Monday, January 13, 2014

Spring Cleaning in January

 Monday evening when I opened the garage door, this pile of overflowing plastic garbage bags greeted me.  I should preface this by saying that my father-in-law Myron died peacefully in his house in August at 92. His caregiver left without cleaning, so finally lovely Dixie, the trustee's assistant, was good enough to clean out the freezer and kitchen cupboards. She placed everything into these large plastic bags and left  them in the garage hoping I would dispose of them. She fully expected me to dump the bulging bags into the trash, but being the avid recycler that I am, I took up the challenge and decided to separate the contents and dispose of them properly.
The next morning I tackled the recycling project. Curious about how much room the contents of all seven full garbage bags would actually require, I set to work unpacking, "unpackaging" and separating each item into its simplest form. This would be fun!

Bags of Kasha and Ghanaian Prekese

There was some good stuff: bulk bags of kasha, prekese, which is a sugar cane product from Ghana (used by the Ghanaian caregiver), brown and jasmine rice, whole wheat pasta, bulk walnuts and almonds. All of these were rancid and I tossed them into the green bin. Even the healthy food was packaged in plastic bags and had to be extracted before the final toss. One whole bag was filled with fiddle-leaf fig leaves that had fallen from the indoor plant due to lack of water. That was an easy one.

garbage bin full of bad stuff

There was bad stuff:  processed junk food, invariably packaged in plastic bags and containers. All but the actual food went into the garbage. Myron was an inveterate shopper at Costco and, unfortunately, almost all the products at Costco (and also Trader Joe's) are packaged in various types of plastic. None of this information is earthshaking or even original, but it isn't often that I must discard this quantity of junk food in my own back yard. It is sobering to see how far we are personally, as a community and as a nation, from "zero waste." I resolve to do better. First I intend to find cloth bags to replace the plastic bags I still use and reuse.

Plastic yogurt containers, all recycle level 5, ready to be taken to Whole Foods

Then there was good stuff in bad containers: Yogurt! Those hard, impermeable containers are the  prime offenders. Marked "5" in the triangle on the bottom, they are bothersome to discard because they aren't supposed to be combined with recyclables marked "1" or "2". I go through about two quart containers of yogurt per week. Where should I discard them?
Because Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma packages their milk in glass bottles, I emailed them asking if they could also package their yogurt in glass.  Here's their reply:

"Thank you for your email, we appreciate your inquiry and your kind comments. Unfortunately, our current facility is unable to accommodate yogurt in glass. We simply do not have the space for another piece of equipment. In addition, we ship our yogurt much further than we do our glass milks - therefore if we had our yogurt in a glass container it would cost us more to ship it, then costing the customer more for the product. We do hope one day we can offer a glass option locally - but we will need to build a new creamery first.

As far as our current container - we unfortunately have no way of getting them back from you, however there is a program out there called Gimme 5, by the company Preserve and they will turn the #5 containers into toothbrushes, etc. You can find out more about that program 

We are in the talks with a local toy manufacturer that makes green toys out of recycled yogurt cups. It might be a while before it's set up, but it's something we are trying to set up. Keep checking back with us!"     

         Whole Foods markets, bless them, have bins that take the plastic containers marked "5".

Whole Foods bin just for  "5" recycling
 After trucking all our yogurt  (and cottage cheese) containers across town to Whole Foods, I had completed my project. Miraculously, when deconstructed, the entire collection of white garbage bags didn't  begin to fill our three curbside bins.

Paper compartment not even full of cardboard snack packaging

garbage bin full of junk food and plastic packaging 

Montage of fiddle-leaf fig leaves, guacachips and popchips covering only the very bottom of the curb-side green bin

And then there was one last item to be dealt with. It was an old cardboard box of musty sheet music used by my late mother-in-law Ros, who was a talented pianist. This was all paper and perfectly recyclable, but of course I didn't toss it out.

 German sheet music for Beethoven piano concerto #2

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


                                              Greenbin starts 2014 with a bang!

(Maybe you didn't know that cork is compostable)