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Maker Stories

Tammy Roy at Green Festival

May 19, 2010

Green Festival

Attention Chicagoans!

Our favorite dumpster diver – Uncommon artist Tammy Roy – tipped us off about a very cool festival happening in your neck of the woods this weekend (May 22-23).

Green Festival is little get-together of about 350 diverse local and national green businesses. There will be how-to workshops, a Fair Trade pavilion, a Green Home pavilion, an Organic Food and Gardening pavilion, a Community Action and Green Careers pavilion…plus fun stuff for kids AND delicious organic beer, wine and cuisine! Makes me wish I could go!

Tammy Roy (shown here digging for metal) will be in the Green Home pavilion exhibiting some of her amazing industrial art pieces that she makes from discarded tools and recycled metals.

Tammy Roy

Tickets are $10 for one day or $15 for the weekend. Bike riders get in free! Schedules, speakers and more can be found on the Green Festival website.

The Uncommon Life

Bike to the Future

May 19, 2010

Bike Week

These days, I spend most of my time at a desk, pecking away at my keyboard, talking on the phone, and sitting in meetings.  But twice a day, I get to be free, riding through the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the industrial corridors of Brooklyn.  And, to boot, when I commute, I save time – it’s actually quicker than the subway.

When I moved to NYC in the ’80s, I biked quite a bit – my favorite ride was out to Fire Island at the crack of dawn, before the beach traffic kicked in.  I also liked riding in the city, especially up to Central Park, though a cab hit me once and snapped my bike frame in two.  Fortunately, Frank’s, my local bike shop was able to replace the frame and it’s served me well ever since.

In recent years, there’s been a biking revolution in NYC – thanks to the work of the bicycling advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives, and the visionary Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan.  Bike lanes have cropped up throughout the city, across the Manhattan to Brooklyn bridges and on many streets, making commuting by bike a bit safer.

There’s a lot of debate about “sharing the road.”  With a limited amount of public pavement, we need to decide how to allocate this resource between pedestrians, cyclists, cars and buses.  The car has been the king for many years, but now people are wondering if we’ve got it right.

So get out this Friday, ride your bike and show your support for cycling –  May 21st is National Bike to Work Day!

The Uncommon Life

Happy Bike Week!

May 18, 2010

Bike Week

So this is a little belated…but Happy Bike Week everyone!

For those of you who don’t know, May is national bike month and May 17-21 is Bike-to-Work
Week with Friday, May 21 being the big hurrah – Bike-to-Work Day!

Stay tuned this week for more posts about cycling…until now here are some resources and fun stuff about cycling:

Check out the League of American Bicyclists they have a lot of great news articles and blog posts, as well a tool to help you find bike resources (clubs, leagues, shops, etc.) in your area.

Ride the City is another super useful site that helps you find the best urban biking route, ranging from direct, safe and safer. Available for New York, Chicago, DC Metro, Austin, Louisville, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto.

And now for some fun stuff…

Matt, Al and Meredith battle it on The Today Show in this year’s commuter challenge: bike vs. subway vs. car.

And of course, how to make a smoothie using a human-powered bike blender!

Do you bike to work? Are you going to try biking to work this week? Let us know! And if you have any other cool cycling websites or tips to share, please do so in the comments section. Happy Biking!

The Uncommon Life

A Composter’s Dilemma

May 17, 2010

In preparation for Compostapalooza, our partnership with Quirky to create the ultimate composting product, we’re running a series of compost education posts. Read up, then put those brainstorming caps on for kick-off on May 17!


I got into composting in 2008.  I had never seriously considered doing it until I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma (by Michael Pollan) earlier that year – it helped me understand the food cycle and how throwing organic material into landfill was a lousy solution.  Sanitation departments waste a lot of energy, money and land carting away food scraps that could otherwise be enriching the soil.

However, like recycling, composting is more work than just throwing something away, especially if you’re an urban dweller like me. To start with, you have to take the food waste and put it in a separate bin (no big deal).  But you also need to cut up the food waste into small pieces to help it break down faster and then put the compostable material into some vessel outdoors. We were lucky to have a few friends and neighbors that were interested in the same thing and were able to convince our building to provide us with an outdoor space to place a compost tumbler.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our sons knew all about composting from school and were only too happy to tell daddy everything he was doing wrong, which was plenty. There was nothing they enjoyed more than catching me putting compostable material into the trash.  I then had to dig through the garbage to find the food scraps and move them to the compost bin.  I learned the messy way that tea bags, coffee grounds and egg shells were all fine for composting.


Read more about Dave’s adventures in composting!

The Uncommon Life

Compost & the City

May 13, 2010

In preparation for Compostapalooza, our partnership with Quirky to create the ultimate composting product, we’re running a series of compost education posts. Read up, then put those brainstorming caps on for kick-off on May 17!


I’ve officially caught the compost bug.

I never thought I’d get much satisfaction from dumping smelly food scraps into a bin of other smelly food scraps. But sometimes I surprise myself.

I now bring my raw food scraps (i.e. fruits, vegetables, egg shells, tea bags) to my neighborhood community garden in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The scraps are then processed into compost that is used to nourish the vegetables and other plants in the garden with essential minerals.

I love the concept of making something useful from something we have no use for. We recycle paper and plastic. Why not food? Food waste accounts for the largest component of our trash each year.  Composting also reduces our need for chemically laden fertilizers, most of which are derived from oil.  And why pay for something you can get for free?


I store my food scraps in the freezer. That way, you can enjoy the benefits of composting without the stink factor. I then make my weekly trip to the Garden of Union on Saturday morning. I simply look for the marked bin, add my scraps, and cover with sawdust. The sawdust helps keep rodents away and also ensures the proper chemical balance of carbon and nitrogen. And that’s it! I’m doing my part to reduce my footprint, and grow yummy food within my community.

Continue Reading…


Compostapalooza 2010

May 3, 2010

Quirky and UncommonGoods are proud to present… Compostapalooza!

On Monday, May 17th we will be joining forces with Quirky — a social product development company with a great community and fun, innovative products to boot — to create the world’s best composter! We like to think of it as a Compostapalooza!

The mission: to create a useful, interesting, one-of-a-kind composter for indoors, outdoors or both. To enter this crazy earth-lovin’, garbage-hatin’ contest, just complete your submission and post it on Quirky between May 17-26 for a chance to have your design come to life.

Is this mission impossible? Of course not! With composting on the rise across the country, it seems that everybody’s doing it and tons of people have ideas on how to create the ideal composter or at least improve current models.

But, first things first, you gotta get hip to the dirty details of composting. For the skinny on how to compost, what to compost and where to compost, Quirky has you covered. Check out these informative posts on Composting 101.

compost cycle
The Uncommon Life

The Recycling Bin: May Day Baskets

April 28, 2010

May Day Baskets
This is the perfect project for people who are too lazy to take out their recycling, but not too lazy to do arts and crafts (i.e. me). For whatever reason, I never feel the need to take out the recycling until there are at least four cans and a couple bottles that I have set on the floor next to the bin. I agree, it’s ridiculous and disgusting, but if I took out the recycling … I wouldn’t have been able to do this cool May Day basket project.

Let’s begin!

First, go to your recycling bin and survey the scene. Tin cans work well, as do the bottom half of plastic bottles, and milk or juice cartons. I didn’t have any small glass jars – but those would be a good option too. Anything that held a liquid before is a good choice since you will putting flowers and water in it.
Recycling Bin May Day Baskets
Now comes the gross part. If you are like me, you didn’t properly rinse out all of your containers before putting them in the bin … so you’re going to have to give everything a good rinse and scrub. Nobody wants a May Day basket that has dried tomato sauce on it!

For bottles and cartons, you will need to peel off any labels and cut off the top half to make a proper container ……… this is me waiting for you to cut the bottles in half …….. be careful – nobody wants a May Day basket with dried blood on it!

Now comes the fun part – decorating! I have decided to use this super-cool decorative masking tape. This stuff is great. It comes in all these wonderful patterns and colors, so you can create a lot of different looks when you have several rolls. I started with a few simple patterns and then went on to do layered designs.

Japanese Decorate Tape
Japanese Paper Decorative Masking Tape

Continue Reading…

The Uncommon Life

It Ain’t Easy…

April 21, 2010

As Kermit the Frog so wisely said, “It ain’t easy being green.” That’s especially true when you work at UncommonGoods.

Three years ago, UG packed up in Manhattan and headed south to an emerging neighborhood in Brooklyn – Sunset Park – home to amazing tacos, friendly neighbors, few trees and tons of concrete. It also houses the Brooklyn Army Terminal, a massive penitentiary-style complex that served as the largest military supply base in the U.S. through WWII and is now the headquarters of businesses ranging from a family diner to a division of the NYPD. While functional, it’s not exactly stunning.

We want our enthusiasm for our company to shine inside the office and out. So here at BAT we are doing what we can with what we’ve got. A plot of dirt among the sidewalk? We’ll take it! A corner in the lobby for a potted plant? Don’t mind if we do.

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