Back of the Envelope Calculations: Revelations, Oceans, and Blood

I was recently discussing Revelations and the Rapture with some of my friends. Apparently there’s an outfit called Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, USA that has assembled a group of Atheists willing to take care of pets if/when the Rapture occurs (for a nominal fee).

At first thought, the whole thing does sounds a bit contrived, but the execution is rather extensive and well thought out. The group’s website even includes a useful FAQ page that includes such Q&A’s as

  • How do you ensure that your representatives won’t be Raptured?
  • How can we trust that you’ll honor your service agreement, afterall you ARE atheists. [sic]
  • What if one of my family members is left behind? Will you still take possession of my pet?

I mean, it would be rather…unfortunate, shall we say, if 3 out of 4 family members were Raptured and the 4th one somehow didn’t make the cut. Three people would be up in Heaven, while the odd man out would be on Earth, in what are estimated to be pretty harrowing conditions.

So you might be wondering: What happens post-Rapture to all the people and stuff left on the planet? Does God just CTRL-A, CTRL-X everything left on Earth?

Well, not exactly. If you’re not familiar with the general conditions, they include asteroids hitting the Earth, the crust of the Earth breaking open, locusts and other animals scurrying about stinging people, and the oceans turning to blood. Yes, blood.

If you’re anything like me, one of the first questions you might ask is: I wonder if there’s enough Iron on Earth to turn the oceans to blood?

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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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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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Recycling and Composting at Phi Tau

Phi Tau does an amazing job recycling and composting as much as possible. There has been a long line of dedicated recycling chairs/sustainability coordinators over the years, and the current officer, Ashley Morishige, has continued to expand and improve the system.

Recycling and composting in any situation can take time and energy, but recycling and composting at a fraternity can be an especially big challenge! Thankfully, Phi Tau has amazing support from the FO&M people that pick up all of the trash, recycling, compost, and bulk trash.

I’ve assembled a gallery of photos on my Zooomr account which you can view in blog format here.

Here’s a view of the outside bins:
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Phi Tau to have 100% Compostable Milque & Cookies!

I’m really pleased to note that for the first time ever, Phi Tau’s summer Milque & Cookies event will be 100% post-consumer compostable. (Milque & Cookies is a termly event in which the brothers bake a couple thousand cookies and serve them alongside an ice-cream-and-milk concoction)

For a few years Phi Tau has done a great job of recycling and composting as much as possible during baking and other prep for the event. During the event itself, milk jugs and plastic ice cream containers are recycled, and the waxy-paper ice cream cream tubs are composted.

Unfortunately, it’s been cumbersome to have one bin for plastic cups and another for cookies and paper towels and nigh impossible to get all of the students to properly sort their waste. But this term I’ve helped the brothers find a source for biodegradable plastic cups, so Phi Tau will be able to set out one bin and compost everything!

The compostable cups are currently quite a bit more expensive than the “dinosaur plastic” cups, and concerns have been raised about the use of GM corn and large quantities of pesticides in their creation. I’m currently working with a group of people at Dartmouth to try to find the most sustainable cup possible, but in the meantime it’s great to take this first little step toward using compostable cups.

I’ll make a post after the event with pictures and all that sexy jazz. In the meantime, feel free to add a comment with a guess of how many pounds of compost we’ll generate.