Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Personal Sustainability Part 1

'Sustainable' seems to mean different things to different people.  The Websters Dictionary defines it as "of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged".  So many things in our world are labeled 'sustainable' these days...I think it has become an overused greenwashing adjective.

So what does it really mean?  In relation to my life, I like to think of it as an ideal.  A sustainable lifestyle leaves a light footprint.  So if we take a look at the things we consume, and try to reduce the amounts expended in our own personal pursuit of happiness, then that would be my definition of sustainable, or at least MORE sustainable.  Since I've been told life is a journey, not a destination, I'm going to make the assumption that sustainability is a moving target, and try some things on for size.

We use water, electricity, gas, and food, and produce garbage and laundry.  I've tried to reduce the laundry - my son thinks that if a piece of cloth has touched his body for a millisecond it can't possibly be worn again until it has been laundered.  I find myself secretly refolding his clothes and putting them back in his drawer.  He thinks I do an enormous amount of laundry because things reappear quickly for him to wear again.  Score one for mom.

Rainwater harvesting is becoming a hot topic, and I found a product the other day that leads me to believe I can try this without spending an enormous amount of money.  Some states have actually outlawed rainwater harvesting, legislating ownership of the water falling from the sky and assigning it to the government.  The product I found is carried by Don Dubberly of Catch the Rain, and it's simple diverter.  We had drainage issues on our property (areas of flooding) and ended up with enclosed gutters leading to French drains and pipes moving water from our property to the creek.  Whatever idiot designed the product we have has never heard of mosquitoes.  The pipes have box drains inserted at intervals in areas that flooded.  Each drain has a recessed area below the pipe that retains about two inches of water, even when the pipes are dry.  And we have seven of them in our yard.

The first year we had them the mosquitoes were so thick and constant I rarely went in the back yard.  One day I ended up taking a screwdriver, drill and a hammer and decorating the drains with numerous holes to allow the standing water to drain.  Problem solved.  But back to the diverter.  This is a piece of guttering that is inserted into a downspout, and attached to a rainbarrel.  It diverts the water into the barrel just until the barrel is full, so that there is no overflow.  This would allow me to install it into the system I already have with no disruption, so it's definitely going to happen.  Soon.

Another reason to use rainbarrels:  I was listening to Randy Johnson of Texas Discovery Gardens last Saturday, talking about compost tea.  I've made compost tea before, but not had the best success with it.  And now I know why.  Apparently using tap water is not a good idea, since the chemicals in our water discourage microbial growth.  Rainwater only, Randy says.  So I will try it and see if I have better results.

Another tenant on the production side of sustainability is garbage.  And Americans produce a lot of it.  The EPA says that each American produces four lbs of garbage daily.  That seems way too much to me.  We recycle quite a bit (Dallas makes it so easy), and use Freecyle for things that are still in working order but that we don't want to have to sell.  We also compost - leaves of course, but also our table scraps, using black soldier fly grubs.  These grubs are the neatest science experiment you could ever have in your backyard, and they're also a great conversation starter.  "Hey, did you know my grubs can completely consume a fish in under 24 hours?"  For those who just have to see it to believe it, here you go:

Not that this is a competition to see what cool sciency stuff you can put in your back yard...but it is fun to see things being put to use rather than just going in the trash.  More later. 

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