Of all the things to get me excited, who knew the prospect of talking about my trash on national television would be one of them? Early last month, a crew from the PBS Newshour came to the house to interview Sven and me about residential composting for a story they were producing about San Francisco’s journey toward zero waste. Sven wrote about the happening, its genesis, and more in a most read-worthy blog post, Talking trash with PBS NewsHour.

Five adults and a large TV camera on a tripod in a 10×12′ kitchen was nothing short of cozy. Scrambling eggs and making breakfast while said camera (off tripod) and cameraman followed us around the kitchen was strange and amusing, but I have to say the most anxiety-inducing aspect to this whole experience came a few weeks later when we got the call notifying us the story, San Francisco on Track to Become Zero Waste City, would be airing that very afternoon. We wondered if our reflections about how simple and normal it is to participate in the city’s municipal composting program would make the final cut.

newshour_kitchen

Well over an hour of filming was edited to 55 seconds (far more than we ever imagined) of airtime and soundbites. My line about putting Qtips* in the compost and Sven’s comment about his inability to toss an apple core in the trash when there’s no compost bin in sight have generated some awesome conversations both on- and offline. What was it about these two nuggets of  revealing insight? They show how awareness and shifts in thinking can impact reflexive behaviors and habits.

Adhering to San Francisco’s Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance has enabled us to reduce our landfill-destined waste to almost none. It’s affected our choices of what we buy (nearly all purchases are daily essentials) and how we buy it (with no or as little packaging as possible). This was most clearly illustrated in the lingering shot our compost/recycling/trash zone received.

residential compost and recycling

Allow me to make introductions: Compost, the most frequently used and emptied receptacle, is on the left. The recycling container is the largest bin in the system. San Francisco’s single stream recycling allows us to collect all paper, glass, metal, and approved plastics in one container. Trash is often a landfill-destined crunchy plastic bag that’s attached to the side of the recycling container with a binder clip. The day the NewsHour crew came to visit, the trash bag was a Newman’s Own pretzel bag. Other weeks it might be a cereal box insert or a paper bag that a loaf of freshly-baked bread came in. It can take us two weeks or more to fill the “trash.” The milk cartons and takeout container have been rinsed and are waiting their turn to be filled with compostables. The lower shelf holds a ceramic planter that we use for collecting wine corks and spent batteries (mostly batteries from client’s homes that I empty from my work bag). These can be recycled at the local grocery co-op, a destination one or the other of us visits each week. And finally, the multi-purpose dishpan is where future trash and compost bags reside until called for duty. When needed, the very same dishpan is used for hand washing delicates or large stacks of dishes. Everything pictured above is a reuse of items we each purchased or acquired at least ten years ago and used for other other purposes.

Establishing a kitchen compost/recycling/trash zone is different for each and every household. Assessing available space and how you move through it, your aesthetics, lifestyle, and what your municipality requires all contribute to the choices to be made. It took us a few tries, over a couple of years, to perfect this setup. Lidless receptacles eliminate extra steps and effort, but they are not for everyone. We realize going lidless is a luxury in a pet- and toddler-free household. Because we regularly cook from scratch, food scraps add up quickly and force us to empty the compost bin a couple times a week. As such, even after a couple of days, the compost doesn’t smell. When there’s a risk that it might, a little sprinkle of baking soda will neutralize the possibility. During these winter months, orange and lemon peels do the trick!

Since the NewsHour story aired, Sven and I have found ourselves talking trash with friends and colleagues on the sidewalk, at parties, and in restaurants and stores. Some have come to us with composting and disposal confessions, while others have declared new shopping and disposal aspirations: several people will stop buying trash bags and others declared have a personal challenge to reduce their actual trash to match ours.

We knew compost was nutrient-rich, but what a surprise to discover that talking about it could nourish our community and beyond in so many ways.

newshour_deb72 newshoursven72

*Next time, I’ll be sure to say “cotton swab.”

Credits: Screenshots (three color photos) ©PBS Newshour.

catblogpost2smI couldn’t believe it either. I had no idea a cat could eat a blog post. But she did. I hope you realize this is possible only at that delicate intersection where the cyberworld meets the analog world and where the waiting-in-a-pile-on-my-desk-to-be-filed paper world meets the filed paper world.

I’m terribly allergic to cats, so I cannot take credit for having a feline who enjoys some 100% recycled post-consumer paper content in her life. If I could claim to have any influence on a cat, I suppose that introducing it to sustainable paper would be an excellent, albeit unusual, place to start.

Obviously, Stretchy the cat had good taste. She chose the pages that were about the magnificent Christmas shoe tree that stands on of her back porch this time of year.

kitties3_sm copy 2Stretchy lived downstairs and was one of my landlady’s two kooky felines. (All cats are kooky, right?) I learned that Stretchy liked eating paper during the same conversation in which said landlady asked me for a new printout of the blog post for her archive. I never thought to ask how selective she was and if bank statements, greeting cards, or gas bills were ever victims of her nibbling ways. Did she liked the taste of photographs or the glue of postage stamps, too? Maybe she had a thing for little shoes, and she pined (tee hee) for the return of the holidays when the collection would come out for her to admire. Maybe she tried on the shoes when no one was looking to see what all the fuss was about.

The little shoes are epic and their numbers vast. When Sven and I were in Germany this fall, we brought home what we thought would be a nice addition to the holiday collection. A kitchenware vendor at the Volksfest in his hometown managed to find a little shoe cookie cutter in his collection of small useful objects. We delivered the shoe, a little high heeled number upon our return, and have since found out that it was put to use – for making holiday cookies! Obviously, it was a very multi-functional gift filled with lots of creative potential. I wonder if it may eventually hang out with its footwear friends.

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Wishing you a festive and delicious solstice and holiday season.

This post is dedicated to Stretchy Gordon.

In short: it just doesn’t make sense for universities to invest in a system that will leave their students no livable planet to use their degrees on, or for pension funds to invest in corporations that will ruin the world we plan to retire in. The one thing we know the fossil fuel industry cares about is money. Universities, pension funds, and churches invest a lot of it. If we start with these local institutions and hit the industry where it hurts — their bottom line — we can get their attention and force them to change. This was a key part of how the world ended the apartheid system in South Africa, and we hope it can have the same effect on the climate crisis.

from http://math.350.org/

Let me start by saying that the quote above is as far as I’ll go with regard to the examination of the oil industry and climate change. Plenty of people can, have, and will speak about these topics in ways that far exceed my ability and desire to do so. For instance, there’s my partner, Sven, who reported on a lunchtime interview with Bill McKibben as I snapped away with my cameras to document the event. This is about something more: it’s about taking action in alignment with our values.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH (more…)

This post may be a bit out of the norm for my blog, but it feels necessary. If you’re a reader who is gleefully facebook-free, this will probably bore you to pieces. I’ll be back to my more typical musings shortly!

If you’re a facebook user like me, I’m certain you’ll agree that the unpredictable and ever-changing algorithms and other under the hood shenanigans by the folks over there have led to nothing short of frustration. I use facebook as a research and communication tool for both my business and personal life. I follow a plethora of companies, nonprofits, fellow bloggers, and many other entities from whom I learn and get turned on to information that deepens my civic, intellectual, and social involvement.

Pages I’ve “liked” stopped appearing in my newsfeed long ago. New “likes” seldom showed up. After some searching online for answers, I dabbled my way to this conclusion: organizing the pages I “like” brought them into my newsfeed!

For the sake of your sanity and my own, I wish to share my initial process which may very well be obsolete in a week or two if facebook launches another upgrade or algorithm. In the short term, at least, I’m happy. Maybe you will be, too. (more…)

reusable cloth bag; sf environmentDid you ever have one of those mornings when you woke up to find that one of your habits came home with you? It happened to me the other day. As I wiped the sleep from my eyes and put the water on for tea, there it was, languishing over the back of a kitchen chair: another reusable bag.

Most bags are easy to refuse, but this one certainly had its charm. There was the allure of the soft  blue recycled fabric, not to mention the colorful webbing of the handles (also made of recycled materials) that flirted with me and Sven when we first saw it. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment purchased 7,000 of these bags in a variety of colors for distribution for free free as part of the educational campaign for the City’s Checkout Bag Ordinance which went into effect on October 1.

The purpose of this legislation is to encourage customers to bring their own checkout bags, in order to reduce the impact of disposable bags to the City and the environment. (more…)

In early 2008, the following email was sent to the general listserv of the National Association of Professional Organizers’ San Francisco Bay Area chapter (NAPO-SFBA):

I’ve been contacted by…Rebuilding Together, the national organization that does Habitat for Humanity type rebuilds and remodels of both private homes and non-profit organization’s facilities.

I was a construction captain a few years ago on a fabulous remodel of the basement of the Larkin Street Youth Center and last year did assessments on two homes…

Apparently there are projects in communities all around the Bay Area, but if you’d like to team up with a corporate sponsor and do some great work while showing off your organizing skills and NAPO’s community spirit–please let me know asap.

Really? A unique opportunity to stretch one’s organizing muscles, volunteer for an awesome nonprofit and cause, AND be part of a team that positively impacts the lives of strangers? “Please do put me on the list! I’d love to help if the timing’s right,” I responded to my colleague, Victoria Roberts-Russell.

Two weeks later, another email landed in my inbox. This one contained descriptions of various projects that could benefit from the input of a professional organizers. I signed on, completed a project, and was hooked. When it was over, I wondered how we could get more organizers on board with this seemingly natural partnership and began conspiring with Victoria and our enthusiastic associates at RTSF. (more…)

Organizing can be this way: You start with a desire to make something better and more efficient. You get started on that single task, but then you find that one thing leads to another, and suddenly you’re going on an unexpected journey around your home or office. Sound familiar?

The interconnectedness of the seemingly disparate parts that make up workable and efficient systems is among the many features I love about the organizing process. It takes you places, it helps you discover things, and it lets you improvise along the way. There are no “rights” or “wrongs” but what works for you, the individual. The process can be overwhelming and a complete diversion that ends in a larger sense of disarray than you could ever have imagined. I’ve been there. Who knew that giving laundry day a lift would provide one such voyage. (more…)

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