E-waste, what a pain in the ass. I would say that I get asked questions about proper disposal of old electronics more frequently than anything else. It seems like everyone always wants to give me their old junk (I love getting floppy disks though). Philly’s collection program is sparse and involves having to wake up early on a Saturday…not many will want to do that, or want to take their junk anywhere. The only way to make it work here would be to have a curbside pickup for old electronics paired up with one of the more reputable recyclers here, such as E-Force Compliance or Elemental. I can see the mess left behind on the street from that one. But it would still work better than having households slowly sneak their stuff out through the trash and into the landfills.

I was reading about Moore’s Law recently, which states that the newest stuff is destined to be obsolete right away…especially with computers. The ugly reality. It goes hand in hand with the ugly reality that the majority of our electronics are being shipped overseas to be smashed apart by little kids dancing with carcinogens. How much money can you get for burning the insulation off of a mountain of wires for strands of copper? A dollar? How much are those tiny lead solder blobs worth? It must be fun to torch huge piles of circuit boards, though. Can you really blame them for hustling? Of course not, It’s not their fault.

I am the last person that wants to point blame, as I think it goes nowhere. However, a rather apparent solution seems to exist here. Hey manufacturers, take on the disposal/recycling costs. Create a no-brainer program to ensure that your electronics can be recycled properly at any of the thousands of legit e-waste recyclers. If you complain it’s not cost effective, greenwash your new product as being made from all recycled components and mark it up a bunch more.

B.Y.O.B. (Bring your own bag, of course)

The other day, it was super windy out and I was just watching the plastic bags (what I like to call “tumbleweed” here in Philly) blow around all over the place. First you have the black corner store bags, then there’s the white doubled-up “have a nice day” bags strewn about. Over in Chinatown, I often see red plastic bags blowing around, which reminds me of having to pull empty infectious waste bags out of healthcare waste streams. All because of that cute little biohazard symbol, that empty red bag is considered infectious… but that’s another fun issue I’ll rant about some other time.

I’ve been sinning lately, I admit. Instead of collecting plastic bags off the street and reusing them later (way later…seriously, how often do you reach for a plastic bag in your house?), I’ve been trimming and melting them into durable 8-ply squares. If you’ve always wanted to know how to do so, this is a good video to watch. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them all yet, but I was thinking of making some really ugly shower curtains. I already made a really ugly wallet out of one, and a half decent birthday card.  (UPDATE: I have made a pillow out of 6 months’ worth of these things.)

Of course, in the colder months I jam these things into every crack and crevice I can to keep drafts out of my ancient house. I escaped the mood-altering Philly winter for a minute, and went to L.A. for a change of scenery, some nice weather and an extra dose of car exhaust. I was crashing at a friend’s place that lived right behind a supermarket, and out front of the store they had a plastic bag recycling container:

Pretty nice. What’s their line of thinking? “Well, we’ll get people in the habit of putting plastic bags in one location, so that maybe one day they will be feasible to recycle and it’ll be easy to transition into this wonderful program.” What’s wrong with that, right? In the meantime, we will truthfully “collect” them, but what happens to them after that is just whatever. This article claims that bags cost $4,000/ton to process, and are more often than not sent overseas to be incinerated, or really who cares what happens to them, as long as they’re off our hands? Pretty frustrating. Here’s the inside of the can:

Not so easy to tell, but it’s all bags of trash, not even bags full of plastic bags like most people have in their house somewhere. So what’s going on? Do people know that the program is rubbish, and their bags aren’t economically feasible for recycling? Are they angry that they don’t have a plastic bag tax since 2002 like the Republic of Ireland, resulting in 90% less plastic bags being used? Or they just thought it was a trash can and don’t think about their disposal habits at all? As the customer reports to their car after trashing the plastic bag can, they get to see this:

Maybe this sign should be at the entrance, not in the parking lot at the exit. Any ideas why there’s not more of an incentive to use your own bag? Get a discount on your overall purchase if you have your own bags. Okay, sounds good. So which supermarket will be first to lose a little money in exchange for doing the right thing?

My Top Suggestion for Socially Responsible Shopping…

Have you heard of the book The Better World Shopping Guide? I strongly recommend getting into it.

This book has inspired me so much to look closely at how I use my money and what I “vote” for with each and every dollar. This site is a great first step for people that may be skeptical about changing personal habits but are still curious to make change and/or feel rather powerless.

I was always fascinated with trying to find out what companies are reliable and do what they say they do (digging in their trash is a good first step!). This book makes great bathroom reading and you’ll start to memorize the lists pretty quickly. Otherwise, just take it with you to the grocery store and put it to use!

It took me a little under a month to really transition from decent to excellent companies across the board (the most time-consuming being the bank and credit card), but after doing so, realized that if everyone did this we’d make some serious change!

So check it out:
http://www.betterworldshopper.com

Now if we could only get large companies to start following this guide…

Which leads nicely into another story that’s gaining momentum: The Wal-Mart Sustainability Index.

Why would Wal-Mart suddenly advertise that all of their products suck? They wouldn’t. So they’re actually letting the companies evaluate themselves based on energy & climate, materials, natural resources and people/community. I can’t wait to hear what some generic clothing and shoe manufacturers are going to boast about with regards to people/community.

What I hope they’re thinking is more along the lines of, “Well, we’re worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and if we stop treating our employees like shit and stock sustainable products on our shelves, we’ll still have a few hundred billion.” I understand that “sustainable” is not the Wal-Mart business model in the slightest, and it’s nice of them to try…but it’s extremely difficult to imagine anything coming out of this other than reminding ourselves that you can polish a turd but it’s still a turd.

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.