No Impact Man…Had an Impact on Me.

I finally saw No Impact Man… only came out in 2009, not bad right?

There’s not a whole lot to say about it… I definitely went into it jaded and hoping that I would learn something- it ended up exceeding my expectations for sure.

He knew what he was talking about- he understood that plastics recycling is not the end of our responsibilities, as plastics are fluctuating commodities and most of them aren’t recycled anyway.  He understood the importance of composting, biking, and satisfaction through reduction.

What I related to the most were the scenes that focused on him questioning the whole point of the project- Who cares?  Does anyone care?  What’s the point?

Anyone that digs into environmental issues will have this wash of emotions hit them in the head from time to time.  It reminded me of Plastic Free when Beth Terry talks about how she started getting wasted more often the more she learned- I can relate.

From the start, I was curious if he was going to create a compost toilet system or if he’d go with worm composting like apartment dwellers often feel limited to.  He went with the worms, and while there were several positive scenes showing them doing their thing, he ended up having bug infestations and didn’t show if he solved them.

A vinegar and dish soap trap usually does it, and they’re totally necessary as you will at some point have bugs- it’s a natural ecosystem and they’re part of it.

I loved the pot-in-pot refrigerator… I’ve never seen anyone do it, I’ve only heard about it.  Therefore, I think that’s what I’m going to learn more about next.  It seemed like the family gave up on it really quickly in the movie.

I think that’s my major takeaway from this- don’t simply talk about something, or even just read about something- just try something.  Failing sucks (kind of), but at the end of the day the only way you’ll really understand your perspectives is by just trying stuff out.

I suck at cooking- but I’ve seen time and time again how people have made their meals from bulk bins with no problem.  Time to start cringing while I get better at cooking.  I made the worst meal the other day, but it got my gears turning on how to make it better tonight and I felt it start tuning my taste buds to know when something needs a little more of this and a little less of that.

My juicing regimen is plastic and packaging free, so why not make my food that way?  Sure, I could say I don’t have time blah blah blah, but that’s always the excuse, isn’t it?

Like another opinion needs to be heard regarding No Impact Man… I got tired of being asked if I saw it and that kept me from seeing it…how stupid is that.

Anyway, any negative critique of it is simply close-minded people projecting their own insecurities onto him and his family.

If someone can’t understand that humanity is the problem and that we’re not important besides the pollution we create, which results in the destruction of our planet…well, take his advice and go try something new.

Kudos, No Impact Family- you made a hell of an impact.

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.

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!

When Zero Waste is Environmental Racism

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– 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

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– 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.