Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plastic beaches

In the seminar on the Pacific Gyre I saw, the guts of the fish they caught, had tiny little flecks of plastic or balls of plastic in them. I'm sure you wouldn't want to find that in you sushi roll.

The plastic as it breakdown, and gets eroded by the ocean forms little plastic balls. Here's a picture of the sand at Kamilo beach in Hawaii. All those little round things are plastic.

And if you need more convincing see this BBC video

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Baseline Weigh-In

Since our garbage truck comes on a Friday, I decided to weigh what we had in our trash can (Oh sod it I'm going to use the word bin. I'm a Brit so I'm going to write like one, the Americans will just have to learn that there are better words than the ones they choose!)

Anyway, I decided to find our how much rubbish was in the bin, from the last two weeks. I could have said fortnight but that would have had the Americans really scratching their heads.

But I digress. The pictures above show that for the last two weeks we've generated 2lb and 8oz of rubbish. This does not count towards our total, since Earth Day starts today, but it shows that I think we can confidently pull this off!

Notice we're re-using the plastic bag from Walgreens as our rubbish bag. We'll no doubt end up using the bio-degradable ones soon. It's a dilemma I am wondering about. Is it better to use plastic grocery bags as rubbish bin liners, take them to be re-cycled at a store such as Target or Whole Foods, or burn them?

Sure burning them releases CO2 and some toxins into the air, but is it more CO2 and pollutants than the truck that comes to take the recycled bags away from Target? That truck is going to be belching out CO2 and using fuel to deliver the bags to a processing plant which then uses more energy to get the bags ready for re-cycling.

And here's a myth buster. What happens to those bags? We all take the moral high ground and say, "We're really earth conscious and take our bags to be re-cycled". But what are they re-cycled into?

The good folks from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation had an interesting thing to say about this when they visited SLAC and gave a seminar.

They had visited one of the biggest recycling plants in the Bay Area over in Marin. There they saw pallets and pallets are plastic grocery bags. They asked what was going to happen to them.

"We ship them to China" was the reply.
"And then what happens?"
"No idea."

That's the trouble with plastic, it's rarely re-cycled back into what is was to start with unlike glass or aluminium. And why ship our plastic bags half way around the world?

So, bottom line, no more plastic bags... OKAY?

And if you have any ideas on what is the best option to do with the bags we already have I'd love to know.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Three G's

As well as our Garbage challenge, I'll use this blog to update on how our garden is coming along. We're trying to grow lots of veggies and fruits this year.

At some point I'll tally up what we spent on materials - soil, wood, seeds etc and we'll see if our harvest means we come out on top!

So that's two of the G's.

The third G, well that's just me. You might learn some things about me as we get on with the challenge ahead.

Right now, it's almost time for bed. I just need to go out and see what late night pests are eating my seedlings.

The Rules of the Game

Quite simply put.

Between us, Ananda and I will try and throw out less then 100lb of rubbish (garbage) over the next 52 weeks, i.e. to the next Earth Day . That's less than 2lb of rubbish a week!

By rubbish I mean the stuff we put into the bin (trash can) that the garbage truck takes away each week.

We will attempt to do this by

a) Buying wisely, things that don't need packaging, shouldn't have packaging - Trader Joes take note!

b) Buying only items that come in packaging that can be re-used, recycled or composted in our own compost bins. (I'm highly skeptical of the biodegradable trays that vegetables are appearing in - lets see how they bio-degrade in our compost bins)

c) Composting all of our food scraps - this will be easy for us since we our both vegetarian, and with a cheese monster living with me, no dairy will be thrown out. I'm confident our worms and two composting systems can handle the rest.

d) Recycling all of the paper waste, glass etc we get. Some of the paper waste will be composted but we have been led to believe that recycling the paper is better than feeding it to our worms, and compost.

e) The garden waste that we don't have the capacity to compost is taken away does not count. I'll keep you up to date on how we do with that, but that won't count towards the 100lb.

We've obviously been doing some of the stuff above for some time now, but not really taking note of what are landfill footprint is.

I will be weighing, yes I said it, weighing the stuff we thrown out to the trash can each week. Where necessary, I might even give you a description of what it is we are failing on.

Think we can do it? Willing to put you money where your mouth is? We'll donate our winnings to a good green earth project or charity when we find one, or when one is recommended to us.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the Beginning......

was a throw society that layered everything you bought in glamorous packaging. Most of us, and I was certainly guilty of it, bought stuff, groceries, shoes, computers, etc and the stuff that we actually wanted was far out weighed by the stuff it came in.

I always had a strong re-cycling bug in me, ask my lab-mates from when I post-doc'ed down in New Zealand. I thought I was pretty good at this and would pat myself on the back, like most of us, when we recycled our cans, and bottles etc.

But the plastic thing that holds your coke cans together, the oily pizza delivery box left over from last night, the plastic bag your popped your mushrooms in at the supermarket? Most of that ended up in your rubbish (garbage) bin. And that ended up in landfill.

Then I saw a seminar by the people from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation that helped find and publicise the Pacific Gyre. They built a JUNK raft out of the body of an old Cessna and tons of old plastic bottles and sailed across the pacific, trawling nets behind them to analyse the plastic in the sea water.

They had planned to survive on catching fish and eating them, but when they were gutting the fish they found lots of tiny bit of plastic in them. They brought some of the samples with them. They looked horrible.

We had already started to feed most of our food scraps to our worms in their worm bin, and recycle everything that was recyclable.

Then we moved house and had a bigger garden. We started a cold compost heap for the garden waste (even though San Mateo has a garden compost program) and bought a composting drum to do hot composting in.

Occasionally we would remember to re-use the plastic bags we brought home with us from the supermarket. For instance we have a few labelled oats, raisins, cranberries etc. and I long ago got out of the habit of placing vegetables in a plastic bag.... well everything apart from mushrooms.

Where am I going with this? Well I thought with the three composting systems we have, the paper and glass and cans recycling, the garden compost service we have, and with careful selection of what we buy, that we would generate less than 100lb of waste that we let the garbage man take away in one year. I think we can do it, I know we can do it!

Tomorrow the rules of the game.....