Is zero waste possible in this consumer culture?

28 10 2008

I’m reading Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte.

It’s an amazing book although it’s now a bit outdated (it was written during the period of time in the early 2000’s when the Bloomberg Administration stopped the recycling programs for a while.) I can’t put it down.   The author (measured/weighed) her kitchen trash and tracked its route “away” from her house. A major theme throughout the book is that there is no “away”.  Another major theme is how secretive landfill managers are (I haven’t finished the book yet, I hope she gets to see a landfill close up).

When we throw things out, there is an incredible amount of energy, labor and thought put into how to make these things inert so as to not cause damage as they become a part of our environment.  Unfortunately, when it comes to fixing the world, most people just don’t want to talk about garbage.

One of my favorite chapters is the one about the solid waste treatment plant and the bio-solids created from New York sludge which is then shipped all over the country.  In graduate school I helped a friend photograph the West Side Sewage Treatment Plant just after it opened and Ms. Royte actually managed to capture the smell in written form.

This book is transformative. What I previously just thought of as “crap”, I am now clearly thinking of in terms of their component pieces and will do my best to avoid creating more crap to be thrown out.  If you liked Cradle to Cradle, read Garbage Land.

This post from Reactions discusses about the false sense of biodegradability you get with compostable garbage bags.  I bought these bio bags for our countertop compost pail because it gets slimy, smelly and a bit hard to clean after a few days.  However, when I pulled the bag out of the pail to drop it into the compost bin, it almost fell apart.  I guess it started to biodegrade before it even left the pail.  I’ll have to check the compost bin in a few days to see how the plastic is doing.

Garbage Land taught me how truly evil plastic is because it is practically impossible to upcycle it.  However, thanks to our friends at Brooklyn Green Team, we now learn about a company called Recycline who makes new products of out old #5 plastics.  You will recall how much I couldn’t stand having old yogurt containers on the countertop awaiting recycling so we started making our own yogurt.  Now I’ll just stack them in a box until I have 5 pounds.

I’ll re-print the requirements for sending the plastic to Recycline because the BGT’s blog seems to cut off some of the information.

  • Many common food containers – yogurt cups, sour cream containers, hummus tubs, ketchup bottles – are #5 plastics.
  • We accept any CLEAN plastic item with a #5 stamp on the bottom. Please check to make sure that there are no other materials (paper, screws, other number plastics) on the items that you send to us.
  • Make sure that the #5 plastics are clean – the cleaner the plastic, the cleaner the recycling process.
  • To help make this program a win for the environment, it is important that you send your plastics back to us via ground shipping (as opposed to air). Reuse a box if you can!
  • Shipments should weigh at least 5 pounds and no more than 50 pounds. Any package greater than 50 pounds must be pre-approved by Recycline.
  • Make sure to include your return address on the box and add your name and email address inside the box so we can thank you for your good work.

Send Gimme 5 shipments to:
Preserve Gimme 5
823 NYS Rte 13
Cortland NY 13045

If you have any questions about the Gimme 5 program or need to get a shipment approved, call us at 888-354-7296.

yay garbage.




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