Saturday, September 26, 2015

Downtown Recycling--Style vs. Substance

It's not easy to get people to recycle in public places. People are distracted, in a hurry, and tend to drop an empty bottle, banana peel or tissue in the first receptacle they encounter. That's why design is crucial for successful recycling on the streets. Oftentimes, the cost of a receptacle is inversely related to its functionality.

At the recent Jazz Feast on Palmer Square, this cheapo pairing of a trash container (note the big opening) and a recycling bin with small, round hole for recyclables worked great. They were close to one another (close enough for jazz!), which is critical, and their openings provided a clear visual contrast that even the most distracted jazz lover will notice. A peek in the recycling bin showed it contained only recyclables, no trash.

On the other hand, these new and expensive-looking containers along Nassau Street have trash and recyclables openings that provide no visual cue other than small print on the lid. The lids help keep the rain out, which is good, but with nothing but small print to distinguish one from the other, the recycling side will likely be contaminated with trash, and the goal of recycling will not be achieved.

This one at least has contrasting color, but that probably won't be enough to get people to pay attention. So Princeton now has recycling receptacles on Nassau Street, and they look great, but don't expect them to increase recycling.

Though it's not easy to get people to recycle in public places, it is easy to find advice online about what sorts of containers work best. I have a whole website devoted to critiques of various designs at, including Ten Tips for Improving Recycling at Your Workplace.

Edward Kennedy's words are apt for recycling in public places: "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

Maybe that jazz sensibility, which involves taking experience and upcycling it into the form of music, gave the Jazz Feast folks the necessary insight.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Low-Energy Comfort in Summer

Though there have been a few periods of heat and humidity, this has been a remarkably comfortable summer over all. While the western U.S. burns, fries and dries to a crisp, its inspiring beauty, grandeur and livability imperiled by the deepening expressions of climate change, New Jersey seems a sheltered place. The suffering elsewhere and the mild weather offer motivation and means to maintain comfort with minimal dipping into energy and resources.

On a fairly typical day this August, our house was comfortable all day while consuming less than 3 kilowatts of electricity, a crazy low amount. Credit for the comfort goes to nature rather than the air conditioner--a machine that would consume 3 kilowatts in an hour if it were running.  The whole-house energy meter in the photo shows just 210 watts of consumption right now. The number would be lower if the refrigerator didn't happen to be on. If the A/C was laboring away, the consumption would leap to 3500 watts. In that vast difference in energy consumption lies the reasoning behind seeking some other way of keeping the house cool.

Nature has been a particularly great collaborator in comfort this summer because overnight temperatures have often dropped into the 70s and even 60s. Run the house fan for a half hour in late evening or early morning, when the outdoor temperature is lowest, and the house is quickly filled with cool air that, thanks to shade and insulation, can last us through much of the day. The A/C can then be run sporadically to cut the humidity, and need not labor all day long to get the temperature down. It also helps to acclimate one's inner nature by expanding one's comfort zone, so machines need not work hard to keep the indoor temperature within a narrow range.

Though our house at least has a whole-house energy meter, it like most houses is remarkably unintelligent compared to much less pricey possessions, like a car or a cell phone. That lack of intelligence plays out as wasted energy that becomes clear during an evening walk through the neighborhood. The outdoor air may be cool, humidity relatively low, yet many homes will have their air conditioners grinding away, trying to cool indoor air when abundant fresh, cooled air lies just outside.

A modest dream, born of cool evening air, would be for every home and apartment to have temperature and humidity sensors, inside and out, that compare indoor and outdoor air and can tell you when to turn off the A/C and bring the outdoor air in. Cell phones bring us the world. The least a house could do is take note of the air just outside the front door.