Green Science at Zuccotti Park

November 1, 2011

Brit Trogen

Could a community of several hundred people in the middle of Manhattan ever become self-sustaining?



Well... Probably not. But the green-minded protestors camping out in Zuccotti Park are certainly having a go at it, as I saw when I took a stroll downtown over the weekend. Occupy Wall Street may have come to represent a variety of causes on the political spectrum, but it's also, in a fascinating way, a small-scale experiment in innovation and sustainability in two of the world's most challenging topics: power and water.


Up until last Friday (when they were confiscated by the fire department) OWS drew it's power from gasoline-powered generators. But realizing dire need in the face of dying laptops, the Sustainability Working Group quickly developed an alternative fuel source: pedal power. Teaming up with environmental group Time's Up!, OWS has now created five energy bikes that are able to power battery packs when pedaled. Six hours of pedaling, according to the girl who manned the bikes when I visited there, will give up to 100 hours of power for laptops and cellphones. 



Admittedly it's not a perfect system, and unlikely to be completely CO2-free (something's powering those humans, after all...) but it's certainly an improvement, and an essential adaptation to keep the movement alive. And hey, what's stopping us from harnessing the power of the hundreds of spin classes around the world for greener purposes?


The other neat trick being implemented to cut back on waste is a mini grey-water processing station, that filters dishwater from the OWS kitchen region through woodchips, soil, and plant roots, to create cleaner water that's suitable for watering the plants being grown in and around the park. 



Sure, these are small-scale solutions (there are others too, including plain old recylcing and composting). But you've got to give them some credit; on top of the freezing cold, bad food and cramped conditions, it can't be easy to practice what you preach. More bike power to them!



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