Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday in Cambodia

The power went out Monday morning in the MeRF, allowing for an eerie distraction from normal routine upon entering the plant. The front doors were locked (since they run on automatic power), so I entered the recycling facility through the bat cave entrance to the sound of shovels scraping glass and other discards that fall to the production floor off the lines. Back-up power allowed for basic lighting and heat, but the isolated system disturbance caused by a weekend snow storm allowed for strictly manual tasks to be performed. No coffee or computing, the hallmarks of morning office routine. I was ready to brave the velociraptors and make it to the caged bunker housing the manual override controls when the power abruptly came back on after about an hour. Life returned to normal.

Our reliance on electricity is staggeringly taken for granted, so much so that we don't know how to live without it. Think about all the kitchen appliances, electronics and heating/AC/wired systems you use in during the day and imagine living a year or even a month without them. That's what Colin Beavan and his family did as an experiment, living without any energy emissions, new products or even (egads!) toilet paper for a year calling himself the "No Impact Man." With a book and movie deal promised beforehand by an agent I would probably not hesitate to do something equally as sensational. I must have missed the documentary at Silverdocs, but I plan to see the film at some point. The environmental impact, or lack thereof, by the Beavan family over the course of the year (one family produces 1600 pounds of waste), let alone the attention garnered by such an act, shows us that it's possible for individuals other than superheroes to start saving the world. My comrade Davey Rogner plans to walk across America picking up trash in Spring 2010 highlighting the need for better waste stream management and the incredible amount of trash Americans produce and discard. Putting aside the debate over whether "eco-stunts" work, the Beavan family and Rogner show us that it's possible to live an extreme zero waste lifestyle, albeit uncomfortable and humbling.

What's more important for us is to learn from these examples and start making changes in the way we consume, the way we discard, and the way we interact with the earth. This message is even more important as the holidays approach. There is an estimated 25% increase in solid waste during the holidays according to Waste & Recycling News. This is due to an increase in shopping, the packaging that gifts go through in their lifespans as gifts, the abundant spreads of food and drank at feasts and parties (Winter Ales here I come). Eco-Cycle has released their guide to making the holidays more eco-friendly, (non-residents can disregard the local Colorado info towards the bottom).

Among the top priorities you should consider this season is using recycled cards and gift wrap, or substituting hard-to-recycle gift wrap with newspaper, fabric or cloth wrapping materials. Try not to use any polystyrene peanuts or bubble wrap, as much fun as popping them compulsively is. Buying local, used, or recycled gifts cut down on an item's ecological footprint by not using virgin materials or transportation costs as do gifts that keep on giving like bikes, rechargeable batteries, reusable cloth bags or activity gifts like tickets to a ball game or concert. Setting up a compost bin during family feasts is important to save on food waste and potential fertilizer. Don't send your Christmas tree to a landfill, compost it out back. Recycle any old electronics that you may be replacing with newer versions at responsible recycling locations (look on for help with this). Donate any unused gifts from past years to thrift stores and deliver surplus food to homeless shelters. Following some of these simple steps will help decrease the waste load and contribute to less habitants on the Island of Misfit Toys.

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