Tag Archives | recycling

Lending love

omnivore

Last week I rode my bike to my public library to check out a book that has long been on my must-read list. When I arrived I discovered that my library card had expired. I hoped it could simply be reactivated but was told I needed a new card instead. When I asked why, the woman at the circulation desk said she wasn’t sure exactly, but it had something to do with the barcode identification system in place. Bummer. I went ahead and got a new one. Being able to borrow books is important to me, especially in the context of my project.

I’ve been slowly working to pare down my personal library to a small collection of novels, textbooks, and oversized art books that I still use as reference tools for work and personal projects. There was a time when I used to tote around quite a few more, lugging them from one apartment to the next, just so that they could sit unopened on a shelf. Many were books that I had read once, but had no desire to reread. Some were books that were given to me that I never had any desire to read in the first place. I used to feel quite guilty about donating unwanted gifts, but that particular kind of guilt is a mechanism that no longer operates very strongly within me. Storing, keeping, collecting, stashing, or hoarding things that become untouched, unused, and unloved makes me feel far worse. I like to think that donating my neglected belongings restores their potential, giving them a new chance to serve their purpose and/or provide someone with pleasure.

The woman at circulation withdrew a new card for me from a drawer. My stomach flipped a little when I saw that it was more of a card “kit”, which included a mini keychain card and a standard wallet card, held together by a perforated bit of plastic. I wonder why the card set design includes the disposable piece? Couldn’t they be manufacture so that the mini keychain card was attached directly to the wallet card? And how are all these cards made anyway? I looked it up and found this video, which shows how credit cards are manufactured. There are many components that go into swipe cards of all kinds (credit cards, gift cards, identification cards, etc…), but they’re mostly made up of sheets of polyvinyl chloride acetate (PVCA). In the past I’ve struggled to find information on the recyclability of expired cards. My Rhode Island Recyclopedia doesn’t list them. So I’ve been saving a pile with the intention of passing them off to my artist friends who can use them in studio processes (mixing and spreading glue for instance). But while working on this post I came upon a company called Earthworks System that apparently collects and processes expired cards to produce recycled PVC resource material for new cards. Consumers can mail old cards to the company’s facility in Ohio. It seems like one of the better options I’ve found for diverting this item we depend on so heavily from landfills. Certainly security is an issue that must be considered when it comes to the disposal of credit cards. We’re taught to cut them up into little pieces to prevent fraudulent activity. I wonder if Earthworks System has any solutions or suggestions for dealing with cards that have personal and information on them. Do they accept shredded card material? Shredded or not shredded, if the card information is expired, is it safe to send it in the mail? Hmmm, I will do some more thinking and investigating on this issue.

So when will my new library card expire? Apparently as long as I continue to actively borrow from the Ocean State Library system, it will never expire. Fantastic! Incentive to keep up with my reading list. Meanwhile, I am devouring the book above. Gah, I don’t know how it took me so long to pick it up.

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Logee’s

On my way back from Willimantic I made a stop in Danielson CT at Logee’s Greenhouses. This transportive space has been a favorite destination of mine (especially in cold and dry late autumn and winter months) for years. The business was established in 1892 by William D. Logee who was especially interested in tropical and unusual plants. 110 year-old citrus trees grow up out of the dirt floors of the densely packed greenhouses.

Drifting through the narrow pathways, breathing in the humid and fragrant air, I feel righted and restored. The photo above is taken in one of my favorite corners of the largest house, the succulent and cacti section. I couldn’t resist bringing a couple new friends home with me. Logee’s cannot reuse their plastic pots because of strict policies in place to prevent cross-contamination. I wash the pots at home and bring them to folks at the farmer’s market who will re-use them.

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Kicks

Last December I wrote a post about running. In it I talked about my desire to replace my worn shoes. Unable to find a pair that I could get excited about, I postponed purchasing new ones and since then have managed to squeeze nearly another year’s worth of running out of the old pair. These have carried me over my weekly 25-30 miles of blacktop, concrete, gravel, and packed dirt trails for almost four years now. They’ve held up remarkably well under the pounding.

Everyone wears their shoes differently. I seem to always destroy the “heel counter” of mine from the inside out. I think this could be due to the fact that I have a narrow heel that seems to slip around a bit in most footwear. I’ve finally worn these down to the plastic cupped part of the heel under the padding, which is now putting holes in my socks and blisters on my skin. So, to save my feet and keep my running habit, I will indeed need to get a new pair. My search for a shoe that uses minimal materials and will hold up to New England winter running resumes.

Since starting this project, I’ve been more than happy to purchase most of my clothing used from consignment and thrift stores. I make an exception for socks and skivvies. I will also make an exception for the running shoes. Fit is of utmost importance and having an unused instep and sole that will form to the shape of my foot is key. But great amounts energy go into the production of the synthetic materials used to construct athletic shoes, more energy and chemical adhesives are used to produce the shoes, and even more energy is required to ship them to a store near me. So choosing a new pair has so far been difficult for me in the context of this project. When I do find the new pair I won’t throw my old ones away, but rather donate them to one of these organizations. They will probably have to be recycled given their structural damage.

Running is my favorite way to exercise. I can do it any place, any season, in nearly any terrain. It’s one of my best defenses against stress and it’s a time I use to process all of the matters of my life. Since last year’s running post I have taken up yoga (a conveniently barefoot form exercise), which has been wonderful, but so far hasn’t replaced my beloved daily run.

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Shaving

I get a lot of questions about grooming and hygiene in the context of the No Trash Project—particularly about hair removal. For reasons beyond the desire to make less waste (including the desire for a low maintenance routine), I often wish I could just rock the all natural, fully grown in look from brows to ankles. But alas, my partial Italian heritage has rendered me with plenty of dark hair, which if left untouched, can leave me feeling less than feminine. So I choose to shave.

I use the beautiful safety razor pictured above. Growing up, both the males and females of my family used disposable razors. When I was in college I switched to a razor with replaceable heads. But even those are usually so built up with plastic and come in excess packaging. At the start of my project, I did a lot of research before choosing a safety razor and blades. I settled on this Merkur brand razor based on reviews I read online. This particular model has a longer handle which makes it easier to hold in the shower and an open tooth head that provides a close shave with minimized irritation. I chose blades that come in a paper box. I like the weight of this razor and I don’t find myself cutting and knicking myself all the time—which is something people always ask about when I tell them I opt for this old school grooming tool. I have male friends with a similar model who also prefer it to any other electric or manual, plastic handle, multi-blade shaving experience. The only problem I’ve experienced with this razor so far is that I couldn’t fly with the blades in carry-on luggage. I tried to take one with me on a short trip to Chicago this summer and it was taken away. Duh—I guess I figured that would be the case. Not having any time to find a specialty shaving shop in Chicago, I had to borrow a disposable razor from the people I was staying with.

If I dry them between uses, the safety razor blades last an exceptionally long time. Determined to keep them out of the landfill, I’ve been stockpiling the used blades while searching for a place that can recycle them. Because they are obviously a safety hazard, they cannot be placed in the recycling bin. Sharp objects do not belong in the Materials Recycling Facility sorting lines! Today I called American Tin & Solder Co. to ask if they could take them, but I learned they’ll accept any metals (tin, aluminum, pewter, copper, brass, etc…) except steel. So then I called up The Steel Yard and was told that I can come by and deposit them in their recyclable metals dumpster that they fill with scrap metal offcuts from projects. Because these metals are not handled directly by people, but rather by magnets, having the sharp blades in the dumpster shouldn’t be a safety issue. Tomorrow, I’ll take my jar full of double edges and go check it out.

Personal hygiene can be quite… well, personal. We (men and women alike) can spend years zeroing on products and accessories that make us feel good and sometimes the idea of changing or eliminating those items that play a significant role in our routines can seem daunting. I’ve found that paring down and simplifying the products and tools in my bathroom cabinets has not only saved me time and money, it has also made my routine more enjoyable. In previous posts, I’ve written a bit about the satisfaction I get from having a relationship with the objects I keep—relationships that are heightened as I keep fewer and fewer things. I am very fond of my razor and I take good care of it. It works very well at the job it’s designed to do. I think as an object, it’s lovely to behold. I like the way it looks in my ceramic cup next to my bamboo toothbrush.

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Dump run

Made a dump run with a friend from wood school yesterday. A couple times a week, the fellows collect barrels full of wood waste (offcuts, shavings, and dust) from the studio buildings and truck them out to the Mid-coast Solid Waste Corporation in Rockport for processing. Solid pieces are dumped separately from the dust and shavings, which get deposited at the wood chip pile.

Woodchip pile.

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Materials Recycling Facility shoot

Today I returned to the Materials Recycling Facility at Rhode Island Resource Recovery to shoot video of materials being sorted through the new single stream system. The facility is currently running tests with materials collected from a few select towns. All of Rhode Island can expect to receive information on transitioning to the new system by mid June. This pile of materials had just been unloaded from a truck. As you can see, the recyclables are all mixed together. After traveling across belts, past sorting employees, through tumblers, sifters, and scanners, the materials are baled to be sent off to separate processing facilities.

Guided by Recycling Program Manager Krystal Noiseux and Operations Supervisor Brian Dubis, I carried a camera and tripod to the many sorting stations throughout the facility. We wore hard hats, reflective vests, safety glasses, and headsets (the sounds of the machinery and the materials in motion were incredibly loud). For safety reasons, visitors will not be allowed inside the sorting facility, so monitors inside the observation rooms will display the videos we collect of the stations and actions that are not visible from the viewing windows. I feel very lucky to be able to see firsthand all of the planning, labor, technology, and energy that goes into sorting Rhode Island’s recyclable materials. What happens inside the MRF is just one of so many steps involved in recycling our waste.

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Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation

Yesterday I visited the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation in Johnston, RI. I met with Recycling Program Manger Krystal Noiseux, who showed me around the landfill/Materials Recycling Facility and spoke with me about the daily operations at the complex, the renovation of the MRF, and the waste-management issues Rhode Island faces looking ahead. The following posts will detail my visit and everything I learned about what happens to the trash we make in this small state.

We began the tour at the deposit stations for materials that can be repurposed or recycled but are not meant to go into your blue and green bins. There is a station set up for books, clothes and shoes, cooking oil, scrap metal, scrap lumber (unfinished), televisions and computers, hazardous waste and more. Residents can come during normal hours of operation to deposit these materials (hazardous waste deposits can only be done on certain Saturdays by appointment: www.rirrc.org/ecodepot). About one quarter of the tires pictured above can be repurposed. The rest will be shipped to a tire-to-energy plant in Connecticut where they will be incinerated, generating electricity. The ashes are then shipped back to RIRRC where they will go into the landfill. I was surprised to such a variety of materials are accepted. Each is sent to a different company in another location for a wide range of “next life” purposes.

Next we headed over to the commercial composting site. Currently, RIRRC only accepts leaf and yard debris. They process nearly 40,000 tons every year. Rhode Island residents can come and purchase this “class A” compost for $30 per cubic yard. So all you locals who are dreaming up garden plans for this spring, take note! There is a half yard minimum requirement and you have to be able to carry it away in your own vehicle, but RIRRC will help you load it. Some of the compost is used at the central landfill for operational purposes. The rest goes to New England Organics, an industrial organics and minerals recycling company.

The photo above shows a new area being dug out to become landfill. This stop along the tour left a big impression on me. The ‘pit’ seemed much shallower than what I would have imagined. Krystal explained that it can’t be dug too deep because it must be above ground water levels. The next phase of preparation in this area will include laying down layers of plastic (to seal in the garbage) and pipes that will divert any water that sinks through the trash carrying harmful substances (leachate), from seeping into the ground. When the landfill is full, a synthetic cap and a soil layer will close it off.

As Krystal described this to me, it seemed logical that measures must be taken to keep garbage in all its hazardous forms separate from the environment. But I never knew that these kind of protective layers were placed between the trash and the earth. I always imagined a landfill as a simple hole in the ground filled with garbage. This new image I have of a landfill is more bizarre. Our garbage is being entombed in the ground. This is the best kind of “away” that we have come up with—an effort to keep our waste away from our water, our soil, our air, and our wildlife.

Krystal said that she begins her tours by asking visitors whether they think a landfill is good for the environment or bad for the environment. The visitors always answer that it’s bad. As the tour progresses, visitors begin to see that it is not the landfill that is harming the environment, it’s the trash—our trash.

This waste-to-energy plant was the next stop on the tour. It converts the gas produced by decomposing garbage into electricity. The facility (operated by Broadrock Renewable Energy) has been in operation since 1996. I have heard of facilities that convert landfill gas into electricity but I had no idea there was one in operation here in Rhode Island! 65% of the gas that is siphoned off from the landfill is converted. The rest is flared. The current facility generates enough electricity to power approximately 21,000 homes.

While RIRRC works to expand the central landfill, a new plant is being built that will more than double generating capacity from 20 megawatts to 47.6 megawatts. The new facility will be the second-largest landfill-gas-to-electric power plant in the country. It will generate enough electricity to power about 38,000 homes.

We then made our way up the landfill. As Krystal said we were “driving on trash”. Landfill gas collection pipes stick up out of the landfill. Krystal explained that landfill gas is typically comprised of methane (50-55%), carbon dioxide (45-50%), and trace amounts of other gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen sulfide. Methane is considered the most potent of the greenhouse gasses produced in a landfill.

As we ascended the landfill, I began to see the seagulls. We came upon the area where trash was being spread. Thousands of gulls swarmed the trash and the workers. A recent surge in the number of gulls has led RIRRC to approve new measures to fend off the birds, including pyrotechnics, propane cannons, shooting, and using fake seagull carcasses to scare them away.

composting conference and tradeshow happening this Monday will address the importance of getting food scraps out of the landfill. Less rotting organic material in at the landfill will mean less landfill gas and fewer gulls.

I learned that daily operations at the landfill include compacting (crushing) and covering waste with several inches of soil or other cover material to reduce odor and litter (that can get picked up by the wind) as well as control pests. A cross section of the landfill would show layer upon layer of trash and cover. Krystal explained that many people think the central landfill is a dump, but there is a big difference between a dump (an open pit of trash) and a sanitary landfill, which is really an engineering marvel designed to protect the environment from our garbage. Though the trash is covered quickly, while it is being laid down it can blow around in the wind. Litter crews collect the sailing Styrofoam cups and plastic bags off the face of the landfill and surrounding areas.

Since 2010, areas of the RIRRC grounds have been planted with native shrub species (steeplebush, bayberry, and meadow-sweet), trees (eastern white pine and eastern red cedar), and seeded with native grasses and wildflowers to attract native wildlife species. RIRRC employees volunteer their time to monitor wildlife activity. Deer, coyote, mink, bald eagles, turkey, hawk and various other song and water bird species have been observed. The central landfill has been Wildlife at Work certified since 2011.

The last stop on my tour was the Materials Recycling Facility. As I have mentioned before, the facility is undergoing a major renovation. A new single stream recycling system will be up and running on Earth Day (April, 22). RIRRC will then launch a public education campaign shortly there after. Rhode Islanders will no longer need to separate their paper from their metals and plastics. Specific information about newly accepted recyclable will be sent out in the mail and posted online.  Currently, the majority of Rhode Island communities are only recycling an average of 24% of their waste through curbside collection. When you factor in compost, textiles, and metals, the average municipal recycling rate is only 31.8%. The goal of the single stream system is to bring that average up by 20-40%.

When the new system goes live, several more kinds of plastics will be recycled (currently RI only accepts plastic bottles and jugs). The new state of the art facility includes optical scanners that will target and redirect specified materials with a blast of air. Watch this video produced by Waste Management to see how single stream works.

RIRRC charges per ton for trash dumped at the landfill, but it is free to bring recyclables to their recycling facility. There is no washing, melting, or pulping happening at RIRRC. The facility is set up only to sort and bale metals, plastics and paper to be sold as commodities to be made into new products. 50% of the profits from those sales are shared with the municipalities.

Krystal Noiseux said that a common misconception about waste management in Rhode Island is that we are ‘behind the curve’. I admit that was definitely my impression before visiting the complex. To my surprise, Rhode Island was the first state in the nation to pass mandatory recycling legislation in 1986. RIRRC has only ever collected the recyclables that they can market to companies that will process them.

I was impressed by the many measures in place to divert waste from the landfill at RIRRC, the gas-to-electricity plant, and the effort to support wildlife habitats on site. I think it’s important to have an understanding of how our personal waste is handled. Unfortunately I think there is a general lack of appreciation for the technology and people at work in the sanitation industry in this country. I think everyone should visit his or her local landfill and recycling center to see first hand what engineering marvels they have become. However, I want to stress that these last several posts aren’t meant to make us feel better about producing trash. The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ system enables our growing consumption of disposables. The monetary cost of waste management is hidden to most consumers. What would it be like if we had to pay by the pound or by the piece of trash we produce? What if waste management services didn’t exist? Since visiting RIRRC I’ve been thinking about the fact that it’s impossible ‘get rid of’ our trash—we can only relocate it. I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like if we were all responsible for storing our own waste.

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Waste crate, week 6

This week’s trash.

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A dilemma…

I’ve been talking a lot about my cat’s diet lately. I am meeting with my vet next week to discuss switching Magpie from canned wet food to a home-prepared diet that meets her specific nutritional needs. The grain-free canned food seems to agree with her­—she is a healthy weight and her coat is soft and shiny. But I’d like to move her into a diet that is organic and of course one that makes less waste. Last weekend I was so excited to find the brand I feed her (Wellness) in her in a larger 12.5 oz can. I bought a few and brought them home. I had intended to post about how switching from the 5.5 oz cans will reduce the amount of metal I buy and recycle every week until I’m able to wean her off the wet food. Tonight while reading about the different metals used for pet food cans I came across some information that throws a kink into the plan.

The small 5.5 oz cans are made of aluminum and the 12.5 oz cans are made of coated steel. The coating that lines the inside many steel food cans contain bisphenol A (BPA), while the coating on most aluminum cans does not. The lining is used to prevent the food from eroding the metal. I suppose I should have thought about this sooner because there have been a lot of reports in recent years about BPA in canned human food. As I make a great effort to reduce my own contact with harmful leaching chemicals, it’s difficult to imaging not making the same considerations for my pet. I came across this newsletter with a pretty thorough post about the kinds of cans used by different pet food brands. It looks like there are some brands that do sell food in large 12.5 or 14 oz cans that do not contain BPA.

I am going to call Wellness tomorrow to ask if they are still using steel cans that contain BPA. If so, I will do some research to see if there is a brand with a formula similar to what I’m feeding my cat now, in a large BPA-free can, available at a local store. Meanwhile I remain very hopeful that my vet and I will come up with a manageable alternative solution.

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Waste crate, week 5

This week my trash crate contents raise a sensitive issue. After receiving a box of chocolates from a loved one in the mail for Valentine’s Day, I’d like to discuss the difficult task of refusing gifts. I will start by saying that the gift-giver in this case sent the most decadent, delicious chocolates I have ever tasted—dried figs infused with chocolate ganache, then dipped in dark chocolate. It was a thoughtful and loving gesture, especially because figs and chocolate are two of my all-time favorite foods. But it’s difficult for me to fully enjoy them as I look at all the paper and plastic they arrived in. I brought the plastic packing to my work where I know it will be reused at least once, but the plastic business card (what?) that came in the box will go straight to the landfill.

I have made a real effort to explain my No Trash Project to everyone who knows me. Especially around the holidays, I try to express that I do not want to receive any material gifts. Of course it’s natural to want to give to those you love, and package-free gifts are particularly difficult when separated by long distances. Our lives are busy. It’s not realistic to imagine that we can all have a “shared experience gift” with everyone on every special occasion. When I can’t get together with my friends and family, it feels good to send and receive signs that they are in my thoughts and I am in theirs.

Though digital communication may seem in some ways impersonal and too easy to hold real meaning, I have been enjoying the creative possibilities that come with connecting through email, text message, and social media—sending personalized articles, images, and videos to loved ones near and far. I think being able to share information, images, and ideas on a regular basis brings me closer to the people I miss. If I’m lucky enough to see them in person, conversation, good food, and adventures are the best gifts I can imagine giving or receiving.

Meanwhile, I continue to explain that “just this once” or “but it’s such a small amount of garbage” doesn’t work with my project, which every day feels more and more like an identity.

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Waste crate, week 4

My waste from this past week looks pretty much the same as prior weeks. I bought some produce from the grocery store again this week so I’m left with the plastic stickers for the landfill. I made an appointment toward the end of the month to talk with my vet about feeding my cat a home prepared diet so that we may make another attempt to wean her off the canned food. I received less junk mail this week than usual. My bank has told me that even though I’m signed up for online banking, they are still legally required to send paper statements. I file them and toss the envelopes in the waste crate. Paper statements from several years ago are shredded and recycled or burned.

I have always wondered why windowed envelopes must have plastic? Why can’t they all be made with just an open cutout? Does it have to do with privacy regulations? According to Rhode Island Resource Recovery recycling guidelines, residents can put windowed envelopes into their green (paper) bins. But how do they separate the plastic from the paper? Does it go straight to the landfill? Do the glues from the windows, stamps, paper tapes and stickers contaminate the paper? These are all questions I will be asking when I tour the RIRRC facilities.

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Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation

Today I called Rhode Island Resource Recovery to sign up for a tour of the Materials Recycling Facility and the landfill. The nearly full landfill has been in the local news lately because of an odor control problem. The ventilation system designed to filter out hydrogen sulfide had reached capacity. Residents in towns 15 miles away were complaining of the stench. New wells and flares had to be installed to collect and burn up the gas. In the Action Speaks conference I spoke about in my first post, Sarah Kite (Director of Recycling Services) speaks about how we generally don’t think about garbage until there is a garbage crisis. In this country, we do not have to look at the consequences of consumption becoming waste.

RIRRC has announced that come Earth Day (April 22), single stream recycling (numbers 1-7) will go live to encourage residents and businesses to move more items from their trash cans to their recycling bins. The MRF is currently undergoing major renovation to accomodate this change (previously Rhode Island was only excepting 1 and 2 plastics) and I’m going to check it out to see what happens to the stuff that gets thrown ‘away’.

On the RIRRC website I found a link to University of Rhode Island’s Master Composter Training outreach program. It starts up again in the fall of 2012. It looks wonderful!

Above photo from Providence Journal Files.

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Waste crate, week 3

This week the trash crate looks a little better than the last couple. I made an effort to reduce the landfill trash pieces by focusing on buying produce without plastic tags or ties. I decided to break the habit of buying organic kale from the grocery store, which usually comes bundled with a plastic twist tie and a plastic brand tag. This week I bought organic bok choy and red leaf lettuce from the grocery store without making any trash. Then I picked up some trash-free organic kale and mustard greens at the farmers’ market. Sometimes solving a trash problem leads me to unexpected benefits––like experiencing a greater variety of leafy greens.

I still came home with some produce stickers… and canned cat food.

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Waste crate, week two

Week two of waste crate contents looks pretty similar to week one. I received more junk mail this week than last, so I need to make another round of phone calls to get myself removed from more mailing lists. I received a few ‘pre-approved’ credit card offers this week. The ‘opt out’ phone number leads me to an automated phone service that asks for my social security number, which I will not provide. This kind of mailing is harassment. I’m going to go to my post office to see if they can offer me any advise on how to be removed from ‘current resident’ mailing lists… I wonder if you can register your address with a ‘do not mail’ service?

The non-recyclables this week are from organic grocery store produce. Two plastic tags, twist ties, and stickers. Still trying to switch over completely to the farmers’ markets and co-ops.

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Waste crate

Pictured above is my trash and recycling bin after one week. I’ve been using this wood crate to hold all the recyclable paper, recyclable bottles & cans, and the landfill waste I produce each week. Before taking it out to the curb, I photographed it as a part of a new plan to document its contents. Today it held the paper mail that can’t be burned in the wood stove as starter, the cardboard box that the stainless steel container I purchased from Life Without Plastic was packaged in (I reused the larger shipping box), the plastic bag that was inside the cardboard box, a plastic produce tag that came off of some organic Kale (bought from the grocery store between farmers’ markets), a plastic magnetic strip removed from the paper tag on a pair of cashmere gloves given to me as birthday gift, and seven empty cat food cans. The cat food has been a real issue, and I will soon address the problems I’ve come up against trying to reduce pet care waste.

The plastic bag (not stretchy), the kale tag, and magnetic strip are not recyclable so they will go into the large city garbage collection can that we share with our landlady. The cat food cans and all the paper go into two separate recycling bins. The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation recently announced the planned switch to single-stream recycling in 2012.

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