Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 11:51 AM
Go ahead and recycle your cans and bottles, your papers and boxes: It’s all good. But personal recycling efforts are relatively small in volume compared to the mountains of material thrown away every day at construction sites. Liz Pacheco reports in Philadelphia’s Grid magazine on Revolution Recovery, a green business that’s pioneering ways to keep this daily deluge of construction and demolition waste out of landfills.
“They looked in a Dumpster and said ‘How can I find a use for this?’ not ‘How can I get rid of this,’” one business colleague tells Grid, referring to company co-owners Avi Golen and Jon Wybar.
Golen and Wybar treat their enterprise as a mining operation of sorts, extracting materials and finding markets for them. Wood, their most popular material, is either reused by nonprofits and arts groups or turned into mulch or fuel chips. Rubble such as brick, concrete, and asphalt is crushed and repurposed in paving and drainage applications. And they’re always hunting for new ways to extract treasure from what some people might call waste:
“You classify waste as commingled material, mixed material,” says Golen. “So, anytime you mix wood, drywall and cardboard into a Dumpster, people look at it and see waste, where we see commodities just mixed together.”
Their cavernous sorting facility is an impressive operation where huge overhead conveyors carry bins past crews of workers that extract materials, then send them tumbling down into garage-sized enclosures. It’s a resource-intensive operation compared to a traditional waste facility, but, writes Pacheco, “Recycling construction waste is becoming mainstream and more waste companies are adapting their ways.”
Image by Tesla Aldrich, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011 3:57 PM
I like to visit the Christmas tree lot when it’s snowing. There will be free hot cider, a small bonfire in the center of the yard, and children running around between the blue spruces and Fraser firs. And happily, a real tree makes for a healthy holiday, according to Organic Gardening.
You might think one of those horrid artificial trees would be the more environmentally friendly route. After all, you reuse it every year instead of chopping down a living tree each December. But real pine can be mulched, composted, chipped, or fed to birds and animals. Growing up on the farm, we gave our leftover Christmas tree to the goats, who greedily stripped it of every last needle in no time. If you don’t happen to have a goat yard, it’s likely your city collects curbside trees for recycling after the holidays.
In contrast, an artificial tree is made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), can never be recycled, and eventually ends up in a landfill after you’ve gotten your years of service out of it. A fake tree is used an average of 6 to 10 years before being dumped for a newer model. Speaking of, the longer you have that artificial tree in your home, the more likely it is to be toxic to you and your children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency:
Artificial Christmas trees made of PVC degrade under normal conditions. About 50 million U.S. households have artificial Christmas trees, of which about 20 million are at least nine years old, the point at which dangerous lead exposures can occur.
And as Organic Gardening points out, Christmas tree farmers are leaders in conservation agriculture. Their product emits healthy oxygen during its 15 or so years of growing, requires little to no supplemental irrigation, and thrives in tough terrain that is otherwise unsuited for agricultural crops. The Coalition of Environmentally Conscious Growers holds high standards for its tree farmers. (Check out these tips from Utne Reader’s archive for choosing a locally grown, environmentally friendly Christmas tree.)
So if you, too, love listening to holiday tunes while scouring the tree yard for that Charlie Brown gem under lightly falling snowflakes, rest assured that it’s the healthiest yuletide option for your family and the Earth.
Source: Organic Gardening
Images by jumpyjodes, arvindgrover, and cogdogblog, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 20, 2011 1:39 PM
Halloween has become a consumer orgy to rival Christmas. We can buy costumes for our kids, our dogs, and our cell phones; personalized trick-or-treat bags; and every make and model of miniaturized, individually-wrapped candy conceivable.
For the socially conscious parents who still want to take their cute little tyke out into the beautiful October evening in their adorable cowboy or octopus costume, we’ve got a few ideas. Two great tips come from the Utne Reader archives: fair trade chocolate (don’t support child slave laborers on the Ivory Coast) and eco-friendly costumes (farewell, toxic vinyl).
And here’s a new tip from Tina Hay at The Penn Stater (Oct 20, 2011): You can recycle all those mini plastic candy wrappers and even the bags they come in. Turns out a company called TerraCycle in New Jersey sponsors a Candy Wrapper Brigade to collect these items that typically land in the trash. As Hay explains: “TerraCycle specializes in stuff that’s otherwise hard to recycle: They have a Chip Bag Brigade, a Yogurt Container Brigade, a Cork Brigade, a Drink Pouch Brigade … you get the idea.”
So pair up with your coworkers, your kid’s school, or any other organization and pile together the many, many empty candy wrappers that will emerge from the Halloween sugar frenzy. One more notch for recycling stuff you didn’t think could be recycled.
Source: The Penn Stater
Images by wwarby and terren in Virginia,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011 11:48 AM
Many craft beer brewers are taking measures to be more sustainable, but few of them have taken things as far as the Alaskan Brewing Company. The company makes its beers, including its flagship Alaskan Amber Ale, in the fogbound southeastern Alaska city of Juneau, which is accessible only by sea or air, and sells them in 10 western states. Plant manager Curtis Holmes tells Triple Pundit that being way off the road has pushed the brewery to hone efficiency and cut waste:
Rural Alaska isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find a test market for new technology, but brewing in Alaska’s remote location creates new challenges which can make sustainable practices become more cost effective, compared to living somewhere else. When you consider that all of our raw materials (except for water) have to be shipped over 900 miles by barge from Seattle, it can seem like a crazy idea to operate a packaging brewery in Juneau, Alaska. But we’ve found some innovative ways to mitigate our operating costs, reduce waste and decrease our local and global footprint.
Among the brewmeisters’ green moves: They recycle everything they can, including the carbon dioxide from their fermentation process, which keeps it from being released into the atmosphere and cuts down on the CO2 they ship from Seattle. They got a new mash press that helps them save a million gallons of water a year. And they are installing a new biomass steam boiler, which will be fueled entirely by waste grain and will supply 70 percent of the entire brewery’s energy needs.
It’s getting to be a pretty tight loop—except for the beer itself, of course, which goes out to beer lovers’appreciative palates and then takes a different path into the waste stream. But as my colleague Brad Zellar recently wrote, some scientists are even working on a way to recycle that into hydrogen fuel.
Source: Triple Pundit
Image by Alaskan Dude, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 05, 2010 5:58 PM
A new high-rise planned for Dornbin, Austria, is notable for its principle construction material: wood. The 30-story tower will be the tallest wood building in the world, reports Treehugger, and its maker, CREE (Creative Renewable Energy and Efficiency), is mounting a charge to restore wood as a renewable material for large urban projects.
The tower’s skeleton, to be certain, comprises not entirely wood but rather a prefabricated, hybrid post-and-beam construction in which each level is made of a timber-concrete composite slab and columns are made from “glulam” laminated wood.
As a structural material for tall buildings, wood was long ago scrapped as old-school in favor of concrete and steel. But some qualities make it shine brightly in sustainable architecture and sustainable building. Treehugger quotes from CREE’s celebration of wood:
To use wood as the main component for high-rise buildings may at first sight appear to be unusual. However, the advantages are obvious, for no other building material is produced with a similar regard for energy saving. Wood is a naturally renewable raw material, has high strength and low weight, and guarantees optimum heat insulation, durability, noise and vibration damping characteristics. As one of the earth’s oldest building materials, wood meets the latest safety requirements even today, and is also 100 percent recyclable. In urban architecture, wood is therefore an outstanding alternative for the future.
Image courtesy of CREE.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010 1:32 PM
If a group of metalheads knocked on your door late at night asking for vegetable oil, your first instinct would probably be, “This is some bizarre, harebrained scheme to rob and/or murder me.” Then your second instinct would be to call the police. But in the case of the synth-punk band Mose Giganticus, they really do just want your cooking oil.
Grid writes that in the spirit of thrift (and necessity), Mose Giganticus decided as gas prices were too high to accommodate their relentless touring schedule, they would instead fuel their minibus with recycled vegetable oil gathered primarily from restaurants along their tour route.
This fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants method has led to more than a couple nights of desperate scrambling for spare veggie oil, and even when the unctuous stuff is collected, to be of any practical use it takes “a half-hour of pumping the grease into a processing tank; two hours of warming it in a water heater; an overnight cool-down to separate water and particulates; and a final hour-long run through a series of filters.”
So is bypassing gas stations worth having all your equipment perpetually covered in a delicate sheen of oil and your primary living space saturated with french fry fragrance? At the very least it’s a sign of die-hard dedication. So I guess, rock on…until you run into a town that’s hard-pressed to relinquish its stockpile of Wesson.
Image courtesy of Pomai.
Friday, January 08, 2010 4:17 PM
Some of us are more committed to recycling than others. And yet I ask, who among us is so committed that they are recycling their plastic caps? That’s right, the plastic caps from your water, your soda, your shampoo, your lotion bottles. Ah—just as I thought.
Fear not, eco-transgressor. Even if your local recycler doesn’t take them, a new program run by Aveda will. Aveda, which has brought a fair number of plastic caps into the world with its hair-care and body products, began the Recycle Caps With Aveda program after finding that most plastic caps are not recycled, and that many of them “migrate into our rivers and oceans” where they harm wildlife and the environment.
The collection point for the program is schools, where caps are amassed and then sent to Aveda’s recycler and used to make new caps. Learn more about the program, including which caps are eligible and how your local school can get involved, at the Recycle Caps With Aveda website.
Now, about those tea-bag wrappers and bent paperclips you always toss …
Thursday, October 29, 2009 4:50 PM
The spookiest day of the year is just around the corner—and the alt-press has been gearing up for weeks. So hold out your virtual goodie bags and let us load them up with links to everything from the best pumpkin ales and vegan Halloween candy, to expertly carved pumpkins and how to mind your spooky manners. Here’s wishing you a very alternative holiday.
—Trick-or-treating? Forgo the plastic pumpkin pail. Craft has DIY instructions for recycling a t-shirt into a trick-or-treat bag.
—VegNews has the Official Guide to Vegan Halloween Candy. Too much candy? Discover reports on two charity-minded Michigan dentists’ cash-for-candy scheme.
—Psychology Today offers advice on Halloween etiquette, including how to signal to others whether or not you’re handing out treats.
—Did you know you can recycle candy wrappers? Our sister publication Natural Home lists some less-obvious ways to green your Halloween.
—For the adults, Imbibe recommends a seasonal selection of spicy pumpkin ales, one of which gets a second thumbs-up from Paste’s editor in chief.
—Mental Floss rounds up classic Halloween TV specials, as well as some creative ways to carve pumpkins. Creative Review also has a nice (albeit small) gallery of illustrators’ art pumpkins.
—Banish boring pumpkin seeds: Natural Solutions recommends roasting pepitas with a pinch of chili-lime seasoning; Mothering shares a promising recipe for pumpkin seed pesto ravioli.
Sources: Craft, VegNews, Psychology Today, Natural Home, Discover, Imbibe, Mental Floss, Creative Review, Natural Solutions, Mothering
Image by foundphotoslj, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009 10:36 AM
In the category of brilliant ideas: If you make less than $25,000/year, you can request a free galley copy of Stephen Elliott’s true-crime memoir The Adderall Diaries, released today from Graywolf Press. (Galleys are those advance reader copies, soft-cover editions that sometimes find homes in reading programs and the like, but too often end up in recycling bins.)
Read about the free book offer at The Rumpus, which Elliott edits, plus details of his book tour.
Source: Graywolf Press, The Rumpus
Thursday, June 25, 2009 5:10 PM
Issue #5 of Philly-based sustainability magazine Grid arrived this week—chock full of summertime “how to” cheer that’s just begging to be shared. Grid is a free magazine, and you can read its entire digitized issue online. Be sure to check out:
How to make rhubarb cobbler on page 15: This tasty-looking recipe calls for delectable maple sugar instead of the loads of predictable, refined white sugar found in most rhubarb concoctions.
How to attract beneficial insects to your garden on page 12: From lacewings to ladybugs, Grid has the skinny on how to lure the good guys—insects that pollinate and keep pest populations in check—into your yard, including specific “companion plants.”
Plus: How to fix a flat bike tire (page 10), how to recycle your television (page 11), and loads of other recipes, including vegan blood orange cupcakes and sugar-snap peas with bacon.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 5:03 PM
Organic Gardening just made this bicycle geek smile: The May 2009 issue includes simple instructions on how to convert old bike wheel rims into a support for climbing garden plants, like beans. All the nailing and stringing necessary (which isn’t much), happens through the holes already there for spokes. Brilliant!
Source: Organic Gardening
Thursday, December 11, 2008 9:15 AM
Forget everything you’ve heard about mountains of bottled water waste! Disregard the experts who prove that tap water is almost identical in quality! Viva bottled water!
That’s the battle cry EnjoyBottledWater.org raises in its quest to free bottled water from persecution. The website is run by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market advocacy organization that believes that “individuals are best helped not by government intervention, but by making their own choices in a free marketplace.” (Feel free to insert your own cynical economic observation here.)
The site exhaustively details why bottled water is a misunderstood and wrongly persecuted beverage medium, and why it’s our right as Americans to drink it. Users are encouraged to sign a petition against “foolish lawmakers and regulators” taking away the right to the stuff, donate money to the cause, and purchase Enjoybottledwater.org merchandise (no reusable water bottles, naturally). Visitors can also read up on the “crazy bans” enacted by cities and those “silly claims” that bottles affect global warming.
A few of the highlighted benefits are somewhat sensible, like ease of distribution at disaster sites, but the flippant disregard for known facts goes beyond chutzpah to being ridiculous. The best headline of the bunch: “Is Beer Next?”
Image courtesy of judepics, licensed under Creative Commons .
Thursday, October 09, 2008 8:43 AM
New York artist Jean Shin makes detailed, beautiful works of art using recyclables like empty bottles and refuse like old vinyl records. Perhaps the most impressive pieces are “Chance City,” meticulous scale-model buildings made entirely of discarded lottery tickets, and the melted-vinyl tidal wave "Sound Wave," now at the Museum of Art and Design.
Ryan Curtis from Environmental Graffiti identifies this as the essence of her art: taking worthless things like those tickets and giving them renewed value as works of art. Using discarded objects to make art is not new, but Curtis argues that Shin “manages to bring the items together in a way that makes us think about them in a new light. Previously, those vinyl records, lottery tickets, clothes and shoes meant something to us, and were very important in our lives. [She shows] us that not only are these things still of value; they are also still beautiful.”
Thursday, July 24, 2008 9:57 AM
We’re approaching moving season, which in many cities is marked by overflowing trash cans, rain-soaked mattresses stacked on curbs, and gas-guzzling U-Haul trailers being dragged to and fro. The whole process is hard on the environment—not to mention the pocketbook and the nerves—but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re planning a move, or just gearing up for some belated spring cleaning, here’s a quick guide to keeping your old stuff out of the landfill and finding some new duds on the cheap while you’re at it.
Books, movies, and other media: Eco-blogger Green LA Girl recommends Swaptree, an easy-to-use site that lets you trade your unwanted books, music, movies, and video games for media you’re actually interested in. For example, you send away The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and someone sends you a Little Miss Sunshine DVD. Swaptree even prepares a mailing label for you to print, which means no inconvenient trips to the post office. (Zunafish and BarterBee are similar sites.)
Just books: Try book-swapping sites BookMooch and PaperBackSwap (also courtesy of Green LA Girl).
Clothing: If there’s a Swap-O-Rama-Rama in your neck of the woods, grab a big bag of clothes, a little bit of cash, and head on over. You can swap-and-go, if that’s your preference, or stick around and use a sewing station to turn someone else’s old T-shirt into something you’ll love. (There are artists on-site to help with sewing, embroidering, knitting, etc.) For something a bit less DIY, try Swapstyle.com, which is more of a straight-up online fashion exchange. If you’re just looking to donate to a good cause, Dress for Success will pass along your business attire to low-income women building their careers, and the Glass Slipper Project will give your prom dress to a Chicago high school student who can’t afford her own. “Ready to Rewear,” from our March-April 2007 issue, has additional tips. And the new book Wake Up and Smell the Planet points out that even your holiest socks can be put to good use: Goodwill sends away its rattier stock to be recycled or reused.
Kids’ stuff: At Zwaggle, families earn points by giving clothes, strollers, car seats, and all the other kid stuff you can think of to other members of the site. You earn “zoints” for each item donated, which you can then cash in for new-to-you goods from other families.
Furniture, etc.: If you’re drowning in stuff and just looking to unload, try Throwplace, a site that matches your extra futon or underused toaster oven with charities and nonprofits that need them. For both buying and selling, the old standbys Craigslist and Freecycle rarely disappoint.
Computers: For newish computer equipment, Sierra’s Answer Guy, Bob Schildgen, recommends Share the Technology, which lists schools and nonprofits seeking technology. Grist suggests the National Cristina Foundation, which will find a deserving home for your computer, printer, or software.
Electronics: CollectiveGood may be able to fix up your old-school Nokia and put it to good use; if not, they’ll recycle it, Grist says. GreenDisk will also recycle your old electronics (even cables and cases), and you can now recycle e-waste at select post offices, reports Sustainable Industries—just be sure to check that your post office is one of the 1,500 participating in the program.
Any other suggestions? Chat in the Utne salons.
Images by Matt Seppings and amy_b, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008 1:44 PM
Our sister publication Mother Earth News has an online rundown of a fun little springtime DIY project: making kites from recycled materials.
You can choose from designs that use paper bags or newspaper. Or you can go with non-recycled (but still inexpensive) fare such as paper, foam balls, and feathers. For the expert kite-flyer and -maker, there’s some guidance on DIY sport and stunt kites, too.
Image by ronnie44052, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 10, 2008 5:41 PM
After moving to New York from Paris, Miwa Koizumi was astounded by the piles of garbage that lined the city’s streets. And, in the eco-aware tradition of artists like Chris Jordan, she wanted to do something artistic about it. Faced with a low budget for art supplies, an abundance of free trash, and a fascination for sea creatures, Koizumi started converting plastic and glass bottles into beautiful, complex, and surprisingly lifelike jellyfish sculptures, which are featured in the Fall 2007 issue of Theme magazine.
Koizumi uses a number of tools to painstakingly craft her sea creatures—unfortunately, the sculptures don’t reproduce as quickly as their underwater brethren—but on the upside, her costs probably stay relatively low. “I have as much material as I want,” she writes on her website, “just by fishing in the garbage.”
Photo by Dylan Griffin, courtesy of
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