Saturday, December 27, 2008


We just made it out of Portland before 15 inches of snow and freezing rain shut the city down. Since then, it's been a week of family fun in Todos Santos, Mexico.

Todos Santos is a weird little oasis on the Baja peninsula. English is spoken. You can use US dollars in the stores. In the suburbs where we rented a house, the licence plates are from California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. Sidewalks end in the middle of the street. As far as I can tell it is an adult playground for sun-and-surf seekers.

My nieces and nephew loved catching bugs and making them bug nests. My mother gave the littlest addition, Arden, 4 months, baths in the sink. My sisters and brothers-in-law were on top of all the important things to the little ones: sunblock, food, and play. Gene met the family and everyone really liked him.

Now they have all packed up and gone. Gene has taken his tools and headed south to Antarctica. It's time for me to resume my peripatetic lifestyle and hit the dumpsters. Headed east.

Friday, December 19, 2008

300 Cups of Tea

December is going to be a slow blog month for me.

After wrapping up our time in Europe with an honest 4-bus, 3-train, 2-subway, 2-walk, 15-hour transportation day, Gene and I headed back to Portland, OR to regroup for a week. It has been really nice to catch up with friends and bike around town. Who knew Portland could be so snowy! Five days of snow in six days! Exclamation mark, exclamation mark.

My throat, however, decided to invite some of its own friends over. Whatever is living back there is not a nice house guest -- it scratches, itches, and has made it ridiculously painful to swallow for the last five days. Having gone through gallons of Throat Coat tea, honey, and frozen smoothies, I am going to the naturopath in a few moments. Hopefully she will brew up a concoction that will knock it out of there. At the very least, I'll be on a plane south to Mexico in 24 hours. (Yes, I am that person that makes everyone on the airplane sick. Gagh. Maybe I'll wear a gas mask like the one I saw at the Pollutec Conference, pictured right).

Happy Holly Ho Ho Ho.

Monday, December 8, 2008


The New York Times ran an article today about how prices for recyclables have plummeted in the last few months. Tin, for example, is selling for about $5 per ton compared to $327 earlier in the year. Recycling contractors are stockpiling the goods, waiting for the prices to rise.

This news is crushing. (heh. heh?)

As with this whole economic downturn, the prices will bounce. In the meantime, perhaps the waste management spotlight will shift more towards waste reduction instead of increased recycling.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Jina and Lucas: Reporting from Guatamala

My friends, Jina and Lucas, are traveling through Central America for their honeymoon. Since we will be in Central America in a few months, I asked them to keep an eye out for trash leads. In the middle of exploring jungles, reviving Spanish skills, making soup, and battling vomit conditions on harrowing bus rides, Jina wrote me the following email:

Meredith- some quick notes on CA trash. We´re traveling right now with a woman named Liza who did a Spanish school in Xela (Quetzaltenango). She says many of the families there (particularly the Pacaja neighborhood) burn their trash to cook their food. Sounds like an inventive, if horribly unhealthy way of dealing with trash and lack of cooking fuel. Also-- at lake atitilan, there is a town called San Marcos you take a boat to (the hippie place we wrote about in the blog). The main wall coming into town is build from plastic bottles filled with trash, then chicken wire and plaster. Another hostel/restaurant makes cool stained glass windows out of glass bottles. Not sure if this is useful, but you should at least know I´ve got my eyes and ears open for trash spectacules, We just got in to El Salvador last night...

Jina served in Peace Corps Madagascar a few years before me and, among other things, is a rockstar wildlife biologist in Portland, OR (where we connected). Her husband, Lucas, is a rockstar of the pirate variety, and does things with computers. If you want to read a blog that has lovely descriptions, pretty pictures, and is written from the heart (instead of, say, the gutter), check out their "honeyluna" site out here.

I am curious to see the chicken-wire-plastic-bottle-plaster wall. And the stained glass windows. The cooking-over-trash... not so much... but kind of. So yes, it is useful to hear about the things you are seeing. Thanks, Jina!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Oh la la.

Sure, it is home to the Eiffel Tower, amazing museums, chocolate crepe stands on every corner, and little dogs wearing sweaters. But you know the best part of Paris: the trash cans.

The mayor seems to have his political dial tuned to the environmental station. In addition to having a sweet bike system with 20,000 bikes at 1,450 stations throughout the city [with the first 30 minutes free (gratuit!)], Paris currently has an aggressive recycling campaign.

I quite liked the design of these bins in the Luxembourg Gardens. The green is for garbage; the yellow is for recycling (paper, metal, and plastic). Notice the lid on top of the yellow recycling bin: it both prevents the casual toss and also has pictures and arrows. You want to put that in here? You better think twice, monsieur.

In addition, people can see the contents of the bags through the translucent plastic bag. Pictures, arrows, and clear bags. Not rocket science, but effective given the small amount of contamination we saw in 20 containers, all paired with trash cans.

The garbage trucks currently have an ad campaign that reinforces the system that Yellow = Recycling. Here is a picture of one of the trucks.

Here is close-up of the sign on the truck. In the sign, the little paper box is saying, "In the yellow bin, thanks." Here is the website for the garbage in's and out's in Paris.

Ah bon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Birthday (30)

I don't feel a day over 30.
I guess that's because yesterday was my 30th birthday.

It was a great day. I woke up to a virtual fiesta -- Ashley and Marijke had decorated the living room in the early morning with flags, streamers, and a "Happy Birthday" sign. I sat surrounded by color eating yummy meusli and yogurt. Mmmmm... meusli.

Then, Gene and I biked to the beach. Holland is set up for bike touring -- every single road has a bike path option. Little flags with destination and kilometer markings point the way. The bike paths even have little bike traffic signals. Mmmmm... biking.

At the beach, Gene and I completed one of my goals of this fellowship: researching these big blue bottle-like trash cans. They are made by WellDesign, and were clustered together near the entrance of the beach (during the summer they are spread out down the beach). While I don't usually like large plastic items, these funky bottles seem like a great solution to a windy, sandy, potentially flooded environment. We mused if they were made of recycled plastic. Mmmmm... funky-yet-appropriate trash can technology.

We biked back to Haarlem in a nice light drizzle and made a yummy dinner. I got lots of well-wishes on Facebook and over email, which was super sweet. Thanks, everyone, for a great birthday!

Now, on to bird-day.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

European Waste Reduction Week

I woke up this morning and realized that European Waste Reduction Week has already begun. Oh goody! Let's reduce our waste and increase our awareness...for a week! Riiiighhht.

Seems kind of silly. I mean, does anyone really make fundamental changes over one week? How much does "raising awareness" really influence behavior? Kind of like my doubts about "environmental education", I always come back to the adage, "you have to start somewhere".

Here are the participating organizations:
  • ADEME (Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maitrise de l'Energie) (France);
  • ACR+ ((the Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and Sustainable Resource Management)(Belgium);
  • IBGE (Bruxelles Environment)(Belgium);
  • ARC (Cgencia de Residus de Catalunya)(Spain); and
  • LIPOR (the intermunicipal waste management authority of the Grand Porto metrolitan area)(Portugal)

Details for the whole kit and kaboodle are here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Waste "Hi, Err, Arc, Eeeee"

The second day of the Organic Diversion in Urban Environments conference went well. At least I knew where to sit.

INSERT STORY: The first day I walked to the back of the room and tried to enter the clear-glass box labeled "English". Two stunned ladies turned around with a look that said, "Whaaat." Oh. Right. I realized with a Homer-Simpson-"d'oh!"-moment that the box is for the people that translate all of the other languages into English. Ooops. On Day #2 I felt like a seasoned pro as I sat down in the conference room and put on my nifty headphones (and gave a little wave to the translators).

Here is a photo of the conference room, with Lisa Brown of Impact Environmental (Australia) and Tom Quested of WRAP (England). You can see the translation window boxes in the background. Lisa is on a three-month fellowship to learn about organic diversion and bring her findings back to Australia. I mentioned Tom's work in my previous post.
So. The big topic of discussion was the Waste Framework Directive, which was adopted by the European Council on October 20, 2008. This directive goes into effect 20 days after it has been published in the Official Journal of the European Union. The member states will then have 14 months to comply. Tick tick.
Here are two bits of the Waste Directive that were discussed.

1) The establishment of a waste hierarchy, as follows:

  • WASTE PREVENTION (preferred option);
  • RE-USE;
  • RECOVERY (including energy recovery);
  • SAFE DISPOSAL (as a last resort); and

2) the establishment of recycling targets: by 2020, Member States must recycle 50% of their household and similar waste and 70% of their construction and demolition waste.

Targets were set for recycling... but not for waste prevention. It's not surprising -- it seems much easier to deal with the issue at the back end (re-use, recycling, recovery, or disposal) than to try to change behavior at the front end (waste prevention).

I'd like to talk a little bit more about my perceptions of behavior change... but maybe in another post. Till then,

Cheers, from a snowy Belgium,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Waste Lines and Waist Lines

I am in Brussels, Belgium, at a conference titled "Organic Waste in Urban Environments -- New European Challenges". It is pretty sweet, and I'm not talking about the chocolate.

Day Number One included a blend of speakers from Germany, France, Belgium, and England. I cannot do justice to their presentations, but the general messages seem to be A) food waste is a very important issue, and B) it is WAY more beneficial to prevent food wastage on the front end (by not buying or preparing too much food) than to deal with it on the back end (through disposal or composting). No big surprises.

One presentation by Tom Quested of WRAP (U.K.) talked about their in-depth study that measured how the average person throws away 28% of their consumable food. Now I have put on tyvek suits and sorted my share of garbage, but these sorts went above and beyond the call of duty: they precisely documented every donut, dairy carton, sell-by date, and grain of rice that got thrown in the rubbish bin. This information translated into front-page headlines a neat campaign called "Love Food, Hate Waste". One of the tips that they promote (and that cropped up in at least three other presentations) was the simple act of making a shopping list before heading to the grocery store.

Make those lists, and check the fridge twice.

One presentation by Nathalie Cliquot of the European Environmental Bureau talked about ways to reduce waste. Again, no big surprises that it's a good idea to A) eat less dairy & meat; B) eat less (eat as many calories as you need); C) eat seasonal, robust, local, field-grown vegetables that don't need heating or lighting; and D) don't waste food. She also pointed out how those things, while good for the environment, are also good for our health.

Duly noted.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bins off Mainau (and the Flying Banana)

My status as a "diligent blogger" has been temporarily revoked. I will redeem myself in the next couple of weeks like a good 5 cent deposit bottle.

The first two weeks of November, Gene and I went around the south of Germany... to Freiburg, Munich, the Lake Constance region (Bodensee), Heitersheim, and Titisee. More pictures are on the way. While German trains are lovely and punctual, our favorite days were when we rented bicycles. One of those days was around Konstanz.

This post is really a brief nod to the cute bins off Mainau Island, just a few kilometers north of the Swiss border. I particularly liked the sign for organic waste: a flying banana peel! (Apple cores are usually the bio-waste symbol of choice.)

These bins only work for a relatively small population. I liked the subtle color scheme, and how they put symbols both in front of the bins, but also on top (next to the point of disposal).

The floating diaper on the far right, to signal "restmull", seems to get a lot of butts (of the cigarette variety).

On to more organic treasures...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Do Penguins Recycle?

My travels have taken on a new dimension with the arrival of my partner, Gene. My rolly luggage has been tested on wooded trails. Timber-framed buildings get photographed as much as well-signed dumpsters. No bakery item goes unturned. It is wonderful.

Gene heads to Antarctica in January 2009 to work on a neat restoration project. Coincidentally, a friend sent me a link to a video on waste management in Antarctica. Apparently the scientists and explorers used to put their waste on icebergs and watch it float out to sea. Kind of like the waste barges I remember from my childhood in New Jersey (but cooler (heh) cause the story involves ice bergs, and perhaps the occasional penguin). Anyway, check out the video here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Composting: Garbage into Gold, and Energy

I have always had a healthy appreciation for the composting process.

My organic detritus world got a little juicier in October 2008 when I toured BEKON's dry fermentation plant outside of Munich, Germany. To put it very simply, they take organic matter, put it in a digester (an air-tight container), and let the biomass ferment. The resulting biogas generates electricity. After the fermentation process in the digestors, the digested matter undergoes further composting. Here are the pictures.

Compost... and energy. Good stuff. BEKON also claims that their system is a lot more efficient than anaerobic digestion because, besides the added percolate, it is a dry process.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Green Point System

When I first visited Germany, I saw a trash can labeled "Packaging." It was quite confusing -- it seems that everything is packaging of some sort, isn't it? I now know "Packaging" refers to any product with the "Green Dot" or "Green Point" on it.

The way I understand it, all manufacturers pay a fee based on their product's type and amount of packaging. For example, the producer of the plastic cheese container, pictured below (with the greenpoint stamp at the bottom of the label) would pay a smaller fee than a product with more packaging materials. The money from these fees goes to the processors that sort and recycle these materials.

This system stems from the German Packaging Ordinance of 1991, which shifted the responsibility for handling waste from the consumer to the producer.

There is more information on this at the Duales System Deutschland GmbH website. Alternatively, I found a nice summary of recycling options in Germany at this website.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I spent the last two weeks in Frankfurt. I had no idea I would have such a dynamic experience.

During my two-week internship at Frankfurt International Airport (Fraport), I got to look in lots of dumpsters. The waste folks were extremely gracious to me and even lined up tours at a local incinerator, hazardous waste facility, and recycling sorting facility. It was excellent.

On the weekends, Patrick and I benefited from amazing weather. The photos in this slideshow are from our time in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Koln (Cologne), and Bonn. Most of the photos were taken by Patrick (who, by the way, went above and beyond the call of duty providing not only a room, but a full fridge, soap, music, a bike, and lots of laughs. Thank you, Patrick).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Boston Begins

My favorite online environmental news source, Grist, tipped me off a moment ago on a story about a proposed ordinance that would force Boston haulers to offer recycling services to their customers.

My first reaction is, "Seriously? They don't offer recycling yet? Even with the current value of paper and metals? Sheesh. That's like throwing money away."

My next reactions include hints of dialog used during my MPA (Master of Public Administration) studies. I wouldn't go as far as to say that I have fully developed my shrewd analytical skillz... but I know I didn't think this way two years ago. So thanks, PSU. Here are some reactions:

REACTION 2: "Ohh...Of course. They need to remove the barriers to participation before they force businesses to recycle. This is just the first step -- offering recycling in the first place. D'uh."

REACTION 3: "Hmmm...I wonder how the city will further align its policies with the behavior it wishes to promote. That is, if this ordinance passes, will Boston then require businesses to recycle? If so, what will be the penalty for not participating? How will they monitor it?"

REACTION 4: "I wonder what the landfill tipping fees are in the Boston metro region."

REACTION 5: "Since Boston is such a hip, student town, I wonder if any campuses would be interested in following the CES model from Portland State University, where students offer technical assistance to businesses interested in waste reduction and recycling."

REACTION 6: "I wonder what fee structure will be adopted."

REACTION 7: "I need to go to bed."

PS -- In the interest of full disclosure, I am related to Grist through my super duper talented brother-in-law. Every day, when I get the Grist List, I think, "Oh goody, Chip's little newsletter!" Heh. They have about a zillion subscribers. Love it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Focusing in Frankfurt

It was a perfect Fall weekend with crisp, clear weather. My host, Patrick, showed me all around Frankfurt and a bit of the Rhine Valley. This is one of my favorite shots, with the typical Frankfurt trash cans in focus in the background.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hard Discount Stores - A Visit to Aldi

A few weeks ago I read an article about "hard discount" stores (Wall Street Journal; September 30, 2008; Passariello). The article talked about how these stores offer 900-1600 products, compared to large supermarkets that usually offer 20,000 products. By limiting the selection these deep discount stores save costs, which they pass onto the consumer. (Sounds like Walmart, but isn't.)

This weekend I got to experience one of the stores mentioned in the article -- Aldi -- first hand. It was like a regular store, but with no frills.

Any good conversation about waste management begins with a nod towards the ever-taboo topic (but gaining popularity) of consumption. This "hard discount" retail model -- offering a limited selection and saving on costs associated with "buying, packaging, transporting, and displaying" goods -- has some interesting implications. Not quite sure what those implications are just yet; my noodle is still cooking the subject. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The "Hunde-WC"

Okay. So I went to Wellesley College, a fancy schmancy school outside of Boston (indeed, the one that has sponsored this trash & travel voyage). I always got a kick out of the fact that its initials -- WC -- also stand for "water closet" (or toilet) in Europe.

The other day, on a run outside of Frankfurt, I came across the ultimate water closet: the "Hound WC." Yup, dog poo. A topic I have covered before. I was particularly intrigued by the 3-step process depicted in diagrams.

Thought you might like these pictures, and this article (in German) that estimated that 400,000 piles of dog poo are generated each day by the pooches in Berlin. That equates to 50,000 tons of dog-doo per year, or 146 million little landmines.

Oh I love this job.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

41 Miles to the Gallon

A little bit of email 'humor'...

If you had purchased $1,000 shares of Delta Airlines one year ago, you would have $49.00 today.  If you had purchased $1,000 shares in AIG one year ago, you would have $33.00 today.  If you had purchased $1,000 shares in Lehman Brothers one year ago, you would have $0.00 today.

But, if you had purchased $1,000 worth of beer one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the aluminum cans for recycling, you would have $214.00.  Based on the above, the best current investment plan is to drink heavily and recycle.  It is called the 401-Keg.

A recent study found that the average American walks about 900 miles a year.  Another study found that Americans drink, on average, 22 gallons of alcohol a year.  That means that, on average, Americans get about 41 miles to the gallon.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Coburg, Germany

I had originally intended my week in Coburg, Germany, to be down-time... to do laundry (my first real load in 4 weeks of traveling)... to catch up on emails... and to just have a little home-away-from-home for a few days. I did all of that, but also managed some exploring.

Just north of Coburg is a waste-to-energy plant called Mullhelzkraftwerk. On a very rainy morning, I biked over to check it out. I didn't get past the front gate (understandably), but they did give me a very descriptive brochure with a line-drawing detailing all steps of burning trash. Now my German vocabulary is expanding from my already questionable repertoire of "front handspring" and "mud fight" to include "Verdampfer" and "Kalkmilch-Vorratsbehalter" (translation anyone?).

As I was biking away from the incineration plant, I spotted some stacked pallets, cubed paper, and piles of plastic: a materials recovery facility! It was called Schmidt & Wagner. They handle paper, plastic, metals, and miscellaneous materials in the region.

Ten kilometers east (by this point I was very muddy, wet, and cold), I knocked on the door of another materials recovery facility in Blumenrod. In between trucks toting trash, I secured a glossy brochure of this enterprise headed up by Veolia, an international waste management service.

Really, though, the best part of my time in Coburg (professionally) was the local recycling depot, which has a place for every thing and a thing for every place. The men working there were thrilled to be photographed. I particularly liked the metal frame holders for Styrofoam. Pictures of the recycling depot and the rest of my time in Coburg (including a 50-km bike trip to Bamberg) are here.

Ruth, the mother of my friend, Judith, lives in Coburg and hosted me while I was there. She walks in the woods for at least an hour every day. She bikes all around town. She runs a ballet studio. She smokes cigarettes on her balcony and drinks coffee at all hours. She is just the kind of person with whom you want to sit down at the kitchen table with figure out the meaning of life... all while eating yummy bread and cheese. Thank you, Ruth, for everything. (Thank you, Wenzel, for lending me your bike.)

Czeching out Prague

I spent two days in Prague with my parents. They gave me my doses of "cul-chah" for the year with live music (opera & chamber music), descriptions of architecture (Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque), and a new appreciation for Art Nouveau (via Mucha). I, in turn, gave them a new appreciation for trash cans.

Here are some pictures from Prague.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Geriatric Cruise in Croatia

With an unexpected deviation from my original Trash Tour itinerary, in late September 2008, I went sailing off the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia with my parents and their friends.
While my parents don't always point in the same direction (see photo below), they have managed to stay in the same boat for 40 years. It was really nice to spend this time with them (and their longtime friends Betsy & Bruno, Peggy & Michael, Barbara & Chip, Alice & Peter, and Stan). They joked that it was a geriatric cruise... but I hope I am half as adventuresome when I am 65 years old. Yes, I weathered a few discussions about hip replacements, scars, and grandchildren. But they all graciously let me take pictures of trash cans and get more excited about the local dump than Dioclecian's Palace. So we sailed...

Croatia -- nestled on the Adriatic next to Bosnia & Herzegovina, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Italy -- has some sweet sailing.Here is the rough map I sketched in my journal of our route: Split --> Brac --> Hvar --> Korcula --> Komiza --> Stari Grad --> Split.

When there was wind, we sailed.
When there wasn't wind, we motored.

There was always something to look at by day...
...and by night.

It was neat to go ashore and see towns that have been around for thousands of years. My favorite part was all of the church towers that tolled on the hour.

I am ashamed to admit that we did very little recycling on our boat. I was terrible and quickly acquiesced to an excuse mindset that included thoughts such as, "There's not enough space," and, "Even if we do separate our wine bottles and paper, there aren't any recycling options at the marinas anyways." Eeek. I'll do better next time.

Here is Peter with 7 people's garbage from 24 hours.

Here are dumpsters typical of Croatia. Overall, it was a very tidy country (from what I saw).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Connection in Komiza, Croatia

So picture this. I'm going for a hike on the island of Vis, on the Dalmation Coast of Croatia. Over in the distance, what's that white rock sliding down the hillside? Unconsolidated trash. I start snapping pictures.
The next morning I run up the hill for a closer look. Sure enough, it's the local landfill for the little town, Komiza. Not only that, there's another visitor.
Whenever he is early for work, he drives up to the dump to "see if there's anything interesting." He says that winter and spring are the "best trash seasons" because there are more interesting pieces of furniture and old tools from spring cleanings.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Denmark Photos

Above please find a slideshow of my top picks (pix!) from my brief journey through Denmark.

Here is the link to the photos directly in case you want to see them at your own pace.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Danish in Denmark.

Denmark went by quickly.

It was flat.
Windmills rotated clockwise on the horizon.
Bikes abounded.

Given a day in Copenhagen, I walked for a few hours. The palm house at the Botanical Garden was hot.
My ultimate objective, to eat a danish (with a lowercase "d") was achieved on this street corner. Note the trash can and the bikes!