Thursday, November 29, 2018

Lessons from our Recycling Queen

After the city's falsely named "Recycling 101" event turned out to be more of a budget meeting than a presentation on how to recycle, Sustainable Tucson hosted our own program, "Recycling and Beyond."

We stressed to Sherri Ludlam, Environmental Scientist in the Department of Environmental and General Services, that this time we wanted her to concentrate on the rules for recycling. Her chosen topic was "old and new challenges to Tucson's recycling program." One of the new challenges was that China wouldn't be accepting all of our dirty recycling anymore because of the contamination. Contamination is all the trash that doesn't belong in recycling - including plastic bags that jam up the machines. That same contamination is costing the company contracted to do our recycling truck loads of money. Our bad. Tucsonans put everything from dirty diapers to dead cats to Saguaros in our recycling cans. Sherri reminded us that there are actual people who sort through all that yucky trash. So don't throw in anything that you wouldn't want to find in the recycling can.

Present at both meetings was a bold young woman, Sharia Des Jardins, who gamely explained why you can't recycle freezer boxes. (See reason below). Besides doling out much needed explanations for the new recycling rules, Sharia was there to ensure that conversation covered more that just the profit margin for the recycling company. And Sustainable Tucson had it covered. After an enlightening presentation on the 5 R's  () by Zero Waste Maven Alex Kosmider, we had a lively discussion that led to forming a "Zero Plastic Waste" working team.  We are already doing research to repeal the Arizona law prohibiting towns from banning plastic bags. 

Possible Zero plastics team project? 
Of course it is still important to safeguard Tucson's recycling program by following the new rules. Toward that end,  I asked Sharia to clarify the recycling rules recorded at the meeting. I like to think of Sharia as our own "Recycling Queen." 

Queen Sharia Des Jardins shares her own version of "Recycling 101"

I am the first to admit that the info put out by the city is confusing. They say that we can recycle plastic, cardboard, paper, and glass. They show us pretty pictures on a nice blue background but there is much that they actually don’t say that would be helpful. The only way in which we will be able to fulfill our part in the aspects of proper recycling is to fully understand what is and isn’t good. And by that I don’t mean what is and isn’t good for their bottom line. I mean for the planet and for our future.

So, to begin with here are the basics:

Yes – plastics, bottles and containers with numbers 1-7. What they really want for the city is 1&2 but they will take 1-7. Any bottles such as gallon milk jugs, water, soda, etc. should be lightly rinsed – preferably air dried, and the cap put back on before tossing in the bin. This goes for things such as laundry soap bottles too. Please don’t crush them either. 

Yes – ridged plastics such as buckets and storage containers. Even igloo coolers. There are some things in this category that will be dismissed at the sorting facility but trying to figure out just which ones they won’t take is too hard. If in question they ask that you trash it rather than send it to them. You can always call to get a more definitive answer for larger items.

Yes – glass – bottles, jars, etc. Lightly rinsed and air dried, no lids. (Save water by putting a little water in the bottle and shaking it..) 

Yes – aluminum cans from foods– rinse, leave labels on. Also, if you can don’t fully remove the lids. When using a can opener try to open it most of way but not fully so that the lid is still attached. The small, loose metal lids get lost at the sorting facility. 

Yes – soda cans – rinse, air dry. Please don’t crush it makes it harder for them to be sorted as they become smaller. 

Yes- paper – office paper, mailers, brochures, etc. They ask if it is small that you don’t recycle it. It just slips through the rollers at the sorting center. You can always put small slips in an envelope. Just don’t over stuff it or they will pull it off the line wondering what might be in it. 

Yes- periodicals, phone books, etc. They are easy to sort and if they haven’t been ripped apart, they should be easy to recycle.

Yes – newspapers, paper bags – don’t bundle them up, leave them loose so that they can be separated for processing. It used to be a thing for us to bundle the newsprint now they want it to be free moving to make it easier to sort and process. 

Yes – corrugated cardboard – any of those Amazon or shipping boxes. Don’t worry about the tape unless it covers more than 50% of the box. Just remember to break them down and no need to cut them up in pieces. The bigger the better to fit through the machinery at the sorting facility. 
Yes – paperboard, molded fiberboard - cereal boxes, processed food boxes, egg cartons (not Styrofoam), etc. Again, break them down if you can. 

Yes – ½ gallon milk containers coated in wax, containers from broth, soups, drink boxes that are foil lined. 
No – frozen food boxes! What! They accept waxy milk cartons, but not freezer boxes?! That’s right folks, you thought they were just a box but no, they are paperboard mixed with plastic so that when they are exposed to temperature fluctuations and wetness the boxes won’t collapse. 
No – pizza boxes – no, just no! Anything that has come into contact with food or grease is a no go. Worst contamination you can do. If the lid is clean, you can rip it off and recycle it. 

Greasy pizza box - NO! 

No – bakery boxes, takeout boxes – these have also come into contact with food and grease. If there is a single spot on it it is contaminated. Please put these in the trash not the recycling bin. 

No – loose shredded paper. This must be put into a clear plastic bag to be pulled off the line and processed by hand. The paper is too small to go through the sorters. 

Shredded paper in a see through bag so waste management workers can identify it.

No – plastic lids for containers such as yogurt and sour cream. Those lids are actually made of lower grade plastics than the containers themselves. They are also small and less likely to stay on through transport than tops that screw on. Once loose they will fall through the rollers at the sorting facility or gunk them up and cause shutdowns. 

No – plastic films that that are security covers - such as the lift off ones on yogurt containers. Those aren’t even recyclable at the shops. 

No – Styrofoam in recycling cans. The city has no way to recycle this. 

No – compostable containers. These may be from lettuce or other produce/foods. These are not made of plastics that are recyclable. They are made to break down in the landfill or your compost pit. 
No – plastic bags – absolutely not! They are the bane of recycling centers across the nation. If you must take them from the grocery stores, please return them to a participating store that will recycle them for you. They go to a completely different type of facility to be processed. 

Remember these guys...

What to take to your local grocery stores that accept recycling:  Plastic bags, deflated air pillows from shipping, Tyvek packaging, plastic shipping envelopes, etc. If the plastic had foods in it or has become dirty or sticky, please at least rinse and dry if not clean before recycling. You can contaminate a whole bin while the shop waits for it to be full enough to send off for processing. 

No – trash – this includes anything you know for sure won’t ever have another use. Things like used diapers, kitty litter, doggy doo, broken stuff. Furniture, strollers, etc. 

Please remember that when you put things in your recycling bin that aren’t recyclable someone has to pull those things out. If you wouldn’t want to touch them, please don’t make them do it either. Consider compassionate recycling!

Guest blogger Sharia Des Jardins

Sharia has been doing eco/green coaching professionally for the last 3 years. She managed an eco-friendly home and kitchen store in Portland for many years. While running the T-Rex Museum in Tucson - sustainability, ecology and recycling were part of every group tour for the 6 years she was there. She made sure that every staff member ended their tours with the inevitability of human extinction if we continue in the manner of which we are accustomed to treating the planet. She has been educating friends and family for the last 20 years about what they can do. Sharia also works part time at Jen’s Organic Home and Baby here in Tucson since her return to the city in April 2018 after over a decade of living in the Pacific Northwest.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sustainable Tucson's holiday party: "Celebrate Our Sustainable Future."

You are invited to Sustainable Tucson's holiday party.

Tuesday, December. 11, 6-8:30 p.m. (Doors open at 5:30 p.m.)
St Mark's Presbyterian Church, 3809 E 3rd St. Geneva Room
(Parking on 3rd St. and 2nd St. 2nd St. lot is closer to the Geneva Rm.)

Share the bounty of the season at our holiday potluck. Non-alcoholic drinks provided by Sustainable Tucson. Save a dinosaur; bring your own flatware and glasses.

If you read the recent IPCC study on climate change, you might not think there is much to celebrate this holiday season. The idea that climate change is progressing faster than first predicted can be quite a jolt, even if you’re already working to fight it. But it could also be an opportunity to come together as a community to envision and create a better, more sustainable and resilient Tucson!
At this year's holiday party, Sustainable Tucson will be celebrating the possibilities by creating a festival atmosphere with street fair activities:
Design Your Dream Neighborhood: Create a walk-able, inviting neighborhood from a typical Tucson neighborhood map using blocks that represent elements of complete streets. (Model built by Changemaker High School students.)
Creating Our Future: Draw the ways we can create a sustainable future for Tucson by 2038 on panels we will join together into a paper quilt.
Community Tree: Add leaves with your ideas about what we can do as a community to make Tucson Sustainable by 2038.
Time Capsule: Place your note to the future in our time capsule to be opened in a year: What are your hopes for Tucson or what will you make happen in Tucson in the coming year?
"Tales of Future" storytelling stage: Local Comedian Jeremy Segal will host impromptu stories about pursuing your vision for a sustainable future and other fun environmental stories.

Come celebrate with us!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Strengthened by the Storm

It has been a turbulent year. Since President Trump was elected, it has been a constant battle against the relentless storm that is the Trump Administration. The constant assaults on our land and water.
Being bombarded with bill after bill repealing or dismantling our hard fought for environmental protections. 

My one respite from that storm was getting out in the morning light and seeing our beloved moringas finally flourishing. By the end of August the largest one was blooming and bearing fruit.  The long awaited pods were 8 inches long and nearly ready to be cooked into a yummy Filipino stew.  

But then the storm (remnants of Hurricane Rosa) hit our little food forest.

One night we came home to this.

With heavy hearts, we tried to salvage what we could of the pods and leaves. 

 Sadly, the pods were still too thin to eat or save for seeds.  

I did manage to save most of the leaves...

That was little consolation.

 But our moringas had lessons to teach. 

Our fallen moringa came back, as moringas do

Reminding me to hang loose...

While the lazy, unpruned moringa droops and strains from its own weight 

threatening to tip over if a carpenter bee lands on a misplaced flower. 

The moringa that was savaged by the storm 

is stronger and fuller for its struggle.

Pruned back by the micro burst

the edible leaves are now greener than ever and in easy reach

as they were meant to be.

The forces of nature accomplished what we couldn't.

Watching our durable moringa grow strong gives me hope. 

A sign that our country could be strengthened

by our struggle with the storm. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Tucson a hub for Ecotourism? Maybe...Share your preferences for our Tourism Master Plan

As part of their effort to create a 10-year tourism master plan, Visit Tucson is seeking insights from people who live and work in Metro Tucson. Responses to the survey (link below) will help those involved in this planning effort to better understand and respond to the community's experience and quality of life issues. It takes an estimated 15 minutes to complete

This is your chance to share your vision of a sustainable Tucson. For me, that includes restoring the Santa Cruz with a riparian area that would attract more of our state's ecotourism visitors to Tucson. Tourism brings in 23 billion dollars to Arizona. Ecotourism is a big part of that. Bird watchers come from around the world to enjoy the Sky Island's biodiversity. Developing our bike routes, increasing our tree cover, improving our air quality, and even keeping trash picked up will enhance that experience and inspire those tourists to include Tucson in their vacation plans. Expanding green infrastructure and complete streets with shady sidewalks and safe bike paths would encourage visitors and Tucsonans to slow down and enjoy local businesses (instead of rushing them out of town - which widening Broadway would do...)

What is your vision for Tucson? Would you like to ride your bike along a flowing river surrounded by twisty mesquite? Enjoy the sight of hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators fluttering around desert shrubs and local art in a traffic calming median? Shop at a farmers market in your neighborhood? Enjoy community events and music in an outdoor arena? 

This is your chance to share your preferences with Visit Tucson. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

What's Up with the Proposed Rosemont Mine

If you’ve been looking at the newspaper recently, you may have seen an op-ed from the Tucson Chamber of Commerce saying that it is time for us all to stop “fighting” and for the Rosemont mine to start. That was followed by a number of letters to the editor that clearly explained why the mine is a really bad deal for southern Arizona.

At Sustainable Tucson's October 9th meeting, Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, gave us an update on what is happening and what is likely to happen in the near future. It isn't a done deal. Several organizations, including Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and the Tohono O'odham nation are suing the mine.

Filmmaker Frances Causey also screened her documentary about the Rosemont Mine:

Ours Is The Land” is a short film that depicts in moving and powerful detail the spiritual, cultural, and physical connection of the Tohono O’odham people of Arizona to Ce:wi Duag or the Santa Rita Mountains which are imperiled by the proposed creation of the mile-wide, half-mile deep Rosemont open pit copper mine. Desecrating this revered area with a mine would fundamentally alter the cultural landscape of the Tohono O’odham nation.

More information at:

What I learned from this presentation: The proposed mine will be built in one of the most biologically diverse regions of the country.  Ecotourism is a big boom to our 23 billion dollar tourist industry. Birdwatchers come from around the world to enjoy it. If the mine goes through, tourists will get a clear view of the huge, gaping pit as they drive down scenic highway 83. The economic impact of the 400 jobs that the mine will create won't begin to equal even 1 % of what ecotourism brings to our state economy. The mine is expected to be in operation for 20 years, but the devastation to the region's diverse ecosystem and our water supply will last for hundreds of years.  

Impact on our water supply: The mine will be nearly 1 mile deep -  below the level of the aquifer and the ranchers' wells. That same aquifer provides Tucson with 20% of our water.  And the toxic tailings will end up in our water. When the mine stops running it will become a huge toxic lake.  The Rosemont mine has been formed into a limited liability company - so they will leave it for tax payers to clean up. We have an antiquated law in Arizona that allows mines to use as much water as they want.  All this during a drought that has drastically reduced the water level in Lake Mead where we get our CAP allotment.

The documentary "Cyanide Beach" tells how the directors of the Rosemont mine were also on the board of Augusta. They promised the people of Sardinia, Italy that they would clean up the poisonous tailings left from their open pit gold mine, but instead they left a toxic lake that threatens the town's water supply.

Please, write a letter to the editor telling how the Rosemont mine will personally impact you, your business or your family. Be sure to follow the guidelines and word count limit of the target publication (up to 150 words for the Arizona Daily Star.)

More information:

Robert Vint: Environmental degradation caused by Rosemont would last forever

Manuel and ElĂ­as: Rosemont mine would bring devastation to Southern Arizona
Some lesser known history on Arizona's mining tradition:

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Engaging the Next Generation

OK. I realize that my enthusiasm for sustainability sounds like the ramblings of Charlie Brown's teacher to my teenage son. (Perhaps a bit more strident...)

My boys squawk at the idea of carrying out the rinse water to irrigate our edible plants. In their defense, they weren't raised in a sustainable household. During my past marriage, we did some half-hearted recycling and that was as far as it went.

So how do you get apathetic teens interested in sustainable living? Looking back at my youth, I recall how I absolutely HATED picking green beans on my Nana's farm. But her legacy lovingly hangs over me as I tend my own little desert garden. So who knows? There may be hope for my boys.

A teachable moment presented itself when Dan and I had to go away for a long weekend. The boys generously agreed to water our yard and garden while we were away. I took the opportunity to not only give them directions, but to explain - in detail - why we do what we do. They seemed a little distracted at the time. Josh was texting his girlfriend... But we came home to thriving plants. (And a pile of dog shit, but that's another story.) I'm not sure this had much of an impact on their lives - yes, I'm still the one taking out the sink water - but hopefully it planted the seeds. Joshua admitted later that he had actually enjoyed being out in nature. Jeremy shared a story on how he saw a scruffy coyote staring hungrily at the squirrels on the other side of our garden fence. (Yes, those are the same squirrels that perch on the back wall ready to pounce on my beloved tomatoes the minute they turn red.) Of course, I'm glad the little critters are alright!

Recently, another opportunity to reach my youngest son presented itself. Since graduating high school, Jeremy has been doggedly pursuing his passion for stand-up comedy. He hits a different open mic every night. I found a way to use this interest to get him to research sustainable principles. I invited him to MC Sustainable Tucson's impromptu storytelling activity "Tales of the Future" at our tent at Discover Local Day. He has to come up with four sample stories on the theme of "Tucson's sustainable future." Sure, this is nepotism. But it's worth it. I am so proud of him for rising to the challenge. He may never become another Brad Lancaster, but he has already come up with some pretty funny shit.

Yes, sometimes it's discouraging that more teens aren't getting on board with fighting climate change (UA Students for Sustainability and Compost Cats are exceptions.) But this success with Jeremy inspired me to reach out to other teens by taking advantage of their personal interests.

The Sustainable Tucson organizing team needed to come up with some activities for our tent at Discover Local Day. After participating in Living Streets Alliance's community hearings on Complete Streets, I was inspired to do an activity on "Planning your Neighborhood." Instead of just taking a crack at it myself, I invited Changemaker High School art students to design and make it. Their principal was delighted that the students would learn about complete, walkable streets while honing their critical thinking skills. Last night at their open house, one of the students, Jasmine, excitedly showed off her work on the project. Gotta admit that made my day! 

So how did this little experiment in engaging our teens turn out?

I'm eternally grateful to Jasmine for planning the street map. (One less thing I had to do!) The students used the neighborhood around their school as inspiration. Four guys painted houses, businesses, streets and the Swan Wash on the tabletop. It turned out to be more difficult than first imagined. The paint wouldn't stick to the plastic coating.  But the students solved the problem by taking off the plastic coating.

There were also challenges with making the movable pieces. The class tried small wooden squares cut to scale with the street map. They were too tiny to paint on! They eventually used a set of children's building blocks (not painted to scale.) To be honest, not all of the Changemaker art students got into to the "Planning Your Neighborhood" project.  They had their own projects. But I'm proud of the ones who worked on it. It wasn't an easy task!

So how did my little act of nepotism work out? Immediately after being hired to MC our storytelling tent, Jeremy went off to his room to brainstorm ideas. He was inspired to write a couple of stories right away. He patiently listened as I shared sustainable principles.  He read my story prompts (as promised) and came up with more ideas. He was actually a delight to work with. He even brainstormed some ideas with me.  I gave him the idea to use the lion character he had developed for a speech and debate competition. He ran with it. He came up with a hilarious story about a mountain lion escaping from the Desert Museum when the power goes out.

I'm so glad I asked Jeremy to MC. I think it was good for our relationship! Jeremy had an excellent attitude. He even agreed to help out as needed.  On the morning of the event, a groggy Jeremy got up and helped (a little) in loading the van.  When I needed more signs, he drew them.

Discover Local Day (October 14th) 

The day started off slow. There wasn't enough foot traffic at our location behind the Tucson Museum of Art to gather much of an audience for storytelling - despite my miked announcement of Mayor Rothschild's participation.  But Jeremy took the storytelling stage and introduced him. The Mayor gamely shared the city council's efforts to make Tucson more sustainable - including how the park bond would include safe bike paths.

Changemaker's "Design Your Neighborhood" activity was well received. It was a good vehicle for educating participants on complete streets and water-harvesting features. I also used it to lure audience members into our storytelling tent. While families played, I asked the parents if their children liked stories about lions. Then I made Jeremy tell his mountain lion story for them. He must have told that story five times! Sustainable Tucson member Stuart Moody joined in by telling stories suited for kids.

Later in the day, there were a couple of magic moments when community members joined our volunteers in the audience. There was a real sense of community as people listened to each other and responded with stories of their own.

Tactical Urbanism Block Party (October 20th)

When we arrived at  Sixth Avenue and Seventh Street, there were volunteers of all ages painting the intersection bright colors. It was an amazing sight! 

Jasmine, from Changemaker High School, showed up just in time to help us set up the tent. She was indispensable! We spent most of the morning tying down everything to secure it against the wind.  A resourceful volunteer from Living Street Alliance brought by plastic donation buckets filled with water to weigh down the corners of the tent. When the wind blew them over, we filled them up with soil that Tank's Green Stuff had generously donated. We taped paper on the table, so the kids would have a place to draw that wouldn't fly away. When we finally got everything secured, Jasmine demonstrated the "Design Your Neighborhood" activity. She did a great job representing her school and Sustainable Tucson. 

After the event, Jasmine asked me to let her know about the next Sustainable Tucson meeting. She might have some other students who would be interested in attending.  I learned an important lesson -  if we want more teens involved, we need to make an effort to engage them. Then show support by showing up.  It is so worth it.