Archive | Stuff RSS feed for this section

Thrifty

Picked up a couple more glass jars at Savers the other day to accomodate more dry bulk goods. I spent 4 dollars on the pair.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Life Without Plastic

Yesterday I received a package I ordered from Life Without Plastic. I purchased the items above as a birthday gift to myself. Yes, that’s right, I bought a toilet brush for my birthday! It’s not your average brush.

So far I’m really pleased with each of the items. I brought the Klean Kanteen water bottle with me to work today. I have had a few of these, but none with the stainless steel/bamboo cap. I really love this particular newer model because it is completely plastic and paint free (the logo is laser etched into the steel). The cap seals with a food grade silicone ring. If I manage to hang onto this one (I’ve lost a couple others already), it will last a very long time. I purchased the steel container thinking that I would use it to put together a low-trash first aid kit. The steel seems to be a thicker gage than some of the other stainless containers I have and I love the roll clip design. I used it to carry some leftovers to work today. Because this particular one isn’t watertight it wouldn’t be ideal for wet foods. The handkerchiefs are made of organic cotton. I really want to make it a habit to carry one with me at all times as I still sometimes reach for toilet paper to blow my nose. The toilet brush is made from beechwood, wire, and pig bristles. It will be interesting to see how well it works and how long it holds up.

The whole order arrived in a small cardboard box sealed with paper tape. The handkerchiefs and toilet brush were loose inside. A piece of paper was wrapped around the bottle and the stainless steel container came inside a plastic bag within a cardboard Sanctus Mundo company box. I was surprised to see the plastic because there was no mention of it on Life Without Plastic’s website and they often specify when a product contains or comes packed in plastic. But overall I was impressed with the minimal packaging and have so far been very pleased with the quality of the products I’ve purchased from LWP.

 

Read full story · Comments { 3 }

Bike light

I love this new gadget. It’s a USB rechargeable bike headlight. I had been riding around with just a tail light at night (powered by an AAA battery) and I knew I needed more visibility on the dark roads. Being able to ride at night further cuts down on driving. And though the days are finally starting to get longer, the sun is still setting well before 5:00pm. This little light is made by a company called Knog. Though the light is great, the packaging was excessive, (number 1 plastic case surrounded by printed cardboard paper) as are most bike lights that I’ve managed to find so far. It has a waterproof silicone casing that slips off to reveal a USB jack. It also has a battery discharge feature that can be activated when the light is not in use for a long period of time, to optimize battery longevity. I’m hoping it will have a very long life. I’d like to replace my tail light with a rechargeable one.

The bike lights have prompted me to think about the items in my life that still require changeable alkaline batteries. It’s been a long time since I’ve changed a battery in my home… no more remote controls. So it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about buying batteries. After going over my apartment room by room, the few remaining objects I’ve found are the two MagLite flashlights under the kitchen sink (used mostly in the summertime for outdoor after dark grilling, and very rarely during power outages) the smoke detector in the bedroom, and the 35mm and medium format film cameras that require coin cell batteries to power their internal light meters. There are of course rechargeable batteries and chargers available for the flashlights (D for the large flashlight and AA for the small one), and after searching online I found that there are many rechargeable flashlights on the market today. Some can be plugged directly into the wall and some are USB chargeable. There are also rechargeable 9-volt batteries (the kind used in smoke detectors) and even rechargeable coin cell batteries available now. I think it’s time to invest in some sets. 

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Running rubbish

This morning I went for a run in the woods. The sun was shining but the ground was still saturated from all the rain we got over the past two days, so the smell of decomposing leaves was heavy in the air. I prefer trail running to road running because it calls for more focus and coordination, and because there isn’t much traffic out on a wooded path. My run is usually my favorite part of a day. I always say that if I could bottle the post-run feeling and sip it all day long, I’d never have a care in the world. I like that it’s a form of exercise that requires little gear. I can throw on my running clothes and be out the door. But the most important piece of equipment that a runner has (the one that takes the most pounding) also makes the most trash.

Carbon rubber, polyurethane, ethylene vinyl acetate, nylon, polyester, and thermoplastic urethane are some of the materials used to make modern running shoes. Most spent pairs go straight to a landfill.When I got home today and kicked mine off, I noticed they’re really starting to fall apart. I’ve worn through the foam on the heel of the insoles and the treads on the soles have flattened out since I bought them almost three years ago. I do own another pair that I love–a ‘minimal’ running shoe I picked up this past spring when I became intrigued by the argument that barefoot running is beneficial for joints, but couldn’t imagine sacrificing the soles of me feet. My minimal shoes are not completely sealed on the outsoles, so water creeps in when the ground is wet. I don’t mind damp feet in warmer weather, but it can be unbearable in the cold.

So the time has come to do some more research. I’d like to find a shoe that is made from minimal material, but can stand up to winter in New England. I realize this is a tall order. I’ve started looking into it and while I haven’t yet found a pair that meets my criteria, I have found some information about the recent efforts of some athletic shoe companies to reduce waste in a toxic industry.

Puma and Brooks seem to be taking the lead. Both have redesigned their shoe packaging so that customers walk out with less trash around their new footwear. In 2008, Brooks released a shoe with a midsole that supposedly biodegrades 50 times faster than conventional midsoles. In November, Puma announced that they are working to develop the first completely compostable running shoes. And I came across these leather and canvas biodegradable, blooming sneakers.

I will keep looking for shoes that are right for me. When it is finally time to get rid of my old ones I think I’m going to bring them to the Reuse-A-Shoe drop-off location about 10 miles away from where I live. Meanwhile I daydream about taking up yoga–a truly barefoot form of exercise, but I don’t think I could ever completely kick my running habit.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Pattern play

Experimenting with different patterns for dishwashing cloths. I’m curious to see if one holds soap better than the others.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Dish cloth

A new tool put to use.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Scrubs

My search for the elusive package-free natural loofah sponge has come to an end. For a while I was hung up on the idea of finding a no trash source for this amazing little dried fruit. I had hoped to use it as a dish scrubber and a shower sponge. But, from bath and beauty stores to natural food stores and even online, every loofah product I’ve come across has been wrapped in some kind of plastic. I was using Twist sponges for a while but most of their products are no longer available without a plastic wrapper. I emailed the company and was told that the initial attempt to package their sponges in a simple paper sleeve had failed because the sponges shrank as they dried on store shelves, causing them to fall out of the sleeves. What a shame to have to put a biodegradable, environmentally friendly product inside packaging that ends up in a landfill. So, the time has come to rethink the kitchen sink.

What about hemp? A friend of mine suggested knitting my own washcloths from hemp yarn. I thought this was a nice idea. I figured I could knit some small dish scrubbers while I was at it. I visited my local yarn shop and discovered that they do not carry it. I found some suppliers online but the yarn is more expensive than I had imagined and it’s all imported. Oh, that’s right–isn’t there some kind of movement to legalize industrial hemp in the United States? I started to do some research. I’ve learned a little about why so many are looking at hemp as an alternative sustainable resource, and why it’s a touchy subject in our country.

Because of its long fiber and strength characteristics, hemp is a versatile material that can be used to make paper, rope, fabric, and building materials (particle board). It is a 120-day crop that grows well with little more than rainwater in a variety of climates, and its root system actually improves soil quality. New growth tree farms harvest wood on 20-35 year cycles, depending on the tree species. Hemp pulp is naturally whiter than wood pulp and requires less chemical processing to turn it into paper. Unfortunately, because it is a non-intoxicating variety of cannabis sativa (the same species of plant that marijuana comes from), it has been illegal to grow it in the USA without a special Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) permit since 1970. So far, it is still extremely difficult to acquire this permit. ‘Hempsters’ from coast to coast are working to change that. Progress is slow.

After much deliberation, I finally decided to order some hemp yarn from an online supplier. I bought 900 yards of fair trade, organically grown, unbleached yarn that is imported from Romania. The knit square pictured above is meant for dishwashing. The fiber is naturally mildew resistant and can be thrown in the washing machine. I’m hoping that when paired a stainless steel mesh sponge, the hemp scrubbers will make dishwashing a synthetic fiber-free cinch. Slightly larger knit squares will replace the cotton washcloths I have been using in the shower. Though it’s only a small square, I find that the cotton cloth is cumbersome when saturated with water and it’s not the most effective exfoliant. Time will test the durability of my cannabis cloths.

Read full story · Comments { 6 }

The perfect thing

A big part of the No Trash Project has been learning to plan ahead. I’ve had to train myself to always carry a reusable bag with me, even if I’m not headed directly to the store. If I know I need to shop for food, I will pack smaller produce bags and at least one reusable container. As I’ve mentioned before, I am now in the habit of carrying lunch and dinner with me to work and on the road. When I first began this project I was carrying around plastic tupperware. I soon found that the plastic stained easily, held food odors, and it was difficult to remove meat counter price stickers from the worn, scratched lids. I transitioned over to glass Frigoverre storage containers for a while. While they were far easier to clean (oils don’t stick to glass the way they stick to plastic) they were heavier and more cumbersome than my already donated plastic containers. After breaking one glass container on the pavement, and another on a concrete floor at work, it was clear that I needed to find another solution. I had seen a stainless steel lunchbox at Whole Foods, but it was shrink wrapped in two layers of plastic.

My friend told me about a company called Life Without Plastic. Their website has become an important resource for me. Whenever possible I try to find what I need locally to avoid using shipping materials and fuel, but sometimes I strike out. I have turned to this company for products unavailable nearby or without unnecessary packaging, which have become an important part of my routine. Life Without Plastic makes an effort to pack their shipments in reused, recycled, and recyclable materials.

The stainless steel containers above are a few of my favorite things. They are lightweight, even more durable than plastic, and they have a tighter seal (a silicone ring for watertight storage) than either the plastic or the glass containers. I give one to The Local Catch to hold my weekly fish order. The steel never stinks the way the plastic used to. I bring my dinner to work in one almost everyday. I’m never worried that the contents will spill into my bag as I bike or walk from home.

This past weekend I drove down to New York City with some friends. We packed some quinoa, farmers market brussels sprouts, squash, apples, granola, and almond butter in the stainless steel containers. We filled our large swing top glass bottles with water and packed some bowls, forks, knives, and cloth napkins. It was a delicious trash-free picnic that sustained us through a night at the ballet. The leftovers went into the refrigerator at our generous host’s house. The food was still delicious for breakfast the next morning!

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Metal Mountain

The other day, while I was headed out of town I drove by the Sims Metal Management site on Eddy Street. Lit by the setting sun, the towering pile of metal scraps was quite a sight to behold. Apparently Sims is the world’s largest scrap metals and electronics recycling company. They just moved into the nine-acre Providence waterfront property in October, replacing Promet Marine Services Corporation. The export terminal includes a 600 ft pier with rail services and two deep-water berths. I am curious about the process. It seems that some sorting and compressing is being done here in Providence, but I wonder if they are also melting and molding metals on-site. Where is the recycled metal sent once it has been processed? I’m looking into getting a tour…

Tomorrow is America Recycles Day. I heard that my local Whole Foods Markets are teaming up with Green Penguin for an electronics waste recycling drive. I contacted Green Penguin for more information and they directed me to a poster on their Facebook page, which lists all the accepted e-waste materials. I will be dropping off some non-functioning electronics that I have been storing while I looked for a way to properly dispose of them. The e-waste blight is a rapidly growing problem.

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which my electronic devices impact my health and the environment as I continue my effort to “go paperless.” I try to limit the use of my cell phone and I’m determined to take excellent care of my laptop so that it will serve me for many years to come. I’ve learned to keep all my chargers, cables, and headphones out of the reach of my cat, as she loves to chew on them. I no longer own a TV or any decks. I watch movies and shows on my computer. When I want to see something projected large, I go to work or to the cinema. Pairing down my electronic devices to the few that are essential to my current lifestyle has made caring for those few items more manageable. 

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Details

Since I began this project my kitchen has slowly become a more efficient workspace. Food moves from the grocery tote to the plate through a well-organized system. At this point, I’m not producing any spoiled food. Everything edible in the kitchen is consumed and the only things going into the compost are peels, shells, skins and tough stems. I went through all the tools in the kitchen and donated every item that was not essential. It’s amazing how the drawers, cabinets, and shelves of a room will fill up over time. I found that I had many multiples of the same tool (three cheese graters for example) and many pots, pans, dishes, and utensils that were never used but for some reason traveled with me through multiple home moves.  Eliminating the clutter has been great. Prepping, cooking, and cleaning routines are simpler. Unloading the bulk of the kitchen items I had been storing for so long has allowed me to focus on finding the right tool for each job. I find a lot of enjoyment in scavenging high quality items made from sustainable materials and I’m slowly weeding out the poorly made, the dysfunctional, and the plastic. Incorporating objects that meet my personal standards of form and functionality has made daily practices more satisfying. Filled with wood, steel, and glass, the dish drying rack has become very photogenic.

Last week I checked another item off the No Trash Project wish list–an immersion blender. My tabletop blender quit several months ago while I was making hummus (it went out with a loud groan and some smoke), so I had been looking for the immersion variety for a while. I hemmed and hawed over what brand to buy and how much to spend. I regularly checked craigslist to see if anyone nearby was selling one used. No such luck. So, I finally took the plunge and bought one new. I decided to go with a high-end product that could stand up to heavy use. In addition to all the foods I’ll be mincing and blending, I’ll also be using it to make recycled paper at home, so I needed to find one with lot of power. I’ve now used mine to make soup and I love it. Because I don’t have to transfer batches to and from a tabletop blender, fewer dishes are dirtied, and less water is used to clean up. I look forward to making a wider range of dishes than I was able to produce in the days of the hand mashing, blender hiatus. Both of the trash-free, puréed soups pictured above were made without set measurements, but I’ve written up a basic recipe for each.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 large butternut squash peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1-inch pieces

4 cups homemade vegetable broth

My most recent batch was made with water, carrots, celery, onion, fennel seeds, and cracked red pepper (combined, boiled, and strained)

1 medium yellow onion finely chopped

1 clove of garlic minced

2 Tbs. canola of oil

1 Tbs. curry powder

1 tsp freshly ground cinnamon

——————————————————————

Heat canola oil in a large pot.

Sauté the onion until translucent (about 5-7 minutes).

Add squash and garlic and cook for two more minutes.

Add broth. Bring to a simmer and cover.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for until the squash is tender (about 20 minutes).

Blend soup.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, cracked black pepper, and fresh thyme (or sage) leaves. Salt if desired.

Cauliflower Apple Soup

1 large head of cauliflower chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 to 2 tart apples chopped (6 cups)

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium yellow onion finely chopped

1 clove of garlic minced

1 tablespoon curry powder

4 cups homemade vegetable broth

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

——————————————————————

Heat canola oil in a large pot.

Sauté the onion until translucent (about 5-7 minutes).

Stir in the apple, curry, garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.

Add the cauliflower and broth. Bring to a simmer and cover.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for until the cauliflower is tender (about 20 minutes).

Blend soup.

Stir in the honey and vinegar.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked pepper. Salt if desired.

Because these recipes are so basic, they are both very adaptable. I used spices are stocked on my shelves (I love curry) but there are many substitutes. Trash-free cooking often calls for creativity. I’m learning to be resourceful while shopping and flexible while putting together a meal.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Progress

The first few posts have mostly been about the already established systems of the No Trash Project, but every new day offers potential to further the effort. This week I finally got a bike. I had been looking for one that would fit me for quite some time. I needed a frame with a shorter stand over height and length.  This past summer I checked out a number of bikes through craigslist but couldn’t find any that were appropriate for my proportions. Finally I decided to seek help to build one up.  A friend of mine who works on bikes happened to have a smaller frame set aside. He put the bike together with mostly used and a few new parts. I am now the proud owner of this tangerine beauty. I recently moved into an apartment that is only four blocks from my office. I’ve been enjoying walking to and from work and to nearby businesses. Though it’s late in the New England biking season, I look forward to using my new ride to further cut down on driving.

On the day I went to pick it up, while Tom was helping another customer in the shop, I perused the parts and accessories hanging on the walls. I noticed there are a wide variety of material choices to consider when putting a bike together. Tom and I spoke about some of the things that can be done to reduce the waste involved in keeping a bike.

There are some fundamental common sense measures that can be taken to lengthen a bike’s life. Luckily I have the space to keep mine inside while at home and at work, and both spaces have reasonably dry air. I once kept a bike in the basement of a Providence house thinking it would winter over well, but the moisture in the basement caused the frame and the chain to rust. Of course I’ll need to consider the way in which I lock it outside to safeguard the parts and the bike itself. It seems obvious I know, but it’s easy to get careless. My friend Kory recently made instructional booklets on how to properly lock a bike, which can be seen here. I will certainly think of these tips every time I lock mine up.

Beyond the basic care of the bike, I’m also interested in the range of sustainability of materials used to make bike parts. Mine was cobbled together from available used parts and some of the components are on the not so environmentally friendly end of the spectrum. The seat (saddle) for instance is foam and vinyl. The derailleur has some plastic components and the handlebar tape is foam with an adhesive backing. The tires are probably the least sustainable part on the bike, but as far as I know, there really aren’t many options here. Some saddles, handlebar grips, and pedal straps are made of genuine leather. Cotton cloth grip tape is also an option. Some of the plastic parts on my bike are also available in different kinds of metals, but may weigh more.

In general, I think I’ve always been interested in how things are made and how they work. The No Trash Project seems to have heightened my curiosity. I find myself looking at objects, breaking down their parts in my mind, wondering about the life of a thing before I came in contact with it and the life it will have beyond me.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

The Stuff Show


I work on an experimental film series called The Magic Lantern Cinema. Last week we put on a show that I curated–largely inspired by the No Trash Project. In an attempt to streamline the waste reduction effort, I’ve been working to dramatically reduce my possessions to what I consider essentials–according to functional, sentimental, and even aesthetic value. This process has prompted me to reevaluate my own wants and needs for STUFF.  I’ve noticed my own tastes evolving as my lifestyle changes, and as I work through a careful consideration of my belongings, I’m struck by this newfound or heightened stewardship, and love of the things I deem worthy of keeping–like my trusty all-purpose wooden spatula, for instance. And my hand-me-down kitchen table that I recently noticed has beautifully joined legs, even if they’re a bit scarred at the ends where a teething puppy chewed them nearly eighteen years ago. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff and I tried to put together a program that deals with some of these ideas. Below are the write-up and films synopses. A few of the titles can be screened online or rented/borrowed on DVD.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Whether by design, circumstance, or accident, stuff sticks to us. In form and function, our belongings are descriptors in our personal narratives. What rules do we use to curate the objects we keep? Do our possessions–and the systems of organization we use to govern their arrangement–reveal more about us than our most intimate conversations? Magic Lantern Cinema’s “The Stuff Show” is a collection of short films about gleaning, coveting, producing, and purging. Stuff by its many names–essentials, art, waste–is scattered throughout scenes of a manufacturing company warehouse, a Pop artist’s sculpture studio, and a Japanese beachside dump. Commonplace objects stray from their everyday roles to haunt, fornicate, and dance across the screen. Here is a program to prompt a reconsideration, reassemblage, or repurposing of our stuff–much of which will long outlive us.

FEATURING: G.W. “Billy” Bitzer, “Westinghouse Work: Panorama view aisle B” (1904); Hans Richter, “Ghosts Before Breakfast” (1928); Michael Snow, “A to Z” (1956); Willard Maas, “The Mechanics of Love” (1955); Takahiko Iimura, “Kuzu (Junk)” (1962); Ed Emshwiller, “George Dumpson’s Place” (1965); Charles and Ray Eames, “Goods” (1982) and “Tops” (1969); Mallory Slate, “Claes Oldenburg” (1966)

 

“Westinghouse Works: Panorama view aisle B,” G.W. “Billy” Bitzer, 1904, 16mm on video, b&w, silent, 2 min.

In April and May of 1904, The American Mutoscope Biograph Company made 29 films at the Westinghouse Electric Company production facilities. Billy Bitzer–who would later become the cinematographer for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation–was hired to shoot the films. In Panorama view aisle B, a crane-mounted camera tracks high above the factory floor. Piles of metal forms lie below amid the commotion of workers cutting, welding, assembling, polishing and painting machine parts. 


“Ghosts Before Breakfast,” Hans Richter, 1928, 16mm, b&w, silent, 9 min.

“Objects are also people and [they] follow their own laws”-“the rhythm of the clock.” (H.R.). According to the clock in Ghosts Before Breakfast is 11:55 am. Only five minutes remain for bowler’s hats, teacups, a fire hose, revolvers, and a bow tie to run amuck in the world. At the stroke of noon they obediently return to a functional state. A title card at the start of the film reads: “The Nazis destroyed the sound version of this film as ‘degenerate art’. It shows that even objects revolt against regimentation.”


“A to Z,” Michael Snow, 1956, 16mm, b&w, silent, 7 min. 

Michael Snow’s first film (his only animation) illustrates the nighttime activities of dinning furniture. A vase, bowl, teacup and saucer dance merrily around a table. A chair stands still to the side. The teacup leads the chair to meet a friend–another chair. After a very brief romance, the two chairs consummate their love.

 

“The Mechanics of Love,” Willard Maas, 1955, 16mm, b&w, sound, 7 min. 

A couple’s act of lovemaking is described in still life images of suggestive household items and through the motion of ordinary tasks. “Daring and ingenious … daring because of its ‘forbidden’ subject matter; ingenious because commonplace objects are uncommonly related to build an action without actors, the effect of which is vivid, witty and downright bold.” – Lewis Jacobs 

 

“Claes Oldenburg,” Mallory Slate, 1966, 16mm, b&w, sound, 30 min. 

In a 1966 visit to his massive Lower East Side live/work loft, Claes Oldenburg takes us through the process of creating his mammoth, grotesque soft sculptures of everyday objects. He describes his pieces as idealized, magnified representations of the ‘sculptures of the home.’ Claes and his wife Pat develop patterns, prototypes, and finished works for various exhibitions. Slouching toilets and droopy electric mixers draw scores of art lovers into New York galleries.

 

“Tops,” Charles and Ray Eames, 1969, color, 35mm on video, sound, 8 min. 

From the simplest wooden dreidel to the hypnotizing Tedco toy gyroscope, tops of all shapes, colors, and sizes spin to the music of Elmer Bernstein. Operators across cultures and generations wind, crank, zip, twirl, and toss this classic toy in delightfully dizzying close-up compositions.

 

“Goods,” Charles & Ray Eames, 1982, slides on video, color, sound, 6.25 min. 

An excerpt from a lecture on poetry (given at Harvard in 1970-71) is paired with a three-screen slide show. A story about the break-in of his wife Ray’s car, and the items which the burglar chose to leave behind, leads into a discussion of what Charles Eames calls the ‘new covetables.’ 

 

“George Dumpson’s Place,” Ed Emshwiller, 1965, 16mm, color, sound, 8 min. 

A camera leads us over a stream and trough the woods to a dilapidated, overstuffed cabin. Its contents spill out amongst the surrounding flora. As we scan the piles of scavenged objects, careful arrangements begin to stand out. Broken action figures crouch between piles of stones. A tiny ceramic bust stands watch atop the end of a broomstick. In regard to his desire to make this film, Ed Emshwiller explained that George Dumpson “epitomized the soul of the artist.” 

 

“Kuzu (Junk),” Takahiko Iimura, 1962, 16mm, b&w, sound, 10 min. 

 “The beach of Tokyo Bay was a dumpsite for all the city’s human, animal and industrial wastes when I shot “Junk” there in the early 60s – today this is no longer the case. I was interested in the way my commitment could revive the junk and dead animals. At times the objects are animated, which could be seen as surreal, yet they are real at the same time. The concept coincides with the Neo-Dada in art, in which junk is assembled and incorporated into artwork. Yet today’s point of view, the film certainly shows concern with the ecology and may be regarded as an early attempt to deal with the destruction of our environment.” – T.I.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }