Closing coal plants, eliminating phone books and green gyms

Last week, I saw this interesting headline in our local business paper:

Xcel takes unusual step to shut down coal power plants

The full article is only available to subscribers, I believe. But the gist of it is that our power company, Xcel, is shutting down two coal power plants, both of which are in residential areas. They will instead use natural gas to create power.

It might be a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul. This Wired article says that natural gas is cleaner, but …

“People talk about natural gas emitting four times less greenhouse gases than coal, but that’s only when the gas is actually burned for energy,” Glynn said. At present, most greenhouse gas calculations don’t take into account carbon dioxide emissions that occur when natural gas is pumped from the ground for storage and transmissions.

At any rate, hopefully it’s a step in the right direction.

Phooey on phone books

I’ve been busily working to eliminate junk mail, so it’s super frustrating to hear the telltale THUNK of another phone book hitting the porch.

Remember when only the phone company produced the (lone) phone book? And you actually used it to look up numbers? Now I use the phone book for several purposes:

  • As a booster seat for visiting toddlers.
  • As a step for calf-raise exercises.
  • As a weight to hold a damp cloth onto a carpet stain for maximum absorption.

Yeah … not exactly its intended purpose. I’m not even sure if anything is written on the pages. Oh, I forgot, it’s a source of advertising revenue, therefore it must be inflicted on us.

Well, then Wise Bread wrote about a source for opting out of phone book deliveries. I have called individual companies to opt out, but I missed the one that hit me this week. Perhaps the YellowPagesGoneGreen site will help.

Another reason Portland is cool

If my family didn’t almost all live here in Colorado, I’d pack it in for Portland. Yesterday, Focus Organic wrote about a green microgym that’s opening in Portland. It will be powered by the exercisers and solar energy, with a lot of eco-friendly interior finishes. That would indeed be a big improvement on my plastic-filled, energy-sucking gym, sadly.

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Green convention mania: Is sustainability sustainable?

It’s almost over — the Democratic National Convention in Denver, my home town.

I’ve been quiet this week about the hubbub because I haven’t wanted to deal with traffic, thousands of people, etc. I would have liked to visit some of the information booths, but I was too slow to get on the green blogging bandwagon. I am incredibly curious what the aftereffects of this “green convention” will be.

The Pepsi Center is installing a permanent solar array that will be operational before the Convention and long after our nominee has been chosen in Denver.

  • Much has been made of the wood key cards being used at hotels for the convention. 70,000 key cards will be wood instead of plastic. At least for a few nights. I assume all the hotels will revert to plastic by Friday evening. Forgive me for being doubtful about the ultimate value of this one. Didn’t we once use a sustainable means of hotel entry? I believe it was called the “key.” What ever happened to those?
  • If you would like to experience the convention atmosphere vicariously, check out this blog, apparently written by a Denver lawyer who works downtown. The 16th Street Mall is a pedestrian mall that goes through downtown Denver, ending a few blocks away from the Pepsi Center. Free shuttle buses typically carry workers and tourists up and down the downtown area. It’s always a bit of a circus (entertaining, poignant, with lots of junk for sale), but this is a new perspective.
  • Speaking of new perspectives, let us consider the anarchists. I appreciate some of this blogger’s points, of which this excerpt will give you a flavor:

Greening the convention … [is] also an opportunity for global polluters to remake themselves as environmental leaders- General Motors will be providing a fleet of hybrid hummers while notorious corporations such as Newmont Mining, Peabody Energy, Archer Daniels-Midland, and Ford get to sponsor a green event.

  • Overall, I am curious to see whether we’ll get any photographic evidence of the aftermath of the convention. I hope our media will hold them to a report of whether the convention reached its goal of 85 percent waste reclamation. The sad truth is, huge events like this typically aren’t very sustainable. Even the “green DNC” Web site has a lot of “where possible” disclaimers. I suspect the outcome won’t be too different from Fake Plastic Fish’s recent report on a green festival featuring Radiohead.

I would offer to go down to our downtown city park, Civic Center, and photograph the aftermath, but Denver is hosting the huge “A Taste of Colorado” festival this weekend. Their Web site doesn’t say a word about sustainability.

Have you been to this convention or any other? Heard any good (or dreadful) sustainable news about it?

The library – a big green money-saver

This week is a busy one, so my posts might be scarce, but I wanted to raise the topic of libraries — what could be a cheaper and greener way to take advantage of books, magazines, movies and music than to share them with our fellow citizens?

Our local library has launched a new online tool to estimate how much we citizens save by using the library. My total was $58.92 in return for every $1 spent on taxes.

We are fortunate to be subscribers to one of the best library systems in the nation. Now, I don’t know how they came up with that ranking, but I do know I can almost always find what I want at the Denver Public Library. (The exception is books about spinning … I need to take some spinning wheels to their staff meetings and start getting some recruits, I think.)

But even when they don’t have the book I want, it’s easy to get it. I can do a search of other libraries in adjacent systems or across the nation; order the book online; and pick it up at my local library. So I just ordered the two books I wanted to read — including one that is out of print and available used on Amazon for $49.

This summer, Little Cheap heard about an Australian novel about horses online. She could not rest until she read it, but it too was out of print and priced exorbitantly online — $33 and up. But an interlibrary loan brought us the book in original hardcover, from the UCLA library. And along the way, we found the movie, starring a young Russell Crowe, in our local library’s stacks.

Not only is it green to share materials, it’s green to order books online and have them delivered to my local branch. I go to the library at least once a week, typically, and the branch I choose is right on the way for many of our errands.

Thanks to the library, we’ve read novels, explored tons of juvenile nonfiction, read the Magic Treehouse series in its entirety, explored interior design, test drove cookbooks before investing in them, and watched videos from Crash to Jeff Corwin to obscure Bollywood films.

Have you been to your library lately?

Green break rooms & splurge/scrimp – Friday Wrap-Up

The Green Boot Camp blog had a great post this week on greening your break room (or teacher’s lounge, etc.). She lists a number of great ideas to help business settings cut out waste. Don’t forget a refillable water solution instead of plastic bottles! And of course, pitch in to wash up.

Free Money Finance addressed MSN’s list of items to splurge or scrimp on. Here’s my take:

  • Mattress: SPLURGE. Well, I’m thinking about it anyway. We have a moderately priced mattress that we’ve hated from Day 1 … and that was three years ago.
  • Men’s dress shirt: SPLURGE … ish. My husband’s Land’s End no-iron dress shirt is the best. But my very favorite is to get splurge shirts for cheap.
  • Chef’s knife: SPLURGE … ish. We have a great Santoku from Target. But I disagree with their saying you only need one chef’s knife … our two are frequently in use.
  • Women’s shirts: SKIMP. “Cute tops from H&M will go out of style before they fall apart,” they say. Not to mention stains and stuff …
  • Overcoat: SPLURGE. Again, splurge on sale. My overcoat was originally priced at $300-something, but I paid $29 at Macy’s.
  • Accent chair: SKIMP. Um … I don’t have room for accent chairs in my home, so I just say no.
  • Table linens: SKIMP. Definitely. Anything that is guaranteed to stain is a “skimp” in my book.

What say you?

Back-to-school lunch — with less waste

My daughter went back to school yesterday, and it’s time to start sending her lunch in again. Additionally, she takes a water bottle to school daily. So I was on the hunt for more eco- and health-friendly lunch solutions.

Water bottles

Last year, we replaced her cheap plastic bottles and Nalgene (with BPA) bottles with a SIGG bottle. It still has a plastic lining, but it is a better bottle … if only she can learn to screw the cap on properly so it doesn’t leak all over. I was looking for a second bottle and was very happy to find this one, with no BPA and a virtually leak-proof top. We have her bring her bottle home every day and wash it out, rather than leaving it to absorb and ferment who-knows-what in her cubby.

Mr. Cheap and I have stainless bottles, but their seals are even harder for Little Cheap to manage. We still have some cheap bottles for once-in-a-while/might-get-lost events (especially where we’re not likely to drink anyway … like the one I sent to the pool with her on Tuesday).

Lunch box

For several years, Little Cheap has had a stackable Hello Kitty lunch box that we got at a Japanese market. Mr. Cheap has a stackable stainless “tiffin” lunch box from Chinatown. His is a lot like this one, only not quite so groovy looking.

The problem with that lunch box for Little Cheap is that her Sigg bottle was banged up and dented within 5 minutes of her owning it, so I worry that the steel would be banged out of fit right away. And she often takes along small things — ranch dressing, yogurt, cottage cheese, pudding — that would have to go in smaller containers in her lunch box, and they don’t fit in the “tiffin” box.

Then, at Vitamin Cottage, I found this:

It’s got no lead and it comes with four BPA-free containers (one large, one medium and two small) and a BPA-free drink bottle. (We don’t usually give a separate drink at lunch, especially now that she’s loving chocolate milk, but if we do, it’s much better than the cheap plastic bottles I bought a couple years ago that don’t work.) The small sizes are perfect for that yogurt/pudding serving. It cost a bundle … but on the other hand, we’ll be saving a small fortune by sending lunch with her. Her school lunch prices have risen to $4 this year.

Then, I’ve been looking for a shallow container to fit in the old lunchbox, for small servings, so I don’t need to use plastic bags. Finally yesterday I had a brainstorm and looked in the baby aisle. Voila, small “disposable” bowls (that will see a ton of re-use at our house) that will fit perfectly.

Waste facts & other options

The lunch box is made by Lunchopolis, which includes a bunch of facts on its Web site, including that every school-aged kid produces 67 pounds of waste per year.

The site reminds us to use a cloth napkin and reusable utensil in a lunchbox. We do this already — the oldest napkins go along to lunch, and we have a stash of cheap spoons and forks bought at the thrift store so if one doesn’t come home, our nice set of flatware is unaffected.

The containers in the new box are made of polycarbonate. I’m leery of it, but with new research not finding a major danger (relative to all the environmental dangers we face), we will use it for now — but we will not heat it, put hot foods in it, etc.

For you sandwich-eaters, have you tried the Wrap-N-Mat? It looks like a nice option for taking lunch along without plastic or foil — you just wipe off the inside.

A handy tool

Finally, if you find all this plastic info as confusing as I do, try this handy refrigerator chart. Just keep a pen handy to scratch out and write in the new data as it arrives.

And let us know what you do to keep your lunchtime waste lower.

Boxed wine vs. bottled wine – what’s the footprint?

I recently read this article in The New York Times, urging winemakers to produce their wine in boxes instead of bottles to reduce the carbon footprint of transport.

First, I must confess that we often have a glass of wine with dinner, and we often purchase boxed wine. It’s not a big quality downgrade for us, because we very seldom pay more than $9.99 for a bottle of wine. In the box, our price comes down to around $5.50 per 750ml.

But I did question the overall environmental effect of boxed vs. bottled wine. The article generated many comments, which also were interesting. Here are some of the issues.

Cork

One comment said that eliminating cork stoppers would be damaging to the environment. I thought this was interesting, because my understanding was that plastic “corks” came into vogue (along with more screw-top bottles) because cork was becoming too limited to satisfy the market. But this article addresses this issue and says in fact, cork harvest is necessary to sustain cork forests, which contribute to the planet’s biodiversity.

Transport

Most people — and sources — agreed that it is more resource-efficient to transport wine in boxes than in bottles. Boxes are a lot lighter, are unbreakable and can be stacked, eliminating additional packaging to transport the bottles. One reader asked why wine can’t be transported in kegs or casks, and we bring our own bottles to fill (like growlers at your local brewpub?). Great idea. I’m sure some law forbids it.

Waste

Several commenters remarked on the recyclability of wine boxes vs. bottles. Most of us can drop a bottle in our recycling bin. Some pointed out that bottles can easily be melted; others pointed out that colored glass has less demand among recyclers; others asked why we can’t wash and reuse wine bottles (great question).

As for recycling the bag and box, the spigot can’t be recycled, unless it could be used by different plastic manufacturers. The cardboard box can be flattened and put in the bin. (One commenter said manufacturers should make it easier to break the box down … now that’s nitpicky detail-oriented.)

This site mentions that a winemaker says bag-in-box is easier to recycle than glass. Other than that anecdotal evidence, I haven’t found much information about recycling.

Plastic contamination

“My” brand of wine box says it uses a #7 plastic, which is a no-no. Or it might not be. Or it might be. Now why did I have to go and read that? From a personal health perspective, glass is probably a lot safer.

Concentrated alcohol content

Perhaps my favorite comment was this one — he actually makes valid points, although I can’t vouch for his mathematics:

I only drink hard alcohol as it is much more environmentally friendly. Four to five shots of Jack Daniels or other fine American and proudly made in the US-of-A liquor gets me just as drunk as whole bottle of wine, with a greatly reduced carbon footprint. I figure that my intake alone helps keep some 250,00 cars a year off of the roads. Environmentally concerned drunks should not be drinking wine at all; stick to the real booze. Oh, and keep yourself off the roads–that helps save the environment AND keeps you and others safe.
— Philip Alexander, North Brookfield, NY

Tour our garden

Summer is coming to an end, although the gardening season is just reaching its prime in Colorado. If we are lucky, we’ll have a late frost, and the garden can carry on most of the way through October.

I’ve written so much about our garden here that I thought it might be fun to have a shot of the whole thing. You can glance at the photo here, and if you click on “all sizes” (above the photo), you should be able to see a larger size and more easily read the captions explaining what’s what.

In trying to capture an image, I realized just how scattered our garden is. These shots and notes don’t even touch on the two “extra” strawberry plants tucked into a back bed, the pumpkin and cantaloupe in the front yard, and the barrels out front with two more Roma plants. They don’t show the squash and berries at one side of our yard, or the Roma snuggled up next to the butterfly bush. But you’ll get the general idea.

If you’ve presented a garden tour on your own blog or photostream, add a link below — we’ll have our own garden tour. You bring the lemonade, I’ll bring the floppy hats.