By Patrick Jones
At the 2019 retreat of the Cooper-Young Community Association Board of Directors, it was decided by the board that in 2019, special focus would be given to a zero-waste initiative, that the CYCA, in its day-to-day operations and in the execution of its monthly and annual events, would commit to minimizing and hopefully eliminating waste that would end up in a landfill, instead utilizing materials in a way that would divert all waste into either recycling or compost.
After a year of hiccups, ups and downs, successes and failures, the CYCA board is committed to continuing and improving upon this focus in 2020 and beyond.
The CYCA office maintains recycling and compost receptacles for the association’s day-to-day needs, and is committed to using only such things that can be disposed in them. You may have noticed a “zero-waste” emphasis in the CYCA’s current merchandising products in the form of reusable tote-bags and reusable aluminum cups. The CYCA has encouraged members and attendees to events like “Thirsty Thursdays” to bring their reusable cups or other relevant items to cut down on waste generated. The CYCA ambitiously attempted to have a waste-free 4th of July parade, only thwarted by waste from third party vendors and attendees who had brought their own items. Many lessons on effective implementation have been tested and learned throughout the year.
Regarding 2019’s major events, zero waste efforts produced some mixed but overall impressive results. Working with local nonprofit the Compost Fairy, the association rapidly tried to integrate zero-waste efforts with our largest annual fundraisers. With a last-minute relocation of the 4-Miler post-race celebration, there were some difficulties in collecting waste without compost contamination. Despite these issues, the 4-Miler achieved seven cubic yards of compost, 420 pounds of aluminum were diverted from landfill, and a total diversion rate of 87%. Additionally, working with Clean Memphis, the CYCA helped develop criteria by which local foot race events can apply for and achieve a “green race” certification. For the CYCA Regional Beerfest in October, some groundwork was laid in advance, such as educating vendors before the festival, such that all food packaging and utensils distributed on the day of the festival were compostable. Volunteers were trained in sorting waste, and collections points were effectively distributed at the site. The result was a higher rate of diversion and very low rate of contamination.
Moving forward in 2020, the CYCA is committed to using the lessons learned in 2019 to improve our “zero waste” initiatives. You may notice a greater emphasis this year in our smaller events. Implementation of zero-waste strategies have been integrated into our planning processes for our major annual events. The CYCA will continue to be a leader in the area in the promotion of environmentally conscious and sustainable practices.
10 easy steps to get you started on waste reduction
- I find carrying a handkerchief to be rather romantic. It’s great for drying your hands in public restrooms, unexpected tears, wrapping up treats, and of course the sniffles. I found several frilly ones at a garage sale for a quarter and package free. Unlike tissues, I don’t find my nose chaffing after several uses.
- Swap paper towels for rags and dish towels. Better for the planet and your wallet. I used to hate drying dishes. My dish towels were never up to the task; water was spread rather than absorbed. With these woven cotton cloths I can accomplish loads of chores. Dusting – you bet. Kitchen counters – a breeze. Drying dishes – absolutely! Wrapping a sandwich to go – of course. There are so many uses for good dish towels.
- Trade plastic Tupperware for glass or stainless which will last longer, are non reactive, and recyclable. Have you ever left spaghetti in plastic Tupperware? After a couple of hours the plastic is tinged red where the sauce has leached into the walls? The reverse happens as well. When you store food in plastic, especially if it’s heated, this plastic wall will leach into your food. BPA free isn’t safe either. Opt for glass or stainless not only are they two of the most recyclable products, but you don’t have to worry about contamination. I love my metal tiffins. They’re light weight, sturdy, and you don’t have to worry about them breaking.
- Keep a reusable bottle on you! No more over priced water. We’re all aware that plastic bottles are one of the most prevalent items in landfills. They have an incredibly low recycle rate and can only be downcycled. They’re also one of the easiest items to replace in your day to day life. It takes 3 liters of water to make .5 liter of bottle water. It’s an unsustainable and unregulated practice. Get used to your tap water and refill a reusable bottle. There are a lot of attractive glass and stainless options. You can buy a stainless or bamboo cap for you Klean Kanteen. I found mine at a thrift store for $2.00 and ordered a shiny new bamboo cap.
- Bring a reusable bag! Keep them in the car or one rolled up in your handbag or wallet so you always have them on hand. There’s an overwhelming amount of plastic bags in landfills and waterways. They’re incredibly wasteful and put marine wildlife in danger. It’s a really easy switch. The hardest part is remembering to bring them with you. Try to keep them in the trunk of your car. Some stores give you cash back for bringing them, and there’s no better incentive than that.
- Use cloth produce bags, or don’t use produce bags. Most items are big enough, you don’t even need a bag. Even produce can’t escape plastic. Spinach comes in plastic bags or boxes, thin plastic produce bags are at every corner, and stickers are stamped on loose items. The farmers market is the best way to avoid these things. If you don’t have access to a farmers market, you should bring your own produce bags and avoid prepackaged goods. I used 100% cotton pillowcases from the thrift store. Or you can purchase them on Life Without Plastic.
- Ditch sponges. Look for compostable products like bamboo brushes or natural materials like cotton or hemp. Sponges are a magnet for bacteria, but so are rags. Bacteria like to grow in warm, damp environments. The brush is the most sanitary, but sometimes it’s difficult to get a brush inside of a jar. I like to use rags for those hard to reach places. If you wash the rags regularly and line dry them, the heat from the sun will kill the bacteria and naturally brighten them. All of these things will need to be replaced eventually. The brushes are compostable/recyclable. I’m also interested in trying to grow loofas.
- Change your toothbrush! Bamboo is not only prettier, you can compost it! You’re supposed to change your toothbrush every 3 months. Over a decade one person will send 40 toothbrushes to a landfill. Fortunately there are many bamboo alternatives you can compost.
- Leave aluminum foil and single use plastic bags behind. Wrap sandwiches in clothe napkins or cover bowls and cheese with bees wax wraps. Aluminum foil was the hardest thing for me to give up. Fortunately they make reusable products that act like foil or cling wrap. Companies like abeego sell a moldable waxed fabric used for preservation. You can also make your own. The Egyptians were the first to use this technique. You can also use a silicone mat for lining your pans when baking at high temperatures. Ore use them for freezing.
- Start composting!! Easiest way to cut your waste by 30%. Composting is probably the most important step of all. I found that 80% of everything I threw away could be composted. You may have municipal compost, but you can also make a backyard compost. Finding the right one for you may be a challenge, but well worth the effort. Food can’t break down in landfills. Newspapers from 50 years ago are still legible; hotdogs are perfectly preserved. Air can’t circulate properly to let natural things decompose.