I’m recycling more, Why is my trash bill going up?


March 14th, 2012

Closed 1970’s landfill still pollutes this creek in Angola NY

Unfortunately there are few financial incentives for responsible curbside recycling. ZeroWaste is a complex whorl of economic, social and environmental incentives and penalties involving citizens, governments and businesses.

For profits (and some non-profits) have stripped off many of the profitable ends of the business:

  • Waste collection services (WasteManagement, BFI, etc)
  • Waste metal management for large pieces and valuable metals (from the jeweler & dentist to the auto junkyard)
  • Landfills
  • Glass, bottles, cans, cardboard: the reason scavenging in your recycling is discouraged is because your city tries to keep you costs down by selling these. Your city competes with individuals who take them to recycling centers. No easy answers here, many people make ends meet using these strategies.
  • E-waste – stripped down for precious and recyclable metals
  • Concrete
  • Wood and other separable construction waste

 

What is left in municipal waste landfills is the dregs, that has no market and is expensive to maintain with toxic barriers – sadly, the contents of landfills are the most environmentally destructive:

  • Styrofoams, black plastics, non-conforming plastics found predominantly in food containers & wrappings, electronic items shipped from overseas
  • Packaging – wrappers from chips, candy
  • Toxic items – against the law but people do it anyway
  • Mixed material content items, for example:
    • metal shovel w/wooden handle
    • many toys
  • Electronic appliances, tools, toys
  • Plant matter that is difficult to compost – cactus & bamboo
  • Recyclable/compostable materials that some folks are too lazy or unable to separate – milk cartons with attached plastic caps

Did you know that for every one trash can  of non-recyclables that you put in front of your house  that 71 have been put out in the manufacture of the contents of your trash?

That being said, in many cities, business trash has been subsidizing residential trash. Business complains, resident rates rise.

Social Costs:

  • One stream trash systems and single barrel street recycling are less efficient – we lose things such as high-grade white paper that could be recycled in to copy paper (that’s why it’s become more expensive). Hard-core recyclers are rabid because recycling efforts are dumbed down.
  • On the flip side, much more is recycled overall because more residents are compliant
  • Legislators are stuck in the middle trying to please both types of constituents, no one is fully happy.

The only “financial” incentive that I can think of is that your garbage costs would be even higher if you did not recycle. You may force your government to try it out but you may not be happy with the results.

How to change things? Find ways to change or legislate disposal/manufacture of items that typically fill up landfill waste. Make noise at town council meetings, join a committee, talk to your family, friends and neighbors.

Practice the 6 Rs of Zero Waste: Refuse, Reduce, Repair, ReUse, Recycle, Regulate.

Sustainably Spicy


December 30th, 2011

One thing that still remains in my brain from calculus is that the smaller the container, the higher the ratio of container to contents. Once upon a time I could calculate the most cost and weight efficient sized can – who said calculus has no real world applications?

Herb & spice containers jars are low on the container-to-contents sustainability scale. That being said, spices can last many years and they often come in lovely shaped jars and cans. I could not bring myself to throw out the darling A&P spice cans,  a  favorite wedding-shower gift appropriate for newlyweds on a tight budget. I am quite thrilled that there are now so many options for re-filling these containers and the choices are usually less expensive, as well.

Penzey’s (some stores & online) offers 4, 8 and 16 oz bags of their spices with discounts for the larger bags (again less packaging per oz of spice) plastic bags can be recycled at your grocer with other bags; foodies appreciate their quality and wide variety.

Whole Foods and some health grocers offer the Spicely line of boxed (totally bio-degradeable paper & cellophane) spices that fit perfectly in your jars ;(they also donate a % of sales to a children’s charity). Ethnic groceries and the international aisles in the supers offer authentic bagged spices at excellent prices.

Looking for sustainably & ethically harvested Ceylon cinnamon? Enjoy the photos and stories of  La Cannelle plantation.

Sea salt is all we use in our house both because of reduced sodium content and variety of flavors including an option to go local with Pacific sea salt. Celtic Sea Salt was at the San Francisco Green Festival where they offered a special on their salt grinder with purchase of salt.

I’m blessed to live in a climate where I can harvest fresh rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme and bay leaf year round – also blessed that they are hardy as I am not the most attentive gardener.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is Everywhere, including your toilet paper


December 21st, 2011

That nice shiny paper that most receipts are printed on? BPA (or BPF) is likely-as-not an ingredient. We slip those recieipts in next to our currency in our wallets, slide our hands over them countless times as we rummage through our purses, pick them up to enter them in Quicken, then one more time to file, trash or shred them.

“When people talk about polycarbonate bottles, they talk about nanogram quantities of BPA [leaching out],” John C. Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry observes observed about carbonless copy papers when he worked at Polaroid. “The average cash register receipt that’s out there and uses the BPA technology will have 60 to 100 milligrams of free BPA.” By free, he explains, it’s not bound into a polymer, like the BPA in polycarbonates. It’s just the individual molecules loose and ready for uptake.”

But thats not the end. Those duplicate check records? Carbonless credit card receipts? What if you’re a cashier handling them all day? Touched some food after handling the receipt? Ouch! Of course, many of us recycle those receipts, cool huh? Maybe not, it may be ending up in our recycled toilet paper. Is shredded thermal paper part of your composted fertilizer? Ooops.

Bill Van Den Brandt of Appleton papers point out that his company’s receipt paper (manufactured for NCR) is now BPA-free. This after after a lawsuit (NCR also named) for cleaning up PCB’s from the Fox River in Wisconsin) and subsequent change of ownership to employees.

“Attempts have been made to develop a thermal ink which reduces the problems associated with thermal papers by obviating the need to provide a thermal coating over the whole surface of the paper.” but this technology has not been perfected. I’ve got some receipts I can no longer read (though I really have no idea which technology was actually used).

Another option, the companies, TransactionTree, and AllEtronic emails a receipt to you (instantly) and you have 24 hour access to your receipts through their website. TransactionTree might also email you a retailer discount coupons & AllEtronic will soon have an iPhone app.

As worrisome as thermal printing paper is, the use of BPA in the packaging of many microwaveable convenience food products and canned  foods, is even more so.

The sticking point is actually figuring out which manufacturers still use the BPA method and which stores buy paper from which mfg; data still outstanding. In the meantime, be aware. Don’t put thermal receipts in your paper recycling (or compost). Consider the electronic options, if available. Educate the stores you frequent. Decrease your use of microwaved convenience foods.

BPA, BPF Thermographic Printing in EU

Wine & Weeds: Weed Barrier Tip


December 1st, 2011

We enjoy our California wines and watch pennies buying by the case. Those nifty cardboard dividers are useful for storing glassware of all sorts but I just found a new use in the garden. In dry climates, such as ours, many of us are transitioning to drought tolerant landscaping with native plants. Still, in order for the individual plants to stand out, we need to discourage weeds. Pulling weeds out of dry soil leaves the roots intact so, instead, we can create a light/weed barrier of cardboard boxes topped with wood mulch. (Weeds won’t grow because they lack light). Still, cardboard  is broken where we put in new plants. Watch the video to see how to solve this problem:

You can do a variation with the 4-prong pieces. Break into 2-prong pieces. Fold back one prong on each . Place the center of the inside “V” shape on either side of the plant. Cover with mulch. Voila!

 

Sustainable Dishwashing Part II: Reduce, ReUse, Recycle Plastics


November 26th, 2011

Nothing gets my anxiety level higher than petro-plastic bags & wraps. Plastic takes hunreds of years to decompose while  it does nothing but ensconce a loaf of bread or piece of meat that will be digested in days. Even organic foods comes wrapped in it – ouch. I am trying to let go of that which I cannot yet change so I breathe deeply and re-use and recycle.

Mine is a real and not ideal household. Cooking is not my forte and I buy a fair amount of frozen food rather than let paper wrapped foods go bad; using petro oil bad, killing animals needlessly, worse. Not all family members are as committed to zero waste as I am, so I attempt to keep damages to a minimum, thusly.

If you have identifiable containers or spaces for each, the process becomes easy for you and family members.

Flexible plastics triage (quatrage?).

  • A) GROCERY/DRUGSTORE/TAKEOUT bags, BREAD & other hole-less bags of suitable size. Place with dog supplies for dog poop on walk or with cleaning supplies to line trash cans.  IKEA sells a handy durable dispenser  to attach inside a cabinet door for.
  • B) XL/UNUSUAL shaped bags: Keep a few for future storing/protecting/carrying needs. I keep these with large handled paper bags.
  • C) ZIP-LOC style bags (purchased or that foods come in): Put in sink for washing. See below for more details
  • D) RECYCLE @ GROCERY: Every other flexible PETRO-plastic. More details below.
  • E) Is the plastic CRUNCHY & CRINKLY? Chances are good that it is actually a bio-plastic i.e. made of cellophane, corn, etc. See below.

Drying set up for recently washed zipper-style bags

CATEGORY C: Zippered plastic bags. I pay more for the heavy duty kind with good zippers that work more than once; I probably get at least 10 uses out of each bag. Wash with soapy water, cold rinse (germs thrive in warm but not cold water; boiling temps that would kill germs will melt the bags). I have a couple sets of wooden upright plate racks that I keep just for bag drying as well upending them on my knife block when I run out of space. As I wash them I check for leaks and mark leaky bags with an X in permanent marker so I don’t reuse for airtight situations. I put them back in the boxes they came from.  I feel comfortable re-using mine for food; others may not. I use the newer looking ones for food, the sadder ones for myriad uses. It feels like a lottery winning when I take in an XL zipper bag from frozen chicken pieces. Great for storing camping supplies or other large items in dirty places such as garages or attics. Keeps dust out of craft supplies.

CATEGORY D I store in the largest plastic bag in the collection. I can recycle at Safeway, Whole Foods and many other markets. They use these to manufacture composite porch wood, bender board, picnic tables and many other products. Included in the category are:

  • Rigid frozen food bags (quick-rinse for stuck food)
  • Produce bags,
  • Air filled bags used as packing material (kids love poking holes to deflate these),
  • Category C bags past their prime,
  • Dry cleaning bags,
  • Shrink wrap from warehouse store purchases
  • Almost any kind of soft flexible plastic that comes my way

CATEGORY E: CRUNCH OR CRINKLY. I haven’t been able to find a definitive way to distinguish petro- from bio- plastic, so this is the best I can do if there is no marking on the plastic. These are eventually biodegradeable but probably aren’t appropriate for your compost heap. If you have compostable waste collection with your trash, put it in that container. If not, ask your city government or waste management company to add compostable separation as part of the next contract period. Otherwise, it goes in the regular trash for now 🙁

 

Sustainable Dishwashing: No More Plastic Scrubbers


October 31st, 2011

Have you scrubbed a pot using one of those green scratch pads lately? Most of us have. Did you know that they are made of oil-based plastic that breaks down as you scrub and those small pieces go down your drain, into the municipal water treatment, are filtered out and end up eventually in the Bay and ociean? Along with microscopic broken bits of plastic bags and bottlecaps they become part of fish and crustacean diets. Plastic has now become a defacto part of seafood flesh – yum, yum.

Solution? Loofah & agave scrubbers. Loofah (my sister grew some in LA one year) & agave are plants. Loofah can be purchased as a yarn if you have time to knit or crochet your own scrubber. As for me, 3M recently introduced scrubbers from agave (found some at Target) but there are probably others (let me know in comments).The sponge part of the old double-sided scrubbers has been natural sponge but with chemical dyes (bye-bye purple, orange, blue). The new sponges are made of recycled paper and natural fibers and have no chemical dyes.

Loofah, natural sponge, paper, yarn are components of these manufactured and handmade scrubbers.

I’m less enthusiast about the 3M soap loaded scrubbers. Soap is phosphorus free and scrubbers are from recycled plastic, but, again, plastic bits into the water stream. Their wipes are from bamboo, rayon (pulpy part of cotton plant), cotton & corn, presumably new material since recycled isn’t mentioned but all are compostable. Read labels & go online for details.

Remember, you don’t need to see scads of bubbles for a dish detergent to do its job. Though it seems counterintuitive, rinsing with cold water is best because bacteria thrive in warm (i.e. temperatures that our hands can handle) water but not cold.

Absorb grease and other food stuck to plate with old napkins, paper towels and put in garbage. Keep a strainer in the sinkhole. The more grease and food particles that go through your municipal water plant, the more energy they must use to clean your water.

Polystyrene at The Fish Market


August 8th, 2011

We went to The Fish Market in San Mateo last week after a long hiatus and I was frustrated to find that they still use styro for takeout.  Since they have 6 California locations and do a large business and I feel they should be a  market leader in sustainability and set the bar.

If you agree, please take a few minutes to go to their website and write them (choose “Contact Us” from the top menu).

Below is my letter which you are free to plagiarize (but please personalize and change it up a bit).  Forward this to others you know who go there so we can have a big impact.

“I am very frustrated that you still used Styrofoam/polystyrene takeout containers; not only that, the container was much larger than was needed for a small amount of food. I am especially surprised because the fish & shellfish on which you pride yourselves are the animals most impacted by the Pacific Garbage Sworl and the breakdown of plastics that become part of their flesh. It is time for Fish Market to take a lead in this environmental initiative.

I am making my restaurant choices based on sustainability practices and share my findings with others folks I know that have the same concerns.  I am looking forward to hearing about a change in this practice so I can become a regular customer again.”

Recyling Your Media Waste & Techno Trash


May 11th, 2011

Is part of your 2010 New Year resolution to go through and dispose of all those old videotapes, floppy disks, zip Disks, DVDs, CDs and jewel cases that you never want to see again? You may need to put out a few dollars for postage or services but there are some choices for doing this responsibly:

Disabled employees of the nonprofit Alternative Community Training (ACT) in Columbus MO grind up various smaller plastic items such as CDs, VHS tapes and jewel cases for resale to manufacturers who use recycled plastic. You can mail your trash using media mail rates ($6.95 for the first 20 lbs and 30 cents for each pound over that).

GreenDisk uses a network of non-profit organizations to process techno trash. They refurbish what we can and recycle the rest. Inkjet cartridges get remanufactured and, when possible, cell phones and some computers get refurbished. Material that has no further operating life is broken down to its smallest components (metals, plastics, etc.) and used in the manufacturing of new products. All of the material that GreenDisk collects is reused or recycled. No hazardous materials or obsolete components go overseas to be processed or disposed of. The cost here is the same as above.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area you may be able to take it directly to a local Green Citizen center. They locate themselves near business centers to encourage businesses which produce so much of the techno trash. When my husband’s business moved in San Francisco last week, we just wheeled a couple monitors on carts a few blocks to the Howard St center.

If you’re active at your church or school, consider a drive to collect and return this trash. (Solicit some donations to cover mailing boxes and postage at the same time).

Over the past few years I’ve accumulated a stash of solar garden lights but slowly they seem to be dying. I was complaining (mostly to myself) that 1) they don’t make things the way they used to or 2) I might be saving energy with solar lights but I’m spending it as I throw out these otherwise good fixtures and creating waste, to boot.

I slowed down enough to pull a couple  of these apart and discovered that they use Ni-Cad  or Ni-MH Rechargeable batteries that I could recharge or replace. It also was a good time to clean out the cobwebs from the light housing & spiff them up a bit. Here’s a good tutorial

If the plastic panel has disintegrated or the circuit is no longer working, time to toss or re-use the parts (unless you have electronics skills). I searched for pre-made LED solar circuits but they don’t seem to exist. BTW, don’t forget to keep the rechargeable batteries to recharge for other uses!