A simple step you can take — Join Freecycle

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About ‘freecycling’ and The Freecycle Network

Freeycling is a worldwide grassroots movement of people banding together to recycle items by giving them away for free.

While there are a number of different freecycling groups around the world, the largest and oldest is The Freecycle Network, sometimes called TFN. TFN has groups all across America and around the world, including active groups in France, Australia and Canada.

The idea is simple. If you have something you want to get rid of, it’s better to give it to someone else that it is to dump it in a landfill. And if you need to buy something, freecycling gives you an opportunity to get it for free — which not only saves you money, it reduces your environmental impact since you consume less.

How to Join In

Joining freecycle is easy and will save you money. Here’s how:

1. First, go to freecycle.org and enter the local area where you live.

2. You’ll be presented with a list of towns near you that have Freecycle groups. If you don’t see one close, you can create one yourself.

You should check out a few different groups — the one closest to you may have only a few members while one a bit further away may be much busier. For example, one near me had only 5 recent offers while another had over 100. I joined both.

The Freecycle Network runs on Yahoo Groups currently, so you’ll need a Yahoo id to join.

3. You should review each group’s page and read the rules for that group, then join.

After you select a group to view, you’ll be presented with the Yahoo page for that group. The page will tell you how many members the group has as well as how many new posts there have been in the last 7 days. Here’s an example:

One of the other things on this page you should read are the rules for the group. The Freecycle Network group has a US-based headquarters group that establishes a set of rules each group must follow — or risk losing being kicked out of The Freecycle Network. These rules are generally common sense anyway and, in most cases, can be modified by local groups to fit what the local members want.

For example, in the group we picked above, here are the rules (taken from the page shown above):

Join the Freecycle(TM) movement! The Lawrence Freecycle Network www.lifeinlawrence.com is a group of Larryville residents who want to “recycle” that special something rather than throw it away. Use this email list to post a message about usable items that you’d like to give away. Everything posted must be FREE and legal. No politics, religion, advertising or spam. No trading or bartering. No pets.

Lawrence Freecycle serves the Lawrence, Kansas area and people living in neighboring towns who are willing to travel to pick up items.

This group is part of The Freecycle Network, a nonprofit organization and a movement of people interested in keeping good stuff out of landfills. Check out freecycle.org for other cities and info on the movement.

As you can see, the rules aren’t onerous and there are good reasons for them. They’re basically meant to keep out people trying to sell items or who want to send spam to the group’s members.

Some local groups allow pets to be offered to the group, and some don’t. (I saw one group with a post offering a full-blooded Golden Retriever because its owners both had jobs and couldn’t take care of it.) Other groups don’t allow pets due to concerns that people may take the pets and sell them for medical research, use them for gaming/fighting, or abuse them in other ways.

To join, you simply click on the ‘Join this Group’ button on the page. This will send your request to the moderators of the local group who will then respond and approve your request. In my case, I joined 2 groups — the first responded in about 10 minutes and the second took about an hour.

Once you’ve joined the group it’s like interacting with any other Yahoo group. You will receive e-mails (either individual e-mails or a once a day summary) whenever one of the group members posts an item and you can go to the group’s page and review old items posted.

So that’s it! You’re now a member of a fast-growing, world wide recycling movement! Great work!

Other Options

In addition to The Freecycle Network, there are other similar groups. Among them are FreeSharing.org, Sharing is Giving, and FreeCycleAmerica.

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Open Source: The Sustainable Business Model

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How do you make software development dramatically more eco-friendly?

Two Words: Open Source.

With the Open Source model, you can:

  • Use less packaging.
  • Increase the efficiency of shipping and receiving.
  • Speed up product development.
  • Get rid of resource-heavy validation management services and expensive anti-piracy campaigns.
  • Cut back on unnecessary print advertising.
  • Don’t force customers to purchase more product than they need.

I ran across an article posted at Download Squad recently that really got me thinking about the Open Source development model and how eco-friendly it is.

What Is Open Source?

Open Source software is very different from commercial software you might purchase from, say, Microsoft.

To begin with, it’s free. Yes, free. There’s no need for software validation (think Microsoft Genuine Advantage) or anti-piracy technologies because… it’s free. And it’s mostly distributed online, meaning no wasteful packaging.

Development tends to happen faster in the hands of a few dedicated developers and the feedback of a dedicated community of users than it does in corporate cubicles ruled by Gantt charts and cross-functional meetings.

Does Free Mean it’s Not As Good?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s free it must be of lesser quality than commercial software. There are many Open Source applications that are just as good — if not better — than any commercial software that competes with it.

Just do a Google search for OpenOffice.org, PHP & MySQL, or Drupal to see what I mean. Open Source software accounts for millions of users worldwide.

So, What Does That Mean for Us and Our Environment?

Simply put, the Open Source model is friendlier to our environment than comparable commercial software. I’m not saying that everyone should go out protest against software that comes in a box. I’m also not saying that all Open Source software is better than it’s commercial counterparts.

But I am saying is that perhaps the software industry should take a look at its model.

Should You Explore Open Source? Yes!

A great place to start is with OpenOffice.org. This is a completely free office software suite that offers most of what you get from Microsoft Office, plus a few features that you don’t get from Microsoft Office. You can install it on your computer along with any of your current software, and it even opens and saves Microsoft file formats like Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.

Another great resource is the OpenDisc project. This is an entire CD packed with Open Source software for Windows (sorry Mac Users…) that spans everything from desktop publishing to antivirus software. Did I mention that it’s free?

One Final Request.

Open Source software is free, but it takes the time, energy, and oftentimes the money, of dedicated individuals. If you decide that a particular program has earned a home on your computer, consider making a donation to it’s developers.

This not only keeps their computers running, but it encourages them to keep providing great Open Source software for us and our environment.

Mathew Murphy brings us Tech Tuesday each week. Matt blogs on technology, the environment and tea on his website at http://mattscuppa.wordpress.com.

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What is Government’s Role?

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A sign stating it is law to not allow your car motor to idle while stopped

This sign is from the city of Vancouver in British Columbia and it’s purpose is to inform motorists that letting their cars idle is against the law and punishable by a fine of $50 to $100.

Vancouver’s “Motor Vehicle Noise and Emission Abatement By-Law No. 9344″ [PDF] went into effect in Spring of this year after being adopted in July, 2006.

Here are some details:

“2.7 A person must not cause or permit a motor vehicle to idle:
(a) for more than three consecutive minutes in a 60 minute period; or
(b) while unattended and unlocked.

The City’s stated goals for the bylaw are to:

  • protect air quality
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • reduce urban noise
  • reduce vehicle theft
  • save money on fuel.



The website Trans-Talk has details on how it’s been going, along with some good reference information other towns in Canada (and even some in the US) that have similar laws.

What do you think? Should we push to change our laws to force behaviors that are good for the environment? Or should government stay off our backs and allow people to do what they want?

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A Simple Step You Can Take: Install a Low Flow Shower Head

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If you’re like most Americans, you probably take a shower every day.

Unless you’re already using a low-flow shower head, you have an opportunity to save some money in addition to cutting back on your family’s environmental impact.

Low Flow Shower Heads are designed to restrict water flow while providing a good shower. We found one at the Real Goods store for $12.00 that they claim will save you 50-70% of your water usage (which for a family of 4 could be up to $25/year in savings).

In terms of Carbon savings, according to this analysis by Environmental Defense, a single low-flow shower head could save over 350 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

I installed one of these recently and it took only about 5 minutes. I purchased the shower head and some “plumber’s tape” for under $10 at Walmart, and I used only a pair of pliers to do the installation.

The water pressure is only a little less that my old shower head and it works fine. After using it a few times now, I don’t even notice a difference.

Overall, it was an easy project with a nice payback — and an easy way to cut down the energy my family uses.

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Black is the New Green: 10 Energy Saving Search Sites

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Black is the New Green.

At least, that’s the message of a movement sometimes referred to as Black Google.

The idea first appeared in a January 20th blog post by Mark Ontkush, where he examines how much energy could potentially be saved if Google’s background was black instead of white.

His findings? If Google, and only Google, were to change their background color to black, the world could save somewhere around 3,000 Megawatt-hours per year!

The post eventually rose to the top of Digg, and was followed up with another, and more complete, article that explains the science and the numbers behind the
idea.

How Does It Work?

Basically, computer monitors, especially the big clunky CRT monitors that take up most of your desk, consume more energy when the screen is white than when the screen is black. This has been shown to be true of CRT’s, LCD’s, and plasma displays, although the different technologies vary in power consumption.

As Ontkush points out, the savings is “a goodly amount of energy and dollars for changing a few color codes.”

So Why Aren’t All Websites Black?

So why don’t web designers just do it and save us all that energy and money? It’s been shown that people will spend more time at a site done up in warm and welcoming colors than they will one that is primarily dark. What it comes down to is changing peoples’ expectations about how their screen should look.

Adjusting peoples’ expectations is always a difficult thing, but what if we began in the office instead of on he web? In the world of corporate and government organizations, where most of us sit at least 40 hours a week, we use the computer on ‘their’ terms. What would happen if these organizations simply started defaulting the screen to black instead of white?

What You Can Do NOW.

So what do we do while we’re waiting for the corporate IT guru’s to make our screens more environmentally friendly? We can begin changing our own expectations. As with anything habit forming, we’re best off starting small. Several alternative Google search pages use Google’s search technology on a dark screen. Personalized search site, Blacklys.com, even offers a Firefox search add-on.

Social Networking sites now offer the ability change your preferences; why not change your color scheme? Sites like Twitter and MySpace, and Facebook actually encourage customization.

These are little things when we compare our impact to that of Google, but little things add up. The only way to save the energy, the money, and the environmental impact, is if we each make the choice.

Alternative Google search sites:

[via ecoIron blog]

  1. Darkoogle, uses a black background with green text.
  2. Earthle
  3. GreenerGle
  4. Greygle, uses a grey background.
  5. Google Black, is a website hosted by the Google-owned blogspot, however the search results are not in black.
  6. Jabago, uses a black background and allows for searching in many languages.
  7. Ninja
  8. Power Google
  9. Searchincolor.com, an older site that supports Google colored searches since its onset. The default color is black.
  10. Trek Black

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Are Your Attitudes Toward Global Warming Changing?

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A recent Poll by Gallup and Yale University is suggesting that the attitude of Americans toward Global Warming is changing — and changing fast.



For example:

  • 72% are either ‘Completely Convinced’ or ‘Mostly Convinced’ that “global warming is happening”.
  • 69% are convinced that Global Warming is caused either completely or partially by human activities. (57% believe that human activities are directly to blame.)
  • 67% Strongly favor “Requiring automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks, and SUVs to 35 miles per gallon, even if it meant a new car would cost up to $500 more to buy.” An additional 12% “somewhat favor” this step.
  • 82% either ‘strongly favor’ or ‘somewhat favor’ “Requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources, even if it cost the average household an extra $100 a year.”

What do you think?

[poll=4]

Another interesting thing about this poll was how people believe they personally can impact Global Warming. Only 69% disagreed with the statement: “The actions of a single person won’t make any difference in reducing global warming.”

That is — about 70% of Americans believe that their personal actions can make a difference with regard to global warming.

What do you believe? Can your personal actions make a difference? Yes or no?

[poll=3]

If you answered no — please leave a comment telling us why you feel that way. If you answered Yes, tell us some of the steps your taking — and what you’d like to find more information on.

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How Peanut Butter helps the planet

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One of the daily decisions we all face is what to eat. How do we eat well and in a way that’s good for the environment — and at the same time have meals that are easy to fix and taste good?

One food that fits all this is the simple Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich. According to the PB&J Campaign website:

  • Eating a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich instead of a grilled cheese or chicken sandwich saves 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s almost half of what you’d save if you switched to a Hybrid car.
  • The same sandwich will save 280 gallons of water since growing peanuts takes less water than livestock.
  • Growing peanuts also takes less land than animals — so your sandwich could help preserve 12-50 square feet of land from being used for cultivation.

I bet you didn’t realize that eating three Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches could have the same environmental impact as switching your showers to a low-flow shower head.

This is the type of information we want to share. How can we change our daily habits to have less environmental impact in ways that fit our busy lives? This one is simple. Eat more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Plus, they taste good and cost less.

In addition to being better for the environment, they’re also very healthy as long as you don’t eat too much. According to WebMD, peanut butter is high in fat, but those fats are relatively healthy ones. Everyone needs some fat in their diets — just not too much — and over 80% of the fats in peanut butter are the healthy kind.

According to the WebMD article, “It is hard to believe that something so wonderful could also be good for you.” Peanut butter “is chock full of good nutrition without those unhealthy trans fatty acids. The only limitation to enjoying peanut butter is the two-tablespoon portion size”

But what about all the fat and the less-healthy oils that sometimes get processed into commercial peanut butter? Does that make it bad? According to Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, that isn’t always the case. “Fresh ground is not necessarily better,” Bonci says. “The fat and calorie content are pretty much the same whether you grind your own or buy commercial peanut butter.”

Again, according to Bonci, the serving size is 2 tablespoons.

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Make It Real

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We can all envision the world as a better place. Each of us can imagine a better life — better government, better living habits, better environment. We can all imagine these — but can we make them real?

“When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better.”

–Pauline R. Kezer

Many of the challenges of the 21st Century will be big. Issues like Global Climate Change can seem so overwhelming. They can make you feel powerless. But there is still always hope.

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

– Sir Edmund Hillary (New Zealand-born mountain climber and Antarctic Explorer. Famous for being first to successfully climb Mount Everest)

So take the better world of your imagination, and take a step today toward that place. Take some sort of action. Talk to someone, change a personal habit, write a letter. Do something.

Or better yet, join with a group of others who are like-minded. Commenting on this blog or others like it is a good way to start — its connects you with other people who, like you, have this better world in mind.

Remember, you as an individual can change the world — there are examples of the power of individuals everywhere. But banding together with others who are like-minded can magnify your impact.

So take a step today — a small step or a large step — but take some step. Take a step toward making the better world of your imagination real.

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”

– Lao Tzu (Chinese taoist Philosopher, founder of Taoism)

The 21st Century is here. The world is in our hands — and we are up to the challenges we face, I know it.

But to get to the better world of our imagination, we need to begin. We need to begin to make it real.

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The Six Classic Books on Organic Growing

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It’s Sunday night and I’m on my laptop to begin this passionate subject – Organics!

My mind was whizzing with random topics and bits of information to write on this column. I realized then that the best way to start is with history. The past can reveal so many hidden secrets that the world is now re-discovering.

It is only a matter of a hundred years that such change has occurred — and thankfully grandmothers still exist to tell us to treat a cold with honey and basil!

For every problem we recognize with our current living system that is incompatible with nature, we need to look into old knowledge banks.

Our ancestors, wore clothes, cooked food, had shelter and traveled extensively, sans technology. We struggle to do the same in this generation of automatic, disposable culture without harming the environment.

Organic farming is rooted in ancient knowledge passed down through generations.
–David Suzuki

Hence I’m going to suggest some reading material to begin with. The books are by pioneers who were disturbed by the technological high and finally found their ways to a better and greener living.

Though the books are based on Agriculture, we need to understand where our food comes from and make right choices. Personally, reading them has taught me to respect the existence of matter, living and non-living in this chain called LIFE.

The One-Straw Revolution – Masanobu Fukoka
A Japanese Agricultural Scientist was in dilemma with his spiritual principles and the science he was practicing. He left his job and went back to his father’s farm and practiced Agriculture. The author takes you through a journey of revelation. He went on to become the Father of Natural Farming and Do-Nothing Farming. This book is a must for all those who wish to understand the difference of Organic and Conventional Agriculture.

Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
By the conventional practices and hazardous pesticides like DDT, we destroy several eco-systems that thrive and survive in farms. This natural historian writes on how pesticides have affected birds and the environment. She chose to call her book so, as the birds of the Spring season, were no longer heard chirping.

Ancient Roots, New Shoots : Endogenous Development in Practice – Bertus Haverkort, Katrien van ‘t Hooft & Wim Hiemstra (eds)
The Present global problems of poverty, ecological destruction and loss of cultural diversity call for innovative solutions. This book presents a number of field experiences of endogenous development, or development from within, in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, South America and Europe. With a good balance of theory and practice, this book can be immensely useful to development practitioners, researchers and policy makers, especially in the fields of rural development, agriculture, natural resource management and health

An Agricultural Testament – Sir Albert Howard
The author worked in India when the country was still under the British Empire. He came to spread the use of chemical fertilizers but after 25 years, left with the understanding of nature. By working with poor farmers he understood a great deal of traditional farming practices in relation to the soil fertility that a healthy eco-system survives on.

Agriculture: An Introductory Reader – Rudolf Steiner
Steiner is the father of Bio-Dynamic Agriculture that revolves around the science of the cosmos that play a major role in the time crops are planted. This natural science is related to Vrikshayurveda (Sanskrit term to mean the Plant Life Science or the Science of Plant Life) – (Vriksha = tree + Ayur- Veda = science of life). In the Organic Revolution, Bio Dynamic Agriculture is gaining more ground and is the present trend.

Look to the Land – Lord Northbourne
Northbourne coined the word “Organic Farming”. Chapter 3 contains the differences between Organic Farming and Chemical farming. He teaches that the farm is an organism, a living entity that has a balanced organic life. The eco-system is interdependent and every creature has a role to play in this balance. He was inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s work on Agriculture. To Northbourne Organic Agriculture determines the quality of food we eat, “Food of better quality is food which has vitality, individuality, freshness; food which is grown right, not only food that looks right; food which is effective as a vehicle of life and is not either mere stimulant or mere filling”

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The Ultimate Resource Guide for Commuting by Bicycle

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With the rise of oil prices and the growing ‘green’ movement, people everywhere are evaluating commuting to work by bicycle. And based on the response to our recent post “Choices: Bike or Drive?”, many of our readers are interested in commuting by bicycle.

As a result, we’ve put together this resource guide for anyone interested in learning about bicycling as a main method of transportation.

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”

– H.G. Wells

1. Kogswell Cycles

Kogswell makes great bikes patterned after the bikes used by newspaper delivery boys in Paris in the 1950′s. They’re sturdy, well-crafted and give a smoth ride over right terrain. (Note — the pictures in this post are from their gallery of pictures.)

2. Commute by Bike’s list of Commuter Bikes

Commute By Bike is a great site and provides this excellent list of bikes that are appropriate for commuting. A good resource.

3. The Wikipedia entry for Bicycle Commuting

As always, if you’re interested in a solid, fair resource for any topic, Wikipedia is one of the first places to look. If you don’t like it — edit it and make it better!

4. John G. Faughnan’s personal page of commuting by bicycle

This is a personal website page that’s been maintained for almost 10 years now. It has a good list of what to look for in a commuting bike as well as an extensive rundown of bike manufacturers to read through. Another excellent resource.

5. Ken Kifer’s Bike Pages

Another personal site, this one has some good information on estimating the number of people in America that rely on bikes as their primary transportation (looks like at least half a million based on 2000 census data).

6. How To Choose A Bicycle For Commuting

The eHow guide to choosing a commuting cycle. As with many eHow articles, the reader comments are the best part of the page. Also, the links to related articles may be worthwhile. Hopefully, it will improve over time.

7. Jennifer’s Bicycle Commuting Suggestions

Another personal page, but has a pretty good list of useful suggestions and things to think about when commuting by bike. A quick and useful read.

8. Harris Cyclery Articles about Bicycle Commuting and Lighting

Obviously if you’re going to commute you need good lighting. This page reviews a variety of lighting options.

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best.
– Ernest Hemingway

9. Commuter Bicycle

Another personal resource page for commuting by bike. This one has a good set of links and information on different manufacturers as well as good information on other useful equipment.

10. Paul Dorn’s Bike Commuting Tips

An established site with a lot of good information on biking on general as well as specifically on commuting by bike.

11. The Sacramento Transportation Management Association’s page on Bicycle Commuting

California boasts the largest population of bicycle commuters in America, and this local government agency’s page reflects that. It’s a surprisingly rich page with a lot of good information.

12. Commute Bikes page on Nordic Group’s website

This looks like a personal page built by an employee (or an owner) on a business website. I included it in this list because it’s a great site. This person obviously did a huge amount of research into commuting by bike and has commuted by bike for a while. It’s definitely worth a read.

13. The Squidoo Page for Bicycle Commuting

A mid-level average Squidoo page. May have some useful information for some people.

14. Bike Forums

A busy forum for bikers. Information on commuting by bikes and all sorts of other biking topics.

15. Bicycle Commuting Guide from The Bicycling Federation of Wisconsin

A decent site, especially useful if you live in Wisconsin. May be a good model for others wanting to build similar sites in their area.

16. Bicycle Commuting Now

A near dead blog that was posted to extensively for a couple years from 2004-2006. Even though it’s no longer maintained, a lot of the older posts may be interesting to bicycle commuters.

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.
–John F. Kennedy

17. WikiHow’s page on How to Commute By Bicycle

A pretty solid WikiHow page. Worth taking a look at — has some good information.

18. Canada’s Commuter Challenge!

From their site: “Commuter Challenge is a national program that aims to increase the awareness of the benefits of sustainable commuting and to encourage Canadians to take action by walking, cycling, taking transit, carpooling or tele-working instead of driving alone to get work.”

In English and French.

19. The London Cycling Campaign

A site dedicated to promoting cycling in London as a means of commuting.

20. The Flickr Photo Group Commute By Bicycle

A Flickr photo group dedicated to those who commute by bike.

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