His work in comedy and drama (Spinal Tap, Arrested Development, Portlandia, St. Elsewhere) is rivaled only by his passion for living and promoting a greener and healthier way of living.
We were fortunate to somehow lure this good sport onto the bus at the Mother Earth News Fair and ask him a litany of questions about Portland, his passion for environmental causes, and toilets; a little of which we share with you now:
“You guys are doing the right thing,” he said after we introduced him to Free Range Quest. He was stoked to check out our bus “A Little Further” (ALFie), expressing interest in our plans to convert it into a living space while we look for land to build an eco-friendly home and farm. We spoke about vegetable oil conversions, solar options, and Ed offered up some tips on composting toilet solutions too!
Since 1970, Ed has been doing all he can to help promote clean air and water, and efficient energy solutions, spurred in a large part by the Los Angeles smog.
The air-quality situation is much better now, thanks to solutions implemented by companies, governments and the awareness of California citizens, he says. “There was choking smog in LA in the 1970s, if you went outside it would literally hurt your lungs. So I got an electric car in 1970… it wasn’t practical for everything, but it was much cheaper to plug it into the wall than to pay for 1970s gasoline. Santa Monica bay was so polluted you wouldn’t want to go near the water, now the same beaches that got an F rating a decade ago have an A rating now because of what we did to clean it up.”
In addition to driving one of the first electric cars (like driving a golf cart on the L.A. freeway he says) Ed has been building and innovating home solutions since then too.
“I’ve lived since 1988 in a home that had no environmental anything, you gotta get your LEED certification (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) as you’re doing it. Now I’ve shown what you can do with an existing structure by retrofitting it,” he said. “[With our new construction] We’re going for LEED platinum.”
As for how his family feels about his passion to be as green as possible:
“My wife, I love my wife, but she’s not on board with a lot of stuff, she doesn’t want to ride a bike to create the power to make toast.” Ed says. “She’s not on board (with the toilet) yet… She has a regular toilet in the house now, my bathroom has the composting toilet… I intend to demonstrate to her and win her over. ” HA!
The Envirolet is a composting system toilet that can run up to three bathrooms on one system.
Everyone’s first question about the toilets is whether or not they will stink up your house resulting in the owner being eternally labeled a stinky hippy. Ed swears they don’t smell. “No odor, really! Nothing lingers. It smells like dirt if anything.”
They are a bit of a financial investment, but ideal for an off-grid system — and far less expensive than running new plumbing to a totally off-grid property.
“If you’ve got a vacation home, cabin or no sewer system, they’re the best solution.” he says.
They are self-contained, can work with or without running water and were the most high-tech and versatile of the three composting toilets we saw at the Mother Earth News fair. AirHead and Nature’s Head were the others – smaller, portable and better for a rarely used cabin, guest house, or boat (more about our opinions on these smaller composting options can be found here).
Switching to such a device from the regular plumbing can be a big step — financially and psychologically.
Again we ran into the theme of doing one thing at a time. A great way to keep from struggling with overwhelming feelings of enviro-guilt or trying to “do it all.”
“I certainly don’t try to do everything at once,” Ed said.
Ed had his memorized list of energy and money-saving home solutions ready when we asked about his latest home project (documented in “On Begley Street”)
“Right now we have; 600 gallon drums for rainwater underground, 10 kilowatts unshaded solar and passive solar design, 12″ thick walls using steel instead of wood, a full composting edible garden and fruit trees, solar hot water, all materials and flooring using reclaimed wood, water saving devices and the composting toilet.”
“I also gotta tell you what I didn’t do – I did not go broke buying solar panels that I couldn’t afford in 1970… I’m a fiscal conservative, so I don’t throw away money that I don’t have. in 1970 solar panels were very expensive, they are much cheaper now and they have some solar leasing programs available that are very good, but I did all that stuff that I could afford to start – riding a bike, taking public transportation, home gardening, home composting, recycling, I became a vegetarian – all of the stuff that is very inexpensive – pretty soon I had enough money to buy a solar oven, then later on I added a rain barrel to collect rain water, pretty soon I had enough money for new attic insulation, you get the idea — I picked the low hanging fruit first, then moved up to the medium ticket items, then I bought solar power, solar hot water, I also bought a wind turbine in 1985 that is still putting out power 28 years later… That’s the kinda stuff I think we need to invest in.”
Begley emphasizes that the reason that he was able to make these environmentally responsible changes to his lifestyle is that he started small, thereby actually saving money over the years, which enabled him to make larger changes later on. He understands that not everyone can afford to retrofit their home completely or built a custom LEED certified home, but he intends to lead by example, hoping that this type of lifestyle will become more attainable and eventually, the norm.
“I’m asking people to do it the way that I did it, which is to do the cheap and easy stuff first; energy-efficient light bulbs, energy-efficient thermostat, weather-stripping around your doors and windows, home gardening, home composting, biking riding when weather and fitness permit, public transport if it’s available near you, all that stuff is very, very cheap AND will save you money, as I stand here, I guarantee it. Then, over time, you can add those medium ticket items like rain barrels, solar panels, and composting toilets — these are another great way to save money and help the environment.”
It’s less about trying to sell something or convince people to incorporate such practices. Begley feels that experience and the benefit of conservation will eventually win people over.
We also had to ask about “Portlandia” – turns out Ed has family in our city and he loves to visit, so he knew the show wasn’t exactly satire.
“I love getting to Portland, a great part of the country, great people. Portlandians have a great sense of humor about themselves,” he said.
“It’s like the Steve Martin movie ‘LA Story,’ ‘Portlandia’ is funny and exaggerated, and of course… I thought it was all true.”
We talked a little about the Portland food scene, then Ed asked us if we had tried his new line of sodas, “They’re really good, right?”
Yeah, they’re super tasty.
Begley and Bill’s natural sodas by Begley’s Earth Responsible Products are all natural and the flavors are classic and fun, Kristina’s favorite being the Bananas Foster flavor — We recently sent some soda out to a few of our readers — many thanks and rave reviews were received in return.
Ed is willing to put his face and name behind the products he truly believes in. He patiently stood at the Envirolet toilet booth for much of the weekend, passionately reciting the benefits to each of the fans and curious passersby. With each visitor you could see the wheels turning and eventually, the light bulb go on in their heads as they began to understand the benefits of a more earth-friendly solution to the most basic and natural of human habits. He certainly convinced us, we will be adding an Envirolet toilet to our home once our Free Range Quest comes to an end and we settle down again!
Tell us what you think of composting toilets, would you try it? Do you have one already? Feel free to ask any questions, or hit the links above for more information about how they work!
-David & Kristina-