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Dumpster Diving Tips

The other day I happened to be exploring in a messy Center City alley when I found my favorite dumpster a complete mess.  There were opened trash bags all over the place, and some people loudly walking away with a bunch of stuff.

I feel like a cranky old fart… this is the kind of behavior that causes businesses to replace dumpsters with compactors, and add chains and barbed-wire fences to protect their so-called waste.  Manners really go a long way here.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone over the rules of dumpster diving…I think it’s time to review:

1) If you remove stuff from the dumpster, put it back when you’re done.  Leave the area cleaner than you found it- don’t be a jerk.

2) Don’t go through dumpsters during business hours unless you’re being extremely discreet.

3) If an employee sees you digging and asks you to leave, do it.  Apologize and come back another time.

4) Assume that what you’re doing is illegal, even if you’re sure it isn’t.  Is it private property?  Is it trespassing?  Is it theft?  Probably not, but it isn’t a debate I feel like having with a pissed off employee or police officer- get in and get out fast!

5) If you find personal information, which you most likely will, deface it.  Give them a pass and hopefully they’ll learn to protect their privacy soon.

6) Only take what you need.

 

Quick tips:

1) If you’re working from inside the dumpster, which I recommend, wear a headlamp.  Nothing is more annoying than having a flashlight in your mouth.  Gloves go a long way, too.

2) Go with a buddy.  Having a lookout comes in handy, especially if you’re both inside the dumpster.  Nothing is more annoying than having a bag of trash dumped on you.

3) If it’s a high profile mission, hang around the area in advance without actually digging.  Are there cameras?  Security vehicles?  Do employees come outside to have a smoke every ten minutes?  Timing is key.

Obviously I don’t have all the answers, but following these simple guidelines will ensure you don’t run into any issues and walk away with stuff that would have otherwise hit the landfill.  Good luck!

Is Indoor Composting A Bad Idea?

The question remains: what can I do to compost through the winter months?  The answer is to collect as much cover material (leaves, straw) as you can.  Since composting slows to a crawl in the colder months, having extra cover material is important to ensure your deposits are covered.

Otherwise, try your hand at vermicomposting!

Be sure to sign up along the right hand side of this page for my free email course on how to create killer compost in just 7 simple steps, no matter what your situation is.

Get in touch with any questions and be on the lookout for more videos and an e-book coming soon.

Give composting your best shot through the winter season- have some fun and get creative.

Thanks for watching!

Plastic vs. Cardboard+Crappier Plastic

seventh generation bottlesWow, this is the first I’m seeing a non-plastic detergent bottle…cool?

Let’s compare: On the right, we have a 100% recycled plastic cap and bottle made from #2 plastic, which happens to be one of the more “appealing” recoverable plastics from the recycling stream.

On the left, we have an outer container made from cardboard, which is excellent.  It has the same cap as the one on the right, but what’s inside?

As it turns out, there’s a plastic bag of sorts inside… and chances of that getting recycled are much less.

Left side: recyclable outer and top, plus a questionable inner.

Right side: recyclable bottle and cap.

If you haven’t tried making your own detergent yet, I suggest giving it a try.  All you’ll need is a bar of soap, washing soda, and a 5 gallon bucket.  Save money and materials.

My first attempt at it sucked, but with the following batches I’ve gotten better at it.

Seventh Generation appears to be making a genuine effort to reduce their impacts, but with the inner bag most certainly being an item that will hit the landfill, I’d rather stick with the completely recyclable plastic bottle instead.

Above that, going for plastic free over the long haul and saving money and materials while you’re at it seems the best option to me.

When Zero Waste is Environmental Racism

< reposted from energyjustice.net >

– by Kaya Banton, Chester Environmental Justice

My name is Kaya Banton and I have been a resident of Chester, Pennsylvania all of my life.  Chester is a small city right outside of Philadelphia known as one of the worst cases of environmental racism.

There are a number of polluting facilities in and surrounding Chester. The most famous is Covanta, the nation’s largest waste incinerator, burning 3,510 tons of trash per day. Though Covanta is the largest incinerator in the country, they have the fewest pollution controls of any incinerator in the nation. Within a mile of Covanta, 80% of the population is black. Only 1.5% of waste being burned at Covanta comes from Chester. The rest comes from wealthy suburban areas of Delaware County, Philadelphia, and New York.

Covanta is the largest polluter in Chester and one of the largest in all of eastern Pennsylvania.  Due to the pollutants from Covanta and other industries, many people in Chester have cancer, asthma, and other horrific diseases. I know entire families that have asthma or cancer. Both my mother and my little sister developed chronic asthma after moving to Chester. The childhood asthma hospitalization rate in Chester is three times the state average.

With research and organizing support from Energy Justice Network last summer, community members went door to door last year and packed city hall twice, winning a unanimous vote of the planning commission, recommending that city council shoot down plans for the rail box building to receive New York City’s steel trash containers. Unfortunately, city council voted in favor of Covanta because they did not want to get sued. Covanta was permitted to bring New York’s trash by rail, which will put them at full capacity. A big concern from the council was the amount of trash trucks coming through the city. Covanta said that since the trash will be coming by rail, the truck traffic will be decreased majorly, but even though residents made it clear that the trash containers will be taken through Chester by train to Wilmington, Delaware then back into Chester by truck. This will not decrease truck traffic, but will only increase pollution by adding train traffic.

I did some research and found out that New York’s zero waste plan is actually a “zero waste to landfill” plan that locked in 20 to 30 years of burning waste in Chester, making the impacts of my city invisible while New York gets the benefit of looking green. I was incredibly confused as to how New York City environmental justice groups could celebrate the announcement of a zero waste plan that allowed waste to be burned in Chester. We give toxic tours of our community upon request for those wanting to see what we experience on a daily basis.

We invite anyone, especially those from Philadelphia and New York, to contact us for a tour.

Environmental Justice Victory in DC

WE WON!! Environmental Justice Victory in DC, as Mayor Pulls Incinerator Contract

<reposted from energyjustice.net>


– by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

We just stopped Washington, DC from approving a $36-78 million contract that was awarded to Covanta to burn the District’s waste for the next 5-11 years.

In a rigged bidding process, the city allowed just four incinerators (no landfills) to bid to take 200,000 tons of waste a year. The one of the four that is in a rural white community does not accept out-of-county waste, leaving three incinerators in heavily populated communities of color as the only ones eligible to bid. The contract was awarded to Covanta’s incinerator in Lorton, VA — 4th largest in the nation and one of the largest polluters in the DC metro region. Lorton is the 12th most diverse community of color in the nation, and is also home to a sewage sludge incinerator and three landfills.

As I documented in an article last year, DC’s waste system is a glaring example of environmental racism, from where the waste transfer stations are, to where much of it ends up in Lorton. On the way to this latest victory, we got the large (389 living unit) cooperative where I live in DC to change its waste contract to disallow incineration, a tiny step toward starving the Covanta incinerator. Now, we have a chance to shift the entire city away from incineration. I hope we can also repeat this in Philadelphia as their Covanta contract (for burning in Chester, PA) comes up for renewal in each of the next few years.

We did our homework and made a strong case, got diverse allies on board, educated and pressured DC city council, and flattened Covanta’s 11th hour lies. Energy Justice Network was joined by 20 environmental, public health, civil rights and business organizations in calling on city council not to move the contract to final approval, and ultimately, our new mayor withdrew it from consideration, killing it.

The city will now have to cut a 1-year contract (hopefully not with any incinerator, if we can help it). This buys us time to convince city leaders that incinerators are indeed worse than landfills and that we need to resort to landfilling as we get the city’s zero waste goals implemented, including digestion of residuals prior to landfilling.

Last summer, we helped pass a law that bans Styrofoam and other food service-ware that isn’t recyclable or compostable, gets e-waste and composting going, and requires the city to come up with a zero waste plan (and we got it amended to ensure that incineration is not considered “diversion,” but “disposal”). We’re at a good crossroads in DC, where we can get the nation’s capital setting good examples. The long-standing head of the Department of Public Works is stepping down, giving the city a chance to replace him and others anti-recycling incinerator zealots in the agency with real zero waste leaders. Any good candidates are encouraged to apply here.

Special thanks to Chris Weiss, Jim Schulman, Jen Dickman, Neil Seldman, Ruthie Mundell, Matt Gravatt, Erin Buchanan, Kevin Stewart, Brent Bolin, and the following groups who all joined forces to make this victory possible: 350 DC, American Lung Association, Breathe DC, Inc., Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council, Clean Water Action, Community Forklift, Community Wellness Alliance, DC Climate Action, DC Environmental Network, Empower DC, Food & Water Watch, Global Green USA, Green Cross International, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, NAACP DC Branch, Moms Clean Air Force – DC Chapter, Save America’s Forests, SCRAP DC, and Sierra Club DC Chapter.

Recycling Isn’t Enough.

I was walking around town in a bad mood, and decided to root around in a dumpster belonging to one of those giant tech companies.

Going through dumpsters is quite therapeutic- the feeling of indifference towards other people spotting you, whether they’re employees, security guards, or even cops.

All of the above traveled down the alley while I was digging around, but I just didn’t care.  Surprisingly, none of them seemed to either.

When you’re in the zone, everyone around you must think you’re either super confident or just crazy…both of which result in you being left alone.

The usual self-defeating thoughts began clogging my mind- Why bother?  Who cares?  What’s the point?  Why would anyone listen to me anyway?

That’s why this website has slowed down so much- is it illegal to publicize my findings?  If I posted videos of my trash picking adventures, am I incriminating myself?  I feel like I’ve posed this question to so many people, and it’s hard to decide what the answer really is.

I’ve concluded that if the trash is on the street, it’s fair game, but if it’s in a dumpster on private property it’s a problem.

Whatever the case may be, this particular scenario wasn’t that exciting anyway.  What I found was that they had a recycling dumpster in place, and they paid their city medallion fees… so essentially they were following the rules.  Good job.

I was surprised.  The city probably hires someone to walk around checking dumpsters to see if they paid their annual fees…or it sure looks that way.  Businesses in Center City seem to have gotten their act together and have been coughing up the fees.

As I rooted through the trash dumpster, I stuffed a bunch of bubble mailers and shiny little metal boxes into my coat.  Hooray for free shipping supplies and… shiny little metal boxes that I don’t have a use for but they looked cool at the time.   Of course there were plenty of recyclable materials to be found there as well.

At first I got mad, and then I reminded myself that a shocking percentage of “recyclable” materials we put to the curb aren’t recycled anyway.  I don’t call it a recycling bin anymore- it’s simply a blue bin.

Further, even if their compliance was somehow perfect, it’s not going to solve the greater issues on its own.  Recycling will not save us all by itself- we need to do more.

If it’s cheaper to extract raw materials instead of recycling them, extraction will occur.  Simple as that.

Although painfully utopian, wouldn’t it be great if our recycling end markets were always reliable and abundant?

With recycling, we’re putting our destiny into other people’s hands, which we all know is a fool’s game.

Plastics are unquestionably the biggest part of the issue.

How much information is out there now about our plastic problem?  Here’s a few examples:

Charles Moore: Seas of Plastic
Plastic Ocean by Charles Moore
5gyres.org
Toxic: Garbage Island

Then you have losers like the American Chemistry Council coming up with misdirection campaigns like “Don’t Be Trashy- Recycle” , or promoting “energy recovery” as a solution for waste diversion.  Anything to divert attention from the real problem.

If all of you filthy misguided cretins placed everything in the right containers, we’d have no issues whatsoever… seriously?

When people ask me what I do and I mention anything about sustainability, a common response is “I recycle at home- I can’t believe how much of our stuff is recyclable”.  It’s definitely time to get to the next level.

It’s going to have to be a combination of composting, buying smarter, buying less and driving less, knowing more.  Although it seems complicated, policies incorporating Extended Producer Responsibility need to gain a lot more traction (i.e. responsibility of expired products is reverted back to the producers).

The answer isn’t simple by any means… but the next step is to realize that everyone needs to make more of an effort.  We’re made to feel good for simple actions such as recycling, which is fine… but now it’s time for everyone to advance to the next stage of feel-good responsibility.

Start composting at home.  Study the companies that produce the stuff you buy.  Donate more stuff- there’s someone looking for practically everything you may have.

Learn more about the horrific effects of climate change and see how you can chip away at it.  Don’t be duped by “waste-to-energy” facilities, which are simply incinerators in a pathetic costume.  Be curious.

We can be patiently impatient about social and environmental issues, or better yet impatiently patient towards what we can do to improve our surroundings starting today.

Getting Pickier with Plastics

After reading a fair bit of material regarding microplastics in compost, I’ve decided to become more strict on what I contribute to my compost piles.

Up to this point, I’ve been experimenting with how much of an item will compost, even when I’m aware it contains some plastic.

For example, I’ve added quite a few ice cream cartons, chinese food containers, paper cups, and fast food waste that I dumpstered from several establishments.

The plan has been to pick out the plastic skeletons that remain when I screen my finished product…I’ve been doing that for a long time, with the most common example being the occasional produce sticker that I missed.

What’s the big deal anyway?  I’m not going to use my compost to grow anything at this point… I’d rather just use it for horticultural purposes.

If I throw “away” the chinese food carton, it gets landfilled and does nothing forever.

While it’s not as visibly obvious as pieces of styrofoam floating in a puddle or plastic bags dancing with the wind, microplastics in the environment are contaminating everything.

 A 2011 study by Woods End Laboratory states that all plastic-coated paper products (single or double coated) leave a trail of microplastics, whether the lining is made from LDPE, PET or clay with binders.

I screen plastic bits from my compost with a 1/4″ sieve, but there’s no way I will be able to remove strands of polyethylene that are 100 microns in size.

I never thought about it like that, but it makes perfect sense and I wish I would have realized this sooner.

Keep plastic coated paper products out of your compost.

The only exceptions are products certified as compostable.

Composting facilties need to ban all plastic coated paper products from entering their faciltiies, which can’t be easy.

Between the plastic garbage gyres, the plastic bag dilemma and now this huge contributor to plastics working their way up the food chain, we have a very serious problem to solve.