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Recycling 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0  RSS feed

 
gardener
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Recycling has been around for a long time. Actually, it has been around forever. Nature is an expert recycler. There is no such thing as waste in a natural system. If nature was not so good at recycling we’d be standing atop a mountain of leaves, branches, and grass that just never got taken care of. For many many years our footprint on the earth was basically non-existent. We may have cut down a few trees now and again but then the tools we made with the trees decomposed, fed the soil, and gave life to new trees. Then we learned how to do things with oil like creating plastic and styrofoam and a whole bunch of other “convenient” and “modern” things that, coincidentally, take a really really long time to break down.

The mountains of garbage that we have been piling up over the last 100 years are humongous and they are filling our air, water, and soil with toxic chemicals. Some people noticed this huge problem and, poof, household recycling was introduced with the goal of creating less waste. A standard recycling system is generally composed of 3 bins: a black bin for “garbage”, a blue bin for “recyclables”, and a green bin for “compostables.” While this was a nice start, there is so much more we can do.

Let’s start by saying that a person in Wheaton Eco Level 0 puts absolutely everything in the black bin. For example’s sake, let’s say they put in 160 units of waste.

I think that someone at Wheaton Eco Level 1 will be trying some recycling. They might reduce the amount of waste going into the black bin by half and will redirect the waste into the blue and green bins instead. Let’s say 80 units in the black bin, 48 units in the blue bin, and 32 units in the green bin.

A person at Wheaton Eco Level 2 will take it up a notch. Reduce, reuse, repair, recycle is a list of things they do in order. They begin repairing old clothing and tools. They buy some things at the thrift store. They make conscious buying decisions to have more durable products and lower package waste. They realize that homemade meals are far more enjoyable than highly processed packaged “meals” from the store. They significantly reduce the number of plastic beverage bottles in their house. Anything papery is used as fire starter in the winter time, saving a bunch of work chopping kindling. 40 units go in the black bin, 24 units in the blue bin, and 16 units in the green bin.

At Wheaton Eco Level 3 a person is starting to grow their own food, reducing the amount of food packaging in their house further. They have implemented reuse and repair such that they don’t buy nearly so much stuff anymore. They have eliminated plastic water bottles by 95% or more. They have set up a free shed in their neighborhood where one person’s junk can become another person’s treasure. They have reduced the amount of cheap electronics they buy, opting instead for devices that will last longer. They have also realized that their neighbors are placing a bunch of things in their green bins that are rather toxic. This is concerning because material from the green bins goes to the town compost pile which they had been putting on their garden. Rather than spreading toxic compost they decide to compost all of their green bin material themselves for use in their garden. Now they have 20 units in the black bin and 20 units in the blue bin.

Once they get to Wheaton Eco Level 4, a person is growing 50% of their own food, really cutting down on food packaging. This person may live in community with a bunch of other people, reducing the amount of things being purchased by a significant factor. They are exploring doing their own glass recycling using a Fresnel lens. They might even recycle their neighbor’s glass for them since they can make money off of it. They are now putting 10 units in the black bin and 10 units in the blue bin.

Growing 90% of their own food, people at Wheaton Eco Level 5 have nearly eliminated food waste in their house. They have eliminated most of the household products that aren’t really needed. Most of their furniture and tools are handcrafted out of natural materials. They occasionally treat themselves to a bag of chips or a tub of ice cream but otherwise are content to live the permaculture dream. They now put 5 units in the black bin and 5 units in the blue bin. They get their bins picked up once a year.

By the time someone reaches Wheaton Eco Level 5 they will have reduced their total waste by 16 times, drastically reducing pollution in the landscape. Beyond level 5 things only get better.

***

What did you like? What do you think was missed?
 
master steward
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This is a subject that has been very dear to me for many years.

What I have found in life is that if it wasn't for the city imposing mandatory recycling very few would do it.

I have always lived where there was no mandatory recycling.

I am a level 3 by your scale.  I would like to be a level 5 if I had those opportunities.

We generate for the two of us about half a can of garbage a month.  This is my black bin.  My blue bin if I had one, has already been recycled.  I recycle a lot of the junk mail but some went in the black bin.  My green bin, if I had one, has already been put in the garden, turned into bone broth or given to the wildlife.
 
master pollinator
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One thing missed is the natural transition to buying dry goods at a bulk food store.

As soon as one discovers how much better food can taste made from scratch at home, things like canned goods start popping up as potential areas of improvement. So instead of buying canned beans and lentils, we buy dry. Instead of buying something in a package, we buy bulk. Instead of using their disposable plastic bags, we bring mason jars and large reusable bins, probably plastic for durability during transportation, but glass at home.

Let's take another tack. We wanted a pet at home. My girlfriend has never had a pet before. I grew up with dogs, rabbits, and cats. I love dogs, but we don't have room in the apartment for the size of dog I want. Allergies are an issue, so our list of options was cut rather short, and we were choosing between a (Russian Blue) cat or a Flemish Giant rabbit. The bunny won out because of the poop. There is no benefit to cat feces. The bunny berries, along with the litter, have already, in under two weeks, noticeably changed the character of my compost (I will apply the litter directly, but not if there aren't any living plants there).

I also have to mention that I think that the numbers on the waste reducing effect of composting in the OP's first post, as opposed to using the green bin, are quite low in terms of the amount it can divert from the landfill. There are a number of variables that affect household waste stream composition, so results will vary, and things like having a wood-burning fireplace/woodstove to make use of waste paper as kindling, or a vermicomposter, that uses shredded household paper as worm habitat, will mean a reduction in the amounts of paper waste to be recycled, as well as that which would go into the green bin.

I can honestly tell you that, when I started composting in my parents' backyard as a teen, without woodstove or vermicomposter, we were able to cut the frequency of garbage pickup in half. We literally would skip every other garbage day, because it would take twice as long to accumulate an amount of garbage worth wheeling to the curb. Admittedly, I was using cardboard under a mulch layer in places, so that cut the recycling a little, but still, I considered it quite the accomplishment, as soon as I got over the shock.

This thread is a good illustration of concrete steps that normal people can take to reduce their waste streams, but it is by no means exhaustive. I would love to hear opinions on the OP's number breakdown, and what other steps people have taken to reduce the amount of waste their households generate.

-CK
 
gardener
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Great write up! It's a great roadmap for those who are trying to figure out how to get from where they are to where they want to be.

I am always in stripes on the Wheaton scale, some of this, lots of that, no definite stage. I'd say it's weird, but that's kinda how I am.

I was thinking last night how to get the local trash co to only charge for how many times they dump your trash. Not sure. They don't have a big operation, and they are chronically short staffed. I'd just love to only pay for what I actually put out, because it isn't much at all. Closest dump to here is 30 miles, they charge 20.00 minimum, and oh my lord, I'm a dumpster diver, that is the worst dump I have ever been in, filthy, smells horrible. I prefer to avoid that dump. So I'm trying to figure out how to get the trash folks to do what I want :)

 
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If you have children in diapers, switching to cloth reusable diapers can be HUGE.  When we did this, we were already recycling our plastics, aluminum, cardboard, and glass, and we were composting, so literally half of what was left was diapers. You can then switch to reusable baby wipes (no more plastic wipe packaging -- hooray!).  Not to mention the money we save from not buying diapers or wipes anymore.  

Our trash accumulates at a rate of maybe one bag per week now for a family of six, which was unimaginable to me five years ago.  Since our recycling center also accepts electronics and batteries, our trash mostly consists now of non-recyclable plastic packaging -- bags, shrink wrap, styrofoam.  Reducing or eliminating that stuff seems to be the stubborn final frontier.

I've heard mixed things about electronics recycling.  Does anyone know if it's worth it, environmentally?  
 
Pearl Sutton
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Alicia Donathan wrote:
I've heard mixed things about electronics recycling.  Does anyone know if it's worth it, environmentally?  


Depends on what you classify as "worth it." I think giving a recycle place a chance to do something with it is at least better than the zero chance it has  if it's dumped in a landfill, can't get much worse than that. So I'd say "better than zero." And some days that's all we can do. Passing anything functional or useful for parts to a thrift store or repair place is my first choice, then recycle, then if you have no other option, trash. I'm personally at "do I need to buy this thing to start with?" but still have things that I got before I got to that stage that I am dealing with.

Many points for you Alicia for getting off diaper trash!! That's a hard one when you are tired and busy!
 
Chris Kott
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Yeah, I really want to go the whole reuseable cloth diapers and wipes thing, or at least some biodegradable option that will break down in a hot compost.

As to if electronics recycling is worth it, I think two developments in this vein would be really great steps for electronics recycling.

First, I would love it if, for existant technology, we could get the whole material chain of custody, listing where the raw materials were sourced, where everything was shipped, how much waste was produced, how that was taken care of, and most importantly for those with electronics they want to recycle already in hand, the ability to choose responsible, environmentally-friendly local recyclers, as opposed to cramming tonnes of e-waste into cargo containers that get shipped to developing nations, where it's burned, and toxic elements like mercury are used to extract precious metals from what remains.

If we could choose our recycling standards, we could ensure a minimum of emissions into the environment, and if we demanded that it be done locally, so we have control, we can ensure that recycling is done responsibly

Second, I would love it if what happened to PCs, where there was enough standardisation that people could assemble their own PCs from components available off the shelf, would happen for smartphones, electric cars, and virtually any other electronics we use. If everything was modular, swappable, and designed for disassembly and upgrading, these products, from largest to smallest, could be customised and repaired, and individual components, which might also be repaired, can be swapped out when necessary. Those individual components could be fixed or recycled, and only those components, meaning that much less will make it into even the recycling stream, should people be able to, say, buy a smartphone body they like and can keep as they upgrade it over the years.

Less bulk going into the recycling stream, and the ability to group irreparable components by type or composition, would already make the process cleaner and more efficient. Not to mention the boost to the maker culture this would foster...

Of course, we need to modify the planned obsolescence part of the consumerist culture to include these things, which requires a shift (that I hope is already underway) away from the mentality that we can have constant, unrestrained growth in a finite system like our planet.

On a local note, I noticed that municipal employees are doing the rounds on recycling day, checking to make sure that what is going into the recycling bins is actually recyclable, and fining those who get it wrong. I think this is the wrong mentality.

If we are including plastics that the city can't recycle, and it costs so much to deal with that it's a reasonable expense to employ recycling enforcement officers, I think it a much better idea for the city to figure out how to recycle that stuff too, or to impose a municipal ban on stores using non-recyclable packaging.

It costs money to landfill garbage. It costs money to recycle, in the short term, more money than landfilling. I think we need municipal governments to turn it around, ban non-recyclables, fund local, environmentally and socially responsible, job-creating recycling jobs that, as a byproduct of efficiency and cradle-to-cradle planning, produce higher-grade recycled materials. If their focus was broadened to include the whole system, recycling becomes the cheapest, best option over the whole term.

-CK
 
Pearl Sutton
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Chris Kott wrote:

Second, I would love it if what happened to PCs, where there was enough standardisation that people could assemble their own PCs from components available off the shelf, would happen for smartphones, electric cars, and virtually any other electronics we use. If everything was modular, swappable, and designed for disassembly and upgrading, these products, from largest to smallest, could be customised and repaired, and individual components, which might also be repaired, can be swapped out when necessary. Those individual components could be fixed or recycled, and only those components, meaning that much less will make it into even the recycling stream, should people be able to, say, buy a smartphone body they like and can keep as they upgrade it over the years.

Of course, we need to modify the planned obsolescence part of the consumerist culture to include these things, which requires a shift (that I hope is already underway) away from the mentality that we can have constant, unrestrained growth in a finite system like our planet.

It costs money to landfill garbage. It costs money to recycle, in the short term, more money than landfilling. I think we need municipal governments to turn it around, ban non-recyclables, fund local, environmentally and socially responsible, job-creating recycling jobs that, as a byproduct of efficiency and cradle-to-cradle planning, produce higher-grade recycled materials. If their focus was broadened to include the whole system, recycling becomes the cheapest, best option over the whole term.
---CK



YES YES YES and YES!!!
I am SO appalled by planned obsolesce, by unrepairable items, and by the whole system seeming to think this is an OK thing. I buy appliances etc that I need second hand so I can them get old enough that they can possibly be repaired if I need to. If it has a circuit board, I don't bring it home. If it has no screws I can remove and violate it's long expired warranty, I don't bring it home. The toaster we use is older than I am, toasts just fine. Doesn't do bagels, or sense when the toast is done, just toasts the bread.

I'm a big fan of appropriate tech (not sure what others classify as that, so I may be out of step with them too) I decide what I need, and buy the lowest tech version of it I can find. I do use machinery, but I don't use the latest and greatest, I use what functions adequately for my purposes. I have seen most people not actually define their needs, so they buy the latest and greatest that will do what they need, and then some, and be unrepairable when it craps out. THAT is the mentality I'd LOVE to see change in the world. More niche markets for modular components that can be made to do what you actually need. I don't need my phone to do facetime or tell me the stock market. I DO need it to be able to look things up on the net when I am far from my computer "What just bit me, do I need to panic?" "Is this a plant I want to keep or something that I will regret not killing now while it's young?" (I moved to a new climate, and am learning a LOT still.) But to get just what I need seems to be an unreasonable request. My Iphone 4 is more tape than glass at this point, and is running OS version 6.1.3  I shudder to think what will happen when it totally craps out. I will still need a pocket net connection, and I'll still find nothing that just does what I want.

This system of obsolescence is not sustainable, and needs badly to stop, and it takes changing how people think to make it happen.
 
master steward
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Thomas Elpel just wrote an awesome  (basically op-ed) piece on recycling:

The Joy of Recycling One Nail.

His deconstruction and reuse/recycling of trailers and furniture are epic examples.



It's so reassuring and does give me hope - and joy! - to hear about Thomas and you all putting in all this effort to recycle.

Here at wheaton labs, Paul and I consume more packaged foods than I would like, though we are getting better all the time at reducing or reusing that waste.

What's been more challenging has been educating our community about recycling and reusing AND having enough space for it AND keeping all of it labeled and organized and taken to all the different places in a timely manner.  

So perhaps we get extra eco scale points for the educating we do, even if our personal trash isn't quite as low as I'd like yet.

This landfill sign works the best so far. I stole the idea from an organic/eco airbnb we stayed at. (Crappy pic but it's readable!) The airbnb's sign included their community's story of what a "landfill" means (which included trucking the trash +/-200 miles).


Landfill-sign.jpg
[Thumbnail for Landfill-sign.jpg]
landfill sign on our trash can
 
pollinator
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This thread offers some interesting glances at numerous upcycling/re-use projects...

https://permies.com/t/12412/projects

The spirit of many of these examples is in tune with the "upper numbers" of self-reliance & responsibility, I think (if you want to look at it that way).
 
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