Our incredible potential for keeping waste out of the landfill

This pie chart from the US EPA represents the waste profile of a typical municipality.

Waste profile

Do you notice what I notice?

  • Over a quarter of our waste is organic (food or yard trimmings), which is completely compostable
  • Another quarter is paper, which is almost entirely recyclable
  • 8% is plastics, much of which is recyclable
  • 1% is metal, which is recyclable
  • 2% is wood, which can be composted or repurposed for fuel

Add up those numbers and you can see that if we recycled, composted or otherwise diverted everything possible, we could keep at least three-quarters of our waste out of the landfill (and that’s not including glass, which is recyclable in many places).

That would greatly reduce the need for fresh resources; and vastly extend the lives of our landfills.

So – what’s in your trash bin right now?  If you’re not diverting everything you can, why not make a commitment right now?

Take a minute to imagine the potential if we all recycled and composted everything we could – then do your part to make it happen!

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Keep those fall leaves for your gardening

Just this week, I’ve started seeing traces of fall colours in the trees in our yard; can raking be far behind? But wait – instead of bagging those leaves and placing them at the curb, why not save them for next year’s gardening (and avoid the emissions of trucking them away)? Here are three options:

  • To make true compost, mix leaves with a ‘green’ material like grass clippings. For faster composting, shred the leaves beforehand.
  • But if you prefer a ‘minimal effort’ option, you can just collect all your leaves into a pile and leave them – at least for the winter, and perhaps longer. Eventually, they’ll turn into a material called leaf mold, which can be used as mulch around shrubs.
  • Finally, if you’d prefer the ‘least-effort option’, you can just get rid of your leaves by spreading them onto a nearby forest floor. The nutrients they release over time will enrich the soil there.

Enjoy fall – and remember, those leaves are too valuable to place at the curb! Read more about composting and leaf mold here.

An eco-friendly Halloween

Halloween is a much-awaited highlight for kids everywhere: a chance to dress up, spook the neighbours and get tons of tasty loot!  But Halloween has a pretty big carbon footprint, and that’s a bit like egging your mother’s house: not nice.

Here are five tips to make your Halloween celebrations a little greener:

  • The single most important thing you can do: leave the car home, and have trick-or-treaters walk (escorted if necessary) around the neighbourhood
  • Use stuff you already have, plus a bit of imagination, to create your costume.  It saves money and results in less trash.  Everybody should have a ‘tickle trunk’ like Mr. Dressup had!
  • Don’t distribute junk food or cheap low-quality treats from questionable distant origins.  Strive to give away treats that are healthy and nutritious, as well as good tasting.  (A challenge, I know – I clearly remember not being impressed with apples in my treat bag when I was a kid!)
  • If you want to be a real eco-hero, look for fair trade chocolate.  Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Minis qualify, and you can find other brands here.
  • Be sure to compost your pumpkin when it starts to melt away!

Please-not plastic!

October 19, 2010

A greener way to pick up after your pet

Pets are usually walked for more than just exercise, and stooping and scooping is a good thing to do.   However, if you use plastic bags, you’re putting one of nature’s fastest degrading substances into something that degrades extremely slowly.

So it’s far better to use paper bags or biodegradable bags made from corn-based materials.  Then you can:

1. dispose of them in your trash – they’ll break down quickly in a landfill; or

2. compost them – but if you do, be sure to set up a separate compost for pet waste because it can carry some pretty nasty pathogens, and don’t use the compost on food crops.  Check out these composters designed specifically for pet waste and read some excellent guidance from Green Calgary; or

3. if you have the space, bury them several centimetres in the ground where they’ll quickly break down into plant nutrients (again, not in a food garden).

The key message: please don’t use plastic bags for pet waste!

Greener Napkin Etiquette

September 23, 2009

The paper napkin is part of just about every restaurant meal. At fast food restaurants, we can even help ourselves – and it’s easy to grab a handful without thinking, most of which end up in the trash unused or barely used. Our napkin habit consumes millions of trees a year. Millions.

But here are five simple ways you can save a tree:

At home, try to get away without using napkins in the first place
At restaurants, use just one napkin
Give extra napkins and napkins that have been lightly used a second life: use them as tissues (they’re usually a lot stronger than regular tissues), or tuck them into your car’s glovebox for a myriad of end uses.
When buying, choose napkins with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content
Compost used napkins when possible, so that they can become ingredients for the next generation of trees
Save a napkin, save a tree: it’s nature’s air filter.

In the News

US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday urged world leaders to tackle climate change on a global scale. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-obama-climate23-2009sep23,0,6860735.story

Could this face in the ice be Mother Nature sending us a message? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1210706/Caught-camera-Mother-Nature-cries-river-tears-global-warming-threatens-planet.html
Hazy Opera House: a dust storm hits parched Sydney http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/09/23/world/AP-AS-Australia-Dust-Storm.html

Terry Fox Run

I’m delighted to share that I have raised over $26,500 in pledges. Thanks to everyone who contributed! (It’s still not too late: http://www.terryfox.org/cgi/page.cgi/Run/participants.html/USH8SW)