Trash Talk with Cy

June 25, 2009 by claire
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CyIn May, the Ashram did a “zero garbage tapas” to enlighten ourselves about what kind of waste we create and how we can minimize the amount of stuff going to the landfill every month. Lightwaves content person Darishma Parmar recently accompanied Ashram intern-in-charge-of-waste-management Cy Scofield on an excursion to the local transfer station to get the scoop on what happened and what was learned.

Darishma:  Can you tell us a little bit more about what happened at the Ashram with zero garbage this past month?

Cy:  Well, we tried to do a tapas which involves trying to change a pattern of behavior in order to see how it affects our daily life and thinking. We are trying to push for sustainability and to eventually be carbon neutral, so we thought doing a ‘zero garbage tapas’ would be a good thing to get us thinking about what kind of garbage we are creating and how we are going to deal with it.

On one level you could say we failed – we still created garbage, although there was a lot less than in previous months. But I feel for sure that awareness has been raised. I think all the signs that were put on the garbage cans at the Ashram helped people out with that. I have been gathering garbage around the Ashram for a few months now and often I’ve had to sort out recyclables myself from the garbage that people put in there. It seems like putting the signs up helped people to realize – “oh, this plastic bottle doesn’t have to go in the garbage.”  So the tapas I feel was a success in that way – raising awareness – and a lot of people are talking about it now, which is good.

D: So with people making an effort to keep recyclables out of the trash, what was left in the garbage that you saw?

C: Mostly the garbage consists of used kleenex, and also food wrappers – which I think is simply a matter of people buying less packaged food – the Ashram food is plentiful, nutritious and delicious. I think that’s more of a personal thing, you know – it’s hard to make people do that. But raising awareness about the packaging is one way to help people think about what they are eating – for example if their mind is attracted to this tasty chocolate bar, then they want the chocolate bar. But if they see that wrapper and think ‘I am going to have to throw this away,’ they might think twice about it, which is good.

D: So what percentage of the garbage do you estimate was tissues, and what percentage was packaging?

C: I’d say that the tissues and plastic combined were maybe one quarter to one half of our garbage,and the rest of it was mostly old building materials. Down at the shop and in repair and maintenance, we do a lot of recycling for sure, and a lot of reusing old things, but some things when they wear out just have to go. But that is something we are really thinking about in those areas. And Charles is very, very good about recycling, being conscious of building materials and how we are going to use them and recycle them.

Darishma:  Considering that a lot of people buy packaged stuff, do you think there is anything we can do about the food wrapping?

Cy: Well, I personally would say stop selling food at the bookstore – that would be the easiest thing to do. But it’s not all bookstore stuff – people get things on Town Run. And I definitely understand why they sell food at the bookstore, and that there are good things there like local bread. As for other options, I’m not really sure.

D: So maybe trying to stock things that are more local as opposed to packaged?

C: I think that being as community-oriented as possible and getting things from the local sources definitely allows more closed circuit kind of loops, especially for packaging. For example, we buy cleaning products that come in big buckets from a distributor in Nelson. When the bucket is empty, it goes right back to the company so they can reuse it again.

D: You said that there are different types of plastic and some of it can be recycled – can you give us some more information about what plastic can be recycled?

C: It’s been really very exciting learning about all the different types of plastic, and most plastic can be recycled.  Most bottles and cleaning products, all those type of things, have recycling numbers on the bottom.  The only thing is that most of the caps can’t be recycled.  So when you buy something, you might be able to recycle the bottle but the cap usually goes in the garbage.

The other thing is that the bottles are recyclable, but it’s not like they become new bottles. We heard a lot about this in the movie we watched, Waste=Food: that the recycling process simply sort of downgrades.  Each time you recycle something it becomes a lesser quality product, which is a lot better than throwing it away for sure, but I think in the future we are trying to move more towards closed circuits where there is not even any recycling involved. The package is just reused in the same form.

And I can see that it’s going to be hard, because for instance hair products and body products, all those kind of things that people in our culture use a lot of, are a big source of that kind of plastic that is simply down-cycled.

D:  How has this tapas affected your awareness of how much garbage you create?

C: It’s really got me thinking. I’ve done a lot of thinking about it because I do this (garbage/recycling run) every week. I don’t really create that much garbage, I would say, but I’ve been thinking about what I do create. Like, say, toothpaste containers – I go through a thing of toothpaste every month or every 2 months or so, so I’ve been trying to research some homemade toothpaste recipes, and they all look pretty decent. One thing I did start doing was reusing my floss and I found out that a piece of floss could last me 2 or 3 weeks, so that’s a good thing.  And I just eat the Ashram food because it is delicious and I have no desire to buy any packaged food.

And what else can I think of… It just goes back to living simply, you know. I am trying to think about clothes, because clothes are a big thing – we all have a lot of clothes. I just wear my clothes until they wear out basically. And then afterwards, use them for rags. Which is something that I think we do a great job at the Ashram, recycling clothes, for sure.

D: Speaking of recycling clothes, there was some talk about making handkerchiefs. Do you have a handkerchief or would you be interested in getting one if they were available here?

C: Oh yeah, I want to get one. I have never used a handkerchief, because I don’t need to blow my nose that often, but I would be totally willing to try it out. I think it’s a great idea to make them.

D: How often do we usually take garbage from the Ashram to the dump?

C: Well, we actually have our own dumpster which gets emptied once a month.  Someone comes and takes our garbage in a truck.  Right now we are at the local transfer station which we usually only take recycling to, and I take it every 2 weeks.

In terms of how much garbage we actually produce in a month, during our tapas month we had 1/2 a dumpster full of garbage, so that’s around 2 cubic metres.  I’m not sure how much it all weighed. I would say that’s pretty good for a community of our size, but we can always do better.


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  1. To me, this is like ‘proof’ that the Ashram is really on the cutting edge in terms of sustainability/environmental responsibility. Thinking about things like toothpaste containers may seem trivial, but to me it feels like that’s really the way that things are going – that eventually we’re all going to have to start figuring out how to use less of all the ‘stuff’ that makes up our whole system of consumption/waste creation.

    I’m so inspired to read of Ashram folks who are showing the way by rigorously taking responsibility for how their actions effect the world – you are an example to the rest of us!

    Comment by claire — June 25, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  2. Nice work Cy! Glad to hear about recent developments!

    Comment by Monica — July 2, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

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