Category Archives: Going Green

A day at Comstock Ferre

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I was drawn in by the lure of the seed catalog this winter.  About six weeks ago, my mother handed me one from a Connecticut seed company: Comstock, Ferre & Co. based in Wethersfield, Connecticut.  The glamour shots of heirloom vegetables coupled with old timey drawings were enough to live in, never mind the descriptions that made me want to place an order for 14 types of tomatoes despite my lack of garden space.  I read the magazine cover to cover.

“I have to talk to these people,” I said to myself later as I idly flipped the pages.  I poked around on their website and contacted Randel Agrella, the store manager to see if he would be up for giving me a guided tour.  And he was!  I waited several weeks for their busy season to pass, but through the magic of the internet, you get the benefit of Randel’s expertise right now.

And expert he is.  Randel came up to Connecticut to manage the store from Mansfield, Missouri where Comstock’s parent company Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is located.  Baker Creek bought Comstock two years ago, though as Randel put it, “Someone has been selling seeds on this spot since 1811.”  Talk about a local company.

When I walked into Comstock, I felt that history wash over me.  The building is a big old house and barn converted into a store, with space for meeting rooms, New England artisan-crafted wares, hundreds and hundreds of kinds of seeds, an attached greenhouse, and even a funny little room full of old farm machinery that Randel told me they’re hoping to expand into a kind of living history museum.  Sounds good to me!

Randel gave me a quick tour, stopping off at the at the counter where they package the seed shipments using old seed scoops, at the greenhouse where his own personal business Abundant Acres rents space to grow seedlings to ship out across the country, and at the outdoor demonstration gardens next to the Belden House, also owned by the company.

Randel told me that the demonstration gardens are laid out in raised beds over existing an parking lot.  “You literally can’t get worse soil than this,” he said, “so if we can grow here, anyone can grow in any soil.”  He also let me in on company owner Jere Gettle’s plans: to turn Comstock into a destination for heirloom and historic farming and gardening information in conjunction with creating a nonprofit organization.  Big ideas for a seed company that specializes in region-appropriate plant varieties!

This was all enough to get me interested in Comstock, but the real reason I knocked on their door was to find out about the legal action Comstock Ferre, Baker Creek, and Abundant Acres (in addition to 80 other companies, individuals, and family farms) are taking against Monsanto.  If you don’t know, Monsanto is the GMO giant that is putting pesticides into our food without telling us, and suing the farmers whose crops are cross-pollinated with genetically modified seeds when they didn’t purchase the GM seeds in the first place.  Monsanto is not your friend.

The lawsuit would prevent Monsanto from suing farmers who accidentally grow genetically modified food thanks to crop seeds’ persistent habit of spreading via wind.  (Darn those seeds!  If only they would behave…).  Unfortunately, a judge dismissed the case but our friendly neighborhood farms are filing an appeal to have the judge’s ruling overturned.

What does this mean for us?  It means that someone is standing up to Monsanto, which gives me hope that maybe they can be stopped from contaminating all of our food supplies with genetically modified foods.  In the meantime, the idea that we should be labeling GMO foods is gaining support in Connecticut, thanks in part to Comstock Ferre.

I asked Randel where they get their seeds (answer: the open market and independent growers) and how they know they are not genetically modified seeds.  He said that they test all of their corn varieties, which is the main one to worry about, though he thinks they should be testing the beets too because beets are a widely-used sugar crop.  Other than that, all 255 of Comstock’s seeds and the 1400+ from Baker Creek are heirloom and non-GMO varieties.

Although I didn’t receive anything in return for this blog post, I didn’t leave empty handed.  I picked up a few seed packets to attempt to grow something in the dirt around my apartment, and the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog.  Fun fact: Baker Creek has a full time vegetable photographer on staff.  What a dream job!

And so concludes this epic post on my local seed company, an awesome small business that is putting the fun back in farming.  Why don’t you go drool awhile over the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog, or peruse the Comstock Ferre website to see if you can attend their 2nd annual heirloom seed festival this June?  I’ll be puttering around outside, shooing the dogs from my growing kale and parsley, and daydreaming of those 14 tomato varieties.  Sigh.  Some day.

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©2012 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I had a blast fondling the local yarn they sell at Comstock Ferre, and though I took a picture of it for you, I figured maybe I should leave it out of the blog post.  Oh hell, I can’t.  Here it is:

You’re welcome!

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Compost!

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This winter has hardly been bleak here in the northeastern U.S.  Temperatures fluctuate into spring weather every few days, and I spied some green shoots (crocuses?  daffodils?) poking up by the side of the house a month and a half early.  I heard the weather woman say we’ve had a mere 7.5 inches (19.05cm) of snow this winter — down from last year’s abundant 60+ inches (1.5+ m).

It’s not glum here, not really.  It’s the dearth of growing things that makes the winter gray.  And this teasing, unseasonable warmth!  I can’t bear to think that planting season won’t start for another two months.

Then I remembered my compost last week, that glorious bin of kitchen waste that is turning into black gold over rotations of earth and sky.  It is superb.

I had forgotten it because, with three of us in the house and occasional contributions from the neighbors, my bin became too wet.  I added leaves and shredded brown paper when I could, but couldn’t keep up with the amount of kitchen scraps we add daily.  The compost was rotting.  I didn’t want to look at another lifeless object, especially one under my care that should have been growing and changing into beautiful dirt.

And then one golden day, a kind soul on Craigslist posted free sawdust from his furniture making shop, unadulterated and in large quantities.  It was just what I needed.  I emailed him immediately, and then tricked Mr. Savvy into driving out and carrying three enormous trash barrel sized bags of sawdust back to the car.  Three!  I couldn’t stop giggling.  Moving each bag was like trying to carry a slippery, unruly chub of a dog.

We came home.  My eyes may have been bigger than my stomach because one bag of sawdust filled the compost bin to the brim.  Don’t tell Mr. Savvy.

Over the next month, the compost bin grew alive.  It was no longer a pile of wet, stinking vegetables that froze every night as temperatures dipped.  It became something warm and sweet smelling.  The sawdust settled as we mixed in more banana peels and eggshells and coffee grounds and onion skins.  The pile is doing what it promised: changing from garbage to earth before my eyes.  It is beautiful.

My compost’s life cycle is slow.  As I watch and wait for it with the patience of a tender young plant, I realize it satisfies my yearning for growth and life — yes, even in the dead of winter.

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©2012 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where my neighbor caught just as I was photographing the compost bin, but luckily he knows me too well to think anything strange about it.

The Clean Bin Project: Documentary Film and Butt Kicker

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My friend Jen emailed me a few weeks ago asking for help finding green organizations in my area that she could contact about her upcoming documentary screening. Because in case being a non-consumer for a year and generating no trash wasn’t treehuggery enough, Jen and her partner-in-crime Grant made a documentary about their year long experiment, firmly placing the two of them into the category of Eco Rockstars.

So I did what any loudmouth know-it-all would do and emailed her back with a few organizations to try as well as a link to Idealist.  In return, Jen gave me free tickets to the screening closest to me.  To be frank, she went above and beyond any helpfulness on my part.  Tickets to a movie screening from the filmmaker herself in exchange for a few links?  I hit the green lottery, my friends.

I skidded into the darkened movie theater just as The Clean Bin Project: Documentary Film began rolling last weekend, and sat down among the 20 or so other moviegoers who were eating their popcorn and sipping their sodas and murmuring to their friends.  Over the course of the movie, we watched Jen and Grant explain the project.  We watched them struggle to find retailers who would give them rubbish free groceries.  We watched Jen grow a garden and compost and make personal care products, and the two of them research ways of reducing trash and learn about what garbage is doing to the environment.

If you thought the Clean Bin Project blog was comprehensive, you should check out the movie.  Not only do you feel the desire to do something good for the planet, but you gain the kick in the pants that you otherwise wouldn’t get when you’re sitting home alone in your pajamas reading the blog to yourself and eating cheese (not that I have ever done that).  Because what’s better than realizing you’re killing the planet with your plastic soda cup than realizing you’re killing the planet with your plastic soda cup while in a roomful of people?

Seriously.  There came a point in the movie when Jen and Grant showed the work of artist Chris Jordan, who uses everyday disposable objects in art.  It was a piece showing 1 million plastic cups, the number of cups used on airline flights in the US every six hours.  What look like pipes snake across the image, but then we zoom in and see that they are not pipes at all, but a horrifying number of plastic cups stacked one inside another .  Every six hours?  We saw that and people in the audience began murmuring.  They fiddled with their drinks and rustled their now-empty popcorn bags, and I knew they were feeling guilty.  I even pulled out my trusty notebook and wrote it down in the middle of the film:

“Looking at the artwork and people are gasping, about half have popcorn and soda cups and water bottles.  Wonder how many people will stop using disposables or think twice in the future.”

(Yes, I bring my notebook to movies.  I’d show you, but it’s in reporter chicken scratch.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.)

I felt a moment of smug-awesome for having brought my water bottle, but it lasted only a moment.  Because while I am a bit green, Jen and Grant take it to a whole new level.  They do public speaking.  They started a garden.  They competed to see who could produce less garbage and made a documentary, for pete’s sake.

The whole thing was eco friendly and intense in that fun sort of “OH MY GOD I’M EATING POPCORN FROM A DISPOSABLE BAG,” sort of way.  Like you realize you could do so much more than you ever thought.

I recommend The Clean Bin Project Documentary for anyone who has ever had a squidgy feeling about plastic forks and knives, for anyone who has thought that the plastic packaging in grocery stores is getting ridiculous.  For anyone who has ever wanted to do more.  Go for it.  If you have the time and mental energy to think about reducing trash, go for it, because the rewards go beyond what you can do for yourself.  What’s the harm in doing it for the planet too?

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©2011 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I got my rear in gear this weekend and I’m doing more, gosh darnit.  It’s such a privilege to be able to think about reducing my waste.  All images courtesy of the Clean Bin Project’s press page.

Eco-friendly Things You Would Have Thought Had Already Been Invented

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This is a representative kazoo. This is not my kazoo.

I can’t believe that no one has thought of a bamboo kazoo yet.  I think I need one.  I had to get rid of my last kazoo once I found out it was moldy, and when mold may or may not cause the migraines, you tend to want to get rid of anything that’s moldy right away, especially something that is used directly in or on your airway (speaking of myself, of course.  Your moldy mileage may vary).  So I got rid of my fantastic, plastic, purple kazoo that lasted all the way back from when I was in the madrigals choir in high school.  It was a hardcore kazoo.  I bought it myself.  Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I cleaned it before donating it.

But I can’t bring myself to buy another plastic kazoo.  I can’t bring myself to spend actual dollars on new plastic.  Used plastic, sure — but I don’t want to buy a used kazoo that may also be from a moldy home.  Please.  I have standards here.

Enter bamboo kazoo.  It even rhymes!  Look at that marketing.

On Googling it, I found out there’s something called the Bamboo Kazoo, but it’s plastic and has something vaguely to do with religion?  I’m not sure.  It’s definitely not what I’m looking for.

Then there’s the How to Make a Wooden Kazoo instructions.  Add a point for being made of bamboo.  Subtract a point for using plastic wrap.

I see Melissa and Doug make a wooden kazoo.  It’s not bamboo.  Is it all wood, or is that red piece plastic?  I’m skeptical.  I’d have to try it out.

And there’s one lonely wood kazoo on Etsy, which most unfortunately does not have the distinctive kazoo shape, which is half the fun.  Although, come to think of it, this one would fit nicely in the breast pocket of a suit jacket, which is just where I’d keep mine so that Mr. Savvy and I could go to weddings and I could whip it out of his pocket and people would be surprised and ask me, “where do you keep a kazoo in that dress?”

Edit: My brother just walked by and told me that it’s called the Bamboo Kazoo because there’s a panda on it.  Clearly.

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©2011 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where this should be a Kickstarter project.  Image courtesy of Beige Alert.

How to Clean Up a Beach

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I decided that Mr. Savvy and I were going to do something good on Earth Day this year.  Good for the planet, I mean.  Connecticut’s GOT to have something going on, I thought.  Connecticut is not known for their earth friendliness the way Oregon or Vermont is.  Come on, what do you picture when I say, “Vermonters”?  A bunch of hippies and free spirits who don’t allow Walmart within their borders — that’s a common answer (and an awesome one, if I can stereotype for a moment.  Thanks, Vermonters!).  Now what about Connecticut?  The Insurance Capitol of the World, right?  Yeah.  That does not imply green fun.

I needed some environmental action, and with Earth Day on my side I found what I was looking for.  The group Citizens Campaign for the Environment had set up a cleanup day at an urban beach in New Haven, so all I had to do was call and let them know we were coming.

It was serendipitous.  And rainy.

It was also my first beach cleanup.  I can be shy when it comes to strangers, so I was nervous.  I thought the challenging part would be working with the other environmentalists.

I was wrong.  Meeting everyone was easy.  A common interest will do that.  Add in a really uncomfortable, cold, wet day and you’ll get a group of people laughing with each other like old friends.

No, the hard part was keeping my spirits up as I reached for bits of plastic.  Over and over, we picked up brittle plastic bags and eroding styrofoam cups, plastic straws, bottle caps, potato chip bags, and old receipts.  I found a hat — an entire Life is Good hat — abandoned to the waves.  Someone else hauled up a carpet from between the rocks.  An unopened container of Pringles.  Soda cans, forgotten toys,  fast food cup tops and fishing twine.  It was overwhelming.  It never stopped.

We worked.  I thought about the single-use medical gloves we were using, and the fact that we were putting plastic garbage into plastic bags.  I thought about how Long Wharf beach is across the street from IKEA, the leader in disposable furniture.  I thought about how easy it was to overlook the bits of plastic in the sand.  We are trained not to look at it anymore, and we had to refocus and reach for it instead of ignoring it like everyday.  And we still missed things.  Mr. Savvy and I followed along behind a group of volunteers, picking up the bits they missed.  Then another group followed us, filling their own trash bag.  Find anything good? we called.  Jackpot! they answered.

At the end of the event, we made it through about half of the 3/4 mile long beach with an enormous pile of trash.   Too bad we didn’t have a scale to weigh it out.

I’m glad we went.  I had fun with this group of like-minded people.  Were we taking part “conspicuous conservation“?  Sure — we were doing something green in an attempt to get people to notice.  I would say that all environmental action is going to be conspicuous for the sole fact that not everyone does it.  If we want to make it the norm, we have to be conspicuous about it.

Beyond that, I’m looking at plastic waste with fresh eyes.  I spent a lot of time reaching for seashells instead of styrofoam and seaweed instead of plastic.  Too much time.  As Beth Terry (among others) has been saying for years, plastic looks like sea life.  No wonder our animals are dying from it.

Mr. Savvy and I ended the day in the supermarket on the lookout for something warm.  We passed displays of potato chips and I thought about chip bags full of live mussels and seaweed.  We saw grocery carts piled high with soda, and I pictured those plastic bottles half buried in the sand, bottle caps strewn to the wind.  People were buying cellophane-wrapped tulips and netted, tin-foiled hams, and cigarette cartons and lottery tickets and filmy produce bags full of bananas and mangoes, and it all looked absurd.

Between the two of us, we came away with a pound of coffee in its crinkly plastic packaging.  I can make this better, I said.  I’m with you, Mr. Savvy replied.

How was your Earth Day?

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©2011 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where as we picked up garbage, I felt a lot like the Disney cartoon character WALL-E.  Someone on the writing team for that movie must have participated in a beach cleanup before.  

Out of Sight, Out of Mind, and In Our Bodies Too

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I recently spent some time on the roof of a local sewage treatment plant.

Does that statement make you smile?  It makes me smile.  I picked up a job as a freelance news reporter for one of the local newspapers this month, and I’ve been running all over the area following stories.  I never pictured myself climbing up the side of buildings for one.

Which is exactly what I did this week.  Some of the recent hubbub around here is about the local wastewater treatment plant upgrading its systems and adding new representatives to their board of directors.  Like a dutiful reporter, I headed over to the Mattabassett District facility to snag a few pictures and chat with the executive director of the District, Brian Armet.

While we were talking, Brian said some smart things — things you and I have heard already.  “Your average citizen in this town has no idea if they’re connected to this facility.  Some people don’t know if they have a septic system or not,” he said.  “People don’t want to know where their wastewater goes.

Out of sight, out of mind.

It’s the same way with garbage.  No one wants to think about what happens to the things they flush or throw away.  This lack of knowledge helps keep our society stuck in a rut of single-use disposables and careless consumption.

I wonder what would happen if we all had trash and compost heaps out back, or let our garbage pile up in the streets the way we used to.  We would have to look at and smell our waste all day.  Would we reduce more? I’d like to think yes, but our collective inability to take action probably makes that a no.

At the plant, Brian and I also talked about the future.  We talked using the nitrogen from human waste as fertilizer on gardens and crops.  It’s not readily practiced around here — and it’s controversial because of the pathogens in human waste, and all the other stuff that our bodies now excrete.  We put too many chemicals on our skin, we take too much medicine, we eat meat treated with artificial hormones.  What goes in must come out, and unfortunately, this stuff does not break down or go away.  We keep passing it from place to place, food to body to environment.  Now our sewage treatment places are dealing with an overload of artificial chemicals.

While we wait for technology to catch up enough to deal with this deluge, we stop putting so much garbage into our bodies and slow the chemical output:  Eat hormone-free meat.  Use natural cleaners like vinegar and use natural body care products from people you trust.  Put your food in glass instead of plastic.  Reconsider using hormonal birth control, and eat slow foods so that you don’t get sick as often.  You’ve heard it all before.

I think one person can make a difference.  I keep saying this because I keep thinking about it as I reconsider what the heck we’re doing here.  And I keep coming back to the same conclusion: one person can make a difference.  So gear up, adopt a new habit, and talk to your friends.  That’s how these changes are made.

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©2011 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where it’s pretty hard to live some place as beautiful as that second photo and not have a deep respect for the planet.  The photo in question is of the gardens at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT.  They don’t use human fertilizer on their gardens (as far as I know), but I love that photo and I’d love to know more about their growing practices.

The Best We Can Do

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There’s a rumor going around that people who drive hybrid cars are more likely to commit eco sins.  They’re more likely to litter, from what I hear, or drive faster, or more annoyingly.  Hybrid drivers are just plain annoying.  That’s what I hear.

When I first heard that rumor, I thought that it was a load of bunk.  People have a tendency to be mean to those who aren’t in the majority, and I figured this was their way of looking down at “snooty environmentalists.”

Then I started to wonder if there wasn’t a grain of truth in it — that perhaps hybrid drivers gave themselves a pass on certain things because they figured that driving a hybrid canceled out any other damage. Or perhaps they thought they knew what was best for the environment and stopped learning new things and questioning old methods.

I’ll tell you right now, Reader, it’s that last idea.  I don’t have a hybrid, but this week I stopped questioning.  Mr. Savvy and I were taking the trash out when he noticed me putting a broken camp chair into a trash bag.

“What is that?” he wanted to know.

“That broken camp chair that’s no good to sit in,” I said, “I was going to get a bulky item tag for it, but it fits into a town trash bag, and I figured it was  time to throw it away.”  It had been sitting on our porch for months, unrepairable but waiting to be tossed — another one of those planned obsolescence items we had purchased before adopting a greener lifestyle.

Mr. Savvy picked up the trash can.  “Oh,” he said over his shoulder as he walked down to the curb, “is that the best we can do?”

What a simple question: Is that the best we can do?  I thought it was.  I thought about it all evening before I went to bed, and how even though the chair wasn’t any good, there were still good parts on it.  In the morning before the garbage truck arrived, I crept down to the curb, retrieved the camp chair, and did a little surgery.  I cut off the camp chair fabric and stuffed it into the existing garbage bag, thereby saving the new one I had used solely for the chair.   I can recycle the chair frame, since it’s mostly metal, and as soon as I haul out the sewing machine, the bag cover will become a reusable grocery bag that can fit into a purse (similar to these Envirosax bags).   That, my friend, is the best I can do.

Except for the part where next time, I’ll try to remember to ask myself, “Is that the best we can do?” BEFORE garbage day.  I should have that tattooed somewhere.

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where Mr. Savvy and I keep each other in check er… I mean moving forward.  Image courtesy of J. McPherson.

The Scoop on Recycling Propane

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[Editor’s Note: I have managed to strategically mislocate my camera.  No, that’s not the same thing as losing it.  Sheesh!  When I unmislocate the camera, I will be sure to post a picture of our itty bitty grill.  Apologies for the inconvenience.]

We splurged this weekend and picked up a small propane travel grill.  Very small — the type meant for camping so that we can take it with us wherever we go.  It uses the little one pound propane tanks, little disposable, nonrefillable one pound tanks.

Ugh.

I hate things that are disposable.  You should have seen the deliberation process for this one after we found that out.  We talked to the salesperson, looked at a larger propane grill that uses a refillable tank, looked at this one again, went home, researched propane recycling options, called three different recycling places, hemmed and hawed, and finally purchased it two hours later.  Yeah, it was a process.

It’s all because of propane, that more-than-slightly harmless flammable liquid that is heavier than air  — the one that causes things to combust and explode.  Go propane!  It’s for this reason that propane tanks are categorized as household hazardous waste, and cannot be disposed of in the trash, although many places won’t take them in for recycling.

Thankfully, if you have a big enough grill, you can refill the tank and feel good about minimizing your environmental footprint.  There’s a catch, though: only propane tanks with a safety valve can be refilled.  This excludes small propane tanks like the ones we use for our new grill.  Depending on where you live, you can use the small tank until it’s empty and then chuck it in the trash.  And away it goes!

Only not really.  You and I both know these things don’t go “away” and disappear.  Someone has to deal with them after you’ve tossed them out.  In our case, I called our transfer station to see where they went.  The woman who answered the phone was surprised; apparently she doesn’t get this type of phone call very often.

“You can bring those small ones here and we’ll recycle them,” she said.

“Oh, really?” I asked, surprised.  This was good news.  “How?”

“A company comes and takes them away,” she said.  “I’m not sure what they do with them.”  A pause, then, “Do you want me to find out?”

I smiled.  “Yes, I do want you to find out, please. That would be great,” I said to her.

After a few minutes on hold, the woman came back.  “The company is the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, and they come by and pick up all the tanks we have here, bring them to their facility and drain them of propane.”  She was very helpful.

“Oh, that’s excellent,” I said, frantically jotting down the information.  “And what does this company do with the tanks after they’re empty?”

The woman paused again.  What can I say?  I’m persistent about these things.

“I mean, do they recycle the small tanks or is there some way to refill them and they do that?” I pressed.

The woman didn’t know.  However, she gave me their name again so I could find out for myself.  I called the Northeast Resource Recovery Association and repeated my query.  The woman who answered the phone was confused.

“Yes, we drain the cylinders,” she said.

“And what do you do with the empty tanks afterwards?” I asked.

“Um… why do you want to know?” the woman asked.

I laughed.  I hope she didn’t think I was laughing at her.  It just makes me a little punchy once I realize that not many people care about these things, so the questions come off as strange.  “I’m looking to buy a propane grill that uses the small one pound tanks, and I want to make sure they don’t end up in a landfill somewhere.  I’d like to know if you all refill the small tanks or if you break them down for recycling.”

“Oh, right!” the woman sounded relieved.

One transfer, a conversation about a coffee shop, and five minutes later, I found out that this particular company drains the propane from the tanks (presumably for refilling the larger tanks — I forgot to ask) and cuts down the small propane tanks to melt down the steel.  It’s high-quality stuff, this steel.  I’m glad to see they’re not letting it go to waste.

So these are your options when buying a propane gas grill: get a tank that can be refilled, because most hardware stores have a refilling station right there, OR get a small propane grill that uses small tanks and call around to your transfer station and every other place you know trying to see how this whole process works.  It’s not a perfect process (recycling the small steel tanks uses more resources than just refilling them), but it’s a better option than tossing them in the trash, or even better than buying a charcoal grill.

What’s your preferred method for summer grilling?

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where our little barbecue was accompanied by a poetry reading in our very own backyard.  I love June.

Interview with The Clean Bin Project

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I just know you’ve been hankering for an interview to read.  Luckily, Jen CleanBin at The Clean Bin Project obliged.  If you haven’t heard about Jen, Grant, and Rhyannon’s quest to live without producing waste for an entire year, then you are missing out!  I’ve been following along with them for most of the project, and now that they’ve finished up their year without waste, I’m looking forward to the documentary they’re making.  What I especially love is that the whole thing snowballed after starting with the idea that they didn’t need to buy any more Stuff.  Now with that teaser in mind, here’s Jen on the subject of living simply:

1.  What is your definition of simple living?

Hmmm, that term always makes me think of living in a streamlined, clutter-free apartment (which is the opposite of where I live).  In truth, I think it’s about being happy without the encumbrance of excessive material possessions.

2.  How do you and Grant practice simple living while simultaneously creating as little waste as possible?  Was this more or less challenging during the year the project took place?

I would not describe my lifestyle as simple living – we always seem to have a ton of things going on, a bunch of ‘to do’ lists piling up, and a basement full of “stuff” – but our project did teach us to find satisfaction from things beyond material goods.  Striving for zero waste surprisingly did make our lives simpler.   We simply didn’t buy any “stuff.”  It didn’t reduce our quality of life, and I’d even say that having specific rules made it easier.  I didn’t have to think about whether a shirt was fair trade, organic, locally made, etc – I just couldn’t buy it, period.

3.  Have you seen an impact on your local community, the places you frequent, and the people you see regularly because they know you don’t like trash?

Definitely.  Lots of our friends have been inspired to change their habits and are now doing things like using reusable lunch containers or bags.  I often have people approach me wanting to share stories about how they are reducing their waste.  On the other hand, sometimes I feel that a wave of guilt goes through the room when we show up at someone else’s house.  We’ve had numerous friends apologize out of the blue for the waste they’re creating as if we’re the “garbage judges”- that’s not our intent at all.

4.  Can you tell us a little about your upcoming documentary and what you hope to achieve when it comes out?

I’m really excited that I can finally say our documentary is almost done!  We will be having our first showing at the end of May in Vancouver.  Then we’ll be cycling across Canada, showing it in different communities and hopefully sparking engaged discussion about garbage and consumption. In the States, we’ll eventually be entering film festivals and hosting community screenings.  Our film is a semi-comedic look at living zero waste.  We don’t want people to feel hopeless and paralyzed thinking about large scale environmental issues; we want them to feel inspired to take personal action. If our film inspired just one person to reduce their waste, I’d consider it a success.

5.  The Clean Bin Project looks intimidating!  What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on trying to produce less garbage?

Just pick one thing and be really dedicated to it.  Maybe it’s saying no to plastic bags or giving up take out coffee cups.  It doesn’t have to be big.  Once it becomes habit, you can move on to the next thing.

6.  What books and/or blogs would you recommend to Simple Savvy readers?

A lot of people think our project was too easy because we don’t have kids.  I like to read My Zero Waste because they show that it is possible with children. Beth at Fake Plastic Fish and Taina at Plastic Manners are the best resources on how to how to live without plastic.  Books that changed the way I think include Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver); The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollen); and Made to Stick (Chip and Dan Heath).  I’m also a sucker for realistic fiction, but that’s another story.

Thanks, Jen!  What great answers — I love that even though you’re not purposely trying to live a simple life, it worked out that way in the end for you two.  Readers, if you’re interested in more about the project, be sure to check out The Clean Bin Project Blog, the documentary, and facebook page!

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where The Clean Bin Project is one of the blogs that helped me get started on this venture.  Images courtesy of The Clean Bin Project Facebook Page.

Talking to Kids About Climate Change

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Two weeks ago, a fourth grader and I sat down to read a book about the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  We got to the part of the book where the T-Rexes were dying out.

“They all died at once, right?” he said.

“No,” I said, pointing to the sentence we had just read.  “They died out over millions of years.”

“But how could that happen?” he said.

And so we talked about the idea of a population spreading so far out that individual dinosaurs couldn’t find enough mates, and therefore have babies.  It was an abstract concept for a fourth grader.  After all, he already knew what happened next for the dinosaurs.  So we talked about the same situation with humans instead — as in, what if some catastrophe happened and humans started dying out slowly, and couldn’t find another person to have a baby with?  Could he see then how a population could die out?

We paused.  I could practically see the wheels in the boy’s head turning.  He was processing the information that something as huge as a t-rex, a hundred t-rexes, could just die — just because, with no apparent reason.  He made that extraordinary leap that kids do sometimes, and applied it to humans.  He was envisioning all the humans dying out too.

I grew a little scared — mostly because I knew this was a possibility in the future, and I didn’t want to scare him.  But also because I didn’t know if it was in my purview to talk to him about global warming and dinosaurs and death. I waited to see what he would say.

And then, bless his beautiful, childlike heart, he said, “But who would take care of the Earth if humans weren’t around?  The dinosaurs took care of the Earth when they were alive, and then they died and now humans take care of it.”

Reader, I almost cried.  In the moment before I corrected this idea, I had a hundred thoughts: I wished this was true, that humans actually did take care of the Earth.  I thought about telling him that humans were, in fact, destroying the Earth with our boats and trucks and oil drilling and plastics.  I thought about telling him that Planet Earth would probably be much happier without humans mucking everything up.

I also envisioned explaining the truth to him, that we could do something to change all of this, and that it was going to be hard work but together we could do it.  And then, in one glorious instant, I realized that what I was teaching him at that very moment would probably shape his entire future.  That if he learned about global warming now, he could become a lifelong environmental activist.  I could teach him.

I told him, “If all the humans died too, the Earth would take care of itself.”

He said, “But the plants need things that are alive to take care of them.”

And I responded, “The plants take care of each other.  Plants are alive too — not in the way that humans are alive.  They don’t move, they don’t walk.  But they’re alive, and they support each other.”

He accepted that answer without further questions, and read on.

I’m not sure if I dodged a bullet there, or missed a golden opportunity.  What do you think?  Have you ever tried to talk to kids about global warming?

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I’m always surprised by the intelligence of children.  Image courtesy of Cuppojoe.