Irony of environmental activism

I went to a community meeting that was held to explain how to intelligently dispute the proposed nuclear waste repository near Lake Huron in Ontario. The speakers were all very calm, rational and well-informed. I did learn much about the OPG project in Kincardine, and more generally about the problem of nuclear waste. It’s a very hot topic locally as we’re a community heavily invested in our water resources and most of us are desperate to protect them. 

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The setting for the meeting struck me as very ironic. We gathered at the public library in a small town in the Blue Water area. It was a beautiful summer evening, temperatures in the low 70’s with a light breeze and low humidity. The library windows were all closed. I don’t even know if the windows there are operable. We don’t construct and manage buildings anymore with windows that open and people inside in touch with what’s going on outside. The air conditioning was blasting. The speakers needed to project their voices to rise above the fan noise, even though we were in a relatively small space. I wished I had brought a sweater or jacket, though I’m often the one who’s complaining of being too warm. It was nearly impossible to see the images projected on the screen because it was still bright daylight outside, the windows in the meeting room were not shaded, and all of the lights were on in the room.

Where do people think power comes from? Why do they object to housing low and intermediate level waste from power generation but do not object to blatant over-consumption of power? It’s all part of the same system. People, you and I, we demand cheap reliable energy. We, the people, in fact abuse the energy systems much of our lifestyles depend on because we’re simply unaware that we’re doing so.

Families, children, individuals, communities and organizations must develop their sustainability literacy. School kids and adults should be taught where energy comes from and how much it costs. Everyone should learn how we are devastating the environment, which will ultimately devastate our economy and our society, in the name of cheap energy, goods and services. The best way to enable change is through learning. Your hometown library would be a great place to start! 


Why’s it gotta be so complicated?

It seems so simple. We’re out of creamer. On your way in to work, please pick up some Horizon organic half and half for the coffee drinkers at the Green Garage who like their cup of java blonde. But why does it need to be organic (not dealing with that here)? Why half and half (not this either)? What is the other half (I was just wondering)? And, for me, the most important question: What are we going to do with the container when it’s empty? ??

The first store I tried didn’t have any coffee creamer at all. Granted, it was more a convenience outlet associated with a gas station, but still I thought that would have SOMETHING. The next store I tried was more of a party store, and they did have a section tagged for coffee creamer but it was empty. Unwilling to burn the fossil fuel for a single item to go to a bigger but out-of-the-way store, and now running late for work, I continued on to the Green Garage. How much extra fuel did I burn to shut off the car twice and restart it? What was the emotional toll from being late for work and empty-handed?

Once at work, I set about making coffee and opening up the building for the day. One of my colleagues, assisting with the start-up activities, poured herself a cup and then reached into the fridge for the creamer. BUSTED! I ran across the street to the Thistle Coffee House with our little cream pitcher. Brenda, the owner, saved my butt. I knew she would, and she didn’t even charge me for it. But then it hit me. Is this organic? Is it half and half? Does anyone else care, and will they notice? How much did I spill in my haste to get back to work?

Brenda’s salvation lasted all that day and part of the next. It bought me enough time to get ALMOST the right stuff, which I brought in the following morning. I say almost because while what I finally found at the big store that night was organic, it was half and half, and it was unflavored, but it was not Horizon brand. No one complained. Only two other people in the world knew about my failure, and now you, too. So far, so good.

For the first month or so, we only had a couple of cartons a week to worry about. Now that more and more people are occupying the building, the empty cartons are starting to add up. Horizon organic and most other organic brands of creamer come in waxed paper cartons that you either have to peel open like you did when you were a kid at the lunch table, or they have a little plastic screw cap on the top side. Sloan made me aware that RecycleHere actually does accept the cartons for recycling. Helen has a plan for plastic caps. The problem we’re having is, we don’t have a place to put the cartons until it’s time to take them for recycling, and they can smell bad if you don’t clean them out well (water use implications if you do, ickiness if you don’t). Complicating the matter even further is the fact that we only have so much space in the fridge, and the creamer needs to fit into the top rack so that we’re not wasting energy by digging around every time we open it. Really, everything can be recycled. But how many bins can you line up in a small shared kitchen? We think we’ve hit our limit. So the cartons go to the incinerator. At least there’s the waste-to-energy component. Our creamer cartons are heating someone’s building.

Please use other door


Here at the Green Garage we’ve been having a little trouble with guests entering through the wrong inner door in our vestibule. So after a bit of discussion and design, we thought it would be helpful to put a little 5″ x 7″ sign on the wrong door that says “Please use other door.” In the photo above, the sign location is inside the red rectangle that I drew on the photo. We’ve had the sign up for a few days and it seems to be working fine. But the amount of materials and time involved was not reflected in the $4.24 price when we’re true-costing.

A local print shop (hereafter referred to as the Printer) handled the job for us. We have worked with this Printer before and they are very fast, good quality, and service-oriented. It’s also handy to be able to email them with our print requests, so that they can get going on our work and we just go there to pick it up when it’s done.  This time Jason picked up the order, and he was struck by the amount of paper one tiny sign had generated. He brought it all back to me for examination.

First, the Printer printed, on 8 1/2 x 11, my four-line email detailing my simple print request (so much for the paperless office). Next, the Printer generated and printed an order summary, proof approval, quality check sign off sheet, and detail receipt, all at 8 1/2 x 11. Then the Printer placed these pages into an 11 x 17 folder, and marked the folder with a sticky note. After that, when Jason was standing at the counter waiting to check out, they printed three more copies of the receipt (3 in. wide by 29 in. altogether) at the cash register and put the whole stack, including the little sign, into a brown paper bag which included a handy 4 1/4 x 11 coupon for our next visit.

Can you believe it? That subtle little 35 square inch sign generated nearly 1200 additional square inches of paper! Here, check my math:

8 1/2 x 11: 5 sheets @ 93.5 = 467.5 sq. in.

11 x 17: 1 sheet @ 187 sq. in.

3 x 4 Sticky: 1 sheet @ 12 sq. in.

Coupon: 1 sheet @ 46.75 sq. in.

Receipts: 3 sheets @ 29 = 87 sq. in.

Bag: 1 @ 374 sq. in.

Total: 467.5 + 187 + 12 + 46.75 + 87 = 1174.25 sq. in.


The thing that really got me thinking was the environmental statement printed on the bag! Go figure.

Monkey see, monkey do


Ever wondered what to do with your old mattress? Me either, until I started working here! Since I became a regular at the Green Garage three years ago, I’ve been wondering where all the trash that piles up in the neighborhood’s alleys, vacant lots, landscaping and fencerows comes from. Especially troubling are the large number of mattresses I see dumped near, but often not in, trash bins. Just in the little stretch of alley between the remote parking lot and our building, I have seen up to three mattresses piled up behind one of the buildings.

Often the people that place them there at least try to stack them up on their edges. Invariably however, they end up flat side down, sucking up water like gigantic sponges. Once that happens, you can imagine how much the thing weighs. It’s no wonder they never get upended after that. The eyesore and hazard created by this illegal dumping is a strain on the neighborhood’s image and patience. Eventually, after a couple of weeks, the wet, smelly, ugly, and heavy mattresses get hauled away. Who is the angel that does that, I wondered. Often it is the City of Detroit Department of Public Works. I’m sure they have nothing better to do (yeah, right).

If the used mattress is in good condition (no rips or stains), the Salvation Army (multiple locations, can pick it up for free. They’ll need a week and a half to two week’s notice, and of course the mattress cannot have spent time outdoors. Other donation centers may be able to provide similar services.

Many mattress retailers will take back your old mattress when they bring your new one. This is how I have always disposed of my old mattresses. So it never occurred to me what should be done otherwise, and unfortunately if the mattress is damaged there is not a great answer.

1-800-GOT-JUNK ( can take damaged mattresses with just a few days notice. But that service is expensive at $139 and up. If you’ve got a way to haul it, there are several bulk item drop-off sites located around the city. And if you can plan ahead a bit, four times a year the city does a curbside bulk collection. More information on that service is available at:

As with any upholstered item, mattresses, regardless of their final destination, cannot be left outside. When they are, as is happening in our neighborhood, other people passing by and observing the unsanctioned disposal methods tend to get the same idea. “Oh so THAT’S how you do it!”

Keep this number handy: 313-224-4636. This is the phone number for the City of Detroit Department of Public Works. If you suspect illegal dumping, dial it. DPW requests as much of the following information as you have: Time, date and location of occurrence, and description of the vehicle and license number if possible. I would suggest you photograph the crime as well. Heck, I’ll even publish it in the blog if you want (minus any personal info, of course).

The new phone book is here! I’m somebody now!

Navin Johnson, lead character in the 1979 comedy The Jerk, was ecstatic to receive his very first phone book, showing his new found independence and adult status, at his apartment. Me, I was not so thrilled to receive a phone book at the Green Garage this morning. How many trees died as a result of publishing this? How much carbon was burned to process and transport and deliver it? And then there is the question of relevance. I haven’t cracked a phone book in years, have you?

The young woman who delivered it seemed to be just as much on a mission as I am. When she entered, I said “No I’m sorry but we don’t want those here,” referring to the two familiar orange plastic bags she was carrying. She replied, “Well you could have said it nicer,” and she turned around and walked out. On her way, she dropped one on the floor and kept on walking, quickly, back out to her van. So now we are stuck with ten pounds of brand spankin’ new paper that we don’t even want.

Jason, who is often the voice of reason around here, told me she is just doing her job. He also reminded me that there is a certain population that enjoys looking stuff up in the books and would never even think to use the internet. On the advice of my favorite recycling guru, Matthew Naimi of Recyclehere, I let my fingers do the walking as far as the front cover of one of the books. There I found the phone number to opt out, dialed it, and within 13 minutes had completed the circuitous procedure to get us off the distribution list. If you would like to do the same, call 866-329-7118 or visit  You will be required to give them your name and address and the tiny little number on the edge of the binder. Find your reading glasses before you make the call. BTW, most recyclers can accept phone books.


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