Towse: views from the hill

November 11, 2009

bellies-full of plastic

Filed under: environmentalism,photographs,science — Towse @ 11:32 pm

via @NYRblog
Chris Jordan’s latest photography set.

These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on idway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

April 23, 2009

[LONG] Earth Day thoughts and The Stories of a Girl

Filed under: culture,environmentalism,life,San Francisco — Towse @ 4:11 pm

Sara Zarr blogged (in her blog, The Stories of a Girl) about a number of things yesterday. I was captured by her comment,

Earth Day. I don’t know how I feel about it, as a day, which mostly feels like yet another opportunity for capitalism to taint what should be common sense.

I remember the first Earth Day. 1970. A few months before Sara Zarr was born. Spring semester of my freshman year. We buried a new car (a Ford Maverick?) in the Quad at San Jose State during the Earth Day Survival Fair. Oh, we were root-toot-tooting greenies even back then.

Looking back, though, the green we are today wouldn’t even have been dreamed of back then. Sara went through some of the things she’s now doing (“a few of the major though easy things”) that help celebrate Earth Day year-round. Here’s my list of ten greenie things that are part and parcel of my life these days.

1) WATER Like Sara we don’t do bottled water — not at home, not in restaurants. (Well, if someone else is paying for the con-gas/frizzante at an event, I will certainly imbibe. My no-frizzante-at-restaurants is because I’m way frugal too … Why pay a restaurant for a marked-up bottle of water? Why buy water at the store? I appreciate restaurants that fizz their own water instead of bringing on the French or Italian bottled stuff.

Our local HetchHetchy water is fine water indeed. I understand that some other folks may not have tap water that tastes good. (I’ve been in Midland, TX. Reverse osmosis water is the ONLY way to go in that town.) But if you don’t live in Midland or some place with equally bad water, have you even considered tap (or as an office mate used to say, “sink”) water?

Sara doesn’t live in San Francisco these days, but where she is her tap water’s fine too. Are you missing out on drinking from the tap because it’s “sink water”?

We have a couple bottles of chilled water in the frig for (f’rex) when we’re going out for a walk on a hot day (to avoid getting so terribly thirsty that we break down and buy a bottle at the wharf). We refill our bottles. Again and again and …

We have a case of bottled water under the bed as part of our earthquake supplies.

That’s it.

2) BAGS: PLASTIC & OTHERWISE We reuse paper bags and packaging materials. And those peanuts &c. that show up in mailorder stuff that we can’t use? We give those to a friend who is slowly decluttering his house by selling stuff on eBay. We stuff clean plastic (which isn’t recyclable with the city recycle program in this town) into a large plastic bag and when the bag’s full, take it down to Safeway, which does, still, recycle plastic. We save the larger grocery-sized plastic bags to line the wastebasket in the kitchen.

We have cloth bags (and, for Trader Joe’s, paper bags) for shopping. Most of the cloth bags are from conferences: Bouchercon, AAAS, LCC. We have HUGE STURDY IKEA BAGS that we bought for $0.59-$0.99 each (they dropped the price and we bought two more) which we use to haul stuff in from the car down the stairs and up to the front door when we take the car to Costco or Trader Joe’s and buy in bulk. We also use them to haul stuff UP! so we have a couple bags on either end. We have had these bags now for years and they carry a ton of stuff without wearing out or ripping at the seams.

2a) I wrap presents in Sunday comics. Did you know that you can cut long strips of comics (or any wrapping paper, really) and curl the strips with a knife/scissors edge to make ribbony attachments that MATCH!! the wrapping paper? I wrap packages for mailing in paper bags, deconstructed at the seams and turned inside out.

3) RECYCLE We recycle newspaper, magazines, cardboard, flattened boxes, clean paper items, bottles and cans, plastic bottles, &c. We stash the recycle stuffs in boxes and on the day before the twice-a-week pickup, we transfer them to paper grocery bags and carry them up to the nearest street and leave them in a recycle bin there for pickup. We empty the bags that hold bottles/cans into the bin and bring the bags back for re-use. The bags holding magazines/newspapers, we leave in the bin.

4) GREENCYCLE San Francisco has a wonderful compost program — green bins or, as we call it, Greencycle. What can you put in the green bin for composting? All food scraps, food-soiled paper, garden clippings and cuttings, pizza boxes, paper milk cartons, tea bags, coffee filters, banana peels, food-soiled paper napkins, wooden crates, tree trimmings, sawdust. Oh, the list goes on. Fish bones, lobster and crab shells, oyster shells, bones, wine corks.

The only things that shouldn’t go in the green cart are (1) things that are already recycled in the blue bin: newspaper, clean paper items, bottles and cans, empty spray cans, aluminum foil, plastic bottles, tubs and lids, &c. and (2) things that belong in the real garbage:

* Styrofoam
* plastic bags
* diapers
* kitty litter or animal feces
* rocks, stones, or dirt
* &c.

How hard is this? Well, for us, we have to make more effort than someone living in a SFH with curbside pickup. Where we are, the City will not pick up recycle or compost. A bunch of greeny neighbors FINALLY arranged for the City to pick up recycle if we carry it up to the nearest street and tuck it down on the first landing. (The neighbors on either side of the steps complained if we put the recycle bin on the sidewalk next to their buildings.) Greencycle, though, is out of the question at that spot.

Our Greencycle effort goes thusly. We have a large glass casserole dish on the counter that gets the stuff that would go into the green bin, if we only had a green bin. When the dish gets full (or at the end of the day), we transfer the contents to a large, lidded, metal menudo pot (lined with a compostable bag), which sits over in the corner of the kitchen.

When that bag gets full (or in four days, whichever is sooner, because the compostable bag begins to compost at that point), we put the bag into a larger plastic bag and take it out and drop it sans plastic bag in a green bin that we know of that’s on our way out-of-town or over to Costco or somewhere else that we’d be heading anyway. I suppose we could find a neighbor with a green bin (Hey! I may know just the one!) who lives within a quarter mile who would let us drop the Greencycle in her bin.

Greencycle is so very cool. I wish everyone used it.

As the article linked above says,

San Francisco’s garbage and recycling companies are leading the way in producing a high-quality, boutique compost tailored for Bay Area growers, experts say. In one year, 105,000 tons of food scraps and yard trimmings – 404 tons each weekday – get turned into 20,000 tons of compost for 10,000 acres.

Greencycle recycles 105,000 TONS of food scraps and yard trimmings a year! How cool is that?

5) PACKAGING AND PLASTIC WRAP We don’t buy many things that are in non-recyclable packaging. We still eat meat, so there are usually styrofoam trays (why?) to dispose of and the plastic wrap around them. Vegetables go into plastic bags before purchase, but if you rinse them out and dry them, the plastic bags recycle. Cheese is wrapped in plastic. Bulk rice comes in tough plastic bags. But we don’t buy a lot of bagged, canned and bottled stuff, and what we do is usually in recyclable containers or something that can be Greencycle’d.

5a) When we heat things in the microwave, we tend to either use dishes with glass lids or put the food on a plate and cover the food with an inverted glass casserole dish from the cupboard. (We have several sizes.) The steam stays in. There’s no plastic wrap to deal with. You can see through the glass dish to see how things are progressing. Wash the casserole dish afterwards. Reuse.

5b) All in all we probably have half a grocery bag of “garbage” a week. If that. (And the “garbage” bag is a plastic grocery bag from Chinatown now that the majors aren’t allowed to give out plastic bags in our fair ville.)

6) WALK & PUBLIC TRANSIT We don’t drive much. His nibs drives to work in the south bay once a week. Unfortunately, even though his company is now near a train station, the logistics are impossible for him to take the train to work unless he got out of here soon after 5A to catch the bus that would take him to the train station. Car it is. We also take the car when we’re going to Costco or if we’re planning to pick up A LOT of wine, &c. at Trader Joe’s. Other than that we walk or take public transit. The nearest Trader Joe’s is a mile each way. Coming back up hill with a bag or two of groceries each is doable. (We bring our own bags, ‘natch.) We walk to dinner or down to the library or out. We do our veggie shopping in Chinatown and pickup our sweetbreads at Little City and walk (uphill) home. If we’re going out to dinner somewhere too far to walk, we take public transit. We’ve taken one cab ride since we started living here and that was shared with fellow diners after a Subculture Dining experience that ended too late. The J-Church had stopped running. Really.

We currently have two cars (with — ouch! — the leased parking fees they incur). Eventually, when the older younger guy gets his license, he’s due to get the 2000 Honda and we’ll be down to the 2005 Mini Cooper. After his nibs stops working in the south bay altogether, we’ll probably go carshare. My Mini Cooper consistently gets about 33 MPG. When we drove down to my cousin’s memorial service and back, it got 36MPG, iirc.

We don’t belong to a gym. The walking and the stairs and the carrying of groceries is pretty good exercise.

6) ELECTRONICS AND PAINT San Francisco has great hazardous waste dropoff/recycling. San Francisco residents can drop off household hazardous waste at the Tunnel Avenue transfer facility. Hazardous wastes accepted include batteries (large and small), paint, chemicals, motor oil, used oil filters, fluorescent bulbs, antifreeze, &c. Norcal tries to reuse as much of the “hazardous waste” as possible. Collected latex paint, for example, is available free to anyone who stops by (sometimes remixed, sometimes as donated) in large buckets. Customers can drop off up to 30 electronic items per month for free if they are delivered separate from any other garbage. You don’t need to wait for the special “hazardous waste” days and hours. If all you are dropping off is electronic items, you can bypass the line of people waiting to use the public dump facility.

If you have BIG ITEMS that need pickup, you make arrangements with NorCal and they’ll pick them up. When we got rid of the BULKY air conditioner that had been here when we bought the place (which was really pretty useless and took up space), we called NorCal and they sent someone out to pick it up. We paid extra to have him carry it down from our top floor, down our stairs and up the path/stairs to the street. We’re no fools. The extra charge was well worth it.

7) WATER CONSUMPTION We watch water use. Short showers. Large loads of laundry. Handwash/air-dry dishes because we really don’t use enough to fill/run the dishwasher even every other day and if you don’t run it that often the kitchen stinks, we’ve found. We hardly ever drop things at the drycleaner. When we do, we’ve collected a batch over a while and take it all in at one time, saving the hassle of dropoff and pickup.

8) ENERGY We have photovoltaic cells on the roof with battery backup. Our meter runs backwards. The solar covers about half our use, which leaves us with a minimal power bill. No A/C. Turn off the lights. No TV. We use sweaters and sweatshirts on colder days rather than cranking up the (gas) heat. We’re using compact fluorescent light bulbs, even though there are still questions how (years down the road) CFLs will be disposed of.

9) MAGAZINE RECYCLE AND ALTERNATIVES We just joined the Mechanics Institute Library downtown. I plan to give up most of our magazine subscriptions and save money and save the paper that then needs to be recycled by reading most of my magazines, and ones I don’t currently subscribe to, there. Yes, I know. Magazines are having tough times. My subscriptions weren’t enough to sustain them anyway.

10) THRIFT STORES, GOODWILL, FLEA MARKETS, BARTER I love thrift stores. Buy a dress or shirt or whatever that someone else bought first and you’re saving all the associated construction/manufacturing costs that went into the original product. The current issue of San Francisco Magazine interviews Cris Zander of Cris, consignment boutique at 2056 Polk St., which has been in business for decades. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been there, although I might take a peek in to see if the prices are way over my wallet.)

The writer asked Cris about her ladies-who-lunch clientele who use her boutique to sell the clothes they don’t plan to wear anymore and (perhaps) pick up alternatives. She quoted one of her clients who wondered why people worried about buying “used” clothes: “All of the clothes in my closet are used,” the client said.

Exactly, I thought. But then I always got plenty of hand-me-downs from my three-years-older sister while I was growing up.


I look at the list I just made and think, yeah, fine, but you can do better than that. If we were vegetarian, we’d avoid all the expenses associated with raising meat. We could be more conscientious with buying locally. We still have two cars, fer pete’s sake, but that will change. We have plants that are purely ornamental. Bottles and cans don’t recycle easily as people would like to think. There’s a glut on newsprint and cardboard because the cheap trinket folks are making fewer cheap trinkets in this downturn and don’t need as much packaging. And what really happens to the plastic bags we take to Safeway?

And, as always when I buy something (or even pick it up free), do I really need that? Do I need that book? Do I need that stuff I picked up at Bonham’s/Butterfield yesterday? Can I cut back?


November 6, 2008

‘Jurassic Park’ author, ‘ER’ creator Crichton dies –

Filed under: books,environmentalism,people,writing — Towse @ 1:10 am

'Jurassic Park' author, 'ER' creator Crichton dies –

RIP, Michael Crichton.

Crichton drove me nuts some times. His skepticism of global climate change and global warning encourage the nutcases.

STATE OF FEAR (2005) was lecturing and personal lobbying at its worse. The science wasn’t true and Crichton based his story on “information” that wasn’t.

Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist and co-founder of* reviewed the book and the science. Read it and see why my teeth grind when I think of that book.

That said, Crichton entertained me over the years. His tales were gripping. He was a smart guy who knew a lot and knew how to weave what he had into intriguing, page-turning books. He helped pay his way through college writing novels, medical thrillers. In 1969, Crichton won an Edgar for A CASE OF NEED, written under the pseudonym Jeffrey Hudson, probably because of its subject matter: abortion. (We’re talking 1968 here.)

ANDROMEDA STRAIN, JURASSIC PARK and ER are fitting legacies.


*(Weather Underground, a weather service of which our uphill neighbor, not William Ayers, is president of the BoD.)

November 2, 2007

Potrero Point power UPDATE

Filed under: environmentalism,politics,San Francisco — Towse @ 6:44 pm

An update on the Potrero Point power proposal that I wrote about on Tuesday.

Tu Oct 30. Supervisors vote 8-3 in favor of new peakers. Symbolic vote only as the final vote to approve the contract with the folks who will build the new facility is the deal maker.

W Oct 31. San Francisco Public Utilities Commission votes unanimously in favor of the new peakers. SFPUC staff must finalize agreement with J-Power, the Japanese company that will build the facility.

Once the agreement is finalized and approved by the Board of Supervisors, work can begin. Inching our way slowly to a cleaner Central Waterfront. …

October 30, 2007

Potrero Point power up for vote

Filed under: environmentalism,politics,San Francisco — Towse @ 7:57 pm

The yackyackyack (or some of it) these days on San Francisco blogs, at the Port Commission and in San Francisco newspapers (SFExaminer and SFChronicle) is all about the Potrero Point power station and moves afoot to supplement/replace it.

Even Aaron’s gotten into the spirit of things, making a half-hearted attempt to eliminate the San Francisco Department of the Environment — firing all its employees, keeping only the department director — because Jared Blumenfeld, the director, is against the proposed new natural-gas-burning power plant at Potrero Point.

Ah, the smell of politics in the morning.

What is this proposed power plant and why is it taking so long to make a yay or nay decision?

Well, part of the time delay is due to political maneuvering, part of it is due to neighbors who don’t want any power plant at all in their backyard (although how to shut down the existing Potrero Point power plant without creating the energy resources required by the California Independent System Operator (“CAISO”) is a question) and part of it is due to folks, including Jared Blumenfeld mentioned above, who want San Francisco not to build a fueled plant but instead to tap into wind/sun/wave generation to provide the energy required by CAISO and the FEC.

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