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.)