Waste Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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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.

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 350.org‘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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

To find out more about 350.org check out their website, http://www.350.org/, 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.