As the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads to locations across the world, questions arise regarding how long local movements can sustain themselves. With generators confiscated from the New York protesters' camp in Zuccotti Park, this past week, people have immediately looked to alternatives. Influence from Occupy Boston has seeped in and a newly established working group called Sustainability has arisen in response to needs, bringing with it green solutions like bike-powered generators.
The Sustainability group now has a table and sign officially signalling their approval by the General Assembly to operate as part of the Occupy Wall Street ecosystem. Established about three weeks ago, the team is in charge of operations such as recycling, composting, and generating energy to power the base. With many people staying for days and others just passing through, they have a lot to manage and have to adapt to different needs each day. On average, the group processes about 200 pounds of compost per day which is biked out to community gardens across Manhattan, Staten Island, and Brooklyn. They are also working on designing a rainwater collection system, creating a community garden, establishing a bike share program, and building hoop houses.
Their newest venture in collaboration with Occupy Boston involves bicycle-powered generators. When we visited on Monday, there were three bicycles hooked to batteries gathering charge and more in the construction phase. News of four bike donations arrived and two seats were also given to the team to make for more comfortable pedaling. An organized system of half-hour shifts attracts enthusiastic volunteer pedalers who keep the wheels spinning around the clock.
While it is tempting to throw numbers around, the bike to battery charge conversion is not so straightforward. The charge strength and duration depends on several factors, among them, how fast people pedal and what the battery will be used for in the end. Sustainability does not intend the bicycle-generated energy to be used to heat the base. Rather it serves to power simple LED bulbs at night, kitchen operations, live streams from Media and to charge the mobile phones of those staying at Zuccotti Park. Currently the bikes are able to fulfill about a quarter of the camp’s energy needs.
To address the cold that already made its brisk appearance this past weekend, Sustainability is looking to other solutions. They have had several requests to develop exercise options for those staying on site and see it as a possible way to stay warm. However, a more promising option involves their development of eco-friendly homemade heat packs. Made from non-toxic sodium acetate, the packs can be placed under clothing to serve as self-heating units. The reusable PCM packs have a small metal chip in them, that when bent, activates its transformation from a liquid to a solid slowly releasing heat in the process. Because of the nature of PCMs, they tend to store five to fourteen times more heat per unit volume than conventional materials such as water, masonry or rock. While still in the development phase, the team hopes to start passing them out within the next week.
With many challenges ahead, Sustainability has come to fruition at an important time. The Occupy movement continues to grow as inspiration spreads from one site to the next. Ted Moallem, who brought the bicycles with the help of Rob, has already received requests from Occupy Philadelphia and others to build contraptions for their sites. With colder months ahead in many parts of the U.S., Sustainability will undoubtedly continue to invent solutions that contribute to the ecosystem comprising OWS and the larger movement.
Images © Amanda Silvana Coen for Inhabitat