Sunday, November 8, 2015

Our Green Home – On TV!

One of the buildings in our new
eco-neighborhood, Issy-Seine,
just outside of Paris.
(Since I first published this post on Nov. 8, 2015, the TV segment aired on Nov. 22. You can see it here, "How the French are burning garbage to heat homes.")


Last week a TV crew came to our place to do some taping about our new eco-friendly neighborhood, for a documentary to be aired in the U.S. later this month on Public Broadcasting Service's Newshour weekend program. This will be part of the network's coverage of the global Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris on Nov. 30-Dec. 22.

A few days before, I called battle stations to clean the apartment—I even ironed a bedspread for the first time in my life. But it wasn't the bedrooms, bathrooom, or living rooms they wanted to film. They wanted to see the garbage cans!

That's because the crew was excited about how our apartment and the water is heated—and our garbage plays a big role. 

We sort our garbage into recyclables and the rest, and take them downstairs to the apartment's garbage room. There, we throw them into separate shoots, and by the power of pneumatics, the garbage is whooshed away about a mile north to a plant. The incinerator burns the garbage that can't be recycled, and sends the energy back to our building in the form of steam—which heats the building and its hot water. (The recyclables are sorted and sold for reuse.)



Not many cities in the world take advantage of this form of energy, called “district heating” (DH), but two examples are New York—and Pittsburgh, believe it or not! The idea is to produce and consume energy in the area where it's consumed—like eating locally sourced food.

DH in Denmark, for example, currently heats over 60% of homes with that number rising to 95% in Copenhagen, according to Renewable Energy Focus. (Read here about a renewal of Pittsburgh's ancient district energy system.)

One good thing about our DH system is … no garbage trucks! Because of the underground delivery system, there is no need for noisy, smelly trucks to be making their rounds. In my old neighborhood, that was a nasty 6:30 a.m. wake-up call! And because there are no garbage trucks, there is no pollution from them, and reduced pollution from the cars who aren't backed up waiting for the trucks that clog the streets.
Plus, DH makes us less dependent on the electricity grid, which is expensive in France. Another good thing: we don't have to deal with water heaters or furnaces in our apartment, small by U.S. standards at 750 square feet, which take up valuable space and require annual upkeep.

“Waste not, want not,” as the old saying goes. The beauty of DH is that it turns waste into something we want. All around, it's a good deal for us … and the environment.

(I don't know the exact date when this documentary will air, but I'll let you know in a future post.)

Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris at http://parispittsburghandmore.blogspot.com. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home."