Sunday, April 26, 2009

Being Green in Argentina

"Verde que te quiero verde."

"Green, I want you green," wrote Federico Garcia Lorca, possibly the most noted Spanish poet, in his poem Romance Somnambulo .

I want things green too. So all last week I celebrated Earth Day here in my little house on the Argentine pampa in thought, photo, and deed. The most deeply gratifying thought is that my ecological footprint has shrunk from a size 12 EEE to something like a 7B. As it wasn't all voluntary, so I'm not asking for a pat on the back.

First of all, even with a less visible environmental movement, it is easier to live greener here, more due to necessity and custom than any kind of eco-consciousness. So here's how I've become greener since moving here:

1. I drive less. In fact, I don't drive much at all. I average less than 40 kilometers per week—and that is in a 17-year-old Ford Galaxy powered by compressed natural gas. I do average about two trips a year back to the US—so that eats up any credits I might have earned, I suppose.

2. I hang clothes out to dry—a rather pleasant task beneath the towering magnolia and jacaranda trees. Roberto was insistent that I not buy a dryer, and almost no one I know has one anyway. The sun does a pretty decent job, and I've learned to hang the brighter colored garments in the shade. (You can see the "sun line" on a number of my T-shirts!) In inclement weather, we drape damp clothes over the loft balcony, over doors, on dresser drawer knobs, etc. I wash dishes by hand, but I've read that is not an energy savings. Then again, we don't have to throw one out when it breaks down or just gets out of fashion.

3. My consumer days are over. Here there is less to tempt—and I've discovered that I don't need much that isn't here. (Except great semi-sweet chocolate!) There's no pressure to buy the latest anything, and we have very few gadgets around the house besides a refrigerator, stove, microwave oven, mixer, food processor, and a small vacuum. We have a 15-year old stereo and a sadly ordinary TV for watching videos as we chose not to have any TV service. The average age of our PCs is 6 years, which is a little dismaying actually. Our big thrill is the antenna which allows us to get broadband.

4. The packageless, nearly paperless home. Since I buy less, there's less packaging. Besides, very little comes in those cardboard and bullet-proof plastic packages here. I didn't even get one of those great cartons when I bought a refrigerator—it came with a thin plastic film on the door and a blanket around it. We use maybe one tin can a week and reuse any jars to store food and spices. We get very little mail and almost zip junk mail—no catalogues, no charity requests, etc. Just an occasional copy of the Jehovah Witness pamphlet, Awake! Our notepads are recycled paper--I cut the pages up myself!

5. Slow Food, Local Food. Most of our food is locally produced foods and we grow our own berries. My new German expat friend, Britta, stops by with a crate of organic veggies (see photo) from her farm about two kilometers away. Those crispy gorgeous greens, along with domestic cereal grains and other produce, have become a mainstay of our diet. The butcher cuts up the meat while I wait and puts it all in a plastic bag.

6. The Minimalist Trash Can. We throw out a couple small bags of trash three times a week—it's so little it fits in a driveway-side basket like the one pictured. We use things up, reuse things, recycle things right at home. You never see piles of junk on curbsides (unless it is someone's parked jalopy!). Folks here use cheap toilet paper and reuse containers for economy's sake. . . and I do it for that and to lessen waste.

7. Our Energy Savings. Except during mid-winter, the weather is very hospitable, often absolutely delightful. So our small chalet-style home lacks central heating, though I confess I put an A/C in my loft office for use on the sweaty days. Mostly we rely on fans or just the breezes, doors wide open, especially since electricity costs more here. Since our small gas wall heater only puts out a few BTUS in this poorly insulated house, during the winter I stuff old newspapers in the window cracks and live in my polar fleece jacket, even to bed at times. Amazing what you can get used to! We've learned to take two-minute showers since our hot-water heater is quite small.

8. Simple Pleasures. Entertainment for us and our neighbors and friends usually involves socializing over meals, walking or biking, reading or playing board games, a dip in the pool. We fill the pool with water from our own pump, and it leaks back into the same ground, and then we fill it up again. Our vacations are generally a day's drive to the ocean or mountains for a respite, where our activities are all non-motorized.

Most of the middle and working class folks that I know here live fairly simply, enjoying their family and friends, and never give much thought to their environmental impact, as low as I perceive it to be here on the family level. Of course the farming and crops have taken their toll on the pampa, and deforestation and water pollution are common. So there is definitely room here for more awareness and more action. I hope to be a part of that too.

May all your days be green!


Wanda said...

Simpler = greener. Sounds very attractive in many ways. I am loving hearing about your life there.

Jeff9 said...

Save money and the Earth and be clean at the same time! Get serious and add Bathroom Bidet Sprayers to all your bathrooms. I think Dr. Oz on Oprah said it best: "if you had pee or poop on your hand, you wouldn't wipe it off with paper, would you? You'd wash it off” Available at with these you won't even need toilet paper any more, just a towel to dry off! Don’t worry, you can still leave some out for guests and can even make it the soft stuff without felling guilty. It's cheap and can be installed without a plumber; and runs off the same water line to your toilet. You'll probably pay for it in a few months of toilet paper savings. And after using one of these you won't know how you lasted all those years with wadded up handfuls of toilet paper. As for water use a drought is always a concern and must be dealt with prudently but please remember that in the big picture the industrial water users always far exceed the water use of household users and in the case of toilet paper manufacture it is huge. The pollution and significant power use from that manufacturing process also contributes to global warming so switching to a hand bidet sprayer and lowering your toilet paper use is very green in multiple ways. Blog;

Gayle said...

I'm gonna leave Jeff's self-serving promo here. . . and just note that actual bidets are standard equipment in Argentine bathrooms. I never knew I needed a bidet until I had one. I suppose mini-bidets could be interesting in US bathrooms with no room for a real bidet.

HaveFaith said...

You have made many good points on how to save the environment even if just a little. I have never hung clothes outside but now I will. Also, I'm going to give myself a weekly "allowance" of miles on my car. I will have to plan and consolidate trips out. We have already bought our own grocery bags so very little plastic comes into our house. Yea, for that one. I really do love your idea about no TV service. I've been seriously considering dropping that and stimulating my brain a little more with reading and physical activities. Thanks for your blog. I really enjoy it.

Katie said...

Hi Gayle! I just discovered your blog recently, and I've enjoyed reading some of your posts (I'll have to poke around here a bit more). I'm also living in a small town in Argentina - I'm over in Necochea on the coast. I've added you to my blog roll, and I was wondering if you'd be willing to do the same? You can check out my blog here.

With regards to this particular post, I was thinking of writing a post in a similar vein on my blog. I definitely feel like I have less of an environmental impact now that I'm living here in Argentina (I hardly drive, I hang my clothes out to dry, I produce less waste in the form of packaging, etc. - I identify with almost everything you mentioned.). I'm also hoping that businesses comply with the new law that is set to take effect in October that bans the use of plastic bags in the province of Buenos Aires. We'll find out in a few months!

Patricia said...

Hi Gayle!!
Regarding Ecology, I am creating Eco-paintings!! .
and also working with found papers.
My best,