bare feet in the sand

the beauty of nature in a consumer economy


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Living sustainably

Last August I moved to the Philadelphia area in order to go to grad school. I am going to get a Masters in Environmental Science. But this blog post isn’t going to be about that. This post is about what I learned about living sustainably as I moved into my own apartment.

My apartment, like most places in the U.S., has single stream recycling. My goal was going to be to limit the amount of things I put in the trash, as well as the amount of things that go into recycling. I have handkerchiefs around the house to use and wash, and tissues only when I really need to blow my nose. But the truth is a lot of goes into the trash and recycling is food packaging. And I haven’t solved that.

However, there are certain items in the kitchen that generally go into the trash and then into a landfill I can reduce my use of. Paper towels is one of them, so I went out and bought small cloths and use them instead. In August I came with two rolls of paper towels (bathroom cleaning, cleaning up after my cat) and I’m proud to say I’ve used less than half of one roll.

Finally, I’ve worked hard to reduce my use of food storage that goes into the trash. I have yet to buy ziploc bags and I do have plastic tupperware and I also keep jars and other containers that I can reuse from items I purchase. I have also bought beeswax food wraps which do a good job of keeping produce fresh and covering bowls in the fridge. (Not a complete substitute for aluminum foil which can go in the oven, but close.) I also use reusable ties and clips. Maybe it’s time to look at your kitchen and see what you can replace with reusable items?

Carrots in a tupperware with a towel to soak up moisture, reusable tie on the broccoli, cucumber in beeswax food wrap and a pepper.
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Composting

I was so surprised to find out that even food and other compostable items don’t decompose when put in a landfill (see my post on Garbology by Edward Humes).  Since then I’ve been thinking that there must be an easy way to compost.  This was brought home to me in my visit to New York City this past weekend.  I went to see the tennis at the U.S. Open but found myself thinking about compost.  At the U.S. Open itself, there were compost bins next to the recycling and trash bins.  In the ladies’ room, the only bin by the sinks was composting because the paper towels were compostable.  That made me think that the napkin I threw in the trash was probably also compostable.  The U.S. Open also had signs on the beds of flowers saying that they used the compost from last year to make this year’s Open pretty.

The other place I went while in NYC was the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  They had a composting exhibit that made it seem really easy.  It also showed that you can grow things in a compost pile before it is done composting.  compost

compost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I then looked into what someone would need to do in order to compost their food waste.  Obviously, if you have a yard and/or a garden, you can make compost piles outside.  But if you don’t have a place to do it outside, there are still things you can do.  Here are two sites I found about composting in a yard:  Planet Natural and EarthEasy.  Basically, it works better if you have a bin and make sure you have a balance of different materials.  Moisture and the occasional stir helps too.  If you don’t have a yard, there are buckets you can buy (like this one at the Container Store) that can stand by your sink.  Having charcoal filters in it is an expense but helps with the odor.  A lot of towns, at this point, have places you can drop off your scraps, and so do some grocery stores like Whole Foods.  This is the site for Cambridge, MA.  They point out several things – you can freeze the scraps to avoid odor, you can buy compostable bags so you don’t have to dump it when you drop it off.  It turns out there is a lot of information out there and a lot of relatively simple ways to create useful compost and keep food scraps out of landfills.  I hope this inspires you to find the easiest way for you to compost.

 


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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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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.

tech room

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