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King County EcoConsumer - a natural balance of consuming and conserving
King County EcoConsumer – a natural balance of consuming and conserving  

EcoConsumer Blog Archives

The EcoConsumer Blog ran from 2007 to 2013. It has been discontinued so that the EcoConsumer program can concentrate on other forms of social media and mainstream media.






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9 ways to greenify September

posted by: Tom Watson on Sep. 2, 2013

Okay, it's September now, most of your house guests are gone, and you probably aren't taking any more vacation time the next few weeks. Back to the real world, and maybe we'll all have a little more time now to help make the real world greener. So here are 9 ideas for reducing your environmental impact this month. Try to pick at least one of these - I will too - and do it.

1) Make less waste at a football or soccer game. Especially with the happy proliferation of good teams this year, many of us will be going to Husky Stadium or Century Link Field or another stadium for a game. Bring a reusable water bottle (follow the stadium's rules about that) or food in reusable containers.

2) Insulate your basement pipes. Find those easy-to-install foam pipe sleeves at nearly any hardware or home improvement store.

3) Set up your leaf composting system, even if it's just a place for your piles, so you're all ready when leaves start falling in earnest in late September or October.

4) Walk more to get places, while the weather's still nice.

5) Pick all your fruit. Get help if you need it, but don't let good fruit rot. Donate it to a food bank if you can't eat it all.

6) Winterize your wheels. Make sure your tires are at the right pressure. That will make you safe for wet and icy cold-weather driving, and you'll also get better mileage and use less gas. If you need new wipers, spend a little more and get higher-quality wipers that will last longer, reducing waste.

7) Clear your closet. It's season-change time, so if you have any summer clothes you never wore all summer this year, or cool-weather clothes you haven't worn for a year, donate them to a charity program.

8) Hit the farmers markets. Most are still open through September, and have a fantastic selection of fruits and veggies.

9) Care for your summer stuff. Clean off and do any needed maintenance on summer equipment, like your grill and lawn furniture, before you put them away. They'll last longer that way!

It's easy to get a little bummed that summer is almost over. But September has its own charms, so let's enjoy this ninth month of the year, and greenify it. Thanks!

You may also contact the King County EcoConsumer program manager online to ask a question or suggest a new blog topic.

(1) Comment(s)

posted by: dagracey on Dec. 5, 2013

Great post - especially on fruit and foodbanks - many think it's just canned goods, which it can be - mostly for logistics purposes, but the writer is correct they often do take fresh food during the week, on the days the foodbank is open to the public, such that it doesn't perish, including vegetables from the garden.


Bumbershoot asks an enviro question

posted by: Tom Watson on Sep. 2, 2013

Greatly enjoying the Bumbershoot arts and music festival at Seattle Center yesterday (it continues today, and I'll probably be back), I came across a little un-staffed display, just south of the big fountain. It had a sign in large lettering:

"Tell us what you are doing for the environment.
Write it down. Tack it up. Help us celebrate the actions that are making our world a better place."

There were post-it notes and markers, and a board where you could post your comments. Hundreds were stuck up there, with the usual mix of sincerity, brilliance, smart-aleck-ness, sarcasm and negativity. I wrote down a few:

Trying out a year w/out my car

eating dandelions

Oh, gosh. Honestly, not much

Loving nature and not killing it

I reuse my urine

I clean the beach (with a little heart drawing)


I read Michael Recycle to my students

Peace Be the Journey

Reciclar é vida!

I control weeds with Roundup and other herbicides! (a mean-looking guy posted that one while I was standing there)

Building a mural to remember the Duwamish River

Writing and talking (that was mine)

Reuse what I buy - Fix, Repaint, Repurpose

Stopping global warming by being really COOL

(If you're at Bumbershoot today, stop by and add your own!)

You may also contact the King County EcoConsumer program manager online to ask a question or suggest a new blog topic.


National Kale Day?

posted by: Tom Watson on Aug. 25, 2013

I first heard about this today, on Twitter. According to the National Kale Day website, this is a movement to celebrate the leafy vegetable kale, and the first Wednesday of October is National Kale Day. The organizers of this movement, or someone, have even started a petition to get President Obama to "Declare a new National Holiday, 'National Kale Day.'"

Now, I actually like kale, and I grow it in my garden. But I've become a little jaded about how trendy kale has become, in Seattle and elsewhere. And when I saw this website, linked to on Twitter in an apparently serious way. my first thought was that it's a spoof. I figured that some clever PR people working for the mainstream food industry thought up National Kale Day to try to make national Food Day - which is Oct. 24 and is a very legit day of food awareness - seem ridiculous. It could also be an effort to confuse people, since National Kale Day is Oct. 2 this year and Food Day is Oct. 24.

What do you think? Am I being paranoid? Maybe. I know that Kiwi magazine, a family magazine listed as one of the sponsors, is real, and the individuals listed as supporters seem pretty real.

But if National Kale Day is real, I think the organizers are making a mistake. Rather than focus only on one healthy food, why not be part of Food Day? Founded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and supported by a coalition of national and regional food movement leaders and organizations, Food Day is billed as "a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food, and a grassroots campaign for better food policies." Locally, there are some Food Day activities such as dinners and media events. Also, the King County EcoConsumer public outreach program that I manage does some media around Food Day, calling attention to issues like pesticides in foods, farmers markets, growing your own food, food waste prevention and more.

We won't be doing anything for National Kale Day. But I'm sure Stephen Colbert or Bill O'Reilly or other national media folks will, making fun of those silly liberal food advocates. National Kale Day - Ha ha ha! What a joke! Unlike, say, a can of macaroni and cheese loaded with chemicals. That's not silly at all.

Maybe instead of mocking National Kale Day, Stephen Colbert can mock the corporate food industry people who are so desperate to disparage Food Day that they had to come up with a subterfuge like this. Now that would be funny.

You may also contact the King County EcoConsumer program manager online to ask a question or suggest a new blog topic.


Beat those summer veggie gardening blues - 5 tips

posted by: Tom Watson on Aug. 17, 2013

Think back to the spring, when you started your veggie garden. You were full of hope.

By the way, have you noticed how trendy it is now to hate the word "hope"? From the right wing to the left wing, writers and speakers are saying, "Hope is a terrible word! Never hope for something! Just do it! Take action! Don't say you hope something will happen! Don't be hopeful!"

Personally, I try to take action whenever I can, but I don't think a little hope is so bad either, for the things you personally can't control. Saying "I hope I quit smoking" obviously wouldn't get the job done by itself, but why not hope that Egypt will get its governmental act together and people will stop dying there?

But we're talking gardening today, and actually you can control, to a large degree, how many veggies and herbs you get from your garden. The biggest deterrent to gardening success, I've found, is actually this season we're in right now, late summer. This is when people slack off on their gardening, and stuff rots on the vine or your whole garden dies. So here are five tips to help avoid that:

1) Don't plant a bigger veggie garden than you can take care of. (That one's for next year.)

2) Water the darn thing. You've got to be religious, especially when it's hot, about not letting your garden dry up.

3) If you have veggies or herbs in containers, check them every day to see if they need water. Plants in pots and boxes dry up super-fast.

4) Make sure - double-sure, with a back-up plan - that your garden will get watered and harvested when you're on vacation.

5) Stay on top of harvesting yourself. This is crucial right now. You might have to harvest every day in late August and September. Pick stuff when it's prime, including the leaves of herbs. Give it away if you can't eat it.

I "hope" these tips didn't bring you down, or make you feel guilty. This should really be a fun time for gardening, finally eating all that stuff you've worked so hard to grow. Just keep putting a little thought and work into the garden consistently the rest of the summer, and enjoy it. I hope your garden is awesome this year!

You may also contact the King County EcoConsumer program manager online to ask a question or suggest a new blog topic.


The "sharing economy" comes to your kitchen

posted by: Tom Watson on Aug. 17, 2013

All right, this is cool. You know those home and garden tool lending libraries, like the ones in Seattle in Phinney Ridge, West Seattle and Northeast Seattle?

Well, today, thanks to Twitter, I learned that there's a new version: Kitchen tool lending libraries.

Maybe you already knew about these, but it was news to me, and I love it. It's a fantastic concept, a big step forward for reuse, and another step toward making the so-called "sharing economy" work for people in the real world.

Leave it to Portland to lead the way on something like this. As much as I and lots of other Seattle folks like to make fun of Portland and make references to "Portlandia" and all that, it really seems like more great, practical green ideas come out of Portland than anywhere else.

Apparently Kitchen Share Southeast in Southeast Portland is the first kitchen tool-sharing program in the Northwest, maybe in North America. As described on their website, they offer "dehydrators, canning equipment, ice-cream makers, juicers, mixers, bread makers, and more."

Make that lots more. Check out their inventory pages and you'll see apple corers, pasta makers, baking pans, pots, small grills, mandolin slicers (ouch! - those are dangerous!), meat grinders and on and on.

They're located in a church, and they charge a membership fee, as do most tool libraries. I like the way they describe the fee system: "Members will have unlimited access to free one-week loans of all of Kitchen Share's tools. Members will also have access to skill-shares and workshops, whether free or for a small fee to cover materials. There is a one-time membership donation of $10-$30, sliding scale, but no one is turned away for lack of funds. Your membership will never expire."

According to Local Tools on Twitter, Toronto will also have a kitchen tool library soon (called the Kitchen Library, and scheduled to open Sept. 26), and Portland's second one is in the works.

C'mon Seattle! We need one of these. The Toronto one will be next to or part of an existing tool library, and maybe that would be a good model here. Some tool libraries might even already be mixing in kitchen tools with their home and garden tools, but I think it makes sense to keep them at least a little bit separate.

You don't make pasta every day. But if you want to, why should you have to own your own pasta maker? The kitchen tool lending library is definitely an idea whose time has come.

You may also contact the King County EcoConsumer program manager online to ask a question or suggest a new blog topic.


Laundry's gone - Is it a wash?

posted by: Tom Watson on Aug. 16, 2013

On 14th Avenue and Columbia Street in Seattle, next to Seattle University, there’s a large commercial hospital-laundry service operated by several major area hospitals. Or, I should say there was.

About three weeks ago they moved out, and the building is empty now. I know this because my wife Linda and I live very close, and it’s big news in our neighborhood. That big parcel, half a block on the north side of Columbia between 13th and 14th, will be redeveloped. Seattle U. will probably buy it. The rumor is that they want to put a new dorm there.

There are several green angles here. One is that the property could become “greener” if it is now used for housing, since urban density is considered an eco-plus (as opposed to suburban sprawl). I’d say almost for sure it will either become a Seattle U. dorm or another Seattle U. building, or privately-developed condos/apartments. I guess the green urban-density argument would only work if it was condos/apartments.

Then the other part of the equation is why they moved, and where to. According to that story in the Puget Sound Business Journal, they moved to a “super-green” new plant in Auburn that is great on conserving water and energy. That’s good. But as the story also points out, now they are trucking the laundry a lot farther, which isn’t so green.

Personally, I am sad to see that laundry close in the Central District. Sure, they were emitting some chemicals into the air, although when I smelled a smell, it was mostly that clean laundry smell. And the big trucks in the parking lot would pump out a little pollution. But it was a solid, needed business – commercial laundries are reuse businesses, in a way – serving the nearby healthcare industry and providing more than a hundred jobs in the inner city. That used to be a little light-industrial strip there, between 12th and 14th near Cherry, but those businesses are pretty much gone now. I think the laundry was the last one. Just a block or so away on 12th, an old candy warehouse is now Von Trapp’s, a huge, super-trendy beer hall with indoor bocce courts.

But change happens, and maybe it will be for the best. I think the City and the neighbors will try to make sure the new building, whatever it turns out to be, is as green as possible. If Seattle is becoming a city of restaurants and coffee shops and offices and condos and no more light industry, at least it is becoming greener in some ways too.

You may also contact the King County EcoConsumer program manager online to ask a question or suggest a new blog topic.


Pitching paint

posted by: Tom Watson on Aug. 11, 2013

Well, I had some funny ideas for how to begin this blog posting, which is about paint hardening. But when I typed them out and saw them on the screen, they all seemed obscene and dumb. There's something about the word "hard" that brings out the sixth-grade boy in all of us, I guess (which is why a local newscaster, years ago, decided not to use her real last name of Hard and picked an alias instead - but I digress).

So instead of making bad and gross puns, I'll play it straight. Do you know how to dispose of leftover, unusable latex paint in the Seattle area? Well, you're not supposed to take it to a household hazardous waste facility or mobile collection location, like you are with oil paint. Since latex paint, which is water-based, isn't that hazardous, it was decided that people should just put it in the garbage, BUT only if they harden it first.

So that's one of the household chores I did today. We're cleaning out our basement and had some old latex paint in there. I got some cheap, standard kitty litter and stirred it into partly filled cans of paint. I had done it before and pretty much know the drill now, but it still is never as easy and fast as you hope.

The lids were a bit of a pain to get off. Also, we had a couple 5-gallon plastic buckets with a little latex paint in them, left by the contractor who painted our house several years ago. And as I was hardening those, I discovered what is probably a common painter trick: Hey, if you don't want to go to the trouble of disposing of a small paint roller, just bury it down at the bottom of the paint you leave behind for your client. Or maybe the painters accidentally lost their rollers in the paint, and didn't want to go to the trouble of fishing them out. But for whatever reason, I found four rollers at the bottom of those two buckets of paint.

But heck, no problem. I would have been more annoyed if we wanted to use that paint for touch-up work, which was supposedly his intent for leaving it with us, but having the rollers in there didn't really make it harder to harden. I actually had to use less kitty litter, so I guess it was a good thing.

So, if you are told that your local hazardous waste drop-off place doesn't take latex paint and you need to harden it yourself, try to be understanding. It's a money issue for local governments. They can't afford to put a lot of time and money into handling something that's not that toxic. And hardening paint isn't that hard, once you get used to it.

Here's one last tip. Once your paint has hardened, leave the lid off when you put the paint can in your garbage can, so the garbage collection person can see that you are not putting liquid paint in the garbage, which you are definitely not supposed to do. Happy hardening! And thanks!

You may also contact the King County EcoConsumer program manager online to ask a question or suggest a new blog topic.


Community and garbage

posted by: Tom Watson on Aug. 8, 2013

Community-based solid waste management is hard. Personally, the only place I've ever heard of it working - and it's still a work in progress, and probably always will be - is on Lopez Island, in the San Juan Islands in Washington state.

This July 26, 2013, Islands Weekly article by Lorna Reese, while not exactly impartial reporting, still seems like a clear-eyed and detailed report on how the residents of Lopez Island took control of their solid waste system. I have been following the Lopez "dump" for years, since I have a couple friends who spend a lot of time on Lopez, and I have visited it twice, under the old system.

This is my oversimplified-I'm-sure understanding of what happened on Lopez. The County ran the garbage transfer station, aka the dump. Garbage and recyclables collected there were shipped to the mainland by truck and boat (probably ferry) to be landfilled or processed. The dump has been run for many years by Neil, a laid-back, hippy-looking, dedicated and efficient guy. He helped incorporate lots of recycling and set up the terrific “Take-It-Or-Leave-It” shed (also known locally as “Neil’s Mall”), where people leave and take reusable items.

Then a couple years ago San Juan County, which operated the dump, wanted to turn its operation over to a private waste management company on the mainland. The Take-It-Or-Leave-It would probably have gone away, as would have Neil’s job. Island residents rebelled, and through a long, laborious, time-consuming process they created the new citizen-run Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District, which now manages the dump. They have kept its services and retained the staff.

Several times over the past two years I’ve been asked by the Lopez volunteers who have been involved with this for advice on where to find markets for recyclables and stuff like that. As District board member Dan Post points out in the article, it’s a constant struggle to find “viable mainland markets” for the recyclables.

So what’s the bottom line? Community solid waste management is not just a fantasy. It can be done, especially in a rural or island community with lots of community-minded volunteers willing to pitch in to coordinate things, raise money and even do some of the dirty work. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it can be extremely rewarding to take control of your own destiny as a community to fulfill a basic community need (dealing with garbage). The alternative is usually turning it over to corporate interests, which we’ve already done with nearly every other aspect of our lives.

And yes, I know I used the word “community” five times in that last paragraph. Community is where it’s at.

You may also contact the King County EcoConsumer program manager online to ask a question or suggest a new blog topic.


Reuse - How and why

posted by: Tom Watson on Aug. 6, 2013

Like many enviro types, I often parrot the party line that reducing and reusing are even better than recycling. It's the party line because it's actually true, in most cases.

But today I want to put my money where my mouth is and delve a little deeper into the benefits and challenges of reuse.

My definition of reuse is broad: Using stuff to its maximum potential, to avoid buying new stuff. Recycling, on the other hand, while also awesome, usually involves more processing and transportation, breaking down a product or packaging to its basic materials and turning those materials into a new product or packaging. A few more quick observations:

- Reuse creates jobs. The used clothing industry for example, including thrift shops and consignment stores and charity collection efforts, employs hundreds of thousands of people.

- Reuse saves money. It’s super-simple: Use something longer, or repair it, and you don’t have to buy a new one.

- Reuse is all about repair and maintenance and upkeep. Many of us fail on this much of the time, especially me. It’s often easier to buy a new something than to keep your old something in good operating condition or to get it fixed (or fix it yourself). That goes for cars, tools, clothes, toys, appliances, furniture, your home, everything.

- Reuse is also about quality. Newer stuff typically isn’t made as well. A 30-year-old used garden rake you buy at a yard sale will probably last much longer for you than the new plastic one you buy at the big-box home improvement store.

- Reuse can really, seriously, actually help us reduce climate change. I’ve often repeated and paraphrased this Bill McKibben quote from a few years back: Overconsumption is the number one North American environmental problem. That’s because it’s one of our biggest contributions to climate change, and guess what: Reuse directly addresses overconsumption very effectively, while still generating jobs.

So let’s do it. We can drastically cut back on our purchases of new stuff. It’s easy these days, with all the great used stuff available, and the new “sharing economy.” And we can take better care of our existing stuff, which is also easier than ever before (want to repair something? – just check YouTube for a DIY video, for pretty much anything).

And maybe I say this just to cover my own self, but whenever I talk about changes we should make, I always like to add: Don’t feel guilty. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t buy stuff used, or for not doing enough for the environment in any respect. That’s not the point. Do what you can, and at least once in awhile think about how you can bring more reuse into your life. And then do it. Thanks! From all of us.

You may also contact the King County EcoConsumer program manager online to ask a question or suggest a new blog topic.


How to recycle

posted by: Tom Watson on Aug. 3, 2013

1) Don't think about it too much. Think more about using less stuff, and reusing, and buying stuff with less packaging, instead of worrying so much about recycling it later.

2) Realize it's not just YOUR job. Manufacturers would like you to think it's all on you, and that if the plastics recycling rate is appallingly low, for example, which it is, then it's all your fault for not doing it right. But it's actually mostly their fault for not making it easier. You can let them know you want more recyclable products and packaging, and less packaging.

3) Don't hurt yourself. I've often drawn blood trying to clean out a can for recycling, or cutting what I thought was unrecyclable plastic off a recyclable plastic container. If preparing something for recycling is too hard and involves sharp objects, it's okay to just put that item in the garbage instead.

4) Enjoy it. I'm talking about recycling collection - putting stuff in the recycling bin at home, or at work or at a restaurant for example. It's fun, it's a wonderful thing, it's helping reduce climate change and pollution, and it's not hard. If it seems hard or confusing in a certain situation, you don't have to do it that one time

5) Set a quiet example. You're not a saint if you recycle, and other people aren't the devil's spawn if they don't. Just quietly recycle (this includes collecting food waste and yard waste for composting) as much as you can, at home and at work. People will see how easy it is, and that it's not a big deal or a pain in the butt, and they'll want to do it too.

You may also contact the King County EcoConsumer program manager online to ask a question or suggest a new blog topic.


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Updated: Oct. 17, 2013

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