Saturday, November 06, 2021

Conspicuous Consumption: A Noisy Refrigerator Cooling for No One

The part of me that has always wanted to fight for our collective future has long been puzzled at how rare that impulse is. The destructive impact of climate change is increasing with each passing year, and yet energy conservation is rarely mentioned these days. There's some talk of solar panels and wind generators being put somewhere someday, but to stop pouring CO2 into the atmosphere, we must also collectively consume far less energy. It's been so drilled into us that we must feed the economy by consuming that it seems unnatural if not heretical to consciously consume less. 

The motivation to consume less, at least in me, and despite all the indoctrination, comes from an understanding that machines are both our friends and our worst enemies. They serve in many wonderful ways, and yet their dependence on future-killing energy makes them at the same time our enemy. 

This scene inside the Princeton Public Library tells one story of why we are losing the battle for the future. The cafe has been closed for nearly two years, and yet the display refrigerator unit on the right, the "Grab and Go", is still running. Has it been left on for two years, despite being empty? A library employee made it sound like it actually has. 

This may be the same noisy display refrigerator that used to make it hard to hear whatever wonderful speaker had drawn an overflow audience to the Community Room. Its downsides--noise and energy consumption--made it problematic when the cafe was open. To see it running when the place is closed just deepens the sense of mourning for a world that seems not to know how to collectively fight for a collective future.

One refrigerator makes little difference in the world, and yet a battle is won through countless small acts by countless people who understand that they are part of a larger effort. 

BTW: Any unplugged refrigerator needs to have its doors left partially open, to allow air to circulate. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Another Reason to Containerize Princeton's Leaf and Yardwaste Collection

This blog has long made the case for Princeton to progressively shift towards containerization of leaves, yardwaste, and brush. The aim would be cleaner streets, better compliance with state and local requirements, and substantial reduction in costs for taxpayers. There are many additional reasons why municipalities elsewhere in the country have adopted containerization over collecting loose material tossed in the street. 

A recent trip to the Lawrenceville Ecological Center offered yet another reason to make the shift. The composting site, out on Princeton Pike, is a wonderful facility, with windrows of compost stretching into the distance. They produce two products, one of which is composted leaves, the other twice ground wood chips. Both of these get piled high and are available for residents of Lawrenceville and Princeton at no cost.

It sounds great, and is great, but they do have a problem. There's more compost and woodchips than they can get rid of. In the first photo is the big pile of compost that has been sitting there for more than a year. And the Lawrenceville public works director told me that the demand for their double ground woodchips has declined since homeowners have come to prefer the darker look of artificially dyed wood chips. 

It's expensive, in fuel and staff time, to compost material that then accumulates unused on-site. 

How would containerization help reduce the excess product, and thereby save Lawrenceville and Princeton significant cost? The limited capacity of a large compost cart would create an incentive for homeowners to utilize some of their leaves in their own yards, by mowing them back into the lawn, leaving them under shrubs as mulch, or piling them in a back corner to return to the soil. It would also reduce the noise of gas-powered leaf blowers, which classically drone on while blowing loose leaves into the streets. 

By providing homeowners with large rollcarts, the town would achieve a much-needed compromise between the current massive loose collection of yardwaste and the "leave the leaves" approach many environmentalists promote. Such a change can be phased in, integrated into existing collections of yardwaste bags, and targeted initially for residents on busy streets where piling loose material in the street is not an option. Like many public policy issues, this one has many layers of complexity, and will require receptivity to change, and a recognition of what has worked elsewhere. 

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Another Tricycle Saved From Oblivion

This story picks up where the children's story, The Little Engine That Could, leaves off. How to keep all those toys for little girls and boys from a premature trip to the landfill?

When a tricycle is put on the curb for trash pickup, the first step in saving it from the landfill and giving it a new life is to figure out why it's being thrown away. Maybe the kids outgrew it, in which case it's simply a matter of finding it a new home. Or maybe there's some small issue that made it no longer useful. 
This one was easy. A plastic disk on the front wheel would slip out of place, so that the pedals no longer made the wheel turn. All that was needed was some sort of sleeve to hold the plastic disk in place. I happened to have a little screw clamp thingamajig in the basement workshop that worked perfectly. 
Functional once again, the tricycle joined a surprisingly large population of similar trikes enjoying a second life in the little pocket park beyond our backyard. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Easy Fix for Broken Microwave Oven

One of the great wastes in society is microwave ovens that suddenly stop working and get thrown away, when they could have been easily repaired. Most times, all that's needed is a new fuse, bought for $5 at the local hardware store. (First make sure that it isn't one of your house fuses that was tripped.)  Over the past two weeks, I've saved two microwaves by inserting a new fuse. If you like fixing things, or know someone who does, this is a great way to save a good appliance. 

Check out youtube videos about how to replace a fuse on your kind of microwave, and be sure to unplug the appliance before doing any work. In this photo, the new fuse is in the front, and the old fuse is in the microwave, near the top of the photo. Accessing it requires unscrewing the metal sheath that encloses the microwave. Be sure to remove the glass plate inside the microwave before turning it over! The sheath slips off but has metal grooves that need to be fit right when putting the sheath back on. Sometimes a special bit is needed to unscrew the sheath, but these are available at larger hardware stores. I pry the old fuse loose with a screwdriver, carefully avoiding disturbing anything else in the microwave. Then read the tiny print on the fuse to see whether it says 15A or 20A. Buy a new one, put it in, put the microwave back together, plug it in and see if it works. If it doesn't, then something else is wrong, but I've only had that happen once.

Monday, March 29, 2021

How To Dramatically Reduce Littering in Princeton

Both recycling days in March have been windy, which means recyclables are getting blown all around in the streets. This is the perfect example of how so much of the harm done to our shared spaces, be it a town street or the planet, is unintentional. Even when there's no wind, recyclables often fall out of overfilled bins. The fine for intentionally littering in NJ is up to $500, with a $100 minimum penalty. That law is not protecting us nor our environment, nor are any laws protecting the atmosphere from all the extra CO2 being unintentionally sent skyward.
Well-designed stormdrain grates prevent some of the plastic from entering waterways, 
but other plastics can still slip through, ending up in Lake Carnegie and ultimately the ocean, where plastics accidentally get eaten by aquatic life, building up in their guts. 

Plastic, made from fossil fuels, is the visible form of carbon pollution. Excess CO2, formed by combusting fossil fuels, is the invisible form of carbon pollution our machines send skyward from tailpipes and chimneys.

Most of the plastics pollution Princeton generates is due not to selfish disregard but to Mercer County's small, lid-less recycling bins that tip over in the wind. Shall we slap the wind with a $500 fine? How about fining the recycling bin for being poorly designed?

As with all the unintentional pollution by which we collectively harm the planet, the solution needs to be collective as well. Large, lidded rollcarts are widely used elsewhere in the country, and could largely solve the problem. 

The county could, for instance, phase out the old yellow and green recycling buckets by supplying large 64 or 96 gallon rollcarts for replacements, new customers, and anyone else who wants to make the change. Trucks would need to be fitted on the back with hydraulic tipper hooks ($5000 for each truck). Lids keep contents dry, wheels ease the homeowner's burden. Capacity is more than twice the small buckets. There are many advantages. County? Time to step up and help Princeton keep its streets clean.

Monday, March 01, 2021

When Trash Talks

Do the trash collectors take furniture? I'd started to see a lot of furniture left uncollected on trash day, and had heard that the policy had changed to make that service more limited. But the Princeton municipal website says they still take bulky items, up to the size of a 2 seat couch. 

But this homeowner had a three seat couch. It disappeared on trash day, however, which may have had something to do with that bucket with a sign next to the couch. 
"Drinks for waste management," the sign says. I'd seen this bucket out before, with a variety of drinks and snacks. 

While all the other neighbors had shoveled their sidewalks, this one had not. I thought they were out of town and oblivious, but the trash offered a different story. Of course! The shovel broke.