Today’s 2nd annual Eco-Fest flooded the Levitt Pavilion with 1,500 hungry folks.
Kids, Staples students, parents and grandparents — all were hungry for environmental information, free food, and good music.
They got it — and more.
I’m not sure which I enjoyed most: seeing so many committed young people earnestly manning booths; the pulled pork from Bobby Q’s, or the “Pump It Up, Baby!” video by Walter Kosner, Mikey Holmes and Helen Martin Block (shown at the library) that must be the funniest look ever at septic systems.
I know what I didn’t like: Taking an online test, and learning that if every human being on earth followed my daily habits, we’d need 2.9 planets to live on.
“That’s okay,” the student at the laptop said. “Mine came out to 6. But I’m trying to cut down.”
Thanks to Eco-Fest, we all have a little more knowledge about how to do it.
Darien High students Ryan Dirvin and Rahul Datta, with mentor Westporter Leo Cirino, show off the hydrogen fuel cell car they designed. "You can drink the exhaust," they claim.
Jonathan Steinberg hosts a toilet toss. Hit the target, win a prize -- and think about waste products.
Free pulled pork from Bobby Q's, pizza from Skinny Pines, cupcakes from the Staples culinary department, Newman's Own drinks -- and of course, compostable cups.
Violinist Jeff Cheng and guitarist/vocalist Max Stampa-Brown -- 2 of the many musical acts at EcoFest 2.
“06880” reader Rich Groblewski wants to drive this point home:
I’m not sure which is worse: spam that clogs up my email box, or the loads of junk mail I get at home.
Now there’s another culprit: flyers left under the wiper while my car is parked at the train station.
With spring quickly approaching, flyers for garage sales, car detailing and landscapers will soon be placed under wiper blades in parking lots all over town.
Yesterday, after getting off the train from Grand Central, I found a flyer prominently displayed under my wiper. It was carefully placed there by what claimed to be an “eco-friendly” property care company.
I assume it was meant for me, because my car does not have a lawn. Because I live in a condo I don’t have a lawn either, but maybe the lawn guy thinks I know someone who does.
Surveying the parking lot, I noticed more of these flyers were on the ground than on cars. I guess those cars don’t have lawns either.
Or maybe they just don’t like companies that pretend to be eco-friendly, while wasting resources the old-fashioned way.
What’s 350? According to scientists, the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Right now, our concentration is — ta da! — 390 parts per million.
This Saturday at 7 a.m., Westporters are invited to join the International Day of Climate Action. A sunrise gathering at the Compo Beach cannons will help raise awareness of, and take a stand for, a safe climate future.
Bring blankets, chairs and musical instruments. The Environmental Action Group at the Unitarian Church is supplying coffee.
Add to the list: Westport’s Wastewater Management Committee.
Your septic tank at work.
The group — formed a year ago by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff — is charged with keeping the town’s rivers, brooks (and Long Island Sound) clean. I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing I am: “Sure, septic water — when filtered through leaching systems, and purifying soil — is very clean. But passing an ordinance mandating homeowners to pump out and inspect their systems every 2 to 5 years — depending on the size of their household and system — seems difficult to enforce, as well as expensive and time-consuming. So how can the Town of Westport ensure that homeowners understand the importance of properly maintaining their septic tanks?”
Great minds think alike! That’s why the Wastewater Management Committee’s public relations task force was created.
Composed of RTM members, town officials and others, the PR group’s charge is to educate Westporters about proper septic maintenance. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and all that.
The committee started this summer with a 4-page questionnaire. Homeowners are asked about their septic system; how they treat it and manage it, and what they put it in. The answers will show the PR folks what Westporters know — and don’t know — about this important topic.
“Septic systems require live bacteria to do their job,” notes PR task force member Diane Cady. “Bleach, turpentine or harsh chemicals kill the bacteria. We don’t know if most people know that.”
A great start — but not easy. Catching people at home — and getting them to talk — is a challenge. Plus, the committee has virtually no budget. They squeezed $250 out of the Conservation Commission, to pay for lunch and gas for 3 student volunteers to administer the survey.
The task force also plans water purity tests, as another baseline measure.
Public relations people often say, “I don’t care what you say; just spell my name right.”
Sounds good to me. This one is spelled just the way it sounds: S-e-p-t-i-c.
Some teenagers will spend this summer babysitting, or at the beach or camp.
Four Staples girls plan to pick up your garbage, compost it, then return it for use as natural fertilizer.
The only thing better than their idea is the new company’s name: Soil Yourself Composting.
From left: Sasha Berns, Casey Richardson, Venetia Stanley, Molly Pieper.
The great green idea germinated with Casey Richardson’s research paper. She chose urban agriculture, and learned that small steps can have major environmental impacts.
She and fellow juniors Sasha Berns, Molly Pieper and Venetia Stanley realized they could take those steps. They batted around ideas like delivering organic food to Westport homes. Eventually they settled on a logical, doable project that is practical, important, and involves something everyone has: trash.
Starting June 22, Casey and her cohorts will go around town. Utilizing 5-gallon buckets they’ll pick up kitchen scraps, dead plants, lawn clippings — anything natural — and bring them to Casey’s back yard. There they’ll be dumped into 1 of 4 composters, and nature will begin working.
They’ll repeat the process every Monday. When the composting is done — it takes a few weeks — the girls will deliver it back to the “owners.” Compost — similar to potting soil — is far better than chemical fertilizer. It cleans contaminated soil, reduces carbon dioxide and methane, saves landfill space and prevents land erosion. (For more composting facts, visit Soil Yourself’s website).
The cost is $5 per week. The buckets — all recycled from area stores — are free.
The Soil Yourself girls are as green — as in ecology — as they come. They bought used composters at a New York City urban agriculture seminar.
“We went to the Lower East Side to learn about composting,” Sasha says. “There were a lot of ex-hippies and Brooklyn hipsters — and us. We were the only people there who actually had lawns.”
Their friends and families are not certain what to think. A few have said, “So you’re going to be a garbageman?”
Others totally get it. Fellow junior Caroline Hershey came up with the Soil Yourself name. A few classmates — mixing the environment with entrepreneurial zeal — have offered to invest.
Right now, the profit motive is less important to Soil Yourself than the idea behind it.
“If you don’t want to sign up and pay $5 a week, at least check out our website,” Casey says. “You can learn how to do composting yourself. That’s free, and it’s totally fine.”
Woodstock 1969 was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Westport’s EcoFest 2009 was biofuel, LED light bulbs — and rock ‘n’ roll.
That’s what 40 years will do.
Yesterday’s event — sponsored by Staples’ Club Green, and funded by Westport’s Green Village Initiative — drew an unexpectedly enormous turnout to the Levitt Pavilion. Teenagers, families with toddlers, a few folks who looked like they just woke up from Woodstock — all enjoyed a relaxed but involved gathering of eco-friendly Westporters.
Along with free food (environmentally correct napkins!) and great music (not too loud — watch the power grid!), there was information on saving gas, reducing electricity and recycling trash. But it was low-key, not PC; even Rush Limbaugh would have been chill.
An eco-friendly crowd enjoys Westport's EcoFest. Informational posters can be seen in the background.
Club Green co-vice president Melanie Yemma was elated.
“We’re a small group, but we’ve done a lot this year,” she said. “We got solar panels at Staples, and helped with the plastic bag ban. We have reusable water bottles at Staples, and we’re starting the edible garden next week.
“Today it’s just great to see so many different types of people here, having so much fun.”
Staples senior Glenn Friedman proudly showed off the circus bus he bought in Vermont. He’s converting it to run on waste vegetable oil. The interior is being built with recycled materials. The back will contain an organic greenhouse. A rooftop solar panel will run lights. He’ll display his bus at schools, green technology conventions and farmers’ markets, as a superb example of Westport’s commitment to sustainability.
If Glenn lived 40 years ago, who knows what he’d have done at Woodstock.
Glenn Friedman poses on the hood of his school bus. He's converting it into a completely sustainable vehicle, using green technology and his own ingenuity.
Exactly 1 year ago, Westport Wash & Wax won a WeGreenWestport award. The car wash was honored for using biodegradable chemicals, recycling 70% of its water, installing solar panels, even taking glass and plastic bottles from cars to the transfer station.
But last April times were flush. Did the toilet-swirling economy cause the car wash to reconsider its environmental commitment?
Absolutely not, says co-owner Craig Tiefenthaler. He and his brother Scott — who founded the business nearly 10 years ago — have not wavered at all.
“It does cost money,” Craig notes. “We pay for state-of-the-art equipment and the best chemicals. The photovoltaic panels on the roof are not free. Aquarion doesn’t give their water away.
“But it’s the right thing to do.”
Business is off this year, Craig admits. “No one is escaping what’s happening. But we’re a viable business. I’m not bragging, but we’re holding our own.”
In fact, the economy is less worrisome than the weather. “A rainy weekend — that’s a real killer,” Craig says.
He adds proudly: “We haven’t laid off a single worker. It’s important to keep good men.” The average turnover in nearby car washes is 5 months. He’s had the same employees for years.
One area where energy must be expended: Every car gets freshly washed towels. “You can’t wash nice cars with dirt,” Craig says. As if on cue, a shiny BMW rolls by.
It’s hard to imagine a business better suited to today’s save-money, save-the-earth ethos than a bike shop. Its product is relatively inexpensive, easily maintained, environmentally vital, and it appeals to all ages.
The store — despite its broad selection, knowledgeable staff and superb service — is no more. Not long ago it hummed; now it’s just another empty storefront, not far from similarly shuttered Shaw’s, Totally Kool — and Curran Cadillac.
First a car dealer; now a bike shop. Soon we won’t have any place to buy wheels to get to the stores that are not open, anyway.
Here’s an offer that’s easy to refuse: Pay more for electricity.
But wait — there’s more!
If you sign up for “community energy” with CL&P, your bill will rise about 5 percent. But you’ll force the utility to buy all of your home electricity from clean, renewable sources like wind and water. No more nuclear, gas, oil or coal — the cheap-but-dirty electricity CL&P now buys.
Need more reasons to pay more? Keep reading!
For every 100 Westport families signing up, the town receives a free $20,000 solar panel from the CT Clean Energy Fund. We have 4 so far, thanks to 400 families; those panels will soon be installed on a school.
Still not convinced? How about this:
In partnership with Staples’ Club Green, Community Energy is offering school clubs and teams a chance to make money. Families enrolling in “community energy” through June 30 can designate any Staples organization to receive $30. No favorite cause? The $30 goes to Club Green.
You can leave the program at any time, without penalty.
No one wants to pay more for anything. But when you can lower your carbon footprint, decrease dependence on polluting sources of electricity, help earn a solar panel and donate a chunk of change to your favorite club or team, it’s hard not to.
It’s not my idea. I stole it from the New York Times, which reported on a town in Italy that eliminated most school buses and parent drivers. Instead, paid staff members and parent volunteers lead lines of walking students to school — “Pied Piper-style, stopping here and there as their flock expands.”
The town’s “piedibuses” (the Italian sounds better than “foot buses”) have saved more than 100,000 miles of car travel, and prevented tons of greenhouses gases from entering the air.
Here in the U.S. a few places — Marin County and Boulder, go figure — have introduced modest “walking-bus programs,” but the concept is foreign to most of us.
Westport — home of the first plastic bag ordinance east of the Mississippi — would seem to be a perfect place to try. We could save gas, help the environment, unjam roads, amortize our sidewalks, promote fitness, give students more time to socialize, give parents more time to themselves, and (the big one) cut some buses out of our education budget.
Walking to school might lighten backpacks too. Kids today haul all their earthly possessions everywhere — more academic, less migratory versions of the Joad family.
The downside? Drivers still on the road — those hustling to work, or their workout appointments — would be freed up to speed up. Our streets are already riskier than Baghdad’s; adding hundreds of potential targets might not be the smartest idea to come down the pike.
On the other hand, it’s worth a try. Perhaps we can use the stimulus package to put Pied Pipers to work, leading ever-expanding flocks up and down North Avenue.
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