Wednesday, October 28, 2009

OH NO!!! Thinking Christmas

Last week I saw my first TV commercial for Christmas. This week the Christmas virus must have spread, I've seen 3 new commercials from different companies. GAAAK!

OK, (take breath here) now October really is the time I've always started thinking of Christmas and Christmas presents. Though, unlike before, this year I'm imposing two constraints: 1) think basics, 2) pursue low footprint.

So how am I doing this? Had the ahha moment last spring when my handspinning guild started talking about a dishcloth ring. Never heard of it before. The premise is to make a handknitted dishcloth and exchange it.

Hmm. Handmade dishcloth. But why? A dishcloth costs under a buck, unless you're looking at designer stuff. Where would a handmade dishcloth fit in? But wait, it can make footprint sense! I knit a dishcloth and give it as a gift. Cost of gift is $1.50 in materials max (unless you have a field of cotton and have spun the yarn...sure I have many pounds of cotton fiber in my stash, but this year, not enough time to spin it into yarn for dishcloths, so I'll buy cotton yarn) and $0 in time (labor of love). Balance that against the cost of a stupid present that will be thrown out or regifted $5-$20. The recip of my gift will lay it over the kitchen sink faucet, whether they ever wash dishes by hand or not. No one will throw out a handmade dishcloth and they may actually use it. And each time they use it they remember the knitter. Warm fuzzy moment here.

OK now about packaging my gift dishcloths. I've saved up all the tissue paper from gifts-past. I've also saved past gift boxes and envelopes. Basically, having not landfilled either, saving for reuse, becomes my small statement against landfilling gift wrapping.

So basically, I'm now knitting a slew of dishcloths as Christmas gifts. Trying to start a trend back to gifts being a labor of love and practicality and not a 'just grab something from a store to satisfy a gift requirement' and buy gift wrappings that will instantly be put into the landfill.

Yes, we can reduce our footprint and return to the basics of what a Christmas gift from the heart really means.

Make it personal.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

cash for clunkers--preventing CO2 emissions?

It's been all over the news. The cash-for-clunkers program blew through a billlion dollars in the first week. The House of Representatives has approved 2 billion more dollars before they headed out on summer vacation. The Senate has yet to vote.

Where is the money coming from? The bill states: "shall be derived by transfer from the amount made available for 'Department of Energy - Energy Programs - Title 17 - Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program' in title IV of division A of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5)." In English this is the money that is suppose to go to the car companies to develop innovative new fuel efficient vehicles. So the decision point is --how much innovation can be made in auto technology with $2B? And what will be the environmental impact if the car companies aren't given this money to comply with the new MPG standards? Will this mean taxpayers will have to come up with the money later on? Good question.

Let's look at the footprint of this realize that I have not put pencil to paper for a detailed analysis but here is some basic information: the biggest generator of CO2 is driving, accounting for 72 percent of emissions through the life of a car (calculated by Toyota) and the average lifetime of a car is 9 years or 90,000 miles. So how much CO2 is this cash for clunkers program preventing from entering the environment? Assuming one drives 10,000 miles/year and the car gets 18 MPG that is 556 gallons of gasoline used. If the new car gets 25 MPG, as required by the cash for clunkers program, the amount of gas used in a year is 400 gallons. EPA states that the CO2 content is 19.4 pounds CO2/gallon so the cash for clunkers program will save 3000 pounds of CO2 per car in the first year. This means the taxpayer is paying $0.50/pound CO2 not emitted by buying a new car now (assumption is that a clunker would have only lasted 3 more years). If the market rate of CO2 is $35/ton, thus, doing the math, the taxpayer is paying $1000/ton to reduce CO2.

Hmm. This doesn't sound like a cost effective carbon reduction strategy. However, the key comparison here is whether giving the car companies $3B, in LOANS, would result in a better return on taxpayer investment in producing innovative new highly efficient vehicles and the taxpayer would get their money back.

Granted, people seem to feel good about this program and at least it is putting control back in the hands of the citizens. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Waste-to-energy element in the Cap-and-trade bill

As I discussed in my prior post, I have downloaded and am reading the House of Representatives 'energy' bill. If any of you wish to read it you can find it at:

One of the early things mentioned in this bill that peaked my interest is the short discussion of waste-to-energy conversion. The bill encourages waste-to-energy conversion operations for municipal solid waste (MSW), construction debris (of course this assumes we ever get back into constructing houses!) and disaster debris. The problem with disaster debris being using in waste-to-energy conversion processes is the government agency who is in charge. If an agencies SOP is to landfill, well then by golly they will landfill even though bills such as this one are trying to encourage use of renewable energy. We shall see after the next hurricane.

The restriction this bill places on waste-to-energy is that the locality that has such a facility must also have an active recycle program for 'residents' in place. The way I read this is that this assumes that waste-to-energy is under control of a local government and not a privately owned operation.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Waxman-Markley climate change bill--change for change sake?

The hottest topic this week, besides the 100+ degree temperatures here in the South is the Waxman-Markley climate change bill which squeaked through the House by the skin of its teeth last week. This bill includes a cap-and-trade global warming reduction plan designed to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020.

I'm a big fan of renewable energy and think that this is a good direction to move,however, we, as a nation, shouldn't be so open minded that our brains fall out.

The sad thing about all this hoopla about the need to have a climate change bill pass quickly is that there is a lot of misinformation being put out, including by our leaders, no doubt due to the complexity of the issues under discussion.

When ever is it prudent to do things quickly? Don't we teach our teenagers to think before doing or you can get into a whole bunch of trouble.

I plan, over the next few weeks, to go through the bill and highlight the good, the bad and the truly ugly for y'all and suggest what it could mean for our dirty footprint. So stay tuned!....


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Personal sustainability? Time for a victory garden

It's April, the dogwoods are in bloom, so are the azaleas here in Georgia and I'm figuring out what to do about my garden.

Why? Groceries can be expensive and if not careful, can be a budget buster especially in these days of cut-backs and reductions. So this posting is about personal dirty footprint where 'dirty' is a good thing (garden --> dirt, get it?) . It's also about personal sustainability and in times like these, the more personal sustainability that we have the better off (financially) we are.

Notice that I am tying sustainability to $ savings. Aiming for sustainability whether from an industrial, retail or personal level should run hand-in-hand with cost savings. I am not so open minded about sustainability that I let my brains fall out. If done properly (and with some creativity I might add), sustainability IS cost saving.

Gardening example of $$ saving sustainability
Swap seeds with friends

Buy organic seeds from boutique retailer
(I have yet to hear a viable reason for a non-certified gardener to spend the extra money for organic seeds)

Find a horse stable and ask to take a few loads of manure off their hands (and compost it) or find a local composter who sells bulk compost. Or if you want a small garden beg some good dirt from a friend with a garden. The nice barista at the coffee bar in my old office would give me her days worth of coffee grounds last year. Works great in the garden and kept it out of the landfill.

Buy bags of compost from the local big box.

Plant your upside down tomato's in those 5 gal buckets folks are happy to give away. Drill hole in the bottom for the plant. Takes up no space on a sunny patio or (if you have one) clothes line posts.

Buy those 'as seen on TV' upside down tomato plant hangers

Yes (here's my favorite)
Grab those cold-cut party trays, you know the ones, black plastic bottom, clear plastic top that inevitably show up at luncheon meetings at the office (or the broiled chicken containers from Costco--eat the chicken first). Use those as seed starter green houses.

Buy the same concept from the garden center of your local big box.

I think you get the idea. A little creativity goes a long way.

Oh, and if you don't have room for a garden, some companies are allowing employees to start community gardens at their sites as an employee perk. Worth asking about. Some communities have community garden space available.

Imagine if everyone planted a garden, whether big or small, instead of relying on someone else like the fast food take-out at your not-so-local mall. Local food, reduced transportation costs, fresh air and exercise, and that little-used term these days, self-reliance.

A footprint in the dirt instead of a dirty footprint. Sweet!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Time for Change! Why not?

As I was researching alternative energy technologies (it's what I DO) I came across a short article about the potential for converting hurricane biomass to biomass fuel pellets.

I thought, wow! This would be the greatest thing since sliced bread for carbon footprint reduction. This wasn't the first time I heard this proposal. Professor Alex Green of Florida State University (FSU) has been spitting into the wind on this for years. Prof. Green is the father of biomass pyrolysis, a total expert as well as a really nice guy. Basically, he's right.

What else could be a win-win for a devastated area then to have all their down trees and other destroyed biomass collected, at no cost to either the owner of the property or to the local/regional government. Right now FEMA and the Corp of Engineers contracts with companies to remove this biomass and haul it to a landfill or burn it! There is no contract vehicle set up to use the biomass for CO2 reduction (which is part of the climate change initiative of the new administration).

We need to change that paradigm. Those of us in the south could care less about 'heating our homes' because, lets get real, a Georgia winter is 6 weeks long at most and our electricity is cheap (Nuclear) or those of us near major cities (like Atlanta) have natural gas! But Europe is really big into biomass pellets because all fossil fuels are EXPENSIVE for them. We, here in the south, have a product that we are presently landfilling (hurricane biomass) that could be easily converted into usable and EXPORTABLE fuels! But we are landfilling because it is the 'standard' option. Again, SIGH.

I'm posting my thoughts on this way before the 09 hurricane season. Why? If you think I'm right, now would be the time to write your congressman to suggest that they encourage FEMA and the Corp of Engineers to look to biomass removal contracts with companies that will use the biomass to make fuel pellets which will reduce our oil independence as well as make us an exporter not just an importer of stuff. Instead of landfilling it or burning. Oh, and yeah, this administration want's to reduce our CO2 footprint. Well duh. Using our hurricane debris is a no brainer to help do this!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clever recycling post-election yard signs

OK I don't care if you voted for Obama/Biden or McCain/Palen and had personal preferences for state or local politics enough to put a sign in your front yard. But now, you have yard signs and the elections are over. So what do you do with it? As a consummate recycler, I was ready to deconstruct the signs to metal (go to metal recycle bin) and plastic sign (which I hoped) would be acceptable for the plastic recycle bin. Sigh, I inspected the politico signs my dear husband had amassed and didn't see a recycle logo on any of them. What was this stuff made of?

While I pondered this problem, my husband (an 1880-early 1900s historian) solved the dilemma of what to do with the signs. Our house is old and typical of the south, it doesn't have a basement. It also is not on a slab (modern). It's raised, has a crawl space, bricked with open air vents.

Wonderful husband deconstructed the signs and laid the corrugated plastic in front of the vents, pressed the wire supports into the ground in front of the sign so that it pressed the signs against the air vents. Voila! Winterized house underpinnings thanks to political signage. Cost zero. Landfill, diverted.

Our depression-era and pre-depression parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. knew how to recycle. It was not 'cool' it was pragmatic. Resources were scarce. So was money. That combination made them very creative recyclers. We could learn a lot from them. Our only stumbling block is that we want everything to look like it came from a Pottery Barn display. We are in a recession. Maybe it's time to get back to basics. Can we be as creative as our great grandparents in reusing materials? If not, why not?

What did you do with your political signs?