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 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 or 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


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.