League Promotes Zero Waste
by Jary Stavely
by Jary Stavely
“I pack containers in my car so I can bring food home without extra packaging,” was one of many tips for reducing the garbage stream passed on by Heather Guevara of Zero Waste Mendo at the League’s monthly meeting, Jan. 14, at the Caspar Community Center. More than 30 members and friends listened, asked questions, and shared their own practices during the presentation, part of the League’s emphasis on taking action in the face of climate change.
Heather created her organization “to encourage the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused.” She has personally investigated various aspects of her own way of living in order to offer the kind of help she outlined at the meeting. Zero Waste Mendo (ZWM) offers in-home and commercial consultations, as well as presentations with municipal and county agencies. It has both an English and a Spanish presence on Facebook. Heather provides outreach at public meetings, farmers’ markets, and even the Repair Café, as well as conducting tours at her own home to show various methods of controlling waste output.
A visual way to think about the zero waste concept is to contrast linear and circular models of how the earth’s resources are used. The linear model proceeds from Material Extraction to Product Manufacturing to Distribution to Consumer Use to Disposal in a landfill (the grey bin). The circular model shows resources in continuous use from Recycling to Design & Manufacture to Use to Recovery (the blue bin) to Recycling, and so on. The goal is to shift from the linear economy to the circular one. Since it is overwhelming to try to analyze all the things we use in our lives, Heather suggests that consumers pick a single product such as a paper napkin to start with. The “linear” napkin begins with tree harvesting, proceeds to paper production, packaging, store distribution, purchase, use at a meal, and disposal in the trash, and all the burning of petroleum that each step except the use entails. Since soiled paper cannot now be recycled, except with yard waste, there is no clear circular model for the paper napkin, but one zero waste solution would be to use cloth ones which can be washed and re-used.
She introduced what she called The 6 R’s to follow for achieving zero waste: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, and Rot. First, refuse by saying no to freebies, single-use plastic, food packaging, disposable items, things you don’t need, and junk mail (she suggests calling the phone # on the letter and informing a live person that you want to be removed from the mailing list). If you bring your own implements along, you can avoid eating with plastic implements and having to throw them and their packaging away. This led to a discussion of buying things which don’t have plastic packaging, and bringing along your own containers for purchasing food in bulk. Heather informed the audience that, even though places like Down Home Foods put bulk items in plastic bags for sale, they are happy to take your own containers and weigh them for the tare, so that you don’t have to bring more plastic home. Plastic bags can only be re-used once or twice before their utility is gone.
Second, reduce by donating or selling items you don’t need or use—this will save time, space, and sanity. She suggests waiting 30 days before buying something new, and instituting a one thing in and one thing out rule—don’t acquire something new without making space for it by removing something else. Simplifying the clutter of unnecessary things is good for your health. Part of reducing one’s consumption is to become more self-sustainable by growing your own food, and producing your own energy through the use of such things as solar panels, biodiesel, or passive solar heat. Another part is to reduce water use through instant water heaters, bathroom sink aerators, low-flow shower heads, drip irrigation, and grey water systems.
The third R (reuse) requires replacing disposables with reusables, as in the napkin example above. One of the most difficult changes Heather has encountered nowadays is to find boots which can be resoled, although she is pleased to have found some—though expensive, they give the satisfaction that the uppers don’t have to be thrown into the landfill for a long time. Reuse also means to buy secondhand items, and to re-purpose materials for artists (both young and older) to use. Her own re-use includes making her household products like toothpaste and mustard.
As one proceeds through the R’s the number of items to deal with diminishes. Repair means to find ways to keep using things that have stopped functioning. Repair people can be found in a variety of ways, including online, phonebooks, and newspaper ads. Information on how to do repair oneself can also be found online and at the library. At the Repair Café in Fort Bragg’s Town Hall, there are experts in electronics, jewelry, sewing, kitchenware, and more, all willing to help through their own efforts, or by advising. ZWM recommends buying items that can be repaired in the first place, and donating non-working items to a charity, such as the Salvation Army, that can make repairs.
Then, recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, reuse, or repair. Heather cautions that it is important to learn what is actually being recycled out of the designated blue bins. The recent refusal of China and other Asian nations to take U.S. recycle shipments shows that the economic return for much of the material is shaky, at best. She informed the audience that, although it is listed as acceptable by Waste Management and others, paper/wax dairy cartons are not really being reprocessed. Glass, metal, and clean paper are the best options for the recycle bin. There are bins in Santa Rosa where old clothing can be put to new use.
Finally rot (i.e. compost) appropriate materials that cannot be dealt with under the other R’s. These include soiled, unlined paper products, plastic-free cotton swabs, food waste, yard waste, and pizza boxes. Bring your own containers to restaurants that provide lined cardboard plastic take-home cartons. Some eateries will reduce your bill by the cost (50¢) of the container you’re not using. SB 1383 is California’s short-term solution to climate change by reducing rot in landfills. It is designed to decrease the production of methane there by diverting compostables to be used in actual compost to grow plants which, instead, can sequester carbon.
She closed her presentation with a quote from Anne-Marie Bonneau: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Heather can be reached at (706) 204-1211 or zerowaste [at] gmail.com
League to which this content belongs:Mendocino County