Tag Archives | carbon footprint

So long, old girl.


Some progress to report: today I sold my car. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, especially since I moved into my current apartment, which is only 3 blocks from my office at Brown. The vehicle was good to me for years, facilitating trips to the beach, visits with family, and co-op stock ups. But now that it’s gone I feel a tremendous weight lifted as I am no longer financially responsible for maintenance, repairs, insurance, car taxes, registration, and of course fuel. Oh, and parking tickets. All that has been transferred to a very nice man from Cranston. He bought the car for his daughter who, as he brags, just graduated from high school at the top of her class.

I’m left with my feet and my bike, which are more than sufficient modes of transportation for the remainder of the summer here in Providence and is certainly all I’ll need once I move to NYC. It’s a lovely season for the extra exercise. Now that I’ve sold the car I can justify tricking out my bike. Just kidding. But I am going to invest in a nice saddle. My friend who built the bike up for me chose my current saddle. Much of my ride was assembled with components he had lying around the shop he works in, which was a fantastic money saver and I’m pleased he was able to repurpose so many used parts. But unfortunately my overstuffed gel seat is starting to deteriorate and ooze sticky synthetic material onto my backside while I’m riding, especially on super hot days. It’s not a good look. So I’ve begun searching online (mostly craigslist and ebay) for a lightly used leather saddle. There seems to be a pretty good inventory out there.

Little by little, the pieces required for my transition are starting to fall into place, and I grow more excited as my first day of class draws nearer.

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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. 

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Home heating

So far the weather this season has been mild. But with temperatures dipping down close to 10˚F last night, I have home heating on the brain. In September I moved into a beautiful apartment in the back of a late 18th century brick house. The brick certainly seems to act as a better insulator than clapboard–I noticed that it kept the apartment cool while the weather was still warm–but when temperatures plummet outside, this old house can get pretty chilly.

For the fist time since I’ve lived in Providence I have steam radiators, which I greatly prefer to stinky, inefficient baseboard heating. I also have a wonderful cast iron stove in the living room of my apartment. It emits a lot of heat and helps to take the edge off when the steam radiators aren’t blasting. As per my mom’s suggestion, I’ve been putting a big pot of water (sometimes with added herbs and spices) on the stovetop to humidify the room–the heat from burning wood can be really drying. To avoid buying firewood, my boyfriend and I have been gathering it in the woods and collecting discarded scraps from around the city. It’s a nice incentive to be outside in the cold weather. I’m learning how to choose dry pieces based on their weight and the sound the wood makes when you tap it on a surface. The pile of 4-log plastic shrink wrapped bundles outside the grocery store is a bizarre sight.

I’ve wondered about the environmental effects of wood burning so I did some research. With regard to carbon, the same amount is released from a burning log as would be if that log were to decompose on the forest floor. But of course the carbon from a burning log is released in an hour or less, as opposed to the several months or even years it may take for a log to rot. Oil and gas are used to harvest and transport wood, making the carbon impact greater. The particulate matter released into the air from wood burning is also a concern. I found out that my newer Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified stove heats more efficiently and produces less fine particulate emissions at about 2-7 grams/hour compared to old-fashioned wood stoves that can produce 15-30 grams/hour. Conventional fireplaces without inserts or closed combustion chambers may release as much as 50 grams/hour. Burning properly dried wood will minimize the particulate output and creosote buildup. From what I’ve read, it seems that an advanced wood burning appliance can be a reasonable addition to a home energy system. Wood burning is certainly my favorite source of heat. It is beautiful and comforting on raw days and bitter nights.

Weatherizing a home is the number one way to save energy required to regulate temperature in both cold and hot seasons. Luckily the original windows in my apartment have snug fitting storms and so far this season I haven’t thought about covering any in plastic. I would certainly consider insulating fabric window dressings before turning to plastic in the context of this project. I am however thinking about key places where caulk (which I’ve only ever found in plastic packaging) can be applied to stop air leaks–around the windows and where the floor meets the baseboard. Meanwhile, I also invested in some high quality silk and wool long underwear.

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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.

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