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Recycling Made Easy

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

The U-Box-It
Every other Thursday, I dutifully drag my recycling bins to the curb for city pick up. It takes very little effort and has become just another chore, part of any homeowner’s daily/weekly/monthly litany of to-do’s. Each of these duties, taken separately (scooping the catbox, washing the kitchen floor, grocery shopping, trimming the bushes … ) is not a big deal. Some can even be nice little diversions – at worst, they’re minor annoyances. But collectively, they can be downright burdensome, and at any given time one particular duty can be a straw-breaking-the-camel’s-back event that leads to teeth-gritting, cursing, item-flinging (the cat knows to keep clear in these moments) and, ultimately, giving up. So when I drive to work those every-other Thursdays and see more than a few curbs with no recycling bins alongside the regular trash barrels, I do sort of understand. Recycling can be a hassle. But benefits of curbside recycling far outweigh the effort needed these days to recycle household and workplace waste.

However, in case you need the recycling process to make up an even smaller percentage of your daily grind (say, for some ungodly reason, if you have enough cats to necessitate cleaning of more than one catbox) here’s some info you may be able to use:

If the sorting of paper from plastic/aluminum/tin/glass/etc. is too much for you – or even separating anything recyclable from anything NOT recyclable – then you (or your workplace) may want to opt for the U-Box-It, a smallish disposal bin that can hold up to 1,000 pounds of waste and is itself recyclable. You can store this bad boy in your garage (home) or stairwell (work), throw anything into it and when it’s full the company will come and haul it away, separate out anything recyclable and dispose of the rest. The convenience comes with a cost, of course, but it seems a relatively affordable, convenient option to the “metal beast sitting out in your driveway,” as company founder Tony Mammone tells Business Week.

Not sure exactly how your local recycling plan works (how do I get a recycling bin, how often do I put it out, etc.), or wondering just what in the name of all that’s good and holy this whole recycling craze is all about anyway? Check out the EPA map listing each state’s waste, conservation and environmental management resources. No matter where you live, this will get you headed in the right direction.

If you’re in an area without easy recycling options, you can still let them come to you. There are quite a few companies out there that will pick up your recyclables, from U.S.-wide companies like American Paper Recycling to local outfits such as the Boulder, Colo.-area Green Girl Recycling.

And for those of you who argue recycling is actually doing more harm than good, there is ample evidence that’s just not true, so drop the excuses and drag them bins curbside.

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Green Accessories

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

By guest contributor Ashley DiFranza

There is something to be said for the tree-huggers in the world today – we want to save the environment. And that message is being brought to audiences in many ways, shapes and forms. Not only are there newscasts and websites designed to give the latest scoop on how to preserve the atmosphere, but there are also more personalized ways to tell everyone what you think.

Just like the smiley faces that graced the fronts of many T-shirts in the past, environmental logos and pictures on clothing are finding their way into almost everyone’s closets.

From sayings that really make you think to funny pictures, these shirts have a variety of messages and suggestions on how to save the world! One particularly powerful and eye-opening T-Shirt saying that I found was on a T-shirt with a picture of fish bones, reading, “Only when the last tree has died; and the last river has been poisoned; the last fish has been caught; will we realize that we can’t eat money.” It’s things like this that conservationists are trying to get across to people and by wearing the facts on their clothing, they seem to be getting a bit of response.

But T-shirts aren’t the only things with environmental sayings on them. There are many accessories that post good messages for the public. From knapsacks made from recycled water bottles to
pens and coffee mugs that read, "It's easy being green," conservationists are really thinking of everything to try and draw attention to the rising issues in the world.

Popularity of environmental posters and bumper stickers is also developing quickly. More and more people are looking for a way to show what they believe in and this is the way to do it. And hey, if that doesn’t work, look for an environmentally friendly email sign off! Whichever way you decide to show it, make it known that the environment is quickly degrading and we need to help it.

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James Hansen: Spewing Sense

Monday, August 11, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Dr. James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, may not be the most visible proponent of global warming activism (how could he be with Al Gore flying around collecting Nobels), but he’s probably the most vocal. Some have branded him a radical because of his passionate pleas for change, but don’t be fooled. He’s not one of these heated nonsense-spewers. He’s heated alright, but what Hansen spews makes SENSE.

So, from now on when I get one of his e-mailed commentaries (which you can too, by signing up at Hansen’s Columbia University Web page), I’m going to share them. This whole warming thing is complicated, and he can help us understand. Dismiss him, embrace him, whatever you see fit, but at least know of him and what he’s saying. Because the people in charge just aren’t listening, Hansen says.

In his latest e-mail, Hansen talks about the “sobering degree of self-deception in countries that are among the best-educated on climate change.” Specifically he’s talking about his recent meetings with leaders in Germany, the UK and Japan, and how they continue to cling to climate policies that Hansen asserts are doomed to fail. His main contention is that focusing on annual carbon-emission reductions is an ineffective way to control climate change because emitted CO2 stays around so long in the atmosphere and there is so much already present that reductions will not stop “global disaster.” Hansen’s penchant for tossing around such Hollywood blockbuster catchphrases may turn you off, but don’t let the form distract you from the content. And there’s plenty of content.

Hansen uses research to convincingly show – what he calls the “stark policy implication of the data” – why he’s calling for a complete phase-out, not just reductions, of coal emissions (Hansen calls coal CO2 the “worst pollutant”). He says atmospheric CO2 levels can’t safely persist (we’re talking decades here; a basic tenet of discussing climate change is that we have to consider ramifications for generations from now) and must come down to 350 ppm, which we’re already past, at most. It would take a phasing out of coal emissions by 2030, with complementary actions such as reforestation, just to keep future atmospheric CO2 levels at no more than 400-425 ppm. It would then theoretically decline to get back down to 350 ppm within a century.

It all makes sense, as I say, but there certainly are assumptions. It’s these assumptions that are the soft points open to dissenting opinions to Dr. Hansen’s views, which can be found aplenty at ICECAP, probably the best counter-argument source I’ve found.

And a little postscript here: Despite the pro-Hansen feel of this post, the point is not to back any one person but to get answers. The discussion is so caught up in politics now it’s difficult to make progress on the issue. Whatever the truth turns out to be, the only thing I know with 100% certainty right now is that it won’t be found by politicizing the debate.

Also see my previous post on Dr. Hansen.

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Help for Your Energy-Efficiency Improvements

Wednesday, August 6, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

There are countless ways to help the environment, from biking to work to eating locally grown foods, but if you own a house, the one place you should start is right where you live.

If every American homeowner maximized their home’s efficiency, the collective energy savings would be so great that other green efforts would just be icing on the conservation cake.

But a lot of energy improvements require research and can be expensive. Luckily, there are programs, all spelled out on the Web (isn’t everything?) to make the process easier and cheaper.

A wealth of resources on ways to save on energy improvements can be found at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency and at consumer sites such as Mother Earth News. But the best place to start for many may be a government program -- widely available but vastly underused -- that was revamped as part of the just-passed Housing and Economic Recovery Act: energy-efficient mortgages.

EEMs allow homebuyers (and homeowners who wish to refinance) to defray the cost of energy-efficiency improvements by rolling the cost into a mortgage. The catch is that eligible mortgages must be held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac or backed by the Federal Housing Authority. But if you qualify, improvement costs can total up to 5% (part of the new EMM program is that they’re dropping a previous $8,000 limit) of a home’s value. When you’re talking about $15,000 or more, this makes HUD’s EEM program well worth looking into.

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Kyle Scribner is a born-again nature freak who also happens to be an editor at Captivate Network.

You know that exhilarated feeling you got as a kid when you would go down to the pond to catch frogs? It never really goes away; it’s just dormant. So I'm here to slap a mix of facts and borderline balanced opinion on you, to poke a stick at the nature freak slumbering in us all and maybe get him to once again come out and play.

And we might even learn a few things about the environment as we go.


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About Green Among Gray

How do you commune with nature or become part of the solution to the environmental crisis when you're trapped in a cement-and-glass, gas-guzzling, power-sucking, emissions-spewing metropolis 8 hours (or more) a day? How do you go 'green' in a world of gray?

Actually, there are plenty of ways, and Green Among Gray aims to show high-rise inhabitants how they can help ease the load on the environment and on their minds by exploring natural oases, conservation tips, and other ways to stay green while working in the concrete-built world of the big city.

Look for short updates on the latest environmental news along with periodic longer features on specific places and events that allow big-city workers to get close to nature.