Saturday, June 20, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green (Part 1)

Considering we live in the Evergreen state - we don’t live in the “greenest” of regions. This is kind of funny given the Department of Energy’s stronghold on the area. Washington state has a reputation for hippies, trees and ecological friendliness. Thanks to the west side for all that. We reside in the east side. The land of nuclear waste and open desert – yes desert in Washington state – at least half the state is high desert. And no, I am not joking.

I think back to living in Boulder, Colorado from 1991 to 1996 and I don’t think this region is even close to catching up with Boulder in the 90’s. Though Boulder IS a special circumstance… those of you who have visited, understand. It may be more fair to compare to Reno in the late 90’s. I would put the area on par with Reno… which doesn’t say much to compare it to the great state of Nevada where (when I lived there) you could smoke in grocery stores.

Parts of our town recently received the first installment of a pilot recycling program. A dumpster for recycling that if I understand the program correctly (our old neighborhood is part of the pilot, not the new) decreases trash pick up to every other week, with the off weeks being recycling pick up. I am hoping that the pilot program gets picked up and we will soon have our own recycling bin at the new house.

However, I do understand the economics of recycling at least a little. Statistics show that a lot of recyclables actually end up in the landfill. And when you live in a small region that doesn’t have local recycling infrastructure, the benefits of recycling are quickly outweighed by the cost to ship/truck the recyclables to a larger population center (which may or may not then be recycled per the above).

When I was a little girl my grandmother and I would walk around her neighborhood (not the best part of Casper, WY) and pick up aluminum cans. Then we would take them to the big recycling center in town where they would weigh them and we would get a few bucks for ice cream. I started recycling way before it was “the thing” to do. Interesting though that now any aluminum cans usually end up in our trash. (Though AB and I have both quit drinking pop and so we don’t have the aluminum can dilemma in our home anymore.)

Now? I hate to admit that our recycling is limited to cardboard and whatever glass and plastics we pull together the week or two leading up to the needed trip to the recycling drop off. I do make an effort to reuse plastic bags though and I would eventually like to switch the kids over to cute Bento boxes for lunches instead of baggies containing their food.

Then there is the whole organic push. As a chemist I believe in better living through chemistry. And in some instances, organic farming does not mesh with sustainable farming. Though the details on this are admittedly vague to me. However, nearly everything lately is labeled “organic!” and much of the processed foods (gasp, yes, we eat processed foods) that we enjoy sport the label. It is almost to the point that going non-organic is hard. (Not that in the large scheme of things, I care one way or another about this one, I have bigger things on my list of concerns.)

I am admittedly a part time locavore too. We look forward to eating the locally grown produce every year and enjoy the seasonality of lots of fruits and vegetables. The Farmer’s Market is a favorite outing on Saturdays and the single most authentic Farmer’s Market I have ever attended. In Reno, the food was trucked over from the Central Valley in California and was essentially the same produce you were getting at the store except that the proceeds were going directly to the farmer instead of to the grocery store and whatever route it then takes to the farmer. This was except for asparagus and garlic. I loved the Boulder Farmer’s Market and I still hold a strong preference for Colorado corn and peaches. But likewise, those were trucked in from all over the state. This area has afforded us the opportunity to become true locavores…

in the summer.

But our locavore status wanes around October and doesn’t pick up again until June. A true locavore would maybe not eat any vegetables then, I suppose? Or maybe they would have been more organized than I am and have canned and preserved all summer. (Something I would LIKE to do.) Nope, in the winter I buy my broccoli from somewhere, my bell peppers from Mexico or Chile and we eat a lot of canned fruit from anywhere BUT China. I buy berries in the winter from Costco because walking by the plump blueberries without grabbing a quart in the dead of winter is nearly impossible. I tell myself that this is ok, because it is supporting farmers in other countries. Which is the better trade off – supporting other countries or the environmental cost of shipping the produce? No idea.

Oh then there is light bulbs. A year or two ago there was a huge push at my son’s school to replace ALL your light bulbs with compact fluorescents. We happily wrote our name down on the list and the number of bulbs we replaced so that the 1st and 2nd graders could calculate out how much energy we had saved as a school. Then I noticed something. Those bulbs freaking suck. The light is awful. They are fluorescent bulbs – the same ones that everyone complains about as being artificial in office buildings. The twitch and take a few seconds to come on. Then they don’t just burn out, they die a slow death whereby the light gradually fades. Oh and they don’t work with dimmers. Found that one out recently after I replaced four bulbs in ceiling fan and turned them on, adjusted the light and then jumped as I listened to all four pop. That was a waste.

I can deal with compact fluorescents in a few places – the high ceilings of our garage where it is a serious pain to change the bulbs. Outside on the patio for the same reason. The spare bathrooms. Basically areas where the light quality doesn’t really matter and/or where it might be a pain in the butt to change the light bulbs.

To be continued...

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