Waste Solution For Not-Recycling Houston: One Trash Bin For All Waste.

Laura Spanjian - City of Houston Sustainability DirectorHow do you get a city with a low 14% recycling rate and no enforceable recycling laws to start separating their trash and divert it from landfills?

You don’t…. you bring in some garbage sorting technology and let it do the work. The City of Houston knew it would be tough to educate and motivate their residents to separate their trash so they went out and found companies that process it for them. Spearheading the effort is Laura Spanjian, Houston’s sustainability director. From Fast Co.Exist:

“Spanjian’s dream system combines many of these technologies: It would take everyone’s trash in one bin and send it to a facility that pulls out every piece of recyclable material and separates out food waste. Recyclable commodities would be sold, and food waste would be turned into compost or put in an anaerobic digester to power facilities or trucks. Another portion of the waste would be turned into gasoline.”

Brilliant – put all the trash in one bin and let the specialized machines sort it. Much better than the alternative of sending all of the trash to landfills.

Here are some of the companies Ms. Spanjian found that can divert and reuse/recycle Houston’s trash:

“One company cited by Spanjian, Organic Energy Corporation, offers a one-bin waste sorting solution. A company called BHS operates a material recovery facility in San Jose, California–but it doesn’t deal with food waste. ZeroWaste can take care of that; the company operates anaerobic digesters to deal with food waste in the city. And CRI Catalyst Company–a Houston-based company–offers a technology that turn biomass into gasoline or diesel.”

Not all cities are like San Francisco – which diverts 80% of their trash from landfills. If Ms. Spanjian’s model is successful, other low recycling rate cities can copy and implement a scaled version of her system. Dog wags tail. [Fast Co.Exist]


Food Scrap Waste Bins At SeaTac Airport – Too Hectic To Use? Too Soon?

Food scrap recycling bins at SeaTac Airport.We recently went on a trip that took us through SeaTac Airport just outside Seattle. The kids had a blast doing kid things on the trip but my highlight was the food scrap bins in the airport. Food waste from restaurants is a significant contributor to the waste stream and creating ways to separate and recycle it is important. Here are the waste disposal options at SeaTac:

  1. Recycle: plastic bottles, cans, mixed paper etc.
  2. Food scraps: fruits, vegetables, french fries etc
  3. Trash: landfill bound.

Rather than dumping all of our food and food related trash into the landfill bound bin, to become future-methane, we now have the ability to divert our food waste to be recycled and turned into compost.

Unfortunately, as I trash-stalked, not a single person used the food scrap bins correctly. Some did recycle their plastic bottles and aluminum cans but most carelessly dumped all over their trash into the nearest of the 3 bins. The food scrap and aluminum/plastic recycling bins were basically the 2nd and 3rd trash cans.

Hopefully we’ll see more separate bins for recycling / food / trash in public places and people get used to the idea of separating their trash. Due to the inherent chaos of the airport, it might not have been the best place to install food scrap bins but then again, maybe the idea will strike a nerve with a few travelers who’ll bring it to their local airport and restaurants.


The Unnecessary But Still Lovable Smart Trash-Can That Autonomously Catches Trash.

The tech behind Minoru Kurata’s autonomous trash-catching Smart Trash Can is pretty cool. In a way, it pairs an Xbox Kinect with your trash can. Here’s how it works (DigInfo):

“”When you toss trash at it, a sensor detects the position of the trash, and sends the information to a PC. The PC calculates where the trash will fall, and communicates it to the can via wireless connection.”

Is it too much technology for tossing trash? Probably but the idea could be ported to another product that could help people reduce.

How about a smart trash can that threw back recyclables? (Easy for me to say – never could I do.) [DigInfo]


Want To Learn How To Consume Less And Create Less Waste? Live In A Country With No Garbage Service.

Paraguay Waste - Image: Marta Escurra for Infosurhoy.comIn Western countries, trash service and waste disposal is easy to take for granted. Living in a country without government managed garbage pickup or septic systems that can handle toilet paper, forces people to develop MacGyver type solutions to manage their waste. Good posted an article by Megan Wood, “How Living in Paraguay Taught Me to Get Creative With My Trash,” on her experience conscientiously disposing of her personal trash. Ms. Wood dealt with her refuse by burning (toilet paper), reusing (wine bottles) and consuming less (no more Pringles) based on her situation. It’s a great article and her trash-reducing solutions and efforts to purchase items that are easier to dispose of are ones that can be applied in any country. [Good]


Going From Eight Trash Cans A Month To One

Captain Andrew Lane with familyReading about Captain Andrew Lane’s efforts to live a zero-waste lifestyle in GoodCaptain Andrew Lane - Captain Planet inspired me to write about my family’s efforts to reduce the amount we throw out.

Capt. Lane, aka Captain Planet, has been working to reduce waste since he was in college. Even deployed in Iraq, Capt. Lane reused a plastic spoon and Tupperware and didn’t contribute to the pile of thrown out dinnerware. Now at home with his family of four, his goal is to live a trash-free lifestyle and to help others do the same.

Reducing Waste
Van Calvez - Zero Impact ManTwo years and 8 cans of trash per month ago, I posted an article about Van Calvez, “No Impact Man,” and how his family reduced their output of trash to an amount that fit in one Ziploc bag. His advice was simple:

  1. Compost – eliminates the stink in garbage, makes garbage dry and much less unpleasant.
  2. Recycle More – take a little extra time to spot recyclables in your garbage.
  3. Buy in bulk – avoid disposable, single use containers; switch to reusable containers.
  4. Cook from scratch – focusing on fresh, raw, whole, local foods.
  5. Analyze your garbage – keep an eye on what is going into your trash.

I tried to improve by implementing most of Mr. Calvez’s tips and the one that made the biggest difference in our house was composting. Food in the garbage goes bad – especially in the summer. Separating it from dry trash means you’re less likely to stuff the bag and throw it out early. If you can compost, do it.

Now here are a couple of additional tips that helped us go from 8 to 1 trash can per month:

  1. Donate – Goodwill, Salvation Army etc. You may no longer see value in what you’re donating but G & S will.
  2. Buy less – perishable food, toys, things. And before you do buy something, think of how you’re going to recycle it.
  3. Part it out – along the lines of ‘Recycle More’; some items that you’d normally just throw in the garbage have parts that can be separated and recycled. ie. The glass, plastic, metal, and cardboard of a broken picture frame or even the top lid of a pizza box.
  4. Patience – when you’re feeling rushed, everything goes in the trash. Even food. Taking your time when it comes to throwing stuff out is the key.

We’ll never get down to a Ziploc bag of garbage but that wasn’t our goal. We just wanted to reduce.

We all create non-point source waste commuting, working, vacationing etc. But focusing on, and limiting what we throw out at home is important. Even if you travel around the world daily, you can still take pride in reducing what goes into your garbage can. Good luck! [Good]