Musings: Crowdsource RECAP of PACER documents for next to nothing

Last night Lawrence Lessig spoke at Dartmouth College about Rebooting our Government. I’ve read Lessig’s articles and listened to his lectures before, and seeing him speak in person was quite a treat.

Lessig’s lecture highlighted his mission to give control of our government back to the people — to the citizens of the US. Fix Congress First is one of the groups encouraging this reform, and I suggest that you go check out their website right now!

Part of giving the Citizenry control is making sure that everyone has free, open access to all of our laws and court case records. Federal court records are in the public domain and are available online through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) electronic record system, however access to the PACER system is billed using a per-page rate.

Because the documents in PACER are public domain, once a document is accessed, it may be distributed without restriction or additional fee. As a result, several groups are currently working on opening the vast archive of documents in PACER so that anyone can access any of them, at any time, with no fees or strings attached.
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Dissecting a survey: Analysis of the Coop Food Stores survey run by Tuck

The Coop Food Stores have partnered with the Tuck School of Business to take a survey of the “primary grocery shoppers” in each household.

This link will likely die in a couple of months, but here’s the current link to the survey.

I picked up a hard copy of the survey in the Lebanon store, and quickly found that I was much more interested in dissecting the survey than actually answering all of the questions. The survey comprised several pages of questions, and some of them required quite a lot of concentration to answer correctly. Some questions seemed repetitious, and other questions seemed to have too much ambiguity for me to feel comfortable answering.

So, on with the show!
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Sustainability at DHMC: Reuse those foam plates!

I was in line at the cafeteria last week when someone from one of the other offices in my building said “Oh, when did they start using china in this cafeteria?” I had to politely tell the woman that DHMC was not deploying reusable dishes at all of its cafeterias and that I bring my own plate and just wash it afterwards. “Oh, what a good idea!” she said, “I should bring my own plate sometimes. Washing it off afterwards isn’t too hard.”

Handwashing isn’t that difficult, but washing off all of the dishes in a central location, using an auto dishwasher, would probably save money and water, and would certainly save a time for all of the people working in the building. There would be an initial outlay and ongoing expense to stock the china and deal with breakages and so forth, but it would be a great step for sustainability.
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Plastic Recycling Hurdles: Label everything, please!

Okay, so I’m pretty sure I told you all that I can now recycle all plastic items with SPI resin identification codes #1-7 on them, due to a contract between Dartmouth and Coca Cola of Northern New England. Marvelous!

But I’m not quite done.

There are still a number of products I use that have plastic components that aren’t labeled. Lots of plastic containers label the bottom part but not the lid. Sure, the lid is usually smaller than the rest of the container, but I’m still trashing a bunch of waste that could be recycled.

After pondering this problem for a few days, I did what any young, eccentric recycl-aholic would do and started saving plastics that weren’t labeled. After about a month I picked up my laptop and started emailing people. It took the better part of an evening to write up a letter, find contact emails for companies, and then personalize the basic letter for each recipient.

You might think that some of the older, established companies wouldn’t have a web presence, but I didn’t find a single company without a substantial website. Heck, you can even friend some of the companies (e.g. PriceChopper) on FaceBook. WTF?

Corporate craziness aside, I got a number of helpful responses within a week. It seems that most of the manufacturers and companies are interested in increasing the recyclability of their products but are limiting themselves due to the language of the recommendations of the SPI (the plastics industry trade association) and concerns over labeling implying acceptance of the product by all recyclers.

Manufacturers shouldn’t be limiting themselves here — they should be encouraged to label as much of their products as possible so that they can be recycled as much as possible. Sure, not all plastics are going to be recyclable in all cites, all the time, but it shouldn’t hurt us to at least label everything. Telling the truth shouldn’t be a bad thing.

I’ve drafted a letter to the SPI, but I haven’t found an email address for them yet. I’ll keep on searching and send them the letter when I find one, but for now I’m going to post it here on my blog. Any help in finding contact information for them would be appreciated!

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Live Blogging: Sykes Free Concert Series

Okay, so I’m going to try out this live blogging thing. No promises.

We’re currently at the Sykes Free Concert at Collis Commonground. This concert is (or perhaps all such concerts are?) funded by Jack Wehner ’74. The concerts are dedicated to Music professor Jim Sykes and his wife Clay.

Tonight we’re hearing music by Boismortier (Concerto), Abreu (Tico tico no fuba), Telemann (Duo), Rossini (Quartet) and Brahms (Sonata for violin and piano). Nothing by our perennial favorite, P.D.Q. Bach. Tsk, tsk.

We’re currently noshing on local cider, apples, bread, cheeses and ice cream.
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Manufacturers: Please label all plastic with resin identification codes

As I’ve mentioned before, Dartmouth College recycles plastics marked #1-7. Coca-Cola of Northern New England (CCNE) is the recycler of Dartmouth’s plastic and aluminum, and they can’t recycle plastics unless they are marked with a number. Although most plastics can be recycled, there’s a significant class of not numbered plastic bags, lids, tubs, and other items that CCNE cannot identify, and so must go into the trash.

The plastic resin identification codes and icons were set up by the Society of the Plastics Industry in the 1980s. As far as I can tell these codes and icons, like the universal recycling symbol itself, are in the public domain. There’s no organization that polices use of these logos. So any given plastic manufacturing company could easily, and without royalty or compliance fees, change their manufacturing process to stamp, mold, paint, or otherwise include the appropriate resin id code on their plastic products. Sure, a bottle marked #1 could turn out to be half Polyethylene (#1) and half Polystyrene (#6), but in such a case a company could probably be sued for false labeling.

Because there are still un-numbered plastic products out there, I have devised a plan: Whenever I come across a plastic container or container component that isn’t numbered, I’ve been putting them aside in a separate bin. My thinking is that once I have a pile of these items I can sit down and contact the product vendors or container manufacturers and ask them to properly label their containers with resin id codes.

If enough people ask for properly-labeled packaging, I think that businesses will definitely start to pay attention. Even if only some of the container manufacturers start to label all their products, we can use those manufacturers as leverage and get companies to switch or threaten to switch to a new container supplier if all of the plastic parts on a given container are not properly marked.


M&C Summer 2009: A compostable successable

Milque & Cookies was this past Friday at 9pm and was a resounding success.

Phi Tau took a departure from the normal schedule of Saturday at 8pm due to Sophomore Family Weekend and thus had to forge ahead and bake like crazy on Thursday night. Everything came together marvelously well and a good time was had by all. I mean, who doesn’t want to stuff themselves with milk and tasty, sugary, yummy cookies?

Because I’d acquired compostable cups, we were able to put out compost bins instead of trash cans:
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