Tag Archives: recycling

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?

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
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.

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 #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?

The Dark Side of Trash Picking

What your paper recycling should look like.

Not so long ago, I heard a hard knock on my door.

I open the door, and some dude is trying to look official and not pulling it off, even with the clipboard in his arm.  He looked kinda nervous, and for a second I even wonder if I scared him.  Maybe he realized I knew his game before he played.

“Mr. Weaver, it looks like you owe the water department money.  I’m from the Philadelphia Water Department, and I need to collect $198.50 from you…”

Of any bills I have to pay each month, an autopaid water bill of twenty odd dollars a month isn’t going to get missed.  Then I laughed to myself and thought, I wonder if that’s why I get those ugly blue envelopes each month although I’ve had auto pay and opted to go paperless nearly 5 years.

I asked the guy for some identification, and he flashed me something, but it definitely wasn’t an ID.  I think it was a Rite Aid card or something.  He didn’t have a bill of mine either…and that’s because I shred them.

I laughed pleasantly at the guy on my porch and said “From one trash picker to another, I respect the game, but you gotta leave.”

He was about to reply, then just turned around and hurriedly walked down the block.

Is this situation familiar to you?  I’ve had a few people tell me in recent months that they’ve had false bill collectors showing up at the door demanding money.  That’s a shame that somewhere out there people have coughed it up to these jerks.

Then I thought about how I go through waste, and how much I like hovering over blue bins on Sunday in my neighborhood just to see what my neighbors think is recycling, or if I think I can spot a disposal error due to a drunkard putting their 40 ounce on top of the garbage (Philly trash fines for another article!).

One thing I see somewhat often in the blue bin is shoes.  I also see a lot of wood…like broken chair legs and stuff.  Both are recyclable, but not for a curbside service, folks.  It’s funny to think that if you just threw all your waste in the blue bin, you’d probably be correct most of the time.  All we need is curbside composting here…

Anyway, I thought about how if I wanted to, I could do the same thing this crook is doing.  Most people don’t seem to shred their paperwork.  I’ve had dreams of becoming a spy for a large company and stealing the trash of their competitors.  Do you think that job exists?  Contract Garbage Spy?  I would think so…and if not, I may have quite a business model!  Ha.

Then my dumb thoughts drifted even further.  My mission is to get everyone more in touch with their waste habits…and that definitely goes hand in hand with trash picking.  What if everyone that read my stuff actually began trash picking and telling their friends about it?  What would happen to our waste?  How many would become debt collectors?  Would someone start looking through business waste?  Where does it end?

I don’t know.  But remember to shred your paper before you put it out curbside.  Or if you’re paranoid now that I’ve brought it up, shred it and put it in your compost pile/worm bin.

“Wipe Out” article in Grid Magazine #031

Do you ever wonder about napkins?  It’s definitely an item that I think about constantly and I can’t tell if I’m perceived as dirty for denying them any chance I get.  Napkins are seen as this free item that can be liberally obtained in any quantity, without question.  Why do you need napkins?  Do you spill food at every sitting, or get your hands and face dirty every chance you get?

I would like to see napkins become an item that isn’t provided unless asked for, with the business in full control of how many are disseminated.  Honestly, how many times have you either taken napkins or received napkins with a meal, only to throw them in the trash after you’re done eating?  They’re only napkins, right?  Yes, but they are a resource that contribute to our wasteful habits.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been observing people when they get up to leave a restaurant and it never fails that unused napkins get trashed…and not one or two, but a tidy stack of them.  I’m always entertained when I get to watch people figure out creative ways to use their stack of napkins before throwing them in the trash.  Wipe the table down?  Wipe your mouth for the third time?  Blow your nose?  I feel like a lot of people are one step away from saying “hold the napkins”.

Did you know that paper makes up a whopping 40% of our landfills?  This is the most prevalent content disposed, and it exceeds plastic bottles, diapers, food waste and appliances combined.  Think about it this way: for as long as you’ve been on the planet, paper hasn’t changed.  It’s always weighed the same and taken up the same space while glass and plastics (bags and bottles alike) have lost nearly half their weight and thickness.

Some paper products such as napkins, paper towels and phonebooks are made of a minimal amount of low grade material, to the point that their recyclability is questionable, but their compostability or (better yet) overall reduction is not.  Yes, it’s a low grade of paper that is most likely near 100% recycled material, but why use it if you don’t need to?

So here’s my challenge for you: Do you really need all the napkins you receive when getting your meal from the lunch truck or at a restaurant?  See what happens when you pocket those extra napkins and tell the server to hold off on them from here on out.  Remember cloth napkins?  They still exist, seemingly at bars and a couple restaurants…that’s not a bad habit to support.  If you’re at an establishment using paper napkins, ask why they can’t go with the cloth alternative.

This one might be a stretch: how about handkerchiefs?  They were a trend that hung out of people’s back pockets for a while, but were they being pulled out at restaurants to wipe hands and blow noses?  I doubt it.  The key here is reuse.

The extreme: have you tried putting your hands into your pockets after you washed them instead of pulling 5 paper towels from the dispenser?  Unless you work in a hospital, chances are you don’t need your hands sanitized and free of visible soil at all times.

Why would I pick such a trivial product to focus on for an entire article?  That’s exactly why.  Paper has a bigger impact than you may think, and you have the power to change that…quite simply, actually.  So go for it- it doesn’t make you dirtier, it makes you a more mindful and in-tune global citizen.

Scavenging At School

Scavenging at School

I was taking a stroll and I happened to pass by a school’s dumpsters.  I couldn’t help but take a look at all the opportunity that was being passed on.  Don’t you think schools should be recycling, composting and donating as opposed to trashing?  I mean, the students are the future and all… setting an example and being a steward in the community shouldn’t be an option.

Who knows, maybe I’m really ahead of myself… maybe not a single person at the school has ever thought about waste segregation.  Maybe no one at this Philadelphia school lives in Philadelphia and recognizes that they participate in single stream recycling at home already.

Are the schools near you recycling? Composting? Donating excess supplies and lost and found never found? Are they getting the students involved?

I wonder what the waste hauler thought…maybe they never proposed providing the service anyway.  Either way, this isn’t about blame as much as it’s about looking through trash and asking questions…so take my lead and go do it.