Money for trash and the perks aren’t free

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Compost, Consumption, Environment, Local Government, Oklahoma City, Recycling, Tricia Dameron, Waste Management | Posted on 25-08-2009


by Tricia Dameron

City living definitely has its perks. One perk I’m enjoying since we moved to inner-OKC a mere three weeks ago has been curbside recycling. What a treat! Previously we lived in an unincorporated area and had to haul our recycling to a drop-off center during Saturday morning errands. Everything had to be sorted and it was common for the dumpsters to be overflowing with recyclables, resulting in us carting our waste back to the house.

Today is trash day in my new neighborhood and as I made my way to the office, I pondered the missing “Little Blues” at many of my neighbors’ curbs. I cannot comprehend why someone would opt out of curbside recycling. Because of my various residences, taking recycling to drop-off centers has always been a highly regarded pain in the butt. Comparatively, curbside recycling is a luxury. As of July 2009 26 percent of OKC trash customers set out their “Little Blue” every week and 52 percent of the same participate in curbside recycling, according to Mark Jordan at Recycle America. Perhaps you’re asking yourself, “What is the difference between set-out rate and participation rate?” I’m not clear on that yet, but check back for more information in the comments.

I wish Oklahoma City had a residential pay-as-you-throw program. I recycle and compost without financial incentive, but it would nice (and logical) to pay less when I use less (landfill space), as it is with gas, electricity, and city water. For $16.23/month, you can fill two 90-gallon “Big Blue” containers per week. A third 90-gallon cart costs an additional $2.76/month. I can request a smaller cart, but I’ll pay the same if I dispose 7 gallons or 180 gallons of waste per week. I wonder if there has been any correlation between pay-as-you-throw programs and multiplying illegal dump sites?

Recycling can also be incentivized by container deposit legislation (also called a “bottle bill”), which requires a refundable deposit on beverage containers. Seven states with bottle bills studied litter rates and found a substantial reduction in beverage container litter. Oklahoma Department of Transportation spends $3.5 million/year cleaning up litter along state highways. A 1998 litter survey found beverage containers to be the fourth highest source of litter in Oklahoma.

Iowa, with land area and population comparable to Oklahoma, enacted a bottle bill in 1978. If Iowa can do it, why can’t Oklahoma? Several attempts to enact a bottle bill have failed in the Oklahoma Legislature. In 2008 a measure creating a task force to simply study container deposit legislation didn’t even get a committee hearing.

Spending taxes to pick up litter will never cure the problem. And burying reusable materials — materials that save money, energy and natural resources — comes straight from pages of “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” by Jared Diamond. Both practices seem antithetical to the fiscally conservative values of the political majority here in Oklahoma.

One small step for reusable bags …

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Family, Food and Drink, Robbie White, Tips, Waste Management | Posted on 27-03-2009


by Robbie White 

I believe in small steps when changing behaviors. My latest battle has been reusable bags. It all started for me when I started riding my bike to the grocery store on occasion to bring home a few items. 

I feed three growing kids, so provisioning my kitchen is no small chore. The bulk of  my grocery shopping cannot be done on a bike. Neither, however, can it be done well at a big box store. It is a subtle balance of healthy and sustainable. I have written about this before in my Fresh Greens post, Mothering Sustainably.

As I stated then, I do spend a good deal of time on the issue of feeding my family — like all mothers and fathers since time began. In addition to theactors of cost, health impact, organic quality, hormone/antibiotic presence, and environmental impact, by riding my bike to the store, I add in the space factor. How much can I pack onto my the baskets of my bicycle? Besides all of that, it makes me smile to ride to the grocery store! I feel a sense of joy in a menial task as well as the satisfaction of my car sitting in the garage!

The biggest change our family has made is to stop buying two weeks worth of groceries at once. Instead, we focus on a few days

worth. When my husband and I ride our bikes to the store together, we can pick up enough food to last a few days. We have to be thoughtful and avoid too many impulse purchases but it can be done if you pack the groceries into reusable bags of the right shape to fit right down into the baskets on our bicycles. For me, that means canvas totes from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. They are sturdy enough to hold anything and they fit into those baskets perfectly. You can even tie the handles over the top to secure the food inside for the ride home. 

A couple of weeks ago, I rode my bike to the store. I had a short list of things my family needed and the weather was absolutely beautiful. I set out with two tote bags. What I did not

realize was that my son had given me a list of snacks he needed for a club meeting at school (three bags of chips and two boxes of cookies). I eyed the growing bulk in my basket uneasily. What was I going to do with those huge bags of chips? I braved on thinking that I could make two trips if needed. The light was fading fast, however. So, I packed up my purchases and wheeled them out to my bike. I wish I had a picture to show you but many of my neighbors had a good laugh that lovely evening as I rode home with three bags of chips tied on top of two tote bags on the back of my bike—thank goodness for those long tote bag handles to secure them. The pile rose well above the baskets swaying with each revolution of the pedals. I made it home, chuckling at how pleased I was to have made it home in one trip with all those bulky chips. I did make a mental note to bring along one of my children for extra bicycle storage space the next time I am asked to buy snacks! 

The point of this silly story is that trying to accomplish this short ride to the store with thin disposable plastic bags they give out at stores these days would have been a disaster! The reusable bags are the right tool for the way I shop now. It is that simple. When I am not limited by the number of bags I brought with me, I buy more stuff than I need. It is the same when I drive to the store. I just buy more when I know that I don’t have to fit it all into my bicycle baskets. There are times when that is appropriate. 

The challenge with reusable bags is having them with you when you need them. I have begun keeping a few in my car for quick stops at the drug store or wherever.

My best tips for actually using the reusable bags are:

  • Put them where you actually need them (in the car, on the bicycle, etc…)
  • Go back to the car to get them when you forget (this is hard).
  • Be really nice to the hard working cashiers and sackers who struggle with the myriad shapes and sizes of reusable bags.
  • Smile when you use your bags!!
  • Be sure to get yours from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

Green Valentines

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Family, Holidays, Robbie White, Waste Management | Posted on 06-02-2009


by Robbie White

I have been pondering the last-minute mindset that marketers and retailers have cultivated in our culture. For example, we all know for 365 days prior to February 14 that we will be expected to participate in some form of Valentine’s Day celebration. Whether that participation is elaborate or simple is determined by our individual tastes and situations. Marketers and retailers would like us to rush out on February 13 to our local superstore and purchase the most expensive, over-packaged, sticker ladened, and trendy set of valentines for our classmates/lovers/family members/co-workers heedless of the resources we consume and the costs we pay. This isn’t really a question of how much to spend because valentines are CHEAP! Each one may even come with an envelope, a card, a sticker and even a piece of candy. Sadly, valentines rarely get looked at twice. They are opened, admired and pilfered of sweets, finally to be thrown away by parents at the earliest possible moment. It has bugged me for years that this practice is so wasteful. One year, my five year old was asked to bring over 50 valentines individually signed. He was part of an open area classroom with four classes! I am still amazed at the huge bag of cards he brought home that year! It was a dizzying display of conspicuous consumption.

What if we did things differently? At our church, there is a fabulous event every year marking the beginning of Advent. During season of Advent we prepare for the birth of the Christ child on Christmas. The main feature of the Advent Festival is the crafts. There are several dozen different crafts to make. The planning for this event begins in January after the ladies in charge carefully pack the leftovers away into a designated closet. Then, they scour the stores for the best late-season discounts, purchasing materials for future festivals at 75%-90% off. These bargain buys are all stored until September when they begin to organize in earnest. There is very little waste with this event because of the thoughtful way the organizers use resources. This year, they made snowmen out of recycled smoothie bottles. In many previous festivals, they made snow globes out of recycled baby food jars. Old Christmas cards have been cut up to make any number of different crafts.

This event inspires me to think more carefully about the stuff I use.

Laura is a good friend of mine with whom I plan mission projects for the children at our church. She is an excellent steward of resources! Laura has spent many years volunteering in various ministries and community groups, and she has learned how to make the most of what’s available. Recently, she planned to provide the kids with materials to create handmade Valentine’s cards for the homebound members of our church. First, she went to the office staff to ask them for envelopes leftover from other projects. She managed to get about 5 dozen envelopes that would otherwise have been tossed—all the same size in excellent condition. Then, she went to the supply closet to choose paper. She chose construction and craft paper from our existing supplies and cut the paper to fit the envelopes. In our supply closet, there is a huge box of stickers sorted (by volunteers like Laura) into themes, from which she chose appropriate stickers.

Most people would have gone to the store and purchased new envelopes, new paper and new stickers, but Laura was intentional in her use of resources. The project was completed by the children in two phases which included 1)addressing of envelopes and 2)creative work of making cards. Of course, there are a myriad of steps that go into any such project, such as the gathering of names and correct addresses, sealing and posting the cards and cleaning up afterwards. For the cost of postage and Laura’s time, the children created unique personal greetings for the members of our faith family who are not able to travel to the church building anymore. The blessings were abundant!

For me, the best part of this project was the lesson I learned in simplicity. Not every need requires that stuff and/or money be devoured. Some needs are best filled by our time and thoughtfulness. You can apply this lesson to Christmas or any event that requires participation or giving. We have a choice—do we allow the retail/marketing industry to define our level of consumption, or do we choose to save resources with careful and creative planning?

I may not be able to get out of providing valentines for the my children’s classmates. However, with a little planning, I can do it with as little environmental impact as possible—recycled materials, small sized greetings, stamps instead of stickers, or perhaps a card that folds into its own envelope? The possibilities are endless. I am energized by the sense of empowerment this choice gives me!

I’d love to hear from all of our Fresh Greens readers— how do you infuse green into Valentine’s pink and red?

Follow the Trash

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Nature, Podcast, the Madfarmer, Waste Management | Posted on 02-02-2009


by the Madfarmer

I recently came across a podcast about trash. It doesn’t sound interesting but I actually found it quite enlightening. For example, in the northern Pacific Ocean there exists a gigantic, slowly moving spiral of currents known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Besides being filled with phytoplankton it is also the world’s largest landfill. It has given birth to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and scientists estimate its size as two times bigger than Texas. Plastic constitutes 90 percent of trash both there and in all the world’s oceans. The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.

Now I don’t generally categorize myself as a tree hugger, save the whales type of guy. But I do try to remain connected to my actions even if I don’t see the direct consequences of them. We too often don’t consider our impact on the world because society successfully insulates us from the results. Remaining connected to our decisions and their direct or indirect consequences should cause us to think twice about everything we do. If I toss this plastic bottle into that trashcan, what happens next? Where will it go once it is emptied? How long will it stay there? Where will its final destination be? For many of those plastic bottles they will end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This type of thinking should revolutionize our decision-making. If I buy this generic coffee, who am I actually paying the money to? If I buy the shirt that was made in Indonesia, am I financing child labor? If I eat beef from a confined animal feeding operation, what am I actually putting into my body and the ground?

These are questions many of us already ask on a daily basis. Continually educating ourselves and others around us about our choices is making a difference albeit at a remarkably slow pace. Ask yourself and those around you a few more questions than usual. The answers may make a difference.

Compostable Corn-Plastic? Yes and No

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Compost, Public Works, Science, Tricia Dameron, Waste Management | Posted on 23-01-2009


by Tricia Dameron

New "bioplastics" are labeled "compostable" but require industrial composting processes.
Human ingenuity has discovered yet another use for corn: bioplastic,
specifically in the form of 
disposable flatware. Have you seen these
products? You might not even know the difference, except that they melt
a lot easier. They look just like their petroleum-based counterparts.
What's the attraction? Well, for one, they are not made from petroleum.
That's a plus. But, they are made from a foodstuff, which is a growing
concern in this age of corn ethanol. Another advantage of polylactic
acid (PLA), the technical name for the resin, is that it's compostable. Well, at least that's what one
would assume from reading the product label. However, that's not the
complete Five months in the compost pile has caused no change in the "compostable" corn-based plastic cups.
story. It's compostable, yes, but only in a commercial
facility.  According to this Scientific American
article, there are only 113 
industrial-grade composting facilities in
the U.S. I wonder how many of these facilities accept public drop-offs?
Some of these products are labeled with the term "biodegradable." To be
clear, these items are not biodegradable in a landfill; they might
degrade in 100 or 1,000 years. Landfills are designed to entomb our
waste to prevent contamination of the environment; in turn, the
"bio"—the sun, air, fungus—of "biodegrade" is removed from the process.

Products marked code 7 are accepted by Waste Management, but it is unclear whether they are actually recycled.
So, if backyard composting doesn't work, can you put them in your
recycle bin? Apparently, it's not that straightforward. NatureWorks, a
PLA manufacturer owned in-part by Cargill, says PLA has no negative impact on the quality of flake produced from recycling PET and HDPE plastics. Yet, this Smithsonian article states that PLA is considered a contaminant when found in the recycle stream of PET. Some bioplastics may be imprinted with resin code 7. If so, these are accepted by Waste Management in Oklahoma City, but are they actually recycled? No industry representative would go on the record to confirm or deny it.

situations where reusable plates and flatware are not feasible, it
would be nice to have an option like these corn-based plastics—an
option made from renewable resources that biodegrade. However,
at this point it seems our infrastructure does not support the intended
benefits of these products. It would also seem that there needs to be truth in marketing to reflect these limitations.

New Law, Good News for Area Pets

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Current Affairs, Local Government, Local News, Pets, Waste Management | Posted on 19-01-2009


by Chelsea Simpson

My friend Tracy strikes a pose in front of my swiss chard. She has a new home now, but last summer she and six other dogs were found abandoned at a home. Thanks to irresponsible breeding practices, Tracy is deaf and has vision problems.
Sustainability in Oklahoma City took a small, unexpected step forward last week. As of January 15, the city will pay for the spaying or neutering of any dogs and cats that wind up at the city shelter, even if their owners come to claim them. Previously, owners hoping to take their lost pets home were required to pay a fee to cover the costs associated with caring for the animal at the shelter. But now owners can have that fee waived if they provide proof that their pet has been altered or agree to have it altered at the city’s expense.

Hopefully the fee waiver will result in more owners claiming their pets, which will save the city in boarding and euthanasia costs, and more pets being altered, which will eventually lead to a decrease in the overall population of unwanted pets.

That last point is where sustainability comes in: unwanted pets. According to an article in the Journal Record last month, Oklahoma City euthanized 17,654 dogs and cats last year. That is waste, my friends, at its most grotesque. I fret about throwing away all kinds of things—leftover potatoes, socks with holes, wrinkled printer paper. I also realize that we are a wasteful society, consuming too much on many fronts, but the lives’ of living things? That stretches wastefulness beyond acceptable limits.

Let’s remind ourselves what we are talking about here because I grew up on a farm, and I eat meat. I know the argument, and it goes like this, “Dogs and cats are animals, and just like livestock they are here to be used by humans. If that’s how you feel, then use them—let them warm your lap and welcome your visitors and perform more noble tasks, like search and rescue or bomb sniffing because that’s what they were bred for. There is no need to breed new animals so long as thousands of them are being euthanized. To my knowledge, no one kills cattle just to make room for more cattle; we kill them for a purpose. Their slaughter isn’t simply a matter of convenience.

Yet more dogs and cats continue to be produced because we keep buying them. Then we throw the old ones away. So as we move toward sustainability with our recycled pop cans, hybrid cars and local food, let’s not forget our loyal companions. “Recycle” a pet from the shelter. Avoid creating “new waste” by spaying and neutering. And support new legislation and rules like the one that took effect last week.

2009: The Year of Sustainability

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Family, Food and Drink, Lindsay Vidrine, Locavore, Waste Management | Posted on 09-01-2009


by Lindsay Vidrine

Every year, with the tick of a clock, we ring in a new calendar year signifying a fresh start and clean slate for our lives. For many, this New Year comes with strings attached in the form of resolutions – some realistic, some lofty.

This year, I’m choosing to step up the focus on sustainability in my life in several tangible ways. My mother always told me to write down my goals to help hold myself accountable and stay the course, so here it goes:

Resolution #1: A renewed focus on what my family eats.
This includes using my new Made In Oklahoma cookbook Tastefully Oklahoma to come up with delectable recipes stuffed with locally-grown ingredients.

I will also buy food from the Oklahoma Food Coop to make recipes from Clean Eating magazine which focuses on “consuming food in its most natural state.” Each recipe includes nutrition information to help create well-balanced meals while also helping to cut out preservatives and additives that seem to have become a staple on grocery store shelves.

My last tactic for this resolution is to make my own baby food for our four-month-old son. It’s amazing how setting aside just a few hours one Sunday afternoon can provide safe, chemical-free food for weeks at a time. I plan to become a fruit and veggie steaming, puree master to help stave-off food allergies and create a nutritious palate for our little man.

Resolution #2: Ditch plastic bags once and for all.
I never seem to have my canvas bags with me when I hit the check out line and by the time I get back home, I’m too focused on other things to remember to stick them in the car. This will soon change thanks to a set of Envirosax renewable shopping bags. These adorable bags roll up to the size of a cell phone and are an easy and inexpensive way to make sure a reusable bag is always on hand.

Resolution #3: Use less stuff.
Have you watched the video The Story of Stuff? It’s well worth the 20 minutes of viewing time and will put into perspective how most of the stuff we “need” typically ends up in the landfill in 6 months or less. So before I make a purchase, I’m resolving to stop and take a hard look at what I’m buying.

Resolution #4: Don’t let baby gear take over my house.
This is closely related to resolution #3, but the world of baby toys and products is never-ending. Parents and children are constantly bombarded with new gadgets to make life easier. The catch is, many of these products are only used for a brief period of time (especially for infants) and before you know it your child has outgrown it and baby gear is taking over your house. So, I’m pledging to take preventative measures before we get to that stage (and I have a total panic attack). This is going to be tricky – especially when it comes to filtering through all the things people give as gifts that have a short life-span – but I’m up to the challenge.

What are your goals for 2009? If you think about it, I’m sure there are ways to incorporate sustainable practices in some form or fashion. Don’t forget, small changes add up to make a big difference, so keep that in mind when things seem to get overwhelming.