Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nudging Recycling From Less Waste To None

Recycling and composting is catching on across the country.  The NY Times reports:

At Ecco, a popular restaurant in Atlanta, waiters no longer scrape food scraps into the trash bin. Uneaten morsels are dumped into five-gallon pails and taken to a compost heap out back.

And at eight of its North American plants, Honda is recycling so diligently that the factories have gotten rid of their trash Dumpsters altogether.

Across the nation, an antigarbage strategy known as “zero waste” is moving from the fringes to the mainstream, taking hold in school cafeterias, national parks, restaurants, stadiums and corporations.

One of the key solutions to the crisis in global land use is to use less resources -- and a big key to using less resources is to generate less waste.  Whether it means recycling, composting, and cradle to cradle production (in which products are designed to be returned to the manufacturer so parts can be re-used), or buying recycled and cradle-to-cradle products only, we can and should all get involved.

What do we do? 

In addition to reducing packaging and re-using and recycling compulsively, we buy recycled, and love the fact that instead of buying our laptops from Dell, we can lease them -- and then send 'em back to Dell so they can re-use whatever they can.  We also compost our food scraps, and use fallen leaves from backyard trees as the carbon source that we mix into the green kitchen waste to generate the chemical heat reaction that is key to composting.  Composting provides us with a FREE nutrient-rich, water-retaining dark soil ingredient that I mix with vermiculite and peat to create our garden mix.   So our food scraps provide the nutrients needed to sustain our delicious organic garden!

Municipalities are catching on at varying speeds.  I know that while we have a green bin here in El Cerrito, my wife and I's parents -- from New York and Virginia, respectively -- had no idea what it was for when they first saw it.  Business associates from other parts of the country look curiously at "Compost" bins they see in public places like the Ferry Building in San Francisco.  So many parts of America still have a lot of catching up to do on the Zero Waste front.

That said, our system in California is far from perfect.  What we need more of here in the East Bay, for example, is the ability to put not only food waste, but also compostable cutlery, dirty paper towels, etc. into our green bin, which right now only takes lawn waste.  I know things like compostable cups and forks decompose at different temperatures than food and lawn scraps, so I'm watching curiously to see how cutting edge programs like that of the City of San Francisco handle mandatory composting.

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