Saturday 27 February 2010


A UK study found that people throw away seven times their own body weight each year, except none of it ever goes away. Some of it builds up in landfills, creating methane that worsens climate change. Some of it washes into the sea and kills ocean life, or collects at the centre of currents, like the Texas-sized patch of floating rubbish in the Pacific. Almost all of it is unnecessary.

Of course, waste is hard to avoid – we all buy things from the store, and most of them have packaging or wrapping that must be disposed of. You can cut your rubbish fees and environmental damage, though, by turning your rubbish a new life as something else. For example:

Paper: This accounts for 33 percent of our rubbish, and all of it is unnecessary. Use it again by giving it to children to draw on, and when they are done with it, you can tear it up and mix it in your compost. Newspaper or cardboard can be spread over an area where you plan to plant to keep weeds away; just cut holes in it to plant seedlings, and weight it down with stones if necessary.

Food waste: Edible leftovers can be made into quiche, mixed with eggs and milk and baked as a pie. Overripe but not rotten fruit can be juiced, frozen or made into jam. Make a compost bin in your back garden or on your land, or buy worms and put them in a box with your raw food waste – vegetable trimmings, old fruit and so on. Raw or cooked food can be given to chickens or pigs.

Plastic containers: If they are small and transparent, make them into sprouting containers. An Indian restaurant near us gives out its food in clear tubs, and once the box is empty, I clean it and punch two holes on each side near the top. Then I fill them with 50 grams of mung beans, which over the next few days turns into 200 grams of nutritious sprout salad that I can eat for lunch. Since a 500g bag of mung beans costs 1.80 euros at the health food store, that is ten lunches for 18 cents each.

If they are large and transparent, turn them upside down and make them into coldframes for seedlings. You might want to raise them slightly so that just a crack of air can get underneath, enough for the plants to breathe but not enough to let frost in.

Bottles: The top of a plastic soda bottle – say, a two-litre Pepsi bottle -- can be cut off and used as a funnel, if you are changing your oil or pouring liquid into containers. The bottom can be turned upside-down and put over seedlings, as with the plastic boxes. You could cut the funnel off, turn it upside down and place it pointing into the bottom half, and create a rainwater collector. Or you can leave the bottle intact, punch a few holes in the bottom and stick it in the soil next to your vegetables, and pour water into it – the water will soak more slowly into the earth, go straight to the roots and not evaporate as quickly.

Ashes: Excellent for soil, and you can make washing liquid or soap out of it. I have not done this myself, but hope to try in the next few weeks.

Clothes: Old socks are ideal cleaning rags, pants with tears can be made into patches, and most old clothes can be stuffed into attics or walls for insulation.

Furniture: Can usually be repaired or re-used, or donated to people who can use it. When I lived in a college town, May 15 and August 15 were Scavenging Day, the day to upgrade one's belongings by digging through dumpsters -- Sorority Row had the best stock. Old refrigerators can become coldframes or sunken cold boxes, wooden furniture can become firewood, mattresses can be insulation. Use your imagination.

Of course, even better than not throwing things away is not buying them. More on that later.

Photo: Eight tubs of takeout food from last year, now four days of lunches.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Monday 15 February 2010

Day of Love

Nine years ago I was working at a Missouri newspaper, and was asked to interview some people around town for one of those standard feature stories on Valentine's Day. I've never been a fan of Valentine's Day myself; I don't think it's a coincidence that it, and many other holidays, became gift-giving rituals in the last few decades, when everyone was urged to spend.

So I tried to be a little more balanced than the usual articles I saw. I observed that there were actually three saints named Valentine, and sources disagree on which one supposedly inspired the holiday. I not only interviewed local people who were making elaborate plans -- one man was buying his girlfriend a bouquet of flowers whose names began with the first letter of the girlfriend's name -- but also a man who said he didn't observe it.

"I try to be nice to her every day, not just on this one day," [he] said.

Finally, I called Kalle Lasn of Adbusters magazine to talk about why Valentine's Day has become so massive in recent years -- the biggest card holiday of the year, passing Mother's Day and Christmas. We talked about how people used to observe holidays in a much more personal and modest way before the energy window, and how even our idea of romantic love is a product of the consumerist age.

Unfortunately, that last part was probably pushing it, and was cut for publication.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Monument in Dublin

The Girl and I passed this during our expedition to Dublin, sitting in someone's front yard on a busy street. I wondered what "deaging" was -- thinking DEE-ging -- until it occured to me it probably reads "de-aging."

Ireland is full of little mysteries like this. If someone in this ordinary brick house discovered eternal life, shouldn't I have heard about it? And if it's a secret, why put up a monument?

Tuesday 9 February 2010

From the pulpit

I delivered three homilies this weekend – Saturday night Mass and two Sunday morning – on climate change, and priests and parishioners alike seemed pleased with them.

I was there because Catholic leaders are donating some of their still-considerable weight to the fight against climate change. Pope Benedict gave an address on the environment on New Year’s Day, and late last year the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference released a statement called “The Cry of the Earth” calling for each parish to host speakers on climate change.

Our group, FADA, have had a strong relationship to local churches since we formed four years ago -- our members have spoken during Masses, addressed church groups and Catholic schools, and written articles on the Long Emergency for the church bulletins. We even have a nun among our core members, and it was she, Sister Maureen, who approached the churches. While another FADA member spoke at another church nearby, I spoke in in Ballymaney, at the church of Chill Mhuire (pronounced Kill Weera – no, seriously).

I had to try to cram into seven minutes a course in climatology, a response to climate sceptics, examples of how we can cut our usage, and some inspirational words at the end – but in the end it was as good as it would get, and many in the congregation spoke approvingly on the way out. We passed out fliers for more information, and perhaps we can draw more people into our various projects – gardens, elder interviews, food-sharing clubs and so on.

The longer I work at this, the more I see the advantages of working through existing institutions. When we simply advertise a talk on, say, climate change, perhaps five people show up. When we have spoken to schools, clubs or churches, we reach hundreds of people at once.

Friday 5 February 2010


If anyone lives in County Kildare and is interested, I will be giving a talk from the pulpit of the Chill Muire church, tomorrow evening at 7 pm and Sunday morning at 10 am and 11:30 am.