Tag Archives: waste

What I finally found the courage to throw away


I spent good money on it. It was a special deal. Organic. Super-size pack. I dreamed of all the pleasure and wellness it would bring me, day by day.

It was more than four years ago, which I can only calculate because I can see in my mind’s eye having the big cardboard box of it in the apartment I haven’t lived in for over four years.

At some point, I tossed the cardboard box the fruity green Whole Foods tea came in, and I transferred the remaining plastic packets of tea bags into my catch-all tea box … where they’ve sat. And sat. And sat.

Unopened. For four years.

And last night, looking at them, trying to fit my Triple Echinacea tea into the box (stocking up for winter sniffle season!), I thought: Hmm, these are taking up a lot of space. 

And I thought: Maybe I’ll use them though. They’re still sealed in the plastic packets. Maybe I’ll want them this season. Maybe I’ll have a guest over who wants them. 

Gnawing away at my stomach, as my hand held them mid-air, frozen, was this feeling: It would be such a waste to throw them away. 

20141211-103633-38193731.jpgThen I had that vision of my old apartment, with a four years younger me, trying the tea I was so excited about, and not, to be honest, really loving the flavor. A little too fruity, a little artificial tasting. I hadn’t wanted another cup in four years. I hadn’t opened the packet to serve it to a guest. It was time to let go.

And then I remembered my loophole: my compost! Also known as the you-don’t-have-to-eat-that-shriveled-orange exemption, or the those-herbs-have-seen-better-days bin. 

Into the salad container in the freezer they go, like a limbo for sad produce and onion skins. And like that, years of letting this little mistake, this guilt-clutter, this biodegradable depravity, weigh me down like so many organic cement blocks, came to an end.

Back to the earth you go, poor little tea bags. May you come back as cherry tomatoes.



Tale of The Bag Lady


Every time I go to the grocery store around the corner, I bring a canvas or nylon tote with me. Because I don’t want to be this guy … And because every plastic bag I see gives me visions of a smoldering landfill in a post-apocalyptic future, bags swirling like crows in the air.

But in my effort to stay out of the cracked-up-enviro-loony bin, I let myself take home a load of groceries in a plastic bag when circumstances seem to require it. But I swear to myself: I will keep them, dammit! And I’ll reuse every one! 

My efforts are valiant: I use them to carry maybe-leaking containers of leftovers that I’ll eat for lunch. I use them to wrap my sneakers up when I pack a suitcase. I use them to carry disgusting, oozing compost from my apartment to the community garden.

Yet the bags somehow manage to outpace me. I use one as a bathroom trash can liner, and five show up in friends’ hands when they come over for a potluck. In recent months they finally filled up the bag-of-bags in my closet and began to spill onto the floor like crinkly dust bunnies.

It was time for a purge.

I remembered hearing that many stores were required by law to accept bags for recycling, and I was certain I’d seen a collection barrel at my local big chain grocery store. So for days—nay, weeks—I kept thinking in the back of mind: I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna clean out the bag mess in the closet. I’m gonna bag up all the bags and get them out of here once and for all. Bag bankruptcy. A fresh start, a new beginning! 

But you know how it goes. You’re busy. There are more urgent spring-cleaning priorities, like the stained kitchen mat or the grout in the shower. Not that I was going to get around to cleaning those, but there they were. So I set a date: the last week of May. By then I would have planted my garden (didn’t happen), celebrated my birthday (did happen), and finished a major project (phew!).

Memorial Day came and went, and it was time to Address The Bag Situation.

So you can see what I did, in that picture up at the top. See it? I bagged ’em. And I walked to the further away grocery store, because the one closest to me definitely does not offer the take-back service. But when I walked inside: no barrel. No bin. No take-backs.

What happened? I asked one of the cashiers. Didn’t you used to take back plastic bags?

“Yes,” she said, “We did. But the company who was supposed to collect them would never come. So we had to put them out by the dumpster.”

Words could not have expressed my dismay. The round-cheeked cashier with the lovely green headscarf gave me a friendly smile, and I tried to return it cheerfully. I tried not to look like a person whose dreams of spring-cleanliness and environmental heroism had just been crushed.

Those two bags-full-of-bags? They are sitting at this very moment on the floor of my kitchen, right where I photographed them, waiting for my next bright idea for their future.

New kid on the block: compost bike

Top speed: 100 miles/hour, I think.

Make way in the bike lane for the newest thing in biking and do-gooding! This new project, the NYC Excess Bodega Bike, combines some of my favorite things: Spain, innovation, and environmentalism, and puts them on wheels in the form of a custom cargo bike. Like something Mrs. Armitage would ride, this Franken-bike can weigh, carry, and compost food picked up from small, food-centered businesses like coffee shops and markets that are throwing it out. The edible food can still be eaten, the waste won’t end up in a landfill, and the compost will end up at a community garden. Winning!

This project was originally done in Madrid and known as Mermas Carrito, but the Bodega Bike bike was put together during a free, collaborative workshop at Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward, which is how I found out about it. Though the pick-up service is meant to be temporary, Excess is only partnering with businesses “in exchange for a commitment from the participating businesses to improve their food waste practices.”

Now I’m going to give away one of my million-dollar ideas: why not set this up as a social-purpose business? Waste disposal is a serious cost for businesses, and if someone can develop a business model that makes diverting organic waste to a composting program more affordable for anyone in the food industry, you’ve just won yourself a lot of clients. Coffee shops would hire you to pick up all those used-up grounds, and then someone else pays you for the compost you’ve produced with it. People are paying you left and right to just take care of a mountain of dirt, and the environment and your bank account are flush with green. I’ve been promising myself to look into this for some time.

Drop me a line if you want to go into business together. In the meantime, keep up with the food rescue and compost project on Excess NYC’s site, whose blog also has lots of other great learning for ya. 

My orange skirt will go to Africa

It’s the worst when your perfectly good rationalizations get popped like the over-inflated balloons they are.When I shelled out five bucks for an orange cotton skirt at a Brooklyn Industries sample sale, I told myself that I needed more skirts for the summer. Just a layer underneath that reason was the faith that I will manage my clothing supply properly. Inside the idea of “properly” is the belief that I shouldn’t own too much clothing and that I should be donating the excess to the less fortunate.

I grew up believing that having too much clothing is a problem because a) it means I might be shallow, b) it makes my room crowded and messy and c) it’s morally better to give away my clothing that I, in my selfish privilege, don’t even wear but keep around for kicks. The truth is, I loved shopping since I was a little kid. My room has been messy since I was a little kid. And my little sister was always a reliable repository for items I was only half willing to let go of.

But Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashionjust stuck a giant needle in my whole balloon. An excerpt of her book on Slate explains that we Americans donate so much clothing that one Salvation Army she visits in Brooklyn processes five tons of clothing. Every day. A tiny portion of that ends up in a thrift store. The rest gets shipped in gigundo squashed fabric bales to Africa, where guess what, it’s putting local textile makers out of business. And the more affluent African citizens become, and the more crap we send them, the less they want the dregs-of-the-barrel stuff we’re sending over there. Meaning they’re starting to want new H&M tops for $9.95 and our “donated” clothes might someday just end up in a landfill.

It’s a great skirt! For now . . .

One of Juliet Schor’s most memorable ideas in Plenitude (more on her book and ideas in this post) is what she calls “the aestheticization of everyday life.” Everyday life means that in the fall, you need a sweater. In the aestheticized version, you need a cute new sweater in the new hot color, and a pashmina scarf, and Uggs. And as clothing gets cheaper and cheaper, we can choose to go out with the old, in with the new with little hesitation. This is hard on our budgets, the environment (forget landfills, where’s all this stuff coming from?), and our fellow global citizens.

An article on Apartment Therapy referring to Cline’s book gives some great tips and links for recycling, reducing, and reusing your old clothes. My goal, as I grow up (maybe) and evolve (at a glacially slow pace) is to wean myself off of cheap clothing. No more letting a great price tag excuse me from really thinking about whether I need the thing in the first place and how long it’ll last. (Caveat: There’s a nasty ideological run-in here. Reading Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, I’m not sure I like the subtle restrictiveness that nice clothing imposes on women. Don’t get it dirty! Can’t run in those shoes. Don’t sweat in it – it’s silk!)

When I lived in Spain, I was told that Spanish women have very small, coordinated wardrobes. And damn if those women didn’t always look amazing. Of course, H&M came to that city the same year. But I still picture myself in the distant, ideal future as a classy woman happily living with a ten-hanger closet, a small dresser, and the ability to peel an orange with a knife.