"Dig It" is dedicated to expanding understanding of the role composting plays in waste reduction. Cassie Bartholomew, drug program manager for StopWaste.Org, view supports teachers and students in the implementation of bay friendly school gardens and composting programs in Alameda County. If you have a question about composting or bay friendly gardening, order send it our way. Cassie and her team will dig deep to get you the information you need!
I was asked recently how working at the iRecycle@school Ed Center has changed my views on waste. It sounds odd, but I have actually become less interested in recycling. Please do not misunderstand me; if something is able to be recycled, I make sure to put it in the recycling bin and I still pull other people's recyclables out of the garbage if I can.
But what I have come to learn is that recycling and composting are not enough. The 4R's —Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot— are in a hierarchy for a reason. Reduce is the most important to practice, but even I still struggle with it.
Many of my favorite foods, almond milk in particular, are packaged in composite material that is difficult or impossible to reuse, recycle, or rot. Most of the products I come across that I cannot recycle or compost are composite materials.
The Tetra Brik, made by Tetra Pak, is the epitome of composite material and is the type of container that my almond milk is packaged in. It has three layers of polyethylene, a layer of aluminum, and a layer of paperboard. According to their website, Tetra Brik cartons are accepted in many curbside recycling programs, but by talking with representatives in the waste industry I know that they are not usually recycled.
One of the biggest realizations I have had this year is that recycling is an industry; even if something is technically recyclable, it will only be recycled if economically viable. Recycling is the process of using the material in old items to make something new, not just putting something in the recycling bin.
I have often considered writing my favorite grocery store and saying that I will no longer buy my favorite products unless they are packaged in material that can be reused, recycled or rotted. But I have not written this letter because I like the product and as of yet have been unwilling to go without it. The idea of avoiding all disposable products that that are made of or packaged in composite material seems daunting. But then I remind myself that these are relatively new products; I may have grown up with them, but my grandparents certainly didn't. We have made many great advances since then, but the disposable culture that we have grown accustomed to is unsustainable. Change can be slow and difficult and doing the right thing isn't always easy, but maybe together we can find the strength to reduce and reach a Zero Waste world.
Desiree DiFranco is an Environmental Education Associate in the iRecycle@School program
Eboni Haynes: Bridge Builder
medicine being an African American woman and being from Texas. I never thought that there would be a moment where my security would feel disrupted, ed but through working as an environmental educator, adiposity I have had the opportunity to think deeper about my identity in both of these areas.I have always been really secure in two areas of my life,
Working at the Ed Center opened up a whole new world for me. Being that I am a Texas native, my knowledge of recycling is little to none. Also, in the environmental field, almost no one looks like me, and more often than not, I am afraid that my lack of knowledge would add to stereotypical ideas about African Americans.
I felt stuck in the middle, trying to figure out how to bridge my past to this new world, and I found myself full of emotion, seesawing between teaching and learning, but never feeling that I am able to do both.
Nevertheless, although I may not look like my coworkers or share their California Green upbringing, many of the students that come here look as I do. I wondered about these students and if they had received a California green upbringing or did race and socioeconomic background hinder it. For some reason I felt that it had. It is possibly a gut feeling; a personal connection with these kids.
That thought birthed in me the idea that I could be an example of change, that students who come to us could feel known and secure in this space, whether that be in terms of race, culture, or socioeconomic background.
A bridge is a structure that is "stuck" in between two places. Whether stretching over valleys, oceans, or highways, the purpose of a bridge is to connect and sustain. Once, I had to cross a flimsy bridge swaying over rushing water in the middle of an Island in the Philippines.
I was afraid, but my friends and I made the trek over the long loose bridge because we knew that the person waiting for us had prepared something special. She wanted to share with us a bit of her life –she wanted to be known. On the way home, we had to cross that same bridge again, but this time we were taking something back with us: the experience of having been known in an unfamiliar place.
I want to be a bridge not just for the convenient tool of connection but also in order to share what I have learned by being stuck between two worlds. I have yet to figure out my destiny in all of this, but I know that I have learned things that will influence my own family someday.
Eboni Haynes is an Environmental Education Associate at the iRecycle@School Education Center.
Born on EarthDay: Desiree DiFranco
In approaching the question, "How did you become interested in environmental issues?" most peoples' answers involve a specific event or time in their lives. But, my easy answer is that I was born an environmentalist. That's not to say that my parents were particularly interested in environmental issues, but rather that my birthday just so happens to be Earth Day.
I can't remember ever not caring about the planet. If I had to pinpoint an exact time, then my environmental awareness and dedication truly took hold around the age of eight.
In third grade, I was Mother Earth for Halloween. I don't know how I came up with this idea, but my mom supported me by adapting a pumpkin pattern in order to make me a planet costume. My parents also gave me a book titled, "101 Things a Kid Can Do to Save the Planet." I studied it and implemented what I could do.
One tip that stood out to me was to recycle so I badgered my parents until they did, and if they forgot I would take the item from the trash, bring it to them and hold it up saying, "This belongs in the recycling bin!" They may have gotten a little exasperated but were pretty good natured about it. It wasn't long before recycling became a part of the household. I have since learned that although recycling is important, it is actually low on the 4Rs hierarchy. My mom was particularly sad to learn the plastics are actually downcycled – in particular that the water bottles she buys will never become new bottles. This is why "reduce" is number one R. Unfortunately it is a much it is a more difficult behavioral change, but I am optimistic.
Working at the Ed Center and teaching students who are around the same age I was when I started my environmental career has been a wonderful experience. I can only hope that their parents are as supportive and willing to learn as mine are. And, perhaps one day when they are asked as adults how they became environmentally aware, they may answer, "Well, when I was in fourth grade, I went on this really cool field trip ..."
Desiree DiFranco is an Environmental Education Associate in the iRecycle@School program.
Amanda Kay- First Impressions of the Transfer Station
One of the first things visitors tend to notice at the Davis Street Transfer Station is the large amount of birds that swarm the grounds. Several species such as Western gulls, Starlings, and Turkey Vultures consider the facility's 53 acres of land their home.
A common question then is, "Why are there so many birds here?" Our answer is simply, "The Pit," or more specifically: because of what is found inside the garbage pit. Food scraps make their way into garbage bins, which are then transferred to the pit, and ultimately end their journey at the Altamont Landfill in Livermore. The most recent study of Alameda County's trash indicates over 40% of materials going into landfills could be composted. These scraps along with yard debris should be placed inside green bins so they can be turned into fresh compost.
Waste Management is doing their best to deter birds from landing here by putting up wires and nets, and even by having a falconer. People may not realize that birds can be a nuisance, interrupting the efficiency of work performed here, and at worst, they may become injured by machinery. Always think before you toss something in the trash. Once you've finished a delicious meal with friends and family, ask yourself, "Where should I throw my leftover food scraps and paper plate?" Soon, using your green bin because second nature.
When you use your green bin, not only do you close the loop by returning nutrients into the soil with nourishing compost, but you also give wildlife like birds one less reason to congregate at the local transfer station!
Amanda Kay is an Environmental Education Associate in StopWaste's iRecycle@School program.
Mike Shea – How I Became Interested the Environment
When I was a sophomore in high school I took an advanced placement class in environmental science. Aside from watching nature programs as a kid I didn't have any involvement in or interest in learning about nature. The only reason I took the class was because I thought it would look good on a college application. To my surprise, I found the material to be more engaging and interesting than my other classes because the concepts we discussed pertained to current environmental problems affecting the world.
During spring break I attended the class field trip to Baja California, where we did a research project for the Mexican government concerning the population of echinoderms within their oceans. As a part of our research we camped on the island of Espiritu Esanto for eight days, learning how to live more simplistically as to not disturb the native species there.
Approaching the island on the first day I could not help but notice the water surrounding the boat. It was so clear I could see fish swimming on the sandy ocean bottom. I have grown up in the Bay Area, taken trips to Hawaii and Lake Tahoe but I have never seen water that clean. Our research involved counting the number of echinoderms within a transect of 30ft on the ocean floor in various environments. We waded through rocky tide pools, along the tangled roots of mangrove forests, and dove down into brightly colored reefs.
A senior researcher explained to me that echinoderm populations were slowly dwindling due to over fishing, when I inquired as to the pristine conditions of the island he told me Espiritu Santo was protected as a biosphere. If it was not he feared development of the island would have polluted its waters, driven away sea life, and endangered the mangrove forests as had happened to many other regions in Mexico. At that moment I realized I wanted to defend natural areas so others would have a chance to experience and enjoy them as I have.
Mike Shea is an Environmental Education Associate in StopWaste's iRecycle@School program.
At the end of each tour, chaperones will often come up to me and tell me how educational the tour has been, not only for the students, but for themselves!
The secret is: our program is also meant for the adult chaperones and teachers that attend. When hosting tours, we have the attention of about 30 students, 1 teacher, and between 3-7 adult chaperones, mostly parents. When you do the math for the 260 tours given this year, that's about 7,800 students, and over 1,500 adults who have received an in depth program on responsible recycling practices. In the program, we add adult information such as where to bring HHW and E-Waste, or where to put your used coffee filters. One can say that our tours are like a good Pixar movie: directed towards kids, but humor and content for adults as well.
I have found through my previous experiences as a Recycling Coordinator, that although it is important to speak to residents and businesses about recycling, it can be extremely effective to educate our youth, who will not only become our adult population in the near future, but who are also very good at teaching their parents!
Recycling is about creating behavioral changes, which is often easier for students, as adults are used to behaviors that they have been practicing for years. Considering our program is a full two hours of in-depth information, we are not only giving our student and adult leaders the correct "insider" information, but also translating the information in an easily digestible way, and can therefore be easily executed.
Our student and chaperone participants are from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds, socio-economic levels, and access to programs. They might already be recycling savvy, or perhaps they have never learned about recycling before. Our hope is that all of our participants, whether students or chaperones, will have the information they need to improve their recycling not only at home, but also at school or work.
At the end of the day, I am happy to have taught my class of students, but also know in the back of my mind that I made an impact on the adults too. Behavioral change happens on many fronts, from receiving that flier from a public event, to seeing that billboard in the Bart station, or that neighbor who religiously sets out their 96gal recycling each week with only a 20gal garbage can. I know that after our participants have been through our two-hour program, they will be one step closer to championing behavior practices that will be passed on for generations to come. One thing we teach our students that hits home even for our adults is that our non-renewable resources won't come back once we use them all. The 4 R's might seem pretty simple, but they speak loudly and clearly to everyone.
**For any of your recycling questions, please visit our Alameda County Recycling Guide at www.stopwaste.org
The soil under our feet is 'an ecosystem unto itself,' and yet, as Soil Scientist and UC Berkeley professor, Step hen Andrews exclaims, we continue to "...treat [it] like dirt!" Quick fixes lead to the overuse of synthetic fertilizers, heavy equipment and careless feet destroy soil structure that took thousands of years to create. But there is something we can do, to renew our soil. This school year, irecycle@school Ed Center staff members got their hands dirty by spreading the word about compost with Davis St Transfer Station Earth Day worm investigations, maintaining and harvesting a worm bench, and learning even more about compost's benefits through a Compost EarthCare Workshop at the Redwood Landfill Commercial Compost Facility in Novato.
Compost is a nutrient-rich material that is added to the soil to make it healthy. Moreover, it releases those nutrients slowly over time so that baby plants are not over-nourished. The Worm Investigation Booth at Earth Day event that I led in Aprilgave children and their guardians the chance to explore our Ed Center worm bin and to feed the worms with 'vegan' options like eggshells, tea bags, fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds and filters. After learning about decomposers, each child took action by spreading a scoopful of compost in our Bay-Friendly Garden as a non-toxic alternative to improving soil health and structure. In May, Ed Center staff also harvested worm castings from the worm bench. The harvest was plentiful and we spread the vermicompost slurry throughout our bay-friendly garden. These events gave many a chance, including myself, to become re-introduced to the wonderful world of worms and to appreciate the work that they do.
We know that other organics like meat, bones, eggshells, greasy paper, and dairy can be put in the green bin. What about biodegradable products and pet waste?
At the Ed Centers, we've added a new image for our Rot quiz to explain pet waste. It turns out the feces of our herbivorous friends like rabbits, hamsters, and birds are fine, but those of dogs and cats contain disease-causing pathogens. So, keepyour doggy bags and kitty litter away from the green can and the sewage system. Biodegradable products such as starch-based utensils, compost bags, and bioplastic cups are alternatives to oil-based products; however, they do not readily break down during commercial scale composting. Commercial compost facilities do not facilitate the break down of such products because they require high heat for longer periods of time. At the Redwood Compost Facility in Marin County, they monitor and turn the wind rows for 30 days in 130 degrees F before sifting out the finished product. They are still there, intact, when the yard debris and food scraps have turned into finished compost. With so many decisions about what to buy or use, and how to dispose of it, things can get very confusing. Bio-plastic products (#7) will contaminate the recycling process for other rigid plastics.
Just like planting seeds in hard soil can be difficult, efforts to introduce adults to new ideas and change behaviors and attitudes can prove fruitless. So, why not add a little compost? By educating the youth and transforming them into 4R's experts, they become the teachers at home. That way, slowly and gradually, generations past, present, and future, may learn to value and respect our resources, especially our soil.
This year's annual Earth Day event sponsored by StopWaste.Org, Waste Management, Inc and WM Earth Care, offered many exciting opportunities for Alameda County families to learn about the 4 R's and what goes on at the Davis Street Transfer Station in S an Leandro. Adults and children could attend workshops, discover the wonders of a worm bin, plant a seed in reuse egg cartons and locally generated compost, and even make their own recycled paper! Least of all, there were driving tours of the facility that I co-led with the Materials Recovery Facility (M.R.F.) Manager, and that Andrew Sloan co-led with Senior District Manager, Jack Isola.
As we ambled the terrain in a comfy green Bauer's charter bus, visitors as well as myself, learned more about the finer details of operation in addition to Davis Street's latest construction project: a tipping floor for commercial and residential green waste drop off. The exciting project strives for sustainability and will be LEED Gold certified upon completion. In fact, 28% of the construction materials will be recovered from the transfer station's own construction and demolition M.R.F. Members of the public as well as Waste Management green waste trucks will bring material here, in a contained environment, to stay before being sent to a composting facility in Modesto, San Jose, or Novato. Contained green waste means less smells wafting to neighbors. The building blocks wind, preventing green waste from flying away, and helps to keep local wildlife outside and safe. What's more, the constructed space will allow room to recover organic debris from select loads of trash, further diverting compostables from the landfill.
The last stop of the driving tour included a stop at the curbside recycling M.R.F., where residents heard an insider's view of best practices. Davis Street Transfer Station's Recycling Supervisor, George Atristain, advised bags containing plastic bags to be brought back to the local grocery store, where they have bins designated for bag recycling. While M.R.F. hand sorters do pick out bags of plastic bags, it is preferred for them to be kept out of the recycling bin as they often jam machinery. On another note, he recommends not tying plastic bags that contain recyclables, as it makes it easier for materials to fall out and get sorted while they move through the hand sorters and machines on a conveyer belt! All of these efforts at home will help staff more efficiently separate and bale materials: up to 200 bales a day are sold, loaded into shipping containers, trucked to the Port of Oakland, which are then loaded onto cargo ships headed to remanufacturing plants, most of which are in China. There, bag of bags are hand-sorted by specialists based on the characteristics of the film plastic. Visitors are reminded by this visit that their steps to practice the 4 R's make a difference after it leaves their curbside once a week!
The school year is almost over and we are giving our final 4th grade tours at the Fremont irecycle@school Education Center. Since the beginning of the year, we have had two major additions to the Ed Center. There is a beautiful mural of a tropical marine habitat reminding visitors that storm water drains go directly to the bay; it is not cleaned before it flows into creeks, rivers, estuaries and oceans. Which means it is very important to keep trash as well as toxic liquids like motor oil off our streets so they don't pollute our water. Please drop-off your household hazardous waste at the collection center at the Transfer Station.
Another addition is a flat panel TV screen in-between our Reduce and Recycle station that gives up-to-the-minute information about solar energy collection in the solar panels at the facility. The 1,700 solar panels that have been installed create up to 90% of the energy that the whole facility needs to be run. During our presentation, we explain to the students how these solar panels are a perpetual renewable energy and what a valuable contribution this facility is doing to reduce their carbon footprint.
The biggest difference at the Transfer Station since the beginning of the year, say some of the staff, is that their recycling intake has increased. It seems to be a trendthat each year the recycling intake increases from the previous year. Administrative staff added that the volume of phone calls from the public asking about what can and can't be thrown into the recycling bin has increased. I hope this means that the people are becoming more aware of how important it is to recycle correctly – putting the right thing in the right place.
Bruce Fritz, the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Manager, has noticed an increase in the volume of HHW that the public is dropping off. The winter season is usually the slowest season, he said, but this year there was a lot more traffic than in previous winters. In addition, he has noticed how much the Reuse area of HHW is being utilized. If what the public drops off at the HHW facility is still useable, for example, cans of paint, an employee puts these products on a shelf in the Reuse room for other residents to come by and take for free. All you have to do for this service is be an Alameda County resident and fill out a waiver.
I cannot help but wonder how much our StopWaste.Org education programs help with these increasing trends. We will continue our efforts to spread the 4R's to as many 4th grade classrooms and schools in Alameda County in the years to come and we look forward to seeing these trends increase and practicing the 4R's become a way of life.