Friday, May 6, 2011

Master Recycler class: Residential waste

The MPCA's Madalyn Cioci gave a wonderfully thoughtful presentation on waste prevention.

When it comes to packaging, look for the least mass, and then choose recycled content. Here she's showing a plastic shipping envelope vs. a cardboard box. In looking at the life cycle of packaging options for shipping retail goods, less mass always wins out even when the packaging materials are considered.

She talked about ways to motivate people to reduce: emphasize living better over living with less. Get people to try the behavior for a few times or for one week because just taking that first step can lead to change.
Positive feedback and making a behavior socially acceptable are very important. Christie Manning has talked about how she'll come to an event still wearing her bike helmet, so that biking will seem like the norm.

Our behaviors drive our attitudes even though the opposite seems true.

I hadn't given household hazardous waste (HHW) a lot of thought before I began working for Hennepin County's Department of Environmental Services. Louisa Tallman's presentation was packed with good information, and she sprinkled in a lot of anecdotes (such as two days before the fishing opener, there's a rush to empty gas cans that are filled with water from sitting out for months).

HHW: pesticides/poison, flammable liquids, oil-based paints, corrosives, aerosols, mercury, PCB light ballasts and capacitors.

Poisons and toxins are everywhere: toggle switches before 1990 contain mercury, PCBs are the starting mechanism in fluorescent light fixtures, kids are eating lithium batteries. The recordable greeting cards are Louisa's pet peeve because of how dangerous they are.

She said the term biodegradable is an example of green-washing because anything left out in the sun will eventually biodegrade ("It may outlive us, though," she said.). There's no federal regulation of the word biodegradable, and no legal definition of the term "environmentally friendly."

Bryan Pynn said that if you must use a herbicide, paint it on rather than spraying it. And with weeds, go mechanical: pull 'em out.

A diagram of how permeable pavers work.

Green roofs around the United States. For boulevard gardens, look to green-roof plants, he said, because those plants are so hardy and tolerant.

He recommended the book "The Blue Thumb Guide to Raingardens." He said native perennials are excellent choices for raingardens because they're drought-tolerant and can handle some water inundation. He really lit up when naming some of his favorite plants: baptisia, butterfly milkweed, Joe Pye weed, aster (especially New England "purple dome"), blazing star, Rattlesnake Master, blue flag iris and these grasses: Side Oats Grama, junegrass, prairie dropseed and Little bluestem.

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