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Opinion: We Must Demand Less Waste Be Produced

September 19, 2018 Environment, Featured Comments Off on Opinion: We Must Demand Less Waste Be Produced
We use yard/leaf bags for recycling, pinned on the wall is guidelines from our recycling company.

Growing up in the 70s/80s we recycled — aluminum cans. Once the container in the garage filled with flattened cans we were off to the metal recycler to sell them. Though other items were often reused, nothing else was recycled. It all went into trash cans that I often had to drag out to the curb. In the 30 years since I’ve lived on my own I’ve tried to recycle more and more.

Sorting used to be the thing, then single stream. Now a common word is contamination.

Today, the average contamination rate among communities and businesses sits at around 25%. That means that roughly 1 in 4 items placed in a recycling container is actually not recyclable through curbside programs, and this creates enormous problems for the recycling economy.

Problem one: contamination significantly increases the cost to process recyclables. Add this to the fact that commodity prices for recyclables has fallen significantly and the financial sustainability of recycling is at risk. To put another way, not only are plastics lighter, and packaging more complex, recyclables derived from those items are being sold for less and at a higher cost to process. Those are some big economic hurdles.

Problem two: Recycling contamination has a direct impact in the quality of recyclables entering the commodity markets. For example, when foods or liquids are placed in a recycling container they will ultimately saturate tons and tons of otherwise good paper and cardboard that they come into contact with. When paper and cardboard loses its quality, it also loses its ability to be recycled. It becomes trash.

Now, imagine that all taking place at an enormous scale, and not just with food and liquids but with all contaminants. Trash entering the recycling stream impacts the quality of recyclables entering the commodity markets. The higher the recycling contamination, the less we can recycle – that is the challenge we are all facing, and it is a global problem.

In response to these quality issues, China – a major importer of recyclables – recently issued new rules on the types of materials it will accept, including a 0.5% max on recycling contamination. That means that the 25% contamination rate we see today at the curb must reach virtually zero for those items to be recycled. Anything above that 0.5% contamination will be trash. (Waste Management)

China’s decision to no longer purchase & process our contaminated materials means recycling must change. We must adapt to this change.  In May the St. Charles County Council rejected a proposed trash transfer center.  Besides, landfills are filling up quickly.

One of the first things you can do is attempt to reduce recycling/waste by buying products in minimal packaging. Buying larger sizes of something will reduce the total packaging needed. Buy large refill bottles. Buy spices in refill packages rather than a new plastic/glass bottle.

Those rare times we have a pizza box, my husband has the pleasure of cutting out the greasy cardboard so the non-greasy parts (lid, sides) can be recycled. Sure it’s extra work, but by doing so more than half will be recyclable.  We have stainless steel straws for when we go out for shakes, not using straws otherwise.

Still plastics remains a major problem. A costly experimental effort is underway to begin to reduce the size of one of the five floating garbage patches in the world’s oceans.

We need to gather the political will to do better:

Legislators could make laws that incentivize and facilitate recycling, like the national bottle deposit and bag tax bills that were proposed in 2009. These bills would have created a nationwide five-cent deposit on plastic bottles and other containers, and a nonrefundable five-cent charge on plastic bags at checkout. The U.K. launched a similar charge on all single-use grocery bags in 2015 and announced a nationwide bottle deposit requirement in March of this year. Within six months of the plastic bag charge being in place, usage dropped over 80 percent. Similarly, in Germany, where a nationwide bottle bill was put in place in 2003, recycling rates have exceeded 98 percent. In the U.S. these actions would go a long way toward recovering the estimated $8 billion yearly economic opportunity cost of plastic waste. (Scientific American)

Those who profit from plastics, however, don’t want anything to change.  You might be thinking “What could replace plastics?” Mushrooms!

From 2010:

Companies are now beginning to use regional agricultural byproducts to reduce the use of plastics in their packaging & products:

Mushroom-based packaging went mainstream when the furniture giant, IKEA, announced that it will replace Styrofoam packaging with EcoCradle for all its products. Ecocradle decomposes within weeks as against Styrofoam packaging that can take centuries to decompose. Moreover, it’s cost-effective to produce and almost as durable as plastic. Ecocradle has also proved to be as insulating and flame-resistant as polystyrene. IKEA’s ingenious initiative is bound to be a motivating factor for other commercial outfits that aim to give back to the society and environment where they exist. IKEA’s Head of Sustainability, Joanna Yarrow, said this was the retailer’s small yet significant step towards reducing waste and conserving ecological balance. Dell, Coca Cola, P&G, and many other brands have switched to eco-friendly alternative packaging. (Medium)

I love the idea of tossing packaging into a compost pile to decompose instead of into the trash/recycling.

Here are the results of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Recycling is too much trouble to bother with.

  • Strongly agree: 3 [10.34%]
  • Agree: 2 [6.9%]
  • Somewhat agree: 1 [3.45%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [10.34%]
  • Disagree: 5 [17.24%]
  • Strongly disagree: 15 [51.72%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

As cities in the St. Louis region scramble to maintain recycling we need to do our part by demanding stricter laws on the production of plastics, let manufactures know they need to reduce/eliminate plastics.  If we don’t adapt quickly the recycling will begin piling up — before being dumped into dwindling landfills.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Sunday Poll: Is Recycling Worth The Trouble?

September 16, 2018 Environment, Featured, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Is Recycling Worth The Trouble?
Please vote below

Recycling, like many businesses, is changing.

Recycling has worked well for the last 40 years because recycled waste was valuable and in high demand in countries around the world.

The United States has historically sold most of its recycled goods to China. 

But new restrictions from the Chinese government on imported recyclables have demanded that the materials have very, very little contamination, or in the case of paper, that it is processed into pulp before reaching their shores. 

Typically, contamination is a people issue. Plastic or paper with food remnants on it — like your greasy pizza box — cannot be recycled because those contaminants would mess up the refining process.

Contamination levels in America are at 25 percent right now, meaning 1 out 4 items in a recycling bin should actually be thrown in the trash, according to Waste Management. But China wants the contamination levels down to 0.3 percent, which is effectively code for “we will not be accepting any imported recyclable materials.” (Mashable)

Kirkwood, a suburb of St. Louis, had decided to end its curbside recycling program after it learned rather than making money on each ton — it would now be charged.

After residents complained about the plan to end curbside recycling, city officials pledged on Thursday to continue the program, which had been set to end next month.
Bill Bensing, public services director, said the city would use sanitation department reserve funds to sustain the current single-stream recycling program and absorb extra costs for six to 12 months until more economical, sustainable alternatives are found. Kirkwood, unlike many other cities, operates its own sanitation department.
Single-stream recycling allows a variety of recyclables — plastic, cardboard, paper and aluminum — to be mingled together in a single residential cart. (Post-Dispatch)

Today’s poll is about — you guessed it — recycling.

This poll will close at 8pm tonight, I’ll have the results and thoughts on Wednesday morning.

— Steve Patterson

 

Me To Restaurants: “No Straws Please”

August 13, 2018 Environment, Featured Comments Off on Me To Restaurants: “No Straws Please”
The set of 8 wide stainless steel straws we bought online.

In March 2016 I planned to order stainless steel straws for when my husband and I go out for shakes, see Reducing Use of Plastic Disposable Straws Good for the Environment.Unfortunately, I didn’t get them ordered until very recently. We now have four in our car, four at home.

Recent straw bans prompted me to finally order reusable straws.

Several countries, in the name of combating plastic pollution in the ocean, have begun banning various plastic products: utensils, bottles, and bags that often get thrown away after one use. In the United States, these efforts have centered on the plastic straw.

On July 26, the Walt Disney Company announced that it would eliminate single-use plastic straws and stirrers in all its locations by mid-2019 as part of its “journey of environmental stewardship.” Disney also plans to reduce other plastic products in its hotels and cruise ships as well as plastic shopping bags and styrofoam cups.

Starbucks made a similar announcement earlier this month, saying it would transition to a new lid for cold drinks that many have likened to an “adult sippy cup.”

The company has said it will introduce these lids in Seattle and Vancouver this fall, and continue with the rollout in the US and Canada next year, with the goal of taking them global. Eventually, this will mean eliminating more than 1 billion plastic straws per year.

Seattle, the home of the mega coffee company, became the first major US city with a plastic straw ban on July 1. New York City has proposed legislation to ban plastic straws in the city by 2020. Malibu and San Luis Obispo, California, and Miami Beach and Fort Myers, Florida, have similar efforts in the works.

There’s also a trending hashtag, #StopSucking. Chelsea Clinton, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Russell Crowe, Tom Brady, Sonam Kapoor, and Tom Felton have all pledged to “just say no” when handed a plastic straw. (VOX)

Why straw bans all of a sudden?

When reality-TV star Kim Kardashian West told her 115 million Instagram followers that her household had stopped using plastic straws, the head of an environmental nonprofit responded in disbelief.

“I thought, ‘Did we culture-hack this?’ ” said Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale, whose #StopSucking social-media campaign advocates banning single-use plastic straws. “Did we change the conversation around straws?”

This is the summer of the plastic-straw ban. Bans on straws have swept through U.S. cities, businesses, restaurants and even sports venues at a surprising speed. In recent months, officials in cities including New York, San Francisco, Miami Beach, Fla., Santa Barbara, Calif., and Portland, Ore., have either proposed or passed bans on single-use plastic straws. Last month, Seattle became the first major U.S. city to put a ban into effect. (Wall Street Journal)

The above article goes on to talk about how going up straws gives some “moral licensing”, they’ve done their part so they can do other things that are bad for the environment. I personally am always trying to reduce waste. reduce using plastics. reusing things as many times as possible. My indoor compost bin was a failure, but my kitchen scrap stock has been great. My homemade laundry detergent works great, but dishwasher detergent not so much — switched to Costco pods earlier this year. In the 30+ years since I moved out of my parent’s house I’ve bought maybe 1-2 rolls of paper towels. Not 1-2 rolls per year, 1-2 rolls in 3 decades!

I want to do more — consume less. I want to make sure I’m sending evrything to recycling that I can. I want to make sure I’m sending stuff to recycling in a way it’ll get provided — not rejected and sent to a landfill.

At restaurants I’m thinking I need to bring our own cloth napkins. I rarely eat out at places that use plastic flatware, but bringing my own flatware wouldn’t be that difficult. Reducing items we consume…consumes an increasing amount of my brain’s time. Saturday night we wet out to eat and I remembered to tell the person who took our drink order “no straws.” I have to get ahead off them because once it comes to the table it is waste whether I use it or not.

My hope is local restaurants will cease bringing water to the table with a straw before giving me the chance to tell them we don’t need straws.

— Steve Patterson

 

Gen-Z’s Love of Take Out & Delivery Increasing Need for Greener Containers

July 18, 2018 Environment, Featured, Popular Culture Comments Off on Gen-Z’s Love of Take Out & Delivery Increasing Need for Greener Containers
Shift, test kitchen & take out is in response to the need for quick take out meals

Change naturally comes with new generations. Currently restaurants are experiencing big shifts based on demographic changes.

No, I’m not talking about Millennials, but Get-Z.

Generation Z, as they have been coined, consist of those born in 1995 or later. This generation makes up 25.9% of the United States population, the largest percentage, and contribute $44 billion to the American economy. By 2020, they will account for one-third of the U.S. population, certainly worth paying attention to.

Just so we’re clear:
A “Millennial” is a person reaching young adulthood around the year 2000.
Generation Z (also known as Post-Millennials, the iGeneration, Founders, Plurals, or the Homeland Generation) is the demographic cohort following the Millennials. (Huffington Post)

This young generation is having a big impact on the restaurant industry.

Twenty-four percent of Gen Zers order takeout three or four times in a typical week, which is more than any other generation, according to a study released last fall by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) and the Center for Generational Kinetics. Comparatively, 21 percent of millennials, 17 percent of Gen Xers and 6 percent of baby boomers order takeout at the same rate. (Huffington Post)

Restaurants are responding to attract delivery & take out customers.

Delivery made up just 3 percent of total restaurant transactions in the year that ended in June, according to research firm The NPD Group. But interest in eating outside the confines of a traditional restaurant is clear. Customers only sat down to eat at restaurants 37 percent of time during the year that ended in June — with carryout representing a slightly larger piece of the pie (39 percent) and drive-thru visits accounting for 21 percent of restaurant transactions. And delivery growth also is in contrast to a slowdown in restaurant traffic overall, according to NPD. ?

Still, redesigning a restaurant to accommodate the burgeoning trend toward mobile ordering and meal delivery can be a risky move for restaurants, Roth said. For example, creating two lines for customers — one to wait for food ordered on the premises and the other to pick up mobile orders — makes sense, but it also could raise labor costs because more employees may be needed to staff both lines.

Those added costs can make a difference, especially in times of slower business. (Chicago Tribune)

For cities this might mean different needs for storefront restaurants — smaller dining rooms but more kitchen space if the 2 kitchen model is used. Remember when lines were to get a table? Now they’re to pick up orders.

All this take out & delivery means more single use packaging. I do like when restaurants have reusable;e to go containers, I have several I’ve been reusing for years.  The Green Dining Alliance looks at packaging and other aspects of restaurants:

While we see many different ways that St. Louis’ restaurants may work toward sustainability, all GDA restaurants must commit to our Core Concepts:

  • Ban use of Styrofoam
  • Utilize single-stream recycling 
  • Phase in efficient lighting. 
  • Set waste reduction and diversion goals, and share waste data with the GDA so that we can assess member restaurants’ environmental impact. (information kept private)
  • Share baseline utility data so that the GDA can aggregate data for the region’s environmental impact (information kept private) (GDA Core Concepts)

See certified restaurants here.

Responses on the recent non-scientintific Sunday Poll were less than usual, but here are the results:

Q: When buying a dinner (vs cooking at home) what’s your preferred method?

  • Dine in at restaurant 16 [76.19%]
  • TIE 2 [9.52%]
    • Take out/grab & go/to go
    • Delivery
  • Unsure/no answer 1 [4.76%]

I prepare most of our meals so when we pay for food I want to get away from home and have a server bring me food & beverage, but I’m not young,

— Steve Patterson

 

New Book — Sustainable Nation: Urban Design Patterns for the Future by Douglas Farr, Forward by Janette Sadik-Khan

June 11, 2018 Books, Environment, Featured Comments Off on New Book — Sustainable Nation: Urban Design Patterns for the Future by Douglas Farr, Forward by Janette Sadik-Khan

After I met Douglas Farr at a St. Louis event in 2012 I traveled to Bloomington-Normal to experience some of his work, see What Is Normal? A Small College Town In Central Illinois. Being a fan off his work I was delighted when I received his latest book: Sustainable Nation: Urban Design Patterns for the Future:

As a follow up to his widely acclaimed Sustainable Urbanism, this new book from author Douglas Farr embraces the idea that the humanitarian, population, and climate crises are three facets of one interrelated human existential challenge, one with impossibly short deadlines. The vision of Sustainable Nation is to accelerate the pace of progress of human civilization to create an equitable and sustainable world. The core strategy of Sustainable Nation is the perfection of the design and governance of all neighborhoods to make them unique exemplars of community and sustainability. The tools to achieve this vision are more than 70 patterns for rebellious change written by industry leaders of thought and practice. Each pattern represents an aspirational, future-oriented ideal for a key aspect of a neighborhood. At once an urgent call to action and a guidebook for change, Sustainable Nation is an essential resource for urban designers, planners, and architects.

I’ve had the hardcover book since April but haven’t had a chance to look at it until yesterday. The volume of detail is substantial. As usual. I like to show the contents so you can see how the book is organized:

  • Part One Our Default World
    • Chapter 1: Where We Are
    • Chapter 2: Case Studies: The Future Ahead of Schedule
  • Part Two Our Preferred Future
    • Chapter 3: Where We Want to Go
  • Part Three Theory of Change
    • Chapter 4: Theory of Change
    • Chapter 5: Time
    • Chapter 6: Acceleration Strategies
  • Part Four Patterns of Change
    • Chapter 7: Collective Effervescence
    • Chapter 8: Self-Governing Neighborhoods
    • Chapter 9: A Theater of Life
    • Chapter 10: Vibrant Density
    • Chapter 11: Mobility in Walkable Places
    • Chapter 12: Neighborhood Economy
    • Chapter 13: Urban Waters
    • Chapter 14: Stranded Carbon
    • Chapter 15: The New Health, Safety, and Welfare
  • Index

It’s part four where Farr lays out the specifics on getting to a sustainable future — building patterns to get us there. A year ago Farr discussed some of his research for this book at CNU25 (Congress for the New Urbanism):

As I haven’t studied the book and what it advocates, I can’t say if he’s on the right path or not. What I do love is he’s working solutions ro serious problems that need to be addressed — especially in St. Louis.

This looks to be a great book for anyone studying or working in related fields, unfortunately the hardcover lists for $80.  You can view a preview on Google Books. It’s available via Left Bank Books, Amazon, and others.

— Steve Patterson

 

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