Category Archives: re-use

Days 285-286: MLwC and it’s a Green Thing Christmas

Go ahead and have an irreverent chuckle with the new green-idea-of-the-month video for December. Do the Green Thing , it’s all in good fun. The idea is: buy something old this Christmas, or maybe nothing at all, and try to remember what Christmas is really all about. Now, there’s a radical act!

Seattle rain thanks to Creative TechThanks to CreativeTechs

So, up here in the northwest we’re reminded again what global climate change means to us: rain, rain and then, for good measure, more rain. Streets and freeways closed, basements flooded, and just way more water than the infrastructure is able to handle. This has been happening more each year–we just broke the previous rain record set in 2003.

Tim Flannery in The Weather Makers discusses in fine detail how global climate change will likely play out and one of the things he notes is rapid and extreme fluxuations in weather–where there was rain before, there will be massive flooding; where there was desert, there will be ongoing drought. The extremes will increase on all fronts. That appears to be happening.

One last thing: UN committee on Global Climate Change meets in Bali this week. Watch for the year 2020 to become a media buzzword in the next few months–it’s the watershed year for change that many scientists and scientific panels have agreed upon–the do or die date. It’s not a bad thing–clear dates and timelines always help focus the mind.
Daily Stats: (Mon, Tue, Wed)
Car: 14.5 miles
Bike: 5.5 miles
Ped: 0
Bus: 0

Day 213 and 214: MLwC and the discreet charm of an older car

When I first started to drive, the general expectation was that I would 1) have an older, hand-me-down car and 2) I would maintain it for a long time, without the real expectation of a brand, spanking new car anywhere in my dizzy head. The first car I had was a Ford Falcon which I inherited from my parents’ divorce somehow…I’m still not sure how that transaction worked but I tend to think unexpressed guilt was at work in there somewhere.

my first car

I didn’t love the car, it had absolutely no cool factor at all, but it got me around and liberated my life at a crucial time. I don’t even remember at this point what happened to the car, though there’s a vague recollection of a tow truck and a purchase for parts.

My next car was beloved, even though it too, was the product of a divorce. A friend of my mother’s had a VW bug, yellow, that she used for zipping around; after her divorce, she felt she needed something more substantial and besides the car reminded her of her ex, so she wanted to dump it. I picked it up for One Buck, the minimum you have to pay for a car to avoid some kind of taxes or something. I loved this car and drove it all over, to Wisconsin for Grad School, to Florida for vacation, and on and on. My old cat Mo grew up riding around in the passenger seat, and thought nothing of 3 day road trips.

1965 vw bug

My next 2 cars were VW bugs as well, the last one being an older model that I adored, a 1965 turquoise sweet thing that caused boomers to stop me in plarking lots to tell me their youthful VW stories.

My current car is also a VW, a Jetta that I bought during the dot com bubble for cash–my First New Car Ever. I adored it also: heated leather seats, fabulous sound system, zippy engine and a compact cool look. I was exceptionally proud of my brand new car, purchased on a whim with stock money. It was more than a car, it was a marker in time.

But now my car is old, certainly old by current standards, and it doesn’t have the je ne sais quois of before. It gets me around just fine, but doesn’t flatter my ego at all. So, where am I now with regard to my old zippy car? Well, I’m starting to notice older cars–people who are still driving their 1990 whatever, keeping it in good shape, not asking it to be more than it is, and counting on it to be all that it still is.

I notice older cars that are washed and polished, clean machines, and that still look good, and presumably function well. And of course, in contrast, I think of all the new cars out there–the thrill of them, the status and such. I wonder if anyone coming out of high school shares the expectations I had around cars anymore: nothing new, but something that will get you from point A to point B, which was really all I cared about.

And I think of the huge mountains of cars that we go through in search of that new-car-high, which is admittedly pretty intoxicating.

I came across this article in MSN about the upside of keeping your old car. Some good ways of thinking about your older car are, it turns out, pretty quantifiable. For example, keeping the thing running might cost you $1500 in repairs–every year. But that still falls short of buying a new car, a new car which will be old very soon, and within a few years you’ll find yourself choosing between repairs and a new car–and endless cycle. Your insurance will be the lowest around, your taxes even lower and in fact, even if you have a major repair every year, you’ll likely still come out ahead.

But here’s something subtle to think about: new cars are like guns in Hollywood films. If a gun appears in a scene–over the mantle, in the drawer, on the shelf–it’s a guarantee that gun will get some use in the course of the film. Same with a new car–if you have a new car, you will use it. There’s no earthly way you will choose to ride your bike, walk or take the bus, it’s just a given you will drive that car everywhere.

So, today I want to sing the praises of older cars. Not the old-old-old cars, that are poorly maintained and spew clouds of smoke as they go–those are a dying breed. Cars with pollution controls have been around for a long time so even a 17 year old car does a pretty good job of minimizing pollution. I’m talking about older cars that are maintained and loved for what they are: reliable transportation tools. Appliances, even. You take care of them, they take care of you, and that odometer is a badge of courage. Recall Seth Godin’s idea that in the future, the best made cars will have their LED odometers on the outside so people can oooh-and-ahhh about how well made this car is.

Daily Stats: (Sat, Sun)
Car: 8 miles
Bike: 0
Ped: 3 miles
Bus: 0

Day 180-182: MLwC, the Half-Way Point Data Extravahhh-ganza!

It’s the mid-point mark in my year long project to change how I think about getting around! So far, the project is a massive success. But first, a few items:

Neighbor Susan noted yesterday re the amount of waste created on a daily basis while traveling. This being The Travel Month for a lot of people, that observation seems particularly apt:

I had similar feelings on our two-week road trip where the combination of eating on-the-road, the absence of the usual recycling bins and the need to stay contained in a small vehicle meant that we were throwing things into the garbage that at home we would have recycled.

It would be nice if Recycling were a national program, rather than a very uneven local option. I’ve been lots of places where recycling isn’t even available, much less an option. And traveling, where you pretty much don’t have reusable-anything, really surfaces the issue of waste in a palpable way.

Bike considerations.

My pal B2 has put approx 1500 miles on his bike since May. Whoa–nice job, my slim and good lookin friend! I’ve been reading Sightline Institute’s many great articles regarding the environment and the Northwest, and following Alan Durning’s blog Bicycle Neglect–excellent posts. Here’s one entitled Bicycle Shame, a lament and study of the many patently ridiculous stereotypes about bicyclists. To whit: bicyclists are wimps (let me see, I know I’ve been hit on a bike and sent flying through the air, only to get back on my bike as soon as I could…yeah, that’s pretty wimpy) and bicyclists are elitist (Alan suggests cyclists also probably speak French but anyway, that’s so weird, like a BMW is not elitist but a mountain bike is?). Here’s a clip from this excellent blog:

Biking is the least exclusive form of vehicular transportation there is. It’s not restricted to people with money, or people with drivers’ licenses and insurance.

Biking isn’t just cheap for bikers, it’s cheap for the communities in which people bike. Bikeways and bike racks are inexpensive to build and maintain.

Biking is also cheap for nations: they don’t have to import as much oil or defend their access to that oil with billions of dollars and divisions of soldiers. It’s cheap for health-care institutions: they don’t have to treat as many car-crash injuries, as much lung disease, or as many cases of diabetes and others maladies of obesity. It’s cheap for our grandchildren who won’t have to endure as much climate disruption; cheap for polar bears who won’t have to go extinct; cheap for our consciences, our karma, our souls.

Biking, walking or sharing transportation even one day a week does a world of good.

The MLwC project half-way point

And speaking of One Day a Week: when I first started this project, I remember setting small goals of just one day a week without using my car. Then two days, and then after that, walking-biking-bussing-sharing was just more and more part of my thinking. And now? Well, right now, I’m in the midst of this small remodel which requires picking up things like carpet cleaners and finish molding and schlepping around. It’s a drag but there you have it: sometimes you need a car.

Here’s the great thing: it seems weird and irritating to drive. I would never have expected that when I started this project. Back then, driving was the norm. Now it’s not. And I find the whole traffic-parking-gotta-get-somewhere tension pretty aggravating and weird. It’s true: I find biking/bussing/walking to be a preferable method of transport, call me elitist. 😉

So, without further ado, here are the stats.

The crowd roars

Review round-up from Day 90 :

Car: 535 miles, approx 85% multi-task, multi-occupant
Bike: 176.30 miles, increasing daily mileage from Day 1 to Day 90 (by a lot!)
Hybrid-electro Bus: 60 miles (didn’t utilize the bus until around day 60)

From Day 90 to present:

Car: 301.4 miles, approx 95% shared, with average 3 tasks per outing
Bike: 154.3 miles, a little less than the first round-up
Hybrid-electro Bus: 136 miles–more than double
By foot: 156.5. I didn’t track this previously.

seattle071.jpg

Big changes:

  • Significant reduction in use of my car, which is interesting since during the first 90 days, I was out of the country a lot and couldn’t use my car. So reducing my usage while still being in Seattle is a big improvement.
  • significant increase in bus usage–which I attribute to “learning to love downtown Seattle again.” Meaning: if you don’t have to deal w parking and traffic, Seattle’s a great place to visit!
  • Much more conscious use of walking, jogging, or other foot powered transportation.
  • Weird little decrease in bike usage. Not sure what’s up there.

I believe, for now, I have seriously and successfully changed my habitual transportation thinking.

Daily Stats: (Mon- Wed)
Car: 7 miles (2 tasks)
Bike: 10 miles
Bus: 15 miles
Ped:0

Day 179: MLwC, schlepping and such

We are remodeling my partner’s office space here in West Seattle, a lot of it on our own. This requires an enormous amount of schlepping stuff around, running errands to the hardware store to pick up a lousy little something or other.

Sort of blows my no-car ideation to hell.

Not only that, what a lot of waste goes with remodeling. Everything from paint roller sleeves (multiple) to packaging to cans, drywall bits and pieces, discarded hardware, change-in-plan waste, and on and on. When you think this is happening a million times everyday all over the country…it’s enough to make you sort of give up.

The Northwest has a lot of green remodeling companies sprouting up everywhere, and of course a lot more green resources than ever before. Right here in Seattle is the Environmental Home Center, a great resource we’ve used on other projects in our home. We have carpet made out of recycled plastic bottles, for example–wears really well and still looks good. We’re not using an eco-contractor per se but are instilling recycling and reduced waste practices into what we do…even so, I can see how much waste you could produce if you just didn’t care.  Plus there’s the stuff you can’t do much about.  We have a ruined carpet down in the basement of this office that is beyond reclamation, and that is headed straight to the landfill.

I hate contributing to landfill.  It just bugs me inordinately.   Does anyone else out there think about landfills a little more than is healthy, or is it just me?

But I won’t lose sight of my year-long project in all of this upheaval.  Even if this little blip does add to my overall car usage, I’ve radically reduced it over the course of the last several months and I won’t let this project get in the way. It’s temporary.

But just for the record: remodeling is a pain in the butt.

Daily stats (Monday)
Car: 7 miles
Bike: 0
Ped: 0
Bus: 0
No exercise, yipes!!!

Day 168-171: MLwC and that memory thing

Here’s the scene: we’re biking our way to the West Seattle Farmer’s Market, it’s a beautiful morning and I’m thinking about peaches and Santa Rosa plums–the kind I grew up with but you can hardly find anymore but for a few weeks in August.

paniers for more info see seacat.wordpress.com

And then it hits me: I forgot to put the paniers on my bike and have almost no space to carry things home. We’re almost to the market and it’s too late to turn back. My partner remembered hers so we just keep going…but it will impact what we can schlepp home.

Another scene: I’m in a hurry, have a long to-do list but need to grab something to eat before heading out for my next appointment. I take a half a bagel from the freezer, slap a slice of cheese on it and toss it in the toaster oven. I race off to get my stuff ready to go and come back, anxious to get the bagel and split. But noooooo–the toaster is not plugged in, because we’re trying hard to remember to unplug unused electrical items, so the bagel is still frozen.

I am reminded at times like this of the great selling advantage of Easy. With a car, you barely have to think–just hop in and step on it, and anything you buy you can throw in the back seat and go. Leaving things plugged in, in all the homes across the globe, accounts for an enormous waste of electricity, but on the little-ol-me scale, it’s simply a whole lot easier.

Easy is just…well, easier than remembering stuff. Remembering to plug the toaster in, remembering to put the paniers on your bike, remembering to bring your canvas bag to the store, remembering to re-use your plastic bags…on and on.

But, it’s all just habit. It really is a habit to head out in your car with little more thought than getting up in the morning–you’re just used to it. If plugging in the toaster oven were perceived as a normal part of using a toaster oven, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. It’s all habitual. So, we’ll stay the course (thousand points of light ;-)), and try to change the way we think about our appliances, our trips to the store, and stuff.

Santa rosa plums from seacat.wordpress.com

By the way, the Santa Rosas were in (Thanks, Tiny’s!) and my summer is now complete. The peaches from Rama Farm are as heavenly as ever–and at least as expensive. But the harvest is coming in and now’s the time to visit your local Farmer’s market, if you don’t already.

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun)
Car: 20 miles (2 people, 4 tasks)
Bike: approx 16 miles
Ped: 9 miles
Bus: 0

Day 160: MLwC and when making things easy makes things worse

In the USA, making things easier and then selling tons of those easy things is the basis of our entire economy and consumer culture. It’s human nature: easy is good, difficult is bad. But as with all good things, there is a tipping point where good goes bad.

In the world of “easy things,” that tipping point is often related to over-consumption. At this time of year, I think of all the garden watering contraptions that have been invented–to take the trouble out of the task of watering. Most of them rely heavily on a broadcast spray functionality that could not–really!–could not be more wasteful. On an 80 degree day, spraying water into the air guarantees losing about half of what you’re pumping out.

Sierra Club blog had a good quote a few months back that comes to mind:

“The greenest ballpark in the country may be Fenway Park, because only an idiot would try driving and parking there.” (Sports Illustrated, March 2007)

And over at Confessions of a Green Girl Wannabe Marguerite, who is in Paris right now, notes that:

There is some advantage to not having access to the comfort of modern appliances. In our Paris appartment, I still have not figured out how to use the wash machine. The dryer appears to be even more of a mystery. One [interesting] consequence has been how little dirty laundry we have generated as a result.

Fast food is easy–so easy, we eat too much of it. Driving is easy–so easy, we forget other forms of transportation, or even forget how nice it might be to hang closer to home. Getting a double tall split shot cappuccino is ridiculously easy–and our landfills are overflowing with plastic and paper cups to prove it.

I rarely drive downtown anymore. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I did, and I would not have predicted that a year ago. I resonate with the Fenway park quote above: driving downtown is so hard anymore that I’ve learned a hundred other ways to get there–all smarter and less impacting than driving.

What other things might be better if they were just a wee bit more difficult? And how on earth could we possibly sell such an idea to an entire culture that bases its choices on “easy livin'”?

Daily Stats: (Wed)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 3 miles
Bus: 0
internet: all day long.

Day 157 & 158: MLwC and small news

How cool is this: I not only remembered the cloth bags for the farmer’s market today (not a very big deal cuz cloth bags are just easier to use at farmer’s market so I made that switch a while ago), but I remembered plastic bags as well! This is a first.

Here’s my new system: when I get home from the market, I unpack the stuff I get and if the plastic bag is clean and dry, I just empty it and put it right back in the cloth bag. Then next week I get to the market and voila, I have plastic bags. I personally think this is sheer brilliance. Since I just recycled two bulging bags of plastic bags today, I’m thinking we could make a real dent in our personal contribution to the mountans of this modern-living-through-chemicals product.

Okay, so it’s not big. But you takes your smiles where you find them.  Here’s a mini-challenge I’m going to take up this week: not one new plastic bag.  For all instances, re-use or use canvas.

plastic-bags-pix.jpg

It takes approximately 10-20 years for bio-degradable plastic bags to bio-degrade.  That’s a definition stretch, in my mind. It’s estimated that 500 million to a billion bags are used and discarded each year, and that’s probably a low-ball number; others estimate the number at 100 billion.

Daily Stats (Sat & Sun)
Car: 24 miles (5 tasks, 2 people)
Bike: 0
Ped: approx 5 miles
Bus: 0
Water Taxi: approx 2 miles