Thursday, April 29, 2010

Trashbasher sorts trash

(that's me on the left, in the striped shirt)

From a Hennepin County news release:
Waste sort will gather valuable data about waste generation and composition at schools
A school waste composition study, organized by Hennepin County, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the City of Minneapolis, was conducted on April 28 – 29 to collect data about the amount of trash, recycling and organic waste that is generated at schools.

All waste generated – including garbage, recycling and organics – from the six participating schools on April 26 and 27 will be collected and sorted. The waste will be sorted and analyzed by the county, the MPCA, the City of Minneapolis, and volunteers.

The goal is to collect data that can be used by any school to set goals for how much waste they divert to recycling or organics collection. This is the first waste sort of this scale in the country that will analyze all waste generated at schools.

The participating schools are Burroughs Elementary School, Northeast Middle School and Washburn Senior High School in Minneapolis, Hopkins West Junior High School, Minnetonka Senior High School and Clear Springs Elementary School in Minnetonka.

Suiting up for the big sort

Dumpster + black carts full of trash

The trash was sorted into 19 categories (ie. food waste, non-recyclable paper, bottles, cans, plastics #1-6, plastic film, milk cartons, Styrofoam trays, reusables)

including liquid (chocolate milk, strawberry milk, soda all mixed together ... mmmm!)

A gold mine of data

I spent 10 hours over 2 days, sorting school trash. It was fun, fascinating, productive and meaningful, and I'm really glad I got to be part of such an ambitious undertaking. We couldn't even sort all the trash that had been collected; there was much more than the organizers had anticipated, and it probably would've taken a total of four days to sort everything. So they're just going to use the data they have, and that'll still generate a lot of useful information.

Things I learned: Gum is nasty and sticks to everything. Squeegees work best for getting the layer of muck off your work surface. In real life there is very little True Trash -- not so at a school. There are so many wrappers and foil-lined chip and snack bags, as well as chunks of used clay and bits of detritus. Lots of waste at schools.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Did some green-cart/black-cart tagging in Linden Hills today. Green carts are for collecting organics for Linden Hills' curbside composting program, black are for trash. To try to increase participation in the composting program, we attached informational tags.

Here's a stretch with quite a bit of participation.

Organics carts get this tag

Trash carts get this tag

City crews picking up organics

She was nice enough to let down the load so I could get a photo. Organics: destined to be turned into compost!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Questions that came across the trashbashing desk today

I'll post the answers here, in case anyone else is wondering.

From my very green neighbor Mary:
1. Paint – we did some painting and I found paint for our old paint colors that is still good – can I donate that somewhere or do I just let it dry out and put it out in the garbage?
2. Dirty kitty litter – I am buying the Feline Pine stuff now – should I put that in the industrial composting?

Here's what I found:
1. You can bring the paint to the South Hennepin Dropoff Center in Bloomington. There's a paint swap section where you can leave paint and people can take it.

From their site: "Reuse center
Residents may pick up free of charge items designated by the County for reuse. The County does not guarantee these products and items selected are used at their own risk. The following are available: oil-based paint, adhesives and glues, motor oil, household cleaners, latex paint, automobile products."

2. Cat litter can't go in the Linden Hills composting program because of the risk of parasites. I found some online sites, though, that talk about composting cat litter; one site said you have to compost it for 18 months to kill any parasites.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A successful Green Expo in Coon Rapids today!

For the past couple of months I've been helping the recycling coordinator for Coon Rapids with the city's first-ever Green Expo. We brainstormed who to have as exhibitors, planned, organized and set up for the event. And the turnout was great!

A workshop making decorated CD cases put on by ArtStart's ArtScraps in St. Paul was popular.

Even better, we generated very little waste. I put compost bins throughout, and the only trash we really had was chip bags, candy wrappers, some coffee grounds (I wasn't successful at re-directing all of these) and a couple of foam cups and plastic gloves. I wish I had weighed the compostables and trash.

Update: I weighed the compostables today and it was 16.8 pounds. I'm gonna guess the trash weighed 2-3 pounds.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A contrast in school composting

The first picture is from Carondolet Catholic School's composting program on its K-2 campus.

I was truly impressed that there was not one bit of non-compostable material in their bins. Those young kids really know their stuff!

Contrast that with Southwest High School's compost bin -- lots of contamination. I'm told the teenagers know better but unless someone is standing by the compost and trash bins, monitoring them, the students just throw all their stuff in whatever bin. Apparently this is a widespread problem among high schools.

I apologize it's kinda hard to see details in these pictures. I'll take better ones next time.

Another Carondolet pic

I like Southwest's signage. Simple and straightforward.

And, really, I'm quite thrilled Southwest even has a composting program, as part of Minneapolis public schools' effort. And they recently switched to those brown paper trays you see in the photos. Before that they were using 2,000 foam trays a WEEK!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Farmers markets

Farmers markets are excellent opportunities for composting and recycling and, ultimately, zero waste. The Hillcrest market in San Diego is moving in the right direction by placing recycling bins next to their garbage cans, but look at all those Styrofoam containers and wasted food.

I'm really proud of Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis for launching its zero-waste initiative last year. All the vendors use paper or compostable cups, plates and utensils, and the market uses volunteer compost monitors to help customers put their discards in the proper places.

On a side note, I've wondered about whether farmers market gets an apostrophe, and found this helpful entry at

"Does the term Farmers Market use an apostrophe after the s? Or should we not use one at all? – from Ohio: AP style, based on information from the Washington State Farmers Market Association and the USDA, is "farmers market" with no apostrophe. (Generally, the farmers do not own the market.)

(Note from Doug: You will find wide variations and assertions on the Web about farmers vs. farmers'. Either can be considered correct. The farmers' style is called the genetive descriptive, and there is a fair amount of debate about using it in things like teachers(') college, etc. The AP style on farmers conforms to the wire service's general guide that when something is for someone or something else, then no apostrophe. Thus teachers college (a college for teachers), citizens band radio (a radio band for citizens), Yankees first baseman (first baseman for the Yankees) and farmers market (a market for farmers -- note that AP points out "generally, the farmers do not own the market."). This AP style is not definitive, however, if you are not working for AP or an organization that follows AP style. Farmers' can just as easily be supported in a house style. Just be consistent.)"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How it should be

Remember I was talking about the importance of recycling-bin placement a couple of posts back? At Spreckels Park in Coronado, CA, there's one recycling cart for every trash cart. Awesome.

At LAX, at the gates, it was one recycling can, four trash cans. Not awesome.

At the San Diego International Airport, a big cheer for both prolific and well-placed recycling bins! It's kind of hard to make out, but there are FOUR bins in this small area. And I learned the airport's pursuing silver LEED certification with its $1 billion improvement project (click on the 'going green' link). A model for other airports!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Things I learned at BioCycle

1. Change begins with one person. One person can make a big difference.
2. There's no one-size-fits-all composting set-up. A dairy farmer in Iowa will have very different needs from a small school in Ohio from a city with 382,000 people. What will you be composting? Food scraps, grasses, manure, yard waste, soiled paper? What're your weather conditions? The variables are infinite and each system has to be tailored.
3. In the composting business they use a lot of acronyms.
4. The EPA has compiled and conducted an impressive amount of information and research on waste reduction and put it on its website for all to see and use.
5. If you're getting an anaerobic digester, first figure out your needs, and then choose a system, rather than vice-versa.
6. I wish you'd all gotten to hear the plenary speech by Jared Blumenfeld, administrator for the EPA's Southwest Region (California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands and more than 140 tribal nations). He's a dynamic, inspirational speaker with front-lines experience with waste reduction, composting and recycling in San Francisco.
7. Landfill diversion presents big opportunities: for jobs and for the economy as well as for the environment.
8. Partnerships with businesses, haulers, schools, local government are key.
9. I naively thought everyone at this conference would be a believer. But I found out that not everyone who's in the composting/recycling business is in it to save the environment. Some see it strictly as a business.
10. People in this field are very smart. Lots of scientists and engineers.
11. Is it important to go to an RFP meeting on a Thursday night in the rain? Yes. Maybe 4-5 people show up for those, and they can shape far-reaching policy for years to come.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Recycling Styrofoam (expanded polystyrene)

I don't have anywhere to recycle Styrofoam cups, plates and containers near me, but there are a number of facilities throughout the U.S. where you can take your stuff. Check out these links.

And good for Dart, manufacturer of many of these products, for opening 13 recycling centers across the nation and one in Ontario. From their website:
"Dart currently operates several polystyrene foam drop-off locations at our production plants for anyone who wishes to recycle foam products. In addition we have recycling centers at our production facilities in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ontario, Canada, capable of reprocessing 12 million pounds of foam products annually.

These centers receive foam from local schools, community recyclers, supermarkets, hospitals, manufacturing plants, cafeterias, and individuals.

To facilitate the recycling process, Dart engineers invented a state-of-the-art process for washing and drying used foam food-service products.

Dart sells its recycled polystyrene to manufacturers who reprocess it into useful products. Recycled polystyrene is used in the making of protective foam packaging and "peanuts," egg cartons, building insulation, video cassettes, toys, and office desk products.

Recycling Specifications for Post-Consumer/End User

We can process the following polystyrene foam items provided that they are separated from other materials (e.g. paper, cans, bottles, other plastics), clean, and delivered to one of our drop-off locations.

Foam cups and containers. Cups do not need to be rinsed, but must be empty.

Foam egg cartons.

Rinsed, single-layer, non-perforated foam meat trays.

Foam food trays/lunch trays. Must be either rinsed off or minimally contaminated -- no food remnants.

Most packaging foam: molded forms and shapes. We cannot process flame-retardant material or packaging peanuts.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

At the BioCycle conference

I'm attending my very first BioCycle conference, and they are composting for the first time ever! And hallelujah because I would've been sorely disappointed otherwise. How can you have a composting/organics recycling/renewable energy conference without on-site composting? This great set-up and signage are courtesy of Janice Sitton of Good Green Graces, which offers reuse, recycling and composting solutions and services.

Other steps they've taken to green the event: hotel china and silverware are being used instead of disposable plates and utensils, glasses and pitchers of water instead of bottled water and electronic signage instead of nonrecyclable banners.

But I'm sad to say that even among these folks, I'm still seeing plastic bottles and food waste thrown in the trash. Sad.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

An inspiration

Today I volunteered at the Coon Rapids Recycling Center, where it was non-stop action. It does my heart good to see people flooding into the recycling center, going the extra mile to recycle.

Then in biked Roger of Coon Rapids. He made FOUR trips on his bike, hauling a trailer of recyclables! How green is THAT?!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The importance of signage and recycling-bin placement

I've noticed this time and again: A well-intentioned restaurant or store will put out recycling bins, BUT they're not placed close to the trash cans and they're not well-advertised with signs. So what do busy people do? They zero in on the trash can, not bothering to look around for a recycling bin. Businesses: Please put your recycling bins RIGHT NEXT TO the garbage cans. If this isn't possible, put some signage on your garbage can: "Please place your recyclables in the bin over there" with a little arrow pointing the way. Put your signage where it can't be missed. Right on the top of the garbage can. Make it overly, abundantly obvious. Make it hard for people NOT to recycle. Make it easy as pie. Thank you.

Big kudos to The Tea Garden on Hennepin for recycling paper and plastic cups!! Their problem is not bin placement; it's very close to the garbage can. But they need a sign on their garbage can pointing the way to their recycling bin because I've watched people with tunnel vision walk right by the recycling and toss their stuff in the trash. That nice wide rim on their garbage can could easily sport a sign.

P.S. Their green tea chai latte is super flavorful and delicious.

Another big round of applause to the Cedar Cultural Center for its use of ceramic mugs for hot beverages. I imagine that's quite unusual at a concert venue. Also, they have recycling bins, but again lack good signage. People need direction, communication. Help them be good stewards of the Earth. Thank you.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Containers and carts

More and more I'm hearing: "I can't use my reusable grocery bags because I need the paper bags from the store to hold my recycling." When I told a friend last week she could instead use a small container or box, which the recycling person empties into the truck and then leaves at your curb, she had no idea. So here're the details from the city of Minneapolis on that:

"Small wastebaskets, pails and corrugated boxes less than 10 gallons in size may be used instead of paper bags to hold cans, paper or plastic.
If you plan to regularly use a non-city-provided container for your recycling, you must place city recycling stickers on at least one side of the container.
To request recycling stickers be mailed to you, please call Solid Waste & Recycling at (612) 673-2917."

Think of all the paper bags you could be saving by instead using some homemade containers for your recycling. You can use buckets, pails, small garbage cans, milk crates, etc.

And onto our next item of the day:

If you're reading this blog, you're likely an avid recycler and you generate less waste. Did you know the city of Minneapolis offers a smaller garbage cart that is $2/mo. cheaper? Two dollars might not seem like a big deal, but $24 per year is a good savings, and over, say, 10 years, the savings become significant. I'm proud of our neighbors across the street, who use a small cart for their family of four. To switch to a smaller cart, call 612-673-2917.

Here are the details from the city's website:

"Large garbage carts hold 94 gallons and have a monthly disposal fee of $4. Maximum weight for cart and contents is 200 pounds.
Small garbage carts hold 22 gallons and have a monthly disposal fee of $2. Maximum weight for cart and contents is 40 pounds. ALL garbage in small carts must be bagged or the cart may not be serviced."