biodegradable

ICYMI: Nothing Really Decomposes in a Landfill

Have you been greenwashed into thinking that a compostable bowl is a better choice because once you toss it, it will decompose in a landfill?

Or have you patted yourself on the back for buying those biodegradable/compostable trash bags?

Or have you shrugged it off that it’s fine to throw a banana peel into the garbage because its organic material and will break down?

I hate to break it to you, but that is

not really how landfills work.

In graduate school, our class had the opportunity to tour a nearby landfill and recycling center and let me tell you, it was very depressing.

I will never forget seeing all the things the people of southern Indiana tossed into their garbage cans, being pushed and packed by bulldozers.

And the smell! Phew! Unbelievable!

Anyway, that stuff Hoosiers tossed that day about 6 years ago is still probably sitting around, just as the day it was tightly packed into the Earth.

I am not going to get into all the undesirable aspects of landfills, such as methane production and groundwater leaching, but the best non-super jargony explanation I could find came from this article on livescience.com:

“Landfills are not designed to break down waste, only to store it, according to the National Solid Wastes Management Association. But garbage in a landfill does decompose, albeit slowly and in a sealed, oxygen-free environment. Because of the lack of oxygen, bacteria in the waste produce methane gas, which is highly flammable and dangerous if allowed to collect underground. It is also a potent greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming.”

-Molika Ashford, “What Happens Inside a Landfill

Organic materials need oxygen to biodegrade and landfills lack oxygen when they are tightly packed and sealed. In this same graduate class, we discussed instances of landfill “archeologists” who have found hot dogs and guacamole still intact and years old newspapers completely legible. See more here, here, and here.

It all goes back to the notion that this is no “away.”

Throwing something away, be it a piece of plastic from Amazon packaging, your jeans with a hole in them, a banana peel, a piece of junk mail, an extra metal thing from your IKEA furniture assembly, to that piece of IKEA furniture itself, they will all live on in the depths of landfills scattered across the country. 

And those landfills are getting full.

For instance, Chicago’s garbage is trucked 100 miles outside of the city to 2 landfills in Illinois and 2 landfills in Indiana. Watch this video from WTTW for a comprehensive look as to what happens to Chicago’s garbage once it is put out in the alley. According to the Illinois EPA, at the state’s current rate of garbage collection, Illinois will run out of space for garbage in the next 20 years.

So let’s keep stuff out of the landfill that doesn’t belong. 

Recycle that plastic Amazon packaging in the proper place, or better yet, ask Amazon and other companies to reduce their packaging. You can email Amazon customer service and request that orders for your account come with less packaging. The environmental impacts of Amazon could be a whole blog post in itself.

Fix your jeans with a hole in them or find textile recycling in your area.

Compost that banana.

Recycle that junk mail and call the company to have your address removed.

Don’t buy cheap particle board furniture from IKEA, instead, quality pieces are abundantly available secondhand.

So next time you go to the garbage can just take a second to think before you toss.

 

 

 

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You Can Compost More Than Food

Most of the time when we think of what goes into compost, we think of organic food waste and yard clippings.

compost container

While that is entirely correct, there are plenty of other natural items that can be added to your compost pile as well. Here are some other items you may have been tossing into a landfill that are perfectly acceptable to be returned back to the soil.

  • Dry Cereal
  • Bread
  • Crackers & pretzels
  • Pasta, rice, and grains
  • Loose leaf tea
  • Natural fibers (ie. cotton, hemp, silk, wool)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Shredded paper
  • Human and pet hair
  • Sawdust
  • Cardboard
  • Lint from dryer and vacuum
  • Napkins, paper towels, and tissues
  • Wooden chopsticks and popsicle sticks
  • Wood ashes
  • Brown paper bags
  • Old spices
  • Egg shells
  • Expired jams and preserves
  • Nail clippings
  • Cotton balls & cotton swabs (the cardboard kind)

Think of what will actually be left in your trash can! Probably not a lot!

All of this depends on if you are composting at home or using a service. If you have compost collection, your municipality or service will give you exact guidelines of what is and is not allowed.

Below is what my pick up service, Healthy Soil Compost, accepts.

what-to-compost

Learn Something New Every Day: Removing Toothbrush Bristles

Last night I turned to K and said, “Where are the pliers?” Giving me a weird look, he asked why. I nonchalantly stated I needed them to remove the bristles from my bamboo toothbrush.

A totally normal response, right?

Either way, my first bamboo toothbrush’s life span as a toothbrush came to an end. After removing the bristles, the handle can be composted in a commercial facility.

So I took a seat and started to pull on the bristles. At first, nothing happened. I yanked and yanked until bristles burst from my toothbrush. So the real lesson here is, do this over an easy to clean surface because bristles WILL BE EVERYWHERE.

After the first chunk of bristles, it became easier and easier to remove them.

 

toothbrush3

Halfway through

toothbrush2

All gone! 

I did my best to keep the bristles and the toothpaste dust contained. When I was finished, I marveled at the fact that I just took 10 minutes to pull bristles out of my toothbrush just so it could be composted. I think it is definitely worth it over the way millions just simply toss conventional toothbrushes in the landfill without a second thought.

toothbrush1

The aftermath

 

Bamboo Toothbrush: Kind of Like Brushing With a Popsicle Stick

Recently, I made the switch to bamboo toothbrush from Brush with Bamboo. I bought a 4 pack on brushwithbambooAmazon for $13.99.

Every component of the toothbrush is plant based. The handle is bio-degradable, the bristles are plant-based and can be recycled, and the packaging is compostable as well.

I was in need of a new toothbrush anyway, so once I got them, I added my plastic one to the cleaning bucket.

When I first started with the bamboo toothbrush, all I kept thinking was,

“I feel like I am brushing my teeth with a popsicle stick…”

brushwithbamboo2After awhile that feeling went away. When you have been brushing your teeth with a plastic toothbrush your whole life, it is going to be a bit of a difference at first. Now it is fine.

Many other zero-wasters have blogged about their experience using bamboo toothbrushes and their benefits. Check them out!

 

*All images are from http://www.brushwithbamboo.com/

Oddisay: The Eco-Friendly Etsy

Over the summer I had the opportunity to work with a start up called Oddisay as an expert sustainability consultant. Oddisay just officially launched as a sustainable goods marketplace. It is like Etsy, but with an eco-friendly  focus.

For instance, when you open a shop on Etsy (which I have done before), there is no vetting on the materials your product is made of. You could say it is made of local, organic, biodegradable hemp all you want, but you never have to actually prove anything.

On Oddisay, every product that is posted gets evaluated by 3 key qualities:

  1. What it is made of
  2. How it is designed
  3. How it is disposed

What It Is Made Of

Products on Oddisay must be made of sustainable materials that can be recycled, reused or reclaimed. Additionally, Oddisay strives to make sure that products are fairly sourced. It was described to my colleagues and I that everything in the product must be useful.

How It Is Designed

The design of products is especially important. Each product sold on Oddisay is designed to be easily recycled, reused, or reclaimed keeping in touch with the cradle to cradle mentality.

How It Is Disposed

No part of a product should end up in a landfill, therefore Oddisay products eliminate or minimize landfill waste through recycling, reuse, and responsible environmental design. There are even sellers that have a merchant buy back program!

Rating System

Additionally, products are evaluated against a rating system, earning either a standard, silver, or gold rating in the following categories:

  • Gentle Impact
  • Fair Trade
  • Efficient
  • Merchant Buy Back Program
  • Multi-Use
  • Modular
  • Recyclable
  • Sustainably Made
  • Compostable
  • Biodegradable
  • Smart Packaging
  • Renewable

Trusted Certifications

It doesn’t end with the rating system. Oddisay uses a large amount of trusted certifications when assessing its products. USDA Organic, FSC Certification, B Corp Certification, and Energy Star are just some examples you may be familiar with.

During my time with Oddisay, I did extensive research on biodegradable adhesives, inks, and dyes. Beforehand, I knew synthetic glue was not necessarily good, but I had no idea how much petroleum went into every synthetic adhesive. I learned more a bout glue than I ever thought I would need to know!

Overall, Oddisay is a pretty cool marketplace developed by people all around the world who care about what goes into the products we buy. So if you want to make a difference, you should check it out!