Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Learn From Trash

Last week, I read Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage and was privileged enough to join the Green Drinks, Vancouver, WA affiliate on a tour of the Waste Connections West Van Materials Transfer Station located in Vancouver, WA., led by Terra Heilman, Waste Reduction Coordinator.

There was a lot to see, and a lot to digest, but I have come up with the 5 most important things I learned from both the book and the tour.

Safety First!

1) Create Less Waste

I include recycling in this, because the definition of waste is something you pay for twice. Once when you bought it, and once when you paid someone else to get rid of it. Choose items with less packaging, compost anything you possibly can, borrow items from friends, and stop buying so much stuff.

Truck moving co-mingled recycling (from businesses).

2) Know Where Your Waste Goes

Things don't just disappear when you put them out by the curb. It's both fascinating and enlightening to know where it goes. For example, my trash gets compacted and barged out to a landfill in Oregon, where it will sit for years and years. Why should I care? Because we will eventually run out of landfill space. Then what?

3) It's Only Recyclable If There Is A Buyer For It

Each recycling facility recycles different items depending on what kind of buyers they have. My transfer station can recycle milk and Tetra-Pak cartons because there happens to be a plant nearby. If you fill your recycling bin with things that aren't authorized, they will just take the long trip to the landfill. Avoid buying products made of items that can't be recycled locally.

Sorted Recyclables

4) Spend Time Wisely

Rather than complaining, or harassing your recycling station about how they don't recycle every darn thing you buy, spend time encouraging your neighbors to recycle. I know it's frustrating that innovation hasn't kept up with our ideals, but we need to deal with it realistically.

5) Don't Put Plastic Bags In Your Recycling Container

Plastic bags gum up the sorters, and then everything has to be stopped in order to cut the bags free. This is a huge waste of time and money. Put the plastic bags in the trash, or better yet, don't use plastic bags at all.

Teeth On the Brand New-Yet To Be Installed-Sorter.

Itching to take a tour of your own waste facility? Try calling the number on your monthly bill and asking. You are welcome.
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