A Broad Abroad

The last few months have been rather busy, and I am happy to report that I am taking a break. A European break.

Yes, I leave Friday afternoon for Germany, where I will stay for a few days before heading on to Copenhagen. The trip isn't all for pleasure, though. I am presenting my thesis at the Association of Internet Researchers annual conference, my first real conference presentation.

My mom is flying half way across the world to attend my panel, which makes me feel both slightly embarrassed and incredibly supported. I think I need to realize that growing up doesn't mean that your parents stop being proud of you. Mom never got to go to soccer games (an athlete I am not), so I am happy that she can come and support me at my academic events. Hmm, do we need a new "mom" demographic? Academic mom? Scholar mom? As long as it's not hockey mom.

Zeph and I are going on this adventure together, which means that the adorable kittens are being cared for by a tag-team of our roommate and a friend. Between the two of them (the people, that is) the kittens will surely get fed and their box will get cleaned. But it is so hard to leave the little furballs behind!

I will be traveling with a computer, however, so the blog will hopefully be updated a few times. I won't confine myself to topics that fit the green mission of this blog, but I am interested in seeing if Europe is the environmental utopia that American's always think it is.

Auf Wiedersehen!

My Carbon Addiction

I've already admitted I don't own a car, and I'm not ready yet to delve into the carbon cost of food, so what carbon am I talking about today? The kind in your soda, of course!

Yes, always a fan of the double entendre, this post is dedicated to the carbon emissions required to produce and ship carbonated beverages. Carbon, carbon everywhere, even in your drink.

The onset of my addiction happened just about the same time Zeph and I started shopping at the farmer's market. We were still making trips to the grocery once a week for the "essentials" that we couldn't buy at the market. My "essential" was carbonated water - crystal geyser lemon water, to be exact. I went through about two liters a week, and at my worst I bought two of the small four-packs. This had to stop.

"Why?" you say? Let's talk about the energy in my carbonated water (without getting too exact with the numbers). There is energy required to make the bottles my water came in, as well as the little plastic ring that held together the bottles if I bought the four-pack. Then the bottles need to be filled, and of course they need to be carbonated, which requires more energy.

Then the bottles have to be trucked from heaven-knows-where to the store, where I purchase them. I don't drive my groceries home, so that's the only step that doesn't use carbon-based energy in this whole process. The water get stored in my refrigerator until I drink it, after which the bottles get picked up at my house and taken to the recycling plant, using more energy to turn them back in to new plastic bottles.

As you can see, this process is a bit problematic.

I could just drink still water out of my tap, but that isn't nearly as enjoyable. Plus, still water does not a good mojito make. And, honestly, I refuse to give up my little pleasures in life. All that does is create a bunch of grumpy people who bemoan how hard it is to live a greener life. It doesn't have to be hard people! You just have to find creative solutions.

As is the case with a majority of green solutions, I looked to the past. Gin and tonic has been around for quite some time, so I knew that fizzy water existed before the invention of the PET bottle. I poked around and found some seltzer bottles, but most of them require small cartridges to carbonate the water. Trashing a metal cannister every time I want to carbonate my water doesn't seem all that environmentally friendly.

So I poked around some more and found a company called SodaClub that manufactures counter-top carbonation devices. I did some research and found that the carbonation systems sold by SodaClub were preferred over other seltzer bottles by far, so I decided to go ahead and give it a shot.

The only decision left to make was which model to get. The cheaper model has larger bottles, but they are still made of plastic. Not exactly the route I wanted to go. The more expensive model doesn't carbonate as much water per bottle, but the bottles are made out of glass - glass that, unless I break it, will never have to be replaced. That appealed to me. A lot. Decision made.

My penguin arrived a few weeks later, and I had it set up and ready to go in a few minutes. I filled all the bottles and put them in the fridge to chill (apparently chilled water carbonates better) and waited patiently until Zeph got home so we could play with our new toy.

First, we made lemon water, flavored with a wonderful citrus fruit we sliced and juiced ourselves. It was delicious. Next we tried one of the soda flavorings that came with the machine. It pretty much sucked. Then, the piece de resistance, we made mojitos with our new water. Fantastic. Lately, when I crave a coke, I make an Italian soda instead. I'm finally not supporting Coca-Cola anymore!

After two months of daily use the penguin is still going strong. We replaced our Co2 cartridge once, but I am happy knowing that it will be refilled with air and sent to a new customer. Best of all? Drinking lemon water is a great way to keep the cat's nose out of your beverage. Pesky, curious kitties.

What if the Cat Barfs?

Ever since I moved into my apartment a roll of paper towels has continuously hung from my kitchen cabinets. Not the same role, obviously, but you know what I mean. When the last roll was wearing down to the tube I made a conscious decision not to replace it.

The decision was made easier by the fact that there weren't any other rolls in the house; my Costco-size stash had been reduced to nothing. The environmental me wanted to stop the paper usage in an effort to save the forests, and the lazy me just didn't want to get off my butt and go buy another roll. And, well, decisions are always easy if there is laziness involved in sticking to them.

So, for the last week, the members of my household have found alternatives to using paper towels. Zeph and I used cloth napkins at mealtime instead of a paper towel split down the middle. I used the sponge more often to wipe up messes, even the ones from the floor. In fact, there is now a dedicated sponge for floor use because wiping the floor + wiping your dishes = gross. After use, the towels get thrown in the washing machine and wait until there is a big enough load to start the cycle. The sponges get rinsed like crazy and placed on the back splash, not still filled with water in the sink where the germs can propagate like rabbits (I am so OCD about my kitchen).

But the one question that has been running through my mind all week is, "What if the cat barfs?" It's not such a hypothetical question either, as the cat does indeed barf on a semi-regular basis. Don't worry, she's not sick. She just eats way to fast and then runs around too much and her little bloated belly can't take it. But enough about my cat's digestive habits...

Last night my pondering became a reality when, after a particularly energetic round of chase the invisible bug, the cat retreated under the futon and did her barfy business. Did I mention she always climbs under the futon? Why must she do that to me?

Zeph and I groaned and went into action, pulling the futon away from the wall, grabbing the bottle of cleaner, and reaching for the paper - oh, wait, there aren't any paper towels! So, instead, I grabbed a few cleaning rags (pieces of an old sheet that I ripped apart) and mopped up the mess. Some of it got thrown into the compost bin, and the rags got thrown into the wash with the other soiled towels.

And, because I don't need my house to smell like cat barf, the washing machine cycle was kicked off. I'll work on the my water consumption issues in a week or two....