Imagine This — Now Let’s Make It Happen!

We’ve heard your frustration. We understand you want to do the right thing. But it seems the target is always moving, making it hard.

Yes, that is the reality of recycling.

We got complacent. When our mixed recycling was sent “away” to the Far East, we could pat ourselves on the back that we had been great; we had sorted our trash and sent our plastics and paper to a place where they would be reprocessed into more of the same. We believed that. It was rarely true.

When China and then more of the Southeastern Asia nations started refusing OUR garbage we first felt the pain of betrayal, but then we realized it is OUR trash and we need to be more responsible.

We’ve talked about REFUSING to spend money on items you may want but recognize the packaging is adding to the problem. Only when manufacturers feel some pain through reduced income by our REFUSAL, will they explore alternative and greener packaging.

We’ve talked about COMPOSTING those overlapping items that could be recycled but can also be composted, like cardboard and paper. Some of the limitations that make paper unable to be recycled make them prime for composting but even some of those are not smart to compost. IMG_3980 (2)

Let’s talk about RECYCLING those items that are not a high enough volume to be collected curbside, but perhaps in an annual or semi-annual event.IMG_3998 (2)

Recently, the Washington Country Master Recyclers held another of their quarterly PlanetCon events at a Hillsboro High School. Residents in the county were invited to bring their batteries, electronics, Styrofoam, plastics and more to a one-day event.IMG_3969 (2)

There were about fifty volunteers to help direct traffic, accept (and refuse some) items, and then sort them. The items that had to be refused are those that have no local end user. Lists of acceptable items had been provided along with the marketing of the PlanetCon event, but people still bring others in the hopes they can send it to be repurposed. They were told, unfortunately, that some items still must go to the landfill.

PlanetCon also offered one table for swapping items that no longer had value to individuals but were in good condition for further use. Similar to the rest of  the event, there was no charge for this, but some rules in terms of what could be brought. IMG_3987 (2)

Are you interested in getting rid of items that could be collected at an annual recycling event?  Are you willing to put in some time to help this event happen?  We will need a planning committee and we will need volunteers at the event to make it flow well.

Currently there is no Master Recycler program in Yamhill County but it will be offered by Yamhill County Solid Waste if at least 10 people express interest.  Meanwhile, the county solid waste office holds several household hazardous collections each year.  The spring collection was in Newberg in mid May. An event in mid October will be held in McMinnville at the fairgrounds. Image result for there is no away

Artists Spotlight: Melody Hanson and HandyTotes

Introducing Melody Hanseon’s HandyTotes to you is the perfect time to explain that the name of this event, the McMinnville Recycled Arts Festival is a bit of a misnomer.

Yes, the event is in “McMinnville” and here in McMinnville we are making great strides to recognize issues that can reduce the waste we send to the landfill. Together, Zero Waste McMinnville and Recology help residents and visitors better understand how trash should be sorted and can have a better “end stage” than covered by dirt in an expanding mountain of garbage.

“Recycled” is a term that commonly means that the materials used to make an item can be reused to make a similar item. Plastic bottles to plastic bottles is a good example. But what about plastic things into other ways to use the same plastic things? Like we are seeing people elsewhere in the world use plastic bottles, filled with sand, as a building block material in developing nations. That is NOT recycling, but upcycling or “alternative use.”

We have many many many examples of UPCYCLING at the Festival…..not any recycled use really.

And then, the word “Arts”. The first common accepted usage is we were looking for items made with care, with meticulous attention to detail, to presentation in a new way. There is also a subsidiary definition of development of a skill that presents items that are used in new ways.  All that will be evident in the Nicholson Library during the Festival.

Melody Hanson reached a point when a collection of plastic needed to be cleared from her storage area. A couple years ago, she had an accumulation of empty polywoven feed bags and attempted to find a place to recycle them.  Not having any success, she started making tote bags for a few friends and neighbors for them to trial and give their feedback.  This grew in response and within a few months, she started an Etsy shop where she offers handmade tote bags with a large selection of different images.Assorted feedsack bags- Melody `Hanson

Now there are some people who think we should ban all plastics and I can get behind the idea that drilling for more oil  has to stop. We have more than enough plastic in the world. Let’s find ways to break them down and reuse the material.  The problem about plastic-that it will naturally take hundred and thousands of years to really break down-is also the benefit of why we like using that durable material.

The sturdy aspect of HandyTotes is that they will last a really really long time. You just have to remember to carry them back out to your car and into the store!IMG_6651 - Melody `Hanson (1)

Your effort to change that shopping container habit will add up, just like Melody feels about her effort to make the bags: “To convert materials that would otherwise go into the garbage into reusable tote bags.  To give useful materials a second life and prevent waste.  To help save the earth.”

We each can add our ways to help.

Melody Hanson and HandyTotes are at Table #3.

Artist Spotlight: Janet Ronacher and Fiber Design By Janet

Sometimes something completely unexpected causes a life path to take a slight turn in a direction previously unexplored.  Janet Ronacher explains, “I began fusing plastic bags in my artwork after reading that the Hurricane in Haiti destroyed the dwellings of residents.  The monsoon rains that continued after the Hurricane horrified a Bend woman who decided to get her friends together to iron 10’ x 10’ tarps to give the Haitians some shelter.  I have never met the woman but I was so impressed with her can-do spirit as she sent many tarps to Haiti.”

And so, a seed was planted and Janet started to explore this new concept. After thinking about the woman in Bend and dreaming about the possibilities Janet started experimenting with small bags.  That included layering bags, ironing them
together until she had roughly a 12” x 24” piece of plastic that she could cut into strips and weave as baskets. C870E4A5-C23F-4414-8FD8-E8ABFFBEB9EF - Janet Ronacher

“I was surprised that the bags I had were not  enough to really work as I thought they should.  So I asked friends and neighbors for any bags they thought were bright and colorful for me to try.  I was shocked at the number of folks who were delighted to have a use for the bags.  That one basket the size of a 6” x 6” box used over thirty bags. It was difficult to count the bags and keep ironing and then weaving so I never counted again.”AFA5D070-9C87-4D32-957E-46063B6C56D9 - Janet Ronacher

(The difference between Janet and me (and maybe many of you) is that her work is art. Mine, at best, would be “craft”. This is a good time to explain that the jury process was used to separate out the work of people who, while done well, just did not reach that level of art we hoped to introduce to the public. Janet’s ability to take one of the biggest contributors to an environmental mess on our planet and produce something attractive and even functional is a talent that many do not have.)03B65C2A-E731-4A0D-9547-425A833F8C59 - Janet Ronacher (1)

“I feel good about using reclaimed materials as my medium since it is so plentiful and I feel compelled to keep as much as possible out of the oceans, waterways and food supplies of animals and humans.  I have read that plastic never really goes away and that it has a half life of over 400 years. Yes I might run out of materials eventually and my work will someday become waste also.  In the meantime I will continue to save the environment one bag at a time until scientists and engineers find a better alternative.”3542AE58-7144-4295-9F32-EFBB90327938 - Janet RonacherJanet Ronacher and Fiber Design By Janet will be located at Booth #31.

Not So Extreme Lifestyle

I’ve read about a woman in New York City who has been living a zero waste lifestyle and after a year only had a quart of trash to go to the landfill. and have learned that Millennial women are leading the way with this life style.  Why them?

Well,  it seems really radical to me, and I am making a decent effort to reduce my trash in all ways. The idea of producing only a quart of trash seems to involve a lot of work to prepare items that can be purchased in stores.  And yet I cook from scratch and preserve food all year long, so why not toiletries too?  Why does that “fully deep into it lifestyle” seem so hard?

Today I visited a family in Newberg where the choice to live zero waste is definitely in place. I expected to be bombarded with so many ideas that I wouldn’t know what to talk about with you but was really surprised when Joerg Peter spent his time with us talking about two issues: sorting trash and a home construction project.

With a sense of humor and a nod to marital harmony, Joerg concedes that his wife rules on the main and upper living levels and his domain includes the basement and the attic. So we soon were down in the basement to learn about his way of collecting the trash in his house and how he sorts.

He had a kitchen sized trash can that he had carried down to his sorting station tucked next to the stairs. The trash in the garbage can was clean….no wetness, no food scraps. All cans and bottles washed clean and dry.  In the sort station there was a small table, a few bins and several other small containers. Paper was laid flat in a pile, the better way to minimize space. Cardboard food containers were also opened and then folded flat to minimize space.  Plastic bags that Joerg drops at Cascade Steel (he says there is still a collection for that there.) were separated and stuck flat into a plastic sack that used to hold potting soil.  Snack bags were  recognized as a landfill item that never will decay. (Joerg has a teenage son whose food choices were attributed as the source of  containers that could not be recycled or composted.) Metal was separated into steel and aluminum using a magnet to be sure.  Smaller pieces of steel or aluminum were placed in the appropriate container and then the ends smashed flat to reduce space and to keep the smaller pieces inside.  Small pieces of metal coated plastic was torn apart and each piece placed where it belonged.  The sort took about 5 minutes, and only because we were asking questions.

trash sorting

The point to understand here is that many of us sort very poorly which means the recycling we send in, despite feeling very good that we have made an effort, is contaminated, and therefore will probably end up in the landfill. Rinsing cans and plastic containers at the sink takes maybe a minute as part of meal clean-up. How many of us take that time?

Joerg’s also obviously coming from an place where mingling just doesn’t make sense.  Since he lives outside of Newberg he actually does not have curbside pick-up but makes a run to the Recology depot there about every other week.

The large project we wanted to admire was his personal reconstruction of his chimney. Built originally around 2001, the visible portions of the fireplace hearth and chimney appear well built with attention to detail and careful use of material.  But a problem showed up and when he inspected the construction in areas that were not easily accessible, he ran into more questionable construction technique and knew he had a project.

chimneyMost of us would have to stop right there and search for a contractor, but Joerg Peter apprenticed in his native Germany as a mason. He had learned the skills long ago, and he chucked when he told us how finally muscle memory seemed to kick in with some of the tasks.

tiles and mortarLike chipping the mortar off the bricks he carefully removed to be able to re-use them.  Yes. Re-use the bricks. And the masonry and ceramic tiles. And the mortar. Yes, he saved the mortar……..not to use again for the chimney but in other ways on his land.

mortar dust on driveway.JPGThis is the perfect time to remind us all that using something again does not have to be in the same way it was first used. The larger chunks of mortar that end up as large gravel are useful in areas on the natural driveway to help in muddy spots. The mortar than ended up as dust on his basement floor was carried out in buckets and placed at the end of his driveway where it meets the pavement. It absorbs water and becomes stable, providing a smooth surface.

Back to the basement…..Joerg Peter carefully removed the tiles around the bricks in the chimney, lowering them in a basket to his teenage son to remove and stack. The orderliness in the basement was impressive. And the materials remain in usable form this way, not chipped with indiscriminate tossing into a pile, as my observation  of similar work areas has been.newspaper and more storage

Joerg Peter admitted he has been working on the new chimney for a few years and this winter their heating was dependent on the electric system in the house instead of the wood stove.  The last bill convinced him that he would get the job done before the next winter heating season begins.

The clear take-away from this visit was that all this sustainability is reachable. While I personally do not have construction skills so I would need to hire a contractor for a similar job, I could very easily require that contractor to aim for zero waste with the materials on site. Yes, the job will take more time. It is much faster to use a pry bar and sledge hammer…and there is some satisfaction in being allowed to destroy as  we have watched as homeowners gleefully take their turn on those home improvement shows.

It is time we all slow down and take the time to plan our garbage related tasks a bit differently……and our own zero waste effort can improve.

 

A Few Steps BEFORE Recycling

Recycling is a feel-good process. Our trash hauler Recology identifies itself as a recycling company, not a landfill company.  That means when China and other Southeast Asian countries stopped taking mixed recyclables from the United States,  we had to go through an adjustment.

Last summer there were more restrictions about what was allowed in our bin. But Recology has worked hard to find buyers for our recyclables and more items are allowed now.  And you can now bring your polystyrene foam to the Depot.  Check Recology’s What Bin? app on their website to see how you should sort that item. Call the office at (503) 472-3176 if the answer is not provided in the software.

That is all good news, but it’s important that you also understand that not all recycling gets used that way. While things might be better here because of Recology’s priority,  less than 9% of plastics are recycled  worldwide.

You’ve seen the photos of how trashed the ocean is. You’ve read by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than ocean animals. You’ve read the news that there is plastic inside our bodies now from the food we eat and water we drink.  We have no idea how this is affecting us.

It’s going to take some effort to clean things up so our children and their children have a healthier environment.

That is why Zero Waste McMinnville also encourages you to start REFUSING to buy items if they use plastic in their packaging…plastic that immediately has to be trashed…if you have a zero-waste option. Using the bulk bins in the supermarket is an easy way to make that transition. Most of the grocery stores in town have bins; Winco has a very large selection that also includes pet food. But there is one more step to being a zero-waster when you move to bulk bins: you need to bring re-usable containers with you. 

The stores provide plastic bags and plastic containers. The bags will go to the landfill and we know the issues with wind blowing that lightweight an item off the landfill and into the Yamhill River and onto adjacent properties.  I use mesh bags that I found online, but more are becoming available in the stores themselves to encourage this behavior. They are tightly woven and can hold solids, but fine items like sugars might fall through some larger weave bags.  I can toss them in the wash to make sure they stay clean to hold food. 

tare
Source: Wild Minimalist

I use an offered  plastic container to fill with peanut butter, but I wash it and bring it back to the store for re-use.  At this time there is no tare station at the bulk bins but if you want to bring your own containers, and many people prefer glass to plastic, you can stop at a check out and ask them to tare your container. Make sure to have them write the tare weight on the container or its lid. That way, when you are ready to pay, you will only pay for the weight of the contents.

REDUCING is another step to use to minimize your trash. One of the biggest waste issues in our homes is food. People may not like eating left-overs, so they get pushed to the back of the frig and eventually become fuzzy. Not going to eat that!  

So, when buying fresh food like fruits and vegetables, milk and other refrigerated items, having an idea of what you will make with the items will help minimize having extra sitting around and spoiling in your house.  Use your freezer to package up produce in season when locally grown fruits and vegetables taste so fresh. The library has cookbooks and the Extension Service on Lafayette Avenue also has information that can help you prepare your food for the freezer so it will be delicious and safe to eat at a later time.  

Dehydrating and canning are other ways to preserve surplus food as well as prepared dishes when you have leftovers. These methods also end up with a shelf-safe product, which means it can be put in the pantry or cupboard and not take up freezer space.

Image result for re-use
Source: Tanana Valley Watershed Association

RE-USE is another step that eliminates trash. Sometimes we buy something and enjoy it but stop using it either because habits change or something breaks.  If you really are not going to use something again, pass it on. Decluttering is a very freeing feeling and no reason to keep things you won’t use.  I had a father-in-law who filled his barn over 60 years with broken things because “he might need them.” We had a lot of clean-up to do when he passed on.  But he grew up in the Depression and learned to be frugal.  We also can be more frugal but not to that point!  If the item needs something fixed in order to use it, be creative because many manufacturers want us to be attached at the wallet and plan the obsolescence of their product.  Sometimes they don’t even offer parts so you can repair things.   You might find some of these ideas useful!

LOGO jpegIf you want some amazing ideas of re-use and alternative use make sure to come to the McMinnville Recycled Arts Festival April 26th & 27th at the Linfield College Nicholson Library. It really is a misnomer to call it a “recycled” arts festival as the artists have amazing items that have used things that might be considered trash in alternative ways to produce things to enjoy.  Alternative use or upcycling are more common terms for these things. Come and see.

Only after you REFUSE, REDUCE,  and consider  RE-USE are you ready to sort your trash into recycling, composting or landfill. 

It’s Hard to Get My Head Around It….

Apparently, it’s hard for many people to get their head around how large a plastic pollution problem there is in our world.  We love our plastic but we also like to imagine that when we throw things “away” they actually disappear…….but that is not the case at all. Read on:

Associated Press, Wednesday, December 18, 2018

LONDON – The burgeoning crisis in plastic waste has won the attention of Britain’s Royal Statistical Society, which chose 90.5 percent – the proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled – as its international statistic of the year.

The society, which chooses a winner from nominations made by the public, picked the statistic generated in a U.N. report based on the work of U.S. academics Roland Geyer, Jenna R Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law.

Public awareness of the problem has been growing, particularly after filmmaker David Attenborough’s documentary “Blue Planet II” showed sea turtles shrouded in plastic among other horrors.

Geyer says he was honored by the accolade and hopes “it will help draw attention to the problem of plastic pollution that impacts nearly every community and ecosystem globally.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/12/18/plastic-90-5-percent-not-recycled/2346873002/

If you recycled all the plastic garbage in the world, you could buy the NFL, Apple and Microsoft SFGate.com<http://SFGate.com>, Tuesday, December 18, 2018, by Liberty Vittert, Washington University in St Louis

THE CONVERSATION) This year, I served on the judging panel for The Royal Statistical Society’s International Statistic of the Year. On Dec. 18, we announced the winner: 90.5 percent, the amount of plastic that has never been recycled. Okay – but why is that such a big deal?  Much like Oxford English Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” competition, the international statistic is meant to capture the zeitgeist of this year. The judging panel accepted nominations from the statistical community and the public at large for a statistic they feel shines a light on today’s most pressing issues.

Last year’s winner was 69. That’s the annual number of Americans killed, on average, by lawn mowers – compared to two Americans killed annually, on average, by immigrant jihadist terrorists and the 11,737 Americans killed annually by being shot by another American. That figure, first shared in The Huffington Post, was highlighted in a viral tweet by Kim Kardashian in response to the proposed migrant ban.

This year’s statistic came into prominence from a United Nations report. The chair of the judges and RSS president, Sir David Spiegelhalter, said: “It’s really concerning that so little plastic has ever been recycled and, as a result, so much plastic waste has leached out into the world’s environment. It’s a great, growing and genuinely world problem.”
Let’s take a closer look at this year’s winning statistic. About 90.5 percent of the 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste produced since mass production began about 60 years ago is now lying around our planet in landfills and oceans or has been incinerated. If we don’t change our ways, by 2050, there will be about 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste.

When the panel first began looking at this statistic, I really didn’t have any comprehension of what billions of tons of plastic means. Based on a study from 2015 and some back of the envelope calculations, that’s the equivalent of 7.2 trillion grocery bags full of plastic as of 2018.

But again, I still didn’t quite have a feel for how much that actually is. People tend to use distance measurements to compare numbers, so I tried that. Assuming that a grocery bag of plastic is about 1 foot high, if you stacked the grocery bags, you could go to the moon and back 5,790 times. That’s starting to feel a bit more real.

In fact, if you could monetize all of the plastic trash clogging up our environment – including the 12 percent that is incinerated– you could buy some of the world’s biggest businesses.

Assuming it costs 3.25 cents to produce a plastic bottle, we can estimate that a grocery bag contains about US$1 of plastic material production. (I took a grocery bag and filled it with 31 bottles.) So 7.2 trillion grocery bags is the equivalent of a cool $7.2 trillion.
What can you buy with that? Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Walmart, Exxon, GM, AT&T, Facebook, Bank of America, Visa, Intel, Home Depot, HSBC, Boeing, Citigroup, Anheuser-Busch, all the NFL teams, all the MLB teams and all the Premier League Football teams.

In other words, if someone could collect and recycle all the unrecycled plastic on earth, this person would be richer than any individual on the planet.
One of the most difficult aspects of statistics is putting the numbers into a context that we can wrap our heads around, into a format that means something to us. Whatever it is that speaks to you, all I can say is that this speaks to me. It’s clearly time to clean up our act. https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/If-you-recycled-all-the-plastic-garbage-in-the-13474181.php

Kick It OUT of Your Life!!!

Plastic…….that word has become a challenge. Anyone older than 50 can remember things that are commonly plastic now were made from something else when we were young. Paper straws for drinking. Metal lunch boxes. Metal cups for nonbreakable travel. Waxed paper for wrapping a sandwich.  Paper grocery bags used for school book covers. Image result for vintage metal lunch boxes

Then, we felt the joy of how plastic lasted longer and that fascination started taking over. Plastic straws don’t tear. Plastic lunch boxes come in all shapes. Plastic coated paper cups from the coffee kiosk. Plastic wrap keeps a tighter seal. The plastic coated book covers resist spills.

Image result for 1960s plastic lunch box  Image result for plastic lunch boxes vintage

 

 

 

 

And now, after years of comfortable use, we understand that plastics have a pretty large environmental footprint with its petroleum component. We are disappointed that plastic lined paper coffee cups can not be recycled and don’t break down for composting. We understand better that it never decomposes, so when it gets thrown “away”, it lands in the local landfill, with all its attendant environmental issues.  We recognize that paying money to use something only once has a recurring effect on your shopping budget.

And we’ve become wiser. We’ve chosen stainless steel straws that can be cleaned and reused forever or until we misplace them when we move.  That cloth bags come in various shapes and sizes and can carry our food for lunch easily. That beeswax infused food wrappers can keep our sandwich fresh. That there are easy to carry hot beverage containers that can be filled at the coffee shop. That paper grocery bags or newspaper work just fine as school book covers. Image result for eco lunch box

And we’re helping others learn by developing a “Zero Waste carry bag” on the go so we can tell them to “hold the straw” when you get a cold drink, or “fill my cup” when you order a coffee. We have a real squishable shopping bags in a pocket, so I’m not caught without a reusuable bagif I stop at a store.Eco-Cycle logo

eco cycle in Boulder, Colorado has suggests a series of challenges you can do to reduce the amount of plastic that you use. 

Start building (and using!) your own Zero Waste on-the-go kit . Many wasteful plastic items come into our lives when we are on-the-go and it’s hard to avoid them if we’re not prepared with reusable alternatives. Make a kit stocked with reusable options and show disposables who’s boss!
We recommend including the items below in your Zero Waste on-the-go kit, but feel free to pick and choose:
  • Reusable, non-plastic beverage containers—stainless steel coffee mugs, glass or stainless steel water bottles. Mason jars are affordable and work, too!
  • Reusable totes—Keep one in your purse, backpack, car or bike so you always have one on hand.
  • Cotton produce bags—Make your own using old pillow cases, clothes, or scrap fabric. Can’t sew? Eco-Bags and Etsy are great sources for cloth produce bags (we especially like this set with the tare weight marked).
  • Stainless steel food containers for take-out or leftovers.
  • Reusable straws—e.g., Bamboo, steel, or glass (and a straw cleaning brush!)
  • Utensil sets- there are many non-plastic travel utensil sets available, or you can make your own with metal silverware wrapped in cloth napkins. Keep a few in your kit to share!
*Thrift shops are a great place to pick up silverware, cloth napkins, reusable water bottles, and travel coffee mugs for your to-go kit!

We CAN do this!!!  We can reduce our plastic use!!!

Replacing Plastic Challenge

by Beth Rankin

Some of you may know I have a small commercial food processing business, Can-Do Real Food. Working with small farms in and near McMinnville, I capture their surplus produce. These are fruits and vegetables that are first quality but the farmer was unable to sell to her own customers, or second quality “funny” shaped items that have the same nutritional quality but are not desirable to most consumers. Instead of feeding these things to farm animals or throwing them on a compost pile, working with me permits the farmer to receive some financial value for that previously unsold food.  My business is to turn this produce into tasty preserved foods either by canning or dehydrating. This reduces food waste (and now you can see why getting involved with Zero Waste McMinnville was a natural step for my community involvement.)  These preserved offerings also help consumers eat food raised right here, full of flavor because it was harvested when ripe and processed soon after picking.

I use glass, of course, when I can. I often reuse the same jar with a new lid for optimal sealing. Many consumers  have returned jars to me at the farmers’ market, but other people use the jars to hold other items, another kind of reuse.  Glass is a sustainable material because it permits multiple uses.

My dehydrated food, however,  is packaged in plastic that is rated to preserve its dryness for at least five years. I purposely purchased bags with a zip attachment so the bags could be reused, but I suspect most people throw them away when empty. Image may contain: food

And now, aware of how devastating plastics are to our environment, I am searching for alternative packaging materials.  The “Make it, Take it” campaign urges manufacturers to take the responsibility for the end stage of the product packaging. For example, in some nations that have not outright banned styrofoam, the manufacturer has to provide a way for the consumer to return the packaging material back to the factory.  Then the manufacturer is responsible for the way the product is handled after its use.

The concept behind this level of responsibility is that manufacturers will stop using materials which are not easy or inexpensive to enter the waste stream.

circular economy linear take make dispose remanufacture reuse reduce recycle
Source: Returnable Packaging Services

So, I am contacting “green” packaging manufacturers and awaiting information, but the websites I have checked are not yet geared for my market niche.

This is an example of how each of us, aware of our plastic habit, needs to take responsibility to find alternatives.  It is also an example how we should hold manufacturers of all consumer items to be responsible for their packaging choices.

It is easy for some supermarket items. The bulk bins in many of our local grocery stores help us to purchase the amount of the items we need without any commercial packaging.   When I go shopping for food I not only carry my bags for packing the food home, but I also have about 8 mesh bags for produce and bulk food items. I carry the plastic container I used the first time I bought the peanut butter that comes out of the grinder, cleaned of course after all has been eaten.

But still we rely on plastic for liquids and most meats and fish are also wrapped in plastic.  Plastic is popular because it can seal out air, preserving freshness and it also seals in liquid, avoiding wetness and contamination of other items stored nearby.

Green packaging is coming along and can provide similar protections for meat. Be Green Packaging produces trays  for meats and fish molded from plant fiber instead of the typical polystyrene.  They are compostible in 90 days, making it a product that can be handled by industrial composting facilities.

Source: Be Green Packaging containers are designed to compost in 30 to 90 days.

Items like this give me hope that in another few years a product will become available to replace my plastic packaging

Meanwhile, do what you can to avoid using plastics, particularly those that are only good for a single use.   Easy to implement:

  • Use metal or paper straws instead of plastic. When you carry straws with you, refusing plastic straws will become easy.
  • Purchase reusable beeswax infused cotton to wrap sandwiches and partially used vegetables to store in the refrigerator instead of plastic wrap.
  • Carry mesh bags to the supermarket for loose items like bulk bin goods or vegetables instead of using the available one-use plastic bags.
  • Offer your own portable hot cup with lid instead of accepting the plastic lined paper cup from your favorite coffee kiosk.

Finally, if you have a favorite product that is still using packaging that is wasteful, write them to suggest they go green.

 

 

Your Turn

I just finished reading a novel about World War II which centered on a German woman who was in her early 20s when hell came to her town. It described how she struggled to survive while providing for her infant daughter and actions she took that enabled her and her child to eat while sacrificing some portion of her soul. When the Americans entered the area they rounded up all the townspeople and marched them to Buchenwald, the adjacent concentration camp and put them to work for a day burying the dead.  It put the reality of what had been happening next door in front of their eyes. They could no longer be complacent in the fact that they knew….they knew and they did nothing or very little.

We’re there, people. Not a concentration camp killing people in Yamhill County, but as a society we are doing oh so very little to not kill our oceans and our earth.  Even those of us who have acknowledged the monster feel insignificant against the tide of plastic pollution.

In the novel, the main character had been kicked out of her family home because she had become pregnant with a Jewish lover she tried to hide. He had been discovered and taken away, her father had the typical knee-jerk reaction and so she ran. The local baker took her in and taught her to bake. She discovered the baker was bringing extra bread and hiding it in a tree that the camp inmates could access as they marched back from a day of grueling labor to the camp. When the baker was caught and killed, the woman took over. So, even though she could do little, she did that. Afraid always of being caught, tortured and killed, but she did it.

And so must we. We have to change our ways. We’re not at risk yet….but it’s getting closer.  Check out this video.

I don’t know how to reach the people who are not already enlightened. In a previous chapter of my life when I was learning about how many of the foods people chose to eat can cause life debilitating illness, I became angry and my blogs became preachy. A wise woman I did not know cautioned me not to “yell”. No one will listen if I yell. She became a close and loving friend I will always trust, because that is true.  So I want to raise awareness to those people in our community that already don’t seem to have caught on.

Personally, I am struggling with some  knee and hip problems that keep me from walking our wonderful Oregon beaches. The only one I can access is the drive-down beach at Pacific City at the haystack.  That area is so busy that any trash that washes up gets cleaned up quickly. But the other beaches, I have been told, need regular clean-up.

Dead fish on a beach surrounded by washed up garbage.
Source: greenliving.lovetoknow.com

Now, it is not really littering by beach lovers, although there is a tiny bit of that. What is happening is the normal ocean currents and waves carries plastic trash to our sands.  We don’t know the origin of our beach litter, but we know if there is that much on the sand, it stands to reason that our waters are pretty loaded. We love our fresh seafood here in the Northwest and now many ocean animals are dying not only because they are ingesting plastic trash but because the water quality is being affected.   Check out this video. 

What can we do? We’re 50 miles inland and no one here is dumping their garbage in the water we think. So we may think we are not complicit.

But there is another level. It is the choice of what we purchase and use  in our households, in our workplaces, in our recreation.

If we each reduce our dependence on plastic and ELIMINATE our use of single-use plastic, the manufacturers will begin to feel the reduction of income and make the changes that are needed.

For example, we heard a lot of “About time!” comments when McMinnville instituted the plastic bag ban at store checkouts. We also heard a number of complaints from people who just hate change, any change.  Recently, as more and more cities and countries eliminate plastic bags from use in their area, manufacturers are beginning to explore other ways to provide a similar product made from vegetable matter. Those bags will be able to be composted and so, return nutrients to the soil.

bioplastic-bags-made-from-cassava-and-shrimp-
BIOPLASTIC BAGS FROM CASSAVA AND SHRIMP WASTE Source: https://materia.nl/article/bioplastic-bags-cassava-shrimp/

Part of the reason this message has to get out to everyone is because recycling is no longer the easy answer. American culture is kind of lazy; people do the right thing when it is easy. For that reason we have curbside pickup of mixed recyclables and do not require households to sort into the many categories that would make it easier for Recology to find buyers for the material. Therefore, we have mixed collection and even though people are asked to clean the containers, many people do not. This food waste adds up to contamination levels that has lead the Chinese to refuse our trash.

And really, why should we have it so easy to think our trash disappears and we need not be responsible for it?  This is something people have had to deal with from the very earliest civilizations. Midden piles are an archaeologist’s key to figuring out how people lived in that place and time.

What does your trash say about you and your lifestyle?

 

The Struggle with Plastic: Why Recycling is not the Reliable Solution

I went to India a few years ago and saw many wonderful things. But this was not one.

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Monkeys were being relocated from urban centers to a refuge in the countryside and the area was covered in all kinds of litter.
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Towns were also covered in debris, including dry river beds. During monsoon season, all the trash flows into the Indian Ocean.
South Pacific uninhabited island beach
Uninhabited atolls in the Pacific Ocean have trash strewn beaches, all from debris washed to sea. Source: Kolomthota

 

Dead albatross Midway Atoll
Seabirds as well as ocean creatures are found with plastic trash in their stomachs. Mistaken for food, they obviously die from starvation if not clogged digestive systems. Source: http://globetamk.weebly.com

 

Croatian national park beach
And in case you think it is only our Pacific Rim neighbors with bad habits, even the  Adriatic Sea has its similar issues when winter currents brings trash to a national park in Croatia. Source: Tourist board of Mljet
WV roadside trash
And we are well aware that not all of our own neighbors practice good trash disposal habits. This photo was taken in West Virginia but it could be almost anywhere here in the United States.

 

recology truck
Here in McMinnville we have waste removal service that tries to provide the answer. Recology trucks come though our neighborhoods so we can have curbside pickup for items that are recyclable, a separate collection specifically for glass, more for yard waste, and then those items that are destined for the landfill.

 

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And we’ve had it easy. Except for the glass, we are not required to sort our recyclable items. We dump it all in our bins and the trucks take them to the center.

 

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Prior to a recent decision, all these unsorted recyclables were bundled up and sent to China.

However, China recently decided that the mixture they received from us and other areas throughout North America were too contaminated to be useful to them. In other words, that greasy pizza box, those unwashed cans of baked beans, those paper plates from the picnic with the residual potato salad on it all has added up to undesirable trash.

China-map-no recyclables
Source: Packaging Digest

It is time we realize we haven to stop exporting our garbage to China…or anywhere….and take responsibility for it.  So, how do we compare with other nations?

top 25 countries
We can see with this chart that the US is not a leader. However, there are also some discrepancies on how some of these other nations consider their recyclable methods. Some, for example, include metals that are obtained after the incineration process.  Source: World Economic Forum
top 10 countries plastic recycling
So, adjusting to make sure the comparison is the same, we can see that Germany, for example, drops from over 65% to well over 55% , still not shabby behavior on a national level at this time. Source: World Economic Forum

So, how can we here in the United States and more specifically, in McMinnville, improve how we handle our trash?

ttal plastics
The first step is to understand that most of the plastic that was ever produced is still with us.

We have to understand that just because the piece of plastic says it is

RECYCLABLE

RECYCLED

Oh sure, there are some items that are recycled from plastic.  Some  toys, some decking and other outdoor furniture all hold up well. But by and large, we are not addressing the manufacturing market on this issue here in the US.

vermont woods furntirue
Vermont Woods Studios‘s colorful Polywood all-weather outdoor furniture is made from over 90% recycled materials!  Source: https://vermontwoodsstudios.com/

Other nations are ahead of us. Perhaps it is poverty that drives creativity.

Conceptos-Plasticos-recycled-brick-building-2-1020x610
Recyclable plastics are melted and then reshaped into the bricks. This $6,800 house was built from recycled bricks in just 5 days.  Source: Conceptos Plásticos

Perhaps there are issues with building codes, but it is amazing to see the way people in Mexico and Central America are developing low cost housing options that use plastic, either melted and formed into interlocking bricks or building a frame with wire to hold soda bottles and then stuccoing the exterior!

plastic-bottle-house stucco
Source: https://www.dogonews.com/2016/5/28/panamas-plastic-bottle-village-will-be-constructed-from-recycled-pet-bottles

When I saw these houses, understanding we have a different climate and building codes, I believe we might have a low cost solution for housing the homeless.  We certainly have plenty of plastic.

Another exciting use of plastic is turning it into a paving medium. Whether is it low-tech like this road in India

plastic road India
Source: Jamshedpur (India) Utility and Services Company

or this higher-tech version being considered in The Netherlands, perhaps potholes could be a thing of the past.

dutch plastic road
Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/news

It appears that we could take advantage of our 50 year dependence on plastic to build a new industry here in the United States that will improve infrastructure issues.

But now, we also need to REDUCE our use of plastics. This will be the significant step to getting this world wide trash problem under control.

think glocbal act local
source: https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/757845-think-global-act-local