Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Compost Post

Source: CC image on Flickr by Shygantic

No, this isn't about the food you eat. It's about the food you don't eat. In the developed world, 40%-50% of the trash sent to the landfill is organic matter. Food, paper towells, etc. Organic matter is capable of decomposing very quickly and returning it's component elements back to the earth for reuse, but this doesn't happen in a landfill. It can happen in a compost heap though. If we really want to lessen our impact on the Earth, we have to compost everything that we can.

Some of us live in apartments in big cramped cities, and for us it' really hard to make our own compost heaps. In some cities across the country, the government has stepped in to provide compost pick up, along with the ubiquitous trash and recycling pick ups. New York City did a pilot program for this in the Nineties, and decided it was not worth their while.
The overall conclusion reached from the various collection pilots is that while in certain cases it may be possible to collect source-separated food waste, collection route efficiency is very low and would be both expensive and impractical to implement on a significant scale. The studies of on-site systems conducted by DSNY and other parties demonstrated that these technologies remain cumbersome to operate, do not effectively control odors, and are therefore unsuitable for widespread use particularly in a dense urban setting.

Other cities such as San Francisco, have had very successful programs for years. While most large cities will probably move to municipal composting soon, it's hard for smaller towns to do the same sort of industrial composting as is done on the large scale for the municipal compost projects. If you live in an apartment,ask your landlord if it's okay to put a compost bin somewhere on the property and then tell all the other tenants about your compost bin. Katie and I have a surprisingly good compost bin going, after only about a month of use because six people are contributing to it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Kill a What? At the Library?

Kill A Watt on the shelf: Photo by Katie

I don't know about you, but I love the library. Mine is a very good one. In Williamsburg, I got fed up with it's branch of the Brooklyn Public Library which was only open till seven one day of the week. It had a decent selection of comic books, but every other section in the library was lacking. I haven't visited it in two years. But the Brooks Memorial Library is open till nine three nights a week. It has a variety of new and old books, magazines, CDs, VHS casettes, DVDs, and one more thing: a Kill A Watt.

Kill A Watt is a brand of electricity usage monitor. You can buy various electricity usage monitors for anywhere from $25 to $100. They have different bells and whistles, but you really don't need to use them very often. You take the Kill A Watt, plug it into the wall, and then plug your 120v appliances into them for a day or more. The Kill A Watt measures how much electricity runs through it and how much time has elapsed. You can use this to find phantom loads (the electricity used by things that are turned off) as well as to find out how much electricity it takes to do something like watch your favorite television show. It can help you remember to unplug appliances that are wasting energy.

Kill A Watt in its box: Photo by Katie

But I'm done with it, I've had it for two weeks and I don't need it any more. So it's fantastic that I don't own it and can just return it to the library. Someone else can use the same Kill A Watt that I've been using, and I don't have to know them or give it to them. This is part of a state-wide program from the Sustainable Energy Resource Group and they should be available in many Vermont libraries. But if you're not in Vermont, many other libraries have them available too. If your library doesn't, ask for them to get one.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Eating Locally Goes Global

Source: CC image on Flickr by Johnmuk

Locavores are the rise, and more than that fringe are the people who try and get an increasing amount of their foods from local sources. The ideas involved include knowing where your food came from, and supporting local food production, which usually means lower environmental costs.

There is a common theme of locavore challenges come harvest season now. Here in Brattleboro, we have the Windham Localvores Local Food Week which starts on september 13th, and the internet based Eat Local Challenge in october.

But things can't be as simple as just eat locally. What if your neighborhood is home to one of the biggest pork processors in the country? And most of the farms around the area are factory farms? At least the food doesn't have to travel as far to the supermarket. The News & Observer of North Carolina had a couple of articles this summer which followed the life and death of a pig that was exceptional. The N&O pig was raised on a small farm in the heart of big pork country. He was a heritage animal, and a product of natural breeding. He lived a little longer than his neighbors on other farms, got to do "pig things", and then went to slaughter at another small operation.

Watch both the audio slide shows.
Ossabaw Hogs, Naturally Raised
Ossabaw Hogs, Farm to Market

And here are the articles that went with them:
Rooting for Locavores
Gone to Market

Katie and I try to eat locally, naturally, frugally, and flavorfully. So far there is no rubric that combines these values and gives an absolute output. We have to just live our lives, and try our best tobe satisfied with the outcome.

Thanks to Varmint Bites for informing me of the articles.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

LIve Green (rhymes with five bean)

Source: CC image on Flickr by Paul Moody (No Relation)

Saturday Katie and I went to Live Green in Manchester, VT. It's a green lifestyle showcase and concert. Katie was there for her new job at Marlboro College Graduate Center's MBA in managing for sustainability, and I was there to help out and see the booths. The event was very well attended. They expected 400 people to show up, and more than 1,000 had arrived by 1:00.

Katie's booth was right next to the CVPS Cow Power booth. From our neighbor, we learned that 60% of our electrical needs could be provided by one dairy cow. We are not heavy electrical consumers, but there are certainly a lot of cows in America ready to help us with energy independence.

I also ran into Bill Hulstrunk, one of the teachers of the super-insulation course that I took at Yestermorrow this winter. In October, a friend and I are going to take a course on biofuels there.

While looking for pictures I came across this great set about industrial digesters.
Check out my previous post about biodiesel here.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Book Review: Bringing Nature Home

For some reason, I wrote this review in May, and thought that I'd posted it. The book Bringing Nature Home is the most influential book I've read this year, and I am very disappointed that I have not shared my views with all of you sooner.

Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy is several books in one. It's a manifesto, a guidebook, and a catalog of native species to use for landscaping and gardening. Tallamy begins by explaining why native plants support a greater amount of life than non-native ones. Non-native plants have different chemical compositions than native ones that are even closely related to them. This is a big issue for insects. Studies that he and others have done show that the numbers and types of insect feeding off of non-native plants are always significantly less than natives. These insects are the basis of converting much of the energy of the sun's rays into something that can be digested by larger animals. The replacement of or native forests and grasslands with manicured lawns and imported plants has our continent on the brink of catastrophe. The loss of habitat and food means that eventually many species will go extinct, and if a large insect extinction happens, it will be followed by a die-off of songbirds and small mammals, which will be followed by starvation and disease of larger animals, you can then imagine all the forest creatures that survive coming into the suburbs and cities and getting hit by cars in their search for food. One can only hope that would be the worst of it, but it might not.

This problem becomes nearly intractable when you realize how well non-natives can do when they are taken out of their natural environment. Plants that are outside of their home environment lose some of the pests they had before, sometimes they also bring along ones that they are already accustomed to, but their relatives are not. This makes them able to put more energy into growing and reproducing. Sometimes they have adaptations that make them invasive, such as a huge number of seeds, or fast thick growth that crowds out other plants.

Tallamy's solution is grassroots and simple: plant native, plant more in volume and kind. He makes the reader's job easier by creating lists region by region of native plants that can be used instead of their non-native counterparts. If one person changes their planting and landscaping habits, then a little bit of not-necessarilly natural, but livable environment comes back. If their neighbors do it, the increased size of the habitat can support species in that area. If we all do it across the continent, we can reverse the threat that all of our landscaping and highways and buildings pose on the environment and eventually on us.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Road Home

Source: Creative Commons image on Flickr by Professor Bop

I've moved out of Brooklyn, to the beautiful rolling hills of Southern Vermont. Hikes up green mountains, riverside bike trips, and strolls downtown are all available to me. Walkscore gives my apartment a 92 out of 100. But the coop which is two blocks away isn't listed, and a restaurant in nearby Wilmington is supposedly just a couple of blocks away, I submitted changes for both of those items in Google Maps for good measure. Katie and I are both happy with the new lifestyle.

Next week I will start a certificate program in Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency at Greenfield Community College. The program should give me a hand in transitioning my career to one of green renovation and rehabilitation. A lot of people seem to be coming around because of high fuel prices, but some people are thinking deeper about it. Earlier this week Katie and I went to see Tom Silva and Kevin O'Connor from This Old House at the ReStore in Springfield. The house that they were finishing up was actually a new house, but the owners had Tom and the crew of the ReStore dismantle the previous house after they could not find anyone to give the house away to. The remains were given to Habitat for Humanity and the ReStore and 90% of the teardown was diverted from a landfill.

Construction is a much bigger consumer of energy than normal home heating, but the costs are hidden in the prices of goods. So even though the house that they built on This Old House, wasn't technically old, the building philosophy is similar to renovating an old house.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Quick Bites: Thursday, May 22nd

This weekend, Katie and I went on the Putney Solar & Green Energy Home Tour. We visited an incredible owner built home on Putney Mountain that Katie said was "inspirational." It had a home made solar array supplying only 600 watts to the battery bank, but it was no small house. Everything was well thought out from the siting to the appliances: the fridge was gas, the stove which also supplied the hot water was wood, and they had a masonry stove for heating during the winter. They even had a washer and dryer.

Like pollinators, but don't want to keep honeybees? Why not get a native bee nesting block?

Or perhaps bats are more your style. Most bats in the U.S. are insectivores so keeping bats around is a great way to keep your garden healthy. Sadly bats in the Northeast have succumbed to an illness (currently called white nose syndrome) that uses up their fat stores for hibernation this winter. The bat houses that you can make or buy may not be occupied year round, because many species of bats are migratory, but they can hold hundreds at a time when they are occupied.

If you're thinking of replacing your consumer electronics (i.e. iPods, cell phones, etc) you might be interested in the CExchange. They help you appriase your product, then you mail it to them where they refurbish or recycle it, and send you money. Like Craigslist or eBay without the hassle.

My mom has been happily using a Sun Oven instead of her own indoor stove for the last couple of months and she swears that she'll write a review for me soon. But to tide myself over I found this review of solar ovens by Cooks Illustrated. It turns out that you can even use them as far north as Boston.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oh Green Consumer, Where Art Thou?

My Glidden Collection

I am a collector. I particularly love collecting tableware. China, glasses, silverware, it's all so wonderful. But I've run out of space and I have everything I need. Katie and I have a full service for 16 even though we only have room enough for four in our cabinet or at our table. When we move, that will change of course. We also have Fabulous menagerie desert plates by Glidden, a company from Alfred, NY in the 1950s. I have a set of eleven red with white polka dot Fitz and Floyd dinner plates with a variety of cups, saucers and accessories to match. And I have a tea service for four. But the desire to find new and exciting vintage tableware and kitchen goods continues.

Fitz and Floyd dots

I hope that my desire can be helpful to some of you. Collecting and using vintage ceramics is great for the environment. Ceramics have a high embodied energy, which means that a lot more energy is used to produce a ceramic plate than a paper or plastic plate. To make them a truly environmentally sensitive option ceramics have to be used over and over again. Except for some glazes or decorations, ceramics are usually chemically inert. All the harm that they caused to the environment was just in making them unlike in plastics where production is just the beginning of the trouble it causes.

My favorite china from childhood

So here's the deal: I want to connect you to the vintage tableware of your dreams. I've categorized a lot of great dinnerware from formal to casual, from rare to common, from cheap to expensive . I hope that I can help those of you that want and need dinnerware to select and acquire vintage pieces or a collection that you feel both fits you better than any other dinnerware and eliminates the waste of excess production. I'll help you find what you didn't even know existed and then I'll help you collect it. With so much wonderful design already in the world, everyone deserves to have tableware that makes them happy to eat off it. The fact that it can be had without manufacturing anything new is truly great.

Georges Briard's Fancy Free tea service

As I was researching this project, I actually fell off the wagon myself and bought a wonderful tea set by my new favorite mid-century designer Georges Briard. Please help me help you to some other excellent tableware, flatware, glasses, and cookware before I have to help myself to it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Getting your money

Source: Creative Commons image on Flickr by Sabine01

People are receiving their rebates from the IRS now. If you chose to receive your refund through direct deposit, you will be getting your rebate in the next two weeks depending on the last two digits of your social security number. If you are receiving a check, you may have to wait until July.

To see when you will get your rebate by, these handy tables created by the IRS will tell you.

Also, check out my poll about what you will be doing with your rebate check in the sidebar. The poll closes at midnight on May 8th.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Building Envelope

Source: Creative Commons Image on Flickr by magnetha

One of the most important things that you can do in your home is to seal it tight and insulate it right. A properly weather sealed and insulated home will keep you more comfortable and cost much less to maintain. If you rely on fossil fuels to heat your home, or electricity to cool it, now is the time to get an energy audit with a building envelope specialist. If you're not sure how pressing this is, read this article in the New York Times.

In February I went to a workshop at Yestermorrow Design/Build School called Super-Insulation for Zero Net Energy Homes. I learned a lot during the course, but it can be distilled down to a couple of things. First: Any hole in your home will draw air through it. If there is a difference in pressure which can be heat or wind, air will travel through the hole faster. So the protection your walls offer is usually least effective when you want it the most. Second: Not all insulation is equal. The way that insulation gets tested is not realistic, and some insulations are much poorer performers when installed. The worst culprit is fiberglass batting. This is the insulation that almost every home has in its walls and ceiling. The only two types of insulation worth using are foam and cellulose. That doesn't mean that you have to tear out your old insulation, but it does mean that it is under-performing. If you have insulation in your attic floor, you can spray an additional foot or two of cellulose insulation and greatly decrease the amount of heat coming and going through your roof for a very reasonable price. If you have air leaks and drafts, you can often investigate them and seal them up on your own.

I once again have to recommend the book The Home Energy Diet to anyone who wants to do it yourself. It goes through some of the methods of finding those energy leaks, so you can fix them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Obama's New Logo

Barack Obama's website just added a new section. Enviros.barackobama.com. I just love the modification of the O flag logo. It's a rising sun on green fields. The lack of the aqua like reflection is also nice.

Happy Earth Day

Source: Nasa Visible Earth Images

I hope you do something good today. At least stop reading this blog and go outside.


Monday, April 21, 2008

In The Bathroom

Source: Creative Commons image on Flickr by betsyjean79

First things first: You need a bathroom fan. Moisture is the enemy of houses, and bathrooms produce a lot of it. While you are getting a bathroom fan, you should step up and buy a two speed one that can be used at low RPM full time and high RPM when you are showering. The need for the two speeds will become more important as you improve the rest of your house and it's good to get it out of the way now.

Bathrooms use a lot of water. If you were building new I would tell you to save some of that water by plumbing for gray water reuse from your shower and sink, but it can certainly be a difficult even for new construction just to make it legal, on old construction you also have to get under the floorboards and replace old pipes as well as installing new ones. This is not for the faint of heart.

But you can still reduce your total water use by installing recent low flow toilets and shower heads. Low flow toilets have improved a lot in the past fifteen years, and now they work just as good or better than the old water hog ones. I don't know about low flow shower heads. I don't get a chance to try many and you only really notice if it's low flow if you don't like it. I wish that there were somewhere You could test them all out, like the Home Depot. I would like to try some of these shower heads from Bricor out, when I move I think I will get one but I have no idea which one.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Quickie: Fireplaces and Stoves

Source: Creative Commons image on Flickr by Adam Melancon

Do you have a fireplace in your living room or study? Do you use it regularly for heating? If you replace it with a modern stove, you won't have to cut as much wood, but you'll still be warmer than before. But what if you want to heat more than just one room with a wood stove? Most people I know who use wood heat do have modern stoves, but their warmth is mainly provided by radiation.

First, a little science: There are three types of heat transfer. Conduction is where heat is transfered between two things that are touching. This is not something you want to do with a stove, it burns. Radiation is where energy travels in waves through space and hits an object. This is how you feel the heat of the fire, it is also blocked by any solid object. Convection is where heat travels through the air by an air current created by the different densities of hot and cold air. Convective currents can travel around corners.

If you want to heat more of your house with your wood stove, you need to get the convective currents moving. The best way to do this is with fans. Ceiling fans that reverse directions for summer and winter use are great for this, but another valuable and inexpensive product is a stovetop fan that is powered exclusively by the conductive heat of the stovetop. It's called the Ecofan. It comes in three models and starts around $100. It moves 100 cubic feet a minute (CFM) for the smaller model and 150 CFM for the larger model. It really does make the whole house more comfortable.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Green Renovation, Repair and Remodeling: 3 More "R's"

One thing that you can count on is change. What really defines modernity is that change is constant and unpredictable. Change drives the economy of all durable goods. If something works and is desirable forever then there won't be many of it that need to be made. In American homes, that is why we renovate, repair, and remodel. It is also why we build new homes when there are many old homes for sale, but green renovation, repair, and remodeling, are what it is of consequence to this blog about how you should spend your money, and they are what interest me.

during the next week or so, I will detail some of the ways that you can do the 3 more green "r's" throughout your home. Because Flip That House always focuses on how you should do redo the kitchen to improve the saleability of a home I will start there.

Source: Creative Commons Image on Flickr by betsyjean79

On TV they are always talking about updating cabinets, and often pulling out quality custom cabinetry and replacing it with particleboard or plywood trash. Seriously. All they are doing is bringing VOCs and solvents into the home where there were none before. If your kitchen cabinets are more than fifty years old, I recommend that you keep them. You can paint or replace the doors, and if they are really in bad shape you can replace them, but remember that you are decreasing indoor air quality if you buy cheap cabinets.

Granite countertops are all the rage right now. They're pretty, but you can also get countertops that look like stone and are made from recycled materials instead of open quarries. There are ones made from recycled glass like EnviroSlab and Trinity Glass and even paper from Squak Mountain Stone which I mentioned a few weeks ago.

One place that it almost always make sense to invest is in more efficient appliances. The Energy Star label is a good place to get started. It's a designation created by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy to show products that have met certain efficiency standards. Energystar.gov keeps up-to-date lists of the appliances that have received the Energy Star rating, as well as their actual energy consumption. Some Energy Star labeled products are much more efficient than others, so it is a good idea to read the numbers on the models you are considering. If you want to know more about how more efficient appliances can save you money as well as helping the environment, I recommend the book The Home Energy Diet by Paul Scheckel.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Perfect Pollinators I: Bees

It's springtime in New York, and the trees are all blooming. The flowers are pretty of course, but they serve a much greater purpose. All the flowers are there so that those plants can reproduce. A plant can't create seeds, nuts, berries, fruits and eventually more plants without those flowers being pollinated. Some plants can be pollinated by the wind, but the vast majority of them are are dependent on flying animals to do the job for them. Those animals are bees, birds, bats, and some other insects.

You have probably heard of Colony Collapse Disorder, bee colonies are dying off at an alarming rate. They've found that what all the bees that succumb to this are stressed out, but there is no other universal connection. Native bees are also being rapidly replaced by Africanized honey bees in the warmer parts of the country. We need our pollinators, so in the case of bees we must look to the slow movement and start thinking about slow bees. Ross Conrad, a soapmaker and beekeeper in Middlebury Vermont, just published a book called Natural Beekeeping as a guide to this increasingly important field. In Vermont, beekeeping is a hobby and cottage industry for many people. You can often see signs in people's front yards advertising their fresh honey. But I haven't noticed it in the rest of the U.S. If you have a back yard and are at all interested in this, first watch this video, and then consider getting the book and starting your own colony.

There is a new blog about the local beekeeping community in The West River Valley of Vermont which is just getting itself together, but it turned me onto Ross Conrad and his book.

Update: Of course you might not want to keep bees. How can you get in on the natural beekeeping movement? Of course they sell honey. Look for more natural honey at your local farmer's market.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Biodiesel Ahoy!

Source: CC photo on Flickr by rrelam

There’s a new gas in town and it smells like French fries. Biodiesel is a great way to power a vehicle without having to use fossil fuels. As long as you don't use petroleum based fertilizers, the plants that grew the oil for the biodiesel absorbed the same carbon that the car releases into the atmosphere. And as long as you keep planting more crops that carbon is offset by the new crops. You can even use oil that has already been used for cooking. But how do you start using this wonder elixer? First you need a car that runs on diesel (you can also use biodiesel to run a generator) and then you might need do do a fairly easy conversion to winterize your car for biodiesel. Older cars need their rubber fuel lines replaced with synthetic ones. Finally you need to get or make your fuel.

Where do you find a car and the fuel? Well if you live in California, those tasks can be handled by a professional. Biobling is a company that will help connect you with a car just like Match.com will help connect you with a mate. Because a car is no good if you can’t drive it, Biobling also hooks you up with fuel.

But biodiesel is still very much a do-it-yourself craft for many people. Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren Vermont, actually offers a class on modifying your vehicle and two lucky registrants can have their car modified during the course. Everyone else will have to wait until they get home.

How do you get your biodiesel? Make Magazine had an article in it’s third issue about making a tiny batch of biodiesel which explains the basic ideas. There are several homebrew biodiesel websites which show how the community has developed systems for making medium sized batches, and you can even take classes to learn that too. But there are also a lot more gas stations that sell the stuff than you would imagine. Go to NearBio.com to find biodiesel near your home, or use the trip wizard to plan your route.

Homebrew and Enthusiast sites:
Collaborative Biodiesel Tutorial: Has plans and tutorials for many processing systems
It's Good For You Biodiesel FAQ: Answers all of your questions in a non-technical manner
GirlMark.com: She offers courses on making your own biodiesel

Monday, April 7, 2008

Et tu, Brute?

Image from the Royal Shakespeare Company's Julius Caesar

Congestion Pricing has been smothered by the democrats of the State Assembly. They are scum. This proves that Democrats, are not progressive they are just cowardly republicans who lack the vision to actively commit evil. I am so pissed off right now.

The Democrats killed the bill in a closed session. If we were in a modern state, I would propose a recall.

From the New York Times article:
"It takes a special type of cowardice for elected officials to refuse to stand up and vote their conscience on an issue that has been debated, and amended significantly to resolve many outstanding issues, for more than a year," Mr. Bloomberg said. "Every New Yorker has a right to know if the person they send to Albany was for or against better transit and cleaner air."

I would like to call this short-sightedness on the part of the Assembly, but it's not. If they were just short-sighted they would have nothing to fear about resolving it in an open session. Protecting themselves from public opinion is a dirty, shameful act. Being publicly opposed to congestion pricing is a far more noble way of acting than this back-room farce.

Hopefully some other city can use the money that the DOT was going to give New York if the bill was passed. But I don't see who would use it better - 1/4 of US public transportation users are in the New York metropolitan area.

So What should you do?

Find your assembly members and lodge your complaint.
New York State Assembly

Send your support to Mayor Bloomberg.
Office of the Mayor

Support the organizations that backed Congestion Pricing.
Transportation Alternatives
Straphangers Campaign
Environmental Defence Fund

Monday, March 31, 2008

The System Works

Source: Creative Commons image on Flickr by adamgreenfield

Tonight the New York City Council, passed a resolution to recommend congestion pricing to the state. The state has a week to approve it. The bad news is that my councilwoman Diana Reyna voted against this. Suffice it to say, I will not be supporting her for reelection.

Congestion pricing will charge auto commuters to enter Manhattan below 60th Street, and all of the proceeds will go directly to improving the transit system. If congestion pricing goes into effect it should reduce Manhattan auto traffic by 10% during the weekdays, as well as reducing city asthma rates by 10%. Streets should be saner, and public transportation will be better.

Check out the article in the New York Times to see if your councilperson voted yes or no and to read what Bloomberg had to say.

Greener Gadgets Pt. III: What's Disposable?

One of the Most influental books for the modern green movement is Cradle to Cradle. The book explores how the modern system of production views a product's lifecycle, and how recycling generally creates poorer and poorer materials. The authors suggest a new system where components get broken back into their original materials to be made anew.
Some technology companies are starting to think this way, and what comes out of this change can be radically new and different products.

the gadget with the shortest lifespan is certainly the cellphone. Cellphone recycling is a big thing these days, but it is expensive to manually disassemble the phones for their more valuable components (which means that it doesn't necessarily happen). Nokia has created a concept cellphone that is made of a plastic that expands when heated. When it's time to recycle the phone, they heat it up and it can easily be disassembled without tools. But these have not come to the market. The active disassembly concept is one that needs to come to market soon.

Leica the maker of high end cameras has recently stepped into the digital camera market, but besides making fantastically cute miniature point-and-shoot cameras, they have a camera that follows in the footsteps of their venerable M series. These are the cameras that look like Leicas. The M8 digital camera can use just about any lens that other M series cameras can use, but that is something that other manufacturers have done with their high end digital SLRs for a while. What Leica brings to the game is a new idea of permanence. If you buy an M8 camera, you can have it's internal components upgraded when something newer or better comes along without replacing the camera. You just send it to a service center, give them your money, and shortly they will send you back the upgraded camera.

The Authors of Cradle to Cradle have started a firm to certify products which meet some of the ideal that they put forth in the book. On their website they have a list of the products that have gained the certification. They don't have any gadgets yet, but among other things they have certified the new priority mail packages as C2C Silver.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Quick Bites: Saturday 3/29/08

Here are a few things from around the web:

Today Google has taken the market from Blackle while debunking it at the same time. The search page is black today in notice of Earth Hour tonight from 8PM to 9PM. We are supposed to all turn off our lights during this period to bring awareness to climate change.

Design Sponge DIY Wednesdays features a fun way to reuse security envelopes.

Popular Mechanics has an article on the Best of Green Design. It showcases a couple of new things I haven't seen including a Biodiesel processor, and fiberous cement countertops made from crosscut shredded paper, fly ash, and concrete made by Squak Mountain Stone.

In the book The World Without Us there is a scary section about what will become of our funery remains after they are interred in the ground. But Tree Hugger now has a guide for your green funeral.

Malika said she is going to start volunteering for Urban Farming. On their site they mention that during WWII 40% of the nation's produce came from victory gardens. Anything that helps create urban green spaces and increases local food production is a good thing. Great job Malika.

Taking Time Off Part II: Vacationing

Photo by Katie

First things first: Next time you take a commercial flight consider buying the carbon offset. While I'm not really convinced that carbon offsets for consumers are a good solution to the problem of global warming, I think that they do push the issue that there are consumers willing to spend more when there is an additional environmental benefit. 

Next, when you're ready to plan your next vacation, think about what you want to get out of it, not just where you want to go. Do you want a cultural experience? Just get some rest? Personal growth? To see something that might not be around for long? To see something that has been around for a very long time? Or do you want to get closer to your family?

If you think of this rather than just the vague idea of a vacation or a destination, you won't be easily trapped in an unsatisfying and non-green vacation.

What you want to get out of your vacation is a very personal thing. Even if you don't have the ability to spend much time in your daily life connecting to your core values because you are working at a job that minimizes those values, when you  are on vacation the whole time can be used to reinforce and reconnect to those values.

I love to go away because I can really rest at night when there are not animals waking me throughout the night and I don't have to worry about the clutter of the house. But I don't have to travel far to get that feeling. If you're in New York, take a day trip to Fire Island and get that feeling. You can camp there too, but you have to call to get the permit. It's a beautiful barrier island with a lot of sandy soil loving vegetation. Very much like Cape Cod.

Ecotourism is a double edged sword. Especially in nations without strong park systems like the U.S. Bringing tourists to environmentally sensitive areas of a chance to encounter rare biology can really be trouble, but when the process is managed well it offers economic incentives to locals who can protect the area, and would otherwise find different ways to profit from it. Going on a safari of some sort just has such mystique. And this can preserve open space and habitat for native species. Check out Planeta.com for a greater look into ecotourism it's been around since 1994 and has a large collection of original material as well as links to other guides and operators.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Greener Gadgets Part II - Less Is More

How much Power do you need? If you're talking about computers, the answer is probably less than you already have. Do you just use the internet, do word processing, listen to music, and watch videos or DVDs on your computer? My mom has an eight year old laptop (formerly my own) that can do all of these things.
One of VIA's tiny motherboards

Manufacturers are starting to realize that we have enough power for most of what we use our computers for and they are starting to focus more on the benefits that efficiency can bring. VIA is a company that has over the last several years carved out a niche innovating and making smaller and less power hungry processors and motherboards. These can be used to build computers that use as little as a standard incandescent light bulb including the monitor. That is a huge deal for someone using on-site power generation. These computers can be tiny and fanless, so the make almost no noise. VIA makes a few other initiatives including selling "carbon neutral" processors that they guarantee to plant a number of trees equal to the expected carbon output a the coal plant creates to power your computer.
The Nokia N810 Internet Tablet

Another type of computing that is even lower power has begun to take off, UMPCs and internet tablets are hand-held computers that can do all of the things I mentioned in the top of this post, except play DVDs, because they have no space for a disc drive. Nokia, the cellphone company, really opened up this category a couple of years ago, by making a sub $400 internet tablet. Many other companies now realize that price is very important for these devices. Sadly, Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch are not quite able to do all of these things, including browsing the internet like on a computer (they lack Flash support) and they lack support for an external keyboard.

The Asus Eee PC

If either of these options seems a little nerdy for you, remember that laptops generally use less power than desktops, and most people who think that the above options are too nerdy you probably don't need more expandability than laptops provide either, so you should go that route when getting your next computer. If you want a very limited but very small and inexpensive laptop, many people like the Asus Eee PC: It runs linux, has a tiny hard drive, and no optical (DVD) drive.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Farm Share or Fish Share?

My friend Annie works at a non-profit called The Island Institute, which is dedicated to maintaining the lifestyle of rural island communities in Maine. She recently sent me this article from the Christian Science Monitor about Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) which are much like CSAs. Her foundation recently hosted an information session about them.

The fishermen in the program use ground net fishing, which with the wrong nets and on a big enough scale can be incredibly devastating to the sea floor. I asked Annie about this, and she told me that they are very careful about the nets and techniques that they use.

So if you live near the coast and like seafood, you should see if there is a CSF starting up in your area. If not there are a number of direct marketers hellbent on FedExing you fresh caught seafood, some of which is sustainably harvested.

Some CSFs:
Carteret County North Carolina
Port Clyde Draegerman's CoOp in Maine

And everyone can get involved in these (Which is a long way from what the Community I think about when I think Community Supported Fishery):
Alaska Marine Conservation Council
Your very own lobster pot
The White Boot Brigade Shrimp from Louisiana

Update: Annie read what I wrote and wanted to clarify: although the fishers in the area are working towards having the most sustainable ground fishing practices they can, this is an ongoing process. There is scientific data being collected, new nets being manufactured, legislation being considered, you name it. But the will is there and the fishers are dedicated to making it happen.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Congestion Pricing

Saturday I will be in Williamsburg with Transportation Alternatives getting people to write letters to their representatives in support of congestion pricing in New York City. If you are a New York resident, you should check out why we need congestion pricing.

The deadline to pass a bill is Monday March 31st. If we can get this through there will actually be less cars on the street in Manhattan, more subway cars, more buses, and even dedicated bus lanes to make that slow form of transportation faster.

If you see someone who looks like they might be having people write letters on Saturday, stop and write one to your representative.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Taking Time Off Part I- Volunteering

Image Source: Creative Commons image on Flickr by OldOnliner

$600 can go a good way to supplement the lost wages of an hourly employee who chooses to take some time off. In this post I'll write about the ways you can help the environment with your volunteer time. Sometimes just a couple of hours during the week isn't the type of volunteering help that organizations need. Volunteering on a larger project can also lead to a greater feeling of accomplishment as you reach bigger goals.

If you visit Idealist.org or VolunteerMatch.org you can use your location or a complex set of filters to find a volunteer job that is perfect for you and your vacation schedule.

Habitat for Humanity has different volunteering rules for different communities, and in the past I probably wouldn't recommend it as a place for environmentally focused volunteering, but recently it and many organizations focused on low income housing have started to address energy efficiency to bring down the total cost of ownership on newer homes as well as focusing on indoor air quality issues which are generally caused by toxins that not only cause asthma but leach into the water table eventually. While I was checking out its website for this post, I also found that they have a series of stores that retail used and surplus building materials. These ReStores are in the vain of many local reuse stores throughout the country, which are hip now that they are indoors. Scrap yards an junk yards never took care of the merchandise they had in them, but these new stores go a long way towards ensuring that you will get a quality used, surplus, or reclaimed product.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Guest Post: The Nature Mill Composter

My Friend Malika recently got an electric composter. And we at Green Rebates had an easy time convincing her to write a review of her time with it so far.

She has a lot good to say about the one she got. It's made by NatureMill. These composters start at $299 right now, but the company has an amazing deal where three friends can buy a composter and they all receive a 15% discount. While Malika has a NatureMill Plus, They make both a more expensive pro version that comes in multiple colors and a pet composter that Katie and I are now planning to buy.

Read Malika's Review:

The NatureMill composter is a good size for any kitchen, however it is just a little too big to put under our sink, so we've decided to sit it directly on the countertop. The black, sleek look is good in that it doesn't stand out too much. We use the composter daily, as you might imagine. This composter is unique in that you can add dairy, fish and meat into it because of the heating component. It doesn't smell when the lid is closed, but there is definitely an odor & condensation when you open it. Donny enjoys the smell, which is a combination of coffee, heat and nature. It's just as easy to put the food scraps in the composter as it is in the trash can. It's just a different kind of recycling bin. Every few hours the mixing starts. Our apartment is a very open space with hardly any closed off rooms, which means you can hear things from just about anywhere inside. For us this translates to the composter being very loud and noticeable. The two major sounds are the motor and the mixing bar hitting the latches. We actually thought the composter was broken when we first received it because of the strange sounds. We've slowly gotten used to the sounds, but its mostly just unpleasant in the middle of the night when you are trying to sleep. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a consistent time of day or length that it chooses to mix. This composter could go outside, which would greatly reduce the noise factor, but would be less convenient. After the compost reaches a certain level (usually after about 2 weeks time, depending on how much food you put in) it is ready to transfer into the small pot below. A final mix occurs before you transfer. The liquid from the compost is supposed to land in a separate container, but inevitably it also goes into the pot. We've only transferred once so far and it is a little bit messy in the pot. After 2 transfers you are ready to pull the entire pot out. There is definitely a heavy smell, but the messy compost is quite contained in the pot. There are several options at this stage. You could lay out the compost to dry and cure or you could use it right away. I used the compost immediately on some fruit trees I had already planted. After a few weeks of being outside a thin layer of white mold has started to grow on the compost. Every so often I rake the compost to break up the clumps and get it more invested in the soil. I think next time I will probably mix it with soil first before spreading it over the garden to hopefully avoid the mold process. It's definitely a learn as you go kind of gadget. Also to note, the composter itself is made up of recycled and recyclable materials.

The NatureMill company seems to be on the newer side. I've never had a phone conversation with anyone from the company, but it was easy to buy directly off their website. I have had many email exchanges with a customer service rep named Sanford. They are even sending us a new mixing bar at no cost to see if this will reduce the noises it makes. Not sure if that will work, but I appreciate their willingness to help.

The composter is also really great for educating friends and family about the environment. Donny was was a bit weary at first and is not always inclined to recycle. He's come around and is genuinely excited and interested in the composter. It has been a good vehicle for us to communicate about the environment with one another. We're constantly discussing what you can & can't put in the composter, which makes it quite interactive.

It also helps train your brain to separate: food goes in one place, paper/plastics/etc go in another and non-recyclable waste goes in a 3rd place.
Before purchasing the composter we had about 1-2 heavy bags of trash per week. Now that we recycle more and use the composter for all appropriate waste, we're down to less than a full bag of trash every 2 weeks. I think that is quite a significant change. I think what I've learned most from using the composter is really how much food we waste. We don't just put scraps in the composter. We also put in food that has gone bad, especially when cleaning out the refrigerator. This makes you realize even more how to try and conserve the amount you buy or make. Even though we do get rid of food, it does make me feel good that we are still able to use it. Since having the composter I've been inspired and recently started a vegetable garden so that I can use the fertilizer for a real "full circle" experience.

I particularly like the fact that it can compost meat and other less easily composted matter. This is a real boon to anyone who wants to compost in a small space. The demand for small backyard orchards is growing according to the New York Times and this might be something great to help people's green thumbs.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Old Clothes Are New Again

Source: Creative Commons image on Flickr by Andy Ihnatko

My brother is getting married in a week. And I thought about buying a new suit or having one made. For My wedding last year I had a suit made and I am very pleased with it. But I have some very nice vintage suits that don't fit me well any more. And they are very much my style too.

So I decided to have one of my favorites altered to fit me better. My boss recommended a tailor's called Luigi's Quality Tailoring. I stopped by last Friday, and they took in the sides, trimmed the shoulders, and removed the cuffs of the slacks by Wednesday. Now I have an excellent suit that I've always loved and fits me better than it ever has for the price of a cheap suit that doesn't really fit.

A coat used to be an heirloom, and it's value endured beyond the fickle sensibilities of fashion. If we want to waste less while ensuring a healthy economy, we need to help skilled laborers such as tailors to preserve our goods rather than disposing of them.

Source: Creative Commons photo by Pavlos Pavlidis on Flickr
In Japan there is a system in place where lost and found items are brought to the police and the owners can pick them up for six months after they are delivered. Thousands of umbrellas are lost every rainstorm, and a few generations ago most of them would have been retrieved by their owners, but now only three out of every thousand are reclaimed. See the article in the New York Times and consider maintaining your possession even when it would be so easy to just replace them with something new.

Totes umbrellas come with a lifetime warranty for replacement or repair, so buy one and you'll never need another one.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bringing Nature Home

In today's New York Times there is an article about repatriating your outdoor space with native plants in order to feed native insects and birds. The article features Doug Tallamy, author of the book Bringing Nature Home. He and his wife spend their free time killing plants on their property that are inedible to native insects and other animals. The problem is that as these plants crowd out the mainly native edible plants, the animals that used to rely on those species starve.

To learn how to change your backyard environment for the better, buy the book or ask for it at your local library.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Greener Gadgets Pt. 1: Solar Backpack

If you follow gadget or environmental blogs, you might know that there was recently a conference recently in New York about greener gadgets. Gadgets are big polluters on the grand scale of things. Harvesting and disposing of the raw materials for the ultra-refined components of every technological item is a big pollution ditch to climb out of. Efficiency is one way to make gadgets greener, but some products rethink the equation.

Some products generate their own power using solar panels, some are made of materials that are better for the environment, and some are made to be recycled more easily. This backpack made by Reware generates power for your gadgets, newer versions are even made in the USA from recycled soda bottles. It charges your cell phone, iPod, GPS unit, rechargeable batteries, etc. using a standard car charger outlet. 

There are other solar backpacks on the market, but the Reware ones use thin film solar so the panels won't break (most others are made out of hard glass panels), are made in the USA of recycled bottles, and have removable solar panels so that the packs can be washed.

I use the iGo car adapter and tips from Radio Shack to make all my gadgets work with the backpack.

Even if you're not out hiking, you can always leave your backpack in the window to charge your stuff.

The bags run from $200-400, so this is a perfect use for your refund check.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Household Goods

Source: www.ifyoucare.com

Just a quickie, while I'm working on some other posts: Here's something Mundane that you can do that actually adds up. Whenever you run out of your paper towells, or toilet paper, or aluminum foil, replace it with the recycled kind.

If you've gone ahead and decided to plant trees for reforestation, why waste other trees for something as silly as wiping up the OJ you spilled this morning? Sure it's usually a little more expensive, but you're getting $600 in the mail soon. Remember to get 100% recycled with as high a post consumer recycled content as possible, and are chlorine bleach free. This article has a rundown of brands including their recycled and bleach content.

Recycled aluminum foil takes 95% less energy to produce than non-recycled, and protects land that would otherwise be mined.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Community Gardens

Source: julianmeade cc photograph of Tricycle Community Garden

I apologize for the delay, community gardens are so varied, I wasn't sure if what I was writing was a fair portrayal of the subject. But this is the world wide web, and what's so unusual about that?

So what's up with community Gardens? The concept is simple, a piece of open space in an urban area is used by community members as a place to garden. Generally people get their own plots from less than the size of a sheet of plywood to more than the size of a Ford Expedition. Some gardens have membership fees, some have volunteer work to remain in good standing, many have both.

When you join a community garden, you can plant fruits vegetables and flowers in your plot and must tend it to see your plants thrive. There isn't enough space to get all of your produce from your plot, but in high summer you may be able to get a lot.

The American Community Gardening Association has an incomplete list of gardens that can be searched by garden name or zip code. There aren't any gardens listed for where my parents live, but there are a whole lot listed in New York, as well as near Beverly Hills 90210. So you can try your luck with that database, or just look around in your neighborhood.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


In the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver calls February "the hungry month." While you are contemplating your hunger, why not think to this summer when foods will be growing in your garden and can be easily harvested.

What? You don't have a garden? Not enough room? You live in an apartment! I do too. Katie and I have tried to grow some plants in our windows, but they all face north and plants never thrive. But we do want to eat foods fresh from our garden or farm anyway. If only there were a way to have some direct stake in the land and the bounty that came from it without owning land.

Actually there are two ways. Community Supported Agriculture(CSA)/farm shares are one and another is the community garden. Both allow you to enjoy the bounty of the harvest at a more personal level, but each has its own strengths.

CSAs are a way for you and me to connect directly to a farm where our produce is grown and directly support the farmers that grow it. There are three reasons that this is important. Financially: food you buy in the supermarket gives very little of every dollar you spend to the farmers who grew it. See the USDA infographic below.
Source: www.prairiepublic.org USDA infographic

Your money can go farther too. You pay for part or all of your share before the food comes to the market so the farmer has money to pay expenses without relying on credit or loans. For your part, the food is often but not always cheaper than if you bought the equivalent food at a supermarket. The Environmental benefits are even better. Many farms that participate in CSAs use organic or Integrated Pest Managaement practices. And by the very nature of a CSA, the farm that supplies your food has to be a close drive to your pickup location. The final reason that CSAs are good is, for lack of a better word, spiritually. You know where your food was grown. You know the farmer who grew it. And you are sharing in the bounty of the harvest, a tradition as old as agriculture itself.

You can find a local CSA by going to www.localharvest.org and entering your zip code.

Tomorrow I will tell you about community gardens.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Because the rebate is really just an early refund on the 2008 tax year, there is a lot to be said for spending it on something that will reduce your tax liability. Making donations to non-profits like American Forests like I suggested yesterday is one way to do it. But there are still a few tax credits out there for buying renewables or hybrid vehicles. Because the IRS is so bizarre, Toyota vehicles no longer qualify for a tax credit but Ford, GM, Nissan, and Honda all still have them. Check it out here. Replacing inefficient appliances and insulating your home also still have tax credits from the same legislation. But if you're hoping to get solar or wind power, you should check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. They have a great map, just click and save! Here is their page on the personal tax credit.

Monday, February 11, 2008

six oh oh?

My grandmother always tells me "Don't spend it all in one place." whenever she gives me money. Five dollars or fifty dollars, it doesn't matter, that's the advice that I get. So if we were going to spend this money in a lot of places what would be the best way to do that?

I'm going to cheat here, I'm going to say "I could plant trees all over the world."

American Forests has a program called Global ReLeaf where for every dollar you donate, they will plant a tree. Trees are planted in urban areas as well as in less urban areas. Attention is payed to restoring natural habitats and ecosystems.

Here's a list of all the places you can plant trees with American Forests.
$600 = 600 trees all over the world
Want to get some more bang for your buck?

Think that the trees must be going away for some reason?

Maybe it's all that junk mail you keep getting.

There are a number of companies that promise to reduce your junk mail. My wife got Green Dimes to do it for us. For $20, they will stop your junk mail and plant 10 trees using one of their affilliates.
$20 = A lot less junk mail + 10 trees
You might want to take note that there's a very interesting article in Portfolio.com about the business model of Green Dimes and its parent company Tonic.

Friday, February 8, 2008

They're Coming!

It's official, we're getting a rebate from the government.

Or are we? The New York Times and MSN both have their takes on why this money is not free, and why it probably won't help out in the ways that lawmakers claim that it should.

But what's done is done. Now we have to decide whether or not to spend it. But if we do spend it, what's the wisest way? Besides getting rid of debt? Saving the world of course. Between now and May when the checks are actually sent, I'm going to help point out the ways that your share of the $168,ooo,ooo,ooo can be spent to make a difference in emerging fields of green technology to environmental stewardship, to... well we'll just see what else you and I can come up with from here.

That's a lot of zeros up there, and there's no way President Bush will do anything to slow climate change in his administration without us doing it for him. People will thank us later.