When we think of green building, we tend to think of the built environment’s impact on the planet. But there’s a human component to crafting sustainable dwellings. An eco-friendly home should be one that maximizes a person’s health, well-being and productivity at every age.
As the U.S. population ages, and as more people choose to live in multigenerational households, there’s increased attention to creating homes that allow people to “age in place.” The idea is to build structures that can accommodate people’s changing mobility as they age so people can stay in their homes as long as possible.
The principles of “universal home” design are well aligned with many green building principles. People are more affected by toxins as they get older. As a result, it’s important that they live in homes crafted with materials that will not leach chemicals. Older folks are less able to perform maintenance tasks on their homes. Homes built with quality, long-lasting materials will require less labor. Homes with universal design features don’t need few resource-consuming (and expensive) modifications such as wheelchair ramps or lifts.
There are numerous qualities to consider when building or remodeling a home so it’s appropriate for aging in place. They include:
Creating zero-step entrances from inside to outside, as well as within the house
Installing a curb-less shower and hand-held shower head in at least one bathroom
Making doorways and hallways wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair
Designing rooms large enough to do the same
Installing blocks behind the walls of bathrooms and other rooms so it’s easier to install grab bars at a future date
Designing gardens and other outdoor spaces with adaptive gardening and mobility in mind
If some of these tasks seem impossible – for example, if your green ethos involves built up rather than out because of a desire to preserve land – include these components in the downstairs portion of the house only. That way, should a resident eventually become unable to use the entire house, they’ll still have a place they feel comfortable.
By incorporating some of these principles, homeowners stand a better chance of being able to stay in their homes and communities longer. They’re less likely to become isolated (a real concern for older folks) or suffer injuries, and they’re more likely to carry on with planet-friendly tasks such as gardening, cooking from scratch and walking to places they enjoy. Healthy, happy people make for a healthy, happy planet. And that’s a good thing for everyone.
The annual BRING Home and Garden Tour provides inspiration and ideas for simple living. We want to demonstrate that simple is beautiful, that imperfection can be something to find peace with rather than fighting. The concept of wabi-sabi is a perfect fit with that.
We hope you’ll learn more about the Japanese philosophy by reading this article, and we look forward to seeing you at this year’s BRING Home and Garden Tour on Sunday, September 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $14 at the door. The tour will feature seven green homes, two organic gardens and one new business that emphasized reuse when designing its new facility. Get a preview of each property here. Buy your tickets on our website or at Down To Earth, Lane Forest Products or the Planet Improvement Center. We also hope to see you at Hot Mama’s Kitchen + Bar, 23 Oakway Center, for the tour afterparty.
What is wabi-sabi and how does one go about living in this way?
Wabi-sabi, the art of finding beauty in imperfection, emerged in the 15th century as a reaction to the lavishness, ornamentation, and use of rich materials that was popular during the time. In Japan, the concept is deeply ingrained and it is difficult to translate to Westerners.
In broad terms wabi-sabi is flea markets, not high-end boutiques; aged wood, not glossy finishes; a chipped cup instead of a new one. Understated, natural materials, and items that are cracked and used, are all wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi values simplicity, uncluttered, understated, and modest surroundings. Authenticity is key to the philosophy and the aesthetic: the presence of cracks and frayed edges are considered to be symbolic of the passing of time, and should be embraced.
For example; In Japan, broken pottery is mended instead of thrown away. Kintsugi or kintsukuroi, is a centuries old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold, silver, or platinum colored lacquer. Beautiful seams of gold fill in the cracks, giving a unique appearance to the piece, one that celebrates and emphasizes the fractures and breaks instead of hiding them. Kintsugi often enhances the repaired item making it more beautiful for having been broken.
When it comes to creating a wabi-sabi home it doesn’t require money or a set of special skills. Wabi-sabi living inspires minimalism that focuses more on the people who live in the space than anything else. Possessions and other items are pared down to the essentials based on utility, beauty, and emotional connection. The idea is to live modestly, and learn to be satisfied with life once the unnecessary is stripped away.
Collections of wabi-sabi possessions are well curated. They are continually pared down to those that earn their place. What makes the cut?
1) Useful things: Tools, essential kitchen utensils, and even a personal computer. The idea here isn’t to live without, rather to live with less and with things that are used regularly.
2) Loved things; Your grandmother’s quilt, a rickety chair from your childhood home or a piece of art from a recent vacation are all things that offer memories or nostalgia. If you love it, keep it.
3) Quality things, built to last: Quality over quantity is the key to wabi-sabi. Choose high quality goods that are made to stand the test of time. Items that grow in their character when lovingly used.
Wabi-sabi is both an aesthetic and a state of mind. It encourages us to find the beauty in what exists and, to be at peace with the natural processes of life and with the eventual decay and deterioration that comes from use. Wabi-sabi also teaches us the impermanence of all things and requires us to shift our thinking to appreciating rather than perfecting.
A focus at this year’s BRING Home and Garden Tour on Sunday, September 10 is how local nonprofits are bringing sustainable housing to low-income people. Because eco-friendly materials and systems are often more expensive than their conventional counterparts, we typically think of green housing as only being available to people with resources. But working families, veterans, people with disabilities and homeless youth also deserve to live in high-quality, healthy homes that tread lightly on the earth. It’s exciting to see this happening in the Eugene-Springfield area.
The Youth House, developed by St. Vincent de Paul, is one project that showcases how green homes can be affordable to people at all income levels. The local nonprofit is “recycling” a former church on Willamette Street into studio apartments for young women between 16 and 18. Residents in the target age range can stay as long as they remain in school. By keeping the existing building instead of tearing it down, St. Vincent de Paul will greatly decrease the amount of waste sent to our landfill.
The other affordable housing development featured on this year’s tour is Emerald Village Eugene (EVE), a community of micro-homes for people transitioning out of homelessness. The project, supported by SquareOne Villages, will feature 22 homes for adults, many of whom are currently living in Eugene’s Opportunity Village.
The majority of the homes in EVE are being donated by local designer-builder teams. Two are being spearheaded by student teams, including the innovative ReachOUT House. The house is the brainchild of Lyndsey Deaton, a Ph.D. student in the University of Oregon’s architecture program. Deaton has a keen interest in homelessness and wanted to design a house with the needs and desires of future residents in mind.
As part of her dissertation research, she and research partner Christina Bollo interviewed people experiencing homelessness and asked them what they’d want in a permanent home. Many of the features they described will be included in the ReachOUT House.
“A lot of people told her they wanted a bathtub,” explains Paige Portwood, a public policy, planning and management master’s student and member of the three-person leadership team that also includes architecture student Samantha Freson. “At missions they can only take brief showers. A bathtub symbolizes relaxation and safety.”
Homeless people tend to live in very cramped spaces like cars or single-room apartments, Portwood says. Although the ReachOUT House is only 180 square feet, it’s designed to have an open and spacious feel.
EVE is intended to be a close-knit community, and Deaton designed the ReachOUT House with that in mind. The living space has French doors that lead to an outdoor living space and the common area. This will make socializing and gatherings more convenient.
Deaton and her team are committed to using recycled materials in the house whenever possible. They estimate that 70 percent of the building materials – including the wood, windows, interior finishes and paint – are post-consumer products, many of which were donated by or purchased at BRING. The home is designed to consume 45 percent less energy and 30 percent less water than a typical tiny house.
“Micro-housing is already using less materials and leaving a small footprint on the earth,” the group shares in their promotional materials. “The ReachOUT House wants to make the eco-friendly gap even smaller with the innovative and creative use of recycled goods.”
Much of the labor for the ReachOUT House will be donated by University of Oregon students. Portwood emphasizes that the leadership team is interested in engaging students from Lane Community College’s construction program, Oregon State University’s engineering school, or anyone else who would like to get involved in a meaningful and worthwhile project.
Construction on the house will begin in September and is expected to be finished by October. EVE has already interviewed and selected tenants for the property, so Portwood and her team already know who will occupy their house: a 66-year-old woman named Alice Gentry who has lived in Opportunity Village for the past year.
“That’s where we get our motivation – the knowledge that we’re giving her a house,” Portwood says, ebullient at the knowledge that in a world filled with some many problems, her time and effort really can make a difference in a person’s life.
Professionals willing to donate services are encouraged to contact the volunteers at ReachOUT House through their Facebook page. The leadership team is hoping to secure onsite construction managers who can lead students at a couple of key times during the construction process.
Anyone willing to support this project financially can make a donation through ReachOUT House’s YouCaring account. Portwood offers thanks to the Rotary District 5110, Rotary E-Club of the State of Jefferson (D5110) and other local Rotary Clubs, which have made significant donations of money and volunteer labor.
Don’t miss the ReachOUT House, Youth House and other homes, gardens and businesses on the ninth annual BRING Home and Garden Tour on Sunday, September 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are available online or at the Planet Improvement Center, Down to Earth and Lane Forest Products.
The benefits of recycling are well known. By diverting useful materials from landfills and incinerators, we save raw resources, reduce toxins in the environment, create jobs and save money. It’s good for the planet and good for us.
Many of the products we interact with on a daily basis are made of materials that are fairly easy to recycle, such as paper, bottle glass and aluminum. But others – things such as hard plastics, computers, furniture, and clothing and shoes – cannot be recycled so easily (and in many cases, can’t be recycled at all). This creates a real problem in the waste stream.
In addition, some consumer and environmental advocates believe our whole system of recycling needs some tweaking, especially when it comes to dealing with those hard-to-recycle products. Why do products have to be made with so many materials that have no second life, or made in a way that makes them expensive to recycle? And why do our tax dollars pay for waste disposal and recycling programs instead of the company that created the problem in the first place?
For decades there’s been a small but vocal group of people advocating for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), a policy approach that puts the onus for reducing waste in the hands of the people who have the greatest ability to do something about it: producers. Companies who manufacture consumer goods have the best shot at reducing product’s adverse impact by changing product design, manufacturing and packaging.
According to UPSTREAM, a national organization that focuses on the root causes of environmental harm, EPR policy has two related features: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to the producer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.
Europe is way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to EPR. The European Union (EU) has been working on making producers more responsible for the waste they create since the 1980s, when it set rules on the “production, marketing, use, recycling and refilling of containers of liquids for human consumption and on the disposal of used containers,” according to its website.
In addition, some Member States set rules to address the environmental aspects of packaging and packaging waste. Since then, the EU crafted EPR legislation to “harmonize” what individual Member States had already been implementing and maintain a level playing field for manufacturers across the EU.
According to a 2012 report by the environmental group As You Sow, fifteen EU countries require that producers finance all costs of collecting and recycling packaging, and in 10 countries, governments and producers split the costs.
In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brought together large retailers and consumer goods producers, with state governments, city officials, and NGOs, to start a dialogue on how to pay for recycling. While companies pushed back against the notion of regulation, a few participants such as Walmart and Coca-Cola have since started offering grants and low-interest loans to municipalities to improve recycling. Product stewardship advocates say that’s not nearly enough. Companies, they believe, should be footing the bill for the whole system.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) “supports product stewardship principles” as a way to reduce the environmental impacts from a product’s life cycle, and shift the cost of managing waste products from government agencies to those who produce and use the products. But it’s been largely up to state governments to enact laws. According to the Product Stewardship Institute, there are dozens of EPR laws in 34 states, often covering products that are difficult to recycle, like mattresses and paint.
Oregon has EPR programs for electronics, mercury thermostats and containers (bottle return programs are not managed by manufacturers, though). Oregon was the first state in the nation to enact a law requiring paint manufacturers to start a product stewardship program “to reduce waste, increase reuse and recycling, and safely dispose of remaining unusable paint and other coatings.”
In 2012, Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission adopted Materials Management in Oregon: 2050 Vision and Framework for Action. According to the DEQ, “The 2050 Vision takes a holistic approach to reducing the environmental impacts of materials across their entire life cycle–from resource extraction and design through production, consumption and management of discards.”
SB 199, a bill introduced in the Oregon Legislature earlier this year, would have required EPR for household hazardous waste, a category that includes solvents, pesticides and herbicides, and pool chemicals. The bill died in committee, but it shows that Oregonians are still thinking about ways to hold manufacturers responsible for what they create.
Consumers have a role to play in making EPR a reality for more materials. You can use your buying power to help encourage retailers and manufacturers to make products that are less toxic and easier to recycle, the Northwest Product Stewardship Council says. Here are their suggestions for making your voice heard:
Before buying a product, find out if the manufacturer or retailer takes back and recycles their products.
If you’re buying a product to replace one, ask if they will recycle your old one.
Let manufacturers know you would like them to offer a take-back program.
Share your knowledge and choices with your friends and family.
Kids may be out of school for the summer, but that doesn’t mean BRING has put its mission to teach students and community members about the impacts of waste on hold. Our various education programs are still going strong thanks to partnerships with great organizations like Willamalane.
Teaching people about reuse and recycling has been a core part of our mission since we were founded in 1971. Since that time BRING has presented thousands of free educational seminars at K-12 schools, churches and community groups.
For the past two years BRING’s environmental educators have been presenting short, fun workshops to kids in Willamalane’s summer day camps. The curriculum is very similar to what we do in classrooms during the school year. Lessons are hands-on, fun and short. They incorporate Common Core Standards and Oregon State Standards for social studies and science, and can be geared toward people at any age.
The three most commonly requested presentations are on the 4 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle and rot), vermicomposting with worms, and papermaking. Education and events manager Emily Shelton recent took the latter presentation to 10 elementary-school aged youth enjoying a morning of activities at a Springfield park.
At a picnic table under a tall tree, Shelton mixed brightly-colored paper particles with water in tubs. The absence of power at the park meant she couldn’t demonstrate the real first step in making paper, which is to shred it into a pulp (she does this with a blender, which is a great way to destroy the appliance, she notes).
But the bins of pink, turquoise and lime goo were enough to capture the campers’ attention. “Do we have to touch that?” asked one girl, looking dubious.
“You get to touch it!” Shelton replied. The response was a group “ewww.”
But once the demonstration started the kids got more enthusiastic. Shelton showed them how to pile a thin layer of pulp on top of a screen, spread it around, then place it on a piece of recycled newsprint. She used a sponge to draw out excess water. When most of the water was gone, she pulled up the screen to reveal the final product.
Once hearts, circles and rectangles in brilliant shades started to emerge, all hesitation vanished. “I’m going to make another one!” said the child who had kicked off the shrieking about getting her hands dirty, running off to get another screen.
“How do you think you can use your paper?” Shelton asked the campers as they continued making paper. One person thought she would color on it. Another thought she would use it to make cards.
When everyone was done with their paper, the sheets of newsprint went in the sun to dry. As Shelton started to clean up, she explained that the purpose of this workshop was to get kids thinking about unique ways to use everyday materials, as well as explain the basics of recycling and reuse. The message seems to have sunk in – at least to some extent.
“What did you learn today?” she asked before she left.
“You should never touch pulp without permission,” one responded.
“Yes… but what else?” Shelton asked.
“We learned about how paper is made,” says another child. “It’s pretty simple. All you need is blended wood and paper.”
“Do you know what happens when you send something like paper, glass or cans away to be recycled?” Shelton said.
“They take it and use it again and it keeps going,” says one person. “That’s a lifecycle.”
Building on that answer, Shelton made an effort to draw a connection between the paper they’d just made and the recycling process they participate in at home. Mills need raw materials to make paper. They can extract those raw materials from the earth by cutting down trees, or they can turn old paper into new and cut down fewer trees. The best way for them to get recycled paper is for people to be diligent about recycling paper at home. “By doing that you’re helping Mother Nature,” she said.
“What’s Mother Nature?” a child asked.
Obviously there’s still more work to be done to educate children about sustainability. But thanks to BRING’s many partnerships with school districts and community groups, that child might get another fun and inspiring from Shelton in the future.
We have two can’t-miss events coming up next week!
Join BRING Recycling at PK Park on Good Karma Monday, July 10 as the Eugene Emeralds take on the Tri-City Dust Devils. As part of the Good Karma Monday program, friends and supporters of BRING will be able to name their own ticket price at the box office. That’s right – pay whatever price you want for the baseball game (in dollar increments) – $3, $5, $10, $YOUR PRICE. Fifty percent (50%) of what our fans choose to pay will be donated to BRING.
Tickets must be purchased on game day at the ticket window. The game starts at 7:05pm. Good Karma Monday is presented by Café Yumm!and Yogi.
And coming up that weekend… Do you want to know how to care for your bike and get more enjoyment out of riding it? Join BRING for the latest in our series of Repair It! workshops, which will focus on bicycle maintenance and repair. This hands-on event, sponsored by Arriving by Bike, will provide plenty of knowledge and inspiration.
The Repir It! workshop will place at the Planet Improvement Center, 4446 Franklin Blvd. in Glenwood from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 15. Pre-registration is not required, but come early as this is a popular workshop. There is a $3 to $5 suggested donation per participant.
The Oregon Country Fair is coming up July 7 to 9. BRING will once again be making your peachy experience a little less poopy by providing a cloth diaper service. Cloth diapers will be available for $10 per dozen with a $30 refundable deposit. Plastic storage bags and pins are available, but diaper covers are not. Diapers can be rented or returned during Fair hours. Diaper service is located on Wally’s Way, near the Childcare area. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
While you’re thinking about diapers (something you probably do a lot if you’re a parent, and avoid at all costs if you aren’t), we thought we’d take this opportunity to do a little diaper education. Disposable diapers represent a surprisingly large portion of the waste stream, so it’s worth having anyone engaged in diapering think about ways to cut down on consumption.
Many eco-friendly parents have turned to cloth diapers as a greener alternative, but they may not be as environmentally sustainable as you think. We dig into why cloth diapers aren’t the end-all, be-all for planet-loving parents.
Diapers in the waste stream
In 1998 (the last time data was compiled) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that Americans threw away close to 20 billion disposable diapers every year. Given that nearly 95 percent of all households with children reported using disposal diapers at some point, this figure probably isn’t surprising. In total, diapers made up 2.1 percent of everything we throw away in a year.
One of the problems with putting diapers in landfills is that they contain fecal matter, which makes them more hazardous than other types of waste. (Technically, users are supposed to place all fecal matter in the toilet before trashing disposable diapers, but studies show than fewer than one percent of Americans do that.) Should they spill out of a trash container – or should a landfill begin to leak – they pose a real health and environmental danger.
And forget about the environmental impact for a minute and look at the cost. A breakdown on this website estimates that it costs about $750 to keep a child in diapers for a year. The cost of cloth diapers (factoring in the initial investment of buying the diapers and covers) is estimated at $225 a year. This assumes the family washes their own diapers and does not pay for a diaper service.
Cloth diapers vs. disposal diapers
Cloth diapers have long been considered the greener alternative to disposable diapers. To begin with, they aren’t disposable, which should automatically make them better than their non-reusable counterparts. Diaper covers can often be passed on to another family when you’re finished using them. Any cloth diapers you can’t give away or sell can be used as rags. This gives them a life even beyond their initial purpose.
However, the conversation about whether cloth diapers are better than disposal diapers is not as clear cut as you might expect. There’s been a lot of debate over the years about whether using cloth diapers will really lower your carbon footprint that much.
When you think about it, cloth diapers still consume resources. Someone has to grow cotton, bamboo or other fibers to make them. Non-organic cotton in particular is a very water- and pesticide-intensive crop that requires a huge amount of input, which has a negative impact on people and the planet. Then the fibers must be transported (typically from far-away places) and manufactured into cloth. The synthetic diaper covers also must be manufactured and transported.
Cloth diapers have to be washed frequently so smell and bacteria doesn’t built up. They also need to be washed in warm to hot water, often with bleach or another type of disinfectant. Washing machines use a lot of water and energy. When you have to dry diapers in the dryer (as opposed to a clothesline), that takes even more energy.
A report (available for download in this Washington Post article) from the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that the carbon footprint of cloth diapers is 570 kg of CO2 equivalent over 2½ years. The carbon footprint of disposable diapers is 550 kg. This is just one study, but it does demonstrate that cloth diapers may not be as green as everyone thinks they are.
In addition, disposable diaper manufacturers are taking strides to make their diapers less impactful on the earth. The article referenced above reports that Pampers and Huggies source their paper products from certified sustainable sources, and Pampers has plans to reduce manufacturing waste, water usage and emissions.
It’s harder to make a plain cotton diaper more eco-friendly, but there are a few things you can do to lower the impact of diapering even more:
Use washcloths instead of wipes on your baby’s bum. Wash them with the diapers.
Make your own diapers from flannel fabric you already have on hand. If you don’t have any, source it from friends or a craft reuse center such as MECCA or St. Vincent de Paul.
During the summer months, dry your diapers on a clothesline rather than putting them in the dryer.
Some families chose to shorten their diapering period through early potty training. There are multiple books that coach parents on how to toilet train children as young as three or six months. This isn’t a good solution for every family, but if it’s something you’ve considered doing anyway, the environmental impact of less diapering might be one more reason to go ahead.
Cloth or plastic?
The last thing we want to do is talk you out of using cloth diapers if you feel good about that decision. Nor do we want to advocate for switching to disposable diapers, which still have plenty of problems. Families often have good reasons for choosing one or the other; maybe cloth or plastic gives their child diaper rash, or perhaps they don’t have regular and affordable access to a washer and dryer.
Because we’re dedicated to keeping items out of the waste stream and encouraging reuse whenever possible, we still feel good about giving a thumbs up to cloth diapers. If you feel the same way, make sure to visit us at the Oregon Country Fair July 7 to 9. We’ll have all the supplies you need to keep your little one comfortable and keep as much trash out of fair bins as possible.