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.