Week 4 – Metz by Bike

This past week was another busy one for the SLS program at GTL. We spent some time with a representative of Mortris doing some cool composting, got to visit a workshop for bikes held at Metz à Vélo and also got an inside look at traffic management in Metz at the circulation office.

We started off with a visit to an event called Épluchures et Bicyclette in which the other students, Dr. Kozhanova, and I rode bikes with a volunteer from Motris, an organization dedicated to improving the state of society (greener, more accepting, more creative), named Olivier Rudez around Metz gathering food waste for composting from a couple different restaurants, bars, and a tea shop. We started at the office of Metz à Vélo to borrow some bikes, then set off on our mission. It was an amazing experience, being able to ride alongside the drivers on the road, who were all very considerate of our entourage, and wave at people sitting outside of the cafés. Each time we walked into the restaurant or bar, we just had to mention “Épluchures and Bicyclette”, and someone would run to the back in order to get their food wastes for us. They always smiled and thanked us for our efforts, but it didn’t feel like we were doing much work. We would dump things like potato peelings, squeezed lemons, and old coffee grounds into containers and then weight them in order to document how much we were adding in total to the composting at Motris. I’m looking forward to doing it again in the next coming weeks, as long as the weather holds up. I think that this has been my favorite composting activity yet!

The next day, we visited Metz à Vélo again, this time to see one of the workshops in action. Metz à Vélo is an organization that aims to shift the focus of transportation away from vehicles and instead to bikes for the good of the environment and potentially economic advantages. At the workshops, the volunteers will repair and tune up bikes for people that use them exclusively to get around, like to work or to school. One of the volunteers talked with us about the different events they host, like a “Bike School” for children to instill the idea in them that bikes should be their preferred method of transport and to keep them active. The vice president, François Baudry, was also informative and very eager for us to help him spread the word, for us to engage in the events going on around Metz à Vélo, and for us to potentially help make biking safer for people on larger roadways.

For our last adventure of the week, we visited the office of Direction of Traffic of Public Spaces and sat through a presentation by Dominique Loesch in which he walked us through the traffic/circulation challenges in Metz. He discussed the challenges with congestion in the city created by the intersections in Metz (there are 92!) and the solutions that Metz was putting in to place in order to alleviate some of it, like their traffic monitoring system Gertrude (a one-of-a-kind system in Metz) and the buses called Mettis. He talked about the importance of public transportation and often mentioned Strasbourg, France as a good example of effective implementation of public transport (with the trams). In my experience so far, getting around Metz has been extremely easy. The dorm where all of the techies stay is about an hour walk away from the city center, but its cut down to around 25 minutes by bus. There are multiple routes and times that the buses come and go with an app that helps you navigate them, and people use the buses all the time. If Metz is this good, I can only imagine was Strasbourg public transport is like. I think it would be a great idea for Atlanta to start looking to some European cities for examples of how to improve their public transportation. It’s a sprawling city, and its constituents could really use a way to get around besides using a car (traffic is a hug problem in Atlanta!).

As each of my weeks come to a close, I enjoy reflecting on the efforts that people are making in order to facilitate a greener, more sustainable city/life. I hope that one of the journeys our program takes this semester will inspire you to try it out.

Before I go, I just want to share my weekly picture from my travels, reminding you and me why it’s important that we aim to live sustainably and responsibly. Pictured below, the bay next to Èze, France, a small medieval town in between Nice and Monaco, Monte-Carlo. Thank you for reading through another one of my installments. À tout à l’heure!

Week 3 – Daily Sustainability and a Trip to Switzerland

Bonjour mes amis! The third week of the semester is officially over, and it was the best I’ve had yet.

On Monday during our SLS classes, we discussed ways that we could become more sustainable in our daily lives or alternatives to things that we’re already doing. For example, one of the more commonly known solutions for reducing energy usage in lighting a room is to rely on natural light coming in through windows. Something new I learned, though, was that sending an email of 1 MB (with photos or attachments) produces the equivalent of 15 g of CO2. I had never even considered the energy usage that’s required of digital sources, and it makes me wonder how this energy requirement will shape the future of digital media.

On Wednesday, Jean-Jacque Gaumet (our composting friend and a professor of chemistry at the University of Lorraine) came to Georgia Tech-Lorraine and explained the life cycle of waste, illustrated how much of specific resources we use versus the natural stores of the resource, and gave us examples of how to live more sustainably (and where to find some good tips). Later in the day, he walked the group through a lesson in the kitchen, but he wasn’t cooking us food. Using Marseille soap chips, white vinegar and baking soda, he made us all a little jar of laundry detergent. The total cost turned out to be just over a euro for 18 loads of laundry, and the makeup of the laundry detergent is completely earth-friendly.

 

We joined Jean-Jacque again on Thursday evening to dump our compost and say hello. He’s attending a conference in China soon to discuss biomaterials, things made completely of biodegradable substances, essentially. I hope he comes back with a lot of pictures!

Speaking of pictures, too, I went outside Metz for the first time this semester to Interlaken, Switzerland, and I returned with at least 200 new photos in my gallery. Everything about this city was amazing: is was bustling with people, there were really good options for food and chocolate (of course), the hostel was picturesque and cool, honestly, and the hike that we took had incredible views over the two lakes (Lake Thun and Lake Brienz). I hiked with a partner, Lindsey Lovitt (a student studying abroad at GTL from Duke University), a total of 18.57mi in 10.5 hours. Some of you may consider this a slow pace (which is true), but we walked next to cliffs for a large chunk of the hike which warranted the slow pace. It was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. At the beginning of the hike, it was foggy and a little rainy; eventually we got to a point where we had passed the fog in elevation and got glimpses of the lake between the little wisps of fog. It wasn’t until our descent that the sky cleared up and we were able to look out upon the beautiful blue lake without interruption. It was one of the most beautiful 10.5 hours of my life. Places like this remind me why I’m so passionate about sustainability, smart cities, and green living. There is so much intrinsic value in our planet, and we must preserve it.

I hope you all had as good a week as I did and that you’re looking forward to future installments of my adventures here at GTL. Au revoir, mes amis!

Week 2 – Composting and the Saturday Market

Blake Underwood, SLS Blogger
Weekly Update 01 Sept 2019

Hello, again! Get ready for an action-packed update because this has been a busy week for the SLS program.

In our three visits to Metz, we (Dr. Kozhanova, my classmates, and I) learned more about composting, we met with Gilles Friderich, who works for the City of Metz, and explored the Saturday markets, as well as some stores that would interest anyone trying to produce less waste.

First, we visited another location of the community garden and composting initiative in Metz, one closer to the center of the city, and met a lively professor named Jean-Jacques Gaumet (or JJ) who tends the garden and composting bins there. Among many other things, he spoke with the group about Metz’s composting initiative, about the process of composting, showing us to each of the composting bins (all in different phases of the process), about the garden and its yield, and about other events of interest to green minds, like the ecology festival (in two weeks). At one point, he demonstrated the heat of fermentation by sticking a thermometer into each of the compost bins. The highest temperature (in the compost bin with the greatest amount of bacteria present) was around 52°C; when he started to sift through the compost, stirring it, there was steam that would come out of the pockets that he opened in the soil. The other students and I (including Dr. Kozhanova) thoroughly enjoyed it, each taking a turn to stir the compost in the same way as I had last Saturday and each smiling and presenting the other to Dr. Kozhanova for a picture. JJ and his wife were nice enough to let me borrow a composting bin, too, so I’ll be better prepared for our next composting session.

The following morning, we walked to the European Institute of Ecology building in Metz and spoke to Gilles Friderich (whom I mentioned earlier), who is responsible for sustainable development in the City of Metz. Gilles took us through a presentation in which he began with an explanation of the three pillars of sustainable development laid out in the Agenda 21 (an environmental plan/initiative constructed by governmental and nongovernmental organizations): social development, environmental development, and economic development. Once he had covered the basics, he moved on to initiatives in the city of Metz that were made in accordance with the goals set forth in Agenda 21. There is a greater sense of urgency and focus on making transportation in the city more bike friendly, and they’re continuing to improve and promote public transportation (like trains and buses, which I would highly recommend). They hand out “family care packages” that contain an installation for a shower head to use less water (and a device of the same concept for a sink) and a more energy efficient LED lightbulb, among other things, for free; they’re providing the citizens of Metz and surrounding villages the tools that they need to live more sustainably (an idea I can get behind!). They produce cups for the community that are biodegradable and have grocery tote bags made (with other little gifts, too, like a cigarette butt container made of recycled aluminum). These things, in particular, stuck out to me because they’re educating and providing the people with the things that they need to be sustainable and responsible. I’d like to explore some of the same notions in Atlanta, at Georgia Tech. He gave us some important facts about the current state of the world’s environment, our consumption rate, and the social complexity of these issues. After taking a short quiz, he was able to demonstrate the amount of resources and energy it takes to live our certain lifestyles. I’m really sad to say that it would take 2.5 planets to maintain my lifestyle. That’s crazy!

On the next beautiful morning in Metz (I know, two in a row), I met with Dr. Kozhanova and Jean-Jacque to explore the Saturday market, get the inside scoop, and then go see how some stores were managing to sell all of their goods without packaging. At the market, we walked through the aisles of the many stalls, sometimes stopping for JJ to purchase his fruits and vegetables. At one point, we stopped to converse with one of the merchants who immediately picked me out as an American. I was so surprised, and especially because I hadn’t even spoken a word to him. The price of local produce was mind boggling because the same caliber and quality market in the United States seems to be considered luxury, like the healthy aspect of the fruits and vegetables comes with its own price tag. It was refreshing to see affordable, high-quality produce in abundance for people to come and buy.
The store without packaging was something I found to be refreshing as well. There were a lot of glass containers, essentially reusable containers, for sale on the shelves next to the pastas, legumes, rice, candy, you name it. Further down, there were soaps and laundry detergents next to recycled, reusable plastic containers. Everything in the store worked in harmony to facilitate a completely packaging free experience. I wish that this concept was more widely adopted because I believe that it causes people to really engage with what they’re buying (and potentially avoid excess), and it also reduces the amount of waste that you generate as a whole.

Overall, I had an amazing week. I think that my French is beginning to come more naturally in conversation because of the amount of it that I’ve been able to hear and speak through these activities. I also feel my heart growing full of passion and love for the city of Metz and its initiatives to develop a more sustainable society, environment, and economy. These three days alone have sparked a fire in me that I will carry home to Georgia Tech and spread to my friends and community there. I’d like to look into composting at Georgia Tech’s community garden and potentially having a mini market there during the harvesting season.

Au revoir, mes amis! I’ll see you all again next week.