January 30, 2011

Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is coming up fast. You and your sweetie may choose not to celebrate, preferring instead to show your love all year-round. I’m all for this. For the rest of you who know you’ll be in the doghouse if you don’t do something, I offer a few suggestions:

Skip the cheap plastic presents and chocolates from the drugstore. Please.

-consider skipping the bouquet of flowers.

As much as 70% of all cut flowers are actually imported to the US, most from South America. This means chemicals to keep the flowers looking fresh, as well as tons of petroleum to transport them. (I won’t even get into invasive species surviving the pesticides and hitching a ride along with the flowers.) Do you really want your sweetie to lean in and take a deep breath of DDT? Instead, bring home a potted plant. Plant bulbs in the yard for a set of surprise blooms. Start an herb garden. Or take a walk through your local public gardens.

-make something for your sweetie

Make a card. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or have a sugary-sweet Hallmark poem inside, just a short heartfelt note. Draw, cut pictures out of magazines, find clipart online. Make a big deal of presenting it, or “hide” it somewhere you know your sweetie will stumble across it.

Record a message on CD or cassette or MP3 – retell your side of the story of how you met, how your life has changed since your sweetie became part of it, what little things have changed. Read your sweetie’s favorite poem or story aloud. Make up a story your sweetie can listen to on the way to work or for when you’re out of town.

Make a present. Copy a special photo of you and your sweetie, paste it to a piece of cardboard (such as the back of a cereal box), and cut it up into puzzle pieces. Give the puzzle all as one present or leave the pieces around the house individually to be found over the course of the evening. Use a favorite old, beat-up shirt to make a small pillow or stuffed animal. Cut heart shapes out of junk mail and newspaper flyers, and scatter them across the floor or dinner table.

Make dinner. Make breakfast. Make a picnic on the living room floor. I did this one year for my then-boyfriend (now-husband!). The food was spread out on a blanket on the living room floor, the curtains were open so we could see the sunset, I set up my white noise machine to play waves in the background, I had a token jar of sand nearby, and I asked if he wanted to sit closer to or farther from the waves. “What? Um, closer to, I guess.” I picked up my spray bottle and spritzed water in his face. “Happy valentine’s beach trip!”

-do something nice for your sweetie

Instead of giving a present, do a chore or errand your sweetie hates doing or can’t do alone. Do something with your sweetie you wouldn’t normally do – even if you hate sports or fishing or quilting shows, go along anyway and share your sweetie’s joy.

Give each other foot rubs. It doesn’t matter if you don’t really know what you’re doing. The time and attention spent is always appreciated.

Donate to your sweetie’s favorite charity. What says love more than supporting an organization near to your dear one’s heart? Take toys & games to the local children’s hospital. Take clothing, coats, small containers of personal hygiene products to the local battered women’s shelter.

Sign up for a class to take together – cooking, bird-watching, weight-lifting, ballroom dancing, fly-fish lure tying, paint your own ceramic pot, Geology 101. It makes for great date nights.

Have a special movie night. Or declare a TV-free night. Play board games, read aloud to each other, play Truth-or-Dare.

It’s so not about buying stuff! It’s about the attention! We all love attention from our someone special. Time spent with your partner is better than any drugstore tchotchke.

Consider reading:
About.com – Valentine’s Day date ideas
Hubpages.com – Valentine’s Day Gifts to Make
Squidoo.com – Creative Valentine Dates
The Hidden Life of Cut Flowers - pesticide use by cut-flowers industry
The Ecologist.org – Behind the Label: Cut Flowers

January 24, 2011

Homemade play kitchens for kids

Playing house is probably the most fun thing in the world for a toddler or preschooler. With the possible exception of dinosaurs. But hey, the dinosaurs can play in the kitchen too, combining all levels of awesomeness! And yes, boys love to play kitchen too. How do you think Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver got started?*

But really, do you want to spend $100-$200 on plastic?

You can make your own play kitchen with recyclable materials for far less, and without having to build it from scratch. You could even involve your preschooler in the plans and production.

Here are some examples:
Repurposed end table
repurposed end/side table
repurposed entertainment center

If you’re in a hurry, you should be able to find everything at your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore – furniture, fixtures, paint and more. If you have more time, then Craigslist, Freecycle & thrift stores will undoubtedly turn up everything you need.**

While you can probably find enough stuff around your house or donations from friends, I can totally understand if you want to pick up some new toys to put in your play kitchen. In which case, consider a tea set made from and packaged in recycled materials.

*I actually have no idea whether Mario or Jamie ever played “kitchen” as kids. I just know from my 20+ years working with children that (a) both boys & girls like playing with kitchen toys a whole lot, and (b) none of them have caught cooties as a result of it.

**Requisite disclaimer: I do not have any ties to any of these businesses. I just really like making stuff and playing with kitchen toys, kid-sized or for grown-ups.

January 22, 2011

Curbside: Glass

"Trashmaster46”, you say, “I read your post about where my curbside recycling goes. I get that the materials are sorted out and sent off to be made into other things. I get that plastic bags are bad for the machinery used to sort out cardboard from everything else. I get that human beings sort everything else. I also get that in order for this process to be cost-effective, some materials are going to be lost and either mis-processed or junked.”

Awesome!, I say to you. Thanks for reading! What’s your question?

“Trashmaster,” you say, I want to help the process be more effective. I want to make sure materials get in the right place so they can get on with their next life. How can I do this?”

I’m glad you asked!

Today’s feature: Glass

Glass is amazing. Glass can make for strong packaging. Glass doesn’t off-gas weird chemicals that the state of California knows to cause cancer. Glass doesn’t have weird chemicals that make what’s inside taste funny. Glass doesn’t contract or expand over a fairly wide range of temperatures. Glass can be infinitely recycled. Unfortunately, a glass bottle will not decompose readily on its own. It really needs to be reused or recycled. It also takes way less energy to make glass containers from recycled glass than from virgin materials.*

Before you set it out curbside, ask yourself two questions: (1) Can I reuse it somehow? (2) Does my state have a Bottle Bill? (i.e., can I get cold, hard cash for this bottle?)

“No”, you say, “I’ve got all the glass containers I need right now, so I can’t reuse this one. Plus, this is a glass jar. Jars aren’t part of the Bottle Bill. So yeah, I need to recycle this.”

Groovy, I say. Let’s recycle!

“Finally!” you mutter under your breath.

First of all: rinse it out! Most glass recyclers have ways of dealing with leftover bits of food and whatever else was in that bottle or jar, but really, ten seconds of rinsing it out properly beats a stinky moldy jar any day. Multiply that by hundreds and thousands of unrinsed jars, and I think you get my drift.

Also - find out from your local hauler if you need to remove any labels (you should be able to find this info online - in the Portland/Metro area, leaving the labels on is fine). They come off pretty easily in warm water, as long as you're rinsing the jar anyway.

Second: glass on the side. I’ll say it again: GLASS ON THE SIDE. By itself. It’s okay. It won’t get lonely. Glass is strong that way. And only glass jars & bottles – no lightbulbs, no vases, no baking dishes, nothing else. Glass materials have different ingredients in them and melt at different temperatures, making it very difficult to make new glass items out of mixed recycled glass. It can result in weak glass that can warp during production, or crack or explode when being handled. Not cool! Glass bottles & jars are made from similar enough elements that they can be recycled together. Also, don’t put lids in here – put them with the other metals. (if you have other kinds of glass, try calling your local garbage or recyclables hauler for more information)

Check with your local hauler to find out if you need to sort glass by color. Some areas do, some don’t. Where I live, we can put all colors of glass together, and a 5-gallon kitty litter bucket works just fine.

PLEASE don’t put broken jars or bottles in the recycling bin! Yes, it’s still the same recyclable material, but now it’s a big safety hazard – to the hauler (most glass bins are emptied into the truck by hand), and to the sorters at the material recovery station. We’re trying to help the environment, not send anyone to the hospital! Please just junk it.

Third: Please also don’t mix glass with anything else. Most obviously, other stuff doesn’t melt and reshape like glass. Mixing other elements into the glass makes for weaker glass products. And that’s no good. On top of this, glass breaks, and the bits get into the machinery all along the line. Besides hurting people, the glass shards & dust can jam up or even damage machinery, and it can get into the manufacturing process after materials have been sorted. On the field trip, one of our tour guides told us a cautionary tale. Glass breaks down into little bits, called cullet. Let’s say the cullet follows the paper to its next destination. It has the potential for hurting workers along the way and damaging the costly machinery needed for production of, say, toilet paper. Do you really want to be using toilet paper with glass bits in it? I’m just sayin’.

* Consider reading:
Glass Education
Waste Online

Next time: Paper

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

January 20, 2011

Redecorating - Painting

I'm planning to paint the upstairs bathroom. It's currently a... significant shade of yellow. I'm thinking something much more subdued, something more relaxing. I've always wanted a 'pale seafoam-ish green' bathroom. For what it's worth, the fixtures are white, and the very short hallway leading to the bathroom is a kind of eggplant-ish purple. Inside the bathroom is pretty good electric lighting, with indirect but no direct sunlight.  I'm thinking some form of Seashell mixed with Light Green.

Looking through the website, I was pleased to discover that I wouldn't have to trek out to the Metro Paint store to get it - there are several locations throughout the Metro area, including several Fred Meyer stores and a few Miller Paint stores.  I'll be able to pick it up on my way home from work!

January 18, 2011

Fun stuff

Trying to do my share to help the environment, I set up a trash basket at my church and posted above it this suggestion: "Empty water bottles here."
I should have been a little more specific, because when I went to check it later, I didn't find any bottles in it. But it was full of water.
– Mahmood Jawaid

I took a beer bottle to the recycling center, but they wouldn't take it.
They said: "This is the pint of no return."

In Seattle, where seemingly everyone is an environmentalist, I saw the following sign outside the fron of a Safeway grocery store:
"Sale! 100% RECYCLED Compost"
...and to think of the resources I've been wasting by buying the non-recycled stuff!

What did the recycling guy say to the newspaper?
“If you’re recycled properly, you could make a bundle!”

January 16, 2011

Class field trip #1

Man, I wish I'd had my camera with me for the field trip. Yesterday was the first of our class field trips. We went to the Blue Heron Paper Mill, KB Recycling, and Metro Central transfer station.

Edit: Fortunately for me, someone else did take pictures! And gave permission to use them! All photos taken by and used with permission of Jim Keiter. Thanks Jim!

From the tour, it was a little hard to really see what was going on in the paper mill. Yes, there were bunches of giant rollers making and moving paper, but you couldn't really see the paper. Yes, there were big tanks and machines pulping and de-inking the paper, but you couldn't see inside. The two tangible things we saw were the bales of paper fresh off the trucks (hauled in from various material recovery facilities, which is who sorts out your curbside recyclables and commercial materials from businesses),

and some of the pulped paper mush mixed in with contaminants.

And by "contaminants", I mean pop bottles, CDs, tin cans, and whatever else made it past the sorting stage at the material recovery facilities. Of the tons and tons of material brought in to make their paper products, they lose about 15% to unusable paper fibers (at some point, fibers get to where they are just so used up, they can't bind into new paper anymore, and are lost in the pulping and pressing processes) and contaminant materials. But wow, the turn-around!

Material, trucked in from as close as up the river and as far away as Idaho, is brought to the mill first thing in the morning. Six hours later, the finished paper is trucked out again to become newspaper inserts, fast food to-go bags, and independent newspapers.

After Blue Heron, we visited KB Recycling, a material transfer station. As of this writing, their website was under construction, but you can find some information on them on this page.

Here in the Portland Metro area, we put out our recycling in two wastestreams: glass (in a bucket by itself) and metal/paper/plastic (all together in a big rolling cart). KB takes material brought from curbside recycling and sort it back out into individual material piles. The idea is that residents are more likely to recycle more materials if they can just pile it all into one bin rather than bundle each material separately. It also makes for less contamination overall – overall, the workers at KB sort the truckloads of waste much more effectively than individual residents sort out their own materials.

So, here’s what happens at KB: Trucks bring in residential recyclables that have been put out curbside. The trucks dump their tightly-bundled loads on the floor of the station, the bundled material gets fluffed out and scooped up onto a big machine that transports material up onto a conveyor belt several feet up off the floor while letting cardboard fall through into a pile underneath.

Workers sort materials off the conveyor belt by hand – metal goes through this chute, plastics go through another, trash through another, while leaving paper on the conveyor belt until the end. Whatever’s left on the conveyor belt gets dumped off into a pile, then rerouted up another machine that sorts paper vs. cardboard as best it can, and then through one more conveyor belt for one last sort. Not one part of the process sorts everything out 100%, but they do a pretty good job.

Once a single-material pile is big enough, it gets shoved across the floor of the station to another conveyor. Workers here go through it briefly one last time for contaminants (anything that isn’t the target material) while, for instance, the cans get loaded into the bundler. The cans will get squashed into a 2,600 pound bundle to be shipped off to a metal reprocessor.

Our tour guide walked us past stacks of bundled materials all waiting to be trucked off to their respective reprocessors. The metal, paper, cardboard, aerosol cans, aluminum foil, and glass will probably stay fairly local – very likely in state or along the west coast. Unfortunately, there’s no good market for the plastics on this side of the country, so plastics almost categorically get shipped off to China. They also take a variety of electronics and appliances, but may require a fee to do so. It’s best to call ahead of time to check if they’ll take it at all and whether a fee is required.
Bundles of plastic waiting to be shipped to China.

Last on our list was Metro Central transfer station. This was also a difficult tour for me – again, lots of noise which made it hard to hear our tour guide and our class leader, so I don’t have as much information as I’d like. While run by Recology, the recovery station is owned by Metro.

They accept a variety of recyclable materials, not just what can be recycled at curbside. They will also take a certain amount of non-recyclable material, for a fee.

They will also take materials that can be donated to a couple of organizations, making this a fantastic place to go when you’re looking to clean out your basement, attic, and garage. IMG_0196

They’ll even take your dumpster after residential/personal home remodeling, and sort that out into recyclable and nonrecyclable items.

We also had a tour of Metro’s Hazardous Waste facility.


They’ll take everything from window cleaner & solvents to the red biohazard sharps containers, from propane tanks (empty or not) to fertilizers & pesticides. They’ll also happily take your leftover paint and recyle it!

The tour of the hazardous waste facility was awesome. She told us about the facility being on a first name basis with folks in the local bomb squad, as they occasionally receive… “questionable materials” such as ammunition and hand grenades (live ammo? live grenades? Who knows!), explosives used forever ago in agriculture for removing stumps (as a complete aside, check out “Farming With Dynamite” as published by DuPont), and no doubt much, much more. She showed us the lab where they figure out what that unlabeled mayonnaise jar of mystery liquid is, so they can dispose of it properly. Kids, stay in school, get good grades in chemistry, and you too could be handling mystery liquids and potential explosives brought to you by random strangers clearing out their garages and basements.

(Habla espanol? Leer esto!)

The one big thing I learned from our field trip? How badly plastic bags mess up the whole process! The giant machine used to separate cardboard from all the other recyclables? They have to shut it down every couple of hours because plastic bags wind themselves around the tines and gum the machine all up, making it useless. Which means someone has to climb up onto the machine and take the bags off by hand.

The lighter-colored blurs are plastic bags whipping around, and some of the beige blurs are plastic bags already entwined in the ‘teeth’ of this machine.

Yes, they shut down the machine, but that’s still dangerous work, being done several times a day. And every time they shut down the machine, that’s dollars lost to the recovery facility, which means it’s more expensive for them to accept and transfer our household waste, which trickles down into YOUR garbage bill. It’s in YOUR best interest to KEEP PLASTIC BAGS OUT OF YOUR RECYCLING BINS! Reuse them until they fall apart! Take them to the grocery store, if yours accepts them for recycling (it is possible to recycle them, just not curbside!!). Or put them in the trash. Really. It’s okay. It’s not optimal, but it’s the lesser evil.

photos taken by and used with permission of Jim Keiter

January 10, 2011

Master Recycler Programs in US and CAN

I was surprised to discover how few Master Recycler programs are around the US. Oregon has one in nearly every county, but beyond that, the programs are far and few between. Not only that, but the material taught and the requirements of the programs differ from county to county as well.

Clark County, WA
Columbia Springs, WA
Jackson County, OR
Josephine County, OR
King County, WA
Lane County, OR
Linn & Benton Counties, OR
Marion County, OR
Metro area, OR (Clackamas, Multnomah & Washington Counties)
Montgomery County, OH
Rhode Island
Tulsa, OK
Wake County, NC
Westchester County, NY

and in Canada:
Edmonton, AB

Of course, double check all dates & deadlines with the program officers. As of the date of this post, these programs all appeared to still be offering classes. If you know of new programs, I'd be happy to add them to the list.

January 9, 2011

Blog post, the first

I'm Wendy, but here I prefer the title "Trashmaster46".  It sounds all superhero-ish.
I'm taking the Master Recycler & Composting certification program through Metro in Portland, OR, and I'm part of the 46th class offered through my region. I decided that in a town where recycling is a contact sport, I didn't just want to be on the winning team, I wanted to help coach.

This blog is to share whats, whys, hows and more on reducing, reusing and recycling.  It's hard to know right at the beginning exactly how a process such as an informational blog will really go. My plan is to talk about the class itself including how it works and what I'm learning from it, my adventures as I do my 30 hours of volunteer payback as part of the program, post about events in the Portland area, share information and materials already out there, and invite some folks to share their expertise as well. I hope you'll join me as I learn more about The Three Rs and as I learn to incorporate them in my daily life.