Community Feedback on the Year Ahead

It’s been a little over 8 months since A Clean Life was brought into the world. It was quite an odd birth.

I had this idea. That’s it just an idea.

I began telling friends, family, and coworkers about it. To my amazement it ignited their passions. They enthusiastically encouraged me to keep developing the idea. Some began researching on their own and reporting back to me. Nearly all started telling me about anything environmentally friendly they were doing.

It was like standing up in a large room and having everyone look at you all of sudden. Then you mumble something about a good idea. Instantly every hand is raised and waiting to tell you something. I remember thinking that this was crazy. I mean how could I ignore such a reaction. What if I did ignore it.

I didn’t. I listened to the community, gauged its needs, and presented an idea. The results in my own life and those around me have been astounding. I tremble when I think of myself before A Clean Life. I am similarly shocked when I think of the changes others have made.

It has truly been awe inspiring. Thank you to all who are a part of the Clean Life community.

Community Feedback

As time rolls on and 2010 gets started we have some great plans to share. Our goals for the upcoming year are beginning to take shape:

  • Recycling in DC.
  • Farmers markets in the WMA – DC/MD/VA.
  • Create a philanthropic fund (achieve permanent funding for community initiatives).
  • And, most interestingly – lifestyle coaching.

These represent several weeks of brainstorming and research. The greatest opportunity to make the change that A Clean Life was created for.

As I begin to write up the strategy plan and call the board to order, I want some of your feedback. What do you think of them? What would you like to see me do?

Further, if you have been touched in any way by A Clean Life, please, share your story. Tell us what changes you made. Tell what you struggled with. Tell us what you need.

Your feedback is important!

Recycling in DC, Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince Georges

**This is cross posted on the Navstar blog, where I am the new Director of Green IT**

You may have recently read that Navstar introduced our Green IT program. We are very excited about this business line and the opportunity it provides for us to make a difference and help our community.

With that in mind we are happy to provide some green tips in our blog to help our local community.

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Did you know that most of us recycle less than we can?

In some communities we recycle up to 50% less than is possible. Your first explanation for this would be that a lot of us don’t care and are lazy. We dispute this claim.

In our experience, time and time again, we find that simply educating folks works. It works wonders.

To do our part we looked into our local counties/cities and their recycling programs. We found many helpful pages provided below. Each link takes you to an information page about recycling for that community.

A tip for these pages is to check back regularly. Most municipalities add to the list every year; I mean why not, the more they recycle the less it cost. That’s right, recyclable materials get sold as a commodity whereas they pay to landfill our trash.

Lastly, if you’ve got a little green in your heart we recommend creating a recyclables list. It helps you to memorize what can be recycled and you can post the list for your housemates to read.

Cash For Clunkers – A Review

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With all the hubub about ‘Cash for Clunkers‘ right now, I decided to look into what is going on from A Clean Life point of view.

First, a little about the program:

Take to a dealer any car not older than 25 years that gets less than 18 miles per gallon. Buy a new car that gets 4 or 10 miles per gallon more than your old one and the dealer will give you $3,500 or $4,500 (respectively).

Example: take in a 1998 Ford Explorer, currently the most commonly traded in clunker car type, that gets 14 mpg in the city for a 2009 Ford Focus, currently the most commonly purchased new car type, which gets 24 mpg in the city.

Since the program began on July 1, 2009, “the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that as of Saturday afternoon (August 1, 2009) 80,500 cars, averaging 15.8 miles per gallon, had been traded in for cars averaging 25.4 miles per gallon.” (from Washington Post)

The recent spate of news about the program is due to its apparent success. Congress had approved 1 billion for the program which was supposed to last until November 1, 2009. Instead the money is almost gone and reports are coming out that “U.S. auto sales rose to their highest levels of the year in July.” (from the same WaPo article).

Finally, just to round it out, the top new cars being sold are: (1) Ford Focus, (2) Toyota Corolla, (3) Honda Civic, (4) Toyota Prius, and (5) Toyota Camry. (Bloomberg, top cars purchased are foreign)

The Environment – Recycling

My first question in looking at this is the recycling program since we are scrapping old cars. What happens to all that metal, glass, rubber, and more. I can’t find any information on this.

There are reports that scrappers across the country are taking all the parts they can and reselling them (reuse!). Then putting in anywhere from “$700 to $1,200 to remove a car’s fluids, mercury switches, and Freon.” (CS Monitor)

But, according to the CNN video report included below, the rest is cubed into fist size metal chunks and then sold overseas.

This is annoying. We are exporting our trash and our raw materials overseas, just to be bought back once they recycle it for us. This sounds like a program not well thought through.

How hard would it have been to put in some incentives for recycling this material?

Support the recycling industry and create some green jobs in the process?

The Environment – Oil

I’m gonna take a holistic view on this one. Anything we can do to reduce our oil needs is of paramount importance. Not only does this help get us out of the pockets of world evil doers it also lessens our ‘oil addiction’. Our oil addiction runs so deep that we even use 19% of our imports on our food.

Getting us all less dependent on oil, making less trips to gas stations, and spurring demand for technology that can gives us greater than 20 mpg is fantastic (cash for clunkers requires the new car purchased to have at least 22 mpg).

I fully support this program for this aspect alone. With our current state of affairs where our technology and environmental needs so far behind it would be way to easy to say this falls short. Many are doing just that and clamoring for even more stringent needs.

That is good and needed, but I do recognize the chicken/egg problem here. We have to start somewhere, which is better than not starting at all.

CNN Clip on Clash for Clunkers

A Clean Life Interviews – Dave Cacner

I love being a part of a community with A Clean Life. There are so many people living the way we all can/should. Here is one, Dave Cacner, an avid composter. Read on as Dave shares some of his clean lifestyle with us:

What is the favorite environmental thing you do?
It’s a toss-up between making compost and recycling/reusing what I can.  I’ll take whatever vegetable matter we don’t use in the house and compost it.  I’ve even been known to empty the vacuum cleaner bag or take out the dryer lint and add them to the compost pile.  In terms of recycling, I recycle whatever paper we have down to the paper price tags that come on clothing or even toilet paper rolls.

How close to zero waste are you?
Pretty close.  We don’t subscribe to the twice-weekly garbage service.  First of all it’s way overpriced, and since I live less than 3 miles from the Fairfax County transfer station, it’s really easy to justify not paying $30 a month for garbage/recycling pickup.  I estimate that our family of 3 puts out less than 1 large garbage bag a week, or about 3-4 plastic grocery bags worth of garbage.  The rest is composted or recycled!  Or reused.

How do the other people in your life take to this?
My wife and daughter tolerate my cause and of course recycle the standard fare; i.e. newspapers, junk mail, bottles, cans, etc.  And they also diligently fill up our composter under the sink.  Of course, I have to take it outside whenever it’s overflowing.  As far as my friends and neighbors, I think they are somewhat envious, especially when I tell them my garbage bill is around $6.00 a month.  I haven’t seen anyone give up the “convenience” of having the garbage trucks drive through the neighborhood at 7 AM during the week.

What are the benefits you have found in doing all this?
I feel good about how our family is making a difference by reducing the garbage we produce and even in suburbia I feel connected to the land through my composting.

What are you trying to do next?
Your questions have made me think about starting a garden next year.  Every year I think about it and then it’s too late to plant anything.  I’d also like to start buying more local foods and visit farmers markets as part of our normal grocery-gathering.

Do you compost? Describe your process, bins do you use (inside/out), any problems, has it become habitual?
Yes!  I’ve been composting since we moved into our home back in 1995.  I had been just putting the grass clippings in the woods when my wife came across The Rodale Book of Composting on sale at Borders one weekend.  I highly recommend this for beginners and those who want to understand the history and science behind composting.  It really energized me into composting more than just grass clippings.  I went out and purchased two plastic bins, one green and one black (similar to this photo) through a Montgomery County Maryland subsidization program several years ago.  The county was offering them for only $5 each while Home Depot had them for around $30 each, and I haven’t found anything so reasonable since.  If I could, I’d buy a couple more to put out in the woods.  As you research this, you don’t need fancy bins…and don’t waste your money on those rotating cement mixer-like contraptions offering to turn your garbage into dirt in mere days.  Just make a pile in the corner of your yard and toss your clippings and table scraps in there turning periodically.  You’ll be surprised how easy (and fun) it is.

As it is, if I fill up both bins and seem to have more to compost than can fit neatly into the containers.  I throw grass, hedge trimmings, coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, dryer lint, dog hair, fireplace ashes, etc. into the green bin to work awhile.  Then after a few months (with no action on my part) or a few weeks (with periodic turning) I move the semi-composted muck into the black bin to work a little more until it’s ready for screening.  If I did nothing to the piles, in about a year I would have “black gold” or very rich dirt.  If I were to turn the piles more often, adding water and mixing everything up while exposing the bacteria to air, I’d have that rich dirt in a couple of weeks.

When I’m ready to make soil, all I do is take a homemade screen from 2X4’s and galvanized hardware cloth and sift out the twigs, rocks, and other materials that don’t break down so rapidly.  I place the screen over my wheelbarrow, mix in some peat moss, and shovel the resulting soil into used mulch bags.  Earlier this summer I made about 5 cubic yards of soil in about an hour.  The flowers love it!

Really I don’t have any problems with the compost.  Fortunately our HOA allows compost bins and the neighbors don’t mind.  Of course I offer them some of the dirt for their plantings.  We never have to buy dirt or potting soil and whenever we plant any bushes or flowers, I always add a shovelful of my compost to help enrich the clay soil we have in Northern Virginia.

What has been the hardest part about your composting?
Not having time to get out and work the piles.  It really helps to turn the piles as the more air you introduce the faster it turns into soil.

What are you growing in your garden?
Sadly nothing.  One of my projects this summer will be to build some boxes that I can attach to my deck…something along the lines of this.

Where do you get your food from? Farmers Markets? Hardcore locavore?
Mostly Wegmans.  I’m working on the Farmers Markets :-)

What kind of trash bins does your city provide to you?
N/A.  We have some recycling bins and a wheeled garbage can that the previous owners left us.  I have two bins for recycling newspapers and other paper products including the paperboard boxes such as cereal comes in as well as the traditional junk mail.  I also have 3 bins for aluminum, plastic (1 & 2), and glass.  I really wish the county would start taking some of the other types of plastic…I really feel guilty throwing out the butter dishes and non-1&2 type PET.

Creative Reuse

Picture 1Creative Reuse: the process of taking used or recycled materials and turning them into artwork.

I stumbled across the Long Beach Creative Reuse Depot through a recommendation from a friend. What a place! I have to go and visit.

A quick check on the website shows that they have tons of items, multiple local artists, and accept a crazy amount of items, here is just a few from the list (of over 50 items):

textiles, paper, wood, metal, glass, plastics and any other item that seems “too good to throw away”

Watch the video and get your art on!

This Week in Links – Greenerize

Since I began down this path to become the ultimate Trashman I am getting so many links from friends and family. They are amazing and perfect discussion starters, so thanks everyone! Keep em coming.

Valley Farm, West Wratting
Valley Farm, West Wratting

Rather than read them and realize all this ultimate knowledge myself I decided to share them with the world. Here they are, enjoy.

And, finally an amazing slideshow about bottled water from Scott McKimmey:

My Visit to Whole Foods Compost

Tonight I visited the Whole Foods stores of Washington D.C. and spoke with a nice lady named Erin. She is a part of the green mission for the market super chain. Thank you very much Erin for showing me around the compost operations.

Whole Foods is truly a unique operation in that it actually has a green mission. The mission is a part of its core values to care “About Our Communities & Our Environment”. Now, I bet most of you are thinking that this is another corporate ploy. I had the same thought and so I used this opportunity to discover for myself.

Right when I arrived at the Tenleytown store, Erin greeted me and we began discussing the internal workings of the composting business. We talked about facilities, pick-ups, and different types of decomposition. She explained how the stores she works with are cutting their waste disposal costs in half by actively engaging in composting. They are able to divert very high percentages of their waste away from landfills. Something in the range of 80-90%, very close to being a zero waste corporation.

That right there was enough for me. Here is a large operation that could be sending out many tons of waste each day to our landfills. Instead they are being proactive, saving money, and proving that it works.

As we continued along, Erin showed me how she implemented these features in the store. At nearly every location where a trash can existed there was also a recycle bin and a compost bin. Now anyone involved in recycling knows that sorting this stuff is tough. Yet the employees had worked this into their daily activities, it was almost second nature. It was really cool to watch one worker spend the time to break down and compact some cardboard, instead of just wheel it outside to the dumpster.

An interesting side note is that all of this is hidden from the customers. We definitely live in a bubble wrapped world.

Other features of the operation were that as the process grew she was working on making everything in the store recycled. The actual trash bins were few and far between (most that I did see were for the customers). The large trash chutes and compactors were now being used for compost and recycling, rather than for landfill trash.

Can you imagine working in an environment with only recycle/compost bins and no trash cans?

I’m not sure these workers ever imagined that, but here they are working that way. They were deeply involved in a quiet compost revolution at their stores.

Overall it was quite an impressive operation and I walked away impressed and hopeful for this nonprofit’s future.

Thanks again Erin.

P.S. thanks to the @wholefoods twitter account for this informative tweet. Also, here is a link to their blog about their compost operations.