Further Greening Your Green Practices

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Seeing so many “green” products on store shelves can be confusing as you might not know what the right decision is. Over at The Guardian they’ve written up a handy guide to help you and it basically comes down to take a moment and think about lifecycles of products. Their article is also filled with neat tidbits like half of us half reusable bags but we don’t all use them regularly, so even just using that bag more can be a simple step to help the planet.

Of course, the best thing you can do when it comes to consumption is to just buy/use less stuff.

The breakdown on compostable packaging
Naively, you might think that the compostable-plastic takeaway tub you ate your lunch from is easily compostable and that, if you dropped it into a food waste bin, in a few months some keen gardener will be scattering it on their allotment. That is highly unlikely. These plant-based, PLA-plastic products need to be industrially composted in specific units that are so scarce in Britain, most compostable packaging is burned or goes to landfill.

In fact, put that compostable salad tub in a food waste bin and you actually create a problem. Food waste is composted by anaerobic digestion to produce biogas and fertiliser, but, first, any packaging has to be removed. “Compostable products have no gas value,” says a spokesperson for waste recycler ReFood. “Drivers check customers’ bins when they collect. If there is a lot of packaging, then they won’t be able to accept the waste, but this doesn’t happen very often.”

In its initial production, compostable packaging is more eco-friendly than traditional plastic packaging, but, at the moment, it is no silver bullet.

Solution: at lunch, rather than a takeaway from the works canteen or a local cafe, sit in and eat off a plate using metal cutlery. It is far greener. “Until the waste infrastructure is in place, telling people packaging is 100% compostable is, at best, problematic and, at worst, greenwash,” says the Carbon Trust’s Jamie Plotnek.

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Help Those in Need by Mapping

Google Maps, Apple Maps, Mapquest, and other American-made mapping solutions work really well in developed regions where there are lots of businesses, however, outside those ares their maps lack quality. Rural parts of countries around the world don’t have the detail of urban centres when it comes to things like building locations and paths. This is particular true in the developing world.

Open Street Map (OSM) is better in the majority world and now it’s easier than ever to help the world get mapped. Using their online editing tool you can help poorer parts of the planet get the maps they need. Why are maps so important? It helps emergency workers respond effectively after a disaster and to help OSM be more useful coders have created the HOT Tasking Manager.

You can spend five minutes of your coffee break helping others from your computer.

The Tasking Manager is a mapping tool designed and built for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team’s collaborative mapping process in OpenStreetMap. The purpose of the tool is to divide up a mapping project into smaller tasks that can be completed rapidly with many people working on the same overall area. It shows which areas need to be mapped and which areas need the mapping validated.

This approach allows the distribution of tasks to many individual mappers in the context of emergency or other humanitarian mapping scenario. It also allows monitoring of the overall project progress and helps improve the consistency of the mapping (e.g., elements to cover, specific tags to use, etc.).

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How Good Policy Alongside Good Design Improves Lives

subway transit

Tishaura Jones, the first female treasurer of St. Louis, set out to improve her city through good design. Through her own struggles dealing with the city’s bureaucracy she identified many problems with how information is presented, she noted she wasn’t the only one running into bad design. Jones decided to do something about it; the policies were there but nobody knew how to understand them since the information was presented in a Byzantine way. She has led St. Louis to alter how information gets communicated to its citizens.

As treasurer of St. Louis, she used two key design techniques to improve policy delivery and outcomes. First, she reached out to other cities that had prototyped and tested new, human-centered policies. Building on what other cities had learned allowed St. Louis to springboard forward instead of getting stuck reinventing wheels. Second, she brought together policy and processes, applying people-centered design to the rules that governed services and the delivery of them. By building connective tissue between policy, process, and people, Jones was able to built new trust in old institutions to deliver real change impacting residents’ lives.


Justin King, policy director of the family-centered social policy program at New America, where I did research, has spent his career working on issues at the intersection of children’s lives and government policies. “Tishaura and Jose before her are reinventing what’s possible inside government,” he says. “People see the state and municipal government, in a lot of cases, as a predator on them and their communities . . . [Their work] is against the tide. It is really positive and really innovative and really worth talking about.”

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How to Deal with Problematic Recyclables

Recycling programs still can’t recycle every consumer good, which means that we still need to think about what we put in the blue box (or whatever colour it is where you live). Some plastics are too hard to recycle and some containers too hard to clean. The CBC recently ran a live Q&A (video above) on common concerns around recyclables and what to do about it. Of course, the best thing you can do as a consumer is just buy less stuff and reuse what you can. Reduce, reuse, and recycle are in that order for a reason.

Coffee pods

Why they’re a problem

These contain many parts with different materials that need to be separated. In some places, like B.C., the plastic from plastic pods can be recycled when separated. But in other recycling programs, because the pods are small, pieces of them can drop through mechanical screens at recycling plants and contaminate other streams, especially glass.

What are the options?

The plastic parts can be theoretically recovered, provided everything else is separated out. Some brands let you return these. There are also private programs that recycle them.

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Science by People for People

To the average person it might look like scientists operate in an ivory tower away from reality, which, can make engaging in scientific issues intimidating. To bridge this gap engaged citizens and scientists have launched themselves into the “citizen science” way of doing things. Basically what that means is that they’re taking science to the streets.

Through Uprose and HabitatMap, another New York-based environmental justice organization, Gomez and a handful of other youth banded together to figure out exactly how much pollution the expressway was coughing into the neighborhood. “There are no entrances to the expressway in Sunset Par–just the exits,” says fellow youth organizer Brian Gonzales. “So we’re left with thousands of cars and trucks passing through every day.” The exhaust from those cars–particularly particulate matter 2.5, which is so small that 60 particles lined up equal the width of a human hair–is especially pernicious. While larger particles may lodge in nose hairs or the back of the throat and never make it into the body, PM 2.5 passes deep into the lungs and eventually the blood. They cause short-term problems like asthma and bronchitis, and cancer and heart disease later.

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