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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Watch Garbage Dreams Airing Tomorrow Night!

The following post is written by one of my lovely and talented writers at Re-Vision Labs, Martina Welke. Look for more of these posts in the coming months, as we aggressively build our Environment Lab to help environmental organizations to do their work better, faster, and more effectively.

Garbage Dreams

Waste Not, Want Not

This week, Director Mai Iskander’s film Garbage Dreams will premier on PBS as part of the station’s Independent Lens series.  The documentary features three adolescent young men “raised in the trash trade” in Cairo.  Adham, Osama, and Nabil are part of the Zaballen community, which is one of the oldest urban recycling cultures in the world.

The Zaballeen people saw economic opportunity in trash collection over a century ago, and have built their livelihood around the business.  Since there is not much money in garbage pickup, the Zaballeen make the majority of their revenue from recycling.  About 80% of the trash they collect is recycled by hand and then sold as raw materials.

The film chronicles the Zaballeen struggle to maintain their recycling program after the city of Cairo hires foreign corporations to take over garbage disposal in the city.  Although the corporate program recycles only a small fraction compared the to Zaballeen, the city government prefers the foreign companies because they are perceived as modern.

In an effort to combat the foreign competition, the Zaballeen community launches a grassroots campaign to organize the enterprise, modernize their services, and educate the surrounding community.  The community sponsors a Recycling School that teaches reading , writing and computer skills as well as safe recycling practices.  Iskander includes a few community meetings and some footage of door-to-door canvassing efforts, but I found myself wanting to see more scenes focused on Zaballeen community organizing than the one-hour time frame would allow.

One of the most interesting segments of Garbage Dreams is when two of the young boys, Adham and Nabil, are selected to travel to the United Kingdom in order to study modern waste management.  The boys are appalled at how much garbage is wasted at the high-tech plant they visit.  Adham tellingly remarks, “Here there’s technology but no precision.”

In a very brief segment near the film’s conclusion, Iskander included updates two years after the launch of the Zaballeen campaign.  Unfortunately, the foreign corporations seem to be winning the battle.  Yet there are still signs of hope, as one community member notes that people around the globe are finally starting to care about trash and understand its environmental, political and economic importance.

Garbage Dreams is the kind of documentary that left me wanting to see more, learn more, and do more.  Luckily, there is a fantastic interactive website that allows viewers to do just that.  The site is packed with additional information, discussion guides, and lesson plans to help people learn from the film.  There’s even a game that simulates the Zaballeen business process and challenges players to match the 80% recycling rate they have achieved (no easy feat, even for a die hard recycler like myself—I only reached a 32% on my first attempt.)

Garbage Dreams premieres tomorrow, April 27th on PBS.  Check local listings here.

What Else Can You Do With Trash?

Do Something For Our Friends In Haiti

Hi everyone.  I’m sure that you have read a lot about Haiti in the news, seen the terrible destruction on television, and heard more than you ever wanted to hear from friends and coworkers.  I don’t want to add to that deluge here, so I will make this very short.

I’ve met Haitian refugees who were living in the middle of sugarcane fields in the Dominican Republic.  I was filming there a couple of years ago (I was a documentary filmmaker, for those who don’t know).  The children there were amazing – funny, interested in what we were doing, wanting to learn where we were from, and really just being kids.  They had barely roofs over their heads, lived with very little money nor food and clothing, but they were always smiling and joking and enjoying life.

I guess I really just wanted to humanize the situation.  Kids are kids, people are people, and if our neighbors and friends were in trouble we would help them.  Our neighbors in Haiti need help.  They were already one of the poorest countries in the world.  They have lost their government, their roads, their homes, and – I would imagine – their hope.  Imagine.

If you have money, I would give money.  But you don’t have to give money, you can give time – help a local organization raise funds for Haiti.  Or if you can’t find a local organization, get some friends together and have a bake sale, or a benefit concert, or a walk-a-thon, or whatever it is that you enjoy doing.

I firmly believe that part of living in a sustainable world is helping our neighbors, helping spread the wealth and happiness to other communities, and being there when others need us most.  Sometimes the best thing we can do for the planet, and for ourselves, is to help others.

What To Do

Here are a few resources I have found.  If you have found good resources, please share them in the comments so that we can all learn more.

  1. From your cell phone,  text “Haiti” to 90999, to automatically donate $10 to the American Red Cross. Your phone company takes care of the rest, and takes no money from the transaction.
  2. If you’d rather give via the Clinton Foundation, text “Haiti” to 20222 (95.9% of the money goes directly to Haiti – the Red Cross gives a little less).
  3. Invest in the future of Haiti, by making a microfinance investment. While donations are incredibly important right now, investments in the future of Haitian businesses – to help them rebuild in the aftermath – is going to be incredibly important very soon.  If you want to learn more about Oikocredit, see my previous post.
  4. Donate via Google to CARE or UNICEF, both wonderful organizations.
  5. Donate to the ASPCA or Humane Society.

And again, if you have found other good resources, please comment to let us all know!  Thank you.

Car-Free Suburbs Can Happen

Nearly Car-free Suburbs

Imagine: 70% of families in a suburban community don’t own cars, and the percentage keeps going up.  A whopping 57% sold their cars when they moved to the suburbs.  The suburbs! And even better, according to the New York Times, it’s becoming a trend.  It’s even called “smart planning.”  Indeed.  The only two parking lots are on the edge of town, making it easier to walk to the store than walk to the car.

Ok, so most of these communities are in Europe.  But a few are even popping up in the United States.  There is hope…

The Environmental Impact Of Spam

No Spam

As if you need another reason to hate spam…

A new study reports that about 62 trillion spam messages are sent each year, giving off the same amount of CO2 as driving around the earth 1.6 million times. To break that down, one spam releases 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of driving three feet, according to The Wall Street Journal. (Thanks to Ryan Avent at for the link.)

Spam accounts for one-third of all business and personal messages. Yowza.  I believe it.  I just added a spam counter to the right sidebar here, and look how many spam comments I’ve had to go through!  Boy they are just awful, too.  Personally polluting, time polluting, and environmentally polluting.

How To Minimize Spam

1. Filter your spam. Apparently “spam filtering saves 135 terrawatt hours of electricity a year, the equivalent of taking 13 million cars off the road,” according to The Wall Street Journal.  It is likely your email system has a decent spam filter.  Check your email preferences and make sure the spam filter is on and working at maximum capacity.  If you have your own domain or ISP, you can probably use a more robust filtering system through your service provider – just ask them.

2. Use a disposable email address for things you want to sign up for but will never need to use again. About “80% of the greenhouse gases created by spam actually comes from the process of deleting it, or by searching around for legitimate emails trapped in spam filters.”  I use an email address specifically for such purposes – my “donotspam” email address!

3. Uncheck the check boxes. When you sign up for membership to a website, listserv, or campaign, they will often have a check box – which is usually pre-checked – asking if you want to receive ads and other emails.  UNCHECK the check boxes!

4. Avoid publishing your email address anywhere on the web, unless it is disguised. There are several ways to do this.  Here, I’ve set up a “Contact” page so that the sender never knows my email.  Kills me to do that, but I learned the hard way with my last blog!  You can also put up a jpg or png image file of your email address, so that “spiders” and “trawlers” can’t automatically find your email and stick it in a database (they can’t read images).  Or you can do the simple “joe at gmail dot com” technique.  Any of the three work fairly well.

5. Google your email address. If it comes up on any site, do everything you can to remove it!  Ask the administrator – they’ll probably do it without much fuss.

6. When posting to newsgroups and listservs, be careful not to post your email address if you can help it.  Often there is a preference to remove your email address.  If you can’t remove it, use a disposable email address (see #2).

7. When forwarding emails from someone else – and particularly a group of people – make sure you remove all the old email addresses from the email. You never know where that email will end up – you could be handing a spammer 50 of your friends’ personal email addresses!

8. Ignore “delivery failures” of messages you did not send - these are probably sent by a worm, Trojan, or spammer.  Don’t reply!  (Worms are programs that can send bulk emails – they often live on your unsuspecting friends or family’s computers as a virus.)

9. Run virus scans regularly on your computer. Worm viruses can actually send spam to everyone in your address book.  Icky.  PCs are much more vulnerable to worms than Macs.  Also make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and from a reputable company.

10. Don’t reply to spam. Even if you reply in order to request removing your email address from the mailing list, you are actually confirming that your email address is valid and the spam has been successfully delivered.  Then your email address may be sold to additional spammers, being more valuable now that it has been confirmed.  Even opening the email may trigger this confirmation, so try not to open spam if you can help it.

And finally, never respond to emails that ask you to validate or confirm any of your account details of your bank, credit card, Paypal, or others. If you are not sure if a request for personal information is legitimate, contact the company directly. Don’t click on any links in the email, as they may be fake links which simply validate that you received the message and you can now be put on more spam lists.

All in all, spam is a small portion of the total climate and energy impact of humans.  But as we all are aware, every little bit helps. And since spam is such a nuisance anyway, why not take a few extra precautions to rid society of spam?

Techies, please feel free to contradict me if I’m wrong on any of this stuff!  And everyone, please let us know if you have any other tricks!

When Sheep Belch, The Planet Warms

Apparently sheep and cow belching accounts for more global warming gases than cars.  I had no idea!  The Wall Street journal has more:  Silencing the Lambs: Scientists Target Sheep Belching to Cut Methane.

Cellphones Are Becoming More Environmentally Friendly

Click Image to Enlarge.  ”Cell phones” by Chris Jordan

Photographed at a landfill in Orlando, 2004

It’s the things we are most tied to that seem to be the worst for the environment.  Cars, computers, cellphones…

Well some good things are coming out of this economic downturn.  This week was the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Cell phone companies have been hit pretty hard in the current economy, so it seems they’ve been working on lots of green and low-cost innovations to entice us…

Motorola has come out with Renew – a cellphone made from recycled plastic bottles which can itself be recycled. The phone comes in 100% recycled packaging, and includes a prepaid envelope for you to send in your old mobile phone for recycling. Additionally, Motorola is paying to offset the carbon emissions from manufacturing, distributing, recycling, and using the phone. Motorola is calling this the first carbon neutral phone.

Samsung has just revealed Blue Earth, a solar-powered phone made from recycled plastic and “non-toxic” materials. It has lots of ways to reduce energy usage in “eco mode” and has a 5-star energy efficient charger. Plus it comes with “eco walk” – built-in pedometer that calculates how much CO2 emissions you reduce by walking as opposed to driving. (I must say it’s kinda pretty, too – you know, for that extra enticement.)

Nokia has come out with several “green” applications for its phones – including ones where you can offset your CO2 emissions – and they are running a competition to make the best environmentally-oriented application.

But the highest impact change is this: 17 of the world’s largest cellphone companies have joined together and signed an agreement that a majority of new handset models will include a universal charger by January 1, 2012. That means no more having to throw or give away your charger when your phone dies!

Does that sound like a small change? Last year an estimated 1.2 billion cell phones were sold, along with between 51,000 and 82,000 tonnes of chargers. That’s a lot of garbage for our landfills, and a whole lot of wasted resources. It is estimated that “the standardization of cellphone chargers could cut energy consumption by as much as 50 per cent globally and could reduce greenhouse gases by as much as 13.6 to 21.8 million tonnes per year.” 

Pile Of Cell Phone Chargers At A Landfill

Click Image to Enlarge.  ”Cell phone chargers” by Chris Jordan

Photographed at a landfill in Atlanta, 2004

Little changes add up.  As we said earlier this week, one step at a time can add up to make a large impact!

Happy Sunday

Hello everyone, I hope you’re having a lovely weekend. Matt and I had a fabulous Valentine’s Day evening at a local restaurant. Truly one of the best dinners we have ever had! I’m still reeling.


I have quite a lot of work to do today, to get ready for our official Re-Vision Labs launch on March 2nd. So I am going to leave you with a link to 100 Must Read Blogs By Women. Thanks, Lauren, for reminding me of this great link. And of course I don’t think it’s great just because One Green Generation is #88!! ; )