28 May 2012

Green Bathroom

1. Toilet paper and tissue.

Buy brands that recycle their paper. Marcal is available in supermarkets, and is usually pretty inexpensive; Seventh Generation is in health food stores. The National Resources Defense Council lists more brands, including recycled paper content and some brands to avoid (notable: Charmin, Kleenex, Cottonelle, Bounty) here.

On the numbers of trees felled each year to make products from non-recycled or "virgin" fiber, check out this article from MSNBC.  Europeans use far more recycled toilet paper than Americans, and it's been claimed that soft toilet paper is worse for the environment than SUVs.

Also: hanging the roll so it rolls off the top rather than the bottom turns out to be better for the environment.  Something about the friction and the spin means it's easier to end up with more than you wanted if it rolls off the bottom.  Who knew?

2. Creams, gels, facial washes, and other toiletries.

When you think the package is empty, cut it open. You'll be shocked at how much is left in there. Cover what's left with a baggie or a piece of tin foil (rinsed and recycled from the kitchen) so it doesn't dry out.

Before you go and buy a new container of whatever personal care product you'll finish two or three weeks after you cut open the package, consider what's in it and investigate more sustainable alternatives: plants versus petroleum, natural versus synthetic colors and fragrances.

Also consider the packaging.  Can you buy a comparable product in a bar instead of liquid form, and avoid the plastic container?  How about a large container, rather than numerous small ones?

3. Cleaning products.

Conventional cleaners contain various chemicals that get into the air in quantities that are quite toxic and can contribute to asthma and other diseases of the airways.  Hire someone else to clean your home?  Talk to them about using human-friendly products: for their own sake as well as that of the planet.

27 May 2012

1.3 miles

The US Department of Transportation wants you to think about driving less.

Specifically, they point out that a significant percentage of the trips you take in your car are less than 2 miles long, and suggest that you ride a bike instead.  Go here to log your bike trips taken as part of the two-mile challenge.  For each trip you take, the makers of Clif Bars will donate $1 to an organization that promotes biking. 

This morning, I logged 2.6 miles to Whole Foods and back for groceries and various basics for the next couple of weeks.

That's right: $200 worth of groceries on a Brompton.  And while I've got the fancy Brompton pannier on the front, I did the rest with very low-tech accessories: canvas bags and bungie cords.  Didn't even need a backpack.

You'd be surprised at how many bags you can hang off the handlebars, and still ride without trouble.  Trick: balance the weight, and make sure the bags ride high enough not to hit the front wheel.

22 May 2012

Stillness in Motion

Tim Kreider wrote about biking through city streets in the New York Times earlier this month:
If you’re anything like me, you probably spend the majority of your time either second-guessing the past or dreading the future, neither of which actually exists; having to navigate those teeming streets narrows the beam of my consciousness to the laser’s width of the instant I actually inhabit.
In the same article, he referred to "blue-toothed doofuses" who walk willy-nilly into crosswalks and bike paths without paying any attention to their surroundings. That part made me laugh.

The part about biking focusing the mind is what caught my attention, though. Last month, a long conversation over lunch with a friend made me realize how much I need to take time to slow down.

If I take the time to pay attention while I'm cycling -- not in traffic, but along the East River, where I regularly ride -- I can find stillness in motion. If I stop letting myself get irritated at the antics of my fellow human beings and their furred friends, I notice the water.

It's not river, but ocean, and it's appropriately Protean. Sometimes surprisingly calm, but usually rolling or choppy from wind, from passing ferries, from the tides washing in from both New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. The surface glints, reflecting sky during the day, lights from bridges and buildings at night, obscuring all that swims in it or rests on its bottom.

And giving my attention to that glinting surface allows me to still my own mind, stop plumbing the depths, just be.

20 May 2012

Still Not Shopping (Much)

Back in March (on Pi Day, to be precise), I decided to see how long I could go without shopping.  The result has been very good: I had no idea how much energy I was spending on trying to track down deals, shopping without actually making purchases.

The Mate's birthday was yesterday, and he informed me that he had a couple of items in his Amazon wish list, so I went and ordered them and wrapped them for his birthday.  And I bought a couple of things for The Offspring at a conference last weekend.  But otherwise, I have stuck to the plan.  I've avoided buying summer clothing for The Offspring so far by cutting down four pairs of his long pants right above the holes in the knees and hemming them up as shorts, and I've realized I have enough clothing to keep me going for a very long time without needing anything new.

But on Friday, I drove to work for the first time in many weeks, and one of the reasons was that I wanted to run a couple of errands.  We've broken most of the glasses in the house, the pillowcases are getting rather ratty, and I wanted a clock for my office and some picture frames.

But I got off work and decided the pillowcases are fine as long as they're clean and mason jars are perfectly fine vessels for water and iced coffee and unless it's Shabbat, I just check the time on my computer anyway.  And if I'm taking my time away from the machines, I don't really need to know what time it is, anyway.  When it gets dark out, it will be obvious enough.

The no shopping thing has gotten oddly addictive.

18 May 2012

Is Driving Nuts?

It's Bike to Work Day, but I drove to the office instead, for the first time in weeks. 

Books tend to migrate over the weeks, and I had a bunch that needed to get back to the office, and others that needed to come home.  I could have done it a few at a time on the bike, but I'm trying to gear up for summer writing, and I wanted to just get it done.

Plus I needed to bring my academic robe and hood back to the office, where they live when I'm not at commencement.  They've already been back and forth in the bike pannier a couple of times, and were getting wrinkled.

I've been mostly traveling at human-powered paces lately -- on my bike, on foot.  And sitting in my car today, it suddenly seemed to me that enclosing oneself in a little metal and plastic box and hurling oneself across the countryside at 60 or 70 miles an hour ... is insanity.

06 May 2012

Climate Change Denial

The Guardian reveals that the Heartland Institute is behind a new advertising campaign in the Chicago area.

Pfizer and Microsoft are among the corporations funding the Heartland Institute, though GM has already pulled the plug. I wrote to Pfizer and Microsoft:
Please stop giving money to the Heartland Institute. Their recent campaign to sow doubt about climate change by suggesting that people who believe the scientific evidence that climate change exists are terrorists and mass murderers is beyond irresponsible. Thank you.
Pfizer wouldn't believe I was an actual human being until I followed a link they sent me in an email message.

It's All About Cars (Again)

I was out walking along the East River the other morning when a tall man ran silently past me in some of the new running shoes.  

I got to thinking about the controversy that's been raging this year among runners about whether or not to wear padded shoes, and whether to run with a heel-toe strike or on the balls of the feet.

And then I came to Stuyvesant Cove Park, where there are some wood-chip paths, and I walked onto one of them.  Immediately, I felt the difference: the surface is softer and more irregular than pavement, and my feet -- and everything attached to them -- were significantly happier.

And slowly it dawned on me that pavement isn't made for people, and people aren't made to walk, or run, on pavement. 

We've paved half the planet with asphalt and concrete to make it easier for cars and trucks to buzz around at high speed.  And the fact that we end up running and walking on all of that pavement, and arguing about what shoes to wear while doing it, is merely a side effect.  Even cobble-stone, with its irregular surface, is easier on feet, ankles, knees, and the rest of the body than asphalt or concrete pavement.

So we get back to the issue of urban planning.  How do we make it so that pavement isn't the only choice for people who want to walk rather than drive around, whether in an urban center or in a small town?  How do we come to understand that pavement isn't the norm, and shouldn't be the automatic choice of surface in all locations?

I write this with awareness that people who use wheelchairs need flat, firm surfaces to move on.  But how flat?  Are wheelchairs, too, designed for pavement?  Could redesign allow for mobility over a wider variety of surfaces with limited increase in difficulty of handling?