Creation Care Blog #4
Advanced Recycling – Update
Hi No Wallers! As we roll into a cold, wet start to 2020, I just wanted to give an update about one of my most favoritest topics in the whole world…advanced recycling! In particular, the Terracycling that we have been doing religiously (haha) for a year now.
In a word, it has been great – every few months I box up all the lovely mylar (or personal car, or oral care, or contact lenses) that you have been bringing to CWOW first Sunday of the month and send it off to be recycled. We keep stuff out of landfills, keep corporations accountable for making their products recyclable (even if it is not cost-efficient for municipalities to do it), and it keeps us conscious as consumers about the packaging we inadvertently buy. Kids and coworkers, neighbors and friends can all help collect, and it is a small daily eco-warrior activity that can be done with just a little bit of forethought.
This month was particularly nice in that I had THREE large boxes to send, which is particularly satisfying – mylar, personal care, and contact lenses. As you can imagine, mylar ships out quickly with the sheer volume that comes in…I can usually send out a box every month or two (that’s a lot of chips and snacks, people!) But other things take months to fill a box big enough to be worth the shipping, and those might only amount to a box or two a year. The personal care is particularly gratifying because after you subtract large shampoo and lotion bottles that can easily go curbside, a lot of our personal care products are small, strange amalgamations of hard plastics that are amongst the most difficult to recycle. So helping them along their way to a second life becoming a park bench or a trash bin when their #1/#2/#3/#4 cousin plastics always have been able to, is a nice feeling and one that gives me a particular thrill. Go us!
On contact lenses, I have news – not only are the blister packs of daily contact lenses a mix of hard plastic and mylar, and not only can the used contact lenses THEMSELVES be recycled (it’s a polymer, baby!) – we now no longer have to worry about the carbon footprint of shipping them! There are multiple places in the Bay Area, and one right here on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, that serves as a free drop-off point for these items. I walked into Berkeley Optometry Group with my large 10lb+ box and was nervous as I eyed their small collection bin (nearly full and smaller than my entire box), but they happily took our entire collection straight to the back to include in their large scale shipments. If it’s anything like the nitrile gloves and labwear recycling I used to do at Space Sciences Lab, it could go as an entire pallet – hundreds of pounds of recyclables diverted from landfills.
On a side note, people often ask me what it takes to organize Terracycling on a large scale. Not much really – some time and a certain lack of squeamishness mostly – but a well-organized storage space for the month(s) between shipments is key. My goal this year was to make a weather resistant space, lofted off the ground, that tucked away nicely, was easily accessible, free from critters, and easy to ship off. While Alex and I dream about a custom shed that we may or may not get around to building this year, I decided to do a quick revamp of my current storage. In the winter I get especially lazy and throw everything, literally, on the driveway and under a tarp. But then I am always fighting the elements and creatures of the night come shipping time. Ever try to dry off 50 lbs of Terracycling on a rare sunny day in January? Or be disproportionately sad when the perfect sized box is ruined by rain? Yes, I’ve collected scattered scraps of mylar from all over my driveway and garden because I was too lazy to store them properly when they first came in. And thrown in bags of Terracycling in with my kids’ toys cos I’m too tired to sort them too!
So step one – keep it from getting wet. Take apart a solid wooden bookshelf that was no longer storing toys efficiently for said lovely solid wood boards. Loft on old bricks we have around from taking down our chimney, building pseudo sides from stacking milk crates (thanks Javier and Mi Tierra!) and laying another board on top. Done. Step two, keep it from being tempting for critters (see step one, and thank you guys for capping food pouches and keeping things generally clean!). Step three – collect perfect sized boxes FIRST, then use it to collect items directly. No transferring to larger boxes, no juggling multiple boxes or bags or other hodgepodge collections because when these are filled I can just tape em and ship em, as is. Tuck behind water-resistant exterior fabric curtains. Pretty enough to host a party and yet right there when I need them. Clap hands happily.
Overall, we’ve gathered enough points to be able to donate about $700 to a charity of our choice. It’s not exact – one of my goals for this year is to have a better method by which to keep track of our shipments (weight, category, and points collected). But pretty impressive! Let’s talk about where we’d like the secondary impact of the points we’ve earned go – a nice financial tie-in to all our work.
New things to try to Terracycle for 2020: Brita filters and pitchers, Air Care products (air fresheners of all types except aerosol cans), and Swiffer products (Swiffer, Dusters, and WetJet pads).
Also on my to-do list for this year – delve deep into the world of plastic film recycling, particularly when stores like Whole Foods and Target offer “store drop off” of plastic bags and plastic film. What does that mean? Where does it go? What actually happens to everything that gets dropped off? Anyone want to go all investigative reporter with me on this – let’s do it!
Cheers, Darlene Yan