Tag Archives: reduce

Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer

The “middle” of the craft beer market is dead.  Successful craft brewers caught between the mega corporations like AB InBev and the nimble locally focused brewers are either selling to the big boys (e.g. New Belgium Brewery) or downsizing (e.g. Boulder Beer).  Heck, even the big boys are getting out of the craft beer game after realizing that nationally distributed craft beers are not really attractive to a consumer with hyper local choices.  Yes, I am looking at you Constellation Brands.

Instead of forking over money to a faraway brewery that might actually just be a faraway mega corporation, make your beer consumption as local as possible.

Better yet, make your beer consumption a direct affair.  Buy your beer directly from the brewery.  Do not involve a distributor or a retailer.  Make every dollar go to the brewery.  It can make a difference.  The most successful new breweries—over the past five years or so—seem to be the ones who operate with a taproom as their primary source of revenue.  Why?  It cuts out the middle man and avoids the headaches of distribution.

Even when you buy local beer at the grocery store it potentially involves a number of middle men.  In some states it is possible for your local brewery to “self-distribute” but this is a hard road and really only works in a hyper local type of market.  Even in this instance there is the retail outlet’s need for some level of profit.

Going further, make your beer consumption a packaging neutral affair.

The old saw about recycling an aluminum can is that it saves approximately 95% of the energy compared to creating an aluminum can out of virgin ore.  This is usually equated to running a light bulb for an entire day or watching a television for a couple of hours.  Calculate a different way, recycling one pound of aluminum (approximately 33 cans or a “dirty thirty” of PBR) saves around 7 kWh of electricity.

However, even recycling that aluminum can uses energy and contributes to a global supply chain that uses a lot of energy.  The aluminum supply chain, unfortunately, does not have a 100% recovery rate as evidenced by the number of cans I pick up along my usual cycling route in a given week.  Removing any volume from this supply chain is an environmental win.

By utilizing a reusable package, in this case a glass growler or “meowler,” removes aluminum packaging from the waste/recovery stream.  I am sure that there is a calculation to figure out how many times I need to use a growler to compensate for its own production costs in terms of energy, but given that I have owned the same growler for almost five years I am going to consider those costs accounted for several times over.

The goal is to buy beer that is made locally, purchased directly from the brewery, and in packaging that is reusable.  Local, direct, and packaging neutral.  It’s the future.

Friday Linkage 12/13/2019

It’s Friday the 13th and I am wondering how we got here.  By here I mean the current situation that we find ourselves in.  A situation where a literal madman is President of the United States and restrained solely by his incompetence.  A situation where a dime store version of that same madman is the elected leader of the United Kingdom and taking that country down a ruinous path purely for vanity.  A situation where we all realize, at some level, that our climate is changing because of our behaviors but we act as If we are powerless to change.

Are we doomed?

On to the links…

American Trash: How an E-Waste Sting Uncovered a Shocking Betrayal—You should just assume that whatever you drop off to be recycled is not going to be recycled.  Whether it is e-waste being shipped around the world to illicit dumps or plastic being burned in an incinerator the idea and reality of recycling in the West is broken.

The Dark Side of Recycling—Not buying as much stuff that needs to be recycled is the important thing, not figuring out ways to recycle our trash.  Remember: reduce, reuse, and recycle.  The first R is the most important because it is the most impactful.

Air Pollution is Much More Harmful than You Know—Air pollution is a prime cause of cognitive impairment in people who are exposed.  Naturally, the Trump administration wants to allow companies to pollute even more because…reasons.

New Energy Secretary: Trump has Directed Agency to Find ‘Different Ways to Utilize Coal’—When no one wants to use your product you have to find new markets.  Get ready to hear a lot about coal as Trump heads out on the never ending campaign rally.  It’s about the only thing his mind can get a handle on anymore.

Move Over, Coal: Gas now Emits More CO2 in U.S.—It was bound to happen as coal was replaced by natural gas.  However, it brings home the fact that while natural gas is better than coal it is not better than renewables.

Natural Gas Companies Call for Carbon Tax—When an industry is amenable to a tax on itself you know that it is trying to protect itself from something far worse.

Island Utility Aims For Two-Thirds Renewable Energy By 2020—Kauai can show us the future.

A 2.9-Megawatt Solar Project For 10 Schools & 24% Of Richmond Public Schools’ Electricity Needs—How much energy could we make if we covered all of our big buildings with solar panels.  Let’s say its twenty percent or so.  That means without using any additional land we could make twenty percent of our energy from existing buildings at the point of use.

Electric Car Battery Production Causes Less CO2 Emissions than Once Thought: Study—The holidays are not over yet, so you might end up in an argument with your Fox News loving drunk Uncle Carl who thinks that the production of a single battery for a Tesla is the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez running aground because Alex Jones told him so.

Nissan Showcases Brake Regen Tech With LEAF Christmas Tree—As the owner of a Nissan Leaf I wish there was a way for me to know how much energy I have recaptured through regenerative braking.  Like a little dash readout or something.

These 3 Supertrees can Protect Us from Climate Collapse—Anyone who knows me knows that I am a “tree guy.”  I believe that trees hold the potential to save us from a climate catastrophe if we are willing to help reforest the planet.  Whether it is forests of “super trees” or just basic trees in your suburban yard, it is trees that have the power.

The No-Flush Movement: The Unexpected Rise of the Composting Toilet—Is this really a thing?  I get composting toilets for people who do not want to deal with a septic system or who have an otherwise “off grid” lifestyle.

Will Buffalo Become a Climate Change Haven?—Will there be any havens when the climate crisis gets bad?

Stuff I Like: FloWorks Drying Rack

So much handwashing.  I have lamented the state of handwashing in my house now that my focus the past six weeks or so has been the reduction of single use plastics in things like school lunches.  What this really translates into is eliminating single use zipper style bags for sandwiches and grapes.  Two lunches equals four bags per day which works out to twenty bags per week.

Seven or so weeks into the school year and we have already saved approximately 140 bags from making their way into the landfill.  However, this has meant a change in the evening ritual.  For me it means an additional four things to wash by hand and leave to dry for the next day.  Unlike water bottles or coffee mugs, reusable bags are kind of a pain to wash and dry.  The drying aspect is especially troublesome.

Enter the FloWorks Drying Rack:

IMG_20191016_111601351_PORTRAIT

This thing works and does not look like a refugee from a baby supply store.  It claims to be made from repurposed birch and ash wood and plywood scavenged from furniture makers in Canada.  Good on them, eh.

The whole thing also skinnies down to a cylinder that can be stored in a normal size utensil drawer:

IMG_20191016_111627533_PORTRAIT

This is super handy when you are spending a day cleaning the kitchen counters and want everything out of sight.  I am not going all Marie Kondo in my kitchen, but I do love it when there is a place for everything and the clutter is eliminated.

It may not be the biggest change you make this year, but eliminating the disposal of plastic bags on a daily basis is a good place to make a dent in your consumption of single use plastic items.

Note: I purchased the FloWorks Drying Rack with my own funds and receive nothing in return from the manufacturer.  I also receive nothing in return from the linked store, which in this case is Amazon much to my chagrin.

Pertinent Lessons from Our Recent Past

A little off the beaten path for tourists in London is the Imperial War Museum.  It’s still a quick tube ride from the central part of the city and it is just a two stops away from the always tasty Borough Market.  Plus, depending on the line you take you will get to stop at the Elephant & Castle station.  I think that name is just smashing.

The museum has all the usual exhibits that glorify the British Empire—one quarter of the world’s landmass, one quarter of the world’s population, the sun never sets on the British Empire, etc.—through World War I and II with a small, yet quite impactful, exhibit on the Holocaust.  However, the part of the museum that I found most interesting dealt with the home front during World War II.

The home front usually gets short shrift in any analysis of a war effort.  World War II in Britain was a little different because the horrors of war made it across the English Channel in German raids on London and other cities.  Children were shipped to the countryside where it was deemed safer and Londoners huddled in shelters as bombs or rockets rained down.  With a stiff upper lip, so to speak, the nation kept calm and carried on.

My daughter and I probably spent close to an hour in the home front exhibition looking at the types of food that were available or not available and why or the measures taken by households to conserve materials in order to supply troops.  The impression that my ten year old daughter was left with was how little a house could make do with if it had to. Her seven year old brother, naturally, loved the display of World War I grenades.

As we face an uncertain climate in the coming decades and the attendant consequences of that climate change we may be forced into a situation where our everyday begins to resemble the home front during an armed global conflagration.

Victory is in the Kitchen

Victory is in the Kitchen

It is my belief that we can make some of the biggest impacts from the comfort of our homes and the center of our homes is the kitchen.  It is the place where my family spends the most time together and it is probably where I spend the most time teaching my children.  Some parents play catch or go on hikes, I teach my kids how to dice onions, mince garlic, deglaze pans, and build flavors.

Change starts at home.  The food we choose to make and eat forms the core of our value system as self-described environmentalists.  If you are not trying to be a better human in the kitchen you might as well stop sweating the other stuff.

Food: Don’t Waste It

Food Dont Waste It

In the United States it is estimated that 30 to 40% of food goes to waste.  Given the impact of agriculture on climate change this is unacceptable.  Furthermore, given that in this age of abundance when we are dealing with diseases of over consumption, e.g. obesity related illnesses, there are still millions of people that go hungry every day.

Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend

Repair is the forgotten action that we can take to conserve.  Almost everything, save for our homes and automobiles, is basically disposable in modern capitalist economies.  Even big ticket items like appliances are seen as disposable, which blows my mind.  Here’s the thing, repairing stuff has never been easier.  The internet is literally chock a block full of people posting repair instructions, wiring diagrams, parts lists, etc. that can help even the least handy of us repair many of the items we once viewed as disposable.

Can I do Without It?

Can I Do Without

Is there a better question to ask yourself about any purchase that you make?  The most environmentally conscious purchase is usually one that we do not make.  Sure, there are the obvious wins like replacing high usage light bulbs with the most efficient LED bulbs or replacing a fifteen year old refrigerator with a more efficient model.  However, many of the “green” purchases we make are just adding consumption to the system that is destroying our planet.  It may be made of organic cotton, but do you really need another t-shirt?

Self-Indulgence at This Time is Helping the Enemy

Self Indulgence

I just love how direct some of the messaging was during World War II.  This poster is basically saying, “Don’t be a dick, we’re fighting a war here.”  How many of our problems, with regard to climate change, could be solved if people were just somewhat less self-indulgent?  I will let you stew on that thought for now.

You Must Read—Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade

Hard as I try to imagine the cars that this rubble once was, I can’t. It’s like standing in a supermarket meat section, staring at a package of hamburger and trying to imagine cows. [Page 229]

We, as consumers in Western countries, do not really recycle. We harvest. When we dutifully put our recyclables in one bin or seven, depending on the country’s recycling norms, we are just harvesting the raw material for the people who really recycle our old bottles, cans, Christmas lights, and so on. For most of us that bin of nearly-trash is out of sight and out of mind while we have assuaged our green guilt for another day.

9781608197910The words at the top are Adam Minter’s, who brings childhood memories of being the son of a scrapyard owner and a unique perspective to Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, so it is surprising that sometimes he cannot see the trees for the forest when it comes to scrap. It speaks to the transformation that our end products go through once they leave our possession and become “trash.” I, like the author, am hesitant to call anything trash after reading this book because somewhere, usually in a developing economy hungry for jobs and cheap raw materials, has found a way to extract something of value for either reuse or recycling from our refuse.

Adam Minter’s father and grandmother ran a scrapyard in the Twin Cities, which sparked a lifelong interest in the colorful world of scrap. The story, like so many nowadays, really comes to fruition in China where the author details the workshops and companies that hoover material in the United States and other countries to fuel China’s economic growth. Without the recycling of scrap from the developed Western countries it is quite possible that China would not be enjoying the amazing economic growth of recent history.

It’s stunning the value that can be gleaned from surprising places. There are workshops in China that specialize in removing the copper wire from string lights. You know, those little twinkly lights that hipsters love to decorate patios with, have some copper but it’s wrapped in a lot of nearly worthless insulation. I say nearly worthless because someone figured out that slipper makers could use the plastic for the soles of inexpensive shoes.

The story about the recycling of cars surprised me the most. I always assumed that cars were recycled, but there was a period when rising wages post-World War II combined with a boom in the sales of cars created a situation where more cars were being junked than could be economically broken down into recyclable parts. Millions of cars polluted the landscape until someone came up with an effective way to shred the cars into little flakes of metal. It was only recently that we finally caught up to the backlog of cars that were abandoned and that was perhaps a function of the economic crisis that slowed the retirement of older automobiles. Also interesting was the fact that the average junked car has $1.65 in loose change. How come I can never find that money when I am looking for meter fare?

The thing that nagged at me the entire book was the thought of how much stuff was buried in landfills across the United States. Before it was economical to shred cars or mechanically separate mixed metals or strip metals from electronics that trash was probably buried. It’s just sitting somewhere, interred until we could figure out a way to economically mine and process the material. Are we sitting on billions of dollars of buried waste?

Junkyard Planet is a trip into a world most of us will never see or consider because we have no access or concept of how the scrap economy functions. Heck, most of us could not tell you where the closest junkyard actually is located unless we repair cars or have a predilection for odd Instructables that require things like washing machine motors.

Why Don’t We Celebrate the Garage Sale?

I spent the weekend—okay Friday and Saturday—manning the payment table at my family’s garage sale.  Initially, I was skeptical of the entire endeavor because I did not want to spend the better part of a glorious spring weekend watching people sift through my stuff in the hopes of trading the ignominy for a dollar or two.

This attitude seemed like a total “first world problem” the more I sat and thought about the humble garage sale.

First, what was I going to do with all of this stuff.  Sure, I could donate it to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or the local Young Parents Network.  Some of my children’s clothes and gear will make it to the YPN next week for sure, but it seems insane to merely drop off a car load or four of clothes, housewares, and what not on the unsuspecting folks at Goodwill.  Too often we treat charitable organizations like free dumps to sort through and dispose of our unwanted stuff.

Some things even charitable organizations want nothing to do with because of liability concerns, like cribs and car seats.  What do you do with these serviceable items when your children have decided that sleeping on the floor is the preferred option now?  It seems silly to load up a car and take it all to the dump.

Besides, when all was said and done my wife and I netted over $1000 for a day’s worth of work.  Not too shabby for selling stuff I would have gladly given away to someone who needed it.  Heck, we did give away all of our baby boy clothes and other baby gear to a friend who was having their first child.  I cannot imagine how much we might have netted with all of that gear available for sale.

Second, there is a lot of life in the stuff we have in storage.  Children’s clothes, especially baby clothes, might last three months before the child grows out of them assuming the clothes are not destroyed by blowouts, vomit, or spills.  I don’t have use for a box full of beer mirrors—gotta’ love Old Style—but someone might want some decoration for the so-sad “man cave.”

Third, it is psychologically cleansing to get rid of stuff.  I do not know what part of the brain the activity excites, but I feel so much better after clearing away dusty boxes full of stuff that I will never use again.  Why do we keep all of this stuff?  Why is there an entire industry dedicated to providing storage for the stuff that cannot fit into our homes anymore?

Maybe a better question is why we do we buy so much stuff?

Lastly, the city-wide or neighborhood-wide garage sale is like a community event.  In the span of a day I saw more of my neighbors than I would over the course of a week or more.  The people who were not having a sale at their house were out and about talking to the people having sales.  A food truck could have done a massive business by parking nearby with all of the foot traffic.  If there is one component of resiliency in the face of any kind of turmoil that is often overlooked it is community.  We are stronger, in all aspects, when the community is strong.

IKEA Recycles and Composts

On my latest vist to IKEA in the Twin Cities–okay, it’s in Bloomington but at least its north of the river–I came away with an armload of foodstuff, a chair for my daughter to sit at the dinner table, and an interesting anecdote.

In the cafeteria–where we snacked on a cinnamon roll and a few cups of coffee in the morning–I came across the waste bins:

Sorry for the craptastic quality, but I am an awful iPhone photographer

It’s not that IKEA recycles or composts, but that the presence of options made people think about their waste for a moment.  A couple of ten year old kids–from Iowa judging by the presence of Hawkeye gear–stopped with their trays and talked about where to put their waste.  Is this waste?  Is this paper?  Can I put this food in there?

Thinking about something for a moment outside of your normal routine is the first step to meaningful change.

Another thing about IKEA in Minneapolis, it’s got a bad ass solar roof.  How bad ass?   Try over 4,000 solar panels.  Check out the pictures at inhabitat.  Why doesn’t every big box store, warehouse, factory, and distribution center have a bad ass solar roof?