(This post is from December, there were technical difficulties in posting it, I apologize for the delay!)
I'm done! And with only 21.3 ounces of trash - although that doesn't sound much I've actually accumulated a large volume of trash - see below!
The white bag in my left hand contains the trash that I generated during my first week - it weighs 14.3 oz. The brown bag in my right hand contains my trash from the second week - it weighs 7.0 oz. Even though those two bags look like they are the same size in the picture, the brown bag is significantly thinner than the white one :)
So, I was able to reduce my trash by 50% by eating out less, always packaging my own food in reusable containers, carrying my own utensils, and always ordering food for "here" and not "to go" to minimize wasted packaging. One of the best habits I picked up is carrying a large purse and keeping a plastic bag in it, so that when a recycling bin or compost is not nearby, I can pop the trash in my bag and recycle it when I do have access. After dragging up to 14 days worth of trash around every day, it has become a habit. It's going to be weird (and repulsing) to start using my trash can again.
For future trash talkers, I recommend buying a portable utensil set like one of these ... these sets are great! Just make sure to wash them at the end of the day :)
Ashley told me that previous trash talkers have had trouble throwing their trash collection away at the end of the program... I felt the same way this morning as I said goodbye to mine - it was like leaving a loved one at the airport, I turned and regretfully looked back as I walked away, but I just had to accept that there is nothing else I could have done with it.
This experience has definitely changed my life for the better, and I am really glad I did it. So, when are YOU going to try it?!
The trash collecting has slowed down in week two - I'm really starting to get the hang of what not to do ;) Here is a picture of my garbage from week 1 (it fits inside a large purse):
Because I still haven't purchased a compost unit yet (but I do have plans to get one from The Natural Gardener here in Austin), I've been wondering whether it's OK to garbage dispose some of my fruit remains. Here is what I found out:
It is always better to compost than it is to use a garbage disposal. Got it. But which is better -- using a garbage disposal that grinds the food and deposits it in a sewage treatment facility or septic tank, or dumping the fruit remains in a landfill?
Well, some cities (such as Denver and Indianapolis) require garbage disposals in new homes. Other cities (such as New York) are considering banning garbage disposals for restaurants. In fact, garbage disposals are apparently not approved in European Union countries! So what's the deal here? I am not sure yet, but from what I read, it hasn't been proven that excess sewage/water waste overloads the sewage treatment plants... but we do know that this additional sewage waste would generate more nitrogen, which *could* rob the surrounding areas of oxygen. The cost to reduce the nitrogen output would far outweigh cost savings (garbage disposals mean less landfill trash to deal with and haul/transport). The net for me is that Austin strongly encourages composting and discourages (but doesn't prohibit) the use of garbage disposals for personal or restaurant use.
Another problem created by garbage disposals is that greasy/fatty foods can block and overflow the sewage system. So don't put greasy/fatty foods down the garbage disposal, and try to use cold water to rinse the system during and after use.
For more information read this article on garbage disposals, it's fantastic.
Wow are weekends tough! Lots of trash.
The highlight of the weekend was showing up to our company party with my bag of trashed neatly tucked inside my oversized black purse! Without realizing it until too late, I accidentally let the waiter take a glass bottle away (which I would have recycled) as well as two small disposable plastic cups (not recyclable because the top is larger than the bottom - such a weird rule). I'll add 4 ounces to my total garbage weight at the end of the week for the cups.
Also, I took the bag of trash on a 4-mile hike... luckily there are no bears in the Austin area, otherwise they might have picked up the scent of rotting grapefruit peel (I like to think of it as perfume). Tomorrow I am going to get a contained compost bin to put in my backyard - something similar to this.
Here is the low-down on the latest trash:
Empty milk carton - not recyclable
Tons of paper and newspaper - recyclable
Aluminum cans - recyclable
Plastic bottles - body is recyclable; top is not
Used fabric softener sheets - not recyclable but people have found lots of creative ways to reuse them :)
Lint from the dryer - compostable
Fruit remains - compostable
Paper - recyclable
Tissues - compostable
Plastic bags - most not recyclable but HEB does allow you to recycle grocery bags from their store.
Plastic screen from junk mail (so annoying to detach from the envelope!) - not recyclable
Yesterday went really well - almost no trash at all! Cereal for breakfast; plated meals for lunch and dinner; no paper or plastic cups and no plastic utensils! I recycled some trash from day 1 and am working on getting a contained compost unit :)
I interviewed a candidate for a co-op position yesterday, and I got really flustered explaining why I had a plastic grocery bag of trash attached to my hip! Luckily, it was a college student I was interviewing, and they are used to having trash around, I would think (just kidding!) :)
Today, things were not so easy - the banana peel is starting to stink! I didn't get time to eat breakfast (which meant no trash - that was a plus at least). For lunch, I had Chipotle - you know how when you don't eat breakfast, you get full really easily at lunch? Well, that happened and I only made it through half of my "burrito the size of your head"... I decided that it would be really gross to have to carry that burrito around with me, so I saved it and ate it for dinner - and it was nasty - I don't recommend eating Chipotle burritos that are not fresh... it was like eating baby food from the jar, but without the jar.
I accumulated a coke can, paper, and aluminum foil, which I will recycle. I will compost the tea bag. I read that I could recycle the brown paper that came with my burrito, but paper cups are not recyclable, nor is the plastic food bag or straw. (Only #1 and #2 plastics are recyclable in Austin).
One of my favorite things about doing trash talk has been the creative ideas my friends have shared on how to avoid collecting items as trash - for example, I could have washed the plastic straw and put it away in a drawer with thoughts of reusing it. Or I could have had my husband throw the plastic food bag away - it's technically his responsibility too, right?!
Here's the remains from days 2 and 3:
After another fun trip around the world, the trash torch has returned to the frog austin studio - to me, Cheryl Sedota, a technical architect at frog. I am so excited to be a trash talker, mainly because i want to become more conscious of how much trash I generate and more knowledgeable about minimizing trash. In order to accomplish both of those goals, for the first week I will not modify my trash generation at all, and during the second week we'll see how much better I can do. So far, I am pacing myself, only reading a few other trash talk blog entries per day so that I can take it all in, so sorry if I repeat others' mistakes/stories :)
I was off to a rocky start IMMEDIATELY today - I thought that plastic wrap was recyclable, and quickly found out it is not. So I generated trash with my first meal of the day (awful!) - I also saved my banana peel and plan on composting it when I figure out how/where (my husband strongly opposes starting a compost pile in the back yard, maybe by carrying this nasty bag of trash around with me, I can change his mind!). We have the company holiday party on friday, so that only gives me three days to find a trash bag that will match my dress!
For lunch, I went out - the restaurant had real silverware, plates, and cloth napkins so no trash from that meal, but I feel like it is cheating a little bit :) During the afternoon, I chewed gum and considered swallowing it to avoid generating trash, but thought I'd save the drastic measures for the second week. I also couldn't refuse a few pieces of leftover halloween candy (who could?!) so I saved those wrappers too.
I was able to go most of the day without using a paper towel, paper napkin, or tissue - by the end of the day I couldn't take it anymore, and decided I HAD to blow my nose :) Not sure if anyone has broached the subject of toilet paper, but let me just say that keeping toilet paper is a deal breaker. It's my one "gimme" :) OK, too much information, moving on...
I ate dinner at Whole Foods and without even realizing it, I grabbed a plastic fork and paper napkin - doh! At least I can compoost the unbleached compostable paper container that my salad came in... Next I accidentally used a Qtip to remove my eye makeup - by this point I'm feeling like a really awful person. Better call it a night!
Here is all the trash I've got so far:
Manufacturers, Municipalities & Consumers (MMC)
I've been carrying my trash around for two weeks. And the fact that I only have a small bag of stuff destined for the landfill really goes to show what a good recycling and composting program can do. Here are my biggest insight from this process:
- Manufacturers need to push even harder to make sure that their all or at least most of their packaging is either recyclable or compostable. If that were the case, I'd have almost nothing to throw in the landfill.
- Municipalities need to develop extensive recycling and composting programs. I'm not sure if the city of San Francisco runs its recycling and composting operations at a loss, but other cities need to emulate their programs. I would have had a much larger burden to carry if San Francisco did not offer me so many "green" services.
- Consumers also need to get on the band wagon. If consumers don't participate in recycling and composting programs at work and at home, all of the efforts of the Manufacturers and the Municipalities will be for nothing. And that means increased education. Everyone needs to toot the green horn and help other people learn how to integrate recycling and composting practices into their lives.
The Final Trash Inventory
Here's a photo of my total sum of trash (unsorted).
Here's a photo of the sorted pile. Note the large quantities of dental floss, bottle caps, plastic bags, and assorted packaging materials.
- Post-It notes are, generally speaking, recyclable items (make sure your recycling service providers accept "mixed paper")
- Envelopes with plastic see through windows are recyclable (at least in San Francisco, not sure how they separate the paper from the plastic!)
Here are the items I didn't really have to carry around for two weeks.
So, what am I going to do about all this? What's the net-net? Well, I think there's a few things I can do:
- Pester the companies I buy products from to use 100% recyclable or compostable packaging materials
- Investigate the economics of running municipal recycling and composting operations and see if I can't get other cities to offer them to their citizens
- Spread the word! Educate people I know about how and why to recycle and compost
Lastly, here are a few parting photos. First, my trash going in the Landfill bin at work.
And a picture of me, with my EMPTY bags.
Over and Out.
This past Wednesday, November 7, there was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about how too much junk ends up in the San Francisco compost stream (see article). The article explained that at one point a bicycle was found with the green waste at Jepson Prairie Organics where San Francisco's compost collection goes (Jepson Prairie Organics is located in Vacaville, CA). While I find that incredible, I'm not completely surprised. As the self proclaimed "Captain Compost" of the frog design San Francisco studio, I occasionaly find some weird stuff in the green bin. For example, one time I spotted a plastic bag in the compost bin. I thought, "Who would put plastic in the compost bin?? Don't they get it? Food and paper towels and the like, not plastic!" Then, as I pulled the plastic out, I realized that there was an uncooked sausage in it. Someone had the right idea (compost the uneaten food!), but they missed a small detail. Don't compost the packaging it comes in unless it's compostable as well! Sigh.
I guess it goes to show that education and discipline are huge. We have to continuously educate people about how to compost - because it's not familiar to everyone. And not everyone feels as seriously about it as some of us do. That's to be expected. There's only so much cognitive load that each of us can handle. We have to help each other out. We have to be our brother's keeper. I'll try to do my part.
Niman Ranch, Please Help Me Be Green
Niman Ranch has an excellent reputation in California for producing high quality meats. It's a well know brand. But I was bummed to buy one of their products at the grocery store and then realize later that the packaging was not recyclable. It looked like it might be, but it wasn't. (See images below.)
This is a little surprising because they tout themselves as such a humane and sustainable business. At the top of their web site it says:
Niman Ranch and its family farmers raise livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably to deliver the finest tasting meat in the world.
Ok, I'll give you that you create a good product. But let's work on the total life cycle of your product. Can't you make your packaging recyclable? Is there a good reason why you don't? So, I decided to write them. After all, on the packaging it says "Questions? Email email@example.com." Here's what I wrote:
From: Rob Stokes
Sent: Sunday, November 11, 2007 7:36 PM
Subject: Why don't you use recyclable packaging for your meat products?
Hi Niman Ranch,
My name is Rob Stokes. I work for frog design in San Francisco. I’m doing this blog called Trash Talk (http://www.frogdesign.com/frogblog/author/trash-talk/) where I have to carry all my trash around with me for 2 weeks. That means that if I can’t compost or recycle it, I have to carry it with me.
I purchased some of your meats a couple of days ago (see attached photo) and I noticed that there is no recycling symbol on the plastic container in which the meat comes. Why is that? Wouldn’t be possible to ship your product in a recyclable container? I like your meat products, but I’d rather not carry the packaging around with me.
Please let me know.
Let's see if they send me a response.
By the way, my bag is getting heavier. It's not huge yet, but it's not exactly comfortable to attach to my belt anymore.
Evan Cordes has brought to my attention that Tom's of Maine will take back the aluminum toothpaste tubes if your city will not recycle them (see comments below). I don't think that San Francisco will accept them; so, I guess I'm going to collect a bunch of them over the next few months and send them back to Maine!
Tom's of Maine is a favorite brand amongst environmental do-gooders (like myself). You get the sense that everything they make is a lot more natural than all the products made by Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson.
However, I don't think there's much I can do with an empty tube of Tom's of Maine toothpaste. Natural or not, it's still destined for the landfill. There's some sort of recycling symbol on the back of the tube, but I have no idea what it means (see photo below).
I'll give $20 to anyone who can tell me what it means. I'm not kidding. $20 - it's just one Paypal payment away.
A trip to Peru
As I was peeling off the "Organic" sticker on my banana this morning (which is going to the landfill by the way ... ironic, isn't it?), I noticed yet another sticker on the bunch of bananas. It said "Visit our Farm at doleorganic.com ... FARM 003." The banana said "Peru" on it. So, I thought "hmm ... maybe I will."
Not suprisingly, the site is very "green," literally. It's kind of cool though. You can see where the bananas come from and the people who work on the farm. Not bad. And the photo viewer is pretty nice as well. I digress.
Anyway, here's a list of what I landfilled/recycled/composted today.
- My "I Voted!" sticker
- The two "Organic" banana stickers
- Tom's of Maine toothpaste tube
- Miscellaneous voting papers
I have to admit. Sometimes it's hard to tell if something is plastic or compostable material. I was in Trader Joe's last night looking for a few things. Normally I don't like going there because they wrap all their vegetables with some sort of material. Plus, you can't buy vegetables individually; you have to buy them in fixed quantities. However, they're one of the only vendors in San Francisco that sell Spanish olive oil; so, I have to go there occasionally. (Spanish olive oil is SOOOO good!)
Anyway, we needed some tomatoes and I looked with dread at the container for the tomatoes. Is it recyclable??? I sure hope so! I flipped the container over and searched desperately for the recycling symbol. It was nowhere to be found! Sigh. Then my wife pointed out that the package said "Compostable." Hoooray! I was so busy looking for the recycling symbol that I actually overlooked the big type saying "Nature Works Compostable."
So, I looked "Nature Works" up. Here's what I found.
Derived from 100% annually renewable resources such as corn, our product, NatureWorks® polymer, is the world’s first polymer showing a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
I've seen corn products like this before, but never one for holding tomatoes. Pretty cool! See images below.
And here's a list of what I landfilled/recycled/composted yesterday.
- Sticker label for baguette
- Clear "window" on an envelope
- Dental Floss
- Muni train ticket
- Junk mail
- Wine bottle
- Voting guide
- Banana Peel
- Paper container for my lunch taco (I eat a lot of these things)
- Used napkin
- Used tea bag
- Cheese rind
Last night I went out to a club called Mighty in San Francisco (http://www.mighty119.com/). And as I looked on while my friend ordered some shots of tequila, I was disappointed to see that the bartender was pouring the tequila in some little plastic cups, as opposed to the customary shot glasses. Sigh, I thought to myself. Another thing for the trash bag.
But as I was finishing up my shot, I noticed the familiar recycling image on the bottom of my glass. Could it be? Could I save myself from more junk in my bag? YES! Indeed! #6 plastic. Excellent. I don't think that recycling a plastic "shot glass" is better than just washing a real glass one (reuse is better than single use), but I'm glad to see that even the nightclub industry is using recyclable products. But, honestly, let's not kid ourselves. Who's actually going to recycle the glasses besides me during Trash Talk? Answer: no one.
Compostable Coffee Bean Bag
My hat goes off to Blue Bottle Coffee (http://www.bluebottlecoffee.net/) for selling you beans in a compostable bag. It has a liner, but the liner is made with corn products so you can compost it. You do, however, have to tear off the tin tie at the top before composting (see image below).
Bread Bag Enclosures
Sure, these things are small, but they're used all over the place for baked goods. And I doubt many people reuse them. Why don't they use a more reusable enclosure mechanism or make them out of a recyclable plastic? And why don't more cities recycle plastic bags???
Curse you, Brita filter!
Filtered water rocks, especially in a place where the tap water tastes nasty. But I was loathe to change my Brita water filter because i knew I would have to carry it around. Sigh, this is my biggest and heaviest piece of trash yet. Landfill gods, forgive me.
Signing off from sunny San Francisco,