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Tales from the Pit

Changing Opinions


Guest post by Desiree DiFrancoGuest post by Desiree DiFrancoI 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.

Packaged Almond MilkPackaged Almond Milk

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

Building Bridges


Eboni Haynes: Bridge Builder

Eboni HaynesEboni HaynesI have always been really secure in two areas of my life, 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.

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


Born on EarthDay: Desiree DiFranco

Desiree DiFranco as Mother EarthDesiree DiFranco as Mother EarthIn 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.

First Impressions of the Transfer Station


Amanda Kay- First Impressions of the Transfer Station

Amanda KayAmanda KayOne 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.

How I Became Interested in the Environment


Mike Shea – How I Became Interested the Environment

Mike SheaMike SheaWhen 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.