Lessons from the animal kingdom

There’s a lot we can learn about better ways to interact with the environment from our fellow creatures. Edo and Pyx, much to our amusement and edification, make it their daily challenge to find new ways to reuse old things.

Caught hiding in their new fort

Our tireless feline upcyclers

As imaginative and dedicated as they as they are, they can’t hold a candle to Norman.

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222 million tons, live in L.A.

There are few things that I enjoy more than making people think and laugh, and hopefully I’ll be doing a bit of both in L.A. on October 30, 2012 at the CODA Electric Vehicle Speaker Series. It would be great to meet a few of my fellow bloggers and followers there, so I’m hoping some of you live nearby and are available. As a bonus, you’ll get to test drive a CODA.

If you’d like to attend, RSVP to concierge@codaautomotive.com by October 29.

What happened to the pizza dough ball?

It’s a Montreal thing–and a darn clever one at that. It’s simple, practical, sustainable, cheap, and edible. It is a ball of pizza dough, placed at the center of the pizza before cooking, that protects the pizza from the cardboard cover. And yet, it hasn’t caught on. Instead, people gush over something that is wasteful, unsustainable, and proprietary: a plastic tripod that is made in China and shipped to pizza shops all over the United States.

Pizza with plastic tripod

There is a better (and tastier) solution

Yes, I know. Take-away pizza is hardly the smart choice to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Those boxes they come in (not to mention the fuel to bring your cheesy pie home) are sinful. But, at least the box is compostable–that plastic tripod has no redeeming feature.

The expense of those tripods alone puzzles me. Its almost like we want to be wasteful.

Yet there is a simple, sustainable option: the pizza dough ball.

And so, while waiting for my pizza at Fresh Brothers, I found my calling. I am going to nag, pester, annoy, and shame pizza shops–starting right here. So, I asked the store manager about the store’s sustainability practices. I asked if he had heard of the pizza dough ball. I searched my phone to find an image of a pizza dough ball. I asked how much those plastic bits cost, and about storage and transportation.

The manager humoured me, took my email address and promised a response. I am still waiting. I think, I could use some help.

Unless you really believe that the bottom of the pizza box really that much more sanitary than the lid that we’d need to insert a plastic tripod in the center of our pies, would you help me convince pizza joint owners all over the world to change their practice?

Especially since that cooked ball of dough is rather tasty with a little bit of salt and parmesan.

(To see what the dough ball looks like, visit http://benlefthome.blogspot.com/2011/01/pizza-update.html)

Looking for other wasteful creations for your pizza? Look right here: http://www.yankodesign.com/2012/02/15/neat-pizza-fingers/

and here: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/07/the-3-big-advances-in-the-technology-of-the-pizza-box/242116/

And if you don’t believe that people gush about those tripod things, just read an excerpt from this book: http://books.google.com/books?id=m6QsJPZcWUUC&lpg=PA7&dq=pizza%20box%20tripod&pg=PA5#v=onepage&q&f=false

Dirt cheap

It’s normal to worry about your children — especially if you’re a new parent. Are they getting the right food? Are they too hot, or too cold? Is there excessive stress in their lives? Are they getting too much exposure to the sun? There’s just so much to get right.

Picture of a worm on newspaper

Man's best friend

But here’s something that never occurred to me: it seems that it’s normal to worry about your worms too — especially if you’re new to worm husbandry.

Until last Sunday, I barely gave worms any thought. Before then, they were just little creatures I avoided stepping on after a good rain. I didn’t have the responsibility of having worms under my care … nor did I face the prospect of nurturing a colony of red wrigglers through its next few generations.

That all changed when Bonnie Lee and I attended Dig into Dirt, the first of five Sustainable Sundays events at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. We were there to learn about soil, and in the process we learned a whole bunch about worms and composting, something we’ve been meaning to look into for a while.

The session started with us handling a few worms, and starting to appreciate what interesting little creatures they are. Mine was feisty, a lovely shade of red, surprisingly strong, and fascinating to watch move. I’m not ashamed to say that I felt a kind of affection for the little fellow-gal (she-he is both, as are all his-her brethren), and a sudden desire to bring a few red wrigglers into my home.

Of course, this wasn’t just about discovering an appreciation for worms; keeping worms and composting simply make sense. When you think about it, an ecosystem is an amazing thing. Fed by energy from the sun (usually), it cycles stuff (minerals, carbon, and such) through various forms — forms as fascinating and varied as red wrigglers, Rafflesia arnoldii, naked mole rats, Tiny Tim, and orchid mantises. Whenever we throw things away, we take stuff out of the ecosystem we belong to, and give it to whatever ecosystems thrive in toxic (to us) landfills and sludge. Given how much we throw away, it stands to reason that, eventually, the ecosystem we belong to will run out of stuff; the first thing on that list looks like it will be phosphorus.

Worms can be our partners in helping keep the stuff we need to live available for us to reuse. They produce castings and worm tea which you can use in your garden, not only saving you money, but also quite literally turning the things you throw away into food… and they’re kind of cute in their own way.

Some fun facts about worms and worm composting:

  • Worms eat one half of their weight every day.
  • You can compost indoors — and no, compost doesn’t stink; it smells sweet.
  • Composting can be cheap; all you need to start are some red wrigglers, two Rubbermaid containers, and a drill. (If you don’t mind spending the money, and you’d like something more attractive, there are a few options out there.)
  • A study of 16 households that compost in Vancouver found that the average household avoided putting 915 pounds of waste in the trash each year.

Do you compost? If so, feel free to share tips here — we’ll need them. If not, what’s stopping you?