Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trash Art

Following the mantra reduce, reuse, recycle, there are plenty of people who reuse trash for practical applications. I find making art out of trash one of the most interesting -- taking discarded objects that have no value to one person, and transforming them into something most people would find beautiful.

A fantastic example is a program actually sponsored by
a garbage company, albeit one of the most progressive in North America. Recology (formerly known as Norcal Waste) is responsible for hauling San Francisco's garbage, recycling and compostables, and has an "Artists In Residence Program" at its transfer station: they provide 24-hour access to a well-equipped studio, a monthly stipend, and an exhibit at the end of their residency. They only stipulation is that the artists use materials gathered from San Francisco's refuse.

One of my favorite artists from the program is Nemo Gould, who was in residence in 2007. His sculpture of HiWheel bicycle (above) is composed of a discarded garlic press, bike brakes, melon scoops, a circular saw blade cover, rivets, a shot glass and fly wheels.

There is also a sculpture garden at the transfer station. Estelle Akamine's Ball Gown is particularly stunning (left). Recology claims this may be the only "art park" at a garbage company. Do you know of any others?

This program has been active for the past
18 years! Check out all of the creativity -- here's a full list of Artists In Residence at the San Francisco dump.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

50-Year Farm Bill

I keep coming back to an Op-Ed piece from the New York Times written by Wes Jackson, who founded the Land Institute, and Wendell Berry, a farmer and writer in Kentucky. These two "practicing environmentalists" are leaders in the field of sustainable agriculture. "A 50-Year Farm Bill" (January 2009), commends the efforts being made by thoughtful farmers and consumers, but also details the environmental severity of America's industrial agriculture. They prescribe stronger government policy with a longer-term vision, one that supports healthy soil and sustainable food production, rather than oil-dependent agribusiness.

Jackson elaborates on these sentiments in an interview with AlterNet, an online news website, titled “Is America on the Brink of a Food Crisis?” (January 29, 2009):

“We live off of what comes out of the soil, not what’s in the bank. If we squander the ecological capital of the soil, the capital on paper won’t much matter… For the past 50 or 60 years, we have followed industrialized agricultural policies that have increased the rate of destruction of productive farmland. For those 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe the absurd notion that as long as we have money we will have food. If we continue our offenses against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy…

“Support for soil conservation and protecting water resources have to be central. There needs to be funding for research on a different model for agriculture… Either we pay attention or we pay a huge price, not so far down the road. When we face the fact that civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland, it’s clear that we don’t really have a choice…

“A 50-year farm bill represents a vision that stresses the need to protect soil from erosion, cut the wastefulness of water, cut fossil-fuel dependence, eliminate toxins in soil and water, manage carefully the nitrogen of the soil, reduce dead zones, restore an agrarian way of life and preserve farmland from development.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Introduction to Compostable Products

There's a lot of buzz about compostable products, as companies attempt to become green. These are products, from cups to cutlery to bags, that are designed to biodegrade in a composting environment. This industry is huge -- International Paper just sold its one billionth ecotainer, making it the most common compostable product (right).

It's essentially a paper cup, but is coated with a special plastic made out of corn that is designed to break down in a professionally managed composting environment. In this case, the ecotainer is covered with PLA (polylactic acid) manufactured by NatureWorks, under the brand name Ingeo (left).

In the U.S., the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) approves certifies products that meet ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards, and provides a label.

Although the ASTM standards require products to break down in a professional composting facility, there are some products on the market that will biodegrade in your backyard compost bin. When I interviewed Shanon Boase, founder of EarthCycle Packaging, she said, “Our product is also home compostable, along with the film made by Innovia, so it doesn’t rely on a municipal composting system.
EarthCycle products can also be recycled in a paper stream. We advocate the compostability of our product because we support upcycling — the products are made from waste palm fiber, after harvesting the oil, and if composted they are upcycled again by contributing to healthy soil.”

EarthCycle products (above) can be found in
the fresh produce sections of several large retailers, including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Trader Joes and Publix. For more information on the range of compostable products on the market, check out my article, "Compostable Products Go Mainstream," published in the July 2009 issue of BioCycle magazine.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Renewable Energy From Food Scraps

The Environmental Protection Agency put together a great video on using food scraps to create renewable energy.

This educational video is a great example of successful public outreach -- it is general enough for the public audience to understand the basics of anaerobic digestion, and explains where government funds are being used for renewable energy research (the project was funded by EPA Region 9).

For more information, check out the EPA's webpage on the food waste project.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mandatory Composting

San Francisco has led the way in the U.S. for curbside collection of organics. In 1999 the City and County of San Francisco rolled out its residential three-stream curbside program as a pilot project. Often referred to as the Fantastic Three, the bins are for trash, commingled recyclables, and compostables (yard trimmings and all food waste, including meat and dairy).
They finished expanding the service citywide to all 150,000 households in 2004 (130,000 single-family and 20,000 buildings with five or fewer units), and now are tackling multi-family apartment buildings.

I wrote an article about how a hauler in San Francisco promotes the program using 3D images on its collection trucks to communicate the value of source separated organics: "Food Waste Diversion Promoted On The Street."

San Francisco recently passed an ordinance making source separation of organic waste and recyclables mandatory. This is groundbreaking! While several other cities require recycling service and participation, San Francisco is the first in the U.S. to require the collection of food scraps and other compostables. This move is in part a response to findings from study conducted by the city's Department of Environment, which found that 36 percent of what San Francisco sends to landfills is still compostable (primarily food scraps), and 31 percent is still recyclable (mostly paper). This new ordinance will help move San Francisco forward to its goal of becoming a Zero Waste city by 2020.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Overview and Purpose

The Compost Pile is a Blog dedicated to news and commentary on issues of sustainability, focusing in particular on composting and organics recycling. Postings will connect organic waste streams to local food production and sustainable agriculture, and will include topics such as climate change, renewable energy, green design, biomass, zero waste, sustainable schools, water quality and curbside recycling.

Intended to be a source of useful information, The Compost Pile will highlight success stories, raise concerns, offer practical advice, review innovative products and sustainable business, and will provide a forum for discussion.