ecologically challenged

Yes, the 93-year-old cat sleeps face down.

Yes, the 93-year-old cat sleeps face down.

Take the quiz at the end!

A FEW WEEKS AGO, I read an internet article about a family who most weeks has no trash to put out on the curb. First, I thought they were cheating. Then I felt inspired. Finally, I realized I how much I suck in comparison to them.

I can find some consolation in the fact that the family does, in fact, cheat. When the mom mails Netflix DVDs, she tucks the little plastic strip from the adhesive into the envelope before she seals it. She also appears to have an eco-mental illness, most likely a subcategory of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Her house is almost empty: the woman only owns six pairs of shoes, seven pairs of pants, and two skirts. Something must be wrong with her.

I was inspired to take an inventory of the items in my trash this week. Here’s what I found:

– An economy-sized ibuprofen bottle, which we emptied astonishingly fast. (We’re girls; we consume that stuff like chocolate.)

– Used dental floss.

– Ink related: two pens sans ink, and a Hewlett Packard cartridge wrapper.

– My old travel mug, which my partner Leah found outside under a pile of wood. I have no idea how it got there, but the mug permanently adopted the smell of a decaying forest floor.

– Gross cat stuff, including paper towels from cleaning up daily hairballs and upchucked meals. Anyone who claims they can live without paper towels obviously does not own a 93-year-old cat, and hey, I can take eco-solace in the fact that the cat will not be replaced when she kicks the bucket.

– Dog poop. We tried a container thing with drainage holes that you partially bury in the ground, affectionately known to us as The Compoopster, but it has unfortunately proved ineffective at turning poop into vanishing poop soup.

– Underwear with dead elastic.

– Wire baskets that hold the corks in champagne bottles. Leah likes to make these into cute little chairs, but one only needs so many miniature chairs. And I drink a lot of champagne.

My Personal Trash Analysis showed a disproportionate amount of pet- and hygiene-related items. While being eco-conscious with food purchases is pretty easy if you shop bulk, I can’t put dog poop in my garden compost, and I love Kleenex. And if you think I should use one of those salty crystal rocks under my arms in place of Sure deodorant, then you have never shared a small office with me on a hot summer day.

How about you? Are you eco-inspired? Eco-hypocritical? An eco-cheater?

Time for a quiz! Answer honestly, and find out how you rate at the end:

1. When I empty a tube of toothpaste:

a. I throw it away.
b. I make a piece of artwork, which also includes my used dental floss, and I sell my masterpiece on Etsy.
c. I don’t use toothpaste, I use baking soda.
d. I don’t brush my teeth.

2. I usually conserve water by:

a. drinking only vodka.
b. showering with my girlfriend/boyfriend.
c. turning off the shower while I soap.
d. drinking my own urine.

3. Do you drive a car?

a. Yes.
b. No, I ride a horse.
c. Yes, but I buy carbon footprint points to offset my gasoline use.
d. I walked to my parents’ house last June and it only took me three weeks.

4. Do you drink organic alcohol?

a. No, I drink nonorganic alcohol to protest the poor, sober people around the world who don’t have access to quality cocktails.
b. No, I drink PBR and save my money to buy carbon footprints.
c. Yes.
d. No, I’m scared of all alcohol. And my mother. And clowns.

5. Do you reuse plastic bags?

a. No. Except maybe for dog poop.
b. Yes, I wash them diligently and bought one of those wooden racks to dry them on.
c. I don’t even know what a plastic bag is. I never use them for anything, ever. Or buy anything that comes in plastic.
d. Never! Germs in all the little corners! I know bacteria are there, threatening me even though I can’t see them.

6. Do you own solar panels?

a. No, but I will when I win the lottery.
b. No, I live in a shack without running water or electricity.
c. Yes.
d. No, I’m scared they will let aliens read my thoughts.

7. Do you use paper towels and Kleenex?

a. Yes, I love them both. I won’t ever give them up. Ever. You can’t make me.
b. No, and I don’t use toilet paper either.
c. Rarely.
d. Do you know how many germs cloth towels and handkerchiefs hold?? Disposable products are safer and much less likely to end in death.

Answer rating scale:

Give yourself one point for every time you answered a, two points for every b, three points for each c, and four points for a d.

0-9 points: Eco-Loser. You aren’t so good at the eco thing. Embrace your failure. Chop down all your trees, join the Republican Party, and/or go into the oil business.

10-17 points: Eco-Creative. You’re trying. You want to be eco-conscious, but it’s so damn inconvenient. You make an occasional effort, but you need to try harder if you want to be able to sleep at night without tossing and turning, worrying about the environment. It’s your fault if the earth dies. All your fault.

18-24 points: Eco-GoodyGoody. Bet you think you’re perfect, don’t you? The rest of us find comfort in the fact that your showers are cold, your breath smells like baking soda and wheat grass, and boogers are permanently stuck to your handmade cloth hankies.

25–28 points: Eco-Wacko. Even if your lifestyle is technically eco-friendly, you are a total weirdo. You are slightly paranoid, you might be a psychologically-limited germaphobe, and you definitely need to brush your teeth.

-Amelia Sauter

wet dream

by Amelia Sauter copyright 2011

I AM GOING TO BUY A BOAT, and I expect it will change my life.

I’ve bought other things before that were supposed to change my life. There was the Zen alarm clock; that was almost fifteen years ago. At the time, Leah and I struggled to wake up in the morning. She hated the way traditional alarm clocks yanked you from a peaceful sleep to the sound of an air raid siren, and I hoped waking to the singular chime of a bell would result in enlightened, blissful mornings filled with peace and smiles. Well, I was wrong. At 7am, a sweet, persistent ding from the bedside table becomes as annoying as a repetitive fire truck horn.

Since then, I’ve made other inspiring purchases that had infinite potential to be life-altering: an air purifier, which was supposed to miraculously clear my living space of airborne allergens. A gym membership, which was supposed to make me want to work out. A house, which now eats up my spare time with raking, mowing and shoveling, among other drab tasks. A superior vacuum cleaner, which would turn housework into a joy (not a bad purchase, actually, because Leah loves it). The only investment that in reality did dramatically alter my life was opening a bar, and with the stress that accompanies owning a business, I’m not always convinced that it was for the better.

But still I believe that this time it’s going to be different, that a boat is going to change my life. We have kayaks already, and these were lovely companions when we lived in the river- and pond-filled Berkshires, but every stream in the Finger Lakes ends with a plunge over a steep, rocky waterfall that is at least 60 feet high. Kayaking on Cayuga Lake offers limited scenery, and though I could theoretically swim off of a kayak, I doubt I could successfully climb back in the boat from the water without capsizing or rolling the whole thing. I’d like to get a real boat this year, with a healthy engine, space for a cooler, a fold-up ladder, and just enough room for Leah and I. I imagine hours of floating and swimming in the middle of Cayuga Lake, a welcome escape from the insane, hectic pace of my summer work schedule. The cell phones can stay on the shore: I will disconnect and learn to relax. In those moments, everything will be perfect. And when I tell this to Leah, she laughs so hard she snorts.

Friends with boats warn me, “It’s another thing you will own that will break.” Leah’s father joked, “The best day of your life is the day you buy a boat. The second best day is the day you sell the boat.”

I emailed my own dad for advice on buying a used boat, and received the following warnings over three emails:

-If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
-A boat or motor listed on Craigslist could be stolen.
-Demand the bills for all of the boat’s service history.
-Copy the seller’s driver’s license.
-Don’t buy it if you can’t put it in the water first. (It’s 19 degrees out as I write this.)
-If the seller balks, ding-ding! Suspicion.
-You should be putting that money into your 401K instead of buying a boat.

This is what dads are for: To remind us to be careful in life, to protect us, to warn us that it’s a wild world, there’s a lot of bad out there and beware. A boat can sink. An engine can die.

So far, I haven’t had any luck finding the life-changing boat. I’ve discovered buying a used boat is like buying a used car: frustrating, annoying and risky. Leah has spent hours on Craigslist, and I’ve made a bajillion phone calls. We’ve traveled half-days in two different directions to look at some boats, but they were fixer-uppers with ready-to-float prices. People will tell you anything to get you to take a boat off of their hands. Some of it is true (the poor kid who needs to sell his boat fast to pay for a DWI lawyer) and some isn’t (the guy who told me a boat didn’t need any work, but the cracked windshield was threatening to cave in, the floor was rotted, the last time it was registered was 1987, and with the holes we saw in the hull, it is obviously going to sink as soon as it meets the water.)

I’m not ready to give up yet, to have my boat lust squelched by fear or slippery Craigslist sales pitches. To get me through these dreary days of winter, I need dreams of warm sunshine on my face and waves lapping against the side of my perfect little boat. I’m going to set the Zen alarm clock to wake me early tomorrow, get my ass to the gym, turn on the air purifier when I get back, and keep making those phone calls.

-Amelia Sauter