Monday, October 31, 2005

Shameless Plug For Fundraiser / Feel Free to Skip This Post

Pasadena Walks! is a grassroots advocacy group working to improve conditions for non-auto travel in Pasadena -- and everywhere else, of course. This is a shameless plug for stuff that we sell to raise funds -- all of which sports spiffy walking and cycling reminders.

Our exclusive "Three Arrow" logo exhorts folks to "Walk, Bike, Ride / You are the answer to the traffic problem." Deliberately couched in terms of the "traffic problem" this stuff is intended to appeal to the self interest of an average driver and elected official, even as it unconsciously promotes greener thinking.

Waive your coffee mug at your co-workers; flash your bag as you cross the street; stick a magnet on your office whiteboard. Get the message out, and help us change the auto-centric world one coffee mug at a time!

to See All the Things We Have
Stick Our Special Logo On
Please Note: Pasadena Walks! is too poor to register as an official non-profit, so sorry no spiffy tax deduction if you like this stuff. But if you want to assure yourself that PW! is real, and makse real change, just google "Pasadena Walks!" in quotes, and see for yourself.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Red Tag Your Car, Part II: Excuses, Excuses

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?” Today we will deal, generally with the rationalizations, justifications and sometimes false mandate’s we give ourselves to make our own car riding “necessary” and thereby okay.

And so we ask "how shall I get there? Could I take the bus? Walk? Ride a bike?" If you have asked yourself this question – actually asked it instead of just thoughtlessly groped for the car keys – you may have answered yourself already with the easy answer.

“I have to ride a car.”

You may even have added the temporary rationalization “this time. Next time I’ll walk/bike/ride transit.” You may even have already supplied the answer to the next question (“Why?”) as part of the rationalization. “this time I have to ride a car because my-work-is-too-far-I-don’t-have-time-today-I-have-to-wear-a-suit-I-don’t-have-a-bike-I-would-be-afraid-to-ride-a-bike-it-would-be-too-dangerous,” or some variation.

Hang on, there’s help.

When A Lame Excuse Is, and Isn’t

Sometimes we really don’t have an immediate viable alternative to riding a car. Sometimes, the only solution is long term, but sometimes, really truly, there is no good – or at least acceptable -- alternative, short or long term. So get out the car. Don’t sweat it. Just by making a conscious, informed choice to drive a car you (1) will cut down on driving, even if it is the reduction that has now become unconscious, and (2) understand that you are doing more already by simple awareness than most people car addicted people.

That having been said, most of our “reasons why” fall into one of two categories: Laziness, (simple and complex) and Necessity (likewise, simple and complex).

Simple Laziness

Simple laziness is nothing more or less than its name implies. “I’m too tired to bike.” “It feels like too much work to take the train.” Even once you are serious about overcoming the lame excuses, simple laziness will rear its head.

Again, that’s ok. No need to feel defensive. We all have tired mornings; we all just aren’t up to public transit some days. This is not a lame excuse, unless it is chronic, or is actually Complex Laziness in disguise. (And, wonder of wonders, simple laziness tends to fade as we get more incidental exercise because we are car-riding less!)

Complex Laziness

What I call Complex Laziness is the comforting thought that “I would ride a bike, but I don’t have one,” or “the tires are probably flat and the seat is dusty.” Or “I would take the light rail, but since I have never taken the light rail before it is too daunting to think about doing it for the first time.” And of course “I would walk, but I don’t have enough time.”

Complex laziness depends on the extra steps necessary before we can easily make spontaneous a non-auto choice. Buying the bike, getting an old bike ready to ride, or trying out the light rail on a weekend for a trip that does not have immediate time constraints, for example.

Look at it this way: If you are an average car-culture addict, and you handled your car this way, you’d feel pretty foolish. “Oh, I would ride a car, but I’ve never gotten a license; besides, the tires are probably flat and I hate buying gas.” “I would take an auto, but I have never looked at the road map for my new town, so I might get lost.”

Complex Laziness is pernicious, because it requires something more of us at the outset than simple awareness. We have to clean up that old bike, and practice on it on the weekend. We have to find the online transit map, and spend a little extra time figuring out something new, the first time. We may even have to find new places to go for errands and entertainment that we could walk, bike or ride to, an especially daunting task if we have strong patterns and habits already.

But it can be overcome!

Complex (False) Necessity and Car Riding

In addition to the two degrees of laziness, the next most common excuse we provide ourselves is “necessity.”

“I have to take a car, because it is too far.” “I have to take a car, because I have to carry things with me.” “I have to take a car because I have little kids.” “I have to take a car because any other way takes too long.”

Again, Simple Necessity is like Simple Laziness. It is what it is. There are times when, if the trip is to be made at all, it must be made riding in a car. So go already! And check back here later on to find some long term, life and community changing ways to remove that necessity. (For example, to assuage some of the guilt you may be feeling, consider getting a small electric car for non-freeway trips. But that’s a long term solution, not so much a red tag quickie.)

Complex Necessity is also like its lazy cousin: The necessity is often created by the way we have ordered our lifestyle, and the choices we have made already from the depths of our thoughtless car riding and addiction. There may be an extra step involved that requires a small change to remove the necessity.

Some examples: You work two miles from home, but bring a lot of work home most nights, so feel that you need a car to transport you and the box of paperwork efficiently. Well, you and I both know that often enough the papers come home but nothing is done on them. Resolve and plan to leave everything at work on Wednesday and walk the two miles on Thursday. Just one time.

Now this also means you will have to leave about 15 minutes per mile earlier for work. But you can do this once, right? Having done it once, especially on a day with fewer time constraints or on which you leave extra early (just in case) you can be comfortable doing it regularly.

Not everyday, just more regularly.

Another example of the extra step is to add a $100 bike trailer to your bike. I have used one to pull kids, but now use the bike trailer to go grocery shopping. Eight or nine paper grocery bags pull pretty comfortably in the trailer. With the trailer, I have removed the “necessity” of firing up a six-cylinder auto and running it the two (most polluting) miles to the store for my organic produce.

The Hardest Part

The hardest part about overcoming Complex Laziness and Complex Necessity is that it requires a more than a spontaneous effort; it needs a little planning, a conscious and acknowledged commitment to changing mobility modes, at least some of the time.

That’s where the red tag comes in: First, it puts a spanner in the works of the automatic act of riding a car. Second, it provides a moment to reflect on the mode choice and make it a choice. But third, it allows a pause where the realization that one is indulging in Complex Laziness or Complex Necessity can sink in, and perhaps result in a little planning for the next trip or for a test run over the weekend.


Simple Fixes for Specific Complex Excuses

(Got an impediment to non-auto mobility? Want a solution? Drop me a comment or email me at with your situation and I will do my best to work around it for you.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

QUICK GREEN: Kill Your Gas Mower

"An older gas-powered lawn mower pollutes as much in one year of typical use as a new car driven more than 86,000 miles,” according to the South Coast AQMD.

Egad! Don't even get me started on gas powered string trimmers.

Using an electric mower eliminates the majority of that pollution. While it is true that electricity might be generated from fossil fuels, and thus create some pollution, it is both less pollution and better pollution. That is, it is easier to apply new, cleaner technology to one smokestack than three million lawnmowers, and even a coal-fired power plant is cleaner power for the job than a small internal combustion engine.

In addition, if you have solar cells or sign up for "Green Power" in jurisdictions that offer it, you have effectively eliminated three month's worth of car exhaust from that ol' smoker.

Amazon and Home Depot, among others, sells a number of corded and cordless electrics, such as the Black & Decker model to the right.

In some jurisdictions you can even turn your ol' smoker in to the local Air Pollution district and get a $400 cordless electric for just $100. The beauty given away in SoCal is also shockingly quiet, thus eliminating another environmental degradation not frequently mentioned, noise.

Alas, the 2005 program in SoCal is oversubscribed, but watch for the 2006 giveaway times.

We really love our cordless AQMD provided Neutron (tm) mower, do not miss the ol' smoker (or its roar!) and think it is worth every penny of the $400 it would set you back bought from the manufacturer.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

IDEA: Red Tag Your Car

We all know its true and yet we rarely admit it: The automobile habit is not a green thing. And there is no quick, easy way to change that habit. But as part of the education program at Pasadena Walks! we have developed our "Red Tag Your Car" program to help us car-addicts to at least begin to recognize the issue.

Car Riding Is Unhealthy

We all understand that automobiles create air pollution. Some companies have even worked out a process by which you can assuage any guilt over fouling the air. See greenlagirl's recent rundown on Car Pollution Offset programs.

But there are other issues with cars -- many many issues with cars -- each of which could warrant its own discussion. Instead, here is a list:
  1. Obesity Epidemic. This is really a poor nutrition and lack of exercise problem. For a compelling data set, have a look at this shocking CDC power point or PDF. More walking instead of car riding provides extra accidental exercise.
  2. Community Isolation. Driving from place to place removes one from contact with neighbors and the community.
  3. Children Suffer. Kids who are carried in a car everywhere don't understand the spatial relationships of their own neighborhoods, or how things are interconnected. This lack of understanding translates into their school work, as well as creating adults who do not understand how their own community is interconnected. This is a shocking consequence of car addiction, and is well documented.
  4. Noise. Internal combustion engines and autos in general make a hell of a lot of noise. Want proof? Get up super early -- anytime from say 3:00 am to 5:00 am or so -- in any major city. Listen to the silence. Now listen for the roar of the river of cars even now flowing down the freeway. How many miles away are those cars? Wow.
  5. Cars Reduce Property Value. Its true: High auto traffic means lower property values. Kids can't play in their yards, or think they can't. Folks don't like to walk on the street as the roar of cars flows by.
  6. Traffic Problems. The only way to have fewer cars on the road interfering with those times when we really, truly must drive a car is to (drum roll) put fewer cars on the road. That means you. No, building more, wider, faster roads won't fix it; in a nutshell, roads are trip-attractors. Extra capacity encourages more people to drive. More driving makes people fat and unhealthy, plus adds to problems 1-5 above.

Enough Already! I Can't Quit Using A Car.

Let's assume, for now, that driving a car is sometimes, maybe even frequently, required. Is there anything we can do about the rest of the time? Anything easy that is?

Yes there is. But it starts with recognizing that we -- that you -- have an addiction.

That's right, you. Even if you think you are pretty green already, the odds are high that you have a car addiction, and that you, like most of us, feed it constantly like the unconscious chain-smoker.

One model of addictive behavior is the unconscious, repetitive act, which may well be detrimental yet which continues unabated, cloaked in lack of awareness or ornate rationalizations.


And really, when was the last time you went somewhere with friends, and didn't reflexively reach for the ol' car keys? When was the last time you said "Hey gang! How shall we get there?" Try it. Bet the rest of your group looks at you with a complete lack of understanding. It will never have occurred to most of them to ask. "Why," someone will say "is your car dead?"

Try it. I'll wait.

Before You Drive, THIMK.

Glad to see you're back. See what I mean?

My grandfather had an old gag poster over his work bench that said "Before You Louse It Up, THIMK!" Hah hah. But it can work for the car addict as well. Remember, it is often the unconscious repetition of a self-destructive behavior that creates the addiction element. Pasadena Walks! uses the "Red Tag" process to help remove the lack of thought that goes into our driving habits.

Now if you were standing here with me, I would hand you one of these cool Red Tags. If you want, you can click the one here and print the picture, but a real red tag is cooler. If you want, email me with your mailing address and I'll send the first 25 or so folks one. But they are available at an office supply store. These are from Staples, although they are not in their on line catalog.

Anyway, start with the Red Tag, and on one side, in block letters, print the word "HOW?" On the other side, print the word "WHY? " Now, attach the tag to your keys. Hey, that's not so hard, and already you're greener!

No, really.

See, when next you pick up your car keys, ask yourself the question "How can I get there?" Just asking the question is a big

step. Make it explicit, though, ask out loud. If you are alone the foolishness of talking to yourself may cause a longer pause for reflection. If you are with folks, they will assume that you are asking them (and you are, really).

Walk, Bike, Ride

Could we walk to where we are going? Ride a bike? Take a shuttle or light rail or commuter rail or even (shudder) a big urban bus? The answer will usually be "Yes, but . . . ."

It's the "but" that is killing us. "Yes, but it is too far." "Yes, but I don't have time to bike." "Yes, but my clothes will get messed up." "Yes, but I don't feel safe." Which brings us to the next question and the other side of the tag: "Why?"

Why do you have to ride a car, you should ask yourself, and your friends. This gets the "Yes, but" out in the open. We acknowledge that we have "reasons." Good reasons. Really good reasons -- until we thoughtfully and carefully examine them.


Your Excuse Isn't Really As Ironclad As You Thought or

Getting to "Well, Ok, Maybe. But . . ."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

QUICK GREEN: You Can Stop Using Coal

This afternoon, stop buying electricity generated by coal, natural gas, or (shudder) nuclear fuel.

Even if you aren't able to get solar cells up on the roof this week, your electricity provider may be willing to sell you power generated by wind, solar, and small-scale hydro.

California power companies are required to have a certain amount of "green" power in their electricity mix. Accordingly, most are willing to charge you a little extra and purchase this good electricity on your behalf.

Oddly, the power usually comes in 200 kilowatt hour (kWh) blocks for about $5.00, or $0.025 per kWh. Some providers allow a 100% option that does not require "blocks" where all of your electricity is green. A typical Pasadena home uses between 800-1200 kWh per month, averaged over the year. So the extra monthly could be $20 - $30 per month. A little much, perhaps, if your budget is stretched, but an option!

Most importantly NO unacceptable fuel has been used to power your home (or electric lawnmower)!

Of course, we have solar cells on our roof, and expect to have close to a zero electric bill at the end of the year. But we have signed up for Green Power with the City of Pasadena, so if we use a little more than we produce, we are still fossil fuel free for electricity.

Go here for this bumpersticker

Solar Cells: Why Doesn't Everybody Do This?! Wow!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

JOURNAL: Car Free Weekend II

Saturday, October 15

So far so good; I need to go fill a prescription, and will trot out the bike right after the delayed Yu-Gi-Oh game with the kids and run up the hill. Its a 15 minute bike drive, a ten minute car ride. But the morning is crisp and bright, the air clean from last night's brief rain.


Oops. The wife wants to run to the store. It's all of a mile and a half away. She offers to take the baby with her, leaving the big kids and I only. I want to suggest that she can leave baby and ride her bike (which she has been able to do very little, what with being pregnant and then often having the wee-one along). But the experiment is to see how we can do without my nagging, so I opt for a baby-free couple of hours. Might she have walked with the baby in the stroller? Yes, but the immediate reaction from me is that that would keep her away an extra 45 minutes or so, and we have a lot to do here today. Bravo for the rationalization!

Perhaps Spencer (the 10-year-old) and I will take the recycling to the collection center on the tandem later.



Ooooh. The rain has begun. Intensely! So much for picking up the prescription. No tandem riding. I will put it on hold until the rain lets up.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The day begins with more Yu-Gi-Oh, intense rain, thunder and lightening. We are simply staying put for the rest of the weekend.

Carfree Weekend Score:
Car Trips Transferred to Other Modes: 0
Car Trips Avoided: 1
Car Trips / Miles: 1/1.5

Not a good test, but a low mileage weekend given the far flung nature of our families and partsof our lives.

A Change

For the future, the "Journal" type entries have mostly been moved to, which will include general observations on events like this; Easy Green will be focused more on publication style -- if not quality -- first person explorations of "Being Green, Easy."

JOURNAL: Car Free Weekend

Friday, October 14

Cars are in at sundown, off the street and shutdown. The Weekend Off begins.

I haven't told anyone this is a car free weekend; I want to see how we can do just asking ourselves how, and why.

We've no plans for Friday night, so the five of us have a lazy evening around the house.

Saturday, October 15

9:00 am

I need to get a prescription filled and plan to hop on the bike and run that errand. The pharmacy's is near my old house, but still only about three miles away. A 15 minute bike drive or a 10 minute car ride, so the bike ride does not seem onerous.

We spend the day working on the house; I plant some of the winter garden (later than I wanted, but so it goes). Garlic and shallots in today, again (our local critters dug my first seeds!). Broccoli and some root crops Sunday.

6:00 pm

I feel like a cheat, as I didn't *need* to go anywhere today, other than the pharmacy, and I got so wrapped up in other stuff around the house that I haven't gone yet. Probably won't, either, as am about to fix dinner and settle in.

8:00 pm

The weather has been turning suddenly cool, from 90F to 70F in one day, with a crisp fall breeze blowing in from the south. The forecast is for chance of rain, but it is already raining pretty hard. The yard is cluttered with rain sensitive stuff, so I scrambled in the backyard to put some of it under cover. The rain is forecast for just overnight, so I am more amused than annoyed. The solar cells will get a good cleaning, the morning will dawn bright and cool, and the low sun-angle for the next six months means we will produce at least 20% more electricity than we consume each sunny day.

The evening becomes web surfing, a family video game, mom baking a cake, dad temporizing trying not to get caught up in the 10-year-old's desire to play Yu-Gi-Oh late into the night.

But, so far, so good. No car riding!

Tomorrow: Several errands for sure.

Friday, October 14, 2005

JOURNAL: Observations on Getting There

In addition to sharing specific ideas to get easy-green based on our experiences, it is my intention to chronicle some of our efforts to be-green-without-really-trying, in the hopes that (1) others will chime in with thoughts, experiences, and ideas and, (2) maybe our mistakes will help others avoid them.

Here, in no particular order, are some projects we will touch on here in the future.

Goodnight Car

It's the weekend, and I have just posted my "Give Your Car the Weekend Off" screed. So, preachment accomplished, this weekend will be a little practice. Stay tuned to see how much rest our two cars get . . .

That Darn Lawn

I love a big green lawn -- whether to play on or as a perfect emerald frame for our 1903 "Craftsorian" home. But I've never really had one -- either as a kid, or now.

We will never spend our days manicuring a lawn. And we are not enamoured of spending hundreds of gallons of fresh water on the lawn, especially given that we are unlikely to keep it weeded and trimmed as it must be to look good. So when we moved in four years ago, we iimmediately decided that we would replace the front lawn with natives, xeriscape, or both.

We haven't really done anything but stop watering, however. And mow the weeds every few weeks.

So there it sits -- a big brown lawn cum weed patch. Did I mention an ugly weed patch?

Although finances are always in issue in a big home project, really we are frozen by indecision. We have a corner lot that is highly visible, and in fact is sometimes used as a local landmark. We want to replace the chain link fence with a wood and arroyo stone structure (mostly to prevent pedestrians cutting across the lawn) and lots of lovely low-maintenance, low water native plants.

This weekend I will mow the weeds again.

Organic Cotton ?

Well here is a product that makes sense, but we haven't found any easy way to find it -- other than serious speciality stores, mail-order and web-order. And really, that's not easy. Although I have seen organic apples in the local Ralph's and Von's, I have never seen organic cotton at Sears or even Marcy's.

Why not? It doesn't seem to be all that more expensive. 'Course the stuff is usually made into organic styles -- vaguely artsy, vaguely granola, really requiring a pony tail and a beard for a man to wear successfully.

Put this in the category of a future mini-quest. Oh, not because I care, or want to go out of my way to be that green, but having raised the question I feel I must answer it. For you, not me.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Give Your Car the Weekend Off

For a quick greenie trick, give your car the weekend off.

From sunset Friday to sunset Sunday, try not to ride your car anywhere. Instead, drive a bike to the store for coffee and the paper on Sunday, walk to the nearby park or to the movies.

Try the local circulator shuttles. Try a trip on the local light rail. You might have to find some new places to go -- there may be a movie house closer than your usual, well within walk or bike distance. But that is part of the fun, rediscovering your neighborhood.

Even if you walk three miles to the movie, remind yourself it is only for one weekend! (Wear comfortable shoes!) If you can do one weekend, you will learn enough to help you try another with better success.

No need to take a sledge-hammer to your environmentally destructive vehicle (grin). Just give it the free weekend it so richly deserves!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Recycling (Pt. III): Do it Right,
But Make It Easy

Sick of the subject of recycling? This one is short: There are three things you can do to make recycling super easy, and really efficient.

1. Buy indoor recycle trash cans. Skip the grocery bag hanging on the back door.

If you have a mixed recycle bin from your trash hauler, then you can do the same inside your house. Most office supply stores carry a standard Rubbermaid(tm) office wastebasket in lovely clean-ocean blue, replete with the recycle logo and the proclamation "We Recycle." (Older versions used to list the types of paper that were acceptable, a somewhat quaint holdover from the early days.) Or you can order three different sizes online from Recy-CAL Supply among others. The medium size unit here lists for $6.00.

We have four of these around the house -- kitchen, office/dining room, kids rooms, etc. As recyclables come to the end of life they go into the blue trash; 10-year-old Spencer has as an "as needed" chore to dump the blue trash cans into the blue-lid Super Can from the City.

Many many people I have talked to about this use the bag-on-the-door or box-in-the-kitchen approach. Others use the bin outside the door approach. All these work great if you have very little recycling.

But the door-bag gets full, and the outside bin is a hassle. As a result, one tends to subconsciously recycle less, not more.

Remember, we use a 32 gallon, tiny can for our "trash," but fill one, sometimes two 60 gallon recycle bins. Week to week, our recycle to trash ratio is between 2:1 and 4:1.

Thus, Roger's Rule of Recycling: If you are not recycling twice the volume you put in the landfill, you aren't trying at all.

Room-based recycle bins make this very easy. If we had to carry 120 gallons of recycle out to the curb cans each day, we'd give up trying!

Our tiny trash, left, and our one or two recycle cans per week.

2. Recycle The Parts You Can.

A Barbie doll box is made of cardboard (recyclable) and un-numbered plastic (not recyclable). The plastic typically pulls off pretty easy, and the cardboard is now not in the landfill. A cereal box has a plastic bag of crumbs at the end of its life (neither crumbs nor bag recycle, although crumbs compost (grin)), and a pasteboard box. Trash the plastic, recycle the box.

Amusingly, this becomes pretty automatic and does not slow things down -- except when you start to notice which things come in reusable containers and which have vast amounts of ecologically morbid plastics or excess cardboard. We have been known to run around showing each other the trash when we come across a particularly novel feat of packaging engineering using reclaimable products.

3. Cheat.

This comes in two parts:

a. Never feel guilty if you throw away one can or a scrap of paper rather than get to the bin. The habit you will develop if you do not feel resentful and pressured over recycling will eventually more than make up for the occasional misguided soda can.

b. Not sure if that paper is ok to recycle? What about that can? In mixed recycling, toss it in anyway. There are still people down there inspecting your choices, who will reject anything you have overzealously included.

The in-house bins will have the biggest impact, of course. It never ceases to amaze me how many people have four or five or more trash cans around the house, and one recycle bag. And, of course, there are lots of ways to reduce your trash without increasing recycling output. But that's a screed for another day.


Red Tag Your Car (It's Easy!)

Recycling (Pt. II): The Good Way, The Bad Way, The Hard Way

How your trash leaves your house is usually determined by city, or sometimes county, politicians, who give policy instructions to waste management authorities. Often, the details are further left to a private contractor.

All these people can have an impact on how hard -- or easy -- it is to be green when it comes to recycling. As a result, if your town doesn't use The Good Way with a little financial incentive (see below) drop me an email and we can come up with a way to change that.

As it happens, the easiset way is far from the best way.

The Hard Way: D.I.Y.

One way to be green is to Do-It-Yourself, to collect your recyclables and turn them into cash-- er reusable materials -- without any city help at all.

Mostly this falls into the catagory of Rigorous Earth Friendly Lifestyle (REFL) and while this may be fine for some, we are all about easy. Oh sure, you can collect your paper, your aluminum, your steel, your numbered plastics, your glass, etc., sort them and schlep them down to your local recycling center, but its a lot of work.

And that means for most of us that we would never get started, or would start, but eventually toss two or three trash bags of unreclaimed recyclables into the trash can. Getting the City or other jurisdiciton that handles your trash to do it for you is much easier. And of course municipal governments have a motivator to pull all the recyclables out of the trash that they can since many states (including California) require cities to reduce the amount of stuff going into landfills.

Believe it or not, once folks actually expected the D.I.Y. method to work, and cities set up dozens of recycling centers for public spirited citizens to bring their recylable stuff to. It worked okay, especially for the Truly Public Spirited and Hardcore Greenies. I even spent some time sorting glass by color as a Boy Scout at a voluntary recycle center. Some communities still do things this way.

The City of Kernville Community Recycling Center

Voluntary or D.I.Y. programs are The Hard Way, but they are certainly better than No Way. These are most often found, still, in very small or isolated communities.

Now, there are second-generation D.I.Y. centers in place where you can get cash for bottles and cans, in many major metro centers, even cities with the The Good Way in place. Why is that?

Well, Remember way-back when you could take a soda or beer bottle to the market and get a nickel for it? Still can, and it applies to all beverage containers these days.

In California its called CRV (California Refund Value); some other states mandate an amount, and it is often printed on the container.

But here's the trick -- Supermarkets tend not to handle this stuff directly. Instead, in some store parking lots, there are shipping containers converted to recycling centers.

The two coolest ones here in SoCal are automated. In one, you put the bottle or can into a hole in the side of the recycle center and it moves away on a little conveyor belt. An automated scanner scans the container and registers an amount. When you are done, it issues a reciept, no human intervention required. You cash-in the reciept inside the store where the center is located, either for $$$ or a credit on your next purchase.

The second kind is pretty much the same, except there is a human being around to dislodge the can or bottle when the machine gets jammed, or to change the barrels into which the various containers are sorted by the machine. Sometimes the human staffed centers take cans by the pound too -- but generally that is reserved for the great big industrial-quantity recycle centers.

Viewed strictly as a method for easy recycling, this "modified" D.I.Y. is not so good. It still involves extra work the other methods do not. But if you have a youngster around who can collect the cans and bottles and ride 'em over on her bike for spending money, then its a cool way to do things. And if you really need the money yourself sometime, it is also useful to know that a trash bag full of mixed cans and plastic bottles will net $3.00 to $5.00. No wonder people push shopping carts around looking for them.

The Easy Way: Mixed Stream, Mixed Messages

One kind of city recycling in current vogue is called "mixed stream" or "mixed waste." Residents just put everything into the regular trash -- recyclable cardboard, moldy macaroni, bottles, cans, greasy roast beef, and anything else that is usually thrown away. The city takes the trash to a central location where it is dumped on a conveyer belt, and a whole bunch of people with the worst job in the world pick out the good stuff to recycle.

No, really.

Next to that rotten half chicken you tossed in the dumpster, and the puke-filled paper towels from the sick kid down the street, and under the used kitty litter, there may be a perfectly recyclable soda bottle.

And it is considered by some cities a better deal to pay someone to pluck out the useable parts of this muck after its all mixed together than to force its citizens to actually think about their consumption and choose to recycle.

Unfortunately, this method is not very efficient. A perfectly good cardboard Barbie box may not be recyclable at all if it is covered in that kid's barf. And necessarily, if you are that somone picking through the rotten, stinking garbage one can't imagine that you are going to be able to pick out all the good stuff.

Admittedly, this mixed waste method is the easiest way for the average Jane to get ones cans and bottles out of the landfill. No thought required; no habit to ingrain. But as ever, The Easy Way is often not the right way, or even the best way, to get the job done.

Not only does the mixed stream process not remove as much trash from the landfill loads as other methods, it does not require people to be responsible for what they put into the trash in the first place. So consumption continues unabated, landfill filling is reduced only modestly, and most cities are left not likely to meet the state imposed reduction standards.

The Good Way: Mixed Recycle (And a Little Incentive)

As ever, there is a middle-way!

Not so easy as mixed waste, not so rigorious as D.I.Y.

In some cities, such as Pasadena, California, residents are given a special trash can for recycle goods. In Pasadena the blue-lid trash can is for ALL recyclables -- paper, metal, glass, plastic, cardboard.

Put the good stuff in one can, the real trash in the other-- simple.

No need to sort by type, or glass color. And it all goes: Metal, Paper, Numbered Plastics, Glass etc.

The blue-lidded super-cans are picked up by a special truck, and only this relatively clean, partly sorted recycle stuff goes to a special facility where a combination of machines and people sort the good stuff into types, whence it is recycled.

Still a pretty yucky job for someone. But not nearly so bad as picking the pickle jar out of the spoiled halibut and used tissues. As it happens, Pasadena also has a seperate trash can for green waste -- grass clippings, prunning, etc. All that plant material is turned into compost, and also doesn't count at the dump.

This makes it really easy to get all your recylables together. In Pasadena, however, there is an extra incentive to help folks see the value of filling that recycle bin.

Recycling is way up because the "regular" trash can is shrinking -- because that is the part you pay for, by the gallon.

Oh yeah, that's the key, see: The recycle trash cans are free, the yard waste cans are free (we have two huge ones of each) but the regular goes-to-the-landfill trash will cost ya.

Called a "Pay As You Throw" plan, the Pasadena system gives folks an economic incentive to sort as much trash as you can into the recycle bin. At our house, with a family of five, we use one of the tiny 32 Gallon trash cans, and pay just $11.00 per month for trash! Of course we fill TWO 60 gallon recycle bins, often. But that's free!

Special Value of Partial Sorting

Turns out, the mixed recycle format has an extra side benefit: People start to think about what they are throwing away, and begin to notice things about what they are consuming, how its packed and the like. Which, of course, just leads to more green thinking, bike driving, solar cells installing -- a blog -- you get the picture.

Here is a perfect illustration:

One day, at my daughter's birthday party, one of her First Grade classmates asked my Father-in-Law where to put the soda can the lad had just emptied. Grandpa had a bag of trash in his hand -- mostly-eaten cake on paper plates, dying streamers, unfinished watermelon and the like -- and so he held open the bag and told the kid to toss it in.

"No, no," the young man reportedly said. "Where's the recycle?"

When Grandpa told the story on himself later, he added the comment that when we told him that in Pasadena we recycle, he didn't realize we meant that we really recycle. And that's the point, isn't it? The habit was ingrained, the boy expected a handy place to recycle his can, and he knew that it wasn't a good to just toss it in the trash without a thought.

With the right program in place, it really is easy going green.


Recyling (Pt III): Do It Right, But Make It Easy

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Recycling: A Greenie Is Born

It all started with recycling.

"Is This Your First Time, You Know, Being Green?"

It was just a short slip down the greenie slope from there, brother, to bigger and more earnest sustainable practices. Walking and biking places, buying organic; installing solar cells. Recycling seemed so innocent, and kind of helpful, you know -- until the day we realized we were hooked. It was just a simple little thing right? Not like eating organic granola with a Redwood tree for company, right?

Don't you believe it. Recycling is a classic gateway practice. What starts out as a simple "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" commitment is so easy, so seductive, that before you realize what’s happened the idea of putting a recyclable product into the landfill can make you break out in a cold sweat.

Yep. For us it all started with recycling.

“You Know, When I Was Your Age We Didn't Even Have Recycling”

See, back in the old days it all went into the trash -- except the soda bottles. We saved those and took them to the store to get the deposit back. Kind of like airport shopping carts nowadays. You just rented the bottle to carry your soft-drink home, and then you gave it back. The deposit -- real money in those days -- was there to make sure you did bring the bottle back, 'cause the drink-makers were going to refill it (or so we believed). And of course, every so often a school would have a newspaper drive fundraiser, and sell a truck load of newspaper back to the paper mill. Nobody thought it was important.

Then Earth Day hit, and the 1970's, and in 1972 the Boy Scouts of all folks started Project SOAR (Save Our American Resources) and the organization that now has a bad reputation as a training ground for the political right promoted conservation, something called ecology, and God help 'em, recycling.

Recycling and -- honest to goodness -- not using colored toilet paper anymore, because it hurt the goldfish in our classroom experiment.

For a long time recycling was a voluntary, feel-good, hippie commune or Boy-Scout-service-project sort of activity.

Somewhere on the way to the 1990s someone figured out that cities could get people to put all their recyclable stuff in a special box, and that cities could collect the stuff, process it, and maybe make a little cash out of it. Oh, and not incidentally reduce the amount going into the landfill. Which saved some more money. So a few cities did.

'Course, it was just glass, metal and paper then. Plastic was definitely not recyclable.

Then the State of California noticed that the landfills were filling up -- all the way up -- and that there was not so much room anymore for the Golden State's tarnished discards.

California to Cities: "Less Trash, Or Else"

Not knowing what else to do, the State of California passed a law requiring cities to cut their trash-stash in half. Fifty percent reduction, or else; and that meant fines, big ones, $10,000-a day-big for failure to reduce the waste flow.

So: Remember those recyclin' cities? They already had these tiny recycle boxes going out to sit beside the regular trash already, right? So somebody did a little research and discovered that people still weren't recycling nearly all the spaghetti sauce jars and cardboard cereal boxes that they could -- and so the cities went to town and implemented recycling in a big way.

Now there are lots of ways to do recycling. Over the years, though, these have evolved into The Good Way, The Bad Way, and The Hard Way.

Turns out The Good Way had side benefits people didn't expect when they first started massive city-wide recycling programs. Turns out, The Good Way gets people thinking.

Of course, these days in many American cities, every first and second-grader understands that it is better to reuse something than to use up more of a limited resource; that certain materials can be reused and should be returned to the stream of commerce, not buried for a thousand years; that recycling is cool.
But making it easy to do -- that's another question.

Coming Up Next:

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Slippery Green Slope

It starts off innocently enough. A little recycling, because the city makes it easy. An organic apple or two, because they're showing up regularly in the big chain supermarket. A shrug and a good feeling about choosing the fair-trade or organic coffee.

Driving a bike to Starbucks instead of riding an automobile the 7500 feet on Sunday morning. Walking to the market. Just once. An experimental trip to South Pasadena on the Gold Line train. A little more vigorous effort at recycling.

Pretty soon maybe you're looking at getting solar cells, or take one of those free LA County classes and start a little compost bin. You stop using chemical pesticides and petroleum-based weed killers and fertilizer in favor of buying live lady bugs at OSH and clove-oil based Raid(tm) at the supermarket.

Next thing you know, your mother wonders outloud when you became a hippie.

Living a rigorous, earth-friendly lifestyle is, well, rigorous -- and not for most of us.

But so many easy ways to Go Green have now been made available that it is almost no effort to make the switch from harmful products to better ones, from poisoned food to better tasting organics, and on and on. This blog, then, is intended simply as a way to share the lazy way to green your life and lifestyle. Not every topic explored will be high-grade green; but all will be pretty easy!