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.

Portland Home & Garden Show

Today was my first Metro volunteer tabling event. I helped out with the Healthy Homes & Composting booth at the Portland Home & Garden show out at the Expo Center. The last time I remember being out there was back when Oregon Zoo was called Washington Park Zoo, and one of their yearly fundraisers was The Great Northwest Chili Cook-off (holler if you remember!).

I’d wanted to get out there a little early anyway, but especially today as it was a snow day. As in, bunches of snow had fallen during the night and early morning, but it stopped as soon as I left my house. I took a bus and MAX out so I didn’t have to worry about driving – or about anyone else’s driving on the road. Our booth was in about the farthest spot from the main door, in the darker, humid room with all the plant sales. One of the other booths in the hall had soothing guitar music playing the whole time we were there. It made for quite the relaxing atmosphere.

Besides me, staffing the booth was another Master Recycler volunteer and an employee of Metro. We spent our time talking with passers-by about greener cleaners, composting resources, and why one might want to use native plants and integrated pest management in one’s yard. I had a great time showing off the little worm bin to a very small show attendee. I also had a good time talking with the lady who is just starting to garden and compost. For the first time in her life. She sounded so excited, and so overwhelmed! I hope I managed to help a little and not just overwhelm her more! Between it being a weekday and a snow day, we had a slow but steady trickle during our 3 ½ hour shift – between the three of us, we talked with about 100 people.

The Home & Garden show runs through Feb 27. If you decide to go, check out the Metro Healthy Homes booth and the mobile garden trailer. They’ve got all sorts of good info and freebies to check out. And pet the worms for me!

February 22, 2011

Closing the Loop: By the Yard - making furniture out of recycled plastic

I saw the display for By the Yard at the Portland Yard, Garden & Patio show last week. They make outdoor furniture from recycled plastic milk jugs (HDPE plastic). How cool is that? The colors are really nice, and the furniture looked comfortable. I didn’t have a chance to try any of their pieces – all their sample furniture was occupied. According to their website, the material they make from the milk jugs is 20% heavier than cedar, which means your patio chair shouldn’t blow around in the wind (tornados excepted, I would imagine). The material is also treated with a “UV-inhibitor incorporated into the material to minimize the chance of any discoloration”, and is not supposed to fade, crack, blister or break.

I don’t currently own any of By the Yard’s products, but as we look to add or replace our outdoor furniture, I will definitely keep them in mind. And there are several other companies that make similar items. I got rather excited by seeing a company creating useful products out of recyclable materials. It’s not just enough to recycle – the only reason anyone takes your curbside materials is because somewhere along the line, they can get paid for them. In the case of your garbage, the haulers get paid to take it to the landfill. For all other materials to be worth picking up, there has to be a viable market for them. Paper and cardboard are super-easy to recycle into more paper and cardboard products. Aluminum and steel are super-easy to recycle into more aluminum and steel products. What happens to plastics? There are relatively few US markets for plastics. Most of our plastic products get sent to China to be reprocessed into more plastic stuff (or get burned for energy – yay, burning plastic fumes!). By the Yard is a piece of the US market for recycling plastic. Buying products like theirs helps close the recycling loop – otherwise, materials like those milk jugs are just trash.

February 17, 2011

Meet the Trashmaster!

Come meet the Trashmaster!

I’ll be at the Portland Home & Garden Show on Thursday, Feb 24, 11am-2:30pm. I’ll be at the Metro Healthy Homes booth talking with people about greener cleaners and composting. Two of my favorite things! Bring your favorite tips and tricks or bring your burning questions. I’ll also bring a couple of composting books I plan on giving away here next month.

I will also be at the Portland Fix-It Fair on Saturday, February 26, where I’ll be staffing the Portland Recycles! Booth from 11am to 2:30pm. I’ve attended the Fix-It Fairs before and had a blast. I’m happy to be giving back this time.

I doubt I’ll have my cape in time for either of these appearances, but I’ll see about a big “T” on the front of a T-shirt.


Portland-area folks - upcoming swap!  Trade your kitchen goods!  Free pizza for folks who are swapping!  Saturday, Feb. 26 - bring in your goods by 11:30, start swapping at noon, wrap it all up by 2:00pm over at Mississippi Pizza Pub in north Portland.

Check out Re-Use-O-Rama.  Keep an eye on her blog for future dates & themes.

February 15, 2011

DIY Pendleton Wool Rug – Making a rug out of fine wool garbage

Recently I took a rug-making class. I’d thought we were going to make rugs from heavy yarn, but that wasn’t quite the case.

We made them from waste from Pendleton Wool fabric. How awesome is that?

These are the selvedges from the fabric looms – where the threads are attached to the framework of the looms as the fabric is being made. When the bolt of fabric is finished, workers just slice the fabric off the loom, leaving these edges. For years and years, these ends were just swept up into the trash. Eventually, someone figured out that these edges were useful to rugmakers and other crafters, and the mills began selling them in big bags. My bag here is about seven pounds of worsted wool. At the store, you can find great big wooden bins full of sacks of selvedge scrap – I saw bags 6-15 pounds, all in the same colors as the fabrics coming out next season, and when I was in the store, they all cost $3 per pound.

PWM selvedge detail

So my rug is made from the exact same fabric as next season’s men’s shirts, for somewhere around a third to a quarter of the cost of the shirt. And it’s all made from fabric-making waste.

Stacey, who led the class, said the store gets shipments of these bags every Friday, and “it’s like the running of the bulls” with craftsters gathering up everything they can find to make rugs, hats, bags, whatever. The shipments are even announced on the Pendleton Woolen Mills blog

The selvedges & blanket ends and all the other waste for sale in the bins used to just be shipped off to the landfill. Gah!

PWM worsted selvedge

It was a pretty quick rug to make. It’s about 3 x 4.5', took about 6 of the 7 pounds of selvedge I'd brought home, and it took me about six hours to make. That’s including breaks for petting the kitties who were DETERMINED to umhelp.
Hookers' note: it was all done in SC with a Q hook

PWM rug
The finished rug.

PWM rug QA
The rug being put through rigorous testing by the QA department.

After the class, I got to poking around the store a bit. Underneath all those tables of fabulous fabrics and wonderful blankets and everything else? More bins of waste! Among which I found some blanket ends that should make terrific scarves! And I didn’t even have to do anything to them. They were already the right length & width, already fringed, and already great colors. These are just the ends of the blanket fabric as the blankets are cut to length for sale.

PWM blanket end 2
These blanket ends are already on their way to a friend to become scarves. Or maybe they’ll get cut up and used as patches on other wool items. Or patched together into a wool quilt. Or turned into little wool stuffed animals. There’s no telling! (Though I hope she does eventually tell me!)

Fun facts about wool*

-wool is naturally flame-retardant. If I ever have a fire in my house, I can use my rug to smother it.

-wool is naturally durable. Wool resists tearing and it can bend back on itself 20,000 times without breaking. Cotton breaks after only 3,200 bendings, silk fibers after just 1,800, and rayon fibers after just 75 bends.

-“unless soiled, most wool garments and blankets require cleaning only once or twice a year”

-wool is naturally resistant to mildew & mold, which comes from the way wool repels moisture

-wool is also resistant to static electricity

-wool is actually naturally hypo-allergenic. While a few people have a rare allergy to lanolin, the oil found in wool, most people’s “allergy” is actually a sensitivity to the “poking” that individual wool fibers can do to the skin.

*Fun facts taken from these sources:
Pendleton Woolen Mill’s “Wool… A Natural” booklet
OrganicClothing.blogs - Wool: Facts behind the fiber
American Sheep Industry Association
Other reduce/reuse/recycle info from Pendleton Woolen Mills