Friday, March 29, 2013

Living today, with tomorrow in mind

What does "reducing consumption" actually look like? Is it as hard/scary as it sounds? Does it mean "sacrifice"?

These are some of the questions I tackled last night while giving my new presentation. I wanted to write this post to follow up on it and to share some related resources.
dried chickpeas from the bulk section in
a reusable fabric bag. The bag was made
from some curtain material, bought at a
thrift store. This helps eliminate the
plastic bag or the steel can that
would normally be associated with this purchase.
The more I do this job, the more I realize that while recycling is good, we're not going to recycle our way out of the mess we're in. We need more aggressive measures. Also, the majority of the environmental effects/footprint of the stuff we use comes well before we ever set hands on that stuff. In other words, the manufacturing of an item is generally more important than the end of the life of that item.

To illustrate this point for my audience last night, I linked to this report. It's a life cycle analysis (LCA) done by the Oregon DEQ that compares different ways to deliver drinking water and the differing environmental impacts. Unfortunately, I did a poor job of illustrating my point last night, but when reading back through that link this morning, I realized the bullets do a good job of saying what I was trying to say.

Some other relevant resources from the presentation:
Paper Karma helps you reduce unwanted junk mail
Two different "online resources" presentations I've given in the past with lots of lists/ideas (These can always be accessed in the right-hand bar under "Resources")
Using fabric as toilet "paper" (Two caveats for this link: 1. I'm not sure how concerned I am personally about BPA or BPS in my toilet paper and the author doesn't link to any evidence in the post. And, 2. I'm not attempting this in our house-Not-hubby would never go for it, and sometimes you have to choose your battles. I included it, though, because it's another instance in which I had a knee-jerk reaction to a concept, but once I read the post about it, it doesn't seem so "scary" or "weird")

I talked a lot last night about consumption, but I think this article is a good one to read for a different way of looking at how we feel about consumption. (Turns out, we're all a little sick of it, actually...)

Lastly, I think one of the easiest ways to reduce consumption when it comes to food is to buy in bulk. Here's a really great round up of some of the benefits of buying in bulk and there's also a "buying bulk" challenge that you can participate in this month (April, 2013) and perhaps win a prize!

I've noticed that my own knee-jerk reaction to the term or concept of "reducing consumption" has been that it will be a sacrifice and people (including me) don't like change of any kind, much less sacrifice. But the most interesting thing about creating these new habits is that after awhile, you realize you're not really sacrificing anything. Moreover, there are hidden benefits (saving money, not having to deal with excess packaging, etc.)

What are some habits that you've created? Did you find it hard or did you feel like you were sacrificing? Were there unexpected benefits?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Worst infographic I've seen in a long time

Yesterday, I was working on a new presentation and I was looking for an old infographic that I had seen awhile ago about plastic bags vs. paper bags. As I love infographics in general, I ended up clicking on a bunch that weren't the one I was looking for, but stumbled across this one that is truly hideous. It's things like this that make me realize why people find recycling so confusing. I've dissected the infographic for you below, as I don't want anyone to mistake the original for something that could be used in its entirety. Content managers-PLEASE-if you're going to write about something that is not your normal area of expertise, find someone whose area it is and have them review it!

*Some people may think I'm being overly pedantic when it comes to calling out this infographic on the basis
of using a drawing of a full water bottle. The thing is, though, that we've found time and time again
that when you use a picture like this, people will then assume that liquids are fine to throw in to curbside carts.
Let me assure you right now, liquids are never acceptable in curbside recycling carts. I also think it's irresponsible to try to have a list of "recyclable items" and use only a few pictures. This is not an exhaustive list and the lists vary by area, widely. (I've written about this extensively.) It just seems arbitrary and therefore unnecessary, to me.

You can *reuse* trophies, but I don't know anyone that recycles them. Moreover, they've just broken the cardinal rule of recycling outreach and that is to say that something is "recyclable" without qualifying how/where to recycle it. Trust me, if you don't specifically say how/where, these items are going to end up in recycling carts. There are very specific items that your curbside carts can accept (with good reasons) and if you start throwing in random items, those items are likely going to be a taking a long trip to the landfill. Also, juice boxes are acceptable in our recycling carts (but not many...) See why it's a bad idea to make generalized lists of what's recyclable and what isn't?

Ok, here's where the author *really* lost me. I believe what happened is that she read somewhere that paper can be recycled into the items listed (kitty litter, greeting cards and egg cartons.) But, then, in the translation, it became that these things can be recycled into paper.
PLEASE do NOT stick your kitty litter in your recycling cart. We CANNOT make paper out of it. We're not magicians.

I believe this table is an oversimplification of this info. The problem with any resin code info dump is that it perpetuates the myth that the resin codes tell you something useful about the type of plastic and its recyclability in your system. I've written before (a couple different times) about why this is an erroneous approach to take.

Bottom line? If you're wondering what is acceptable in YOUR curbside carts, seek out localized info. Your city or county governments should have some good info (and/or try your hauler-the company you pay to pick up these materials.) Please read infographics like the one mentioned above with a heavy dose of skepticism...

*The Reuser grumbles, "Paper from kitty litter...geez..."*

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Food waste composting-same as yard debris?

Recently we had a customer write in with some questions about food waste composting. Our neighbors to the south in Portland, have had curbside food waste for a little over a year now and we get this question a lot. When is it coming to Vancouver? Why can't we just throw our food waste in the yard debris carts? 

Below is my answer to our customer. Perhaps you'll benefit from the information, as well:

The facilities that process yard debris are different from the facilities that process food waste. The process for food waste composting is much more complicated than yard debris and the established facilities where our yard debris is sent are not permitted to compost food waste. 

There has been some discussion of curbside collection of food waste, but those decisions are made at a City and County government level. What I like to say is that the City and County make the rules for waste and we implement them.

In Portland, curbside food scraps were being sent to a facility in Washington County. Unfortunately, due to many problems, this facility is on the verge of not accepting this type of waste. Food waste composting in general is a very new concept-and as such, there are still many “bugs” being worked out of the system. You mentioned waste being turned into green energy. I believe the process you’re speaking of is anaerobic digestion, but that is not being done with any of the food scraps collected in the Portland area.

My prediction is that we will someday have curbside collection of food scraps here in Clark County. However, when that will be I really couldn’t say. In the meantime, I’d highly encourage you to check out the backyard (home) composting workshops put on by the Master Composter program here. I learned everything I know about my own backyard composting by attending one of these workshops. A large portion of kitchen wastes can be composted in a home setting and someday, we may even be able to put the other food waste items (grains, dairy and meat) in a curbside cart.

I hope this helps answer your question. If anything I’ve written is not clear, please let me know and I’d be happy to elaborate.
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