Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Zero Waste Resource List

I'm maintaining a resource list of good books, websites, and blogs on my website at http://www.timoey.com/articles/zero-waste.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Current Progress: Trash to Curb Once Every 3 Months

While I have not posted in a while, we have made excellent progress overall and it really has not been all that difficult to achieve either -- mainly forming new habits.

Currently we take our black 35 gallon trash toter to the curb once every three months. In 2015 it was usually once every two weeks. Our current goal is once per year.

Our green yard waste container goes out about once every two months (same as in 2015).

We take our green/blue recycling split cart toter (mixed paper on one side, glass/metal/plastic containers on the other) to the curb about once every two months -- used to be every two weeks like the trash toter but we have reduced our recycling as well as our trash stream since we are very focused on Reduce and Reuse.

Monday, February 15, 2016

BYOC - Bringing Your Own Container

One of the best ways to reduce waste is to bring your own clean reusable containers to stores.  This post expands on my previous one No More Disposable Plastic!

Some places like farmers markets, butchers, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Zanotto's, and Starbucks understand the value of reusable containers (saves both them and you money, reduces waste, helps environment) but others do not yet. If we all keep pushing, this will become increasingly accepted.

While cardboard ice cream containers are compostable in some municipal composting programs (but not in home composting),  composting them is still more waste than using a reusable container. Plus the cardboard ice cream containers do have some plastic in them.

I am currently waiting for responses from Baskin Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery to see if they will allow me to bring my own quart containers to their stores to get fresh packed ice cream. Cold Stone also makes its ice cream at their stores. I've had some shops say I could bring my own container while another said I couldn't. This ice cream is a about the same cost as Ben & Jerry ice cream and similar quality.

While I try to avoid plastic as much as possible, reusable polypropylene (#5 plastic) containers are my current favorites for shopping since they are inexpensive, light, nest compactly, do not break easily, can be frozen, recycle reasonably well when they do wear out, and are dishwasher safe. Glass is more recyclable but it is voluminous, heavy and breaks too easily. Stainless steel containers are very expensive and hard to find in the right sizes.

I do avoid microwaving in plastic because it can melt and it increases the risk of chemicals moving from the plastic into my food.

My current favorite reusable plastic containers are:

Glad Entree 3-1/8 cups containers -- They are square, compact, readily available at grocery stores, inexpensive, a great size for a sandwich or an individual portion for lunch or dinner or restaurant left overs. They also have a reasonably good seal. At Safeway they are listed as "disposable" but I've gotten about as many years of use from these as I have heavier plastic polypropylene containers.

Glad Containers Family Size Square 13 cups -- These are a larger version of the above and great for bulk foods (cereals, etc) as well as larger portions. They fit 3 pints of strawberries well when I visit the farmer's market. Prices for these at Safeway tend to be less than what Amazon charges.

Reditainer Extreme Freeze Deli Food Containers with Lids, 32-Ounce -- a standard round quart size that seals and freezes well. I hope to use these when getting ice cream in the future.

5/9/2016 Update #1: I found out that both Basking Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery allowed me to bring my own container.

5/9/2016 Update #2: California Food Code (a derivative of the US Food Code) explicitly allows consumers to bring their own containers to be refilled! Yay!

Effective January 1, 2016

CHAPTER 5. Cleaning and Sanitizing of Equipment and Utensils

Page 64

 (a) Except as specified in subdivisions (b) and (c), returned empty containers intended for refilling with food or beverage shall be cleaned and refilled in an approved facility. 
 (b) Consumer-owned containers returned to the food facility for refilling may be refilled and returned to the same consumer if the container is refilled by an employee of the food facility or the owner of the container if the dispensing system includes a contamination free transfer process that cannot be bypassed by the container owner. 
(c) Consumer-owned containers that are not food specific may be filled at a water vending machine or system.

Waste reduction summary:
  1. Matter (material):
    1. Big win. The reusables last a long time before needing to be recycled.
  2. Energy
    1. Big win. No more disposables to manufacture, transport to me, and transport to dump/recycling. Washing uses a bit of energy but is sustainable.
  3. Time
    1. Neutral once you change your habits. Just need to be prepared and have your reusables on hand.
  4. Space
    1. Big win. No more disposable plastics clogging landfills or filling recycling/trash trucks. We already had space in our house for reusable containers.
  5. Money
    1. Overall seems to net out. Some things cost more some less.
  6. Environment/Health/Life
    1. HUGE win. Greatly reduces plastic use/waste.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

No More Disposable Plastic!

Unfortunately the future is plastic because plastic lives just about forever and will be the death of much of our environment, and maybe us. If you have not already, please see Wall-E for what our earth may eventually look like.

We must do as much as possible to greatly reduce the use of plastic!

Here is a seagoing bird that died from ingestion of plastic in the middle of the Pacific:

So my household is eliminating our need for plastic bags and other disposable plastic. No more hard copy newspaper with its plastic bag (see my separate post about my newspaper). No more disposable plastic grocery bags (thank you for the local plastic bag ban -- now we must make sure it becomes a reality for all of California!). No more produce bags. No more plastic bread bags. No more plastic garbage bags (see http://ecopractice.blogspot.com/2016/01/current-trash-run-rate-take-out-trash.html). No more cereal boxes with their plastic bags. No more frozen foods in plastic bags. No more styrofoam meat trays. No more plastic wrap. No more ziploc bags (except for the quart size reusable one we need for airline travel).

I'm now using muslin cotton bags for our produce, bulk cereal, crackers, bread, chocolate, and more:

I transfer contents to more durable / air tight containers at home. I may start to bring some of the durable containers to stores and/or farmers market but the bags are convenient, compact, and easy to use.

For meat and fish I'm now bringing my washable and reusable containers to the butcher so they place the meat directly into these containers:

This even eliminates the need for butcher paper which is sometimes compostable (waxed) but sometimes not so much (plastic lined).

While my reusable containers are currently plastic (I'm using up my existing supply first), as these wear out I intend to replace them with glass ones that are freezer, oven, and microwave safe. My current top candidate is: Glasslock 18-Piece Assorted Oven Safe Container Set. I may also try mason jars and stainless steel containers, we'll see.

Waste reduction summary:
  1. Matter (material):
    1. Big win! Only using reusables, no more trash or very little plastic recycling (which is really downcycling and has lots of side effects). The plastic containers I use are sold as "disposables" but I've used them for many years. Eventually they wear out and need to be recycled but they are polypropylene (plastic #5) which is one of the safest plastics (doesn't leach and generally easy to recycle).
  2. Energy
    1. Big win. No more disposables to manufacture, transport to me, and transport to dump/recycling. Washing uses a bit of energy but is sustainable.
    2. Freezing takes a lot of energy, now we are eating more fresh foods instead.
    3. More local food that uses less energy to transport.
  3. Time
    1. Neutral once you change your habits. Just need to be prepared and have your reusables on hand. I visit the market more frequently but my shops are shorter. Plus gives me a chance to say hi to local neighbors too. I'm also now going to our local farmers market so I can even eliminate plastic twist ties often found on grocery produce.
  4. Space
    1. Big win. No more disposable plastics clogging landfills or filling recycling/trash trucks. We already had space for reusable containers that we now can just use more.
  5. Money
    1. Overall seems to net out. Sometime costs a bit more to get fresh food vs packaged. But no more buying plastic bags and plastic wrap. As more people switch to it, bulk foods will end up cheaper as less waste will result in less cost.
  6. Environment/Health/Life
    1. HUGE win. Eliminating the need for plastic is really, really huge. Plastic survives hundreds of years and is poisoning our ocean and land as well as people as it comes back around in our food chain.
    2. Fresh local food is better for you and tastes better as well.

Newspaper Waste Elimination & Improvement

I'm a strong supporter of local news organizations -- they are critical for a community. However after a lifetime of enjoying a printed newspaper, I've kicked the paper habit. We no longer have a paper newspaper delivered along with its rubber band and (often) plastic bag.

Instead I now get an electronic edition on my Apple iPad each morning. The delivery interface has improved tremendously from the early days of e-publishing, it was a surprisingly pleasant switch.  I really like the interface to the newspaper on my iPad:


  1. can still skim/see the whole page and its context (the resolution on the iPad is much better than the picture above),
  2. tap on an article to read it in a bigger/easier/clearer font,
  3. can zoom into pictures,
  4. navigate easily and quickly to links,
  5. quickly get to past editions as well as other Bay Area Newsgroup papers,
  6. no longer need to worry about non-delivery of papers (happens a few times a year),
  7. can now have the computer search for me instead of having to flip pages,
  8. and more...
This has been a win all around for me although old habits die hard.

Waste reduction summary:
  1. Matter (material):
    1. Replaced paper, rubber band, and plastic with electrons. Significant reduction in what previously needed to be transported and recycled.
  2. Energy
    1. Big win. Electrons are cheap to deliver.
  3. Time
    1. Big win. Don't need to go out to driveway to retrieve, call if it got lost, or suspend when we go on trips. Can get it on iPad or computer wherever I am if I want it.
  4. Space
    1. Big win. iPad is very compact, newspapers took up space inside and in recycling bin.
  5. Money
    1. Big win. Cost for the electronic edition is about one third the cost of the print edition. I already owned the iPad for other reasons.
  6. Environment/Health/Life
    1. Big win. No longer killing as many trees, recycling still has an environmental toll. Rubber bands can be reused but need to find someone who needs them. I usually gave them back to my paper delivery person which took some time and money to do. Eliminating the need for plastic bags is huge. Plastic survives hundreds of years and is poisoning our ocean and land as well as people as it comes back around in our food chain.

New Best Way to Handle Dog Poop

I've found an even better way to dispose of dog poop than the one I documented in 2008 at http://ecopractice.blogspot.com/2008/03/best-way-to-dispose-of-dog-poop.html

It works by using a funnel-like attachment on your sewer cleanout so you can drop the dog poop directly into your sewer line without necessarily using any water!

Here is a picture of me doing this:

This is neater and easier than putting the dog poop in a toilet to flush. Saves water too.

The sewer cleanout accessory we use is the Doggie Doo Drain Dog Waste Sewer Line Attachment.

The reusable device we now use to pick up poop on walks (instead of using a plastic bag) is Nature's Miracle Jaw Scoop. It is easy to carry and holds the poop in the little bucket its jaws create. The medium size model can hold dozens of small poops or a couple of big poops from a big dog (we have little dogs). There is also a jumbo size if you need it.

If the poop is solid and not sticky, no water is needed as the poop just rolls down into the sewer. The poop in the sewer line gets flushed when water inside the house enters the sewer line. If the poop is sticky, using a little water from a nearby hose can rinse it down the funnel as well as rinse off the pooper scooper. Still less water used than a toilet flush.

The sewer system is the best way to handle both dog poop and human poop. I confirmed this with Sunnyvale waste management (both solid waste and sewage departments) as well as numerous online sources. Having trash sorters run into poop in the trash is not so pleasant (all trash in Sunnyvale is sorted to try to reclaim recyclables residents mistakenly put in the trash). Please note that cat poop is more problematic (google it to find out more).

Note that our sewer cleanout is located in a great spot near our house so it is very convenient to use for dog waste disposal plus we can "smell" our sewer backing up outside before it backs up inside. This location of cleanout allows blockages to be more easily removed between our house and the street. Sewer cleanouts near the street probably won't work as well for either this dog poop disposal method or to allow the sewer line between your house and the street to be cleared easily.

Here are some closer pictures of our sewer cleanout. The funnel was a snap to install. It screws into the same threads that the black inner cap uses.

Here is a picture of the pooper scooper we use on walks (we normally keep it outside in the flowerbed next to our front door ready for the next walk):

Here is the one we use for our backyard (it stays outside in the back):

Waste reduction summary:
  1. Matter (material):
    1. No disposable flushing bags or plastic bags needed. Just reusable scoopers and funnel.
  2. Energy
    1. Less than needed to create, ship, buy, and dispose of poop bags. Just the one time manufacturing and shipping to get this reusable equipment. Piggybacks on existing sewer system with negligible additional energy (or water) needed.
  3. Time
    1. Picking up poop with scoopers is faster and easier than using a bag. Do need to remember to grab a pooper scooper when going for a walk.
  4. Space
    1. A little outside space occupied by reusable equipment, but less inside space that was previously occupied by empty poop bags.
  5. Money
    1. Cost is much less than buying bags (for us with 3 dogs that is 6 poops/bags a day or 2190/year at a cost of 2 cents per bag or $44 per year or $440 over 10 years. One time investment of about $50-60 for funnel and a scooper. (We used to use "free" bags from our newspaper and produce -- but since we no longer get a physical newspaper and use reusable bags for produce, we no longer have a "free" source.)
  6. Environment/Health/Life
    1. Disposing of poop this way is much healthier, safer, and better for the environment than having it go thru sorting and then entombing in a landfill. We will run out of landfills. Also eliminating the disposable plastic is extremely important as plastic from bags lasts hundreds of years and eventually poisons our creeks, rivers, oceans, and us. Sewer and septic systems are much more effective and efficient at handling human and dog waste than other methods.

Currently take out trash once every 2-3 months

We are a month into 2016 now and rather than leave out our trash every week or two for pickup, it looks like we will only need our trash picked up at the curb once every 2-3 months. We currently have the smallest trash service possible in Sunnyvale. We've made some huge leaps in waste efficiency (many of which I still need to blog about).  Again our goal is to get as close to to zero waste as possible for our household by the end of 2016.

We now have a small 2 quart black bucket that collects the trash for our entire house. Here is a picture of it next to our 2 little dogs:

And a picture of it next to our indoor kitchen compost and recycling collection bins:

The liners in the compost and recycling bins you see are certified compostable. The one used for recycling is rotated and becomes the one for compost after we empty the recycling into our outdoor recycling bin. The compost one makes it easier to toss the collected compost into a larger commercial composting facility and then the compost bin gets a new liner and becomes the one we collect recycling in. Here are the 13 gallon liners we currently use: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004V5XCSC

We no longer use any plastic trash bags. Our recycling and trash are now pretty "clean" since all the messy organics end up in the compost bin.

When Sunnyvale starts picking up food scrap compostables directly we may move to zero liners saving that resource and expense. Our outdoor trash, recycling, and yard waste bins require no liners.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Paper Ice Cream Containers

After reading a number of recycling and composting sites that said paper ice cream containers could not be composted because of the plastic lining they use, I was very bummed. My wife and I like ice cream and I really wanted to enjoy it waste free.

Thankfully it looks like some local composting facilities are able to handle them in San Mateo and San Francisco. Apparently this small amount of plastic can be handled ok. Yay!



Please note that Sunnyvale handles paper milk, juice, and soup cartons as part of its recycling program.  Recycling of these is more efficient than composting at this time and these often have some aluminum metal in them that can be recovered.

Waste reduction summary:
  1. Matter (material):
    1. Switched material from trash to compost.
  2. Energy
    1. No significant loss or gain.
  3. Time
    1. Do need to pay attention and buy ice cream with all paper cartons.
  4. Space
    1. No significant loss or gain.
  5. Money
    1. No significant loss or gain.
  6. Environment/Health/Life
    1. Compost is much better for all of us than trash!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Food Scrap Composting!

While the City of Sunnyvale offers many recycling options (mixed paper, batteries, electronics, glass/metal/plastic containers, scrap metal) as well as yard trimmings composting, it does not yet offer food scrap and food soiled paper composting. My friends at Sunnyvale Waste and Recycling (http://sunnyvale.ca.gov/Departments/EnvironmentalServices/Garbage,RecyclingandWasteReduction.aspx) assure me it is coming and they have completed a pilot, but it still seems to be a year or two or more away for most residents.

Several years ago I did maintain a compost pile, but it was a bit of work and I could not compost lots of things that commercial composting facilities could handle.

After all the “reduce” we’ve done to avoid disposables and diligently recycling most everything else, food scraps and food soiled paper was until recently about 90% of the trash we were throwing out.

Luckily, on my way to work and without going out of my way, starting this year I am able to drop off my food scrap composting in a compostable bag in a nearby city’s food scrap composting program. We have the smallest trash bin you can get in Sunnyvale and generally had put it out every other week before this. Now that we have a place to send compostables, we should be able to put our trash bin out every 6-7 weeks. Of course by the end of 2016 I hope we’ll never have to put it out for pickup or perhaps only do it once year.

While I could go without using a compostable bag liner for my compost waste bin, I’ve found it cleaner, easier, and less work to use one to contain food scraps and food soiled paper. Without a bag I would need to clean it once or twice a week to keep odors down which would use a lot of water as well as time. The liner allows me to to clean it only every year or two and it is easier to throw the compostables into a city bin this way. The current best bargain I’ve found so far for compostable bag liners is BioBag’s 13 gallon tall kitchen bags at http://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B004V5XCSC -- about $0.43 per bag. At our current rate we are using about 2 bags per week or $44.43 per year. Previously we were using Pantry Essentials Tall Kitchen Flaptie 13 Gallon - 200 Count from Safeway that cost about $0.07 per bag. Thus our net cost increase per year for our new set up is about $36.

Because we have a 2 bin recycling/waste pullout in our kitchen, the bin and liner that was used for container recycling becomes the one for compost and the compost one gets a new liner and becomes the bin for recycling. We have a very small black plastic bin that no longer needs a liner because the remaining trash we put in it is usually clean and dry.

The extra cost of liners is a small price to pay to eliminate a lot of waste/trash and turn it into compost instead.

Waste reduction summary:
  1. Matter (material):
    1. Switched about 90% of our former waste from trash to compost - a big reduction.
    2. No more need for plastic bag liners.
  2. Energy
    1. No significant loss or gain. A bit saved by the trash truck that needs fewer stops. A bit more used by me dropping off the compost myself. I’m looking forward to Sunnyvale providing food scrap composting!
  3. Time
    1. Takes me a bit more time (about 5 minutes a week) to do compost drop off and need to pay a bit more attention to where things go.
  4. Space
    1. No significant loss or gain.
  5. Money
    1. Compostable bags cost a bit ($36/year) more than the plastic liners we used before.
  6. Environment/Health/Life
    1. Compost is much better for all of us than trash!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Electricity and Natural Gas

My household has already done quite a lot to conserve electricity and natural gas. So while we are not likely to improve much on this in 2016, here is a recap of where my household currently is.

Lighting: Many years ago we went mostly to compact fluorescents. In 2015 with LED prices falling substantially and many compact fluorescents reaching their life limit, we converted these as well as most remaining incandescent and halogen lights to LEDs. The only incandescents that remain are special service bulbs in our oven and refrigerator. The only halogens that remain are some special hall ceiling lights and some micro spot lights in cabinets and bathrooms. These remaining halogens are all hard to convert to LED until some new specialty bulbs are developed and/or we are able to replace these built in fixtures. I really wish such fixtures used more common connectors. Replacing the fixtures would force these to be trashed/recycled and involve considerable money so I’ve settled on using them only as needed -- my family is well trained to turn off lights when not in use. Our lighting inside and outside is very close to as efficient as is possible at this time.

Heating: Only our hot water heater and furnace use natural gas. Our hot water heater and house are pretty well insulated -- about as efficient as we are going to get them at this point. We also keep our house around 65°F -- a little on the cool side for some but good enough for us. I considered going all electric for heat and hot water, but at this time natural gas is very economical and our hot water heater and furnace still have many years of service left in them. Over time I do expect to switch over to electric ones but probably not this year. So I am resigned to generating some greenhouse gases through them for a while longer as I view heat and hot water as necessities and not something to do without. We need them to maintain our health and well being.

Regarding hot water use, we do have an on demand hot water recirculating pump (http://www.gothotwater.com/) to minimize hot water waste.

Solar: Late in 2015 we took a big step and installed a solar electric system that will reduce our electricity bill to near zero. This was a significant up front investment but we should break even in 9-10 years and then will enjoy another 20+ years beyond that of essentially free electricity -- or from another perspective, we reduced our electric costs for 30 years (the likely life span of our system) to about a third of what it would be otherwise. Plus we greatly reduced our greenhouse gas emissions (waste) at the same time. This was a big win-win!

It was not economically viable for us to install solar until our electric bill reached about $100 per month. Getting an electric car (Nissan Leaf) in 2014 almost doubled our electricity bill so we were able to reach the $100/month threshold. Plus with solar we essentially drive a solar powered car and eliminated fossil fuels for this car (more on transportation later).

We are blessed with so much sun in California and there are huge numbers of roofs and parking lots and roads that could generate electricity rather than overheating houses and cars and our environment. I hope people in California will put in much more solar to cover this otherwise wasted space rather than covering natural areas or farmland with commercial solar facilities. Those growing areas use “solar” naturally already and it is better to generate electricity as close to where it is used. Generating and using resources locally is an ongoing theme to reduce waste. It wastes resources to transport energy and matter over distances when it is not needed.

Waste reduction summary:

  1. Matter (material):
    1. Some natural gas consumed but existing equipment not wasted. Hope to phase out natural gas eventually (or switch to natural gas produced sustainably from biomass).
    2. Solar panels consumed some material that should be reusable/recyclable when worn out.
  2. Energy
    1. Solar energy was waiting to be used and converting it to electricity locally resulted in lost of waste reduction!
  3. Time
    1. No significant loss or gain.
  4. Space
    1. Turned underused roof space into a gain (waste reduction).
  5. Money
    1. Efficient lighting & heating saved money.
    2. Solar saved money big time!
  6. Environment/Health/Life
    1. Solar greatly reduced pollution!
    2. Appropriate resource use kept us happy and healthy.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Resources and Waste

In this endeavor to reach “zero waste” I intend to stretch, change, and learn yet be practical. I’m not a monk and do not expect the rest of my family, or you the reader, to be such either.

Zero waste does not mean zero resource use. To achieve zero resource use would mean not to be born in the first place (and I’ll probably write a post about this subject later in this series). Rather zero waste is to use resources wisely to accomplish a reasonable objective -- using only what is really needed.

The resources I’ll focus on in the pursuit of zero waste are:
  1. Matter (material)
  2. Energy
  3. Time
  4. Space
  5. Money
  6. Environment/Health/Life

Caveat: What I share here is the best I have been able to find/do based on my own research and testing. I’ll include reference links to support my conclusions as much as I can. Yet getting to the truth of a subject is very, very challenging. What we think to be true one day, often turns out to be incomplete or even wrong the next. We are all on a voyage of discovery as we drill deeper into the fractal patterns of life and our spaceship earth hurtles through the universe.

In other words, your mileage may vary. :-)