Friday, February 27, 2009

Dog Doo, Dissected

Just as I was cataloging my photos relating to dog poop (42 at last count), I received an email from my friend, Joanne. She is a retired professor of microbiology, and recently wrote an article that explains the composition of dog doo titled, "Poison Poop."

It's good shit. (The article, not the poo.) (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

The last time I wrote about dog doo, I was focused more on the re-use opportunity for small, plastic bags. I'm glad to know more; now I have even more ammo for when I chastise my mother for not picking up her dog's poop (sorry, Mom). Thanks, Joanne!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I'd Probably Eat Bottle Caps, Too

A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled, "You Want Some Ocean With That Plastic?"

Here's the followup: Captain Charles Moore, on TED ("ideas worth sharing"), talking about plastics, bottle caps, ocean currents, and our throwaway society. Just wait until you see the insides of a 4-month-old albatross. I'd probably eat colorful bottle caps, too, if I was a bird. The video is 7 minutes 20 seconds.

[photo: M. Weymouth]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Turning a Situation on its Head

Here is a video that simply, cleverly, turns a 20-year-old's ideas about the future upside down. I won't say anymore; just check it out. The video, titled "Lost Generation" is 1 minute, 44 seconds long.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Bag It: Competition in Colorado

Sometimes they're just so darn handy. But overall, plastic bags are a beast.

They fly around in the wind (cleanup costs). They clog drains (flooding). They harm curious wildlife that think they're a tasty jelly snack (digestive troubles). They get caught in the rollers at recycling centers (safety and time issues). Aside from that scene in American Beauty, plastic bags are trouble.

In 2003, South Africa banned plastic bags. Get caught handing out bags less than 30 microns thick? Face a fine of 100,000 rand ($13,800 in 2003) or a 10-year jail sentence. Strict measures.

With a slightly warmer, cuddlier approach (think fleece), the Colorado Association of Ski Towns is having a reusable bag contest from March to September of 2009. Check it out, as well as an avalanche of other helpful information, on the High Country Conservation website. I think competition is a good motivation tactic. Keep us posted, Joanne.

[photo of reusable bags from a checkout line in Brussels, Belgium.]

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tool, Hair, and the Mango Flowers

I am in Mexico City, staying with a friend from Wellesley (thanks Jennifer!). Today I walked through the park to go visit Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology. Just like everyone said, it was awesome: good displays, clear signage, and incredible artifacts. I only just scratched the surface of what it has to offer (I get museumhead pretty quick), but I still enjoyed it.

After the geology nerd in me finished geeking out on the obsidian displays, I moseyed through the evolution exhibit. There was this one section that displayed tools, and showed how humans' use of tools evolved over time: they got sharper, smaller, and more precise for the task at hand.

Flashback to the morning: I got a haircut last week. See? Here's me with hair.

Here's me with the haircut.

The hairdresser did a good job, but there have been a couple of stray pieces that have needed a little extra pruning (I guess that's what I get for getting a $3.20 haircut). So this morning, Jennifer, kind friend, said, "When we get back to the apartment, you need to cut that chunk of hair that's hanging down. I even have hair cutting scissors." When we get back to the house, what do I do? I go into the kitchen and use the kitchen scissors. Granted, they are FINE scissors. And I am not one to be choosy about such matters.

But why didn't I just use her hair-cutting scissors? There were absolutely no barriers to my using this tool. I speak her language. We were 20 feet away from each other. She is my friend. She offered the hair-cutting scissors, the tool for the task at hand. And yet I chose to use the kitchen scissors. A step up from the swiss-army-knife-and-fork combo I once used to cut my hair, but still.

Which brings me back to the museum. And the tools. And choices.

The placard above the tools says this:

Societies of hunter-gatherers have always had a broad knowledge of the environment in which they live. Additionally, they have made use of this knowledge of the life cycle of plants and animals to insure their own survival."

The sentence gets me thinking... thoughts that I have mulled over many times before. Namely, why do we choose to do things a certain way? The sentence implies that it's our knowledge base that drives our behavior. I'm not convinced. I know a lot of things that I don't necessarily act on: I don't eat many vegetables, I rarely floss, and I eat mass-produced meat. I know that the planet is in peril, and that shifts in my behavior would directly and indirectly benefit my health and environment (not to mention gum care). There are no barriers to these behavior changes. Yet I am slow to change. Slower, it would seem, than a hunter-gatherer.

A few months ago, I had a bunch of conversations with my mother about her driving habits. She mentioned how she really admired how all three of her children were so into biking and public transportation. There's a bike store in Portland, OR that puts an ad in the paper that says, "Just one day. That's all we ask." [They ask for people to not drive one day a week.] I proposed this to my mother, who decided, yes, she could not drive one day a week. Perhaps on the weekend.

So a few weeks later, we're talking... and she says, "I was so close, Mere. On Sunday, I didn't drive all morning. But then I was late. So I drove. To yoga. A mile away."

It is this story that I mull over in my head over and over again.

I love garbage. I think it's neat to see what we choose to use, and at what point it becomes refuse. But I know, deep down, that it doesn't really matter. I would LOVE it if my choice to purchase a mango flower pounded onto a stick was "better" than sliced mango in a plastic cup, surrounded by a plastic bag, eaten with a plastic fork. Okay, maybe it is better. But it doesn't really matter.

The only things that really matter are how you eat (local? organic? low on the food chain?), how you get around (car? bike? foot? public transportation? private jet?), and the big choices of your home (is it small-ish? is it efficient?). The bonus fourth thing is whether or not you are politically active.*

I have a broad understanding of the environment in which I live (threatened fisheries, eroding soils, unequal access to clean water, and overpopulation come to mind). So does my mother. So do most of my friends. But I cannot confidently say that we use this knowledge to "insure [our] own survival".

As I left the museum, I thought, we are doomed.

*These four things were taken from Umbra, of Grist Magazine.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Addendum: Pecha Kucha

Thanks for the comment, Jason. I had never heard of Pecha Kucha, which sounds just like Ignite (except for the slides transition after 20 seconds instead of 15 seconds). Thanks for the information.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In Honor of Ignite

Have you heard of Ignite? It's this neat presentation format where folks get five minutes to share their topic, any topic, on stage. Each presenter gets 20 slides, and 15 seconds per slide. It's fast. It's fun. It's random. It's happening across the country.

Ignite Portland's next event is this Thursday, Feb 19. I got to present my favorite topic, trash, in the Summer of 2008. 'Twas fun.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bottle Bins

These are bottle bins I saw in the Chapultepec Park yesterday in Mexico City. There were hundreds of peoples strolling along the paths, drinking lots of bottled water and juice, and visiting the museums. They put their empty bottles in these bins.

PROS: Nice design with visual cue for user. Thus, minimal contamination. Good distribution throughout the park. Often paired with trash bins. Different shapes and sizes. Paired with signage about recycling. Appropriate use (in a park with lots of people with plastic bottles).

CONS: Use of metal (not sure how the capture rate of the plastic bottles pencils out with the use of re bar and wire).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Big Dump in Mexico City

I'm headed to Mexico City for two weeks. I was there for just a couple of days a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised: it had a great subway system, interesting museums, and a really nice pedestrian feel. I thought, "I need to go back there." Now is my chance.

These pictures were taken at Mexico City Airport with Sonja, a globe-trotting friend. We got of the plane and immediately noticed trash cans with "orgánica" and "inorgánica" compartments. Mexico City composts? Almost. Notice how the "organic" section of the trash can is lined with a black plastic bag. Also, both compartments of the bin, like all of the bins I peeked into, are filled with a mix of materials (plastic, paper, organics, and wrappers). Translation: sorting isn't happening. Nice start... but lots of room to grow.

Actually, there's not much room to grow.

The dump is maxed out, and a threat. Mexico City's 20 million residents generate 12,500 tons of garbage every day. According to a recent story on the dump, the pressure from the trash mounds threatens to rupture a major drainage canal. If ruptured, the airport and surrounding neighborhoods will get flooded with "stinking effluent and grime". (Yes, I think two weeks will be just right. Then, get me out of there.)

It sounds like Mexico City is circling around solutions that involve organic diversion and greater recycling efforts. There is very little discussion of waste reduction.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Photo of the Day: Recycling Mural

This photo comes from a friend in my Spanish class, Stan. He took the photo in Teotitlán del Valle, a rug-weaving village just East of Oaxaca. Good eye, Stan.

I'd now like to visit the town and see if there is a story behind the mural. One blight in Oaxaca is all of the graffiti. I wonder if painting a wall with an image (such as this recycling landscape) discourages graffiti more than, say, just a blank white wall.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pelted With Candy

This Sunday was one for the books: a baptism party in Mexico!

My landlord, Agustine, invited me to join him to his friend's brother's son's baptism party (or some connection like that). Erica, a teacher, also renting a room, was going as well. I was feeling sulky and dragged my heels, but eventually put on my one nice outfit and we all headed over to the next town. Here's how it played out.

We arrive at the party around 3pm. It is a big overhang with a long table down the middle. Chairs line the outer walls. Another room around the side is lined with more tables and chairs. A mariachi band plays. We make our way to the end of the table and sit down in some empty chairs. I'm glad I've come: this is a slice of Mexico I would not see on my own.

Two men are walking around with buckets of soda and beer. We get three Coronas. Another man is walking around with mezcal, the local moonshine. I am feeling a bit self-conscious being the only American, and want to keep a low profile. Taking a shot doesn't seem prudent, so I politely decline.

Lunch is served: bowls of soup, and plates of pork, beans, and salsa. A woman walks around offering people plastic bags so if they don't finish their meal, they can bring the food home. I think, "Doggie bags provided, pre-meal!" Then, I think about the strangeness of the phrase "doggie bag".

We eat. The buckets of beer and soda make their rounds. All of a sudden, everyone gets up. I hastily wipe my mouth and think, "What? We're leaving?" No no. We vacate our chairs at the table and go to sit in the outer ring of chairs. Seating #2 begins.

More than 200 people eat at that long table in at least three shifts. The cups and plates are Styrofoam. The utensil of choice is plastic spoons. Cleanup between the seatings is quick: shove and go.

Meals completed, tables are broken down and the mariachi band makes its exit. The band on the stage takes over. The music is so loud I can feel it vibrate in my stomach. The next few hours are a well-orchestrated event with periodic doses of beer, candy, tequila, cake, gifts, and dancing. At one point this huge puppet with a papermache face comes out and twirls in the crowd. I am dancing. Everyone is dancing. And then, all of a sudden, the puppet is hoisted on top of me! Already the tallest person in the room, I am now the enormous orange puppet, swinging my fake arms and shaking my rustling hair.

Forget keeping a low profile. After dancing in the puppet, I am a quasi-star of the party, part celebrity, part clown. The band gives me a free autographed cd. I hear my name every so often -- at one point, while sitting down (taking a break), the dj mentions my name and and something about dancing, and everyone turns towards me and laughs. It is friendly and fun.

Lots of gifts come flying through the air throughout the afternoon. Candy. Sombreros. Balloons. At one point all the ladies get handed a pineapple. Then we are led in a line dance with pineapples and sombreros. (I want to take a picture, but my hands are full with the said pineapple).

We bid our adieu (or, um, adios) around 8:30pm. Everyone waves. A man I had danced with a couple of times gallently kisses my hand. We climb into the VW bug and head home.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Squirmin' Herman

I have gotten a few freelance questions about setting up worm bins lately. Today during my internet clickings, I stumbled across this ridiculously cute (and informative) website on worms. The star of the site is a worm called "Squirmin' Herman." Oh yeah.

One thing I learned is that worms have five hearts. Who knew?! Maybe worm bins will become the next big Valentine's Day gift....

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Language Head Jenga

When I went to Africa with the Peace Corps in 2002, my aunt, Sandy, said, "Honey, even if you don't speak the language, just smile. Everyone understands a smile." As a result, I spent the first few months in Cote d'Ivoire, and then Madagascar, with a big, goofy smile on my face.

I have bypassed the status of village idiot this time. I am currently in Oaxaca, Mexico, a pleasant town famed for its culture, laid back atmosphere, and Spanish schools. I am smiling in my language class, but not because I feel clueless. Indeed, my one year of high school Spanish is coming back (thanks, Ms. Kelleher).

My head feels like a big jenga puzzle -- you know, the game with wooden pieces stacked together? My brain bits get re-stacked daily, with French and Malagasy settling lower and lower in my cerebral hierarchy.

My favorite new word, so far, is alegría, which means happiness. (It is also a tasty and nutritious rice-krispy-like-treat sold by the street vendors. Mmmm.)