Tag Archives: recycling

The Luxury of Recycling

recyle, reuse, recycling, garbage, littering, environment, environmental disasters, slums

Find your own way to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle but don’t use laziness as an excuse not to. Creative Commons: timtak flickr

Long ago I took on the recycling mindset. I didn’t want to litter, and if I’m getting rid of something that’s still usable I can’t just throw it out; I have to find a place or person where it can have more purpose. Vancouver has now had curbside recycling for a number of years. Even before that I would save up items (mostly paper) and take them to the recycling depot. But then I was a book rep and would have boxes of catalogues and order forms that would get outdated.

But when I finally came to realized how much garbarge we produced, I wanted to cut down even more on what goes into the landfill so we’re not living on a giant garbage heap. In amongst all these thoughts and growing awareness, I traveled to India. India’s population wasn’t yet a billion people but it was overcrowded and impoverished. I remember coming into Calcutta and passing fields where garbage speckled the fields. The streets of Calcutta were not just filthy. They included a dead cat, feces and other items not wanted. But much was recycled. People tore up any piece of tin or cardboard or concrete sidewalk to create shanty shacks in the mediums between the roads. It was sad and startling.

The air was so thick with diesel and pollution that a handkerchief held over my nose and mouth was black in two hours. The air garbage, recycling, pollution, Asia, culture, trash, landfillremained hazy and thick. When I walked to see the Taj Mahal at dawn the sky displayed an orangey rosey glow that was mostly pollution. Not only did the Ganges have a dead cow floating along, people doing laundry, ablutions and religious observances, it also had the ashes sifting down from the burning ghats where they cremated bodies. I made sure not to touch one drop of that river water and I already had dysentery.

When I arrived in Meghalaya, one of India’s seven tribal states, and more affluent than the general Hindu culture, I found pollution that was heartbreaking. The Khasis had a sacred grove of trees outside of Shillong. One day we drove up there, and it gave a great view of the city. But everywhere I looked there were plastic bags, bottles, straws and tetra packs. Another day we went to see some sites and then sat on a hillside by a waterfall.  We ate our lunch, which was wrapped in banana leaves and then in plastic bags (there were no neat takeout containers). After we finished the other people tossed the banana leaves and then the plastic bags. I ran around gathering up the plastic and exclaiming, You can’t do that. It’s bad.

These people are educated. They go to school and university and drive jeeps but they had no idea about environmentalism. I triedto explain that not only is it visually unappealing but unlike the banana leaf, the bag will go into the ground, poison the earth, or a cow will eat it and then when you eat part of that cow (the Khasis are not Hindus, who don’t eat cows) you could get sick from the plastic. I simplified it but I tried to impress that they shouldn’t leave garbage in the natural environment. But they also had no form of recycling.

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In many ways India does more of the Reuse part of the three Rs than we do. But Reduce is something that all countries need to do so that there isn’t so much garbage in the beginning. From: Indianimages.com

For much of India, it would have been fairly difficult to go up to someone and say, Don’t cut down that tree or you will have no trees at all, when that tree might be the only means for them to cook food. Seeing such destitution, filth and pollution in areas made me realize that we in North America have the luxury to recycle. It’s not that easy in a third world country where survival is your first most thought. You want shelter, security and food, and little else matters after that. In fact your full day might be taken up with finding enough food for your family. Such images fill me with despair but I try to hold out hope, from my teenage years example, that things will change for the better.

This doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It can, and when the teenage Khasis boys looked at North America and coveted the standard of living and all the trappings of popular culture that we have, then it became even more of our onus to make sure people don’t repeat the mistakes. India has rampant pollution but then Canada and the US’s shores and land are not pristine. We work at it but there is always room for improvement. You cannot deprive another society or deny them to have what you have, but you can try to show them it can be done better.  Pollution and recycling isn’t just something for some people. Every person and ever nation has to do it and India’s government could at least start the ball rolling, and maybe they have. I haven’t been there in years. One thing I know is I’ll continue to try to lead by example and I have room for improvement too.

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The Disposable Society

Imagine a time when you either wove your own fabric from skeins of wool or cotton, maybe even carding and spinning the wool. Or perhaps you bought the bolt of cloth and made your own garments by hand, or were lucky enough to have a foot treadle sewing machine. If you could you might have bought one fine dress and it was your Sunday dress or suit, worn for years until it wore out. Any garment you had would be recycled as it fell apart, the usable pieces cut out and either made into something else or used to patch a new garment. Nothing was wasted. You wore your shoes until they fell off of you, probably having been repaired and patched as many times as possible.

If you bought (or even if you butchered yourself) part of a cow, you would use every scrap possibly, make soup from bones. Even slight old vegetables or meat that was still good would be cooked or preserved in some way as soup, stews or pickled. Dish water might be reused several times or people would bathe in the same water. Everything was used until it could not be used anymore. Baskets or carts were taken to market laden with goods, and brought back again with different items.

Just think, only one hundred years ago, this was the norm for the average person. Before the age of industrialization it was very much the way and life consisted of one of existence and keeping a roof over your head and feeding you and your loved ones. Communities worked together and spare time was time to socialize because it was rare but everyone needed some fun and leisure.

Once industrialization began, machines could make things faster and cheaper, cutting down on labor (which caused its own problems in labor of course) and soon most people did not need to know how to sew or mend, could own a couple of pairs of shoes and could buy various items easily. As we progressed past the war years, we started to enter the disposable society. Imagine the rationing of World War II when everything from food to rubber was rationed so that the front lines had enough and that equipment could be made towards the war. This would never happen today because there are numerous supply lines from various countries and shipping through various forms of transportation.

You would have an outhouse and if lucky, perhaps a newspaper or magazine, that once read from cover to cover, would be used as toilet paper. If no newspaper, you probably had buckets of leaves. Water was gathered from a pump or a well and heated on a wood stove, the wood which you chopped yourself. You would probably grow many of your own vegetables, raise a few chickens for eggs and if on a farm, you’d be butchering your own meat. Bread was made from scratch as was everything else. What surplus you had was sold for items such as plows, hoes, shoes, ribbons, fabric, treats or other food that you didn’t have, candles, lamp oil, axes, horses, cows, chickens, maybe a book if you were learned and could afford a bit extra.

If you look at your life in contrast to someone’s of a hundred years ago you will have numerous clothes, good and casual, several pairs of shoes or more, and coats for several seasons. You live in a place with many books (if you’re into books) or magazines or newspapers. You have a TV, a computer, a land or cell phone (or both) and a host of other electronic devices that make eating, sleeping, working and leisure time easier. You don’t have to make all your food from scratch or even have a garden. Vegetables and fruit are available year-long, plus exotic foods that only the elite once ate. We throw out clothes when they go out of fashion or get a bit worn. We can buy new clothes for as little as a few bucks.

Most of us don’t even need to take our basket or cart to market, though more and more people are using cloth bags. And this in itself has generated an industry of plastics so cheap that you get a bag with every purchase. The bags are disposable, like the clothes, the slightly worn shoes, a computer three years old, a car that is five years old, a book, jewellery or food in such abundance that we let it go bad. But is it truly disposable? We throw or give these things away and once out of sight, out of mind. But many of these items end up in landfills or garbage heaps or somewhere where they will take a thousand years or more to decompose.

Imagine, in a thousand years we went from the Byzantine Empire to today. Religions were born, societies fell, cultures changed. And now, we constantly waste, all of us. There are countries in the world that are too poor to waste anything, but anyone in western culture, Europe or North America wastes, no matter how good we are at recycling. So that means we all have room to improve. And if we really want to take a look at the popular carbon footprint, then it does not just mean taking the bus instead of driving, or not flying. It means buying foods that are made locally, or grown yourself. These aspects we know, but where do our clothes and our shoes, our computers and iPods come from? How much carbon is used in the manufacture of these items and the shipping of them?

I believe every person could try harder to be less wasteful, which would preserve our resources longer, and really think about that carbon footprint. Money and resources flow through us as if the sluice gates were wide open.  The carbon footprint is everywhere, not just in food or transportation. It’s not an easy solution, nor a fast one and will take years of us looking differently at everything, but maybe we can change our society from being one of disposable and consumeristic to being one of conserving and re-using.

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Meanderings of a Long Weekend

I took the opportunity for the long weekend of going to Galiano Island, one of the Gulf Islands on the west coast of British Columbia. It’s a long finger of island that butts up to Mayne Island. Sturdies Bay is where the ferries dock, a one-hour trip from Tsawwassen terminal.

My friends aren’t far from Sturdies Bay, a five-minute drive, and their place looks out over the water to Little Gossip Island. There’s a little bit of rocky outcropping that’s submerged at high tide and has various birds from herons, cormorants, gulls and merganzer ducks visiting it. Little Gossip acts as a windbreak to that part of Galiano and when the winds were whipping up to 140 km/h on the ocean, it was a bit calmer where we were. Still, ferries were canceled, trees were downed and the power flickered on and off.

We worked out at the little community gym on Friday and although it’s small it’s quite well equipped with several nautilus machines, rowers, one elliptical, one stair master, one treadmill (broken), mats, balls and free weights. The power went out while were there but there was enough light that it didn’t matter. And lucky for us, we managed to get back before the rain began and the really strong winds. Trees whipped back and forth in the strong winds and parts of the island lost power as line were downed by falling trees. We heard a few things knocking about the place and the rain poured out of the eaves but we were dry and warm. Wood fireplaces are very handy.

Saturday we went for a five-mile hike along a lot of the road around the fatter part of the island and up to the Bluffs that look out over the strait. The day was slightly cloudy, with some sun and a big on the cold side so it was good that we walked fast to warm up. I work out three times a week and teach dance but I couldn’t keep up with my longer legged friend who does and hour walk every day during the work week. And I did get to find out which parts of my body are still not working right. My flexors (that join at the front of the thigh from hipbone down) were killing me by the end of the two hours.

Still it was a good hike which was mild as far as hills and gave me more of a sense of the island. Bill Richardson, humorous writer and past host on CBC radio was giving a talk at the town hall after their AGM. We were going to stay but instead did the hike. Lucky for us we did. We weren’t back and hour when it started to rain again. The winds picked up once more and at one point we even had hail.

The good thing about all that churned up water is that I thought I was seeing an odd-looking dog running by the house when I realized it was a sleek black otter that had come up from the shoreline to hunt around. As its pointy black tail went over the ridge I pointed it out. A few minutes later we saw it in the water and as it dove its tail popped up. I’m told they’re river otters and they’re definitely longer than a cat and like a smallish dog. I also got a chance to see a seal in the water and with the help of binoculars it wasn’t hard to see details.

I spent most of one day catching up on background notes for my novel. Because it’s on a different world I’ve had to do some extensive world building. I already have maps of the continents, rivers, marshes, forests and some towns, but I now had to actually figure out distances because my army is on the move. I had to figure out how fast horses can go and how fast people on foot. I think there will need to be some adjustment but it took figuring out how big my continent must be.

Admittedly long weekends are meant for naps and reading and drinking a bit of wine so my pace was slow. We’d also taken in a trip to the bookstore and the freecycle spots, where the island recycles everything down to plastics and papers and puts whole magazines and books out for people to reuse. (It’s called the Redirectory.) But I did spend most of Sunday re-reading my chapters, fleshing out some characters, finishing one chapter and moving on to another one. I managed about 5,000 words for the day which is a pretty good average. I’m hoping I can keep up the momentum and work away on the novel.

My approach to writing this one is much different from the first one of years ago (unpublished and languishing on the shelf). I have three main characters here and after an initial 30,000 words, I’m reworking the plot and writing through one character’s story arc before I move to another character. I’m sure that means that once all the chapters are written I’m going to have to do so rewriting so that they flow properly but in the meantime I find it the best way to keep track of the conflicts of one character.

Overall, my weekend was productive and relaxing. I wouldn’t mind more four-day weekends.

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Waterpod and Floating Villages

Awhile back I posted an article on the Freedom Ship, basically a floating condominium that would tour the world. Ritzy, high end, super expensive and still a pipe dream ten years after the first idea hit the blueprints. 

And interestingly enough I finished writing a story this year that took fifteen years to finish. It takes place around New York, where people live on and farm barges in a very near future where pollution and toxic waste have poisoned a lot of the land. Impossible? Maybe but the idea came to me because of the prison barge that is docked on one of Manhattan’s shores, as well as the stories in the past of the boat people, immigrants not allowed to dock anywhere and having to live on the boats in which they escaped their native countries.

The movie Waterworld was pretty much a dystopian, road warrior style movie where people lived on ships because there was so little land. These ships seemed to be filled with crazy people and pirates and when we get down to it in a world where resources are limited, will only our bestial natures surface?

So is my idea and the Freedom Ship too farfetched to be true? Maybe. But I certainly don’t want my vision to be true. However, there are other visionaries today who are looking at old barges and ships and rethinking their uses. These people are looking to a future 50 to 100 years from now.

The Waterpod, is a barge that’s been refitted and made as a floating artists’ colony. This barge is waterpod2being towed from spot to spot on the Hudson and to each of New York’s boroughs. But it’s not just a bunch of artists floating on the river. It’s been made to be sustainable, to recycle and to provide a living space. Water is purified from the Hudson River, as well as utilizing grey water recycling. Hydroponics are set up to grown edible plants. A composting toilet is being used but must be able to compost waste from six people. Waterpod relies on its own power sources such as a vertical wind turbine, solar PV panels, bicycle power, and a picohydro system. The hybrid solar/wind system will be their main source of power, along with some marine batteries.

The floating habitat has chickens for eggs (and maybe protein but I’m not sure if they’re butchering). A “rocket” wood-burning stove will be used for cooking. It’s supposed to be super efficient but I’m unclear as to where they would get the wood if self-sustainable. This pod was only launched in June so some of these issues will be worked out as the barge continues its journey.

As well the Waterpod will have lectures, discussions, workshops, performances, shows, and other exhibitions. It is meant to entertain, educate and provoke discussions on sustainable living as the world becomes more overpopulated and renewable resources become limited. Science fiction or science in spite of fiction? The pod people, those involved in making this idea a workable and interactive system are many. Mary Mattingly a visual artist and photographer first conceived of the Waterpod in 2007. Her photographs are ethereal, beautiful and intriguing. http://www.marymattingly.com/ But to realize this idea took many people.

The website for the Waterpod project is extensive, with pages of information, a blog, a calendar of events and shows (and links to the artist websites), a progress report and schedule and the vision waterpod1of this project. My story was a what-if, that also took place around New York. Freedom Ship is a what-if that may never work. The Waterpod is a reality. It floats, there are people living on it, raising chickens and plants, purifying their water and composting, and holding interactive shows and performances on something made of recycled materials. Even the barge was an old piece of junk that was refitted.

 If nothing else the pod people of Waterpod are looking at various ways to work with and adapt to our changing environment. They have a lot of supporters and donors right now and the pod was only launched in June. In the future we could see more of these pods as people look for affordable living spaces.

http://www.thewaterpod.org/about.html  (Images are borrowed from Waterpod’s site.)

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Will Your Kids Live in a Floating City?

I’m about to go on holidays and may be posting sporadically, so I bring you a little bit of history for the pre-dotcom days. This was first published in Technocopia.com in December of 1999 and I interviewed Mr. Nixon about his dream.

There’s a new city on the horizon and it is the floating community called the Freedom Ship.

Freedom Ship is the dreamboat of Norman L. Nixon, who has licenses to practice structural, electrical, sanitary and civil engineering. Nearly a mile long, wider than two football fields and rising twenty-five stories above water, it will be the first self-contained city that not only floats, but also will circumnavigate the world every two years. It will set into ports for the benefit of its residents and for tourists to come onboard and shop at duty-free stores.

Using new technology, Nixon’s plans for a pollution-free, energy efficient and safe ship beyond standard measures used on ships or in cities today. Freedom Ship’s website informs us that “As a sea-going commercial vessel, it will fly the flag of a specific country (to be determined at a later date), enjoy the protection of that country, and be subject to its laws and regulations, as well as to maritime law. In addition, its residents will be subject to the ship’s Rules and Regulations.”

If this is so, then how will Mr. Nixon promise the tax-free lifestyle that he advertises to businesses and residents? Surely whatever country the ship sails under will demand taxes from its residents–Colleen

Most cities evolve naturally, starting as small communities set up around some service or trade that grows as workers move in. Merchants and services then appear in proportion to the inhabitants’ needs. Freedom Ship will start from the ground up on all fronts. Built with every amenity and a wide variety of facilities, the four thousand businesses and seventeen thousand homeowners will find everything they need on board including:

  • A fleet of commuter aircraft and hydrofoils to ferry people to and from shore
  • Hangars, internal marina, repair and machine shops for private aircraft and boats
  • Residential space with (supposedly) fifty different styles available
  • A multi-language library, with computer and internet accesses
  • Schools from K-12 through college, emphasizing science, engineering, and medicine
  • A first-class hospital, with wide spectrum medical care and philosophies at “reasonable cost”
  • Domestic and home nursing personnel
  • Retail and wholesale shops, including bakeries and supermarkets
  • Over 140 acres of outside open space
  • Banks with currency exchange and fund transfers
  • Hotels for those wishing to vacation on the Freedom Ship
  • Restaurants, done in different cultural flavors
  • Entertainment facilities; movies, theaters, clubs, casinos
  • Offices
  • Warehouses
  • Light manufacturing and assembly enterprises
  • A wide array of recreational and athletic facilities
  • Electricity, satellite TV, and water
  • Internet connection and phone service at a very good rate. Free radio communication.

A great deal of money will be needed to construct the Freedom Ship–6 billion dollars’ worth. Although Nixon has some backers, it’s obvious that construction money will most likely be generated by the sale of the residential units. The promotional information stresses that there are no hidden costs and no taxes such as homeowners’ taxes. The sixteen different units listed on the website range in price from $138,000 for a 10’x30′ room with no kitchen to $7,178,600 for a 5100 square foot ocean view residence. That’s pretty pricey and though Mr. Nixon is quoted as saying average prices are $800,000 with some units going for as little as $24,000, none are listed on the site.

A 10’x30′ room is a small as the room I am currently writing in. And such a residence would not have a view of the ocean but of the hall or maybe the shopping mall.—Colleen

Even though there will be no property taxes, utility fees are said to “be only slightly more than USA rates,” and monthly maintenance fees “comparable to those of USA land-based luxury condominiums” are listed from $469 to $11,616. Few people who own a house or condominium pay monthly fees that would come close to these amounts. You could consider the benefit of the unending cruise to different ports of call as part of that price.

Some amenities will be included for that price such as no sales tax, spa and recreational facilities like jogging paths, open land and tennis courts (just like a regular city), twenty-four hour tram and railway system, and discounts on ship-operated stores like transportation and medical. As well, every shipboard resident will be given a credit card and billed monthly for purchase by the ship’s computer.

With such prices for residential units, Freedom Ship may be a resort city only for the rich. Yet there will be ample employment opportunities. Businesses can hire their own employees or use the ship’s “employee leasing services” where workers will be trained, given uniforms, access to the employee cafeteria, and room and board on the lower decks. One could say this sounds similar to Victorian England’s upper and lower classes with the servants kept separately, yet many people work on cruise ships today, living in similar situations, to make and save their money, and see the world.

Such a large ship or city will also need its own security force. A two thousand-strong security force will patrol the decks, do security checks as people board and be reinforced with an “electronic incursion-detection system.” Wayne Dawson of the Free Nation Foundation (a Libertarian think tank) questions whether “there has been any thought to dispute resolution or a court system.”

Building the Leviathan

The task of constructing a cohesive working city that will house fifty thousand residents, fifteen thousand employees and up to twenty-five thousand visitors is as monumental as the ship’s size. And none of the finer details will matter if the ship cannot withstand the rigors of the sea.

Originally Norman Nixon and his company Engineering Solutions, Sarasota, Florida, designed a modular ethylene plant in Japan, which was then towed to Saudi Arabia and the one hundred cells reassembled on site. From that technology, used for floating oil-drilling rigs, they looked at building an island city from the ground up for Hong Kong (which did not materialize). A backer then suggested building an island that could visit different countries.

Freedom Ship was born from that idea and six hundred airtight modules would allow the massive ship to float. Unlike cruise ships, the Freedom Ship is wider than it is tall and if the ninety-eight external modules were breached and flooded the ship’s draft would only increase by one foot, say the designers. As well, they say it would withstand force five hurricanes, be “impervious to lightning” and “virtually fireproof,” but there will still be an automatic sprinkler system.

Remember, like concrete buildings, it’s not the building that burns but what you put into it. After all, they said the Titanic was unsinkable too. —Colleen

Some architects and engineers are skeptical about the structural integrity because the floating city is five times larger than the largest cruise ship. Popular Mechanics points out that, “The Destiny displaces 100,000 tons of water. The largest vessel afloat, the supertanker Jahre Viking, displaces 564,739 tons. Freedom will displace 2.7 million tons.” (02/98) That’s an awful lot of water. But Nixon and his team of twenty-four engineers and consultants say it can be done and that a hundred-foot wave would only displace the ship by one inch.

Mr. Nixon hopes to confirm Puerto Castilla, Honduras as the construction site within the next couple of months. Freedom Ship will take forty months to build, with assembly to be done at sea because of its size, but it will set sail after twenty-eight months and the first four thousand units are built. Construction and interior detailing will be finished on the other decks over the last twelve months.

State of the art technology will be used to make the vessel safe and as environmentally friendly and non-polluting as possible. Some of the features are:

  • Use of high-tech incinerator toilets that eliminate sewage and sewage disposal.
  • Recycled gray water from washing into drinking water
  • Non-welded, bolt-up construction that eliminates pollution
  • Recycling of all glass, metal, paper and plastic
  • Clean burning of non-recyclable materials as fuel for steam and power generation
  • Energy recapture of engine exhaust, using a proprietary system
  • Environmentally clean and energy-efficient appliances
  • Water-based paints, natural fibers, and natural wood wherever possible
  • Minimization of plastic or other petroleum-base products capable of outgassing
  • Electrostatic filters in every unit and the hallways, eliminating airborne bacteria and viruses as well as dust and pollen
  • Using diesel instead of cheap marine fuel because it burns cleaner

Mr. Nixon isn’t the only one who has put thought into floating cities. Richard Morris of the Free Nation Foundation has looked at designing a man-made island that would be tax free, and able to be towed or pushed out of the path of oncoming storms. His company, Sea Structures, Inc., looks at floating structures as being more stable than those built on land and subject to tremors and earthquakes.

Raising the Titanic might be easier than building the Freedom Ship. However, Norman Nixon has already spent two years working on his vision and the scrupulous details. If contracts are approved on the Puerto Castilla site, construction could very well begin in the next few months. It will be an interesting experiment, if nothing else, to see not only if the world’s largest ship can be built, but whether a floating city can be constructed on the spot and support a viable commercial and residential life for its inhabitants.

Ten years after this article and it seems the Freedom Ship is nowhere near its launch though Nixon is trying to keep his dream alive.

More Information and Related Sites

Freedom Ship website http://www.freedomship.com

Dr. Eugene Tsui Architect design of floating cities books http://www.tdrinc.com/home.html

Popular Mechanics—illustration and short discussion on floating sea cities http://popularmechanics.com/popmech/sci/tech/9905TUOCAM.html

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Environmentalism & Politics

I actually wrote this last year on my other blog but I think it’s still pertinent. What often happens with government is that they focus on whatever the media starts paying attention to. And the moment the public looks away, they go off in another direction. Although the economy is of great concern, so is the environment still and always important. Moreso now when recycling companies are not making as much a profit and therefore it isn’t “economical” for them to recycle or for other places to buy the products.
There has been quite the hullabaloo in the media lately as politicians have woken up from a twenty-plus year hibernation to look around in sudden alarm and go “Oh my, we have an environmental problem.” Hello?

When I was a teenager I wouldn’t litter and a friend asked, oh why bother? I said, well it may only be me today but then tomorrow it might be me and someone else, because they saw me not littering. And the next day there could be three or four, etc. I feel vindicated that at least recycling has become more of a norm (at least in some provinces) than it was in my teens.

And at least by the time I was in my twenties I was reading about the Gaia Hypothesis (how the world is one symbiotic living organism and what you do to it in one place affects the whole) and how our pollutants were wreaking havoc with the world and if we stopped all smog causing agents, then it would take at least fifty years to see any positive results.

In 1998 I wrote for a now defunct e-magazine (victim of the dot com downfall) called technocopia.com. It looked at how new technology was changing one’s life and lifestyle, from cell phones in third world countries to robotic heart surgery. I was researching fuel cells and hybrid cars and came across the Kyoto Protocol. Governments had already signed up for it. So how is it in 2007 various governments have dropped out of fulfilling the requirements and now cry it will break the bank because there’s not enough time? That was ten years of time.

I hear Stephan Dion say on CBC that pollution has just become a problem? What!! Just? Puhleese. I’m not sure what the benefit was to Tony Blair to stand up and start waving the big green flag but it suddenly looked like the cool thing to do and Canada jumped up beside him. George Bush of course is still in right wing crusader war mode. Environmentalism might mean putting collars on his pals, the oil and car companies.

But I’m cynical enough and eyes open enough to wonder why politicians would suddenly go on about this when a lot of us have known there’s been a problem for over twenty years. Well, hmm, minority government. Who wouldn’t want to keep our country green and with air we can breathe? For Harper it’s a surefire way to garner a shiny star on his report card. But it would be much more believable if saving our resources wasn’t done because of political maneuvering and was just done because it’s the right thing to do.

And yet, the Conservatives whine and shuffle their feet and say oh we can’t meet the Kyoto Protocol. Or, maybe we could but it would cost gadzillions and all you poor Canadians that we normally only care about when you’re voting will pay the price. A few weeks ago on CBC, The Current had business leaders from various sectors and they were saying that they were on board with changing and implementing environmentally safe processes and procedures. The interesting thing here was that all of them said that it would be more cost effective and they would probably actually make more profit by switching over. So how is it that the Baird Report says we’re going to have to pay with our first born?

Perhaps I’d almost believe that maybe, just maybe, our lovely government was actually concerned with the environment and not with losing power if it wasn’t that I see this as a big smokescreen. What have polls of recent years shown is the number one priority for Canadians: universal medicare. So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Because it needs a massive overhaul. And we’ve all turned to look at the shiny new green flag being waved so that we won’t notice the huge cutbacks, the ever longer waiting lists, the rampant deadly infections running amok in hospitals and killing people. Because the government can win votes easier with this lovely green beast than with the monster of medical coverage.

I was willing to let go some of my frustration, anger and disgust with the head-in-the-sand attitude various Canadian governments have had if it meant at least something was being done. But then we get the Baird Report; more stalling about actually really doing something.

I’m trying to do my part and have for years. I could do more. We all could. I’d get a hybrid car if I could afford one. What part is the government really doing? Will they put teeth into their policies or leave them to gum the ankles of corporations and groups that continue to pollute? I’ll wait and see.

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Martha Stewart Move Over: Holiday Gift Wrapping

Every year, we fall into the gift giving, shopping frenzy. Then the gifts need to be wrapped to pass on to the recipient, or sit beneath a tree or other seasonally symbolic item. Stores are rife with wrapping paper and bows and boxes and bags.

It started to bother me that I would often wrap a gift five minutes before giving it to someone and it would be unwrapped as quickly, the beautiful paper being discarded. The worst culprits threw out everything, whether paper, bow, or ribbon. Nothing was re-used because they were too lazy to deal with it.

The other end was my mother who saved every scrap of paper. When I was visiting a few years back I went through her hoard. She had paper filling two boxes, each three feet high and two feet square. There were bits of paper so crumpled and small that they couldn’t be used for anything. My mother had enough paper to wrap gifts for the next hundred years. Once I sorted her wrapping paper, there was a little pile about six inches deep.

Still, there is the issue of buying paper, wasting trees for something that won’t be used for long and really serves no utilitarian purpose but to decorate another gift. I vowed not to buy wrapping paper about ten years ago now. That’s for any gifts, whether Christmas, Hanukkah or birthday, or anything in between. I still have enough regular gift paper that I haven’t needed to buy any. Plus, people give me gifts and I save the paper and bows as much as possible.

Something else I started doing was keeping the calendars from the year before. Many of them had pictures of art or nature and I found these worked well for wrapping gifts. They’re of a more set size but I put one calendar page on one side and a different one on the other side of the gift. The paper is thicker and harder to handle. Lightly scoring it with a blade makes it bend around corners better and the gift won’t poke through the paper.

Sometimes items are just the wrong shape for the paper you have on hand. And some shapes aren’t an easy rectangle or sphere. For the holidays, I make cloth bags. Buying cheap Christmas/seasonally imprinted cotton and stitching on a string is the easiest way. If I don’t leave wrapping to the last minute, I can even put in a drawstring. The bags can then be used in other years to put gifts into or for carrying shoes, laundry, food, whatever. People have used them for different things. If I know someone is a sewer, I’ll just buy a piece of cool fabric and wrap it around the gift, making it part of the giving.

There are many alternatives to using up wrapping paper for gifts. A cookie tin, a jar, a wooden box can all be included as part of the gift and lessen the wastage on paper materials. Recycling is always there but if you don’t use the paper to begin with, then it doesn’t have to be recycled.

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Overpackaging and Biodegradable Items

I have a problem with buying “bulk” because often it is not bulk. Bulk items are in a bin and you pour them into one container, whether a bag or a bucket. Many items are classified as bulk but are really prepackaged: a 24-pack of chips, a box of cookies packaged into twos for lunches, mini chocolate bars in a wrapper in a bag. These are not bulk but packaged. What all these convenience items have in common is that they’re overpackaged. Instead of one bag, there are many bags, in a box, wrapped in plastic.

The items can range from dried foods, to light bulbs, to frozen foods, to you name it. Where do all the chip and cookie bags, the Styrofoam bowls, the plastic wrap and other packaging go? Into the landfill, often too toxic to burn, but can leak those lovely chemicals into the ground. Sure many landfills are lined to contain the chemical sludge but still, there is only so much space and plastics especially are nasty to create and take thousands of years to break down.

There are several ways to be more conscious of the impact our shopping makes on our environment. One is to not buy prepackaged foods but buy bulk. I buy my veggies and nuts and meat as bulk as I can. Then for lunch I take reusable containers and put my foods into them. (Never microwave foods in plastic containers as the plastic will do damage to your system. Keep a glass container on hand.) If I was to buy cookies, I’d buy a big bag and package them myself, or better yet, bake them. A big bag of chips parceled into a smaller plastic container is far better.

Some companies are working on lessening their packaging. You can now get the equivalent of Styrofoam “corn” packaging material, which is actually corn. If you don’t reuse it, you can wash it down the drain and it will dissolve in seconds. Corn is being used to make plastic looking forks and knives for fast food or deli outlets. I ran into these in a supermarket with a deli section in Kansas. Again, if the forks go into the landfill, they dissolve without leaving chemical residue.

I’ve always said that if necessity was the mother of invention, laziness was the father. It’s too bad that part of the state of our world and environment is because of convenience because of laziness. To package your own food doesn’t take that much extra time and I’m quite lazy about my lunches. I try not to buy items wrapped in plastic and bags and boxes. The worst to me are the tiny things (usually electronics) packaged in a hard plastic container that’s five times the size of the item. It’s unrecyclable plastic and useless. I understand companies have the problem of packaging and advertising something small so that it’s seen but not easily stolen. But if we ask and write and put pressure on them, more viable and environmentally solutions can be found.

Which makes me think it’s time to write more letters to companies.

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Conservation: Working on a Way of Life

I have been working on lessening my carbon footprint since I was a teenager, long before there were all the fancy catchwords that included “go green,” “eco” this and that, and “carbon footprint.” Recycling was the biggest, newest buzz word. As a teenager I had already read about the Gaia Hypothesis so I had a concern for the planet and pollution. About all I was doing at that stage was trying not to litter. It was a small start, but a start.

Over the years I never threw anything out that could be re-used. It makes me a bit of a pack-rat and I have sometimes had old computer monitors or printers on my floor for a year before I could find a home for them. I can’t bear to put working or perfectly good items into the landfill. I also stopped cleaning with abrasive, chemically enhanced cleansers. I clean with baking soda, almost exclusively, using low phosphate detergent and soaps and rags and cloth napkins instead of paper towels and napkins.

I started using cosmetics not tested on animals but I’m probably still eating/wearing my fair share of lead and other toxic chemicals, which are not yet regulated for cosmetics. That’s something I hope to work on soon. Unfortuanately I still drive, but my attempts to change that to something more fuel and energy efficient are being thwarted at the moment. (Previous blog entries cover public transportation, carbon tax and cars.)

I also try to avoid the overpackaging that supermarkets give. This includes bringing a cloth bag, or if I have just a few items, carrying them out in my hands or my purse. Also, the “buy this 24-pack of cookies/chips” prepackaging is something I studiously avoid. Instead of paying more for all that extra bagging of chips, which are then placed in a cardboard tray and shrink wrapped, I’ll buy a large bag of salad greens, or nuts or whatever, and then re-use plastic containers and bags that I do have at home. I haven’t bought a container in years, nor prepakaged thingamagooeys.

I rewash plastic cups from parties and put out bags to recycle bottles and plastic. I don’t wash my clothes or dishes until I have a full load. I don’t wear animal furs but I do wear leather. Shoes just don’t work well made of plastic or as long if made of cloth. But I do wear my shoes until they wear out, and try to fix them as long as I can.

I could compost more, but my garbage during the garbage strike was only one small grocery bag every three weeks. I don’t buy wrapping paper anymore and do re-use what people give me. But I also keep old calendars and use the pictures on those as wrapping. I also make re-usable cloth bags. I save buttons off of shirts and turn clothes into rags if they can’t be sent off to a goodwill store.

Am I perfect? Hell no. There are many ways I could improve especially when it comes to the car, though I do walk if I’m in my neighborhood. I try to keep an eye on what I do and improve it. For my own health and for my environment, I’ll look further into safe cleaners, nontoxic cosmetics and rechargeable batteries. Right now, I save batteries and take them to recycling facilities. If we all try a little bit, it can make the environment a lot better for everyone and everything. It still saddens me when people toss things because they “can’t be bothered” or are too lazy. That’s fine if you’re living on your own world, but not when you’re sharing with everyone else.

In BC, you can contact the Recycling Council of BC’s recycling hotline on what to do with various items. http://www.rcbc.bc.ca/index.htm

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Plastic: Recycle or Ban

Vancouver has recently been debating whether to ban plastic shopping bags or not. I was of a mixed mind. After all, if all plastic bags are banned, what do we put our garbage in? I also try to use cloth bags but forget about half the time. Still, I’m sure if there were no plastic bags tomorrow, I would have enough bags for garbage for over a year.

Plastic bags have only been around fifty years or so and they are already a major problem for landfills. But landfill would not be that much of a problem if in fact our garbage was only organic and biodegradable. I would bet that studies will show that plastic water bottles are also contributing largely to the problem. Many North American cities now have recycling programs to filter out paper, glass, tin and plastics so that they are not sitting for hundreds of years in landfills. It’s not a policed system (much) so it takes people’s participation to really work. And not all cities have recycling, which in this day and age, is a sin.

I had a theory that when I use plastic bags for garbage it makes more sense to leave organic waste in than to filter it out because it would help compost the plastic. In theory I was right, but I found out a couple of things that counteract this. Many landfills are lined with clay and other materials to retain seepage of dangerous chemicals. As well, a layer or dirt may be pushed over the garbage to keep down the odor. That’s good for containing the problem but organic waste only breaks down if it has the right amount of bacteria, light and oxygen. Burying the garbage restricts the ability of UV radiation and air needed to break down even a lettuce leaf.

One bacteria that breaks down some types of plastic is Pseudomonas in a process called
bioremediation. Plastic is man-made from petroleum based hydrocarbons and polyethylene (there are other materials as well). The hydrocarbons in the plastic serve as food for the bacteria but there is a question of how long it can take to break down, and what toxic residue is left behind.

The plastic bags that many of us use in many countries are not always discarded safely, nor are they reused. I mentioned an incident in India in my “Not Throwing in with the Crowd: Litter” article. https://colleenanderson.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=76  Plastics in ground and sea get into the water and the soil, slowly poisoning it and affecting all life forms. They can also kill an animal that accidentally eats the plastic, mistaking it for food. And many animals are ensnared by plastic, trapping or injuring them until they expire.

This heartbreaking slideshow was sent to me by a friend. Just click on it to see the effects of plastic bags. If you don’t believe the statistics, the pictures alone should encourage us all to try harder.  thedangersofplasticbags After seeing this and doing a bit of research, I’m now wholeheartedly for banning plastic bags. There are ways of making garbage removal/composting work without the bags or with using other recycled materials that won’t redirect the burden onto trees for paper bags.

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_12751.cfm

http://www.reusablebags.com/facts.php?id=2

http://www.rcbc.bc.ca/index.htm

 

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