Monday, July 27, 2015

Upscale Scavengers in Princeton

While others are lounging on the beach or off seeking fun and adventure in farflung lands, I'm getting my low carbon kicks by watching things magically disappear from the curb. It's a bit like fishing, but instead of trying to catch something, the aim is to see how much stuff you can successfully let go of.

Take these plastic chairs and stool, for instance. I forget how I came into possession of them--must have intervened at some point, rescuing them from the curb on trash day, but there's something that happens to the plastic after it's been exposed too long to the elements. The shiny surface turns dull and has a funny feel that's not welcoming. So I finally put them out on recycling day, as an experiment to see if the hauler would take them. We're only supposed to recycle plastics #1 and 2, but the website of the hauler and the sorting facility say they will take pretty much any old plastic.

Before I could successfully run my experiment, however, a guy pulled up and started loading the plastic furniture into his car. I could see his thought processes as he struggled to get the furniture in. The chair wouldn't fit in the front passenger seat, so he had to settle for the stool in front, and one of the green chairs in the backseat. Before getting in his car, he hesitated, turned and looked longingly at the other green chair still on the curb, took a few steps in that direction, then thought again and climbed in to drive away. How well I know that feeling! A perfectly good looking, serviceable chair, going to waste. Did our parents live through the deprivations of the Great Depression and WWII just so we could stand silently by while people buy dubious merchandise and toss it in the trash at the first sign of defect? Such conspicuous wastage rubs against the very fiber of our being.

By the way, that's a pretty nice looking car the guy has. What kind is it?

A Mercedes! Sportscar! That's the first question you've got to ask the dealer when you buy a car like that. Sure, it looks great, drives great, but how many used plastic lawn chairs will it hold? Isn't that Princeton for you? Picking up used plastic chairs, already spurned by the Priusey, Ford Rangery likes of me, in a Mercedes sportscar! More power to him, I say. It just goes to show that the temptations of thrift are universal, crossing all class boundaries.

The recycling truck swept by an hour or so later. I got distracted, so can't say for sure if they or another scavenger took the other green plastic chair. Maybe the guy in the Mercedes made a return trip! In any case, we can safely conclude that, on one busy street in Princeton, putting large plastic items out on recycling day can delay their trip to the landfill, and possibly send them on a whole new journey to a second life.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Town Trucks and Sustainability

How do we find inner peace, when the machines we love are also unraveling the climate we need? The great divide is most evident in the Daily Show, where a devastating critique of climate denial will be juxtaposed with advertisements tempting us to buy gleaming, carbon-spewing automobiles in our pursuit of fun, power, status, and romance.

A local version of this arose via the ever inventive programming of the Princeton Public Library, which hosted "Truck Day", when kids could gather to hear truck-themed stories inside, then go outside behind the library to see real trucks that serve the town.

For me, the event evoked strong associations directly opposed one to the other. First there's the memory of having spent copious amounts of quality childhood time playing with toy trucks on rugs, in sandboxes, and on the kindergarten playground. Sparring with those pleasant memories, and the pleasure of meeting the trucks and the people who drive them on Truck Day, is the adult understanding that, though trucks are really useful, and kinda cool in their lumbering way, we know that their use comes at a collective price.

One way to deal with this is to say, yes, machines serve us well, but until they're powered by something less climate-altering than gasoline, we should find ways to use them as little as possible. In other words, the more we can wean municipal services of fossil fuel use, the better.

This bucket truck for tree removal will be used more and more in coming years, as Emerald Ash Borer sweeps through town.

But one truck which clearly could be used less was just around the corner. It also happens to be the most charismatic, and drew the crowd. A wheel loader nicknamed The Claw, it spends a lot of time cruising the streets, picking up all the brush, leaves and yardwaste people toss out for collection. Residents are hooked on the convenience of the service, but it creates a Sisyphean reality for the work crews, who clean a street only to see residents dumping fresh piles in their wake. This collective dumping on public spaces is disturbingly reminiscent of climate change, which too involves a collective dumping on shared spaces.

People could easily compost most of their leaves and yardwaste in their own yards. Even small yards have room for leaf corrals. Less dumping in the streets means less dumping of CO2 into the air by our wonderful but star-crossed machines. Sounds like a win-win.

The woman who drives The Claw helped kids climb up and sit in the cab. Those who could overcome their fear of climbing were rewarded with a view from twelve feet up. That's how I see these sorts of machines fitting into modern reality. Admire them, use them when needed, but minimize their use to whatever extent possible. That way, the machines will last longer, and our habitable planet will last longer, too. Give the kids something to climb on, and a livable planet to grow into.

One way to minimize the use of The Claw and its entourage is to better utilize another truck the town owns. Like the Little Engine That Could, it is not a machine that would impress anyone with its power or gleaming finish. This old dumptruck is used to pick up residents' bagged yardwaste once a week, six months out of the year. It wasn't on display at the library. In fact, it's downright rusty, but it happens to be one of two that the town owns that could be fitted in back with a "tipper hook", which is used to empty large roll carts of yardwaste. Retrofitted with a tipper hook for about $5000, the truck could come by people's houses once a week most of the year, picking up yardwaste put in roll carts or bags. It would largely replace the less efficient Claw caravans. (type "rollcart" into the search box of this blog for other posts that describe the savings and efficiencies to be gained with this approach)

An updated version of The Little Engine That Could would be a machine that didn't need to be used very much, because people were finding more and more ways to be less dependent on machines, and because it was used less, it could be run on renewable fuel which is less plentiful than the carbon energy we dig out of the ground.

That's the way to bridge the divide, and lead us towards inner peace in a world of troubling but lovable machines.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Free Concerts at Pettoranello Gardens, July 11 and July 18

Each year, Blue Curtain and the Princeton Recreation Dept. present two concerts of music, usually from Africa or Latin America. The performers tend to be first rate, and the setting at Pettoranello Gardens is highly conducive. For more info, Blue Curtain has a facebook page, and there's a brief writeup on the two concerts here. Two bands play tonight, with the first one, some Brazilian choro, starting at 7pm.

The "blue" curtain concept becomes more clear in these photos.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Electric Bike Presentation Friday, July 10, noon

Sounds by this description that there's been some progress in making E-bikes a good option for transportation. Earlier this week, I watched E-Bikes gliding up the gentle incline of Central Park West in NY, with what appeared to be very satisfied riders. An E-Bike makes any ride downhill, even if you're not starting from the high ground of the Princeton Senior Resource Center, which is hosting the talk. Check the link for more info about the speaker.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Fireworks Times Two

Though the crowds head to the fields off Western Way to witness the annual fireworks, the Harrison Street bridge over Carnegie Lake offers a doubling of the visual feast. The rockets' read glare is complemented perfectly by the rockets' red reflection.

I'll speculate that, if Francis Scott Key watched the bombing of Fort McHenry from across the bay, then the water's reflection of bombs bursting in air was surely part of his inspiration.

Our auditory experience may have been augmented, too, with the reflection of sound off the water providing a stereo effect.

When all was extinguished, and a full moon illuminated the sulphurous legacy, we drifted home to the quiet enchantment of fireflies in the backyard.