More food than we can eat? America’s food waste problem

By Russell Penasa; Zero Waste Team member

In January I had the opportunity to help out with the Food waste audit. After a few hours of watching plates of half eaten cheese burgers and weird combinations of mushed french fries, ketchup, salads and mystery sauces, we ended up collecting 391.5 pounds of food waste from the San Juan Dining Hall. These numbers made me wonder if there was a similar trend throughout the U.S. I found that there is a larger trend that poses a few interesting issues.

In the United States there is an expanding gap between the food we produce and hungry mouths across the country. According to nokidhungry.org, “today in the United States, 25 percent of households with children living in large cities are food-insecure, and 48.8 million Americans live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis.” Our neighboring state New Mexico, has the largest percentage of child food insecurity in the country, where 30.6 percent of children are food insecure. Is there a lack of food in the U.S.? There is certainly a vast amount of industrial agriculture across the nation accounting for 51 percent of the U.S. land base.

According to one ecologist, most of the feed produced for the meat industry of the U.S., “could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat.”

Although industrial agriculture systems deserve a lot of criticism, which includes many other ecological issues, the real question is: where is this void between food and the people that need it? In a report done by the USDA, 31 percent of the 430 billion pounds of the avail­able food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. This represents 133 billion pounds of food that went straight into landfills, estimated to be worth $161.6 billion dollars using retail prices. This represents 1,249 calories per capita, per day, for the entire population of the United States.

So do we have more food than we can eat? Based on the information above, it would prove so. It seems the dis-connection between food and the hungry comes from a lack of infrastructure, a gap between businesses and the community, and some type of pattern of wastefulness that is very unique to our nation. Maybe we take availability of food for granted? Either way, there is something we can do.

On our campus only about 20-21 percent of the food waste that is generated in the dining halls gets composted. Certain infrastructure limitations are inevitable; however, groups like The Durango Food Bank work with 30 local agencies to meet the food needs of our community and play an important role in closing this looming gap. On campus, the Grub Hub also provides free food to students, and is an active group in creating a more socially just community. Keep those plates clean!

 

References:

Disturbing reality of our food waste.

Disturbing reality of our food waste.

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat

https://www.nokidhungry.org/problem/hunger-facts

http://endhunger.org/PDFs/2014/USDA-FoodLoss-2014-Summary.pdf

http://endhunger.org/food_waste.htm

http://rt.com/usa/us-food-waste-usda-618/

 

The Durango Food Bank/Grub Hub links:

https://www.facebook.com/DurangoFoodBank/info

http://www.fortlewis.edu/news/StudentCalendar/ModuleID/15695/ItemID/13028/mctl/EventDetails.aspx

This I Believe: Meaningful, green decisions

 

Purchasing with the environment in mind.

Purchasing with the environment in mind.

By Leah Payne; Zero Waste Team member

I believe in the power of the consumer. I am a sophomore in college, living in my first apartment and I believe I can make meaningful decisions about what I buy. I think it is important to make thoughtful decisions around consumption during this critical habit-forming stage of my life. If I develop green habits now, chances are I will continue them into adulthood. I believe in being a smart consumer, where careful consideration goes into purchases, especially when the intent is to be mindful of the environment. I believe in practicing the first three ideas in Juliet Schor’s Politics of consumption from her essay The New Politics of Consumption: Why American’s Want So Much More Than They Need.

  1. A right to a decent standard of living.

Schor wants the consumer to make a fundamental distinction between what they need and what they want. Although it might seem a bit cliché, the amount of unneeded items in your living space add up quickly. People are entitled to a decent standard of living, one that isn’t focused on the next new gadget.

  1. Quality of life rather than quantity of stuff.

Consumption is not the same as well-being. The more things you have doesn’t make you a happier person. If we focus on making money to obtain more things our family, leisure, and community time suffer. The capitalist focus could also have adverse impacts of growth on the natural environment and the potentially increase the gap between classes. We should focus on a better quality of life, rather than a quantity of stuff.

  1. Ecologically sustainable consumption.

Schor says consumers know far less about the environmental impacts of their daily consumption habits than they should. When I go to the store I like to ask myself a few simple questions before I decide what to buy.

Where does it come from?

What kind of process did it go through before it reached the shelves?

What is the packaging? Is there a choice between plastic or glass? Which product has the least amount of packing? Can the packing it’s contained in be recycled?

Can you repurpose something you already have or buy something secondhand?

Who am I supporting when I buy this product?

My experience with the Fort Lewis’s Environmental Center has allowed me to express my beliefs and values because it has brought me closer with people who are contentious about the environment and given me a safe space to understand and better articulate me ideas. I have become a part of the community of people who care and push each other to consider new ways of life around sustainability. I am a part of the Zero Waste team and we are trying to assess recycling in campus housing. This experience has shown me that sustainability is not a top priority to a majority of the campus and we are going to have utilize a bunch of different strategies to make sustainability a part of the normal way of life on campus. Through this work I express what I am passionate about and figure out how to educate others about why sustainability is important. I hope that eventually the EC’s community will spread campus wide.

A philosophical reflection of Joseph DesJardins’ “Environmental Ethics”

Many people are too consumed by artificial desires to realize the devastation our environment has come to know. Furthermore, we fail to acknowledge that this devastation is a result of our own ways of thinking and, in turn, our actions. By considering ourselves separate from our environment, we abolish the very real interconnectedness we share. However, after reading and analyzing Environmental Ethics by Joseph DesJardins, I have come to know that we can down play the destruction of our environment and ourselves. Re-evaluating our values will help us to better distinguish our needs, wants, and interests. We can create new communal models that allow for not only ourselves as humans here and now to prosper, but for future generations, not limited to humans nor biotic organisms, to grow and develop sustainably. All it takes for reducing our negative impact on the environment is acknowledging the fact that we have caused the destruction, understanding that our survival is dependent upon the continuation of a healthy natural world, analyzing our personal values, and promoting a lifestyle of respect for the environment that defines us. For many people, the necessary shift in consciousness that would allow the aforementioned steps to take place would disrupt their lifestyle dramatically. Yet, if an individual holds any concern at all, whether it be a selfish or selfless concern for the environment, it is easy to start climbing the ladder to what deep ecologists call their two ultimate norms: self-realization and biocentric equality.

Environmental Ethics By Joseph R. DesJardins

Environmental Ethics By Joseph R. DesJardins

I side with deep ecologists that “the cause of environmental and ecological destruction lies with cultural and social factors that are deeply entrenched in the contemporary world” (DesJardins, 206). Deep ecology recognizes the dominant worldviews that guide society’s decision-making, especially reductionism and individualism. I, however, will focus mostly on materialism and consumerism. On a most basic level, reconditioning our behaviors and habits is a strenuous process requiring us to weigh out rewards and punishments. It is difficult to reform habits; the best way to go about doing so is to start small and work up. In other words, begin to live a more environmentally friendly life with one-time tasks versus everyday ones: Buying energy efficient light bulbs versus starting a compost bin. Consider your options before making a purchase: think economically in the sense of “Will this benefit or harm the environment? How does the packaging of product A or B contribute to the amount of accumulated waste? Is this product beneficial for me in the long or short term?”

Another example of people manipulated by these dominant worldviews is collectors. A woman living modestly in her home is a collector of cats. Even if she is at peace with her cats, we find her idea of happiness a joke and something to criticize. What is more daunting is the part of our society that can only think about making money off collectors. We dedicate airtime to “Hoarders” who are so out of touch with real, intrinsic, value that they consume their lives with materialism and consumerism and eventually hurt those around them who are trying to help the situation. That hoarder was most likely on a constant cycle similar to the one mentioned in the mini-documentary “The Story of Stuff”(See video below.) I’m going to work now so I can buy this stuff so I can be happy and when happiness fades I will have more money to buy more stuff to be temporarily happy again. All this cycle does is bring you and the environment closer to death sooner. It calls for more resources to be depleted to produce more stuff to bring temporary happiness and long term waste accumulation. British writer Oscar Wilde portrayed the human condition of cynicism well with his words “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

The Story of Stuff (2007 Official Version)

I especially liked the way that DesJardins compared the deep ecologists’ process of identifying the underlying causes of environmental destruction to a doctor’s medicinal practice of getting to the root cause of an illness. Just as a deep ecologist or a doctor, we as individuals should practice this psychological “step back” to come to a better relationship with our own personal philosophies.

My most vivid memory of this stepping back process occurred in 2010. I had been in the Sonoran desert of Arizona for two weeks backpacking with another thirty or so students and leaders. While there, I appreciated the natural beauty that surrounded me and felt a great bond formed between myself and the landscape. Upon returning to civilization, I was struck with a great deal of unsettling contemplation; I felt like Tarzan coming to the city and thought: “What is all this noise? Why is everyone on this paved road so persistent on getting to work so they can sit there and be unhappy? Everyone seems so snobby and ungrateful, so attached to their devices that tell them important things about what they value.” I did not want to go home, nor did I want to be anywhere near what I called home because it seemed despicable compared to the nature that had enveloped me for the past two weeks. The one amenity I did appreciate once I got home was hot running water. My trip to the desert influenced me to reconsider what I really needed in life. It is unfortunate that we cannot force someone out into the wild, away from the asphalt and concrete, just so they can take that psychological step back and reconsider why they do the things they do to get the things they think they need to be happy.

“Sonoran Desert Resembling A Deep Sea Floor” by Libby Gobble, 2010

“Sonoran Desert Resembling A Deep Sea Floor” by Libby Gobble, 2010

From my perspective, people in America are very out of touch with how to distinguish between needs, wants, and interests. I wonder if a change of scenery such as my desert trip could be the solution to reducing environmental destruction by encouraging more people to question their personal philosophies. Change allows critical thinking and evaluation to take place which brings an individual closer to understanding oneself and their relationship with the natural world. It would be my hope that it would not be just a romanticist dreamscape where once nature is out of sight, it is out of our minds.

I have found through reading DesJardins’ Environmental Ethics to call everything into question in order to better understand myself and my place in the world. Most of the questions I have asked in regards to ethics are those of metaphysics and ontology: What is success? Why do we value certain goods over others? Who are we to attempt to determine who and what else has “moral standing?” Deep ecology appeals to me because it strives to answer questions such as these. Also, the process of self-realization and recognition of biocentric equality inspire me to reconsider my personal values. More specifically, I have come to question what we value as human beings and why exactly we value certain things.

What we value depends on our own personal moral hierarchies. Two distinct “selves” govern the way we choose some interests over others, according to DesJardins, “One is the self constituted by the conscious beliefs, wants, and intentions of the ego. The other self is the true nature that underlies this person’s ego” (Desjardins, 217). Materialism and consumerism are the predominant ways in which we display if we value something instrumentally or intrinsically. This would conclude that our values are determined by our ego which is constructed by the advertising and competition put in place by dominant worldviews.

In the decision making process, we must consider who we will affect by choosing one thing to value over another. To do this with ethics in mind, we must consider future generations and recognize the differences, yet vast interconnectedness of both abiotic and biotic communities as well as poor nations and wealthy ones. When we consider these three groups, materialism and consumerism seem so unimportant. The way we choose our value receiving audience is dependent upon which version of your two selves you find more authentic, promising, worthwhile, and happy. Is it the self-governed-self or conditioned-by-society self? The surface self or the underlying self? If you are selfish in your actions you are a care taker, but selflessly you are a care giver. One would think that decisions would be made in a non-anthropocentric, holistic mindset. In doing so, we view nature more intrinsically which allows for an ethics of virtue to be fulfilled.

In order to overcome these dominant worldviews, we must change radically as individuals and cultures rather than simply reform old ethics. With the knowledge I have acquired through reading Environmental Ethics, I am confident in stating that the people involved in making decisions for our country seem to be out of touch with their underlying self. Because of this, policies are being based off of false values by people who do not want to recognize the destruction of our environment, take responsibility, and acknowledge the “oneness.” In the seventies, people valued things differently than today. Consequently, we should not be living by policies from that time. Instead, our policies should evolve through time just as a species adapts alongside nature. Modern government and economics is dominated by utilitarianism. It is understandable that a Utilitarian would want to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number; however, this “good” is dominated by this out of touch way of thinking and therefore does not do the best thing every time. It is obvious that our consumerist demands affect the natural world negatively. Traditional ethics does not recognize this fact or the interconnectedness of themselves and the natural world. Thus, we need a radical shift, not an extension of tradition, to adapt our ethics to the ethical issues of today. This begins with a different view of ourselves as individuals to end the consumerist habits that tell us what we want and instead start determining who we are in character.

It depends on the eye of the beholder, but also the mental strength of the underlying self to feel motivated to re-examine personal and cultural values in order to create new worldviews. This not only includes a shift from acts of selfishness to acts of selflessness, but also recognition of the reality of environmental destruction. We need to break down this mime box that society built around our underlying self and look towards what is out of sight in order to get reality back in our mind. Therefore, in order to form a society that strives for goals with intrinsic, rather than inherent, value, we must begin showing people at young ages how to define their underlying self so that things like materialism and consumerism seem unappealing. Perhaps this includes more emphasis on outdoor recreation. Physical and mental prosperity can come with wealth, but wealth should not be the only road to success if you and Mother Earth are not happy on the journey. We created the cycle, we can re-create it, too.

By Libby Gobble, Zero Waste Team member

The consequences of commodity consumption

Many aspects of our daily lives include the use of a disposable material, whether it is made of plastic, paper or metals. All of these items come from a resource somewhere on earth, and while a zero waste standard is undoubtedly unachievable, reducing their use to attain a higher level of efficiency is crucial. In regards to paper coffee cups, it may be easy to imagine the consequences of using them, like millions of trees cut down and the emission of greenhouse gases. The word “paper” may make seem like less of an impact, but most coffee cups are coated with polyethylene, making composting very uncommon. In a report done by the Alliance for Environmental Innovation (April 2000), they stated, “…the majority of customers take their hot beverages in disposable paper cups lined with polyethylene and topped with a polystyrene lid. In the past, two paper cups were frequently nested together for better insulation”. The fundamental design of the paper coffee cup and Styrofoam cups is the main contributor to these negative impacts, as they’re one-time-use materials.

Single-use products waste the environment, symbolized by this coffee cup disposed of improperly and only after one use.
Photo by: Environmental Action Association

The number of coffee cups used by Americans on a daily basis is very staggering, and with the majority of Americans drinking coffee regularly, the waste adds up at a very tremendous rate. “Over 50 percent of Americans over 18 years of age drink coffee every day. This represents over 150 million daily drinkers. It means that Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day or equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world” (Environmental Action Association). On top of using 400 million cups for coffee a day, the amount of waste this produces is remarkable, and disposable containers, like coffee cups, make up a significant segment of American trash output. “These disposable containers make up 18 percent of America’s garbage, and beverage cups made of virgin paper or Styrofoam make up a large chunk of that waste”  (Environmental Action Association). That is a very high rate of waste output for a one-time-use disposable commodity. Not only is it unnecessary, but in this country, it has become way too easy to be wasteful.  This rate of consumption is having serious effects on our environment: “Each paper cup manufactured is responsible for 0.24 lbs. of CO2 emissions” (Environmental Action Association). That means that if we throw away just half of the cups we currently consume, there is still going to be 48 million pounds of CO2 emissions delivered by Americans straight into the atmosphere every day. Paper cups also play a small part in deforestation: “…more than 6.5 million trees were cut down in 2006 to create the 16 billion paper cups thrown away” (Tabakin). With this in mind, the solution does not just call for more biodegradable and compost-able containers, but for an elimination of our overall output of waste itself.

Using reusable cups or mugs is the best way to make a difference, and while there still are environmental impacts in their production, over time it is much less wasteful, and can even be cost effective. “A study done by sustainability engineer Pablo Päster found that one stainless steel mug is equivalent to 24 paper cups in terms of material intensity” (Carry Your Cup). The long run is what counts when searching for more efficient material use, and reusing is the most maintainable way to reduce the negative characteristics of using paper cups. Choose to re-use!

Works Cited

“A Report of the Starbucks Coffee Company.” Alliance for Environmental Innovation Joint Task Force.  15 April. 2000. Web. 19 Feb. 2013

“Carry Your Cup.” Get the Facts. 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

“Save a Cup, Save the Earth.” Environmental Action Association. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

Tabakin, Dudley. “Deforestation and Coffee Cups.” Blogspot.com. 1 Feb 2009. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

Image from: http://www.environmentaa.org/images/image24.jpg

 

By Russell Penasa, Zero Waste Team member

Zero Waste Is a Challenge Faced

I am a member of the Zero Waste Team here at the Environmental Center and I am very excited about the project I’m working on this year! Emma Kurfis, another Zero Waste Team member, and I are working on a Zero Waste Event Service Guide specific to Fort Lewis College. This guide will be available to everyone on campus and hopefully used by all of the event coordinators. We can also directly get involved with event coordinators to tailor the service to their specific event. To gain experience in the event planning process, we are working on several pilot events in which we partner with event coordinators to reduce the amount of waste produced at event. Skyfest is our next big pilot event, taking place on April 7th.

Skyfest music festival at Fort Lewis College

Skyfest is the highlight of the spring semester for many students, with bands from all over the country visiting FLC campus. Skyfest was outdoors in previous years. Photo courtesy of www.fortlewis.edu.

Skyfest is a big music festival put on by Student Union Productions at Fort Lewis each year, with headliner bands Gramatik and Radical Something making appearances at this year’s festival. Local bands will also play at the event. As part of the EC’s zero waste event service, Emma and I are working with the coordinators of Skyfest to reduce waste in as many aspects of the event as possible. This event is our first large pilot event to test out the service and in the organizing we have learned how challenging it can be to make an event less wasteful. There are so many areas to consider when planning a zero waste event, some of which are not in our control, as we are not the coordinators of the event. However, the coordinators are very open to our suggestions, which is awesome! Members of SUP have been supportive of our ideas and came up with a few ideas themselves. One of the main goals of our event servicing is to provide zero waste ideas and ingrain zero waste concepts in the minds of the coordinators, so that eventually event planners may attempt to make events less wasteful on their own.

There are several major aspects of Skyfest where we are working on to reduce the amount of waste produced. The first is trash. Ideally, we would like to have no trash produced at the event but this is highly unrealistic being that we can’t regulate what food or disposable items people bring into the event. However, we will be providing several recycling stations in the event to divert as as many recyclable items from landfills as possible. We are recruiting volunteers to help watch over the stations to ensure everything is recycled properly, as contamination is a huge problem with recycling here at Fort Lewis. This will also be a chance for us to spread some education on recycling to the campus community.

The second aspect of the event we are working with is water. When we first talked to the coordinators, they were going to provide bottled water for guests and the bands. We decided to set up water refilling stations instead. With the help of the Athletic Department, we secured several large water jugs for the event that we will refill throughout the event. Students are not allowed to bring full water bottles into the event but if they bring empty drink containers, they can fill them at the stations. There will also be a jug backstage for the bands. The coordinators of Skyfest are purchasing reusable plastic cups that they will hand out to anyone who does not have a water bottle. The cups can be taken home by guests and used or given back to the Skyfest coordinators to be washed and reused at different events.

At Skyfest, we will have an Environmental Center interactive table to teach people about zero waste, specifically recycling. There will be a game called the “Wheel of Recycling” that guests can take part in. After the event, we plan to measure our results by weighing how much trash and recycling were generated at the event. We can potentially take these statistics every year and compare results, aiming to reduce the amounts annually.

As you can imagine, the process of planning zero waste events can take a lot of time and can be very difficult. This process also involves lots of collaboration with other campus and sometimes community partners, and can also build great connections.

If you would like to volunteer to help with the waste reduction practices at Skyfest, please email one of us (below) or drop by the Environmental Center and sign up. The event is on Sunday, April 7th from noon to 9:30 p.m. in the Whalen Gymnasium. The event is free for students and $15 for community members, with tickets available in the SUP office in the Student Union. Come support Fort Lewis College and the environment!

For more information about the zero waste aspects of the event or the Zero Waste Event Servicing, you can email me (jmsmyke@fortlewis.edu) or Emma Kurfis (emkurfis@fortlewis.edu) or stop by the Environmental Center! For more information about Skyfest, you can visit the SUP office in the Student Union.

By Jessica Smyke

Reflections on a Zero Waste New Year’s Resolution

I’ve recently been thinking about my New Year’s Resolution, which is to make as little harmful ecological impact as possible in the year 2013.The resolution is a promise to the world and to myself that I will live as a ‘No Impact Woman’ or at least, a ‘Least Impact Woman.’ For me, this means not buying anything new, not using electricity or other resources beyond my needs, and doing everything in my power to cancel out any negative impacts of my current lifestyle. My original inspiration to take on this resolution came from the book No Impact Man: The Reflections of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries he Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life Along the Way.In this book, author Colin Beaven embarks on a zero waste adventure that most would consider impossible. Yet, after reading this, I decided I would like to try and live as zero waste as possible to see what results would come about. While I do everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint through my daily actions, I have found that it is impossible to fully eliminate it. After all, I am a carbon-based life form and when I die, I will leave an even greater footprint. Still, every action we perform has effects; I will list some of my current lifestyle changes and maybe motivate some folks to take similar steps in their lives.

No Impact Man

In the book, No Impact Man, an ambitious man and his family try to live zero waste lifestyles in the heart of New York City. Photo used by Fair Use.

The first change I made was getting rid of my cell phone. Since this makes my mother concerned for my safety, I keep the phone for emergencies but turn it off at all times so it never needs to be plugged in and waste electricity. I also do not give out my phone number to anyone, even possible job requests and instead give out my email due to the fact that the school computers stay on 24/7, therefore reducing an ecological impact that I have very little control over (unless I was to go around and turn them all off). Also, my friend and I turn off the televisions in the Student Union when we can so that these do not waste energy.

As for food choices, I eat vegan unless food will otherwise be wasted (such as pasta with cheese on someone else’s plate) and, since I have a Sodexo meal plan, I always observe the food choices first so as to not choose food that is most likely packaged or from long distances (such as bananas and coffee). I refrain from drinking tea because of the bag and I bring my reusable water bottle everywhere. I have never tried soda so this is not a beverage I had to give up since I never drank it in the first place.

In addition, I do not buy any products at all and I certainly do not use non-reusable items such as paper coffee mugs and napkins. I also do not buy any clothes (all of my clothes are second hand or from free boxes… I currently put on the FLC Environmental Center Free Store every Thursday, from 9-11 a.m. in the Student Union) and I do not buy any appliances or items unless they are offered to me. I try not to keep lights on during the day and I like to spread environmental awareness to the as many people as I can. Additionally, I try to limit computer use and if there is anything I am doing that is not ecologically sustainable or beneficial, I do my best to stop the habit or action immediately. I do not own a car and when I can, I avoid flying home and try to hitch a ride with a friend. I do not watch any movies or television unless this action may help to make someone else more aware of environmental issues and thus counterbalances the effect of watching the television. I also do not wear makeup due to the terrible effect it has on the environment.

I don’t want people to feel jealous because it doesn’t feel good. When people feel jealous, I have often observed they consume more due to feelings of inadequacy that may come up for them and then they may (depending on the person) go out and consume and waste items more, thus contributing more to the global carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. I also wake up at five in the morning to meditate so as to begin the day with positive aspirations and thoughts. This mindfulness meditation helps keep me aware of how I am impacting others and the environment throughout the day. I also have made a promise to the world and myself that I will remain celibate so as to not have to use condoms (terribly unsustainable) and I don’t want to marry or have kids due to population growth.

In essence, I think anyone can implement any of these zero waste suggestions and make a positive impact on the state of the world.  As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and in fact, we can. Little by little, step-by-step, we can influence a society and culture and rise up as an ecologically aware population at Fort Lewis College through any or all of our efforts.

By Michaela Steiner

My Zero Waste Inspiration

Bea Johnson never takes out the trash. She is not lazy or a hoarder but rather a pioneer in the field of zero waste living. Bea and her family choose to act and purchase in ways that have as little impact on the environment as possible. Beginning with small changes and gradually implementing larger ones, the Johnson family completely changed their way of life over the course of a few years. Bea only buys clothes second hand and repairs or tailors them when needed, fills a reusable container with homemade toothpowder that she uses on her compostable toothbrush and harnesses solar energy to power her family’s house. Claiming to find ways to reduce waste addicting, Bea and her family say their alternative and revolutionary lifestyle has made them much happier.

Before learning about Bea Johnson and her family, I lived my life similar to how they did before they migrated towards zero waste. I took long showers, I threw out things without a second thought and I didn’t consider how my consumption affected the environment. I believed I maintained an eco-friendly lifestyle because I recycled and used an aluminum water bottle but in actuality, I was nowhere close to living green.  On the fateful day I stumbled across an article on Yahoo about the “zero waste family,” I thought about every aspect of the world in a completely new way.

produce in cloth bags

Using cloth bags to purchase produce from the grocery store is more eco-friendly than using disposable plastic ones and some bags even have nice designs. Photo courtesy of Emma Kurfis.

Bea lives by the phrase: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. By applying this motto to every aspect of their lives, Bea and her family now only throw away enough trash in one year to fill up a single 1.5 liter Le Parfait jar. Amazing. Fascinated by this and the idea of being so waste-free, I read more of her blog posts and tried to take some of her ideas and use them in my quest to reduce my own carbon footprint. For example, I try to remember my cloth grocery and produce bags every time I go to the store, I typically use the Durango T to get downtown and I take the time to make sure my recyclables are clean and on the list of acceptable items for the city of Durango. It is quite difficult to become completely zero waste as a college student but any small changes can make a big difference, thus I am providing a list of a few tips that are simple and easy to apply to college life.

  • Refuse what you do not need. Refuse buying bottled water if your tap water is clean and safe to drink. Refuse freebie items handed out at fairs, events and even in the student union to avoid creating the demand to make more and accumulating junk you don’t need.
  • Reduce what you do need. Donate rarely used items to local thrift shops or the FLC Free Store to de-clutter your home. The Free Store is open every Thursday in the Student Union from 9-11 a.m.; donations are welcome and appreciated.
  • Reuse by using reusables. Taking your own shopping bags to the grocery store, bringing your own thermos to the coffee shop and using a refillable water bottle all easily prevent a great amount of waste from accumulating in landfills.
  • Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse. With single stream recycling now in Durango, recycling is easier than ever! However, be sure to know how to properly recycle everything because if recycling on campus gets too contaminated, it gets sent to the landfill! The guidelines for Durango recycling can be found here: http://www.durangogov.org/DocumentCenter/View/589 .
  • Rot (compost) the rest. Create a composting system that works for your home and lifestyle. The on-campus dining hall composts food waste but if you live off campus, look into composting your food waste. Composting is made easy here: http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/green-living/how-to-compost-00000000021888/index.html.

For more information on zero waste living and the Johnson family, visit the Zero Waste Home blog at http://www.zerowastehome.blogspot.com.

 

– Emma Kurfis

Water Day at Rotary Park

River

Photo by Hari Baumbach.

The Zero-Waste Team is extremely excited to host Water Day at Rotary Park on March 24th. The event is to inspire the community to work together to “spring clean” the Animas River and raise awareness about water conservation and quality. We will begin the day at 1:30 assigning participants portions of the river to clean, followed by live music and prizes for sorting out trash, and ending  the day with a couple of guest speakers and an awesome documentary about water. Everything will take place outside so make sure to bring proper dress apparel and your own blanket or lawn chair for the show. Also bring along your favorite mug to enjoy some hot chocolate for the nightly festivities. The Environmental Center is seeking to educate the community on our precious water resource while having fun on the Animas River! Hope to see you there!

~ Sarah Griffin

Zach Conde: A Look at the NEW EC Intern and His Projects

My name is Zach Conde and I am doing an internship at the Environmental Center. I have joined the Zero Waste team, and I am working on auditing the Sustainability Action Plan. I started my internship at the beginning of the semester and I have jumped into many great projects and I am already having a blast doing them.

First of all I would like to comment on what a great group of people that are involved in all aspects of the EC. They have welcomed me with open arms and have been awesome in helping me transition to a new work environment. From the time Rebecca Schild told me I could do my internship at the EC until now, everyone has been very friendly and nice. So a big thanks to all my coworkers!

The Zero Waste team that I have joined is a group with many great ideas and we have some really cool projects going on. Our “Conservation Campaign” has multiple themes which change every month.

We have started out with “reuse” for the month of February. For this we have focused on trying make the campus community aware of how many things can and should be reused instead of just being thrown away. For this you may have seen our “free Store” which has been in and around the student union building every Thursday. Here students can drop off items to the EC, and they are showcased and given away for free on Thursdays to anyone who wants them. We also had a reusable bag decoration table set up in the student union building on Thursday February 17th, where we had free reusable bags for students to decorate and use for many years to come. We also are hosting a “get crafty” competition which invites students to send a picture of themselves and their reused item via email to ec_waste@fortlewis.edu. These pictures are due by Friday February 25th 2011, and we will be holding a table in or outside the student union building on Monday February 28th to have people vote for who they think has the most useful, most creative and most reused material. The winners will be awarded with gift certificates to local businesses. If you haven’t submitted anything yet, do so immediately because YOU could be a winner!

For the month of March we plan to have the theme of “recycle”. For this we will be focusing on making the campus community more aware of the impacts they can have on the planet by recycling or not. We will be having tables set up once a week with demonstrations on how to recycle properly. We will also be providing each residence hall with new recycle bins, and allow people from each hall decorate their bins as they see fit.

The month of April will be dedicated to “reduce”. Here we will be focusing on trying to make the campus community have a smaller impact on the environment by reducing the amount of consumption. We will be showing the movie “Tapped” to make people more aware of the impacts of bottled water. We will also be promoting reusable water bottles instead of single use plastic water bottles.

I am also working individually on auditing the Sustainability Action Plan. This is a Plan that has a goal to make Fort Lewis a more sustainable campus. It is a very comprehensive plan with many small goals within the big goals that have been set. Improving our sustainable performance, making the community more educated and engaged on becoming more sustainable, providing service, research and partnerships to the entire region, and getting coordination and support from the community are the main goals to the plan.

Stewardship is a goal within performance which strives to decrease and maximize our water use on campus, maximize our land use on campus, and make the surrounding environment as healthy as possible. Another goal within performance is consumption which strives to reduce our purchasing consumption, reduce our waste stream, and increase our recycling rates. The last big goal within performance is climate. This goal is to build more sustainable buildings, decrease our overall energy on campus, and reduce our impacts to the earth from transportation.

Education and Engagement is a big goal for the SAP. This goal specifically focuses on getting the community educated, trained and have there be a big public involvement with the goals for the plan. This goal is very important to the entire plan. We need the involvement of not only the Fort Lewis community, but also the entire community of La Plata County in order to gain the support we need to achieve all the goals.

All of these goals are imperative to the completion of the SAP. The plan is set to be complete by 2015 and was started in 2010. The reason for my auditing of the plan is to see that everything is being done that possibly can be done at this time. There are responsibilities that each department is involved with achieving these goals. Keeping each department on track is the focus of my audit and will provide future students with a stepping stone to use the next time the plan needs to be audited.

Working at the EC has been a great experience so far. The people that work there and the projects that we are taking on are awesome! Keep your ears and eyes open for these people and projects as the semester continues in order to recognize and get involved with the fun we are having!

Zero Waste Team is Focusing on Reuse

 The Zero Waste Team is moving forward with the Conservation Campaign. Next week on Wednesday the Zero Waste Team will have a booth set up in the Student Union from 11:00 a.m. – 2.00 p.m. where you can decorate you own reusable bag! They will also have other crafty items on display that they made from reusable materials. There will be lots of great ideas on how to reduce and reuse in your life!