Friday, December 19, 2014

What Goes Where: Dealing with Holiday Waste

The City of Edmonton is asking residents to put their holiday waste where it belongs: food waste in the garbage, paper and boxes in the blue bag, and electronics to the Eco Station.

“Edmontonians are avid recyclers and generally put the right items in their blue bags,” said Laura Henderson, a social marketing coordinator with Waste Management Services, “but with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, we see an increase in non-recyclables ending up in blue bags.”

Paper, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles and jars, aluminum cans and trays, and glass bottles and jars should go in blue bags or apartment blue bins. Old electronics, strings of broken Christmas lights, food and Styrofoam are some things that should never go in a blue bag.

“Anything with a battery or cord should be taken to an Eco Station,” said Henderson. “Electronic waste and batteries contain toxic elements and should always be brought to an Eco Station for proper disposal.”

Keeping toxic elements out of the regular waste stream is better for the environment and ensures a high-quality compost product. The organic portion of Edmonton's garbage is turned into compost.

For more information about dealing with holiday waste, including which items should be taken to an Eco Station, please visit or call 311.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bare Minimum Part 2 by MCR Leah A.

Leah made the decision to minimize her life by getting rid of 465 items in the span of a month. She galvanized herself for the task ahead, and laid out the rules of the game in Bare Minimum Part 1.

Part 2: Let’s Get Minimal

Once I made the decision to pursue this, I saw my belongings with foreign eyes. My thoughts about stuff had changed from a myriad of vague voices into one brilliantly clear question: Does this thing make my life better?

I quickly realized that if I had asked that question while shopping, I wouldn't be doing this challenge. There were a lot of nice things in my home that I had never actually used. Some of those items went to new and loving homes as housewarming gifts. I threw out old makeup that I don’t wear, and recycled a lot of catalogues and bus schedules that I could easily look at online.

The Wee Book Inn was willing to take some of my books, DVDs and CDs. Did you know that you can get store credit with a 50% bump on the purchase price of your old books? Well you do now. You are welcome! I also picked up some Catfish Coffee to power me through tough times in the rest of the challenge.

It's easier to let go of things when you know someone else
will love them
The real lifesaver in this project was the Reuse Centre. I dropped off 75 items in week one alone! Largest was an artificial Christmas tree, a gift that I had only set up once. On to better things, tree! I also had so many pens and half-filled notebooks. I took out the used pages and thought of the kids who would get sweet pens for school, and felt great. I donated 78 pens but it felt like cheating to count them individually, so I counted one item for all the pens and one item for all the notebooks. Never say I go easy on myself!

Seven days in, I was 135 items down, which gave me a nice buffer to head into the month. 30% complete! I felt amazing, found it easier to relax, and had more pride in my home. I no longer had piles of stuff in front of bookcases and shelves because there was no space. I had created room for the things that really mattered to me, just by getting rid of the things that didn't. The things I kept meant even more to me than they had before, like I had separated the wheat from the chaff or the gem from the rock.

Image from Apartment Therapy
Set up a box or space at home for
things you might want to get rid of
Week two was a little less drastic. I began a second box for the Reuse Centre and kept a copy of their recently expanded accepted items list handy. (Items trickled in over the rest of the month for the final drop off at the end of the month.)

My brother also came over to go through some keepsakes that my mother had set aside. We kept a few of the best things, recycled a fair bit of our embarrassing childhood art, and put unused diaries, notebooks, and four bags of packing peanuts into the Reuse Centre box. I was thrilled to send the peanuts to the Reuse Centre because they are so damaging to the machinery at the recycling facility, and so harmful in a landfill.

14 days in, I was 231 items down. Just two shy of the 50% mark, but as per the rules, I couldn't count items as gone until they were actually out of my house. I was closer to 60% with what I had mentally let go of.

As week two ended, I was keenly aware that all the low hanging fruit had been picked. The next phase would take a bit more effort.

Lessons Learned:
  • I found that letting go of beloved items was much easier when I thought of them going to loving hands and homes.
  • Regifting is wonderful when you explain that you are passing it along because you think the new owner will love it too.
  • The importance of an outbox. I had a guest closet that was essentially a place for things I just needed to get out of my house. I felt great seeing the floor of it again.

Leah joined the MCR ranks in May of 2014. She believes that urban environments offer a real opportunity to make the world increasingly sustainable. Favored topics include composting, urban design, and (now) minimalism.

Check back in the new year to read the conclusion to Leah's minimalism adventure.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bare Minimum Part 1 by MCR Leah A.

I have felt the stirrings of minimalist philosophy many times, but it wasn’t until this year that I had anything to report on the subject. This is a three-part story of my first foray into minimalism. (Full disclosure: This was written after the fact, but I drew on notes made during the process so when I say I felt something, I really did!)

Part 1: My path towards minimalism

As part of my Master Composter Recycler (MCR) training there was certainly a real change in my thinking. I started rethinking my possessions: Why did I buy this? Did I need it? Was it making my life better, easier, or simpler? This TED Talk reinforced those thoughts, as did a fellow MCR’s YouTube video (and catchy song). I loved the basic ideas of minimalism: having less, doing more, becoming a connoisseur of life.

The book that started it all
Despite those positive attributes, it just seemed too daunting to me. Where would I start? What would my friends and family think? Would it actually make me happier, healthier, and wealthier in life? I was stuck limbo, interested in minimalism but not pursuing it. Then I read “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, & Play when no one has the Time” in August 2014.

"Overwhelmed" was an interesting read; it takes a gendered look at leisure time. The author examines the reasons North American women feel like they have no ‘free’ time. In brief:
  1. Women have inherited a cultural imperative to maintain thoroughly clean spaces. Leisure, for happiness and mental health, comes AFTER work.
  2. We own a lot of things that all require some amount of care.
Point one really hit home. My grandmother used to say “a man may work to dusk from dawn, but a women’s work is never done” every time my sister and I played a game instead of helping cook or clean. Even as a grown woman, I felt like I was transgressing when I did something fun or unproductive instead of cleaning my house, reading a school assignment, working, or volunteering. At those coffees with friends, we all seemed to be so busy that we were stressed.

If taking down time seems daunting, here is a lifehack for men or women: have fewer things to clean!

Every knickknack needs to be dusted, every blanket folded, every pillow fluffed. Each item you have in your home is not just a thing that you have, but a thing that you have to do. There is always a task to be done, and if we wait to play until we have nothing to do, we may very well die waiting. It was a logical, well laid-out case. I wanted to be free of the trap that my possessions had become.

Galvanized, I revisited this post by The Minimalists, the speakers from this TED Talk. I knew that their game would be a good way for me to start lightening up my life and making space for things that I truly wanted in it.

The Minimalists

How the game works:

This challenge spans one full month. Find a friend who will get rid of some of their excess stuff. Each of you must get rid of one thing on the first day. Two things on the second day. Three things on the third. And so forth, and so on. Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc. Donate, sell, or trash. Whatever you do, each material possession must be out of your house—and out of your life—by midnight each day. Whoever keeps it going longest wins.

None of my friends were in for September and I didn't want to wait, so I played the game a bit differently. Instead of using daily rules, I set the goal that, by the end of the month, I would possess 465 fewer items. That's the same total as the daily game, but if I missed a day due to school, work, or life, I had not failed.

I took it one step further and set the goal that only 5% of what I got rid of could go in the garbage. This meant I couldn't "cheat" and throw anything usable away just to be rid of it. After all, this wasn't just about getting stuff out of my life, but also about minimizing my environmental footprint.

With my motivation high and my game rules in place, I set up a spreadsheet to track what I sent where, keep an ongoing tally, and count down to my goal of winning this game.

Leah joined the MCR ranks in May of 2014. She believes that urban environments offer a real opportunity to make the world increasingly sustainable. Favoured topics include composting, urban design, and (now) minimalism.

Check back next week to read the next installment of Leah's foray into minimalism!