October 03, 2005

Checkpoint on environmental “tinkering”

Regular readers here will remember my previous posts on environmental projects that I've undertaken. Since it's easy to talk about things when they start up or fail, but not so easy to remember to talk about them otherwise, I thought I'd post a little catch-up note on how things are going.

Since starting our worm bins last fall, Joy and I have had fun with our new little “pets”. Friends we see regularly know how we'll stop them from throwing away tea bags and fruit rinds, squirreling them away to later feed our worms. Since things changed around here, Joy and I combined our worm bins, initially providing enough worms to start a friend's bin, and, after several more months, a slow start for my recently-married sister, as well. We've also fed our worms enough that we've now harvested one tray... providing compost to our rather ridiculous garden of potted plants.

Speaking of which...

Another recent project has been the growing columns. I say columns because we built a second one on Joy's balcony. With two towering piles of growing potential, we've eaten dozens of helpings of salad, several sides of collard greens, a couple of stir-fry's with home grown bok choi, and an occasional meal spruced up with other plants, most of which we had a harder time keeping around, like the spinach which never seem to grow for long before going to seed. And all of it's been organic, and uber-fresh.

The growing columns are a lovely project, but not without their concerns. First of all, as the weather (and ongoing watering) has gone on, concerns about how we'll reinvigorate them next year reign - there's not much hope that these things will hold up for many years, for instance. And things tend to go to seed faster, if only because we try to water the things a lot, but not so heavily as to leave their cardboard outer layer soggy.... but, this also depends on the season. We've been refilling the columns every few months with new plants, depending on what we've been able to get to come up from a separate plant nursery we're also squeezing into our balcony. As a result, we currently have predominantly collard greens growing, for instance, since we've had trouble getting any romaine or other plants to germinate in the last couple of months.

The last project, the most ongoing and lifestyle affecting one, has been well covered here. Bottom line: Joy and I both still regularly (>>4x each week, average) ride our commutes, and typically other trips, on our scooters. My car, now fully paid-off, gets very little driving, outside of trips to the airport and other beyond-scooter travel distances. By contrast, I've put over 2600 miles onto my scooter since March; Joy almost 1000 since May. Yes, I do tend to gloat whenever someone brings up the price of gas.

Anyone have any other fun environmental-friendly projects to suggest?


July 14, 2005

Carbon neutral?

I ran across this Wired Article on a new business venture that lets common consumers buy their carbon back. What caught my eye was the interesting note: every gallon of gas burned results in 20lbs. of carbon dioxide added to the air.

At first, this struck me as impossible, since I went and looked up the weight of 1 gallon of gasoline: 8.66lbs. Then Joy reminded me of my chemistry, and that the rest of the weight comes from the Oxygen that binds in. So, you take a fairly simple hydrocarbon chain, and you replace the hydrogens (molecular weight ~1) with Oxygens (molecular weight ~16). Heptane (see the hydrocarbon link, with 16 Hydrogens to 7 carbons, burned ideally produces 7 CO2 molecules. So, it's not too hard to see how such a great weight of CO2 gets released. Fortunately, there's a lot of air out there, but not so much that we aren't still increasing carbon in the air.

The market model for dealing with this is an interesting one. I'm probably going to buy a TerraPass or two, to buy back my carbon, effectively making me “carbon neutral”, and, in effect, fund development of carbon-reducing technologies. Ironically, because of my scooter, I drive my car in the range that they sell a “Hybrid” pass for, even though my 2001 sedan only gets about 26 mpg. Frankly, between how little I drive my car, and the better mileage of my scooter, and living in an area that generally doesn't need much heating and cooling, my carbon footprint is probably pretty good compared to many in the US... but still pathetic. More on this as I can figure out real numbers for it.

I like the concept of pounds of carbon dioxide... mostly because, yes, it sounds a lot worse than it (directly, at least) is. You can play games all day, but it's still interesting to think how my commute puts an average of about 5 lbs. of CO2 in the atmosphere each day. If I did the same commute in an SUV, it'd be more like 20lbs.

More thinking on this needs to be done, though. On the TerraBlog, one of the posts observes how much power is generated by humans, say, on a bike race. Unfortunately, even that isn't a fair comparison - how much more CO2 are those bikers breathing out than they would be if they weren't producing the excess work? What's the ratio of human CO2/mile vs. the CO2/mile of my scooter (~0.37lb/mile) vs. that of a SUV (~1.5lb/mile)?

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May 12, 2005

Amazon Waste: Why we have a trash problem in the first world

Dude, this is absurd. I ordered a Memory Stick Pro Duo 1Gb from Amazon, to use with my PSP.

It comes, in a huge box. Here's a set of photos to describe how absurd this is.

Unopened box from Amazon A selection of what was inside... The actual packaging of the Memory Stick The delivered products Perspective with box

February 10, 2005

Environmental talk

Just attended a pretty compelling talk at PARC Forum on the environment. My summary of the speaker's points (but read the detail anyway):

We must do solar, big, and we have to justify it for non-economic reasons, because there’s not going to be a shortage of actual fuel available before there’s a huge climate shift from all the extra C in the atmosphere.

My full notes here

February 01, 2005

Building a growing column...

originally uploaded by bpendleton.

More info in the initial set view at Flickr. (No, it's not done yet. I was trying to explain the weird pics I've been putting up on Flickr. I'll post again when we've got one or two of these together)

January 31, 2005


After finding out about Stevia here (it's a potent naturally sweet plant), Joy and I have been pursuing further information. It's not all conclusive, though some of it does make you wonder if there's a conspiracy against a natural easy to cultivate, sweet plant, and a gross, tumor-inducing alternative.

Anyway, we picked up some of the powder and concentrated drops at a local speciality store, and have to say, it is sweet. So far, we've only made lemonade, but it did a fine job at that. I'm now looking for a place to find a plant, to perhaps add to another ongoing project I expect to post more about soon.

Anyone who reads this ever heard of Stevia/have any experiences?

October 22, 2004

On worm bins and environmentalism...

It occurred to me last night while talking with honeyfields that I hadn't really posted on my recent pursuits to move my lifestyle a little further down the environmentally-friendly axis.

Joy and I both kind of generally want to make our lives more efficient. So, we've push ideas back and forth at each other for ways to make improvements that will stick. For instance, there's the whole eGO life-style change, with its various trials and tribulations. We both had small gardens (mostly in pots, though, since we both live in apartments this year), and we've begun using canvas bags to carry our groceries when we go shopping. It should be noted that all of these approaches have tangible benefits (eGOs can take paths that cars can't, often improving navigation/arrival times; home grown veggies just rock in general, especially fresh spices; canvas bags are much easier to carry, and most stores give you a few pennies back each time you use them, so they're also, eventually, free). But, in truth, most of these methods have a long pay-off, or a noticeable impact on one's lifestyle. It's not for everyone, though I'm happy to bring along converts where I can - there's a much less tangible emotional effect to knowing you're doing the “right thing” more of the time.

Enter the most recent pursuit: composting. As previously mentioned, I live in an apartment. Most people would assume that composting in an apartment would be a big hassle, and I had, too. Joy wasn't so phased, though, and uncovered a whole discipline of composting that's very do-able in an apartment... even indoors, if you want. It's called vermicomposting, or, in plain english, composting using worms.

Basically, you use one of two species of redworms, an earthworm, but not the same kind you find in your yard, to munch on all of your leftover organic kitchen waste. You can set up a habitat that will encourage a large population of them to thrive in a relatively small bin. The system needs to be kept in balance, but, once going, they're quite efficient at eating leftovers. Unlike normal composting, the worm bin can be pretty small and self contained - you don't need much room to turn it, nor do you have to worry particularly much about infestations, smells, etc., if you stick to the general recommended operating instructions. What you get is worm droppings, kind of like really-enriched soil, which can be used to liven up your garden, or mixed in with soil in potted plants, or whatever else you might need an enriched soil/fertilizer product for. They're really efficient at it, too... a worm population will consume about half its weight in waste in a day. You start a bin with 1 pound of worms, and their population can double a couple of times even in a small system - so, once you've got things going, you can feed them quite a bit of your waste, rather than throwing it away.

Joy and I both started bins a little over a month ago, and seem to have, so far, managed to keep our worms alive and eating. We both got the San Mateo county subsidized worm bins, which make it really easy to keep the system moving once you get it going, and have already seen a bunch of kitchen waste we'd've otherwise thrown away disappear. In the meantime, we've been happily watering our plans with the “liquid fertilizer” runoff of the worm bins. Neat stuff.

Anyway, I'll leave further comments on the worm bin to a future post, but I have a few worm links on my feed, as well as more general ecofriendly links, in case anyone feels like reading up more on their own.