Saturday, October 30, 2010


Ahhh... garlic. Keeps away vampires. Maintains health. It's great.

I planted my first batch of garlic ever with Nancy Pierce last year in her garden (see our harvest in the photo to the right). Last year we did hard neck garlic. This year she sent over some soft neck garlic, recommended highly by a local green thumb. My boss advises me, "Garlic needs FULL sun." So I've prepared a bed to the south of my fence that gets lots of sun.

Bulbs going in this weekend. Grow well little ones. See you in the spring.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

One Can a Month Challenge

For the last couple months I've been volunteering for the Richmond Can-A-Month Challenge. Ten families with kids and pets signed up to take the challenge to reduce their garbage collection from once per week to once per month.

Allen Field was the brainchild and force behind the challenge. He called me up a few months ago. I haven't done much volunteering since my Peace Corps days, and I'm a sucker for anything involving community and garbage, so I signed up to help get the situation sorted.

First, we met and brainstormed the ways to set the families up for success. We figured they needed a few angles of attack to whittle their garbage ration down from once a week to once a month. First, they needed to do curbside recycling (here in Portland OR that includes paper, metal and plastic bottles with glass on the side). Second, they needed to go "beyond curbside" which meant bringing rigid plastics, film plastics, and miscellaneous materials to Far West Fibres. Third, they had to do backyard composting, or vermicomposting. Fourth, they needed to address diapers and pet waste (here's one dog waste solution). Finally, they would (ideally) start to wrap their head around "precycling," or buying things with less waste in the first place.

Allen led a two-hour intro session with the group mid-April 2010, with me acting as support crew. He kept the tone light and positive saying, "This shouldn't be a source of stress. If you get overloaded with garbage for whatever reason, just put out another bag one week. It's only $5.00." (We joked at one point about taking the "one flush a month challenge" next year.)

Then, for the first few weeks in May 2010 we followed up with 1.5-hour in-home consultations with each family to do sorts and set up worm bins. The folks at CES and other volunteers helped too. We would dump their trash and recycling out on a big blue tarp. Then we would go through the garbage piece by piece, either confirming its pile (yup, this crinkly wrapper goes in the trash) or giving it a new life (this bread crust can go in the compost).

It always amazes me how much you learn about a household through its garbage -- the hundreds of bits of scrap paper at one house told the story a recent school craft project.

We took pictures of each pile. Most families were shocked at how little "trash waste" they had -- with the air squeezed out, it was oftentimes the size of a softball or basketball.

I was really impressed with the delivery of this vision and project. Allen set up a blog on the Richmond neighborhood website. He got grants from local business and government agencies to help supply worm bins and other waste reduction supplies. He included a "pay-it-forward" element to the challenge to enable/coerce participants to extend their experience to their community. He pointed folks towards useful resources such as the EnviroMom website and a participant's blog. The project has already gotten great press.

The idea is already spreading -- I just called up my garbage hauler and switched from a weekly 20-gallon can to a 35-gallon roll cart. I'll save about $5 per month. More importantly, it feels good to take on the challenge. If families with kids and pets can do it, I can-a-month, too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Evening with Annie Leonard - The Story of Stuff

In April 2010 I spent a delightful evening with Annie Leonard and Friends. Annie came out with a hit movie a few years ago titled The Story of Stuff. This year, she came out with a book -- aptly titled "The Story of Stuff" that goes into more details about "how our obsession with stuff is trashing the planet, our health, and our communities."

She was just as effervescent in person as she is in her movies: Spunky. Quirky. Passionate. She knows her stuff.

I encouraged Annie to make a Story of Organics to add to her growing list that includes The Story of Bottled Water and The Story of Cap & Trade. She didn't bite, but I think her mother liked the idea...which is a good start.

Anyways, thanks for the wonderful evening, Annie and Friends. (Delicious food, by the way -- I was stuffed.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Roz Savage Rocks!

I have been horribly neglecting this "Trash or Treasure" blog because of my work with Harvest Power. It is a neat company that blends my favorite flavor of trash (organics) with a hot topic (clean energy). I am excited about shaping this new equation for organic diversion. I am inspired by my colleagues. I am having fun. But all of this excitement leaves little time for blogging, so if you want to see my world these days, tune into the high solids anaerobic digestion channel at

HOWEVER, I did manage to carve out a couple hours last week to meet up with my hero, Roz Savage. She rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, solo. She is about to embark on her third leg of rowing across the Pacific Ocean. I have always been interested in trans-Atlantic Ocean rowers because my Great Great Uncle (or one of those connections) was Frank Samuelsen, who rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1896 with his buddy, George Harbo. They were burly (or stupid, depending on how you slice it) setting out in their open rowboat to paddle, stroke by stroke, across the sea.

Anyways, my friend, Ken, tipped me off about Roz a couple months ago. I started following her tweets. Then, I suggested her book, Rowing the Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean, for my book club. (Everyone loved the book.) In this crazy world of social networking, a couple weeks ago, I noticed one of Roz's tweets mentioned Portland. I sent her a note. A few days later, we were drinking coffee on Hawthorne together. Amazing.

Roz, in person, is exactly the way she comes across in her book: an incredibly endearing blend of gutsy, determined, down to earth, kind, caring, and somehow glamorous as she described how she uses her iphone to coach her on doing pushups. (She is addicted to her iphone, but in a really great way -- I gave her my business card, and she said, "I don't have room in my life for little bits of paper." So she took a photo of the card, then gave it back to me. The waste reduction geek in me swooned.)

So we enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and talked about our life paths. We have some fun overlaps (rowing, adventures, environmentalism, public speaking) and I hope our trails cross again in the future. I looked back into my files and found this holiday card from my family in 1987 (or thereabouts). Here I am rowing in one of our little boats in the salt marsh estuary near our home in New Jersey, not 20 miles from where Frank and George set out from Battery Park on the outgoing tide in 1896.

Roz, wherever and whenever you read this, good tidings on the last leg of your Pacific Journey. Have fun giving your TED talk in the Galapagos (that is SO cool). Finally, do drop a line the next time you come through Portland. Till then,

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Explore The Cycle Video

A friend recently sent me this link to Explore the Cycle. Check it out!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Yi Visits: PDX, Far West Fibers, Free Geek

A few months ago, I got an email from a Wellesley student, Yi, who was applying for a fellowship to study zero waste around the world (like mine, only a Watson). Since then, we've kept in touch. Yi took advantage of the holiday break to come visit Portland for a few days.

DAY 1: I picked Yi up from the train station...on our tandem. The trailer had a flat tire. Luckily, Yi was traveling light with one little shoulder bag. There is no better way to experience Portland than by bike. We pedaled through the neighborhoods. (I was secretly proud of using the 15mm wrench to change out the pedals, and using the other tool to change the seat heights. I don't usually deal with this stuff, but Gene is in Antarctica, and it was a crisp, clear day. Forget girl power; we wanted gear power!)

DAY 2 (morning): We toured Portland International Airport's Waste Minimization and Recycling Program with Stan and Mitch. The established programs are humming: pre- and post-consumer food waste diversion; recycling of glass, cardboard, paper, metal, plastic; liquid collection station; spring and fall cleanups; the list goes on.

In addition, the recycling team expanded the "Save Our Supplies" program in anticipation of an office move. Through diligence and hard work, the Port of Portland is reusing tons of paper clips, binders, notepads, and office supplies.

Finally, on our way out of the parking lot, we saw the new recycling bins in the bus shelters. This was particularly exciting for me because I did some research and evaluation on recycling at PDX bus shelters in September 2009. My recommendations in fruition: PDX retro-fitted Clearstream containers with strong signage and stapled them into the concrete. They looked great.

DAY 2 (afternoon): We dropped off plastic clam shells at the Far West Fibers in SE Portland. I dug (not literally) the vermicomposting bin. It must have been too cold for the worms, because I didn't see a single wriggler.

DAY 3 (morning): We toured Free Geek, an organization with a mission "to recycle technology and provide access to computers, the internet, education and job skills in exchange for community service." Through the program at Free Geek, folks can volunteer for 24 hours in exchange for a computer. It seemed really well organized; I was impressed.

DAY 3 (afternoon): I drop Yi off at the train station (via car).

Thanks for the visit, Yi! It's always fun to exchange ideas and information with other solid waste enthusiasts.