Posts filed under ‘Recycling and garbage disposal’

Home Renovation: Demolish your waste

Meet my friend, Mr. Rip & Tear

This past November weekend was gorgeous here in Toronto. While we’d had snow by this time last year, I have flowers blooming in the containers on my doorstep (no, I haven’t finished winterizing my garden yet). I didn’t spend a lot of time outside, however, because it was time to replace our back door. What can I say, it’s a great source of fresh air (even when shut).

Like many renovation jobs, however, you can’t just take measurements, swap in the new thing and be finished. Oh no. “What are the brick-to-brick measurements?” the door store would like to know. We have to get a custom-sized door because it’s a small opening size, and we’d like to install the door ourselves, since installation service seems to cost about $400.

To determine the brick-to-brick measurements, we had to strip off all the wall materials and trim around the door. Easy, right? Well, two days later we’d pulled down two small interior walls and all kinds of cladding, dealt with some odd wiring and become pros with a reciprocating saw (aka Mr. Rip & Tear). We could see the mortar and brick around the door to take measurements, and uh oh, we had a lot of waste to deal with.

Here are a few ideas on how to reduce the waste:
– Pull nails from all of the structural wood you’re ripping out. Good straight 2x4s, and even long pieces of 2×4, are certainly worth reusing. If you can’t reuse them, freecycle them.
– If you’re getting material hauled away, look for a company that recycles. Many can recycle wood.
– Freecycle or donate any fixtures, switch plate covers and other materials you remove.
– Keep a box of hazardous materials, such as old smoke detectors, for disposal at a designated municipal site.
– Offer chunks of unpainted wood to someone with a fireplace. Bits of wood can make great kindling!

How have you dealt with your construction waste?

November 23, 2009 at 5:48 PM 1 comment

Ontario Tire Stewardship rolls out plan for used tires

iStock_tiresWho can forget the Hagersville, Ont. tire fire of 1990? For me it’s the images of millions of burning tires, smouldering toxins curling into the sky, an unhealthy situation that could have been avoided if tires were recycled, not just collected in a heap. Tires were collected, for a fee, so lots of people just keep them. Now often they do get new life, as bumpers along docks, or are mooring buoys, in my experience.

But now tire recycling in Ontario is going to become a formal program. The Used Tires Program is funded by the tire industry, and managed by the Ontario Tire Stewardship. According to their media release, the program “…will bring new life to the millions of used tires that come off vehicles in the province every year by responsibly recycling them into useful products, creating investment and new green jobs, driving innovation.” It will also try to deal with the estimated 2.8 million tires currently stockpiled around the province. The release notes that, ” Until now, approximately 50 percent of Ontario’s used tires were trucked into the US to be burned.” Ugh.

Ontarians can now drop off up to four tires each at designated retailers, municipal sites and other drop-off points listed here. There will be no charge for turning in tires. According to Andrew Horsman, Executive Director of Ontario Tire Stewardship, “The Program will remove tire stockpiles, recycle tires into household, commercial and automotive products, and create green jobs and economic benefits right here in our province.”

Potential uses for the tire material detailed in the release include rubber mats, playground products, hockey rinks and
automotive parts. Who knows, perhaps one innovation out of this program will be a cottage industry around building mooring buoys.

Do you have a smart idea for recycling used tires?

September 10, 2009 at 12:07 PM 2 comments

Finally it’s garbage day

Finally, it's recycling day

Finally, it's recycling day

With the municipal workers strike in Toronto finally over, it’s finally garbage day in Toronto. In the first week the city is taking recycling and green bin (compost) material; next week they’ll take garbage and yard waste. As I walked to work this morning, I chatted with a few neighbours about how they dealt with the five-week strike. Most noted that they had much more recycling material than garbage. As I peeked in the clear bags (recycling overflow) that lined the streets in my neighbourhood, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: while one bag often had a lot of uncompressed boxes and cans in it, subsequent bags often had flattened boxes and cans, and there seemed to be fewer glass bottles and rigid plastic packages. Yes, Toronto, I think we learned a few things about how to handle our waste and what not to bring home.

One woman told me that a couple of her neighbours were sheepish about their lack of recycling (and bags of garbage) and asked if she would put  one of her bags of recycling in front of their house. Talk about keeping up appearances!

Here is my recycling bin, waiting for the truck. I did have some extra recycling, shown here in the bag my new rain barrel came in. I could have held it until the next cycle, but it did feel good to purge out all of the waste along with my neighbours. (Besides, fruit flies found something among the recycling.) My green bin was almost full, but I’m happy to say that we still have lots of room in our garbage bin. 

Did you do OK through the garbage strike?

Have you changed your mind about something you were going to bring home – knowing that you would have to dispose of it, or its packaging, later?

August 6, 2009 at 9:26 AM 1 comment

Where garbage goes when it disappears

MIT Trash | Tracker Map

MIT Trash | Track Map

My friend Allan alerted me to this BBC News piece about an interesting trash experiment called “Trash Track” being conducted by MIT researchers. They have developed tags that are sort of like simple cell phones, able to report their location into a central system. Volunteers can put these trash tags in their waste – in a coffee cup, for example – and then follow the journey of the garbage on a map to see where it goes. Already underway in Seattle, the project will also run in New York and London, UK.

One of the goals of the project is to help people maintain a connection with trash, to see how it doesn’t just disappear when it leaves us. While those who live rurally often have to cart their own trash to a dump, and they’ll see it build up over time, city dwellers don’t typically see accumulated trash. (Although Torontonians are getting our own version of city dumps right now, with a garbage strike that’s created unsightly piles of trash in city parks.)

Ack! I cringe at the thought of everything I’ve ever thrown out blinking away on a map, forever.

July 16, 2009 at 11:58 AM 1 comment

Greener handwashing with air dryers

Hand_dryer_in_public_washroomWhat’s better for the environment – drying your hands with a paper towel or an air dryer? It’s a somewhat heated debate!

Well, let’s see. On the paper towel side we have to create the paper (hopefully from post-consumer waste), package the paper, ship the paper, then collect the paper, ship the paper, recycle or landfill the paper. On the air dryer side, we need to manufacture the air dryer, ship the air dryer, provide power to the air dryer, maintain it and eventually recycle it or landfill it. No wonder it’s a bit confusing to figure out!

After a bit of debate during my company’s green committee meeting, I did some looking around and found this article on Tree Hugger. Writer Jenna Watson notes, “…the hand dryer system does better in all impact categories except for resource depletion. Resource depletion is limited to non-renewable resources such as coal, oil, gas and minerals.” And, of course, if you were using a renewable energy supplier such as Bullfrog Power, resource depletion would not be much of a problem either.

Since reading this report I’ve switched to using the air dryer all the time, and really, it works pretty well! Fringe benefit: I think the others using the washroom appreciate the white noise it makes.

I don’t think we’re going to get rid of the paper towels in our office anytime soon, but I have learned that wet, unsoiled paper towels can be recycled, so our green committee is trying to make it easier for people to put used towels in the right place.

Do you go for paper or air dryers when it comes to drying your hands?

July 14, 2009 at 1:00 PM 2 comments

Convenience vs. Green-ness

umbrella_storagevendingmachines Japan has a reputation for over-the-top novelty, and I can say I saw plenty of examples during my recent trip to Tokyo.

There were a few things I noticed that have a more obvious environmental impact.
– I visited during the rainy season, and when it rained, everyone seemed to be prepared with an umbrella. And when entering shops, you would not want to enter with a streaming wet umbrella of course, so some stores had an umbrella locker at the entrance, as in my snapshot above. But many, particularly the high-end shops, have a special umbrella machine that encases each umbrella in a thin plastic sleeve. And as shopper exit the store, off comes the plastic sleeve, left in a big bin of sleeves. Some people had the sleeve that came with their umbrella, and simply used that.
– It’s true that Japan, at least in the areas I visited, is well-served by vending machines. I’ve heard rumour of all kinds of esoteric vending machines, although I only saw beverage machines (although they sometimes offered both hot and cold beverages) and cigarette machines (which are rumoured to have age-recognition technology so they can’t be used by minors). I did also use a custom machine to make photo stickers, and I ate at an Indian restaurant where you had to purchase food orders through a ticket vending machine. The beverage machines are very brightly lit, looking like a beacon of refreshment that lights up the night. And they certainly put out a lot of PET bottles everyday, so although PET seems well recycled there, there is a lot of waste generated. But I confess that it was so hot and humid in Tokyo, I found the vending machines’ offerings of ice-cold green tea, “Royal Tea” (black tea with milk and sugar), Pocari Sweat (a sports drink) and others to be of immense relief, even just to hold to my brow, when I just couldn’t deal with the heat any longer.
– Perfect packaging is a retail obsession. Small items are typically bagged, then taped into the bag, then placed in a larger bag for ease of carrying. When it’s raining, your paper carry bag will be wrapped in clear cellophane so it doesn’t get wet.

Now, of course, I should say that in the big picture, these examples are well offset by other initiatives, such as the comprehensive rail network, including the Tokyo subway network and the high-speed, electrically powered trains, the Shinkansen that make having a car unnecessary for most.

July 3, 2009 at 11:21 AM Leave a comment

The garbage strike: Ideas on reducing garbage

garbagebag_iStockphotoI’ve just returned to Toronto from Tokyo, and after visiting an enormous yet pristine city where you’d find it a challenge to spot litter anywhere, it’s particularly sad to see my home sullied by garbage. It’s only been 11 days since the start of a municipal strike that’s caused the shutdown of garbage, green bin (compost) and recycling services, among other city services. And already, city parks have become designated dumping zones. It really bugs me that we create so much waste that we can’t hold on to it for a while. Eleven days is nothing – not even two garbage collection cycles. I thought I’d share a few ideas to help control the amount of garbage we produce, and I’ve love to add your ideas to the list.

Ideas for reducing garbage volume:
– Eat more fruit and vegetables that don’t have waste. There’s little if any waste in (unwrapped) broccoli, snow peas, strawberries and mushrooms… compared to bananas, oranges and corn.
– If you eat meat, buy it from a butcher so you can get it wrapped in paper instead of on a foam tray, wrapped in plastic.
– Buy milk in bags, rather than cartons.
– Buy juice in concentrate rather than in cartons or plastic jugs
– Head to the bulk food section for foods such as nuts, snacks, cereals so you can skip the boxed goods.
– Still have an air popper? Switch back to it and save the packaging in microwave popcorn.
– Look for paper or foil alternatives to plastic tubs, such as foil-wrapped butter and cream cheese in cardboard.

How do you cut down on waste?

July 2, 2009 at 10:35 AM 3 comments

Dealing with garbage: The incineration option

Tokyo_incinerator I took this photo of an incineration tower from a building in Ebisu Garden Place, Tokyo. It was one of many towers visible by scanning the city from above. There were no visible emissions coming from the stacks.

Upon arriving at my friends’ place here in Tokyo, my tour of the apartment included the trash facilities – the choices are combustible and non-combustible, and I believe PET bottles and aluminum cans are separated as well. So that’s it, all the combustibles are burned right here in the city, rather than trucking them out to the countryside. To make that work, the facilities would have to be clean, the emissions would have to be contained, or certainly people in this well-organized, clean city would complain.

According to this Washington Post article, one of the plants burns 300 tons of garbage a day, and actually creates electricity for use in the surrounding area from the process, as well as an ash that can be used in building materials.

I’ve often wondered if incineration would be a good choice for Canada’s cities – my view of the Tokyo skyline left no doubt.

How do you think we could manage waste better?

June 24, 2009 at 8:56 PM Leave a comment

Who’s drinking bottled water?


I was looking for some statistics on Canada’s bottled water consumption recently, and I came across an interesting fact.
According to Statistics Canada, while there is there is a strong relationship between wealth and drinking bottled water, and there is also a strong relationship between having a university education and having wealth, there is a lower likelihood of drinking bottled water in the home IF members of the household have a university degree. The StatCan report says, “It is possible that university graduates are more aware of the environmental issues surrounding bottled water. They may also be more sceptical of the claims that bottled water is a healthier choice than tap water.”

I hope that this shows, at minimum, that education can make a difference in helping people make better choices, be they about packaging and waste, habitat preservation, the global effects of burning fossil fuels… or any other important issue.

Did you have a turning point in your environmental thinking, where learning something new made you change what you do?

June 18, 2009 at 1:43 PM 4 comments

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