Zero Waste Challenge, Librarian Style: Day 4

stacksshotMy Zero Waste Challenge week has come to a close, but my mind has been opened.  In recently days I have found my actions changing, my choices having different factors and my frustration escalated.  My bag is full of items that sadly, I can not recycle or re-use and that is what elevates my frustration.  I’ll be honest I feel a bit sad about some of my findings.  I’ve come to realize that my consumer habits, though I try as I might to purchase with a low-waste mind, still needs to be refined and re evaluated.  Coincidentally while I was on the last leg of this challenge I read the Epilogue from the book No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process.  Quite the mouthful to say, but quite the impact  as well.  For one whole year Colin Beavan lived with his family, in New York City, trying to have as little of an impact on the environment as possible.  A documentary was also made while he and his family were conducting this experiment.  Last night as I read the last line of his book, I felt called to act on what I have come to realize this week. Colin left his readers with this question “So, what are you going to do?”

Well, I am going to actively lead by example and keep trying to produce as little waste as possible.  I’ll explore options that do not require me purchasing items or using items that have single use and can not be recycled/re purposed.  I realized most of my items are related to snacks or others offering me something and I accept.  Is it not polite to say “No thank you, I am trying to reduce my landfill contribution.”  Do I really need to be snacking on candy and chips anyway?  I could set aside some weekend time to make my own snacks and store them in reusable containers at home?  I will also ask companies directly, is your product recyclable and if not, why is it not?  Does your packaging have to be in plastic #6?  My hope is that with consumers asking these questions and not purchasing based off of the waste the product creates then maybe even more companies will re-think their products container.

Final Day

Over the weekend I accumulated six new items to add to my bag of trash.  They are numbered above.

1. As I woke up to the sound of a hungry cat and a large to-do list on Saturday, I fed the cat some breakfast and and made myself a nice cup of tea.  For this week I have been throwing away my food waste as to not create a larger smell problem or a mold problem in my bag.  My tea bag though got me pondering.  I have composted coffee grounds before, but never thought the same result might be a good place for tea.  After looking around on some gardening websites, I found an article that explains how tea is not only compostable but beneficial for plants. Even the bags are biodegradable meaning you don’t have to open up the tea bag compost it.  My only concern is the tea bags that have a silky feeling or those with a small metal staple, probably should not compost those bags just in case.

2. This weekend I made a great baked tilapia with a side of green bean salad and some vegetables in polenta.  Not to make your mouth water, but to bring up an aspect of waste that I have decided to focus on more, food packaging.  The only waste from preparing this meal was the food scraps and the plastic from the tilapia.  I used to buy fresh tilapia until I decided to stop using Styrofoam,  these tilapia create a different problem though.  Each filet is wrapped in plastic, and all put into a re-sealable plastic bag.  For smell’s sake I did not include the individual wrappings from my meal, but I included the plastic strip you have to cut off in order to open the larger bag.  Today I called up Costco and asked them if the packaging was a recyclable plastic.  When the costumer service representative looked up the item, she said the only note they put for that item is that it is recyclable but the grade of plastic is not given in the product information.  This leaves me with the question, do I put it in recycling because Costco said its okay, or do I put it in landfill because I do not know the grade of plastic?  For today, I am putting it in the landfill because non-recycled items in recycling process can be more harm than good.

3. Toby Keith may love his Red Solo Cup, but I on the other hand most certainly do not. Toby sings about his cup being more than a cup to him, he likes that its cheap, disposable and you can even write your name on it. In his song he claims it is decompostable in fourteen years.  Given that #6 is not even recyclable in most cases, I doubt it will be compostable within my lifetime let alone fourteen years.  While out doing my grocery shopping I wanted to try a sample that was served in a little mini Solo cup.  Based on my findings, the only place for a Solo cup the morning after a big party is either a landfill or Terracycle.  The hitch with Terra Cycle though is you have to sign up to be part of their recycling program then you collect your cups and send them in.  For now I will just stick with handing out .25 mugs from the thrift store to hand out at parties. That way as a party goer you just need to remember, was I the IHOP mug or the “Happy Father’s Day” with the goofy dog on it?

ernest4. My cat loves his treats, and it wasn’t until this project that I realized that my cat’s waste is technically my waste since I purchase for him.  Yesterday he finished off a bag of treats and it is my job to find out if the packaging is recyclable or not. My hunch is not, and I was right. After contacting the company they told me at this time they are not recyclable but they are looking into changing their packaging. Off to the landfill it goes then. An interesting alternative, a friend mentioned to me while I was talking about this predicament that homemade cat treats are pretty simple to make and I could store them in a mason jar!

5. Same story as my pita chips, I was the last one to have some tortilla chips, making the bag my waste. I had assumed that it was not recyclable but decided to call their customer service anyway.  I was told that if their bag has a recycling symbol on the back at the bottom then it is a recyclable plastic.  If there is no symbol then it is not.  They explained that they make a lot of different snack foods for different brands but they are all under the same parent company.  Mine had no symbol, but I’ll keep an eye out for the other brands this company produces to see if they do have some recyclable options.

6. With all that grocery shipping and running around, I seem to have some receipts. Through my research I have come up with a conclusion, that if its shinny and has lots of ink, not recyclable. The shinny coating and ink isn’t good for the recycling process, its called a thermal printed receipt.  This article from 1800Recycle (a search engine designed to assist consumers with questions about what can they recycle and where) explains the difference between thermal receipts and regular printed receipts.

Over the course of one week I accumulated 16 non-recyclable items.  With Chopin’s Funeral March playing in the background I will dump my trash into a real trash can and keep with me the lessons learned over this very enlightening week.


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Zero Waste Challenge, Librarian Style: Day 3

bagshotHave you ever been jogging and a dump truck passes by you?  Ever get a good ol’ whiff of that trash? I don’t know about you but I tend to make a face when I smell that truck pass by.   A very similar smell can now be found by opening up my Ziploc bag of trash.  Its odd, it never occurred to me when I would smell that trash on my jogs that it wasn’t someone else’s trash making that stink, it was my trash, mixed with my neighbors trash, mixed with the trash from the restaurant in my building.  Its all of us creating not only these large pits full of waste, but the smell we hate to smell.  We pay someone to drive up, remove our stink, drive gas guzzling trucks to a remote location so we don’t have to smell it or find uses for our items.  We have our waste taken away to magical landfill land.   The missing link in our thought process though is, we all create the disgusting smell.


What is causing this stink is the addition of five items from Tuesday night to this morning.  I have numbered each piece and below is their story.

1. Oh the Keurig, how we love the quick cup of java to get us alert and ready for the day.  Yesterday I was offered a cup of coffee, desperate for that cup of caffeine I accepted.  Turns out, my coffee was from a Keurig, which means I created waste. To find out if the k-cup is recyclable I went to the Kurig’s support page, where I found a long list of questions, but none relating to recycling. To dive deeper I went to their Sustainability page, where I finally found my answer.  Keurig admits their k-cups are not recyclable but they are developing their packaging technology with a recyclable k-cup target date of 2020. In the mean time, they have a program called Grounds to Grow On, that collects their used cups, coffee grounds and all.  The ground are used for compost and the rest of the cups are turned into energy.   Given that their recyclable solution is still just over five years away, I did find a solution in the mean time. Keurig also makes a reusable coffee filter that fits into the same compartment the k-cups would, only you have to fill it with your own coffee and wash it out afterwards.  Not too difficult and you still get a quick cup of coffee!

2. Tuesday night I went out to dinner, and once again had to make a trip to the bathroom.  When it came time to wash my hands, I realized they only had paper towels.  What baffled me was that these towels were different.  The restaurant had paid not only for a much thicker, larger, durable paper towel, but they had the restaurant’s name printed on each one.  You’ll see that I have two other paper towels next to my fancy printed one.  That fancy towel ended up in the same place as all my other plain towels, in my trash.  I don’t see logic in printing your company name on an item that is used and put into a trash can with in seconds, all that ink and effort put into something with such as short use life.  If it is for advertising purposes, would you not already be a patron of their establishment if you are using their restroom?  All I can do is shake my head, and plan on bringing a re-usable towel like this one with me just in case wherever I need to wash my hands happens to have no hand dryers.

3. Stickers, I can honestly say I have never thought about stickers in terms of recycling.  With the weather getting colder and our skin getting dyer, I opened up a new chap stick yesterday.  The label on my chap stick had a colored corner that said in tiny letters, “Lift.”   I did and found the ingredients list, but as I kept pulling the whole label came off.  Now what?  What do you do with stickers?  When I did a general Google search I found a green blog that said stickers are not recyclable, but Post-It notes are.  Given this information was from a blog, and as a librarian I know better than to take that as face value, I did another search to confirm their findings.  Finally I found a source that supported the fact that stickers can’t be recycled because the adhesives clog up the recycling process.  My second search also added in another piece of information that is good to know, postage is okay to put in your recycling!  Who knew!

4. Yesterday it was coffee, today it was tea.  Woke up this morning craving some Earl Grey. After putting my tea bag in my mug I took a look at its packaging.  Its paper, technically, but has a very smooth almost glossy texture to it, which made me wonder, is it recyclable? The company website has a social responsibility page but no information on the packaging. A call to the company resulted in my leaving a detailed message.  Stay tuned for my next post to see if the makers of great tea listen to their voice mails!

5. A snack a day keeps rumblings tummies at bay. Even though I was not the only person to enjoy pita chips from this bag, I was the last one to finish up the crumbs meaning it was my responsibility to put it in the trash.  Years ago I had heard about a company called Terra Cycle, which takes chip bags, candy wrappers and other non-recyclable items and they turn those items into other products.  Sadly though this great company only accepts certain bags and the brand I have is not on the list.  So I decided to start an online chat session (similar to our Ask a Librarian) with the customer service department of Stacy’s Pita Chips.  After my friendly chat, the end result was, no they are not recyclable.  The plastic used to make the bags does not break down properly in the recycling process.  This got me thinking, if I want pita chips why not make them at home to avoid creating more waste? In our book collection we have many different cook books, and after browsing the TX section of the stacks I found a book called The Bread Maker’s Apprentice which had a simple, inexpensive pita chip recipe!

Stay tuned next Monday to see what sort of trash and questions the weekend brings in my final leg of the Zero Waste Challenge!



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Zero Waste Challenge, Librarian Style: Day 2

Its day 3 and this challenge is just getting good!  Yesterday I accumulated five more items of trash that I could not recycle. After putting in my research, I have learned more about what I can’t, and surprisingly can, recycle from my every day activities.  Some have a simple reason why not, while other posed a bit of a puzzle.  To recap, my first item was a coffee soaked paper towel, which can’t be recycled due to having food waste on it. Coincidentally, my second item was also a paper towel from washing my hands in a public bathroom. To help keep track I have placed a number by each new item I have accumulated during day 2 and below is the story behind that item.



1. Yesterday I was using a public restroom and was faced with a predicament after I washed my hands.  I looked around for hand dryers like we have here at Moraine and found a disappointed self looking back at me in the mirror.  My hand were still cold from being outside and wet cold hands aren’t pleasant.  Knowing I would have to use the paper towel I started to shake my hands in the air and count to 12.  Then I took one paper towel and folded it in half.  I learned this trick from a TED talk a friend sent me last year.   One towel really is all you need.  This got me thinking though, what is better hand dryers or paper towels?  I’ve heard the argument both ways, some say hand dryer’s use too much energy others say paper towels produce too much waste.  To get the facts I used GreenFILE (one of the many databases we have here at Moraine for research needs) and found this article.  I guess hand dryers are the winner due to less waste and less carbon emissions.

2. When offered your favorite piece of candy who turns that down?  Boy am I a sucker for Starburst, but I almost didn’t accept this treat because I knew the wrapping is not recyclable.  Even though it is paper wrapping, its covered in a wax coating which prevents it from being recycled.  The same goes for laminated paper.  In terms of re-use Starburst wrappers are great for crafts, here is a tutorial on how to make a bracelet or a necklace using a folding technique.

3. Flu season is approaching and one method to stay healthy is good ol’ vitamin C.  Nothing like a good cup of O.J. in the morning to brighten your day.  This morning I went to open a new jug of Tropicana, and realized that even though the bottle itself is recyclable, the pull off seal probably isn’t.  To find out more I checked online and searched their company website.  Coming up with no solid answer, I decided to call Tropicana and see if they can answer my question.  After talking to a polite Mary Ann, she informed me that the seal is a multi-material packaging piece that can’t be recycled.  My hunch was right, its an item that can’t be recycled and so far I have not found an alternative use for this item, so this really does have no place to go unfortunately except to the landfill.

burlap4. Last Christmas I was given a spa kit from a co-worker that came in a great burlap bag.  I had saved the bag in hopes of finding a means of re-purposing it as a gift bag in the future.  Last night I attended a housewarming party, and decided to fill that bag with cookies and goodies for my friends.   The only problem was the bag had a burlap tag on it with the spa kit name and company.  Snip snip and the bag was good to go.  Only problem now, what to do with this piece of burlap.  It is not recyclable since fabrics are not recycled through a curbside waste/recycling service.  Normally when I have an item that can be recycled in theory but isn’t recycled by my waste hauler, I use Earth911‘s Recycling Center Search.  Through that I find a location near me that collects that particular item. When I searched for burlap, no results came up. Larger pieces of burlap are often reused to make bags or used in crafts.   Putting my re-purposing cap on I think this piece of fabric is the perfect size for a bookmark!


5. Bathrooms don’t clean themselves, and last night it was my turn to get out the baking soda and start scrubbing the tub. When I went to get the baking soda I realized I had to open up a new bag, which means I had to generate some waste… maybe.  The top edge of the bag had to be cut off, and that little strip of plastic was my waste.  I looked on the bag and didn’t see any indication that it was recyclable.  To confirm this I searched the company website and found no information on the packaging.  My go to solution, call the company and ask them.  As it turns out the bag is grade 7 plastic, which means I can recycle it!  Well that’s one less item I have to carry around for the week!

Stay tuned for more updates from this Zero Waste Challenge, Librarian Style!



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Zero Waste Challenge, Librarian Style: Day 1

CAM01257-1Hello, my name is Elena and I accept the challenge. Last week GoGreen! Club here at Moraine posed a challenge to the campus community, to carry around any trash you generate during that week that you don’t or you can’t recycle. Being an environmentally minded person who avidly recycles as much as I can this intrigued me.  It got me thinking more about those items that are still part of my day but I can’t recycle.  Being a librarian who is always on the quest for facts and information, I have decided to collect  my trash for a week and try to find out what items we can’t recycle, why we can’t and if there is an alternative to that item.

So often we generate non-recyclable items but because we just throw it away, it leaves our thoughts.  It’s as if once we put that item in the trashcan and it magically disappears, poof! Sadly though, that is not the case.  The trash that I, you, your family and even the Queen of England herself produce ends up in a landfill, forever underground with the hopes that we all are satisfied with the notion “out of sight out of mind.” Personally, I stopped believing in magic long ago.

My first item for my bag is a coffee soaked paper towel.  Spills happen and since it wasn’t milk, I didn’t take the time to cry over it. Instead I ran around the office trying to find something anything to stop this slow but steady pool of caffeine from growing.  Frantically I ask a co-worker “do we have towels!?” and of course they do have towels, but the paper kind.  Paper towels that have food on them or cleaning products can not be recycled due to contamination.  The recycling process for paper involves water that would get quite gross with food waste mixed in with it.  A great example of a recyclable material that can’t be recycled is pizza boxes.

Sometimes our surroundings do not match our personal mission and we have to make do.  At home, the best solution I have found for a spill is to use old towels or t-shirt rags depending on the size.  Best solution for work?  Maybe I could have a couple cleaning rags from home ready in my desk drawer just in case.

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