The Story of Stuff

I just read a great article about Annie Leonard, who created The Story of Stuff. The Story of Stuff is a short, animated film that explains our consumer lifestyle and how it is affected us and the planet – from go to whoa. Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it before (you can choose different languages and captions if you click through to the site).

I like how the article allows Annie to better explain some of the points people have refuted. I also like how it gives us a bit of background to how she got into environmental activism. I especially like how the article is appearing in a major magazine – Elle – so lots of people will get to hear more about The Story of Stuff. Good stuff, Elle!

P.S. I really like the idea of a kampung. Does anyone know of any western (specifically Australian) types of these? Mostly I’ve seen eco-villages, but they don’t allow you to keeps cats and dogs and that doesn’t work for me (although I understand their reasons). I would love to live near like-minded people, eventually, and the whole sharing of resources and community appeals to me.



Teenage Boys Are Not Eco-Friendly

The title of this post says it all really. I can be as eco-friendly as I want. My son is not. This is a juxtaposition, ja?

teeny-bop emo

Mr Teeny-bop is emo, with coffee and crossword. (I got a snap of him smiling after this... emo defeated!)

Sometimes, it’s not his fault. Sometimes it is… sort of. Here are the top 10 reasons why, in no particular order.

1. Teenage boys grow, seemingly exponentially. Buying lots of clothes is not eco-friendly, and of course, teenage boys are too fashionable to want second-hand clothes. Ooh la la.

2. Teenage boys eat a lot. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me so much, but my teenage boy is a picky, picky eater. He likes processed foods, like Kraft’s Mac&Cheese (the kind in the blue box), when he could just as easily eat the fresh, homemade kind his mother (not me, the other mother) makes. Pretty much the only non-processed nutrition he consumes comes from fruit, veges and soy milk. Ok, and cheese and meat and cereal and pasta and bread. But that’s it. And I don’t mean lots of kinds of these things. There are two kinds of cheese (one wrapped in plastic), several kinds of meat and cereal, two kinds of pasta (including Mac&Cheese) and white, low GI bread. Oh, and pierogi.  No other non-processed food. Does coffee count as processed or non-processed? He drinks that too now (one cup a day only; he’s the only person in the house who likes it.) You might think I’m a terrible mother for letting him eat like this, but remember – when you’re a teenage boy, you know it all, and that includes what food you like. Besides, compared to what he used to eat, we are having victories every day. He tried sushi recently. He didn’t love it, but he tried it, and apparently it’s better than baked beans (another recent attempt). It seems resistance is futile after all.

3. Teenage boys break headphones. Sometimes I wonder if teenage boys realise there are actually a finite number of headphones in the world. And what do you do with broken headphones? There’s really no use for them. Can anyone think of a use for them? Mr Teeny-bop has just gone through three pairs in a month. I shudder when I think of the plastic-y, metal-y waste. I think I had one pair of headphones in all my teenage years. Then again, people didn’t walk around with their own personal soundtrack to life playing constantly inside their head (or from their iPod – however you’d like to describe it.) Maybe the next eco-unfriendly thing is increased hearing aid waste due to iPod-induced deafness. (I say waste, because I know teenage boys wearing hearing aids will lose or break the aids as quickly as they destroy headphones.)

4. Teenage boys do half-arsed chores around the house and call it done. For example, teenage boys mow the lawn and leave the cut grass out as green manure… on the concrete driveway. Call me sceptical, but I don’t think it’s going to enrich the soil too much there. Teenage boys don’t take as much care as they could when choosing which bin to tip the recycling into, because they are too busy thinking about lame Facebook applications and text messaging. Teenage boys don’t turn off the lights when they leave rooms. Teenage boys forget to turn the iron off (when they bother to iron). You may be sensing a pattern here. Yes, it’s the pattern of my irritation. Mothers of teenage boys have their own issues.

5. Teenage boys are even rougher on their shoes than pre-teen boys. I did not think this was possible, but apparently it is. Like broken headphones, what do you do with worn out shoes, I ask you? We have to buy new ones every term (roughly 12 weeks).

6. Teenage boys like lots of screen time. Wii, GameCube, YouTube, Facebook, MSN, text messaging, TV, DVD, camcorders, email… (I am looking at a screen a lot too, to be fair, but a lot of that is for my job.) Screen time takes electricity, and more of it means more electricity. Teenage boys also forget to turn appliances off. Before bed every night I do a round of the house, turning off computers, consoles, DVD players, TVs…

7. Teenage boys wear bigger clothes. This is fine, except it means I wash the same number of items, but I need to run more loads of laundry to fit everything in. I also run out of room on the clothes line. Trust me when I say that you should not try to circumvent this by overstuffing the washing machine. Teenage boys also smell, and if you don’t leave enough room for the clothes to get well scrubbed, the smell is going to linger. Even front loaders (which I have, and which apparently are supposed to be full during use as the agitation action is caused by the clothes rubbing together) do not do well being overstuffed.

8. As previously mentioned, teenage boys smell. Self-aware teenage boys (like my dear Mr Teeny-bop), try to circumvent this with deodorant. Unfortunately, mass marketing and peer pressure means Lynx body spray (not anti-perspirant), in a pressurised can, is the deodorant of choice. At least BO smells a little better when mixed with Lynx… even if it is sprayed so thickly I can taste it if I go into the bathroom after Mr Teeny-bop in the morning. Does anyone know what happens to spray cans when they are thrown away?

9. Teenage boys have a social life, which I am all for. Fortunately, living in a city permits a social life via bus, most of the time. However, the car trips we make to drop off/pick up are still considerably more than those made in pre-teen days. There’s just no way around the car and its links to suburbia unless there is dramatic social, demographic and economic change.

10. Teenage boys are rough on clothes. Socks wear out fast. The hems of shorts come down ‘by accident’. Shirts get stained. Jeans get ripped. Jumpers get covered in dog and cat fur. Hats get lost. Undies… well, ok. Undies wear pretty normally. But this brings us back to the first point – buying more clothes. Again. For a different reason. It’s a race to see whether he outgrows them or trashes them first.

Sometimes I think my efforts towards eco-consciousness are circumvented by my son. Sometimes my pattern of irritation feels ready to erupt into firey temper tantrums. (Yes, mothers have temper tantrums, they just look a lot different to kids’ temper tantrums.) Then my teenage  boy does something sweet, like invent an imaginary Italian bed and breakfast, complete with hand-written menu and fake accent, just so he can wear a manly apron and cook pancakes for me as Mother’s Day breakfast in bed, instead of adding to the consumer culture and buying me a gift I don’t really need.

Most days, he’s grumpy and self-absorbed, but sometimes I get a glimpse of who he used to be, and who he’ll become, and I know it’ll be worth these angsty teenage years in the end. No-one who can be that loving and gentle with an aging ginger cat can stay angsty forever.

At least, I hope so!

mr teeny-bop and fatso

Mr Teeny-bop and that aging ginger cat, Old Man Fatso, sleeping on the couch.



Spotlight on Zoos: Good or Bad?

Last week, I was looking at some photos my mother-in-law took when she was in Australia several months ago. One of the things she really wanted to do was hold a koala, so we went to Lone Pine Sanctuary (it’s local!) and she and Mr Teeny-bop held koalas and had their photos taken. Lots of other photos were also taken, such as the following one.

Mr Teeny-bop feeding a kangaroo at Lone Pine Sanctuary

Mr Teeny-bop feeding a kangaroo at Lone Pine Sanctuary

There were heaps of other animals there too – birds of prey, kangaroos, wombats, cassowaries, dingoes, tasmanian devils, parrots, cockatoos, galahs, lorikeets, bats, wallabies and farm animals (not sure what the farm animals were about, but anyway…), and Yankee Elv’s mom even took photos of the ugly wild scrub turkeys scratching around outside.

Yankee Elv feeding a kangaroo at Lone Pine Sanctuary

Yankee Elv feeding a kangaroo at Lone Pine Sanctuary

It was nice to go to a place where it’s not overly tourist-y (like Australia Zoo is these days), but still get to interact with all the animals. It did get me wondering though – are zoos, sanctuaries and other places like that good for the environment? I’m not going to argue about whether or not they’re good for the animals – some will say keeping animals in captivity are never good, others will say places like this provide a service to all the animals hurt on roads or displaced by deforestation. Regardless, I’m not going to debate that. What I’m interested in today is: are these places good for the environment?

With a motto like, ‘The Earth is not only for humans’, you’d think Lone Pine would be into all that eco-stuff.  The Lone Pine Sanctuary website does encourage people to do environmentally friendly things like drive safely and be aware of wildlife crossing the roads, plant eucalypts as food trees for koalas and avoiding disturbing vegetation generally (but especially in National Parks). Although all of these are aimed at wildlife conservation, they are also good for the environment generally. There is no statement on the Lone Pine Sanctuary website, however, that indicates they are working towards reducing their environmental impact.

People and animals can live together!

People and animals can live together!

Ultimately, it seems like zoos are under the same environmental pressures as any other big business, such as:

  • Water use
  • Energy consumption
  • Waste disposal and recycling.

Taronga Zoo has a comprehensive page on their site that explains it all quite clearly.

As well as Taronga Zoo, some other places, like Australia Zoo and the Philadelphia Zoo, are making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and potentially become carbon neutral. Chester Zoo was the first UK zoo to be awarded ISO14001s status. Other zoos are following in their footsteps. Some new campaigns that service both the environment and animals are cropping up too. Answer the Call, for example, is a mobile phone recycling program that helps save gorilla habitat.

Granted, my research has been pretty minimal, but what I’ve read seems to indicate that zoos are no worse than many big businesses, and the larger zoos are taking measures to counteract their environmental impact. Considering most zoos get visitors thinking about conservation, I think the good these zoos do likely outweighs any negative impact.

Your thoughts?



DIY Scanner

Check this out!

Camera... or scanner?

Camera... or scanner?

Matt Embrey from Green Upgrader made it. I like it. I don’t own a scanner or a printer – this looks like a cool idea. I print/scan at work. I only ever print maybe once every six months, for personal reasons. I think I limit it to about once a month for work reasons, and then it’s only one or two pages (double-sided of course).

Multi-purpose devices, that’s what it’s all about.



Recycle: CFL Lightbulbs

Earlier today, @LighterFootstep tweeted that in three years of using CFLs (those squiggly lightbulbs that save energy and money), not one had needed replacing. That’s pretty cool, and valid – mine haven’t needed to be replaced either, although I don’t think it’s been a full three years we’ve been using them yet. We just replace our regular bulbs with CFLs as they blow.

Talking about replacing them got me thinking about recycling them though, and lo and behold, Lighter Footstep has a challenge going (kind of like a pledge) over at their site. CFLs have mercury, and need to be recycled sustainably so the toxic chemical doesn’t screw over the world. The challenge asks that you pledge to become a CFL Recycling Superhero.

Take the CFL Recycling challenge at Lighter Footstep.

Take the CFL Recycling challenge at Lighter Footstep.

I’m all for that.

Brisbanites, check here to see where you can recycle your CFLs. Everyone else – google, or look in that article I mentioned if you’re American. I know we’ll end up at Ikea – what better excuse for a couple of eco lesbos to take a trip to the dykiest furniture store ever, than recycling lightbulbs?



Reuse: Rechargable Batteries

We’ve been going through batteries quite rapidly (for us) around the Elv house – we don’t mean to, but there are lots of things that use them, you know? Yankee Elv has been saving them to take to one of the schools she used to teach at, which has a battery recycling program. We just bought a recharger and rechargable batteries so we can reduce the amount we go through too.

Wouldn’t these be even cooler, though? It’s Knut Karlsen’s homemade solar-rechargeable batteries, called SolarCat (cos they lay out on your windowsill in the sun, like a cat).

Knut Karlsen's SolarCat batteries

Knut Karlsen's SolarCat batteries

You can recharge these batteries in the sun… anywhere! Convenient, especially when you don’t have access to a power point or don’t want to cart your recharger around. (Road trip! Road trip! In a smart car! In a smart… wait. Those things won’t fit all three of us plus the dog. Hmm. Maybe not.)

I also like the idea of kinetic (hand-crank) power, for things like torches and radios. We’re going camping later this year and they would be really handy – and we do need some more light so Yankee Elv can communicate at night. She needs to see to lip read and sign and the mini-lanterns and Dolphin torch we used last time didn’t really cut it. Something like this lantern would be pretty cool – I wonder how long a minute of cranking gets you? This one charges your mobile phone, too.

Does anyone know of other kinetically-powered items you can get? I’m keen to take responsibility for the power I use, and that’s an easy, cheap and eco-friendly way to do it.