Green Tuesday: Beyond recycling

First of all, I’m no environmentalist by any means, I believe that helping the environment is a ‘side effect’ of bike commuting. But lately I’ve been posing this question to myself and others: “What do you think about the environment and does it concern you?” The answer I get is: “Well, I recycle” but there’s not much of a concern.

We also get bombarded with “Green” products from all kinds of companies, in fact, there is a term for it: ‘green washing’. We can also assume that we may not see the full blown effects of global warming in our life times, so there’s no sense of urgency.

So I guess the questions are, should we be concerned? should we do more to help the environment?


  1. Ghost Rider

    There are so many little things that people could do easily and not even break a sweat:

    -aggressive recycling…making sure anything recyclable is out of the trashbag

    -composting kitchen scraps

    -consuming less overall and making smart choices when you do need to buy something

    -combining vehicle trips, or better yet, doing the local errands by bike

    -seeking out “green” housecleaning and personal hygeine products when the old products run out. There is some GOOD stuff on the market these days, and it’s not so bad for the waste stream as older products.

    I could go on and on!!! But these are a few of my favorites. Got a beautiful compost heap in my backyard that also provides juicy earthworms for when I go fishing in the river.

  2. Evan

    Yes we should be concerned! In fact we NEED to be concerned and we NEED to be doing more!

    For me riding a bike is not just a side-effect that helps the environment but part of a conscious lifestyle commitment to make the world a better place. (Of course it’s also just plain fun!)

    Putting stuff in the blue bin makes everyone feel like they’re doing their part, and it’s a great start. But what we really need is for people to change their habits.

    Our country has become addicted to a lifestyle that shows little concern for environmental sustainability. We live in a consumer culture where people buy things and then throw them away. We need people to stop and think if they really need the stuff they buy.

    Once I started doing that, not only was I consuming less (and throwing less away), but I also started saving money!

  3. Pamela

    I think we should all be aware of the problem and at least give it a healthy dose of respect instead of dismissing it as most people tend to do. I think to make an impact is much harder than it should be for some families because our convenience is very precious. It’s much more convenient to heat or cool an entire 2000sq/ft house rather than individual rooms, and for some odd reason it’s much more convenient to drive 2km to work than just bike it.

    Whole communities need to make changes, and need to look past recycling. Biking back and forth to work really helps, looking out for nontoxic cleaners but also think hard about the food you eat and where it comes from. Agriculture, particularly livestock, is an incredible impact to our planet. Even “organic” produce is shipped from far off places creating tons of emissions. Look for local produce from local farms. Eat less meat. Buy wild salmon instead of farmed. So many simple things we can do, but we won’t because it’s not convenient.

  4. Iron Man

    I care about the environment of course, after all I bicycle outdoors. When doing so I want to be in beautiful places that are well cared for. If not I’d ride my trainer more often.

    Personally I’m not fully on board with global warming being a man made phenomenon. There’s good scientific debate on both sides of the issue, and I’m stuck in the middle. That being said I’ve found myself to be rather green for other reasons entirely. So while Al Gore and I may not agree, I don’t think I’m going to hack him off with my lifestyle … in fact I’m probably greener on a personal level than he is.

    For instance we do recycle, just because it makes so much doggone sense to me. I use florescent light bulbs because they last so long. I’m rather lazy and hate changing light bulbs. We compost our dead leaves because we have a garden and again I’m too lazy to cart them off (we get probably 25 bags worth each Fall). I don’t bag the grass because I don’t want to spend anymore time working on my lawn than I have to. I’m a cyclist, my pride is in my calf muscles not my lawn. And then there is the bike to work thing. Most of the “green” folks I know dream of riding a bike to work, but for some reason they only talk about it. We moved closer to where I work so I could bike everyday, which also put our family closer to where things are. So we drive less now. We keep our thermostat at 65 in the Winter and 80 in the Summer because we’re cheap.

    We could be greener I’m sure, but we are doing pretty good without even trying to be.

  5. Lance

    Second GR’s ideas. We reduced our trash output by about 80% over the past year by simply rinsing out containers, drying them, and placing them in the recycle bin.

    We put our trash out only once a month now, when it was every week before. Little things like this add up!

    Oh ya and thanks to all the a*sholes throwing trash out their windows on the drive home. That helps tons!

    I agree with Pamela too…EAT LESS MEAT!

  6. Jeff 'the veloteer'

    First point – there is no reason to believe that we will NOT see the effects of climate change during our lifetimes. If climate change is real (and scientific evidence is increasingly showing it is – visit then we could very well see the effects. If not us, certainly our children…and what sort of jerk would put that burden on their kids?

    Secondly, as Iron Man says, as cyclists, we are relient on having clean and suitable outdoor space to use for biking. If we continue to rape the earth the way we have been, covering every piece of vacant land with a strip mall or McMiniMansion housing development, then the air quality will plummet. Say hello to asthma (especially for the defenseless kids), lung cancer (from all that lovely carbon mon- and dioxide), diabetes, obesity – basically a significant DEcrease in quality of life.

    I love using a modification of Paschal’s wager for this argument: if climate change is real, and we do nothing about it = we are screwed. If climate change is NOT real, and we do modify our lifestyles to be less harmful to the earth = no harm, no foul. Why risk it?

    So, YES, we should care. After all, there is only one earth, whether you are biking on it or not. But as long as we think we can buy our way out of the problem, that simply isn’t the case. Less is more my friends.

    And now I step down from my soap box. Way to shake the bee-hive Moe 🙂

  7. 2whls3spds

    I was always taught to leave things in a better condition that I found them…that includes the earth…it is the only one we have WE had better take care of it! I have long been an advocate of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I start the process by purchasing the least processed and packaged products I can. Plastics are the least recycled of all forms of packaging. And all food that is packaged in plastic is packed in virgin plastic…


  8. Aaron

    Wild salmon is more green how? I was under the impression that it was only better due to the natural production of essential fatty acids for our own health, not the earths. Last I check fisheries and fish culture had a rather large impact in respects to sustainability.

    Culture of waste has spread about this earth primarily due to our model. It is shortsighted and irresponsible. I don’t mean to be judgmental but…it is.
    And we all are participating in this. I sometimes forget my bags when I go to the grocery store and I feel bad. I still put gas in a car a few times per month. I still buy products with packaging and foods from distant lands.

    I dream of my life Local. I dream of yearround produce from my own and my neighborhood land. I dream of communities supporting each other to develop and support their own needs and recognizing how hard that work will be.

    This system that we participate in is a choice. We choose to do this every moment of our lives. It is a conscious decision.

    I have been very idealistic in the past. Produced less waste and ate vegan in a more local way though I drove a lot at that time as well. I always seem to have some factor that detracts from being “the most green”.

    Life is complicated.

    Are you a robot or an alien?

  9. Ghost Rider

    Re: Farm-raised vs. wild salmon.

    One is better for the environment — farm-raised…can’t be overfished the way a wild stock can, and health-protecting additives aren’t used in the raising of these fish.

    One is better for people’s health — wild-caught…farm-raised salmon has a much higher possibility of mercury and PCB contamination, which resides in the fattier flesh of a farmed critter. Also, antibiotics and antifungals are crucial to maximize yields in pen-raised stocks, so you get a nice dose of those every time you eat ’em.

    Word on the street indicates that wild-caught steelhead trout is the way to go — not heavily fished, all the benefits of a natural life without being pumped full of contaminants. And, it tastes damn good!

  10. Gatsaag

    Read “State of Fear” by Michael Crichton. He makes a few good points. BUT: we have nothing to lose by looking after what we have. Waste not, want not.

  11. ragged claws

    I normally would not take it upon myself to correct someone in a forum like this, but I think it is important to clarify that Ironman is wrong when he implies above that there is significant uncertainty or “debate” in the scientific community about global warming. There is a vast consensus among scientists who study climatology and the environment that “Human activities . . . are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents . . . that absorb or scatter radiant energy. . . . [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations” as the United Nations Environmental Program and the World Metereological Organization has expressed it. Here in the United Stares, the National Academy of Sciences has stated plainly that “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.”In addition to these, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all issued similiar statements concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling. A quick survey of the scientific papers on the topic reveal overwhelming consent on these points.

    I mean it has gotten to the point that even George Bush talks about global warming as a human problem with human solutions.

    While there are debates about the pace of global warming, its effects and possible solutions, I think it is important to be clear on the point that there is no significant debate–outside of the Fox News editorial room– about whether or not man-made greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.

    The quotes above are from a Washington Post article on global warming by Naomi Oreskes that is worth a read:

  12. Mike C

    We do our part. We’re down to one (4cyl wagon) car, we bike (I commute), we recycle, bought into reduce, reuse, recycle a long time ago. Most of the house is converted to CFL lights as the incandecents have burnt out. We compost, and just dug up a pretty good sized portion of lawn to plant our own veggies, with an eye toward providing others in our neighborhood from any surplus we produce. Buy local and organic when we can, go to local farmer’s markets. We get grass fed organic beef from my ex’s family. Blah, blah, blah.

    If anyone asks, we definitely let them know what we’re doing, comment to others about our practices when conservation comes up in conversation, and support others with info if they are looking to do the same.

    But we don’t go out evangelizing about our lifestyle. It’s now just something we do, not something to get excited about. Provide an example, walk the talk, and soon enough others start asking, and we can inform on whoever’s asking’s terms.

    We’re NOT environmentalists. But we are living as sustainably and with as small a footprint as possible for where we’re at right now. It’s making more and more sense from an economic standpoint as well, and I think people are realizing this on their own and seeing how other people integrate eco-solutions in their lives.

    Recently, there’s hybrid car backlash. Hybrids have become regarded as a good thing (although less so, considering this audience…), but owners are being accused of being smug, self-righteous assholes. And a lot of eco-evangelicals can certainly be. That turns a lot of people off, same as evangelical vegetarianism. When you start talking to people from a philosophical standpoint, especially one antagonistic to long held beliefs, you’re going to lose them if they can’t see any benefit in their immediate daily lives.

    Providing an example and influencing trends with your wallet is what I see as most effective at the local level.

  13. Ghost Rider

    Mike C….good points. It is just better overall to do these things without evangelizing them. If an outsider is interested in the practices you do, let THEM come to YOU to ask questions. No one likes a preacher, right?

    The best thing about all these tips is that they are so easily implemented, make good economic AND ecologic sense and can be quite rewarding. It’s strange that more people don’t try some of these simple tricks!

    Regarding hybrid drivers — I’ve only met a couple hybrid owners and they all seemed pretty normal without being preachy. But, I hear tales all the time about self-styled “eco warriors” who think that by owning a hybrid that they’ve completely solved the carbon footprint puzzle. Certainly a hybrid is a step in the right direction, but they have to be used responsibly in order to work, and there are a lot of other things people should be doing that make a bigger impact in our overall environmental health.

  14. Nord

    Kudos to Ghost Rider for pimping the compost heap. I’ve got a beauty in my back yard, but I’ll confess I could never bring myself to sacrifice any of the worms. They all mean so much to me…~sniff~…

    I’ve always subscribed to the Paschale’s Wager side of the debate, and I’d seen Jeff raise the analogy before in the velorution. Well done, sir.

    I find it funny that the same symptoms and ideology that have birthed the green-washing phenomenon have really been around for years. When I was a kid, we were concerned with pollution – we still are, but the focus of the debate has shifted. Whether or not one accepts that human activity causes/contributes to global warming, they have to accept that an SUV getting 12 miles to the gallon pollutes more than a Civic, which pollutes more than a bike. In the end, it seems to me that having made global warming the focus has left the door open for debate on the wisdom or necessity of conservation. Ultimately, that’s what it boils down to – conservation. If we make conservation the focus of the debate, less wiggle room results – for its hard to view one who opposes conservation on an fundamental level as anything but a gluttonous a**hole.

    But I digress.

    Reduce – both personally and at work, where I’ve instituted a draconian recycling infrastructure for aluminum, plastic, paper, and cardboard as the director of environmental initiatives, I’ve managed to cut disposal waste by drastic amounts.

    I recently rounded up all the old computer waste, stripped it down, sold the copper and recycled the circuit boards at the municipal drop-off. You’d be surprised how much you can get from a decade’s worth of power strips, cables, and such.

    Recycle everything you can. If its metal, there is somebody in your town willing to take it off your hands to take to the scrap man. Even if their ultimate goal is getting crack money, it’s still a “green initiative.” In more ways than one, too…

    Just yesterday I finished demolishing the porch cover over our patio. I’ve reclaimed 90% of the lumber and materials and will repurpose it to build a shed, garden, or whatever else is needed.

    CFL bulbs, check. Insulation, check. Appropriate weather stripping around all doors, check. Modestly sized 1300 square foot home for a family of two, check. Stable of bicycles of all shapes and sizes to fit just about whatever ride fits your fancy, check.

    Now, if only I can get the wife to turn against the feeling of lawn under bare feet…

  15. Iron Man

    Ragged, no this is not the forum and I do hear you, but the problem is you are not correct in saying there is a consensus. There may be a consensus in the mind of the media, but the numbers aren’t quite adding up. A U.S. Senate report from Dec. 2007 reports on over 400 prominent scientists that refute the man-made claim. These are not 400 kooks or self-described scientists, but rather Nobel Prize winners, IPCC members, members of Harvard, NASA, NOAA, MIT, the UN IPCC, Princeton, and many more of the most prestigious institutions in science in the world. Google it. Spend some time reading what the other side says. It’s fascinating.

    Aside from that, my overall message was that being green aint so tough. I’m pretty green without even trying very hard. The fact that the green side is so bent on converting people to a man-made global warming mindset is rather disturbing and potentially detrimental to the cause. There are plenty of folks like me who are undecided and plenty of folks who don’t believe in man-made global warming that are in fact—brace yourself—people who care about the environment too.

    I listed a bunch of things we do that are green. And for others my wife gets a chuckle out of how I pick up trash when we walk through the neighborhood or in parking lots or wherever it shows up. We use as many environmentally friendly cleaners and such whenever we can, we have little kids in the house and want to keep them safer. I just used a green bug killer the other day in my baby’s room. Our garden is pesticide free. And the list goes on.

  16. Moe (Post author)

    Thank you all for the great comments and great discussion.

  17. Pamela

    Aaron, Ghost Rider, you’re right about the wild salmon vs farmed. I should amend my comment to mention that there are sustainable fisheries of wild salmon that don’t overfish, dredge the bottom of the ocean, etc. There’s a list on Dr. Suzuki’s website about sustainable seafood.

    Although, it’s best to avoid it altogether. But that’s just the vegetarian in me. 😀

  18. r.

    Wow…these are such long statements from the already converted. I clean my house with white distilled vinegar and baking soda, clean my laundry with borax, and reuse my plastic shopping bags for trash because my mother did it (She started being cheap in the seventies. Who knew it was environmentally friendly?).

    Am I a granola loving-hippie environmentalist? Yes. I agree you don’t need to sing it from the rooftops, I agree with vegetarianism (I’ve been one for 12 years), but you don’t need to alter who you are or be afraid of a title or the stigma attached to a title.

    I do think we need to be more conscious of our choices. I do think we need to try a little harder, but if it means buying the latest solar-powered gizmo or vegetable based cleaner because Clorox said so then don’t do it.

    I think each individual knows what will and does work for them. If it’s turning off lights and putting on a sweater in the winter awesome. There’s room for everybody and everyone except purple martians. Everyone knows they’re the enemy. *grin*

  19. ragged claws

    Cheers for “the granola loving-hippie environmentalists” everywhere. I only wish I had more of them in my community. Which brings me to a curious feature of the responses above. I can’t quite figure out why so many people have prefaced their often long lists of environmentally and ecologically ethical activities with the “I am not an environmentalist” qualifier.

  20. Ghost Rider

    Could it be that a lot of us just do these things as second-nature without putting much stock into a “title”? That’s how I feel — I try to reduce my impact, but for me it seems like plain common sense far more than doing it as “an environmentalist”.

  21. Raiyn

    A similar question was raised some time ago on another site I frequent so in keeping with the theme, I’m going to recycle my answer. :p

    We do a few things around our place:

    Set up a clothesline on our breezeway allowing us dry most of our clothes regardless of the weather.

    Purchased a HE Front loading washer and matching dryer

    When showering, we take a variation of the “Navy” shower using a pair of inline shut off valves. There’s one that we had prior to getting our new shower head from the St. Pete Water Dept. and there’s one built into the shower head. They don’t completely cut off the water flow, but that leads us to the next item.
    We shower with a bucket to catch a good portion of the water used in the shower and the trickle from the spigot.
    We then use the water from the bucket to flush the toilet as available.

    In our house, we have a “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” rule in regards to the toilet. (This changes temporarily when we have company)

    All of the lights in the house have 15w (or less where applicable ie. our living room ceiling fans which use two 9W bulbs) fluorescent bulbs

    We limit the amount of plastic bags we get from stores by using reusable cloth bags. (We still need some plastic bags for cat litter disposal and small waste basket liners)

    We have a compost bin

    We’ve made a rain barrel out of a discarded plastic barrel for watering our plants and garden.

    Our thermostat is set @ 85 deg F during the summer (84 is our “cheat” temp)

    We use ceiling fans to make the most out of our AC setting (We’ve recently upgraded to Energy Star rated models)

    We recycle everything that the city / county is prepared to handle as well as purchase recycled paper products from the Louise Graham Regeneration Center

    I personally have a propensity towards bricolage. Macgyver-ing items I want or need out of common household stuff as much as possible. One project that I’m particularly proud of is my rehabbed kiddie trailer cargo conversion.

    I’m not sure if this fits, but I installed a TV card on the PC so that I can watch TV while online rather than have the TV, Surround sound amp, and the computer on at the same time. On the same note, when watching TV by myself I tend to use headphones so that I’m not powering the surround system just for myself.

    We buy locally produced items when available, and try to be conscious of where other things come from.

    Tangible results have included lower power bills. Exactly how much is unknown considering we’ve done this the entire time we’ve had this house., but our most recent bill had us at a Daily Average use of 23 KWH/Day and a total (tax and all) bill of $101 for June. The new washer dropped our water consumption by 30 gallons over the same 30 day period from the prior year (from our water bill).

    Some of the things we want and are working on include
    A tankless water heater
    A grey water system
    Solar panels / wind turbine
    Solar roof vent
    More insulation
    New windows
    New AC / heat system

    Please don’t think of this as a “Nyah Nyah” list. It’s intended just as an example of what can be easily done in an average household if one thinks about it.

  22. Ghost Rider

    Bravo, Raiyn! Your “future” list has a lot of the things I’d like to add to our house as time and finances permit. We’re restricted a little bit by the historic overlay in our neighborhood (solar panels need to be hidden from the street-side, and no wind turbines are allowed. But, the rest of it can be done pretty easily.

    You’re right — all it takes is a little extra thought to implement some serious, positive changes in our lives. It doesn’t mean too much sacrifice, it feels good to know that we’re making a difference on our own levels, and we don’t have to scream it from the rooftops in order to positively influence others. Way to go!

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