"Every time you print an email, a hippy cries tears of pure THC."

“Every time you print an email, a hippy cries tears of pure THC.”

I bet you’ve received a few emails from well-meaning environmentalist friends and coworkers with a signature that says something like

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

Today I ran into something very interesting.  I received an email from a coworker whose signature was the exact antithesis:

“Notice: It’s OK to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest management, we have more trees in America today than we had 100 years ago.”

I’m Hesitant to Give an Opinion

I’m not passing any sort of judgement on anyone here. Personally I try to keep my opinions on things like this out of my professional life. I recycle just about everything that crosses my desk and then some, and if people see my example and do the same that’s awesome. So “professional me” is keeping his nose out of it.

So Here’s my Opinion Anyway

However The Renaissance Caveman thinks this seems like a pretty relevant topic to discuss considering I just talked about the difference between Recycling, Reducing, and Reusing yesterday in my post about reducing your junk mail. So let’s explore this idea a bit.

The Tree is a Red Herring (or “It’s the Production Chain, Stupid”)

The “it’s OK to print this email” people are absolutely right: paper is biodegradable, renewable, and sustainable. But this argument assumes that the death of that poor, innocent tree, cut down in it’s prime before it even got to see it’s seeds germinate is the only thing that concerns the environmentalist, and by extension it reduces the environmentalist to a tree hugger. The environmental impact of paper goes beyond the felling of a tree.

  • Fossil fuels power everything from the trucks and saws used by the logger to the mills where the wood turns to pulp and then into paper, to the complicated logistics chain that eventually gets that paper to your office. In addition to burning nonrenewable resources all of these machines contribute to air pollution.
  • Wood is not the only ingredient that goes into paper. The pulping process uses dangerous chemicals including mercury, and all sorts of other delicious chemicals are used in paper production. When the paper breaks down these chemicals don’t just disappear.
  • Even if the paper itself was pure, your ink and toner probably aren’t. If you’d like to know what’s in your toner (aside from gold and diamonds which I only can assume are the main ingredient based on cost), just locate the MSDS sheet from the manufacturer (here’s an example from HP). Of course most of the ingredients are trade secrets, so decide for yourself if that gives you more or less confidence about their health and environmental impact.

Reduce > Reuse > Recycle

And even if none of this were true there would still be an environmental impact from the recycling process itself. Let’s say your paper was made from trees that were sustainably harvested, the equipment from the logger on down to the  truck that delivered the ream of paper were all running on sunshine and happy thoughts, and your printer cartridge contained nothing but orange juice.  There is still energy and environmental impact involved in recycling the paper to turn it back into a usable product.

Is recycling your paper (and buying recycled paper) better environmentally than buying new product that results in running the whole production chain?  Absolutely.  But environmentally speaking, never manufacturing that paper at all is always the best option. If environmental impact is the only concern, not creating and consuming a product will always be the best answer.

Hey! My Family Depends on you Wasting Paper!

Now I’m from Central Pennsylvania where I know this idea is less than popular.  We’re surrounded by woodlands which (giggle giggle) makes it difficult to see the forest for the trees sometimes.  We look around and laugh at the idea of running out of something that occurs naturally in such abundance, but running out of trees is a total misrepresentation of the environmentalist’s concern. The entire production chain has a negative environmental impact that doesn’t have to happen.

Of course much of our local economy revolves around wood manufacturing.  We’re home to dozens of companies that employ thousands of people in the manufacture of wood products. So I get it, I really do: less paper might mean less jobs. One might also argue that fewer nuclear weapons would mean less jobs too, but it’s still a noble goal.

So print your email.  Or don’t.  The choice is up to you and the environmental impact of not printing that email is pretty minimal compared to just about anything else you might do to minimize your environmental impact.  But by all means, do something.





How to Stop (Some) Junk Mail

"15 credit card offers, but I still didn't get the latest issue of Jugs!"

“15 credit card offers, but I still didn’t get the latest issue of Jugs!”

You know what really annoys me?  Junk mail.

“Me too!” echoes a chorus of everyone, ever.

Before I get into some tree-hugging rant I’ll just throw a possible solution at you:, and Go to these sites, sign up, and choose which types of direct mailing you do and done want to receive. It’s similar to the National Do Not Call Registry but for direct mail, and about as effective (take that as you will). In other words it will help, but it probably won’t totally eliminate your  junk mail.

Now, back to my rant.

What’s an environmentally-conscious geek to do about junk mail? Most single-stream recycling programs will take junk mail or shredded paper, and if you don’t have that option rural farmers love it because it makes great animal bedding. I know of several farms within a few miles of my town that have shacks along the road for people to drop off bags of such material.

But forget about all of that, because you’re smart and you remember your Three R’s and know that it’s always better to reduce than it is to reuse or recycle.  If the junk mail is never printed and sent in the first place, the environmental impact of it’s production, transport, and inevitable disposal never has to happen.  Plus you don’t have to figure out what to do with it, which is kind of the point here.

So check out the sites I mentioned above, and post below to let others know how they worked for you!


Ode to Kirby

Kirby: Generation 2 Look at this picture.  What do you see?

Most people see a relic housekeeping past that belongs in an old folk’s home or museum.  This is a Kirby Generation 3.  It’s as old as I am, yet it’s outlived about a dozen other vacuums.

The Kirby was given to me by my mom and dad.  Not because they bought a better vacuum but because this veritable floor cleaning tank was just too heavy to carry up and down stairs.

That’s definitely the only downside to owning a Kirby: it’s heavy. When my ex girlfriend lived with me she hated it because of it’s weight, so for the upstairs we used her old bagless vacuum from her apartment.  That one choked on every cleaning, so her parents bought her a brand new bagless vacuum. I’d have to disassemble that one about every other time it was used because it would clog with pet hair.

Unless you run over something massive the Kirby doesn’t clog, but I have seen a penny get stuck in the roller just the right way to jam it.  You turn the vacuum off, dislodge the penny, and go back to business.

And despite the fact that it’s older than I am, you can still buy bags and other accessories you’ll need at a variety of online retailers.  Personally I still prefer vacuums with bags. The canisters on bagless vacuums are never as easy to empty and clean as they should be, and the filters quickly clog with fine dust  and rip or need replaced.

You might be asking yourself what I have to gain from promoting Kirby?  Well, they’re owned by Berkshire Hathaway now so I was hoping Warren Buffet might surprise me with some free company shares.  But other than that? Not a damn thing.  If you see one of these vacuums at a yard sale or auction I highly recommend picking it up.  It will outlast a dozen modern vacuums you might find at Walmart.

A corner shelf I made out of an old door.

Turning an Old Door Into a Corner Shelf

We’ve all seen a door turned into a shelf on Pinterest, DIY Network, an the living rooms of folks who like decorate in the country theme.  I am not one such person.  In fact my decorating philosophy involves heaps of unwashed clothing, dog hair tumbleweeds rolling across vast expanses of floorspace, and horror movie posters.  Yet I have several of the original doors from my 1865 home and absolutely no desire to use them as, you know, doors.

This is an incredibly simple project (even easier if you just buy mine).  Basically you cut the door roughly in half, screw the two sides together, and attach some triangular shelves.  There’s a little more to it than that, but not much.

Measure the Door

This drawing shows the cut line.

This drawing shows the width, height, thickness and the line where the door should be cut.

You could just cut the door in half, but then you’d be an idiot. When you reattach the two sides at a 90 degree angle one side will be longer than the other.  So it’s important to measure and write down the dimensions of your door ahead of time and plan this cut accordingly.  To the side is a rough sketch of my door’s dimensions:

Width: 31 3/4″
Height: 81″
Thickness: 1 13/32

A tape measure will work fine for this job, though I used a micrometer to determine the thickness of my door with a little more accuracy.

Cut the Door

The door after being cut with the tracksaw

The door after being cut with the tracksaw

You can use this simple formula to figure out where to cut your door:

2x + t = w

(Where t is the thickness of your door and w is the width. Solve for x.)

With a door width of 31 3/4″ and a thickness of 1 13/32″, I found that x equals (more or less) 15 3/16″.  Mark your door down the length accordingly.  For a job like this there are two saws you can use: a circular saw with a straight edge clamped to the work piece, or a track saw.  I sprung for a DeWalt Tracksaw two years ago and now I wouldn’t want to live with out it. Whichever tool you use, make sure the door is well-supported on both sides of the cut line, and line up the blade such that the kerf is centered on the line.  This way the waste will be equalized on either side of the cutline.

(Though you might be tempted, I strongly suggest you don’t use a tablesaw.  Most people don’t have a tablesaw capable of safely cutting something as big and irregular as a door.)

You should be left with two sides that, when fastened together, will have equal visible surfaces.

Fastening the Two Sides

The two sides clamped together.

The two sides clamped together.

I decided to fasten the two sides together with 2″ screws, counter-sunk and hidden with plugs.  I measured from the edge of the door 23/32″ (half the door’s thickness) and marked the door 2″ from either end and at 12″ increments in between. Next I used a 3/8″ Forstner Bit to drill about a 1/4″ hole that I could countersink the screws into, then used a regular twist bit to drill the rest of the way through the door.

In order to fasten the two sides together I found that it was much easier to stand the two sides vertically and clamp them together.  This way you can make fine adjustments to the fit with your hand or a rubber mallet.  Make sure you put something between the clamps and the wood to avoid marring the surface, and make sure you have the two sides positioned in such a way that the two visible inside surfaces are the same width.

Once the two sides are clamped securely together, run your screws through. Once all of the screws are installed you can remove the clamps and continue to work on it horizontally.

Note: After completing this project, I would change the way I fastened the two sides.  Instead of drilling holes in the visible parts and screwing the two sides together, I think I’d use a Doweling Jig or (if I were rich) a Festool Domino to connect the two sides. The drill-and-plug method works fine, but it’s imperfect and adds quite a bit of touch-up work to the finish process.


I used a scraper to remove loose paint and used a large chip to purchase a match at a local decorating store.

I used a scraper to remove loose paint and used a large chip to purchase a match at a local decorating store.

At this point you’ll want to clean up the holes you just drilled and start thinking about the finish.  I dapped a bit of wood glue into the holes, then inserted a 3/8″ dowel rod into them and cut it off with my dozuki (any saw which you can trim the dowels flush with is fine).

Think about what you want your finished door to look like.  Is the paint chipped?  What type of paint is it?  The original finish on my door was lead-based paint and was flaking off at spots, so I used a paint scraper to remove any lose flakes.  I took a larger piece down to The Decorating Center and they helped me find a good match. I wanted my shelf to look rustic but I didn’t want to risk having lead paint flaking off of it in the future.  So I painted the dowel plugs and the edges of the door that I cut with the saw and left everything else as it was.  I’ll take care of the “loose paint” problem a little later.

Installing the Shelves

Cutting the shelves is pretty simple.  I had some plywood that was sitting against my shed for a while.  The surface was worn  and would match the door, but structurally it was still very strong.  I cut off about an inch of waste on either side so I wasn’t using the junk edges to build my shelves, I cut 90 triangles with sides equal to the inside width of the door (15 3/16″ x 15 3/16″ x 21 5/16″  ). I painted the shelves with the matching quart of paint I had purchased, and then I used my brad nailer to install the shelves at the top, bottom, and two equally spaced on the inside.

Note: This is another aspect of the design I would change if I had it to do over again.  I’d use my pocket hole jig to install them.  Not only would it be a more secure fit, but it would also be reversible of the shelf position needed changed in the future.

Finish Work

After installing the shelves it was time to tackle the flaking paint problem.  I had a gallon of lacquer and applied several coats to the entire shelf.  The shelf has interesting, glossy sheen to it now and I suppose it depends on your taste as to whether or not that’s desirable.  But the original coat of paint is now securely protected under multiple clear coats and won’t flake off.

That pretty much covers it! I’m really pleased with the way this project turned out and plan on selling it to someone who can appreciate the style a little more than myself. If you have any suggestions on how I can improve this process, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email!

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Bokashi Anaerobic Composting, Part 1

Earlier tonight I was perusing an issue of The New Pioneer and ran into an article about manure and the role it plays in composting.  This article led me to a movement (ha! a cleverly disguised pooh joke!) from Great Falls, Montana called Gardens from Garbage which uses anaerobic composting to turn food waste from local schools and restaurants into compost used to grow food and feed those in need.

Monsturd: Awful Straight-to-DVD Horror, or Composting Tutorial?

Monsturd: Awful Straight-to-DVD Horror, or Composting Tutorial?

The anaerobic compost process, called Bokashi, has existed for centuries but a Dr. Teruo Higa improved on the process in the mid-eighties .  Do not under any circumstances confuse Bokashi with a similar-sounding Japanese sex act.  One will turn your kitchen waste into plant food.  The other will have your wife turning you into plant food when she stumbles upon your Internet history. But I digress.

I’m new to this process, but from what I gather Bokashi composting involves creating a mixture full of helpful microorganisms and binders that you sprinkle on top of successive layers of organic waste you add to your composting container.  The process is well-suited to town-dwellers like me because you don’t need much space and, because your compost isn’t breaking down the same way it would in more tradition composting methods, it doesn’t offend the neighbor’s nose-holes.

You can find the Bokashi formula online.  It begins with something called EM, also known as  Effective Microorganisms. EM contains microbes that will help break down your waste.  Apparently this concoction is not in the public domain, but you can still find it on several websites, or you can make life easy and just buy it online. But we don’t do this stuff because we like easy, do we?

You create the Bokashi mixture by combining EM, water, molasses, and some sort of “carbon-based binder.”  Most videos and instructions are recommending wheat bran, but I’m also seeing reports of success using sawdust.

As you can see below I began making my EM and provided a few pictures of the first part of the process (I’ll post more as they come). I just purchased a bottle of the official product as well.  When it arrives and my mixture is complete I’m going to make identical batches of Bokashi and see which one prevails. I’ll post a video of the results.

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