Posts Tagged ‘Waste’

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By Maggie Dewane, US Communications Manager at the Marine Stewardship Council

A friend recently asked for advice on composting in a city. I was a little embarrassed to tell her that I had no advice to give! My mom composted in our family’s backyard when I was a kid, but since moving out of the house and having only lived in apartments and cities, I assumed it couldn’t be done (easily) without a backyard. Realizing I must have assumed wrongly, I set out to investigate and here’s what I learned.

What is compost?

Compost is organic matter (mostly food scraps, leaves, twigs, etc.) that has been allowed to decompose and can then be used as nutrient-rich garden soil. The process of composting requires keeping the organic matter in an enclosed space (sometimes in a bin or a partitioned-off section of yard) and then, with proper management, supports the material so it may break down naturally, effectively becoming repurposed or reused existing, albeit discarded, material. There are many resources to teach you how to compost.

Why is it good?

Americans produce an average of 5 pounds of waste per day, around 30 percent of that is compostable food waste. By composting the material that would’ve otherwise been discarded, you’re keeping waste from landfills that can be reused in a positive and eco-friendly way! For example, if you’re an avid gardener, it will save money on fertilizer costs. If you live in a city, you’ll be part of growing contingency of cities that collect compost and reuse it for specific projects or outsource it to communities that want or need the soil for agriculture. Whether in your backyard or in a city, compost reduces the amount of methane gas emitting from our landfills, which is a greenhouse gas contributing to the overall warming of our planet.

How is composting normally done?

There are a variety of composting techniques from compost tumblers to vermicomposting (using worms that eat the material and break it down into soil, also requires the most effort  and maintenance) to pick up services and drop off locations, which are useful for city-dwellers like myself.

A useful rule of thumb when composting is, “If it grows, it goes [into the compost pile].”

Specifically:

  • Fruits
  • Veggies
  • Plants (dead flowers, weeds, grass, etc.)
  • Eggs and eggshells
  • Breads and grains
  • Paper towels and napkins
  • Uncoated paper cups and plates (meaning they don’t feel waxy to the touch)

Less desirable compost items include dairy and meat products. While these items will decompose, they may invite unwanted creatures or molds into your space.

Composting in a city

First, get yourself a bin (Planet Natural has some options at the bottom of their page here) to keep your compost in – one that you can tuck into a cabinet or under your sink. If you stick to the above list of compostable items, the bin won’t smell awful, but a lid will be useful to contain any wafting as well as any unwanted pests commonly found in cities.

One neat bin option I’ve found is GreenLid (available on Amazon). The bin comes with a sleek reusable lid while the bin itself is made from recycled cardboard and can be thrown directly into a compost pile or reused if it’s relatively clean.

For city dwellers, the next step is to find out if your municipality offers a compost pick-up service.

See if your city or town picks up compost bins here.

If your city doesn’t, here are some alternative options:

  • Find out if your apartment complex or building has a rooftop or community garden. If so, it probably has a compost pile. If not, suggest starting one!
  • Sign up for Share Waste. It connects people who want to compost but can’t (because of their living situation or if they’re on vacation) with people who have compost bins.
  • Utilize your local farmers market. A lot of weekend farmers markets have compost tents. Take a walk through your local market to see if it has one (and buy some fresh, local produce while you’re there!).
  • Contact your city council and ask them to consider implementing a program that would collect compostable material from residents.

Like most efforts to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle, composting takes time and research, but it has benefits that can serve you, your community, and the planet, so why not give it a try!

Here’s more information from the US Environmental Protection Agency on composting.

Maggie Dewane is the US Communications Manager at the Marine Stewardship Council. Previously, she was the Press and Communications Officer to the Environmental Investigation Agency. She also worked for the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the United States Senate. She has a Bachelor’s from Seton Hall University and a Master’s from Columbia University. Her hobbies include painting, writing, traveling, soccer and camping and hiking with her dog Argos. 

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by Jessica Wilmer

I am awful at keeping New Year’s Resolutions. There is something about them that screams, “Make ridiculous requests of yourself, then feel guilty when you can’t live up to your own expectations!”

So for 2016, I decided to go with something that seemed more attainable: reduce waste. More specifically, I decided to focus on food waste: both the food itself and related packaging.

Six R's are better than three

Six R’s are better than three

Waste has weighed on my conscience for many years now, and our “throw-away culture” doesn’t ease my pain. Sometimes it feels as if we make things just to throw them away.

Part of my resolution was to learn more about waste. Over the past few months, I’ve watched upsetting documentaries*, read eye-opening articles, and researched many amazing local organizations, including the Food Recovery Network and Hungry Harvest.

It might surprise some people that over 40% of the food produced in the US each year is thrown away and 23% of the solid waste stream comes from packaging and single-use containers. It’s become an epidemic that costs over $218 billion a year in the US alone.

While I have learned a lot through my research, the real lessons have come by making the conscious effort to stop and think every time I purchase or eat food.

A few lessons learned

3514710196_ba6d7b3a87_oSingle Use items are out of control

Have you seen that awful video of the sea turtle conservation group, Leatherback Trust, removing a single use straw from a sea turtle’s nose? Google it. It is a seriously devastating visual of what can happen to single-use products after their purpose is served.

On a typical day, Americans use over 500 million single-use straws. 500 MILLION. Just let that sink in for a second.

Always ask questions

While brainstorming ways to reduce waste, I wondered if it was ok to bring reusable packaging to the market for bulk items.

It turns out you can; all you have to do is ask! The customer service desk at the Foggy Bottom Whole Foods was more than happy to help me navigate their system. Turns out, bringing cloth bags and glass jars is a quick and easy way to get rice, quinoa, greens, and many other items while skipping the extra packaging.

Photo credit: Jessica Wilmer & Steve Milner of http://www.dcphotoop.com/

Photo credit: Jessica Wilmer & Steve Milner of DCPhotoOp

Check your trash

Household_food_trash_NY

Photo credit: petrr

I noticed that the majority of the paper waste in my home came from paper towels. It’s amazing how many of those suckers you rip off when you are learning to cook!

Luckily, I stumbled upon Bamboo paper towels. They are easy to wash out while you’re using them, and when they get too gross, you can throw them in the laundry with your towels. Some can be washed up to 100 times! Sustainable, reusable material? Definitely a win-win.

Going Forward

Be prepared

Single-use containers are everywhere, and our food service industry has made them almost impossible to avoid. However, my experience taught me that you will feel more successful when you have all the proper tools.

I carry a reusable, glass water bottle, coffee mug, and set of bamboo utensils every day. I also keep a set of dishes and utensils at my office, so I’m not tempted by single-use options. Every time I hear, “Grande Americano in a personal cup”, I feel like I’ve received a gold star.

You will save money!

A huge portion of food costs is in the packaging, so when you just buy the food you bypass that cost. Bonus! This summer you won’t have to spend $2 on a bottle of water at that hot-dog stand, and you’ll save a bit each time you bring a personal mug to your local Seattle-based coffee shop.

The Wave of the Future

Thankfully, food and packaging waste has come into the spotlight. Recently the government stepped up efforts that address this large and systemic problem. Individuals and companies are also realizing that food waste affects not only the environment, but also the economy and hunger.

If the momentum continues, I think that there can be a real change. We have already done a significant amount of damage both financially and environmentally, but we do have the ability to stop the damage from growing exponentially.

I may be just one person who made just one resolution, but for the sake of the environment, this is one I’m going to keep.

Jessica Wilmer is an aspiring blogger, vlogger, photographer, and activist. She currently works in finance and lives with her boyfriend on Capitol Hill. You can usually find them at the farmers market in their matching Patagonia sweaters looking for new veggies to include in their repertoire of vegetarian dishes.


* Recommended documentaries: “Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” (2013) and Morgan Suprlock’s “United States of Trash” on his series “Inside Man” (2015)

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Guest Post by Catherine Plume

Today is the 44th celebration of our environment and our planet – Earth Day. Now, with climate change hitting hard, we need to make sustainable choices more than ever.  Chances are that by now, you’re a vigilant recycler, ensuring that you, your family, and/or housemates put all ”allowables” in the bin.  But after you’ve mastered the art of the recycling bin, what’s next?  Have you ever looked at your plastic footprint?

Wikimedia Commons

First, it’s important to understand why plastics are so bad. In a nutshell, there are a host of chemicals in plastics, and their impact on the environment and on human health is not looking good.  Plastics take a very long time to decompose, creating waste that lingers and/or is ingested by wildlife.  While most plastics are recyclable, it’s often cheaper (in short-term financial terms) to produce new plastic than to make products out of second-hand plastic. And most of the secondary products are not themselves recyclable – recycling a plastic water bottle only prolongs how long it takes to reach the landfill. Bottom line: throwing your plastics into your recycle bin is not enough.  So, what to do?  How about reducing the amount of plastics you consume in the first place?  

Wikimedia Commons

  1. Buy products that have no – or less – plastic packaging.  You can buy peanut butter, catsup, mustard, etc in glass jars. Pasta in a 100% paper package is just as good, if not better than pasta in a package with the little plastic window on it.

  2. Use glass containers for storing and microwaving your leftovers.   Save your glass jars and reuse them for storing leftovers. Just remember, NEVER MICROWAVE PLASTIC!

  3. Don’t buy or drink water in plastic bottles.  If the folks who work at on water quality at EPA drink DC water out of the tap, you can too!  Get a stainless steel water bottle and fill it up!

  4. Reuse those plastic vegetable bags.  In DC, we’re all about bringing our own bags to the store.  Take the next step and clean and reuse your vegetable bags!  Buy in bulk as you can!

  5. Make your own shampoo! This isn’t for everyone, but about 6 months ago, I gave up shampoo for water mixed with baking soda. I use white vinegar as a rinse.  It took my hair a few weeks to learn how to make its own oil again, but now my hair is as soft, if not softer,than when I used commercial shampoo.  Google “NO POO” and you’ll find a ton of information and testimonials.  I also use baking soda as toothpaste.  As an added benefit, my job requires considerable travel, and using baking soda has reduced TSA issues.  I’m so glad I made this change!

  6. Use baking soda and white vinegar as your primary cleaning products (just don’t combine them in a container!).  Instead of throwing out your empty (plastic) squirt bottles, reuse them to make your own environmentally friendly cleaning products. There are tons of recipes on the web!

  7. Use astringent to clean your face?  Make your own!  Basil, vinegar and lemon juice make good options – and they go soft on your pocketbook as well as the environment.

  8. Make your own food!  I’m a big consumer of plain yogurt, so my recycling bin was loaded with large plastic yogurt containers.  Then, a friend gave me a yogurt recipe that involves milk, a crock pot and a bit of yogurt to get the process going. EASY! By making my own yogurt, I’ve reduced by plastic consumption by some 50 large yogurt containers per year.  I store it in a crock that I found at Value Village. Now, I’m making my own hummus, tapenade, granola and raita, and I’m looking forward to expanding my repertoire.  AND, I’m saving money and making better food than what I can buy in the store – all while reducing my plastic consumption.

About two years ago, while doing research for my blog (www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com), I came across Beth Terry’s My Plastic Free Life blog.  Her book, Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, was entertaining and easy to read, and gave me some great ideas for reducing my plastic footprint.  Check it out!

And, when you think about Earth Day, recognize that you’re not going to save the world on your own.  The carbon footprint I accumulate through my work travel every year is embarrassing, and I still buy frappuccinos in plastic cups even though I (really, really) mean to bring my own. I still have plenty of plastic in my life, but at least I’m thinking about what I do buy, and the impact of what I’m buying on the environment.  That’s a start right there!

Catherine Plume is the blogger for the DCRecycler