September 1, 2011

Curbside food composting

It's coming. Soon. Really, really soon. Curbside food composting is -almost- here.

August 1, 2011

Portland/Metro area: Hazardous Waste Fees

From Metro:

Beginning August 1, 2011, Metro will reinstate the $5 fee to dispose of an average load of household hazardous waste. This $5 fee will be charged per load up to 35 gallons, each additional 35 gallons will be charged an additional $5. Also, additional charges apply for containers larger than 10 gallons. No fee for paint waste covered under Oregon PaintCare program.

Metro is reinstating this fee to help defray the costs of running the household hazardous waste program. It actually costs Metro $54 to properly dispose of an average load brought to a Metro facility.

The free Neighborhood Collection events will continue this year. There is no fee to bring your toxic trash to Metro’s community events. Check out Metro’s Neighborhood Collection Schedule.

Washington County (OR) business recycling workshop

From Metro:

Hillsboro (OR) Business Recycling Workshop
September 22nd

Join the Washington County Recycle at Work program, with the City of Hillsboro and the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce, for a free business recycling workshops. Gain a marketing advantage over your competitors — learn how to reduce the amount of waste your business sends to the landfill and save money on your bottom line.

For details contact

Garbage/Recycling Pickup E-schedule Tool

Live in the Portland (OR) area? Not sure when your garbage or recycling gets picked up? Check online! Check out the Curbside Collection E-schedule! So far, this only works for Portland :( Hopefully they'll expand soon to the Metro area. The E-schedule does offer a consolation prize - if the address you give it isn't in the "e-scheduler" area, it will at least come back with some useful contact info for finding someone who can answer your questions.

Metro puppeteer needed!

Metro is looking for a (paid!) puppeteer to do educational shows for metro-area elementary schools. Looks like a part-time job over the school year. Programs to mostly emphasize waste prevention, recycling, natural gardening, composting. Looks like the scripts and props are taken care of, they just need an enthusiastic puppeteer they can rely on. This link has much more detail.

I really hope the show makes it to the elementary school I do most of my work in. I'd love to see it!

July 9, 2011

Summer Solar Power Activities

It’s officially summer! It's even summer here in Oregon, the land where spring comes in so late and stays so late, we’ve started changing our calendars to show the month of Junuary.

What better time to try out some solar powered activities? These activities are easy enough to do with children, and they’re fun and interesting for grownups too. All of these activities can be done with household materials, or require only a minimal purchase.

-make a sundial
-make a thermometer
-make a solar powered cooker
-make solar S’mores!
-make sun tea (be sure to clean your jar thoroughly, don’t leave the jar outside for more than 3-4 hours, and don’t make more tea than you plan to use in a day,– otherwise bacteria can flourish.)
-dry your laundry on a clothesline
-Shade or Sun? An easy experiment for young children. Also a good way to talk with children about why tree cover is so important.
-water purification and distilling water from plants This is a fun activity you can also do at the beach.
-watching ice cubes melt This one can be a lot more interesting than it sounds. You use different colors of cardstock or paper as solar heat collectors. Which colors collect the most heat and melt the ice fastest? What if you change the color of the ice cube? This is a good activity for talking about how paint color and building material color affects the indoor temperature of the building. Or compare it with how your child feels dressed in light colors vs. dark colors on a sunny day.

If you decide to try an activity, will you tell me how it went? What surprised you? What did your kids learn? What are some solar-powered activities you already do?

July 4, 2011

Oregon Bottle Bill Expanded

It seems like I’m always late to the good parties. I totally missed this in my inbox till yesterday. The new Oregon Bottle Bill was officially expanded June 9, 2011.

“Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed into law today the latest revision to the state's landmark bottle bill, which expands the scope of containers covered by attaching a nickel deposit to all beverages, including beer, soft drinks, water, juice and sports drinks”.(1)

I’m pretty excited about the bill’s expansion – how many more kinds of containers are included in this bill. (By the way, did you know Oregon was the first to pass a bottle bill in the US back in 1971?)(2)

Mind you, this change won’t take place right away – this will happen “no later than 2018”. The plan is for all glass, plastic and metal beverage containers except for milk, wine & liquor containers. I have to wonder why. It isn’t just because the formulations for the glass bottles differs from manufacturer to manufacturer, as we know glass soft drink and juice bottles are already made by different manufacturers. Is it because we already have ready and close recycling available for milk jugs and wine and liquor bottles? Is it because the nutritionists want to make sure we drink as much healthy milk as possible, and the state wants to be able to tax as much wine & liquor as possible? Cynical perhaps, but I can’t help wondering.

”Forty years after the state passed the country's first container deposit redemption law, HB 3145 goes far beyond an incremental update. In addition to the expanded coverage of new container types, the bill pilots a new system of stand-alone redemption centers for the state. The centers would be independent of retailers and was a critical component in securing support from the grocers' lobby, which had opposed previous expansions of the bottle bill. A pilot project will take place in a to-be-determined area with a population of less than 300,000, and would also ease the requirements of nearby retailers to accept beverage containers.

"The bottle bill is one of the most successful recycling devices ever invented, but it’s showing signs of age," said the bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Ben Cannon (D-Portland), in an earlier prepared statement. "The redemption experience needs to be improved for consumers. More containers should be covered and the deposit should increase if recycling rates drop."

"This is only the second edit to the state's first-in-the-nation bottle bill during its 40-year lifetime. The first came just years ago, in 2007, when the Legislature added water bottles to the list of containers that Oregonians could return for their nickel deposit.

Lawmakers returned two years later hoping to expand the system further by adding containers for sports drinks, coffee, juice, tea and other beverages of that sort. Distributors and grocers balked, however, asking for more time to get the system used to the increased load that water represented.

Two years later, after two trial redemption centers proved highly popular, the former opponents lent their support to further expansion.

That support seems to have made all the difference; the legislation the governor signed Thursday was able to make it through both the Oregon House and Senate with bi-partisan, if not necessarily unanimous, support.

I found this interesting:
"The bill makes provisions for the deposit to be raised to 10¢ if the redemption rate falls below 80% for two consecutive years (as determined any time after January 1, 2016). At the time of the bill's passage, the redemption rate is 84%."(4)

Why make the deposit dependent on redemption rate? I’m sure there’s a good reason at the top of the legislative food chain, but I think it’s just going to confuse the average consumer. And what sort of message does it send to the average consumer? “Recycle fewer bottles, get more cash per bottle recycled”?
And the nickel deposit, first established along with the initial bottle bill in 1971, just isn’t what it used to be. I’ve heard that nickel back then is equivalent to a little over a quarter now. I’d be happy with a flat increase to a 10-cent deposit, especially since you know grocery stores will keep their 24-container-per-person-per-day rule. Though with the new redemption centers popping up, along with the automated bottle return machines, maybe that won’t be so much of an issue after all.(5)

Don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy about the expansion of the bill, I’m happy about the additional redemption centers, I’m happy people from all sides worked hard to make this bill pass with as much integrity as it’s got (and didn’t let it get watered down to nothing), and I’m happy that legislators & industry are open to the idea of raising the deposit.

What do you think of this bill expansion?
Does your state have a bottle bill? If so, what does your bottle bill include? If your state doesn’t have a bottle bill, why is that? What do you think needs to happen for one to pass?

(1) Resource Recycling
(2) Oregon DEQ Oregon Bottle Bill: Then and Now
(4) Bottle Bill Resource Guide
(5) Get a sneak peek at the new bottle redemption center
(6) HB 3145

July 3, 2011

Backyard Makeover Photo Giveaway

We talked with over 160 people at the Backyard Makeover event at the Oregon Zoo, but only one person asked for a photo. The one lucky winner is – drum roll please – Mr. Trashmaster! His prize so far has included me adding to the herb garden in our front yard. Today I planted a bronze fennel, a thai basil, a curled parsley, and a Cuban oregano in between our other herbs. Further prize-winnings include me not pestering him (too much) while he played video games today, and probably some snogging later on. Prizes awarded this time around do not necessarily accurately reflect what will be awarded in future giveaways

Mr & Mrs Trashmaster
Isn’t he handsome?

On a side note – what do you think of the shirt? I’ve been working on a “Trashmaster” logo, and that’s what I’ve come up with so far.

July 2, 2011

Backyard Makeover Exhibit at the Oregon Zoo

One of the exhibits at the Oregon Zoo is the Backyard Makeover. There are two little demonstration “backyards” side by side. One is fairly standard: lawn with a fair-sized concrete patio, a few flowers along the fence, the fence is solid wood slats, one small tree and a birdhouse. The other has a smaller area of lawn, far more flowers & shrubs (of varying height), a couple of trees, the patio is made of stone blocks and has patio chairs on it, and the fence is slatted wood that lets a bit of light and air through but still affords privacy. The game is to find the seven things the same in the two yards, and to also notice what’s different about the yards. There is also some signage about what plants are in the yards, how the second, “improved” yard allows for more and more-varied wildlife passing through, requires less watering overall and gives reasons for using less (or no) pesticides and fertilizers. Next to these two yards is a booth where volunteers are often on hand to talk about how to reorganize your yard to bring in beneficial bugs, more birds & other wildlife, how to reduce use of pesticides & fertilizers, how to compost, how & why to set up worm bins and all that good stuff.

The last few years, the exhibit has been staffed by Oregon Zoo volunteers and Master Gardeners. This year, once a month, the exhibit is staffed by Master Recyclers (such as yours truly). We might not have been able to identify all the plants in the exhibit, but we did spend all day talking about composting and rainwater harvesting and why having more bugs in your yard can be a good thing. We also borrowed a worm bin from the Oregon Zoo horticulturists and invited kids (and the grownups!) to pet the worms. The kids were fantastic! They started out as or quickly became expert worm-handlers. We talked about where worms live, how to hold them, and what worms do in the bins and in the gardens at home. We only lost one worm to a very small toddler’s instinctive squishing as the worm wriggled about and tickled his palm.

As I (or another volunteer) helped the kids pet the worms, other volunteers talked with the grownups about recycling and composting and gardening questions. Most of the volunteers had some gardening experience and one of our volunteers is a long-time Master Gardener as well, so we were able to at least give good resources if not actual answers and advice.

The Backyard Makeover exhibit is a permanent part of the zoo, with volunteers available everyday 10am-4pm. Weekdays, the booth is usually staffed by Oregon Zoo volunteers, weekends by Master Gardeners, and for the next two months, Master Recyclers will be out there as well on the first Fridays. I will be back on September 2nd. I’ll do another “take a picture with the Trashmaster, win a prize” event as well. Come on out, say hello and pet a worm with me!

June 30, 2011

Backyard Makeover event at the Oregon Zoo

I will be at the Oregon Zoo’s Backyard Makeover exhibit tomorrow, Friday July 1, 10am-2pm. We’ll be on hand to answer questions and talk about composting, ways to increase wildlife habitat in your yard (birds, butterflies, & such), how to decrease use of toxic chemicals (fertilizers & pesticides), and generally find ways to enjoy your yard even more. Bring your questions, bring your stories, and check out the exhibit!

Regular zoo admission and $2 parking, or take the MAX!

Come by and say hi! Get your picture taking with me and win a prize! (I don’t know what the prizes are yet, but I’ll come up with something!)

June 23, 2011


Today we had some yard work done here at the secret lair of the Trashmaster. We had some guys take out 88 feet of arbor vitae. They were all sorts of efficient, using pickup truck to pull out the trees, then digging the remaining roots out by hand, with occasional use of a chainsaw for who knows what all. I was impressed with how quickly they worked. I was even more impressed that as two guys were removing the arbor vitae, another guy was sweeping up behind them. I wasn’t too crazy about the leaf-blower they used to finish cleaning up the driveway and sidewalk, but okay. The yard looks all kinds of awesome with all the additional light. It may change what sorts of fruit & veg we can grow in the garden, and where the arbor vitae was, we’re eventually putting in a new fence to replace the 60-some year old chain link fence, with an eye towards growing grapes along it.

Tomorrow is garbage & recycling pick up. I cleaned up the kitchen a little bit and took out the last couple of cans to the recycling bin. Where the yard work guys had thrown all of their trash. Not just their pop cans and Gatorade bottles and cigarette butts and fast food lunch wrappers. That would have been understandable.

No, they picked up all the trash that had gotten caught or been thrown into the arbor vitae. Mind you, we’re on a busy street in a not-at-all-fancy part of town, next door to an intersection with no less than three mini-marts, two fast food spots and a taco cart. There was a lot of trash in there. I do appreciate that the guys picked it all up. I do appreciate that they went to throw it out. But into the big, bold blue recycling bin? The one up against the house that says “mixed recycling” all over it? When the garbage can was right up against the arbor vitae, where they’d have had to move it three times just to do their work? Really?

It frustrates me on a variety of levels: If they’d just thrown it all in the garbage, then a handful of recyclables wouldn’t have made it into the recycle/reuse stream. That would have been frustrating enough. And probably not terribly difficult for me to pick them out and put them in the right bin. Dirty, icky, but not terribly difficult. But because so much garbage is in the recycling bin, now a much larger volume of stuff won’t get into the recycle/reuse stream. Unless I dump the entire bin and pick through it by hand, which, yes, I like to pretend I’m the Trashmaster, but I’m really not inclined to go to this effort. So now I’m frustrated and mad, but I’m also lazy and a hypocrite.

-~deep breath~-

I have personal boundaries. I don’t mind separating a handful of recyclable objects from a mass of other recyclable objects. But I draw the line at digging through or dumping out a 60-gallon sticky, dusty, stinky bin for what will probably result in a whole bunch of small bits of garbage (and dust and dirt and branches of holly and cat poop…). Clearly, for the yard work guys, their boundaries included not looking too hard for the garbage can, much less separating recylables from the trash.

We all have boundaries, and our boundaries are in different places for each of us. I am annoyed at being confronted with my boundary and knowing how arbitrary it really is. Given how much we recycle in our household, and given how dirty I’m willing to get while gardening, how much more work is it really to dump out the bin and sort out the recyclables, and sweep up the rest for the garbage? Today, for me, apparently it’s insurmountable. Complaining is easier. Tomorrow morning I will let the recycling collectors take whatever is in the blue bin. Tomorrow afternoon, I will start again.

What is one of your reducing/reusing/recycling boundaries? What would it take to get you past it?

June 19, 2011

Easy summer projects for kids

I've been looking around online for ideas for making puppet theaters for my kids at work. I ran across this page by California Mandarins with some neat ideas for reusing the boxes as children's toys & crafts. If you're not into logos, you can always cover the boxes with paper or paint. Of course, you can use just about any kind of box to make these projects too, like for this puppet theater.

If I had a doorway I could use safely and easily, I'd just put up a tension rod with fabric draped over it, but I pretty much need a tabletop model. The puppet theaters I'm trying to decide between right now are this one from Pink and Green Mama and a version of this Shoebox theater. I also like that they are easy to pack up and store, which is a major plus for my classroom/office.

June 12, 2011

Hey all ~

I thought I’d share a recent find. I just discovered Diggerslist. They’re like Craigslist, except for home and yard improvement only. They take posts on everything from lighting to doors to concrete pavers to old tubs to heavy equipment to hand tools. You can buy, sell, find stuff for free or donate items to Habitat for Humanity. You’ll need an account to make your transactions, but accounts are free. What a great way to rehome items from a remodeling job! Or find items for it! I suspect we’ll be looking here first before buying much for the yard. We’ll probably try posting things here before taking them to Goodwill too.

I have no connection to this organization. I just think it’s a spiffy idea

June 11, 2011

Reusable Sandwich Bags

A while ago, I mentioned I’d bought myself a Snack Taxi.

hedgehog snack taxi

I’ve really been liking it, but sometimes I don’t have a chance to clean it out before I need to pack the next lunch. The universe must have noticed my little dilemma, because just a week or so ago, I came across a Groupon for ReUsies. How could I pass this up? So I bought a couple.

green reusie

purple reusie
blue stone reusie 2pack

Sure, if you’re at all crafty, the reusable sandwich bags aren’t hard to make. You can find all sorts of patterns on the internet. As my sewing machine is still packed away at the moment (and my sewing skills questionable at best anyhow), I went ahead and bought the bags.

This one is one of my favorites – I have an apron I made in a “learn how to sew” class made out of the same sushi fabric, and another 3-4 yards of it waiting to become a skirt.

sushi reusie

I love that the bags are all large enough to accomodate a wide range of sizes and shapes of bread. I also love that the bags can go straight into the washer (inside out, and on cold/gentle, please!).

I will admit: I do use plastics to transport some lunch items. I know some of you have switched to glass containers. This is a bad idea for me – I am a wee bit on the clumsy side, I throw everything in my backpack which ends up on the floor and bumped around on the bus, and I work in a small room with lots of little kids in and out all day. Having glass in this sort of situation is just asking for bad things to happen. Plus, I already own the plastic and it’s still in good shape, so there’s no reason to throw it out just yet. So, when I take messy stuff, such as the tuna & miracle whip mix that will become my sandwich, I put the tuna mix in a plastic and the bread in a reusable bag, and just make up the sandwich when it’s time to eat. Sandwiches that are less squishy, like PB&J, goes whole into the bag. I haven’t had any problems wiping the PB&J part off the bags yet, or any issues with them staining. The bags have also been great for crackers and chips. Throw in a cloth napkin, some durable tableware and a reusable water bottle, and you are set!

What do you use for packing your lunch?
What are your favorite lunches to pack?
Need some encouragement to take pack your lunch more often? Check out Lunch It, Punch It!
Tons more reusable snack & sandwich bags

June 9, 2011

Why I garden

It’s come that time of year for the requisite garden posts. Which is fine with me - it means I can put off weeding for another day in order to write.

Why do you garden?

Our garden is an endless series of science demos. Watching the garden grow, trying to figure out what’s going on in it, trying to achieve certain outcomes, we have learned about biology, chemistry, the odd bit of physics, meteorology, climatology, geology, entomology and more than a little about human physiology.

Our garden is entertainment. We don’t just work in the garden then pick the produce. We also walk amongst the beds just to look. Sometimes I get down on the ground to watch the bugs or to get a closer look at the flowers. We sit outside to watch the birds, to watch the cats stretch on the grass, to see the butterflies dart and dip through the branches. In nicer weather we’ll sit outside to watch the sun set. We have important and heartfelt discussions, we have silly chats, sometimes we don’t say anything. We like showing off the garden. We like sharing it with people who garden and with people who’ve never seen an artichoke outside of a restaurant before. We have parties under the spring dogwood flowers and we have parties to harvest the horseradish.

Our garden allows us, asks us to learn new skills. I picked up a power drill for the first time to make my first raised garden beds. I’m learning to can, freeze, dehydrate and pickle some of what we grow in the garden so that it will last past the season. I’m learning about composting by doing, and about worm bins and raising chickens in anticipation of doing.

Our garden is great therapy. I’ve got a family history of cyclic depression. Getting outside in the sunshine, moving around, watching things grow helps me be a happier, healthier, functional me. It helps get me off my butt, out of the house, away from the TV. The garden has become one of my Happy Places. It’s exercise too. Digging around in the dirt, clipping tree branches, walking the compost from the bin to each of the plants, hauling around new plants and moving older plants. The garden gives us reasons to look forward – planning the new seed list, the first green sprouts and buds of the year, picking all the fabulous fruits & veggies, waiting for the mason bees to hatch from their eggs, looking in spring for all the birds who’d left us for the winter. The garden also gives us reasons to look back – the blueberries we ate as soon as they were ripe, discovering not just the pea pods and mustard leaves were tasty but so were the pea shoots and mustard flowers, how maybe we can make changes to how we grow the pumpkins so we can get a few more of them.

Our garden teaches us patience. Even if we wanted to do it all at once, we can’t afford to replace the rusted busted fence and arbor vitae with the nice new pretty fence and grape vines at the same time as we’re laying down the hazelnut shells for garden paths along with paying someone to dig out the blackberry infestation in the backyard (as well as next door and in the property behind us…). Nor can we do all the weeding and pruning and mowing and planting at once as it’s just not physically possible for either of us. Our wallets and bodies have limitations that require us to prioritize our projects. What do we need done right now? What do we want done right now? What do we need to drop everything for because the weather is only going to be good for two more days before the rain sets back in?

Our garden is full of satisfaction. There’s nothing quite like digging up potatoes with your own hands. Making carrot pickles that come out just right. Cooking up pasta sauce with your own tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs. Watching the flowers open just a little bit more each day of the week until they’re a riot of bloom. Knowing we’ve kept the garden organic – no pesticides, no artificial fertilizers. Knowing it’s okay for the little kids to roll around face-first in the grass and for friends to try a huckleberry straight off the bush.

Our garden is a pretty good place to be.

Why do you garden?

June 4, 2011

Curbside: Paper

“Trashmaster”, you say, “I read your post about where my curbside recycling goes. I even read about putting my glass out on the curb.”
Awesome! I say. Thanks for reading!
“Trashmaster,” you say, “I’m ready for something more.”

Today’s feature: Paper

Paper is crazy-easy to recycle. You can use your junk mail, some water, some old screen door mesh and a blender to make new paper right now. Try this site or this one.

Using recycled paper to make new paper products uses only about 60% of the energy it takes using virgin materials. That means less air pollution, less water pollution, less energy used, and fewer trees cut down.

Right. First things first. What does your hauler say about recycling paper? Not your neighbor, not your co-worker, not your brother’s wife’s weird cousin Larry, but your hauler. (Don’t know who that is? Type “recycling in [your city]” into a search engine. Go ahead. It’s okay - I’ll wait.) Find out if your hauler requires you to separate types of paper products or accepts “mixed paper”. This is important.

Got your local recycling info? Fantastic! If your local hauler requires you to separate your paper products, PLEASE DO THAT. It makes life simpler for the hauler, it makes life simpler for the paper mill, and it means more of your waste products will get recycled.

Here’s what you need to know about recycling “mixed paper”:

-any color of paper can go in. Seriously. For reals. I know, there used to be restrictions like “no goldenrod”. Not anymore.

-you don’t need to remove labels or staples or the spirals from notebooks or paper clips (though paper clips are easy to remove – and reuse)

-you don’t need to remove the ‘windows’ from envelopes

YES: paper bags (no food stains!), cereal and cracker boxes, junk mail (remove free samples and sample credit cards first), cardboard, toilet paper and paper towel tubes, telephone books, catalogs, magazines, newspapers and their inserts, copier paper, greeting cards, wrapping paper (as long as it doesn’t have foil!), milk and juice cartons (even if they feel waxy - they're a weird exception).

CHECK FIRST: corrugated cardboard. Some haulers are fine with mixing it, others want it separate. Also, if you have a lot of shredded paper (like, from a home or small business) – check with your hauler about the size of the shreds and how much the hauler will accept curbside.

NO: Do not put these in your recycling cart. These materials often have chemicals in the paperboard, food residue or other icky chemicals that get in the way of making new paper products.
-paper plates & cups (food residue, and they are often waxed), wrapping paper with foil, carbon paper, tissues, takeout food containers, hardback books (adhesives in the covers and spine), pizza boxes (these usually have food residue)

Freezer food boxes – if the box is at all waxy, DO NOT PLACE IT IN THE RECYCLING BIN. Even if it says “recycle me” on it, just throw it out. There’s a very good chance it has chemicals in it to protect the food inside, and those chemicals are NO GOOD for the paper recycling process. Hopefully this will change soon.

Don’t shred all your paper! Some folks worry about sensitive documents being harvested by icky people. Fair enough. But just shred the stuff with actual personal information. You don’t need to shred the entire contents of the envelope to keep someone from gathering your account number.

The problem with shredding is that it cuts the reusable life of the paper down. Paper can be recycled 4-7 times before the fibers are too short to bind together and form new sheets. Shredding paper means the fibers are cut shorter that much sooner, making for more waste sloughed off in the paper-making process.

More fun facts about paper recycling:

About 1/3 of all papermaking materials in the US comes from recycled paper products.

Recycled paper fibers get made into new products such as new office and notebook paper, egg cartons, corrugated cardboard, paper money, coffee filters, fiber pots for seedlings, bandages, insulation, and much more.

According to the Paper Industry Association Council, “every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space”. That’s a lot! Want more paper recycling statistics? (and really, who doesn’t?) Read this.

*Consider reading:
Promoting office recycling
Materials for elementary school teachers (or parents)
Paper (and other) recycling facts
Lots of paper recycling info from the EPA

Consider reading the rest of the "curbside" series. Just click on the “curbside” tag just underneath this post

May 28, 2011

Zipcar errands, block styrofoam and household hazardous waste

Yesterday was quite a day. It was one of the few days Mr. Trashmaster and I have off work together that doesn't involve one of us taking a sick day (he’s got a wacky work week that doesn’t much match up with my work week). We keep talking about how "there's so much we could get done if we just had a day off together once in a while!" Today was that day.

We both got to sleep in. An awesome start right there. We also *didn't* get distracted by having a long involved breakfast - we got right to doing errands. Go, us!

We rented a Zipcar truck for errands. We have only occasional need for a truck, and Mr. Trashmaster figured out that even if we found a $500 truck, we’d still likely have to put $1000 on it in maintenance before the year as out, plus we’d have to insure it and feed it gas. Going through Zipcar costs us about $85 to join and not quite $8/hour or $71 per day. Not bad when we really only need a truck a handful of times a year and for about 3-4 hours each time.
While he picked up the truck, I finished putting bunches of cardboard down on the garden paths – I posted about this just recently. I started some laundry too.

We took household hazardous waste out to the Metro South material transfer station (as it was closer to everything we were doing than Metro Central).  That was mostly old paint, old cleaning fluids we don't use anymore, old lawn fertilizer, and some bottles missing labels - stuff you don't want going down the drain into the water table!

We took a bunch of block styrofoam to the Recology facility on Foster Road. We also took bunch of stuff to Goodwill including stuff for e-cycling. We were going to take the computer parts to Free Geek, but it was all sitting uncovered in the back of the pickup, and the rain was moving in fast. Goodwill can sell the usable computer parts and e-cycle the rest.

Holy smokes, we took care of our errands all in one go! Last, off to dim sum, followed by hard-earned naps with a side order of cats!

May 24, 2011

What to do with Cardboard Boxes?

So I’m all moved in and mostly unpacked. What to do with all those cardboard boxes?

If you really just want them gone, flatten them and put them out curbside on your regular pickup day (check with your local hauler for any size restrictions)

But that's no fun!

*Let your kids at them! Boxes make great rocket ships, trains, race cars, buses, and forts. Make a puppet theater! Make a lemonade stand!

*Use them to haul all your extra stuff to your favorite charity resale shop!

*Make furniture

*Use the boxes to haul your non-curbside recyclables and household hazardous waste to an appropriate facility, such as Metro’s garbage and recycling transfer stations.

*U-Haul has a “Customer Connect” program to help connect people looking to sell, buy or giveaway cardboard boxes. Some locations have a “leave a box, take a box” area. I haven’t had much luck with this in the past, but it’s worth checking into. U-Haul will also buy back any unused boxes purchased from their stores. Just take them back along with your receipt. I had to do this because I bought a pack of the wrong size boxes. The guys at the store were fabulous.

*Make a cardboard box oven

* Make a cardboard guitar!

I used almost all of mine in the garden. We’ve been working on building raised beds in the front yard, reducing the grassy area and increasing the fruit & vegetable garden. One way to kill the grass under the raised beds is to put layers of newspaper or cardboard down before piling the dirt inside. If we’d been working on the raised beds in fall or winter, I’d put the cardboard down, dump the dirt on top, and just leave it be. But we’re working on this in late spring/early summer and we want to plant soon, and because we can only work on the garden about one or two days a week, we put cardboard under the boxes only until we can get the truckloads of dirt transported to the house and we know we’re going to fill all the boxes. At that point, we’ve been taking the cardboard back out and lining the boxes with newspaper instead. Yes, it sounds like a lot of double-work, but even two or three weeks has been helping to smother the grass until we can get the dirt into the boxes. We’re also laying down hazelnut shells for pathways between the boxes. Again, we’re putting down cardboard first, only we’re leaving that underneath the shells, as we’re not planting anything there. The cardboard will eventually decompose, and hopefully by then the grass will mostly have been killed off. Yes, it will come back, but more slowly, and we’ll have a chance to keep up with pulling it out.

Front yard

GET RID OF IT part 2

“Trashmaster”, you say, “thank you for all the great ideas for helping me get rid of my extra stuff around the house.”

You’re welcome!

“But Trashmaster,” you say, “I have stuff to get rid of that doesn’t really go any of the places you wrote about.”

Not to worry. I’m not quite finished yet.


When established households combine, as in the case of myself and Mr. Trashmaster, there is often furniture that needs re-homing. I sent my couch, coffee table, microwave oven, a small cabinet on wheels, and my TV to Community Warehouse. These fine folks collect and distribute furniture and other household items to low-income families. Community Warehouse works with the families’ caseworkers, so they know just what kind of items to give to each family. Because I had large items, and I was willing to work with their schedule, I was able to arrange to have my stuff picked up. They ask for a $10 donation to help pay for the truck. Totally worth it so Mr. Trashmaster and I didn’t have to figure out how to get all that stuff in the back of our car (and I didn’t have to carry the coffee table across town on the bus!).

Here in Portland, we sometimes get flyers in the mail or on the doorstep reminding us that Volunteers of America will be by on a certain date to pick up materials. If you choose to donate to them, just set out your items on the curb or let them know it’s on your doorstep. In the case of larger items you’d rather not leave on the curb or if the weather won’t let you put your stuff out safely, call to arrange a time so you can meet the driver at the door.

Do you have leftovers from a remodeling project or from building a shed or deck, maybe? Donate to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore or The ReBuilding Center. Got a spare tool box full of tools, or even some extra screwdrivers? Find your local tool library, like the Southeast Portland Tool Library. Don’t forget to recycle that leftover paint!

I’ve also posted about what to do with electronics here.

And as always, in the Portland/Metro region, if you’re not sure what to do with it but you just know it shouldn’t go in the garbage, call Metro’s Recycling Hotline at 503-234-3000.


Not only was I sick for close to three weeks, but I’m also still unpacking from a recent move – Mr Trashmaster and I recently combined households.

First things first. The best way to move all your stuff is to have less stuff to move. Want to “live more simply”? Don’t take all that crap with you! Mind you, I’d been living in a 560 square foot house for the last few years, but I still found plenty of stuff to get rid of.

“This sounds good”, you say. “I’m interested in having less crap and more space in my home and my life. But I also don’t want to chuck it all in a landfill.”

Heavens no, I say. You should know me better than that by now. If your stuff is in good shape, it’s entirely possible to a bit of money through yard sales or Craigslist. I don’t usually have much luck with this, but that’s me. I know of people who are, essentially, professional yard-sale hosts and Craisglisters. Me, I’d rather throw it in the back of the car, take it somewhere I know it will do someone some good, drop it off and be done with it.

If you’re moving house, or if you’re just spring (er, summer cleaning), here are some places to take – or send – your stuff.

-Goodwill      Tried and true, and probably the easiest for most of us, as there’s a Goodwill less than 10 miles away in almost every city of reasonable size. We all know Goodwill as the place we take all our crap when we spring clean and where we go when we need quick, cheap Halloween costumes. But do you know what Goodwill does with your stuff and your money? Goodwill “offers customized job training, employment placement and other services to people who have disabilities, lack education or job experience, or face employment challenges.” They help their clients (veterans, immigrants, seniors, people with disabilities, youth, etc) learn English, earn their GEDs, learn to manage their money, and much more. They also coordinate programs to mentor at-risk youth to help them stay in school, stay out of gangs, and generally make a positive difference with their lives.

Of course, there are many other charities you can donate household items to. If you have a favorite cause, and your stuff matches their requests, go for it. I mention Goodwill because it’s super-easy to find one near you, they take a wide variety of items, and because while everybody I know has heard of them, almost no one I know is familiar with the work Goodwill does outside of running the shops.

-Donate to a local school or children’s program      Schools love children’s clothing of almost all sizes, especially for children 6th grade and younger. You would be amazed at how fast the office goes through spare clothing for lunch-time mishaps, “accidents”, paint spills, all sorts of things. T-shirts and button-up shirts are great for art smocks. After school programs can also use clothing. Have a bunch of office supplies? Especially in these lean economic times, teachers will often spend their own money to make sure their students have enough pencils, crayons, notebooks, rulers and glue for the year. Got an extra backpack or two? Students need a way to cart all their stuff to and from school, and not every family can afford to replace them as they wear out. Got sports equipment you aren’t using anymore? See if an after-school program can use it – maybe the Boys & Girls Club or YMCA.

-As long as we’re on the subject of sports equipment      Have you heard of Play It Again Sports? They are a national retail chain that buys and resells used sports stuff along with new stuff. (Remember them when you’re looking to start up that New Year’s Resolution too). Or Sports Gift? They are a nonprofit that redistributes gear to more than 40,000 underprivileged children worldwide each year.

-Craft materials      If you’ve got yarn or paint or paper or wood or bubble wrap or door knobs or just about anything that could POSSIBLY be used in an art project, or resources on how to do various kinds of crafts, try donating it to a school or a program like SCRAP. This organization “inspires creative reuse and environmentally sustainable behavior by providing educational programs and affordable materials to the community”.

-Freecycle      If you’ve got it, there’s probably someone out there looking for it.

May 22, 2011

hang in there...

Ugh. The Plague of Death has finally passed, and now I'm getting caught up on all other aspects of the household. Thanks for being patient and for sticking around. The Trashmaster will return soon.

May 8, 2011


Pardon this extended pause in blogging while I have a massive head cold. I hope to return shortly.

April 24, 2011

City Repair Earth Day fest follow-up

I’d said I would follow up on some of what I saw at the City Repair Earth Day fest ~

Goat Rental NW The basic idea is that these folks will rent you goats to help clear brush and invasive species from your yard. If your yard looks like mine, you’ll agree that these are good deals. I have no connection or experience with this business – if you have, I’d love to hear about it. I just love the idea of having goats meandering around my yard, taking care of the blackberries and thistles for me. They’ve definitely got good press – read here and here.

Cornerstone Funeral Services & Cremation offers green burial options, including burial without embalming, funeral services at home, and cremation. The website says they also work with organ donation organizations, so you’ll still be able to be an anatomical donor. Again, I have no connection with the business, and I’d love to hear from anyone who has worked with these folks.

I did buy myself a Snack Taxi. It’s a reusable sandwich bag. I’ve been looking for one for a while. I’ve found other similar products, but the ones I’d found were too small for the breads I tend to buy or make, or were made with fabric I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be seen with. Mine has hedgehogs romping around on it. I also bought my husband a Wrap-n-Mat. It’s like a reusable sandwich bag that folds all the way out to a placemat. His is dark blue and has chalk outlines of sharks and fishes all over it. We’re both set and stylin’ now!

E-cycling round-up

Utah just passed their e-cycling bill. Go Utah!
HB 153: first fail
HB 102: second fail
SB 184: pass!

New York’s e-scrap program begins too

Will County in Illinois has started an e-scrap program as well. It’s an already existing program, not costing county any money, and the program is now tentatively expanding. Hopefully the program will expand to the whole state soon.

And while it seems everything else in Wisconsin is falling apart, their e-cycling program has not only demonstrated real success, but it’s resulting in more jobs (and lower state fees?) as the programs expand. Check out the 2010 report here.

And South Carolina’s Free E-Cycles Day!

Dell is working with Goodwill to help keep electronics out of landfills.

Meanwhile in the Portland/Metro area - don't forget Free Geek, Best Buy, and Oregon E-cycles when you're ready to recycle your computer, smart phone or other electronic device.

My day in the sun

A couple of brief notes on yesterday's lovely outdoor event ~

So much sunshine!  Probably the last full day of sun for another few weeks, but hey, it was still sun!

I learned about another e-cycling company in Portland - City Recycle LLC.  It looks like their website is either still under construction or has some bugs.  I haven't personally worked or talked with anyone in the company yet, but it looks worth checking out. According to their website, their focus is on e-cycling (recycling electronics), but they will take metals in general along with paper and cardboard. If you've had experience with City Recycle, let me know!

I saw baby goats!  No bigger than the 2-year old children scampering about. I never did make it over to their booth to find out what the goats were helping promote, but gosh it was fun watching them. And watching people pet them.

I talked with a lady about her eco-friendly burial service. More on that later.

I talked with several people who want to know when Portland will finally get our residential composting program. It's coming, Portland, honest!  They gotta make sure all the bugs are worked out and all the permits are in order. Trust me - it will suck far more to start the program early and then have it taken away because Permit 146Xz12 wasn't signed off properly.

I finally got myself a Snack Taxi. More on that later.

I talked with a couple of people who reallyreallyreally want to garden but they have apartments and don't think they have space for anything. I know there are books out there that specifically address container gardening and gardening in super-small spaces.  I didn't find it till this morning, but now I have something to share with people who rent a single room in a house and don't even have space in the kitchen for a pot. If you have a window, you can grow stuff! Merry Farming!
What are your favorite recommendations for super-small space and container gardening?

April 23, 2011

City Repair Earth Day (PDX)

I will be at City Repair Earth Day today from 2:30-7:30. It's shaping up to be a party, all right!  I'll be at the Be Resourceful! Get More of the Good Stuff! booth.  Come by and say howdy!

April 13, 2011

Recycling humor

Check out today's xkcd comic.

What do you think the sorters would say about your recycling?

April 9, 2011

Craft Magazine: April is UpCraft Month

In spring a young man’s fancy may lightly turn to thoughts of love, but my thoughts usually turn to crafting. Something about spring gets me thinking about new projects. Maybe it’s the whole outdoors coming to life thing making me want to create something along with it.

Craft magazine usually has some great projects that involve some or all of the parts being recycled or reused in some way. This month, however, the whole theme is UpCraft. Check out some of projects here. One of my favorites is “Homemade Pantry Staples”. I’ve been getting more and more into making things like these at home, and I’m looking forward to adding a few more to my repertoire. I also rather like the cardboard and rubber band “guitars”. I may have to make some of these for my kids at work.

Kraft/Terracycle Team Up for Minor League Baseball Promotion

More good recycling news for baseball fans! On the heels of Free Compost Night at Seattle Mariners games comes the KRAFT Singles “Tuesday Night Tickets” promotion at Minor League Baseball games around the country.

TerraCycle is working with Kraft Foods to “turn donated wrappers into functional lifestyle products while furnishing a donation for each wrapper collected to charitable organizations”.

For more information about the promotion, check out Kraft Singles Tuesday Night Tickets.

While I am not a huge fan of processed cheese food products or hermetically sealed individually-wrapped slices, I am all for trying to recycle the plastic bits that are already out there and I am all for steering some traffic towards TerraCycle.

“Every Bottle Counts”: video

Hey, what do you know? Turns out, recycling is easier than you think! This video, put out by the International Bottled Water Association, encourages recycling of the bottles. What did you think? Me, I think I’m going to stick with my durable water bottle.

Got a favorite video about recycling? Let me know and I’ll share them here.


I’m a little behind the curve when it comes to electronics and technology. I mean, I have a computer (obviously), I have a old (old) cell phone, and I have an iTouch (mostly because I killed my Palm a while back by dropping it one too many times). I’ll probably give up both the cell phone and iTouch within the next year in favor of a smart phone of some sort. The cell phone is easy enough to recycle – I can take it to my local library or police precinct, who will then send it off to be cleaned up and donated to a women’s or family shelter. The iTouch is a little trickier. It’s not a phone, so it can’t be reused that way. It’s also not the latest, hottest, hippest version on the market, so it’s got limited resale value. Heck, at this point, it might even be difficult to donate to much of anyone. If you’re into personal technology at all, you’re likely aware the iPad 2 has been released, within a year of the original. So what happens to all those original iPads people bought? Do you chuck ‘em in the trash? Holy cow, I hope not.

So what do you do with your old iPad, iTouch, or other fancy electronic gadget?

-->Hang on to it as a back-up. You never know when you might drop the new one or spill your soda all over it.

-->Sell it to someone who wants it. Try Craigslist, eBay, a garage sale, an electronics website, even a note on the bulletin board at work or school. Maybe they don’t need the latest, fanciest model. Maybe they’re looking for something for their kids. Maybe they’re looking for a quick replacement after theirs broke. Maybe they’re looking for antiques. As long as they’re willing to pay, you’re good to go.

-->See if you can get store credit. If you’re planning to get the newest, hippest version, see if the electronics store will take your older version in as a trade-in.

-->Speaking of trade-in, maybe you can trade your old electronics for something you want or need. Check out Craigslist, U-Exchange, or Care-to-Trade and trade your old iPad for a couple of hours of someone painting your house, or maybe for a set of weights, or possibly for guitar lessons.

-->Find out if the manufacturer has a recycling program. Apple, for instance, will take their products, working or not, back by mail or in their stores. According to their website, if the item you send them has monetary value, they’ll give you credit towards a new product. If the item doesn’t, they’ll “recycle it responsibly for you”.

-->Donate it. Schools are finding more and more uses for iPads and iTouches. Special Education departments would especially love to use your old electronics to use with children with Autism and communication disorders. Libraries and senior centers would also love to have them. Help save the world –and- take a tax deduction.

-->What if the gadget no longer works? What if it’s flat-out broke, busted, kaput, dead? That’s still no reason to throw it in the garbage! In the Portland (OR) area, you can also take your items to Free Geek to help support the Portland non-profit dedicated to recycling electronics, providing Internet access and education to everyone, and teaching computer-related job skills to anyone who wants to learn, all in exchange for community service. For the rest of the US - Best Buy also has an electronics recycling program. They don’t even care what brand it is or where you bought it or what it is (for the most part – as always, double-check with their e-cycling info first). You can also check out the electronics section on Earth911’s ideas for reusing and recycling electronics.

Consider reading:
Donate your iPad, be a hero…: Tainted Green
Find a recycling center near you: Earth911
iThink this will add to eWaste: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

April 3, 2011

Giveaway winners

The winner of "Healthy Soils" is Leigh, and Katie won "Let it Rot".  I'm expecting regular updates from the two of you on how your composting goes.  Everyone else - thanks for entering!

March 30, 2011

Compost Giveaways at Whole Foods Market

The compost news just keeps coming! All you lucky Portland/Metro area folk can take advantage of a free compost giveaway at Whole Foods for all of April.

Whole Foods Markets joins Recology to giveaway compost every Saturday during Earth Month. Come and collect the equivalent of two-to-five gallon buckets of compost for free! Everyone is encouraged to bring their own containers.

April 2nd – Tanasbourne -- 19440 NW Cornell Rd. Hillsboro, OR 97214

April 9th – Laurelhurst -- 2825 E Burnside St. Portland, OR 97214

April 16th – Mill Plain -- 815 SE 160th Ave. Vancouver, WA 98683

April 23rd – Fremont -- 3535 NE 15th Ave. Portland, OR 97212

April 30th – Bridgeport  -- 7380 SW Bridgeport Rd. Tigard, OR 97224

March 25, 2011

Seattle Mariners offer Free Compost Night

Sports teams in Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, and Vancouver, B.C. have teamed up to form the Green Sports Alliance (with more teams already wanting to get involved), dedicated towards “real progress toward reducing their environmental impact”. Plans include reducing energy costs by switching from incandescent to LED lights, switching urinals to low-flow models, more thoughtful decisions on away-game traveling, and free venue parking for carpools.

None of this would have been terribly newsworthy, at least outside of Time, Newsweek or Fred’s Weekly Recycling Newsletter if it weren’t for Compost Giveaway nights.

Yes, as the articles say, it’s no Ichiro bobblehead, but hey, freebies are freebies, right?

First, there’s the question of whether fans will receive their compost on the way in or out of the stadium, and what they might do with the compost should they disagree with the referee’s call or with other fans.

Then there’s looking at what the compost is made of. Food waste? Check. Packaging material? Um, check. Paper and “degradable corn product” cups and utensils? Erk, check. True enough though, the compost is made by Cedar Grove Composting, whose facilities are designed to heat up the materials to where even the paper and “biodegradable” utensils will break down. This compost is then sold throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Should I even get started on the plastic packaging it will take for all those little bags?

Still, it’s an interesting promotional tool. It’s a way to demonstrate some of the greener steps that franchise owners & executives are taking, and it’s a way to start conversations with the public (my favorite statistic: “during the first six games of the season, the Safeco Field recycling rate has jumped from 38% last year to 75.9% so far this season”*). It’s also a way to show that being green isn’t just for those Left-Wing Liberal Hippie Tree Huggers. You tobacco-spitting, beer-drinking, foam-finger-wearing fans are welcome to join the environmental agenda too! On April 21, the second annual Zero Waste Game Day, Cedar Grove Composting and Seattle City Light will staff tables in various locations in the stadium to share information with fans about composting, recycling and energy conservation.

The only date I can find for sure for the Compost Giveaway is the Zero Waste game on April 21st, but on the official Seattle Mariners website it looks like there will be green-related goings-on throughout the season.

For folks wanting to get more involved in sports-related environmental issues – you might want to be part of the Green Sports Summit over August 1-3, 2011 at the World Trade Center in Portland, OR.

Hey, if you go, let me know what you think of the compost, eh?

Time magazine
Yahoo! Sports
The Seattle Times
*Seattle Mariners official site
Cedar Grove Composting
Green Sports Alliance

SOLV Spring Beach Cleanup

Already run out of things to do this spring break? Looking for an excuse to hit the Oregon beach? Be part of the all-volunteer SOLV Spring Oregon Beach Cleanup! SOLV (“Sustaining Oregon’s Legacy by Volunteering”) has been organizing volunteer opportunities all across Oregon since 1969 – the beach cleanup project is just one of many projects throughout the year. Other projects include tree planting, Oregon Adopt-a-River and Project Oregon, which removes invasive species from public parks.

The beach cleanup project happens in the spring and the fall, and has been an Oregon tradition since 1984. This year’s spring cleanup is Saturday, March 26th, 10am-1pm.

SOLV asks that you register to volunteer for a particular city and area so they have an idea how many volunteers will be where, and so you’ll be able to connect with the volunteer coordinators for a safety orientation and to get gloves and trash bags (or bring your own!).

Can’t make it this weekend? Live too far from the beach? Check out SOLV’s website for other opportunities. Not sure you are physically capable but still want to help? SOLV could really use your donation. “For every $1.00 donated to SOLV each year since 1997, Oregon has received $10.46 in volunteer service.” How’s that for a positive return?

If you do decide to help out, SOLV offers some tips:

-->Bring a bucket or reusable bag to reduce the amount of plastic trash bags used.
-->Bring a pair of gardening gloves from home instead of using the plastic gloves provided at the Cleanup.
-->Bring a reusable water bottle and/or coffee mug for drinks.
-->Carpool and use public transportation where possible to get to the beach.
-->Plan ahead, and pack a “trash-free” lunch, or choose a restaurant with reusable utensils and ask for drinks without a straw
-->Aim to create zero waste, and send SOLV your stories of efforts to achieve a personal zero waste to landfill day!

Hey, if you decide to go, or if you’ve been in the past, let us know!

March 22, 2011

Recycling a bottle: Flashmob style

I couldn't resist sharing this. It's a short video clip.

Recycling a bottle: Flashmob style

My first thought, of course, was "wow, that would scare off more people than it would encourage" (me, I'm reasonably certain I would have piddled myself if I'd been that woman). But it's a neat way to make a point.
My second thought was "so, just how many people passed by before this woman?

-Each year, 671 million kilograms of plastic are produced across the world.
-Each year, 400 million returnable containers are not recycled in Quebec
-About 18,000 pieces of plastic are floating in each square kilometer of ocean
-91% of Quebecois care about the environment. And you?
(my apologies for the lack of accent marks - I haven't yet figured out how to do those here just yet)

March 13, 2011

Gas Hikes: Effect on Recycling

We’re all noticing the rise of gas prices. Unrest in Libya and Bahrain? The annual Spring Break rate hike? A random Tuesday for OPEC? Whatever the reason, it affects more than just your daily commute or whether you decide to go on that awesome road trip. Think of what it takes to get your curbside recyclables to materials recovery facility. Think of what it takes for those materials to be reprocessed into new materials – new paper products, new cans and bottles. Think, then, of what it takes for those new materials to get to a market near you. It takes gas. It takes lots and lots of trucks and trains and ships and planes to move all that stuff around.

Gas prices go up. Container fees on those trucks and trains and ships and planes go up. Processing costs go up. Transportation costs to get materials to recovery facilities go up. Garbage & recycling rates go up. Rate hikes may price out smaller markets. Which means businesses close (see Blue Heron Paper Mill). That’s loss of jobs and a hit to the local economy. It also means the loss of a recycling center. Now, there might be other places to recycle around. But then again, there might not be. Paper on the west coast might continue to be recycled in the US. In the cases of specialty recycling businesses, such as #5 plastics through Preserve, if one shuts down, that’s it. Who else is going to recycle water pitcher filters?

A couple of things come to mind. I won’t even mention doing less driving or taking public transit.

One, accept that garbage & recycling fees are going up. All that stuff has to go somewhere. We can take care of it responsibly or we can be buried in the consequences. Another is that we can make less garbage to haul off in the first place. In the Portland/Metro area, less garbage means you can request a smaller garbage can or less-frequent pickups, which mean cheaper garbage bills. Last, we need to purchase mindfully. If we’re not buying recycled items, then we’re not recycling. We’re just paying for someone to haul off our crap. Purchasing recycled means there’s a market for recycling, and that’s what keeps stuff out of the landfill.

How are you coping with the recent gas hikes? Is it changing what you reuse and recycle? Is it changing how you shop?

Consider reading: Money – Who suffers most from food/gas hikes?
Bloomberg Businessweek: Gas hikes may send recovery in reverse
Oxford Press, Ohio: Public, private sectors grappling with fuel costs

March 12, 2011

Giveaway: Composting books

Alrighty - I promised this a while back, and I'm making good on my promise. It's time for a giveaway! But wait, there's more! Two giveaways! Two prizes to win!

TMR compost giveaway

Comment below for a chance to win one of these fabulous prizes. Tell me about your experience composting, or maybe about gardening, or about the garden you'd like to have, or just tell me how fabulous this blog is.

For a second chance to win, become a follower, then comment here that you've done so.

The deadline for commenting is midnight April 2 (no chance of April foolin' with the prizes that way!). The first person I draw on April 3 will get to choose between the books, and the second person will receive the remaining book.

About these books: These are used books I picked up at Powells with my own money.

Note: relatives of the Trashmaster are not eligible for prizes. However, they are eligible to receive the benefits from the Trashmaster compost pile

March 10, 2011

Compost as Stuffing: An analogy

Last night, a flash of insight hit me like a ton of fertilizer. An analogy.  Compost is a lot like stuffing.

You know, stuffing - like at Thanksgiving.  (Yes, yes, for some of you, unless it's actually in the bird, it's properly called "dressing". In my household, even when its in a separate pan, we still call it "stuffing." Deal.)

Now, bear with me a minute.

The fruit and vegetables in the stuffing (apples, celery, onions, whathaveyou) are like the greens in the compost pile.

The bread is the browns.

The broth (or whatever you use to moisten your stuffing) is the water.

You need a bit of air in each as well.

Making stuffing, like making compost, isn't all that complicated. Just a few considerations:

-If you have just fruits & vegetables (greens), you end up with a lovely side dish, but it's not really stuffing.

-If you have just bread (browns), you can have a different lovely side dish, and it's technically stuffing, but not very interesting.

-If you don't have enough water, nothing much happens, and it doesn't make for very good stuffing.

-If you have too much water, you end up with more of a bread pudding, which is fine and all, but it's not really stuffing.

-If you pack it all down too tightly (or have too much water), it all compacts and doesn't really make for very good stuffing either.

-If you just pile the fruit & vegetables on top of the bread (or vice versa) and don't stir it and the liquid through, the stuffing probably won't be all that interesting.

As long as you have the basics accounted for, here's a fair bit of flexibility in making a good stuffing, as there is in making a good compost pile. Lots of leeway, and lots of room for a beginner to still get good compost.

(Mr. Trashmaster, bless his heart, asked "How do the worms and bacteria and other bugs factor into your Compost Stuffing model?" 
I told him to get stuffed.)

March 8, 2011

Composting: A rind is a terrible thing to waste

One of the things I got to talk about at the Portland Home & Garden show was compost. That lovely dark earthy stuff that helps your plants & soil be healthy. Making compost is one of the neatest magic tricks there are.

1. Put your kitchen scraps in a pile.
2. Add some dried leaves or cut grass from the yard.
3. Make sure it’s moist – not wet, not dry, but moist.
4. Mix it up a bit.
5. Wait.

That’s pretty much it.

You can make the process as complicated as you want. You can measure out exact amounts of greens (the kitchen scraps & green yard waste), browns (the dried yard waste, such as leaves & cut grass) and water, and be absolutely anal-retentive about how often you mix the pile. While cutting your kitchen scraps and yard waste into small pieces helps the process along (more surface area for the compost critters to feed on), you can be excessively fussy about not just chopping up your potato peels and carrots tops and eggshells but you can pulverize them into sludge with your food processor, if you really want. You can even add composting activators that will hasten the process further. If this is you, I say go for it. Everyone’s gotta have a hobby, and this is as good as any to have. Heck, entire online forums are dedicated to the topic.

You can simplify the process even further. Simplest of all: a pile of kitchen scraps on their own will eventually decompose. They might take a while, but honestly, Nature will find a way. Adding the dried leaves or cut grass will help it decompose faster as well as help keep the smell down (the carbon from the dried materials helps take care of the smell). Making sure the pile stays moist will help it decompose faster than either drowning or not watering the pile (the moisture is necessary for the life of the critters in your compost pile). Mixing the materials through the pile will help it decompose faster than just letting everything sit and compact (oxygen is also necessary for the life of the critters in your pile), which of course you can do with a hand-held device designed specifically for your bin or you can invest in one of those giant rotating composting bins. Some people choose to do a three-part composting method where they put all their greens into a bin and let it rot for a while. Then they move that pile to another bin, add some browns, mix it up and let it rot for a while. Then they move it all to a third bin, mix it around, and let it rot some more until it’s ready for use.

Me, I’m fairly lazy. My own compost pile is a mix. I try to chop up my kitchen scraps, and sometimes I remember to add dried leaves to the pile. I keep it all in an Earth Machine bin I bought from the city, partly to keep out rodents & other local wildlife, and partly just to keep the pile, um, piled up. Sometimes I remember to mix it up. Mostly I let it sit and do its thing. I add some water periodically in the summer during the dry stretches. That’s about it. I dig out the useful stuff from the bottom and mix it into the raised beds as we build them, or tuck in a large spoonful as I put a plant start into the ground. Every now and then I’ll pick up a bag of coffee grounds from Starbucks and mix that into the compost pile (and sometimes apply it directly to the ground around the acid-loving plants like the blueberries and huckleberries). I’m starting to get better about crushing my eggshells for the calcium. But it’s really more about finding some way of dealing with my eggshells in a useful manner instead of putting them in the landfill (some folks pay top dollar for bonemeal soil amendments). I also add a handful of soil a couple of times a year to reintroduce the useful critters to the compost pile. My compost pile takes longer to break down because I don’t usually remember to add enough browns. One of my goals for the garden this year is to remember more browns, and remember to turn the pile more often.

You’re providing food and water (and making sure there’s air) for bacteria, mycorrizhae, worms and a whole host of bugs. They eat this food and make poop casting.

Why do we care about composting?

-> it helps take yard debris and kitchen waste out of the landfills. Yard debris and kitchen waste make up as much as 30% of the waste stream!

-> it helps reduce the need for fertilizers and pest control products. Fewer chemicals in my yard means for safer eating of the edible plants, and fewer chemicals on the grass we and our cats walk on (which means we’re not tracking those chemicals into the house either!). It also means fewer chemicals running off into our waterways

-> it helps amend the soil. In my area, this is important – I’ve got packed clay with river rocks. Adding the organic material helps loosen the soil, which means my plants can develop better root systems, which makes for healthier plants.

-> do I really need to mention the cost-savings? If I’m making my own soil amendment and plant food out of my yard & kitchen waste, then I’m not buying soil amendment and plant food. Dollars in my pocket!

Consider reading:
Guide to what goes in, what stays out of the compost pile
Make a simple compost bin – video
Mother Earth News: Compost made easy
Basic composting info, including composing demonstration sites and where to get an Earth Machine bin in Portland, OR

If you *really* want to geek out about composting (and I support geekiness in all its forms), check out the microbiology involved in the process:
Soil Foodweb
Mother Nature’s Farms, Inc: Compost Microbiology

March 7, 2011

Pardon me while my brain explodes...

Pardon me while

plastic wrap banana 2

I am
individually wrapped prunes

shrink wrapped cucumber

by all
shrink wrapped potato

the packaging
shrink wrapped sweet potato

shrink wrapped corn

I suppose having some fruit & veg is better than none, but seriously?  Is this what it takes to get these foods to your area?  Do you really need them this spiffed up, polished and shiny? Honestly, I'm gonna scrub the potatoes right before using them anyway, however they make it to my kitchen. So hermetically sealing them for my protection really doesn't accomplish much except for the ENORMOUS waste involved in (a) the plastic wrap itself and (b) the total energy spent wrapping the things.


See also:
Plastic wrapped bananas
Individually wrapped prunes
Shrink-wrapped potatoes
Shrink-wrapped fruit on cardboard
Shrink-wrapped sweet potatoes
Shrink-wrapped cucumbers
Tokyo Damage Report: Japan sizes of food

Re-Use-O-Rama: PDX Craft Swap!

Reposted from Re-Use-O-Rama:

-Saturday March 26th from 11:30-12:45 at the Mississippi Pizza Pub in the music room.
-Located at 3552 N Mississippi Ave in Portland, OR
-Bring your unused or reusable crafting/crafted items at 11:30
-eat free pizza
-begin foraging for new items at noon.
-wrapping up at 12:45.
-leftovers will be donated to SCRAP community reuse project.

March 6, 2011

Blue Heron Paper Company update

Hey, remember reading about my visit to the Blue Heron Paper Mill a while back? Here’s an update: They’ve shut down.
Blue Heron Paper Company press release
Questions and Answers about the mill closure

What will happen to the employees? It’s possible they’ll be eligible for federal benefits through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, as their jobs were “essentially outsourced abroad”.

What will happen to the equipment? Given that the jobs pretty much went overseas, the equipment likely will as well. Or maybe be sold off as scrap.

Where will our recycled paper go now? There are some other paper mills in the US, but more and more paper production is happening overseas as places like China make it cheaper, between government subsidies and cheaper labor. So, yay paper products will still get recycled. But boo, they’ll now have to be transported across the ocean for that to happen. And who knows what the environmental protection regulations will look like and how they’ll actually be implemented.

What will happen to the Blue Heron site? Several developers have been keeping an eye on it over the years, but whoever decides to develop it will have some challenges. It’s possible another paper mill could move in, but with the overseas competition and the Blue Heron’s aging equipment, it’s unlikely a paper mill could be successful there now. Other uses for the site would have to include an involved clean-up along with restructuring the facilities. Not impossible, but in today’s economy, possibly more expensive than many businesses will choose to go through.

One local business affected by the mill’s closure is The 505 Tavern.
Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation will also have to find another home for its historic preservation & education materials now.
”Blue Heron Paper: Memories of a “mill family”.

Fireclay Tile - Toilets in the kitchen

You’re the socially-responsible sort. You’ve been reducing and reusing wherever possible, and you’ve even made sure your old house or apartment has a low-flow toilet. What happens to that high-flow toilet? I mean, it’s fantastic that you’ve swapped it out, but what in the world happens to the old one? You don’t really want someone installing it in a different home. Because then ultimately you haven’t reduced anything at all – you’ve merely shifted the problem onto someone else. Oh sure, you could put it in the yard as a planter. Which isn't terribly helpful for folks swapping out toilets from apartments.

Fireclay Tile* is a northern California company that recycles glass, ceramic tile & porcelain fixtures. Fireclay Tile not only reuses the ceramics and glass, but they try to keep their business green throughout. They use locally-sourced materials, they use lead-free glaze, many of their products count towards LEED points, and all of their products are made and finished in the US. On top of this, they recycle glass from bottles and windows and doors into glass tiles, aluminum cans in to aluminum backsplashes, and the dust from a nearby rock quarry into their ceramic manufacturing process. Seriously! They incorporate even the dust into their finished products! According to Fireclay Tile, they recycle their “kiln heat, water, and all manufacturing waste that is then re-used in other parts of our business”. They even offer workshops for creating art with tile and glass pieces.

Recently, NPR did a story on Fireclay Tile, which you can find here.

Recycling porcelain from the Zanker Road recycling center in San Jose

According to Fireclay Tile, through their work with the Zanker Road recycling center, and Recology**, they’ve “removed over 17 containers, or 150 tons of waste porcelain from the waste stream.” How awesome is that?

*And once again, I have no ties to this business. I just like sharing info about businesses making true efforts to reuse consumer materials, and reduce waste in the production processes.

**You might remember seeing Recology in a previous TMR post about one of the Master Recycler program field trips. Recology operates the Metro Central transfer station in Portland, OR

March 5, 2011

Not my proudest post...

Today I did my part to save energy by not baking cookies - instead, I just ate the dough with a spoon.  :)

February 27, 2011

Portland Fix-It Fair

The Trashmaster is back from another personal appearance, this time at the Fix-It Fair.

The Fix-It Fair is a Saturday full of cool stuff for just about everybody. As you walked in, there was a booth for lead blood testing and some folks doing free bike tune-ups & repairs. Around one corner, childcare was available so the grownups could go to workshops on topics like backyard composting, home painting, building personal credit, doing simple home repairs and much more. Around another corner were the information booths. There was information on everything from low-flow toilets & showerheads to computer & other electronics recycling to Trauma Nurses Talk Tough (wear your helmets! These folks really don’t want to see you in their ERs!) to why you shouldn’t dig deep holes in your yard without checking in with the utility companies first. There was an hourly raffle for cool stuff. Many of the information booths had really useful freebies (CFL bulbs! Mops & buckets! Equipment to transform your toilet and shower into low-flow wonders!) Lunch was even provided for all information fair attendees – how can you argue with that?

I had a good time at this fair. Lots of people to talk to! Lots to see and do!

Metro had a couple of booths at the Fix-It Fair. The “Healthy Homes” booth talked about using greener cleaners and cutting down on toxic household products. The “Be Resourceful!” booth had information about cutting down on food waste. They also gave away super-snazzy reusable lunch sacks and grocery bags. Next door to them, I helped staff the “Portland Recycles!” booth. I think the exclamation point suggests we could be a musical. For about four hours, I talked with people about curbside and other recycling. The biggest questions I received? “When are we getting our food composting program?” (at least 2/3 of the people I talked with asked this) and “Why can’t I put my plastic lids in my curbside recycling?” (at least half of the people I talked with asked this)

Second question first: The plastic lid question is easy and frustrating. Yes, your plastic lids are recyclable. No, the city won’t be picking them up curbside anytime soon. One of the big problems with plastic lids is that they often get mistaken for paper or get caught up in the paper in the Material Recovery Facilities. Which means the lids get sent off to the paper mills and either cause a bunch of the paper pulp to get junked, or they get chopped up and become part of the paper which means the paper is of seriously poor quality. Either way, bad news.

First and biggest question: What’s the deal with the food composting program? A little history: About a year ago, the city started a pilot project for residential curbside food composting. About 2,000 households participate in this program. They put their food scraps – everything from vegetables and fruits to eggshells and pizza boxes to Chinese takeout and meat bones – into their yard debris containers along with the leaves and branches and grass clippings. This all gets sent off to a specialized composting facility. Right now, the city is watching this pilot program very closely, making sure they work out all the bugs – literally and figuratively. Portlanders in general are extremely supportive of the residential composting plan. Already, Portland-area businesses can sign up for food composting. Why not residents?

Residential food waste makes up almost 30% of Portland’s total waste. Holy cow! That’s huge! We can’t get partway into it and then say “LOL, Composting. Yer doin it wrong. FAIL!” We have to make sure we have a good plan in place. There needs to be (1) an appropriate site, (2) the right building plan, (3) funds with which to build it, (4) all the permits need to be in place (wouldn’t that suck? To not get our eagerly-awaited composting facility all because of a couple of unsigned slips of paper?), and (5) the whole process needs to work from the get-go. I have no doubt that once all those pieces are in place, I have no doubt that the minute the ink is dry on the last legal form, that it will be all over the news that FINALLY, AT LAST we can compost our food waste curbside.

Read about the pilot program and other residential food composting info here:

The Oregonian, 2/23/10
Environmental & Water Resources Institute newsletter
Neighborhood Notes
Metro’s Waste reduction fast facts: Compost
Business food composting in the Portland/Metro area
DEQ information on commercial and residential composting

February 24, 2011

I'm official!

Last night I became official! After 30 hours with lectures and power points and classroom activities, and two all-day Saturday field trips, I am now an official Master Recycler! I have my fancy name badge and everything. I still need to do my 30 hours of volunteer payback service to become a Certified Master Recycler. I served a few of those hours at the Home & Garden show today. Some of those hours will be served through this blog.

The purpose of the payback service is manifold. The research shows that people make changes because of contact with individuals. When was the last time you were changed because a sign told you to? Now think, how many changes have you made because of conversations you had with someone you knew or someone knowledgeable on the subject?

Through the volunteer service, Master Recyclers can help people find out about resources around town - organizations are always changing, coming and going. Laws about garbage hauling and recycling change and don't always make it to the news. Information is often spread as if in a big game of "telephone" - Master Recyclers can help get the best, latest information directly to the public so your neighbor doesn't have to depend on what he heard fourth-hand from his boss's sister's babysitter's car mechanic.

Service hours also feed some of the funding sources. We volunteers work with the general public as best we can, we track the numbers of contacts we’ve made, Metro tracks the region’s garbage & recycling to see what changes occur over time. They also track what kinds of projects the Master Recyclers come up with – it’s not all volunteering at trade show booths. As I mentioned, this blog is one of my own efforts. I’ve also posted about Renee’s Re-Use-O-Rama. Which is pretty freakin’ brilliant. Some folks are developing Green Teams at their place of work, becoming agents of change. Other folks are writing their legislators and supporting grass roots political work. It’s all towards helping all of us – us Master Recyclers included – develop better habits around reducing, reusing and recycling, and helping us become more thoughtful consumers especially when it comes to personal and environmental impact.

Want to know more about Metro’s Master Recycler and Composter program?

Want to become a Master Recycler, but live outside the Portland Metro area? Check this list to see if there’s a program near you.