Gathered in a room with about forty people at Southdale Library, Josh and I spent a few hours learning more about recycling, composting, and developing our Zero Waste action plan. We certainly learned a lot and gained a new perspective on this Zero Waste Challenge.
First, the goal of this challenge is not as drastic as it seems. While the name implies ‘Zero Waste’, the goal isn’t for its participants to be able to fit a year’s worth of trash into a Mason jar (Google: waste jar challenge – you’ll be astounded). I don’t think our family could ever be that extreme, nor do I want to! Instead, we were taught to pick 2-3 things we wanted to start doing or eliminate. Once that perspective was shared, it didn’t seem as daunting as we had thought. Whew. Like any goal, break it into manageable pieces and it is attainable.
What really is in your trash?
Before attending the workshop, we had to conduct a trash audit. You can find the form here. The purpose of the audit is to examine and analyze what is in your trash and recycling. For us, there were a lot of tissues, paper napkins, food packaging, mail, food waste, and bathroom disposables like cotton rounds, Dixie cups, and flossers. Which of these items could be replaced or reduced?
Setting our goals
Our trash audit presented us with some clear opportunities:
1. Reduce junk mail – we were recycling a ton of unnecessary paper
2. Reduce plastic bag use in the produce department – we were reusing the bags as garbage liners, or dropping them off for store recycling
3. Begin composting – a lot of bathroom and kitchen waste can be recycled
We figured these three goals would be a good start on our journey.
So we’ve been “wish-cycling”?
Apparently we’ve been doing recycling wrong. And I’m guessing the majority of people are doing it incorrectly too. We learned of the term wish-cycling: tossing things in the recycle bin, hoping they can be recycled. It does more harm than good (contaminates the batch of recyclables, which could then end up in the landfill). The Eden Prairie Recycling Guide is helpful, but not all-inclusive. I would check specifically with your hauler to see what they will or will not accept.
Here are changes we are immediately making to our recycling:
- Egg cartons – these are normally made from recycled pulp, which is the end life stage of recyclables (meaning they can’t be recycled into new products) –> drop off empty cartons at PROP Food Shelf to be reused for their clients
- Shredded paper – you think paper is recyclable, which it is, but the shredded stuff ends up all over the machines and conveyor belts (think: a bag of confetti exploding) –> throw it in the trash instead, or reduce what you are shredding, or better yet, switch to electronic versions of whatever you were shredding
- Black plastic trays – these types of products are problematic as they cannot be properly identified by automatic sorting systems –> throw in the trash instead
- Tissue paper – made from already recycled paper and can’t be recycled again –> keep this in mind with the holidays approaching!
When in doubt, throw it out!
Tell me more about this compost thing
Did you know four cities in Minnesota currently offer curbside pickup of organics? Fridley, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, and Hutchinson residents are able to place their organic waste (food scraps, non-recyclable papers, compostable plastics) in compostable bags and specific carts, and have them hauled away. While that is not an option at this time for residents of Eden Prairie, we do have the option of dropping off organics at the Bloomington Drop-Off Facility at no charge.
We were surprised to learn that a lot of the program participants were already doing some sort of composting, whether at home or curbside. Our trash audit revealed that a lot of our waste could be diverted from the trash stream, and instead composted at home.
Aimed with our three action items, our groups connected one last time with our Hennepin County staff liaison, and vowed to never again use a straw or plastic bag. Kidding. We committed to signing up for at least one upcoming zero waste workshop, and to reach out to our liaison with any concerns. It was reassuring and inspiring to hear other participant’s stories and why they applied for the program. Everyone is at their own place in this sustainable living journey. Here’s to the next 7 months!