Monday, February 25, 2008

Go Lance! New Commuter Bike Shop in Austin

Not content with inspiring thousands of competitive cyclists around the world, Lance Armstrong is opening what sounds like the world's coolest bike store in Austin, Texas. It's going to be focused on bike commuters, aim at being friendly and non-intimidating, and have a cafe and showers and locker rooms for bike commuters who want to store their bikes there during the day.

"Armstrong, who still remembers being a trifle intimidated when he walked into a bike shop as a kid, wants to make sure that doesn't happen to customers here. He said he'd rather encourage rookies to start riding than sell a faster bike to a veteran cyclist. "

Full story here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

When Environmental Sustainability Goes Awry

To the two young hippies next to me in the DVD section of the library: I appreciate that you're interested in environmental sustainability. I don't mind seeing your dreadlocks, your piercings, your fair-trade hemp clothing, and your environmental stickers on your bags. And I appreciate that you might think it is saving the planet to not use water to bathe. But I think that's taking things a bit too far. Seriously, rancourous rancidity is not camouflaged by dousing oneself in patchouli (not to mention, some of us are allergic to that odiferous stuff). If you noticed people backing away from you, it was not a political or a moral statement they were making, it was self-protection.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Reducing Garbage, Part 1

A while back, someone on a list I'm on asked for tips on reducing garbage. I've been meaning to write about it for awhile, and every now and then a new idea pops into my head and I jot it down somewhere. It's amazing how little garbage you can produce, once you really become aware of what you throw away and start working on reducing it. We get the smallest can that our garbage company gives out, and we've shared it with our renter and the family across the street and had room left over. One thing you can start doing is becoming aware of what you're throwing away. You don't have to dig through the trash, but just look at it when you toss something else in and think about whether that thing could be eliminated, substituted, recycled, or composted. I'm sure this is far from a comprehensive list, but here's a few ideas at least...

1) Compost: One of the first steps you can take is to stop throwing away food scraps. Compost piles can range from big wire-enclosed areas, to small portable worm bins. Turning your food scraps into gardening soil is a great first step at garbage reduction. Resources for Composting and Worm Bins abound on the internet, and in many cases in your local community. There's even a worm bin specifically designed to turn your pet waste into usable compost, thus keeping it out of the landfill as well.

2) Return to Cloth: Perhaps the easiest thing to remove from your garbage is anything disposable - napkins, paper towels, baby wipes, kleenex, diapers, etc. These used to be the main culprits, but the past few years have seen a veritable explosion in the disposable market, with everything from bibs to facial washcloths, to Swiffer mops being produced just to be used once and thrown away. One of the easiest ways to stop throwing this kind of stuff in the trash is simply to stop buying it. Once I stopped buying paper napkins, I had to have something else in place to use. I started adding to my small supply of cloth napkins (and actually I used washcloths for awhile until I had a big enough stash). I found that if I had a roll of paper towels or a paper napkin handy, it was easy to reach for them. Without them around, you simply don't use them. I do keep a roll of paper towels in the garage for use in times of desperate measures (the cat just barfed on the carpet, that kind of thing), but I haven't bought a new roll since we moved into this house 8 years ago, so they last a long time that way. Cloth diapers, handkerchiefs, washcloths, mop covers, napkins, and bibs are long-lasting and relatively easy to toss in the washing machine (even the diapers weren't as icky and intimidating as I thought they'd be before having babies).

3) Look For Less Packaging: Often we don't have the option of buying something with less packaging - it seems like you need a pair of gardening shears and an expert safe-cracker just to get into the packaging for your basic CD these days. But often we have an option to buy something with less packaging or substitute something reusable. Rechargeable batteries for instance, not only save you from having to dispose of toxic batteries, but also all the packaging that they come in. Buying meat locally means that it comes straight from the butcher wrapped in white paper, instead of resting on styrofoam trays. Buying produce locally avoids those nasty plastic clamshells that are becoming popular in places like Trader Joe's, and if you can swing it to get stuff like milk and eggs from a local source, you can also eliminate egg and milk cartons from your garbage stream and re-use glass bottles instead. Even if you don't have a direct source, there are still local dairies that use and re-use glass bottles (usually with a deposit).

4) Borrow, Barter, Buy Used: If you need to buy something, you can think about whether or not it's something you can borrow, or barter for, or buy used first. Not buying stuff new eliminates packaging, transportation, and possibly having to deal with the remains of whatever you've bought. If you think about it, there's usually no reason for every person on the block to have a hedge trimmer, or a particular best-selling book, or even a pickup truck. Sharing with neighbors or friends is a bonus to all (including the environment). Our chicken tractor is on its way to the 3rd family we've lent it to. Our power-washer has made the rounds of every deck and fence in the neighborhood, and we've borrowed our neighbor's truck or trailer when we needed to haul something. Our daughter is clothed entirely in wonderful hand-me-downs from the neighbor girl down the street, and the clothes keep right on flowing from her to a smaller friend a few blocks away. Thinking outside the box when it comes to consumer goods is also a great way to boost your budget, while reducing your impact on your garbage can and the earth.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bits and Blurbs

If we ever end up needing a really great commuter car, here's one, the Aptera, I've got my eye on:

I just read an article about it and they said that in track tests it has been exceeding their expectations, topping out around 300 mpg in some cases! Message to Detroit, hello! Is anyone listening???

And I have to say, I'm pretty excited about yesterday's primaries here in the U.S. (though in Orygun, we won't be voting until May. May!). I'm pretty strongly in the Obama camp, largely on account of his stances on the war and his environmental scorecard from the League of Conservation Voters (highest among all the Dems). It doesn't hurt at all that he is inspiring hope for the first time in a long time among people disenfranchised from our current political system: