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Art as Damage Control

Steps of St Paul's
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Olivia and Nate hosted Elliott’s birthday party at CHAP. Fabulous. I was reminded, near the end, that reusing takes many forms, and art is an important step. I was reminded to think of damage as opportunities for art.

I studied sustainability, right? Reduce, reuse, and recycle has been a mantra in varying forms since I was in fifth grade. So, why would I consider tossing out this beautiful silk scarf because it tears?

Why? Because I don’t understand the material. I wrap it around my neck, tossing it, sometimes haughtily when it falls off my shoulder. Sometimes I’m gentle admiring its delicate weaves. Sometimes I’m rough just getting it out of the way.

Somewhere along the way, this beautiful, gifted to me, silk scarf began to tear. It was in the last year. I’ve had it for eight. The wonders of silk: it’s both warm and cool. It’s soft. Easy to wash and dries quickly. And now the poor thing has snags.

The (likely) Director suggested I put beads on the snags. I can’t even picture how that would work! Art as damage control. Reduce, reuse, recycle. I can see the end product but not the process to get there. I can imagine the soft silk juxtaposed with some sparkely beads.

I fear that an attempting at inserting beads would snag it beyond repair, and therein lies my paralysis to art as damage control.

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Waste in Jars

It’s reusable. It’s durable. It’s made of glass. And, it’s not allowed in daycares, for reasoning I can understand but think is flawed.

“No glass,” was what I was told the first day of Levi’s daycare. The day after we visited Jim’s Jars, the eccentric jar seller to folks in the Portland area.

“Why doesn’t Levi have any food left?” I asked on day two after they told me he didn’t eat any of his lunch. Oregon State Law they claimed. The quoted text I was given does indeed say food that has been uneaten must be thrown out, but it doesn’t give a time-line. Secondly, I find flaws in their argument that plastic baggies allow more food preservation than plastic tubs. The same concept for the plastic baggy can be used on the tub, but isn’t.

You have to conform to daycare’s schedules. This particular place has 1/2 time in the AM. They are giving me a break these first two weeks because I am being trained. My job will require I attend meetings upwards of the early afternoon. I will have to be at work at least 4 days per week. Why are daycares so inflexible? They should be offering a service to parents, not a tyranny on care.

So, what are we left with? Wasting food when it’s brought in glass jars, one of the most renewable resources we have. Daycares, by their created nature, are wasteful and unhealthy. But, what do you do as a parent?

It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. It makes me a little angry. The magic number for daycare to pay for itself in a way that makes it so I am not paying to go to work is 2.2 x daycare. The estimate we came up with last year was higher than “starting wages” for all jobs I applied for. I found the magic combo of a job to my personality, and they granted me what I want for pay, and now it doesn’t look like it’d be enough. Mistake #1: budgeted that magic ratio on full time. But, this is what I want as a part time job. I want part time. I want this job. Daycare rates increased since last year. To maximize the time for Levi to be there under 5 hours, the magic number for half time, the daycare needs to be close to my work.

There is another place. The place I initially wanted. It’s right across the street from my job. I have to reconcile in my head, though, what Potty Trained really means. Because I’m inclined to say “No” when Levi goes all day long in daycare but not at home.

Please wish me good luck. I like this job. I want this job.

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Recycling at the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Castle
The Castle at the Smithsonian

In April, I had the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. for the National Low Income Housing Coalition Conference. We were in D.C. for five days. Two mostly occupied by travel, one day to ourselves, and two days in NLIHC workshops. The conference was very educational, informative, and interesting. As a board member for the Community Alliance of Tenants, it’s always nice to see how our actions are impacted by national and state policy.

La Promenade in L'Enfant Plaza, Washington, D....
L'Enfant Plaza and hotel, Washington, D.C. Image via Wikipedia

On our “free day”, we were able to play tourist. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve been to D.C. The last time was with Project Close-Up in 1995 while I was a junior in high school. I wanted to revisit some of the things I saw in 1995 and others I didn’t have a chance to see. Luckily, our hotel, L’Enfant Plaza, was just three blocks south of the Smithsonian block and the Mall. I wanted to walk around, take it all in, and explore. The Freer Gallery was on the top of my list, after lunch.

We lunched at the Castle Cafe inside the Smithsonian’s information Castle. We consumed an overpriced, fair-tasting, lunch filled with wraps, and yogurt. I was amazed at the variety of sustainable products for sale. We had choices of fair trade coffee and teas, organic yogurts and fruits, all available on or in compostable products.

The quandary came into play when I went to dispose of said eco items. There was a small recycling station, but nary the availability of the Capitol (which I was to find in three days). Offering compostable products is really important. But equally, or more, important is offering a place to put the green products other than the trash.

Compostable Glasses
Compostable serving-ware found at the Smithsonian and available throughout the Capitol buildings.
Smithsonian Recycling Station
This is the recycling station at the Smithsonian. Notice there is no space for compost.

When I think of the Smithsonian, History comes to mind. Preservation and the ideas of being a step ahead of the “average person” are all stereotypes I associate with the institution. I was very pleased to see such a wide sampling of eco things at our nations Capitol. There were spaces everywhere for depositing soda cans. Our nation’s government buildings emphasized organic foods, fair trade, shade grown, and all served in compostable wares. The Rayburn House Office Building was the only building that offered a space in which to deposit those wares. Closing the loop on all things is probably the most important concept of sustainability.

It’s great to offer recycling. It’s important to recycle. But, if we fail to purchase recycled products, where does the recycled content go? There would be no market for it. Two things are needed to make recycling work. One, a system in which to collect the thing. Two, a market for the thing. When I lived in Lansing, Michigan in 2001, the city refused to take any colored glass because there was no local market for it. Sure, glass is plentiful, it’s made of sand. It’s also super easy to recycle and has almost no net-energy use when it’s recycled. Of anything to recycle, glass is one of the most important, but there was no market so no easy way to get it into the system.

Recycling will routinely be taken to a trash facility if there are no buyers to take the plastics. On one hand, you can argue you need the demand first, so the Smithsonian isn’t entirely to blame. But, I was really surprised when the Rayburn House Office Building offered a space for compost. Both facilities, within a mile of each other, are in D.C. Presumably both facilities have their waste picked up by the same service and taken to the same place.

I do not know what kind of composting services the D.C. area has. There may be a small facility that can only take what the Capitol buildings provide. But, when compostable products are made available for use without a place to put them when they are done being used (outside of the trash), the availability of said product amounts to green washing. That is, it is wasteful and imprudent to offer compostable products if there is no compost to put the product when one is done using it.

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The Urban Homestead

A lot dealing with sustainability answers the question, “How can I do for myself?” A major component of sustainability is keeping things local, and what’s more local than supplying for yourself from your place on this earth? Whether it be an apartment, a small house with a small yard, or a farmhouse, a new book breaks it down in simple ideas for the Average American.

The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficiency (review and blog) examines this question in a simple, easy-to-read format. It’s what we did with the Tolman Guide, it but makes the techy stuff easier to swallow. In The Urban Homestead you will find easy to understand tips for making your own cleaning products, how-to-compost and what to look for, and even a lengthy section on fermentation and storing food.

I will admit, I was a bit envious when I read it. The thought, “We did this first!” kept screaming through my head. But, they did it in a manner that’s easier to understand, and they hit many highlights of living in the city.

A must-read for any person who wants to live closer to the land in the city.

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Some thoughts on plastics

Some folks, when discussing ‘going green’, emphasize the extreme holistic side of going green. They would like everyone to stop what they are doing and convert most everything away from anything deemed harmful. For example, plastics are a big no-no to these folks. Granted, much can be said about the evils of plastics, such as the creation of PVC. For example, Judith Helfand does a fantastic job describing the intricate lifestyle of vinyl in her documentary Blue Vinyl. In this film, Helfand raised some interesting and poignant questions such as, “What’s the Average Joe supposed to really do to get out of these vicious cycles?” The green folks who would like us to abandon plastics all together often don’t seem to address these types of questions well, if at all.

Plastics, it is argued, are bad for us, for our environment, and our psyche. But, we must contend that plastics are here and we do need to do something with them. So, if we’re not to use them, then what? A very important part of ‘going green’ is closing the loop on our production and consumption. If we abandon one side of production in favor of another, we must close the loop on the abandoned side and ensure a closed loop system for the favored side. So, although folks may feel plastics aren’t for them, we still have a larger societal wide concern with what to do with those pesky plastics.

One way to close the loop on production systems is to remember the quaint coined phrase, “Reduce, Reuse & Recycle.” First, we must reduce our impact on the earth, which means simply not wasting as much as before. And, if at every level we are continuously reducing our waste, we won’t be satisfied until we get our waste as close to zero as possible. Second, we must reuse what we have until it is no longer usable. In the case of plastics, many of us have become accustomed to using plastic for things like food storage. Reusing means reusing that same Ziploc container over and over until it can no longer store food or anything. If certain greenies desire total abandonment of said Ziploc container, that should raise a red flag about their true intentions. Lastly, the 3Rs instruct us to recycle that which we have not reduced and is no longer suited for reusing. Previous posts direct Portland residents where to recycle these pesky plastics. And, rest assured, when recycling with the Master Recyclers, many of the plastics to be recycled are turned into wood-composites suitable for fences, benches, and other household improvement projects.

The moral of this diatribe is to close the loop on our systems so we are not impacting the earth more than we already are. If we take from what is already extracted, we won’t have to extract more from our limited and prescious resources. If someone, then, suggests to you to abandon all your plastics, remind them that the 3Rs come first and once your loop is closed you will find alternatives should you desire them.