Category Archives: waste of the week

Waste of the Week #22: Vancouver Recycling Station

vancouver recycling stationfood scraps signage

I’ve never seen cans quite like these… pretty funny!

Based on their disposal at the time, they seemed pretty effective.

I love the food scraps can… it made me realize that labeling a compost receptacle in a public place as “food scraps” must be the best way.

When you see the word “Organics” or “Compost”, that means you have to know what that means in order to do as requested.

Isn’t compost poop?  Organic food?  I don’t have time for this; I’m just throwing everything in this can.

With “food scraps”, you simply know what that means.  Further, with so many disposable plastic-lined paper products ruining compost everywhere, this might help keep them out of the stream.

The trash can having a lid vs the other two sporting openings seems like a cool way to discourage trash, until someone has actual trash in their hand and they’re too grossed out to touch the lid.

All in all, this setup is awesome and it really nails it in terms of simplicity, color coding, differing cutouts, proper labeling and huge pictures.

What do you think?

Waste of the Week #21: Another Portland Compost Toter

compost toter-lidWhat’s interesting to me about this example is that I still haven’t read the text around the graphics, but I don’t need to- it says “No Garbage Please” and I know the recycling toters are blue here…

I wonder how well their program is doing… I don’t think I’ve been anywhere that seems more “with it” than Portland when it comes to this stuff… maybe Vancouver?

Photos to come!

Waste of the Week #17: PDX Recycling Efforts

Oregon Convention Center Waste Station

The above waste station was at the Oregon Convention Center.

It seems like they’re a bit more stringent (realistic) with their designations.

“Food Only” is a good one… this is where it’s at these days- composting facilities taking other than just food and yard waste are running into trouble left and right due to hidden plastic contamination (amongst other things).

I think the picture is funny for the “All Other Items” (much more polite than LANDFILL)… take that cardboard coffee sleeve off of that cup first!  That’s valuable carbon right there… as is most of that cup… there’s gotta be a way to get plastics phased out of paper products.

Why?  Because there’s certified 100% compostable paper products for all single use items, and every freaking one of them lasts as long as needed for the individual to use them effectively.

PDX Airport Recycling CanThe can pictured above is from the PDX Airport… I can’t help but sneak photos in airports.

This is the first time I’m seeing “NO CUPS” on a recycling can, but I get it.

Notice the other thing missing?  No mention of glass.

Glass, the only inert material, is being phased out of view these days.

Now is more important than ever to start picking items one at a time and finding plastic-free alternatives.

Not sure where to start?

Check out Plastic Free by Beth Terry… can’t recommend it highly enough for this.

Waste of the Week #14: Front of House Composting at the Grocery Store?

I was in the grocery store the other day grabbing veggies when I noticed this screaming opportunity: a “trash” can in the produce section.

Could this be a great opportunity for composting?  At first glance, it sure seems like it.

Using a toter system here would work pretty great- they’re on wheels and your employees wouldn’t have to empty them…this could be done by a compost hauler.

Paying attention to cleanliness of the toters would be a little tedious, but if you’re participating in a composting program it’s just part of the game.  Besides, if your waste receptacles are all nasty in the bottom you should be ensuring they’re clean as it is.

In this can, everything was compostable besides the red onion netting and the plastic film.  Education and signage for this would be a pain and you’d have some consistent minimal contamination for a while, but eventually this could become standard at grocery stores.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this was happening somewhere already…would love to see it.

The main challenge with composting in public areas is simply the education.  Plastics are a major contaminant of composting efforts and it’s difficult to get everyone to comply.  However, it’s difficult to have a trash can that doesn’t have recyclables in it, so it’s more or less the same issue either way.  Pairing a recycling bin next to this compost can would help, but I wouldn’t expect it to get very full.

The more obvious opportunities are in the back of the house, but for this section out on the floor, it seems to be begging for a compost toter.  The same goes for those taste test sample tables.  It’s always a bunch of tiny single serve portions with paper cups or paper plates and a tiny napkin… done right the disposal could be monitored pretty well.  The trick is to control the materials being handed out to minimize contamination.

Anyway, I could sure use a nice load of green material like this to build a second hot compost pile…I might have to ask them for a bag or maybe I’ll conduct some new fast “food” studies instead.  Now’s the perfect time of year to get cracking on that, it’s not freezing out and it’s not super hot steamy garbage season either.

It seems like composting services have become more popular lately, but there’s still plenty of room for growth: pizza shops, hotels, coffee shops, all schools.  While I’ve seen examples in each of these areas, they’re definitely the minority.

One situation I keep thinking about: Most compost services require that compostable plastic bags are used, and this is definitely a barrier for participants.  What if vendors accepted regular plastic bags instead of just the pricey compostable ones?

You save money up front by using cheap plastic bags, but… you’re using plastic bags.  Yes, it’s the commonly used and accepted item but let’s face it- they really, really suck.  However, because of this cost avoidance, you are now composting.  You’re also landfilling (or worse yet, burning) plastic bags… which you’d be doing anyway if you weren’t composting.  Which is better?

The vendor has to take time to pick out and trash all the plastic bags (there are some great screening and vacuum systems available for removing contaminants), but they receive a lot more material because the cost of entry is lower for participants.

Further, I don’t know any composting company that likes to receive compostable bags because they take a long time to break down and they’re a frickin mess…not that regular plastic film being in the compost is any better, but still- bags are no fun.

What’s the next step?  I’m not really sure what it is, other than to start composting at home.  There’s no waste product, and you get soil as a result.

What else?  Eat all your food when you’re out?  Use handkerchiefs and your pants instead of napkins and tissues?  Don’t buy so much stuff?

This all seems to get redundant, doesn’t it?  I hate concluding my writing on this topic… it always feels the damn same.

All these things we either know or heard about that we should be doing.  Maybe instead of doing it because you know things can’t sustain themselves the way they are, try doing it just because it’s something to try.

As I’ve said a million times, once you set up a system it will do what it naturally does.  Participate in the earth’s oldest process and see what happens.

Waste of the Week #18: Cork Recycling

Cork recycling!  So it looks like you can give your corks to Terracycle and they’ll turn them into cork boards to sell.

You could hold onto yours (natural, synthetic, whatever) until you have enough to make a cork board, which surprisingly doesn’t take that many to do if you glue them all in the long way.

The survival nuts burn cork to make face camoflauge (I haven’t tried it), so I guess there’s always that option too…can’t say I don’t have a bag of them in the basement ready for whatever. 🙂

It’s weird… the more I learn about recycling, the less I tend to trust it.  Hopefully the corks get to where they need to go, and chances are good they do…but I can’t help but look sideways at grocery stores collecting plastic bags, wondering if they actually get recycled.  Cork recycling definitely seems more straight forward than hinging a material’s recycling chances based on market value.

Anyway, I guess all I’m saying is that when it comes to recycling, if you can do something yourself, do it yourself.

Waste of the Week #17: Panama Problems

It’s been over a month now since I returned from Panama/Bocas Del Toro, and I still don’t know what to say about it.

It was such a beautiful place, and it was hard not to focus on the trash aspect since it was in your face most places.

It sucked taking a boat to uninhabited islands and seeing all kinds of plastics washed up on the shores.  It clearly wasn’t taken there and left behind, it was dropped off by the ocean.

Broken plastic chairs, pieces of styrofoam products, plastic bottles.  It seems like no matter where you go, these items will follow you.  What would a world look like without plastics?

I had learned that Bocas del Toro had just recently started a recycling program, and up to that point had nothing in place.  On top of that, going to the local restaurants and convenience stores indicated that they were living the single use life.

It really put a different perspective on things, since the string of islands had such a small population and you could essentially pinpoint exactly what establishments the litter was coming from: red plastic bags were everywhere, and one store on the island was using them.  I got really pissed when I saw a 2 liter bottle purchase get placed in a bag…I thought this was just Amurrican behavior, but I was wrong.

I started to think that the locals haven’t really thought much about litter, but maybe I’m just imagining that.  The travel hostels that I stayed at all seemed to have composting efforts in place (keep in mind I was trying to support “eco friendly” hostels), but none of them were as comprehensive as they could be.  That being said, The Firefly did a damn good job.

Many common uncertainties were brought up, such as: “Doesn’t the bleach in the paper mean I can’t compost it?” or “The pile is full of bugs and smells really bad, I don’t know what to do.”  Really simple stuff to overcome, but for some reason the world’s oldest natural process isn’t quite at the forefront like it should be.

The paper thing kills me, because napkins, paper towels, tissue and receipts are all perfect for composting and make up quite a bit of waste.  Especially in a place where it’s hard to find sufficient “brown materials” necessary for composting, the answer was right there in their own purchases.

It was reassuring to be able to help assess compost piles and try to teach some tips and tricks to get them psyched on composting…even on my vacation, I’m at work. 🙂

It was a fine line to tread, though.  I can’t always tell when I’m overstepping my boundaries by trying to honestly help someone out and improve their situation, and not come off like a pompous wanker.

Minimize your plastic consumption.  Non-plastic products existed for most everything at one point, so bring them back.  Straws, cups, packaging, you name it.  Paper and cardboard aren’t perfect by any means, but at least they break down and give the gift of compost when re-purposed correctly…this is especially important if recycling isn’t available for such materials.

I’ve lost my confidence in plastics being dealt with reliably…check out the book Plastic Free and see how you can be inspired by it.