Eco-sins in Suburbia

5 k-cup coffee pods
5 K-Cups by Kenamu (2006) via Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:K-Cup-Silo.gif

Since moving back into my childhood home with my parents this past fall, I’ve noticed I’ve fallen into a number of non-environmentally-friendly behaviors (“eco-sins”) I commit daily that I rarely would have indulged in while living at Isabella Freedman. A litany of all my transgressions will take up more than one post, but here’s a sampling:

Keurig Coffee Maker
I love drinking coffee. And I really like the mindless simplicity of sticking at prefilled pod into the Keurig K-Cup coffee maker in my parents’ kitchen. I have been slightly obsessed with K-cups (specifically the coffee pods, not the bra size) since I worked as an intern at an organization that had one in their break room several years ago. I got up to make coffee 5 times a day just because I loved the machine so much. I must have been one of their most-hypercaffeinated interns, though.

Anyway, the plastic waste generated from the profusion of empty pods drives me kind of crazy. (Not to mention the lost precious nitrogen in the coffee grounds that could be returned to the soil.) I proposed to my dad that we could get a reuseable K-Cup pod and just keep refilling it with coffee grounds. “That’s ridiculous,” he said, “It defeats the whole purpose of the K-cup machine v. a normal coffee maker.” Which is sort of true.

Styrofoam Egg Cartons
The eggs my parents buy at the grocery come in a styrofoam carton. Styrofoam! At Freedman when I was in charge of caring for the chickens over the winter, I was also the defacto head of the Isabella Freedman Egg Cartel. As the many-times reused paper-cartons would pile up full of fresh eggs on the kitchen counter* in Beit Adamah, I would whisper to folks around campus, “Psst. I’ve got some very nice chicken eggs today. I can hook you up!” I was also pretty good about collecting the empty cartons to be be refilled with eggs.
(*We kept our fresh eggs on the counter instead of in the fridge. It turns out you don’t have to refrigerate fresh chicken eggs until you wash them and remove the natural protective coating.

So I miss my fluffy dinosaurs. I miss collecting eggs from chickens. And I especially miss the social cachet of being an Egg mafioso (sort of.) Transitioning to store-bought eggs (from probably unhappy chickens) in a styrofoam carton was almost too much to bear.
Eggland’s Best explains some of its rationale for using PS- #6 cartons. Based on that information, I contacted the local curbside recycling pickup company and it turns out that they will accept the polystyrene (aka styrofoam) egg cartons for recycling. Guilt is now slightly alleviated. Chickens are probably still unhappy.

Paper Plates & Paper Towels
Both paper plates and paper towels are super convenient. However, I don’t understand why my parents go through so many paper plates when they have a dishwasher. The inconvenience factor is only slightly increased with the real plate (you have to load and unload the dishwasher), I’m not sure about the energy and water costs of running the dishwasher as compared to the manufacture of paper plates. Paper towels are handy for cleanups and absorbing oil/grease from cooking, but I try to draw the line at using them to dry my hands or produce. We have kitchen towels and a high efficiency washing machine. (But I still sometimes use paper towels and paper plates.)

Kitchen Scraps in Trash
This is a difficult cultural adjustment. I love composting: Worm bins, backyard piles, city pickup, but especially Freedman’s gargantuan compost pile that carefully curated and turned over several months. It is the ultimate destination ofthe leftovers of the dining hall and the chicken’s favorite buffet. Because the Freedman compost pile “cooks” hot enough (at least 145 deg F to kill weed seeds and pathogens), we would just chuck all biodegradeable kitchen waste in there, including oils, dairy and meat scraps.

Because our area doesn’t have food waste composting, chucking my used tea bags, apple cores and other nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps into the regular trash made me kind of sad. I used to have a worm bin – which is great for things like egg shells, apple cores, tea-bags and coffee grounds (but not too much citrus), but am reluctant to start a new one due to my unpredictably nomadic lifestyle.

Red Wigglers (compost worms) are dedicated eaters, but you need to manage their home carefully because 1) they’re tiny and they don’t have teeth (which means it take them longer to eat stuff) 2) they’re sensitive to acidity (easy on the orange peels) and 3) need to maintain proper moisture level (too dry, they die. Too wet, they drown and/or get stinky because of increase anerobic decomposition from lack of aeration.)

I ran a Google-search of the phrase “eco-sins” (which I certainly didn’t make up) and I noticed an interesting phenomenon: The first search result was an article from Oregon Public Broadcasting about Grist Magazine’s humorous participatory “eco-sins confession” to help raise awareness and funds for Earth Day. Many of the rest of the results appear to be from conservative bloggers and radio personalities mocking the pseudo-religious piety of the environmental movement.

“Sin” and “confession” definitely have religious connotations to them, but I suspect the flavor will differ depending on the religion. I’m using “sin” in the context of “thing that I do that I wish I did differently” without implying I adhere to a belief system that requires me to worship the Earth. That said, the idea that one’s religious commitment is measured by observance of particular actions/restrictions/rituals (“praxis”) rather than straight up belief (“I believe in recycling!”) is very much a product of my own exposure to Judaism.

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