Vermont Enacts Statewide Recycling Law

Vermont Governor, Peter Shumlin, signed a very comprehensive – and what I consider BOLD – recycling legislation this week.

The statewide law further defines mandated recyclables (all the usual suspects, but only PET and HDPE plastics) and outright bans these recyclables from going to landfill.  While there is still some element of deferring execution of the law on a local level (and thus a potential for variation in laws from town to town) I love this legislation. 

There is a timeline for removal of materials from the solid waste stream.  2014 – mandated recyclables. 2015 – yard waste.  2017 – food waste.  There is even an entire food residual hierarchy that includes reduction, diversion and appropriate disposal methods and targets generators of large volumes of food waste. 

I’m not sure if my favorite part of the law is the requirement of recycling bins where any public trash receptacle exists:

…when a container or containers in a public building or on public land are provided to the public for use for solid waste destined for disposal, an equal number of containers shall be provided for the collection of mandated recyclables. The containers shall be labeled to clearly show the containers are for recyclables and shall be placed as close to each other as possible in order to provide equally convenient access to users.

Or if I like the bit where they talk producer packaging the best (introducing a process to review the toxicity of the solid waste stream):

In this process, the secretary shall consult with manufacturers of commercial products and of packaging used with commercial products, retail sales enterprises, health and environmental advocates, waste management specialists, the general public, and state agencies. The goal of the process is to ensure that packaging used and products sold in the state are not an undue burden to the state’s ability to manage its waste.

This legislation requires public education campaigns AND discusses cost elements for removal and transport of separated recyclables.  It also has an element of tracking and monitoring progress towards these goals.   

I applaud Vermont for being specific in this law and setting aggressive timelines to manage their solid waste stream on a statewide level.  

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The Rubbish Diet Challenge Wrap-up

The eight week bin slimming challenge has come to an end and I’m proud to say we have successfully reduced our waste!  We went from one to two bags every week (which I thought was pretty good) down to one bag every other week.

How’d we do it?  First being aware of what it is we were throwing away was a good start.  From undertaking my Trash Diary the year prior, I knew we tossed a lot of paper towels, individual coffee cups, food waste and plastic packaging not recyclable in our area.  I focused on those areas first.

Paper towels were the first to go.  I moved the paper towel dispenser down to the basement and brought out dish rags as a substitute.  We also took away paper napkins completely and put a stack of cloth napkins on the counter.  Steve said to me the other day, “I don’t mind not using paper towels.” A complete 180 from when I introduced the idea and he grudgingly complied.

We had battles with our Keurig machine and the ubiquitous k-cups.  We fixed the leak problem with the refillable version and used zero k-cups during zero waste week.  It is a bit time consuming, so we’re exploring other options, but definitely on the right track of reducing this waste stream.

During zero waste week I avoided any disposable plastic container that couldn’t be recycled in our area, but over the course of The Rubbish Diet Challenge I learned that many more types of plastic bags were, in fact, recyclable near me.  That took a load off our rubbish bin.

Food waste was the biggest stream diverted.  We finally got a backyard compost bin (thanks Queens Botanical Garden)!  So our food scraps now go outside instead of in our trash bin.

My favorite week was zero waste week.  I had a few ‘ooops moments’ but dramatically slimmed down the amount of stuff we wasted by really thinking and planning first.

I must thank Karen Cannard for her brilliant challenge and amazing support during this effort!  You can meet all the bin slimmers and learn from their successes at her blog, The Rubbish Diet.

While the official challenge is over, we won’t be going back to our old ways.  We probably won’t strive for zero waste every week, but we will continue to think about what we waste and find ways to reduce it daily.

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Zero Waste – workweek update

Phew!  The work week is done and I think I did fairly well so far for zero waste week on The Rubbish Diet Challenge.  Now on to the weekend.

Monday and Tuesday were pretty tame.  We threw away a little bit of dental floss, some q-tips and one food wrapper each.  Wednesday I had a few oops moments out and about, mainly with paper towels in public restrooms. I was able to find lunch packaged in either compostable or recyclable packaging, and overcame some coffee challenges.

Thursday I was at my desk all day at work, and we have an office compost bin we take to a community garden so lunch waste wasn’t a problem.  Steve had another breakfast sandwich, so that’s another wrapper for the week.  I must say though, he’s been doing better than me!  I caved and used a sticky-tape lint roller twice because the reusable felt one wasn’t getting the stray cat hairs off my clothes.

Friday, I didn’t leave myself enough time to mess with the refillable Keurig filter, so I filled my coffee mug on the go.  I grabbed some Chipotle soft tacos for lunch. I asked for them to-go and they were wrapped in one piece of foil, and put in a paper bag.  I also grabbed a napkin.  Yes, I should have asked for no bag, but I needed something to hold the waste together until I got home to recycle and compost everything.  I did ‘stay’ to eat and got a few looks when I neatly folded up the foil in the paper bag and put it in my purse.

Also on Friday I got a much needed haircut.  I’m not yet at the point where I’m going to bag the 2-3 inches of my hair and tuck in my purse. So add that to my waste stream this week.

Not a perfect zero waste week by any means, but it is a lot less than I would have otherwise generated this week.  Now, let’s see what we can not waste this weekend!

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Zero Waste Week – oops moments

Ok – zero waste today was a little harder.

First of all I got on the train WITHOUT my coffee.  Usually I walk, but today Steve dropped me off and I left my coffee in the car.  Luckily, Au Bon Pain has reusable cups ($2.99 for the cup and ‘refills’ are $1.29 – bargain considering a small coffee is about $2.00).

With day 3 zero waste crisis #1 averted, I went to my first meeting. That’s where the second oops happened.  I was on my way out of the ladies when I realized I just threw away a paper towel after drying my hands!  Then after the meeting I did it AGAIN.

Since I had back to back meetings I wanted to grab lunch before my afternoon got too busy.  As I headed to a nearby deli to pick-up some soup, I stopped.  They had only disposable food containers and utensils.

I got to thinking – where can I grab a quick bite with zero waste?  A sit down place was out of the question – no time and I wanted to keep it under $10. So, I headed to Pret a Manger.  Any salad or soup was a no-no.  Even the sandwiches in the little boxes were out because of the plastic ‘window’.  Then I saw the ‘toasties’, which were wrapped nicely in a brown paper packaging.  After I was done I folded up the wrapper and tucked it in my purse to bring home for composting.

After lunch, I crossed the street to Bryant Park (lovely day in NYC today).  It was packed with people, and park staff were dutifully emptying all the trash cans.  I wanted to recycle the water bottle I got at Pret, but all of the bottle/can recycling bins were black lined, which is a pretty good indicator that the bottle wouldn’t be recycled.  That also went in my purse to bring home.

Later, I met a colleague at Starbucks before yet another meeting.  I still had my Au Bon Pain cup with me and wanted to get more coffee.  I challenged the four Starbucks employees to put two espresso shots and some ice into my cup WITHOUT using a paper or plastic cup first.  You would have thought I asked them to build a spaceship to the moon, but they got it figured out and I was able to avert another zero waste crisis.

I had another bathroom-paper-towel-oops moment at a break during an evening class, but FINALLY learned my lesson on my way home.  The super fantastic xlerator hand dryers at Penn Station were not operational so I went the air dry method.  (Someone pointed out to me on twitter that jeans or jacket work well for drying hands.  I completely agree.  My clothes today weren’t too absorbent.)

So the lessons for today are:  coffee isn’t really a necessity, but can wreak havoc on your zero waste intentions.   Sometimes it takes three oops moments and wet hands before you can turn off auto-pilot.

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Zero Waste Week Continues

Zero Waste week for The Rubbish Diet Challenge continues.

Here’s how we’ve got on so far this week.

Monday:   I discarded a bit a of dental floss, a q-tip and a small piece of greasy wax paper.  My husband, Steve, discarded one of those paper on one side, foil on the other side type of wrappers that his breakfast sandwich came in.

Tuesday:  Steve came to the end of his package of Advil sinus and threw away the blister pack.  I discarded some more dental floss (I had a dentist appointment, how could I not floss?)

Wednesday:  The day has only just begun and I resorted to using one of those sticky-tape lint rollers to get cat hair off of my black pants.  The reusable lint remover wasn’t cutting it.

Technically speaking, we have not met the zero waste goal, but we’re generating so little that I’m deeming it a successful week so far.

We have gone from thinking, “how can we reduce our trash” to “how do we not generate any trash.”   The steps we took over the past eight weeks as laid out by The Rubbish Diet Challenge creator, Karen Cannard, really helped us get to this point.  (And check out her blog to see how the other rubbish dieters are faring.)

Steve and I were talking about the challenge with some friends last night who were baffled at the thought of not throwing anything away (they thought it was a bit weird).  As we were taking about what we had ‘given up’ over the past 8 weeks to reduce our waste, I realized that we hadn’t sacrificed anything much at all.  We simply realized what we could do without.

Let’s see what else we can do without for the remainder of Zero Waste Week…

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The Rubbish Diet – Week 8 ZERO WASTE

Here we are! Week 8 of The Rubbish Diet.

This week’s challenge is  ZERO WASTE!  A challenge so big it deserves all caps.

I’m very pleased with my rubbish diet success over the past 8 weeks. We went from a bag of trash (or two) every week to one bag every other week. We have made some changes in our habits that will last beyond this challenge.

We spent yesterday getting ready for ZERO WASTE WEEK.  The only thing we really discard at this point is food waste and our blasted little k-cups.  So we finally set-up our backyard composter.  We got one of those little pails to put our kitchen scraps in.   And, we finally got the right size 1/2 in. round washer to solve the keurig spewing issue.

My approach to ZERO WASTE WEEK is to try really hard not to generate any non-recyclable, non-compostable waste.

I also went over my ZERO WASTE ‘rules’ with my husband. He was willing to play along. He even sent me a text message this morning to clarify, “Does zero waste mean zero recycling?”  To which I replied, “You can recycle as much as you want! You can compost as much as you want!”  That’s our goal this week anyway.

I missed the goal. Before I left the house I had already discarded a bit of dental floss and a q-tip.  Darnit.

At lunch I asked the guy at the deli to wrap my spinach pie in paper. He looked at me weird but complied.  The awesome thing is we have a compost bin at the office (our interns dutifully take it to a community garden when full).  So I was able to recycle the outer paper wrapper, and one of the little waxy papers from my lunch.  Unfortunately, another of the little waxy papers was a touch too greasy to compost.  Next time I’ll take a container with me to the deli.

So it’s already day one of zero waste week and I have technically failed.  But, I will soldier on and see what I can continue to not waste this week.

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Week 7 of The Rubbish Diet

My how time flies!  It seems like only yesterday that we began week 1 of The Rubbish Diet. The Rubbish Diet challenge for week 7 is de-cluttering.  The kind of purge before the week 8 goal of zero waste.

I really try not to bring stuff in to the house.  That way I’m not stuck with having to get rid of it.  However, for some reason there are always stacks of papers that pile up.  And where the stacks of papers are the clutter seems to follow.  Part of this is poor organization on our part.  We need a system to file papers we want to keep then set-up the shredder for the stuff we don’t want (now I can use all that shredded paper for the compost bin!)

The other thing that keeps me from de-cluttering is myself.  I have in my head that I need lots and lots of time to tackle certain areas, even though every organization and de-clutter tip I read specifically tells me to set aside 15 min or an hour each day.  Maybe I’ll take this week and start putting that tip to the test.

Today is our trash pick-up day and we put out one bag of trash weighing about 12 lbs (food waste is still going in there since my compost container isn’t quite put together yet… I know, not good.)

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The Rubbish Diet – Week 6

This week’s rubbish diet challenge is the trash even trash talkers don’t like to talk about… bathroom waste.

I do a lot of waste audits for work, and in an office building we count bathroom trash as a separate category since the bags are light weight and contain mainly paper towels.  When we do residential waste audits I tell my team not to delve too deep into the bathroom trash.  Aside from the stray shampoo bottle and gobs of hair from a brush clean out, there are usually unmentionable lady products.

Unmentionable lady products are one thing I’m not going to tackle this time around, but there are plenty of other opportunities where I can reduce my bathroom trash.  Part of my week 5 trash was a small grocery sized bag of bathroom waste (probably about three weeks worth).

Karen Cannard has some good tips for reduction in this area including taking inventory of your toiletries, reducing packaging, buying refillable and looking at recycled content of paper products such as tissues and toilet paper.

In taking a look at my own hygiene habits, I’m doing ok.  We buy gigantic shampoos and recycle any empties.  I recently swapped out cotton balls for reusable cotton face rounds.  I buy make-up and skin care from companies that will take back the packaging, and always recycle the cardboard toilet paper rolls.  I buy bar soap that comes with next to wrapper. I have aspirations of buying Preserve toothbrushes, but am hooked on Radius (which is a pretty green company).

What more can I do?  I need to stop using facial tissues and switch to hankies (something my hubby did long before I even met him).   We also don’t buy the most eco-friendly toilet paper (I buy whatever is on sale in bulk).  I should be buying Marcal, which is local (in New Jersey) AND uses 100% recycled content.   I’m curious to know how others are faring with this week’s challenge.  I could use some extra tips!

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DSNY Garbage Truck

Took a pic of the garbage truck through the window.  They come through my neighborhood every Monday and Thursday.  Everyone puts their trash out on the curb the night before and it is magically whisked away by DSNY. 

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Thursday – trash pick-up day

We didn’t put out any trash for pick-up last week or on Monday.  We did, however, put out some trash this morning.  It’s hard to tell from the pic but that is a full bag of kitchen trash (two weeks worth), a small bag of bathroom trash, and a smaller bag of yard litter.

The good news is that we’ve gone from a big bag every week to a big bag every other week.  Next week we’ll get to start taking food waste out of the trash bin and put in our brand new backyard composter (which I get to pick-up on Tuesday!)

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