Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kitchen trash, week 6

Well, in week 1 I said something like "here's hoping I don't break any large ceramic dishes," and wouldn't you know it, I've broken something ceramic. It's a soup spoon, so it's not very large, but it's still sad.

week 6 tally:
ceramic soup spoon (it's in the upper right corner by the bucket in the picture)
4 blister packs
5 produce stickers
3 pieces of tape
4 zippers
2 foam seals from pill bottles
3 plastic seals from the necks of bottles
13 lactose pill wrappers

Click here for week 1
here for week 2
here for week 3
here for week 4
here for week 5

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Getting ready for a new year of school

Sarah and I spent hours at Southwest High School this week setting up disposal stations, signage and making sure every classroom has a recycling bin. We tried to have a short conversation with each teacher, too. Sarah's put a lot of time and legwork into getting Southwest ready for a successful year of recycling and organics composting.

Sarah consulting her map of the school to see which classrooms we still need to hit.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Python's Recycling in St. Cloud

I accompanied the Coon Rapids recycling coordinator and others from Anoka County to Python's Recycling in St. Cloud. The Coon Rapids drop-off recycling center is looking for someone to take their plastics, which prompted our visit. The behind-the-scenes look was very educational, eye-opening and shocking! Their profit margin is very low, in some cases 1 cent per pound, and they often have to sit on materials for months and months waiting to find a buyer.

public drop-off area at Python's

baled aluminum cans

egg cartons

aluminum cans close-up

The sorting line is not for the faint-hearted. In this narrow room, it's very grimy and smelly, and in the summer it's boiling hot and in the winter it's colder than the outside temperatures. The sorters' job is made harder by the fact that the plastics come baled, so pieces will often be interwoven and need to be forcefully pried apart.

Items from the sorting line drop down chutes into this area.

a conveyer belt takes materials into the baler

plastic bottles coming out of the baler

each bale weighs about 800 pounds

plastic bottles

HDPE (#2) plastic bottles

more HDPE bottles

mixed paper waiting for a buyer is exposed to the elements

steel cans

plastic bottles squeezed into wafers!

Green and brown glass bottles

This was the part that shocked me: All these shards and bits are headed for the landfill! This was hard to stomach.

Debris pile headed for the landfill

Thursday, August 26, 2010

At the cabin

This is our trash from a 3-day weekend after recycling and composting: a greasy bacon wrapper, and a sticker from a baguette. For 8 adults, and we ate a LOT.

Happy thought for the day

I got this email from a friend Tuesday:

"I was channelling you yesterday when I retrieved a big Styrofoam box and lid
from (a colleague)'s garbage and trotted it back to the recycling table."

Reading this note from my friend made me really happy, but the best part is that people send me notes like this all the time. I often hear "you'd be proud of me!" and then the person tells me what they've done to recycle or reduce waste or buy responsibly. The mindset is spreading, and that just brightens my day.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kitchen trash, week 5

This is our least amount of trash yet.

This week's tally:

1 plastic "zipper"
1 piece of packing tape
5 lactaid pill wrappers
2 produce stickers
1 gum wrapper
1 piece of plastic film from a noodle bowl
1 piece of adhesive from the top of a notepad

Click here for week 1
here for week 2
here for week 3
here for week 4

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Introducing the Southwest High School freshmen to organics composting

At the freshman potluck picnic for incoming students and their families, Sarah and I set up two disposal stations after hiding the Park Board metal trash cans in the woods. The YWCA was nice enough to let me have their unused compostable forks from last Sunday's triathlon, so those got added to our organics bins. And I took home all the plastic food containers and utensils to recycle.

I know I sound like a broken record, but: there was very little trash (this is from my station; there was one other). We had maybe 400-600 people.

the bag pictured here contains organics

and another full bin of organics

Friday, August 20, 2010

Litin Paper has your compostable supplies

Litin Paper is at 434 E Lyndale Ave. N in Minneapolis, next to the Minneapolis Farmers Market. It's kind of tricky to find.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How the YWCA triathlon kicked my butt

From a chance hook-up last month, I became the sustainability coordinator for the YWCA's women's triathlon Sunday at Lake Nokomis. Before the race, I located a food shelf nearby to take leftover food, found local "carbon-offset" options for racers, and gave advice on renting organics carts from the city of Minneapolis. Then it was race day, which started with me getting there at 5 a.m.

This was my first time coordinating such a large event, so for the first hour or so, I ran around with the help of a couple of other volunteers setting up disposal stations. Usually I either a. show up and the disposal stations and signage are already in place or b. show up and set up my own disposal stations and signage but for a lot fewer people. The parks department was supposed to remove the big metal trash cans so that people would have to go to our disposal stations, which they did not do. And the cans were full of trash, which made them too heavy to lift and put off to the side so that people wouldn't see them. So I had to set up more disposal stations even though I was skeptical about being able to monitor them all (I was supposed to have 7 Green Team volunteers). As it turned out, the disposal stations we planned wouldn't have been enough -- there were too many people over too big an area.

My disposal station...

... was next to the food tent.

Lots of cardboard and boxboard recycled

Over the course of the day I became more and more overwhelmed. There were three main stations, and at least seven other smaller stations, and only about half of them were (wo)manned about half of the time (I only ever saw 2 of my 7 volunteers). And there were so many people that I couldn't shuttle between my main station and the other stations nearby. And if you leave your compost bin unwatched for any length of time, people start throwing non-compostables in, and pretty soon it all looks like garbage.

I felt increasingly helpless as I watched the mini-stations get contaminated. I just couldn't keep up. I began to wish I could just go home and go back to bed and leave the whole mess behind. And the three organics carts we rented weren't nearly enough -- seven would've been better. Since the city will only pick up what's in the carts, at the end of the race I was loading heavy bags (a lot of watermelon got eaten) of organics into my car, along with all the plastics, granola-bar wrappers, chip bags and my containers from home.

UltraGreen donated all the compostable plates, cups and utensils.

But in the end, a lot of the organics is going to get composted, and a lot of the bottles, cans, cardboard, boxboard and plastic bags are getting recycled. But a lot also got trashed. It was sad, and I felt so ineffective. As the lone dumpster-diver, I didn't stand a chance. Plus it was very windy, so the cardboard bins kept blowing over, and I spent a lot of time taping bags to cardboard bins, taping down signs, taping down granola-wrapper collection boxes.

I also neglected to take pictures of the overflowing trash bins, which were probably 95 percent compostable or recyclable. The sight of those bins made me feel so defeated.

UPLIFTING UPDATE: Race co-director Paul Johnson took all the bags of "trash" back to the Y to be sorted! The organics will get composted after all!! Hooray for his dedication and the efforts of the YWCA folks to go green!!

Water station with compostable cups. I LOVED THIS!

Trash at my station

2 bags of organics + 2 cartfuls at my station (it was closest to the food tent)

Lessons learned:
1. No way can you compost at such a big event without plenty of volunteers dedicated to manning a disposal station. This is a very important lesson for me because I've been eager to compost at some of the big summer events, such as the Uptown Art Fair, which gets about 350,000 people over 3 days.
2. Rent more carts. (but at the Lynnhurst Festival this past Wednesday we overestimated and only needed 3 of the 4 carts)
3. Go to the site ahead of time to get a feel for the layout. (don't know if this would've been possible since I entered the scene so late in the game, and the race director had about 800 things to do at that point.)

1. We got the ball rolling, which often is the most difficult step. Next year things will be better prepared.
2. I got a lot of enthusiastic, positive comments from triathlon participants. They loved the low-waste efforts.