Archive for the ‘trash’ Tag

So What Plastics Are Recyclable?   2 comments

One of the questions that came up as I was preparing to sort my trash for this year’s solid waste audit was what plastics should be classified as recyclable and which as non-recyclable. In 2001 when I did my first personal trash sort this was an easy question to answer. This was back in the day when recyclable plastics were only types 1 (PET) and 2 (HDPE). So the “recyclable plastic” category was just plastics with those numbers on them, and everything else was considered non-recyclable. In 2006 and 2012 it’s a little bit different because officially any numbered plastic can be put in our recycling bin. I’m a little skeptical that all types are recycled, though. I’m inclined to think that the commonly recycled plastics are sorted out and the rest are trashed, but that they tell people to put all numbered plastics in the bin to make it easier for the general population and increase recycling rates.

My understanding is that types 3 (PVC aka vinyl) and 6 (PS aka polystyrene) are not commonly recycled because of the potential for release of toxic gases during the process (that would be chlorine gas and styrene). Type 7 is the catch-all number, and includes everything from polycarbonate (of BPA fame) to the new corn starch plastic PLA, and much more. With so much variety inherent in type 7 plastics, there must be a variety of physical properties, which I would think makes it difficult or impossible to recycle type 7 plastics. As far as I know, types 1, 2, 4, and 5 are currently the only commonly recycled plastics, so those are the only ones I throw in the recycle bin. In 2006 that was also how I differentiated between recyclable and non-recyclable plastic. But for 2012 I wanted a little bit more certainty so I tried contacting the company the collects our waste to find out what actually gets recycled. The reply that I got back was confidence inspiring: “As far as I know everything is recycled except for Styrofoam.” (with no name or email signature). Not helpful. Do I take this response at its word? Or do I assume that it was someone who didn’t know what they are talking about? I suppose maybe the various types could be compressed enough combine them and make something new.

For the trash sort I worked out a compromise. “Recyclable plastic” was types 1, 2, 4, and 5. “Non-recyclable plastic, no number” was plastics with no identifying number, so that I’m not even supposed to throw in the recycle bin. “Non-recyclable plastic, 3,6,7” was plastic types 3, 6, and 7, which are uncertain but assumed to be non-recyclable. But I’m still left with a little bit of a dilemma: do I continue throwing away types 3, 6, and 7 or do I start tossing them in the recycle bin in case the waste management company ISN’T sorting them out and throwing away. So far, we stick with the status quo. But I’d hate to think I’m throwing away what I could be recycling.

Posted October 24, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, environment, resource use

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2012 Solid Waste Audit Results   1 comment

My project this summer (other than enjoying pregnancy and getting ready for baby) was to do a solid waste audit. Yes, that means that we saved all of our trash for a month, and then I sorted and weighed it. Like the energy audit we did last summer, this audit only measures waste generated in our household and not solid waste generated upstream, downstream, or outside of our control. By upstream waste I mean the solid waste generated in the creation of the products we use. By downstream waste I mean particulate or solid matter in wastewater. I’m not sure how much of the soap that goes down the drain flows through the wastewater treatment plant, gets consumed in the wastewater treatment plant, or gets disposed in the sludge. Solid waste outside of our control would be stuff like the asphalt that was scraped off our street before repaving. This audit also doesn’t take into account stuff that goes into the give-away pile, or stockpiles (plastic bags to be used for garbage, receipts tossed at the end of the year, saved magazines, etc.).

I was hopeful that this year would show improvement over 2006, when I last did a trash audit. I’ve started recording on the calendar from our trash company what weeks we take our bins to the curb, and we’re pretty regular. Almost exactly monthly we take out the recycling and the trash, and that schedule is determined by when the recycling bin is full usually. It’s pretty rare for the trash bin to be more than half full. Based on weight we recycle almost 90% of our trash (that’s skewed a bit by the density of the paper and glass jars in the recycling). Last year I think we only took out the green waste once, but this year it’s been quarterly as I rip out part of the lawn and throw that in the green waste instead of compost so that I’m not spreading my weed seeds.

There were a few major reductions in weight: newspaper, organics, and unrecycleable plastic. Newspaper is out of our control as that just means the Bee is smaller than it was 6 years ago. However, I’m very happy to know that our compost pile is diverting approximately 8 pounds of waste per month. Unrecycleable plastic also makes me feel good because I think that is an indication that the attention we pay to reducing packaging is paying off. We also had a couple significant increases in weight: glass and mixed paper. Glass: well, we are eating more jarred pickles now. We’ve got a good stockpile of jars in the pantry for food storage but we go through more pickle jars than there’s need/space to store them. And the mixed paper? Oops. When we moved we completely forgot to sign onto the “do not mail” registry at our current address. We’ll be doing that now.

Overall, though, I’m happy, we had a 30% reduction in solid waste weight from 2006. That puts us only 15% more than my 2001 audit results, which was just my one-person household. Wonder where we’ll stand in 2016 with kids in the family.

Posted October 10, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, home, resource use

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2011 Summer Project: Energy Audit   1 comment

Every summer I do some kind of environmental self-audit or equivalent on a rotating schedule (with interruptions). I started doing this back in 2001 when I was first living on my own after college. I was originally inspired by two things. The first was my participation in a college-wide trash sort. It was the university’s way to prove the effectiveness of measures to promote recycling. So they got a bunch of volunteers, gave us Tyvek suits, gloves, and face shields, and sent us into a room with large sorting tables where bags of garbage from all over the campus were placed for us to sort through. In the end they measured the weight or volume (I don’t remember) of recyclable material for comparison with previous measurements. I was crazy enough to be one of those volunteers. And I learned a lot about American’s trash habits, most of it sad. (That’s a story for another day, though.) The second source of inspiration was a class that I took in which we did one week audits of our direct water and energy usage. These experiences made me realize how useful it is to actually measure and not just guess when it comes to something you want to improve, in this case my “global footprint”. Not only can you be surprised by the results, but it also means that you have a way to see progress, which feels really good.

So that first year I started by doing my own trash sort. I saved all of my trash for a month and then took it down to my mom’s house at the end of the month to sort and weigh. Kitchen waste got weighed throughout the month so that I didn’t have horrible smelling garbage to sort through. The following year I attempted to do a water use audit, during which I realized that human return flow is not insignificant. In 2003 I evaluated the ingredients my personal care products for potential exposure problems. 2004 was when I moved to Sacramento and in the upheaval skipped a year. In 2005 I was able to do my first direct energy use audit. It was quite involved, with me reading my gas and electric meters four times a day on weekdays (when I woke, left for work, returned from work, and went to bed), and before/after any major changes on weekends (like turning on the dryer or taking a shower). I was trying to figure out how to determine my baseline electric and gas usage, as well as electrical demand of the various electrical items in my house. That was mostly not successful. I did get a pretty good estimate of the baseline, though. Since that was also the year I went without air conditioning all summer that baseline does not include air conditioning or winter heating, so it’s what I would consider a true baseline: the measure of phantom energy and structural demand.

This year’s energy audit should be a little easier. I got a relatively comprehensive energy audit done on the house, and I bought a Kill-a-Watt monitor. A Kill-a-Watt monitor is a monitor that plugs into a socket and then measures the electricity usage of anything that you plug into it. This way I’ll actually be able to directly measure how much electricity is consumed by my computer, the TV, the refrigerator, etc. I’ll be using this blog to help me work through this energy audit throughout the summer.

It is worth noting that this is really only a partial energy audit, since I can only measure direct usage. I can’t measure my portion of communal energy usages like municipal (street lights, traffic lights, etc.) or commercial (lighting in my office, air conditioning in the grocery store, etc.). Nor can I measure/estimate the embedded energy in my water, food, and various stuff that I use/buy.

Posted July 25, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, energy use

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It Really Shouldn’t Be So Difficult To Rent A Pickup   Leave a comment

In preparation for hosting a gathering for the fourth of July, this weekend we FINALLY got rid of the last of the junk that we removed from the house when we moved in last summer. My original desire to have a very low garbage volume has been shot. Percentage-wise we didn’t do that badly since the carpeting and carpet padding was recycled. Then there were the mirrored closet doors in every room, the vertical blinds on the sliding glass door, the broken vertical blinds in the master bedroom, and the window treatment in the kitchen. I knew we were going to have to throw away the broken vertical blinds from the master bedroom, but my plan was to salvage the fabric from the kitchen window treatments for something else, and to take the vertical blinds from the sliding glass door and the mirrored closet doors to the Habitat for Humanity ReUse Store. That was back in July/August…and by the time we finished cleaning and unpacking the rainy season had started and the cloth vertical blinds and window treatments had became a dirty sodden mass. I tried to unsnap the cloth vertical blinds to see if I could wash them for donation to the ReUse store, but instead I accidentally snapped the plastic connector. So the final tally is:

  • Reused in-house: wood from the awning torn down at the behest of the building inspector (ok, not reused yet but will be)
  • Donated: 5 mirrored closet doors, tracks from 5 sets of closet doors, downspouts and 3 gutter sections from awning
  • Recycled: carpeting and padding from 4 bedrooms and hallway; corrugated metal, bent gutter section, flashing, metal shelf pole and various connecting hardware from the awning; metal screen door; 5 mirrored closet door frames; 2 metal tracks from vertical blinds
  • Landfilled (or will be): corrugated PVC and plastic corner shelves from the awning, broken glass from 5 mirrored closet doors, fabric & plastic “rod” from  window treatment, vertical blinds from 2 tracks

Now, to the other point of this post. It really shouldn’t be so difficult to rent a pickup for dirty work. When we replaced Mike’s truck with an SUV he was concerned about what we would do when we were in situations that require a pickup truck. I insisted that it would be fine because we could just rent one, and occasionally we’d be able to use bribe-a-friend.  Having been taken advantage of many times as a pickup owner, he is very sensitive to the latter. I figured that most people don’t own a pickup truck, so there has to be a not-too-inconvenient/costly way to rent a pickup.

When we hauled the carpeting to Oakland for recycling we rented a pickup from Enterprise. That was probably a good move since that means the four hours of driving to and from were done in a clean cab that doesn’t smell bad. That was also way to expensive to make it practical for hauling one or two loads of junk, as I learned when I rented a truck to haul the carpet padding to the recycler and had to pay the $100 daily charge for less than 2 hours of use. So for today’s haul of one load to the ReUse Store and one load to the transfer station for recycling I wanted to find a cheaper option. U-Haul does rent pickup trucks for $20/day; however very very few of the Sacramento area locations have them. I found 1 location. One! I asked the lady behind the counter about that and she said the other locations claim that there is no demand, but that she has lots of demand for her three trucks. We didn’t even get a pickup truck and had to use a small moving truck today because the person who rented our truck yesterday didn’t return it in time and hadn’t returned it by the time our reservation rolled around. This experience was really frustrating, but since I didn’t find out any other options for rental we’ll probably do this again. The ONE location is a half hour from our house, but the price is good. The challenge is finding an available truck.

Posted June 18, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, frugal living, home

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