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!