Archive for the recycling Category

My Conscious Consumer Birthday Present: A Made in the U.S., Cradle to Cradle Gold Certified, 97% Recyclable, SteelCase Think! Desk Chair

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, recycling, sustainability on January 4, 2011 by theseep

Whenever holidays and birthdays come up, we all get the “what do you want?” question from family and friends, to which we respond with the obligatory, “you don’t need to get me anything”, whether we mean it or not.  As a soapbox-mounting and somewhat garrelous ecovangelist, most people I know understand that I don’t want “stuff” just for the sake of giving a gift, and while making efforts to be a conscious consumer, I now have a hard time receiving a gift without judging it from an environmental, economic, and social standpoint.  I am, of course, very grateful for any gift as it truly is “the thought that counts”, but as I’ve held my own purchases to a higher standard, I’m always even more grateful and even flattered when others recognize this and put a little more thought into a gift than that initial one.  So, I have my Amazon wishlist of some gadgets (admittedly an eco-weakness), a wind turbine, a few books and blu-ray movies for some focused shopping for things that I definitely want, and then there have been a few larger items that I’ve developed a need for.

My desk chair came with the house when I bought it 7 years ago, and is an old, overstuffed armchair-style executive chair, with cracking maroon leather, mounted atop mismatched casters and massive, squeaky springs that allow it to recline and bounce around in a seemingly random pattern which I’ve mastered over the time I’ve spent in it’s worn-out seat.  I loved the style, but could no longer stand the numb legs from the front edge of the chair, now painfully apparent from the sagging and pokey springs and flattened cushioning.  So, for my 36th birthday, I collaborated with my wife, my parents, my in-laws, and saved 2 months of my own “gadget allowance” to choose a shiny new desk chair where I will spend many future hours in front of my iMac.  I looked at the options:  Used chairs, many of them grungy or beat up, begging the question – what was the former owner’s hygiene like?  Did they ever sit in it naked?  This branch alone in the thought experiment essentially ruled out used chairs.  There are sturdy, almost regal-looking chairs to be had at Staples, Office Max, and even Ikea for less than $200, but what are they made of?  Foam and plastic.  Where and how are they made?  China and who knows.  Then I went in search of sustainable office furniture worthy of Cradle to Cradle certification and was able to find a few models that fit the bill, particularly those from Herman Miller and SteelCase.

After trying to be cheap and looking at the refurbished options for these high-end engineering marvels, I sucked it up and decided on the Think! chair from SteelCase, made in Michigan out of 97% recyclable parts, with a Cradle to Cradle Gold certification.  This chair not only is designed to be much more ergonomic, comfortable, and durable than all of the chairs found in Staples, but purchasing it makes a statement that I value good craftsmanship, that I would rather pay more to buy a quality, well-designed piece of furniture that supports our nation’s economy rather than shipping more jobs overseas (I’ll admit that I felt a slight pang of eco-guilt as well as more of a sting to my bank account as I checked the $250 leather option when ordering, both of which were immediately soothed as I slid into the comfortable, more durable, easily cleaned, and supple seat).  While the $1000 cost for this chair may seem unreasonable to some, this chair to me is an investment.  This high-quality piece of home furnishing is better built, has more adjustments and ergonomic features than the vast majority of chairs, so not only do I plan to use it for years and hopefully decades to come, it also supports the once mighty and now anemic American manufacturing industry.  This concept, in case you haven’t heard of it, is called conscious consumerism.

Over the last half century or so, our culture has developed a conditioned obliviousness that has decoupled us from the production chain, allowing the quest for corporate profit and consumer bargains to transform what was once lovingly crafted by an artisan in a neighboring town into a stamped piece of toxic plastic made by a worker making $100 a month on the other side of the world. We have been trained by psychologically based advertising and the illusion of adequate safety standards to be unconcerned with the origins or underlying costs of the products we see on the store shelves.  Say you need to buy shoes, you go to WalMart or Target, or Amazon or whatever, and you see a label that tells you where those shoes came from, who made them, how their job’s healthcare program was, if their families had enough to eat every day, and if their towns had clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.  If you looked at the $10 pair of shoes and saw a label that described the poor working conditions, the meager wages, the environmental degradation, and other negative impacts of the production of those shoes, and you saw a $20 pair of shoes with a label that shows a healthy, American worker with healthcare coverage for his/her family, and sustainably and safely produced materials that support other domestic jobs, which one would you pick?  When you buy something cheap, with throat-burning VOCs offgassing from the packaging, that’s made overseas by a less expensive and likely oppressed workforce with less regulations on toxic materials and manufacturing processes, you support that system and you discourage companies from using responsible methods and give them no reason to bring manufacturing jobs back into the U.S., why should they?  Unfortunately because of this learned and reinforced obliviousness, people will happily and obliviously buy the cheaper items while they’re complaining about the economic recession and the lack of jobs.

Conscious consumerism is the solution to this problem, a way to slow down the depletion of our resources, the pollution of our lands and waterways, and the oppression of people around the world.  Conscious consumerism means we understand that in buying something, we directly support the way in which it was made, from resource utilization, to labor practices, to toxic byproducts, packaging, transport, and each step in the chain that brings a product to us.  It means that we choose to pay for coffee or chocolate from farmers that are paid enough to feed their families instead of those who are barely paid enough to survive.  It means that we choose to a pay a little more for vegetables and meat that was grown through healthy, humane, and sustainable practices instead of cruel and antibiotic laden concentrated animal feed lots or pesticide-soaked and petroleum-based fertilized monocrops.  It means that we save up enough money to buy a quality, responsibly made piece of furniture instead of the cheap, quick, and toxic solutions offered in most stores.  This entire concept is based on personal responsibility and the simple feat of considering the impact of our individual decisions.  It is a concept that should resonate across political lines, across cultures, creeds, and languages.  Conscious consumerism means that as individuals, we recognize that each choice we make has an effect not only on our own present and well-being, but also has a definable effect on others, including our friends, our families, our community members, our country, as well as the global community.  This tenant is based on the aforementioned principle of making logical decisions utilizing as much knowledge of the problem as possible.  Avoid basing judgements and actions on unproven dogma or previous prejudices.  Use best practices, the communal knowledge base and wisdom to solve problems.  Consider the health, prosperity, and happiness of all people and the world when making even small choices.

Update:  As a bonus, I used the box to make a free and recyclable indoor play house for our son, who continues to use it after 4 months!

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24 Week Ultrasound and Ecofriendly Baby Chair Review: Crate and Barrel’s Bayside Swivel Glider

Posted in ethical consumerism, recycling, sustainability on April 7, 2009 by theseep


I was happy to see Orion striking a “Thinker” pose when we were playing with the ultrasound last week. Laura is feeling well, still exercising with swimming, spin class, and hiking with Marley. We’re both busy with work and school, but the nursery is almost done, and we’re trying to figure out our “chair” situation. It seems that getting the proper rocker/glider/combo/baby calmer is a big deal and we’ve been trying to find the most comfortable-yet-eco-friendly option.

After much internet research, we found Crate and Barrel’s Bayside Swivel Glider, a slipcovered glider benchmade in the USA from “certified sustainable” hardwood with soy-based polyfoam seats and 100% recycled and post-consumer backing. We tested one out in the San Jose store, and I must say that it is a VERY comfortable chair with a soft feel, low armrests good for breastfeeding (and I’ll mention again the removable/replaceable slipcover – nice for baby messes). The only drawback was the lack of head support, which was easily fixed with a well-placed throw pillow. With quite a few attractive fabric options, this one would fit our needs well, along with the matching ottoman, and actually was both domestically produced and pretty ecofriendly! For this well-made furniture with these premium options, unfortunately you’ll pay a premium price, $1398 for chair and glider. This is in comparison to $649 for a wood glider made in Canada at our local baby store, Johnson’s or $209 or more for a BabiesRUs glider made who-knows-where of unknown materials.  Interestingly, Laura’s Dad is bringing her Great-Grandfather’s 75 year old rocking chair, so we may not even need a glider, but it’s been fun doing the research!  The best part about the hand-me-down rocker is that it’s a family heirloom and carries special memories, with now 4 generations of the family being rocked to sleep in it, not to mention that it’s the ultimate in recycling!

If we do end up needing one, I think we’ll end up going big and getting the Crate and Barrel chair – it’s by far the most comfortable, is well built, attractive, can end up being a regular piece of furniture instead of just a “baby chair”, is made in the U.S., and is pretty darn ecofriendly (I’d like some organic cotton or hemp slipcover options, though).  Either that or get a used crapola one on craigslist for super cheap! I think what we’ve learned from this is to not get caught up in the “baby hype”, many things that people say you need you can find used, get through your family and friends, or you may not even need it at all.

Recycle and DIY – Do It Yourself Websites On The Rise!

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, recycling, sustainability on April 5, 2008 by theseep

I’m a bit of a DIYer, making biodiesel, doing as much as possible myself to retrofit our home into a lower energy place, tinkering on the WVO Vegfalia, etc.. I have to admit, though, that there are many others out there who completely put me to shame as the DIY movement has taken off over the last few years. The best part is that you can share what you’ve done and learn from other peoples’ creativity through a few fantastic websites:

Instructables: With regular contests for contributors, instructables has everything from baby slings to wind turbines, to LED lighting, to gardening constructs, all in a searchable database.

Readymade: A fun DIY magazine that has now gone electronic, with an archive of all past projects with difficulty and time ratings. They have a few kits and plans for sale, we’ll be working on our 10 X 10 recycled garden house soon!

Make: Another magazine with DIY projects that has a presence on instructables as well as plenty of creativity, plans, and some kits.

Hit the dump, curbside, freecycle, craigslist, friends’ garages, or wherever you can find some material to recycle into some fun and useful projects!

New Belgium Brewery Tour Review: A Beer-Loving Ecovangelist’s Mecca

Posted in clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, green energy, recycling, solar, sustainability on January 4, 2008 by theseep

While visiting family in Ft. Collins, CO, on our winter attempt at a fossil fuel free road trip, we had the pleasure of touring the New Belgium Brewing Company, makers of Fat Tire Ale, Mothership Wit Organic Ale, 2° Below, and other tasty concoctions. Located a stone’s throw from old town, this sustainable brew house is now the 3rd largest craft brewery in the country, only behind giants like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada.

I was already a fan, knowing that the brewery was completely wind-powered, that their fat tire beer is pretty darn good, and that we would get free samples. I really didn’t see how I would be disappointed, but I didn’t know what wonders that I was to behold on the tour.

Walking up to the New Belgium Brewing Company, the flagship brew Fat Tire comes alive through long rows of bike racks, filled with the chubby-wheeled bikes of employees, who are encouraged to bike to work and given one of the logo-clad gas-savers after one year of employment. Once you enter the bar/tasting area, further clues of their mission abound – stained concrete floors, stools and chairs made from recycled bike wheels, the shrine to bicycling, to the eco-tips article clipped to the bathroom stall wall. The mood in the tasting room is fun and jovial, the employee-owners (yes, 1/3 of the company is owned by the employees!) wearing holiday garb, their verve for working at New Belgium apparent in their expressions.

The Tour:

We were able to jump on to the last tour of the day and since we didn’t have time to choose our 4 samples, our server gave us a primer sample of 2° Below, the deep caramel –colored, mildly spiced and satisfying winter brew. With our whistle wetted, we headed off with Erin, our energetic and impassioned employee-owner tour guide. As we walked to brew house 2, the new facility, capable of 700 bottles per minute, Erin pointed out the porous concrete walkway for drainage, the LED/recycled bottle chandelier, and the massive skylight, solar tube, and reflector system to maximize daylight. We watched the armies of bottles being cleaned, filled, and packaged for shipping on the slick new assembly line. New Belgium uses B20 for all local shipping, and is looking into ways to make long-distance distribution (which they must subcontract out at this point) more eco-friendly such as the use of trains rather than trucks when possible. In fact, the thing that impressed me most about this company is that they have built a successful business model as sustainable as they could from the beginning, and are constantly trying to move forward, improve, and innovate, to hopefully make everything in their process, from cradle to grave, have as small of an environmental footprint as possible.

Erin spoke about the brewery with a near religious fervor, referring in awe to the founders, Jeff and Kim, and of the sense of family that had been engendered there. As we continued the tour, we climbed some stairs to the top of the vats where wort was stewing in one and barley was being cracked in another. I was surprised to find that what would have been a bare and warehouse atmosphere anywhere else, was adorned with sculptures made from recycled parts, and each of the 3 tanks was surrounded by a different mosaic, the first of which had embedded, “To make our love and talent manifest.” idealistic prose, straight from the mission statement of this visionary company.

The Beers:

Once we finished the tour, we headed back to the crowded and cheerful tasting room and ordered our 4 samples each. All of the beers are based on Belgian style beermaking, but New Belgium has creatively expanded upon the former standards. The flagship, Fat Tire is a good, basic, medium ale with a tasty and solid flavor, a minimally bitter aftertaste, and is just as comfortable quenching your beer-thirst after a grueling bike ride as it is at your favorite social gathering – plus, you definitely get extra points these days bringing an environmentally friendly brew to a party. Mothership Wit is a 95% organic wheat ale that is light and refreshing, but to me has a much fuller flavor than most Belgian wheats. It has a hint of citrus and it’s slight turbidity makes you feel like you’re drinking a natural, organic beer. 1554, a reproduction of the oldest known recipe of dark Belgian ale, dug up from the depths of the ancient Brussels’ city archives, is a dark, chocolaty concoction that gives you a wonderful array of flavors up front, a satisfying aftertaste, and a stoutish feel without being to heavy. The Frambosen is probably one of the best fruit-tainted beers I’ve had, ranking up with Magic Hat #9. The beer is somewhat dark, with a full body and just enough raspberry to make it out of this world. Although I could only sample 4 of my own, I sneaked some sips of a few others as well as cleaning up some floaters from other family members. The Trippel ale that Laura ordered was unexpectedly interesting but good, with a yeasty and slightly sour flavor, making me feel like I had just scored some of the best 16th century mead the knighthood could buy.

After the tasting, we signed up for the Wunderbike team, pledging to ride to work at least twice a month (which we do anyway) and getting some sweet pant-straps in the process. We also picked up New Belgium bike socks, a growler of Frombosen for the holidays, and Laura bought me a cycling jersey because the whole experience had been so exciting to me. We had just had the pleasure of touring this wonderful company that makes great beer in a sustainable way, in a creative, caring atmosphere. If I wasn’t already an ER doc in CA, I would be tempted to submit my application! Did I mention that the owner/employees get a case of beer/week during the holidays? To Jeff and Kim and the rest of the New Belgium family, keep up the fantastic work, we’ll be enjoying plenty of Fat Tire in the future.

Eco Gift Expo in Santa Monica December 15 & 16

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, recycling, sustainability on December 12, 2007 by theseep

In addition to suggestions on The S.E.E.P.’s Holiday Gift Guide, I was just informed of the Eco Gift Expo being put on in Santa Monica this weekend. Over 150 eco-conscious companies will be purveying their wares at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium at 1855 Main St on Saturday, December 15th and Sunday the 16th. They’ll be joined with vendors of organic food and drink, a live jazz pavilion, performers, an eco-wrapping station, and “The Hall of Indulgence” display. Tickets are $10 and 10% of the proceeds will be donated to Global Green USA and the Whole Planet Foundation.

If you haven’t figured out what you’re doing for your loved ones this holiday, be it an oxfam sheep, some home made bread (We got a breadmaker at Goodwill for $12!), or a Patagonia fleece, head on over to the Eco Gift Expo for some more sustainable options!

Dear ecobot, Episode 1 – Have any suggestions for cleaner energy around the house for those that can’t afford to have solar power installed?

Posted in clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, recycling, solar, sustainability with tags on December 8, 2007 by theseep

This is my preview/tester/first installment of The S.E.E.P.’s “Dear Ecobot” column.Rachel asked:

Dear Ecobot

“Hi, I found your blog while looking for info on the desalination theater and must say how inspiring it was to see.
I keep seeing sites suggesting all these ways to have clean energy this way and that way,
but everything is so expensive considering I am a not so wealthy college student still.
Have any suggestions for cleaner energy around the house for those that cant afford to have solar power installed?

Well Rachel,

There’s all kinds of fun ways to decrease your footprint without having to drop $10,000 or more on a household solar system.  Plus, if you’re a renter or a student, there’s no way you’ll be allowed to significantly modify anything in your apartment.  So, my first answer is always conservation.

If you haven’t already replaced your incandescent bulbs with CFLs and started looking into LED fixtures and bulbs, then get to it.  For those that don’t mind the cold, get a warm beanie and your favorite Patagonia (or other ecofriendly company) fleece and turn down your thermostat to 62 or so.  Thaw out your toes every once in a while with an energy-efficient space heater.  Use the seep-worthy mantra, “If it’s yellow let it mellow, “. . . you know the rest, low-flow showerheads (cheap and easy to install), and limited showers to save H2O.  You can also grab one of the toilet top sinks to save hand washing water.

The next step is to change your consumption to decrease your personal energy footprint.  Buy local and organic foods whenever possible, go to farmer’s markets.  Increase vegetable intake and limit meats to those that are sustainably and humanely raised.  Go vegetarian if you like, although I’m in the “Omnivore’s Dilemma camp.”  In general, try to avoid processed foods, pesticides, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), foods with hormones, trans-fats, and most chemicals that you can find an OSHA data sheet on.  When you buy goods, make a pledge to buy sustainably and responsibly made.  Don’t shop at BR, A&F, The G@p, Old N@vy, Walmart, most department stores, and other retailers that basically sell sweatshop-made nylon garments made from processed fossil fuels and other chemicals that have been shipped around the world to you.  Instead stick to local shops, even thrift shops, and known responsible companies like Patagonia, Prana, Keen, Simple, Aveeda, The Body Shop, Trader Joe’s, Method, the list goes on.  We no longer need to look very far or need to look or smell (although my wife Laura loves Patchouli) like hippies, you can be hip and fashionable in your eco-friendly duds.

Recycle everything you can.  Start a small compost bin.  Get cloth napkins, bring your own utensils and stop using disposable plastic ones.  Plant a small garden and grow a dwarf citrus tree on your porch, balcony, or roof.

Here’s a project that I’ve been meaning to build:  the seep’s micro-solar array.  It’s basically a modular charging station that can cost anywhere from $50 to $1000, depending on how far you want to go.

The small version: Find your sunniest window.  Get some fun and relatively cheap solar chargers like a Solio, a small Brunton, or other pre-wired small electronics charger.  Try to get one for each device for maximum daylight charging potential.  If you want to get creative, sew/stick Velcro onto a curtain/shade and on the back of your chargers and hang them in the window for maximum sun soakage.  You can make pouches on the inside for your phone, ipod and maybe laptop and poke a hole through for the wires.

The medium version:  Get a Brunton 26 watt foldable solar array (currently $266.52) and one of the Xantrex power packs, like the Powerpack 600 (129.99).  For less than $400, this combination should provide you with enough power to charge your laptop, your ipod, your phone, maybe a few AAs, and power a few LED lights.

The big version: If you have a little balcony space or a south-facing window, get an RV Solar Power kit online with an 85 watt or so solar panel a charge controller, a decent power inverter (I chose a 1200 watt one), and get some batteries.  I was thinking 2 Optima 55 amp-hour deep-cycle batteries (usually cheapest locally due to high delivery costs) which should give a pretty decent amount of power time and wire them all up.  Be creative to find or build a small shelving system or other way to disguise your power station.  Fashion some brackets to hang it the the window or off of the balcony.  This requires some DIY, but is the most bang for your buck and can be put together for as little as $650 and should provide enough juice to run your laptop, your mobile/iPhone/iPod/gadgets-of-choice, an LCD TV, and a few LED lights for a good deal of your evening hours’ work or play.  With a bigger system, you could power a small microwave and even a small and efficient DC refrigerator!

85-110 Watt Solar Panel                                $400-800+

batteries with 100 ahr or so                          $150-$500+

Charge controller                                            $30-$150

Inverter                                                             $50-$150+

This will definitely be an official S.E.E.P. project in the upcoming year!

Thanks for the question Rachel!

The S.E.E.P.’s Green/Eco-friendly Holiday Gift Guide

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, recycling, sustainability on November 26, 2007 by theseep

After “Black Friday”/”Buy Nothing Day”, and now “Cyber Monday”, we enter the mainstream holiday shopping period. Hopefully, as climate change and peak oil become more real, consumers will begin to think about the true costs of the various trinkets and mass-produced goods that we buy. As a nation, we no longer produce, we import, and as we have recently seen, many of these imports are poorly regulated, sending toxic toys into the hands of our youths. But never fear, if you’re not into giving your friends lead-tainted, petrol-based crap made in sweatshops and shipped around the world, wasting fossil fuels and undermining American jobs, there are many other options out there!Donate: You can buy an amazing array of animals, supplies, and other helpful items for 3rd world villages through Oxfam or Heifer International, or adopt a child through Save the Children. To make sure that your money is going to the right place and your charities are run efficiently and properly, check out CharityNavigator.org for reviews.

Offset: Buy CO2 offsets for friends and family through Terrapass (for profit) or Carbonfund (non-profit).

Reuse: Check out craigslist, freecycle, and ebay for used items that can still be a thoughtful gift, and don’t forget your local thrift shops! Also check out make, readymade, and instructables for fun projects that can recycle your old stuff into fun gifts.

Online Gifts: A digital iTunes gift certificate can get your loved one some sweet melodies and not use a single piece of paper, no CDs, no jewel cases, no fuel for delivery. Just the electrons going to your computer! Amazon.com has a digital music store as well with gift certificates available, offering up DRM-free tunes for download.

Buy Responsibly: If you’re can’t find that perfect non-consumer gift, there are plenty of responsible options out there as well. Try to find fair-trade and local goods when possible. With fair trade, you have confidence that the workers that produced what you’re buying are getting paid a reasonable wage and are not subjected to sweat shop conditions. Since we live in central CA, a good local bottle of wine, especially organic, is the perfect tasty gift. Ten Thousand Villages imports fair-trade crafts from around the world and more and more online retailers like Greenfeet, Gaiam, 3rLiving, and are targeting the green crowd with a lot of eco-friendly options. We’re huge Patagonia fans as well, where you’ll find responsibly and well-made clothing for the outdoors and indoors, they’ve been using organic cotton, hemp, and recycled PET for years and even have an underwear recycling program! Their new eco-conscious wetsuit is on my holiday list (R3 model, size XLS if you’re wondering). Prana, Timberland, and Simple (I have a pair of the Green Toe “Toemorrows” and they’re fantastic) are other companies that have reworked their business practices in response to the current state of our planet’s health. Outdoor gear retailer Backcountry.com has a new page called “The Green Goat” that spotlights all of their green offerings.  Method is our favorite eco-friendly cleaning supply company that serves up non-toxic, naturally scented, designer products for most of your home scouring needs. Also, a quick and easy stocking stuffer is a steel water bottle (and here) to fight the “bottled water environmental catastrophe” (here, here, and here) that we have fallen prey to.

Get Them What They Want: Although I’d hope that most people these days would be stoked to receive one of the aforementioned ideas as a socially conscious gift, some people might not be as receptive to the concept. Our culture still has a long way to go to let go of the consumerist traditions that have been cultivated since WWII, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve coal in their stockings. I think that one of the easiest ways to avoid waste this holiday season without offending some, is to find out what they really need and/or want, and get them that. Then you’re sure they’ll like it and use it, and it won’t be thrown away (or hopefully recycled) to make room for next year’s unwanted presents.

There are many more responsible options available, Treehugger has their holiday gift guides up as well for more ideas. Feel free to post your favorites!

Happy Holidays to all!