Betty Shelley has managed to pare her garbage down to a single can in 16 months. It sounds extreme, but this recycling information specialist at Metro has developed habits she insists make her feat little trouble. Read my story in The Oregonian and think about taking her class if you’re up for the challenge. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 503-244-8044.
The season of stuff is upon us! How best to deal with all the wrapping paper, boxes and bags in Portland where garbage pickup is now every other week? The Christmas tree? The new stuff we have to find space for in already over-stuffed houses? Some ideas and thoughts on how to keep it all in check, which ran in the Oregonian today.
So in reporting my story in yesterday’s Oregonian about keeping holiday gift-giving in check, I came across the recently published book “Life at Home in the Twenty-first Century”, which I can’t stop talking about. It depicts the material worlds of 32 families in which both parents work. The photographs are striking: houses and garages packed with stuff. And a lot of it toys.
“We were really blown away by the sheer volume of toys in families’ homes,” Connecticut College assistant anthropology professor Anthony Graesch told me last week about his and his co-authors’ reactions. ”It’s really quite amazing . . It’s spread to almost every corner of the house.”
The holidays often supply the motherlode but gift-giving happens at other times too. Families are working so much more than they used to and that’s made life hectic as parents try to juggle careers, leisure times with kids, maintaining their relationship with each other and keeping up with children’s activities and homework, Graesch said. When people do have down time with their kids, they often give gifts to make it happy and special.
“We place the material needs of children above the concern for the bottom line,” said Graesch. “There are many mechanisms by which we accumulate stuff, not the least of which is gift giving . . . We live in this hyper-capitalized economy where we have fairly nucleated households. We no longer live around our extended families . . Here comes birthday and Christmas and other holidays and sending objects is a way of expressing affection, a symbol of love and devotion, that ‘We’re thinking about you.’”
I struggle with the accumulation of stuff and so Christmas makes me a little anxious. How much is too much? What does enough look like? My husband and I stick to a budget for each of our girls, ages 5 and 7. And yet we still have too many toys. I plan to purge this year and then do my best to buy useful gifts – and not too many. But that’s easier to say than do. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
Turning milk jugs into Snoopy lawn ornaments or single-use water bottles into chandeliers is reuse, and wouldn’t be hard to find in Portland. But it’s not a great example of reuse, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s David Allaway said at the recent ReuseConex 2012 conference in Portland. Reuse in its highest form is about avoiding the larger environmental impacts of producing new stuff. Such crafting, although fun and clever, often just delays the inevitable recycling or landfilling of the garbage.
The basic problem, said Allaway, is when we look at consumption primarily as a waste problem, How do we dispose of it all when we’re done? Instead, David Castle of The Natural Step told the crowd, “We need an economic model that sustains us but doesn’t require us to throw things away.”
The room for this keynote panel discussion was packed with people from all over the country, a group deeply concerned about the sea of stuff we live in, but some also focused on harnessing its latent economic potential through reuse. Reuse, it should be noted, is not the sexiest of the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). That would be recycling, even though it’s the least important and just a step above tossing something in the garbage. While recycling has well-developed stream-lined infrastructure, the reuse movement is smaller and much less coordinated, which the conference is seeking to change by strengthening ties among those trying to create an economy for reuse be it building materials or clothes.
As an aside, I met an artist named Jen LaMastra who makes the most arresting clothes out of the basic detritus of our lives: mini-blinds, bicycle tires, human hair, notebook spirals. Check out her work here:
Other bits and pieces:
Allaway: If we’re not buying “so much stuff made by people in other countries” we’re probably spending more in our community, strengthening the economy here.
“Efficiency isn’t the end goal. A sustainable economy and environment is the goal.”
The average American is working 6.5 weeks more a year than the average western European worker
Castle: What we need to look at is the quality of our lives. “What’s the quality of the life we want? We’ll make less but we’ll consume less.”
Beth Terry, author of Plastic Free: We can fix things that break. “People used to make things to last.” Now there’s planned obsolescence.
Halloween has become a retailer’s dream: stores sell big, inflatable spiders and skulls for front yards, plastic trick-or-treat buckets, fake skeletons, Halloween dinner plates and so many costumes. And my kids find all of it pure awesomeness. Taking advantage of my absence at a journalism conference last year, my husband hustled the girls over to Fred Meyer and bought a styrofoam grave stone, a plastic hanging skeleton and a huge cellophaned mummy image for the front door, which my happy-pumpkin-lady-disposition found disquieting. Fortunately, my daughters nixed buying bloody hands clawing their way from the grave and this year agreed we could wait to put up the scary mummy until right before Halloween. Ever since that shopping trip they don’t have the same enthusiasm for black construction paper spider decorations. (See here my story on black construction paper spiders and other sustainable Halloween ideas for The Oregonian.) But costumes are different. The idea of finding something in our costume bin (which is the size of a large steamer trunk) or making something, struck them as sensible: my seven-year-old daughter crafted a witch outfit using what we already had except for the cape and a fake black crow. My five-year-old also asked me to make her a cape - plus a hood - so she could be a ghoul. A nascent sewer (who will never give up the hot glue gun)I found the capes pretty easy.
My youngest is still bitter when she sees photos of the homemade garden gnome outfit she wore when she was a year old and wanted none of my happy-pumpkin-lady costume suggestions (A cookie? Pippi Longstocking? Laura Ingalls Wilder?), which is why, I think, she settled on a ghoul.
My daughters wish we had the same decorations our neighbors inflate each year: a skull, a skeleton and a witch whirring over their manicured front lawn. I tell them we can appreciate lawn craziness without having it ourselves. But I’ve decided to forgo journalism conferences near Halloween just to be safe.
Reuse experts and fans will descend on Portland this week for ReUseConex, a conference dedicated to reuse, the second of the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), which gets way less attention than that last and least important, but most well-known R: recycle. Everyone thinks recycling is key (and it is better than sending stuff into the landfill). But reuse, that party wallflower, is so much better – which I wrote about earlier this year for The Oregonian.
Here’s what organizers have to say about the conference, which starts Thursday, Oct. 18-20 at the DoubleTree: “If you work with a local reuse organization, if you shop at thrift stores or online resellers, if you buy or sell reusables, if you’re interested in green-collar jobs, and if you’re concerned about climate change – then join us for ReuseConex!”
Now the conference can be a bit pricey ($350 for full registration if you’re not a member of the ReuseAlliance, $150 for one-day registration)
But the ReuseExpo on Saturday is FREE and features reuse, upcycled and recycled products. There’s a ReArt exhibit and sale, a ReFashion show that features Portland’s Junk to Funk as well as presentations and workshops throughout the day. It runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the exhibit hall at the DoubleTree at the Lloyd Center, 1000 NE Multnomah Street.
Eating less meat. Going carless. Hanging your clothes out to dry. The Northwest Earth Institute’s EcoChallenge wants us to pick one action – any action - that’s easier on the planet and pledge to keep it up for two weeks (Oct. 1- 15). It can be done. One year I pledged to eat only food grown within a hundred miles of my house. Another year I took shorter showers. This fall, I’ll take the two-mile challenge and bike or walk when I’m going somewhere within two miles of my house. Considering I live within a short distance of a grocery store, UPS store, library, dry cleaners, kitchen supply shop, many coffee shops and restaurants, clothing and shoe stores etc… I shouldn’t have a problem. It’s embarrassing that I even consider this a challenge, but I do. (Mainly, the grocery shopping gets me). And then after you register, you can get revved up at Green Drop Garage,1417 SE 9th Street, with a party from 8 p.m. to midnight. I wrote about Green Drop a while back. Eat some free dessert, listen to Music by Strangled Darlings, Duover and Kivett Bednar. Be sure to RSVP on Facebook.
Likely your kitchen pantry contains most of what you need to clean your home. Nothing blue, or gloppy with a ”danger” or “warning” label. Stuff like vinegar and baking soda and hot water will clean a good chunk of your living space. If you’ve never made your own cleaners before, don’t start by trying to make something for every job that needs tackling. Ease into it. Make one or two things like a window and an all-purpose cleaner. See how they work. Make peace with the smell of vinegar. Also, read this article I wrote for The Oregonian and check out the Environmental Working Group’s latest drive to shed light on the potentially dangerous chemicals in our everyday cleaning products. Then, even if you only wash your windows with vinegar and water, you’ll feel good, like you went on a yoga retreat for five days and ate only veggies. Or maybe that’s an overstatement, maybe it will feel like just three days . . .
Not so much chickens? How about bees? Lots of people in Portland are doing the apiary thing and you can take a free, self-guided tour Aug. 18 organized by the Zenger Bee Group. This is a fundraiser for Zenger Farm, an urban farm set back from Foster Road in Portland, which manages bucolic-ness despite the heavy traffic zooming by. Zenger has vegetables, chickens, a tire swing and wetland. Bees too. My seven-year-old had farm camp there in June, where she learned how to plant and weed with the best of them.
Anyway, local backyard beekeepers are inviting the public to learn about different beekeeping styles and stewarding honeybees. The self-guided apiary tour is from 1-4 p.m. and there’s a gathering afterward at Lucky Lab, 915 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Buy tickets here.
Looptworks turns the excess generated by clothing manufacturing overseas into something useful and beautiful. The Portland-based company has upcycled neoprene wetsuit fabric, Italian wool, hemp, nylon, vinyl and recycled polyester into all sorts of urban wear and gear, which I wrote about a while back for The Oregonian. Now they’ve ventured into excess shoe leather to make iPad covers that will soon be available for fall 2012.
“Consider this, in a single day, one factory generates 4,500 pounds of excess scrap leather which is equivalent (to) more than 9 million gallons of water,” says Scott Hamlin, co-founder of Looptworks in a statement. “When someone makes the conscious decision to buy an upcycled product, it means they are thinking about where it came from, and what natural resources were required to produce it. Every purchase brings us one step closer to eliminating waste in manufacturing.”
Just for the record: I almost never write about anything you can buy to live more sustainably since that’s generally about reducing consumption and making do (I’ll never forget the PR folks who kept pitching their electric paper-towel dispenser gadget as a must-have for green living because it saved on paper towels by dispensing them one at a time). But when you do need a new article of clothing or an iPad cover (I don’t but wish I did!) you might check out Looptworks. They’ve got everything from t-shirts to jackets to computer sleeves online or at one of these stores around the state:
Patagonia, 907 NW Irving St. in Portland
Powell’s Books on Hawthorne, 3747 SE Hawthorne Blvd. in Portland
Laurelwood Public House & Brewery, 5115 NE Sandy Blvd. in Portland
Lulu’s Boutique, 130 NW Minnesota Ave. in Bend
Seven Planet, 412 NW Couch St. in Portland
Ashland Mountain Supply, 31 N. Main, Ashland
US Outdoor Store, 219 SW Broadway, Portland
Radish Underground, 414 SW 10th Ave., Portland
Rockhard INC, 9297 NE Crooked River Dr., Terrebonne
Ecovibe Apparel, 921 NW Everett St., Portland
Portland Farmers Market, 240 North Broadway, Suite 129, Portland
The Duck Store, 895 East 13th Ave., Eugene
Unfurl, 447 Laneda Ave., Manzanita
Ruddy Duck, 504 Oak Street, Hood River