Category Archives: waste of the week

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.

Waste of the Week #16: Organicos in Panama City – Composted or Landfilled?

The image of recycling was ever present in Panama City, Panama- in all different designs and combinations.  The big question I had was regarding their Organics cans that I kept seeing… are they actually composting?  Are they labeling cans like this with plans to compost on a large scale in the future?  I couldn’t tell.  Then you had this cut and dry example:

So does this mean that the inorganics can is single stream recycling, while the organics is composted?  Instead of any pictures or descriptions, a simple red “i” and green “o” are used.

I wasn’t able to get to the bottom of it while I was there, and I haven’t been able to find many clues elsewhere either.  It seems like exchanging recyclables for cash is available at a few recycling centers, but the city wasn’t really indicating that with that amount of litter there was.  Then again, the blatant culprit was plastics, which are by far the least valuable and the most responsible for environmental issues.

I hope they have a good material recovery plan on the back end that’s out of sight, because it was too beautiful of a country to turn into a pile of trash.  My observations in Bocas del Toro coming soon…

Waste of the Week #15

It seems like every time I walk around in Northern Liberties, there’s a waste-related oddity that catches my eye.  I’d walk around there more often, but it sucks there.  I think it’s just because it reminds me of downtown West Chester, which was by far the worst place I’ve ever lived in my life.

Then again, I have to thank West Chester too. If it wasn’t for its godawful lameness, I wouldn’t have spent so much time studying trash and might have wasted my time partying like nearly everyone else instead.

I guess now it’s a good time to plug West Chester University’s Environmental Health program… loved it.  Dr. Sheehan, Dr. Shorten: thank you.

Anyway, this appears to be a normal waste receptacle… one side for trash (which doesn’t encompass much these days, does it?), the other for recycling.  Did the City get wire mesh cans that are split in half now?  Let’s take a look:

Doesn’t look that way, does it?  Let’s see here… we ask the disposer to segregate their materials into either hole, but it goes into the same can anyway.  This is a great example of how to make the public uncertain of what happens to their waste.  “I don’t recycle anymore, it all gets trashed anyway.  What’s the point?  Waste of time.”

If you are employed in the field of waste handling, you know that this is pure hell.  Nothing is worse than developing a recycling program, only to have your coworkers hear the great things your department is doing and then see evidence pointing to the contrary, falsely or not.  In other words, teach others about what goes on internally behind the scenes…most people won’t care, but those who listen will appreciate it and reinforce the mission.

The situation above makes people feel powerless and indifferent…all zero people that opened the lid and looked in, that is.  I know I tend to feel that way from time to time.  If 100 people disposed of their plastic bottles into a can labeled recycling, and then whoever services the can trashes it, they just deceived 100 people.

However, if the contents of this can are sent to a material recovery facility, hopefully the material will stand a shot and get separated and sold back to manufacturers.

This can clearly suffers from the Big Belly dilemma, as I like to call it (I need to register that phrase on Urban Dictionary or something).  If you know what Big Belly compactors in action look like, then you know what I mean already.

There’s a cutout for the “Recyclables”, but no hole on the “Dechets/Trash” side.  No one (myself included) wants to grab the Big Belly handle to put waste in the trash compactor, but they’ll gladly put it into the open hole on the Recycling side.  Same applies here.

Any guesses where the waste is going that’s placed in this can?

Waste of the Week #13: Single Use Floss

“Hi Performance” single use floss… wow!  How wasteful is this?  I don’t remember where I discovered this gem of an item, but it made me laugh hysterically.  With every use you save 10″ of floss while throwing away an amount of plastic equivalent to 25% of the standard packaging.

What happened to the usual floss, the little box with the spool containing up to 300 feet of the stuff?  Maybe this person was a dentist and took a pack home from work, but I doubt it.  I could imagine dentists using something like this if they don’t reuse their instruments for some reason.  Why would these be available at a convenience store?  I guess for…convenience.

Floss is usually made of nylon or teflon coated with wax…which means we’re all throwing away strands of plastic everyday and tangling up pipes.  Is there something other than plastic to use?

I found compostable single use floss picks…although it wasn’t clear if the floss itself was something other than plastic.  I’ve read of silk being used as a substitute, and as I expected this really annoys the animal rights people.  Apparently, Gandhi promoted the use of wild silk that didn’t involve killing the silkworms.

How about a compostable plastic (or paperboard?) standard box of non-plastic floss?  Anything but this single use stuff…making life easier is fine, but this is just one of those products that doesn’t need to be out there.  I took a walk after writing this, and of course I found a handful of them scattered on the sidewalk…perfect.

Waste of the Week 12: Berlin Train Station

I love designs that are crisp and clean, but not so much for waste segregation purposes, unless you’re the Big Belly Trash Compactor.

Feeling like an idiot not knowing a word of German, this receptacle wasn’t so intuitive for me to use, although I think everyone is in the same bind seeing the text all crammed together like that.

This can solidifies my thought that i like seeing graphics paired with the text to make the process even quicker and easier.

As I waited for the train, I watched others throw their waste away in what looked like a careless fashion.  I’m wondering if it’s viewed as redundant because they utilize single stream recycling…then you’d have 3 options for the same piece of recyclable material.  Or maybe it all goes to the landfill (I highly doubt it).

Waste of the Week #14: Stuttgart Airport Waste Station

Oh, I get it!  Infectious waste goes in the red bag, chemotherapeutic waste in the yellow, and recycling in the blue. 🙂

It’s interesting how each country has their own system… I had a lot of downtime in this airport, and I didn’t observe anyone thinking about where they were throwing stuff, nor did I see much consistency with the contents in each.

Their waste must be sorted via material recovery facilities and that would be why no one seems to care where they throw stuff, right?  Bonus points to Stuttgart Airport if they have their own Airport MRF…as of right now I know of only one but there must be more out there.