Saturday, November 26, 2005

IDEA: Give Stuff Away, Get Free Stuff You Need, Save the Planet!

Although Buy Nothing Day is a noble effort to remind ourselves that rampant consumerism is not a greenie virtue, sometimes a person just needs stuff. Here's one green way to acquire stuff that you might have bought new -- and its all free. Check out .

Similarly, if you have stuff you don't want, this is a great way to get it off your hands without sending it to a landfill. Sometimes folks will even pick up items that would cost a great deal to have hauled off!

Freecycle is a community of local members who list things they no longer want or need. If someone on the list has a use for the item, a pickup is arranged. Over the last six months I have seen everything from baby clothes to hot tubs, galvanized iron poles to firewood, lawnmowers and lawn chairs, rose bushes and expensive bed frames all in the Freecycle(tm) network.

Freecycle (tm) puts the REUSE component of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle into play!

From the gifter's perspective its a great way to avoid throwing away perfectly good items, and to get someone to take the item off your hands.

The main freecycle web page,, can put you in touch with any one of over 3,200 local local freecycle lists world wide. The lists are hosted on Yahoogroups, and other than joining yahoogroups for free, there is no cost or membership requirement.

I happen to be the lead moderator of the San Gabriel Valley Freecycle list, about 900 members strong, covering from about Pasadena west to about Glendora, as far south as Whittier and El Monte. LAFreecycle has some 7,000 members, and covers a huge segment of the city of Los Angeles. There are local Freecycle lists for Burbank/Glendale, South Pasadena (very small, but growing) and more.

In addition to keeping tons of trash out of landfills, Freecycle participation tends to build community; the no-strings gifting of useful items can be quite rewarding, and one often establishes neighbor to neighbor relationships.

The rules consist of three major caveats:

1. Keep it Free & Legal for all ages. No money or trading is allowed, ever. The point is to keep it free. If you want to buy or sell something online, there is eBay and craigslist. Likewise, things with age restrictions (alcohol, firearms, etc) are not appropriate, nor would, say, samples of prescription drugs be allowed. Other than that, the only universal rule is have fun and be nice.

2. No politics.

3. No spam.

Different regional groups may have the occaisional different local rule. For example, SGVFreecycle allows pet OFFERS, but not pets WANTED; pet wanteds are referred to pet rescue websites. Some sites have no restrictions on pets, some do not allow pet posts at all. Most Freecycle groups ask that you begin participation by posting an OFFER, but stringent adherence varies. Be sure to read the "Welcome" file from any group you join.

Also, many groups do not allow wanteds for things that will be resold. SGV Freecycle allows them, but requires the intent to resell be stated up front, in the wanted post. Since the giver gets to choose, often from several people, they do not have to give to resellers if they choose not too.

Started by Deron Beal in Arizona, the Freecycle(tm) network has mushroomed to nearly 1.8 Million members worldwide!

Still not sure how it all works? Click the picture at left for an amusing little animation explaining the whole thing. It's free too!

With the winter holidays now nearly upon us, and the inevitable "winter cleaning" just before and just after all that gift giving and new year's resolutioning, this would be a great time to join your local group and help save resources.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

QUICK GREEN: Buy Nothing and Save!

Here's a quick greenie idea: Buy Nothing.

In the United States, the Friday after Thanksgiving is a traditional shopping orgy -- and so it has been adopted by a group of folks calling themselves "culture jammers" as Buy Nothing Day.

This year, Buy Nothing Day is November 25, and is recognized internationally.

Now there is always a lot of talk about buying green -- green processes, green ingredients -- but it is always talk of buying. Consuming green is far better than the alternative. But in the end it is consuming, using resources. Remember the old saying "reduce, reuse, recycle?" This is the "reduce" part of the equation. Sort of a "conservation of shopping."

We Americans, even greenie Americans, use more resources than almost anybody. For an example, try one of several ecological footprint websites:

Best Foot Forward
and More . These footprinters are aproximations, but point out the consumption issue.

In the end then, on Thursday, November 25 practice one day of lowered consumption. Just one day. You can do that, right?

Buy Nothing Day

Thursday, November 10, 2005

QUICK GREEN: Ikea Has Worms!

Ikea has worms.

Earthworms, that is, and not for sale either. One of the greenest stores around, especially for a mainstream retailer, Ikea is participating in a vermicompost (worm composting) pilot project.

Seems those Ikea restaurants produce a lot of food waste, which worms love to eat and turn into a high quality fertilizer. The program is pretty amazing, with two giant composting bins on truck beds set up to collect and process Ikea food wastes! Go Ikea!

You can set up your own worm box for food waste, but that is a tale for another day. Today I want to mention that not only is Ikea low-priced, they are committed to the most sustainable green business model I have seen in a while, and it’s a whole lot less terrible to buy Ikea products than home furnishings made elsewhere.

While checking out the Worms On Wheels project, I discovered that the company claims most stores recycle 70% of their waste stream, with an official goal of 90%! The worm program is touted as helping the chain get those last 30 percentage points.

Ikea scores high marks on other greenie fronts, some of which are collected here:

  1. Packing material is minimized, and nearly 100% recyclable. Cardboard and marked and numbered plastics cradle that new Snortblast bookshelf. (Personal Observation.)

  2. Flat-packed products ship more efficiently, reducing fuels, etc. associated with shipping. (Ikea Website Claim)

  3. Ikea was an early seller to move away from toxic flame-retardants, often used in children’s clothes by others, but useful in many fabric items. (Environment California Website)

  4. Similarly, Ikea has stopped using certain plastics – such as PVC – which many believe is also quite toxic. (Greenpeace Website)
  5. Many Ikea products are made from wood, a sustainable and environmentally friendly resource if managed properly. Ikea does not buy wood from ""intact natural forests" unless certified as sustainably managed. (Ikea Website)
This is not an endorsement of their products, per se – and for those who want to to get away from inexpensive Swedish design, this may not be welcome news. But certainly there is less environmental damage – thus green guilt, if you have gotten to the that stage -- inflicted by an Ikea product than but most other home furnishing products.

Coming Soon:

How You Can Get Worms Too!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Vote Green: No on Prop. 80 to REALLY Support Renewable Electricity!

If you want to VOTE green this election, the only proposition that falls in that category is Prop 80 -- and the GREEN VOTE is a NO VOTE on 80.

Oh, it started out with a good idea. But Prop 80 does really bad things , even as it tries to do some good. As a result, Prop. 80 undermines green power sources!

Prop 80 will:

-- Removes your right to buy electricity from someone other than the local utility. If you want all green power -- or all nuclear for that matter -- you can't get it.

-- The 20% renewable requirement is already the law, it just moves it up from 2017 to 2010. Most utilities were going to do it by 2010 easily anyway. Turns out, in SD for example, renewable is CHEAPER!!

-- Makes it harder for individuals to put solar on their own homes. My house runs between 90-110% off solar. Under Prop. 80 that would not have been easily possible.

Again, certain re-regulation is not a bad thing, but this is a flawed proposition that sets back sustainable sourcing for electricity, so, again a GREEN VOTE is NO ON 80.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Red Tag Your Car, Part III: Getting to "Well, Ok, Maybe"

In Red Tag, Part I we realized that most of us are car addicts, that we ride in our cars without thinking about it, and that this is not a green habit. We learned a simple technique to create awareness of our mobility choices by “red tagging” our car keys. The tag reads “How?” and “Why?” so that we will ask ourselves the hard questions – and make a conscious decision: “How will I get there?” and “Why do I have to ride a car?” In Red Tag, Part II, we examined the basis for the excuses we offer ourselves -- both real and trumped up. Today, some workarounds for some of the false excuses we offer ourselves.

T he whole point of the Red Tag process is to create awareness. The Red Tag does not offer non-auto alternatives; it does not stop one from riding a car. It can create awareness, and awareness is the first step. If you are any kind of decent human being, the awareness should result, ultimately, in some action. Or maybe just a little guilt.

The problem is, guilt leads to excuses, excuses lead to rationalizations, which in turn relieve the guilt and any interest in that pesky awareness -- and thus we have simply dug the car-riding rut deeper.

Today I offer a few of the rationalizations I have tried, or seen tried, and some workarounds.

More Ways to Say "No" than "Yes" to the Car

At the outset one needs to realize that there are many ways to avoid the car in any given situation. Like the Pasadena Walks! slogan says "Walk Bike Ride" are almost always competing alternatives. So if transit turns your 30 minute commute into a 90 minute nightmare, consider driving a bike, or bike mixed with a different transit mode. The key is not to give up on a mode if it fails for a particular trip, and not to ditch all non-auto choices if one doesn't work the first time.

That reminder having been served, here are some of the most common rationalizations I have encountered in my own brain and some ways I have found to over come them. They may work for you, or they may not -- but, again, if we are willing to admit that we are car-addicted, and think about alternative, we are well on the way to recovery.

That's Too Far To Walk (Or Bike):

Remember way back in Part I, when I asked people if they would drive 1250 feet to go to the store and everyone vehemently said "no!" When I asked if they had to drive a car for trip of 2500 feet? "Nooooo!" But when I ask the same group if they would walk a half mile to the store, they will often say that that its is too far? Remember?

Well, remember too that a half mile is only about 2500 feet.

As car riders, our concept of distance is often skewed. Frequent car driver's often have trouble estimating short distances, especially in the city. A store five miles away seems almost as close as the store that is only a mile and a half away.

Why? I'm not sure, but it may have something to do with driving overhead.

See, studies have shown that for any trip under about 15 minutes on surface streets, a bike is often quicker. That is, portal-to-portal you may only be able to ride a car two or three miles in fifteen minutes (when you include the getting out of the car, the riding in traffic, parking the car, walking the quarter mile across the parking lot, etc.)

The same three mile trip on a bike will only take 5-10 minutes, as a bike does not get held up the same way in traffic as a car, and can usually park right at the door of the destination.

Funny Story: The Bike and The Sports Car

I was once riding my bike to run an errand. I pulled up beside a white car sports car, at a traffic signal. In the car was a goodlooking 30-something gentleman at the wheel, and a similarly attractive thirty-something female passenger. I looked the car and the occupants over appraisingly -- and got that testosterone-fueled look from the driver that said "Mine. Car, Girl, Mine. Haha!" When the light turned green, he peeled out a little and took off, only to be brought up at the next light. He'd done an average of about 45 MPH between lights (in a 30 MPH zone, I might add).

As he's sitting at the light, I'm pluggin' along effortlessly at 15-20 MPH on my bike. I pull up beside them at that light, which is still red. I look 'em over appraisingly, the guy pretends not to see me, the woman smiles. Light turns green. They whiz out and soon get stopped at the next light.

A moment later, I glide up and we site together at that light too. I'm smiling now, and neither of them want to see me.

This goes on for nearly three miles. We left a spot about 50 yards from my house at the same time, and we got to my errand destination at exactly the same time. I got a little exercise and didn't burn any fossil fuels. They guy with his manhood in the gas tank got embarrassed.

It's Still Too Far

If you grocery- shop 15 miles from home, then its probably too far to walk, and even transit combined with walking would be a pain, and not at all an Easy Green thing to do. One can bike 15 miles pretty easily, but my personal comfort level is about 10 miles (each way), and then mostly when I have been biking a lot of shorter errands during the preceding weeks. So, yes, 10 or 15 miles is probably too far.

Which is exactly the point. One of the keys to reduced auto dependence is "re-localization." Now this term can mean a lot of rigorous-green things to some seriously green people, but for our purposes, let's keep it easy: Shop nearer to home. (For that matter, work and play there more too.)

The odds are pretty fair that you are shopping at a grocery market that was near to you at a prior residence but is still on your way to work, mostly, so you keep shopping there. Or it is on your way home from work, regardless, and is a store you like, but it is pretty far away.

Of course, not every town has everything you need within five miles like, oh, say, Pasadena. But there is a lot more nearby than we often realize.

And its not just shopping. Doctors, dentists, shopping malls, downtowns, our jobs, schools, recreation and more all tend to be more than five miles from home if we are auto dependent. We just don't see things that are right around the corner, or we make the local stop part of a bigger errand so that it easier to do in the car.

Addicts: Creating Car Use

Note well that last bit: We make the local stops part of a big round of errands, or combine them with a far-away trip so they are easier to do in the car!!

Watch yourself for a couple of days. You'll see.

So: You can choose to go to a closer place and use a different mode. Even if only sometimes, its a start! And you can avoid tagging nearby errands onto a bigger car trip. The interesting thing about this is we often discover new destinations that let us make the entire trip closer to home.

I Don't Have the Time

Closely related to "it's too far" is "I don't have the time." First, see point one: For a round trip that would be under 15 minutes in a car, the bike is probably faster. Second, by re-localizing where we do some of our business, we do have the time to make the shorter trip in a non-auto mode.

My favorite story in this respect is the person who told me that they would, if they only could, walk or bike to the market but then they wouldn't have time to take the car to the gym and stop at the market on the way home.

"Really," I asked. "What kind of work out do you do?"

"Oh, a light cardio; stationary bike, stairmaster, some light weights for 'mommy arms' " this person said

"Oh," I said, and just let it sink in. Eventually it occurred to her -- as it just occurred to some of you -- that riding a car to the gym to use a fake bicycle made no sense at all! A real bike ride to the market and back accomplished the same two errands, and at no expense of fossil fuel!

Coming Soon:

But I have to Carry Stuff! or
Bike Trailers & Granny Carts For All!