for the soil.

I'm going to be writing more about PLA in the future, but in the meantime, do check out the Inquirer article to see the sustainable marvels that some very bright minds have created.

Designed for Coexisting (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Electrolux Design Lab 2007

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Top Ten New Year's Resolutions for a Greener 2008

I've really enjoyed producing this little environmental blog over the past couple of months, and I like to think that I've offered some useful information for people. In the spirit of the holidays, here are the top ten environmental tips that I wrote about in 2007, ranked very (very) roughly by the amount of impact each one can have on your carbon footprint. If you keep your resolution to make even one of these little changes to your life in 2008, you'll have made a real difference.

1. Sign up for Peco Wind or your local alternative energy program
How easy is it? Very, very easy.
How much will it cost you? $5-$20 a month, depending on your energy usage

2. Wash (and rinse) your clothes with cold water
How easy is it? So easy you'll cry.
How much will it cost you? You'll save money!

3. Give composting a try
How easy is it? Easier than you think, but you'll need to read up on it. Don't worry--I'm going to have more composting tips for you in '08.
How much will it cost you? I paid about $200 for my Tumbleweed composter, but you can build your own bin for nothing.

4. Close your storm windows for winter
How easy is it? A lot easier than installing new windows. If you have storm windows, it's a cinch.
How much will it cost you? You will save a bundle in energy costs.

5. Bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping
How easy is it? Pretty darn easy. You just have to remember to do it.
How much will it cost you? A few bucks. Many stores will pay you a couple of cents a bag!

6. You can recycle more than just glass, paper and plastic 1 & 2
How easy is it? Just visit Earth911 to find out what you can recycle and where. It's a little tougher than dragging cans to your curb, but still not that hard.
How much will it cost you? Mostly just a little bit of your time. However, it's good for your soul.

7. Use revolving doors instead of swing doors when possible
How easy is it? Are you kidding me???
How much will it cost you? Maybe you'll burn two extra calories from pushing the door around.

8. Switch to rechargeable NiMH batteries
How easy is it? You do have to remember to keep your batteries charged, and also to unplug the charger when you're done. Other than that, it's a piece of cake.
How much will it cost you? Rechargeables are definitely more expensive than Alkalines right off the shelf, but they will save you lots of money over the life of the battery.

9. Make sure your car's tires have the correct pressure
How easy is it? Simple.
How much will it cost you? Maybe $10-$15 to buy a tire gauge and $.75 to fire up the air pump at a gas station. Wawa air pumps are free to use, much like their ATMs.

10. Don't get divorced
How easy is it? Possibly very hard. Your mileage may vary.
How much will it cost you? A lifetime of flowers, back rubs and dish cleaning.

There you have it, folks. Let me know if you make any of these resolutions for 2008. Best wishes for a green and happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Recycle Your Christmas Tree in Philadelphia and Elsewhere

First of all, I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. Santa was very good to me this year, bringing me Guitar Hero III for the Wii, as well as several good books on environmental issues. I even got a little gadget that measures how much electricity devices draw when plugged into the socket. Very cool. I'll have in-depth reviews of all that good stuff, except for Guitar Hero. So far, I suck at Guitar Hero.

Second, I would like to weigh in on one of the greatest challenges facing the world today--what to do with used Christmas trees? If you followed my advice and got a real tree this year, pretty soon it's going to start turning brown and looking all ghetto in your living room. You can water it to forestall the inevitable, but sooner or later you're going to have to get rid of your tree. That beautiful formerly living thing is one of God's creatures and should return to the earth from whence it came.

Now, most towns have Christmas tree curbside pickup so you can just let the garbage dudes take it away. From there, one of three things is likely to happen:

  1. The tree will be composted. (green)
  2. The tree will be chipped up and turned into mulch. (greenish)
  3. The tree will be chucked into a toxic landfill full of batteries and dirty diapers where its precious nutrients will never enrich the earth again. (not green)
I recommend checking with your local sanitation department to see which of these fates will befall your tree. If the answer is compost or mulch, go ahead and leave your tree on the curb on the assigned day and muse upon the rarely-seen wonders of effective government. If the answer is landfill, then you have to do a little due diligence. Chances are there is an alternative program in your area for recycling trees. You just have to find out where it is and when to haul your tree over there. And then somehow get all of the pine needles out of your car.* Sigh.

For example, in my hometown of Philadelphia, the city will indeed pick up your tree for no extra charge. However, they will dump it directly into a landfill after collection. You would have to do a little research in order to figure that out. You can't just assume that the tree is going to be recycled. Apparently, that's too much to ask. Fortunately Philadelphia does provide a tree recycling option:
"Citizens who wish to drop off their tree for recycling may take it to the Streets Department Sanitation Convenience Centers located at 3033 S. 63rd St. (entrance on 61st St. side), Domino & Umbria Lanes and State & Ashburner Roads during this week only. The sites are open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, Monday, January 7 through Saturday, January 12."
If you don't live in Philadelphia, I recommend running a Google search for "Recycle Christmas Tree [your city or state]". That should get you the answers you need. If not, you can always try the excellent Earth 911 database, which lists many of the tree programs across the country.

Finally, if you have a truck, you might offer to haul a couple of your neighbor's trees to the recycling center while you're at it. It might earn you an extra pile of cookies next year and I might also forgive you for owning a truck.

*Try to avoid using your household vacuum cleaner to suck up pine needles. It usually ends up clogging the machine and you end up with a bigger mess than you started with. Try a broom.

Philadelphia Streets Department Christmas Tree Recycling Information
Interesting Facts about Tree Recycling (Earth 911)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Attention Nerds: Correct Tire Pressure Saves Gas

Since lots of folks will be hopping in their auto-cars this week to visit distant relatives, I figured it would be a good time to mention one of the fuel-saving ideas that I employ with my piece of junk Ford Focus Ultralemon 2001. This is a completely unsexy tip, but it's important to make sure that your tires have the correct pressure, especially before embarking on a long trip.

It takes a true nerd to go around testing the pressure in your tires with a shiny silver gauge, but that's what I do, and you should too. It's not good enough to eyeball the tires for signs of flatitude and the gauges at gas station air pumps are dodgy. We want precision! According to the Department of Energy, you lose about half a percent of your fuel efficiency for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. Also, incorrect inflation will cause premature wear on your tires that will eventually force you to replace them sooner than normal. Not to mention the fact that low tires cause your engine to work harder and wear faster. Are you convinced yet?

Here's how to fill your tires to the correct air pressure, AKA, if you can dodge a wrench, you can fill your tires:

1. Drive your car to a place with a functioning air pump. Wawa has free ones in many locations. Otherwise, this exercise will cost you a few quarters. The closer the station is to your house, the better. You want to measure the tires cold, so that heat won't increase the pressure and skew your readings.

2. As you climb out of the car, take a gander at the inside of the driver's-side door. You should see a placard that lists the car's recommended tire pressure. This placard is sometimes inside the glove compartment door. A lot of people mistakenly use the pressure listed on the tire itself, but that's the MAXIMUM pressure and not what you want. Knowledge is power.

3. Walk around your car and take off the valve caps, remembering to put them in your pocket so you don't lose them as I almost always do. You want to take the valve caps off before you start the air pump, so you don't have to mess around with them while you're on the pump's clock. It sucks to have to stick more quarters in the machine to get it going again.

4. Whip out your trusty tire gauge and test each tire. If the pressure in a tire is a little too high, use the tip of the gauge to bleed of a little air and then retest. If the pressure is below what the placard (I love that word) recommended, fire up the pump and add air to the low tires. The pump's built-in gauge will give you a good idea of where you're at. When you're done adding air, retest the tires and bleed off any extra.

5. Reach in your pocket and put the valve caps back on.

6. Wink at the cutie walking into the station's Quickie Mart. Awww yeah. (optional)

One final tip here. If you get your oil changed at Jiffy Lube or some such place, they usually set the tire pressure at 32 by default, regardless of what's actually recommended. If you checked inside the door and your car needs a different pressure, be sure to let the attendants know. Oh, and if they try to change your air filter for you, say no. Buy one yourself and install it. It's super easy and much cheaper.

Happy Holidays everyone. Please drink responsibly, a lot. Responsibly.

More Tips On Getting Better Mileage From Your Giant SUV

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I'm Fully Syndicated, Baby

If you're an RSS-loving guy or gal, you might want to subscribe to my new blog feed. It's all tweaked out with the finest Feedburner features, and I've been assured that the feed burning is much greener than, say, coal burning.


Bringing Your Own Reusable Bags Does Take a Little Nerve

In my very first post on this blog, I mentioned that I am not a perfect environmentalist, eco-geek, greenie, tree hugger or whatever you want to call it. Far, far from perfect. Living a greener lifestyle has been a gradual adaptation for me and I think I'm still at the very beginning of my journey.

I will illustrate this imperfection over and over again in this space, but here's a glaring example. As I've ranted before, plastic bags suck and it's better to bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping. Basic, right? But I have to admit that I forget or ignore my own advice once in a while. There are two main culprits here:

  • I accidentally leave my reusable bags at home when I head out to the store
  • While I have gotten used to the idea of using my own bags at the grocery store, I still haven't quite accepted the notion of using my own bags at other kinds of retailers
The first culprit is easy to deal with. I now always leave the bags in the car (yes I drive a car sometimes) after I'm finished with them. If I forget to bring the bags into the store, I head right back out and get them. No excuses.

The second culprit is a little more complicated, but I think it boils down to the fact that it's kind of a bold move to whip out your own bag at Macy's or Target. In America, this behavior is still so rare that I sometimes feel a little silly doing it. In all likelihood, the cashier has never encountered someone who brought their own bag and it does tend to raise eyebrows and elicit comments. Usually there are a few moments of confusion as the checker figures out what I want them to do, and I have to explain it again. It's outside of the normal routine and it can slow things down a tiny bit. A conversation might happen, and it often ends with the checker or other people in line complimenting me on my choice. It's a good dialogue and it sets a good example, but honestly I don't really like the attention. I'd prefer to get in and get out with no fuss.

More and more, I'm gritting my teeth and doing what I know is right. My own pride and shyness shouldn't stop me from changing my behavior for the better. Maybe you're not as shy as me and this sort of thing doesn't bother you. But if it does, just remember that you're joining a quiet revolution and other folks like me are taking the bullet right along with you.

The last time I brought my own bag was to a Dollar Store this weekend. The cashier was totally unfazed and it went as easily as if she had used the normal plastic bags. God bless her. Maybe someday it'll always be as easy as that.

Danny at Simply Green has a lovely post about the joys and perils of bringing your own bag, and the many comments are worth reading.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Blogroll Additions: I Keep Right On Giving

One of the things I like about blogging is the process of entering into a community of like-minded thinkers. The coins of this realm are of course links and blogroll additions. Without numerous link-backs, a blog—no matter how strong its content—is likely to remain buried deep in the all-important Google search results. If a blog post falls on the 9th page of Google, was it ever blogged?

That’s why I’m so thankful for Maria Surma Manka at Maria Energia for being the first legit eco-blogger to add A Little Bit Greener to her blogroll. If you’re interested in alternative fuels and energy in general, Maria’s site is worth your time. She also contributes to Green Options, so you can check her out there too.

I’ve also added a blogroll link to No Impact Man, a blog following the adventures of Colin Beavan and his family who dedicated a year of their lives to living with zero net impact to the environment. And they did it New York City. Amazing.

Finally, if you're into celebs, you might want to check out Ecorazzi, where you can learn about such things as Adrian Grenier's dreamy green career and Paris Hilton's alleged desire to purchase a hybrid car. Don't worry--I won't tell anyone you clicked.

Happy Tuesday. Please take this moment to french kiss the nearest environmentalist who is not me. That is all.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Battery, O Battery, I hate to Chuck a Battery

Moixa USBCell BatteryIf you're like me, you probably use AA and AAA batteries in a bunch of devices that you use daily. My list includes my beloved Bose headphones, PowerShot camera, electric toothbrush, Wiimotes, bicycle lights and of course a bunch of weird sex toys. Let's face it--if any of these mission-critical devices runs out of juice I'm in big trouble.

I'll tell you what I don't do anymore. I don't head to my local Radio Shack and buy a bunch of Alkaline batteries. Even though Alkaline batteries have much less toxic mercury in them than they used to, they're single-use and not widely recycled. I don't like chucking batteries into my local landfill and it's just plain expensive to keep purchasing new ones.

The new hotness in batteries is Nickel-Metal Hydride or NiMH. These puppies are rechargeable hundreds of times, long-lasting and recyclable. I routinely snap 100 or more pictures before they crap out on me. NiMH batteries are sweet. I honestly think that the industry doesn't really want to hype these awesome batteries because it will ruin the gravy train of single-use models.

There is, however, one major problem with rechargeable batteries: you need to have a recharger handy. How am I supposed to concentrate in my noisy office when my noise-reducing headphones have died and I don't have the charger with me? Devastating!

Check this out--a company called Moixa Energy has developed the USBCell Battery. These AA NiMH batteries have self-contained smart chargers that plug right into your USB port for charging. I bet your desk is just crawling with USB ports waiting to juice up your batteries. Moixa plans to sell other battery sizes including AAA and 9V. Never again will I have to endure the endless celebrity gossip of coworkers while my headphones are dead and useless.**

**Just kidding guys. You know I love Britney and Brangelina.

All About Battery Recycling (Earth 911)
The USBCell Battery from Moixa

Friday, December 14, 2007

Green Blog Roundup: Now Even Greenlier

It was a good week in environmental bloggy land. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Happy Friday everyone!

Global Warming Skeptic? These Panties Will Make You Believe

So, I was all set to do my Friday blog roundup--and I will--but this one deserves its own post. The undies pictured above have a magical map of the globe that turns completely blue when it gets hot, depicting the effects of global warming. And the only way to cool the climate carnage is to strip them there underpants off. Is there anything the British CAN'T do? Thanks Green Knickers, future Nobel Peace Prize winners!

Global Warming Knickers (Eco Worrier)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Green Quickie: Clean Clothes with Less Energy

There are a number of ways to make doing your laundry more environmentally friendly, but I'm going to start with my favorite: cold water. According to the ever-helpful U.S. Department of Energy, "about 90% of the energy used for washing clothes is for heating the water." You may want to read that sentence again. I'll wait. That's a 90% savings just for using cold water. All you have to do is turn the knob one click to the left. Boom. I won't even get into how much CO2 that click can eliminate, but it's a lot, Holmes.

There are plenty of cold water detergents out there now, but I believe the regular brands work just fine. I personally use cold water for all cycles and my clothes are as clean as ever. Now, I have a sweet Energy Star front-loading machine (more on this at a later date), but I'm sure cold water is perfectly adequate for regular old top-loaders as well.

Try it out. If you can't bear to go all the way cold, then go from hot to warm. Baby step it. Depending on your water heater, either your gas or electric bill will thank you.

Thanks for the Love

Just a quick shout-out to John Freeborn of and Eric Smith of for supporting this blog with links and kind words. Every little bit helps at the beginning. Thanks guys. I'll turn you into hippies yet.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

PECO Wind: Greening the Grid and Watching The Wire

If I could afford it, I'd buy a big bank of solar panels for my home--oh about yesterday. I'd be so happy watching Battlestar Galactica using the glorious power pouring down on us from space 24/7. And if I had the money, building permits and spousal approval, I'd be installing an industrial-sized wind turbine in my yard. Hopefully, it would make a satisfying WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP sound as its monstrous blades slice the slightly less polluted air. But this is all an idle fantasy for now.

I'm stuck with the regular old power grid provided to me by PECO, the lovely gas and electric provider for southeastern Pennsylvania. That means coal and nuclear power plants are powering my DVD player and television while I watch Season 4 of the best TV show ever made, AKA The Wire. Daddy no like coal and he's pretty sure he no like nuclear. What to do?

Well it turns out there is something I (and probably you) can do. I simply signed up for PECO Wind, a service in which you can pay a little extra for the power company to buy units of energy from wind farms instead of the usual dirty power plants. In other words, the big power company generally sells you the cheapest energy it can get (they gotta make the benjamins), but it will serve up cleaner energy if you pay for it.

I pay $7-12 a month so that all of my electrical usage is covered by wind. The net result is that I'm helping to encourage the growth of green power and neutralizing the carbon footprint created by my home's electrical use. According to PECO's environmental benefits calculator, my purchase of wind power is preventing nearly 4,000 pounds of C02 from spewing into the atmosphere or the equivalent of planting 268 trees. As philosopher Martha Stewart would say, it's a good thing.

Now this doesn't help you if you're not served by PECO. However, I have done some digging and come up with this possibly semi-comprehensive list of green utility programs running in America, courtesy of the Department of Energy. Please let me know if you know of a better resource. It wasn't easy coughing that one up.


The Green Power Network

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

We Are What is Wrong, and We Must Make it Right

Yesterday, Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in raising awareness of global warming. Whatever you think of him as a person or politician, you might want to spend a few minutes reading his acceptance speech. As a person who cares about my personal impact on the environment and hopes for larger solutions, I feel like Gore's words crystallized my feeling of urgency. There is still time to prevent the coming disaster, but not a lot.

Text of Gore's Speech (Green Blog)
Video of Press Conference

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tumbleweed Composter Unboxing and Assembly

Some "green bloggers" would let you know when their new composter was delivered. They might even write up a little three paragraph review. Pshaw! I'm taking this to the ultra-nerd max and throwing down a good old-fashioned unboxing and assembly montage for the $199 Tumbleweed Compost Maker. If that doesn't get your heart racing--you're dead to me.

The box weighed 25 pounds. That's 25 pounds of composting fury.

Sixteen screws and nuts. Made in Australia.

The leg assembly parts.

Plastic top and bottom, with bonus cat (not included).

You need a couple of wrenches to tighten up the center bar.

Center bar sits in a groove between the bin's halves.

You have to screw the halves together--sixteen times. I found I didn't really need the wrench.
The assembled body.
The legs slide right in with no extra hardware.

The finished Tumbleweed Composter! Note that the top and bottom twist open for access.

The whole operation took me about a half hour, mostly because I stopped to take pictures for you, the loyal reader. A super-handy person could probably put the composter together in 15 minutes. My only complaint so far is that one of the twist-off lids is hard to open and close. It seems like the plastic tabs are a little too tight. I'm hoping that improves with use. In the meantime, I can just use the lid that's easy to open.

The instructions say that I can expect finished compost in about four weeks. I'm guessing it'll take a bit longer because it's currently the dead of winter. I'll keep you posted.

More on the Tumbleweed Composter
Official Assembly Instructions (pdf)
Buy it at Planet Natural

Friday, December 7, 2007

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

News Flash: Divorce is Bad!

Apparently, the high rate of divorce is putting a hurt on Mother Earth, as well as the kids (it's not your fault Mommy and Daddy are in court). So says ecologist Jianguo Liu at Michigan State University, who found that the splitting of households causes Americans to spend billions of extra dollars on water and electricity annually. From an energy point of view, it's more efficient to have more people sharing resources under the same roof. One refrigerator is better than two, and so on.

Of course, this efficiency principle applies to any multi-person household, whether or not the occupants are married. Don't get all "family values" on me!

On the other hand, think of all the trees chopped up for divorce papers. It's truly shameful.

Give your honey an extra back-rub tonight--for the environment.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

LED Christmas Lights Not Doing It For Me

I admit it. I'm a sucker for holiday lights and decorations on homes around Christmas. Seeing them makes me feel like a kid again, and I got a pang to put some lights up after a nice walk around our festive neighborhood on Saturday night. I hadn't put them up for the past couple of years because 1) I'm lazy and 2) I don't like all the extra juice the strings suck out of the grid.

Well, now you can buy newfangled LED Christmas (or Hanukkah) lights that use up to 90% less energy than the old incandescents. What's more, they've gone mainstream and you can buy them at Walmart, Lowes, wherever. I've used LED blinky lights on my bike for years and I love their brightness and long battery life. I'm sure they've prevented tons of cars from pummeling me on dark nights. Great, right?

Well it turns out that what's great for blinkies and flashlights is not so great for Christmas lights. I bought two white Phillips-brand strands at Target today and I am sorely disappointed. Not only are they expensive ($11.99 and $14.99), but they are way, way too harsh and bright. When I plugged in a strand, it was like 60 mini flashlights staring me in the face. They also have an almost imperceptible flicker that gives me a headache. Yikes! I really, really wanted to like the LED lights, but there's no doubt in my mind that I'll be returning them to store.

Now, it's possible that the colored strings are more pleasing, but based on what I've been reading online, I have my doubts. Manufacturers need to work on making LED's easier on human eyes. It's the lighting technology of the future, but in my opinion there's a long way to go.

My recommendation? If you must put up lights, you might want to stick with your old incandescents rather than buying LEDs that you'll end up tossing when better models come out next year. Just do what my dad did and keep them to a tasteful minimum and don't leave them on all night. Target sells a bunch of automatic timers and that might be the ticket.

Did you try Light Emitting Diodes this year? What's your take?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Let's Get Dirty With Our Composters

Noticing some evil glaring from my neighbors, I decided that it would be a good idea to rake up the massive drifts of leaves in my yard this weekend. It turned out to be kind of fun--a bit of fresh air and exercise, and I even got to speak with one of said neighbors. He said, "goddamn the PVC fence put up by the people next to you is butt-ugly." High five! I'm back in the fold.

At the end of my labors, I had five large black plastic bags stuffed with leaves. But wait a minute, didn't I say that plastic bags suck? Did I really want to send all of that nutrient-rich organic goodness to a festering landfill? What would Jesus do?

Composting. It's a badge of honor in the eco-geek community. True granola cred. When I started this enviro-blog, I knew people (six or so) would be looking to me to show them the way. It's a heavy responsibility. I knew what I had to do. I had to go online and order a tumbling composter.

After a couple of brow-furrowed hours searching through reviews and lured by the sweet nectar of free shipping, I whipped out my AMEX and shelled out a couple hunskies on a rodent-resistant Tumbleweed Composter. If it works as advertised, I should be able to fill it with grass clippings, leaves and most kinds of non-meat organic kitchen waste. After that, it's just a matter of flipping the sucker every couple of days to aerate the mix and help the microbes do their work. Mostly, I'll sit back and let the money roll in.

OK, I lied about the money, but composting does save landfill space, improve soil quality, help flowers grow and give you the delicious feeling of being better than other people. You go--sexy composting girl. Shake that dirt!

Don't worry, I'm still humble. I'll keep you posted on my filthy little adventure.

Composting: A Geektastic User's Guide
Planet Natural Garden Supply
The Rad Tumbleweed Compost Maker I Bought
Free Composting Workshops in Philadelphia

Friday, November 30, 2007

You Better Believe They Recycle That

Tomorrow is Saturday. Yippee! Even better, it’s the first Saturday of the month—and you know what that means—I can finally recycling another month’s worth of plastic and cardboard. Joy! Although my section of Philadelphia has curbside pickup, they only take paper, glass and metal. Center City just got wicked cool single-stream recycling, complete with 1 and 2 plastic. So jealous.

Thank golly, then, for the many volunteers at the Philadelphia Partnership Recycling Program. Once a month at locations around the city, they give up part of their day to gather up the recyclables that the city for some reason does not pick up from our homes. I get a kick (I told you I was a geek) out of driving over to my local site on Saturday morning with a carload of trash that won’t end up in a landfill. And no, my car doesn't stink... much.

No matter where you live, there are many recyclables in your home that aren’t picked up curbside. Think batteries, plastics 3 - 7, motor oil, compact fluorescent bulbs, computers, cleaning agents and on and on and on. Recycling doesn’t stop at paper, glass and aluminum, but you might have to do a little more work to get the job done. Luckily, it is now very easy to find places to recycle your odds and ends. I highly recommend visiting Earth 911 and searching your zip code to find all the collection sites near you. You can find everything from the Radio Shack in your town that takes old batteries to the Advance Auto Parts store that takes used motor oil. Retailers are starting to pick up some recycling slack, so take them up on it. That nasty oil filter isn’t going to recycle itself!

Earth 911
Single Stream Recycling Comes to Center City Philadelphia
What's Single Stream? (Earth 911)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Behold the Awesome Power of My Blog Hand

Remember how I extolled the virtues of revolving doors? Well, apparently management has taken notice. Yesterday afternoon, I received the following notice in my electronic mailbox:

To: All United Plaza Tenants
From: Property Management
RE: 17th Street Main Lobby - Please Use the Revolving Doors

Due to the cold winter temperatures, we are trying to conserve energy and discouraging use on the 17th Street Main Lobby double doors. We are asking all of our tenants and visitors to Please Use the Revolving Doors. We have posted signage at the 17th St. building entrance. The doors will remain unlocked and the ADA push plate is accessible. Please inform all employees.

Of course, I am taking 100% of the credit for this eco-friendly development. Nevermind the fact that people are telling me the memo goes out every winter. Whatever!

Score: Brennen - 1, Swing Doors - 0

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

To Tree Or Not To Fake Tree

A coworker asked me a question today for which I had no sound answer: "Which is a better choice for the environment--a fake Christmas tree or a real one?" I stumbled around and gave him some weak jive along the lines of "the fake tree is better in the long run because it only gets shipped to your home once, thus giving it a smaller long-term carbon footprint." As soon as I said it, I realized I was talking out of my rear end. Like so many other things, I knew flat squat about the environmental merits of Christmas trees. To the Internet Machine!

Did you know that there's a National Christmas Tree Association? Well there is, and wonder of wonders, they feel rather strongly that natural trees are the best thing to buy. They even have a totally non-biased chart illustrating the evils of fake trees. There's even an FAQ, complete with graphic pictures of a towering inferno created by an evil fake tree. Oh the humanity! Please avert your eyes if you can't stand the sight of singed presents.

Ah well, that's settled. If the lobbyists have weighed in, well it just HAS to be true.

So what do the enviro-nerds have to say? Surprisingly, there seems to be a pretty clear consensus: all things being equal, a real Christmas tree is actually the lesser of two evils, especially if you live near organically grown trees that you can chop down yourself. While it's true that chucking a tree every year does take up landfill space, at least they biodegrade at some point. And no matter how far your real tree is shipped, and how much carbon havoc that wreaks, you just can't get around the fact that most fake trees come all the way from China and are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is simply terrible stuff. PVC off-gasses toxic additives into your home, can't be recycled and produces highly carcinogenic dioxins during its production. I don't care where my tree comes from, I don't want extra PVC in my house if I can help it.

I'm not going to regurgitate the entire pro and con of the tree debate, but I'm giving you the gist. Score one for the lobbyists. You win... this round.

Of course, the hardcore green thing to do would be to avoid getting a tree altogether. Not in my home. As in years past, we'll purchase a small Charlie Brown-style tree and decorate it with a single string of energy-sipping LED lights and as many bulbs as the little guy will support.

Happy holidays everyone! If you're getting a monster tree, have fun getting the sucker to stand up straight!

Grist's take

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Your Own Big Blue Bag of Dreams

Maybe you’ve seen the sticker on the frame of some hipster’s fixed-wheel bicycle. PLASTIC BAGS BLOW. Well it’s true. They do blow. Hard. They also suck. I don’t care what the American Chemistry Council says (even if their token-effort recycling site is kind of awesome and you should visit it—grudgingly). Heck, the whole darn city of San Francisco has banned the baggies. The problem is that plastic bags are so ingrained into American retail culture that it’s hard to avoid taking a plastic bag even if you try. I’m not even going to blame cashiers who stuff my pack of gum into a giant bag after I politely decline the sack. I usually don’t have the heart to ask twice. Working a register is a hard, boring job that pays very little. I’ve done that sort of work and it turned me into a zombie for entire 8-hour stretches.

There is hope. Slowly but surely, companies are figuring out that they can save money by encouraging customers to bring their own bags rather than supplying endless millions of them every year. Every grocery store in my area now sells reusable bags at the checkout lines. 99% of shoppers ignore the eco-bags, but it’s a start.

Here’s my tip: bring your own bag to the store! But not just any bag. Bring a whompin’ big blue IKEA bag. Here’s why:

• They cost a mere 59 cents
• Your 59 cents will be donated to American Forests (at least for now)
• These bags are huge and indestructible. If you have the guns, you can haul an entire load of groceries in ONE BAG. If you don’t have the guns, use two bags.
• Other customers will look at you in wonder as the cashier effortlessly fills your giant bag
• Bags can also be used for laundry
• Because I said so

On the downside, you’ll have to make a trip in a car to IKEA. Maybe that’s your thing. I’m not one to judge. Also, you may have doggies and need the bags for poop patrol. Maybe there's another solution? I’ll look into it.

What’s your favorite reusable shopping bag? Eh? Eh?

San Fran Bans Plastic Bags
IKEA Starts Charging for Baggies
IKEA's environmental stance
Reusable Bags

Monday, November 26, 2007

Revolving Doors Save Energy and Get You Laid

Have you ever pondered revolving doors? I have. I’ve noticed that given a choice, most folks will walk through a boring old swing door rather than brave a revolving door. Maybe it makes them feel claustrophobic, or it slows them down a tiny bit. Whatever the reason, revolving doors don’t get the love they deserve—those spinning glass beauties gracing our finest lobbies.

The brainiac students at MIT did a study (and you KNOW that's solid), and it turns out "a single person walking through a revolving door in February saves enough energy to light a 60-watt light bulb for 23 minutes." Wha??? Even though Massachusetts may have a colder clime than average, that’s a pretty staggering fact and an awesome example of how a small change in behavior can make a big dent in your carbon footprint.

Swing doors are for suckers. Use the revolving door! It’s so much more romantic. Blow a kiss to the person opposite you. Trust me.

MIT's Revolving Door FAQ

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Close Your Storm Windows, Silly

So I had one of those "slap myself on the head" moments this morning. You see, it turned cold this weekend, and that means the old gas furnace is working overtime, even with the thermostat programmed to a modest 62 degrees. (I just can't turn it any lower or my very cute hairless guinea pig will get sick. Don't you dare say he isn't cute!)

The house is pretty drafty and it has really old single-pane windows. A few of them even have ancient wooden frames that leak cold air like--ancient wooden frames. Newer windows have two or three panes, argon fills and special coatings to block UV light. However, all of that technology costs money that I don't have right now.

My dad recommended that I get some insulating window clings that you attach to the frame with double sided tape and then shrink tight with a hair dryer. It might look pretty cheesy to have shrink-wrapped windows, but I was desperate so I searched for some online. I was all set to order, when I decided to measure the windows. That's when I slapped my head. The windows have STORM PANES that I hadn't pulled into place! I had them set up to have screens on the bottom for the summertime and had forgotten to switch the setup for winter. D'oh!

Long story short, I flew around the house snapping the storm windows down left and right. Draft problem=solved!

I'll bet lots of folks (ok at least a few) have made the same costly mistake this winter. Close those storm windows...

Care2 Greenliving has some more tips for weatherizing your windows.

An Environmental Blog for Geeks, By a Geek

I'm very interested in environmental issues. In fact, I'm borderline obsessed. I watch "Living With Ed," use terms like "carbon footprint" and dream of owning a tankless water heater. It's all pretty geeky, which is OK, because I'm a big geek. Plus, I just plain think our world is worth saving for future generations of people, plants, animals and even Republicans (some of them).

But I'm not a perfect environmentalist... nobody is... not even Al Gore. That's why I'm starting this blog today. It's a way for me to share all of the big and little things that I learn about green living almost every day. Nothing that I write about will be revolutionary, but I guarantee some of my tips are worth implementing--and they might even save you some money. You like money, right?

It's daunting to try and change old habits, but I've found that the smallest changes often make the biggest impact. I learned a lot of this stuff the hard way. Maybe you can learn it the easy way--by reading this little green blog once in a while. Enjoy!