Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

Waste Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: Waste Is a Terrible Thing to Waste, Sustainable Living, 350 Project, Recycling, Cindy Murphy,

A visit to the farmers market here in town is a perfect way to spend an early morning in October for both locals and out-of-town visitors.

Early morning at the farmers' market

The day could not have been more beautiful. Bright, sunny, and warm for October, it was the most perfect of days for my family to get trashy in public. Oh, we’ve been trashy for years, but it’s always been at home, and never in full view for all the world to see…or at least everyone who was at the farmer’s market that day.

As part of’s “10/10/10 Global Work Party,” I volunteered to save our family’s recycling for one month as a good visual to show what a typical family of four can do to help reduce the carbon level in the atmosphere in just a very short time. It was displayed at a recycling booth set up by a group of volunteers concerned about the world’s climate change issue.

In Harlem, New York City and in Auckland, New Zealand, white roof projects took place. High school students in Toronto, Canada had a “Pack a Waste-free Lunch” day. In Taiwan, 350 people flew 350 white kites emblazoned with the number 350 in the skies over Taipei for the price of telling 10 people about the importance of the number 350. That’s 3,500 more people made aware of the climate change issue! Community gardens were started, solar panels installed, trees planted, and beaches cleaned of trash. These are just a handful of 7,347 events in 188 countries that took place on October 10th, or thereabout.

What’s all the hoopla over the number 350? Until about 200 years ago, 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide was contained in the earth’s atmosphere. In the 18th century, with the ever-increasing consumption of coal, gas, and oil used to produce energy and goods, atmospheric carbon levels began to rise, slowly at first, and then more dramatically as the need for those goods and energy increased. Right now the level hovers around 390 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere. Scientists say that 350 parts per million is the highest safe level of carbon that will allow the earth to sustain itself in an equilibrium without global climate change progressing any. On 10/10/10 communities across the globe worked in effort to reach the 350 goal by spreading the message that climate change is a serious issue that needs attention.

Our group decided to focus our event on recycling; recycling is something that every household can tackle, and see a tangible result by discovering how much less trash they set out for pick-up every week. Recycling in our town is simple; all recyclables go into one bin, which is set out curbside to be picked up once a week. Yet, driving through the neighborhoods on pick-up day, only about a third of the houses have recycling bins on the curb. Some people claim time is the reason. Others have doubts that single stream recycling really works. How can everything – paper, cardboard, cans, and bottles - be thrown into one bin, and it be recycled? The items are actually separated largely by computerized machinery in large single stream recycling centers, such as the one where our town’s recycling goes to in Chicago.

We planned the event for over a month, using the library as a meeting place to discuss our progress, and what still needed to be done in preparation for the big event. The company that picks up our recycling in town worked with us to ensure we had the most up-to-date information, and the community really came through, supporting our effort in many different ways.

The town’s printing company designed and printed flyers for the event, (which were recyclable, of course), that a Boy Scout troop posted in area businesses. Lake Michigan College staff designed our “Waste Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” sign. The local grocery store donated reusable cloth grocery bags to hand out, and the County Extension Service provided informational literature about where to take items to be recycled in the surrounding towns, and other counties.

Waste Is a Terrible Thing to Waste sign

The high school art club designed and made an amazing mosaic of the number 350 completely out of colored bottle caps that one of the women in our group had collected over the years. It hung over our booth, and was the first thing seen entering the farmers’ market pavilion.

350 mosaic made by art club

It was a success!!!


Information was distributed about what items can be recycled by the town's curbside recycling program, and where to take items currently not accepted curbside. Via computer hookup, visitors to the booth from other counties and states were able access information about recycling availability in their areas.

Passing out information

An electronics recycling service provided a truck to collect household batteries, old computers, cell-phones, and electrical items to be refurbished, reused, or recycled. By the end of the event, the truck was full!

And then there was my family’s trash.

One month of recycling for my family

So what can a typical family of four can do in just one month of recycling? (Minus aluminum and glass beer and soda containers, which in Michigan, have a 10 cent deposit.)

  • In one month we saved 16 cans; recycling one can saves enough energy to run a T.V. for 3 hours, or is the equivalent of ½ gallons of gas.
  • 16 glass containers; the energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100 watt light bulb for four hours, or a compact fluorescent bulb for 20 hours.
  • A whopping 60 plastic containers; the plastic of which can be reused indefinitely.
  • 2 bags of paper, 3 bags of paper-board, and 6 corrugated cardboard boxes; a 3 foot stack of recycled paper is the equivalent of one tree. One tree sequesters 60 pounds of carbon yearly.

Of course, one family’s month of recyclables isn’t going to change the world. And one day alone can’t change the future. But it does have the possibility for laying the foundation for continued efforts that will. Our recycling awareness booth at the farmers market was a one day event; our goal is for its effects to last a lifetime.

Waste Is a Terrible Thing to Waste group photo

To find out more about check out their website,, or to see what took place around the world on 10/10/10, watch this short (less than a minute and a half), but moving video:

Photos courtesy of Susan Bachman.

cindy murphy
10/24/2010 8:29:32 AM

Hey, Michelle! Good for your grandchildren's schools for having a recycling program! Teaching children the importance of things like recycling and stewardship of the earth is imperative. Like Dave said, we don't want it destroyed on our watch....or the next generation's either! Regarding your comment about the lady spiders...I wouldn't want to be one. There are times that Hubs "bugs" me, but I can't imagine having him on the dinner menu. "Leg of Man?" "Filet of Soul" maybe? "Macaroni and Keith" - bluck!!! Hugs backatcha!

cindy murphy
10/24/2010 8:10:08 AM

Thanks for your comments, Dave. It's great that your entire neighborhood recycles. It's always kind of puzzled me that so few here do (although some in our group said on their streets the percentage is higher). One of our possible goals for next year is to get 350 more families in town to recycle. We've always recycled, but saving it for a month, and keeping a tab on what went in there was an eye-opener for me. Some things that we could have been recycled weren't always making it into the bin - small things like junk mail, for example. And the plastics - I had no idea we used so much plastic! But many times you have no choice but to buy plastic; products sold in glass containers seem rare at the grocery. How are we ever going to decrease our dependency on petroleum if everything is made out of plastic? "So do we throw up our hands and give up?" You've said a mouthful there! That's what's so cool about - it's ordinary people coming together in your neighborhood and mine, and all across the world, trying to do something positive for the planet. Then maybe one day I'll look down my street and see a recycling bin in front of every house, and there won't be trash burning alongside the roads in South America.

michelle house
10/23/2010 11:58:38 AM

I did not know about that 350, very interesting.Here at my grands grade school they do recycling,and we have a couple of site around town, to take stuff to. Very nice article,and thanks for the links. Oh, yeah, that spider story for last week. LOL, at the lady spider. Hugs Michelle

nebraska dave
10/23/2010 11:13:27 AM

@Cindy, I got a little bit on the soap box and ran out of 1500 characters. I believe that each individual needs to do the best they can with first minimum trash production. Being aware of product buying that produces trash and buying only things in things that can be recycled. In my city they stopped taking glass but there still are many drop points that will recycle glass. Waxy cardboard and grease soaked pizza boxes are not allowed in the recycle. I personally don’t buy a lot of pizza. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good loaded down with everything pizza but limit my purchases to very special occasions. Second I believe that organizations like the 350 must continue to educate the rest of us in the areas of recycling. Many are unaware of the importance of taking care of the land we have. We are only caretakers of the land for the next generation. I for one don’t want it destroyed on my watch. Have a great recycling day.

nebraska dave
10/23/2010 10:59:53 AM

@Cindy, everyone on my block recycles and there’s hardly a single person in the neighborhood that doesn’t recycle. Now where it goes and what is done with it, I don’t know. I certainly hope that it gets recycled into something useable. I know what happens to the yard waste and some ends up in my garden. I’ve talked about the city yard waste composting program before. I try to recycle as much as I can. The thing that really errks (made that up – it means irritates) me is that nothing is made to repair anymore. It’s all throw away and buy new stuff. If there is a chance it can be repaired, trying to find the right parts can be a real frustrating thing. It can be accomplished but lots of patience is required. The amount of one time use trash has escalated tremendously with popularity of the fast food industry. That burger doesn’t stay in the box more than five minutes at most then in the trash it goes. During my trip through Central America, I saw first hand how they handle trash. It accumulates on the side of the road. Paper, plastic bottles, and all other kinds of trash are found. When it gets to be too much and someone has enough ambition to rake it up in pile. They light it on fire and burn it up. Smoldering piles of trash can be found all along the roadways. The third world countries on a local level don’t much care about the carbon foot print. So do we throw up our hands and give up?

cindy murphy
10/23/2010 5:56:42 AM

Hey, Stepper! Thanks for stopping in...and thanks for the tip about the cloth grocery bags. Our town picks up brush, tree limbs, Christmas trees and mulches them too - although I haven't heard that the mulch is available to the public though, (I wonder what they do with it; I've always meant to find out). The leaf-sucker trucks are making their rounds now too, sucking up the great piles of leaves raked curbside; same thing - I don't know what they do with all those mulched leaves. I mulch a lot of ours to use in my gardens, but I'd love to be able to pick up a truck-load of pre-mulched ones free of charge! Enjoy your weekend.

chris davis
10/22/2010 10:09:59 PM

Nicely done and an important topic too Cindy. The city here has an active recycling program that includes monthly pick up of brush and limbs which are mulched and distributed free of charge, including Christmas trees. A word of caution with the reusable cloth grocery bags - they should be cleaned regularly or there could be a cross contamination problem between shopping trips. Thanks for the information too.