Waste Management

Earlier this week, baby girl and I went with some folks in our local MOMS club chapter to take a tour of the Waste Management facility in our area.  Sounds weird, right?  Well, I thought it would be interesting to understand what happens to our waste once it leaves the house and honestly, I had a bunch of questions to ask about recycling.  So I decided Miss K and I would go too.

It was quite interesting and at times a little gross but all in all, not as bad as I thought it would be.  We started by getting everyone in a safety vest and some of us in hard hats.  The vests were a little silly for the kids because they were adult sized and of course all the kids were three and under and pint sized.  Here’s a blurry shot of Miss K. in her vest.  She wouldn’t sit still.

Then we went across the street to see their transfer facility.

The transfer facility is where Waste Management temporarily stores trash before it goes on to the county dump.  It is also where the recycling is sorted and packed up.  Basically once a garbage truck is full, it brings its trash here and dumps its contents out into this big space and returns to the route.  Big bulldozers push the nasty trash onto large eighteen wheelers that haul that trash to the county dump (also located in our fair city).  The trucks bring them here rather than to the dump out of convenience, because it’s faster than taking the trash to the dump, or because they need to stop at the station for servicing or whatever reason.  All trash must be moved out of the transfer facility within 48 hours.  They have misting machines in the roof of the facility that periodically sprays odor reducers over the trash.  We were lucky.  The trash wasn’t overwhelmingly smelly like you would expect.

The pile above is a pile of recyclables.  Recycling trucks also dump their contents in this facility (into another pile).  Humans pre-sort the recyclables, mostly looking for stuff that clearly doesn’t belong.  Waste Management uses optical recognition machinery to sort the recyclables further into paper, cardboard, metals, glass, and plastics.  Once sorted, the items are bundled up and sold.  For example, all the cardboard boxes are baled up into huge bundles and are then loaded onto eighteen wheelers.  The container on the eighteen wheeler is driven to San Pedro and then put on a cargo ship and taken to China.  I thought it was so interesting that it is more cost effective to ship these boxes all the way to China and recycle them then it is to make new boxes.  But I am thankful for it (and it does makes sense) because that means they’re not plowing down more trees.  Apparently the glass, plastic, etc. is also sold off for recycling.  Waste Management makes money on that and is able to offer recycling services to the residents of Irvine, and we’re keeping crap out of the landfills.  Win-win.

I learned a lot about recycling here.  I learned that you can recycle pretty much any paper that rips.  All plastics are recyclable AND you don’t have to rinse out the stuff you recycle.  It just has to be empty.  So I don’t need to rinse the old sour cream container that’s past its due date but I do need to empty its content in the trash first.  Sweet.  All tetrapack packaging is recyclable – there was no symbol on it so I wasn’t sure.  These are the packs that you get soy milk or broth in.  Almost everything is recyclable.  So I’m going to recycle even more!  Basically, no food waste or human waste is allowed in the recycling.

I also learned about the landfills in our area.  Prior to the tour, I didn’t understand that Waste Management is just an independent company that partners with the County of Orange.  They’re responsible for moving the trash but the landfill itself is owned and operated by the county.  The landfill in Irvine is the largest in Orange County and is filling up.  It is expected to be full by 2054.  This estimate was even sooner but recycling efforts have helped to slow down the filling up of the landfill.  After that, there will be no more landfills in Orange County.  Yikes.  Recycle!  Bags in our area are not shredded so I do think that buying biodegradable bags is a good idea out here.  Because otherwise the contents of the bag (even if they are biodegradable, will need to find its way out of the bag before it can biodegrade.  Here’s a bulldozer moving trash.

We also got to check out a trash truck.  Learned a lot about those, too.  Each trash truck weighs 17 tons and costs $335,000.  WM tries to keep them in commission for at least 10 years.  They are now switching from diesel fueled trucks to natural gas powered trucks (woohoo-less emissions ftw!) moving forward.  Each truck can hold up to 10 tons of waste.  So let’s think about that – these trucks weigh up to 27 tons…my advice for you:  Don’t cut off a trash truck.  He will not be able to stop and you will not win.  Our local WM has 192 routes and 200+ drivers and trucks.  Each truck can hold between 800-1000 homes’ trash.  Basically the trucks go out on their routes and pick up as much trash as they can, dump it at the transfer facility and then head back out to finish their route.  Trucks are washed every Sunday and must be emptied before they can be parked at night.  Here’s a picture of our cute little friend in a garbage truck.  He was a pro in there with the horn!

Interesting, right?  It renewed my desire to recycle.  It also made me want to look further into composting at home.  I would love to cut our trash down even further.  Right now, we typically have more recyclables than trash but now that I know how easy it is to recycle, I’m going to do even more.  This tour also made me thankful that we cloth diaper.  We produce so much less waste as a result.  I was surprised at how much obviously recyclable goods were being dumped out in the trash.  So many boxes and paper that could easily be recycled.  We can all do better.  Anyhoo, as weird as it sounds, consider going and taking a tour of your local facility – it’s really interesting!

November Update

We worked on a lot of things in the month of November.  Some went well, some…not so well.  Let’s do a monthly round-up!

#1: Throw away less, recycle more

This month I made a concerted effort to be good about recycling whenever possible.  I found myself checking the bottom of plastic containers more than ever before.  I also walked things over to the recycling bins upstairs and downstairs to make sure we were recycling instead of tossing.  I found more recyclable items than I thought I would.  Hooray!  It seemed that our recycling bin was overflowing almost every week.  I’d love to take credit for that but honestly, a lot of the recycling was boxes from stuff we purchased.  I’ll still take it as a win!  We get a smiley!

# 2 – Reduce the number of one-time plastic bags we use

The goal with this one for November was to get less than 15 plastic bags.  I thought FOR SURE we’d be a winner on this one.  And would have been, had I not forgotten my reusable produce bags when I went to the market two weeks ago.  DOH!  Of course, this was the market where I buy all my produce and I was buying groceries because we were having company over.  Darn it!  Other than that one big loser trip, I only picked up four bags – one from Albertsons (I had bags with me but even then, these folks insist on putting only one item in a bag and putting it in my cart!), one from the tools at Radio Shack, a produce bag for some ground turkey, and a taco bell bag.  Sucks but we didn’t make it this time.  I used 17 bags.

#3 – Stop using SLS/SLES shampoos

I started using shampoo again but with no Sodium Laurel Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate.  So I get a smiley.  I’m working on finishing up the bottles of soap and other items I have with SLS in it and then we’re going all natural when possible!  I bought a natural face wash from Alba that I’m looking forward to trying.  Just need to get through some of what I have already.


#5 – Eat Homemade meals at least four times a week

We aren’t the kind of people who sit around at home.  Between travel, family and friends, we stay pretty busy.  Also, hurting my back threw a wrench in our eating at home plans.  In general, though, I’m pretty pleased with how this is going.  I find that we opt to eat out waaaay less frequently than we used to.  In November especially, I ate lunch at home almost every weekday.  I’m not running out to go get food anymore.  I think my habits are changing.  I’m also finding that rather than saying “hey, can you pick something up on your way home from work,” I’m taking a quick look in the cupboard and the refrigerator to see what we can do that’s quick and filling.  With this goal, my intent was to change my habits and I feel that’s taking place.  So I’m kind of torn on this.  Technically, I think we met the goal only 2-3 times out of the four weeks but on the other, I do think we’re changing habits.  I’ll give it a straight face.

#10 – Limit Fast Food to Once a Month

The goal for November was to get my fast food eating down to two times or once every other week.  I only intentionally got fast food once.  So that was good.  A few days later, though, my husband asked me if I wanted anything from McDonald’s for breakfast and without even thinking about it, I said sure.  So we had McDonald’s for breakfast and it didn’t even occur to me that I had had fast food until the next day.  Sneaky sneaky.  So I refrained from getting fast food the rest of the month.  Technically I didn’t have it every other week, I had it twice in one week, but I still met the goal of having it twice in one month.  Yay!

#11 – Limit Soda to Once a Month

Starting on November 1st, hubby and I decided to give up refined sugar with the intent to start kicking our sugar habit.  In my mind, I’d go cold turkey for at least 21 days (supposedly it takes 21 days to form a habit) and then I would allow myself sweet stuff every so often.  Again, the intent here was to break a bad habit and change my behaviors.  We were successful until Thanksgiving, when I had pecan pie, pumpkin holes,a cookie and a sliver of pumpkin pie, all over the long weekend.  Oh ya and I also got a Dr. Pepper, and shared a couple iced teas with hubby.  Sigh.  BUT the good news is that I think I kicked my soda habit!  Only one soda this month even though according to my plan, I could have had two!

All in all, I think we’re headed in the right direction.  Might be time to pursue some more items on the the list!

#1 on the LIST – Recycle More, Throw Away Less

I’ve always liked recycling.  I remember being excited that the city was giving us bins to separate paper, glass, etc. from trash.  Even now, I find that I’ll leave clutter around in the name of recycling.  But I think we still produce a lot of trash that could be recycled instead.  So it’s time to figure out how.

The stuff that is obvious and easy has been recycled at our house for a long time.  Newspapers, tin cans, glass bottles, soda cans, boxes, and plastic milk jugs all get recycled without a second thought.  But I’m never sure what other plastics I could be recycling.  Is this pizza box ok to recycle?  I thought greasy pizza boxes were off limits but my brother-in-law said they were fine.

I like those Domino’s pizza proverbs.  I find them funny, along with whatever silly stuff is written on taco bell sauce packets.  Anyhoo, what about this cup and straw from the iced tea we got the other day?  It’s plastic..  Can I recycle that too?

Is this bag of pop chips recyclable?  It looks to be aluminum foil-y on the inside.  Is it ok?

For some reason, I thought water bottles were ok for recycling but their caps weren’t.  Do I need to rinse food containers before throwing them in the bin?  Lots of questions.  So I went to my go-to solution finder:  google.

Found this awesome resource for our city:  http://www.cityofirvine.us/programs/recycling/household-recycling/grey-cart-items/.  It helped me make sense of what’s ok and what’s not.  Oh!  How great – I can pretty much recycle plastic items that are labeled 1-9!  That’s a lot of stuff!  And I CAN drop the shredded paper into the recycling bin – I just have to put it in a bag.  Awesome.  I just need to take some time and figure out what gets the thumbs up and what gets filed in the round file.  I’ve always thought that phrase was corny.  That’s why it’s so important I use it right now.

We’re one step ahead of the game because we don’t buy much soda in cans or bottled water or two-liters or get a daily newspaper, so that limits our waste.  Since we cloth diaper, that saves us tons (literally) of diaper trash too.  I’ve been taking my own bags to the grocery store and other retailers, so we’ve cut back considerably on that.  So how can we reduce some more trash?

I think I need to be more diligent about paper, paper towels, tissue boxes, tp and paper towel rolls, and plastic wrapping.  I really want to reduce the amount of trash we produce by using cloth wipes for baby’s bum too but I’m using up the large supply of disposable wipes we’ve purchased (because just throwing them away would be even more wasteful, wouldn’t it?).

Also, I think there’s some opportunity to just buy and consume less or at least buy items with less packaging.  I don’t know what yet but there’s gotta be some options out there.  Just the fact that we’re using more fresh fruits and vegetables helps, and especially because it’s from the farmer’s market, we have less clam shell and bag packaging.  I love that our garbage can is filling up more and more with pitts and peels and less with styrofoam.  One area that does bother me is that we order a lot from Amazon.  So often we’re doubling and sometimes tripling up on trash because the item we bought is in it’s manufacturer’s box within a shipping box that’s also full of packing materials.  Not good.  I’m not sure what to do about that, other than doing our best to recycle and reuse as much of that packing material and boxes as we can.

But back to recycling more.  My goal with this is to have more items in the recycle bin than we have in the trash bin on a regular basis. What can I do to make this more likely (ie easier?)  Well, for one, I bought one of these oh-so-attractive recycling cans for upstairs.

I was finding that we were throwing a bunch of stuff away because it wasn’t convenient to recycle it.  Well, this takes care of that, since our upstairs area is pretty small.  Secondly, I added a shortcut to the city’s recycling guidelines in our browser on the laptop so that if there is an item in question, I have easy access to what’s ok so I can quickly decide what to do with it.  Little steps, but I’m hoping for good results. Maybe we can even swap our medium sized garbage can for a small one!  My in-laws live in a huge house and they get by with a small trash can – I’m so impressed by that.  They recycle often – I love it!

I also want to look into buying biodegradable trash bags.  It’s no good to throw away biodegradable diaper inserts when they sit inside a trash bag that doesn’t biodegrade, is it?  So I encourage you to take a few minutes and look up your local recycling resource and find out what you can do…what do you do today to recycle more?