Recycling, Efficiency and “Cheaper By The Dozen”

I was a fairly voracious reader as a youth. I read a large number of Tom Swift books and was always looking for books that taught me things about life (such has space ship design from Edward Stratemeyer’s Tom Swift). One such book was Cheaper By The Dozen, a story of what it was like to live with two time and motion study experts for parents. Though I vaguely remember actively trying to incorporate some of what I was reading into my life, it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much of my habits were dictated by the logic and reasoning conveyed in that book.

Water saving recommendation on a shampoo labelFor many years the push to conserve water in all that we do has been escalating: shorter showers, no rinsing dishes before they’re loaded into the dishwasher, not leaving the water running unless you’re using it, etc. It wasn’t until I read the label on a shampoo bottle that I suddenly realized:

  1. How urgent the need must be that manufacturers are sacrificing valuable label space to be seen supporting the cause, and
  2. How I must be doing things most other people are not doing.

For as far back as I can remember, it has never occurred to me to stand still in the shower waiting for my shampoo and then conditioner to have its effect. Is that what research says most people do? What else would motivate the “Turn Off The Tap” tip on this bottle and millions like it? Why aren’t people doing the next important thing, such as soaping their bodies? Who in their right minds turns on the tap to wet their toothbrush (a nonsense habit to begin with), and then leaves it on while they brush their teeth? Evidently enough to warrant using tax dollars to fund an EPA program called WaterSense to educate kids, parents and teachers on how to conserve water.

I could go on with all sorts of other examples where people waste their time and our limited resources, but it’s depressing to spend too much time on the evidence of how few people think as they go through their lives. And I am no shining star, I waste a lot of time during the day, at least according to my wife on the days when she is around to watch me. The summary lesson I suggest you ponder on is this: evaluate. Routinely evaluate every habit you have, every tradition you carry out, reconsider everything you do every once in a while to be sure what you are doing makes sense, and is the most efficient and least wasteful way to do it. Does it make sense to leave things in a different place every time you use them so you have to waste time looking for it the next time (much less infuriate those who always put it back in the same place so they could find it blindfolded it they had to)? Does it make sense to not take a moment before putting produce back in the refrigerator to properly wrap it so it will still be usable when you need it again? Is there any reason to throw out (recycle – supermarkets often take plastic film back) food bags other than holes or dirty beyond being able to be cleaned? Take the 5 minutes at the end of every day to clean the dozen or so zipper-seal plastic bags you used that day!

Recycling is a variation on conservation that comes up in my thoughts every two weeks or so when I wheel our single=steam recycling barrel out to the curb and then notice in other neighborhoods that very few are following suit. Though I cannot speak for every community in the US, apparently there is curbside recycling in 9,000+ communities in the US (according to this 2009 EPA report). And yet, that same report tells us that only a little under 34% of the 243 million tons of trash we generated that year was either composted or recycled (and you know how few people compost!). Knowing that fact means that roughly 20 or more times a year I ponder the question, “why don’t people recycle more?”

Maybe people don’t realize how much can be recycled. It’s darn close to everything these days! Due to the vast disparities among the capabilities of recyclers, there is no way to give guidelines here, other than to say do the research. If the list of allowable materials is not immediately apparent on your community’s vendor’s website, call or email asking that it be made so. If your community negotiates the disposal and recycling contracts, speak with your DPW director about what can be sent out to homeowners and businesses to encourage more recycling among your neighbors.

We all know that there are thousands of websites that cover in detail both of these topics, to do that again is not my intention. Instead, I was motivated to write this merely to ask you—close friend or social media acquaintance—to think about what you do from a new frame of reference, that of efficiency and minimal waste. In Scouting we were taught a program called Leave No Trace. I have since found that it is an international movement toward “outdoor ethics,” but the principles applies in the context of this idea of efficiency and reduced waste: responsible enjoyment and active stewardship. Enjoy the resources you are blessed with (time, employment, food, pets, water, a kitchen, etc.), but not at the cost of others. And play an active part in stewarding all our resources. Pick up trash that you see on the ground as you walk your dog (as well as any ‘deposits’ your pet leaves behind), make recycling containers easy to access in your house, you know the drill—THINK!

A Portal Into The Future of Education

As many of you know, my 150-year goal is to reboot Public Education and build a new system of education that starts at conception and fosters lifelong learning as a societal imperative around the world. The key success factor is this idea is to come up with a way to transition to a new system.

Salman Khan has come up with a way to do it. What if everyone could revisit topics they were no longer proficient in? What if anyone anywhere could learn new things in their spare time and have coaches and mentors available to help them when they got stuck? What if everyone could easily help anyone needing help in those topics they were comfortable in, no matter where they lived?

Watch this TED Talk by Sal Khan as he tells the story of the Khan Academy with a faculty of one. And see what the education system of the future may well look like.

“The Power Broker” Still Resonates Today

In a high school English class I was assigned a book to read that was so daunting I can remember today the feeling of shock as it was placed in my hands. It was huge! Growing up along the Jersey shore, I knew for a fact that a book this size could function as a great drag anchor for a small skiff or rowboat. It didn’t matter that the teacher was telling us we would use this book the entire semester, it was over 1000 pages, for God’s sake!

As it turned out, The Power Broker was a fantastic read, and served well as the basis for an equally wonderful course. I ended up reading farther each day and week than was assigned, and the emotional high and feeling of accomplishment as I read the last words were totally unexpected. First, I had tamed the beast. But more importantly, I had persevered to gain insight that even at the tender age of 16 I knew would be important to me for the rest of my life.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Vintage)The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my first introductions to the power of good research. A fascinating look into the mind and life of a man who shaped the built environment of the state of New York like no other.

View all my reviews

As the book description out on Goodreads tells us:

…winner of both the Pulitzer and the Francis Parkman prizes, The Power Broker tells the hidden story behind the shaping (and mis-shaping) of twentieth-century New York (city and state) and makes public what few have known: that Robert Moses was, for almost half a century, the single most powerful man of our time in New York, the shaper not only of the city’s politics but of its physical structure and the problems of urban decline that plague us today.

In revealing how Moses did it—how he developed his public authorities into a political machine that was virtually a fourth branch of government, one that could bring to their knees Governors and Mayors (from La Guardia to Lindsay) by mobilizing banks, contractors, labor unions, insurance firms, even the press and the Church, into an irresistible economic force—Robert Caro reveals how power works in all the cities of the United States. Moses built an empire and lived like an emperor. He personally conceived and completed public works costing 27 billion dollars—the greatest builder America (and probably the world) has ever known. Without ever having been elected to office, he dominated the men who were—even his most bitter enemy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, could not control him—until he finally encountered, in Nelson Rockefeller, the only man whose power (and ruthlessness in wielding it) equalled his own.

Robert Moses was clearly a brilliant man on a mission to create beautiful recreational shorelines, parks, pools, playgrounds, parkways and pathways in the City of New York and the counties that surrounded it. The fact that he knowingly abused the laws to make these dreams happen could be argued as criminal intent or political genius. Certainly the millions of people who have enjoyed Jones Beach or the Triborough Bridge would never have suspected that the mastermind behind them and so much more had a racist agenda and a near-pathological belief that he was right and no one was going to stop him.

But the life story of Robert Moses was not entirely about manipulation and devious intent. Looking back, I suspect that the strongest impact upon this reader was the remarkable discipline he exhibited every day. He always worked later than his engineers, then woke earlier to have a stack of paperwork and plans ready for his secretary, who would stop by his house on her way into the office. Then he would work in the car as his driver took him to work (he never had a driver’s license, never had a job—instead writing himself into law … you need to read this book!). And while I have taken a much different perspective on life since, this was formative in my mental image of the hard-working world changer I wanted to be.

Certainly NOT what I was thinking as the drag anchor was handed to me in high school!