Weds Nov 13, 2013

Let's have a party!

Let’s have a party!

(#6) Red Solo Cups are not really recyclable, which is so sad, because the Red Solo Cup song is really fun.  Here’s the “bad boy” version of the song, in case you’ve not seen it:

Now, what we need to do is create a good green cup, and make up a great new song to go with it!

At 22 million views, “red cup living” is culturally drubbing those of us drinking from the “good green cup” — it’s just so much more fun to be naughty than nice! At some point, however, we’ll going to have to learn to be nice to ourselves and to our mother earth.

Yet, I digress from the central topic of green and sustainable field trips in the Saint Louis area.

Here’s a terrific field trip for teens, scouts, and greenies of all ages (except for little kids) — a trip to the recycling facility at Resource Management Company in Earth City.  Ask for Gary Gilliam. 314-770-9898, or send him an email at Gary_g@rmcrecycle.com.  Gary’s happy to offer field trips at any time, as field trips are good for growing the recycle business.  And here’s the really good news, not only is this field trip quite interesting, it’s absolutely free!

Many people are surprised to learn that Saint Louis has one of the most progressive recycling ecosystems in the country, and Gary is one of the “solutionaries” who helped figure out how to do it.

"All Together Now"

“All Together Now”

The short answer to recycling success is the rise of the “single stream” process, which means “throw it all in and let the recycling facility sort it out later”.

Gone are the days of sorting bottles from cans into little blue bins. Volume makes the economics work, and switching from little blue sorting bins to big green carts on wheels brings enough volume into the recycling game to make recycling sustainably profitable.

Less than 30% of Saint Louis households currently recycle their trash, so every field trip to a recycling center builds “customers,” thus bringing all of us, earth’s creatures included, into ever greater stability, success, and sustainability.

The original cave man

The original cave man

Our waste stream is valuable; and Gary is emphatic about it:  “There’s Treasure in Your Trash”!  While it’s important to understand the economics of sustainability from a macro-view, most people on this field trip will want to know exactly what can be recycled, and what cannot.

Here’s a link to the Saint Louis County Health Dept ‘Recycling Becomes Me’ website.  Download it, bookmark it, Facebook it, or pin it so you can find it when you want it, as these reference guides can be surprisingly hard to find.

2013-11-13 Recycling Becomes Me graphic.pdf

http://www.recyclingbecomesme.com/

When it doubt, throw it in.  That’s the beauty of single stream!2013-11-13 Whats in your Trash Infographic

Back to the economics for a minute:  aluminum cans are “infinitely recyclable”, and represent lots of ‘embodied energy’, thus they are the most valuable of recyclables. Metals like aluminum foil and tin cans are the “treasure in the trash”.  Because aluminum cans are made from bauxite, a finite mineral  strip-mined from the earth’s crust, it’s especially important to recycle them always.

After metals, plastic is the second most valuable material for recyclers, especially #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE), which are recycled into furniture, playgrounds, puff clothing, and carpeting.

Now here’s where things get complicated, because I can’t help throwing children’s health into the economics mix. I think it’s so interesting that the most valuable recyclables, plastic #1 and #2, are also the safest for food. We don’t know much about plastic in our food supply, but what we do know isn’t good.  Of course true blue greenies reading this post will have been drinking from glass or metal containers for years.

Avoid plastic #3 PVC (sometimes called the ‘poison plastic’) as well as #6 and #7.

Back to that naughty red solo cup, which is polystyrene #6, a kind of styrofoam. Styrofoam has been listed by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen, and when it melts into your soup or coffee, you can taste the plastic.

Eco-Mama says: “Don’t drink plastic, kids”!  Try to avoid Styrofoam as graciously as possible so you don’t turn into one of those weird people with all sorts of annoying food rules that are impossible to follow.  Beyond health considerations, styrofoam is not recyclable.

The red solo cups, and other styrofoam pieces, are optically sorted out of the single stream process, and disposed of as true waste. Technically, red solo cups ARE recyclable, but you’ll have to organize your own field trip to find out for sure.

Do NOT throw grocery bags into the single stream receptacle (although the recycle facility will indeed sort them out later.)  Return your grocery bags to your friendly grocery store, or bring your own shopping bags to market, to market, to buy a fat pig.

Here’s a photo of a superior collapsible shopping “bag” you can buy at Schnucks for about $5.  As a bonus, the baggers in the check out line find the boxes much easier to load than bags, and if you keep to your grocery list and within the limits of the box, you will significantly reduce impulse purchases.

A box for your bagger

A box for your bagger

And to help you remember that plastic grocery bags have nowhere to go, here’s an amusing “mockumentary” about what happens to the “majestic plastic bag” as it searches for a home during it’s long lonely life:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLgh9h2ePYw

If you sneak a peak inside your own recycling bin, it comes as no surprise that paper and cardboard comprise the bulk of recycling waste stream by volume;  paper gets bundled and shipped to Iowa or deadheaded to China.  Bring on that dream of a truly paperless society!  Don’t make me upload pictures of clear-cut old growth forests turned into direct mail envelopes.

Enough about what to recycle, here are your tips for hosting a recycle field trip: A group of about 20 – 30 people seems to be the right number for this field trip; a smaller group works just as well.   It might be nice to team up with another organization to maximize numbers and enjoy the synergistic effects.

The first half of the field trip is a lecture by Gary in a nice conference room with video cameras, and the second half is a tour of the plant. Plan on spending about two hours, plus travel time to Earth City. The location is well marked on GPS maps: Resource Management Company; 4375 Ryder Trail North, Earth City, MO; 63045

Again, here’s the contact information for Gary Gilliam: 314-770-9898, Gary_g@rmcrecycle.com.

It’s fun to watch the bulldozers and dumpers come in; count the dumpers and turn it into a math exercise on volume.  Count the number of workmen pulling pieces from the line and make some calculations; labor is a big expense for recycling companies.  On the other hand, it also represents job creation in the new “green economy.”

Study each machine to fully understand its job, and challenge yourself to make a map of the assembly line after you come out.  Notice that the plastic grocery bags that have no place to go.  Look for red solo cups. Ponder the magnitude of our waste stream and wonder where it all comes from and where it all goes. Ask about the odd things that find their way into the recycle center. (hint: lots of eyeglasses and TV remote controls, which get recycled along with the newspapers!)

And for those of you who can’t make it out for a real field trip, here’s a nice arm-chair “film” trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vf-cOs9JZc4

Again, there is something life-changing about real life experiences as opposed to watching video, so go in person if you can. If you go, be aware there is broken glass everywhere, and that a fine plastic dust fills the air; if you have asthma or are sensitive to respiratory issues, this may not be a good trip for you.  Bring sturdy shoes and maybe a N95 face mask.  The footing is fine, you will be walking on stairs with grates, sometimes covered with broken glass; but this is definitely not a place for high heels or fancy shoes.

I personally would not bring little kids on this field trip, due to the broken glass and air quality conditions.  This is a good tour to do when it’s too hot, or too cold, for comfortable outdoor adventures.  The work area is exposed; it was a cold day when we visited, and we were cold.  If you visit in summer, you will be hot.

I urge you to take a moment after the field trip to reflect on what you’ve learned, integrate it into your learning, and share that with those around you through blogging, Facebook, Instagram, graphic visuals, funny videos, etc.   Let me know if you go, by posting what I forgot to mention in the comment section below, thus helping future adventurers.

I leave you with this green coffee cup video by those smart and funny med students at Washington University:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj-J9aryVTA

 

Postnote 2014:  Want to supercharge your recycling efforts?  Look what IDEO is doing:

http://www.openideo.com/challenge/recycle-challenge/research

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