Tag Archives: food

Recycling Rant – Mixed Materials

I know that recycling shouldn’t be our first line of defense to handle our waste streams, but it is something that can help divert materials from the landfill once they already have been created. But you wanna know what really grinds my gears? Mixed material food packaging. Sure, China’s National Sword cut a great big hole through US recycling efforts, but we can still recycle #1 and #2 plastics in most municipalities, and #5 if there’s a Whole Foods somewhere in your area.

If we want to encourage recycling though, we need it to be easy. People are busy, making their waste stream pretty low on their priority list. So, why on Earth would you make a dairy container out of #5 plastic and put a #2 lid on it? You took the time to make sure the two plastics looked identical for cohesive branding, but the only visual difference to the consumer is if they look at the little recycle triangle on BOTH parts of the package. Is this easy? NO! Store bought icing is even worse with its #5 or #2 body and #4 lid. Where the heck am I supposed to recycle a #4 that isn’t a plastic film like a bread bag?

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Photo by Anas Jawed on Pexels.com

As engineers, I know we want to find the optimal solution for every component of a design, but for single-use containers, end-of-life needs to be high on that priority list. I’m not a food packaging engineer, but my hierarchy of design would go something like safety/preservation of food, taste impact, mechanical stability, and end-of-life. I’ll grant you that you can’t package in something that will impact taste or safety, but is that #2 lid really making enough of a difference in your product that it’s worth confusing people so you get #2 and #5 plastics mixed up in each other waste streams?

If you ARE a food packaging engineer, I’m begging you to please consider end of life when designing your products. We are on a finite planet, and because plastic is such a useful material, I would really love it if we could easily reclaim it for future use. Whether it’s particularly safe for contact with food or whether we really need so much of it is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. For today, please think through your material choices and try to find ways to make recycling easier.

Moving toward a zero waste, solarpunk, circular economy is high on my wish list for the world, and there’s plenty of research that shows that unless you make something easier than the alternative, people just don’t have the bandwidth. The onus is on the designer, not the consumer for this. We can do better – please do!

Is there anything you’ve run across that was packaged ridiculously? Let us know below!

Saving the world, one apple core at a time

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The compostable bag from our recycling center.

I don’t have a green thumb. I’m trying a garden again this year, but despite my grandparents cultivating a host of vegetables right next door to me growing up, it wasn’t ever something I really learned how to do. My fear of dirt and the outdoors as a child was a contributing factor.

One thing I’ve associated with gardening that I find extra intimidating is composting. This year, I’m going to give it a shot through the local recycling center. I picked up a little green bag when I was taking our recycling into the center, so I’ll be feeding it with food waste and plant clippings.

I really hate wasting food, but even I have my limits to how far past an expiration date I’m willing to eat something. As ILSR notes in “How Community Composting Disrupts Big Waste,” composting can create jobs, reduce food waste, and fight climate change.

Are you a composter? Do you compost at home or through your community?

Getting my hands dirty

Last Saturday, we decided to get our solarpunk gardener on and planted some herbs and flowers. We’re in Zone 7 here in Charlottesville, so we’re trying some snapdragons and petunias outside and starting a kitchen herb garden as well. Later on we’ll be starting some peppers.

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Getting dirty

The green germination trays were printed last year in a not-so-successful attempt at growing flowers, so hopefully we’ll have better luck this year. The white bags are wrapped around small plastic pots that go into a holder that is supposed to help the herbs not get over-watered. This is a particularly big concern here in Charlottesville as we’ve noticed everything molds quite quickly due to the humidity.

8 herb packets arranged in two rows and four columns. The herbs include basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley, cilantro, thyme, dill, and sage.

Herb packets

We had to stay away from some herbs since we have cats and not all are cat-safe. The ASPCA has a good database for plant toxicity for cats, dogs, and horses. Now that everything is planted all we have to do is wait.

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Everything in its place

Do you garden? Are there any plants that you love to grow?

The Nature Fix – A Book Review

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Do you feel more relaxed after going for a walk in the woods? Does the scent of conifers make you think of happy times? The Nature Fix by Florence Williams investigates the connection between nature and human well-being, physical and mental.

As a scientist, I’m always excited to bury myself nose-deep in a new area of investigation, and I’ve found that popular science books are one of the best ways to acquaint yourself with something you’ve never studied before. Instead of getting bogged down in equations and minutia, you can dive right in and see what the science has to do with your life. Williams has done a brilliant job in The Nature Fix connecting the dots between how you feel during your day and how much exposure to nature you get.

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

While skimming photos of mountains and trees on Instagram might help you relax, it turns out that your other senses play an important role in your well-being. For instance, researchers in Korea have found that the smell of cypress trees have health benefits and some of the compounds the trees produce may even deter cancer.

Other researchers Williams talked to have found that sound plays an important role in our health. Bird song can have a positive effect, while many human-made noises such as jet aircraft can overstimulate the fight-or-flight aspects of our brains. One example from the book is that the “World Health Organization attributes thousands of deaths per year in Europe to heart attack and stroke caused by high levels of background noise.”

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Williams goes into biology, evolution, neuroscience, and sociology to really see what it is about nature that is so compelling. To really improve your mood and health, some Finnish researchers interviewed suggested a minimum of five hours of nature per month. As this can be difficult for the increasingly large proportion of people who live in cities, she points to examples like Singapore that endeavor to be a city in a garden. This really appeals to my solarpunk tendencies as cities that are full of lush, native plant life and provide physical and mental stimulation to their residents are my ideal.

I wholeheartedly recommend The Nature Fix to anyone who is interested in nature, even the tiniest amount. I would also suggest that all health professionals should read it regardless of their interest in the outdoors. I got my copy from my local library, but you can also find it through IndieBound here.

Have you read The Nature Fix? What did you think of it?

Why we can do better

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I recently went on a gold mine tour in Virginia’s Lake Anna State Park. At one of the stops, the ranger was talking about the various technologies people in the area had used to extract gold from the river. When she started talking about the steam-driven stamp mills, she said that a miner would have about 60 days of operating the machine before they went completely deaf. One of the children in the audience asked, “Why did they make the machine if it would make the miners go deaf?”

My first reaction was to think this was a silly question, since obviously the people who ran the mine would want to extract the most gold for the least cost regardless of what that meant for workers. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that this was a really good question. Is gold really so important that people should be risking their lives or their well-being for it? The ranger also told us that all of the gold mines in the United States had been shut down during the world wars since gold wasn’t a strategic material.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What things are really so important that people should risk their life and limb to obtain them? Any animal needs water, food, shelter, and space for their habitat. It would make sense that these are the things we should focus our efforts on and be willing to sacrifice to ensure. These are the things afforded travelers by the guest rights present in many ancient cultures.

At our current place in history, it seems we’ve forgotten these basics. We send people into dangerous mines for minerals that could be reclaimed (often at great monetary cost) as corporate capitalism makes human life less worthwhile than inexpensive resource extraction. I don’t suggest we go back to the Dark Ages, but I am suggesting we rethink what we value. If a job is important enough that it needs doing, we should be setting a living wage for the people doing it.

Putting people above profits will give us a more equitable world, one of the most important parts of a solarpunk society. To truly have a free market, you have to take as many variables into account as possible. Externalities like pollution and loss of human life should be factored into doing business and not just laid at the feet of the government or individual citizens. That’s not a free economy. That’s corporate welfare.

What other externalities concern you? What do we need to consider when designing our economies?

GoSun Fusion oven on Kickstarter

Want to cook with the sun?

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GoSun has been making solar ovens for awhile and is now Kickstarting the GoSun Fusion which can use either solar power or electricity to cook a meal for up to five people. I don’t have any affiliation with GoSun, but their ovens have pretty good reviews, and I really like the idea of being able to cook with the sun both day and night.

I think this oven looks like it would be really awesome if you have an off-grid house or do a lot of campground camping where you have a base camp. It’s probably too big to use for backpacking, although it does look like GoSun has a smaller model that might work for that, the GoSun Go.

Do you have a solar cooker? Do you know of any good DIY plans that we should try out here at Solarpunk Station? Let us know below!

Glee Gum – A solarpunk gum?

As a solarpunk trying to reduce my impact, I’ve been looking for easy switches to more sustainable products. I chew a lot of gum, but when I started doing more research I found that most gums on the market contained plastics that don’t break down in the environment. While I’m not plastic-free, I wanted to find gum that tasted good and didn’t leave a permanent mark on the planet. Enter Glee Gum.

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I found a store in town that had it and grabbed two different flavors to try: peppermint and lemon-lime. I stick to sugar-free as my teeth need all the help they can get, but Glee also makes sugar gum. Like most fruity gums, the lemon-lime loses its flavor pretty quickly, but the peppermint has better staying power.

Glee is a bit softer than the Trident White gum I’m switching from and it doesn’t end up getting super hard if you chew it for more than 30 minutes like the Trident did. The main disadvantage of Glee Gum is that it is a bit stickier than most mainstream gums. The advantage is not having to deal with empty blister packs of gum.

Empty blister pack of gum

Glee Gum comes in either recyclable cardboard boxes, plastic pouches, or giant 400 piece tubes if you order it in bulk from their website. I decided to order a tube of peppermint from the website after my initial testing was complete. It was shipped in a cardboard box stuffed with newspaper. They even included a little sample of sugar-free watermelon gum! I was super-excited that all the packaging was recyclable and the cost per piece of gum is about the same as the Trident White I was getting at the grocery store, even when I include shipping costs.

Glee Gum Coupon CHEWMORE - Save 15%

Glee Gum Coupon CHEWMORE – Save 15%

Glee has an extensive “Learn More” section about how they make their gum here, and I think they’re making a great product in a really responsible way. You can find a local store that carries Glee Gum on their website, or get it on Amazon here. You buy it online from their store which I think is the only way to get the giant 400 piece tubes.

Do you chew Glee or know of some other good options for solarpunk gum? Sound off in the comments!

Re-purposing malls as solarpunk co-housing

One of the best ideas for solarpunk co-housing I’ve seen is Bluelightning42’s post about re-purposing malls on Tumblr. While there has been the mixed use redevelopment of the Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island, and NewLab, an incubator+housing in Brooklyn, I’ve seen little else done in regards to this concept.

bBellevue Square Mall courtesy of Debs (ò‿ó)♪

Business Insider ran a story last year as part of it’s “Death of Suburbia” series talking about the roughly 25% of shopping malls in the US at risk of closing. I think the main issue is that most malls aren’t in particularly easy to access areas, but with a large enough community, I think you could get a public transit stop (if there isn’t one already) and car-sharing to provide off-site transportation. If you want to see the really cool architecture in some of these malls, Seph Lawless has been getting amazing photos of abandoned malls.

Rezoning the mall (where needed) as mixed-use would allow some small stores on-site for groceries and other small items. I know that I would love to be able to just walk down the hall to grab some Swedish fish out of a bulk bin in the middle of the night (I’m so healthy). You could leave the food court going too with shared communal kitchens and restaurants run by the people living there.

13714826875_1c9fed839b_kGarden courtesy of cuprikorn

Most of the parking lots could be reclaimed as greenspace, leaving a small area for car-sharing vehicles and the bus stop. A community garden could spring up where there was once only asphalt. Depending on the bike infrastructure in your city, you might also be able to build spur trails from the mall to other interesting parts of town.

Most malls have some natural lighting, so why not make some of the skylights stained glass to keep up the solarpunk vibe? With the huge roofing area of a mall, you could generate power for residents by adding solar panels and small wind turbines. There might be enough area that you would qualify as a small-scale renewable power plant. I would want to update the HVAC system to heat/cool with a geothermal heat pump to maximize the efficiency of the building along with the other requisite insulation and lighting efficiency upgrades.

3181390371_4015ff71df_bStained glass in Kaohsiung City courtesy of MiNe

So, do you have any ideas about how a repurposed mall could be a great place to live? Are there any concerns that you have regarding the idea? Sound of in the comments and let us know!


Photos are from Flikr users under a Creative Commons License

  1. Prettyy!! Want! {Nature/ 1 of 3} by Debs (ò‿ó)♪
  2. MiNe-KissX_103-0082RG by MiNe
  3. Garden by Cuprikorn (this picture is under a different license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Solarpunk transformative living

Solarpunks should definitely check out LifeEdited, started by Treehugger founder Graham Hill. Their first prototype apartment was built in NYC to see how much life you could get out of a relatively tiny apartment. They managed to reduce their impact on the environment by fitting a 2-bedroom apartment with room to serve a dinner party of ten in a 420 square foot space!

After an even smaller second apartment, they’ve designed an entire off-grid house with solar panels, battery backup, composting toilets, and since it’s in Maui, plenty of room for surfboards. While all three projects had substantial funding, the underlying techniques used to enhance the spaces are applicable anywhere and and serve as a great inspiration on how to more efficiently use the space you have.

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All of the furniture in the apartments and house is multi-purpose. In a place like New York City, where price per square foot is so high, even for renting, the high price of a transforming Murphy bed/couch from Resource Furniture would quickly pay for itself, although if you’re more inclined to DIY, then you can find Murphy bed kits for $200-300 without the mattress.

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Transforming tables and folding chairs are often easier and cheaper to get. We have a dining table with leaf that we can remove when we want to save space. This gives us enough room when family visits for eating, but the ability to have a smaller table when it’s just two or three of us. My parents have a gate-leg table for family visits with chairs that fold up and fit inside the table so it only takes a small amount of room unless needed. A gate leg table and a Murphy bed would be great if you like having friends over for dinner but live in a small space.

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I shouldn’t find the composting toilet in the bathroom to be the most exciting feature, but I do.

Composting toilets eschew the current trend of flush toilets by treating waste in a waterless or low water manner, composting the waste instead of using clean water to flush it miles away to a treatment facility. I’ve mostly seen them used in off-grid cabins and tiny houses to date, but hope that systems with remote waste collection will allow for usage in more urban environments in the future. Especially in the U.S. where we treat all of our water to drinking water quality (a whole post in itself), using clean water to flush waste back to be treated again is just silly.

Do you have any cool pieces of transforming furniture? Have you used a composting toilet? Let us know about any pluses or pitfalls below, and thanks for stopping by!


via LifeEdited

Photographs by Shawn Hannah

A few Murphy bed DIY kits/plans (I have no affiliation with any of the following; just thought they might be helpful to start your search if you’re interested.)

And a set of plans for a gate-leg table and chairs: http://woodarchivist.com/3259-folding-table-chairs-set-plans/

Solarpunk and how climate affects diet

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Climate One is an excellent podcast put out by the Commonwealth Club of California on a weekly basis that I would recommend to all solarpunks. It features luminaries discussing the environment regarding our energy and water future. The most recent episode, “Climate on Your Plate,” is a remix of several previous episodes on the subject of climate change and our food systems.

One of the main takeaways that I think is surprising for most people concerned with environmental sustainability is that grazing animals can be an important component to sequestering carbon and rehabilitating our farmlands. Nicollete Hahn Niman, author of “Defending Beef,” points out that grazing animals have always been an integral part of the nutrient cycles of grasslands. Mismanagement of animal agriculture (see CAFOs) has played an important role in climate change and the reduction of ecosystem vitality in soils. While Kip Andersen, director of “Cowspiracy,” disagrees with the entire concept of animal agriculture, he and NRDC Food and Agriculture Director Jonathan Kaplan agree that eating less meat is a win for the planet.

While eliminating meat from your diet completely might be difficult or impossible based on a number of factors including health and social customs, Brian Kateman, President of the Reducetarian Foundation, suggests that everyone can lower their meat usage a little which can help the Earth a lot. One of the main tools towards this end is implementing “Meatless Mondays” where you eat no meat on Mondays and the rest of the week is up to you.

Also discussed is the role of GMOs and organic food in the development of sustainable agriculture. One of the main dangers of current commercial farming is the overuse of pesticides like glyphosate, a.k.a. Roundup. This often gets lumped in with the use of GMOs as many of them do currently come bundled with pesticide use (Roundup Ready), but GMOs are a technology that is unfairly vilified by many environmentalists. While the overuse of pesticides is dangerous, appropriate use of GMOs to reduce water and pesticide use in organic farming operations is possible.

TL;DR: Cows and GMOs aren’t the problem, the industrial food complex is. To learn more check out “Climate on Your Plate,” a podcast from Climate One.

 

Green Jobs: A review

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Green Jobs: A Guide to Eco-Friendly Employment (2008) promises the following on its back cover:

> Get up to date on the green movement’s latest trends
> Choose a career that’s good for the environment — and for you!
> Go for extra training, if needed
> Learn about the exciting advantages of “green collar” employment

Let’s look at how it stacks up…

This book was published in 2008, so we get an interesting snapshot of the “green revolution” right before the Great Recession caused a major setback to climate action. Having 10 years of perspective on where things have gone gives a bittersweet read of what the authors expected of the future. A few of the technologies touted in the book have proven to be dead ends, including a particularly bullish look at fuel cells. Refreshingly, there is some treatment of the geothermal industry which is an often overlooked part of the energy puzzle.

As far as finding a career in the green industry goes, this book has a lot of good resources on companies and organizations to investigate, broken down by job type and skill set. Some of the companies are now defunct, but there is enough information here to get you started looking into interesting industries and finding positions that are a good fit for your particular set of skills and training.

Many community colleges and universities now have programs either in green trades or degrees available. Many of these programs were just starting in 2008, so there may be good programs now in your neck of the woods. As a quick example, the solar industry now employs more people than the coal industry, and most of those workers are in the solar installation business. A large number of schools offer training for the skills you need to install solar panels all around the United States. I suspect this is similar in other countries, but I’m not super-familiar with education abroad.

The primary advantage of getting a job in the green industry is having a job that aligns with your personal values. Some other possible benefits include getting help with cycling or using public transit to go to work. Some companies are headquartered in LEED certified buildings as well, reducing your impact and exposure to VOCs further. Most green jobs will come with your standard benefits of 401K, health insurance, etc. as well.

TL;DR: Green Jobs is a good read, and while some of its information is outdated, it is still a solid starting point if you want to get a job in environmentally sustainable businesses/organizations.

Disclaimer: I use Amazon affiliate links to help keep the lights on here at Solarpunk Station. I borrowed this book from my local library, so you might check out yours to see if you can read it for free. If you do decide to buy, using the links here will help keep the site running. Thanks!