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Sustainable Cities Congress in Morelia, Mexico.

November 20, 2009

A few ago weeks I attended the first international Congress for Sustainable Cities in Morelia, Mexico. Ok, so the name isn’t all that catchy but we have to start somewhere.

A few months prior, I was asked to put together a proposal for a small exhibition at the event. After a quick brainstorming session I came up with a load of ideas and sent them off to see if any would be accepted. The following day an email arrived in my inbox.  After a little translating from the wonderful Marianna (it was written in Spanish) I understood all the ideas had been accepted and I had 4 weeks to bring them to life. So off I went.

The main idea was to create an exhibition using nothing but things I found on the streets of Mexico City. The final outcome ultimately ended as an eclectic selection of bottles, cans and glass. However a little extra digging revealed electrical cables, plastic sheeting, stainless steel sheeting and a load of wood.

The idea was to create an exhibition that informed and educated the audience but primarily showed that green (reusing) can be desirable. Of course I could have just made some huge crazy sculptures from rubbish but that would just show that it’s possible to turn waste into art. But hey, we already know that. I wanted it to be more inspiring, more appealing; I wanted to create objects desirable to people in the world we live in.

So that was the challenge and this is what I created.

‘Nest’: made from 100 plastic bottles attached to a rusty wire frame found on the streets and painted white. The lamp stand was found on the streets of New York during the time I lived there.  The only purchased object was a CFL light bulb as well as a splash of white paint.

(Left)  ‘Plastic Chandelier’: made from the bottom of 160 plastic bottles of almost any variety. The top of the lamp was made from a plastic paint lid; the metal rods bent into shape I got from a long piece of metal both of which were found on the street. For this, I purchased nylon thread (of which I hardly used any) and a CFL bulb.

(Right) ‘Hats’: made from 16 coca-cola bottles. Again the stand was found on the streets of New York and the CFL was (like the Nest) purchased. I also needed 16 nails that I already had.

(Below) ‘Daisy Field’ : made from the neck of 70 plastic bottles attached to a clear plastic board I found on the street. The frame was made from found wood and illuminated by LED fairy lights that I already had.

As part of the exhibition we made a short documentary where we asked people a number of questions ranging from recycling,  global warming solution all the way to asking what a sustainable city is. Surrounding this content was a number of short videos ranging from famous quotes to a short insert from Ken Yeang: a leading architect on sustainable skyscrapers. The video below is an animation I created for the event. This video was picked up by Channel 22 in Mexico and broadcast on national television. (This is the English version and below is a link to the Spanish version)

Other parts of the video can be found on our youtube channel at

(Left) ‘Bottle Earth’: This was created from a burst yoga ball I had. Attached to it (using industrial glue) there were about 500 bottle tops. The idea for this was to take all the plastic bottles used at the four day event and see how much of a globe we could create from this waste. Considering this was an environmental congress, sadly we collected more than 300 plastic bottles.The idea was to show that we just are not doing enough to solve our greatest problem. I mean, come on guys, frankly this is terrible. By the end this ball was more than half full.

(Above) Surrounding the video and Eco Lamps I created 25 boards with information about our planet, global warming and human effects.

The final idea was to give something to people for them to take away with them. Here we printed the idea of the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) on scrapped paper from an office a friend of ours works in.

The exhibition was really well received and apart from the video being shown on national TV, most of the lamps were purchased (that wasn’t the idea but people kept asking). The wooden boards with painted facts were bought by a guy that gives talks on the need for solar energy and will be appearing in a number of environmental publications. The giant plastic bottle globe was donated to a school for children with learning difficulties who will complete the globe from the bottles collected in their community.

So all in all, it was a great success. I could not have done it without all the help of Marianna who supported the entire project, Carine for printing things at her office, Fer for lending us her massive car , Chris and Rafa for driving us to Morelia. And of course Eduardo for introducing me to the organizers. Without these people this couldn’t have happened. Thank you.

Thanks for reading…


PS. More photos can be found on my photo webpage

T. Boon Pickens’ Lecture Review at UT

November 10, 2009

New post from Tom Bowden (my dad).  Enjoy!

November 6, 2009

Hi Waste Project folks,

I just wanted to send in a letter about the T. Boone Pickens lecture I went to at the University of Texas at Dallas yesterday. From someone who has been-there done-that in the 1980s and 1990s relating to: passive solar, active solar, ethanol fermentation (from waste, short rotation woody crops, etc.), wind power for ethanol plant, methane digester technology, commercial-scale liquid recycling, and someone who has been battling cynicism, I was pretty inspired.

Mr. Pickens (81 years old) was engaging and very much on the ball.  He has developed the Pickens Plan for US energy independence through rapidly expanding natural gas for energy and transportation needs along with the large-scale use of wind (and solar) power.

He is all about American independence from foreign oil; OPEC in particular.  He sees Americans using American found, and produced, energy as in the best long-term interest of America and Americans. Basically taking responsibility for our current and long-term energy needs, American security, and the American economy.

There are a number of things I really liked about The Pickens’ Plan:

1) there is a “real” plan, not just airy fairy political goal setting.  Pickens wants to see the entire US heavy-duty trucking industry convert from diesel to natural gas.

2) the plan is in real-time. He wants to do this in 10 years.

3) the plan is large. This single significant act would cut our crude oil imports substantially (about 20%) and reduce diesel tail pipe pollution by 25%.

Obviously, from Mr. Pickens’ point of view, the CNG fuel would come from current and new wells of natural gas from US soil.

4) the plans include current technologies of CNG engines, wind and solar, plus investing in new tech infrastructure (smart grid), and spending money on research for energy storage, wind tech, etc. Along with new techniques for recovering the natural gas (one problem is this technology may create other environmental problems).

5) the plan is measurable and trackable.

6) the plan is regional and national; and most importantly it can be cookie-cuttered, mass-produced, and it is duplicatable.

Mr. Pickens is trying to stay one step ahead of the looming problem of “peak oil” with all its ramifications.  His prediction of peak oil is within 36 months; coupled with the maximum world output of 85 million bbls per day of crude oil (no matter the demand) that will create $300 per barrel costs along with unforeseen social and economic fallout.

To be honest it was good to see someone stand up and propose part of a national (and worldwide?) energy plan that we can start implementing today.  We really do need to start somewhere – there is way too much talk with too little large-scale action.  We have a worldwide problem; it is going to take some world scale reaction.  I realize that substituting one non-renewable fuel for another is not the ultimate goal, but from a pragmatic point of view it is a lesser evil.

From a personal point of view I liked the lamp shade from the 16 recycled plastic bottles in Ed Gregory’s letter of Oct. 27th, but it is not climate changing action.  Maybe I’m just groping in the dark and looking to support some kind of nation-wide scale action that may lead to the positive tipping point planet Earth desperately needs.

Tom Bowden

T. Boone Pickens in orange tie; Tom Bowden directly behind.

A Sustainable cities Congress should be sustainable. Right?

October 27, 2009

Picture 6Today was the first day of the first international congress for sustainable cities in Mexico. It is a four day event and is being held at Concenexpo oin Morelia. The event had barely begun and I found myself frustrated, partly because  of the very late and unorganized opening but mainly for the many contradictions the event has.

Now don’t get me wrong, nothing can take away the fact the having a congress for sustainable cities is a good thing but there really does need to be more effort made. For example our exposition is in a large marquee in the main plaza and the entire floor in lit from underneath like some sort of 80’s dance floor (only its only white lights) and given the event is during the day these do not have any effect. They are just a waste of energy. Much of the rest of the event follows the same theme of un-thoughtful and unsustainable thinking.

The venue itself has a large theatre which must hold at least 700 people and four smaller conference rooms which hand about 200 in each. Each containing many lights (I counted more than 40 in one of the smaller ones), sound systems and projectors.


One of the sustainable laps we are showing. Made from 16 plastic bottles

Now this sounds like a pretty normal set up right, but when speakers have an audience of about 8 it really does seem like a huge waste. I saw the minister for the environment speak and although he new his stuff (as expected) he was less than inspiring and with lines like ‘Mexico really doesn’t have much of a problem compared to china and the USA’, he really didn’t excite the audience to act.


Lunch, was this sustainable in any way? To my eyes, not at all. Meat everywhere, lots of food, lots of waste and absolutely no information about any of it. So either it was in no way sustainable which means the event is massively floored or if it is in any way sustainable it was not advertised so it was not leading by example or showing any kind of forward thinking.

The is a list longer than my arm in which this event frustrates me but I won’t bore you with more details.

I just believe that if we really want to make a change we have to try a lot harder. Having a congress is great but using the same techniques just doesn’t cut it. We need an event that will show change, prove its possible, lead by example and make everyone want make a change. This is the type event I want to be a part of, this is the event I will create with The Waste Project.

Lets see what day two brings tomorrow.



No Impact Man’s Big Impact

September 17, 2009

no impact manLast Friday my boyfriend and I left work at 9:30 (yeah no double!) and scurried down to the Angelika to see No Impact Man on its opening night.  I have NO idea how I completely missed Colin Beavan + Family’s big experiment to attempt to live a zero net carbon footprint life for one year in NYC, but I did.  What can I say, 2007 was a bitch.  Regardless, we had heard about the opening of the documentary on NPR earlier that week and we were both excited to check it out.

First, I need to say that I loved it.  Second, here’s a quick synopsis (quoted from the blogsite): “For one year, my wife, my 2-year-old daughter, my dog and I, while living in the middle of New York City, are attempting to live without making any net impact on the environment. In other words, no trash, no carbon emissions, no toxins in the water, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no toilets…”  And so they do.  The project occurs in 4 stages over the course of the year.

Why did I like it so much?  Well, first of all, Colin Beavan and wife, Michelle Conlin aren’t your average environmental fringe extremest (for clarity’s sake I’m going to use first names).  Michelle is a self-proclaimed shopaholic and coffee addict.  She’s what some might call a “good consumer.”  A quick glance and her AMEX bill at the beginning of the movie made the audience cringe, and rightly so– $900 for a pair of high heels is a bit much!  Colin is more down to earth, but has a naivete about him that can come off as flippant or even ignorant.  Ultimately, what they are is human and flawed, and that makes the entire project feel so genuine.

They also had a level of humor and banter at some of the most difficult times.  One moment that sticks with me the most happened during their first attempt to do laundry in the tub.  It was the dead of winter, Colin was cleaning out the last of Michelle’s cosmetics, and there was a tub full of cold, dirty laundry with baking soda for detergent.  Michelle was curled up in bed sulking, listening to her husband and daughter walking on the laundry and laughing.  Instead of staying in bed, she got up, and with some coaxing was walking on the dirty laundry too, churning it clean– and they were having the time of their life!!  I grew to respect their love for each other, general optimism, open mindedness, and journey over the course of the year.

Above all, though, they had a message.  Not only are some of these sustainable life changes important for the planet, but they are also important for humanity.  Not to get too gooey about it all, but it sort of felt like the answer.  In an attempt to live sustainably, it is necessary to develop local eating habits, which leads to an interest in the community, and better health, and in this film a closer family, and a sense of the earth, and an ownership of you and your impact.  It also shows that there is a choice to be made.  We make them all the time, every day.  All they did, for one year, was make the most earth-friendly choices everyday.  Ultimately, what they realized is that those same choices were the most human-friendly too.  As they both said numerous times, it’s not about deprivation, it’s about exploration.

I’m going to make a really cheesy analogy now, but I can’t help it.  You know in the movie Contact, with Jodi Foster?  Ok, well at the end when she is dropping in the ball through the alien thing (god it’s been a long time since I’ve seen this movie)?  Right, well you know how she is strapped in the chair, and is rattling around, but when she gets out of the chair she is able to just float?  That is how I think we need to solve the environmental crisis that we are it:  we need to get out of the chair.

Or, something like that…  haha!  See the movie and let me know what you think!

Keep spinning.


Printed phonebooks. In 2009. Really?

September 7, 2009


Who actually uses them and who just puts them straight in the trash, umm recycling? How many stay on the font doorstop getting soggy, or get stored in a draw until the next one arrives to replace it. Even if you do use it, how many of the 2,000+ pages do you read? I am guessing that many of you are like me and never or at least rarely have a need for this cumbersome old technology. Think about it you want to find the phone number for the local vets, you have two choices.

1. Use that wonderfully simple white box on a well know search engine and type ‘vet in north London’ (or wherever local is to you). Select the first option and voila, you got it.


2. Think about where you put that huge yellow thing about 4 months ago. Then go to the draw in the study, pull out all those unread letters and bank statements that is jamming it in and get your fingers around it a yank it out. Next find V, you calculate V is letter 22 in the alphabet, must be near the end. Great you landed on W must be close. You flick backwards, OMG how many window cleaners are there. Finally V, then V, E, luckily V is not a very large section so this is pretty fast. So you have found Vets. AAAAAAAGH. What’s with all those crazy adverts jumping out at me? You pick the first. No wait there must be one closer than that. Ok so lets start referring to all the addresses. Yes all 127 of them. Finally you have found one. now find a piece  of paper to jot the number down before jamming the phone book back in the draw and wedging it in place with the letters. Before you make the call you need a cup of tea to relax after the stress of the event.

Ok, so I may have been a little unfair on the big book but you have to admit there is a certain truth in my description.

Even if you do this once a month or even 10 times a month that is still a lot of printed pages you will never look at, which means a lot of waste.

But how much waste? According to the official yellow pages website (UK), they distribute 28.4 million copies. With a population of just over 60 million that’s nearly 1 for every other person (this includes babies and children). Then there is the Thomson Local (White pages in the USA). Another 22 million or 1 for every three people. So put together that’s nearly 1 phone book per person.

This is old technology. We can get faster more accurate results on our lap tops and mobile phones.

Remember to answer this question —–>

Of course they are going to keep printing them as long as companies keep paying for adds. But it seems to me that companies’ keep paying for adds because that’s what everyone else is doing. But this just means every company is lost among hundreds if not thousands of companies selling the same product or service. Using an Internet search engine allows us to define our search parameters. In a book we can look for Vet. On line you can search for what you want. EG. ‘Vets 24 hour emergency Hampstead heath, London. And guess what, the first option was exactly right. You can’t do that in 0.1 seconds (that’s the time Google said that it took) with a phonebook.


According to up to 5 million trees are cut down to print the white pages in the USA every year. And the Yellow Pages is printed in more than 120 countries.

So what can you do to stop all this printing? I believe a good solution would be an Opt-in delivery program. Meaning, the directories are only delivered to homes and companies that request it. The idea comes from, which offers a petition for people to sign asking for an opt-in program.

Although afterd oing a bit of digging I found out was the creation of the ‘White Pages’. On their website it says ‘WhitePages launches BANTHEPHONEBOOK.ORG to educate consumers on the environmental impact of printing and distributing the white pages phonebook. Check out the site and sign the petition!’. Nowhere does it say what will be done with the petition.

Does this mean that this petition is just a big marketing campaign? I am interested to find out what is going to happen to this petition. Maybe someone from White Pages would like to answer this.

As I am not sure of the credibility of the above petition, I have created my own. Which can be found HERE, and can be signed by people from any country. So please join me to stop the wasteful printing of phonebooks.

Thanks for reading.


The Petition

As Simple as Black and White?

September 3, 2009

obama and chu

Bit of a quicky this week.  School is back in session, and I can’t wait to relay info about my Global Warming class!  But first, I wanted to post about the latest and greatest idea from the White House– White Roofs.

I freaking love this idea.   The new Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu, is my hero.  Also I’ll just take this opportunity to plug Obama– how amazing it is to feel represented!

Ok, so on to this white roof proposal.  Paint your roof white.  That’s it!

This so called “cool roof” idea is rooted in the fundamentals of light and reflection.  Black absorbs light, transfering it to heat.  White reflects it.  Albedo is the scientific term for how reflective a surface is.  Glaciers, for example, have a high albedo.

Suposably, “lightening roofs and roads in urban environments would offset the global warming effects of all the cars in the world for 11 years.” (1)

Pretty cool stuff, huh?  Partially why I think this appeals to me so much is because it is our world, slant.  It is taking what we are used to, black roofs, and tilting it conceptually just enough so that it is purposeful.

It is also a quest for the whys.  Why are roofs black?  Can they be white?  What if they are?  What if everyone partook in a quest for the whys?  Like a 2 year old, discovering the world for the first time.  What if instead of answering, “I don’t know,” we answered, “let’s find out”?  If enough changes are made simply with the environment in mind, well, I don’t know what would happen, but it makes me feel optimistic, excited, and yes, hopeful.

Let me know what you think!

Keep spinning.


A Green Herring

August 27, 2009

I'm Not A Plastic BagOne of the most frustrating aspects that I find about the self-proclaimed Green Movement are the red herrings.

For a little idiom 101– a red herring refers to a tactic of misdirection.  For example, a murder mystery might overemphasize one character with the intention of under emphasizing the murderer.

In this case, I believe that this-is-not-a-plastic-bag bags have become a red herring.  It’s not that I don’t think this is a good movement.  I do.  Yes, bring reusable bags!  Yes, minimize a superfluous waste!  Hooray!!!  It’s that it feels like nothing else is getting done because of the inflated amount of attention that gets drawn to this one, tiny topic.

Rather than using the conceptual knowledge– move away from superfluous non-recyclable non-reusable packaging– people appear to be stuck only on the move away from plastic bags.  It’s like a fixation.  In the mean time, nothing is being done about the way food is packaged.  Nothing is being done about the way drinks, pens, toys, toilet paper, cleaning products, cameras, and on, and on, are packaged.  It is as if, because the items are in a reusable bag, the items themselves are not wasteful.

The reality is, however, even if you use a plastic bag, over 98% of the waste generated comes from what is inside the bag.  Bob Lilienfeld, editor of the Use Less Stuff report, in a August 7, 2009 interview with NPR said that, “the bag is not the environmental bogey-person that everybody thinks it is.  If you look at the entire grocery package that you bought, the bag may account for 1 to 2 percent of the environmental impact.” (Tovia Smith, How Green Are Reusable Bags?)

Again, I am in no way advocating the use of plastic bags, but what I am saying is that maybe it is time to move on.  Or, if it’s not time yet, it is at least time to multi-task.  Not to get nutty with the fish analogies, but I think of it like “teach a person to fish and he/she will eat for a lifetime…”  You get the idea.  (On a tangent, PC and grammatically correct proverbs just don’t have that same ring to them…)

San Fransisco recently banned plastic bags.  I think this is great!  Let’s put a lid on this issue once and for all, and start to tackle the next issue:  like packaging in general, or better yet, plastics!!

Let me know what you think.

Keep spinning.