Friday, June 21, 2019

Saving Recycling One Step at a Time

First dance practice for Recycling Video
At Sustainable Tucson's November meeting "Recycling and Beyond", Sherri Ludlam, Environmental Scientist in the Department of Environmental and General Services, informed us that China would no longer be accepting all of our dirty recycling because of the contamination. 

plastic bags caught in the rollers of the recycling machine
Contamination is all the trash that doesn't belong in recycling - including plastic bags that jam up the machines. That contamination is costing the company contracted to do our recycling truck loads of money. Tucsonans put everything from dirty diapers to dead cats to Saguaros in our recycling cans. Sherri reminded us that there are actually people who sort through all that gross trash. On behalf of those workers, she asked that we don't throw anything in the recycling can that we wouldn't want to find.

All that contamination is making cost it prohibitive to run our recycling program. So the city has decided to cut back our recycling pickups to twice a month and may raise our fees. Some municipalities, like Sierra Vista, have dropped their recycling programs all together!

Spurred on by the threat to our beloved recycling program, some of us formed a Zero Plastic Waste team. Our first step was drafting a blog. "Lessons from the Recycling Queen." Our next step is producing a music video parody of Megan Trainer's song, "No" - that teaches Tucsonans what NOT to recycle.  Alex Kosmider, of Zero Waste Tucson, rewrote the lyrics and recorded a practice tape:

Plastic bags? No
Crushed cans? no
That pizza box? no
You need to let it go
You need to let it go

In the trash it goes. 
Nah to the ah to the, no, no, no

We will be shooting our music video parody in the coming weeks! In the meanwhile, here's a peek at our rehearsal process...

We started by learning Alex's song...

Our costumer Kasey (on the right) gets familiar with the lyrics. 
Singing rehearsal

Each of the singers recorded their part on the audio track....

Katie Popiel, of Musical Mayhem fame, taught this group of middle-aged women and mothers her choreography. You rock, Katie! 

Break time! Walking the talk. No plastic bottles here! 


Next stop our shoot at Recyclo! 

Break a leg, ladies! 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Conserve Tucson's precious water by using it twice

A Tucson friend's outside shower waters the plants in their yard. 

You might have read in the news about the negotiations on the drought contingency plan. When they originally divided the water between the various states and Mexico, they divvied out more water than we have  - and didn't take into account Climate Change or our perpetual development. To exacerbate the problem,  many farmers are still planting thirsty plants and the Rosemont Mine threatens to deplete Tucson's ground water. We might wanna rethink the Four Cs of Arizona's Economy: Copper, climate, cotton & citrus.

The city of Tucson has already reduced residential water usage during the past two decades. In 2010, our residential water usage rates were 94 gallons per capita per day. By 2015, Tucson’s water usage was down to 80 GPCD. But we can do better than that. 

If you've followed my blog for a while, you know that I advocate for rainwater harvesting to make Tucson water secure. If everyone does rainwater harvesting, there is enough water for every person in Tucson. Unfortunately, less than 1% of us are doing any rainwater harvesting. And our outdoor water use still accounts for 30% of residential water use in the Tucson area.

Many of us are already conserving water by turning off the tap while brushing our teeth or while soaping our hands or scrubbing our hair in the shower.  Now that we've mastered that habit, the next step is to use our residential water twice when we can. 

State Senator Andrea Dalessandro, who sits on the Natural Resources and Energy committee, mentioned at Environmental Day at the Capitol that she puts a bucket in the shower to catch the water while it warms up. Way to walk the talk! Some friends of ours have installed lovely outdoor  showers that water their backyard landscaping. (I wouldn't recommend this in the front yard!) 

Some of you might remember my blog, "Rebel Dishwater Gardener." Here I am using our clean rinse water in our kitchen garden. 

I dump the dirty dish water in our compost pile to keep it moist.

Especially precious is the coffee ground water that my Tombstone Rosebush (my one sentimental extravagance) and tomatoes plants love. I've been experimenting with putting the grounds around the trunk of our Tombstone Rose and our moringa to deter the leaf cutter ants from stripping them of all their leaves. (I think it might cover their pheromone trail. Still testing this theory... So far it appears to be working! The ants marched by one moringa to gather seeds from a dead weed in the basin...) 

I like to use the veggie water from the steamer pan to nourish the soil by the tomato or curry plants.

We were blessed to have an outdoor washing machine. Dan easily rigged up a greywater system to irrigate sturdy, low water use heritage fig and pomegranate trees. (Our native trees are doing fine without any city water.) 

Another easy way to use water twice is to let your yellow mellow by sharing one flush with your partner in the morning.  But Dan's big dream is to have a composting toilet like the one at Watershed Management Group. (I haven't encouraged this because I would never see my husband.) 

It's not always easy. But using water a second time is a great way to learn not to take our water for granted.

As our politicians bicker over who is entitled to our allotment of CAP water, it is becoming clear that it isn't a sustainable source. We need to transition to a more local system and start conserving water like we live in the desert. Because we do. 

For Information on the social injustices caused by CAP read:

Hopis: Protectors of Earth and Water

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Planting Hope

I watched as the scraggly squirrel that lives in our backyard spotted the bright red blossom on our willowy baby pomegranate tree from its perch on our fence.

When Dan planted the durable, heritage pomegranate and fig trees in our greywater basin, he knew we wouldn't be harvesting them anytime soon. It would be a while before the little pomegranate would even be able to bear the weight of its fruit. Watching the scruffy squirrel scamper away with its flower, I realized it will take years until there is enough fruit for all the garden critters, much less us. But I see now that Dan was planting more than just fruit. He was sowing something for future inhabitants - maybe our boys. He was planting hope.

As our country's political landscape heated up, we watched as one of our neighbors built a metal fortress around their yard and posted NO TRESPASSING. Meanwhile, we planted edible moringa along the sidewalk - an invitation for our neighbors to partake. I tended the seeds daily, watching happily as they peeked through their mulchy blanket reaching for rain drops. Dan had planted hope along with the rain.

And I have to admit, I needed that hope to deal with the political climate especially in the face of climate change. It seemed like everyday another environmental protection was being dismantled by our politicians. The effects of climate change were already being felt here in Tucson: the early summer with its rising temperatures and the sporadic, unreliable downpours. Our flourishing moringa was struck by a microburst!

Then the government came out with a report announcing that we had 12 years to do something to offset the worse effects of climate change. I took that as a Call to Action (as did many of my peeps.)  But some people misinterpreted that to mean it was already too late - we had 12 years until the shit hit the fan - so we might as well party and go out with a bang! That's a perfectly reasonable reaction - if there is no hope. But...


There are lots of positive actions we can take to improve the outcome.

Let's start with something simple. Start by planting one native tree. Or save one tree.

I know. I know. The general response is, "How can one person make a difference?" The answer is: one person can't.  But nobody said you have to go this alone.

What if we all planted one tree? All of us. Billions of us. And then we planted a second tree...

What if  we worked together as a community to install rainwater harvesting systems in every yard to water our edible forests and gardens? There would be enough water for every home in Tucson! The city and county are already installing these systems all over town. What if we all decided to stop cooking with palm oil to prevent the industry from cutting down more of the rain-forest? Those trees sequester carbon! Sure, there's a lot more we need to do. But this is a start. Imagine how much we could accomplish if we worked together!

Right now we need to plant hope more than ever before.

We can get inspiration from the moringa that got hit by a micro burst...

It's thriving now! Growing from roots deeply planted in hope.

Read more:

For the love of Tucson: Creating a desert oasis to combat climate change

Friday, December 28, 2018

Confessions of a Bath-a-holic

"The Bath-a-holic"
My name is Jana. There is nothing I care about more than water security and... I am a bath-a-holic. Yeah, it's a thing. This is the 20th anniversary of my short film, "The Bath-a-holic," inspired by my mom. When I was little, my mom would disappear into the bathroom with a magazine - no doubt to escape her noisy horde of kids. Now that I think of it, I should have known. She brought a magazine into the bathroom, but no matches. So that's why we never had any hot water. That's why dad always bellowed about wasting water. Who knew dad was a water conservationist!

This isn't easy for me to admit. If you follow my blog, you know that Dan and I put a lot of effort (and muscle) into conserving water in the desert. Dan dug catchment basins to catch greywater from our washing machine. We use rainwater from the roof on desert-adapted heritage fig and pomegranate trees. We even carry our dishwater out to water the compost pit and our hummingbird trumpets. We turn the water off while we brush our teeth or while we soap up in the shower. You might say we're a little compulsive about the whole water thing.

But, if I'm gonna be completely honest...sometimes I don't feel like carrying a tub of water outside. I make convenient excuses like it's already raining out there. And I have to confess...I don't always turn the water off while I scrub my hair. Sometimes, just sometimes, I like to lean back and enjoy the steamy hot water massaging my worried little head. I perfect my vocal stylings as I turn the water up hotter and hotter and HOTTER. Sometimes I just have to wash away all of my cares about our 19 year drought or how Tucson's water is pushed 326 miles uphill using a dirty coal generator to power the pumps. Shoot! That just killed my buzz. I'm out of hot water anyway. Oh, well. Next time I'll do better. I'll let Dan take his shower first so the water won't go down the drain while it warms up. (My baby is so stoic and strong!) I'll turn off the water while I shave my legs. Or better yet I'll stop shaving my legs. I'll let the water mellow until Dan uses the toilet in the morning. I'll let him put a composting toilet in our cactus garden! Anything! As long as I can sing "The Way We Were" at the top of my lungs until the hot water runs out - at least once in a while.

I guess I should clarify why I wrote this blog. I don't have some deep-seeded need to confess - I'm doing the best I can right now. Changing habits is hard - as I expressed in an earlier tongue-in-cheek blog, "Spilt Tomatoes."  In this capitalist country we have been taught to consume, consume, consume. Our current economy relies on it. The only acceptable reason for most people to slow down is because it is cost prohibitive. We take our water for granted because we don't pay the real cost of it. We complain when our water bill goes up to cover those costs.  Many Arizonans have no idea where our water comes from. We're only beginning to understand the impact of our 19 year drought.

Now that we are aware, we can do something. Being conscious of our water use is the first step in conserving it. Turning the water off while we brush our teeth or we scrub our hands is a good place to start. Once that becomes a habit, it becomes easier to see other ways to conserve water. Planting native trees that don't require a lot of water is pretty painless... Dan and I really enjoy transforming our yard into a desert rainwater oasis. It is a process. A process of unlearning unsustainable consumer thinking and starting new habits. So I guess the point of this blog is that even though I'm not perfect, I can do something to make a difference. It's not easy. But it's a start.

It's time to start.

Picture on top of page: The talented Caroline Reed in The Bath-a-holic.

I wrote my Member of Congress, "Repealing Waters of the U.S. Makes it Legal to Pollute Arizona Water."

Cienega Creek Watershed that flows into Tucson's watershed
Reprinted from Desktop Activist Tucson, January 16, 2019

This morning I listened to the confirmation hearing for Andrew Wheeler to head of the E.P.A. It was good to hear members of Congress challenging Wheeler's actions and pressing for climate action! But I was disheartened to hear Wheeler's statement that repealing the Waters of the U.S. rule would not affect the States' authority to protect their water. Unfortunately, that isn't true of Arizona. Arizona law prohibits the state from passing regulations that go beyond federal standards. So essentially repealing the Waters of the U.S. rule makes it legal to pollute our water. (See details in letter below.)

At Sustainable Tucson's environmental education meeting with Rep. Kirkpatrick, I urged her to sponsor a bill codifying the rule into law. My request is included in my water presentation that I posted here.

I wanted to share my letter encouraging Sen. Sinema to do the same. 
Dear Senator Kyrsten Sinema,
I believe that the future of Tucson depends on preserving and protecting our water supply. Towards that end, my husband and I volunteer a great deal of our time promoting conservation and rainwater harvesting. 
I am writing to urge you to work on codifying the Waters of the U.S. Rule into law - since it is currently an EPA rule that any acting president can change at will. In fact, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are already implementing Executive Order 13778 which directs federal agencies to rescind the Waters of the U.S. that included rivers that don't flow year around. Repealing this rule will have a devastating impact on our water supply. All of our waterways are connected. If we don't protect streams and non-perennial rivers, we aren't protecting the bigger rivers. Tucson, in particular, will be negatively affected by repealing the Waters of the U.S. rule. Arizona's water has already been depleted by a 19 year drought. But repealing the Water of the U.S. Rule will leave Tucson's water supply completely unprotected.

As Pima County Administrator C.H. Huckelberry stated:
Tucsonans rely on both surface water and groundwater derived by infiltration or runoff, as well as Colorado River water. History has shown that pollutants entering dry riverbeds can contaminate our drinking water. Changes in standards for the Clean Water Act would be particularly consequential in Arizona. While other states have the authority to protect the quality of streams not subject to the Clean Water Act's jurisdiction, Arizona does NOT. In Arizona, state legislation forbids state agencies from exceeding the federal regulatory framework. Therefore, any reduction in scope of federal jurisdiction may have the effect of exempting certain areas from water quality protections at the state level. 
EPA data showed that 94 percent of streams in Arizona were protected by the Waters of the U.S. rule. These streams are small but they feed into the Gila and Santa Cruz rivers. If the protections of the Clean Water Act are reduced to perennial waters, the vast majority of Arizona's streams will have no water quality protections at all. Essentially pollution becomes legal unless the state steps in. The state means the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality - which advertises that it sped up the permitting process for businesses and reduced "burdensome" laws and regulations - 48 of them.

The Waters of the US Rule affects most of Tucson’s rivers (because most are not perennial). For example, without the Waters of the US rule, there is little to stop the operators of the Rosemont mine from dumping tailings and other pollutants into Davidson Canyon where they eventually would make their way into Cienega Creek and Tucson’s water supply. This stream provides Tucson with 20% of our ground water.

Senator Sinema, it is vital for the Waters of the U.S. rule to be codified into law to protect Tucson's water supply for now and in the future. Please, do everything you can to make the Waters of the U.S. Rule a law. 
Thank you,
Jana Segal

You might consider writing your Representative and Senators to work on codifying the Waters of the US into law so it can't be changed by any acting president at will.

The details are included in the e-mail I just sent to Senator Kyrsten Sinema.  Feel free to use the facts, but personalize it so it won't sound like a form letter.

You can contact Sinema at 602-598-7327 or email

If you would like to thank Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick for meeting with us and urge her to codify the Waters of the U.S. into law, I believe she can be reached at:

1636 North Swan Road, Suite 200
Tucson, AZ 85712

309 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Lessons from our Recycling Queen

After the city's inaccurately 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."

On our invitation,  Sherri Ludlam, Environmental Scientist in the Department of Environmental and General Services . . came to our program and gave us a deep dive into the rules of recycling.  Her.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 than 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. Here is a video of our first meeting.

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!