REDUCE – REUSE – RECYCLE – RELAX

Town Bulk Trash Day

Get rid of your unwanted, unusable big stuff the right way and free up space at home

The previous North East Bulk Trash Day in October 2020 was a smashing success.  A total of four dumpsters were filled, one of those with recyclable metal and another with old fridges and air conditioners, which had their freon removed by a technician.

For the first time, electronics goods were collected. North East was complying with New York’s electronic waste law. Two pickup trucks had to be enlisted to ferry all the Covered Electronic Equipment (CEE) to Poughkeepsie for Dutchess County’s annual electronic recycling event, in conjunction with its semi-annual hazardous waste receiving day. The trucks toted 18 flat-screen TVs and monitors, nine PCs, four laptops, and dozens of printers,  peripherals, speakers, stereo components, radios, and phones. Quite a haul.

The fees collected covered the dumpster costs so the event could break about even, leaving two beneficiaries who were enormously grateful: The environment and less cluttered households throughout North East. 

THE second annual Town Bulk Trash Day will be held for four hours on Saturday, June 15, 2021, from 8 a.m. to noon, at the Town Garage on South Center Street. You drop it off, Climate Smart volunteers will take care of the rest, making sure that it is recycled, repurposed for further use, or properly disposed of. You are charged a modest fee based on the quantity of discardables you leave, which helps the Town defray the costs of using the dumpsters. Cash only, please.  See this event flyer for fee details. 

Accepted items will include metal, furniture, metal objects, lawn mowers, tools, appliances, carpeting, mattresses, broken stuff, beyond-repair stuff, great grandma’s chipped china, Dad’s boxes of National Geographics, your youthful collection of Coke cans from all over the world, which turns out to be worth $3.18 on eBay — all manner of once-prized possessions and junk.

Also accepted are electronics for recycling or safe disposal, including computers, cell phones, receivers, turntables, monitors, printers, fax machines, small lithium batteries, and sealed lead-acid batteries (nonautomotive). 

NOT accepted are items you can safely dispose of in your household trash, such as latex paint cans (if the paint has dried or the can is empty), ordinary light bulbs (in a paper bag or box to confine breakage), dead alkaline household batteries, or empty aerosol cans. 

NOT accepted are items that can be recycled elsewhere such as tires or automotive batteries (see accepting locations below).

Also NOT accepted is anything potential harmful to you or those around you such as mineral spirits, florescent light bulbs, pharmaceuticals . . . the list of dangerous materials we blithely live among is impressively long. Anything that is flammable, explosive, poisonous, corrosive, injurious, or lethal  please take elsewhere for disposal, as detailed below. The Climate Smart volunteers do not want to have to turn you away! 

NOT Accepted and what to do about it

Following are names of obvious hazardous wastes and what to do about them. Needless to say, do not discard any of them among your household trash. They could injure a sanitation worker and will damage the environment. That’s not disposal: that’s negligence. The rule for disposing of anything is: DO NO HARM.

Plus, it is usually against the law.

Dutchess County accepts a great variety of material on its semi-annual Household Hazardous Waste and Electronics days — but not everything. Excluded stuff generally has to go back to its retail source. But don’t take our word for it. We are journalists and science majors, but we are not infallible.

Official guidance

  • For legal and regulatory guidance, call the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Hazardous Substances Regulation: 518-485-8988 or 800-462-6553.
  • For household hazardous waste collection programs in this area, call the Dutchess County Resource Recovery Agency: 845-463-6020
  • For bigger stuff visit Dutchess County Solid Waste Managment website or call 845-463-6020
  • For the leading local carting service, call Welsh Sanitation (a division of Royal Carting): Amenia Office 845-877-9354; Wingdale Transfer Station 845-832-3828

Asbestos products: Call an asbestos removal contractor.

Building or construction debris: Contact a carting or dumpster service.

Aerosol containers: Empty contents into a box or bag in a well-ventilated area such as outdoors (highly recommended). Then dispose in household trash.

Car batteries: Return to an auto center or car repair shop.

Fluorescent bulbs: All contain mercury and are hazardous waste. Take CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) to a big-box retailer such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, which have CFL drop boxes. Take fluorescent-tube lights to a hazardous waste event and please tape them together or put in a box to minimize breakage.

Latex paintDry the paint using kitty litter, sawdust or the sun. Re-lid the can, put in a sturdy plastic bag and throw in the trash.

Hazardous liquids: To rid yourself of any, including the following, make an appointment with a hazardous waste collection program: Acids 💀 Adhesives 💀 Chemicals 💀 Metal polish 💀 Oil and lead paints 💀 Paint strippers 💀 Pesticides 💀 Poisons 💀 Preservatives 💀 Resins 💀 Sealants 💀 Solvents 💀 Tar 💀 Waterproofing

Medical (biohazard) waste: This is a federal matter — go to the EPA website for expert advice.

Motor oil: Return to an auto center or car repair shop.

Pharmaceuticals and medications: Call the local or state police or sheriff.

Propane or other flammable-gas cylinders: Return to the source or a refill station.

Radioactive materials: Contact the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Tires: Return to an auto center or tire store.

Bob Stevens, head of North East’s Highway Department, at the controls of a much needed front-end loader.

The 2020 North East Town Bulk Trash Day collected enough electronic waste to fill two pickup trucks.

Plastic Bags

The Solution Is At Your Fingertips

Sometimes progress is ill-advised. We used to carry stuff in all sorts of containers. Then in 1965 a Swedish engineer invented the plastic shopping bag. It came to the US 1979 and hit the big time thanks to Safeway and Kroger.

Part of the problem with single-use plastic bags is that they often escape the waste stream. HDPE or high-density polyethylene (plastic #2) bags litter roadsides, cling to trees and bushes, clog countless mechanical orifices, block storm drains, and spread their environmental havoc over centuries. To make more we keep pumping fossil fuel from the ground.

Meanwhile its alternative, the cotton bag, imposes its own environmental costs. It must be used two or three times a week for a year before it is less onerous to the climate than a plastic bag, primarily from need for chemical fertilizer for the cotton and the energy consumed by the fabric machinery.

The afterlife of an organic cotton bag entails decomposing back to the plant material from whence it came. A plastic bag does not decompose and will last in the environment for 500 years, physically degrading and becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and extend their reign of pollution. However, HDPE bags are recyclable into lower-order objects such as conduit and plumbing, if they are plucked from the waste stream.

Now that a plastic shopping bag ban is in place In New York State, the question is, “what substitution is best?”  Craftspeople are weaving bags, totes, and other products from ribbons of clean plastic bags. Scaled up, this would make a dent and the result is surprisingly beautiful. Paper carries quite a footprint but is entirely compostable or recyclable. For everyone else, the solution is less complicated than it seems. The best bag, it turns out, is the one you already have. You simply need to remember to carry and use it.

Plastic bag caught in blossoming apple tree

MOTHER EARTH NEWS

MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Food Waste

Food In The U.S. Seems Cheap, Until You Factor In Production And Waste

Food waste makes its own significant contribution to the climate crisis, and on hard-pressed household budgets. Some of this is easily fixed. First, a few compelling numbers.

The energy required to produce all foods, from grains to meat, is enormous, about one-quarter of all energy generated, according to a 2018 study in Science.  Within that are the greenhouse-gas emissions that escape from decomposing food thrown away each day, amounting to six percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. As much as 40 percent of food in the U.S. is discarded. That adds up to 40 million tons a year, with each person averaging nearly a pound of food waste each day. Food waste is the single largest component of US landfills. Each American family wastes an average of $1,600 a year on excess food. This needs to change.

There are three main reasons that food gets wasted in the United States. The first is loss during production and retail: Fruits and vegetables face a 20 percent loss during production, 12 percent during distribution and retail, and a further 28 percent are lost by consumers. The second reason is that many consumers have been conditioned to pass over foods that don’t look picture-perfect. Those pieces are tossed in the bin. The third reason is that shoppers, restaurants, and schools tend to overbuy. Portions are not carefully considered.

Food in this country is some of the cheapest on the planet.  We grow enough to provide food for other countries that struggle with food insecurity. Restaurants tend to buy enough to serve the highest predicted number of customers per day, and customers expect and receive only fresh food. In the home, where cost is the driving reason for the purchase of many items, we tend to overbuy what is on sale. We’ve been encouraged to buy in bulk in the U.S. We fill our fridges once a week, often with an eye for the bargain more than for the amount we will actually use.

How to waste less 

But where food is expensive, the shopper tends to buy in smaller amounts, shopping daily and making good use of the food on hand. If the food is purchased for a recipe and carried home each day, it is less likely that the food will go uneaten.

This is a good strategy to adapt, except for the daily trip to the store. Plan more carefully in terms of quantity when you shop. Work out a week’s menu in advance and shop to fulfill that. Try to take note of what your family might throw out each week. This can easily be done if you use a compost container and it’s your measurement.  Keep a diary for a week. Note which items tend to get tossed before they are used.

Reducing helps here too.  While we may feel good that we are composting our waste), it  takes time and energy. Even more obvious:  It feels wrong to throw away what someone else could use or really needs.

Today, lots of organizations are working to solve the problem of food waste.  One supermarket in Finland holds a “happy hour” where foods on the eve of expiration are sold for deep markdowns.  Some apps connect unused food items with the people that want them (see karma.com for one), and some restaurants serve food that has just reached its sell-by date, making for creative menus each night. Others donate used meals and food to soup kitchens and food banks; you could, too. Many supermarkets donate food with damaged packaging to community organizations, which apply nutrition where it is useful, not putrefying in a landfill.

Throwing away food seems sloppy and thoughtless, but often it is simply a mistake, a miscalculation. Careful planning and careful buying can really help us to do far less of it. And naturally, a Sunday soup is a delicious use of those limp carrots and bendy celery stalks in the bottom of the vegetable drawer. Sources: NRDC, USDA, World Data

Veggies

MARK STEBNICKI, PEXELS

MARK STEBNICKI, PEXELS

Home Composting Made Easy

Save planet Earth one unused vegetable or spoiled fruit at a time. Use to make more fruits and vegetables. You’re enhancing one of Earth’s grand cycles.

One of many good things about composting is that it is pure good.  Another is that it is free—you’ve already paid for it. These alone make composting worthwhile. And then there’s the nickname, “black gold.”

Composting is really a form of self-philanthropy. It imposes on the giver only a little effort, and provides the receiver—often, in an odd twist, also the giver—a valuable substance, the use of which should result in something beautiful, delicious, and healthy, and often all three.

Hence the many compost enthusiasts; it is a wonder there are not many more. Here is a brief guide to getting started in the compost game, followed by a resource if you want to get really serious. 

The best reason to compost is to reduce the organic waste you contribute to any one of New York State’s 27 municipal landfills, the nightmare worlds where discarded yard gnomes outnumber humans.

The second best reason is that the black gold you make is really good for plants. Composting duplicates nature’s own decomposition of organic matter but accelerated. The result in both cases  is simple compounds (starches, sugars, proteins) that plants can break down further and use to grow and thrive. 

Even if you don’t use the compost you make, someone in the neighborhood will gladly take it off your hands. Or scatter it in public gardens and groves—municipal employees rarely have time for such embellishment. (Note: To avoid arrest for suspicious activity, obtain permission.) 

The amount of yard, garden, and kitchen waste you produce will determine the size of your compost operation. So, of course, will your needs. if your garden is small or just a few pots and planters, kitchen plant scraps should suffice and one of those recycling machines you crank by hand to aerate the material should be fine. They look like a toy cement mixers. People swear by them. They are good for just about any small organic waste stream and come with their own instructions.  The following is not about those. Nor is the following about other composting contraptions, which probably do a fine job too. They also come with their own instructions, attendant websites, and interest groups you can join.

Continue if you have a patch of dirt to spare, say four by four feet in any convenient shape. The minimum for this approach is enough room to accommodate at least a cubic yard of wet stuff. Some like to lay down a tarp to trap all the nutrients, but then you have the expense of a tarp. The bare ground works pretty well. Better, first use a layer of flattened cardboard boxes to kill the weeds. (Cardboard will slowly disintegrate.) You might want to fence the area against foraging animals, depending on your ecosystem. Snow-fence posts and chicken wire five to six feet high should do the trick, and will also contain the compost, unless you’re worried about bears, in which case maybe consider the bears your composting machine, feed them generously, and add hay to the bear scat. (Our lawyers insist we say that this last suggestion is not serious.)

Getting started is as simple as dumping all your organic waste on the designated ground, concentrating it in a pile. This means everything you ordinarily put in the garbage can or down the disposal that will decompose rapidly. Vegetarians and cooks know from long practice what this means. It does not mean meat of any kind, because that will soon stink and attract carnivores. You don’t want vultures circling overhead. And bones—you’ll just have to separate them from the humus.  It generally does mean eggs and egg shells, cheese and milk, baked goods, bread, and of course any vegetables or fruits you sliced too much of or the Brussels sprouts you cooked perfectly that no one touched.

To speed the process, spend a moment rendering any contributions smaller. Break apart an old banana. Chop up a head of lettuce. Crumble egg shells. The microorganisms will thank you by going right to work and how. 

Yard waste such as leaves, grass cuttings, pulled weeds, and dead-headed flowers are all welcome. Woody stuff will take far longer to break down and should probably be heaved into the woods to rot.

Unattended, all this persiflage will eventually decompose, due to the bacteria, fungi, and small creatures such as worms all donating their labor, eating some of the nutrients and breaking down the rest into chemicals plants can use. In the wild, these ingredients will take six months or a year to decompose, depending on the temperature and amount of moisture. But you can hurry matters along by turning the compost with a pitchfork or shovel every week or so, and heaping the compost high. This converts the pile into a warming oven. The fastest reaction times occur at about 138 degrees F. Much hotter and your workforce will die. So don’t add heat. And keep the pile damp. Otherwise, your bacteria will desiccate and go dormant. Hose down now and then in a drought, and in a heat wave cover with a tarp or plastic sheet to confine he moisture.

If you don’t turn the compost, air stops reaching the interior and the pile becomes packed down and anaerobic, or low in oxygen, which will slow decomposition to a snail’s pace. Oxygen is a big part of the chemical reactions you want to occur, and the worms enjoy breathing.

A more elaborate scheme might involve three bins: one for new material through partial decay, one for partial decay through nearly finished, one for nearly finished to usable. See diagram at right dreamed up and used by James “Victory Garden” Crockett. A much cheaper version of the same idea uses four-by-four shipping pallets screwed together into open cubes, from Joe Gardener in this video.

A Type A composter such as Jim Crocket, celebrated for his Victory Garden, books, and PBS programs, produces a high grade of compost by proceeding in layers: five to ten inches of raw material, then a layer of nutrients—cow or horse manure or 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 fertilizer—then another layer of raw material followed by, as Crocket puts it, “a dusting of ground limestone and a couple of inches of soil.” Repeat. At some point start turning this Dogwood sandwich now and then to aerate it, until most of the stuff is partially decayed and ready for the move to bin number two. Continue to turn what’s in the second bin periodically. By this time you’re adding material to the first bin as before. When the stuff in the second is crumbly humus, shovel it into bin three and begin to use in your garden.

Why move the material from bin to bin? Why not just one bin through all three stages? Apart from the welcome aeration, there seems to be no obvious reason, and alas Jim Crocket expired in 1979 along with his rationale.

How to maximize the beneficial use of compost is beyond the scope of this modest article, but here in the Northeast, where glacial melt has determined that our soil is rich in clay and stones, use it generously. 

For more on the science of composting, audit an excellent Cornell University class preserved here as a pdf.

KATHY CHOW

KATHY CHOW

Home composting comes in all sizes. This tumbler is convenient and critter-proof. The compost you make prevents the summer trash smell from your garbage bin and keeps waste out of the landfill.

This compost machine will make you the envy of the neighborhood. It’s resurrected from Crocket’s Flower Garden.  A disorderly, untended heap will eventually produce compost too, just at an excruciating pace.

The Real Cost Of Plastic Bottles

How A Convenience Became A Calamity. Why Not Reuse?

Early in the 19th century, several spas around the world began selling their waters for their supposed healing powers. New York’s Saratoga Springs is one of the most well-known. The water was marketed as a cure for all manner of things, including hangovers, liver complaints, cancer, diabetes, and even the “weakness of women.” We think there’s a connection.

Water is essential to our bodily health. Most people can only last three days without water.  But must we walk around everywhere with a plastic water bottle just to “hydrate” ourselves? What is the real cost?

Let’s take a quick look at the history of the bottled water craze in our modern world and the consequences of this choice.  The French elite first enjoyed the mineral waters sold by Perrier in 1898, and the fad quickly spread to England, which regarded anything French as chic and upwardly mobile. Bottled water as status symbol! But the real change in terms of environmental impact came in 1973 when the chemical company Dupont patented PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles. Much lighter to transport and consequently selling at a lower price, PET has all but replaced glass as the container of choice and become a game-changer for the beverage world.

During the 1990s, soda giants PepsiCo and Coca-Cola entered the water market as soda sales declined. Fortunately for them, people had already adopted the habit of buying bottled drinks to go (note how much space bottled beverages occupy in convenience stores). Aquafina (PepsiCo) and Dasani (Coca-Cola) water bottles are filled with filtered tap water from their existing bottling plants.  By 2001, 115 billion liters of bottled water were being sold a year worldwide. Bemused municipal water professionals rued the sad irony of selling residents’ own water back to them. These lightweight plastic containers would plague our oceans and contribute to global warming. Many of us remember drinking most of our water at home, and when out on the road, stopping for a pointy paper cone of water at the gas station. Most cars didn’t have cup holders.

These days, people in industrialized nations can afford to “buy” water as a bottled beverage, but much of the world still struggles to access safe drinking water. And the environmental consequences of using plastic bottles are long-lasting for our shared planet. We may think that recycling these lightweight containers evens the score, but the tally is not close:  Producing each 1.0-liter water bottle consumes 7.1 gallons of water, 2,000 percent more energy than municipal water, and emits 1.2 pounds of greenhouse gases. Further, PET plastic is made from petroleum.

By the end of 2021, 1.6 billion beverage bottles will be produced each day worldwide or 1.1 million plastic bottles each minute, most for industrialized countries. The plastic that is not recycled can last in the environment for 450 years or more, and as we know, plastic is now found inside most creatures who live in the ocean. The cost is truly too high when our local solution lies right up the road.  We have a safe source of delicious drinking water here in our village and so many freshwater wells in our town, thanks to an ample and frequently replenished limestone aquifer beneath us. If we can pick up (or renew) the practice of drinking water at home or carrying it with us in a thermos or canteen, we are doing something good for all living things on earth. Let’s raise a glass of aquifer H2O.

smashed plastic bottles

MAGDA EHLERS, PEXELS

MAGDA EHLERS, PEXELS

We recycle a large percentage of the plastic bottles we buy, but not enough. Let’s reuse instead.

Eating Lower On The Food Chain

We Americans Need To Modify What And How We Eat. We Can Do It!

Most of us were raised under recommendations that we “get plenty of protein.” Protein is a crucial building block in the structure of our cells and the functions our metabolism.  For the most part, Americans already get plenty of it, through grains, legumes, some types of animal protein or meat.  In fact, Americans eat more meat than just about any other country or culture: about 270 pounds a year on average, in a virtual tie for Australia for second, well behind leader Luxemburg (300 pounds). The world average is 102 pounds.

As farming technology improved, production has gone up, and prices have come down, making animal protein available to more household dinner tables. But the amount we consume far exceeds the human body’s need for protein.

This number has been higher. In the 1970s we ate one-third more meat than we do today. We are forever changing our diets to better reflect our vision of personal health, and in recent decades, we include the health of our planet in that vision.  Climate experts are alarmed that raising so many animals for consumption is producing large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane. In fact, about half the atmospheric methane comes from livestock emissions, and methane accounts for  around 16 percent of the global greenhouse-gas total (IPCC). As a result, many people are promoting a diet closer to vegetarian or veganism to lessen environmental damage.  Plant proteins are getting lots of attention right now, with more than 500,000 people taking the pledge to go vegan in 2021.  But this gets complicated fast.  Soy and other legumes, if not grown organically, are bathed in chemical fertilizers and pesticides that enter the air, water, and soils. Pesticides are known to destroy bee populations, which is a curious way for a society to proceed, akin to consuming its seed corn.

There are better paths forward, and our area exemplifies several of them.  Many of our farmers are growing crops and raising livestock sustainably and organically.  As we buy food from these farms, we preclude the greenhouse gases emitted by long-distance transport.  We fund healthier farm conditions that don’t require workers to inhale chemicals. We enjoy healthy, fresh food and support a cycle that constantly returns essential nutrients to the soil.

Eating a smaller amount of energy-intensive, high-on-the-food chain protein is an important way we can reduce our carbon footprint that has direct effect on our rural neighborhood. If we as nation choose this year to reduce our consumption of animal proteins by one quarter, we will save 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. That means changing only five meals a week (of 21 meals) to a meal that includes no meat. And getting protein from plant sources is easy; most of us do it all the time. A dinner that is centered on rice and beans is packed with protein. A peanut butter sandwich on multigrain bread is too. A stew or soup made with legumes and beans fits the bill. A tomato sauce and pasta is delicious, nutritious, and meatless. One dinner a week, enjoy a sustainably harvested fish instead of meat, and benefit from the fish oil and lower cholesterol. 

Exploring meals that are not centered around meat a few times a week goes a long way to reducing our carbon footprint. Here is a link to an online calculator – it’s easy to see what yours is.

We can see ourselves as a village of 900, a community of 3,000, an area of hundreds of thousands, a nation of 330 million, or a planet of 7.8 billion.  Anything beyond the town line can feel overwhelming when the task is to reduce our collective footprint.  But as members of a family, changing a few habits is manageable. And it will have a healthy effect on others. We can feel good about doing our part, and the parts add up. As the estimable writer and thinker Michael Pollan, once a local, summed up, “Eat food, not a lot, mostly plants.”

Two Michael Pollan books, Food Rules and Omnivore’s Dilemma

Repair And Reuse

Any Good Thing Is Worth Repairing; Spend Time On Planet Pre-Owned

For centuries, humans repaired and reused everything useful until scarcely a part of the original remained. Only the wealthy discarded what was new. Eventually, driven by economic growth and technological progress, the consumer culture emerged to change all that. It goaded us to trade in the almost new for the brand new. It taunted us if we didn’t have the coolest new toy or wear the season’s hot fashion or know the new dope song. It mocked moderation, rewarded superficiality, and celebrated material excess. It invented the McMansion, the rent-a-jet, the credit default swap, the three-ton SUV, the collateralized debt obligation, the superstar, the superstar-branded sneaker, the superstar-branded totally awesome men’s toiletries line.

The result is mountains of broken, glistening, badly made stuff, most of it derived somehow from petroleum. It’s the product of a culture that’s a toxic mix of misplaced, counterproductive economic growth and a perversion of the American dream that replaces hard work and talent with an implacable sense of entitlement.

This has to change. Capitalism has defeated all comers, but it’s turning into a grotesque parody of itself. It can’t help exploiting natural resources until they are exhausted, driving wildlife to extinction, shrinking the lungs of the planet to serve created needs for snacks and fast food. Meanwhile the oil keeps flowing to fuel giant passenger cars, heat vast houses, keep our motorized recreational toys serving up thrill rides (until we tire of them after a year or two and abandon them out back to rust solid).

We have to add cooperation to competition. Work for the common good, prizing individual sacrifice and joint effort as much as personal achievement.  And once again reward good repair people who are practiced with their hands, improvise solutions from what’s available, and serve quality and durability with every task. 

If you look, there are signs of this everywhere. Crafts taking off on Esty. Restoration of old houses rather than building new. With a new building, reuse of old materials. (New construction is one of the worst abusers of the waste stream.) New clothing lines and furniture and household goods made partially or completely from recycled materials. The term “repurpose” applied to many areas of human creativity.

How can you participate, break your dependence on the “always new?” Vow to find a used or “second life” or pre-owned object before settling on a new one. Buy a well-looked-after used car, or restore one. Shop tag sales not for valuables but yard tools and sturdy furniture and work shirts. Keep an eye out for estate sales. Visit that great treasure house in our area, the Bargain Barn, run by the Sharon Hospital Auxiliary. Darn your socks. Get good shoes resoled. Sew a patch on a favorite pair of pants torn by a bramble. And keep your stuff in good working order. Oil your machines. Sand the rust off garden tools and lubricate the pruning shears. Repair first, concocting a solution if one isn’t immediately available. Who knows, maybe you’ll invent something you can publish on the internet or that will lead somewhere else, to a place undreamed of in the world of the always new.

Bargain Barn in Sharon

TOM PARRETT

TOM PARRETT

Bargain Barn

Packaging

The Packaging Of Products Has Taken On A Life Of Its Own

A few years ago, some women in India got discouraged by the amount of packaging they had to take home when they bought a product. They had colloquy with a store owner, and when no satisfactory response emerged, they simply removed the packaging and left it in the store. Their point was to shift the responsibility of recycling the packaging back to the store owners. People around the world are showing they like being hands-on at the store, and not just health-food rooters. Entire supermarkets in Germany have zero packaging. In New York City, new stores are opening that allow shoppers to fill their own containers with the store’s products. The Marks & Spencer chain in England is experimenting with package-free food.

Currently, when we get most products home, it becomes our job to dispose of the plastic wrapping, the boxes, the bottles that manufacturers and producers use often for their convenience. Hard plastic “clamshells” are the worst. It’s not surprising that recycling numbers are very low—around 14 percent.

The best fix is to address packaging at its root and not wait until it becomes a disposal problem. Happily, designers are coming up with wonderful solutions to reduce packaging waste. Engineers have created edible water containers, and a newspaper has recently adopted a potato-based wrapping instead of plastic film for its news bundles. Fruit and vegetable growers are considering ways to eliminate the plastic stickers that make problems for composters. 

Consumers can take several actions. We can search for brands that have already considered their impact on the global trash stream and buy them. We can write to companies asking that they remove some or all of the packaging from a product we like to buy (does your toothpaste really need a paper box around it?). And we can switch to bulk-buying stores, bringing our own containers and refilling them ourselves.

Some of these suggestions can seem cumbersome and potentially more costly, and real solutions do need to be widely accessible and affordable to significantly reduce waste. While engineers and design departments work on solutions, we can begin by being aware: aware of what we buy and how we dispose of, re-use, and recycle packaging. We know that companies have a bottom line, and the line is drawn by us, the consumer. Companies do respond to us and to the crises of climate and pollution. 

If Starbucks can address the ubiquitous sightings of their green straws in oceans worldwide by discontinuing them, it is clear that we are the bottom line. We are asking for solutions to our world pollution crisis.  Since 15 percent of what you pay for a product is for the packaging, we could eventually come away with extra change in our own pockets.

WALKER EVANS, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, 1936

WALKER EVANS, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, 1936

Winter Salt

Making Winter Ice Nonskid

Unless scrupulously applied, road salt is a disaster for anything but ice. If you don’t believe us, sprinkle salt in a potted plant, on wet steel, or on concrete over time.

For a walk or icy patch of driveway, use sand instead, obtainable in five-pound or ten-pound bags at your hardware store or garden center. It provides a non-slip surface, and being a darker color than snow and ice, it soaks up heat, which melts the ice without harm to plants—not as quickly as salt, which is admittedly speedy, but soon enough. And which would you rather have tracked into your kitchen or place of business, salt or sand? 

Consider these well-rounded thoughts from researchers at the Cary Institute who have studied the subject. 

Any sand will do for ice. If there’s no beach handy, try a hardware store or garden center. And keep a bucket of sand in the car in case you or a stranger get stuck.