Thursday, April 13, 2017

Where do all the boots go?

In Cheryl Strayed's book Wild (played by Reese Witherspoon in the movie), Cheryl accidentally looses one of her hiking boots over the side of a cliff while backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At her wits end, the story reaches its summit see what I did there and Cheryl promptly throws the second boot over the cliff too.Now if I'm honest, this climactic moment of raw emotion was lost on me the first time I read/saw this scene. That boot will never go away. It will always be there. My thoughts stayed with the boot.

If you watched the revived Gilmore Girls on Netflix, Loreli Gilmore goes to the PCT after reading Wild to find herself. What she didn't realize was that following in Strayed's footsteps was not a unique idea. The dozens of women who were preparing to hike as Loreli was, are you the book, or the movie? all had one thing in common: they all brought extra boots to throw. Those boots will never go away. They'll always be there. Loreli didn't.

The National Park Service (NPS) works hard to protect and preserve some of the most unique and awe inspiring natural phenomena in the world. With all of the effort they put to provide positive experiences for their guests, there is still a ways to go for people (even the nature loving kind) to put waste on their radar when they're camping, hiking or just living.

Overall it turns out that the NPS actually does a pretty good job of diverting their waste. About 70% of what is collected is recycled or composted (the EPA says the national average of diversion is 34.5%). NPS feels they could be doing even more by educating visitors on how cumbersome and involved waste management is not only at their parks but as a broader environmental issue.

New recycling and garbage cans in Yosemite Valley with Yosemite Falls in background

When I was at Sequoia National Forest, I was astonished to see so many dumpsters were at our campground. My car could barely make it up the hairpin turns and steep climb, how did the collection trucks manage? How long did it take? How often was it collected? You know, the seemingly normal things you ask yourself while camping among giant trees...But I was fascinated!

There were also recycling cans but it seemed very few people were using them. The convenience of lightweight, single use plates, cups and silverware can make camping more wasteful than not. Tin foil is an absolute necessity for most camp cooks and, even me, the trash-less princess,  finds paper towels a must.

Backpackers (those who carry all their camping equipment on their backs) are often more minimalist and only carry what can be useful. We get the "Leave No Trace" mantra from them. Leave No Trace is a common ideology to leave wilderness and nature as if humans had never been there. Cheryl Strayed accidentally lost one boot, purposefully another. As cathartic as it sounds to throw something as bulky as a hiking boot off a cliff into the abyss, how does that play out when dozens of backpackers follow in her lead while simultaneously adhering to a community that absolves themselves of waste entirely?

cartoon illustration of a pile of garbage larger than a mountain

Even at our National Parks where environmental impact is more apparent you're in the heart of nature for goodness sake! there is still garbage to contend with. NPS says they are acknowledging that this is the most pressing challenge. The National Parks Service saw 325 million visitors in 2016. It fits into NPS's mission to educate visitors on where trash goes, why recycling is important and the benefits of producing less. Educating all of those people on reducing waste at the source (themselves) will create a more trash-savvy public and, I hope, will prevent any more purposefully lost boots even if it does make for a better story.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Every month is Earth Month!

Welcome to April! Not only my birthday month but Earth Month as well!

My April is jam packed with Earth Day events:

April 8th I'll be at the LA County Earth Day to get a tour of the former Puenta Hills Landfill and current Materials Recovery Facility. It's all the way out in Whittier oh the things I'll do for tours of landfills! There will definitely be a post about this adventure later this month - so be on the look out!

April 15th is my work Earth Day (shout out to the City of Glendale)! You can come see me in my rare absolute extroverted state, drop off some e-waste for recycling and pick up free compost! Woot!

April 22nd (Earth Day!) I'll be going out with the Friends of the LA River doing a River clean up in the morning and then off to the City of LA's Earth Day hosted by LA Sanitation at Exposition Park.

Lot's of opportunities to do cool stuff this month and get your trash-less, water-usage-less, all around environmental amazing-ness on!

What are YOUR plans for Earth Month?

Monday, November 7, 2016


Image result for yes on prop 67

We have a LOT to vote on this November - but this one should be a no brainer! It's the last proposition on your ballot and it's to pass the bag ban that the State already approved in 2014. Over 150 towns, cities and counties have passed municipal bans and the plastic bag industry forced it into a vote - Californians obviously want this! We don't need plastic bags, they end up in the environment they clog sewers they get into the ocean and harm wildlife insert horrific pictures of birds and turtles and dolphins tangled in bags. 

This is a no-brainer! Reusable bags are smart, simple and you look super hip(ster) when you use them. This is already a cultural norm in California so let's make it official!

*UPDATE 67 passed! Amazing news! To learn more on this campaign's success and what the next steps are visit: Yes on 67

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Our Strongest foot forward

This month holds America Recycles Day! At work I've become an ambitious over-achiever and decided to hold three different events what in the hell was I thinking? But with all of the excitement over planning and activities and well marketed events one thing can get sorely lost in these kind of one-day-we-care events, I'm looking at you Earth Day, what, or who, we should also be acknowledging: sanitation workers.

Trash and recycling gets picked up in every town every day. We often know the name of our postman or a few faces from the local police and fire departments but do you know your garbage person?

 They are often ignored or looked down upon because they deal with what we no longer want. Garbage collection drivers have hard jobs: they get up early, they do back breaking work, they are in and our of traffic all day and according to the Bureau of Labor statistics have one of the top 5 most dangerous jobs. Then on top of that they are not respected or appreciated as much as say police or fire departments. In NYC the Fire Department is New York's Bravest, the NYPD is New York's Finest but the Department of Sanitation is New York's Strongest. Strongest usually means physical, which for all sanitation workers is true but it also applies to the work that they do.

Strength is also associated with health and healthy communities rely on sanitation workers to clean the streets and take away human and solid waste. Before structured sanitation programs people used to just leave their garbage on the street which lead to disease and sickness. The men and women who collect our waste keep us healthy. And I am not on a soapbox saying that as much as in the trenches of waste collected by our drivers. There's a running joke in my office that people only call when they are upset: the driver's in the way, they missed the pickup, they got too close to my car among dozens of other hilarious phone calls about the exact color of the trash can and what qualifies as furniture. Don't let the drivers be the butt of the joke but the star of the movie - they make modern life livable.

Children seem to get it. In the news we heard of triplets in Florida who give their collection drivers snacks.

Check out this video of a girl and her best friend, her waste collection driver:
*Note this is a Nutella advertisement but I am not being paid nor am I promoting their product (although it is delicious). 

SO! I want to and say "thank you!" Collection drivers have a selfless and unforgiving job, you do what you need to do to keep my neighborhood livable & community healthy and I appreciate you for it!

Trashers, go out and say thanks to your collection driver! Don't honk at them when a truck is in your path, DRIVE SLOWLY. Not around when they pick up? Leave them a note on your can! Or, just make sure your trash is secured in bags to prevent spills or injury. It's the small things.

Till next time, stay trashy!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

PaintCare was made for you and me

When I was in middle school I decided it was time to ditch my blue and white stripped wall paper and repaint my whole room. With the help of a friend and some early 2000's pop music I began the journey for a more modernly designed bedroom. I of course wanted an accent wall my hours of HGTV were finally paying off with a deep eggplant purple and lighter almost sun kissed purple.

With wall paper stripped and walls primed, we began to paint. First the deep purple, since that would take several dozen coats to get just right. Then we moved on to the light purple. But, to my absolute horror, it was the worst color I had ever seen in a cat just puked up the flowers it ate kind of way.

One trip to Home Depot later and we had found a color I later dubbed: sophisticated peanut butter to match the purple jelly wall of course and that was that.

Fast forward 8 years.

I am searching through my parents garage for my mom when I happen upon puke-purple-flower paint. It had been sitting there since I decided sophisticated peanut butter and jelly was oh so 2003.

"MOM! Why do you still have this PAINT?" 
"I don't know what to DO with it!"

It's been 14 years since I painted my childhood bedroom and I guarantee my perfectly-awful-purple is still in my parents garage.

What do you do with old paint?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that every homeowner in the US has 3 to 4 gallons of leftover paints in their home, and 10 percent of those paints ends up in landfills. That's a LOT of paint! Paint is classified as hazardous waste because of the volatile organic chemicals (VOC's) in it. That's what gives paint its 'paint' smell. And why you should always open the windows!

This month I took a tour of a paint recycling facility in Sacramento, CA. At Visions Paint Recycling, they collect latex paint, sort it by color and then make new paint colors!

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The paint colors they make aren't always consistent or attractive, I see you puke purple! so they sell mostly to industrial or commercial customers. They do have two lines of consumer paints.

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Visions is a drop off location that also partners with PaintCare, the big wig in paint recycling. PaintCare partners with local hardware stores to collect paint in several states. They then arrange to have it delivered to recycling facilities like Visions. PaintCare is responsible for most paint recycling marketing in the United States. They're also hilarious! At trade shows they walk around in a big paint can costume. 

After drop off, the paint is sorted by general color these guys are experts at ROY G BIV. They also check to make sure no oil paint has snuck into the loads. Unfortunately oil based paints can't be recycled due to their chemical properties. Oil paints are filled with saw dust to dry them out, then disposed of unfortunately to a haz waste landfill. 

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Once sorted the paint is opened all at once by workers. The workers at Visions are mostly handicapped persons coordinated by a social work organization or previously incarcerated folks. 

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The next step is by far the coolest. All the paint of similar colors is dumped into giant vats! All the colors! 

The paint then gets mixed so that it is all the same color. Much like the shaker at your local paint store. 

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Visions is always looking for new uses for their paints. Their latest is colored concrete. They started with car bumpers because they are small in size. The paint didn't stand up well the first time. They showed us the second versions. I wish them luck in the concrete car bumper business! 

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Most people are like my Mom: knowing paint shouldn't go in the garbage, but also not knowing what to do about it. For me, it all comes back to recycling's biggest pitfall: marketing. PaintCare blitz's its partner states with messages of how to recycle paint. They are steadily growing and getting recognized more and more in the resource recovery scene. They partner with municipalities in California so that hazardous waste collection facilities can add paint to their repertoire of nasty household chemicals they accept.

In some States the receipt you get from Home Depot lists a tax on hazardous waste disposal and to bring your paint back to be recycled. I've even heard of some hardware stores and thrift shops who will take paint and resell it to folks long live the sharing economy. 

The confusion over how, when and what to recycle all the products in your home can be cumbersome. PaintCare is full steam ahead on their mission to get paint out of landfills. But, if they want everyone from Prius driving Californian's to middle-class DIYers like my Mom in New Jersey to get the message, they still have some work to do.

Unlike a lot of other recycling waste streams, at least PaintCare does the guess work for you. If you need a place to drop off paint, take a gander at their website. In their words, it's not worth blowing out your pants:

Till next time trashers!

I was not paid to endorse or advertise any of the above organizations or companies. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The girl has a name.

This trash journey has been a wild ride - from a quirky gimmicky obsession with garbage, to beginning this blog, going to waste centered conferences, to landing a job in the industry. Across three states, from coast to coast over the past 6 years in one way or another I have been Trash Girl. Tried and true. But, like the packaging industry evolves what new material they use to overly protect my groceries from all forms of harm, so must a girl.

Now that I mostly focus my work and interest on recycling, and have begun to give presentations to the public and school kids I have renamed myself:

Goodbye Trash Girl

and hello

Rachel the Recycling Girl!

Rachel the Recycling Girl is a superhero recycler and expert outreacher to kids and adults alike. I can spar with the mightiest of opponents and align with the smallest of allies!

No worries, my blog will still be all things trash! My nickname has just been --- recycled -- *wink wink* into something new.

I'll be hastaging cuz I hear that's what all the cool kids do these days my posts and pictures with #RachelTheRecyclingGirl. So maybe by the internet you'll be able to see some of what I do intermittent of these blog posts.

As always, stay trashy!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It's just that Subaru life

I've only ever driven a Subaru. It was the car that was given to me when I got my license and the car that saved me when my tire came off while my Mom and I were driving down the highway no joke the car got totaled and we were fine. Then when I moved to Los Angeles I fit my whole life into this car. So basically I'm I had a strong admiration for my car.  

BUT NOW I'm a Subaru gal for life said in the most dramatic voice I can muster. Subaru has the only zero landfill certified factory in the United States. Yup. That's a thing. That thing was verified when they partnered with the National Parks Service to help several national parks across the US also become zero waste I'm having a trash-gasim over this I can't handle all this greatness. 

Here's their PSA about the project. Good luck NPS & Subaru!