Missing the Mark

Now that my borough has single stream recycling, I’ve become much more aware of the type identification on plastics. Previously, I could only recycle plastics numbered 1 and 2. Everything else, marked or not, went in the trash. Now, everything that has a number can be recycled, so I’m only throwing away plastics that are missing the mark.

Fortunately, the vast majority of plastic, and we’re mostly talking packaging here, has the mark in an obvious location. Molded plastic almost always has it, as it is easy to imprint it in the mold. There is effectively no cost. Plastic wrappers and bags that are printed will sometimes have a mark printed on. For example, the bags that frozen vegetables are sold in and the inflated plastic pillows used for packing shipments from Amazon have the mark printed. Since the packaging is being printed for marketing and safety reasons, again, there is no added cost to include it. What tend not to be marked are all of the transparent, plastic baggies, sleeves, and wrappers used for packaging components inside a box. They aren’t being printed with other information, so the manufacturers wouldn’t want to incur the expense of adding printing just for that.

This may be changing. Just a few days ago, I received a battery and charger for my video camera. They are after-market parts—relatively cheap—but the plastic wrappers they came in were prominently displaying the recycling indicators. No other information was printed on them. That’s promising.

Single Stream

Just before Christmas, I received the annual mailing from our waste collection company that lays out the curb pickup schedule for 2011 and reiterates instructions for recyclables. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they are switching to single stream recycling. This means that, rather than residential customers doing the sorting, all recyclable materials are mixed and sorted at the facility. There are many potential pros and cons to this method, which you can find summarized on Wikipedia. What it means for me is that a lot more of my family’s refuse will be recycled. Where we were previously limited to #1 and #2 type plastics, we can now recycled in plastic that has a number on it. This is huge. We didn’t have any paper pickup previously—we saved our paper and took it to a pickup location that accepted it, but we had no option for cardboard. Now we can recycle all paper and cardboard that isn’t wax coated or contaminated with food.

So, my resolution is to recycle more. This is a great way to kick off a new year.

Boulder Outlook

Regular readers may recall that I’m the logistics chair for the upcoming Interaction 11 conference. I’m currently in Boulder, the site for the conference, working out some of the details. During this trip, I’m staying in one of the secondary hotels with which we have arranged for a special conference rate: the Boulder Outlook Hotel & Suites. We selected this independent hotel because it has a bit more personality than your standard chain. It’s also the first “zero waste” hotel in Boulder. Every room has one container for metal, plastic, and glass, a second for paper and cardboard, and a third for trash. They even have cans for compost. When I returned to the hotel this evening, there were some local farmers selling produce in front. It isn’t an upscale hotel, but it does reflect what the entire city of Boulder seems to be about: healthy, responsible living.

This sticker is on the mirror in my bathroom.

The HPA Energy Lab

My attention was brought to a very interesting school in Hawaii, the Hawai’i Preparatory Academy’s Energy Lab, under the direction of Dr. Bill Wiecking. They have an innovative approach to education that has been thoroughly designed, from the building in which the students learn to the way technology is incorporated into their classes. If you are at all interested in education or sustainability, I encourage you to watch their video and listen to Christopher Breen’s interview with Dr. Wiecking on the Macworld Podcast.

Find more videos like this on Schools of the Future


I was listening to MacBreak Weekly during my return commute, and Leo introduced a new advertiser that I had never heard of before. Gazelle is a web-based business that will buy your old gadgets. They buy cell phones, PDAs, desktops, eBook readers, external drives, video games, movies, LCD monitors, projectors, laptops, gaming consoles, satellite radios, streaming media devices, digital cameras, GPS devices, calculators, home audio equipment, MP3 Players, camcorders, camera lenses, and Blu-Ray players.

It couldn’t be easier. You start by searching for your product, and the search field starts listing matches, with pictures, as soon as you start typing. Depending on the device, you will be asked a series of questions. For example, upon selecting a Palm Treo 650, the site asks me if it successfully makes a phone call, if it is free of water damage, and what condition it is in. Hovering over a condition results in a detailed description. It then asks what accessories I have. After answering the questions, it makes an offer. It also presents a graph showing a price history for the item and a projected price for the coming month. If you accept the offer, you add it to your box, and then look up the next item.

Gazelle sends you a box and ships your gadgets for free. They wipe all personal data from any item you ship them. But they don’t stop there. If your gadget has no monetary value, they will recycle it for you. They have a special service for schools and businesses that want to sell in bulk. Even better, they have a program that allows an organization to collect gadgets as a fund raiser.

This is a brilliant business model based on a patent-pending engine that scans market data to determine a fair market value. It removes all of the hassles of listing items on eBay or Craig’s List. Not only is it an extremely useful service, and a green one at that—it’s very well designed. The experience of using their website is excellent, and it sounds like the following experience of shipping items and receiving payment will match.

I think I’ll be putting a little extra cash in my pocket in the near future and feeling good about responsibly disposing of a lot of obsolete electronics.

Savannah Schwag

The conference organizers for Interaction 10 made a point of sustainability in this year’s schwag bag. Rather than giving us another screen-printed satchel, they handed out small gift bags containing the following items:

The program was a spiral-bound, 5.25 by 8.5 inch tablet—2 colors printed on a fairly heavy stock. Large print and high contrast made it easy to read in the dimly lit theater, and the spiral binding allowed you to leave it open at the current day’s sessions, each day being a full spread. As there were four different session venues, each was marked with an icon for The Theater, The Restaurant, The Square, or The Pharmacy. The tablet contained several blank pages at the end so that it could be used to take notes during sessions. It has an FSC Mixed Sources certification.

Another spiral-bound notepad was branded by SCAD. It was all blank, unruled pages, suitable for sketching, except the very last page which was laid out for “important contacts” on one side and a two-year calendar on the other. That inclusion seems a bit silly in this digital age. It is certified FSC Recycled.

There was a small, zippered bag that was hand-made locally. There were a number of different versions of the bag—mine is black on the outside with a gray zipper and pink on the inside, those being the conference colors. Rather than being silk-screened, it has a tag on the inside with the conference logo. I’m not sure what I’ll use it for, but it is a very nice bag. It contained a cheap, SCAD branded ballpoint pen, a fine-point Sharpie branded with the Interaction 10 logo, a postcard advertising Mate: The Game, an iPhone app designed by SCAD Interaction Design students, and a moo.com sample business card that acts as a coupon for a free pack of 50 cards. Moo was one of the conference sponsors, and SCAD, of course, hosted.

There was a one-sheet from Morgan Kaufmann advertising Tamara Adlin and John Pruitt’s new book, Essential Persona Lifecycle, Jon Kolko’s Thoughts on Interaction Design, Beyond the Usability Lab by Bill Albert, Tom Tullis, and Donna Tedesco, and Tharon Howard’s Design to Thrive.

Finally, the gift bag contained a Klean Kanteen, another environmentally conscious product, branded with the conference logo. It’s one of their new, wide mouth bottles.

All in all, it was a very useful, green, schwag bag that didn’t result in a lot of refuse.

Interaction 10 Program

The program for Interaction 10 has been posted, and it looks like it will be another outstanding conference. The keynote speakers will be Paola Antonelli, Dan Hill, Jon Kolko, Ezio Manzini, Nathan Shedroff, and a true legend in the field, Bill Moggridge. Additional invited speakers are Timo Arnall, Cindy Chastain, Liz Danzico, Shelley Evenson, Dave Gray, Tom Igoe, Peter Morville, and Denise Wilton. Looking at this list and the 28 speakers selected from 250 session submissions, it appears that Service Design and sustainability with both be significant themes running through the conference.

Registration is now open, and early bird pricing is in effect through November. The past two conferences have sold out, and I see no reason for this one to not follow suit. I’m hoping to attend again, but that’s likely dependent on at least partial support from my company. Here’s hoping.

Green Map

Back in January, our local IxDA chapter participated in an event titled Back of the Envelope: A Sustainable Restaurant Crawl. My report on the event can be seen on the IxDA discussion forum. We hosted the final stop.

Onny Chatterjee and Bill Bernstein had a large map of Pittsburgh on the wall (labeled using Ecofont, and we had 30% recycled post-consumer waste Post-it Notes on the tables. As we ate, we wrote down all of the sustainable businesses and other relevant organizations in the Pittsburgh area and placed them on the map in their relative locations.

Onny transferred the locations recorded on the physical map into Google Maps. This is a great resource, and I would encourage designers to do the same in their own cities.


I love my PT Cruiser. I’ve had it eight and a half years now, and I’m about to break 100,000 miles. It has been a great car. My only complaints, and I knew them going in, are the turning radius and the gas mileage. The former I’ve learned to compensate for and the latter… well, it’s been on my mind more lately than when I bought it.

I’ve been hoping to keep it for about another year or so. There are a lot of interesting cars scheduled for release between now and 2011, and I would really like my next car to be an innovative hybrid, if not completely electric. However, I may have a transmission problem on my hands. I’ll be taking it in to have checked in the next week, but I’m preparing for bad news. I don’t want to put much money into it, so I’m starting to look for a new car now.

My criteria are as follows:

  • Good gas mileage - in the 30’s.
  • Unique, stylish design - I need something with personality.
  • Relatively inexpensive - no more than $22,000 well equipped (which knocks the Prius out of the running).
  • Must be capable of highway driving - no NEVs, but I love the look of the Peapod.
  • Must be available within the next couple months.

I’m currently considering:

  1. Smart fortwo
  2. Mini Cooper
  3. Toyota Yaris
  4. Scion xD
  5. Nissan Cube (available this Spring)

I’m just starting my search. What else should I be thinking about?

Taxi Hybrid

I arrived in Vancouver Thursday morning in time for the workshop I wrote about yesterday. I took a cab from the airport to my hotel, The Four Seasons, where the conference was held. As the car pulled away from the terminal, I noticed that something was different. Looking at the dash, I saw a display that was monitoring the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. I confirmed with the driver that the vehicle was indeed a hybrid.

It was my first ride in one. The engine was dead silent when we stopped at a traffic light. The driver informed me that there were a lot of hybrid taxis in Vancouver. As he put it, “We wouldn’t be able to stay in business otherwise.”

That makes a lot of sense to me, and it made me hopeful. Every city should be working towards making all public transportation hybrids or otherwise alternative fuel vehicles. That encounter was repeatedly brought to mind throughout the conference as three of the six keynotes centered around sustainability and how design can play an important part in solving our current, wicked problems.