Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Trials and Tribblelations*

Let’s see, I’ve figured out how to keep the doors barred to the invading forces, learned how to make them work for every inch of cupboard space they have already claimed… now to send them back from whence they came…. Right? It should be easy to recycle grocery bags these days, every chic ad on tv is screaming the need to stay away from these plastic demons. Bags running upwards of $150 American are being seen on the catwalks of the rich and trendy, all emblazoned with the thought “I am not a plastic bag”. A simple matter to recycle them…. Not.

My first call to a local grocery store:

“Excuse me, but do you have a recycle center in your store somewhere for me to put some of these grocery bags?”

Dead silence, followed by a confused “Um… no? We don’t do that here.”

“Ah. Thank you”

Hmmm. Maybe I should have tried a chain grocery. It might be too much to expect a mom and pop place to be on the cutting edge. So the second store was a large chain in northern Ohio, one far more able to keep up the changing trends. Well, I thought so anyway. Turns out I was wrong. They are ‘weighing the merit of the idea’ and would be ‘happy to bring it up in a meeting’ but management speak aside…. I was striking out.

Third store, this time I made sure to call a major chain with great claims to its “green” standards. I also decided on a different tactic, no more asking… I was just going to go with the assumption that of course they did this.

“Hello, I’m wanting to recycle my grocery bags and I was wondering where your bins were?”

At least this time I received a partial affirmative, but was informed that A) the bags will be recycled into one time use products that aren’t able to be recycled again, B) they will only except bags from their own stores, none from a competitors – and as they are a mega-store that sells just about everything, EVERYONE is a competitor. And my personal favorite C) Due to the fact people are generally untrustworthy children who will put anything and everything in a standing box, they have been forced to remove the public dropoff boxes and replace them with dummies. But if I would like to make an appointment……..

Ahhhh…. No? I’m sorry. My personal love of the absurd aside, I am not making an appointment to throw away bags. Granted, there is an evil little part of my soul that wanted to make the appointment, call six times to confirm and “just check the time”, show up and loudly demand to see the manager as I have an appointment over a very important matter…. And hand them one lone grocery bag. From another store. Possible used first as a receptacle for the cat box. I may look like an adult, but I have to work at it harder on it some days then others.

So, long and short of the whole Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? Recycle where you can, but the far more important and useful steps are:

A) Just stop bringing home so much crap in the first place. Bring a bag, a box, a small pack toting mule named Mr. Snuggles; whatever you need to replace plastic grocery bags.
B) Reuse what you have. Whether its simply to refill them with groceries, carry your lunch, or to attempt a craft project worthy of Dame Stewart… use and reuse items until they are past the point of usefulness.
C) Only then attempt to climb Mt. Recycle with a hopefully hole filled and incredibly tatty piece of repeatedly reused plastic.

* I really wish I could help myself. I’ve punned and I can’t get up!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Project Tribble Usefullness

Okay, so to keep it in nerd terms, we have corralled the tribbles and forced them all to agree to see a family planning counselor. Their numbers are no longer rising exponentially, and we have achieved a moment of balance within our cupboards. Great. So now what do I do with them? Hmmmm? Because while they are no longer multiplying in front of my very eyes…. I still have several hundred of the beggars lurking around my home. Possibly a great many more. The common suggestion on most websites out there is to take them back to the store and have them recycle the bags for you. There are quite a few holes in that plan though. Only a few store actually have recycling boxes to toss the bags into (and more often then not its used as a regular trashcan by folks in a hurry. When that occurs, most stores just chuck the whole lot out in the dumpster.) and several of them will only recycle the bags from their specific store. Also, the common method of recycling the bags is to turn them into plastic logs – which in turn are NOT recyclable.

Instead of simply tossing these suckers in a box somewhere to be hauled to a plant, how about we see how many ways we can use them effectively? Once they have been used up, them its just a matter of keeping the drawbridge firmly closed and not allowing any more in. But until then…. Here are a few suggestions.

* Cat Litter Containment – with four cats, my first step in a less than pleasant job is to grab a bag to scoop the stuff into. Ties off and its out the door.

* Pet…. Present Retrievers – Honestly. You aren’t going to actually BUY a bag to carry when you walk you pet, are you? Frankly, I have no desire to walk up to a counter with a box of Poop Pals. Right up there with buying rash cream and anything containing the word “ointment”. Shudder. Use on of the thousands of grocery bags instead. Keeps your hands clean and well away from the foul stuff.

* Plant Pals. Strangely, a product that is terrible for the environment, can also be a great aid to it. Cut the bags into strips and use them as soft ties to keep your houseplants and tomatoes propped properly. Use wadded plastic bags in the bottom of pots to keep the soil from compacting down and to insure proper drainage. Rocks or cracked pottery are often used in the same manner, but this way is MUCH lighter. Add the soil, pop in the plant, and you’re set.

* Get crafty – Cutting the bags into strips and knotting them together will get you a giant ball of bag based yarn. Pull out your handy crochet hook or a pair of knitting needles and make yourself a lovely bag made from bags. Not only will you have a sturdy bag… the zen moment of having a bag of many bags will give you a slight tickling in the upper reaches of your frontal lobes. Try these sites for ideas - http://www.marloscrochetcorner.com/round%20plastic%20bag%20tote.html for crochet and http://www.allfreecrafts.com/knitting/bag.shtml for knitters out there.

With a little thought, we can find ways to use all the bags we’ve brought into our world, and with a little more we can keep more from appearing. It just takes a few minutes to start making a difference.

A little known scene was cut from the end of "The Trouble With Tribbles". It shows Captain Kirk being fined for passing out tribbles as gifts to any green skinned women he wanted to impress. While he never saw a dime of profit, this action was the cause behind the 'Purring Loofa' rebellion of Betalod 5.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Battle Plan – Operation Tribble Trouble

Many of us have grown up with the environmental mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” being drilled into our heads. It has always surprised me, however, all the focus of the media is on the last item to be mentioned. We all strive to recycle more, we gain feelings of vague moral superiority when we buy products with “made from recycled material” emblazoned on the side… often smothering the childish glee/revulsion when our brain begins to question what exactly is recycled in our toilet paper. How much, how often, and how loudly can we shout we’re doing our part…. Cause WE recycle! But while it is important to take the last step, it IS the last option given. Perhaps we should take a look at using the first and second step as well.

Recycling is great, but it does take energy, effort, and time. Add in the fact that no matter what, some of the item being recycled gets wasted – we haven’t perfected the process yet – and I think the most logical step…. Great. I’m channeling Mr. Spock. Fascinating. Anyway, the first big step would be to reduce our use of the materials that will need the recycling in the first place, right? So one way to keep myself from another embarrassing moment of being buried in a cascade of plastic bags would be to not bring the dratted things home in the first place!

Reducing our use of plastic bags takes a few moments of thought at the beginning of the day, but other than that it can become second nature. There are thousands of options out there, from the oh so trendy (and more than a little absurd) “I’m not a plastic bag” totes http://coquette.blogs.com/coquette/2007/04/im_not_a_plasti_1.html that are popping up in the big cities everywhere – for anywhere from $15 to $110, to a simple handmade jobbie that takes only a half hour or to make it yourself. http://www.make-it-easy.com/opentot2.html Don’t feel like spending the green or making like Martha Stewart? Just take the time to check what you already have. Old beach totes, coolers, even a cast off school backpack can be pressed into service. Several discount grocery stores already have a policy of allowing people to either purchase the store’s brown paper bags, bring their own, or use the boxes found in the stores.

Once you have found your new carryon, either keep them in a box by the door – ready to grab on the morning sprint out the door – or do what I plan on doing, keep them in the car ready to roll with you. Of course, if you’re memory challenged as I am – I blame the years of bleach when I was dying my hair purple, either that or all the time I spent at Ren Faires working in a corset that constricted critical blood flow to the brain….- having them in the car isn’t always enough. They might be in the backseat, but if I forget they are back there, all I’m achieving is giving them a ride. I hanging from my mirror a small sign, just large enough to catch my attention when I exit the car which reads “save a plastic tree, grab a bag”.

May the Tribble hunt continue!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Modern Day Tribbles– Beginning the Battle

My house is awash in tribbles. Hundreds, perhaps thousands now roam free through the closets and cupboards of my home. They slide out upon me when I try to open the popcorn cupboard, they fall to my feet in a cascade each time I try and take out the trash. Cats #1, #2, & #3 can be found dragging their prizes under chairs and sofas… the constant gnawing setting teeth on edge, a sound heard only on the sub-level… making the hair on the back of your neck rise. Cat #4 merely orchestrates the massacre, staying above the carnage, but ready to whip out a paw to stop any who escape her hunters. If only the tribbles I meant were the cute furry kind, THOSE I could hock online for enough to settle my debts and build my book collection to truly staggering heights. No, today I speak of the invading forces so many of us confront on a daily basis… hidden in our cars, shoved into cabinets, lurking in our garages.

Plastic grocery bags. They are everywhere now. And I try, really. I do. I own several sporty canvas bags… they just don’t make the trip into the grocery as often as they should. At first I tried to salve my conscious with the claim that I at least used them again. Even with a sword to my throat I couldn’t tell you the last time I bought trash can liners for the small cans. Day after day finds our fuzzy troublemakers “presents” being carried out to the trash can in a double knotted grocery bag. They are my constant companions in trips to the farmer’s market, stay close to my side when I wade through pick-it-yourself groves, and are often my default suitcase on the weekly trip down to my mother’s to work. They have kept my socks dry when canoeing and then kept my wet gym clothes away from my clean jeans after a workout. That’s fine, right? I don’t need to do more….

Frell*. I don’t think that's gonna cut it anymore. Few grocery stores have bag returns in my part of the world. And I have a feeling simply giving them to someone else to deal with isn’t as great an idea as it may seem on the surface. Nope, this is going to take personal action and responsibility. Some effort on my part… a stand against these all surrounding items… a little personal sacrifice of energy….

Quick! To the Nerdmobile – with maybe a quick stop at the bookstore. I heard Terry Pratchett’s new discworld book might be coming out soon.

* Farscape and its television cousins have always been there to save me from a mouthful of soap. To this day, my profanity is innocuous to all but a select few. Yet another reason to join the ranks of natural nerds…. Come on, the nerd side is calling you.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Green Light – Red Light? Final Third

While CFL’s DO bring our energy bills down, there is one MAJOR downside that is only now getting much press. When a normal incandescent bulb is ready for the trash can you have glass, some tungsten wire as a filament, a bit of argon gas that escapes when the bulb breaks, and a base of aluminum. It’s a simple job to toss this arrangement into the nearest trashcan or recycling bin. The only two questions that come up in the process of disposing of these items are “Do I chuck this into the glass or the aluminum bin?” and “Drat! Where’s the broom!” It's not that easy with CFL’s. Each CFL bulb contains trace amounts of mercury gas… and this little fact is causing some people to get very nervous.

Mercury is that little silver blob in the bottom of some thermometers. Used for centuries in everything from medicine to fishing lures, it's getting some serious attention these days. From scares in rising levels in seafood – the main cause pregnant women are often warned away from eating it very often – to confusion over its disposal. The EPA has a 9 stage list for cleaning up small mercury spills from broken thermometers, with an equipment list that is just as long. http://www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/index.htm Larger spills require professionals in bulky hazmat suits, cleared buildings, and thousands of dollars in bills. With MILLIONS of CFL bulbs all containing this happy substance the question of what the long term effect on the environment will be is a biggie. Is our fervor over these new gadgets just a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire? With mercury being blamed with everything from rashes to death, considered as a possible cause of autism in young children, and a proven cause of birth defect… it’s a risky substance to be blithely tossing into the trash every day.

Even the packaging of CFL’s is more involved and riskier than incandescent bulbs. Where the older less energy efficient models are packaged in thin cardboard – easy to recycle- CFL’s come in large plastic bubble packs in order to keep the bulbs from breaking and freeing the mercury. This packaging requires much more effort to recycle, and ultimately more trash to deal with in the long run.

Australia has already mandated the nationwide switch to CFL’s. By 2008 (or 2010, depending on which source you go to) it will be illegal to sell or purchase the old incandescent bulbs in that country. California is fast on their heels, as are many other states in the USA. The bastion of big business, Wallmart, has even jumped into the ring with its 100 million bulb pledge. www.inhabitat.com/2007/01/03/walmart-compact-fluorescent-bulbs/ and http://walmart.triaddigital.com/defaultrendercontent_ektid8822.aspx . It really is no longer a question of whether or not you want to switch from the old standard to the new and improved, instead it has become a question of when. Businesses are realizing there is no profit to be had continuing to manufacture a dinosaur.

So. With all that being said… have I switched? I’ll confess. We used some of our wedding money to buy the bulk packs at Sam’s. 42 light fixtures all faintly humming along, lighting our evening. And they have reduced our monthly electric bill by a noticeable amount. But this is a case of I should have done more research before jumping on the bandwagon. I know I’ve had at least 6 bulbs break in the last year or so and those bulbs got tossed into the nearest trashcan without a single thought or worry. I know I’m not the only one either. There are going to be quite a few floating around in our landfills for years to come, leaking just that little bit of mercury into the environment. It’s a case of having to THINK about my choices a little more, and not just follow the company line. From now on, I’ll be more careful, and… a little more nervous. There are quite a few “green” beliefs that I follow without researching. I have the rotten feeling I’ve just acquired a mountain of homework for myself.


An upside IS in the offing, the Prime Geek informs me. CFL’s are not the end of the luminary evolutionary path. They are, at best, a stopgap, until LED’s are perfected. These lights are even MORE efficient, brighter, and able to run on minute amounts of power. Several cities have already switched to LED's to light their street lights and parking decks. At the moment, there are already reading lamps that can be powered for over 4000 hours for $0.80 per year! It's just a matter of time for these new kids on the block to take over. But this time? I’m going to do the reading before I buy.

To safely dispose of CFL’s, take a few moments today and build yourself a disposal box. Find a sturdy box with a snap on lid, nothing too large will be needed. Line the bottom with either sand or kitty litter – clean please. People who work at hazardous waste sites have a rough enough day without you giving them Tiger’s “presents”. - to cushion the bottom and to keep the bulbs from breaking. Each time a bulb burns out, place it inside the box and cover with a bit of sand. Keep the box in the garage or an outside shed of possible, preferably someplace where it won’t be jostled too much. When the box is full, call to find your hazardous material dump site – check places that take batteries and the like. They often will accept CFL’s as well.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go rethink that Hobbit Hole idea. I bet beekeeping isn’t all that hard.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Due to a death in the family, the followup blog to Green Light - Red Light? will be postponed until Sunday evening. Have a good weekend... and tell those around you love them. Time slips by faster than you can imagine.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Green Light - Red Light Part Deux

On paper… or at least in all the screaming “green” websites, CFL’s seem not only like a great idea, but the only way for a responsible natural nerd to go. They have reported lifespan exceeding 10,000 hours, the prices are dropping, and their environmental impacts are huge. So…. Off to the store to buy 42 bulbs and happily plug them in?

Not so fast. – Come on, work with me here. If it was that simple… why would anyone still be making the old Edison model? Why would any country allow the use of the luminescent dinosaur if its so dangerous and is easy to make the switch? Contrary to what a lot of environmental sites would like to claim, I honestly don’t believe there are arch villains running around trying to destroy the world. The Roach People are not micromanaging the downfall of the human race, and neither are the Republicans. The planet goes… we go. This is something we can all agree on, no matter what our other beliefs may be. It’s a daily struggle for NASA to keep the bits and pieces of the space station up that is already in orbit. We’re not ready to blast off and strip mine any other planets just yet. Give us a few decades, but for now, if it all goes Kaboomie, we’re sitting on the fireworks pile. That being the case, if it’s a perfect solution… why isn’t it everywhere… and why isn’t it mandatory?

I’ll grant, one big factor is price. When I say that the CFL’s prices are dropping, I don’t mean they are cheap yet. While they no longer cost $19.99+ per bulb, they are still a significant price hike from plain jane incandescent light bulbs. I can wander towards my local discount shop and pick up a 4-pack of light bulbs for under a dollar. The cheapest place I’ve found for CFL’s – not searching the internet – is the 15.16 for a 6-pack that my local Wallyworld wants. There’s quite a bit of a difference in $2.52(ish) per bulb and a quarter per bulb. I want to save the world as much as the next gal… but is the hike worth it? While you save money in the long run – $1,306.94 if you remember – you have to outlay the cost at the beginning. And the money is saved over time, it’s not the “found” money that the cheering throng of CFL supporters makes it seem. That money is $1,306.94 less that I would be charged over the 6,000 hour lifetime of ALL the bulbs combined. No one is writing me a check for $1,300, this is not going to be something I can deposit in the bank.

I have maybe 5 lights on max in the evening – the Prime Geek and I tend to separate for a few hours each night to pursue our own passions, then get back together to pursue…. Well. Never mind about that. This is a family blog. Nerds Gone Nude would never sell anyway. – and only have them on for maybe 6 hours a day. That means those 5 bulbs should last us around 1,000 days. Roughly 3 years, ish. Rotated through 42 bulbs. So I’m looking at an initial outlay of a minimum of $105.84 plus tax…. It will be several years before I recoup my costs.

Now, I’m willing to bite the bullet and lay the money out for these, because money aside… there is still the little matter of 27,301 pounds of CO2 NOT being released into the atmosphere with these in use. Keeping material we know to be hazardous to the environment is a key point in changing the direction we’re headed… right? Incandescent light bulbs burn so much extra energy, wasted energy that is being turned into wasted heat, they use so much fossil fuels… CFL’s are the only really environmentally safe option. After all… they are perfectly safe for the environment.


Or is there a silver lining to CFL’s that might put a bit of a damper to their advantages.

Let’s figure that out tomorrow.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Green Light - Red Light?

Now, I will confess. There was some deep seated arguing going on in my soul over what to title today’s blast into cyber space… I nearly went biblical with “Let there be Light”, but I do a rotten James Earl Jones. “Go into the Light” just seemed too morbid, and “Light it Up” is no doubt copywrited somewhere. So, for today, we’ll stay with Green Light Red Light.

One of the first problems the Prime Geek and I have struggled with in our foray into homeownership, is the idea of how we should light this sucker up. The romantic in me yearns to live in a hobbit hole deep in the country, lit with hand dipped beeswax candles – gathered from happy bees in low stress working environments, of course. But, sadly… I’m a 6’1 (ish, happy Chris?) Amazon living in the suburbs of a large city, and I am pretty sure they airbrushed the soot stains off those far too pristine ceilings anyway. Also, I’m married to a man who’s idea of a good time is getting his hands on a flashlight powerful enough, that when used by Sean Connery could blind and successfully bring down a helicopter full of white cat stroking drug runners! He lives for lumens, blinding white light thrills the very cockles of his geeky soul… so what is a Natural Nerd to do?

Like most of you, I’m a sucker for a good ad campaign. We’ve all heard the pitches for compact fluorescent light bulbs – CFL's for those of us who hate typing - they lower our carbon footprint. They lower our energy bills. They drastically cut back our reliance on fossil fuels. They promote clear skin and bigger breasts. Well, okay. The last two are a tad bit of a stretch, but if you spend any time at all searching the internet for information on these suckers, the ones touting them put them right up there with the wheel, penicillin, and drive thru late night windows at Wendy's on the heights of human achievement. Now, I’m writing this blog because I want to do better, I want to see what I can do to leave the world a tad bit cleaner than I found it, because frankly… when my future children are deciding which nursing home to put my wrinkled and aging backside in, I don’t want the fact they haven’t seen a living tree in their entire lives to weigh too darn heavily in their feelings for me! But all that aside, are these the way to go?

One of the big sites I’ve checked out - http://www.environmentaldefense.org/home.cfm has an engine that allows you to pop in the number of bulbs you hope to switch over to CFL’s and it will calculate, using your state’s average energy costs, just how much you will save you in the life of the bulbs. Now, after a few minutes wandering around the Natural Nerd’s nest, we come up with 42 bulbs. Which, beside being mildly satisfying for the Marvin side of my brain, is a heck of a lot of bulbs to switch out. These suckers cost anywhere from $3-$18 a bulb! Can the cost be worth it? Into the magic whosit my numbers go- 75 watt bulbs, 42 of them, all in Ohio, at 9.22 cents per kilowatt hour with a minimum lifespan of 6000 hours…. Lets see, carry the 7, divide the 3….. ummm…. I gotta kick a sandal off here….. according to the happy little gremlin living in the website I’ll save a whopping $1,306.94 and prevent 27,301 pounds of C02 from entering this plane of existence. Not bad numbers at all. I’m all for saving a tad bit over thirteen hundred bucks. But is this the real savings? Let’s find out more tomorrow. I sense a disturbance in the force…….

Friday, July 6, 2007


This blog is born out of guilt, cheapness, and an innate curiosity of how one household can try to do things a little greener, a little better, and a little differently from the rest of the herd. Over the next few years, my husband and I are attempting to see how far into the “green” pool we can venture, without giving up our meat consuming, gadget loving, inquisitive ways. The adventure of being newly married as well as new homeowners (of a rather old home), seemed to not be enough of a challenge, we want to see what other stresses we can add to our life! – Please, please let the fates read the sarcasm inherent in that sentence!

I suppose I should explain the name of this blog… one other option was Geeks going Green, but to be fair, only my husband counts as a geek. I’m a died in the wool Nerd, will be until the day they pry my D20 out of my cold stiff fingers. Is there a difference,I hear you ask? Of course! My husband (true geek that he is) is in the beginning stage of going over to solar energy. We already camp with solar panels, its only a matter of time until they are integrated into our home. Why? Is it the love of the planet? The guilt over our countries vast consumption of fossil fuels? The desire to be a greener and happier person?

Nah. It’s the toys. The thrill of wiring minuscule parts and pieces together, sparks flying, and the muttered “It’s Alive!” as the panels flicker on for the first time. Well, that and the money that can be saved in the long run. We’ll ignore the money being spent in the meantime, k? That… is the essence of the green geek. A nerd, now… we’re a different bird altogether. Nerds plant trees (after studying the effects of fir verses poplar in the urban environment, of course.) and recycle… not out of some need to prove themselves. No, we do it out of the sneaking suspicion that when Momma Nature finally makes a house call… we want to be able to slip on our elf ears and firmly blame man! We’re well read hippies, too educated – read cheap- to go to a megamart and pay 19.99 a pound for dried organic banana chips… we’ll search the Internet to find a connection with a boat out of South America and dry the dang things ourselves! (Possibly selling the finished product to the yippies of the world.)

I’m taking this year to publicly put my efforts out there for all to inspect and critique. I’ll be honest when I fail – cause let’s face it, failures are at least funny. I’ll let you know what we’ve tried – what works, what doesn’t, and what isn’t worth the time it took to type up. Maybe at the end of this a few of you will have joined me in being naturally nerds… or at least slipped into the pool of the greening geek. Come on…. Where else will you find the greenhouse effect being compared, point by point, to the Evil Empire? (Granted, that will be the week my husband guest blogs.) Or the use of AD&D in effectively promoting recycling?