Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Trashed - Book Review by MCR Eve C.

Book Review
Trashed: by Derf Backderf. Abrams ComicArt: New York, 2015.

Review by Eve C., MCR-in-training.

                                                 Image source:

 As MCRs-in-training, we were fortunate enough to hear from an Edmonton waste collector, who described how he and his team go about providing the important service of moving our waste from curbside to the Edmonton Waste Management Centre. It was good to hear that Edmontonians generally are very supportive of our waste system.  We heard about kids who wave to their waste collector every day, senior citizens who wait by their curb to chat with their collector, and a homeowner who responded immediately when she realized her collector had slipped and fallen on his daily route.

With this background of a first-hand description of waste collection in my city today, I was very interested to read Trashed, a graphic novel all about garbage and garbage collection.

For those of us who toss our trash in a bag and set it out at night, only to have it whisked away before we wake up, Trashed provides an eye-opening look at the journey waste takes. Derf Backderf, drawing on his experience as a waste collector and citing statistics about waste in America, portrays a year in the life of an American small-town garbage man in the late 1970s. His tale tells how our waste goes from curbside to landfill and the people who work hard every day to make this happen. Backderf’s portrayal also contrasts with the more modern technology, safety, and work culture that waste collectors in Edmonton enjoy.

The novel begins with the unnamed and unemployed protagonist finally giving in to his long-suffering mother’s request to clean up his pigsty of a room. Depositing his waste in a pile in and around the garbage can, he is overwhelmed by the revolting smell. He decides to abandon the task, prophetically stating, “Aw, screw it…. the garbagemen can deal with it.”

Shortly after, a vague newspaper ad leads to a job on a municipal garbage truck, driving through the summer, fall, winter and spring seasons of garbage, each with their own piquant details. Summer brings heat, which does not improve the odour of garbage, while winter includes solid masses of frozen garbage in cans waiting to slide onto the toes of the unwary, and blizzards that shut down almost everything – except the need to haul garbage. The at-times overwhelming portrayal of the waste we create is leavened by a generous dose of humour at the challenges and small victories of daily life.

Interspersed with these adventures in waste are asides about the big picture of garbage. Interludes include the history of garbage, diagrams of modern landfills and their vulnerability to leakage, and diagrams of the ever-increasing quantities and composition of waste in America.  These tie the indifference of individuals, whose lack of ownership towards their garbage starts from the minute it leaves their houses, to the revolting and dangerous effects of huge quantities of waste on both the individuals who work to keep our urban environments clean, and to the planet as a whole.

Although at first not overly excited about the job he has somehow found, as time goes on, the narrator becomes more familiar with the rhythms of his job.  Some residents, including the holy grail – the home that produces one tidy garbage bag per week – pleasantly surprise him. After a year has passed, much to his surprise, he decides to stay working in waste collection. 

Overall, this graphic novel is an entertaining look at a side of life most of us do not often consider. Backderf vividly portrays the day-to-day details of the reality of garbage collection alongside our society’s exponentially increasing culture of disposal, resulting in an entertaining and unsettling look at the world of waste.

Postscript: Trashed in Edmonton

Taking ownership of our waste involves many different aspects: reducing the quantity of garbage we produce, properly diverting waste wherever possible, and once we have only the proper items in the garbage bag, ensuring that our trash is ready for collection.

Although this last aspect is perhaps sometimes forgotten in the focus on waste reduction, Backderf’s description of the daily routine of waste collectors shows that an individual can make a difference, especially in the life of a waste collector. Here are four simple asks that can keep our Edmonton waste collectors safe and working efficiently to take care of our waste:

·        Keep it light (make sure you can lift your garbage with one hand);
·        Box and label “sharps”;
·        Use the right can; and
·        And make it safe to reach your trash

For more info on helping waste collectors in Edmonton check out this FAQ

And view this video for the top three ways to make your waste collector’s job easier. 

You can borrow the book, Trashed, from the Edmonton Public Library

Friday, August 18, 2017

MCR Daniel K. sees composting as one way to make our city a better place to live

Daniel K. recounts his visit at Compost 'S cool.

The classic three bin system. 
Compost ‘S cool is an amazing place with lots of friendly people around to teach you about different techniques of composting and its many benefits. I was already familiar with the 3 bin system before arriving, and was fascinated by the spool, sphere, and rolling track compost tumblers. Although with merit, I still prefer the classic non-tumbling composting techniques. There's nothing like seeing the results of your efforts: finding that your old food scraps have turned back into their basic elements.

Having a blast irrigating the composting toilet. 

I would love to learn more about the composting toilet, because I think cities need more of these fantastic waste receptacles. While Edmonton is a leader when it comes to taking care of “business”, so many other places are polluting waterways through lack of proper techniques. Maybe Edmonton could serve as an international educator for rural hu-manure programs, and start by setting up a system at the EWMC?

Daniel is a resourceful and experienced sustainability professional with education and work experience in coordinating and implementing sustainability programs. His strengths lie in designing projects and implementing detailed plans which drive increased participation and interest. He has currently joined with the Edmonton Tool Library and Edmonton Food Council, and hopes to contribute to making Edmonton a better place to live.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Tell One Friend: Label Your Leftovers

Tell One Friend: Keep a marker and tape by the fridge to make labeling your leftovers easy and convenient.

Labeling and dating containers in the fridge helps fight food waste by reminding us what we have, and what needs to get eaten first. Keeping a marker and tape handy and visible means you won't have to go hunting through drawers.

Use these ideas to remind your friends, family and co-workers:

Change habits
"Labelling your leftovers makes it easy to remember what's in the fridge, and when it needs to be eaten."

Prompt them
"Keeping a marker and tape right beside my fridge makes it easy to label my containers."

One small ask
"Will you try keeping a marker and tape beside your fridge for the next month?"

Want to learn more about Food Waste in Edmonton?

You'll receive tips and tricks on how to reduce your food waste footprint, three to four times per year. You'll also be invited to participate in future research opportunities that will help us to better understand and combat food waste in Edmonton.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Tell One Friend: Visit Compost 'S cool

Tell One Friend: Visit Compost 'S cool!

Compost 'S cool is a great learning resource for compost beginners and experts. Visitors can see various backyard bins in action, get a lesson on worm composting, or even discuss the ins-and-outs of a Bokashi bucket.

Compost 'S cool is staffed on weekends and holidays from 10-4, Victoria Day to Labour Day.

If you know anyone who is curious about compost, struggling with their bin or just in need of a refresher, tell them to visit! Drop-in advice is always free!

Want more structured learning? Take a Basic Composting workshop for just $10!

Use these ideas to remind your friends, family and co-workers:

Change habits
“Curious about composting, but not sure where to start? Visit Compost 'S cool and talk to an expert!”

Prompt them
"Composting is easy, when you have the knowledge. You can learn everything you need to know at Compost 'S cool."

One small ask
"Will you contact our compost experts if you have questions about composting?"

Can't visit in person?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Guardian Dental Goes Green

Staff at Guardian Dental contacted the City of Edmonton's Waste Services in early 2016, looking for information about Edmonton's recycling system. They were developing a sustainability plan and mandate, and wanted to know how they could reduce waste in their office. 

We were thrilled to hear back from them recently with an update on their sustainability journey! Dr. Katherine Roche and her staff are committed to sustainable practices, and hope to inspire other businesses to go green.
It was mid-November 2015 and I was standing in my newly purchased dental practice! I had been working as an associate dentist in several practices for nearly a decade, learning and growing and helping patients. However, one aspect of these offices always bugged me: bags and bags of garbage!

A significant quantity of throw-away, single-use items accumulates throughout the day and ends up in the landfill.  I wanted to do better and find other options.  As the owner of my own office with a supportive and motivated team, I knew I could give environmental practices and purchasing choices the priority they deserve.

The method for our sustainability audit was simple, if not easy: examine everything we placed in the garbage.  Was it essential? Was there a washable or sterilizable alternative? Minimal packaging? Recyclable? Biodegradable? Basically, applying the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra.

Dr. Katherine Roche loves her green, biodegradable gloves.
The dental industry has moved toward disposable items for the sake of convenience. Environmentally friendly products and alternatives are not often priorities.  When we told suppliers our purchasing mandate, there was often a long pause over the phone. Fortunately, we have found some great solutions without compromising the safety or functionality of our dental office.

Now, instead of a full garbage bag of mixed-material trash at the end of a single operating day, the only ‘landfill’ material our office throws away are surgical masks, mini plastic brushes, and plastic-and-wire suction tips, all of which are sourced from BeeSure EcoBee with recycled and biodegradable content. The office also generates compostable material consisting of food waste from our (usually) home made lunches, the completely biodegradable single-use surgical gloves, and paper (non-lined) cups. Every other material is either recycled or reused once it has been cleaned or sterilized.

It has been a long and ongoing process obtaining products that fit our mandate. In some cases, there aren't good alternatives available, and we have encountered some puzzling regulation requirements. We are researching sustainably and ethically sourced floss. Finding an affordable option can be a challenge. Most conventional floss is nylon or Teflon. These materials will never biodegrade. It's heartbreaking to think of this material - so essential to dental health! - slowly compromising our environment, thread by thread.
Our compact washing machine and reusable bibs.
We spent a considerable amount of capital to upgrade our sterilization cassettes to ones that don't require double layers of polypropylene wrap for each sterilization load.  We recycle all of our paper-and-plastic sterilization pouches (separated into components).  We have replaced disposable bibs and head rest covers with bright,waterproof fabric ones which are laundered in a high efficiency washing machine. We use a fast-acting, eco-friendly disinfecting cleaner rather than using disposable plastic sheeting barriers on all surfaces. We appreciate the efforts of all the companies and organizations that support us with environmental options, from EcoBee in California and POH in Oklahoma, to local heroes like Greenmunch and the amazing education team with the City of Edmonton.

The team at Guardian Dental.
For business owners, sustainability efforts are sometimes framed as prohibitively expensive. In reality, our commitment to finding low waste solutions has saved us money over time that is then reallocated toward energy offsets and more sustainable product choices.

It takes time and education to make patients consider the environmental impact of the different businesses they support. Most patients see their dentist once or twice a year and don't consider the cumulative impact. People often think of eco dentistry as something that relates to the materials used to repair their teeth.  I always carefully consider every dental treatment plan for biocompatibility and preservation of existing tooth structure for a lifetime of oral health. However, there is more to my patients' health than the dental care I provide. I want to be constantly considering and investigating ways to conserve resources and preserve the natural environment. I believe in restoring that commitment to a place of priority in all aspects of our lives, our businesses as well as our homes.

Dr Katherine Roche DDS