Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Little About My Monthly Challenges

So, I started the whole "monthly challenge" thing kind of by accident. It was November, so a bunch of people were doing NaBloPoMo, and then there was a group of people doing NoBloShoeMo which was 30 days of showing off your shoes. So I thought I'd put my own little spin on NoBloShoeMo and do a month of paring down my shoe collection. And then when that was done, I thought, "Well, that was fun, let me try another monthly challenge."

So it was random fluke that made me start the whole monthly challenge thing, but I found that the challenges gave me something to a) write about and b) focus on for the month.

And now that I've completed three monthly challenges I think I can safely say that I think they're a very effective tool for changing habits. For instance, when I started DeSloFooMo, I was terrified. I *lived* on pre-packaged one serving meals: Trader Joe's packaged salads, frozen mac and cheese, the occasional Lean Cuisine. I assumed that I would try out cooking for a month, and that would be that. In January, I'd be back to my pre-packaged convenience meals.

Except, that it didn't happen. This past month, I ordered delivery three times (all with friends.) I got fast food once (I had a desperate craving for Subway.) I got a pre-packaged one serving meal exactly never. That's right. I went from someone who lived on pre-packaged meals to not eating one once this month.

The monthly challenges have allowed me to sort of test the waters, to take challenges on that I would normally never take, because I can tell myself, "Oh, it's just for a month." But guess what? After the month is over, my habits have re-formed.

Similarly with JaLeDiMo, I was freaked out about giving up toilet paper. But, it honestly hasn't been as big as a deal as I was making it out to be. So, I'm not going back. I like my spray bottle just fine. I didn't love the handkerchief thing, but I'll probably keep it unless I have a bad cold (in which case I'll probably use recycled tissue.)

So, what started as a fluke has turned into a very effective tool for me for re-shaping my behavior. Tune in tomorrow for my February challenge.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Arduous and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

You know that children's book that starts out, "I went to bed with gum in my mouth and I woke up with gum in my hair?"

That's the kind of day today was. The kind of day where I wake up tired and vaguely stressed over work and politics. No real reason for stress either, mind you.

And then I forgot to pack a lunch. So I ate some soup that was leftover from my lunch yesterday. And then at 6:00pm, I realized that I had an appointment after work and I also had forgotten to pack a dinner and also that now if I stopped to get dinner, I'd be late. So, I went without.

I finally came home tonight around 10pm, starving, exhausted, and a totally wreck.

And now I've eaten, and decompressed a little, but I still feel largely like this day has thumped me flat on my back.

And all I want to do is crawl under the covers and go to bed, but predictably, I have stuff that needs doing. Ah well.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

When The Environment Clashes With Your Choice of Beer

Last night, I was thinking of you, Jennie, when I resolutely abstained from the gross three dollar PBR. Unfortunately, it seems that PBR is the only thing that Spaceland has available on tap, so instead of ending up with a washable glass of beer, I ended up with a disposable bottle of Amstel Light. I hope they recycle! I actually almost thought about putting the empty beer bottle in my purse and taking it with me to ensure it was recycled, but I didn't because it seemed possibly illegal and at best, very sketchy. "Hi officer, why yes, I DO have a beer bottle in my purse. But I'm not a drunk who carries around beer bottles, I'm just a wacky environmentalist!"

Yeah, no.

So I might have to go back to the PBR, gross and hangover-inducing as it is. Because A#1, it's three bucks, A#2, it's on tap, and A#3 it's domestic, right? So fewer fossil fuels?

Or maybe I should be drinking liquor. I dunno, people, anyone have an idea of what my greenest option would be at a standard bar with a standard drink list? I kind of think given that I drink one serving of alcohol 1-2 times per week, bottled, imported beer is probably the least of my concerns, but on the other hand, the quality difference between an Amstel Light and a PBR is probably not THAT huge that I couldn't just deal.

Monday, January 28, 2008

This Is The Story Of A Scrubby

Lately, I've been finding myself at Trader Joe's ogling their nylon scrubbies. Yeah I know that's a weird thing to want, but five and a half months of non-consumerism will do that to you. (Other things I covet: a soap sleeve, a square Pyrex baking dish and ummm a Wii.)

Anyway, nylon scrubbies sort of fall into that gray area for me where they're clearly durable items, so I can't really buy them new, but they're also not the sort of thing I can buy used. So, I've been doing without, which has kind of been a pain, but became even more of a pain when my dishwasher broke.

Enter Chile the Genius and her re-thinking it challenge.

This WAS the bag that held my delicious California clementines. It's now my new nylon scrubby. I'm very proud.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Apparently there's some sort of microwave malfunctioning virus going around. A mere day after Crunchy Chicken noted that her microwave touchpad was malfunctioning, mine started malfunctioning as well.

Luckily, for now the "Ez On" button is still working which basically means that I can still microwave things in 30 second increments. Awesome. Let's hope that button keeps holding up.

Rainy Sunday Reading

I wanted to highlight some great reads on the internet recently:

Brave New Leaf
has the text of a letter from Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer regarding peak oil. It's a very interesting, not to mention surprising letter from Shell. Here's a key nugget:

Regardless of which route we choose, the world's current predicament limits our maneuvering room. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to population growth and economic development, and Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.

Elsewhere, Chile tipped her readers off to a fascinating National Geographic article regarding the drying of the Southwest (including Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, and our very own Hell-A.) It's so worthwile, that I wanted to call attention to the article as well. As bad as the news is (and it's bad)I found some reason for optimism here as well:

Every utility in the Southwest now preaches conservation and sustainability, sometimes very forcefully. Las Vegas has prohibited new front lawns, limited the size of back ones, and offers people two dollars a square foot to tear existing ones up and replace them with desert plants. Between 2002 and 2006, the Vegas metro area actually managed to reduce its total consumption of water by around 20 percent, even though its population had increased substantially.

Lastly, an absolute must read from Scientific American: a plan to produce 69% of the U.S.'s electricity and 35% of its total energy needs by 2050 through solar energy. Here's a taste:

Solar energy’s potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.

There's a lot of depressing information and statistics out there, and peak oil and climate change are reasons for grave concern. But in a world of limited resources, I believe very firmly in one virtually limitless resource: human ingenuity and adaptability. Every time I get depressed about the world around me, I remind myself of this. We can effect change. We just have to want change.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bills, Bills, Bills

Well, it's that time again, when my most hotly anticipated bill arrives. (Sidenote: you know you're old when you HAVE a hotly anticipated bill.)

My electric bill arrived yesterday. And "Freeze Yer Buns" has been good to my pocket, because my monthly electric charge including taxes and the extra I pay to participate in the GreenLA Program is a mere $16.18. Huzzah!

Just for fun, I plugged in my electric usage into the Riot 4 Austerity calculator. My current electric usage is now 11% that of the average American's.

Of course, I'm lucky living in California. So far my total heat usage this winter has been one half-hour with the space heater on, and I'd guess that my apartment has probably never dropped below 60 degrees. So it's not entirely fair to compare myself to the average American.

But I CAN compare myself to Past Me, and handily, my electric use for this time last year is on my bill. My power usage last year? FOUR times what I'm using this year!

So all in all, I'm feeling pretty good about my electricity use. I had other ideas to further cut my electricity use (like trying to find a used power strip with a timer) but frankly, at this point I feel like I'm pretty happy with my current usage, and I'd rather expend the effort in other areas of my life. When some of my financial issues get figured out, I'll probably just switch from 25% green power to 100% green power.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Bath Mat Should Be Dry By June

So the dryers in our apartment apparently both decided to break at the same time, which means I am going unexpectedly green and airing things dry. This is awesome because you know nothing dries your jeans like throwing them over the papasan in your unheated apartment with no direct sunlight.

So everything is basically dry now (sort of) except my socks (why does it take forever for socks to dry?) and my bath mat. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that my bath mat is no drier than it was two days ago. Okay, that's probably an exaggeration. But only a slight one.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Who Needs Movies When You Have C-Span?

I am what some people might term a "political junkie."

I love, love, love politics. I once remarked to a friend of mine that no matter what the outcome, the morning of a presidential election always feels like Christmas. The anticipation! The excitement! The feeling like anything could happen!

Now, personally, I am no fan of the primary process. It always struck me as unfair that states like Iowa and New Hampshire were crowned king-makers and were showered with attention and visits by all the presidential candidates. I always thought that there should just be a national primary day where every state votes at the same time.

It was not until this year, that I realized the benefit of our long, convoluted and protracted primary system. It makes a better story.

Instead of having one day feel like Christmas, you get weekly excitement. There's the popular vote count, the delegate count, and of course, who could forget, the super-delegate vote count! You even have a race where two people claim victory.

And then there are the possible endgame scenarios. Endgame 1: It all ends Super Tuesday (not looking likely.) Endgame 2: It ends around March or April (possible.) Endgame 3: John Edwards gets to play king-maker. Endgame 4: The super delegates get to play king-maker.

And the Republican side is even more convoluted. What they lack in super-delegate drama they make up for by having no clear front-runner to the nomination. John McCain is leading in the polls, but he doesn't have the money or the infrastructure for Super Tuesday. Giuliani bet the farm on his Florida strategy which seems to be backfiring. Romney has the money, and so far the most delegates, but he hasn't been able to hit his stride.

In all my years of political junkitude (and I've probably been a political junkie since 13) there has never been a race as exciting as this. And to top it all off, this is the first time that I will ever have my vote matter in a national election.

So maybe I don't want a national primary. Maybe I'll keep our crazy, arcane, undemocratic system, super-delegates and all. Because who am I to resist a story like this?

I just wish that Hunter S Thompson was still around. What I wouldn't give to read Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail of '08.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Can't Go Out Tonight Because I Have to Clean

I volunteered to house a campaign staffer at my apartment until Super Tuesday. Yesterday the coordinator for staff housing called me to tell me that most likely a staffer would be coming on Wednesday.

"Oh good," I said. "That means I have time to clean my apartment."
She laughed. "Trust me, they're going to be at the campaign from 8:00 am to 11:00pm. You don't need to clean."
"But ... I know ... but ... I just can't have someone staying with me with a dirty kitchen!!!! Even if they don't step foot into the kitchen."

So there you have it. I may have absolved everyone else from housecleaning, but myself? Not so much.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Walking The Talk

The apartment manager told me that the property company had basically blown him off when he proposed participating in the city's recycling program. They told him that there wasn't a space for the bins. But he thought that maybe if they knew some tenants wanted recycling bins, they might change their minds. So, I located a space in the building for the bins, and wrote up a little petition of sorts.

I put it on the door to the trash chute. Because ScienceMama isn't the only one who appreciates a little irony.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Freeze Yer Buns?

Not These Buns!

There are some many days when LA drives me nuts. But there are other days, when I remember exactly why I love this sun soaked city of mine. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to enjoy being outside.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I Want To Buy The World A Cup - Diva That Is (And Yes This Post Obviously Contains WAY Too Much TMI)

Guys? I think I'm in love.

Seriously, it's like ... do you remember that first time? When you switched from pads to tampons? And it was like, SO
AMAZING, and you were like, "Whoa. Why didn't anyone ever tell me about this before?" And all your friends were like, "Hi, ditzoid, we've all been using tampons for years now. Where were you?"

Well, it's like that.

It's like a tampon, only a frajillion times better. You only have to empty it out twice a day as opposed to changing a tampon every few hours. There was no running out to the 7-11 at midnight and buying an extremely over-priced box of sanitary product. If I'm being perfectly honest, the fact that it's good for the environment is sort of icing on the cake. The convenience and cost alone made the diva worth it to me.

Now to be fair, I will state for the record that the diva cup is not for everyone. There is a period (tee hee, I'm punny) of adjustment necessary to switch over from tampons to the cup. My first experience with the cup was a little miserable. I couldn't figure out how to remove it, and I started flipping out that I was going to have to drive my sorry self down to the emergency room and get them to remove it. Luckily I calmed down long enough to read the damn directions, and my problem was solved. The diva cup also requires you to get up close and personal with your vajayjay, at least the first few times you use it. (If you have ever used one of those applicator-free tampons, it's basically that level of up close and personal.) And Beany, I have to admit, that yes, I was witness to a couple murder scenes. And yes, I did wipe clean the scenes of the crimes with paper towels, because I was just not about to deal with cloth for that.

But frankly? While there was a learning curve, you pretty much figure it all out after a few tries. By about the second day, I was completely and totally hooked. And if any of you are so inclined to buy a cup, check out this forum here. Pretty much every question I had was answered there.

So there you have it. And now, I am going to hit publish, so that the entire world can read about my adventures with the diva cup. Because clearly, I have no sense of boundaries!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

How Will Global Warming Be Solved?

There are a lot of scientists who read this blog, so I was interested to take your temperature and see what all of you think will be the solution to the global warming crisis.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Easy Green #4

The other day, I was in the kitchen at work, washing out my Ziploc bag, when I heard a coworker walk in. I sighed and mentally prepared for someone to ask, "What are you doing?" when I realized that it was my Awesomest Coworker.

And Awesomest Coworker isn't Awesomest Coworker for no reason, so her response to seeing me washing my plastic baggie was, "You know, Oprah does that!"

So there you have it folks, washing out and reusing your sandwich bags is your Oprah approved easy green for today.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Note to Self: You Are Old

Note to self:

You might think that you are able to hang out with these two all night on a Monday and not go to bed until 2:00 am. You might be convinced that this band is worth staying up for, and truthfully, they probably are worth staying up for.

You might think, "I'm not that old! I'm only in my late twenties. I can keep up with these kids."

You are wrong.

Because, while on paper, there is only a few years difference between your early twenties and your late twenties, the reality on the ground is much different. You know this because you remember your early twenties. You used to stay up until dawn, watch the sunrise, come home at 7:00 am, make some coffee for your roommate, go to bed, wake up at noon, and head to work perky and upbeat.

You are not that girl anymore.

For one, you have a regular job now. You can't sleep in until noon. You can't come home and take a nap. For another, you barely ever drink anymore which means that one PBR (you are probably too old for Pabst Blue Ribbon, btw) will affect you way more than it rightfully should.

The next day you will wake up, and while your fellow compatriots in staying up late will probably feel slightly tired, but quickly pick themselves up, you will feel like s**t. Then you will head to work, and everything will feel hazy and you will feel like your head is filled with cotton and you will require several cups of caffeine to stay with it.

You might be tempted to take pride in the fact that you stayed up so late. Don't. You can (barely) handle this once a month. Maybe, maybe, once every couple weeks. You can't handle this day in and day out anymore. Just like you can't handle eating junk day in and day out anymore. Or like how you can't give up working out for months on end and then magically manage to run a few miles without pain.

It is sad, but true. You are getting old. You have to face facts.

"It's still worth it though, to do this occasionally. Staying up late, hearing great music, being a piece of this vibrant community. It's still worth it. Even with the ramifications," you will think.

And you would be right.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tell Toyota, "Yes, I Want To Plug In My Car!!"

Toyota just announced that they will be building a plug-in hybrid by 2010. This is a great step in resurrecting the electric vehicle, but Toyota says that ultimately the success of the plug-in hybrid will depend on the question, "Do people want to plug in their car?”

Tell Toyota, that yes, you want to plug in your car!

Here's what I did. I went to the blue right-hand column, where it says email Toyota. Then I went to topic: vehicle, and sub-topic: hybrid technology.

Then I entered the following comment in the box:

I recently read in the NY Times that you have announced plans to offer a plug-in hybrid by 2010. I just wanted to let you, Toyota, know, that yes, I do want to plug in my car! I am excited to hear that you'll be making this technology available soon, and I look forward to driving a plug-in hybrid as my next car.



If anyone finds a better contact for Toyota, put it in the comments!

Opting In

Lately, I've been feeling a little ambivalent about the impact I'm making. I mean, it's important to me to take steps to modify my life, but the truth is that the average American throws 4.5 pounds of trash out per day. There are over 300 million Americans. My reduced trash (and it has reduced, especially after DeSloFooMo) does nothing to skew that average. I can hope, and I do believe, that each individual action makes a difference, but I am still left wondering, is that difference enough? Isn't there more I could be doing?

And so this weekend, I spent a lot of time thinking about one of the Big Bosses at my work. Several months ago, Big Boss made a huge impact on our environment with one simple email memo. She changed our company policy so that now, company documents are printed double-sided, and when we order paper it needs to be paper with recycled content.

Our company goes through a LOT of paper, but instantaneously, she halved our paper usage by requiring things to be printed double-sided. Good for the environment, and, frankly, good for the company, considering we're probably saving money on paper. That's way more paper than I've saved by not using toilet paper!!

I've been talking and thinking a lot about opting out. Opting out of consumerism. Opting out of pre-packaged, one-serving meals. But I haven't done enough thinking about opting IN. I'm not a Big Boss, and I can't dictate how the people around me print their documents. But I live in a community, and I can influence my community in my own way.

For example, my apartment building doesn't participate in the city's curbside recycling program. This doesn't really affect me. I'll take the extra trip to the recycling center to recycle my bottles and paper. But there are a lot of people in the building who won't take the extra trip. Who will throw their recyclables down the trash chute because it's just easier. But what if I talked to our building manager and asked him if we could start participating in curbside recycling? What if I did the research on the internet to figure out how we could implement it and what the cost (if any) would be? Now, my manager might tell me no, we can't do it, it's too expensive, or it's too difficult. But if he said yes? Then I wouldn't just be reducing my trash, I'd be helping to reduce the trash of all of the whole building.

Or what about the organization I volunteer with? We provide coffee and juice to volunteers, and we also provide them with styrofoam and plastic cups. But what if I could find cups like these compostable paper cups? What if I could get us a deal on the cups so they wouldn't break our bank? At the very least, we could switch to paper cups which I think are still better than styrofoam or plastic.

So from now on, I want to start thinking a little less about what I can do about MY impact, and a little more about what I can do about my community's impact. I'm going to start opting in.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Garbage Diary- Day 5

Only two things thrown out yesterday, the paper wrapper on my veggie burger, and the paper wrapper on my basket of fries when I went out to eat yesterday.

Overall, I think I'm doing pretty well, but I think today or tomorrow I have to clean out my house. I'm a lazy housekeeper and I haven't cleaned out the fridge in a month. This is the first weekend after the holidays that I have any free time, so that means sometime this weekend, I should probably get on that. I also have a stack of papers that I should go through, and I'm pretty certain some of them are going to end up in the recycling bin.

And that? Is going to mean a lot of trash.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Garbage Diary- Day 4

Sorry this is up late!

At Work

3 tea bags
2 tea bag packets
Label backing
1 box of soup

At Home:

Toothpaste box

On the Town:

Some mac & cheese I didn't eat

I went to a restaurant with a friend for dinner last night, and I was feeling very proud of myself for eschewing the paper napkin, and not creating any trash while dining out, when I realized I did create some trash: the mac and cheese I couldn't finish.

I ate most of it (well, my friend helped me out a little), but there were still probably a few spoonfuls left over.

Chile has been talking about food waste over at her blog. This is a hard one for me because I'm a fairly petite person, and portions are almost always too much for me at restaurants. Sometimes I take food home, but some food doesn't reheat well. That's part of the reason I love eating family style. If you split a few dishes with a bunch of people, as long as you get the ratio of dishes to people right, you shouldn't end up with ridiculous food waste.

I also have a big problem with food waste at home, too. Because I live alone, I find that I have to plan really, really carefully or else I end up with food that's gone bad or has expired. And while I think that a lot of those expiry dates are bogus, I'm reluctant to eat anything more than a couple weeks past its expiration. So now that I'm seriously thinking about my trash and food waste, I try to plan to use foods I already have so I don't waste, but I have to admit it's a little stressful sometimes. And sometimes when I make food, I feel compelled to eat even when I'm full because I don't want to waste food! Which is I guess good in terms of garbage, but bad in terms of my waist line.

Ideally, we'd plan our meals carefully, try to create less food waste, but we'd also have a way to recycle food scraps (even those of us in tiny apartments). Luckily if you live in San Francisco, this is a reality. The city collects food waste from residents and restaurants and it's turned into compost for organic farmers. Hopefully, one day, all cities across the US will implement plans to recycle food waste.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Garbage Diary- Day 3

At Work

Cereal Box
Aluminum foil off of yogurt container

Plastic bag in cereal box
2 tea bags
2 tea bag packets
1 sugar cube (it fell on the floor)
1 orange peel
Piece of plastic in between yogurt and foil (What is the point of this, anyway?)

At Home

8 envelopes
4 unsolicited postcards
Bulk mail
6 unsolicited letters

I finally paid the dollar to get myself off direct marketing lists, but I guess the change hasn't fully gone into effect yet, so I'm still getting unsolicited mail. I also get a lot of unsolicited mail to "So And So or Current Resident," and I'm not sure if there's an effective way to stop getting those. I once wrote, "Return to sender," and left it for the postal carrier, because I figured I'm not So And So, and the postal carrier put the letter BACK in my mail box and underlined the "or current resident part." I also don't know that there's a way to get out of the bulk mail. I know that someone in building has written on his box, "No bulk mail, please," and I keep meaning to ask him if it actually works. Because doesn't the post office get PAID to deliver you that bulk mail whether you want it or not? And if they don't, aren't they in violation of their agreement with the bulk mailers?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Canned Carrot Good

Dear Canned Carrot Good,*

First of all, I'd like to start off by saying that you do great work and I support you completely. I think carrot goods are great, but I also firmly believe in CANNED carrot goods. And I understand that right now you are fighting an uphill battle given that the current administration's answer to uncanned carrot goods is, "Don't think about carrots." (Wait, I might be mixing my metaphors here.)

But anyway, I appreciate your pragmatism. You know that, like it or not, teenagers have carrots on the brain, and so we need to teach them about how to ... can. (Okay, now the metaphor is totally screwed up.)

The point is, I support you. I support you so much, that I already give you a regular contribution that is deducted from my credit card every month. I would like to support you more, but you know, I have a couple other charity organizations I support, and I'm not super rich. So I give you what I can.

In light of this, I would really, really like it, if you did not send me a solicitation letter every other day asking me to donate MORE money. I hate this for two reasons. One, it kills trees. Two, I hate to see you spending money to mail me things, when you could be devoting your scarce resources somewhere else.

Look, I promise you, when I win the lottery, I'll send you more money. Okay? And, you know what? You can also send me all the email you want. I don't mind. Seriously. But PLEASE. PLEASE, STOP sending me snail mail. It's driving me nutty.

Thanks for all your work.

Your friend,

*Name changed to protect the innocent

Titles Are For People Who Are Not Really Cranky Right Now

You know that thing, where you're not sick. You're not. You don't have any real symptoms, you're not coughing, you're not sneezing, but you feel really, really ick all the time?

That's me for the past week. I guess I should be glad it's not a full-blown cold, but instead I'm just being a Miss Cranky Pants and wishing I was in bed eating chicken soup (preferably made by magical elves who would also do the dishes after they finish making the soup) and watching some TV.

Sadly I do not have magical elves. But I do have a crockpot. If anyone has a good, easy recipe for some comfort food, I'd love you forever and ever.

Garbage Diary Day 2


29 Christmas cards
2 letters
2 envelopes
4 brochures
9 DVDs
1 postcard
Cracker Box

2 clementine orange peels
Plastic bag inside box of crackers

I didn't actually throw anything away at home.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

One word. Plastics

Okay, I knew plastics were sort of evil, right, or at least I understood this in theory. But I always assumed, hey, it's recyclable. And nothing recyclable can be that bad, right?

Well it turns out plastics aren't SORT of evil. They're really evil. Here's what Elizabeth Royte has to say about plastics in Garbage Land:
Plastic isn't truly recyclable in the way that glass, metals, and fibers are. Streams of mixed plastic can be turned into only one other product (plastic wood, garden pavers, or toothbrush handles, for example). When their useful life is over, these products cannot be "recycled" again. They have to be burned or buried. Either way, they add toxins to the environment. Unmixed streams are another matter: they actually can be refashioned into bottles and containers. But there isn't much demand from their makers for recycled plastic. Virgin is so much cheaper.

So basically, every time you throw a plastic bottle into the recycling bin, you are merely delaying the plastic's trip to the landfill. Yes, recycling is better than not, but we really should just reduce our plastic waste. While I'm not ready to go plastic free, I'm going to make more of an attempt to buy things in glass bottles, and to reuse the plastic containers I buy.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Garbage Diary Day 1

At Work:

Three tea-bag packets
Three tea bags
Plastic envelope
Plastic wrapper for sponge*
Cap for the water cooler bottle*
Peels of two clementine oranges

Small piece of cardboard from tea carton
Aluminum tab off box of soup
Cardboard strip from box of crackers

*I almost didn't include these items, because I felt like this wasn't really *my* trash- I didn't order a new sponge, it was sitting on the sink. And everyone uses the water cooler. Wasn't this our communal trash, not my own? But then I realized that communal trash is at once everyone's trash and no one's trash. If I didn't claim this as my own, no one would. As I had thrown it away, it was mine.

At Home

3 paper towels
Baggage Tag
Tinfoil Wrapper off of a wine bottle
Cork for wine bottle
Pizza box
Loose tea leaves
Fines (a word coined by William Rathje to define hair, dust, floor sweepings, and the other stuff that settles to the bottom of the can.)

Bulk mail packet
2 envelopes
1 solicitation letter
1 catalog (Augh! How many times do you have to ask to be taken off, already?!)

Weight of house trash (recycling not included):
About a pound? It was pretty hard to tell with a normal bathroom scale.

The trash from the house is mostly left over from the weekend. I had a very close friend of mine from college visiting, and we were so busy hanging out, that much of the detritus of the weekend never made it to the trash until today. The paper towels were ones he used; I have some on hand for guests' convenience. The pizza box and cork are from a meal over the weekend- it was raining and we didn't feel like going out. The actual wine bottle made it to my bag of "things to recycle" on Sunday.

All in all, I did pretty well, though I suspect that this may partly be due to the observer effect- by observing my garbage, I also affected it, by throwing out less than I normally might. It'll be interesting to see what happens as I get more used to the trash diary. If the observer effect gradually disappears, my trash should increase over the course of the week.

Getting Trashy

I've started reading "Garbage Land," and I have to say, trash is a lot more interesting than I would have thought! Or maybe it's just that Elizabeth Royte makes it interesting. One of the more fascinating points she brings up is about the history of trash. At the beginning of the twentieth century- reducing, reusing and recycling wasn't just for the environmentally conscious, but was built into the fabric of society. Virgin resources were expensive, so people reused everything. Food waste was fed to pigs, even in New York City, which was home to 100,000 pigs in the late 1800s. Chicken bones were given to the rag and bone man. In short, one hundred years ago, society was set up for reuse, whereas today's society is set up for disposability. Royte offers us some hard statistics about our disposable culture: According to the EPA, the average American throws out 4.5 pounds of garbage per day.

4.5 pounds! How much did my garbage weigh, I started to wonder. I feel like I'm relatively conscious of what I throw out, but doesn't everyone think they throw out less than they actually do?

So for one week, starting today, I'm keeping a diary of everything I'm throwing or recycling. I'm going to do it for both home and work, but only the stuff at home is getting weighed because I'm not carting my work trash home to weigh. And since I don't have a kitchen scale, the trash is getting weighed on a bathroom scale, so I'm only going to have a rough idea of what it weighs, but I still think it will be illuminating. I'm also interested in this from an anthropological point of view, because doesn't everyone say that your trash says a lot about who you are? From half a day of diarying, I can already tell you, that my trash is telling me that I'm an obsessive tea drinker. Ah well. A girl's gotta have a few vices.

Raindrops on Roses

It's twenty after midnight, and I am cozily snuggled up under my down comforter with my book by my side. Through my window I can hear the soothing constant patter of rain.

There's nothing more I love than being warm in my bed on a rainy night. I am particularly grateful to not be driving the flooded streets of LA right now. It is true what they say, that Angelenos are woefully bad at driving in the rain. Though in our defense, it is not so easy to drive our flooded streets -our drainage system can't handle anything beyond a drizzle and anywhere the road dips, the water collects, which means you'll be merrily driving down Melrose and then Melrose will turn into a small pond. (Also, LA traffic gods? You might want to think about REFLECTIVE PAINT on the roads. You know the kind? The kind that is in EVERY OTHER PLACE IN THE COUNTRY? The kind that let's you see where the lanes are when it's raining at night, so you don't accidentally veer off into the next lane? Yeah, that.)

Time for bed. The first full work week of the year starts today.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Odds and Ends

I'm taking a page from EcoGeoFemme's book today, and trying to be productive today, so this one's going to be short.

After a few days of being (somewhat) TP-free, I can safely say that it is WAY less weird and off-putting than you would think. Up until the first time I didn't use toilet paper, I thought that going TP-free was a big mistake. I was sure I wasn't going to last the month. But frankly, now that I've tried it, I don't think I'll go back.

And in honor of January Less Disposable Month, I also started reading "Garbage Land" by Elizabeth Royte. So look for a couple posts about that coming up. And I *might* do a garbage diary for next week, though I haven't fully committed to the time and ickiness that that would take.

What else? Freeze Yer Buns! I had a nice respite from freezing my buns while I was at my uncle's house and my mom's house. But now I'm back, so last night, I tried out the rice sock for the first time. And aside from the fact that I spilled rice all over the counter while filling the sock, it worked just dandy. So thanks, to Mouse for his suggestion.

And now, I better get to my to-do list. Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I Didn't Realize How Badly I Wanted A Woman In The White House Until She Lost the Caucus

I feel like I'm going to cry.

I want this so badly. A woman. Madame President. I mean, of course I like Clinton on her own merits. I think she's intelligent, and fierce, and strong, and yes, experienced. But for me, it always came down to this.

She's a woman.

I don't know why it matters so much to me, but it does. I want a woman. I want America to finally, FINALLY follow in the footsteps of Great Britain, Germany, India, and Pakistan. This is long overdue. And yet? It seems like our only shot. For a very long while anyway.

Don't get me wrong. I like Obama (though I wish he'd waited a few more years before seeking the nomination), and obviously, I'll support whoever the Democratic nominee eventually is. And hey, it's about time we had a minority president, too, right? As a non-white person, I can definitely appreciate that.

But I guess I've always been a woman first and a minority second. And so I yearn for that day, one day, when those who claim America will never elect a woman, or that a woman wouldn't be respected by Arab leaders, or that women just don't have what it takes, will be proved wrong.

I really hope that day is November 4, 2008.

Murder Most Brutal- The Death of the Electric Car

Last night I watched "Who Killed the Electric Car" directed by former EV1 driver, Chris Paine. I got so frustrated, that I had to pause the movie a couple times, and pace around like a mad woman until I was ready to keep watching.

I don't remember much about the electric car when it came out. I vaguely remember having a discussion with my dad about the battery life, but I certainly don't remember seeing any commercials for it, nor do I remember the electric cars being readily available like the Toyota Prius is.

Well it turns out, the electric car wasn't readily available. You pretty much had to be a celebrity to get one, and even then you had to go through a million hoops before GM would grudgingly consent to let you drive the damn car. Even then, GM would only let you LEASE it, so that they could take it back from you when your lease ended. Which they did. Yup, in the end, GM forcibly TOOK back every electric car on the roads. GM took electric cars from people willing to pay good money for them. And then what did GM do? They crushed the cars.

Why? Why on earth would GM make it so impossible to get one of their products?

The movie doesn't really explain why a company would be quite so cannibalistic about their own product, though Paine suggests that part of the reason is that electric cars cost almost nothing to maintain, so GM got worried that they would lose out on maintenance fees if the electric car became too popular.

But it wasn't just GM consipiring to keep the electric car away from the American consumer. The movie fingers other culprits such as big oil and, most distressingly, the California Air Resources Board. See, the California Air Resources Board is a branch of the California EPA and it's designed to serve and protect Californians, right? Except, they didn't. Instead, the board chose to serve and protect GM and Texaco by gutting the California Zero-Emissions Vehicle Law.

So what does this all mean? Basically, that we COULD all be zipping around in electric vehicles right now, but that Big Oil and Big Auto colluded to take away the electric car, the government sided with the corporations, and the American consumer never put up a fuss.

Okay but what about those batteries? Wasn't the electric car's battery pretty unreliable.

Actually, yes, the first battery installed in the original electric cars was unreliable because GM chose to use an inferior battery. The batteries for the second generation of electric cars lasted 100 miles per charge. Which does present a problem for long car trips, but as a commuter car, 100 miles per charge is plenty. Drive to work, plug your car in, and by the time you drive home your car will be fully charged again. But NOW we have even BETTER batteries. So today, an electric car could go 300 miles without needing to be charged. How often do you drive more than 300 miles in a day? Once a year? Twice? Hell, for those handful of times, you can just RENT a gas-powered car with all the savings you'll get from not having to buy gas every other day of the year.

What's so frustrating is that this technology exists in the here and now. We're in an oil crisis, gas prices are high, and global warming is becoming more and more of a problem. Electric cars should be a no brainer. We should all be driving them or at the very least, we should all be driving hybrid plug-ins. But we aren't.

What about those hydrogen fuel cell cars we keep hearing about? Well, the movie was pretty disparaging about those cars. First of all, the technology isn't currently available and probably won't be for at least another 20 years. Electric car technology is available NOW. Secondly, hydrogen cars are not as clean as electric cars, because electric cars can be powered by solar and wind powered electricity. So why all the fuss about hydrogen fuel cell cars? Well Big Oil and Big Auto figure, by making a huge to-do about a technology that is at least 20 years off, they can take our attention away from electric cars, and still continue to make money off of those fossil fuel burning cars.

It was definitely depressing and frustrating to watch this movie, but it was also highly informative, and I urge you all to watch the movie and after you watch, take action.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mea Culpa

Earlier today I was thrown into a tail-spin by Amelia who asked me if I'm so worried about napkins and Kleenex and toilet paper and what not, why don't I just not fly?

It's a completely valid question; one that she had every right to ask. Why do I fly?

I wish I had a better answer. But the sad and unfortunate truth is that flying is my environmental Achilles heel.

Part of the reason I fly so much is because my close friends and family are scattered on three continents. And part of the reason I fly is because travel is one of my greatest passions. Ironically, it's travel that has made me care so much for this here planet. I want to be able to show my children the unsullied blue of the Nile, and the magnificence of the Taj Mahal. I want them to wander the hills of San Francisco, and spy the Golden Gate Bridge through the fog. I want them to get their feet muddy while walking in an Indian village during monsoon season, and I want them to experience a good old-fashioned Midwestern summer thunderstorm.

Travel is seeing my friends and family. Travel is seeing the world. Travel is, well, I hesitate to use the phrase "raison d'etre," but it's close.

Of course, I can offer you excuses. Planes are going to take off whether or not I'm on them, so why not fly? Yes, ideally if enough people refuse to fly, the airlines will cut the number of flight scheduled, but frankly airline travel is becoming a bigger and bigger pain every year, and yet people are still flying more than ever. Why give up something I love so much for an ideal that might not come to pass?

And I can try to assuage my guilt by buying carbon offsets which I do religiously.

But the fact of the matter remains that I'm not willing to give up flying. Not now anyway. So what does that mean? Should I just give up, and go back to my former consumerist, throw-it-away-and-don't-think-about-the-consequences lifestyle? Does my air travel cancel out everything else?

I don't know. Maybe it does. But I have to believe that everything else I do counts for something. At the very least, if I'm not giving up flying, then I damn well BETTER turn off my heat and give up toilet paper, right?

WARNING: This Post Contains TMI

The nature of this challenge requires me to talk about things that a lady does not discuss. Luckily, I am not a lady. But some of you may be ladies or gentlemen, or you may simply not want to read about le toilette while you eat your lunch. So for any post that seems to cross certain boundaries, I'm going to give you fair warning. So stop reading this post now, or read at your own risk!

With that out of the way, many of you have been asking what I'm going to do now that I'm giving up toilet paper. I did some research on going tp-free before I started the challenge, and I came to the conclusion that cloth wipes were not for me. For starters, it would require doing my laundry more than the once every three weeks that I currently get around to doing it.

So I talked to my mom. Apparently, in the mother country, people don't use toilet paper. Instead, they use, well ... a mug of water and their left hand. No muss, no fuss, just wash your hands and you're good to go. (Incidentally, this is why Indians give, receive and eat with their right hands. It's seen as bad manners to give someone something with your left hand considering where your left hand has been.)

Well, that was informative, but using a mug seemed like a recipe for getting water all over my bathroom.

And then I remembered that Vanessa at Green as a Thistle had gone toilet paper free. And she had eschewed cloth wipes in favor of a squirty water bottle and doing a little booty dance.


I had to do a little juggling of household cleaners in order to free up a squirty water bottle. (I used the bottle that my Method Shower Spray came in so that in case there was some residue left after I had washed it out, at least it would be non-toxic.) Then I added water, and a few squirts of liquid soap and I was good to go.

And the result? It's cold, that water that comes out of the squirty bottle! And I look really silly doing a little dance in my bathroom. But? I also feel nice and clean, and I suspect that after I get used to it, I won't want to go back to my scratchy recycled toilet paper.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

#*&%- Violations 1&2

Well, I'm sad to say that JaLeDiMo has not started off fortuitously. Violation #1 occurred at approximately 6:30 pm in the ladies room of a restaurant. I used the facilities, thanked God that my stipulations allow me to use toilet paper when not at home, got out, washed my hands, and absent-mindedly grabbed a paper towel to dry my hands. It was not until I threw the paper towel away that I remembered that I'm not allowed paper towels anymore.

AUGH. I mentally berated myself, and then tried to put it behind me, and enjoy my dinner. It takes time to re-adjust. Now that I've made this mistake, I won't make it again. Or so I told myself.

And then? Just a few hours later, came Violation #2. I was on an airplane and, again without thinking too much, I ordered a Diet Coke. Which honestly, I shouldn't have done, because drinks come in plastic disposable cups, but at least plastic cups are not on the list of explicitly banned items. BUT, napkins ARE on that list, and guess what the flight attendant handed me when she handed me my plastic cup of chemicals-that-are-going-to kill-me? Yup, a napkin. And did I hand it back to her and tell her I didn't need it? No, I did not, because it didn't even occur to me that she was handing me a napkin. Not even for a second did it cross my EXTREMELY SLOW mind. It wasn't until the flight attendant came back to take the trash, and I handed her the cup and napkin that I HADN'T EVEN USED, that I suddenly realized with horror that I had just taken a napkin, and proceeded to throw it away.

And then the plane hit some turbulence and I thought morosely, "Great, I'm going to die. And my last act will have been to Throw Away a Napkin. Excellent."

Luckily, I did not die. Instead, I am alive, and feeling fairly guilty about my multiple violations in one day. I do think though that it shows how deeply ingrained this "culture of disposability" is for many of us. It simply does not occur to most of us to think about what we throw away and where it goes. I hope with this challenge this month to permanently change my mindset. So even when I do throw things away, I won't do so mindlessly.

January Less Disposable Month

Well it's January 1st which means that it's time to unveil my January challenge. Thanks to everyone for their comments. It seemed like the Diva Cup challenge was the most popular, so I decided to come up with a challenge that would incorporate the Diva Cup but that would also require changes the rest of the month.

And so, JaLeDiMo. Which means, for one month, no paper napkins, no paper towels, no kleenex, no tampons, and -this is the big one- no toilet paper for numero uno when I'm at home.

Ack. I'm kind of freaking out just thinking about this challenge. It's going to be a crazy month.