Disposable Utensils, Coming to a Capitol near You

Disposable eating ware, coming to a Capitol cafeteria near youWhen the House returns Monday from a week-long recess, members and staffers will see something that hasn't been in the Capitol for four years: polystyrene.In the first move toward phasing out part of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) "Green the Capitol" program, plastic foam cups have been reintroduced as an option for coffee drinkers in the Capitol Carry-Out, the building's mini-cafeteria.The basement eatery had been part of Pelosi's "greening" program since 2007, when Democrats took control of the House. The program brought climate-friendly vending machines and compact fluorescent light bulbs to the Capitol; caused the Capitol Power Plant to switch from burning coal to natural gas; and reduced energy and water consumption in Capitol buildings by 23 percent and 32 percent, respectively, according to an April 2010 report.But it was the $475,000 composting program in the House-side cafeterias that stirred the most controversy. Designed to cut down on waste, the program instituted the use of biodegradable utensils and trays made of cornstarch - an idea that may have worked better in theory than in practice, as it led to take-away boxes that leaked, spoons that melted and forks that broke when stuck into so much as a chicken tender.Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, announced last month that the program would be suspended indefinitely, contending that "it is neither cost-effective nor energy-efficient."

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Spaces: a New Old House in King William Goes for the Gold ...
At first glance, the white, two-story house tucked into a leafy block of the King William neighborhood may look like it has been standing there for 100 years. The simple home, reminiscent of the kind of sturdy, old-fashioned house one might find on a Hill Country farm, could be mistaken as a particularly well-renovated example of the historical homes in the downtown neighborhood.But the home is a little more than a year old, and while the design refers to the past, it also incorporates some very modern ideas. The property, owned by Mickey and , is certified as LEED Gold, which means it has achieved the second-highest rating granted by the U.S. Green Building Council for homes that use sustainable construction principles.Mickey, an architect with , worked on several design schemes before finally arriving at what he and Cyndee call their "urban farmhouse" plan.The look of the home was strongly influenced by historical buildings in Castroville, 's hometown, where settlers melded European architecture with Texas materials to build their country homes."A lot of the early Texas homes, the ones the immigrants built, are so beautiful because of the simple materials and classical proportions," Mickey Conrad says.The farmhouse aesthetic is accomplished via exterior details like the white stucco finish, metal roof and limestone flagging on the porches. Inside, the focus of the main living space is the exposed structural framework. Wood support columns and exposed ceiling beams anchor the open floor plan. The beams and columns were finished only with tung oil, a treatment that allows the natural wood grain to shine through.The warmth of the wood is picked up by longleaf pine plank flooring; contrast comes from tongue-and-groove pine walls softened by a coat of whitewash. Much of this wood is reclaimed. The longleaf pine planks were recycled from a dilapidated building in Alabama, and using them contributed to the LEED certification.The Conrads earned additional LEED credits by installing water-conserving toilets, faucets and showerheads. They conserved even more energy by using efficient lighting, like compact fluorescent light bulbs.Mickey estimates his monthly utility bills are half that of his previous home.The idea of minimal impact fit in with the Conrad's desire to downsize. They've deliberately kept the home's décor spare, adding little to the walls, for example, since the wood itself functions as art. They already owned a collection of antique wood furniture and brought select pieces into the home, with a focus on keeping the interior uncluttered.They also were interested in the possibilities of reuse, inspired by the thrifty values of Mickey Conrad's family, in particular those of his uncle, ."He would take an old can and turn it into a bucket," Cyndee Conrad says of the uncle, who died in 2010 at the age of 95 after working for 75 years as a carpenter in Hondo.They have several examples of Uncle Will's recycling ingenuity on display, including a nail bucket he hammered out of an old gas can, which the Conrads use to displays curios.The family waste-not spirit is alive in Mickey Conrad. He took extra planks of the pine flooring and used them to make a kitchen countertop, an entertainment center and a top for a refinished chest of drawers."It's in my DNA," he says of this desire to reuse and conserve. "It's part of my heritage."
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