Archive for August, 2009

How does the Fed dispose of old money?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Last night, Victor and I and a few of our friends participated in our local pub quiz. Though we sadly didn’t rank in the top five teams, we had a great team name (Nation of Quizlam) and a great time. As it happens, an entire round of the quiz was dedicated to questions about the Federal Reserve (a challenging but usefully educational category). Our favorite question? “How does the Fed dispose of old money removed from circulation?”


Shredded money

Shredded money



My guess was bury it. What’s more American than a landfill? But the team overrode me and went with incinerate. When they announced the answer—bury it—we were a bit ashamed to have gotten wrong the one and only trash question of the night. At least, Vic and I consoled ourselves, we got a blog post out of the embarrassment. 

Poking around the Internet this morning, though, I see that “bury it” isn’t quite right either. Yes, lots of old cash is shredded and packed into briquettes that get landfilled. But some old money, it turns out, gets recycled. According to The New York Times, since the mid-nineties regional Federal Reserve banks have negotiated deals with companies that could use large amounts of shredded material for stuffing, roofing and who knows what else. The Fed allows any use short of advertising or confetti. I recommend clicking through to the Times article. There are some interesting factoids to be found there. For instance, the reason we didn’t recycle money earlier is because the ink used to contain lead; newer old bills, while lead-free, still hold too many chemicals to be used for just anything (shredded money is no good for animal bedding, for example, some breeders tried that and found it gave horses rashes).

No Impact Man – the movie

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Earlier this week the team was invited to a screening of “No Impact Man,” a documentary about journalist Colin Beavan, a.k.a. No Impact Man, his spouse Michelle Conlin, their cute-overload daughter Isabella and the family dog Frankie. Behind the documentary are directors Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, and producer Eden Wurmfeld.

For several years now, Beavan has been updating the world on his No Impact Project—his endeavor to spend one year wasting as little energy and as few resources as possible—via his blog, No Impact Man. The documentary follows Beavan, Conlin, daughter and dog over the course of the project, from November 2006 to November 2007. Throughout four phrases, the family gives up more and more, starting with taking non man-powered transport of any kind, buying anything new (including toilet paper), eating meat, using the elevator. Finally, they shut off the power in their apartment and attempt to live without electricity.

The No Impact Project is framed as a family project, but as the movie reveals, there’s no doubt that its really all about Beavan. As Conlin puts it “It’s called No Impact Man,it’s his project, it’s his book and he’s No impact man, but…the project is our family is doing this.”

Without going too much into detail to spoil the movie for those who plan to see it, we can tell you that the documentary is not so much about how to live without causing further damage to the planet (if you already have a flat in a posh condo and have bought all the laptops and bikes you need that is), but about a marriage in which one partner is very driven to embark on something that affects everyone in the family. Here’s the trailer:

And, as there are two of us, please find below two reviews:


Why make a documentary about how a family tries to live emissions-free for a year, but not give you the results on screen? The concpiracy theory would be that the team didn’t want to give out spoilers from the coming book. I don’t think so, I rather believe that Gabbert/Schein/Wurmfeld realised that watching people live eco friendly isn’t terribly exciting on screen (the most action-ridden moment being when the family tries and fails to build an Nigerian pot fridge). What is exciting is the struggle with the contemporary context they’ve locked themselves into. In the end, it boils down to how much of a crazy person you are ready to be percieved as. Easier as freelance writer (Beavan) compared to Business Week writer (Conlin). The message we are left with from No Impact Man is that you probably need very supportive friends.


As a documentary about a marriage, “No Impact Man” is pretty entertaining. As a lead-by-example environmental statement, it’s a bit muddy. The film skips along, touching lightly on some of the quotidian debates of the green movement: are cloth diapers really better for the environment than disposable? What are the outer limits of eco-chic (yes to reusable shopping bags, no to no toilet paper), without really saying much. If anything, it’s a nice ad for biking and eating locally. The Union Square green market features heavily and the family spends enviable amounts of quality time scooting and biking around town. Conlin’s transformation from a Starbucks-addicted shopaholic to sustainable supermom is the real story. As she whines then copes and decides what she can and can’t live without, we make the same assessments about our own lives. How embarrassing would it be to mooch ice from the neighbor because you are consciously living without a fridge; or if the whole office knew your husband air dried his bottom as an attempt to save the trees?

Remarkably, there is very little trash in “No Impact Man.” Right away, the family stops creating waste, so little time is spent tracking where waste goes when it leaves the 5th Ave co-op and what impact the family is averting. Aside from some arty close-ups of trash bags and a brief cameo by Sustainable South Bronx founder Majora Carter, trash plays a small role in the film.

Anyway, as someone constantly asked “but what should I do about it” I admire the notion of living out one’s own ideals and the attempt to make personal the huge and often eye-glazing topic of lessening our impact on the environment. But there is a difference between personal and personality-driven and I found Beaven’s project off-putting in its self-absorption. Kudos to this family for eating locally, biking everywhere and spending lots of quality time together not watching TV. At one point Beaven says that when people ask what one thing they can do to make a difference, he says volunteer at an environmental organization because the erosion of community is what is killing us all. THAT point should be better underscored on his blog and in the film. A first step might have been calling the film “No Impact Family”.

(Paired with the documentary is Beavans book No Impact Man – The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process. The book and film are to be released September 1st and 1st respectivley.)

Songs about packaging

Friday, August 28, 2009

Randy Ludacer is a Staten Islander who writes songs about packaging. From 12 noon to 2pm on Saturday, September 26th, you can hear him perform these songs at the Freshkills Park site. The event is free and everyone who attends will get a free CD. Click here for more details. Though out of date, this is my favorite of the photos on Ludacer’s website. Kind of makes you want to head to Staten Island, doesn’t it?

Portrait photo by Deborah Davis for the album Hot Water

Portrait photo by Deborah Davis for the album Hot Water, 1981

If you prefer bird calls to obscure songs written by people, the very next day Freshkills hosts a birding tour led by local naturalists. More info here.

Editorial trash

Friday, August 28, 2009

In case you missed it, The New York Times printed an ominous and recomendationless editorial on plastic in our oceans on Wednesday. Of particular note:

Now comes what could be more bad news. A new study, announced at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society, suggests that plastics in seawater break down faster than expected. As they do, they apparently release contaminants, including potentially harmful styrene compounds not normally found in nature.

Buy it, use it, break it, junk it…

Monday, August 24, 2009

Entertaining and informative video from Greenpeace featuring their electronics waste campaigns. Via 365 Days of Trash.

The smell

Monday, August 24, 2009

Coming back to Brooklyn after a ten day temporary relocation to Kuala Lumpur was interesting. The 12-hour difference in time and 26-hour travel kind of killed any sense my body had of sleep and rythm, with the effect that I woke up at 11.30pm Sunday night, and had to do something until it was time to go to work.

After suggestions from anyone else in the world online and willing to advise on my predicament, a walk seemed to be a good idea. And it was. No matter where you are in New York, a 24-hour deli with coffee can be found. Sipping coffee in a park, listening to nocturnal creatures chirping in sync with traffic lights blinking was very nice. But one factor put a smear on this poetic moment: The smell.

I’ve read about it, I’ve heard about it, and now smelled it. August street trash. Walking ten blocks, I found four piles of putrid trash, some by themselves, some still covered by black bags. The smell emitting from these piles seemed to cover the entire neighbourhood, and having just showered felt less of a bliss, as I felt the stench fly to the fibres of my skin, hair and clothes.

Incidentally, the only other people roaming the streets were trash collectors in their big trucks, and as always I’m in awe of these heroes, whom without our society would be impossible, but seeing them tonight, working in this hellish environment, I’m lost for words.

For people who have lived here longer than I have: How long will this go on?

Reblog: Nate Page’s carved magazines

Thursday, August 20, 2009

These nifty pieces by artist Nate Page have been making the rounds on the internets; upcylcing if I ever did see it.

Carved magazine by Nate Page

Carved magazine by Nate Page

Carved magazines by Nate Page

Carved magazines by Nate Page

Via mktg via PSFK via Beautiful/Decay

Finding Away

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

As previously covered here, artist Kuros Zahedi likes to make stuff out of trash that other people save. His piece, Finding Away is crafted from the waste painstakingly chronicled and collected by San Franciscan blogger Ari Derfel over the course of one year.

Finding Away detail

Finding Away detail

Seattle-based trashies can check out the work at Bumbershoot, September 5-7 in the Northwest Rooms as part of Kerfuffle (The Uneasy Relationship Between Humanity and the Environment)—an amazing-sounding show of work dealing with waste and related topics that is FREE on the 4th.

And November 13-15, Finding Away will be shown in San Francisco as part of the green festival in that city.

Naples Remains

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Remember the Naples trash crisis? Photographer Gigi Cifali has an incredible series to help if you don’t. Click here to see it, it’s the box all the way to the right called “NAPLESREMAINS”. He also has some supercool shots of abandoned pools, so poke around—the artist’s bio says he was trained as a topographer but got bored staring at landscapes just to record their size.

Thanks for the tip, Jenny! I look forward to any juicy Naples trash gossip you stumble upon.

Plastic sheets

Monday, August 17, 2009

Remember when I told you I was excited to see what kinds of neat stuff came out of Maker Faire Africa? Case in point.

Paul Lloyd Sargent’s trash rivers

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Paul Lloyd Sargent is an artist who spreads his time around New York State—from Brooklyn to Syracuse to Clayton—making “rivers” out of trash which he displays in local galleries.

Example of a "trash river"

Example of a "trash river"

According to Sargent, this project aims “to comment on the way we artificially manage natural waterways in the U.S.  Typically I go to a community along the Great Lakes or St. Lawrence River and do some sort of official or guerrilla trash clean-up, then use the stuff I find to build an installation I call Freed: Maquette for an American River.  It’s a long story as to how I got here (based on a history I share with Abbie Hoffman up on the St. Lawrence River) but that’s the short of it.”

To collect materials for the project, Sargent and a “crew of river rats” navigate barges down the river, collecting trash collected under people’s waterfront homes.

River rat barge

River rat barge

The latest trash river will be constructed in Clayton, New York between the last week of August and Labor Day weekend. We look forward to updates on the work and its impact.

These trash rivers remind me of an installation trash artist Donna Conlon did once for which she made a river of plastic water bottles along the steps of an art museum in Costa Rica.

Thanks for the tip, Media. And thanks, Paul, for the photos and inspiration!

Cash for clunkers, Portland version

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Having cooled down a bit after my latest rant about Cash for clunkers I am happy to see that there are other responses to this folly. Unconsumption reported yesterday about a bike shop in Portland who have taken the matter into their own hands with a Cash for clunkers bike version programme. Only, they upcycle the usable parts of the clunker bikes, instead of throwing them away. What an idea, huh?

Can you see the trash?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Swedish Public Radio programme P3 Kultur today broadcasted an interview with me about garblogging, introducing me as a person “living a contemporary Mad Men-life as advocate and zeitgeist surfer in the capital of the World”. In other words, garbloggers are the it thing. We are still waiting to be invited to those rooftop pools though…

Our brief discussion centered around garblogging in general, and the differences in trash culture in the US and West Europe. I would say the most obvious thing is visibility of trash. Back home, our trash is well hidden in facilities that are always in close proximity (if not within) residential buildings. Over here, trash bags are all over the street every night (at this time of year, quite smelly, yes?).

Having lived in both places, I have to say that neither approach seems to make people more or less aware of the problems with our trash, which I must say is a rather intriguing insight. My conclusion is still that while public opinion and individual responsibility matters, legislation and regulation is the way to go. This comes, of course, from a belief that markets and our planet alike will do better while being under certain legislative restraints. In more blunt words, the invisible hand does not recycle. Would love other opinions on this, do comment!

(Also, apologizing for mishearing the program host, I accidentally replied ‘yes’ to the question ‘if I was living in Manhattan?’, I thought she asked were I was at the time. I, of course, live in Brooklyn.)

Trashy TED Talk

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Center—and discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—shares what he has seen on expeditions to that Texas-sized mass of swirling  plastic debris. Great content, a bit lackluster in the presentation.

Is this recyclable?

Monday, August 10, 2009

From August 19th to September 26th, gallery Under Minerva in Park Slope (656 5th Avenue) open their gates for the exhibition Is This Recyclable? Ad text reads

Artists in various media utilize found objects, recycled materials, ready-made objects and non-traditional materials for the creation of their artwork.

I say it sounds like fun! (Via The Indypendent.)

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