Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sakonnet Voices: KELLY KITTEL

Happy Earth Day. This just sounds funny to me. With everything going on around us, I no longer think “Earth Day” is just a day anymore. Green is everywhere. News, TV, radio, big government, small government, schools, kitchen tables, and everywhere in-between. While more reactive than proactive at this point, we are still witnessing the changing of an ethic all around us.

Kelly Kittel, co-founder of Step It Up Aquidneck Island, captures this nicely:

Earth Day is Tuesday, April 22, and I am wondering if we could all pause for a moment to think about this silently spinning orb we call home. Every day is Earth Day for the residents of this planet, all 6.6 billion of us, a staggering number and one that is taxing the carrying capacity of our planet in many ways. Have you thought much about it? Have you thought about the footprint you are leaving? How do you think our planet is doing, overall? Are we taking good care of it? I think the evidence is all around us that we have not been very good stewards. We have major issues facing us like global warming, resource exhaustion, endangered species, crop failure, and lack of clean drinking water to name a few. I keep looking and listening for the good news and am not hearing much in return. So, fellow earthlings, time to wake up and do some house cleaning.

There are many simple things we can do to help the planet and ourselves. Let’s start by making this island we inhabit 100% compact fluorescent. We can encourage our towns to change the traffic lights to LED which last for years instead of months. Look around your house. Have you had a home energy audit? Time to check that off the list. With heating oil prices rising every month none of us can afford to heat the outside. Take inventory of how many things you have plugged into the wall and try to eliminate one or two. Can you live without that hand lotion warmer? nd what is your room temperature? Could you put on another layer and lower the thermostat or open the windows and let the breeze blow through in the summer instead of shutting yourself inside with your air conditioner? How about your appliances? Are they all energy star rated?

Look around you. Is there a sunny spot in your yard where you could grow a tomato or some strawberries? Gardening is a wonderful activity to teach your kids and for your wallet, health and soul! Do you have a place to put a clothesline? The dryer is not only one of the biggest energy users in your house, all that lint you throw away is actually bits of your clothes wearing out. Do you really have a pest problem and is your lawn really not green enough or could you live without adding those chemicals to your house and lawn and, ultimately, the ocean. Are you doing as much as you can to reduce the waste you create, reuse what you can, and recycle what you can not? How much time do you spend outside listening to the birds and observing nature? The average American spends 20 minutes a day, including time spent in a car! Do the kids go out and play? Do you?

These are just some of the many things we can do to become better stewards of our home, the planet Earth. There isn’t another one we can move to when we’ve finished with this one. Remember, we did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. What legacy are you leaving?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

National Hanging Out Day

Well, what do you know? The earlier post on clotheslines drew some great comments from a few readers. Since then, I've had more conversation about the benefits of clotheslines than I can shake a stick at. Some reveled in nostalgia; some planted a seed of interest; still yet others expounded on all those reasons why you couldn't hang one.
On this, National Hanging Out Day, I'm pleased to say that we've finally taken the plunge into the world of clotheslines. My wife and kids surprised me this week with not one, but two -- one for the kids and one for mom and dad. I tell you, it doesn't take much to bring a smile to my face and these things did. Especially when it's something else we can do as a family.

According to Project Laundry List, the sponsor of the Hanging Out Day, clothes dryers are responsible for 6-10% of home energy consumption. So, I'm going to start monitoring the monthly bill and let everyone know what kind of difference I see. It's just another example of a small step we can all take to lessen our footprint AND save some money in the process. What a great win-win.

Happy Hanging.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Small Business Recycling is Needed, But How?

A few weeks ago, the ProJo featured an article about the RI DEM finally practicing what it preaches and hopping on board the recycling bandwagon at their offices. While that’s somewhat humorous, the article does go on to give an update on the state’s renewed effort to get businesses to comply with current recycling laws.

That got me thinking: How does a small business here in Sakonnet actually go about complying with that law? If I’m looking at the right one (and I might not be), all businesses regardless of their total number of employees are required to separate out their recyclables from their trash. The kicker comes if you have 50 or more employees – then you are required to submit a yearly source reduction and recycling plan to the state.

According to the article, 60 percent of the 700,000 tons of waste that go to the Central Landfill each year is generated by businesses. That’s a lot. And I’m willing to bet that a good chunk of that could be recycled in one way, shape, or form. From office paper to bottles/cans to toner to e-waste, there is quite a bit that could find new life via the recycling bin.

But the challenge is making it easy and economically feasible to actually recycle. Larger business might have more resources to throw into making this happen, but small businesses are maxed out with multi-tasking and budget squeezing as it is. I grew up in my family’s small business and can speak first hand to that. Even nowadays, I know people who bring home paper or cans or bottles from their offices to throw in their home bins because they can’t stand to see the stuff stay in the trash.

But as with many things in business, there are both hard and soft benefits to any action. And when the two can find middle ground, it usually indicates a win-win situation.

Take for instance recycling: If given a cost-effective solution for recycling those items typically found in the workplace, the benefits of reducing your trash removal costs could be justified. Now, once you make that part of your business’ M.O., you can tack on the ability to market yourself as an eco-friendly business. As more and more consumers align their values with the purchase behaviors, this begins to bode well for your shop as you can leverage it to boost traffic and sales.

Back to my original question, though. How do you make it viable for small businesses to recycle? Taking a queue from the insurance industry, one business alone may not be able to get the best rate from a recycling vendor, but a group of businesses under the guise of a small business association might drive a more attractive rate. So, does anyone know if we have any kind of small business association here in Sakonnet?

Any small business owners out there willing to share their stories about trying to make recycling work for them?

If all else fails, I guess there is the potential bottle-bill-as-recycling-catalyst to fall back on…

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Media Beef: Newport Daily News

Sorry, this is more of a rant than anything else. Can anyone tell me why the Newport Daily News continues to deny free access to its archives? In a world where most other newspaper websites (maybe except for The Washington Post) I have occasion to visit offer free and unfettered access to past stories, this practice is archaic. You can't even access stories a couple of days old without paying.

I've written them before to inquire about this and have never heard back. Big surprise there...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sakonnet Voices: ALANA CLARK

I’m happy to introduce a new feature at the blog: Sakonnet Voices. There are many others in our community who share the same passion for the environment and doing what we can to protect it. So, from time to time, we’ll have guest bloggers writing on topics that are important to them. Here is Alana Clark:

My name is Alana Clark and I am a senior at Tiverton High School. I started an environmental club at the high school and we are called the ”Green Team”. Previous to the Green Team there were no groups specifically devoted to Tiverton High Schools methods of conserving and managing waste. One of our goals is to stop the high school from using Styrofoam trays. I recently went to a meeting with Tiverton’s Health and Wellness Committee to address this issue. During this meeting I realized that Tiverton High schools environmental problems are locked in place by what some may call “the man”.

Disappointingly, the high school still uses Styrofoam trays, but worst of all, has given up on using anything else. Their situation reminded me of a quote I heard recently in which Dan Kennedy notes “a lot of people prefer a good excuse to a good opportunity”. Our country is peaking in its environmental awareness, high school students are pitching in to conserve and also to educate, and schools across the country are “going green”, but Tiverton Highs School still uses Styrofoam trays? It just doesn’t make sense.

The most inexpensive and beneficial way to stop this is to use plastic and reusable trays. The committee argued that, even when specially designed lids were placed on the trash barrels, students were lifting up the lids to throw the trays away. I just don’t believe that. I know that students, staff, and the principle want to reduce waste; what we need is the financial support. In 2008, no school should be using Styrofoam trays, so its time for the Tiverton Health and Wellness committee to pick up this good opportunity and run with it.

First off, congrats to Alana for starting the new club. Second, I was shocked to learn this fact about the trays. When I was at THS we had reusable plastic trays that were washed each day. What an incredible amount of waste being generated – every day. For more information on the effects of polystyrene foam (a.k.a., Styrofoam) check out this Earth Resource Foundation report.

We can do better than this. What kind of message are we giving our kids? It is like we are priming them for life in the Throw-away Society. I don’t know all the facts yet, but I’m tempted to think short-term financial thinking is once again driving the boat here. If you have a child in our school system, I encourage you to reach out to the superintendent’s office and school committee to voice your concern. This is wasteful in every sense of the word.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Going My Way?

Well, it’s official. Average prices of regular self-serve hit an all-time high today (even adjusted for inflation). Like you, I cringe every time I pull up to the pump. But I’ve found a simple way to help soften the blow of high gas prices: Carpooling.

Now, before you start to dwell on images of smelly cars filled with less-than-stellar co-workers, dull-as-driftwood conversation, and total inflexibility, let me head you off at the pass. Though movies and TV might have you think otherwise, carpooling is not really that bad. Really! Especially if you’re putting on serious mileage each week.

I’ll use myself as an example: I drive a VW Jetta and travel about 120 miles roundtrip daily to work and back. Translated into gallons, that’s about two to two-and-a-half fill-ups per week. At $3.15 a gallon, that’s about $70-80/week in gas. Now granted, everyone is not traveling as far for their work, but the concept still applies.

Enter carpooling. I’ve been tag-teaming the drive for about a year with a colleague from Portsmouth. We meet at the Park & Ride on Fish Road and truck on up from there, switching off who drives each week. Sure, there have been instances when we’ve had to compromise on leave times, or just up and leave in the middle of the day because of something unforeseen, but for the most part, it’s been smooth sailing.

The benefits are obvious: More cash in your pocket, less wear and tear on your car, less traffic on the road (can you imagine how many fewer cars there would be if even 25 percent of commuters found a carpool partner!), less greenhouse gas emissions, less demand for gas (which could hypothetically lead to lower prices at current supply levels), and so on… you get the point. And through casual observation, I think more people are getting on the carpooling bandwagon – the Park & Ride seems to have more and more cars in it each month.

Here are a few carpooling resources if you’re interested. I haven’t used any so I can’t vouch for them.

RIPTA Carpools

Anybody have a carpooling story they’d like to share? Or other ways you're beating the pump wars?