Archive | October, 2011

Progress

The first few posts have mostly been about the already established systems of the No Trash Project, but every new day offers potential to further the effort. This week I finally got a bike. I had been looking for one that would fit me for quite some time. I needed a frame with a shorter stand over height and length.  This past summer I checked out a number of bikes through craigslist but couldn’t find any that were appropriate for my proportions. Finally I decided to seek help to build one up.  A friend of mine who works on bikes happened to have a smaller frame set aside. He put the bike together with mostly used and a few new parts. I am now the proud owner of this tangerine beauty. I recently moved into an apartment that is only four blocks from my office. I’ve been enjoying walking to and from work and to nearby businesses. Though it’s late in the New England biking season, I look forward to using my new ride to further cut down on driving.

On the day I went to pick it up, while Tom was helping another customer in the shop, I perused the parts and accessories hanging on the walls. I noticed there are a wide variety of material choices to consider when putting a bike together. Tom and I spoke about some of the things that can be done to reduce the waste involved in keeping a bike.

There are some fundamental common sense measures that can be taken to lengthen a bike’s life. Luckily I have the space to keep mine inside while at home and at work, and both spaces have reasonably dry air. I once kept a bike in the basement of a Providence house thinking it would winter over well, but the moisture in the basement caused the frame and the chain to rust. Of course I’ll need to consider the way in which I lock it outside to safeguard the parts and the bike itself. It seems obvious I know, but it’s easy to get careless. My friend Kory recently made instructional booklets on how to properly lock a bike, which can be seen here. I will certainly think of these tips every time I lock mine up.

Beyond the basic care of the bike, I’m also interested in the range of sustainability of materials used to make bike parts. Mine was cobbled together from available used parts and some of the components are on the not so environmentally friendly end of the spectrum. The seat (saddle) for instance is foam and vinyl. The derailleur has some plastic components and the handlebar tape is foam with an adhesive backing. The tires are probably the least sustainable part on the bike, but as far as I know, there really aren’t many options here. Some saddles, handlebar grips, and pedal straps are made of genuine leather. Cotton cloth grip tape is also an option. Some of the plastic parts on my bike are also available in different kinds of metals, but may weigh more.

In general, I think I’ve always been interested in how things are made and how they work. The No Trash Project seems to have heightened my curiosity. I find myself looking at objects, breaking down their parts in my mind, wondering about the life of a thing before I came in contact with it and the life it will have beyond me.

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Hygiene

It’s no secret that maintaining cleanliness supports health. Being clean is considered virtuous–cleanliness is the tenth of Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues to live by. Hygienic standards and practices vary across cultures and have changed throughout history. The Romans had their bathhouses and scented oils. Soapmaking became a popular trade in Spain and Italy during the Dark Ages. The toothbrush as we know it today was invented in China in the late 1400s. Before that, chewing the twigs and leaves of plants thought to have antiseptic properties was common practice.

Contagion and germ theories led us to the notion that we have more to worry about than visible filth. In 1854 John Snow discovered that cholera was transmitted through contaminated water. His findings led to the widespread development of sewage systems. In the twentieth century, industries sprang up to deliver products that would serve us on our quest for cleaner countertops and whiter toilet bowls. Advertisements goad us to buy products that support health and that will spare us the judgment of others about armpit odor.

The continually increasing attention to hygiene has meant an increase in pressure on the natural environment. Today we’re starting to see a push away from the use of harsh chemical cleaning agents because of growing evidence of their threat to our health and the planet. “Green” cleaning agent production is becoming big business.

I’m interested in finding ways of maintaining personal and domestic hygiene without making trash and without using any chemicals in/on my body, or on the surfaces in my home. We all have a different standard of cleanliness, so the system I’ve mapped out so far is of course personal. This zone has been slightly more complicated than the food zone, but the approach to tackling the problems is the same. I ask myself what I need. What do I need to sufficiently clean my dishes, my laundry, and my floors? What do I need to feel clean, smell good, and stay healthy?

As I mentioned in the last post, the discovery of the Alternative Food Co-op in Wakefield has helped me enormously in the No Trash Project. They encourage membership but it is not required in order to shop there. Not only is the store stocked with a wonderful bulk food selection, but they also supply many cleaning and body products in bulk dispensing systems. Below is some information about the non-food products that I buy in bulk and their important roles in no trash hygienic practice.

Baking Soda–not just for baking!

Currently, baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, has numerous uses in my home. Because it is weakly alkaline and acts to neutralize acid, baking soda has long been used for many first aid applications. It also has mild antiseptic properties. A simple paste made from baking soda and cold water can be applied to burns, bug bites, bee stings, and poison ivy. It can be diluted in water and used as an antacid.  As a mild, gentle abrasive, it can be used in place of toothpaste or as an exfoliating skin cleanser. A friend of mine recently explained how she mixes it with a bit of conditioner and uses it in place of shampoo.

For the same reasons it works to cleanse the body, baking soda is an effective household cleaner. Its fine, gritty texture works as an abrasive agent and is safe to use on most surfaces. It can be added to the washing machine to help remove stains, neutralize odor, and acts as a fabric softener for laundry.

Castile Soap

I’ve been using liquid castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s)–an olive oil based soap that is a mild but effective cleanser. I use it in place of dish soap, as a body wash, and occasionally as a surface cleaner. It’s available to me in bulk dispensers.  I fill it up in jars at the co-op and once I’m home I pour it into glass oil cruets (like the one pictured above). The soap pours easily from the metal dispenser.

Powdered laundry detergent, bleach powder, moisturizing lotions, shampoo and conditioner are also available in bulk at the co-op.

There is another natural household cleaner that I’m attached to, which I have not been able to find without packaging. White distilled vinegar is effective in killing mold, and bacteria. I find it neutralizes odors well and clears drains when combined with baking soda. I have resorted to buying it in a glass bottle. I’m careful to use vinegar sparingly and dilute it with water to make the supply last longer. Again, the system is not perfect. The vinegar bottle becomes a part of the recyclable waste I make. And I haven’t forgotten that the goods we buy in bulk are delivered to the grocery store and co-op in packaging/containers (more on this soon).

Hygiene accessories are an important part of this discussion. Many cleaning and grooming tools are made of plastic and are meant to be disposable. I’ve tried to focus on choosing tools that are made of more sustainable materials that will stand up to the test of time and use, or products that are compostable.  Microfiber cloths have replaced paper towels, plant-based compostable sponges have replaced plastic and cellulose sponges, and a high quality stainless steel safety razor has replaced the disposable plastic version.

While writing this post, I’ve been thinking about the number of plastic bottles, jugs, aerosol cans, plastic spray nozzles and pumps, sponges, and paper towels that before starting this project, I threw into the trash and recycling on a regular basis. Though I’ve only been working toward no trash for six months, today my old routines seem to be rather unnatural. It’s bizarre to package goods that may be used in one hour, day, week, or month in containers that will be on this earth for hundreds of years after they’re emptied. Stranger still is the fact that we are consistently encouraged and even pressured to take part in this unsustainable system.

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It started in the kitchen…

A lot of time passed between the point at which I decided to create a blog about the No Trash Project and the point that I finally got it started. I’ve been thinking (probably too much) about how to organize it. Of course a blog is a wonderful platform for documentation, and I know that as time goes by, it will become a sort of album and journal. Ideally, I would like the content to be useful to others as well.  I’ve decided to try to outline the ‘big picture’ ideas motivating the project and also describe the details of the daily problem solving involved.

I think it’s important to talk about the reevaluation of both need and habit that has been necessary for me to make any kind of progress.  As cliché as it may sound, we are ‘programmed’ to participate in trash-making routines.  It’s easy to accept that the products we see on television, billboards, and store shelves will enhance the quality of our lives. I was very much in the habit of buying and using things that just seemed necessary to function in a productive way. Now, the question I repeat over and over everyday is, “Do I need this?” Do I really need a different cleaning product for each and every surface in my house? Do I need dryer sheets to keep my laundry fresh and static free? Do I need plastic wrap to keep my food from spoiling? After several months of making these continuous checks, I’ve found ways around the trash to get what I need to be happy and healthy. Eventually I came to the question, “Do I still need my trashcan?”

I want to stress that at the beginning of this project I decided that the venture must always be about feeling good. I wanted to be very careful not to make this process about deprivation, especially because I would be working on it with another person whose wants and needs vary from my own. The system is not perfect. There are many stubborn problems still to solve. A small amount of recyclables still go out to the curb every week. There’s always room for progress and I love watching the project grow.

Okay, now for some specifics. To start down the no trash road, I needed a plan of attack. I had to organize the steps required to establish working systems in my home and the rest of my life. I looked at the different ‘zones’ in which I make trash. In the broadest sense, I categorize my trash production into three zones that exist both in and outside of my home.

Zone 1: Food–before I began this project, the majority of the trash in my can was from food products

Zone 2: Hygiene–both personal and household

Zone 3: Work–for me this zone applies to both the practices of my artist studio, and my university film department job

For the rest of this post I’m going to talk about the food zone, as it’s the area that is working most efficiently today. Here is a breakdown of the food zone subcategories.

Shopping: As I mentioned in my first post, bulk grocery shopping was a catalyst for the project. I buy all my food in bulk and I try to limit my produce and animal product shopping to farmer’s market as much as possible. A local fishing company has agreed to take my container home and return it at the next market day, filled with a fresh caught fish of their choosing. When I do go to the grocery store I shop the perimeter. I purchase all my fruits and vegetables without packaging of course and I have someone at the meat and fish counter put my purchases directly into a container I’ve brought from home.  They place the empty container on the scale to get the tare weight, and then place the meat directly into the container. No paper for the cat to pull out of the trashcan at home.  I fill up peanut butter and almond butter from the grinder machines into my own jar. The tare weight is subtracted at the checkout register. While there are great selections of bulk dry goods at my local markets, discovering a nearby co-op helped me to take the project to the next level. There I can fill tea, spices, oil, vinegar, and many non-food products into my own containers. It’s wonderful. Finally, choosing responsible distributers at the markets and buying organic has become an important part of the overall no trash effort.

Food Storage: Once the food gets home, the dried goods are poured into glass jars of all shapes and sizes, greens are placed into cups of water, and meat is kept in airtight containers in the refrigerator. The humidifier drawer is helpful in keeping vegetables longer. Carrots and radishes will stay crunchy for a surprising amount of time if stored submerged in water in the fridge. With regard to perishables, I’ve found that it’s imperative to only buy what I know I’m going to consume in the next couple of days. This way I can altogether avoid throwing out spoiled food. My refrigerator is not cluttered with forgotten groceries like it used to be. It has become a very efficient space that is constantly being emptied and restocked with colorful foods. I’ve established a collection of storage containers that play a daily part in this cycle. Luckily I live in a place that’s within close proximity to many grocery stores and farmers markets.

Food Scraps: Compost, compost, compost. After years of talking about it, I finally built a compost bin. It sits in the small yard behind my city apartment—my landlady was nice enough to allow it. All the scraps from the kitchen (except for citrus) go into the pile, and the compost fertilizes my plants. The local farmer’s markets also have a compost service.

Make Your Own: There are many products that cannot be purchased in bulk or without some kind of packaging.  Of those, most I’ve found are very easy for me to live without. I’ve learned to make some of the foods I still crave at home, from ingredients purchased without trash—like hummus or kombucha for instance.

Eating Out: Here is another area where it is important to choose responsibly. Supporting businesses that buy locally, serve no processed food, and plate reasonable portion sizes is important to me. A reusable container from home can replace the need for a doggie bag. Also, a container can be brought to a restaurant for takeout service or to the window of a food truck. I make a lot of meals at home to carry with me to work or on a day trip.

So there it is—a scratch at the surface. A bit of the macro and the micro.

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The Stuff Show


I work on an experimental film series called The Magic Lantern Cinema. Last week we put on a show that I curated–largely inspired by the No Trash Project. In an attempt to streamline the waste reduction effort, I’ve been working to dramatically reduce my possessions to what I consider essentials–according to functional, sentimental, and even aesthetic value. This process has prompted me to reevaluate my own wants and needs for STUFF.  I’ve noticed my own tastes evolving as my lifestyle changes, and as I work through a careful consideration of my belongings, I’m struck by this newfound or heightened stewardship, and love of the things I deem worthy of keeping–like my trusty all-purpose wooden spatula, for instance. And my hand-me-down kitchen table that I recently noticed has beautifully joined legs, even if they’re a bit scarred at the ends where a teething puppy chewed them nearly eighteen years ago. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff and I tried to put together a program that deals with some of these ideas. Below are the write-up and films synopses. A few of the titles can be screened online or rented/borrowed on DVD.

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Whether by design, circumstance, or accident, stuff sticks to us. In form and function, our belongings are descriptors in our personal narratives. What rules do we use to curate the objects we keep? Do our possessions–and the systems of organization we use to govern their arrangement–reveal more about us than our most intimate conversations? Magic Lantern Cinema’s “The Stuff Show” is a collection of short films about gleaning, coveting, producing, and purging. Stuff by its many names–essentials, art, waste–is scattered throughout scenes of a manufacturing company warehouse, a Pop artist’s sculpture studio, and a Japanese beachside dump. Commonplace objects stray from their everyday roles to haunt, fornicate, and dance across the screen. Here is a program to prompt a reconsideration, reassemblage, or repurposing of our stuff–much of which will long outlive us.

FEATURING: G.W. “Billy” Bitzer, “Westinghouse Work: Panorama view aisle B” (1904); Hans Richter, “Ghosts Before Breakfast” (1928); Michael Snow, “A to Z” (1956); Willard Maas, “The Mechanics of Love” (1955); Takahiko Iimura, “Kuzu (Junk)” (1962); Ed Emshwiller, “George Dumpson’s Place” (1965); Charles and Ray Eames, “Goods” (1982) and “Tops” (1969); Mallory Slate, “Claes Oldenburg” (1966)

 

“Westinghouse Works: Panorama view aisle B,” G.W. “Billy” Bitzer, 1904, 16mm on video, b&w, silent, 2 min.

In April and May of 1904, The American Mutoscope Biograph Company made 29 films at the Westinghouse Electric Company production facilities. Billy Bitzer–who would later become the cinematographer for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation–was hired to shoot the films. In Panorama view aisle B, a crane-mounted camera tracks high above the factory floor. Piles of metal forms lie below amid the commotion of workers cutting, welding, assembling, polishing and painting machine parts. 


“Ghosts Before Breakfast,” Hans Richter, 1928, 16mm, b&w, silent, 9 min.

“Objects are also people and [they] follow their own laws”-“the rhythm of the clock.” (H.R.). According to the clock in Ghosts Before Breakfast is 11:55 am. Only five minutes remain for bowler’s hats, teacups, a fire hose, revolvers, and a bow tie to run amuck in the world. At the stroke of noon they obediently return to a functional state. A title card at the start of the film reads: “The Nazis destroyed the sound version of this film as ‘degenerate art’. It shows that even objects revolt against regimentation.”


“A to Z,” Michael Snow, 1956, 16mm, b&w, silent, 7 min. 

Michael Snow’s first film (his only animation) illustrates the nighttime activities of dinning furniture. A vase, bowl, teacup and saucer dance merrily around a table. A chair stands still to the side. The teacup leads the chair to meet a friend–another chair. After a very brief romance, the two chairs consummate their love.

 

“The Mechanics of Love,” Willard Maas, 1955, 16mm, b&w, sound, 7 min. 

A couple’s act of lovemaking is described in still life images of suggestive household items and through the motion of ordinary tasks. “Daring and ingenious … daring because of its ‘forbidden’ subject matter; ingenious because commonplace objects are uncommonly related to build an action without actors, the effect of which is vivid, witty and downright bold.” – Lewis Jacobs 

 

“Claes Oldenburg,” Mallory Slate, 1966, 16mm, b&w, sound, 30 min. 

In a 1966 visit to his massive Lower East Side live/work loft, Claes Oldenburg takes us through the process of creating his mammoth, grotesque soft sculptures of everyday objects. He describes his pieces as idealized, magnified representations of the ‘sculptures of the home.’ Claes and his wife Pat develop patterns, prototypes, and finished works for various exhibitions. Slouching toilets and droopy electric mixers draw scores of art lovers into New York galleries.

 

“Tops,” Charles and Ray Eames, 1969, color, 35mm on video, sound, 8 min. 

From the simplest wooden dreidel to the hypnotizing Tedco toy gyroscope, tops of all shapes, colors, and sizes spin to the music of Elmer Bernstein. Operators across cultures and generations wind, crank, zip, twirl, and toss this classic toy in delightfully dizzying close-up compositions.

 

“Goods,” Charles & Ray Eames, 1982, slides on video, color, sound, 6.25 min. 

An excerpt from a lecture on poetry (given at Harvard in 1970-71) is paired with a three-screen slide show. A story about the break-in of his wife Ray’s car, and the items which the burglar chose to leave behind, leads into a discussion of what Charles Eames calls the ‘new covetables.’ 

 

“George Dumpson’s Place,” Ed Emshwiller, 1965, 16mm, color, sound, 8 min. 

A camera leads us over a stream and trough the woods to a dilapidated, overstuffed cabin. Its contents spill out amongst the surrounding flora. As we scan the piles of scavenged objects, careful arrangements begin to stand out. Broken action figures crouch between piles of stones. A tiny ceramic bust stands watch atop the end of a broomstick. In regard to his desire to make this film, Ed Emshwiller explained that George Dumpson “epitomized the soul of the artist.” 

 

“Kuzu (Junk),” Takahiko Iimura, 1962, 16mm, b&w, sound, 10 min. 

 “The beach of Tokyo Bay was a dumpsite for all the city’s human, animal and industrial wastes when I shot “Junk” there in the early 60s – today this is no longer the case. I was interested in the way my commitment could revive the junk and dead animals. At times the objects are animated, which could be seen as surreal, yet they are real at the same time. The concept coincides with the Neo-Dada in art, in which junk is assembled and incorporated into artwork. Yet today’s point of view, the film certainly shows concern with the ecology and may be regarded as an early attempt to deal with the destruction of our environment.” – T.I.

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Introduction

For the past six months I’ve been focused on an undertaking that I’ve been calling the No Trash Project. The goal: avoid purchasing anything in packaging and eliminate personal trash production. As this is my first blog entry, I’d like to explain the inspirations for this endeavor. When I think back, I can pinpoint a few key discoveries that led me to the big ‘all or nothing’ push.

First, many years ago I came to the realization that Rhode Island only recycles numbers 1 and 2 plastics and that all the other numbers I had been putting in my recycling bin had ended up in a landfill. I began to notice how many different kinds of plastics are used to package goods and was amazed by the volume of my routinely purchased products that were packaged with numbers 3 through 7 plastics. For the first time I really took notice of how many plastic components surrounding and encasing the goods that I purchased, that were not meant to be recycled at all. I was making far more trash than what I was carrying out in a trash bag every week.

Then came the all-important discovery of bulk grocery shopping. For years I had passed by the bulk sections in my local markets to shop the middle aisles, buying my cereal, grains, nuts, beans, flour, sugar, etc… in plastic bags and cardboard boxes. Once in a while I turned to bulk to get a particular dried fruit that wasn’t on the shelf, or some trail mix that looked appetizing. I’d fill up the available plastic bags or the number 5 containers provided by the bins. Because of the guilt I felt over tossing out the containers, I began washing them at home and bringing them back to the store to refill. This was a real aha moment. Much like my reusable bag, here was a system that (if I remembered to bring my containers to the store) cut out a piece of trash. Soon I began to view the bulk section as a more prominent source for my dry grocery needs. Somewhat surprisingly, I discovered that bulk shopping even had an aesthetic appeal. With my food stored in clear containers on the countertop, rather than behind labels and packaging–tucked away in cabinets, ingredients looked more appetizing and inspired more cooking. Eventually I found myself wishing that more goods–even beyond the kitchen, were available to me in bulk.

A year ago, I attended an Action Speaks radio conference at AS220 about the 1987 roaming Mobro Garbage Barge. Three panelists spoke about the problem of where to put all the garbage we make, and whether or not recycling as we know it today, can even begin to curb the crisis. I remember being particularly struck by the comments of a young woman from the audience who had emigrated from Eastern Europe. She described growing up in a post-communist economy where out of necessity, everyone was “obsessed with recycling”. Glass milk, beer, and juice bottles were returned to the store to be used again. The conference prompted me to think a lot about the monetary cost of convenience.

Finally, in April I saw a news video online about a family of four (plus one dog) from Northern California, who after six months had just a handful of garbage to show for the waste in produced in their home. I was floored when I saw this story. The Johnsons have developed systems by which they consume food, hygiene, clothing, and other goods without carrying home the by-products that become garbage. After a glimpse of the Johnsons’ success, decided that I needed to go further.

Since April, I have been overhauling my lifestyle, implementing new shopping, cooking, and cleaning systems to produce as little trash as possible. Today, I can’t imagine ever turning back.

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