Tag Archives: waste reduction

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.

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.

The Obligatory Black Friday Post…

The Story of Stuff (2007) – Ch.1: Introduction

I almost forgot to post on one of the lamest days of the year: Black Friday.

If you don’t understand why Black Friday is lame, there’s probably a lot of other things we disagree on.  Anyway, I’ll hand it over to Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff today.  I have a headache.

Rather than buying stuff today, try giving the gift of service or your time to someone instead…

Waste Watch: Keurig Single Cup Brewers

Have you seen one of these?  Recently, I stayed at a place that had one, and tried to quickly block it out of my mind.  Here I am, face to face with this complete waste of space.  It’s clear there’s a lack of thought with regards to disposal here.  Instead of asking Keurig about their product line, I’d rather share my reservations with you to see what you think (and I’ll also ask them in the meantime).

In case you aren’t aware of these things, it’s a single serve coffee machine that sells you on the point that you get a fresh cup of coffee in a minute or less by using these questionable junk plastic cups.  They might be recyclable (no obvious marking on them although they claim they’re polypropylene), but more importantly the process is extremely wasteful.

One of their competitors (I think?  Who knows who owns who anymore?) teamed up with Terracycle to have a collection process to compost the contents and recycle the cups into another use (program no longer in operation).  I applaud Terracycle’s creativity and their founder is a great dude, but they shouldn’t need to exist if everything was handled by the companies that create the mess.  “Awesome solutions for ignorant problems” should be their real slogan.

I recently reposted a great article by Mike Ewall that explains how societal problems are shifted onto us the consumer and away from the corporations that need to be addressing them.  Keurig falls squarely into this of course, and they address the problem with a few copy/paste corporate paragraphs you’ve read before…here we go:

“The manufacturing requirements of the K-Cup® pack currently make recycling difficult. The K-Cup® pack is made up of three main elements: the cup itself, a filter and an aluminum foil top. The pack’s components prevent oxygen, light and moisture from degrading the coffee. Without the barrier the packaging materials provide, we could not maintain quality or freshness. However, we are actively working to meet the challenge of creating a pack that reduces environmental impact and continues to deliver an extraordinary cup of coffee.”

So is Keurig implying that all coffee that comes in kraft paper bags (100% compostable) isn’t going to provide a quality fresh cup?  Even though any coffee that you get in kraft paper bags, grind the beans yourself and use a french press will taste eons better and not have any waste (compost the bag, use the tin tie in any number of ways)?  Stating the obvious, this appliance is purely for convenience.  I wonder how many people that have one of these ever make their own coffee with a press?  Those that do must wonder about the waste of this thing, right?

They also remind me of the ultimate corporate cup, which must be a good part of their market… I’ve witnessed a collection effort at an office space for a similar system (a Terracycle program existed at one point), and the feedback was that it was a pain to even do that.  No one trusted that the collection resulted in any real reduction or recycling, which doesn’t surprise me that much.  It’s a shame, because they were taking action and became disenchanted.

Back to the company paragraph: Saying “we’re working on it” is the best way to never do anything and to forever shut up those that are looking to see what you’re doing (I love saying “coming soon” or “working on it” to buy myself time to write about stuff when I really need to clear my head and keep myself from whining like I’m doing here…maybe that’s what they’re doing but I highly doubt it). Polypropylene leaches toxins.  Blasting steaming hot water through it is going to leach crap into your cup, beyond the infamous BPA.  It’s used because it’s strong and lighter than other plastics?  For flavor protection or profit margin?

Of course they mention that recycling polypropylene is available in most places around the U.S…. but because it’s collected doesn’t mean it’s recycled by any means.  I wish I didn’t know that, but I do.

Simple solution to all of this?  Buy your own bag of beans in a kraft paper bag (or biodegradable PLA lined if you must) instead of those shiny plastic bags that have no end use.  Press your own coffee.  Leave it at that.  Spend the couple of minutes and enjoy your coffee that you made by yourself.  Plan B: buy your cup from a respectable coffee shop (whatever that means).  Plan C: Drink more water.  Plan D: If you have to have the convenience of this product, please contact them and demand a change to their process.

Solution for Keurig?  Use paper cups (think ketchup cups at fast food establishments) and experiment with wax liners (if you’re already doing that, talk about it!).  Could it really taste any worse?  Better yet, focus on your coffee and give your machines a rest.  Why is it acceptable to be so wasteful?  Yep, we made people lazier at the expense of more plastic waste, more ingested toxins and a crappier cup of coffee.  Cheers mate!

Update: Keurig makes a reusable K-Cup.  Yes, this is nice.

Next, they need a cup  manufactured from a material that gets recycled.

Choking on plastic.

Food Truck Foolery

The other day I decided to get lunch somewhere else and I found an arrepa truck.  I haven’t had one of those since I’d been to Colombia, so I thought this was going to be automatically awesome.

They had a veggie black bean arrepa.  It was really good.  Now let’s back up.  When you think of getting an arrepa, how much material do you need to pack it up?  You already know exactly where this is going.  Onward!

The arrepa was in a styrofoam clamshell (seriously?), handed to me inside of a paper bag.  I quickly handed the paper bag back to him, and he seemed puzzled.  What am I supposed to do with the paper bag?  I don’t want napkins, I don’t need a fork or anything, and surprisingly I was never offered these things anyway (good job).

I think he sensed I was “that guy” as soon as I gave the bag back, but what am I to do?  Take it?  I don’t want it and it’s a waste.  Maybe one day I’ll see someone else give back a bag or utensils (or better yet make a suggestion about material choices), but so far no such luck in the 5 years of occasionally getting lunch during work.

I asked him why they were using Styrofoam and suggested that it’s not a good look.  He mumbled something about consideration of costs… yeah, I get that.  You want to save a few pennies per sale, and yes it adds up.  I really didn’t feel like talking about it anymore, so I just walked away, feeling like a jackass carrying a clam shell with me, and even more so for asking at all.

At the nearest corner, I removed the clamshell, crushed it in half and put it in the recycling can, knowing damn well that nothing will happen to it although it is a plastic that can be recycled (although it’s astronomically cheaper to produce new virgin styrofoam).

Oh no!  A contaminant.  I’d rather place it there, knowing it will be mechanically separated from the rest of the materials and acknowledged as material that isn’t going away, instead of trashing it where it won’t get another look.

Here’s the kicker: the arrepa was wrapped in aluminum foil inside the clamshell.  So let me get this straight: you’re worried about costs, but you’re triple packaging an item you’re selling to me.  How about sell me the thing in the aluminum foil and that’s it?

I walked 15 minutes back to my desk where it was still piping hot, without the aid of Styrofoam’s wonderful insulation properties (that still don’t justify its existence in the first place).  That guy can make one hell of an arrepa.

Waste of the Week #9: Is that a garbage can or a laundry basket?

Is this is a garbage can or a laundry basket?  Too funny.

These setups usually suck because the paper towels rarely come out one at a time, and the trash can is right beneath to catch all of the wasted paper.

I’m guessing they get more people washing their hands and using paper towels than they anticipated, so they decided to use a laundry basket as a plan B.  Nice!

The current trend seems to be using hot air dryers over the paper to save energy and ultimately labor/materials, and it’s touch free which is a plus since no one wants cooties.

I’m waiting for the composting of restroom paper towels as the next big movement.  Think about it: what’s in a restroom waste can other than paper towels?  Not much.  Wet paper is a great item for compost, too.

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.

New at Temple University: Water Bottle Refill Stations

I saw one of these in California not too long ago, then I heard about one in Delaware, and now they’re happening at the new architecture building at Temple University: water bottle refill stations.  A pretty simple concept- get a drink of water, refill a bottle with water.

What I didn’t notice is that they have a readout on them that shows how much waste has been eliminated through refilling your bottle.  Bottled water sucks, plain and simple.

Not sure how you can hate on this one.  Tests have shown over and over that tap water trumps bottled water in both quality and taste.  While I’m at it, I’ll remind you to check out The Story of Bottled Water if you haven’t seen it yet (some of the video comments might depress you, but isn’t that the case with everything on Youtube?).

Happy Holidays. Don’t Give the Gift of Garbage.

Buying stuff for the holidays has to rank near the bottom of things I like doing.  Of course I get salty hearing other people’s conversations about rushing to the store after work, or struggling to find a toy that their kid wanted.  Even worse is seeing the huge piles of waste by the curbside a few days later.  I like to view the holidays more like artistic expression, mainly with how I package a gift, and secondarily what I choose.

This nation consumes a huge amount of paper each year, and as much as half of that consists of packaging.  Wrapping paper is a big contributor: it’s too thin to be recycled, and it contains additives and dyes.  Many things can substitute as wrapping paper…think newspaper, magazines, or really anything that you can mash together in a creative way.  Ideally, you should pick a material that is going to be recyclable or compostable.

I openly admit that I obsessively hoard packaging materials that only get utilized for holidays and birthdays.  Under my desk is three garbage bags full of padded mailers, styrofoam peanuts and gift bags that I’ve received and try to reuse later on.  By ordering products online, I don’t really get to choose what packaging material the sender uses, so it ends up under my desk.

I find it sad that nearly all packaging material is so close to being conveniently recyclable.  Padded mailers have plastic bubble liners that are difficult to remove, tyvek packaging is becoming popular, but no one is willing to pay shipping to mail these in bulk back to the manufacturer.  Some copy centers and post offices may accept styrofoam peanuts, but no one wants to make the effort to return them.  Therefore, I suggest reusing these types of materials as many times as you can.

Gift bags are equally frustrating because they’re not recyclable due to their inseparable composition of paper, plastic, and anything from sequins to rope handles and ribbons.  If you absolutely need to use gift bags for that special someone, choose a generic/neutral design and suggest to the recipient that they reuse it.

If you’re not that interested in using materials other than wrapping paper for gifts, you can look for 100% recycled paper gift wrap which uses soy-based ink instead of the usual toxic petroleum-based ink.  Taking it a step further, scour the internet for plantable seed wrapping paper.  You can even get business cards made with this material, and it looks and feels great.  These options are a bit more expensive, but I like to think of the extra cost as part of the final gift.

Being both creative and responsible with your gift giving doesn’t have to come off as cheap and weird.  Done right, it can act as a subtle way to get your recyclephobic friends one step closer to being accepting of greenie practices.  When you’re laying around digesting all that food this holiday season, strike up a conversation about holiday waste.  I think it’s on people’s minds but it doesn’t get enough attention, and it might connect you a little closer to those you care about.  Getting creative is always a good thing, and you know they always say it’s the green thought that counts.