Charrette for greater change – October 8th, 2012

Thank you to everyone who was able to make it to our final meeting and charrette at Locus Architects’ studio on Monday.  More information about the feedback we got to come, but for now, here are some pictures from the event:



Well here we are!  On our final day of our pilot program.  We hope to see many of you tonight as we meet with our Community Catalysts and brainstorm ideas for moving our actions forward in larger ways.  We have an excellent mix of community leaders in many different sectors coming to hear about our experiences and lend their voices and expertise.


We will be meeting from 5-8pm.  Locus Architects have been kind enough to offer their spaces to us located at: 708 West 40th St, MNPLS, MN 55409.  Thanks you LOCUS! For your tasting pleasure we will have some local cheeses, bulk teas and local wines.
Some of our confirmed Community Catalysts for tonight include:

1. Gayle Prest – City of Minneapolis Coordinator’s Office
2. Alisa Reckinger – Hennepin County’s Office of Environmental Services
3. Leslie Yetka – Minnehaha Creek Watershed District
4. Peggie Knapp – Freshwater Society, Director of Programs
5. Curt Gunsbery – Soltva, sustainable development company
6. Ryan Wilson – MnDOT, Department of Capital Programs and Performance Measures
7. Julie Ketchum – Waste Management
8. Kari Neathery – Hampden Co-op – General Manager
9. Jenny Edwards – MN Center for Energy and the Environment, Program Director
10. Midtown Greenway Coalition representative


Its going to be a great night of meaningful conversation, sharing of our experiences and moving towards larger change!




A few comments and thoughts

We’ve been out of town for most of the time this project has been underway, but we have made a few plans and taken a few steps on our actions.

Recycle all possible materials

While we were on vacation, we were usually able to recycle our recyclable waste at the parks we camped at. One thing that was somewhat frustrating was that the rest areas in many of the states we went thru did not have recycling bins. All of the rest areas that we have been to in Minnesota have had this. We were particularly surprised that California rest areas didn’t do this (always  thought California was a progressive state).

We’ve also decided to start hauling our own trash, so we’ve set up a more sophisticated recycling system and are composting more kitchen waste (vs. putting it in a trash bag and smelling up our garage). One thing we’ve noticed about this is that our county waste disposal facility only takes plastic containers with ‘necks’ (e.g. milk jugs, pop bottles) but apparently not stuff like plastic fruit containers (which we used to put in our recycling bin out on the curb – what happened to that stuff?).

Capture rainwater for all lawn irrigation

We’re wishing we had started on this earlier now. Everything is dry, dry, dry. We purchased a rain barrel awhile back, but we still need to install it. We got an estimate to have our rain gutters redone (they need it) and are planning to hook up the rain barrel to our garage when we have that done (soon). When we talked to the rain gutter guy, we learned that our house would capture way more rainwater than our barrel had capacity for, so he recommended capturing water off the garage roof (vs. house).

Hang dry all laundry

Not much ‘literal’ progress here yet. We purchased an outdoor clothes hanger and have surveyed our yard to try to find the sunniest spot (we have a very shaded yard). We have discovered that we can get by for quite awhile on a small set of clothes. We did one load of laundry on a 3-week trip (and 2 loads when we got back). So we minimized the drying of our laundry by just having less of it 🙂

City Composting Program

We participate in the City of Minneapolis pilot food composting program. Because we have our own compost bins outside and a worm bin inside, we don’t produce a lot of food waste for the city, but we really have appreciated the ability to compost bones, chicken carcasses, spoiled yogurt, meat skin and food packaging. And when our compost bins are full, which can happen if I’ve had a busy week weeding in the garden or processing veggies, we do wind up giving the city our excess food waste.

In the summer, however, we can run into a problem, which we noted yesterday as we prepared for garbage pickup. The city only picks up compost once a week. That is not often enough in the summer. It can result in smells and small flies. Solutions we and others have tried:

    Bringing it outside before pick-up day: When I’ve had too much compost, or it’s been too smelly, I’ve sometimes had to bring out a bag well before pick-up day. Unfortunately, the heat outside makes the smell so much worse. I actually worried my neighbors might complain.
    Cooling/freezing: I try to throw away spoiled food from the fridge only every other week, right before pickup, so it’s not smelling up the indoor compost bin. That often means leaving spoiled food in the fridge, taking up limited fridge space. A friend told me he puts his compost in the freezer between pick-ups. For us, freezer space is even more limited.
    Containing: We use a medium-sized garbage can with easy lifting lid for most of our compost, and a small metal compost tin for the worm food. The smaller tin does a better job of keeping insects out of the kitchen, but its too small for meaningful composting. We need an effective larger compost bin.

The city hasn’t asked for feedback from residents on the composting program. I wish they would. I wish they would brainstorm with us ways we can better handle compost before pick-up.

Kitchen and Bathroom Win for Waste Production

We continued to produce quite a bit of garbage this week – 2 pounds, 15 ounces worth. That doesn’t count the things that will be recycled next week. We’ll count them before we set them out.

The majority of waste came from two rooms: the kitchen and the bathroom.

    The heaviest amount of kitchen waste was compostable, and most of that could be composted on site. We are part of the City of Mpls composting pilot program so we sent 8 ounces of compostable packaging went to the city. We had no meat or dairy waste this week, or that would have gone to the city, too.
    The next batch of kitchen waste was plastic. It’s just impossible to get away from it! I bought canning jars and they come in boxes wrapped in plastic! I bought juice and I can choose a plastic twist or a plastic spout. This week I replaced a broken plastic ice cube tray and a broken plastic whisk because I found unbroken items at a garage sale. At least I didn’t have to buy new plastic wrapped in plastic!


    I bought an over-the-counter medication that is only sold in a very small plastic tube glued to a large piece of cardboard and covered in plastic. Ugh, hate it.
    And then there’s feminine hygiene products. I’ve written about this before on my other blog so I’m going to link to that post on alternatives to pads. Cloth and diva cups save A LOT of money and a lot of waste over time but they don’t work for every woman at all times. There are eco-friendly, compostable pads on the market, which I hadn’t noticed until now – and I hadn’t thought about how to compost such a product until now. (Challenges have a way of helping you think through things like this.) Grist blogger, Ask Umbria, says to use a worm bin. I realize I’ve got some investigating to do.

Worm bin learning

So the worm bin composting has been a positive experience so far. It makes me feel good to be producing less waste, which is noticeably the case. I am enjoying having to take the trash out less often than before, which will be extra great as the weather gets cooler. Although so far so good, I would be curious to hear what the other worm bin composters are experiencing. This is my first time worm bin composting and the gratification is somewhat delayed, as compost/casting won’t be ready to “harvest” for at least four months (on average – as I have been doing lots of reading of blogs to understand how to best maintain a worm bin).

I guess my two biggest question still remain:

1. FIRST QUESTION: How much can my bin handle? Having a CSA this summer has produced a little more organic waste than normal and I have been careful to not overload the bin with an excessive amount of wet organic material. This seems to be good so far. Before starting the bin I came to terms with the fact that there WOULD be some fruit flies, particularly in the summer. When I bought my worms, the very helpful woman at Amelia’s flower shop in Minneapolis told me that a healthy worm bin is not an overly clean worm bin. So, thus far, a few fruit flies, but just a few here and there. Despite all of the blog reading I have been doing, it is hard to understand the capacity of a bin without just trying it out – the whole point of the threeACTIONS! This is great, but an insight is that having more helpful information around this would maybe inspire more timid worm bin composters to give things a try and, maybe more importantly, inform them of the size bin they need.

Since I live in an apartment, space is tight, and so a bin much bigger than the 14″ wide by 17″ deep bin would have been tough. Of course this begs the question of sharing compost with my fellow condo/apartment neighbors. Getting more developers and apartment associations in on this conversation would be an important way around this conundrum. Composting space could be shared space with dedicated maintenance persons.


2. SECOND QUESTION: How often should I be adding food? I started by adding food every 3-4 days, after collecting it in a small, closed container on the kitchen counter. In the last week I have gotten more in the habit of putting the scraps right in the bin. Although, I recently read that disturbing the bin less is better for the worms, which makes perfect sense. So, I am going to go back to my original method. If anyone else has thoughts or advice on this, I would be appreciative to hear about it.


Lastly, it has been great helping teach my roommate (currently my sister) about worm bin composting. We get twice the benefit without both of us having to dedicate to doing all of the research and leg work. I gave her a few of the best websites I found and asked her to read them and made a list of the “DO NOT PUT IN BIN” items and put it on the refrigerator. So far so good.

Water, Electricity, Transport

Hi.  This is Jeff again.  My 3Acts are all tracking.  Water, Electricity, and Transport.  Special situation:  disability due to Parkinson’s Disease.   In our group Transitions Longfellow, someone said at a meeting that they paid all that money to put in solar and get off the grid as an expression of the morality of their choice.   That kind of got to me.  Honestly, due to my past history, my first motivation is to save money.  I am trying more to put my beliefs into practice and be more responsible.  So I contributed to the VOTE NO! on the marriage limitation ballot question and am trying to get a lawn sign.  Small steps.

So I’m not just trying to reduce use; I’m trying to save money.  I started tracking water use and looked at my bill from the city.  In Minneapolis we pay $3.20 per 100 cu. ft. for water used each month.  (100 cu. ft. of water is about 748 gallons.)  I found on the internet that Americans use on average about 64 gallons of water per day, or about 1900 gallons per month.  My use?   I can’t figure it closely, but it is in the range of 28 to 35 gallons per day or 840 to 1050 gallons per month.  So I use about half the water used by the average person in the U.S.  Why can’t I get more precise?  My water use varies month to month.  Now I can shower at the YWCA several times a week (I have to exercise to maintain core strength so I have less risk of falling) since it comes with the membership.  I may do more or less laundry and garden watering in a month.  Some months I use less than 748 gallons and pay the minimun $3.20.  Some months I use more water and pay another $3.20.   In order to reduce my use I would have to find a way to easily (physical limitations) reuse kitchen sink water and shower water, maybe even laundry water.  I do put dish cleaning water in a bucket in the bath and use that to flush urine.  And I reduce flushing by following the line “If it is yellow, let it mellow.  If it is brown, flush it down.”  (Yes, I am single.)  The result is it would be too hard for me to reduce more without a grant to replumb.  And the cost savings would be minimal, maybe $12 per year (city water is cheap).  There is another way to save water, though, on the outside of my house.  I could get a rain barrel.  I could have a rain garden in my yard.  I may try one or both of those things next year.

For tracking electricity I borrowed a Watts Up? meter from the East Lake Library and hunted for the elusive watts in my house.  The electric energy hogs in my house are the room air conditioner (the only A/C in the house) and the non energy star refrigerator.   The A/C (1990 model; got it free from my neighbor) runs 5-6 hours a day and adds about $25/month to my electric bill ($.72/day; I don’t use it every day).  In the winter the new high efficiency gas furnace replaces the A/C at about the same total cost, but runs on and off all day.  The spring and fall my electric bills fall to about $22 per month when neither A/C or furnace are on.  At the height of either summer or winter my bill gets up to $47/month.  The refrigerator, of course, is plugged in all the time.  It uses about $.285/day, or $8.55 per month.   The main reason why I don’t replace the A/C and/or the frig:  I may have to move to assisted living in a few years which means I would not get the pay back.  Pay back of replacement cost via energy savings for each appliance would be ~10 years.  I know what you are thinking!  What would the moral choice be?   Or, go solar!  Sorry, but I got one of those free assessments through LLC and solar is not viable at my house.

Lastly, I am tracking my transport.  My 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlas Ciera still gets 15 – 20 mpg in summer (up to 27 mpg hiway) and my guess is that it only costs about $300/month to operate (or about $1/mile).  Compare that to the HourCar at ~$600/mth.  Yes, it can be cheap to operate a reliable old car that is paid for.  It is hard for passengers to get in the doors, though, and it ain’t much to look at.  I want to see how many miles I am actually driving each month.  The exercise at the Y adds about 42 miles a month (12 x 3.5 miles round trip).  I am considering going carless when my license renews Nov. 1, 2014.  Partly because the car is dying.  I have two years to come up with alternatives.  Getting to doctor appointments and some of my activities would get very inconvenient and be more expensive without my driving and having a car.  Some trips I walk; bike and bus could be options for certain trips.  Sharing a car may be good; or a new mode of personal transit yet to be.  It would be nice to have more of a intentional community to be in to facilitate this.  That is the moral choice.  I’m willing to try it.  How about you?

Jeff Bell – South Mpls Cohort.

P.S.  A “raspberry” to math checkers.   How is it that some months I use less than 748 gallons of water but my guestimate is 840 – 1050 gallons per month?  It is dementia, obviously!  How wrong you would be!  I was an accountant.  To paraphrase General MacArthur, “Old accountants never die!  They just go out of balance.”