16 October 2007

green leaf blower?

what to do if you want lazy, but conscientious citizens to live a "greener" lifestyle:

* create a city wide, curbside recycling program that is easy to use

* create financial incentives for reducing the amount of trash each household
sends to the landfill

* educate people about composting

* designate obvious bike lanes all over town, and install lane marking barriers at
intersections to reinforce the existance of the lanes

* install large bike racks everywhere, especially on the university campus, which
happens to be the heart of the town

* support a large scale farmer's market

* foster a pedestrian friendly town plan, and encourage density downtown, vs growth
along the edges

i am as worried about mother earth as the next guy (oh wait, does that expression really work here?) and i have been since 1986 or so, when i first began to grasp the environmental crisis we are faced with. but i started to give the value of my individual actions a second glance about a decade later. i often wonder if my piddly household recycling efforts really make much difference at all when the oil refinery/chemical plant a few miles away is busy belching toxic waste into the water, earth and air for stretches of miles and miles. the whole system we live in is completely fucked and misguided. it is impossible to be consistent with anything like protecting the earth, or going vegetarian. factory farming is a travesty, whether it is chickens or soybeans. it seems to me that the reasons we do things like recycle beverage containers is simply to feel good in a situation where we feel out of control, guilty and afraid. i think child safety products play upon a similar set of emotions. we feel out of control when it comes to keeping our child safe, so we purchase products to help us feel more in control, safer. these products do not ensure safety, but they can help us feel better, and feel like we are doing what we can to protect our child. i think it is similar to how we feel about the environment. we know it is out of our hands, but we are worried and we feel the weight of responsibility. so we take these futile actions that help make us feel like we are at least doing something. i often suspect we are doing absolutely nothing.

that said, i wanted to post something for blog action day about the effect of my new location on my habits with regard to being "green." i keep putting that word in scare quotes, maybe i just shouldn't use it at all. mostly, we have noticed that we have become a lot less wasteful since we moved here, and here are some of the reasons:

when we arrived in the house we are renting, there was a magnet on the fridge (our landlord brought our mail inside) with information about our trash pick up days, and recycling days. the actual dates were listed for the whole year, and all holidays are listed as well. no guessing, is today recycle day? there was also a brochure with more detailed information about what items can be recycled (plastic, glass, metal paper and cardboard), and how they need to be packaged for pickup. i have never, as a renter, received such complete and accurate information about city recycling.
the city of bloomington charges a fee for each trash can or bag of trash that goes to the landfill. so, you can put as many bags or bins on the curb as you want, but you need to put a trash sticker on each one. the stickers cost $2 each, and can be purchased all around town at grocery stores, hardware stores, etc. trash pick up is once a week, recycling is every other week. recycling pickup is free and unlimited. all you have to do is separate paper stuff from the other stuff.

two dollars may not sound like much financial incentive, but it has worked wonders in our household. i think we have taken it on as a challenge: how little trash can we send to the landfill each month? so far, we only have our trash picked up every other week, on recycling day, and we have one small can. in order to reduce our trash, we recycle everything possible. i find that i look for products with recyclable packaging, and notice so much more what is getting thrown away. maybe most of you already do this. but i have been very lax about it, only recycling things that are easy and obvious. but the system in this town pulled me into the spirit of it, and now it is just a given, and something we both enjoy doing. part of this has to do with how simple they make it. i know in houston, i would check the city website for a list of materials picked up for curbside recycling, and the information would be wrong. i never saw a printed brochure. if i was out of town for a week, i'd lose track of what day recycling happened on, and i hardly noticed how much trash we were putting in those giant bins they provide everyone with.

one of the other ways we have reduced our trash is by composting. i've always loved the idea of a compost, but it's been impractical in most places i've lived. here, we knew we could do it, and everyone in our neighborhood has a compost bin. the city encourages it, and educates the public about it. one of the first projects we completed for our new home was the building of a small, simple, cylindrical compost bin made of metal stakes and wire fencing/chicken wire. it was very cheap and easy to make, and seems to be working out just fine. we hope to get a chance to use some of it on a garden in the spring.

in addition to waste reduction, we have also cut down a lot on car use. we both have bikes now, mine with a baby seat, and we love riding around town because there are well marked bike lanes and an overall respect for cyclists. the city puts out a great bicycle map, and some of the bike lanes are distinguished by planters placed in the roadway, so drivers don't forget. bike racks are everywhere.i also do a lot more walking. we can walk to downtown or the campus in 12-15 minutes, from our neighborhood, and it's a pleasant walk. the town is small, and the central area is pedestrian friendly by design.

the farmer's market here is supported by the city. it is enormous, in a prime downtown location, and serves as a community gathering place from spring through early winter. there are always several different forms of live entertainment, and some prepared foods in addition to the fresh produce stands. i've purchased local wool for felting and we buy almost all of our produce for the week from the market. we go every week.

it makes sense to me to eat seasonally, and buy locally...the farmer's market facilitates that.

there is also a gigantic, well run children's resale store in town. i will always look there before buying anything new for cosmo. they also pay cash on the spot for stuff you bring in. another kind of recycling center.

so basically, bloomington makes it so easy to do my part. i do it in spite of my continued cynicism about any difference i can hope make in this mess.

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