Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Academic flotsam

Or is that jetsam? I can never keep them straight. Whatever it is, I have a lot of it. After being a grad student for... way to long, I have accumulated hundreds of academic papers. Most of which I print out because as any good grad student, I intend to read them. And most of them are still in that stack of good intentions. In my defense I do read the abstract and the conclusions on most of them. (yeah, I know a weak, weak defense) But I have not had the time to truly digest most of the stuff I print out. In my few attempts to purge, I have often come across duplicate copies of some papers. Obviously it was good enough to catch my interest twice.

Frankly I do not like reading things on-line. I can't scribble derogatory notes in the margins, or put big question marks on the things I do not understand. And there is something tangible about being able to hold a piece of paper in your hand. However I see the inherent waste in this as more often than not I do not read more than a few paragraphs of the paper. So here is my pledge for the day, I will no longer print out papers or documents unless I am certain I NEED to make reference to it someplace where it will not be available otherwise. I will instead read them on-line and store an electronic copy if it is something that I will need again. I may not even print out my dissertation. It will make it easier and more environmentally friendly for my committee when they decide it is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

First trash day

After one week I finally took out the trash. And it was not nearly as bad as you think. The only trash I took out was 4.5 pounds of food scraps. After sitting on the counter for a week, the container (covered) did not look or smell bad at all.
It smelled much better than it would have if we had it in the regular trash which we would have taken out every few days in large plastic bags that were never quite full. Part of this may have been the coffee grounds that are in the waste. The other receptacles are still not full and being either plastic or paper do not have that typical "I have not taken out my trash in a week" scent.

Now I would really like to compost the food portion of our trash. But at the moment I do not have the time or the money to build a compost bin. (I might start scrounging for wood. But that takes some time and often I seem to get caught.) Plus, I am not exactly sure what to do with the compost once I get it. I do not have a garden and only a few plants. And as noted in yesterdays post, vegetable gardens are not overly popular around here. There is the additional problem that we would then have to separate out animal based scraps from vegetable based scraps. This would be a minor change, obviously, so if and when I get to create a compost system I will start doing that as well. If any one knows of a great small compost bin design or a construction site where I can snag some wood, I would greatly appreciate it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Drinking locally

There is not much that is truly local anymore. Especially when you live in a place like Wyoming. Rest assured I can get my fair share of locally made wind chimes made from wrought iron bucking horses or furniture made from rough hewn logs. But how many entertainment centers does one person require? Vegetables do not grow here well and in mass quantities as the growing season is relatively short. There is a CSA . However it is too late to sign up for that this season but I will keep it in mind for next year.

One of the few consumable items that we can get locally around here is BEER. There are two local brew pubs in town, my favorite being Altitude. And even then if we extend local to mean ``close enough'' there are a number of breweries in Colorado. The most notable being New Belgium . They are a wonderful employee owned brewery who promote sustainability by making every effort to use as little as possible and minimize their impact through innovation. Odell's, makers of 90 Schilling and a wonderful IPA, co-habitates Fort Collins and the front range with a number of other small craft brewers.

If this blog is about assuaging my guilt over what I consume then I believe I can feel pretty decent about the beer I drink. My affection (and resulting guilt) for Doritos will have to find a different outlet.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Laughter and ... what was that word...

Doing anything consciously takes effort when it is not a habit. And remembering to make a conscious effort to live more simply is even harder because although I wish it were a simple change it does cover interaction I have. Investigating everything you buy, use, consume, and eventually throw away is nearly a full time avocation. It has, over the last few days, become laughable the number of times I have to dig something out of the main trash can only to throw it in another. Or I have to walk back through the house to turn off a light that I left on. This will get easier with time as I develop more habits that lessen my impact on the environment. But in the mean time I will keep trying to find hints and small clues that will remind me of the changes I am trying to make. I am trying to make incremental changes. But there are a few things that we have always been told to do. Do not be wasteful of water, electricity, and heat. Make sure you really need something and will use it before you buy it. But the habits of walking out of a room without turning out the light are much more ingrained than one might think. So yes, I do forget to live actively from time to time, but I think with all experiments of this type, the success rate gets better over time. (And no I did not forget to post over the last few days, but simply ran out of time.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Well, what about this...

I am presuming that most people do not spend that much time thinking about their trash. Not that any rational person generally would. But perhaps it would be a good idea. The biggest challenge Amy and I have faced in making our changes is what is biodegradable, what is not, and what falls into that middle zone of "I'm not sure". In order to quantify what we are using on any given day we decided to separate our trash, paper from plastic, food, plasticized paper and foils. It is these last two categories that seem to create the most difficulty because they really were not ones either of us even considered. I am beginning to realize how much "paper" is coated with some sort of waxy residue. Presumably it is a petroleum based paraffin product. Un-reusable plastic is the next category of contention.

We do save and reuse plastic bread bags and all sorts of other plastic containers. But almost everything, from cheese packaging to the sealing ring on top of a tub of butter is made of plastic and hence pretty much unusable after it has served its purpose. Amy and I discussed the idea of buying cheese from the deli, and then requesting a particular type of packaging. I suppose we could even bring our own. The one issue here is the only cheese "deli's" in town are at the grocers (two in town) and I am not sure they do anything but sliced cheese. We will dig into this a little bit and see if it is an option.

In the mean time we will be finishing off the miniature candy bars that we still have left over from Halloween, wondering if the stuff they are wrapped in is paper covered foil, foil covered plastic, or some other category of modern detritus.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A little about us...

I should be clear that I am not doing this alone. My wonderful girlfriend Amy has agreed, acquiesced enthusiastically, to be a partner in this experiment. We live in Laramie, WY. A small town by many standards, large by Wyoming standards. However many of the assumptions about living a "sustainable" lifestyle make certain assumptions about locality and available resources. We will discuss this in days to come. We also rent our current home. When I took a recent carbon footprint quiz it suggested I could one of the biggest impacts I could make would be to replace my appliances. (There are many calculators available, simply google "carbon footprint" and you will get a number of options. I will try to come up with a list of the better ones.) Unfortunately buying energy star rated appliances is not an option on a grad student salary and makes no sense for a rental. I will work on the landlord, yes. But the number of changes a renter can make is limited compared to that of the home owner. This presents one of the challenges but is also an opportunity to really look for small changes that we can make.

Friday, October 31, 2008

One thirty day experiment

So, in theory, I already lead a pretty low impact lifestyle. I commute to work by foot and run errands by bike. I recycle as much as I can, and feel guilty about what I cannot due to local "restrictions." I do not buy much except what I need. I do not throw much out preferring to give usable stuff away via freecycle or sell it on craigslist. But I have never figured out really how much I consume and how I can do more to use less. Hence this experiment, starting out as a thirty day trial in living as consciously as possible.

So what will this experiment entail? First I want to quantify what I am consuming and how much of that is being used versus how much is being thrown away. Second I want to find small changes that a person like myself can make which I can prove have an impact and obviously are things that I am not already doing. Finally I want to live as consciously as possible. This last item is probably more of a psychological experiment than an environmental one. When I make a purchase is it one that promotes sustainability? Is it a purchase that is necessary? Is it a consumable or is it an item that I will use for a long time?

Over the next few days I will give an overview of my situation and the daily challenges that arise in trying to live more sustainably than I do now. I appreciate feedback and any ideas about how I can do this better and with more efficacy.