bare feet in the sand

the beauty of nature in a consumer economy


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Environmentally Friendly Jewelry

I haven’t written much since the new year started.  However, I did have a birthday, a very important birthday.  At least, 30 seems important to me.  It makes me feel like I haven’t done enough with my life.  But for right now I want to talk about a present I received for my birthday.  My mother gave me a diamond ring that has been in her family for generations.  I’m not engaged and it seems unlikely that I will get engaged any time soon.  I knew about the ring and that it would become mine eventually, but now it lives in my apartment or sometimes on my finger.

DSC_4026The ring isn’t really my style – I tend to wear simple gold jewelry – but it is an heirloom.  Regardless I was glad it was there because it meant I would never have to deal with buying a diamond.  Most people are aware of the terrible conditions that exist where diamonds are being mined.  You can buy ‘conflict-free’ diamonds, but it’s not clear to me what guarantees there are that those diamonds are truly free of all human rights abuses.  As I was thinking about diamonds I remembered my sister’s experience when she got engaged and married.  My mother, luckily, also had a diamond heirloom for her.  But she and her husband had to find gold wedding bands (gold to match the ring).  He had read this article:  The Real Price of Gold in National Geographic and didn’t want to support the human rights abuses and environmental devastation that the gold industry is involved in.  They looked at vintage jewelry, respected sites like Brilliant Earth, but in the end went with an artisan who dealt in recycled gold.  The good thing about gold is that it is easily melted down and reused.  Precious metals and gems are rare and people will therefore go to great lengths (and sometimes do terrible things) to get them and make money with them.

Have you ever found that once you start thinking about something, suddenly it appears everywhere?  I was listening to NPR in the car (as usual) and heard a story about a wildlife summit that is occurring in London.  One of the major issues is the demand for ivory that makes poaching so profitable.  I own a scrimshaw pendant and I’m happy to say that it was made on recycled ivory (probably an old piano key).


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Much Ado About Nothing and its trash

The play is over.  The performances went really well and I’m very proud of all the students involved.  The day after the last performance we had strike.  We took down the entire set in less than five hours.  Unfortunately, it goes faster the more you throw away.  Taking things apart and storing them takes more time, more effort.  Of course, I would happily take that time and effort except I don’t have storage space.  The set looked like this:

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 The dumpsters at the end of strike looked like this:

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A lot of materials went to a trash dump at the end of the day.  And yes, I feel badly about it.  I hope that thinking about the environmental impact through this process will mean that future shows will end up with less in the trash.


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Plastics

The setting we are using for Much Ado About Nothing is an Italian stone villa.  There are many ways to create stone on stage.  What we decided to do was use vacuform plastic.  It allows for a 3D look without having to create each stone by hand.  The kind we ordered is made from high impact polystyrene.  That is the same substance used in foam cups and everyone should be aware that they are not good for the environment.  It is also likely on the side of your house or your neighbor’s.  It also may be the insulation in your walls.  This is what the Environmental Defense Fund thinks of it: carcinogenic.

Plastic is an environmental problem.  It was made by man and does not occur in nature.  It doesn’t break down.  It was made to be durable, to last, and not break down.  The technology exists to recycle it, but the recycling process like the manufacturing process isn’t very environmentally friendly.  Many cities won’t allow all plastics in their recycling bins.  Unfortunately, most of the replacement products have drawbacks.  Plastic is useful.  It is easy for a company to heat it, soften it, and create the illusion of stone.  That is much easier than me and my carpenters cutting individual stones from wood.  And the other option is foam, which basically made of the same plastic.


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Lumber order

The building of Much Ado About Nothing has been coming along.  After reviewing the platforms that we own, I decided to use as many as possible.  What that meant was that we cut them down to the size that we wanted.  I was feeling better about not building the entire show from scratch.  Then it occurred to me that because the platforms that we are making are not rectangular, after the show they will be thrown out.  Right angles allow for easy joints so anything without right angles isn’t worth the storage space.  I may be reusing old platforms.  But they are going to end up in a landfill anyway.

We did have to build some of the platforms from scratch.  I ordered lumber twice, but it was a relatively small amount.  I ordered 23 sheets of 4 foot by 8 foot plywood, made of fir.  I also ordered 25 sticks of 8 foot long 2×4, made of pine and 10 sheets of 4 foot by 8 foot luan, which is typically a tropical hardwood.

I would like to say that lumber is a renewable resource.  That it is made with sun and soil.  But the truth is that forests are being cut down faster than they are growing.  And the truth is that even with no mistakes made in building, and even if the show was entirely made of rectangles, there is always excess after cutting.  Small pieces of wood build up.  Eventually the bin for pieces less than 2 feet gets full and those small pieces are thrown out.  And that’s in a perfect world.  Instead I can’t store all of the scrap even when it’s not that small.


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Environmental Theater

As an industry, set design has not historically been very environmentally friendly.  It’s been built on the principle of using wood to build things that will be used for a very limited period of time and then probably thrown away.  Storage space and expense is always a problem, no matter where you are, and especially in cities which is where theater has usually flourished.  It is certainly not the priority at a school, such as the high school where I work.  I have one room, one hallway and one closet.  The room is storage and a wood shop, the hallway is for lighting equipment, and the closet is for paint since it has a paint sink.  Below is a picture of what I currently have to work with.

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I have 12 flats (as in wall units), 16 platforms, 14 chairs, 7 stools and 3 tables.  All made entirely of wood, screws and nails.  I also have about 25 sheets of wood and 70 sticks of wood.

I designed a set for Much Ado About Nothing with no thought to what I have.  (Something I hope to change in the future.)  That doesn’t mean that I can’t use any of it.  In fact, I’m going to do my best to buy as little new wood as possible.  We kill enough trees with the amount of paper from scripts and set plans and notes.

There are people out there who make theater with a lot of thought to their environmental impact.  Look at this list of topics that was at the World Stage Design conference this year:  WSD2013


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Living with an environmental conscience

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post.  But I haven’t forgotten.  I have been thinking and reading as always.  I’m currently in the middle of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.  It’s a seminal book and I had never read it.  It is amazingly thorough and I am learning a lot about the complexities of ecology.  I am also finding it thoroughly depressing.  It is only in the last six months or so that I have been really learning and thinking about environmental issues.  I have been reading a lot of blogs, news reports and books.  I have tried to notice every time I do something that impacts the environment.  The result is that I am overwhelmed.  I am overwhelmed by the amount of problems.  I am overwhelmed by the idea that anything I can do will not be enough.  But I haven’t decided that I am not going to let it defeat me.  I am going to do two things.

The first is more immediate.  I am going to go with the idea that what I do can make a difference.  I am currently the technical director at a high school.  For the fall play we are doing Much Ado About Nothing.  I am the set designer, lighting designer and technical director (with help with a large group of students).  I have decided to keep track of the materials as specifically as I can without going too far out of my way.  I am going to write several blog posts as I go about it, so I will leave the details to later.

The second thing I am going to do is keep searching for a career that helps the Earth.  I get busy with my current job and reading and writing this blog and a million other things that I do every day.  But I do want to make a difference and I have to figure out how to build a life that involves doing that.


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Recycling in Germany

This is my second post about my trip to Germany.  I went with my family and we rented an apartment.  It was wonderful to have our own kitchen (unlike in a hotel) and it meant that I felt more like part of the regular life of Germany.  This includes small things that they do to lesson their environmental impact.  Things I think the U.S., or at least Boston, could learn from.  On the very first day, my family ran across an example of this in the supermarket.  In grocery stores, nobody bags your items.  In fact, there are no bags except the flimsy plastic kind for produce.  Paper or plastic isn’t a question.  You better have your own bag, or of course you buy a reusable one.  This extends to other types of shopping.  In the U.S. when you buy something the cashier generally puts it right into a bag.  Not in Germany.  If it seems likely you need one, they ask.

There was also curbside pickup of compost, which does exist in some places in the U.S., but not where I live.  The recycling was also split up curbside into plastic, paper and glass.  I even saw glass bins that split up clear from colored glass.

recycling

I wanted to talk briefly about bicycling.  There were bikes everywhere and no one in the cities where helmets.  The only helmets I saw were on people on good road bikes going on obviously long rides in the country.  Part of it is must be that they are simply not afraid of being hit by cars.  This is clearly true in pedestrian zones (that mostly include bikes) and also the bike lane system is phenomenal.  In Austria, most of the bike lanes weren’t even part of the car lane.  They were more attached to the sidewalk.  Believe me when I saw the bike lanes (or lack thereof) and the drivers in Cambridge mean I’m always going to be wearing a helmet.  bike lane