Waste-free holiday

I hate to be so bahumbug about one of my and most people’s favorite holiday, but it’s a fact. Christmas is the most wasteful holiday.

According to recycleworks.org, from thanksgiving to new years’, our household waste increases by more than 25 percent. With everything from added food waste, to wrapping, packaging, it adds up to over 1 million tons a week going into a landfill.

Half the paper used in America is used to wrap products. And the 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold in America (so this doesn’t include the cards not sold that are thrown away) could fill a football field for up to 10 stories.

If everyone reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, it would add up to enough to tie a bow around the planet. How’s that for a Christmas present to us and the Earth?

Food waste is also one of the biggest waste contributors. Food waste makes up to a quarter of the garbage thrown away during Thanksgiving and New Year’s. A household of four could save an average $100-$125 by reducing food waste.

The good news is that both of these problems have solutions.

To address our overconsumption of paper:

  1. Save wrapping paper this year to use for next year. It takes a bit of effort and patience from everyone involved because everyone has to wait while you carefully unwrap your presents.
  2. Use recycled paper products. Recycled cards, wrapping paper, bags, etc. And you could always send an e-card, instead of paper. If everyone sent one less card we could save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.
  3. Use alternatives to the conventional wrapping paper. Newspapers, reusable bags (which is a gift in itself and it keeps on giving), use bags or used boxes, paper bags from the store, fabric, (fabric is harder to rip to shred, which makes it easier to reuse) jars or cans (mixes are adorable in jars), I will also tell you, unashamedly, that part of my parents gifts were wrapped in Pringle’s cans. Let your creativity run wild and feel no shame.
  4. Upcycle your paper. Most of these things are super easy. Gifts bags made from newspaper or wrapping paper, bows made from any kind of paper, paper confetti (we used brown packing paper and some used wrapping paper that wasn’t in such good shape and shredded with a paper shredder).
    Step 8

    Bows made from wrapping paper.

    Paper shred/confetti

    Packing confetti made from shipping paper and old wrapping paper

And for our waste of food? Mostly it has to do with planning ahead. Planning portion sizes, what people tend to eat more or less of, how you plan to store it, etc.

  1. This site, love food, hate waste, is site teaching about food waste and how to cut down. The statistics are based from the UK, but the principles can be applied anywhere. It helps with planning portion, storing and recipes so you can use the same ingredients in a different recipe.
  2. You can also donate it. I feel a little iffy about this sometimes, but if you can find a homeless shelter who will take unpackaged food then why not?
  3. Have a potluck. Everyone bring a dish and take home the leftovers.
  4. Embrace the leftovers. I’m not a big fan of leftovers, but some things like pie can never be eaten too many times. I try to just think of everything as leftover pie.
  5. Compost your plain, raw fruits and veggies.

The main thing is to be aware of the waste and take it into a count when planning your holiday festivities. Feel free to leave a comment on how you plan to cut down waste during the holiday season.

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Car free Utopia

What a crazy idea. Who could have ever thought of such a thing? A place where you’re allowed to walk or bike around without feeling like you’re going to die? How utopianish! I guess since campuses are kind of set up with this idea in mind then it’s probably not a new thing and I might be the last one to hear about it, but it’s still exciting to know that it’s not just an idea, but it has a name, too.

Anyway, a carfree city is a city where automobiles and most motorized vehicles are excluded, so that residents can conduct     most of their everyday activities without having to be in or around cars.     The carfree city is made up of many districts (neighborhoods) with a     central transit stop that moves you quickly and comfortably to the rest of     the city. The compact, mixed-use development pattern allows personal     mobility within the carfree zone to be achieved by walking or biking.     Parking lots or garages at the edge of the carfree district provide access     to cars when they are the logical choice for certain trips outside the     district. Carfree development is ideally suited to car-sharing, which     further decreases the number of vehicles and parking spaces needed.

All but the     heaviest cargo is transported by human- or electric-powered means, from     stroller carts for groceries to electric flat-bed tow-carts for commercial     freight. A freight depot at the edge of the carfree district would handle     shipping and receiving of freight to and from external destinations and     provide facilities for transferring freight from trucks to local vehicles.

Not all car     free zones are the same. The one thing they have in common is that they are     closed to through traffic, but there are different restrictions in     different zones. Some cities close streets to all cars. Period. Some are     open to delivery vehicles or removal vans.      Then there are emergency vehicles. There wasn’t very much     information on the individual policies of everything, but the ones I found     are open to emergency vehicles and I would also think that this applies to     all zones, but I have no proof for that.

http://new.carfreecity.us/Default.aspx?tabid=113

There is another form of car-free development, so     familiar we have until recently overlooked its potential. Most     pedestrianized city or neighborhood centers in Britain are almost entirely     commercial. But a few farsighted councils, such as Exeter, have brought     back housing and residents, without cars or allocated parking, into city     centers that would otherwise be deserted after 6pm.

Groningen, the Netherlands’ capital of cycling, has     the largest car-free center in Europe: half-pedestrianized, entirely closed     to through traffic, with 16,500 residents, three-quarters of whom have no     car in the household. Forty percent of all journeys within the city are made     by bicycle.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/green-living-blog/2009/oct/29/car-free-cities-neighbourhoods

So who in the U.S. is following this crazy trend and how does it affect them?

A quarter of households in Britain – more in the larger cities, and a majority in some inner cities – live without a car.

San Francisco- Every Saturday starting May 26 through Sept. 30, bicyclists, joggers, and pedestrians will have free rein on almost a mile of John F. Kennedy Drive, the main drag through Golden Gate Park. The usual denizens of the road – autos – will be banned, detoured elsewhere.Skip to next paragraph

Vehicles are already prohibited in parts of the park on Sundays, and the decision to “go carless” on Saturdays as well concludes a heated seven-year debate. In the end, arguments that such road closures promote family activities, more active lifestyles, and tighter-knit communities carried the day.

The auto’s demotion at Golden Gate Park follows dozens of similar moves in at least 20 American cities in the past three years. It’s a trend that is gaining ground rapidly in the US, say urban planners.

• New York is proposing to shut down perimeter roads of Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park all summer long.

• Atlanta plans to transform 53 acres of blighted, unused land into new bike-friendly green space.

• Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, and El Paso, Texas, are planning events to promote car-free days in public parks, most in the hope that the idea will become permanent or extend for months.

Many cities across America are declaring that parks are for people (and animals I might add), not cars which is why so many are closing roads within the parks.

Are there problems? Of course.

Worries about traffic congestion, parking problems, and loss of visitors for businesses and museums are first in people’s mind, not the beneficial effect this could have.  But studies are showing that traffic problems can be minimized, shops and museums get more visitors, and residents begin to cherish their where-the-action-is location.

Not everyone is convinced, saying the jury is still out on how no-car zones affect neighborhood vitality. In San Francisco, the de Young Museum has said its delivery schedule must be adjusted because of the new road closure, and it is concerned that patrons with physical disabilities may not be able to get to the museum as readily.

The model city for road closure is Bogotá, Colombia, which in 1983 embarked on a program called ciclovia (bike path), in which designated streets were closed to cars every Sunday but open for jogging, biking, dancing, playing ball, walking pets, strolling with babies – anything but driving. One-and-a-half million people now turn out each week for ciclovia. Other cities in Latin America followed suit, closing parts of parks or whole urban districts to cars – some intermittently, some permanently. A result: revitalized neighborhoods and an influx of people.

Smaller US cities, from Davenport, Iowa, to Huntington Beach, Calif., are also starting to create car-free zones.

Beginning this month, El Paso will detour cars from seven roads every Sunday from 7 to 11 a.m. so that cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians can use them instead.

When a city is poor, they make all kinds of excuses on why they readjust their city to help the environment and themselves. I know this because I live in one of these cities. But to not drive cuts costs for everything. People will start walking and biking which will lead to lower obesity rates, less air pollution will lead to less hospital bills, not to mention the costs of not driving which you can save a tremendous amount immediately.

El Paso was also in the poor city range. They were populated with obese people and people risking their lives to ride or walk when there were no lanes for them to do so. A national magazine declared the city one of the four fattest in the US. This was when people finally decided to get to work.

Two years of planning and $100,000 in donations made the program possible. El Paso is the first ciclovia city in Texas. “It has just 25 percent of the park space of the average US city, a smaller tax base, and few spaces for pedestrians or bicyclists, says Beto O’Rourke, a city council man who championed the idea, “This solves a lot of problems at once.”

The trend reflects cities’ response to residents who, after streaming back to city centers, want more pedestrian amenities.

“The great thing about ciclovia is that cities can do it very inexpensively. All the infrastructure is already there; there is no added capital cost,” says Gil Penalosa, former parks and recreation director for Bogotá who helped expand its network of closed roads from 8 miles in 1997 to 70 miles today.

In some ciclovia cities, such as Guadalahara, Mexico, fears that autoless streets would cause economic hardship have dissolved. Some merchants actually had to return to their stores on Sundays because the thousands of visitors wanted everything from food and drink to curios.

So, yes. I do believe this a fabulous idea even if it may be a new one. I believe the impact of doing this would be huge. I hope it keeps catching on.

Liking the Bike

Today I am hoping to convince you to at least entertain the thought of at least considering the idea of getting a bicycle if you haven’t already. (If I don’t do it today then I must certainly will when I show you my upcycling project…hopefully…maybe…)

This just about says it all.

I only rode my bike for about a week before I stopped, so that I could adorn it. That took longer than expected.

I haven’t worked out the kinks in the routine that I have, but I’m sure I’ll still look bad when I say this anyway. The house I’m riding from is only like 1.5 miles using the major roads. The city’s roads are basically made for cars. The city has sidewalks, share the road signs, but there aren’t any designated bike lanes that are for bikes only (I think we may be getting some though). I choose the sidewalks. I’m so slow and I’m terrified of riding in the street. Therefore, I choose the sidewalks. Because of this choice I have to wait for the walking signs to turn green, (I’ve seen people who use the sidewalks, but go when the cars going the same direction go. Maybe I’ll start doing this.) which seems to take more than a few rounds before it’s ever my turn. It takes about 30 minutes for me to get to school and put up my bike. Thirty minutes for 1.5 miles and it takes about the same time for me to go 2 or so miles and take less busy intersections. It takes me about 10-15 minutes to drive, a few minutes to find a parking place and then about 15 minutes for me to leisurely stroll to my class. I always leave the house about an hour early because I do not want to be rushed in any sort of way and that’s why I let myself take 15 minutes to take to class.

I don’t have a lot of time to work out anymore and when I don’t get my cardio in I don’t feel the greatest. I am not fit by any means, but that little bit of exercise does wonders. My bike rides take that problem out of the equation. If it takes me thirty minutes to get to class, no matter what, then I might as well multitask and get the most effective 30 minutes I can. I could gawk around or pick my nose at a stop light or I could get a work out. On my way home, unfortunately that’s when I’m exhausted, but I still have several hills that I must conquer first. These hills aren’t ginormous and they seem like ant hills to some, but for a newbie like myself, they’re no walk in the park. Summer tends to suck the life right out of me, so hopefully in the fall and winter they might be so bad, but for now there is nothing like being exhausted and still conquering that one last hill before I collapse and (or the first time I go to the top of that hill without breaking a sweat). I have no choice. It’s either do it or sleep in the bathroom on campus. And not being able to use my tiredness as an excuse is pretty motivating.

It is also a therapeutic exercise because you’re being connected to nature and being outside. Some don’t like the gym atmosphere where they’re running or biking, never going anywhere or staring at a wall. Running on concrete may not be comfortable, so biking provides a solution for both and it burns 500 calories an hour. And you get the added bonus of never being stuck in a traffic jam. We don’t have huge traffic jams here, but still it’s nice to be the one going while they’re stuck.

Driving a car is expensive. You have the gas, the tires, the repairs, the replacements, on and on. I save a little less than a fourth of a tank, which isn’t as much as I want, but I go home on the weekends and that’s a 2 hour drive. Still I save about $8 just for the gas.

It also saves money for taxpayers if enough people ride because they don’t have to worry about as many road repairs.

Biking is perfect if you have a co-carpooler that never wants to pay their half because then you can just ditch them and ride for free.

My favorite part is not having to circle around five times looking for a parking spot. It makes just about the whole ride, uphills and downhills, pretty worth it.

You don’t need a loan or a lifetime of savings to get a new bike and then worry about the repairs that you have to make four months later. I got my bike for $50 on craiglist. It wasn’t the prettiest bike ever, but I knew it would get me to where I needed, so I got some stuff (I’ll take about this project soon) for about $30 and made it better. So for about $80 I got myself a pretty decent bike. You can’t even get a car tire for that much.

Those are my reasons for riding a bike. For those that can’t even afford a car it also provides a reasonably priced solution. It may not be practical for everyone, but it could provide an easy solution for some.

One Man’s Quest to be Penniless

I hope to be like this man some day. Maybe not totally like him, but more like him than I am now.  This isn’t the first story like this that I’ve heard. It was a movie that watched, Into the Wild. I was hugely inspired. There a few things that I’m holding on too tightly to for that to happen, but since I have been doing this I have let go of somethings that I never thought I could and also there are a lot of things I still have to learn how to do.  It’s a process of being so tired of being under someone else’s control. One day that day will come when I am done, worn down. He’s a quite inspiring fellow and I found hope in this story. The original site I got this from said that 26% of the people that read this story found it inspiring,too. 11% found it depressing and 4% found it boring. Anyway, here’s his story. http://abcnews.go.com/Business/utah-caveman-quits-money/story?id=16273605

Daniel Suelo is 51 years old and broke. Happily broke. Consciously, deliberately, blessedly broke.

Not only does he not have debt, a mortgage or rent, he does not earn a salary. Nor does he buy food or clothes, or own any product with a lower case “i” before it. Home is a cave on public land outside Moab, Utah. He scavenges for food from the garbage or off the land (fried grasshoppers, anyone?). He has been known to carve up and boil fresh road kill. He bathes, without soap, in the creek.

In the fall of 2000, Suelo (who changed his name from Shellabarger), decided to stop using money altogether. That meant no “conscious barter,” food stamps or other government handouts. His mission was to “use only what is freely given or discarded and what is already present and already running,” he wrote on his web site, Zero Currency.

The question many people wonder: Is he insane, or a mooch, or simply dedicated to leading a simple, honest, dare we say, Christ-like existence?

They’re good questions. And depending whom you ask, the answers vary.

Suelo wasn’t always a modern-day caveman. He went to the University of Colorado and studied anthropology, at one point considering medical school. He lived in a real house, with four walls, a window and a door, and shopped in stores, not their dumpsters.

But over time he says he grew depressed, clinically depressed, mainly with the focus on acquisition. “Every time I made a resume for a job, signed my name to a document, opened a bank account, or even bought a banana at the supermarket, I felt a tinge of dishonesty,” he said.

He was born into an Evangelical Christian home in Grand Junction, Colo., and took his religion seriously. Eventually, he started wondering why “professed Christians rarely followed the teachings of Jesus–namely the Sermon on the Mount, namely giving up possessions, living beyond credit and debt–freely giving and freely taking–giving, expecting nothing in return, forgiving all debts, owing nobody a thing, living beyond payback of either evil-for-evil or good-for-good, living and walking without guilt (debt), without grudge (debt), without judgment (credit & debt), living by Grace, by Gratis, not by our own works but by the works of the true Nature flowing through,” he said.

Although he considered himself a Christian, he discovered that the same principles applied to Taoism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Mormonism, Shamanism, and Paganism.

One year he went to Alaska and worked on the docks. But that, too, he says, felt dishonest. Instead, he and a buddy decided to live off the land—spearing fish, foraging for mushrooms and berries. (Think Castaway, but with snow). Suelo (which means soil in Spanish) eventually hitch-hiked back to Moab with $50 in his pocket. By the time he arrived, his stash had dwindled to $25. He realized that he only needed money for things he really didn’t need, like snacks and booze.

He began toying with the idea of living full-time without money. He traveled to India, and became fascinated by Hindu Sadhus, who wandered without lucre and possessions. He considered joining them, but then he realized that “A true test of faith would be to return to one of the most materialistic, money-worshipping nations on earth, to return to the authenticity profound principles of spirituality hidden beneath our own religion of hypocrisy, and be a Sadhu there,” he said. “To be a vagabond, a bum, and make an art of it – this idea enchanted me.”

And soon, that’s exactly what he did. He says he left his life savings—a whopping $30—in a phone booth, and walked away.

But he didn’t do it in a vacuum; he maintained his blog for free from the Moab public library. Rather than just sitting on a mountain and gazing at his navel, he wanted to have an impact on others, to spread his gospel.

In 2009, Mark Sundeen, an old acquaintance he’d worked with at a Moab restaurant, heard about Suelo through mutual friends. At first, “I thought he must have lost his mind,” Sundeen, 42, said in a telephone conversation. But then he began reading his blog, and grew intrigued. Sundeen divides his time between Missoula, Mont., and Moab, where he was once a river guide, and he paid a visit to Suelo’s cave.

Gradually, he said he realized that much of what Suelo was saying made a whole lot of sense. This was right around the time the economy crashed, and “It felt like a lot of what he was saying was prophetic,” said Sundeen. “That money is an illusion, an addiction. That resonated with me after the collapse for the economy.”

Sundeen was so intrigued that he decided to write a book about Suelo, The Man Who Quit Money, which was published in March.

While the book reviews have been generally positive, Suelo has come under fire by some who say he’s a derelict, sponging off society without contributing. They are valid criticisms: This is a guy, after all, who has gotten a citation for train hopping (what would Jesus say about that?). And he’s not opposed to house sitting in winter–not exactly living off the land.

And besides: How is he actually helping others by going without? It’s not like he’s solving world hunger, or curing cancer.

Sundeen disputes these arguments. “He doesn’t accept any government programs—welfare, food stamps, Medicare,” he said. “The only ways in which he actually uses taxpayer funded derivatives is walking on roads and using the public library. So in that regard he’s a mooch–he’s using the roads and not paying taxes. But if you try to quantify the amount of money he’s taking from the system—it’s a couple of dollars a year, less than anyone’s ever used.”

Instead, he is actively promoting “his idea that money is an illusion,” Sundeen said. “The Fed just prints it up, it doesn’t mean anything and it’s going to lead us down the road to serfdom.” Suelo simply doesn’t want to contribute to that, and so he lives life on his own terms.

That said, Sundeen wouldn’t live the way Suelo does. “The appeal to me is the living outdoors part, but I feel like I got my feel of that working as an Outward Bound guide,” he said. “At this point I have other priorities.”

Suelo, for his part, has no plans to bring money back into his life. “I know it’s possible to live without money,” he said. “Abundantly.”