What is Cart Tagging?

Day 268 – Cart tagging involves a group of people that go out and inspect recycle bins. They take note of any contamination that is found in the recycling bins. That information then helps pinpoint where outreach efforts are needed. Those using the cart tagging process have found that having a conversation with residents about what should and should not go into the recycle bins has helped decrease the amount of contaminates and increased the amount of material that can be recycled successfully.

In an article in Resource Recycling, Collin Staub writes about a campaign that started in Centerville, Ohio. The city on Aug. 11 announced the effort, explaining that the project is “mobilizing specially trained staff and volunteers to conduct curbside cart observations. Cart inspectors will flip lids in several neighborhoods and will deploy “oops” tags on contaminated carts. The tags will include “specific feedback designed to reduce contamination,” the city wrote, and those carts will not be emptied for that week.

Cart tagging programs are happening around the country. Those running these programs realize that not every town can employ cart inspectors. Ron Jones, a senior planner for the city of Olympia, Washington, offers another option for getting feedback on cart quality. “The drivers are there every week picking up recycling,” he said. “They know customers, they get to kind of understand who is contaminating really badly versus not so bad, who is doing well.” Olympia, which uses municipal crews for collection, gives drivers a tablet and directs them to note which households set out highly contaminated carts. Drivers can identify the type of contamination through the system as well. Afterward, the city’s recycling department downloads the data and uses it to tailor outreach materials.

In Regina, Saskatchewan they are using a new automated technology to help decrease decontamination. The technology uses a camera installed on the recycling collection truck. The camera takes an image of the cart contents as they are emptied, and a software program visually identifies contaminants. An “oops” mailer is delivered to households with high contamination levels, indicating the contaminants and providing tips for proper recycling.

Even though these programs have had overall success, they have faced some residents that don’t comply or become unpleasant when explaining what needs to be done to have a successful program. It is unfortunate that something as simple as making sure you are placing recyclable items in your recycle cart has to create friction. Many of the programs will take away the recycle cart after a number of violations. In order to get it back a fee needs to be paid. Those cities currently landfill those recyclables while trying to educate residents about how to properly recycle.

It will take a group effort to make sure recyclable items are recycled. Residents, waste management companies and city government need to work together for a common goal, a healthier planet.

Tomorrow, protecting rivers.

The Alliance Center: Organizations working together for a more sustainable and equitable world

Day 267 – Most of us are familiar with incubator space. It is generally defined as industrial space or office space that is set aside in a building for various forms of business start-up or entrepreneurial projects. Companies like Reddit, Dropbox, and AirBNB all started all got their start in incubators.

Now take that same concept of the incubator, but instead of startup companies working together in hopes of hitting it big, you have numerous environmental nonprofits working together to better the planet. That’s exactly what is happening at The Alliance Center in Denver, Colorado.

So what happens at the Alliance Center?

Regenerative Recovery Coalition

Regenerative Recovery Coalition is a collaboration of nonprofits, businesses, academic institutions, government agencies and individuals boldly working together to rebuild Colorado with a regenerative future in mind—a future with a robust local economy that meets human needs abundantly and equitably provides clean air, water, food and energy to all.

Living Laboratory

Living Lab program pilots innovative sustainability solutions using The Alliance Center building as a demonstration site. They operate their building at the highest levels of performance for their occupants and the environment.

Sustainability Skills Initiative

Focusing on the holistic model of sustainability, they are building a pipeline of employment for communities who have traditionally been left out of the environmental movement. They ensure their Sustainability Skills Initiative participants develop professional skillsets which will help them stand out and succeed in the sustainability field. This is accomplished through hands-on projects and engaging participants in real world work at The Alliance Center and the greater Colorado environmental community.

Best for Colorado

Best for Colorado program serves as the hub for corporate social responsibility for businesses throughout the state. It allows companies to network with other mission-driven businesses, share their sustainability journey and help craft the new economy. The program allows businesses to improve practices, connect with participating companies and receive free resources. 

Climate + Democracy

The Alliance Center is convening our vast network to enable all Coloradans to fight climate change, strengthen democracy, advance equity, build Colorado forward and create a regenerative economy.

Hard to Recycle Station

The Hard to Recycle Station is an Alliance community resource that diverts hard-to-recycle items from the landfill.  They take many common waste items that aren’t accepted by standard municipal recycling systems. Then they send them to companies and partners who prevent them from going to the landfill.

One of these resources in a community would be very beneficial. However, to have all of these organizations in one building is exceptional. The Alliance Center has created a blueprint in which all cities across the country need to follow to build their own network of sustainable and equitable practices. Colorado has shown us it is possible.

Tomorrow, the importance of cart tags.

Ample Harvest: Connecting Gardeners with Local Food Pantries

Day 266Ample Harvest has created a way to connect home and community gardeners with local food pantries. Instead of letting unused food go to waste, it is given to those in need of it most. AmpleHarvest.org is a free, opt-in, nationwide registry that enables gardeners who’ve grown too much food to easily find food pantries in their area.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Food Pantries tell AmpleHarvest.org the days and times they want to receive fresh food.
  2. Gardeners find pantries on AmpleHarvest.org, and bring their surplus of locally grown, fresh food.
  3. People in need have healthier food options available to them.
  4. Food is not wasted.

Click HERE if you want to find a pantry to donate to.

Click HERE if you would like to register a pantry.

Click HERE if you are in need of food.

There are 7,974 food pantries listed on Ample Harvest. Produce donations have increased from 8.6% to 23.1% at food pantries around the country, since Ample Harvest was founded.

It’s a perfect partnership!

Tomorrow, organizations working to create a more sustainable and equitable world.

#CutOutCutlery

Day 265 – Over 40 billion pieces of single-use plastic utensils are thrown away every year. A major contributor to this waste stream is take-out and delivery orders. These plastic utensils end up in our orders even when they are not needed or wanted. A campaign, launched by nonprofit Habits of Waste is working to change that. The #CutOutCutlery campaign was launched to tackle this wasteful practice seen across restaurants worldwide. So far, #CutOutCutlery has convinced Uber Eats, Door Dash, Postmates, and Grubhub to change their default settings globally, making single-use plastic cutlery available by request only. This movement inspired new legislation in multiple major cities across the U.S., including Denver, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

The campaign is now turning to university food services and major restaurant chains. The goal of #CutOutCutlery is for these businesses to provide individuals with an option to refuse single-use plastic cutlery and straws when they order food to go. You can help by sending a 1-click email to chains like Chipotle, McDonald’s, and Burger King asking them to join DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Postmates and pledge to #CutOutCutlery. This means you won’t receive plastic cutlery unless you request it.

Chicago’s City Council just moved a little closer to cutting out plastic cutlery. There is no doubt, more could have been done to rid the city of this plastic pollutant, but as we all know all too well, there is opposition everywhere. Even when it comes to saving the planet.

Here’s what the proposed ordinance involves:

  1. Chicago restaurants would be prohibited from automatically distributing “single-use foodware,” but compliance would be voluntary, and drive-through restaurants and airport concessionaires would be exempt.
  2. Everything from plastic silverware, chopsticks, wipes and condiments to salt, pepper and napkins no longer would be automatically included in take-out meals and deliveries to customers who don’t really need them.
  3. Drive-through restaurants and airport concessions would be exempt from the ban on the grounds that their customers “expect to be given single-use foodware” and often need utensils to eat in the car, on the plane or at the gate.
  4. The proposed ban also does not cover plastic straws, beverage lids, sleeves for hot coffee and tea and “single-use foodware pre-packaged or attached to food or beverage products by the manufacturer.”

The struggles that restaurants have been undergoing as a result of the pandemic is the main excuse given by the politicians as to why the ordinance did not involve stricter limits on plastic pollution.

One can hope that once we emerge from the pandemic that more can be done to move Chicago away from a disposable city to one a reusable one.

Tomorrow, food donation.

Zero Emissions Day

Day 264 – The worldwide movement known as Zero Emissions Day, or ZeDay, began on September 21st, 2008, and aims to encourage the use of renewable energy sources to “give the planet a day off” from emissions.

Here are some ways you can celebrate the day:

  1. Consider riding your bike or car pooling today.
  2. Consider utilizing solar or battery (rechargeable) operated devices.
  3. Consider making meals that can be made with minimal energy or no energy at all, like a salad.

Does reducing emissions really make an impact?

The Environmental Protection Agency has developed a Greenhouse Gases Equivalencies Calculator which shows the equivalencies for energy-related emissions reductions so each individual can see their impact as it relates to their lifestyle. 

Even though Zero Emissions Day is celebrated only once a year, it is definitely something we need to work towards to achieve on a daily basis. The only way we will be able to combat global warming is to reduce the green house gasses being emitted into the atmosphere. Achieving zero emissions will be a game changer.

To read about 10 ways to help your home achieve net zero emissions click HERE.

Tomorrow, cutting out plastic cutlery.

Do Sustainable Plastics Exist?

Day 263Better Future Factory believes they do and they want to help brands and businesses reduce, reuse and recycle plastics. They believe that a circular economy for plastics can exist.

Their services include:

  1. By gaining insight into your current plastic use, they find out how to make your products and packaging future proof.
  2. They help you to build an actionable plastic strategy for the years to come.
  3. They design & engineer new or redesign existing products and packaging, fit for the circular economy.
  4. They make the circular economy tangible by creating iconic products from discarded plastics.

Their mission is to have no more plastic wasted.

The categories in which they have done work include:

  1. Artwork
  2. Consumer Products
  3. Furniture and Retail
  4. Packaging Design

They have made artwork from old file folders. They developed the perfect packaging for Packback, a Dutch start-up revolutionizing the home delivery and take-away market with a reusable packaging system. Packback takes the packaging back, cleans it and brings it back in the loop. As experts in plastics recycling they pushed their skills to go bigger and they 3D-printed a set of stools, a bar table and a reception desk from recycled PET bottles. They were then placed in the entrance hall of an office building in Rotterdam, Netherlands. They worked with Erno Lazlo (New York based skin-care brand) to develop their Clean & Sustainable 2020 initiative for packaging. The first sustainable improvements have been implemented and available for customers, e.g. a soap bar wrapped in paper instead of a plastic box, a reusable soap dish made from the old soap bar plastic boxes and a fully recyclable cap for their iconic jars.

Better Future Factory exists to help the plastic waste problem. More companies need to recognize the problem and start to take responsibility for the products they produce for consumers.

Tomorrow, zero emissions day.

Facts About Food Waste

Day 262 – Back on Day 216, I wrote about the app, Too Good To Go. The app connects people with perfectly good food that bakeries, restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses are trying to sell before being tossed in the trash. The food is offered at a reduced price, giving consumers a great opportunity to rescue food at a discount.

Well, that same app is also a great source of information. The Food Waste Knowledge Hub offers a great deal of information about food waste.

They cover various questions about food waste:

  1. What is food waste?
  2. Where is food wasted?
  3. Why is food wasted?
  4. What food is wasted?
  5. Why is food waste a problem?
  6. Where does food waste go in the end?

By being informed you will discover important information about why food waste needs to be a priority for everyone.

  1. Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted, approximately 1.6 billion tons.
  2. That means within a year, we waste around 51 tons every second.
  3. Up to 40% of all food produced in the US is currently wasted and 83% of this is either wasted in food services such as restaurants and hotels, or at home. Currently, a whopping 63 million tons of food is not recycled or recovered, but instead heads to landfill, is incinerated, or remains unharvested.
  4. Food waste occurs at all stages from farm to fork.
  5. The most wasted type of food is fruit and vegetables. Almost half of all fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers are wasted along the supply chain, while one third of all fish and seafood never make it to our plate.
  6. Up to two-fifths of all fruit and vegetable crops are wasted because they are ‘ugly’.
  7. Our food system, and with it food waste, is the number one contributing factor that drives this threatening change in nature through land use change, pollution, and climate change.
  8. More than 70 billion tons of Green House Gases could be prevented from being released into the atmosphere, if we cut down on food waste.
  9. Together, the world’s top five meat and dairy corporations are now responsible for more annual GHG  emissions than Exxon, Shell or BP.
  10. Currently, in the U.S, a whooping 63 million tons of food is not recycled or recovered, but instead heads to landfill, is incinerated, or remains unharvested.

In order to understand the problem, you need to have the information. Spend a little time educating yourself. Most people don’t understand that food waste is a global issue that has a serious impact on our planet and our overall well-being.

What are you doing to fight the war against food waste?

Tomorrow, sustainable plastic products.

The Story of Stuff

Day 261 – In 2007, Annie Leonard released her first documentary, The Story of Stuff. It was created to start a conversation about the crazy consumption culture we live in. Since then, dozens of animated shorts and documentaries have been produced that chart a path to a more just and sustainable future. Their first feature-length documentary, The Story of Plastic, is now an Emmy-nominated film in the category of Best Writing: Documentary.

You can watch short animated films on various topics:

  1. The Story of Bottled Water
  2. The Story of Cosmetics
  3. The Story of Electronics
  4. The Story of Microbeads
  5. The Story of Plastic

In the category titled, “Good Stuff“, you can see short films covering topics like:

  1. Where Does Your Trash End Up?
  2. Should Plastic Producers Pay for Recycling?
  3. How to Stop Plastic Pollution Forever?
  4. Where Does Junk Mail Come From?
  5. 3 Dirty Marketing Tricks to Get You to Buy More Stuff

Theses are just a few of the topics that the Story of Stuff offers. In a few short minutes you can educate yourself on numerous important topics. Topics that are key in changing and improving our current situation. The time is now!

Tomorrow, facts about food waste.

Reducing Recycling Contamination

Day 260 – Our neighbors in Grand Rapids, Michigan, just recently won an award. They earned Resource Recycling Inc.’s 2021 Program of the Year award in the Large City category, which was open to municipalities with 150,000 residents or more.

The City of Grand Rapids teamed with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership to introduce a first-of-its-kind community wide project aimed at improving the quality of materials residents recycle in their curbside carts last fall. The Recycling Racoon Squad helped educate residents, ““Know It Before You Throw It”. The effort promotes best practices and emphasizes that recycling materials saves energy, reduces water use, decreases greenhouse gases, conserves resources, and translates into local jobs. 

City crews collected 7,170 tons of recyclables from more than 50,500 households in the most recent program year. In its submission materials to the awards program, Grand Rapids reported a contamination rate of 7.4 percent. The percentage is far lower than what’s being seen in many local programs in the U.S., where contamination rates above 20 percent are common. 

Grand Rapids program leaders work closely with the nearby Kent County materials recovery facility (MRF) to educate residents and enforce strict anti-contamination controls. Educational efforts include removing carts after high levels of trash are found in recycling at a residence three times and providing “Recycling 101” educational materials before residents can get their carts back.

Grand Rapids also implemented a “Feet on the Street” anti-contamination tagging program in the fall of 2020, inspecting recycling setouts at all 50,540 serviced households over the course of eight weeks. That effort reduced contamination in the local recycling stream by 37 percent, according to program leaders.

So the question is, could this work in other cities?

It seems like it all comes down to education and of course having people that care about the planet. Without those two things, reducing recycling contamination will continue to be an unreachable goal.

Keep up the good work Grand Rapids! You are showing the country and the world that coming together as a community to accomplish an important goal that helps benefit people and the planet is achievable.

Tomorrow, the story of stuff.

Protecting the Ozone

Day 259 – The ozone layer is a thin part of the Earth’s atmosphere that absorbs almost all of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet light.

“Ozone is only a trace gas in the atmosphere—only about 3 molecules for every 10 million molecules of air. But it does a very important job. Like a sponge, the ozone layer absorbs bits of radiation hitting Earth from the sun. Even though we need some of the sun’s radiation to live, too much of it can damage living things. The ozone layer acts as a shield for life on Earth.” – National Geographic

Starting in the early 1970’s, however, scientists found evidence that human activities were disrupting the ozone balance. Human production of chlorine-containing chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) has added an additional factor that destroys ozone. This depletion of the ozone layer, in turn, was affecting life on Earth — the destruction of plants and ecosystems, increase in skin cancer, etc. The scientists’ discovery highlighted the importance of the ozone layer and the dire need to preserve it.

The scientific confirmation of the depletion of the ozone layer prompted the international community to establish a mechanism for cooperation to take action to protect the ozone layer. This was formalized in the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, which was adopted and signed by 28 countries, on 22 March 1985. In September 1987, this led to the drafting of The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.” – United Nations

On 16th September 2009, the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol became the first treaties in the history of the United Nations to achieve universal ratification. September 16 has since then been dedicated each year to the appreciation and preservation of this protective layer and the success of the Vienna Convention.

On this International Day of the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, make sure you are doing your part to protect the ozone.

  1. Avoid the consumption of gases dangerous to the ozone layer, due to their content or manufacturing process. Some of the most dangerous gases are CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), halogenated hydrocarbon, methyl bromide and nitrous oxide.
  2. Minimize the use of cars. The best transport option is urban, bicycle, or walking. If you use a car to a destination, try to carpool with others to decrease the use of cars in order to pollute less and save.
  3. Do not use cleaning products that are harmful to the environment and to us. Many cleaning products contain solvents and substances corrosive, but you can replace these dangerous substances with non-toxic products such as vinegar or bicarbonate.
  4. Buy local products. In this way, you not only get fresh products but you avoid consuming food that has traveled long distances. As the more distance traveled, the more nitrous oxide is produced due to the medium used to transport that product.
  5. Maintain air conditioners, as their malfunctions cause CFC to escape into the atmosphere.

Tomorrow, Grand Rapids is doing something right when it comes to recycling.