My Bag, Jr.

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The big, stinky bag is gone, but I've been trash-free ever since.

Victory!

A day without garbage. I brought all my recyclables home from the office with me yesterday. And we had takeout last night with (I think) recyclable packaging. So the little plastic (yes, plastic) garbage bag is still empty. We'll see if I can keep that up for another 72 hours.

My personal observations the last few days have really turned to the recycling end of all this. I mentioned in an earlier posting that maybe we should follow the Toronto model of having a "Green Bin" that holds all food waste and takes it to a massive compost heap. Well Beth Terry says they have that in Oakland. (San Fran does, too.)

Why don't we have it in Pasadena? At the same time, she can't recycle any plastic that's black. In Pasadena, far as I know, we can. That's just silly. Maybe she could ship me her black plastic and I could send her my food waste. Then, of course, we'd be generating more carbon emissions. By the way Beth has a great rundown of things to watch for when you're tossing stuff into the recycling bin. Check it out.

And here's something I knew in the back of my brain, but is still depressing: All that recycling I think I'm doing? A good chunk of it is probably going to the landfill anyway. Beth shared with me some comments from a writer who calls himself "Radical Garbageman" -- and works in the waste management industry:

Dirty little secret of waste management: Single stream recyclers often "inflate" the definitions of what is recyclable because it increases recovery rates of things that are really recyclable by making it easy.The first step is to then sort out the non-recyclables and landfill them.

I guess more is better than less. But it would be so much better if I knew what was actually going to be recycled. I've posted the Pasadena guidelines here before -- and they're not very specific. (Still waiting for a callback from the city's PR folks.)

Here's Radical Garbageman's response to those of us who feel somewhat betrayed by the knowledge that we're not necessarily the recycling paragons we thought we were:

1. Any material that isn't in the bin goes to the landfill anyway
2. "Contamination" increases costs to the taxpayer (both in sorting costs and in the potential spoiling of recyclables, e.g. newspaper contaminated with food products can't be used anymore)
3. Making the program easy increases compliance at the risk of increased contamination

What do you think?

Meanwhile... I was on the Marketplace Morning Report this AM, talking about the challenge results so far. Several listeners took me to task for buying boneless, skinless chicken breast in order to reduce what goes in the trash.

"All it does is upstream the waste disposal to a processing plant or her local grocery store." Well yes, and I said as much in an earlier blog posting. Hopefully my butcher does something useful (i.e. mass composting) with the detritus that I'm not able to deal with in my backyard.

It does, indeed, have to go somewhere and I assumed people would know that. But as part of the trash challenge, I was doing whatever I could to make it possible to carry that thing around for as long as I could stand it.

And here's a comment from listener Nancy Wygant in Philadelphia:

Individual changes will not be enough to restructure our entire economy from a model based on consuming the world's resources as fast as possible for the sake of short-term profit, to a model based on sustainable stewardship of resources to meet real needs. But individual changes are where we each have to start. A radio show like yours could help by giving us better information and perspective on the real larger implications of our choices.

Again, that's the point of this whole exercise and certainly will be the point of the Consumed series in November. Probably the most frustrating part of this entire challenge has been that there's quite a bit that's generally out of my control, including packaging, recycling rules, and the space available for compost bins in my backyard. And unless you make change easy for the mass population, most people aren't going to make the effort.

And let's end on a positive note from listener Rebecca Roberts in Lincoln, Nebraska. She pointed me to an art installation in New Hampshire. This guy photographed all his trash for a year!

Maybe I'll put a hidden camera in my garbage disposal...

ADDENDUM:
My Marketplace Money colleague Stephen Hoffman, who so kindly came up with some earlier nicknames for me (see previous postings) has just coined a new one:

Less Mess Vigeland

Another small victory.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

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