Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm just one person

I know that I said my next post would continue our discussion of the cfl light bulbs, but Eva's last post got me thinking. We'll get back to the "curly fry lights" next post.

We often think that only large groups can affect change in our world, so we give up on doing anything ourselves. "I'm just one person," is often our mantra for inaction. All groups start with one person and while it may take years for that one person to see the fruits of their labors, without that one person, there would be no fruits.

Eva's cooperating teacher is just one person, but she is saving fruit from being wasted and providing a healthy snack for kids when their cravings start. She appears to be doing this because she thinks it's a good idea, probably not thinking about inspiring anyone else to adopt her responsible behavior. Her "one person" action has inspired Eva and next year there will be two people rescuing fruit.

I started recycling at home originally just to do "my part, " and then I wanted to encourage others, so I started the recycling program at my town home community. Four months later, at least 1/3 of my residents regularly recycle, but it hasn't stopped there. One of my employees and his roommates are recycling their soda bottles because they heard me talk about it and saw me doing it. A couple of the maintenance men also bring their plastics whenever they have work orders on my properties.

When one individual does his part to live responsibly, it rubs off and then 2 or 3 others start following that person's example and then others follow their examples and before you know it, you have a large group and change happens!

So how about we all be that "one person" and see what happens?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Going green in the cafeteria

Every day in the cafeteria the students get a fruit: an apple, an orange, a banana...and etc. Many times the apples or other fruit do not get eaten. Since the students cannot take food out of the cafeteria unless someone stepped in with a plan all that wonderful fruit would simply be thrown away.

This was the situation during my practicum. No teacher had a plan to "rescue" the fruit. However, my cooperating teacher this semester has a plan. Each day she collects the fruit if she remembers to bring a bag. Some of the students even come up to her with a couple of apples and offer to collect others.

At the end of the day, again if my cooperating teacher remembers (she has ADHD so she's excused :D) the students remaining in the classroom waiting for buses all grab a piece of fruit. Not a single piece remains.

I know for sure that I will start doing something like that when I start teaching next semester.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Don't buy that light bulb!

I call them, curly fry bulbs." Yes, I'm still just an overgrown kid, but that's what they look like to me.

According to some folks, a life time diet of actual curly fries would be more healthy for me and our environment than one of these bulbs.

The dangerous culprit in the cfl light bulbs is mercury, a toxic chemical necessary for these light bulbs to work. The concern about the mercury takes two forms: 1). The health risk to individuals if they break them in their homes and 2). The environment, as the cfl bulbs get dumped in landfills.

Let's address the home exposure first.

Are we and our children at risk if we try to save a few dollars by using these highly energy efficient lights? There is mercury in the bulbs, approximately 4-5 milligrams which is less than you will find in a standard flourescent light bulb or even in a thermometer. If the bulbs break, there is a minimal risk of mecury exposure. There have been reports that if you break one in your home, you will need a Haz-Mat team and be forced out your home for hours or days. These reports are not true. The EPA estimates that the airborne risk from one of these breaking in your home is actually lower than OSHA's acceptable levels for the work place.

If you break one of the curly fry lights, use caution and follow the EPA's recommenations: (1) you immediately open windows to reduce mercury concentrations inside your home; (2) you do not touch the spilled mercury; (3) you clean up the broken CFL glass carefully and immediately (but not with your hands or a vacuum cleaner), and (4) you wipe the affected area with a paper towel to remove all glass fragments and mercury.

When we hear EPA recommendations for the use of an item, we tend to wonder if we should just avoid it, but let's glance around your home and see if we can see anything else that uses mercury. Why yes, I do see some: that watch that has the little button battery-mercury, the iron you bought a few years back has it in the tilt switch, oh and so does your old faithful washing machine. Is that an old style thermostat, I see. Yep, mercury there. My point with these items is that we have used them and have been fine.

Researchers have not been as successful with finding ways to get those bulbs to work without mercury as they have been in the other items I listed earlier. They are working on it and are currently reducing the amount needed.

Here are a couple sites that give you the details on the curly fries and their danger:

Bottom line, use the bulbs! They'll save you money and reduce the mercury being released in the air from the coal-fired power plants, almost 4x less for the cfls than traditional bulbs, and your risk of death or damage from them pales in comparison to driving to work in the morning.

Next post: CFLs effect on the environment, a net plus or minus?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Green coffee

And no I am not reading from a Dr. Seuss book.

I could not help starting the entry like this even though I will be writing about one more additional thing.

Yesterday I stopped by Starbucks to pick up a belated Valentine's Day gift for my mother. I have to restrain myself every time I enter a Starbucks because I have a penchant for beautiful mugs and Starbucks has great design.

I did not resist yesterday.

I have to admit that I am a sucker for things that are pretty, involve coffee, help save money and are better for the environment.

This mug is made from some percentage of recycled materials (I no longer have the cardboard piece that had the description written on it) and every time that you bring it to Starbucks for a refill they will give you ten cents off.

Granted, that's not a lot. But at the same time it is enough for me to keep this mug with me so that I can use it instead of a paper cup that will just end up in a landfill somewhere.

Starbucks is not the only company that makes going green look cool. I am an avid Apple devotee. Cool stuff is definitely something that they know about.

This morning I received my wonderful new macbook in the mail and I am absolutely in love with it! This post however is not about the computer itself but instead is about the packaging.

My mother commented when she looked at the box that the computer must be smaller. I didn't think so. Once I divested the macbook of all of the packaging (hold on for a mention on that matter) I put the new mackbook next to the old and discovered that while it was the same width it was not the same thickness. The new macbook is thinner.

However my mom brought down the package for my old macbook and sure enough it was much, much bigger. I consider that a good sign.

I noticed while I was opening my computer that the packaging while keeping my computer completely secured was the bare minimum needed. In the years since I got my first macbook Apple has obviously improved their packaging techniques and made them more efficient and greener. That's the way a company should be I think.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Are hybrid cars bad for the environment?

I mentioned in an earlier post that we would honestly look at some of the attacks against responsible living. Here we go.

This one I found particularly intriguing. The blogger who made the statement that hybrid cars were bad for the environment focused on one aspect of the hybrid car, the battery. The concern is that we might be trading a positive in lower fossil fuel usage and lower emissions for the negative of a toxic afterlife of discarded hybrid batteries.

Does he have a point? If people act responsibily, no!
Any battery tossed in a landfill or on the side of a hill will have a toxic impact, the lead acid of a conventional battery as well, as the less toxic nickel metal battery featured in most hybrid and the lithium ion ,the next generation hybrid batteries. The question is will hybrid car batteries end up in the landfills and roadsides next to their toxic lead brothers? Probably less often. Here's why.
It's not that hybrid car drivers are better than conventional car drivers, it's that they have a better viehicle. According to Honda, Ford and Toyota, the batteries in their hybrid cars are designed to last the life time of the vehicle. Check out the links below:
So unlike the average non-hybrid car battery, you will only need one for as long as you use the car. (oh there's another financial savings for living responsibly)
Toyota recycles every part of their batteries and they make offer an incentive to ensure they get their batteries back. They have a $200.00 "bounty" offered for every used hybrid battery.
Sorry, Mr. Anti-Green blogger, but hybrid cars ARE good for the environment, as well as keeping green in your wallet.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Getting tired of going green?

Lately I have been under a time crunch and did not have enough time to brainstorm an idea to write about this week.

Then it hit me. What about being ecologically minded when running short on time? As with most things easier is not the best thing to do on many fronts. Whatever is most important to you, you will make time for it... rearrange your priorities so to say.

As I said... I had limited time to brainstorm so this is all I have for this week.

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Going Green" is a scam!

Relax, before you decide that I'm fickle and can't decide what I believe, the tag line for this post comes from a Penn and Teller broadcast that a friend quoted me when we were having a discussion on the validity of recycling.

I went and watched part of their rant against the whole environmental community. While I do agree that the truth sometimes is exaggerated, (thanks a lot former Vice President Gore), you don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

I also read some diatribes from others who attempt to debunk all areas of responsible living. A common tactic is to point out a flaw and make it the whole focus.

Here let me give you an example:

Curbside recycling expends more energy than it saves. The author pointed out that curbside recycling requires a second "trash" truck , more fossil fuel expended, more labor and energy spent in sorting. These are valid points, unfortunately, they are told in a vacuum. While a second truck is needed to pick up the used paper to recycle, a second truck on it's way to transport more cut down trees is eliminated.

In my next few posts, we will be discussing this point. I want an honest discussion, so I will point out areas in our efforts to live responsibly where improvement is needed. For example, there is concern with the disposing of the batteries in hybrid cars. While the concern is overstated, it is important that better batteries are manufactured and more efficient recycling programs are in place to deal with the increase of these batteries.

I would love to hear from you. Let me know your concerns. If you think some of this stuff is bunk, tell me. We will have an intelligent discussion.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Going green in the lunchroom

Recently I observed a "green" dilemma in the lunch room at my middle school. The students, many of whom receive free or reduced lunch go through the lunch line and receive their food on disposable Styrofoam trays.

I thought about how those students use those trays for just the twenty-thirty minutes that they are in the lunch room before they simply throw them away and fill several large garbage cans.

Of course, the frugal wanna-be green person in my wants to cut down on this waste. I thought that a possible solution would be to have plastic trays that would be washed after each shift.

Then I thought about all of the power and water that would be needed to wash those plates. I remember reading somewhere that sometimes washing the dishes uses more energy than would be saved with paper/plastic.

I haven't decided where I stand on the issue or on any possible solution.

What do you think?