Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crete renewable energy makes up for shortcomings

My wife and I got a chance to vacation to the island of Crete, the biggest island in the Greek Isles, located in the Mediterranean Sea. The weather was incredible, the scenery was mountainous and amazing, and the water was warm and clear. The local people were very friendly and spoke excellent English, so it made the trip very enjoyable.

What I didn't anticipate was the amount of renewable energy available in Crete. We saw many applications of green technology.

Almost every home had a passive solar water heater system on the roof, which means they aren't spending money on heating their water. With the amazing weather we experienced, it seems like a no-brainer to implement that everywhere in the Mediterranean.

We saw at least 100 wind turbines on the mountain tops, and probably 5-6 different wind farms (on the east side of the island only). It was pretty impressive. The good thing is that they didn't need huge towers to get them way up in the air, since the mountain was already high enough for constant wind. That probably keeps the costs down.

We also passed by a solar photovoltaic farm, with maybe 10-20 large panels. It was hard to get a picture of it due to the road we were travelling on, but it looked very impressive.

A couple observations about Europe:

1) they limited the use of ice. Every time we ordered soda or a water, we got 2-3 cubes, which melted quickly. I'd consider that a savings on the use of energy to generate all the ice cubes, even though it might not help the customer satisfaction for those of us used to having a drink that has too much ice.

2) Most hotels had a switch that required the room key, in order to turn on the electricity. This forced you to turn everything off when you left the room, by removing the key from the device. The only downside was when we were trying to recharge something (cell phone, laptop, etc), we could only do it when we were physically there. Overall, I like the idea, and would like to see it expand to the US.

I was looking for a website that summarized the renewable activity in Crete, but was unsuccessful. Maybe it's available on a website written in Greek. If anyone can find one that talks about the number of wind farms and turbines, solar arrays, solar water heaters, etc in Crete, I'd appreciate it.
Now to the negatives. In general, I did not see many places to recycle. We actually had to save up all our stuff, and take it to the Scandinavian resort up the hill, where they had many different bins all over the place for recycleables.

It might help the second problem as well, which is the amount of trash lying around. Along every street and highway you could see trash, bottles, cans, and many other items that shouldn't be there. If your primary economy is based upon tourism, I would think that cleanliness would be a primary focus.

Fortunately, most of the beaches were trash-free, except for the last beach we stopped at, on our way to the airport.

As you can see from this photo, it looks amazing, so we stopped right away to check it out. Crystal clear waters, cool rock formations, and ocean as far as you can see.

However, when you get up close, this is what we saw everywhere.

Trash bags, food packaging wrappers, styrofoam, plastic silverware, and other small plastic pieces that would surely be eaten by marine life. It was really gross. I would only get into the water up to my waist, and even then, I was not comfortable. We grabbed as many large objects as we could find, but it would take an army to clean it up.

I don't know how it got there. I don't even blame the locals, since it could be coming from the cruise ships or tourists. However, I would not recommend anyone go to that particular beach (Voulisma Beach) because of the trash we saw. This needs to be addressed right away. To have a beautiful island ruined by litter and trash would be a shame.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rapanui Clothing is putting the "cool" in Ethi-cool

An ethical fashion brand has unveiled a new range of clothing. The small Isle of Wight (island off England's southern coast where I visited recently) brand have been trading officially for two years, concentrating on sustainable textiles and buying.

Rapanui was set up by brothers Rob and Mart Drake-Knight in early 2008. It has quickly grown into an award-winning brand, earning recognition at the Sustainable Business Awards for their commitment to using organic, natural fabrics, wind-powered factories, and Fairwear Foundation audited supply chains.

Their cool new designs are geared to captivate the younger generations, who are perhaps less aware than others of where their clothes come from.
They are completely open an honest about the entire process of their clothes, how they are made and what impact each piece has on the environment, yet at the same time, they provide garments that perhaps you wouldn’t expect from a company whose main concern is about reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

Check them out at Rapanui Clothing

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Iowa wind farm impressive up close

I got a pleasant surprise driving up to a family vacation. We drove through Charles City, Iowa, and ran smack into a huge wind farm.

Mid-American Energy built a total of 50 huge turbines, which produce about 75,000 KW of electricity. The wind farm was constructed in early 2008.

We also saw an even larger windfarm on I-35, near the Minnesota/Iowa border. I think it is called "Top of Iowa" (there are maybe three different "sites" within the same area). Started almost 10 years ago (built in 2001), it contains a total of 147 turbines.

I couldn't believe that it's been that long in service. Wind farms were the last thing on my mind in 2001, so hats off to those who got this farm up and running back then.

It's pretty awesome to see so many of them at once. Some of my family described it as "alien" or "spaceship" looking. If you have the opportunity to visit a wind farm, it's worth it. Just to see the landscape lined with rotating turbines, and to see how large they are. It's also cool to know that Iowa is one of the leaders in wind power in the US, and that each turbine is helping meet our energy needs, without pollution.
For more information, visit this List of Iowa Wind Farms

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Where do your plastic milk jugs end up?

I had never heard of Polywood until I came across their website. Polywood is a wood replacement material that is constructed from recycled milk jugs and plastic containers into recycled plastic lumber. It gives you the same look and feel of regular wood, but without cutting down a tree, and without sending the plastic and jugs to the landfill.

Many wood products are also treated with harmful chemicals, so this is avoided. As a benefit, the material is high-quality and maintenance-free, which is better than what most wood products can offer. It also can not leak or contaminate the soil.

There are many uses for the polywood material, since it is almost identical to natural wood. These include: decking, railings, picnic tables, benches, patio furniture and playground equipment.

The products are easy to assemble, as you can see from this video.

At first, I thought the price was a little high for these chairs, as you would expect with any recycled product, but it's actually not that much more than a chair made from virgin wood. When you compare the length of time that you will have the chair, compared to a model made from virgin wood, you'll be saving lots of money in the long run. We need to be looking at long term decisions when we buy products (quality, not quantity), and this is a perfect example of the type of quality products we need to be buying.

Visit their website for more information about Polywood products.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

'King Corn' opened my eyes to high fructose corn syrup

"King Corn" is an independent film based in Iowa. It follows two east coast college students, who figure out that they have family roots in the same small Iowa town. They spend a summer growing one acre of corn, to better understand the impact and the inner workings.

What they learn is pretty shocking, regarding the government subsidies that are provided to farmers. Most farmers make very little money, since the cost of a bushel of corn is kept so low. The subsidies allow the farmer to make just enough money to survive. You would think this would be a good thing, but it drives them to produce the wrong kind of corn, not the edible kind.

They also explore where a typical acre of corn goes (not as corn-on-the-cob, as you might think), along with the environmental impact of that corn. You would think that corn has to be good for us, and growing more would be a good thing, but this film clearly shows how bad things have gotten. The amount that goes to overfeed cows for meat is also shocking!

However, the biggest shocker for me was the amount of corn going to create high fructose corn syrup. This product has basically no nutritional value, and has replaced sugar in almost every food we eat nowadays. It drives our obesity problem, and since it is so inexpensive (government funded), it is now less expensive to buy food that is bad for you (cupcakes, soda, chips, etc) than buying healthy fruits and vegetables!

They also recently released a supplemental short film called "Big River", which explores the impact of farming (pesticides and runoff) on the water streams, which all eventually flow down into the mouth of the Mississippi River (the "dead zone").

This movie was exactly what I needed to see, in order to finally convince me to cut back even more on eating meat, and now I'm severly reducing my consumption of products with high fructose corn syrup!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

'No Impact Man' sets the bar really high!

I'd like to think that I do pretty good at being "green", but after watching "No Impact Man", I feel like I've got a long way to go.

The movie is about an author who wants to write about something more meaningful. He decides to try an experiment, with his "somewhat willing" family, to see how little impact on the environment they can have. They start out pretty agressive, and build upon it in stages over the course of a year. The final six months, they go without electricity completely.

They generate zero trash, which is truly amazing! Everything they eat is from the Farmer's Market, or bought in bulk, to prevent having any packaging/trash. They don't use any toilet paper (still confused about how they did that...) and only take public transportation.

There are two sides to this movie. First, the effort took a toll on the couple, and they were ridiculed at times. On the other hand, it made them realize what was really important in life, and break themselves from things they thought they needed. Overall, I think they grew closer going through the experience.

Think you're up for the challenge? Download (don't print) the "How to Guide" to see what you are signing up for. The next scheduled event is April 18th.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Get rid of your used CDs and DVDs for cash!

I can't remember the last time I bought a physical CD. Who does anymore? Not only is it more convenient to buy electronically online, but it's a benefit to the environment to do so (packaging materials and transportation fuel).

After moving recently, I realized that we have a lot of CDs and DVDs. They take up a lot of space, and I wanted to really de-clutter and simplify my life. I went through all my CDs and figured out which ones I like, and which ones I didn't. The ones I liked, I uploaded to my computer for my iPhone to download. Now I have a bunch of CDs (both like and dislike) that take up space, and I'll probably never play again.

We tried to sell many of them at our garage sale before moving, but we still had a lot left over. There aren't many local stores that buy back most of the CDs (more selective on titles).

While searching online, I found a company called that pays you cash for your used CDs and DVDs. All you do is type in the UPC code of each CD, and it gives you the price it will pay you. I averaged about $1 per CD (range is about $0.05 to $3.00) and mailed a large box to their facility for processing. Count how many CDs you have, then do the math...

Not only do you get to get rid of things you don't want, you make some money in the process, and your item gets reused by someone who wants it!

Give it a try at their website

Update 2/4/10 - I received my check today for $170 (I sent 133 CDs to them). They rejected some of my CDs for water damage, but overall I think it was worth the money and effort.