Interview with Ellery Richardson from Nashville Food Co-op
Maris Masellis: Welcome to the show. This is Zero Waste Trash Talk. My name is Maris Masellis and that’s Michael Britt and today we are going to talk about the Nashville food Co-op with Ellery Richardson. Yay, welcome Ellery.
Thanks for having me.
Maris Masellis: I don’t know too much about co-ops or food co-ops, but I’m really excited to learn. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself Ellery? We were just chatting about how you kind of grew up between here and Chattanooga.
Ellery Richardson: Yes, yes. So my dad grew up in East Nashville, back before it was cool. But when we were young, he got transferred to Chattanooga with his job. So I actually grew up in Chattanooga, but then in high school, He moved us back. So they live in Brentwood right now, but I’ve claimed sort of both cities as my own. Went to Vanderbilt then decided I wanted to do environmental issues. And so I went up to Vermont for to go to law school at Vermont Law School because they are known as an environmental for their environmental policy law program. Nice. And that’s actually where I discovered food color co-ops, and then I came back here and was shocked that Nashville didn’t have one.
Maris Masellis: Well, I am originally from New Jersey and I have a lot of family from the northeast. So but in Vermont is a special place. It’s definitely its own place. How long were you in Vermont?
Ellery Richardson: So just three years, but I remember my first year the governor allowed the first McDonald’s to come into the state. And it was like super controversial because Vermont you know, very pro local, no chains. The only way they were allowed to come in is because they promised to use Vermont maple syrup on their breakfasts. I just remember that because it was a big deal.
Maris Masellis: What part of Vermont was your law school in?
Ellery Richardson: So my law school is in a tiny town called South Royalton. It’s about 2000 people. It is maybe 20 minutes from the New Hampshire border where Hanover is. Woodstock is more of a touristy town nearby that people may have heard of, but sort of Central Vermont and I was in complete culture shock living in Tennessee my whole life to move up there with all the snow and the land of Bernie Sanders.
Michael Britt: I bet. Coming from East Nashville, even though it wasn’t cool it’s still not a backwoods. Chattanooga is becoming what Nashville is now or five years ago, right? Do you keep missing the waves of where the cities get cool?
I think so.
Michael Britt: Yeah, I keep looking at Chattanooga thinking that’s a neat place. I’d like to spend more time there.
Ellery Richardson: I’ve going back, it’s a great spot. It’s just small and very outdoorsy.
Michael Britt: So you’re trying to start up a co-op, and like Maris was saying, why don’t you give us a definition of what a co-op is for people who don’t quite understand it?
Ellery Richardson: Okay, so the cooperative is a business structure just like a nonprofit or an LLC, or a corporation. But what makes it unique is that it’s owned by the people who benefit from it. So I guess the best way to explain it to people who haven’t heard of it is the owners, the members are the shareholders, but no one can have any more shares than anyone else. So it’s very democratically owned, and that’s sort of the basis of it. No one can buy extra interest. We’re all in this together. One person, one vote. And you join because you care about the mission and want to be involved in what is happening. There are a lot different types of co-ops credit unions are cooperatives. A lot of people are familiar with those. A lot of electric co-ops and farmers co-ops in Davidson County farmers co-op is a farmer facing co-op, then their consumer co-ops and grocery co-ops are consumer cooperatives.
Michael Britt: Oh, but I’m glad you explained it like that because I in my head I was confused a little bit as far as like I know Publix is an employee owned grocery store. But people can have more shares and the board can have more shares and and so that’s where a co-op is going to be a little more equal.
Maris Masellis: Everyone is equal. Yeah, like that.
Ellery Richardson: Yes, Whole Foods is no longer a co-op, but they actually started off as a small co-op. I think it was Austin maybe somewhere in Texas.
Michael Britt: Austin was the first one. I think Dallas was a second one. I live near the second Whole foods, I used to get oat pizza crusts fresh from the bakery, they would make oat pizza crusts on Tuesdays. I still miss that. $10 for two pizza crust fresh made in the bakery back in the 80s. It was nice. So the word co-op, a lot of us think, Oh, cool. Food co-op, food is going to be healthier, locally sourced, you know, and it’s gonna be a nice neighborhood, maybe a little hippie vibe kind of thing. But there’s so many people that have a negative, I don’t know what it is, feeling towards the word co-op. I read this article about how in the farm country, they don’t really have grocery stores. They’re feeding us and the grocery store chains bought everything up and then close the under performing ones. And people in these farming communities are having to go to 99 cent stores to get their food, which is ridiculous. And so there was a movement to start co-ops, but everyone thinks co-ops are socialism. That’s not anything we want to be part of. So there’s this whole article in The New York Times about how they had to call it, they couldn’t call them co-ops. They’ve had to call them something else. I forgot what they were saying. They changed the name, but it just a matter of semantics. And sometimes in the south and the Midwest, you have to play these kind of semantic games. Have you run into that? Hearing people say, Oh, we don’t want to be part of a communist co-op or anything like that.
Ellery Richardson: Actually, no, because most people have never really heard of co-ops in Nashville. The response I get is, well, what’s a grocery co-op? But it is really interesting that a lot of the ones I’m part of as a group I mean, it’s a loose association of clubs that are starting across the country and a lot of them don’t call themselves the x city food co-op, they call themselves, you know, x market or x store. And they don’t really broadcast that they’re a co-op, even though once you get on their web page, that’s obviously what they are. There’s one food co-op in Tennessee, it’s in Knoxville. It’s the Three Rivers Market, and it’s an amazing co-op. And if you’re ever up there, I encourage you to stop by.
Maris Masellis: So is it like open all the time? Is it like it is a daily thing?
Ellery Richardson: Yes, it’s a full service grocery store open seven days a week. It actually recently expanded
Maris Masellis: I see pictures online sometimes the package free stores is it kind of like that is everything package free?
Ellery Richardson: I think a lot of the co-ops from the 70s which is getting back to what Michael was talking about were like that, you know, the bulk buys, because there was a big resurgence of co-ops in the 70s which is why there is a negative connotation because people think of those as weird hippie stuff. But a lot of the newer modern ones definitely have bulk sections, but they don’t really look like refill stores. They look like grocery stores.
I feel like the refill idea is probably going to be a little different now that COVID has changed the world as well.
Ellery Richardson: Yeah, I hope that will come back. But when we’ve been talking to our consultants, they have said, you know, everyone likes bulk, everyone asks for bulk, but when you put it up there, not enough people buy from the bulk aisle. So that’s why even co-ops don’t have huge bulk sections. They have more than other grocery stores. But people like the convenience of packaging, which is obviously something we’re gonna have to work on, right, as we all know, the problems with that.
Michael Britt: I think that’s an education issue, something to address actively. What we’ve learned is that you have to actively say here’s why you want to do this, and here’s how to do it. Otherwise, people just have this kind of vague idea of what they want. And they don’t even know that was an option. Oh, I could shop like that I could get rid of plastic. And, you know the first conversation we’re having is why you want to get rid of plastic, and then how you do it in daily life. And I think that if as a co-op, you really work on education program
Maris Masellis: I saw that on the website that was part of it, that there’s a part of it that is educational for people to learn. Right?
Ellery Richardson: Right. So there’s a whole side that’s going to be food education. Part of that is packaging and how food gets you and local food, the benefits of local food. Most co-ops have an educational arm and you know, their own community kitchen where people can come in and use it. But an interesting thing about co-ops is that they’re owned by the people who shop there. They’re owned by the members and if the members decide we want no packaging, and you know, majority of the members makes that the mission and petitions the board then that’s what the club’s gonna do because the members control the company.
Michael Britt: Right? That’s great. It’s nice that you can have a voice. I go into a grocery store and actually I go into very few because I walk in and there’s nothing I can eat. I’m not going to eat 99% of what’s in the grocery store. And it just makes me anxious that there’s 500 kinds of sugar coated corn cereals, I just, I just can’t even believe it and they’re all wrapped in plastic and cardboard and branded and advertised and that just drives me nuts. So have you looked at, this just came into my head. There’s an online grocery store called Move. Have you seen them?
Ellery Richardson: No, I’ve seen several but not any by that name
Michael Britt: I think it was move, I’ll search for it and put the link in the transcript (Move). The thing I liked about them it was, you know I don’t necessarily want my groceries shipped from across the country this is why I’m interested in a food co-op. I’d rather have local foods and support local farmers than things driven across the country. I can do that because I have the privilege and the means to do it and go out and search it out where a lot of us want to run a store and get something quick. What I do isn’t sustainable I don’t eat sustainably because everybody can’t do it the way I do it. I buy my vegetables from a CSA, I shop at Turnip Truck and I pay extra for anything else and I can do farmers markets, but everybody doesn’t pick and choose like that. But I do have to say I don’t want to get off topic too much but the reason I started shopping differently is in California, Ralph’s grocery store went on strike. And I lived literally, it wasn’t even a half a block away from my house, I could put something on the skillet and run over and get an ingredient and come back. They went on strike and my wife’s an actress, and she’s in the union and I had a union job at Safeway in when I was in high school in the 80s in Texas. And so I’m like, I’m not going to cross the picket line, I’m not going and I started shopping at Trader Joe’s and farmers markets, and I just never went back. Once I got into those habits. I never went back to grocery stores, typical grocery stores. But back to the Move thing, what I thought was interesting with their data driven approach is they went in and analyzed all the data and realized that there were really only 500 things that people buy from grocery stores and that they made the list of those 500 things then sought out like Trader Joe’s does to you know make deals with farmers to and producers to produce just for them the one branded thing. And I thought that’s pretty interesting because grocery stores carry what is like 60,000 or more items. And you really only need 500 that tells you the branding weirdness there.
Michael Britt: Didn’t mean to take all your time talking about what I know. We’re here to find out what you know.
Maris Masellis: Yeah, personally, we’ve struggled. We’ve talked a lot about this Ellery about our struggle with plastic and our struggle with being zero waste and sustainability in general in the grocery stores and how, because there’s so many choices and because we don’t have a lot of options. Being convenience is a huge factor. And we’re used to convenience. People aren’t going to avoid packaged products or ask for anything different because they can just go into these stores and have everything given to them right and then all these different brands are, I guess, good. And in our eyes, we’re thinking, Oh, we have so many choices in that way. But really, how many do we need? It’s like, we only need 500 or less probably. And so this co-op idea I saw on the website that you guys were raising money from and that you also got a seed grant from the food co-op initiative. And is that just Tennessee that that has the food co-op initiative? Is that just Nashville or?
Ellery Richardson: No. So the Food Cooperative Initiative is the association I mentioned earlier. It is funded through the USDA, because the USDA, at least a part of it does recognize the need to support local food and local economy. And so it is a group of folks that have worked in food cooperatives and their whole mission is to help small startup food cooperatives like the National Food cooperatives startup all across the country. So you apply for a seed grant, and that is, you know, $10,000. But then it comes with free consulting, pretty much as much as you need it until the USDA money runs out, which nowadays might not last as long as we thought it used to, right. But it’s been a tremendous resource. And I mean, anyone who’s interested in food co-ops could just call them up or get on their website and mean that’s their job is to help promote food cooperatives. And so that’s where a lot of my knowledge base has come from meeting with them and meeting with other startup co-ops that are also working with them.
Would it be better to fund this just one and really put all the money and effort into one or better for multiple co-ops around the city?
Ellery Richardson: Well, my grand vision would be for multiple comps across the city. Yeah. But you really need to start with one. Okay, I know we can’t really get anywhere until we have one store that’s up and running and people can see Oh yeah, that’s what it is because like I said before Nashville doesn’t know what co-ops are. They’ve never people who grew up here have never really experienced one. I think there was a small one in Hillsboro village in the 70s. But only a small community of people even heard of that one. It’s like Nashville at large needs to see one functioning and working and saying, Oh, hey, this is great. That’s actually how I became so in love with the idea. My tiny town of 2000 people in Vermont had a small food co-op. And the first year I just drove 20 minutes to the grocery store. Not really thinking anything of it. But you know, as I got more ingrained into the community, I would just pop into the market. And then I started learning what they were about. And one thing that really sort of hit home for me, is that I would just be shopping for tomatoes, they would have two baskets. One basket would say conventional Mexico like your roma tomato Then the next basket would say Luna blue farms, South Royalton, Vermont, which is the town I was in, sorry. It’s like maybe 15-20 cents more. So one day I just bought the more expensive one like, Oh, hey, that’s right around the right around the corner supporting our town. Yeah. And as part of the educational factor, it was labeled, you know, these are biodynamically raised, I had to Google what that meant, but it was all label. And it just tasted so much better. So that was the beginning of my food education, just walking into the co-op and seeing the difference right in front of my eyes and tasting the difference.
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so that’s one of the things that’s one of the things I think people don’t realize about co-ops is it is local food. So your your your focus is on making deals with farms and supporting community farmers. But you also would probably be you know, there are national groups where you joined together to get brand name items or things shipped from other countries and all of that, right? That’s so both.
It is both. So our mission and the mission of most co-ops is to supply local as much as possible. But at the end of the day, people need toilet paper. People need paper towels, they want their frosted mini wheats are their Cheerios, that no grass or even natural organic cotton. Yes, I know that’s not really being made in that town. So there are trade associations. I’ve had a lot of restaurants get their food from Cisco. co-ops have their own that’s the forgetting the initials but it’s the co-op Association. And so you petition to join and it’s also a cooperative. So everyone who joins you know, has a financial stake in the success of that group and it supplies like equal exchange coffees, pretty much every co-op you walk into does equal exchange coffee, plus some local roasters as well of course because it’s a co-op.
But you know they have deals with equal exchange you know Fairtrade chocolates paper towel seventh generation metal they provide that so that’s the difference like people it’s not a farmers market because that’s but that’s set up as farmers markets where things are only local and seasonal. This has everything like a grocery store.
Yes that’s pretty even the most of the new ones that are in a town bigger than the 2000 person town are full size grocery stores. That market was small but you know, it had amazing breakfast sandwiches every morning I had a little hot bar it had lunch, love that had everything you needed.
Nice and so how is the reception been so far here people like it hasn’t been hard to educate people are there a lot of a pent up need and want in the in the
education is the biggest challenge right now though. It’s been interesting. So I’ve been doing this for a few years now that you know, we have a lot of transplants coming in and a lot of people reach out to us because they came from a city with a co-op and so they really recognize the benefit of it and they want it. So we sort of have two things like the nashvillians. Once I explained it to them, they liked the idea but they’ve just never seen it in action. So there is a big education barrier there. And then you know, some people you know, get it immediately Some people go well, I want to go like see one first because it sounds a little different. Then you have all these people moving in that came from places with co-ops and Google the co-op like Alright, well where’s the co-op in Nashville? I gotta go get my groceries and then are shocked to find that there isn’t one.
Well and where are you thinking about putting one what area is there? Is there a range of areas or
is not a specific neighborhood yet. This we have taken the advice of the food cooperative initiative. They told us not to commit to a specific neighborhood Nashville is not big enough to be able to do that. At this stage, just because we want to be open and honest with our members, we don’t know exactly where we’re gonna end up. It depends on what’s available. that’s big enough you need you know, truck access. It’s you can’t just pick any building in town with the for sale sign on it. You have to afford it to, I don’t know how much money we’ll have once we’re ready to sign a lease on which neighborhoods we can afford that much square footage because grocery stores are big and they’re expensive. You have refrigeration, you have trucking. So we’re not sure yet but we have committed to being somewhere centrally located. It’s easily accessible, whether it’s near interstate or on a bus line. So we don’t know exactly where that will be yet, but somewhere easy to get to as much as possible with national traffic. Makes sense.
Then news, what are the next steps? on your website? Again, it said that you guys had raised some money, raised some money and got the funds from the grant. And you’re still Are you still waiting from our members to join in order to do that to do the next step? Which is location or?
Yes. So the way it works is there sort of different stages of starting a food co-op. And there are other ways to do this, but right now, we’re just following the FCI model that they have seen be the most successful. Of course, there are other ways. Like I said, if a space opens up immediately and money comes in, there’s an investor and we can do it, then yeah, that’s great. Let’s break ground tomorrow. But generally speaking, you know, like I said, grocery stores are expensive, you have to raise awareness, build the community, and then you have to get alone Of course, and there are specific cooperative banks that understand the co-op structure and are willing to loan to cooperatives but the way they dress edge, of course, the standard financials and business plan, but they also look at how many members you have. And you may compare that to the demographics of your city. Because the thing about co-ops is they’re different. And people are committed to them, like we’ve seen when people moving in like, Alright, well, where’s the co-op? And you need that community behind the co-op for it to be successful? Yeah. So the way the co-op banks judge whether to give money is all right, well, what are their ownership numbers in relation to their city? Is the community ready for co-op? And they do that by based on the initial owners who join before we have a location?
Gotcha. Is would there be a way to like, open small or like have a small store that gets people to understand what it’s about?
Yeah, we are actually exploring that we’re talking about that. We did do an initial market study back couple years ago, just to make sure it would be worth it. Putting all this effort into we didn’t want to do it if the market survey said no, Nashville is not ready for a co-op, but it did come back very positive. Like you could put it pretty much anywhere in the city and it would be successful. It was great news. But it did recommend a large store. It’s like you know, Nashville is big people want the convenience. So you should have Valley. Yeah, so we have considered also opening smaller, we would of course needle it would take a little less capital A little more membership initially. So we’re open to different possibilities, but for now we’re just raising awareness and getting as many members as possible.
I’d vote for the Piggly Wiggly on Gallatin.
Everyone has an idea. You need to cut it
Michael Britt: near me that’s near us and it’s empty and it’s a nice size. Actually, you know what I would like to see from from something like this is somebody who I’ve talked about this with Megan from the goodwill Do you know the good folks? Yes, yeah. You know, There’s also someone that maybe should could be part of a co-op and have, you know, her her thing going on in there. But one of the things I’d love to see is somebody go in and buy all of the closed down Dollar stores, it wasn’t the Dollar Generals, it’s the other one, the Family Dollar. They were all those empty family dollars to see, like somebody take that and just make it a chain of co-ops. Or at everything.
Yeah, it’d be a perfect size size for a co-op.
Michael Britt: Yeah. And they have like, I’m sure they had trucking in and out and all the rest of that because of the way they did business before for all their 99 cent doodads
That’s it. Let’s get our checkbooks out and make this happen.
I know. Right. So how do we support the movement? How do we spread this awareness? And I know, you know, just by talking about it and putting it out and as a podcast will hopefully get more people aware that way.
Ellery Richardson: Yeah, thank you so much. Yes. So that’s what we’re really focusing on right now spreading awareness if you are willing to commit become a member, you can sign up on our website, it is $250 per household. It is a member fee, but you’re essentially buying a share. So you only pay that once. It’s not an annual. Once you pay that you have a vote. We have an annual meeting, generally March or February every year where we check in with our owners. And of course, you can check in with us anytime. We have board meetings and you know, constant things going on. So it’s $250 a share, but that is per household. And we also have a payment plan. So $50 a month, we’ll get you set up. And then we’re also taking volunteers. I mean, we’re completely volunteer board right now. So even if you can’t commit to paying right now, but you believe in the mission, or if you want to, if you can pay and you still believe in the mission so much you want to help. There. We have committees and volunteer efforts as well just to spread the word
Nice. That’s a, I think it would be a valuable thing to do. And I think paying paying it off in monthly installments. You know, if it wasn’t for the fact that nobody’s working right now, $50 a month wouldn’t be wouldn’t really bankrupt most people.
If people have specific situations, I mean, we can work with you, of course.
Now, that reminds me of some questions I had had was thinking about and how this would work. Is there any mechanism for a sliding scale for different income levels? Like if you were, you know, if you were at a lower income levels or different membership level, you could join and maybe a pricing structure when you buy Is there any support built in for anything like that?
Yeah. So we have been talking about that. We haven’t quite figured out exactly how to do that without someone donating essentially the match, because that’s a lot of co-ops do that, but they have people donate the match. And the reason that’s an issue is that it’s Essentially a membership stake. And so everyone needs to be equal, right? So we want to make sure that everyone has the exact same amount of interest. And that can happen with donations. So we don’t have it set up in our website at the at this stage, but that’s something a lot of other co-ops offer and we’ve been wanting to offer, we just need to figure out exactly how that can work. So if you want to donate to other people’s memberships reach out to us and we can make that happen.
Michael Britt: That sounds great. Oh, gleaning groups. Janine hunter works with a was at the Society of St. Andrew. Yeah. So you know, I bring her up every now and then because I really dig what they’re doing. And it’s it’s becoming more important with food rotting in the fields and no one to pick it and none of this middlemen like Cargill and all these food packagers are packaging stuff for restaurants and institutions now. So is there a mechanism or have you thought of a mechanism to work with groups That could bring in a whole bunch of crops or
Ellery Richardson: Yeah, so I don’t know of any particular example of co-ops working with gleaning groups but I don’t see why it couldn’t happen. So we definitely support their mission I’ve known about The Society of St Andrew for a long time so anyway, we can work with them, Michael can
connect you and we are last we just published today, an episode with compost company. And one of the things that fascinated me when I went out and visited with them was that if the top layer of produce freezes, dries does something weird and one of those tractor trucks, they just dump the whole truck of produce when the windy percent of it is still perfectly good. It’s a write off they now they drive it up to compost company, leave everything, take the trailer and go because the trailers you know, need to be working and making money and they’re just very specific like if something goes wrong with the temperature by like, degree sometimes when they ship, they dump the whole load. Oh wow. And so he was thinking of trying to work with Janine and Jeannie, I’m sorry and hunter and the food Gleaners to try to figure out how to get all that in a timely manner somewhere. That’s what I was thinking this is the thought process so that there’s a co-op that could take that and resell it or even help package it up and donate it or something. That would be awesome. Yeah, I’m just thinking out loud as we go.
Yeah, one I have is to have a food hub attached to the co-ops only Of course, some warehouse space but I would like to have even larger warehouse space for things such as that. I’ve had a lot of folks come to me with ideas that the club can help with that you would just need that you know, warehouse space in the back. And that’s something I would love to see the co-op be able to help with.
Specifically large coolers. I think the key is produce from rotting. That’s, that’s one of the big issues is those big coolers.
Yes, definitely. We’d love to help with that.
That seems like there’s a ton of potential to have this where it’s not this adversarial, corporate grocery store, you know, throwing out a third of all of their foods so that they can make sure to entice everybody in their store. And that whole business model needs to be rethought and that not keeping things in stock not buying locally. The distribution and I appreciate the people like you’re out there trying to solve these issues. I think it’s like us want to eat like that.
I think the past couple months, especially if you weren’t already aware that there are major issues with our food system you are now and I’d like to think that of course the food co-op can’t solve all those problems, but I’d like to think it would be a step in the right direction.
Yeah, I mean, it’s like Are any of the zero waste off that we talked about and the changes and the ethics of how you deal with life it? It’s a rabbit hole. Once you go down it then you start saying, well, we can do this also we can do that and it does exist. band and I think it grows and it and people are enlightened with what can happen to learn. That’s right.
was great to learn about that and the mission it says on your website just to recap the mission of the Nashville food co-op is to provide the city of Nashville delicious local food options, by way of a year round full service member owned cooperative grocery store. And some of the goals is keeping capital in the community, offering educational programs about food systems, labeling items in the store so we know what we’re buying. And then hosting in store cooking classes that highlight local eating like that. Like that. And then their vision when you’re around locally owned store will provide local seasonal and consciously sourced products as season allows. Love that
consciously sourced, that’s perfect because that there’s there’s so many choices that we make on a daily basis unless you dig into the research you don’t know that the people picking your tomatoes were practically locked in trailers and treated like slaves in Florida. You know, you know, you know I don’t want to buy those tomatoes. I don’t want any tomatoes at grocery stores. And now you’re finding out avocados are you know that the drug cartels are taking over avocado farms and so what I liked, I would like to shop from somewhere that you know, just like we’re talking about mega with a good feel some people who make those inquiries and figure that out so that I can go in and buy my groceries and not have to feel like you know, I’ve made the world a worse place by my choices. I can feel like I’ve helped make the world a better place even if it cost a little more to do. I’m willing to do that
and it starts right here in our community. right here at home.
Yes, there are definitely people willing to do it. If we can get a store open to source it.
We will have a store open Ellery, we’re gonna push for you. Well, thank you. Thank you so much for being on our show. And Spending time with us to explain your dream and we are going to support you, however you need it. Great.
Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it. Well, good luck.
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results
Maris Masellis: This is Maris from Zero Waste Trash Talk and today we’re talking to Alex Truelove, the director of US PIRG’s organizational efforts to reduce waste in order to improve public health, protect the environment and conserve resources. Their work includes campaigns to eliminate the most harmful and least recyclable single use plastics and to promote producer responsibility. Amazing. Follow him on twitter @alexctruelove.
Maris Masellis: Alex Truelove is someone that Michael you found his article on The Hill.
Michael Britt: Yeah, the article that he wrote, “The insanity of plastic recycling” and it seems spot on for the what we’ve been talking about internally and on the podcast that plastic recycling is broken. And so I reached out to Alex, because I thought, Hey, if we want to talk about this, let’s bring somebody on that’s got some street cred, some writer credibility. Not just us talking about it here in our east Nashville neighborhoods. So Alex, thanks for writing that article. And do you want to tell us a little bit about what you do and what led to writing this article and these this conclusion?
Alex Truelove: Yeah, absolutely. So my official title is The Zero Waste Director with a national nonprofit called the US Public Interest Research Group that is often shortened to USPIRG because that’s easier and it’s stuck with those who know of the PIRG’s. And I’ve been in this position for almost three years, the organization largely has been working on Zero Waste issues for a long time.
Alex Truelove: We were pretty active in a lot of like the early bottle bills and container deposit laws like Massachusetts and Oregon back in the 80s. And so it’s always been a part of the organizational DNA. But it was really only about three years ago when I joined the organization that everybody sort of collectively decided to launch a national program focused on zero waste. I think part of it was just the emergence of a lot of related issues of plastic pollution in the ocean and sort of discovery of how much of it had accumulated there and kind of a lot of other things at the same time. So it’s been really fun to kind of work in this space as it’s gotten so much attention and momentum. Even if, you know, I think some of the solutions are, you know, a little misguided. I work a lot with our state groups. So we have a pretty utilitarian named naming system where we have USPIRG, Massachusetts we have MassPIRG and Pennsylvania we have PennPIRG and CalPIRG in California. And so I suppose that’s what makes us different in some ways from other kinds of environmentally, or public health focused nonprofits because we do so much work at the state level, and kind of as a network, as opposed to just sort in DC or something. Although we do a lot of work at the federal level as well and that’s why I was following the hearing that the Senate was holding, which I mentioned in my article a couple weeks ago now. And I kind of knew what was coming because the hearing itself was being organized by Republicans because they control the Senate right now. And the framing of the hearing, I forget exactly what it was titled, but it was all about recycling. And so I was kind of afraid that the same conversation was going to happen in this hearing as it has been for the last, I don’t know 40-50 years, which is basically how can we recycle our way out of this problem. How can we deal with plastic pollution, and fix it through recycling. I think you guys know as well as anybody that we failed to do that for a long time now. And I think the most frustrating part was that there are so many other more interesting and creative solutions, I think moving forward in terms of kind of designing our world and the products we use and all that kind of stuff. And there is no mention of reusability there is no mention of, maybe a little bit of composability in terms of compostable plastics, but really was just so focused on this old idea, and one that has consistently failed and I thought this is insane. And so hence, the insanity of plastic recycling, and I sort of wrote it in the heat of the moment as I was watching this hearing and then kind of had to you know, dial it back.
Michael Britt: I always have to dial back. Maris and Jess are always like Michael dial that back take the curse words out quit being so angry!
Yeah, exactly. I think the passion kind of helped me find a thesis at least.
Michael Britt: I like how you started with the quote about what insanity is: “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. And I think it was clear when we saw, and I think Alex, you and I talked about this on the on the phone the other day, the PBS Frontline Plastic Wars documentary. They go back and they traced the beginnings of the plastic recycling business and interviewed people that were involved. And they basically were like, yeah, we didn’t think it was going to work, it’s just a way for us to keep making plastic. And so it’s pretty clear. I’m a cynical person and I kind of thought that anyway, but then to hear them say that and have them dig up all the paperwork and letters and then later emails and all of that corroborated that this is a big smokescreen. It just It’s infuriating and I don’t blame you for being irritated and knowing what was coming on the the Senate hearing because dark money from the fossil fuel industry flows into all the pockets of these people that are making laws that they want to protect their industry. And it’s, it’s, anyway, I hear you. I agree.
Alex Truelove: Yeah, I think that realization to that plastics really is an extension to the fossil fuel industry. It’s not new to anyone who understands the plastics are made primarily from natural gas byproducts. But to see especially more recently, people sort of make that connection like, oh, all of those, you know, the Chevron’s the Exxon’s are the same ones that knew about climate change and buried that evidence, they’re also the ones who are supplying a lot of this. In many ways, my understanding is the fossil fuel industry sort of sees declines in gas and oil powering the electricity grid and our automobiles, the petrochemical growth is kind of where they’re turning their attention, which I think for me makes it feel even more important to be doing this work.
Maris Masellis: Did you watch the Front Line video? Wow, I thought that was so incredible. One thing that I thought was really interesting was the marketing and the advertising. Immediately after they printed the first productions of plastic and how it went from convenience, convenience, convenience, you don’t have to worry about anything anymore, you can literally just throw it away. Then eventually it transformed into the Indian with the tear. Everyone remembers that and it was a pivotal moment when they transferred all of the responsibility to us, as the consumer when we had absolutely no control over it whatsoever. It tells the story so well. Was that in the 80s?
Yeah, yeah, I think so.
Michael Britt: Oh, no, no, the Indian in the America the Beautiful recycling program was in the 70s. I remember seeing it on TV. I’m older than you guys. It really affected everybody at the time.
Maris Masellis: It’s been happening for that long, like, we have been convinced that it’s our fault for that long. And that’s why it’s so hard to change people’s minds about it because this has been a way of life for a long time.
Alex Truelove: And you still hear that too, like, I won’t name names, but in the same Senate hearing, there was a lot of industry representatives that were witnesses and representing, you know, consumer packaging associations and that kind of stuff. And you hear them saying the same thing. You know, we want to be good actors, but consumers have to, you know, it starts with them. It’s the same sort of transferring of guilt and responsibility. It’s kind of incredible.
I’d like to see some witnesses on the other side of that, like 10 years or so from now, when they’re all going to jail for corrupting the environment and killing millions of people.
Maris Masellis: This has been a very eye opening for myself. I have not known a lot of these things until this last year when we started this group. Truly and honestly it really made me feel bad at first. I thought, well, we’re all doomed, there is no turning back now. And I think a lot of people feel that way. They think, well, why should I care then? If this is just a downhill thing? Why should we bother ourselves trying to change when we’re such small pieces in this? And I think creating the the alternative idea is what we’re trying to do, and help people see that no, this is going to change. It has to change and it will change. I’m interested hearing you talking about the newer solutions or these creative solutions. What are some of those? What are some of the creative solutions that you’re talking about earlier?
Alex Truelove: I think I kind of looked at it as a multi step process. And I think there are a few promising things that I see going on that could represent a better future versus just the efforts around trying to get rid of like the most common most hazardous single use plastics. I’m not gonna sit here and suggest that banning plastic shopping bags or styrofoam containers is gonna change the entire market. But I think those conversations in places where they’ve asked for those policies. I think that’s really gotten people’s attention in terms of both, you know, this is a problem that we need to fix, but also sort of realizing, hey, like, we actually don’t need a lot of these things and some of the most most common and most hazardous single use plastics out there are also in some ways the most replaceable. And so I think that’s been a great place to start in terms of kind of winning hearts and minds. So I think there’s kind of that, you know, getting rid of the worst stuff. But then at a certain point, obviously, you have to figure out a different system in terms of what we’re moving towards. And I think that’s where I get really excited about what what at this point is mostly pretty local small scale solutions, but it really focused on reusability almost kind of bringing back the milkman model in some places. And there’s a number of different versions. There’s an organization called loop that has been partnering with some kind of big consumer brand companies about basically providing a lot every day things that you need. Toothpaste, shampoo, that kind of stuff in reusable containers that you can return which you know, I’d like to see that system being offered to smaller companies and things like that, but I think it’s a start. I think it shows that at least people’s heads are in the right place in terms of understanding that could be something we can move towards. I think a lot of other similar programs like that, so like restaurant takeout programs, there are six I think happening and more in Europe to my understanding, but it could be wrong. There are towns where they have like a almost like if you can imagine like a Nashville branded reusable takeout containers. Then at any restaurant you might go to…
Maris Masellis: Michael’s laughing because we have to tell you something.
Michael Britt: That’s what we were working on and we actually pitched our idea to the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and were given a scholarship to take our reusable takeout container program through their whole system of starting a business. We were ready to launch some tests here in East Nashville and then the tornado came right through our neighborhood. We decided to regroup, and maybe focus on big industrial cafeterias and collegiate cafeterias and institutional type cafeterias instead of takeout. And then COVID shut everything down. So we were on that track and actually we started this podcast as a way to connect and bypass the whole social media algorithms and really connect with our group here in Nashville, and to promote that idea. Then we were just sitting here after what two weeks of being stuck at home going why don’t we just buy the recording stuff because we can’t use the studio anymore and make podcasting our business right now. So that’s where we’re at. We feel like our job now is podcasting. Instead of this reusable takeout program.
Maris Masellis: The reusable to go container program. That was our baby. We were avidly studying the logistics of it and trying to make sense of how we were going to do this using East Nashville as our main market or test market, if you will. And we were branding, we had everything in line and just one thing after the next kind of shut us down. But it didn’t stifle us and it’s really inspiring to hear you talk about reuse, because even with the pandemic, there are barriers to entry but reuse isn’t dead. We have to figure something else out otherwise the linear economy is going to drive us all into the ground sooner than later. I think that the reuse idea that you’re seeing in Europe if if they can do it somewhere else, then we can do it too.
Michael Britt: Yeah, just takes political will.
Alex Truelove: Well, I’m sorry to see man, a tornado and a pandemic.
Michael Britt: Yeah, the tornado hit like March what was it sixth March 4, something like that. Then then we locked down for the pandemic on the 15th. So it was literally back to back.
Maris Masellis: It was a pretty dark. There were some pretty dark days here.
Michael Britt: Here we were out of toilet paper, hand hand sanitizer and paper towels because we’d all been buying it to donate to people who lost their houses. S so we’d cleaned all the stores out before COVID even hit so there’s really some shortages down here.
Alex Truelove: Wow, I mean there’s interesting recycling story with toilet paper too.
Michael Britt: That’s actually gonna be an upcoming episode of ours. Bidets. I posted a question on our Nashville Facebook group and ask if they want to talk about their bidets and the conversation blew up. It was like, wow, everybody wants to talk about their bidets. I ordered one and have been using it and we’re gonna kind build our episode around talking about that and toilet paper. I mean, there’s a lot of interesting solutions. I mean, even here in Nashville, you’re talking about the reuse stuff we have refill stores. The first one in our neighborhood was The Good Fill where we have our place that we can buy shampoo bars, and refill soaps. She (Megan the owner) researches the origins of everything and makes sure that they’re made ethically and produced environmentally friendly. And we’re pretty lucky to have that in our neighborhood. Do you have anything like that, where you live in your neighborhood?
Alex Truelove: Yeah, probably a half mile northwest of where I live there’s a great place called, I think it’s called refill ( Joy fill)
Maris Masellis: Yeah. The package free stores are so exciting to me. I see pictures on online all the time. They’re like, would you want something like this and it’s just fruit and vegetables all over the place. We actually just had Ellery Richardson (recorded but not published yet) on about coops, food coops. I had not really known anything about that beforehand. I think that whole idea of local food, package free sustainability at its finest. That would be a great solution. But in order to get those things off the ground, there’s got to be money and that’s the hardest part.
Alex Truelove: I have enormous respect for these entrepreneurs for coming up with the zero waste shops and stuff and thankfully the one in my neighborhood is back open again. It was you know, closed down for a while and they figured out a way to negotiate around the pandemic but not only in, I mean, I love having access to all these kind of bulk things, these giant vats of like laundry detergent, I can just refill you know that you guys I’m sure have very similar across the country. But I’ve also discovered products that are not only Zero Waste but in some ways actually better versions of what I have before like for washing dishes now I have basically a loofa like the actual gourd, which I’m embarrassed to say until a few years ago I didn’t even realize was actually a thing as opposed to the plastic version that you can get. And it’s incredibly effective. Mine has been lasting for months, but eventually when your finished with it, it’s composted afterwards. Brilliant.
Michael Britt: There’s a lot of those changes that I don’t think people realize how easy they are. Some of them seem more expensive at the time but in the long run they aren’t. They save you money, like switching to a safety razor, the old fashioned type of razor with razor blades. The analogy that I use all the time is that you pay what $15 for three, Gillette or Schick, triple or quadruple blade, plastic disposal heads for your razors at the store (correction, probably closer to $10). Yeah, where I get the finest Platinum razor blades in bulk it’s like literally the finest cutting edge you can make and if you buy them in bulk you know for nine cents each like can use both sides. Yeah, it’s probably about two cents of shave if that.
Alex Truelove: Yeah, the proprietary ones are so expensive. Yeah, it’s crazy.
Maris Masellis: Also toothpaste tablets.
Michael Britt: Oh man, we love us some toothpaste tablets
Alex Truelove: Okay, yeah, that’s my next thing.
Michael Britt: It took a little bit to get used to. It takes at least two or three times before you realize the change but for me it was easy because the foaming in my mouth kind of made me gag anyway. I didn’t like the regular toothpaste very much. I used so little all the time and now the toothpaste tablets are a great thing with no packaging. I don’t know if I told you Maris, I wanted to fill up on tooth tablets from The Good Fill. I usually like to fill a little mason jar only I got kind of carried away and dumped it into a big bag. It was $70 of toothpaste tablets!
Maris Masellis: So you’re the reason why I couldn’t get them! It’s OK, I usually just go over to Michaels and get them from him anyway.
Michael Britt: It might be. I didn’t mean to hog them. I just I just wanted a jar full. I don’t want to mess around with little packets. Oh well. I’d recommend trying those Alex.
Alex Truelove: It’s easier to borrow from a friend.
The chart shows that by 2015, the world had produced 7.8 billion tonnes of plastic — more than one tonne of plastic for every person alive today – Link to article
Michael Britt: So back to the plastics issue. Something that keeps coming back to me over and over again is that as a society we’ve produced 359 million metric tons of plastic since plastic was invented and went into use in late 40s early 50s. That seems like this enormous figure, but also keep in mind that plastic is lightweight. So the mass and the bulk of that has got to be huge. 10% of that’s been recycled and I actually think that’s generous, the 10% number. That’s a pretty small amount of the overall plastic in the world. And so you think about the volume then you also think about how plastic can only be recycled 2 sometimes maybe 3 times, and then it just buried in the landfill. So we’re really only slowing down the process of sending it to the landfill. The best case scenario is we’re just slowing this down. I mean, I don’t think we should be recycling plastic at all. I think if we took that recycling mentality away from everybody in curbside pickup. Here in Nashville, we do curbside and they keep shrinking the numbers and types of plastics that they can accept, because they don’t have a market for them. I kind of feel like if we just said no plastic that it would get rid of a lot of the contamination with diapers and weird stuff being put in there. And we wouldn’t be spending good money after bad and it would make people have to come to the realization that plastic isn’t really recyclable, and it’s not the best thing to be doing. Is that is that off base? I keep saying this and everybody looks at me like you’re crazy. You should be recycling if you can.
Alex Truelove: And that’s it. Yeah, I think that’s a really thought provoking question because even if there are some plastics now that have a decent recycling rate, and those I mean, we’re talking about a pretty narrow like, numbers one and two. And they, you know, have to be typically clear and they don’t have any shrink wrap labeling, so you know, that’s a pretty small sliver of the plastic pie. Is it worth sort of perpetuating this whole thing that we can recycle our plastics just because there are a few plastics that are recyclable? I don’t know, I don’t have a good answer. But I think it’s a really thought provoking question. Are we doing kind of more harm?
Maris Masellis: Right? I wonder if that awareness for people in general, because there’s already people that will have stopped recycling? And I don’t think that it was with that thought in mind, Michael, I don’t think people are thinking what you were thinking. They thought, we’re not recycling with China anymore so there’s obviously no recycling being done. And so I’m not going to do this anymore. And that was kind of like a loss of hope. Whereas I feel like your idea, Michael is kind of, Hey, we understand the system. It’s stuck. It’s not working. There’s not a future in this. So we’re just not going to recycle it. Or we’re also going to try to not buy it, because we know we can’t recycle it. But it’s impossible to do that. Plastic is on everything.
Michael Britt: Yeah, you’re right. Our choices are limited at the store. When they say that you should make better choices, like when they say you shouldn’t fly. Not flying means you can’t participate in modern society because you want to be green. If we talk about that 10% number and realize that means that 90% of the of the business model of recycling plastic for cities is a failure. What else do we do that can fail 90% and we keep supporting it? I mean, there just really isn’t that many other things like that in society that we’re willing to just throw money away at? We saw with the National Sword when they announced the ban on clamshell containers, plastic containers, everybody got all worked up. Some people said, “We’re gonna recycle them anyway”. It made them deal with the fact that their favorite restaurants to-go containers and their produce containers were no longer recyclable. People were angry about it. I just wonder if we said no plastic at all if it makes everybody really angry and then they start focusing that anger at the plastics manufacturering?
Alex Truelove: Yeah, this doesn’t necessarily answer your question, Michael. But I do think moving forward for a couple reasons, we might have more of an opportunity to really hold producers responsible for their claims. I think there’s a liability. Part of it is that we’re finding out more, unfortunately there’s no national clearing house with info about exactly what gets recycled. Is it collected? Then is it actually sorted by the local facility? And then is there actually a market you know, so each one of those, it’s less and less material that actually makes it through? Which is why I agree with you, Michael, that I think 10 percent is probably a pretty inflated number because I think often that really refers to the collection rate and not what actually gets turned into new products.
Maris Masellis: I think the others statistic is 2% of that is actually recycled. 2% of that 10%.
Alex Truelove: You guys might be interested in a report that came out like six months ago, I think over the winter that Greenpeace put out. I know some of the folks who did the the survey and the aim of the study was to survey as many recyclers across the country and actually find out, and it’s kind of crazy that nobody has really done this before. I mean, the EPA collects the data every couple of years, but it’s pretty vague. The (Greenpeace study) aim was to find out all the different things that you actually collect and don’t collect? And then how much of that stuff actually goes to sorting facility and gets sorted and has a market and how much of that stuff is actually sold and then turned into something else. So there are numbers behind all those things and what’s interesting is that the Federal Trade Commission actually has definitions and standards for what can actually be called recyclable. Basically it has to meet a threshold and only number ones and twos in very specific situations, met that threshold and everything else didn’t. What is interesting about that is that now that we have more information, I think Companies can be held more legally liable. There was actually a suit last year, I think a woman in California, sued Keurig, because she found out that those k cups weren’t actually recyclable. They were making claims that they were but in her community they weren’t. And so I think obviously, you guys know, there’s this disconnect between what people say, like the plastic bag Association, or I forget what it’s called but there’s there’s a group out there and one of their claims is plastic bags are recyclable. There’s this theoretical term of recyclable and then there’s this actual, you know, what’s happening where less than 1% or even less than that of any plastic bags are really recycled if any?
Michael Britt: Wait, what? That’s one of our questions. When you go back to the grocery store and take your plastic bags for recycling, which is a small amount statistically, it’s just who bothers to bring their bags back to the grocery store. Our question is, do they really recycle those bags?
Alex Truelove: My understanding is that has been part of a massive failed experiment. And I can’t remember the name of the organization that collected that information or was participating in it. But that was kind of part of a greater effort by I think a lot of industry groups, not just plastic bag returns, but a lot of like those bubble mailers that you’ll get like the ones from Amazon, which you can return at a lot of big box stores. They collected I don’t know how many tons, thousands of tons of these bags and different kinds of film and stuff and then they ended up I think just landfilling it, or incinerating all of it because there wasn’t actually a market. And I will, I promise after this conversation, I’ll point you in the direction of that information – link. But I think that is just another example of it’s collected but that doesn’t mean it actually gets recycled.
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Michael Britt: So there’s two things that come to mind here. First of all, the plastic film is easily recyclable, correct? From what understand plastic films like plastic bags and stuff is that they can be made into other plastic bags. So like a one to one thing, right? Am I wrong about that?
Alex Truelove: Not to my knowledge, but…
Michael Britt: Well, maybe that’s what I get for reading the plastic film manufacturers website. Maybe I need to get my information from somewhere else.
Alex Truelove: My understanding is that film is tough for a couple of reasons. I mean, anytime you have layered film, it’s really hard to take apart those layers and they’re easily contaminated. There’s also just not a whole lot of material per weight. So I think even if it was theoretically possible, the cost of doing so is way more expensive than just extruding a new virgin plastic. So I think there’s kind of financial barriers and then technically, most plastic recycling right now is what’s called mechanical recycling. So there’s actual instruments that chop up different kinds of plastic into tiny pieces, and then it can be kind of re-moulded or turned into different things. And there are just a lot of limitations in terms of what can be recycled or as you guys know, down cycled. I think a lot of those kind of containers that you find for strawberries and those clear clamshells are usually like second phase of like, number one plastics. You know, so there are some kind of dependable markets but I think the new frontier when it comes to recycling film and a lot of other really hard to recycle plastics, numbers 3 through 7, film, all that kind of stuff is something called chemical recycling. Where instead of mechanically breaking plastic down and turning it into something else, they’re actually in some cases melted down into its original Polymer. I’m not like a chemist or a chemical engineer. But there are different technologies called hydro pyrolysis and pyrolysis and gasification. But they’re all kind of different versions of the same thing where they take a plastic products and then usually turn it into either some sort of base polymer or feedstock, or in many cases like another fossil fuel, melted into diesel fuel or something. And that is, it sounds maybe good at first, but I think it’s a technology that really kind of scares me because I think it’s just perpetuating the same thing that I think is a fundamental problem with plastic and I wrote about my article, which is that it doesn’t maintain value over time. Like you look at metals and glass and stuff like that, you know, you there is a certain ability to infinitely recycle. So if we started building facilities all over the country to chemically recycle all of these Mix plastics and turn it into a diesel fuel, just like a whole nother, you know, should we keep burning fossil fuels. And you know, you kind of create this situation that we’ve created with a lot of incinerators over time, that’s where you have to feed the beast, you have to feed the beast with more single use plastic waste, and we know that a certain percentage of that is going to escape into the environment or, you know, be too contaminated or, or whatever. And so I think that’s, I think it’s really kind of a trap more than anything I there may be and I don’t know, I think you know, the only acceptable version of the technology in my mind is if there is a way to preserve the quality of the polymer if you can actually melt something down and then turn it into a product of equal or better value. And there may be a way to do that with plastic bags. I keep hearing promises, although I have yet to see people deliver on those promises. And my understanding is this. All those technologies are also pretty expensive and would require taxpayer subsidization and stuff like that. So you know, There may be opportunities like that to, to actually keep those, you know, polymers alive and not have to keep producing new plastics but we were forefront we’re far from that. Well, that was wonky.
Michael Britt: It’s interesting that you bring that up because one of the places on my radar here in Tennessee, the Eastman Chemical Company, it actually used to be part of Eastman Kodak and in the 40s, they were created because there was a shortage of fossil fuels because of the war efforts. And they were created to continue to develop technologies to let Eastman Kodak make film stock even if they couldn’t get fossil fuels. And so they have been spun off into their own company and I saw an article recently on Earth 911 or one of those, talking about that facility and that they’re doing chemical plastic recycling. And so that was the other part I was going to mention earlier is just because you can, should you and is it the best use. You probably know about this study I saw one it’s from Oregon and I can’t remember the organization that did it. They did a lifecycle analysis from every single step along the way from digging things out of the ground and making it and the energy and delivery costs to ship things to the stores, using the item and then putting it in landfill or recycling. What they came up was that a lot of times it was better for the environment just to put things in the landfill. Make them lightweight and put in the landfill. This wasn’t as clear cut as I thought it would be and was actually kind of confusing to even wrap your head around. One of the examples they gave was a tuna can, having more impact overall than one of those mixed material plastic aluminum, tuna packets and I was a little surprised that they’re saying that if you just bury that packet in the in the earth, in the landfill, you’re done the environment a favor because of the energy used to recycle it even though it’s tin/metal and can be made over and over again into another can. That article started me thinking that sometimes maybe you shouldn’t be recycling just because you can. But I don’t know where that leaves us.
Maris Masellis: You (Alex) said by continuing to reduce our disposable plastic and build innovative systems to collect and reuse instead, we can avoid having to order from the same old recycling menu. We need to convince our leaders to reclaim their sanity and do the same. And I want to transition into that. How do we convince our leaders to reclaim their sanity and do the same, how do we make this federally? A law? How do we get the truth out and change the system from that level? Because that’s where the magic is gonna happen. And it just seems really far fetched for people like myself and Michael, like, how do we, how do we do that?
Alex Truelove: Man, it’s such a great question. I do think in some ways people underestimate their ability to change the system like as a voter, as a constituent of our various levels of government. I think it’s great that people, including myself in this, try to be better as consumers and try to make small changes in our lifestyle. But I think there are just limits to how far we can take that. There’s actually a town in Japan, a colleague of mine was writing a blog and I’ll forward it to you. I think it’s gonna be published next week that basically tried to go zero waste. This was like, maybe starting 15-20 years ago
Maris Masellis: I saw a video on YouTube about this
Alex Truelove: They made incredible progress, but like, to a certain extent you just can’t avoid it because our system surrounds us with these choices, or I guess, lack of choices. And so I really think there is a lot of potential over the next few years for systemic change, especially through policy. I mean, I’m a policy person, I’ll say that. So I tend to view things through the lens of policy, but I believe in the power of good policy. And I think things like limiting our use of plastic bags and styrofoam containers is a great start. And there is stuff happening right now. I think we just have to make sure to voice that to our elected leaders who are pretty easily convinced by some of these arguments around chemical recycling. The industry’s always been really effective in terms of that kind of messaging that improves their own bottom line. But I also think there are alternatives that are being proposed at the same time. And I think we just need to get more of our elected leaders on board with those ideas. So there actually is a federal bill right now that I and many other people have spent a lot of time working on. It’s called the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. There’s a number of ordinances within the bill itself, including bans on certain single use plastics and requirements of recycled content for certain things to ensure that the number 1’s and 2 containers that are recycled are actually bought and used by companies in new products, which is a whole another thing. With cheap oil prices, companies will immediately just go back to virgin. There’s even a moratorium on new plastic facilities, basically saying stop all of this refinement. We need to figure out what we’re actually putting into the air and water as a part of these manufacturing processes, which another really interesting conversation upstream and about the local in places where we’re doing a lot of that stuff like the Gulf Coast, Ohio River Valley and Appalachia. I think the core of that bill, or maybe the thing that I’m most excited about in terms of systemic change is something called producer responsibility. So right now, if your Coca Cola (not to pick on Coca Cola) you make a plastic bottle and there’s really no incentive for you to make a bottle that’s more recyclable. You don’t have to pay a dime for the cost of collecting that bottle or sorting that bottle or whatever happens to it. Whether it’s recycled, or landfilled or incinerated, that’s all on us as taxpayers paying for the collection paying for the trucks paying for the optical sorting and the manual sorting in these facilities. There’s really kind of an old idea which is that the polluter pays. You know, some of our most fundamental environmental causes policies are based on that idea of polluters should pay for the cost of the pollution and the things that you create. And so without getting kind of too wonky and detailed, I think that has a lot of promise because I think as soon as companies have to pay for the cost of their products on the environment, the cost in terms of collection and all that kind of stuff, they’re going to be incentivized to make more reusable products and make more products that actually might be recycled.
Maris Masellis: Yes. Have you heard of the citizens climate lobby, CCL? I just got involved with them. And I was involved in some meetings. They just had a conference a few probably a few weeks ago, and I learned about the bipartisan climate solution, the energy innovation and carbon dividend act or all those things, basically along the same lines. They want to basically have these companies, the fossil fuel companies be responsible for what they’re doing. With fees, carbon fees, carbon dividends, things like that.
Alex Truelove: Yeah, I think in many ways it is very similar. It’s forcing companies who were doing bad things to cover the cost of correcting those things. And yeah, you could call it fees in the plastic packaging space they’re often called eco modulated fees. How you actually structured these fees ends up being pretty important because if you prioritize products that are lightweight, you might actually be incentivizing people making more plastic like Michael, you were saying plastic is pretty lightweight. So I think how you actually set up these systems to prioritize things and hopefully disincentivize things that are wasteful is a big part of it. We’ve actually seen these systems work really well. The whole idea is actually not very new. There’s a lot of specialty and hazardous products that have been part of producer responsibility policies for a long time. So things like paint, and car batteries, and in some places, carpets and mattresses, things that are really hard to recycle, or in some cases, hazardous. Yeah, I think tires as well. Often people don’t even know that they might be paying a little bit extra for these items. But that money goes towards a system where they can safely collect and recycle. These products are breaking down as best as best they can. And at the same time, because of that added price, the idea is that those companies are going to be, you know, a little bit more incentivized to make a more recyclable product. I think that’ll be especially true with packaging.
Michael Britt: I think that’s some of the writing on the wall because like you’re talking about the history of this like from our Superfund sites here in America. If you polluted a site that’s designated as Superfund cleanup, your company is responsible for 75% of that cleanup. And my theory is that Coca Cola and Pepsi when they broke away from the plastic Manufacturing Association, they see the writing on the wall for some of that coming. Because there is historical precedence for it as well as legal precedents. I also think there’s probably a switch that flips somewhere where they are suddenly like, you know, we’re in the sugar water soda business, not the plastic bottle business. Why do we need to go down with the plastic and the fossil fuel companies? So regardless to me of their motives they’re making some moves that I appreciate. Some people yell greenwashing at the big companies all the time, but I like to point out that if Coca Cola who sells like, I’ve said this statistic before, I don’t remember it’s been over a billion bottled drinks a day (correction the world buys over 1.3 billion plastic bottled drinks per day but Coca Cola is responsible for 1.8 billion per year). If they even cut 1% out, it’s more than most of us can achieve in our lifetimes of working as activists. So I’m glad to see them do that. There’s also precedent for that in the German packaging bills, that you know, we’ve talked about that on our podcast before from as far back as 91 they (Germany) makes the producers responsible and that works there. So how do we support and find out more about the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Bill because I keep hearing that come up, but I haven’t gone and looked up the actual bill before. So is there somewhere that we can go to look at it, not just the legalese, but the synopsis of what’s going on so that we can easily understand it?
Alex Truelove: So there’s actually a Senate bill and in the House, there’s companion bills. The sponsor in the Senate is Senator Tom Udall, from New Mexico who has been a big champion on this issue. And in the House side representative Alan Lowenthal, and I believe both of their websites have kind of a more condensed, reader friendly version of the bill. In fact, I think I’m looking at the one from Utah right now. They have an outline of some of the components of the legislation. And they also have a bunch of quotes from all kinds of leaders and environmentalists on why they think it’s such a great thing. I’m in there somewhere. Also, yeah, so I think if for the listeners out there, if you Google, Tom Udall or Senator Udall break free from plastic pollution act, probably that might be even the first hit on your search engine. You should see the outline which is I think, much more friendly than reading the actual bill on Congress’s website, which you can do if you really want to but…
Maris Masellis: I have friends that do that.
Alex Truelove: Yeah. I’m one of those people, but…
Michael Britt: I’ll read it sometimes to get into the nitty gritty. Read the manual, read the fine print.
Maris Masellis: Alex you are now my translator
Michael Britt: Okay, we’ll just call you for translation. So are those bills going up with in the current cycle? Or will that be pushed down the line? Do we need to immediately call our our representatives and say vote for this or is it not up yet?
Alex Truelove: For vote? It is. I mean, it’s a live bill. And there are we’re gathering co sponsors, trying to get other senators and Congress people to support the bill. So now is definitely a great time to reach out to your representative and tell them that they should support the bill and why you think they should. It has been assigned to committee but it hasn’t been actually heard yet. So there’s still time even for more congressional leadership to jump on in official support the bill. So now’s a great time to do it, look up who your Congress people are, and give them a call or write them an email. I really do think those actions make more of a difference than people think. And I think plastic free July, I don’t know if you guys have been finding that it’s now kind of like a theme. So I know a lot of organizations are working on this issue and are putting together some organized efforts to get calls and emails into Congress people this month. Actually, I don’t know, to your question, because of the pandemic, so much of congressional action has been focused on relief and you know, that kind of stuff. So I don’t know exactly how things are going to move forward, but it’s definitely not too late. I still think the idea is revolutionary enough that I would be shocked if it really got all the way through the process in a serious way this year. But I still think it’s an incredibly important statement. I think there are a lot of things in the bill to be proud of and what’s kind of cool and interesting and different than any other real life experiences that usually these ideas kind of start at the local level and state level and then eventually kind of the federal level. And it actually has happened a little bit backwards where no state yet has put together a package of all these ideas in one bill. It almost skipped ahead. And in this case, Senator Udall, and Representative Loewenthal said, You know what, let’s just put it all together and do this. And make it the sort of thing that we can all aspire to. So I actually think what will happen over the next year or so is that we will see, state governments kind of take this bill or a lot of similar elements and try to move it through at the state level. I think there will be tons of opportunities as advocates and constituents for us to also reach out to state leadership because I think what’s more likely to happen if history is any indication, is that we’ll see these ideas of producer responsibility and all of the elements that are in this bill, we’ll see those actually passed at the state level before they pass it the federal level.
Michael Britt: So we’re gonna work on that even at the local city level because we need to be involved with local politics and find out who’s on team climate, who’s on team planet.
Maris Masellis: I think the next step for you and I Michael, is to just really get into that bill and and figure out all the key points to it and how to communicate that with our listeners. It really is that easy to look up your representatives. I’ve done it quite a few times these last few months and I’ve never I done that before. We can link that in our website in the transcription – Link here
Michael Britt: this is like one of the things we were talking about with styrofoam recycling and answering questions on the forums about if it’s recyclable and where can I take it? My answer is that your time would be better spent for the environment and you’ll help more if you stopped and emailed the manufacturer and your representatives your displeasure about these products than it would be driving 20 minutes to take your styrofoam to recycle. And I think that I think you’re right that a lot of us do have more power and Maris, you know, I do this all the time. Every package, everything I buy, I look at it and like right now I’m going through coffee packaging I just ordered from a sustainable company that actually has compostable bags for their coffee. And I’ve been trying to find that and I email every Coffee Company, all the local ones here in Nashville and I get on their social media and ask them why their bags aren’t compostable? And I think if they hear that enough they will no longer say, no one’s asking for it.
Maris Masellis: Lets talk about coffee for one more second. Coffee is a great ingredient for compost. You can compost your coffee grinds, and why wouldn’t we have a bag that can also go in there too? Why not? Exactly. Anyway, anywho Alex Truelove. Thank you so much for taking time out of your Sunday to speak with us. And we will be looking for you is are there any things coming up that we can support you in? Or basically we can keep in touch?
Alex Truelove: Yeah, let’s keep in touch. I think supporting this stuff that’s happening is important. We talked about the federal Bill and I mean, a lot of stuff in the in the policy space, like I said, is focused on pandemic relief and that kind of stuff. So I think it might be a little bit until our elected leaders are focused on all of the other problems that are still happening during this time like plastic pollution? They haven’t disappeared at all. It’s tough because there’s only so much oxygen in terms of, you know, public attention, but yeah, I think there’s plenty of opportunities to work on stuff. I’ll do my best to keep you all updated. In the meantime call your representatives about this…
Yeah. I’d like to give one quick idea real quick. Because it’s about getting people to call and it always baffles me that big organizations or even small, powerful organizations, don’t do this. I would like to see organizations like what’s your acronym again?
Alex Truelove: UsPIRG
Michael Britt: I think your social media people should be active on every single city’s Zero Waste Facebook page. I mean, I know that I go on Sundays and drink coffee and I find other groups and other cities and I connect with them and I get involved in those conversations. As you’re trying to help pass this this law it seems like the target audience would be zero waste Facebook groups. I don’t see a lot of organizations do this. We even had to invite the Nashville Metro solid waste people to post. We were like, look, we approved your membership on our site so you should post and put information there to share it. It baffles me that we don’t see a lot of that happening. So I’m just gonna put that out there and get some big organizations to start surfing the web for zero waste groups. We’re out there.
Alex Truelove: All right, I hear you. And I will, if it helps, I will send a link through USPIRG if people want to write their congressperson where you basically put in your name, zip code, there’s like a message already there that you can tweak if you want to. You guys can share that too. Link Here
Maris Masellis: Well, this is another successful episode of Zero Waste Trash Talk with our special guest Alex Truelove. My name is Maris and that’s Michael Britt. Thank you guys. Appreciate it was great meeting you, Alex. Thanks. Keep up the good work.
Yeah. It’s great to have these channels where we can have these conversations.
Interview with Clay Ezell from The Compost Company
Everyone Clay Ezell is here from the compost company. And I’m Maris
I’m Michael Britt.
Maris Masellis: And that’s Michael Britt. And this is Zero Waste Trash Talk. And we are going to talk with Clay tonight about composting and different things in Nashville that are going on around that. But listen, I didn’t want to stop you from the story you were saying I was just like, this is the kind of fun banter I feel like people should get to know a little bit more about you and we’re just talking about clays awesome background so we’re all remote as normal. Michael is at his house. I’m at my house and clay is at his grandparents house or your wife’s. Is it your wife’s?
Clay Ezell: Yes. That would be my grand in laws? Grand parents in laws?. Yeah, that would be the way we say that yes. This house was built by Don Pierce, my wife’s grandfather in 1968. He was a he owned a recording studio called Starday Records and I would love to give you the tour because this place is country fabulous from exactly that era and it has remained a period piece. I mean, it looks exactly the same as it did when they first moved in.
Maris Masellis: I can only see a little bit of it and I want to see all of it.
Clay Ezell: So it would take the duration of this entire thing, but there’s some wonderful, wonderful stuff going on this little corner of Sumner county and on Old Hickory lake. It’s been our retreat and has been huge for our COVID kind of isolation.
Are you guys staying there with them?
Clay Ezell: Um, my wife and boys are have been here more than I have. This has been you know, this whole thing kind of took place right in the middle of our busiest season of the year. It’s when all of the material really goes out the door. You know what we take in and divert from landfilling, we process into finished compost and this is the time of year that it goes out to farmers and landscapers and home gardeners. And we’ve seen a pretty major uptick this year in residential delivery. Really, we delivered to homeowners and I think everybody was stuck at home. So this was the year that they finally were like, you know, that garden we’ve been thinking about for the last five years. It’s like it’s time to do it now. So we’ve seen a lot more stuff going into the hands of, of homeowners.
Maris Masellis: So it’s like seasons right? This is like the season where you’re dropping off everything. So how does that kind of work like throughout the year? What does that look like?
Clay Ezell: Spring is sort of the season around which our year revolves, at least on the product side of what we do. Because we do two things really. We we divert organic material from the landfill. And that takes place on a pretty steady basis all year long. That’s coming from restaurants and grocery stores and hospitals and schools and places like that. And in a normal year, which this one has been anything but, you know, that is a very steady flow that that doesn’t really have any seasonality. But the the time when people are using compost when they’re actually starting and maintaining gardens there’s a heavy focus on the spring, because that’s when everybody wants to get, you know, get going. Around the middle of February is when most people start getting going. And then we have some people who do some fall applications. So we have like one really busy outbound season and then we have one sort of smaller one in the fall.
Maris Masellis: And then everything the whole year is pretty much you’re always collecting.
Clay Ezell: Exactly. That never really knows seasonality. We’re always collecting food. But we stay busy
Michael Britt: Collecting and my mad scientisting. Is that a word scientisting. Because you’re like a combination between like a scientist and chemistry set out there and then your all your different various piles aging at different times is like aging bourbon in different barrels. When I visited to shoot video, I was very impressed with all the different levels. This one’s been sitting here for months and this one’s a newer pile and this one’s been sifted multiple times. This one’s organic and this one’s lettuce, mint and tobacco. It was interesting.
Clay Ezell: Yeah, it’s always coming in. We don’t always necessarily get a lot of notice for what we will get, you know. 10 hours of notice, if that and you know, I’ll say okay, distributor has a load that went bad on the truck? We need to bring it to you right now. Where are we like, Okay, all right, we can figure it out. We’ve had to develop a process by which doesn’t matter if we get in 40,000 pounds of spinach or sweet potatoes or, you know, broccoli or whatever it is, because those trucking companies they need to get it off that truck pronto. Because once it’s gone bad there their entire need is to have that truck back on the road hauling stuff again. So, it comes in a lot of different forms.
Michael Britt: So let’s talk about that for a second. Because when I was out there, you had one of those trucks full of I think it was lettuce and you had a tanker of chocolate that had gone bad. Something wrong with it and then some tobacco waste. Yeah, it was actually kind of an interesting smell. So most of the time when that happens, is it really ruined or is it just no longer Grade A grocery store quality because it got a little wilted and now they’re gonna dump it.
Clay Ezell: That is one of the sort of the sad things about it. In a lot of cases where as say a a truck has been deemed unacceptable by say the food packager a truck has been on the road from California, Arizona, Florida. If any of it spoils on the way, let’s say the guy turned the temperature down to too low and the top 50 pallets or top 50 crates out of 2000 froze. The whole load has to go. So it’s one of those things where it’s like you know, we’re happy that it has been being diverted to compos t instead of landfilling. However, there’s 36,000 pounds of produce that are perfectly good, but regulations require that the whole thing go. We’re working on ways and we’ve been talking recently with Jeannie Hunter from the Society of St. Andrew and some other like minded organizations about how we can possibly recover some of that
Michael Britt: I was just going to mention her
Clay Ezell: The regulations are broader about protections for diverting food for feeding hungry people then I think a lot of people realize. A lot of people are like, well, if it’s you know, if it’s even possibly deemed not acceptable for a food packager, then it can’t go to somebody else. But actually, if it’s done in good faith, and most of this stuff is pristine, it’s in good shape, we can divert it to them. What we’re trying to work through right now is the time pressure. Because, you know, we’re all outdoors, Michael, you’ve been there before, we don’t have a whole lot of places to store that stuff. So we need to get it into hands almost the moment it’s coming off a truck. So there’s there’s a lot of challenges there. But we’re we’re trying to work through some of those and see how that’s gonna go. Because we do believe that the first place food like that ought to go is into the hands of people who need it. And we recognize our place in the food hierarchy as kind of the last line of defense before it actually goes into a landfill and we can do something good with it. But there are higher and better uses than you know, ending up in a compost pile. But because of the way the food system works, a lot of it is going to end up in our direction one way or the other. So we’re trying to figure out ways within how we do things to get it to people like Jeannie and The Society of St Andrew.
Michael Britt: That’s great that you’re aware of and working with her. So I was going to suggest that you hook up with them for food (gleaning), right, they go out into the farm fields and save produce.
Clay Ezell: That’s right. And gleaning is a very, you know, viable way to do it. It really is just a matter of getting all those people together in the same place when the farmer says, hey I’ve got all this extra stuff, right? The clock is ticking on getting it so in the case of say, a trucking company who has showed up at our place. every minute that that truck isn’t hauling stuff for them it’s not making money and therefore is a problem. So…
Maris Masellis: money, money and money.
Michael Britt: One more thing about that, this is a fascinating side of what you do, and I want to talk more about it but then I want to come back to I’m sure some of the people listening may not even be clear how composting works? We’ll just start back at the beginning in a minute. But this is fascinating because the other thing that happens is those produce trucks come loaded with the reusable plastic crates on them full of produce. And they just dump those and they don’t come back to get them. So they’re not really being reused once they write off the load. I bring this up because you were a rock star hero during the tornado recently, because several groups that we were working with needed boxes and they needed things to distribute goods in and I called you up because I remembered you mentioning those (crates). You delivered a huge cube van full of them to the Community Resource Center and then delivered about 100 of them to me to give out. You really stepped up and brought those in and and they were really put to good use.
Maris Masellis: Hats off to both of you guys for making that connection. Really, that was pretty incredible.
Clay Ezell: Well, you guys were so much deeper in it than we were. We made a delivery of a thing that we knew would get used. So hats off to y’all, you were all over it during that emergency. And it’s just amazing that something that significant seems to have like, not faded away by any means. But then suddenly COVID comes on the heels of that, and it was like…
Maris Masellis: Yeah, we were dumped on for quite a while, I feel like. But you know what, Michael, he does this crazy thing and he’s taught me a lot about sustainability. That being the key is just remembering where these types of things happen. Like you remembered crates that could be reused for this. And that’s the key to sustainability is just kind of remembering where these resources are and be like, wait, well, those aren’t being used. So why can’t we use them here and that’s really forward thinking to me. So I’m learning every step of the way, guys, I’m keeping tabs but back to the composting and what it is and if you’d like to explain it in your simplest form, would you like to tell our listeners what what Composting is?
Clay Ezell: Sure. At it’s most basic, the reusing of something that would otherwise be going into the trash in the form of organic waste. Organic waste is the number one largest single stream of material going into landfills today. It’s between 30 and 40% and most of this is food scraps, wasted food, wood, leaf waste, things like that. Anything that was once alive.
Maris Masellis: And I like to say whatever came from the earth goes back into the earth and that’s what composting is, if it came from the earth, you can put it back into the earth is that is that accurate?
Clay Ezell: It absolutely is accurate. The problem is we’re putting it back into the earth in a landfill, which is a deeply unnatural way to do that. Putting it back into the earth in the form of finished compost is a whole different ballgame compared to putting it in a big hole and stuffing it all down in there (landfill) which doesn’t really work out.
Maris Masellis: Let’s expand on that, which I think is interesting. I bartended at a party in in Franklin and I had a conversation with some people there because nothing that we were using was reusable or compostable. It’s all plastic products. And it was crushing my soul a little bit. And this older gentleman came over and we were talking about it and it was a really interesting conversation because I was not prepared for what he was about to say when I talked to him about what a landfill actually was. He’s like, well, yeah, everything is going back into the earth there. We’re just throwing it away into there. And isn’t that composting and I was shocked. We sat there and talked for another 10 minutes because he would not agree with me about where it went, and thought that the landfill was just as good. Like, that was a good thing. And, oh, I couldn’t really talk anymore. I was working.
Keep it out of the work environment.
Maris Masellis: But I really wanted to talk to that man on this podcast today and just tell him the landfill is not a good thing. It’s not we’re not putting things back into the earth in the landfill. It’s completely different than composting. From what I’ve learned is that we can take everything that we don’t eat and put it into soil. And that’s where you guys come in, and you and you grind it all up or tell me about that process. What happens there?
Clay Ezell: We do. Basically, we take a variety of different kinds of organic waste. And again, like you said, Maris, it’s like whatever was once alive and essentially what we do, depending on what we get in the day, we blend it into the right ratios. And generally it’s sort of carbon and nitrogen and we’d like to make sure that they’re blended in the right way so that they’ll process quickly. It’s a little bit like baking in a way we get the right recipe, the ingredients, there’s some very large piles, which we then set up on a on a pad that we have on our site. We used to do it where we were turning these very large wind rows and we had to turn them all the time. It felt like we were doing it constantly but now we actually pump air through it. And it helps us do a lot more on a quicker timetable and we can produces a better compost.
Maris Masellis: How long does that process go for?
Clay Ezell: If we’re doing everything optimally, it takes about 90 days from raw what we call feedstock. Which is, you know, Apple cores, banana peels, meat, bone dairy, you know, whatever it happens to be and wood chip primarily. We get a lot of that from tree trimmers and landscapers who are always looking for outlets to bring their stuff.
Maris Masellis: And that can be affected by the other stuff right the the other compostable products that they’re coming out with now that you’re that you’re having to deal with the different plastic looking compostable products.
Clay Ezell: Yes, compostable plastics. They’re made out of primarily a corn resin which is compostable. There are certain types of them that have some problematic after effects. But that’s a pretty deep in the weeds conversation. But we are noticing a lot more hospitality clients using more compostable serviceware, which certainly beat the heck out of you know, just a petroleum based plastic. So short story long there’s a lot of people who would argue against compostable plastics, but you know, it is a better alternative than what else is out there for single use.
But it doesn’t mess up the process too much like it since it’s not optimal. Like you were saying.
Clay Ezell: It’s not but we’ve optimized our process to incorporate those. There’s a lot of composters out there that don’t accept them. But for us to work with people like Vanderbilt and some of our restaurant clients and hotels and things that rely on a lot of grab and go type service. That was one of the ways that we can make the process work for them on their end, because otherwise it would require a lot of sorting that would have to go on and people, especially people in crowds are pretty bad at it. Even well meaning people who want to do the right thing. But if you give them a whole lot of choices, it can be confusing. I mean, even for me, who’s in it all day, every day, if you laid out 10 different service items and told me, you know, without any branding on them … well, I’d be pretty good at picking them out.
Michael Britt: Oh, wait, what’s our next segment? We’re gonna ask you to pick. No, just kidding. We talked about how it’s impossible to tell unless you look at the little tiny labeling. You have to turn your cup upside down and read it. Who would expect doing that?
Maris Masellis: I have one right here. I just got some food from Wild Cow and they gave me some free cookies cuz they’re awesome.
Clay Ezell: We love Wild Cow
Michael Britt: Is the lid compostable?
Maris Masellis: Yeah, pretty sure. Let’s see. Oh, wait. This says compostable biodegradable on the bottom. And then the top says, actually it says PPE number 5 so I guess not, the top is plastic.
Michael Britt: Yeah, that’s what I thought it was. Yeah. So I want to get back to the difference here because we’re we are talking about restaurant to go containers. We talked about it internally and externally a lot. But especially now everybody’s getting everything to go you know, it’s takeout that’s the primary way we’re all getting our food. And, and one of the things that we’ve mentioned before is that people don’t understand that if a restaurant is paying extra and providing us with compostable plastics and compostable materials, it doesn’t do any good to throw them in the trash. We have to send those to an industrial facility which we’re lucky enough to have here being Compost Company and what you do. And the reason for that is back to what you’re saying where you have the air shooting underneath the piles correct, you’re able to heat these piles a lot hotter than we can at home. So it breaks down those materials.
Clay Ezell: Right? And it’s also a question even, you know, our process is always one part of it just volume, like your average homeowner isn’t going to create a pile that’s big enough to keep and maintain the kinds of temperatures that are required for breaking those things down. Because it does require heat, and it requires time and it requires a lot of manipulation. And so, I mean, I’ve tried it at home and I have tried it really, really vigorously. And, you know, a (compostable) fork or a spoon, or that cup is going to take a dreadfully long time, I had one that lasted almost two years but in in our process where we’re grinding it and we’re getting it up to, you know, our piles shoot up to 180 degrees inside of about 48 hours once we really put them all together. And so that that’s what’s required is that kind of volume and temperature.
Michael Britt: And that’s the way we’re talking about the different being that a landfill is anaerobic where it doesn’t get oxygen and composting is aerobic, is that correct?
Clay Ezell: That is correct. And that is the reason why organic material doesn’t belong in that environment. If you throw an apple core on the ground, in an aerobic environment, it’s going to break down correctly with almost no environmental impact at all. I mean, nature has evolved for that kind of apple to fall off that tree and animals and bacteria and microbes and everything, make it go back from whence it came right back into the soil and it’s a very virtuous loop. If you throw that apple core and 10 million like it into an into a landfill environment, cover it up every day, it’s deprived of that oxygen making it an anaerobic environment and it then produces a significant amount of methane which is one of one of many detrimental environmental impacts that landfills have is production of methane.
Michael Britt: Now, can I stay on this technicality for a minute too? Because the other question I have is there are good anaerobic processes as well, right? There are bacterial ones?
Clay Ezell: There are. Those are the ones that where it’s actually enclosed and and you’re actually capturing any of that methane and burning it for energy. You know, we didn’t pursue that avenue forward just because they’re pretty expensive to build. And, you know, our process gives us a lot of flexibility about what we can take. In really dense urban environments. If you need to put something within a city, an anaerobic digester type of thing is a popular choice, especially where you’ve got a lot of political will to spend $10, $20, $30 million dollars to actually build one. New York is a great example. San Francisco is a great example where they have spent an enormous amount of money to build these things because they’re spending it otherwise just to ship trash out of town. New York (spends) something between 500 million and a billion dollars a year just to get trash out of dodge. They used to just haul it out into the ocean and dump it. I don’t mean to laugh. It’s just like, washing up on the beach in New Jersey, I mean, this was in like the early 1900s. And then they started landfilling it and then they filled up Staten Island and that became untenable. But they they’ve run out of landfill space in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware and all these places. It’s now going on trains primarily to South Carolina, and I think to Arizona.
out of control
Michael Britt: The math there. It’s doesn’t add up. We’re gonna ship all this waste away and a good portion of it could have been composted and kept in our cities and in our environments and reused, but we’re going to pay more money. It’s short sided thinking that we’re just going to keep shipping trash as far away and filling up landfills and not worrying about the future bill for that. It’s crazy.
Clay Ezell: It is, it’s ludicrous. They finally said, alright, wait a minute, building the $90 million facility to do it here now does make sense because all of these other states, I mean, you know, Pennsylvania used to take it fairly cheaply, and that was the sweep it under the rug option, and it’s no longer an option. So that’s how we handle most of our waste. I mean, whether it be hazardous or not,
Maris Masellis: Does anyone know who came up with a landfill idea? Who came up with this idea? Was it a toddler because you just want to sweep it under the rug like you said and and pretend it’s not there that just seems so silly.
Clay Ezell: Or if you’re nomadic, you just leave it all in a pile and move and go. Unfortunately, I think it’s been a problem for a long time. Archaeologists love studying trash piles…
Maris Masellis: As we create more materials, yeah, there has to be somewhere for it to go. So we have to start thinking in the beginning of the process. That’s what we’re learning is that we have to reverse it all somehow.
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Michael Britt: Hey, before we get back to the interview, I wanted to tell you about a new feature on our website. A lot of listeners have given us feedback that we talked about a lot of things in an episode and some of it goes by pretty fast. So we created a web page for each episode with a full transcript and links to everything we talked about at ZeroWasteTrashTalk.com check it out.
Maris Masellis: Composting is actually something I just started this last year. I’ll be honest on my journey I was always really intimidated about composting. When I heard composting I thought, Oh, that’s a little too advanced for me. You know, that’s a little too much for me. And then when I started doing it, I realized how easy it is. And I’m sure that you talk to many people about how easy it really is to do it, and what kind of feedback do you get? Or what kind of excuses Do you hear from different people? What’s the biggest intimidation with composting?
Clay Ezell: Well, it comes in several different ways. I mean, we get it from either the homeowner side, that is, you know, do I really need to do this in my backyard aren’t I gonna attract pests, isn’t it a lot of work? What am I going to do with the finished compost when I have it? You know, I can only do vegetables, right? So what do I do with all the meat I might as well just throw it all away. But then we also get it from the commercial side, because primarily the people that we collect from our commercial producers, restaurants, hotels and grocery stores. And we do that because they don’t have the option to even do it in their backyard. In a perfect world everybody takes care of their own doorstep, right?
In a perfect world,
Clay Ezell: In a perfect world. But we at least offer the option for those who don’t have that option aall in for form of places, you know, the Hilton Hotels and we work with the city (Nashville) and on that end it’s mostly about, well, it’s gonna cost more it’s gonna smell it’s gonna attract pests. I mean, there’s a lot of crossover. Our sole mission is to prove to people that it not only doesn’t cost more, it doesn’t smell, it doesn’t attract pests and with a with a vigorous program, you can make a humongous impact. Fortunately we’re seeing a lot of national brands like Hilton and Marriott and things. This was mostly pre-COVID before a lot of the wind got sucked out of the hospitality sector
Maris Masellis: Really? That’s a big cut into your compost that you collect. That’s if the hotels and restaurants aren’t creating any organic waste then…
Clay Ezell: Exactly that’s been that’s been the biggest impact we’ve seen right now. We have seen however an increase in the amount of stuff that we’re getting from industrial producers like food manufacturers to packagers, you know, the the General Mills of the world are going strong because grocery stores are doing well and people are eating more at home. So it’s been a big shift of where it’s coming from. But back to your question about the barriers, there’s a ton of them and I think most people, once they see whether they do it at home, whether they do it in their place of business, if they can, if they can just take the first step, nudged or otherwise and it can pretty quickly be proven that it is not a humongous hassle. It’s like beginning recycling at home. Once you kind of get over the mental hump. Generally speaking, I find that it is one of the smallest of habit changes and it can be done in such a variety of ways. You don’t have to be a pro gardener to want to use the finished compost to do it. You can just divert it for diversion sake.
Michael Britt: Yeah. And like, you know, that’s so easy. I’ll just talk about my path to this for a minute because being able to keep the wet materials in my freezer, the bottom drawer of my freezer is where I put all of my scraps all of my food scraps, and nothing is smelly. Nothing’s gross. There’s no bugs, no rodents, I have two big akitas.
Maris Masellis: And, by the way, Akitas are dogs
Michael Britt: Two big dogs. And if I had a pile in my yard, they’d be getting into it. The rats that fall off the train, which we do see rats falling off the train of the train. Oh, yeah, they they kind of love compost piles and stuff. So there are issues here and the fact that we have city composting. Now granted, we have to take it to the convenient centers where you guys pick it up (from). But that’s a really awesome thing for us to have. And I don’t think people realize in this country, how few resources there are like this. When I started doing research about this only 3% of all composting facilities in the country accept food waste,
Clay Ezell: Correct. And that is because it’s difficult, you run into a lot of challenges that require extra care. And most most composting takes place, you know, green waste lawn and garden waste, wood waste, that kind of thing, because it’s relatively hassle free. You can make a lot of product without running the risk of creating a big smell. We being fairly mission driven wanting to attack that problem. From the get go we wanted to address it and wanted to accept food waste, because we knew what a giant portion of the waste stream it was. We designed our system to accommodate that and there is more risk involved. But, I mean, if you do it right, then I think we’ve proven over the course of our history. We’ve been able to do it without becoming a nuisance and without stinking up Cheatham County, which is where we’re located. But (we are) aiming at a higher at a higher ring.
Michael Britt: When I compost, I feel so much better about that than recycling. I don’t have to worry that that’s going to end up in some foreign country. I know that I’m taking this out of the waste stream and it’s actually going to be reused. I feel great about it. It’s funny, you’re talking about your backyard compost filling up and being so huge. How we have to have huge piles, I make a lot of compost. We cook a lot. We we have tons of dog hair. It’s a ton of compost.
Clay Ezell: That’s your dog hair? I was wondering where all that dog hair came from.
Michael Britt: Are you serious? You’ve seen it. Have you seen it in the compost?
Maris Masellis: He’s just messing with you!
Clay Ezell: No it’s just part of the larger pile but I’m now gonna keep my eyes peeled.
Michael Britt: When when COVID started, the first thing they (Nashville Metro) did that I want to ask you about, is that they shut the convenience center down. And that was a little crazy. It opened up one day a week after that and then we weren’t allowed to compost. It had been piling up here so I started distributing it to my neighbor’s compost pile filling it to the brim. And so there was a one week period where I was like, I’m gonna have to sign up with Compost Nashville for pickup. I’m gonna have to find somewhere to do this. And just for one week, I stopped composting and it made me physically ill to throw coffee grounds, banana peels, that kind of stuff in the trash. I was just devastated. Maris, you had the same experience, all of our freezers were full.
Maris Masellis: Yeah, I live in an apartment. I’m like, can I throw it in the woods? And you know, it’s better there than it would be in the landfill. So…
Clay Ezell: Agreed. First thank you for even thinking about it while there’s this cloud of everything hanging over the entire world, it warms my heart. Yeah. And, you know, we hated to see that interruption. In the convenience centers, we’re thrilled that Metro is wanting to offer that to citizens and we’re further thrilled that anybody actually will go to the effort. Like y’all will actually take it over there. But I mean, we’ve seen a great response out of that program, so we’re thrilled to be doing it for starters, we hated to see it stop. We understood it was temporary, we’re back up and running now. Thankfully, you know, everybody was a little I think gun shy about what does this mean? How can we do this? Is this going to spread something? The research pretty quickly came out that the composting process kills viruses that are a lot scarier than COVID very quickly. We have to go through a rigorous process of science…
Maris Masellis: Scientisting
Clay Ezell: Yes, it’s part of our scientisting. I think we need some light brown lab coats now. Thank you. We’re gonna do the next uniform.
Maris Masellis: Christmas gifts!
Michael Britt: Hashtag scientisting.
Dirt science. I like that.
Maris Masellis: Well, Michael and I were talking about the recycling system and all the issues that we keep running into with the plastics. And of course, we’re huge supporters of compostable products. I worked in the restaurant industry for years and felt pretty helpless for a long time but to learn about all this stuff, it seemed so mindless to me like of course we need to use those and I think I even spoke to you there when I was working for the restaurant here in Nashville. We got to get composting guys. And a few times we did. We tried some products that just our food’s really greasy and the food at the restaurant I was working at and watching all the recycling go into, well, we don’t know, actually where it goes. And that’s what Michael was kind of touching on is it’s refreshing to know that we know where the compost is going. We know that it’s getting taken care of the right way. And you guys have this mission and I think I read on your website already 50 million pounds diverted.
Clay Ezell: Um, we’re probably approaching that figure. We are probably do something in the neighborhood of 12 to 15 million this year. So I think we’re probably…
on schedule right on schedule, but
we weren’t too far off.
We were talking about recycling system in our previous episode and Michael had this idea. You want to explain that
Michael Britt: Well, the idea is that if recycling is broken, and people rely on it yet, it’s not working at all. If it was a business, if you think about it, even if we were generous and say 10% of it is working, that means that 90% of their mission is a failure. But then everyone is kind of convinced that it’s okay to keep buying plastic because we put it in our bins, and we don’t have to worry about it because it goes away and gets made into other stuff. And maybe, I mean, my thought processes, and I think we’ve talked about this briefly before, is that we should just scrap recycling for the moment. I know that’s hearsay for an environmentalist…
Maris Masellis: Maybe just the plastic side of it
Michael Britt: And maybe well, curbside maybe we shouldn’t even offer curbside pickup recycling we should pick up composting instead. It will be more effective. I mean, am I way off base or is it and let me preface it with the fact that there is an example of that here in Tennessee in Sevierville. Have you seen their facility? Do you know anything about that facility out there? T
Clay Ezell: They have recently redone that facility in a fairly major way. But I’m aware of it. I have not toured it but I’m I know a couple of the people that are involved with it, and what their sort of mission is…
Michael Britt: Which is basically to take all the trash and put it into the big composting machines, and then filter out anything that’s not compost. So they are the opposite.
Clay Ezell: They dump everything and they take all of the trash that basically they refer to as MSW that’s generated in severe county and it’s basically a volume reduction, which they’re extremely successful at taking something that is, you know, enormous and doing a lot of volume reduction on that.
Michael Britt: Is that something that could be applied here Nashville. I mean, could we scale this up to to the way you’re doing it or some combination of anaerobic aerobic and the hybrid method and scale this up in a quick way? Is there any way to do that quickly?
Clay Ezell: You know, I mean, quickly, probably not I mean that that facility has been there since. God. I mean, they were they were way out ahead of it. I mean, I think it’s been there for 25 years.
Michael Britt: I think it started in 1991
Clay Ezell: I’m not exactly sure what the genius of why they elected to do that in 1991, before anybody in the region was ever thinking about an alternative trash (system). It may be the terrain and landfilling was difficult or it may have been the fact that they were already a hospitality hub in generating incredible amounts of refuse. I don’t know enough about the history of it. There would probably need to be some sort of a combination of what they’re doing and sort of traditional composting, um, what what is coming out of that facility, I don’t have any experience with, the actual finished compost. And so, um, it’s kind of hard to say,
Maris Masellis: let’s just think of this simple idea. Basically, I think what Michael is trying to say is, is, is it too outlandish to think that we could focus more on organic waste in the city, instead of trying to mess with all this plastic stuff? You know, we have you, we have this industrial size facility, so close to where we live, and it’s just kind of daunting that we don’t take full advantage of it when the rest of the country doesn’t have that.
Clay Ezell: I would love to see more emphasis put on this because it’s the number one thing going into the landfill and because we’ve seen that a lot what we’re doing with other portions of the recycling stream, you know, aren’t working. And you know, that entire industry was based on shipping it overseas and making it somebody else’s problem. And that was a symptom of our consumer economy. Basically, ships were coming over loaded with plastic goods. Then when we were finished with them, it was really cheap to send all that stuff back in the form of garbage so that they could recycle it. And that was good enough for everybody for a long time, even though it was revealed that there were a lot of problems with that. And now we know that system probably was never working all that well. Until there is real infrastructure here to actually utilize a lot more that kind of waste, it’s probably going to be challenging to feel great about what’s going on. There are some communities, and I know that Metro is doing everything they can to make sure that it’s working well, fighting against budget constraints and all sorts of other things.
Maris Masellis: Money, money, money, money
Clay Ezell: Always. Without the political will, which I’d say this as a proud Southerner, we don’t have a ton of that sort of baked into our DNA yet to be out in front of issues like these like they do in other parts of the country. I mean…
right. I feel like we’re getting there.
Clay Ezell: Absolutely we’re making huge progress. And I think that is both a combination of people waking up and also an influx of, you know, new talent, so to speak.
Maris Masellis: And this Podcast! We’re trying to educate everybody, you know, sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off.
Clay Ezell: Exactly. Awareness is coming. I would love to see more emphasis put on it. I think a lot of people assume that the only things that are recyclable and also the thing that makes them feel okay about their levels of consumption that they’re used to are the sort of the Big Three, cardboard, plastic and metal. Then number four glass and then we’re sort of way down the list on anybody’s…
Maris Masellis: we believe in you clay, you believe in you guys and we and we really appreciate what you’re doing. And we’re just trying to learn as much as we can about the process and how to make it easier for people to start it and how to support you because we want more people to compost. We want more people and more business for you so we can take on this dream because that’s the only way it’s gonna happen. We have to start making those big changes and the more people composting the better off so yeah. You know what, it’s kind of weird to jump to this now but I’m so interested to know how you got into compost. Like how did you, what’s the story behind you getting into this?
Clay Ezell: I was, let’s say, this was 10 or 12 years ago, I was living in New York, my little brother was here and actually worked for Metro and the Department of Metro beautification. And I was very smugly griping about the state of recycling in Nashville. I think he’d been on the job for six months and was sort of like, yeah, you know, we’re gonna make all the changes, we’re gonna do all this stuff, and it’s gonna be great. And we started talking about why isn’t the state of recycling in Metro better? And he was like, well, you know, we’re really trying, we’ve got monthly pick up now. It’s improved a lot in the last five years. But really, it’s infrastructure. We started talking about those challenges of collecting the stuff, packaging it putting on a boat and going over there. And so our bright idea was alright, let’s get into it. Let’s do it here. And so we started looking at those avenues aluminum glass paper. And we were lacking the gazillion dollars you need to start say, an aluminum processing plant or a paper mill. We started looking at other areas of the waste stream because we both wanted to do something that had an impact. But we also wanted to, make a living doing it. And so we started looking at other areas of the waste stream and that’s when we realized, wait a minute, the majority of what goes into a landfill everyday is organic material. Well you don’t really need that much to start composting. You just need some land and maybe a small piece of equipment and you know, off you go. And you can scale up, Yeahaw! So as we were kind of researching this thing, we got a little bit more excited about it. That was the mid aughts, I guess. And then we did our research and we came across a guy who is now our business partner Ed Wansing, this was in 2013, or 14, he had an early start in this and we were talking with him and I don’t know, in 2015, we all partnered up and we’ve been able to really kind of get going in a meaningful way.
Michael Britt: So let me ask you this, because, you know, we put ourselves out there, you’ve come to one of our live meetings. We get people together to talk about what’s waste issues
Clay Ezell: Which is awesome I and can’t wait to be live and in person again. There’s so much fun.
Michael Britt: Yeah, that was that was pretty cool. I’m in contact with people from lots of different cities and are in contact routinely with the people from places like Pittsburgh where they have the No Plastic Please Campaign and we’ve talked to people in Indiana. One of the questions that that comes to me occasionally is hey you know we don’t have the facility like you guys have so how do we start one. I was wondering if maybe compost company could be the franchisee and start spreading the information and the the business model out to some of these other cities that are really wanting to do this. Is that even on your radar?
Clay Ezell: Expansion certainly is. As you know, the the salty old garbage guys say while chopping on their cigars trash is a local business and it starts to make less and less sense if you’re carting this stuff, you know, hither and yon all over the place and then suddenly, you’re where we are with the recycling industry where it’s worth going all over the place. And that just doesn’t make a lot of sense for organic waste, especially because it’s got a pretty distinct timetable. You want to get that stuff processed quickly. So doing it locally is the answer as far as we’re concerned, and we would love to do that. And now that we’re at least five years old since Jeffrey and I have been involved with Ed, you know, we feel like we’ve gotten to a point where we’re repeatable and we know what our process is, we’ve got our legs under us really well. And we’re solid enough to do that. We were feeling some pressure a couple years ago, we better go do this now. And I’m glad we didn’t because we probably would have gotten out of our skis a little bit. But we’re, we feel pretty good about where we are now. And we think we could do that. I think it makes abundance of sense, you know, in Memphis and Louisville and Birmingham and Atlanta. There are cities that do have these, but very few of them have adequate capacity in the way that they do in San Francisco or Seattle? I mean, those are the two big…
Maris Masellis: Where are we compared to them? Are we babies? Little mini’s?
Clay Ezell: We are newborns in comparison. We’re still in the incubator. The last estimate was we were composting something like 6% of what is produced, which is probably high.
Maris Masellis: And what would you say they are doing?
Clay Ezell: Total waste diversion in, you know, a place like San Francisco is approaching 85%. So extrapolating out even around the fact that they have they’ve been doing it for a long time. Their solutions aren’t exactly perfectly local. I mean, they’re going 75, 80 or 90 miles out into the Eastern parts of California to perform all of that. And that’s a system of urban density requires that they do that but they do have some more solutions that are in town like we talked about earlier the anaerobic digesters and things that are taking a portion of that but to do it on on large scale requires some space. But, you know, Seattle’s doing a great job of it and Portland and a lot of the places you’d expect. And the Northeast is starting to catch up. Denver has got some good outlets that are taking care of a lot of organic waste and there’s a few of us in the South that are doing this kind of thing, but we got a long way to go.
Michael Britt: Do you feel that the landfill companies and some of the trash hauling companies consider compost competition and discourage it politically or behind the scenes or do you think everybody’s just going hey, we need to solve all these problems?
Clay Ezell: In some of the top tier markets they have started to get into the game. And they tend to discourage entrance as if the barriers to entry weren’t steep enough. And they kind of say, Oh, we were getting ready to start doing that right here in Nashville. Nobody better open up a company like this because we’ve got space to do it and it’s gonna be great. But I just don’t know that they’re sufficiently interested. Because in a lot of cases, they’ve got a great big hole in the ground and their business model is predicated on preserving that model.
over time, it’s good. We need like a button that just says like,
Maris Masellis: Money, money, money! We should have a sound effects. Michael
Michael Britt: I’ll work on that.
Clay Ezell: But you know, as long as they are able to site and operate landfills, they will be able to keep that cost pressure on landfilling, being the easiest way to do it. And as long as that’s the cheapest and easiest thing, a good portion of people are going to choose that. But as we’ve been able to grow, we’ve been able to bring our cost much more in line and in certain cases below what it costs to landfill. And the day that I can across the board say it’s absolutely cheaper to compost than landfill my job and getting new people to do it is gonna be so much easier. I can’t wait. But we’re, yeah, we’re almost there
Michael Britt: That’s gonna be a lot easier when this landfill, our current one fills up and they’re trucking stuff up to Kentucky or wherever because no one wants another landfill in Tennessee, then you’ve got to pay the shipping charges and freight and fuel. So I imagine you’ll be a lot cheaper then.
Clay Ezell: And like we were talking about with the New York example, once once their waste had to start going to Ohio, they were like, wait a minute, let’s build the huge thing and let’s do it locally. You know, once it has to go past 100 miles it really stops making sense in any way. So hopefully in that case we’ll start seeing a lot more of it going to alternatives such as ours.
Maris Masellis: Amazing. This has been so much fun clay, you have a great podcasting voice by the way, very vibrant, you know, great voice for this. So, to recap on what we learned, we learned what Composting is, and basically if it came from the earth, it can go back into the earth. And we also learned that Nashville is extremely lucky because we have the Compost Company that you started five years ago our our baby business. Which is going to be booming and amazing soon, because everyone that listens to this is going to go straight into their kitchen and they’re going to make their dinner or whatever and any scraps that they have, they’re going to take an old cardboard shoe box, which is what I use if you don’t have a backyard, And you’re going to put all of it in there, and you’re going to put it in the freezer because that’s what me and Michael do so there’s no excuses. My poor roommate, we don’t even have any freezer room because it’s all compost, but we learned that you can do there’s all sorts of things that you can do if you don’t have the resources in your backyard and we have Compost Company, we have Compost Nashville that picks up residentially and goes directly to you guys…
Clay Ezell: We love compost Nashville, they make it extremely easy, especially for anybody who doesn’t have the freezer space are, you know, I understand it’s a challenge to take it over to a Convenient Center or to drop it off at our place if you happen to be near Ashland city. So, avail yourself of that resource please. You just want to divert it from the landfill. Those guys (Compost Nashville) grab it and they bring it to us and we process it and you get a little bit of our finished compost back couple times a year.
Maris Masellis: That right. And as we know, we also learned about the compostable products and how confusing that can be. So hopefully if you’re listening all the way to the end here, you realize that there’s a lot more that goes into this, that recycling is still not working. And there are other options out there. And you should try them because it’s not that hard. And if you go to our website, there’s a video on composting that Jess and I star in and Michael produced and it’s our first video ever so you can kind of see the energy. We’re so excited to do compost and I learned what dry and wet compost is. I didn’t even know there was a difference. And like you said, there’s all sorts of things that can go in there. And if you do have questions, I’m sure you could probably follow them on Facebook, follow Compost Company or Compost Nashville or us, Zero Waste Trash Talk.
Clay Ezell: Follow them ALL! And get all your questions answered.
Michael Britt: You hand them the card you’re like here’s the frequently asked questions card. I used to want to carry that when I, Maris did you ever met Kona, my giant Akita. I had an Akita that people thought was a Direwolf from Game of Thrones. When he put his paws on my shoulders, I’m five nine, he stood almost a foot over me. He was over, he was probably six foot three, six foot five, long and tall.
Michael Britt: So anyway, when we walked around downtown Los Angeles, people always ask how much does he eat? How much did he poop? What kind of dog is he. It was always the same questions so I was going to make a baseball card with all his stats on it, so I can just give it out to everybody. We need that for compost.
Maris Masellis: Oh my god. And you just, you just brought up another topic that I love that we’re just briefly gonna talk about because this is something that we talk about all the time. Can we put dog poop in a bag in the compost?
Clay Ezell: Now I know why you were so interested in it Michael. Because you have a metric ton of it (dog poop) produced every week.
Michael Britt: okay, I do have a lot here but I also work in dog rescue as well. And actually we branched off from an emergency shelter that a group of us are working at. And we wanted to take it to a more full time kind of thing. So I’m on the board of a new rescue called True Rescue. The people I worked with I’ve converted, they’ve come to our meetups, they have seen the light and they want to be more sustainable. We go into these houses with the hoarders and the pets and all that and they get it now that it’s all kind of tied together. They know the climate and environment, animals, all of it. So anyway, one of the concepts that we’re putting out there is called Poo Rescue. And we want to be able to compost the animal waste from the shelter and take it from other shelters and maybe make electricity. I think that’s going to be in an anaerobic process, right?
Clay Ezell: It certainly could be if you if you want to convert it to electricity that’s kind of how it has to be. It off gases and you burn the gas to create electricity.
Michael Britt: But is that the best way to approach this because right now it seems like even you guys were like, oh, you can put some dog poo in there but don’t tell everybody because you know, you don’t want to be inundated with it. The city says Oh, yeah, you can flush dog poop but they don’t want everybody to do it because then waste treatment is gonna be overflowing
Clay Ezell: Well that and most pet waste, especially cats, for some reason and I’ve never talked to a vet about why this is but apparently cat waste is highly pathogenic. We have to go through a process what we call PFRP, the process for the further reduction of pathogens. And basically, it determines where we have to keep temperatures for a certain amount of time to kill off whatever scary things might be in there. E coli, salmonella, COVID-19, whatever. And there’s a threshold where just about anything will die off that is viral. And so apparently, pet waste is just rife with all kinds of different things, but one of the big ones beyond that is antibiotics. Because apparently, a lot of people are giving their pets drugs, which I didn’t know was really a thing. I’ve been like a mutt owner my whole life. There’s a lot of persistent antibiotics and things and I don’t think that those would show up in any kind of meaningful thing and our, you know, we could take three tons of dogshit every week and it would be a pretty small fraction of the total. So I’m not that worried about it. But TDEC is and so we kind of have to draw a line on that, unfortunately. They are our overlords and so we have to make sure you know, I’m sure they have a good reason for it. We love you TDEC.
Michael Britt: We’ll actually talk to talk to them about that. We have friends there so…
Maris Masellis: Yeah, we do we can get them on the phone too. That’s a good question because I have a dog, Michael has dogs we all have dogs and we’re like what is the best way to get rid of this stuff? I thought well if my dog ends up pooping in the bushes and off the beaten path, which he does. I’m very lucky, I don’t normally have to pick it up. Michael’s like no because of the bacteria, if everybody’s dog pooped everywhere and we didn’t pick it up, it would be awful. Where does it go?
Clay Ezell: It goes running off into the nearest storm drain and then into the nearest waterway which would then cause lots of problems in the nearest river. The Cumberland River Compact is very concerned about non-removed pet waste. I understand that and those are some of the same reasons that we can’t take it (dog poop). Our water runoff on site would be affected. And then we might not be able to reapply that to the compost for moisture control. And it just it’s a whole…
Maris Masellis: Yeah. So even with these compostable bags that you’re seeing now. Does it even matter because it’s going into the landfill and not being composted.
Clay Ezell: And the greenwash thing keeps rolling on its merry way. I mean, yeah, probably the majority of compostable serviceware never sees a composting facility because most of it leaves the place where it was being generated, and then ends up in somebody’s home garbage pile. It doesn’t necessarily find its way to an industrial compost facility even though it’s labeled (as compostable). A similar thing happens with a lot of compostable bags. I mean, again, it beats people making those things out of petroleum.
Michael Britt: Yeah, I think that’s the only upside because they’re still encapsulating it in a plastic and burying it for 1000 years.
Clay Ezell: It doesn’t break down like it’s supposed to in a landfill and just becomes another banana peel, say, that’s not really living up to its potential, which is kind of how I think about it. If you’re gonna make the compostable cup, like, that cup wants to be on stage man, it wants to sing for the people. And if you throw in the landfill it never gets that opportunity. Whereas if it comes to a composting facility, maybe it’s ready for the Grammys. That’s where it’s meant to be.
Michael Britt: That’s a great soundbite. We’re gonna use that. The ground is being broken on the new shelter so I’ll give you a call and we’ll talk about what we should be doing at least for the one facility for now. But I see that we can start a business model, it’s not a business because it’s a charity but a model of a sustainable rescue.
Clay Ezell: We need to get you all together with Mars Petcare because they generate an incredible amount of that stuff down in Franklin. And it’s gotta be usable somewhere. I don’t know where it is, or if we could get a special dispensation for you know, making piles out of nothing but pet waste and capturing the stormwater runoff because that’s where the rubber really meets the road. It’s what happens to the water that has contacted that stuff in a landfill environment which they call the leachate. In our environment they call it contact water and that stuff generally has got elements of whatever it’s touched in it. In this case, pet waste and pathogens. So if there was a way to keep it all in one spot, and not have it running off into the nearest creek and then river, I’m sure that would alleviate a lot of the concerns of TDEC.
Michael Britt: This is why we talk about this stuff. We’re talking this out, we’re coming up with ideas, who to get involved with…
Clay Ezell: Sure. I mean, Mars is a big one, and that’s a huge problem for them. It’s gotta be. Because we’ve talked about doing lots of different things with them. And we do compost a fair amount of the meat material that comes out of their pet food production line. But the waste was one thing that they asked about and we couldn’t do anything for them.
Michael Britt: Is there a way we could set up a meeting where we could, sit down and talk about it.
Clay Ezell: Yeah, they use a waste broker now. A lot of a lot of waste is now a brokered commodity which I find kind of hilarious. Finding the cheapest and potentially greenest alternative is the commodity, not the waste itself. They’re just looking for the for the best place to put it. But a lot of big companies that have facilities all around the country don’t necessarily want to have every plant manager dealing with that independently. So they get a waste broker. I had no idea before we got into this, how many of those people there are, but there are lots of them. And that is…
Michael Britt: Is that also why everybody says, Oh, yeah, we can’t tell you where the recycling or the waste goes. We don’t know. It goes to whoever’s bidding on it. It seems to act like this blinder or insulator for the people that should know where it goes. Is that kind of what’s happening or is that the cynical take on it
Clay Ezell: In a way, they’re like, well, somebody else handles that. In a way that some other third party financial advisers helped the Senator who got the Coronavirus information first sell off all the stock in Disney and Marriott Hotel.
Maris Masellis Right?
Clay Ezell: Maybe that’s convenient, but you know the head of say “insert giant food company here”, probably spends little time thinking about it other than let’s get green let’s get somebody on that. Then that trickles down through the ranks and then finally they get to the the people who are in charge of that and they they hire somebody to carry that out for them. And so there’s lots of well meaning people in that thing, but there’s also lots of different definitions for waste diversion. If you’re just going zero waste to landfill, you can still fulfill that goal by just sending it to an incinerator which is not the exactly the true meaning
not our favorite. No,
Clay Ezell: It’s not going to landfill if you just dump in the nearest river, which obviously is illegal, thankfully but there are lots of different ways to handle it that maybe aren’t necessarily the best. But there are lots of people also out there that are working hard to make it better. It’s just a it’s a big old ship we’re trying to turn and a lot of ingrained habit and you know, the bigger the ship, the slower the longer the arc, but it’s happening. It’s just not happening as quickly as any of us would like, but…
Michael Britt: Well, COVID shows us that the whole place shut down and things can happen differently. Like the world can look differently and we can react and as a society, literally stopping dead in our tracks to figure something out.
Right, exactly. That’s a good point, Michael, that’s a really good point.
Clay Ezell: It’s one of the few times ever, that we’re going to be handed an opportunity to really stop, have some time to rethink and then then then restart. We don’t know how long this is gonna go on, and it really could affect the way we do things going forward. Hopefully positively
Michael Britt: Yeah, we’re gonna not just hope for it, we’re going to talk about it and put it there out so that we can make the world one we want to live in.
Maris Masellis: Be the change you wish to see in the world. Bam!
Clay Ezell: Michael. Thank you for the invitation. I’m always pleased to talk with y’all and talk about composting. Much appreciation for everything you’re doing.
How Recycling Works and Why It’s Not a Perfect System
Maris Masellis: Recycling can be confusing, and it shouldn’t be. To help clear things up. We’re talking to Jen Harmon from Nashville’s Metro Public Works Department to find out about recycling in our city. This is zero waste trash talk.
Maris Masellis: We are so elated to have you here with us, Jen. So welcome to zero waste trash talk. I’m Maris and that’s Michael Britt. Jennifer Harmon is with us today from Metro Public Works in Nashville. And you are the Waste Reduction Program Manager. If you like I did get Your bio about how you started with building restoration and some nonprofit work. Maybe just share a little bit about where you’re from how you got into the line of work that you’re in and any other fun facts you want to tell our listeners. Before we jump into our favorite topic.
Jenn Harrman: Sure. So my background was in interior design. And then with that I got really interested in historic preservation, really the idea of reusing buildings rather than sending them to landfill, and the adaptive reuse. The most sustainable building I feel like is the building that’s already there. So from there, I got my master’s in historic preservation and then did a lot of nonprofit work where I found that I really liked talking about it more than actually designing those buildings. So I worked for a number of nonprofits. I did a lot of tour programs, public education, community outreach. Being what I like to say the “token millennial”. But I ended up doing a lot of social media for those organizations and got into communications and marketing through that. Moved here to Nashville about six years ago and I took that communications background with me to Metro government. A fun fact, I was a Segway tour guide as well here in Nashville. So that’s how I got to learn the city and learn the history of Nashville or at least some of it. But yeah, I’ve been a public works for about six months. And I’m I’m really excited to be in a position that allows me to move sustainability forward and waste reduction. Of course, I’ve always advocated for reuse. So I’m still doing that. Just on a broader scale now.
Maris Masellis: Amazing
Michael Britt: And you have good balance.
Jenn Harrman: I do yes.
Maris Masellis: With the segways? I’ve never been on one of those things. Well, that is awesome. That’s our common denominator. Michael and I met at the MRF actually, at a recycling class. And we share the love of protecting our planet and restoring the planet and reusing the things that we already have. We’re definitely on board with that. So You’re doing great things. Recycle Right? We went to that webinar last week. And the main points that we were able to take away from that, we just wanted to go over a couple of those and just recap what we what we think are important. So no dairy tubs, no plastic clam shells, no plastic to go containers.
That is absolutely correct. None of it, unfortunately.
And to build on that, anything that you really get from the restaurant to go, if it’s not a compostable product, you probably can’t recycle it.
Jenn Harrman: No, you really can’t. Unfortunately, number one, anything that you’re going to get from takeout is going to have food on it. It’s just so rare that it’s not going to have food, which of course contaminates your recycling. But then also, it’s usually just not a product, like you said, unless it’s compostable that can be recycled it, it just ends up in the trash
Maris Masellis: No styrofoam, it never has been recyclable, and it never will be recyclable.
Jenn Harrman: You see a lot of Styrofoam. There’s definitely some styrofoam. There’s usually I’ve seen, especially at our drop off sites, big styrofoam like coolers and all that kind of weird styrofoam products. Styrofoam, I will say it’s not recyclable and won’t be recyclable in our program but that doesn’t mean it’s not recyclable. There are companies that do recycle styrofoam, but you just have to make sure that you find the right location. And just like our program, make sure that whatever styrofoam product you’re trying to recycle is accepted by those drop off locations. So there’s some grocery stores that take it and there’s also a company out in Laverne that will take styrofoam packaging materials.
Maris Masellis: We went out there. And actually, we did the video. Mm hmm.
And what struck us is that there’s one bin for the whole region to put your so that that’s statistically zero recycling happening,
Jenn Harrman: Unfortunately, yeah.
Michael Britt: And then the other thing we’ve learned, we start digging into that is how styrofoam, unlike other plastics that can break down in a hundred 200, 500,1000 years, no one’s ever been able to determine how long styrofoam will break down. So it’s, it’s considered maybe a forever thing. So yeah, it’s one of those things we want to avoid.
Maris Masellis: And Michael moving on…
Michael Britt: Well, let’s see, the first thing that we always tell people and everybody acts shocked (about) and you covered it and we appreciate that, is that the recycling triangle doesn’t mean anything. It really just denotes approximately the kind of plastic resins and it doesn’t mean it’s recyclable.
Jenn Harrman: Yeah, that’s correct. So that one through seven, it’s really just denoting, like you said which type of plastic it’s made from. But every plastic product is made differently. So even something that might be for example number one, PET plastic, so that’s where the clam shells come in a plastic bottle and a clam shell are both made from PVC plastic, but there’s different additives that have been added to that plastic clamshell container that just makes it chemically completely different. And so it’s got to be recycled, different process different. And it just makes everything really, really complicated. And so those numbers, they are all theoretically recyclable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean they definitely can be recycled where you live or in any program currently.
Michael Britt: Yeah. And we saw on The Story of Plastic, which we were talking about before we got started here today, that the people in Indonesia were sorting it by burning it and smelling it, and they had 83 different types of plastic laid out. That tells you that there’s a lot more than one through seven going on there.
Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. Well, number seven is just other. So that captures who knows how many other different types of plastic.
Yeah, I want a T shirt that says I’m a number seven.
Michael Britt: Pizza boxes, while we’re talking about food. One of the things we came across early on was pizza boxes being soiled with the grease from the food. Our first video that we (shot) was about composting and that you should compost it (pizza box) and not recycle it. One thing I wanted to ask about that, because a lot of people say, Oh, yeah, tear the part off, that’s not got the food grease on it and send that through. And my thought process was that the people who are sorting as fast as they can on the on the Material Recovery Facility line are going to instinctively toss out pizza boxes, is that correct?
I don’t know they’re instinctively going to toss out pizza boxes because that top is going to look just like cardboard. So they’re looking really mostly for the things that are going to cause a lot of damage. So you’re talking plastic bags, plastic foam, plastic bubble wrap, and big bags of recyclables so they’re kind of looking for that first, the cardboard They’re going to see that piece of cardboard, they’re going to let that go through. And the reality I think more with the pizza box is that that greasy part, if that’s left on, instead of the whole pizza box being taken out, that greasy pizza box might actually make it in, which then means that it could potentially transfer some of that grease to some of the other cardboard and contaminate that. But also just that piece isn’t isn’t going to be recyclable. So it just, you know, there are so many pieces of material that are coming through a murf a material Recovery Facility that they’ve got to focus on their top contaminants and that’s usually those plastic bags and plastic film.
Michael Britt: Basically, please don’t put soiled pizza boxes in the recycling bins.
Jenn Harrman: Oh yeah, please don’t. Compost it (instead).
Maris Masellis: Ok so easy enough, throw that pizza box into the compost.
Michael Britt: That’s right. So you talk about plastic bags. And you know a lot of people think that they are recyclable because they technically are fairly easy to recycle. They put them in the recycling bins and what happens is they get tangled and have to be pulled out and that costs, man hours and repair time. Is that correct?
Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. The last time I was at the facility, they told me that they shut it down usually a couple of times a day just to cut those bags out. And they of course, have to shut everything down, make sure it’s safe, and then they’re cutting it out by hand. There’s no real way to do it any other way. So after that gets wrapped around, I mean, so that’s, that’s why it’s a huge problem. And we really ask people to take it to a drop off facility or even better yet, try not to get them at all.
Michael Britt: To follow up with that a little bit, then one way to keep those out would be is if the convenience center offered a way for us to take them (there and put them into) a bin. How come the city doesn’t have a bin that says “put your plastic bags here”? In order to save the hassles and and to clarify and maybe make it less confusing?
Jenn Harrman: That’s a really that’s a great question. And that’s also a question that we get for styrofoam and some a lot of these other products that really need to be separated out. And it comes down to a lot of different factors, it comes down to cost of recycling, we do want to make sure that the cost of recycling stays economical so that we can continue to have that program, especially right now, any new programming is going to be be difficult to roll out, as well as we work with a contract to do our recycling. So the plastic bag recycling is done through through those big box stores or grocery stores. They have a whole separate system. So it would be a separate contract and our current contractor doesn’t manage or deal with those particular items. So there’s a lot of different barriers there. And with the Zero Waste Master Plan, of course, we are definitely looking at options for some of these other things and incorporating strategies that would make recycling more options for recycling but what happens to plastic bags were a little more towards the plastic bag ban which the state is looking at as well.
Maris Masellis: Well, that’s a good thing. I think piggybacking off what Michael said, because we see plastic bags in there all the time. And it’s so frustrating because it seems like a really simple idea. It seems almost too simple. Like, how are we messing this up. I jump into the dumpster sometimes and grab stuff because that’s the kind of person I am. And knowing that these bags are not going to be recycled, you’re not going to be looking into them, they they’re gumming up the machinery and slowing down productivity.
So you’re talking about trash bags right now full of recycling,
Maris Masellis: trash bags, grocery bags, any kind of bag
Michael Britt: Just wanted to make sure that we’re on the same page.
Maris Masellis: Any kind of bag, it’s a number one problem. I feel like that sticks out a lot. And if that is really slowing down, the process, maybe concentrating on that solution alone. Bigger signs, I want to get on there with spray paint and be like no bags. I want to write it all the way across and graffiti it so it’s pretty and people’s are like, oh, okay, no bags. But yeah, I think that’s just the confusing part for us is if it’s really such a problem what kind of efforts can we do moving forward that are low cost or or in, in your control that we can help
Michael Britt: Or or even the monetary discussion can be, okay, this breaks down twice a day shuts us down it costs so many thousands of dollars a month. Can we put that towards a recycling program for bags instead of repairs?
Jenn Harrman: Those are all a lot of good questions. I know for us, I think the number one thing that we can do is public education. You know, really helping the community understand. That’s kind of where we’re at right now. Our big focus, signage, absolutely. We’ve talked a little bit about about that. I know it came up In the webinar the other day actually, I think you might have even asked me over webinar the other day and we’ve heard that there needs to be bigger signage. So those are definitely some lower cost things that we can do. We do have new signs and they have a lot of those No’s. All of our new signage focuses on our top issues that we’re having. So all of those top No’s include the No bagged recyclables, No plastic that isn’t a bottle, jar or jug and No plastic bags. Those are some of our top issues that we have. So those are on all of our sites now out at the drop off sites. I think you also mentioned diverting some of the money from dealing with the bags at the actual facility and then that just gets into, that money’s being paid for through our contractor that’s absorbing that cost that then comes back to us. So there’s absolutely some opportunities to be a little bit more creative there. But I think ultimately until we get rid of just plastic having so many of them in general, the problem is going to continue to prevail similar with litter as well. It’s the number one littered item. I see it constantly all over the street everywhere. So that’s why again, the zero waste master plan focused on actually banning those items if you don’t have it in the first place. And Kroger also supported that from at the state level level as well.
Michael Britt: Okay, so back to the signage thing because that just reminded me Maris texted me photos of the new signs when she first saw them. That’s how geeky we are. Look at the new signs. Then when I went to check them out, I took a picture of like how it’s nice to have the new signs but they’re leaning against the bins on the ground. That kind of denotes that they’re not important and I was standing there looking at them going, how do you get those up higher? I was actually there (Convenience Center) when the trucks came to change bins. So I saw the whole procedure right? They (the bin truck drivers) get out and they physically move the sign, and they back their truck up and line everything up then they put the new one (empty bin) back, they move the sign back in place. Well, how about if there’s a mechanism (to hang the signs on the large bins). There’s a lot of places to hang a sign on those bins, it seems like it would not be that difficult for them to just pick one up that’s got a hanger spot on the side of the band.
Jenn Harrman: We have actually talked just about that. We’ve talked about that and tried to workshop solutions and have come up with some ideas. So it’s something in the works and seeing just what’s the best way that works operationally, like you said, they’ve a lot of work moving those things in and out. So we don’t want to add work to that process. But there’s got to be a way to move them up. We’ve also had folks that you know, if you can’t see really well and it’s further down there and it’s just difficult to see when they’re on the ground and they need to be up.
Maris Masellis: That’s good that it’s on your radar
Michael Britt: We appreciate that and we really don’t just hang out all day at the convenience center.
Jenn Harrman: You don’t?
Maris Masellis: Speak for yourself!
Michael Britt: They do all know Maris by name. I’m there a lot but they don’t know my name. They know you don’t they Maris?
Maris Masellis: They sure do! Moving on because we’re almost through this list. And this is just the beginning. We’re just getting straight now what we thought was important for us to get clear was the peanut butter jars, such as peanut butter jars? They are accepted as long as they’re clean and dry. . Mayo jars, mustard jars…
Jenn Harrman: Yeah, absolutely. All those jars, anything that could be considered a jar and that includes some of the bigger jars too, I think like a plastic coffee container. Those things are would be kind of considered a jar as long as you don’t get, you know, massive. We don’t want huge, huge things. But yeah, all that stuff. Absolutely.
Michael Britt: Like the red Folgers plastic with the handle? Okay. So really it comes down to the only plastic that goes in (curbside bins) needs to be a bottle a jug or jar period. Correct? No more little scrap pieces. No films. No, I’ve saved all my little caps in one bin and putting them in. Just bottles, jugs and jars?
Jenn Harrman: bottles, jars and jugs. And I know, in the past there had been some thought that by putting all those caps into one container, closing it up would work. The problems that we have found with that is that sometimes all those little things that you put inside of that are a different type of plastic and the plastics are separated by those different types of materials. So we have number one that’s separated from number two, but it’s only those certain types of number one and number two items that that can be accepted. So if you put a bunch of things that are number five plastic inside of a number two plastic, well then it’s no matter what it’s going to the wrong place.
Maris Masellis: It’s kind of like bagging your recyclables?
Jenn Harrman: Exactly!
Maris Masellis: Their just gonna throw that entire thing out and be like, okay, we can’t sit here and just, you know, separate everything from this one jar.
Jenn Harrman: And then on top of that, too, as things go through the process to the facility. The machinery is huge and it’s terrifying in some spots it can just shred things to pieces as it goes through. So it’s going to break that open and all those little pieces are gonna fall out, that’s the reality of it. It just becomes trash on the floor. That’s again also why in the past we’ve thought putting all your shredded paper in a paper bag and sending it through would be a way to recycle shredded paper. We found that that stuff just gets torn open and it still makes a mess.
Michael Britt: It becomes a confetti party.
Jenn Harrman: Oh, yes, I can imagine I’ve definitely had confetti fall on me. Plastic and paper confetti.
Maris Masellis: So leave the caps on. Leave the caps on. We’re just Leave them on and it’ll be okay. If not, yep, it goes in your trash.
Michael Britt: so we’re talking about bagging things. Just to go back to that for a second. I know we asked that question at the webinar to clarify. What if someone puts a bag of aluminum cans in the in the bin at the convenience center or in their pickup bin, that bag just automatically gets pulled out and put into the landfill pile? Correct.
Jenn Harrman: Typically, I know that some of our staff if they do see stuff that’s easily able to safely get to and kind of unbag I know some of our folks do that. And we want as much recycled as possible. But if it’s not safe for us to get in there, get to it. (Then) it’s just going to unfortunately, make it to the facility and they’re going to take it out and send it to landfill.
Michael Britt: Or you can just call Maris and she’ll get in there. As a train of thought here, part of the problem is that it’s all self regulated. You read the sign, you throw things in (the bins) at the convenience centers. Is there any mechanism for groups like ours, our Zero Waste Nashville Facebook group or Tennessee Environmental Council volunteers, where we can help by putting people at stations and go through this whole education process and help people recycle? Is there any way that could happen?
Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. I think we probably need to look at something, of course further in the future when we’re doing more in person opportunities. But in the past, I know we have worked with folks that have been out there and done some education. I’ve participated in some educational opportunities at a drop offs where we’ll just set up a table and just have somebody there for a number of hours advertise it so people know that we’re there because then we’re available to answer questions, but then also help them go through and understand why maybe something they’ve been recycling isn’t recyclable. So that’s definitely an opportunity that I would be happy to explore and see how we can can do Some of those. Yeah
Michael Britt: Definitely let us know when when you’re ready to do something like that.
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Maris Masellis: So contamination. So basically we know what we can and can’t recycle through our curbside and convenience centers. But contamination is a big thing. And it’s one of the reasons why recycling is so difficult. We wanted to ask a few questions about that too. Michael was wondering what of contamination you see in the curbside bins. If you knew that figure, and what were the biggest offenders for contamination?
Jenn Harrman: The way we determine how much contamination we have is through an audit of the trucks actually coming in. So right now our contamination rate is around 29% overall. I would say that we see a lot more contamination at drop off sites than we do through curbside bins. Generally at the drop off sites it tends to be illegal dumping. We’ll find an entire container full of tires. Please don’t do that. That’s difficult for us to manage and there’s a place where you can take your tires and we can manage that in other ways. I do believe it’s a we’ve also added some signage about illegal dumping at our drop off sites as well, at least some of our top offenders that we have, because unfortunately, those sites simply managed, like the convenience centers are. We don’t actually have staff there. There are schools, nonprofits that do help manage those and they go around to try and help clean them up as best they can. But that’s where we’re seeing a lot of the kind of bigger contamination. I think there’s another question you asked that I’ve missed.
Michael Britt: The the top offenders in curbside bins
Jenn Harrman: In curbside the top offender is definitely going to be your plastic bags and your food containers, those kind of takeout containers. In the drop offs it’s a lot more illegal dumping type products and people trying to recycle helium tanks and you know, weird stuff that just shouldn’t be there.
Michael Britt: Do you think that’s intentional? Or is it wishful? Or do you feel like it’s maybe a little of both?
Jenn Harrman: Both, I would think
Maris Masellis: Yeah something I’m thinking about right now. It can become confusing for someone who isn’t putting the effort into finding out these types of things. Because think about the peanut butter jar. If you want to clean it out and dry it, you can put it in your recycling bin. But you can’t do the same thing for the to-go containers. There’s the disconnect there. Why not? Why can’t someone put the recycling or the jar in there and technically think, Oh, well, if I do the same thing with my to-go container from the restaurant, then that’s fine. But it’s because the further conversation which we will get into is, there aren’t markets for certain types of things. And if there’s not a market because we need to sell this product to someone who’s going to do something with it, then it won’t go anywhere. Would you say that’s correct?
Jenn Harrman: Pretty good. That’s exactly it. And that’s one of the reasons why on those new drop off signs, we’ve tried to be a little bit more explicit about the way that we’ve worded the categories. So that’s why it says plastic bottles, plastic jars and plastic jugs. And that’s it. That’s the only thing that’s on that sign. And that’s what we’ve shown pictures of same with food and drink cans. You know, we don’t want all those other weird metals, although those can be taken to a convenience center. But the food and drink cans are specifically are what’s going in that particular recycling program. But we’ve tried to be very specific about that. And then you’re absolutely right if there is not a market it, it can’t be sold and turned into something else, it’s just not recyclable.
Michael Britt: Wow. Yeah, one of the pictures early on that we saw. I think Abby Stephanie Dennis took it and posted it on our Zero Waste Facebook group or the East Nashville Facebook group. Somebody had put a hospital IV, the big metal IV rolling stand into the can bin (at the EN Convenience Center). The post was on the East Nashville Facebook Group, which is as you know, there’s so many trolls on that site. There were a great number of people defending that by saying “it says metals”. That’s what that taught us that we have to be very specific because people take things literally. So how is the contamination rate, and we see that it’s like 30% nationwide, that’s one of the figures I keep coming across. How is that doing over time? Has it been getting better or worse in Nashville?
Jenn Harrman: From the statistics that I’ve seen for the last few audits that we’ve had, we’ve fluctuated a little bit by a few percentages points here and there, but over the past few years it’s really pretty much stayed at that 30% rate right around there. 29-30%
When did Nashville start recycling? Do we know that?
Jenn Harrman: I’m not 100% sure when we started recycling, I should know that I’m gonna look it up for sure. I do know that in Tennessee there was an act in 1991 that require there to be diverse strategies for waste reduction for everybody to reduce their waste at least by 25%. That really kind of jumpstarted a lot of recycling programs. Okay. But I’m not 100% sure when the timeline of our curbside and drop off recycling program started.
Maris Masellis: Yeah, it’d be interesting to kind of track all that just to see where it started, how it’s been going. And when we’re talking about diversion rate, the amounts that sent for sorting versus the amount that’s actually sold into a market. Are those two different things? Do you consider a diversion rate just the amount of recyclables that you’re getting at the MRF? Or is it the (amount) actually being sold?
Jenn Harrman: So the diversion rate for us in terms of the numbers that we report on are just the pounds of recycling that are sent to the facility. So that’s what’s included in our reporting. But we also recognize that as we do those periodic audits, understanding what the rate of contamination is because we know that contamination rate is approximately what’s not being sold, what’s not going to any of those markets.
Michael Britt: So, once it goes through the sorting process, you make them into bales correct? What is your goal for purity? Or, you know, what’s your percentage of non-contamination? I don’t know how to phrase that but you understand what I’m saying. What’s the goal there?
Jenn Harrman: I understand what you’re saying. And that really kind of goes beyond our role with the recycling program and goes into Waste Management’s realm. And I’m not 100% sure what exactly they’re looking for but I’d be happy to ask them and try and find that out for you.
Maris Masellis: Even better, what could you even say, what your role is and what their role is? Just to put it side by side?
Jenn Harrman: Yeah, so our Metro provides the collection service, essentially. So we’ve got the curbside and the drop off service, providing residents with access and ability to be able to recycle. We have a number of different programs, the traditional recycling being those drop off and curbside, but then we’ve also got mattress recycling and household hazardous waste collection and things like that. And then we collect all of the recycling the curbside, the drop off collection, and we take that to Waste Management’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). They are our contractors. So their role is to then sort it and sell it off to manufacturers. So, of course, the ultimate goal is for zero contamination. Absolutely. Now, that’s probably not going to happen. But that is the ultimate goal. And for us, we want to reduce as much contamination from all of those things that shouldn’t be in there. We want to reduce that as much as possible, because that’s how we determine the cost of our recycling for waste management to manage it, and to process it and do it. After that, Waste Management then sells that product. And that’s how they make a profit. Of course, a lot of those dynamics have changed very recently with the bans from China has just really disrupted the global market. Even though we’re still selling our recycling in the Southeast, we’ve always had this southeast regional market, it still has affected the prices of all that recycling. But that’s on on their end, and they’re dealing with that. The contamination rate, like I said, is how we’re charged.
Maris Masellis: And just for my knowledge, you’re paying Waste Management or Waste Management pays you to collect it?
Jenn Harrman: We, we have our own staff that collects it. So we paid the for collection, we have drivers that go on and collect everything. And then we pay waste management to sort it, process it and sell it. And those dynamics have changed a little bit in the past when some of those recyclable materials were at a higher value we actually made a little bit of money off of recycling. So the way the contract worked was we didn’t actually pay for it. And if there was a little bit of profit, we were able to profit share a little bit once they sold the product because they were able to capture all their costs from selling those recyclables. Unfortunately, because the values have severely dropped, they’re not able to do that. And that’s why we’ve had to renegotiate our contract and, you know, find a path forward that we can still continue to offer recycling for the city and just kind of make it all work economically for everybody.
Michael Britt: So this is kind of jumping ahead, because I still have some procedural questions about how we do things. But one of the big things that comes up all the time, especially since the the Chinese National Sword Policy (is that) we’re seeing on all these documentaries, that it’s American trash and plastic that’s ending up in these third world countries like Indonesia. That we’ve been dumping it on poorer countries. So it’s (recycling) never really worked because we think Okay, China’s taking it. That’s great. We don’t have to worry about it. And when we’ve ask if Nashville’s, does our plastic or trash end up over there? Could answer that? Is there a mechanism for us to know that our trash and our plastic and our recyclables once they go through the system, don’t get sold on that market and end up in other countries?
Jenn Harrman: So we’ve talked with Waste Management about that and to find out where our recyclables go, and there’s just a really robust market here in the Southeast, for recycling and the recycling industry. So as far as we know, from what we’ve talked to them about, we know a good number of the people that they’re selling all of these products to and they are all here within the Southeast. They don’t have to sell out to those international markets. The recycling that’s going overseas to China and some of those other places you mentioned, have more typically been along those Coastal regions where they’re seeing the backup of recycling and not able to sell it anymore because they had been using those markets. We’re still able to sell our recycling because we have domestic markets here in the United States, majority of which are in the Southeast.
Michael Britt: Is there a mechanism or just because our contractor says, this is what we’re doing with it. Has there ever been an audit just to make sure? Or any investigation to make sure that our recycling hasn’t ended up somewhere like that?
Jenn Harrman: I honestly am not sure. I think that’s a Sharon (Smith) question, because, as far as I know, and as far as we’ve discussed, I know, Sharon’s had the opportunity to tour the Mohawk facility where the carpet gets made from the plastic bottles that we recycle. There’s definitely a lot of transparency in the industries that we know this stuff is getting sold to. I think there’s furniture like park benches that are being made here in Tennessee. I know that we’ve had some relationships with a lot of these recyclers beyond Waste Management and to our knowledge and to my knowledge, it’s all staying here. Although have we had an audit? I’m not 100% sure.
Maris Masellis: Do we use any of those products you do buy back any of those like the park benches that are supposedly made out of our recyclables? Do we utilize those types of products? Do we buy that back?
Jenn Harrman: I’m not 100% sure I know this. I feel like I’ve heard that the state does and state parks that some of the park benches that they use are coming from recyclables that are you know from that facility. That’s another one I have to double check on though.
Michael Britt: What about like internally with Metro, do you use recycled content office paper?
Jenn Harrman: I am not sure. I don’t know what the purchasing contract is. However, I do know that it’s part of the Zero Waste Master Plan and something that we’re looking at very strongly. We’ve even started talking with General Services about how we can implement some environmentally sustainable practices in our purchasing to actually build that into our contracts when they are up for renewal. Then we can start incorporating some of those more sustainable practices.
Maris Masellis: Yeah, this circular economy, which we’re all striving to, to generate, and I heard you talked about Urban Green Lab and I was wondering if maybe that had something to do with it. They’re really great at putting those types of systems in place for companies. Are they gonna be involved in something like that with you guys, or…
Jenn Harrman: We’ve just started conversations with General Services and that’s kind of where we’re at at the moment. I’m sure that Urban Green Lab has been an incredible partner for us in a lot of different ways. So as we can find more opportunity to bring them in and help, you know, help us move this forward, we’re absolutely going to look at doing that. We
Maris Masellis: We just like to practice what we preach, you know, we try, we try the best we can.
Michael Britt: And we point that out to anybody we can, that if you’re just recycling but not buying recycled products, you’re not contributing to the solution.
Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. Right
Michael Britt: So a couple other of the issues, I’d like to ask about. First one cardboard, how about that? So from what I understand there’s a cardboard ordinance that requires individuals and businesses to recycle cardboard. But we see tons of businesses with overflowing cardboard in their trash bins, and we see, I see tons of cardboard in trash cans in my neighborhood. Is there any mechanism for enforcement? Is it a real ordinance? Is it a law? What’s going on with that?
Maris Masellis: Where’s the Cardboard Patrol? Security!
Jenn Harrman: We are fully aware that there is not the enforcement that needs to be in place on the bans that we currently have. Because we also have a ban on electronics as well. And those are things that we have not enforced.
Maris Masellis: Oh, well, let me tell you, we’re going to jump right into apartment complexes because that’s where I live. And we have a dumpster at the bottom of the hill that I live on and I live in a low income based housing area. So let’s just say that I’m very fortunate to have a car that I can separate all my recyclables and bring them to the convenience centers but many of my neighbors cannot. We don’t have recycling here. Every weekend, there’s TVs, furniture, all sorts of stuff and we don’t have a gate or a lock or anything, people just come and dump it into our apartment complex. And there’s not one single thing being done about it. So I know for a fact that that stuff is making it into the landfill, which I myself, I mean, I’m one person, I saw somebody walking down the hill with a TV in hand, and I stopped and I was like, hey, just put that in my car. I’ll take it for you. I mean, what else can I do? What else can I do for you? I mean, I’m trying. Why? That’s, that’s a big question for me. Why don’t we have recycling for apartment complexes? Is that something that we see in the future?
Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. So a lot of these things, you know, the Zero Waste Master Plan, when you look at it, there are just a ton of different strategies that are put in there that we are going to continue to chip away at over time as we get the funding the capacity and ability to push these things forward. Two things, for sure, doing better enforcement of cardboard bans and other bans because we want to include more bans. But if we can’t enforce the ones we currently have, then we can’t add more. So that’s definitely a part of that program on how we can accomplish that. And then also, expanding recycling to apartment complexes is part of that plan as well. Overall, putting in place programs and recycling programs that are going to be more effective and incentivize people. Another big thing in addition to public education is right now most people they don’t pay directly for curbside collection of trash or recycling. It’s paid for through your taxes and through Metro government’s budget. And so if part of the plan is to move to a program called Save As You Throw, that incentivizes people to put more in recycling, of course, you have to do it right, which is why we have our Oops audit program and do spot checks.
Maris Masellis: I’m so glad you guys are doing that again.
Jenn Harrman: That would also include eventually compost pickup as well. So by putting more products in your compost or by diverting more waste, having less trash, because it encourages you not have as much trash in the first place, because you’re paying for how much you’re throwing away, and if you keep more out of your trash and put it in the recycling or in the compost, then it just gives you that financial incentive because you’re starting to have to pay for those services. And the more you recycle and compost, the less you’re gonna pay.
Maris Masellis: For the record, No cardboard in your curbside recycling bins. No electronics in your trash bins.
Jenn Harrman: Yeah, well no electronics in either bin but no cardboard for sure should go into your trash bin. It needs to go, you know, right in that recycling bin
Michael Britt: So my comment is, and I don’t want to derail it again. But the funding side of things, how we pay for things, would it be, and this is a policy question so I’m not putting you on the spot. I’m just thinking out loud. Currently our trash and recycling are tied to our property taxes right? When I lived in California our trash was tied to our water bill. It’s a fee that we had to pay and you didn’t have a choice. If you didn’t pay your trash fee, your water got shut off. So it was all tied together. It makes it much easier when the city needs to raise the price. They can just raise the fee for that. Well, right now, (in Nashville) it’s really tough to raise the percentage of our taxes that go towards your department. That’s a big political battle. So maybe that’s one of the things we need to be talking to our politicians about is separating how the service is paid for.
Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. And that’s, you know, with that Save As You Throw program, it does mean that the cost for trash collection and pickup would have to then go onto residents.
Yeah, absolutely. accountability.
Michael Britt: That’s right. Speaking of, that kind of leads me to this next question. Something I hear over and over again, is that these construction waste bins that we see are categorized as a recyclable material and they don’t have to pay the same dump dumping fees. Is that correct? Is that just false? Because according to all the figures, construction debris way out numbers, what, what we as individuals send to the landfill.
Jenn Harrman: I have no idea I have not heard that. That’s another Sharon (Smith) question.
Michael Britt: Okay, yeah. If you could get back to us on that one that would be great. I don’t know who to ask that’s why I’m asking you
Jenn Harrman: Just to clarify, you’re wanting to know what the CND tipping costs are. So when they tip that trash in if it’s cheaper than…
Michael Britt: By categorizing construction debris as a load of recyclables, are they paying a lower rate while they’re filling the landfills up quicker? That’s basically the the gist of my question.
Got it? I’ve not heard that. But I am not 100% Sure.
Michael Britt: We asked our our network what questions they would like us to talk to you about specifically, a lot of people mentioned glass. And I know that a lot of people say oh, we want curbside pickup. And, you know, I agree with that to some extent, and we’ll get to that one in a minute. But what I don’t want is for it to be like Chattanooga, which according to the Tennesseean, they yielded to all the demands for glass and then just picked it up as a separate entity and dumped it straight into the landfill. So, glass is an issue. So I have two questions about that. Well, the first question is, why can’t we separate it and have a separate pickup for glass? I understand that when it’s mixed and crushed in the trucks and goes through the system it’s dangerous, it embeds in different materials and, and it just becomes a nuisance. But what about a separate glass pickup?
Jenn Harrman: So glass absolutely as a separate pickup is…Yes, okay. I just want to make sure I wasn’t gonna say the wrong thing. I am sure that glass separated pickup is part of our Zero Waste Master Plan as well. So it is another one of those things that we are trying to incorporate into that program so that we can offer that service and of course right now there are other companies out there. There’s Private companies and there are some great nonprofits that do offer curbside collection for a fee, but it is something we plan on incorporating into our program.
Michael Britt: So that’s great, I’m excited about that. I think a lot of people will like that answer because that’s what they want.
Michael Britt: The rest of this question about glass for me is that how the bigger honky-tonks downtown, according to The Tennesseean, produce up to 100,000 glass bottles on a busy night. That’s from just one honky-tonk. So I know that one and a half, two years ago Nashville had a pilot program that was supposed to be collecting glass. I guess it was supposed to be $6 million over so many years and I read that in the first first 20 days, they collected 10 tonnes of glass. Then it was cancelled after three or four months because it wasn’t working. Can you tell us what wrong, what happened with all of that?
Jenn Harrman: I think it went on a little bit longer than that but unfortunately, you’re right, it did fail. It didn’t end up working out. And there were a lot of different reasons for that. First of all, downtown’s glass recycling collection in that downtown area where we were doing the program is collected by Metro Nashville Public Works. So we collect it, which means that they don’t pay for that collection. Again, it’s part of that general fund money to offer that that collection service, so none of those businesses are financially incentivized to do something different.
Michael Britt: They don’t pay for their for their waste hauling?
Jenn Harrman: So there’s part of downtown that is included in our curbside program, so it’s just all wrapped up in the general fund money that comes to public works. So they aren’t paying a separate fee. I think there is some confusion that when they pay, there’s a different fee that they pay for being downtown but it does not go towards trash collection. That’s part of the metro general fund. So we collect that curbside, all of those carts. I was not with public works at the time, but I believe we provided some additional carts for them, and then had a separate pickup. Because they didn’t pay for the service they weren’t financially incentivized. And then, also, unfortunately, there’s a very high turnover rate for employees downtown. So the amount of education and trying to re educate over and over again, all of these employees just wasn’t happening. So a lot of employees didn’t know how to manage it, how to separate what they were supposed to do. And then beyond that, we pick up I think it’s like, twice a day for trash and twice a day for recycling. We’re down there all day long, picking up trash and recycling because there is so much that’s generated down there. And for that reason, we weren’t able to something similar to our audit program where if we find that this is contaminated, we can’t pick it up. We couldn’t do that downtown because of just the sheer amount of trash. So for a number of reasons, it was unfortunate that that did not work out.
Are there plans to try to re address it in the future?
Jenn Harrman: I am not 100% sure exactly. I think you know, when you have a program like that, not moving forward, it’s kind of difficult to get it going again. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have things again in our strategies and our Zero Waste Master Plan to address the recycling and the trash collection downtown to do better.
Michael Britt: Here’s a policy idea. What if we go to city council and say, we’d like you to charge 25 cents a bottle to these people downtown that are flooding our dump with bottles unnecessarily? You said there’s no incentive for them to do it (recycle). But if they’re paying per bottle, maybe they’ll start pouring taps a little more often, maybe they quit throwing so much glass away.
Jenn Harrman: Well, the same pay as you throw idea that we’re looking at for residential programs is also something that we want to expand to those commercial businesses as well. So in the future, there would be some of those incentives and when it comes to those kinds of bottle bills, a lot of states that have done it successfully. There’s opportunities to explore that, though, you’ll see more at the state level.
Michael Britt: So, okay, yeah, out of out of our control at this point.
Maris Masellis: yeah glass. JusticeIndustries.org I believe was what you referred to on your webinar last week and I just wanted to give that out if you want wanted glass pick up before city pickup happens. There’ are places out there that will do that for you.
Michael Britt: Or you can do like Maris and I do. We take our glass and our compost at the same time and drop it off at the recycling centers, the Convenience Centers.
Maris Masellis: We do go to the convenience Center, which does take class and compost.
Maris Masellis: Moving on, Jen, how you doing? How you doing? Feeling good? Um, this is crazy.
She’s as geeky as we are, but probably more so than we are about trash actually. Yeah.
It really is a pleasure to have you speaking with us today. And we definitely hope that we can continue the conversation even after this because it’s obvious that we have some things that we need to go over that maybe we don’t have the answers right now getting back to the market thing. We I think we went over most of the different topics with streams with other recycling streams. Michael, do you agree? Yeah, I think we kind of went over all that stuff.
Michael Britt: The one other thing that we didn’t cover that I wanted to was, did we talk about yard waste being bagged up? I see all my neighbors raking their yard waste into plastic bags and there seems to be a lack of education on that. If you go to Home Depot, you get the cheap or free paper bags, what is Metro doing to educate people that they shouldn’t be bagging their yard waste (in plastic).
Jenn Harrman: Like bagging in plastic bags?
Michael Britt: Yes because those end up in the trash versus compost where they’re supposed to be picked up as, right?
Jenn Harrman: Right. I think one of the things about yard waste that’s nice is that if you bag it in plastic, we’re not gonna pick it up. So that right there is the incentive to not bag it in plastic because we won’t pick it up
Michael Britt: So where’s it going? Into their trash bins?
Jenn Harrman: Part of the breakdown of what we found in landfills and what’s labeled as organics includes both food and yard waste. So there’s definitely still some yard waste. That’s another one of those that the enforcement needs to be brought online to really push that. In fact, I had someone just the other day that asked how can we do more brush pickups. One of the things that you can do is call our contractor that we work with for brush pickup. They have two locations where you can take your brush and drop it off. So you you know, if you have a bunch of you don’t want sitting out in front of your ditch, keep it out of the ditch, I will say that, put it at the edge of the street, don’t create a dam. Water needs to flow through your ditch, but keep it out of the ditch, put it in paper bags, and we’ll come and pick it up four times a year. If that’s not enough, then there’s definitely some free drop off options for you. And we do share about that on social media. But I think the biggest way to educate people is that we just won’t pick it up unless it’s in paper paper bags.
Michael Britt: Okay, yeah, my dogs love brush collection week when everyone has brush piles out at the street (something to pee on during neighborhood walks). The guys come with the big arms on the truck and pick it up and it’s so efficient. I don’t think I ever remember seeing anything like that in Los Angeles. I don’t think we had trucks driving around picking up debris like that. The yard trimmings, like we had to pay to haul it off.
Maris Masellis: So that’s pretty much information education. There’s so many common themes, Jen. And we know that even just talking about these things, as much as we talked about it over and over and over again, we’re trying to look at this through a different lens at this point, because what we’re seeing is, yes, we’ve we’ve had plastic, which is the main problem, right? I think plastics are part of the main problem, we can all agree. And we’re seeing that over the last 20 or 30 years. The problem has been put back on to the consumer. Recycle. Okay, we’re recycling. You’re not doing it. Right. Okay, well, we’re gonna try and do it better. And then we try and do it better and it’s still not right. Then it’s, well, why aren’t we reducing reusing? We need more education. People don’t know what they’re doing. Okay, well, you go into the store and don’t buy the plastic. Okay, wait, everything’s covered in plastic, so we don’t have options. What do you think about the system and how this has been progressing? Do you see some light? Do you see? Are you feeling inspired? Or are you feeling like this the same crap over and over again and education, we can blab blab blab blab all about it. What are we doing? That’s not working? How do we do something different? That’s what my question is to you like what is your personal thoughts? What are your personal thoughts on that?
Jenn Harrman: Unfortunately the way that recycling was basically brought into mainstream when people first started recycling. It was all based on putting the onus on the consumer, the person that bought that product. It wasn’t on the industry to manage it. So this industry they made this product you now have trash and now you’ve got to deal with it using your tax dollars and it’s it’s frustrating. There was a lot of marketing that went into that, making people believe that they could recycle everything. So you start at a place that is just, it’s now so difficult when you look at the public education side, because it’s not so much that recycling is changed, it’s that it’s become more transparent. And so now that there’s more transparency, that’s at least where I feel there is some light at the end of the tunnel, because we now know that that plastic dairy tub wasn’t getting recycled, that plastic clamshell container wasn’t getting recycled. So even though it’s more complicated, we are already doing it better because we know more. But then on the other side of that, we can only do so much and there’s got to be a lot of change on the top end like anything else. It’s got to stop at the very top. And I really believe there’s some legislation going through the federal government that a lot of folks have said it’s dead in the water, but it’s It’s not dead in the water if people support it, and people get behind it. And there’s more voices that really want to see change on a sustainable level on how we manage our waste. And so if we can have some more regulation across the country on a federal level, to really force industry to make a change, then I see some light there. That’s where I see a lot of potential and I also know a ton of people are just so overwhelmed when it comes to plastic. And it’s one thing that I’ve realized myself, I have to recognize that I can only do so much. I can’t feel bad because I can’t recycle this thing because ultimately, that’s not my fault. And so I really encourage people to not get too overwhelmed, but also to find ways where they can support legislation that will force change.
Michael Britt: One of the conclusions that I’ve been coming to personally is that we have a system that has been going on 20-30 years. Consistently, the total number of plastics recycled in that time period according to all the statistics, it’s generous to say that 10% of the plastics created have been recycled into something else. The flip side of that conversation is that as an industry, recycling plastic fails 90% of its mission. So that seems like a distraction. And this is again is more of a policy question, should we even as a society, be recycling plastic? Because like you said, as we shine light on it, when you go to the store, and you think, Oh, I’m gonna get that lettuce in a clamshell, Oh, wait, I can’t recycle that. I’m gonna have to throw it away. Maybe I should choose the one that’s not in plastic or asked the store for lettuce that’s not in a clamshell.
Maris Masellis: Which is significantly more expensive
Michael Britt: Sometimes yeah. I buy my produce from farmers markets and CSA so I have the means to avoid plastic, but most people don’t make the effort
Maris Masellis: For an example, I went to a store and bought spinach in a plastic bag and it’s like $1. Then we went somewhere where they have loose spinach (not wrapped in plastic) and it was $4 or $5. That’s a big difference, especially for someone on a budget.
Michael Britt: The question, and the one of the things we’re exploring on this podcast is that maybe it’s better if we just recycle the things that work. The aluminum, the tin cans, the paper and glass if possible, and maybe the 40% of compostables in the system. Is that about right 40% organics,
Jenn Harrman: About 32 Yeah, right. Closer to 30 I think.
Michael Britt: Okay, 30%. So if we shifted to composting instead of recycling plastic. And I know, mechanically for you for you to say, Oh yeah, we could flip a switch and do composting tomorrow instead of plastics ,that it doesn’t work that way. I understand that. But as people who are asking for policy change, I feel like I’m going to be asking to stop recycling plastic. I think that’s the conclusions that I’m coming to, realizing that it’s it’s a failed system. Am I totally off base with that?
Maris Masellis: Tell us how you really feel?
Michael Britt: how I feel. So, yeah, we’ve done all this pseudo education, I’m glad you’re there to help bump things up. Because I think there wasn’t enough education for this. But regardless, you know, education has been tried and redoing the sorting facilities every 10 or 15 years, you know, big companies put investments into city programs. We’ve been doing the same thing on a repeat cycle. So what what do going forward? What is Nashville Metro Public Works doing to think differently and approach this differently?
Jenn Harrman: Well, I think number one, and I know I’ve said it a number of times, but the Zero Waste Master Plan, it really is an entire new way of approaching waste management and how we deal with the things that we no longer need and how we deal with with all of our waste. It comes at it from so many different angles, all the different areas that we need to address. So looking at one thing that is great is that we’re looking at it in all these different areas. You know, looking at construction and demolition waste you mentioned and the recycling of construction and demolition waste, we can make huge improvements there. There can be more opportunity there but the zero waste master plan also recognize that we don’t currently have the facilities in place yet? So looking at how can we bring those facilities online? And how can we find perhaps public private partnerships to do something like that, so that we are able to just even have the market to process those different types of materials. So we recognize that there is, with each one of these different areas in each one of these different strategies, there are a whole lot of players that have to be involved. And we have to approach those players and we have to have conversations with them have conversations with you know, of course, we’re having conversations with council members, having conversations with the mayor’s office, but having also conversations with our partners. Folks like you as well as just any of our other partners in this. As well as, as companies. You know, we’re talking with Waste Management more about if I am not sure if something’s recyclable. I will call waste management, ask them the specifics and say, hey, is this a thing that’s going in? That’s how we found out definitively that clam shells, even though we got new technology and the technology can sort that material, they don’t have a market for it. So once there’s a market, we’ll be able to sort out clam shells and be able to potentially recycle them. But, you know, we’re having those conversations. And we’re really trying to approach it in a way that it you know, we have to do it better. And that’s what the zero waste master plan is all about. It’s not gonna happen right away. It’s not gonna happen tomorrow. It is a 30 year plan. And we’ve just embarked on it in 2016. Of course, recent challenges you know, we’ve got to work with financial challenges…
Maris Masellis: Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but like, what are the most important things from that? What are the things that we could see coming up like sooner rather than later?
Jenn Harrman: I’m going to take that in two different two different directions. I think one of the biggest impact areas that we can make are in increasing commercial and residential recycling, increasing our recycling of construction and demolition waste, and increasing food waste and organic waste diversion. So those three things if we can get those things under control now, there’s a lot of strategies that go into doing that. But if we can get those things, that’s going to get to 75% diversion. I think some of the things that we’ve seen some positive movement on are, you know, some of the circular economy things. Being able to work in into our contracts, starting that process in those conversations, to be more sustainable about our purchasing processes. We’re also looking at how we can incentivize developers to recycle their construction and demolition waste. You know, if they don’t have an incentive to do it, even if there’s a recycling facility available, they’re not necessarily going to make that choice. So we’re looking at ways we can incentivize that. And those are conversations that we’ve been having. With a lot of changes to recycling, of course, we’ve been focusing on that. But if we continue to recycle, but recycle, right, that’s going to help that’s gonna improve and, you know, increasing participation, there are still people that can get curbside recycling bins that don’t have them. So if we can educate people, let them know that no, you’re recycling is not going to China, when you do recycle correctly, it gets recycled, it gets turned into things, it gets turned into carpet, fleece, you know, those plastics do get turned into things. So it’s a lot of different stuff that we’ve got to do, but it’s doable, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s on the horizon that we can do.
Michael Britt: Is there any conversation about multi stream instead of single stream? I know this is another policy thing and that it’s an about face from what’s going on now, but the statistics I was reading say that single stream collects almost 26% more content, but 29-30% of that is is contaminated where multi stream collects less content but it was only 1.6% contaminated so it was pretty much a wash and much more effective on the selling end of it than the collecting end. Is there any conversation that maybe single stream isn’t the right answer?
Jenn Harrman: Um, you know, we did used to have separate collection back before plastic was all introduced. They took everything and separated it with the trucks in our collection program. I think moving forward, we’re for ease and access to recycling. When you start making it more complicated for people when they have to start separating things out… I’m going to throw my parents under the bus. So my parents, they don’t live here, but they live in a community that their recycling program has seen significant changes and reductions and now they have to separate their their recycling. So the cardboard goes out on this day this week, cans this day, the next week, and it’s too complicated for them. They just stopped recycling. I’ve started bringing their recycling home with me because they do not recycle.
Michael Britt: You are one of us. We do that too. We bring it home from wherever we’re at. We bring it with us.
Absolutely. But it if it’s too complicated, people aren’t going to do it. And that’s one of the real benefits of curbside recycling and why it continues to be in our program because, you know, those people that aren’t like us, those people that don’t really care, they aren’t going to take the time to do a lot of that extra effort.
Maris Masellis: Incentivize. The first thing that comes to my mind is Canada because they do it so well. We need to talk to them about how they’re doing it because there people do it, even the people that don’t care do it, because they have to. Yeah, I think there’s just too much gray for us. Sure. And that’s why, and not giving people a chance to prove themselves, because we are a throwaway society where convenient society we like easy things. But if it’s the rules, you’re just gonna have to do it. And if you don’t do it, maybe we don’t pick up your trash at all.
Michael Britt: And you pay more, which is the other program you’re working on. I think that’s a really fair mechanism. I see there are people in my neighborhood driving down Porter Rd, or Eastland there’s somebody that has, like four trash cans, and they’re filled overflowing every week. I’m like what are these people doing that they create for trash cans full of full waste. But also why are we paying the same amount of money out of taxes to have our trash picked up. You know, quite honestly, I mean, you know, Maris yours is a little different situation since I do the curbside but I only put my trash out once a month and it’s only a quarter full. That’s all of the trash that I have when I’m recycling and composting. Composting was a big deal that took a lot of that out and actually made my trash not smell bad. The reality was that we put the trash out when it started smelling bad in the backyard before (composting). Now because there’s no organics in there, it doesn’t smell bad. So it’s just interesting. I think the concept of paying for what you’re putting into the landfill is a little more equitable. That might help solve some problems. There are smart people on that Zero Waste Master Plan.
Jenn Harrman: There definitely were.
Yes. That was great. I think that was a great conversation. We really again, thank you so much for being on our show. And whatever, whatever we can do. To get the messages out to our listeners, which Michael and I, what was it the first two weeks we had almost 300? Well, we have right?
Michael Britt: Well, the podcast in the first 30 days, we had 400 listeners. Now our goal, when we started, because you you were, I don’t think you were part of the waste management last summer when we held our second meeting that Sharon spoke at? 100 people from our Zero Waste Nashville Facebook Group and from our community showed up on a Wednesday night to talk about recycling. And we think that’s great that we can fill the room at Jackalope and have this great, amazing party. But we keep making videos where social media algorithms get in the way. And we thought, well we want to reach more than the hundred people that came to that event. So our goal was pretty modest. If we can get 1000 people to listen that’d be awesome. And so for us to have…
Maris Masellis: 3.5% population is all we need for change
Michael Britt: 3.5% of people we need to move the needle to make change. So yeah, our goals are modest. We just want to connect with our community and energize and activate them.
Maris Masellis: We’re evolving, and we’re taking advantage of any opportunity that we can. And especially with the resources like you guys, we really appreciate this.
Michael Britt: So absolutely use us as a resource, feel free.
Maris Masellis: Takeaways from today. We know that recycling is a complicated system, but we know what we can and can’t recycle in our in our system here in Nashville. And it is changing all the time. So that’s why we tell everyone to be aware and to research and to look on the internet to find the information yourselves. But we did learn what we can get recycle. We know that the markets have something to do with that. We know that you guys are doing your best to make sure that we can collect recycling. We know that Waste Management is on the other side of the process. So we are not really sure about what’s going on on that side, because that’s their job. So maybe we can look further into that in the future and see how we can make that more transparent. And then it seems that federal legislation is still the number one way to make change, and to have this as a norm, instead of some people do it and some people care. This has got to be a norm for all of us. But um, cool. Well, maybe we can do this weekly. Thanks Jenn
day. And thanks again for coming and hanging
Jenn Harrman: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it
Be Mindful of What Happens to Your Donated Clothes and Goods
Just press record already.
Jess Johnson: Oh, we weren’t recording any of that?
Maris Masellis: Here we are. I’m Maris Masellis, that’s Michael Britt and we have Jessica Johnson our Zero Waste Trash Talk family member
Jess Johnson: Yeah, hello.
Maris Masellis: We missed her accent. I texted you. I was like, I really miss your voice.
I’ll start sending speak messages.
Maris Masellis: And so what have you been up to? We miss you.
Jess Johnson: I’ve been working. I had to obviously with COVID and the economy changing and people having different priorities and things, I had to take a break on my business on Naturally Home because working in people’s homes, you know, they obviously weren’t going to spend money on me coming in to do their work and also safety wise, I couldn’t go into people’s homes. So I took a little bit of a career change. And I’ve ended up working in mental health, which actually has been fantastic. I really enjoy that. I’ve been hella busy with that.
Maris Masellis: While all of us were off of work, Jess has been going back to work. She’s finally on a routine. And so doing her thing out there. That’s awesome.
Yeah, I never took a break.
Maris Masellis: Happy for you about that. And we’re happy you’re healthy and able to do the show with us today. And we’re going to talk a little bit about while you’re at home, going through all your things, and you’re looking to get rid of some stuff. There’s this old idea that we could just throw everything away. And our very first episode we talked about how there is no fucking away. So here it is.
Jess Johnson: But it is so true there literally is no away and that, you know, with my business as a home organizer I go into people’s homes and I used to bring away all the items that they didn’t want. That was you know, really great for them because it was cleansing to get rid of all the things that you know were holding them back weren’t fitting with the with the lifestyle that they want now. Then I had to deal with that. And so back in the day, what everybody does is take it to Goodwill because Goodwill takes everything. Take it to you know Nashville, what’s it called the rescue society now. I can’t remember what that’s called. We’ll figure that out later. But yeah, just take it to all these like you know thrift stores that will take everything and you dump it and you leave it and you think that you’ve done something great because because you think it’s going to a homeless person or you think it’s going to somebody that needs it or whatever. But that’s not true.
Maris Masellis: What’s the truth Jess, tell us?
Jess Johnson: No, the truth is a tiny portion of that is going to go out onto the shop floors and a tiny portion of that is going to be bought so all the rest of the stuff that isn’t being bought or isn’t going out onto the shop floor is probably going into landfill. Yeah, cuz you gotta think right if you every every person say you know every time that you clean out your your bedroom, you’ve got like bags of stuff, right? Yeah, a bunch of bags, bunch of clothes and as much as you can into your car, yeah, all your shoes, all of your deck or things you take it all to, you know, goodwill, and then you just leave it there and say that there was you know, so there was somebody doing that every minute of the day. That’s a lot of stuff. That is more stuff than is being bought, like how often do you go into goodwill and buy things not that often?
Maris Masellis: Me, personally not a lot. Yeah, exactly.
Michael Britt: I have a figure here of exactly how much gets donated. Yes. In the United States and Canada every year just of clothing only. Americans and Canadians donate $20 billion worth of clothes and that’s the write off amount, I think is what they’re talking about, you know, they give you the receipt. But only only 10% of that gets sold to resale shops. 90% of the of the clothing ends up in Sub Saharan Africa and they actually call it dead men’s clothes because they think people must have time to send these clothes over here. Does it?
Maris Masellis: Does that actually do anything over there?
Michael Britt: It piles up. They salvage what they can but they’re all wearing like, Just-Do-It shirts and things like that. But in Ghana, what it does it destroys any chance of a textile industry starting in those countries.
Maris Masellis: But wouldn’t wouldn’t you think that’s a good thing because they have, they’re getting repurpose clothes?
Michael Britt: Just like it’s a good thing that China had piles and piles of plastics and …
Jess Johnson: Not really. The amount that’s being sent over there is (too much) for people to use and plus what Michael said, that means that there is an industry that country cannot make. On the one side, you’ve just got mountains and mountains of stuff that is coming over to these other countries. I mean, I’ve seen videos of where there was a river apparently on the landscape, but instead, this whole landscape is now just full of like, this one in particular (video) it was electronics actually and it was just full of electronics that were actually on fire. A whole landscape that covered a river and so people are walking over a river that is now electronics.
Maris Masellis: Where do we see that? It feels like we talked about this before.
Jess Johnson: I think I told you about that. And I probably showed you it. I saw it on Facebook, and it was actually made me cry. It was devastating to see that, you know, because obviously with the electronics, you’ve got all the chemicals and stuff that are coming out of that too.
Michael Britt: It turns the whole country into this dumping ground.. And yes, you know, great, they’re gonna reuse some of the clothes but they just don’t have the infrastructure to deal with.
Maris Masellis: It’s just dumping mindlessly. Again, we’re not taking any time to really see where it’s going and if it can be used, and if it’s making it better versus worse. I get that.
Jess Johnson: Yeah, that’s very true Maris. We buy something, we buy more and more and more and then we’re like, oh, okay, well, we don’t need that anymore. We’ll give it to some nameless faceless person who needs it. Then we feel good, because you know, we don’t have it anymore. But we think that we’ve done good, right? Because that’s what our minds tell us. And then it’s the same thing, it goes to this place, and then this place then sends it to other people, but only like portions of that are getting used.
Michael Britt: Doesn’t that sound like something else that we do that makes us feel good that we send it away hoping it goes away? Kind of like recycling?
Yeah, it does. Yes.
Michael Britt: It’s something else that’s like, Oh, I feel good about this but it’s not as good as we think it is.
Maris Masellis: It’s a common theme guys, there’s a common theme here. So Jess, do tell us more about your findings with goodwill and so forth.
Jess Johnson: Yeah. So after that realization, I was like, Oh, shit, what do I do? Because, you know, on a daily basis, I would have at least one carload of stuff that I had to find a home for. So in the end, I started bringing things home back to my house. And so my living room became my warehouse and I had to sift through everything and sort through them and create specific piles of what each of these items were. And then I would actually make like huge giant paper lists. Like, what do I have here? I’ve got clothes. Okay, I’ve got white clothes. I’ve got black clothes. I’ve got like, work clothes. I’ve got sports clothes, you know, like, how much stuff from cleaning houses from organizing them? Yeah, cuz I’m bringing home like, everybody’s like everything. Some people want to get rid of half of what they have. You’d be surprised how much junk we all have in our own homes that we don’t need. So anyway, I’ve got these lists. And then I would just scour the internet for all the names of all these places that might take something whether it was a thrift store or whether it was a charity or you know, something and then I would call each and every single one of them, and then ask if they will take what I have. Some places and this is where it started to get tricky, because you can’t just dump everything on to these places, right? Some places will say, okay, yes, we take clothing and you’re like, great. I’ve got a fucking room full of clothing. And they’re like, well, actually, we only take summer shorts right now. And you’re like, shit, okay. I’ll give you all my summer shorts but…
Maris Masellis: Yeah, every time I go to Buffalo Exchange, they may take one thing out of like three bags that I bring over there. They’re very particular about fashion.
Yeah, and it’s like because it changes with the seasons it changes based on what they have in their in you know, in their stores or you know, in their in their stock rooms and whatnot. Because say like, you know what, there might be one place where I had donated a whole bunch of pants didn’t matter what color pants they were like, I would have just sent all my pants to them at one point and it I think a lot of times it would be places that said that they could use these clothing for like interviews and stuff like that and to help people you know, have have clothing for jobs. So I’d be like, Oh my god, all these great nice outfits that I had, I could give to all this place. And then I’d call him and double check, like, Hey, what are you taking right now? And they’re like, Oh, well, the only things we’re taking right now are black, anything black? And I’m like, Well, what the hell do I do with everything else? So then I go through my list again, and try and find other places that would take all of these things. So yeah, it’s that in itself became another, like, portion of the, you know, that became another
app with a bunch of stuff and you had to take a lot of time to find the places that were going to take what you had and what ended up happening. Did you find any other places that we’re doing better or we’re not because there is never one place that is going to take everything that you have is just every single time that I have stuff that I have to get rid of, I have to go through this process and then you’re driving around everywhere. That’s one thing that got me upset. It’s the same thing with Grocery Mart or supermarkets. I’m going from one store to get this another store to get that because they do it more sustainably here or and then I’m like, I’m driving around town again. Like I’m still this is an addition. So I’m defeating the purpose. Like what is it? What is the point at this? Yeah, point.
Now I know that was that was definitely It was definitely hard. But I mean,
when you like you call it an ask. And a lot of people just go here, guys my bag of stuff. And they told you right though you asked Didn’t you ask a couple of them? What do you do with this stuff? And
yes, there was a bunch of places where I actually managed to speak to you know, it could have could have been the manager or the director of the donations facilities. And they would say, I mean, there was this one particular place that claimed that they took everything you know, because it was for it was for homeless people, both men and women and they were like, We will take everything you Have? Well obviously, at this point, I know not to trust that right. So, you know, and I and Oh, one of the other questions that I’m always consistently asking is what do you do with the stuff that you can’t use? You know, and sometimes they will give me answers and they’ll be like, well, we just, you know, throw them in landfill or whatever, or we’ll dump them off at another charity and stuff like that. So I have to make my decisions based off of that. So anyway, I’m at this place that claims that they will take everything and so I get to speak to these people. And you know, I’m like, Well, what do you do with the stuff that you that you can’t use? And you know, again, like that, they will try to donate to places but the majority of times they’re gonna just throw things in landfill and we got to talking about the things that they actually do use. And it’s, I mean, it’s a tiny portion, a tiny percentage of what they actually take because they were going to they were going to take all the all the throw cushions and the throw blankets and all that You know, these bags of CDs and I had this was the the rescue mission the Nashville rescue mission, specifically this example on this day. And so yeah, they were they were gonna take all the music CDs I had, they were gonna take all the random lampshades and the other lamps that I had and um, you know, so then I get talking to, to the, you know, the supervisor of the the donations and he actually tells me that the majority of this stuff is not going to be used. It all goes into a warehouse that they have, and if it doesn’t fit, then it goes into landfill or they’ll truck maybe try to find another charity to give it to but really, I mean, if you think about it, if you’re homeless, and you’re being given the opportunity to you know, have some things to go into a home with, you don’t care about throw pillows, you care about things like kitchen utensils, the basic pants, you know, a blanket of some kind like you you really, really care about. The basic thing I don’t care about which is oh wait
the basics. What do you mean the basics like the basic necessities of living for a human being doesn’t mean we need all these extra things.
Yeah, yep, I know, right? It really opens your eyes.
It’s something I’ve been struggling with actually this last year maybe not struggling I’ve just become more enlightened. The fact that, you know, I see a lot of minimalist and even sustainable people that I’m around it’s, it’s so interesting, our different lifestyles, you see celebrities and actors and people that are in front of the camera all the time and on Instagram. All telling us we need this or we need that or we need to dress this way. Or we need to have sneakers in 10 different colors, and it’s, it’s fashion and it’s art, but it’s really sad. It really makes me so sad because we don’t need 10 pairs of sneakers. And guess what? I’m guilty. I have more than one pair of sneakers. I’m guilty, and I’m the Same, and it just makes me upset because now looking forward, I know I’m going to have all of these sneakers for a long time because I’m, I’m either going to give them to someone, or I’m going to use them until they fall off my feet. Because there’s no reason for me to have anymore. And yeah, I know it’s I know, it’s such a different idea for American society to think, Well, what about our children, we want to get them everything for Christmas, and we want Hey, the gift of giving isn’t only on Christmas and it doesn’t only have to be to your kids, maybe you give them one and then you guys go and donate your other stuff to to a company that we know is doing the right thing, which is kind of hard to find at this point listening to you jazz
Well, we’ll see there and like it’s it’s not about you know, what we what we have we just go and donate to somebody to a company that’s doing the right thing because they’re all doing the right thing, right. They’re trying to do the right thing, but the thing is, that isn’t enough people coming in and taking everything that they have you know, there’s there’s more stuff There’s more unwanted stuff than there is people who will take them because you know, even even, like, even the stuff that, you know, I might bring something into us into these places into the, you know, I might donate a bunch of stuff that, to me looks great. But to other people, it’s not great. So it’s just gonna sit in in the store forever. You know,
when you say this, this is very much the same as the recycling problem. Because we’re all sorting and cleaning and getting it off to it’s going to wherever it’s going to go to get reuse, and no one’s buying it. The companies aren’t buying it, to use it back in their products. It’s the same with us. If you donate stuff, your first next shopping trip should be to a resale center, you should be buying used first. You’re not recycling this stuff. When you’re doing you’re dumping it just like the plastics industry. So I challenge everybody out there to take responsibility for that. If you during all this safer at home, you know, pending Make lockdown time you’re cleaning your closets. You’re stacking everything up.
Yes, we recycle. Yes, we want people to have our use stuff. But do we buy used things and that is yes, that is the hardest part guys, that’s the hardest part we all want to buy off Amazon and we all want to go and get brand new stuff all the time. And we just if we continue to, to live like that we’re going to be digging their own graves. Like for real.
I tell you what the most the easiest and the most successful way for me to be able to pass on everybody’s items. You know, when I when I needed to donate things. It was actually through, you know, through the social medias, you know like marketplace and the Facebook marketplace and I don’t even remember what the next door app and all kinds of things and then I would go into the local groups and just be like, Hey guys, I’ve got all of this stuff and would show pictures and people could come pick it up and I would just give it give it all away for free. You know I’ve got all these shoes I’ve got all this furniture, you know, I’ve got everything who wants it? Who needs it? Because there’s, you know, a lot of people that do need things. But again, they’re not the kind of people they’re not necessarily walking into the all of these thrift stores that I might might take them to, you know, yeah. So that actually was really that was probably the best way to get that I found to to get rid of things. So if people could keep buying or finding their stuff, secondhand and reuse that would definitely be helping things.
Yeah. And those types of stores aren’t as popular around Nashville. I feel like I mean, there are a few like I said, Buffalo Exchange I go to I haven’t been to good goodwill in a while, but Goodwill’s another one. But what do you I mean, what’s your opinion? What’s your What’s your opinion on that? And that kind of on those stores, like, have you found that to be useful? Like what kind
of Yeah, I mean, what to do. To buy or to sell to, to get rid to buy Yeah, I do. I mean, I mean it’s it’s what it’s like a you know, it’s a hit or miss like you know, I if I’m gonna go and do a thrift store run if I need to buy whether it’s clothes or furniture or whatever I do prepare to, to go to a bunch of them because you never know what you’re going to get. But yeah, I mean that’s that’s how I that’s how I furnish my house like
my friends that are grifters and I ended all throughout my you know, all throughout my I guess experience in Nashville even I met a friend my guys my friend Devin from whiskey kitchen, she’s great. She lives in Hawaii now. But she was man she was having she was selling all of her stuff on poshmark and yeah, a lot of like she was making good money. She was she was she had in her basement she just had all these she would go and buy and resell and I was just like wow, you have them little business going on here but that’s exactly the cycle you know, like she had never go in Buy something new somewhere and I was always so just I admired her I love that and I want to be like that and I think yeah I haven’t gone clothes shopping in quite some time like it’s been a while and a couple friends of mine whenever they clean out their stuff more kind of the same size will be like hey what you got going on let’s let’s get together and I’m cleaning out my stuff you want to come over and see what I have and that’s kind of how I’ve been doing it I get new clothes from my friends yeah trade
yeah clothing clothing was it that’s the one that’s a little difficult for me when it comes to like thrift shopping and stuff because that is quite hit or miss I don’t know there’s a lot of people out there who were able to find some absolute gems and I’m like how did you find that because I can’t do that furniture though. Man I that’s that’s my jam their furniture and and like other deco pieces like oh yeah, I love that stuff.
Yeah, good. Do that together. Yeah, no, not like I need anything. I I was telling someone to everything in my house is our reused piece of furniture or it was given to me by someone even like even the art on my walls and yeah, the different like things I’ve hung, they’re all gifts. They weren’t gifts from friends. And then what’s funny is I’ll go through stuff and I’ll think who would like this? Like, I can’t go shopping in my own house because I have so much stuff that I don’t necessarily use all the time and I had it and I’ll be going through it I’m like, instead of just dumping off the goodwill I think to myself, who could use this you know, and then it’s a nice present and repurposing is just it’s a huge part of the future. We have to repurpose, reduce reuse people, there is
no way I really, really hope that happens more. I mean, I think that it’s, I think that it’s great that so many people are trying to clear out their spaces and live a more minimalist life, like I think that’s great. And in order to get that you do have to get rid of your stuff. I mean, I did too and back in the day when I first started going down the minimalist route. I wasn’t getting rid of my stuff sustainably accidentally, you know, I thought that giving to Goodwill was fine. Yeah, but so you know, like it, it is gray. And that does obviously lead you down to a route where like you don’t have to buy as much anymore and you might be more happier to more more open to be getting secondhand things and stuff. But in the meantime, especially now, during this Corona situation where, I mean, it seemed like everybody that I knew and everybody that I saw on Facebook, in all the local groups and everything, everybody was getting rid of the things and I was like, That’s amazing. That’s great. Everybody has time to get themselves into the life that they that they want to live. But Holy shit, that is gonna be terrible for the environment because it’s all gonna go into a goodwill or to the Salvation Army or to all these charity stores or even into the
yeah, well, I mean, I like I know people who they can’t even be bothered to donate things they will. They might post something on Facebook and say, Hey guys, I’ve got this, you’ve got one day to get it or it’s going to landfill and then they will just take it to landfill. So like there’s just this. Yeah, it was it was it was terrifying for me to want to watch that because I was like, shit, I know what’s happening.
What do you recommend for you know, how can we be better at doing this?
I think that everybody needs to, first of all, they need to accept responsibility for everything that they own. They have to we all have to know that everything that we have goes somewhere, you know, and you don’t just take it to a donation place and think Yay, it’s gonna turn into gold. It’s not it’s good. You know, there are so many other things that can happen to it there it can easily end up in landfill. Easily ended up over in a in a third world country where they’re like, Well shit, this has to go to a landfill and this is poisonous now. So you’ve got to be mindful about everything that you have. And you should probably make sure that you research all the places that you plan to take your stuff to. Yeah. Which brings me to the other part, which is take your time, like literally just know, okay, I’ve got a room full of junk that I want to get rid of. But don’t don’t try it. You know, so many people are like, Alright, gotta get rid of it. Now go to do it now. Like, I don’t have time. You know, like the people I was saying who, you know, they’re like, come and pick it up today or I’m throwing it in landfill. Like, take your time finding the right place can I mean there are some things that took me months to find the right place to, you know, to take them to but that’s just
what I’m getting out to the people you know, to friends and family and in having a garage sale or putting it on poshmark
Social media is like he has pictures of this room full of stuff that I’ve got anybody want a I’m gonna have my you know
roadblocks to that because of Coronavirus I see some roadblocks just because people are worried about getting the terms from somebody James
well Yeah, I was gonna say cuz I used to in the summer months I would like just leave it all outside of my door and tell everybody to turn up but even then yeah, I guess that’s such a tough one that is a tough one but then again, wait, just wait you know find a space where you know that you can store all of this stuff? No, I want a day you’re gonna get rid of I have actually bad because
it right now. Yeah, because I knew that it wasn’t the right season. So I knew that Buffalo Exchange wouldn’t take it yet. And so I’ve been saving that in my closet. So just to recap yet one, you take responsibility for your stuff. It’s yours. If you bought it, you have it. You can’t just throw it away. There is no way to do research. Where are you going to bring it? What are you going to, you know, maybe some places take it Seasons, maybe places are specific about what color things are and you have to research number three, take your time. Yes. And just said you might have to hold on to something for a little while until you can find the right place to properly get you know, I hate saying I hate saying get rid of it. Oh, welcome back, Michael. Michael. We lost Michael for a second but he is back now
And Michael we’re just going over the highlights Jess was telling our listeners what they you know, the different steps of when they have things what to do with it, and we’re just saying you got to take responsibility for it. You got to research the places that you want to bring it. And you might have to hold on to it for a while. So take your time. Hey, can
I can I there was one point I wanted people to know that like cram it in here at the end since I sometimes. So you know how the donation centers if they’re close people just leave the bags out in front, outside, or Yeah, little you know, the freestanding ones, little kiosks When you go to one of the donation centers and they’re close, I see this all the time people are stacking their stuff out by the front door. They’re leaving bags of stuff at the little kiosks that are out like there’s one Riverside Drive over here, you’ll see bags and, and donation stacked around the thing. And I think what most people don’t realize is it’s against the law, which most people may go, Yeah, I don’t care. But but the law says that if it’s on the ground outside of a Donation Center, they have to put it in the trash. They’re not allowed to accept it now.
know Yeah, before and that’s the law. Yeah. So
the reason but it does make sense though. Yeah, I had to send just in case
the reason is because I what from what I understand. The reason is because nobody wants big chunky piles of stuff out inside outside of all these donation centers. And so to prevent places from looking junky, they said they are not allowed to accept donations in that manner.
I was actually going down this route. Yeah, see? So
if somebody left a bunch of stuff outside and it started to rain, and it wasn’t proper, properly, like covered well, so that stuff is no longer useful. So then what they’ve they then have to like get rid of it or what if like it’s outside and a frickin Roach walks in on it, and then they then they bring it into the store and now they’re bringing it into the stores. That’s that’s where my mind was going with that.
Logical like, That’s crazy. Like not dude.
It doesn’t look nice in front of the store.
No, but I think that’s it, it’s just like a zoning law or whatever, and especially for the kiosks that you see in neighborhoods, you know, they people will complain, you know, we don’t want to see all we want to see stacks of shoes and, and, you know, garbage bags in our neighborhood. And I think more than, you know, we’ll clarify, I’ll put in the notes for this. I’ll put a link to to some more factoids about that.
Okay, cool. Cuz that’s That’s an that’s one of those sneaky ones, man. That’s one of those sneaky things that you don’t know. And then you’re like, I’m just gonna leave it out here because I don’t have any time and certainly my car and so people keep it in your car. But
again, take your time, right?
This is why this is why I wanted to sneak it in because it was sneaky. But also, you know, back to our recycling, everything comes back to it. Same thing. You make the trouble to go to the recycling with all your cans that you’ve collected and you toss it in the bag even though it says it says I don’t want it says no bags allowed and was like I’ve done my part of throwing it in. Well, no, that gets that ends up in the trash. Nobody cuts open those bags and
the bags. No,
no, I actually just just on the one the local group here in Bellevue. I actually just commented on a post about that recently because somebody had posted a picture. I guess it was like last Monday and or maybe it’s Sunday. I can’t remember. And the the cans, the recycling cans here were like completely full. And then so everybody else and their mother had started just throwing everything on the floor, right? So the pictures were like awful there was cardboard boxes all in between in between these cans. And then they were also big plastic bags of like, you know, you know, plastic bottles and stuff that were also they couldn’t fit them in there. So they were hanging them on the outside of these recycling bins and then just throwing them on the floor and I was like, Okay, I’m coming out of a social media break. Hey, guys, and I was like, that’s not helpful at all. Because, you know, Metro is not going to recycle wet cardboard. So when it rains on that cardboard that’s now going to go into landfills. So they might as well have just put that directly in landfill and those bags. None of that’s going to be recycled because Metro isn’t opening plastic bags. So you might as well have just saved save them time and money and taken that to the landfill instead. Like none of this is helpful because somebody commented and they will Oh, well, at least they’re trying and I was like, No, no, no, no, ma’am. Let me tell you why that is not helpful.
Moral, the story being all of these systems in place that we think that we are doing well, they’re not really working. Yeah, and not that we’re here to tell you that nothing is gonna work ever and that we’re doomed. That’s not the message. It’s Think before you throw, don’t just put stuff in a bag. Don’t just put it out in front of a door and leave it to be someone else’s problem. That’s why the rest of the world doesn’t like us guys, because we think that we can just get rid of our stuff and make somebody else deal with it. We have to be conscious of what we’re doing with our shit. And consumer wise. Why do we need everything in every freaking color man? Like I don’t, I don’t. I know that these are really hard things to swallow. They really are because I’m still having a hard time swallowing. But I’m more conscious now. And I think as a consumer, and as someone that creates waste, the the more that I that I am aware of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, I feel better. I feel like okay, I’m not in the dark. And I want to talk to more people about this. I want to know what other people have to say about this. And that’s why I got into zero waste trash talk because Justin Michael feel the same way. We all feel the same way.
Can I get an amen? Amen.
Amen. Amen. Right on.
Well, that was an exhilarating talk, Jess, thank you. It’s so fun to to see you to
see you all again.
We can see her through our our computer screens. We are all mobile. At this point. We’re having a lot of fun doing it.
Mobile is strong, maybe stuck at home but remote stuck at home. Yeah, mobile seems like we’re gonna go out and sit in the car and record audio do that. Yeah, just thought about it. We’ve been Trying to figure all this out. Well and our next guest is talking about what else you can do besides donate Well, I guess it’s still donation right? It’s just a different type of donation
is Leah Sherry is going to talk about what we can do with all that random stuff that we don’t know what to do with that is not going to be accepted the good are going to save the goodwill.
If you didn’t listen to Episode Two, you don’t
get the joke. Sorry.
Anyway, thanks so much, Jess. We love you. Good. Thank you. Bye.
Maris Masellis: Welcome Leah Sherry of Turnip Green Creative Reuse. Michael and I are so happy you could be our guest today and how are you? What’s going on?
Leah Sherry: Thank you for having me. It’s so good to talk to you and see your faces I miss you all.
Maris Masellis: You know, it’s crazy that we have to do this kind of thing, but it’s actually a skill that we’ll probably use forever now. We’re going to have too
Leah Sherry: Yeah absolutely, hey we all saved some petrol by having this (virtual) meeting.
Maris Masellis: Yeah that is a plus side for sure
Michael Britt: I just saved bicycle pedaling time instead of petrol.
Maris Masellis: Oh, there you go bicycle pedaling time is that you said?
Michael Britt: I’m a no fuel guy in East Nashville.
He’s got the coolest bike. It’s got his giant wheels on it. Like, tell us about your beautiful bike.
Michael Britt: It’s got four inch tires and an electric motor for pedal assist. So I’m not the weakest gazelle on the road when I’m on the street. It gets me around. I use it instead of the car. I’d say 90% of the time – pre COVID when I actually went places
Maris Masellis: All the time he was like I’ll just ride my bike here and I’m like, that’s gonna take like three hours! Let me just come pick you up.
Michael Britt: Lets me get the key parking spot right in front by the door
Maris Masellis: Of course and that’s how you always know Michaels there cuz you see his bike outside. But yeah we are saving some patrol, you know Leah I like that but um thanks so much for sending us some of your background and how you got started with Turnip Green Creative Reuse. Leah is the executive director for should we should we minimize TGCR.
Maris Masellis: Arkansas girl? Started your own sustainability things and jobs at what age 12-14 How old were you?
Leah Sherry: I started my little recycling club in fourth grade. Which, as much as I would love to say it landed, it didn’t take off. Not the coolest kid on the playground. But yeah, I mean, I was always really interested in sustainability and I mean, I would also love to say that I was a visionary child but a lot of it came from, family influence and how I was raised.
Michael Britt: How you were raised is what we were kind of referring too. It was an intentional community in Arkansas, right? You sent us your bio and I looked it up. There’s not a lot of information about it on the internet…
Leah Shrerry: It’s it’s the off the grid type, it was truly off the grid.
Michael Britt: That’s crazy. What part of Arkansas was it in? According to what I saw (online) it shifted around and ended up in Little Rock where you…
Leah Sherry: So about an hour from Little Rock in the Ozark’s. If you’ve ever heard of Russellville, Arkansas, right outside of that. It’s kind of hard to describe because it’s not in a town. It’s called the Piney area that is in between towns. It’s that small. Yeah, like a little sliver of land.
Michael Britt: I don’t know if we’ve talked about this, but my family’s from Arkansas. My parents live in Northwest Arkansas. At one point I went to Camden High School, which isn’t very far from there. That was my senior year. I went from a giant school in Dallas to my senior year of 120 people or something like that in (my graduating class) Camden, Arkansas.
Leah Sherry: Hey, I didn’t know. Wow, you’re you’re a real Arkansasassy too. We always find each other.
Maris Masellis: You Arkansas weirdos. No, I kind of wish I lived in Arkansas. I’m like, you would have been the coolest kid on the playground to me. I would’ve been like I love this girl, lets hang out!
Leah Sherry: I needed you in my life when I was like eight or nine, like where is she? No Arkansas was cool though it’s like I think a lot of people whenever you’re growing up somewhere and you’re kind of like you have this curiosity and like oh this is lame I want to get out but then you leave and you start to sort of reminisce and remember the positive things and Arkansas it’s state name is the natural state. It has so much natural beauty and I mean I’ve I’ve moved around quite a bit and I remember the first few places I moved I’m like, what’s going on? Like, I can’t like throw a rock and hit a waterfall? You know, and like there’s so many like waterfalls and hiking trails and you can just take your dog off leash I mean, I think I don’t know if that’s actually right, but everybody does. It’s just such a stunning state like, I don’t know I really do miss that part about it.
Michael Britt: What about the paper mill smells? Do you miss the the rotten egg smells?
Leah Sherry: You’re bringing me right back.
Maris Masellis: You’re a city girl now and you are doing really big things at Turnip Green Creative Reuse. And for all of you that don’t know what TGCR is, it’s a great resource here in Nashville that I only recently came to find about a year and a half ago. If you’re worried about throwing a bunch of stuff out in the landfill that might have a second use, reduce reuse people that’s I learned that from from Leah, I learned all about that with Turnip Green. They are willing to take a lot of stuff that would end up in that in the landfill and they’re repurposing it and they’re using it as art and they’re teaching children about sustainability and they’re using it to do art with them and making it fun and approachable. Which is something we had talked about before we got into the whole podcast world we were talking about going live on Instagram, and when we were talking that day, we were talking about how, you know, how do we keep sustainability a priority. And you moved to Nashville looking for newer things and looking for your place here as I did. And, and you found it, you started at Trader Joe’s. I remember that part of your bio. You met Kelly Tippler, who was the creator of Turnip Green, and you guys found each other and she hired you on the spot basically and was like you are the fit for my puzzle. And you kind of took the reins from there. So tell us a little bit about that journey and what you’ve seen and and how it’s grown and maybe like before the pandemic and we can talk about how things have changed.
Leah Sherry: Sure, so let’s see. Yeah, Trader Joe’s you’ve covered that Kelly and you guys know Kelly.
Maris Masellis: We love Kelly!
Leah Sherry: Kelly has this really wonderful skill that I’ve tried to adopt, where she can meet anyone and find a space for them. I think she truly believes everybody has a purpose and everybody has a talent. It kind of goes into our philosophy of teaching that I think I wrote in my description to you all. We believe that everybody’s teachable. Yeah, everybody can learn about sustainability or really anything. It’s just sometimes the gap isn’t with the learner. It’s how you’re talking to the learner, like, are you speaking their language?
Maris Masellis: My favorite quote is to seek to understand rather than to be understood, and I live by that and I think that’s really really important.
Leah Sherry: Truth. Yes, it’s so good. But Kelly, you know, she has that and I remember Maris she saw one of your guys’s Zero Waste Trash Talk Videos, and I had already seen it and I was like, Who is this? This is amazing. And she was like, listen this girl has something she’s a rock star like and she has to be on our team. In some way she belongs in our lives. And I just really admire that you know. So many people approach their lives kind of skeptical and like, I don’t know, do I trust you? Right? It’s like you always have all of these barriers before you open your heart to a person. And she just goes like full fledged, everybody’s awesome until
I felt that when I met her, yeah,
I mean, we’re office by the way, and then never met her before in my life. I got her like through the grapevine somebody else it was another person to another person to another person was like, it ended up on Kelly’s desk and I was like, Hello, can I can I come in and meet you? I have no idea what I’m what I’m coming to touch. I just know I want to be involved. And you’re the lady. You’re the one. This is right when they brought me to you. She was so great. She really inspired me that day, but Sorry, sorry to interrupt. I just thought yours. Good. is a perfect example of how she really made me feel at home and that I could make a difference even though she you know, we had just met right then and there.
And so I think that I think her being the founder and I think that attitude and her surrounding herself and inviting people in who also have that very accepting, loving and like, sort of like, like you have to be brave to be like that it’s it’s much easier to just reject people and and kind of keep a bubble or a distance. So like that sort of bravery and and just like big, you know, open heart. I think that is what turnip green was founded on. And I like to think unless I’m just totally disconnected from reality that we still very much have that I love it. And so I think she’s a big part of that, but also just like the current team, you know, and I always tell people like as much as I would love to like take all the credit you know, there are so many people working hard to make, what turnip green does accessible and make our mission relative into the community. And so, you know, talking about post pandemic pre pandemic, I think we’ve definitely kept our mission, our core values, our guiding lights have stayed very consistent. And our team’s attitudes have stayed very consistent. And we’ve Of course had to pivot. You know, of course, we’re not gonna be like, Okay, everybody, just, yeah, we have to pivot, but we can still keep some things consistent. So like, you know, the creativity, we’ve gotten really creative with how we’ve made our materials accessible. We’ve gotten really creative with how we’ve provided education, especially to students in our 10 after school programs and you’re sending out packets, right? Is that is that how it’s working? Where we’re actually partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank and pencil and Tennessee Department of Environment conservation, and Metro schools. Because, you know, you really have to think like collaboration is always the answer, but especially in times like this, we really have to be thinking in that way. So like it made more sense for us to say like, Okay, what pieces do we have? What pieces do other people have? How can we like make it fit together? Second Harvest had that meal site stuff rolling. I mean, they were ready to go to get people fed pencil also just at the ready t deck. They’re like, Hey, we support you. And then the S is like, Hey, we support you. So we started partnering and going to those distribution sites. We already know those kids are coming there with their families. And we’re like, how about we hand out food and an art kit and school supplies? So it’s convenience is a really important thing to keeping sustainability accessible, whether you’re in a pandemic or not, as soon as it gets harder, complicated people are out. Yes. So so we made it convenient. We’ve I’m so excited. We’ve actually this week we hit 2000 art kits that we’ve distributed.
That’s so many
Yeah unresponsive you have you gotten from that?
Oh my god like just the sweetest ever I mean, the kids we’re getting some pictures back of what they’ve been making with their art kits one we posted one on our Facebook yesterday this kid made the cutest little classroom out of reusable materials like
that is horrible How are you spreading that message with the sustainability You know, when they’re getting these kits and they’re making all this all this cool stuff? How are you able to engage them and you know, these things were came from someone else? Or you know, it’s not just gonna go away into a landfill? How are you guys engaging that message?
Right so I mean, we had the benefit of being able to work with most of these kids already. Like these are kids we have relationships with because we have after school programs, so they are already reuse experts.
Are you guys? School Programs everywhere?
We have 10 Okay, at 10 different schools. Yeah. Okay. So now but we’ve We do in school programming, like where we’ll do a field trip or like, you know, we’ll send a teaching artists to do some sort of one offs. And we’ve been in over 60 of the metro schools doing those, but as far as like, we’re there, you know, consistently the kids by name. Like, yeah, so they they already know, like, they’re very familiar with the fabric swatch, or like a broken crayon and and I love telling people like the way in education, I used to be a teacher and it is so assessment heavy, I get the value of metrics, they’re very important, but sometimes you just gotta like, let go a little bit and be a little more human. But but the assessment at turnip green after school programs, if kids understand what we’re trying to do, at the beginning of the year, if they’re like, Oh, this crown is broken, it’s like, okay, that’s where you’re at. That’s fine. At the end of the year, if they’re like,
Hey, you look you
left a wrapper on the ground, we could make something out of this, which is I like them and plus they get it. That’s the only assessment I need because they’re looking at the world through a different lens of like being creative. And also Yes.
Oh, that’s a small success story for sure. Great. Love that.
Also, you saw that you’ve upped your game with your videos on your YouTube channel in this whole lie. I try and subscribe today, because I saw it out. I watched Emery do one of her videos about airplane. She’s awesome.
Yeah, she rocks the whole education team rocks. So we actually you guys will be proud of us. We attended. We attended a video training workshop yesterday. So I my hope and everybody’s hope is that we just continue getting sharper with our video skills we learned about video editing. Did you know that’s
number one, we’re always Proud of you. And then I’ll have to say, I’m very lucky to have Michael because he’s behind the scenes. He’s the producer, and very much an editor and all of this. So yeah, I probably should be taking that class
too. But I always awesome. It was so helpful. And we all learned a lot. And it’s and like, that’s another way that we’re having to learn how to make things accessible. Because you know, the woman who is leading the workshop, her name is Gracie Phillips. She’s an awesome musician that you should all check out. And she also used to work with us. But she is she was saying like, did you know that only like, 32% of your content is being watched because your videos are too long. And we were like, Oh, so it’s the same thing to me. If we’re going into a classroom, whether it’s adults who are wanting to learn how to compost or like low income youth who have never heard of reduce, reuse, recycle, and they speak Arabic? Yes. Like we want to be able to like sort of bridge that gap to get our message across. So now we’re learning like okay, well we have to bridge the technology gap. It’s something that not a lot of us have like experienced extensively Marion’s Yeah, I’m, I’m so hands on and I want to like you and make something and hug you and hug you. But we need to learn, you know, the trends, the metrics, the tools, the editing, and we all need to be able to do that. Otherwise, it’s just gonna be like five people who see our nine minute video right, let’s
take our original our first video I think was 15 minutes long. And then it went down to three minutes while we realized how to get it tighter. And I think we got some of our later ones down to 30 seconds for the video. Wow, it’s a matter of like just compressing and compressing the information and getting the fact that me directing their most important thing. Okay, cut the cut the extra verbiage go talk to this right here. And that’s that’s how Yeah, and
he’s a great director to let me tell you,
that’s awesome. That will maybe you should do another video.
We’re here for you. You need
Maris is, uh, you know, she’s just such a guy in front for all of this. So like, I don’t want to be, you
know, I didn’t know
this was my calling though, guys, I came here doing music I was playing and singing open mics. And here I am today. And this is cool. You know, I was just on an interview with channel two news that reached out to zero waste trash talk earlier yesterday actually. And I told her I was like, this is a manifestation of all the things I’ve ever done. I went to school for Telecom, so I was working for the news after college. Then I moved to Nashville and I was performing. And then I was always in sustainability and my mom’s number. I’m like, all of these things just came together. And here I am. This is the this is the universe. This is where I’m supposed to be. And I think we all are truly because it’s been such a humbling experience, getting to meet all the different faces that are in the industry in the sector, I should say. And Kelly and you and Allie and everybody. It’s it’s been so so heartwarming to know like I have a place here. And and that’s, that’s what we’re trying to do the message with turnip green. There’s so many resources out there. There’s so many things for kids and adults and if you want to learn it’s out there and that’s how I met Kelly. And she told me to go to a sorting center and that’s how I met Michael. And and that’s how it started. It really just starts with one person and Nashville is so open like that and so friendly, that it’s it’s the gates just open the floodgates open whenever you put yourself out there. But so just the other day, I was talking with my neighbor, I was driving through the parking lot and I stopped he was outside and we were talking about how my area is it’s a lower income based housing area. When I first moved in here, there’s a lot of trash everywhere and there’s kids in this in this area, I know that a lot of them their parents will ask them to take the trash on the dumpster and half of them don’t make it and they just kind of throw it into the into the bushes is what as what I’m guessing. And we’re just talking about that and about coming together as a community and I thought and this was an idea way, way last year We wanted to do a cleanup and I thought, we got to get turnip green creative reuse out here. Because we could do that we could get the kids involved, we could do an arts and crafts, we could do a pickup. And that’s those are just some of the few things that you guys do. But that, you know, during this time, is there going to be a different way to go about that now with litter pickups and getting people together? You know, because that’s something I actually wanted to ask you personally. But it would be good to know, for everybody in Nashville that wanted to do something like that. Are you still operating? Or is that something we’re looking to still later in the phases?
So we have this is internally we have a four phase plan. And the the actual gathering components will happen and either phase three or four. So phase three at about half capacity, phase four, donations back to normal, but yeah, we actually are doing some things right now. So we are accepting donations two days a week. It’s by appointment that way we have a retake. I mean, I know like somehow as many things do, this whole health issue has become incredibly politicized. So I’ll say we stand on the side of taking it very seriously. We that’s just what we’re doing. And you know, it’s, it’s not political to us, to us, it’s health and safety of our community and our staff and our students. So we are accepting donations two days a week by appointment so we can space them out. We’re also quarantining the donations. So like if you go in turn of green right now, it looks like a whole different shop. It’s like everything is labeled with a date like this was accepted on this day, it can be unboxed on this day. And then like cleaning the donations and sort of rotating them through in a way where we know that we can safely pass them on where there isn’t a virus on them according to the science we do have. So that’s happening. We are in just a few days you guys get the first YOU GET THE FIRST ALERT that we’re going to offer virtual shopping. So people can actually FaceTime or zoom with us like, depending on what their setup is. And we have staff that are already ready to, like lead you through the store. And you basically say, like, I want that. And then I mean, these are things that we want to keep to even when everyone’s able to gather. One thing that we talked about a lot in our meetings is not everything about corporate or big box stores are good, but they definitely have some things figured out that we can adopt. And so making things convenient once again. And that’s a convenient thing we can offer to people. So we’re doing curbside pickup to we you don’t get out of your car. The number is really big on the door and you just call and someone comes out and gives it to you. What other things you saw the YouTube so there’s virtual programming, there’s art kits. We just did a Another blind spot. Another thing that I’m really excited about which are birth virtual birthday parties, so you can work with us and we’ll provide a teaching artists will help you set up the zoom. And if so, if it’s a group of kids, for example, we work with you to figure out what projects you want to do. And we’ll mail all of the attendees the art project, get together and zoom in so you can all do it together. So just like different things like that, that meet sort of more of like the physical distancing,
yeah. Do they? Do you make appointments on online? Or is there a number to call? Is that all online?
It’s all of the info is on our website, the FAQ page, I feel like it gets updated twice a day when it changes. Yeah. But that’s where the most relevant information is going to be in like all in one place. Okay.
So that’s on the
turnip, green, creative reuse.org. And then you click Thank you
Yeah, there’s a there’s a home online shop who why how when and then Saks FAQ s. And so it’ll just be a forward slash FAQ.
And we’ll post it in the notes on the show notes. So, so one thing you like taking one step backwards for the people who might not know exactly what you do, when you take items in, I know that as from our conversations and the videos we’ve done together and all of that they you you as an organization, feel that it’s better to be reused than to be recycle that reuse should be the first line of defense. And because of that, like at our house, we have, you know, the plastic bag recycling bin, we have the compost and dry compost bin and then the, the the turn of green bin of everything that could be reused again goes in there instead of before it goes into single stream or anywhere else. Are there things that like, we can You tell us what kind of items that you that you’d like the most like the other day, there’s a post on our zero waste. Facebook, Nashville Facebook group, or someone’s asking about an old cutting board is plastic and what I do with them people like to turn up green. I was like, I want that. I mean, what do you what kind of things do you want and don’t want and can really use?
Well, I think this is like a very hard thing for people to wrap their heads around. Because we just want to help you keep things out of the landfill that you don’t have another place for. And so maybe that is a cutting board. Maybe it’s half of an Easter egg. And maybe it’s maybe it’s something that we don’t necessarily accept in our store, but we still want to help you find a spot for it. Or we want to connect you to our, you know, I always think of Wiley like I’ll connect you to Wiley. He’s our friend who is like this super creative artist who can make something out of anything. So like, we want to be very solutions based and we don’t have a specific list. We just want to be more providing solutions, if that makes sense. So I, yeah, exactly. Yeah, we’re kind of just a catch all for all of these strange items that you look at. And you’re like, I hate to throw this away. But what else can I do? It’s like a turnip green. turnip green. That’s what else you can do. We’ll help you from there. Well, especially
as recycling is, you know, like we’ve talked about in this upcoming in the last episode, we recorded how broken the recycling is, especially for plastics. and reuse is always going to be a better you know, choice for the
reduced for Yes,
yeah, reduce reuse, and I know that y’all are similar to me in this way. And I know a lot of people feel like this, but I don’t necessarily like leaning on systems outside of my control in general. It’s not a part of who I am. I like to know that like, if we have the weirdest 2020 ever A tornado wipes out my neighborhood and then a virus wipes out the rest of the world. Like, I can still rely on reuse. I don’t need a recycling vendor, I don’t need a recycling truck. Like I can still do the right thing and it’s in my control. So like Personally, I think that’s really special and I think we’re talking about you know, human connection and it’s something that we can work together to like help you know, like real name, you know, any red tape and then recycling to like, obviously, it’s better than the landfill but it still comes with so many other negative things like energy usage. And you know, we don’t i don’t see where this stuff goes and like I you know, we’re all just hoping but like with reuse, it isn’t literally in your hands and with turnip green, generally you can like say, Hey, I donated an old cutting board. You know, last week someone told me on on this Facebook site, do you know what happened to that? We are such a close, tight knit community that cares so deeply. I could probably be like, Oh, yeah, you know what this artist named Martha came in and got that and like, do you want you want me to connect to you. And I think that is just this other very human special element to reduce reuse and to what turnip green can provide.
What are some, like? What are some things at home that you do that when you say that are in your control, and you’re reusing? Like, give us a few examples?
If you can, I mean, yeah, of course, like, lately, I have just, you know, we’ve all been home a little more, and I just am missing so many of my friends and my people and my staff. So I’ve been doing a lot of card writing. But I mean, I’m not gonna go like buy a new card that is so silly. Like a card. That matters. Exactly. And so I’m also a collage artist, like that’s one of my favorite art form, too.
When I was a kid, I do so many collages. You should make some collages. Now, we’re soulmates. I knew
but One thing that happens with collages, a lot of times you have little scraps and bits. And I mean, you could recycle those because it’s paper, but I love saving mine and I’ve been making like collages out of the collage bits and then turning them into cards and like mailing them anymore. I think it’s a really fun challenge, especially when we’re teaching kids like, okay, here’s what you have to do. You can’t like have any scraps, like you have to use every scrap. So I’ve been doing that with my own like art practice at home. That’s
Yeah, it’s fun. But once you start thinking it just like becomes habit, it gets easier and easier, and you start looking. This is so in the weeds. I’m sorry, I love collaging. And I’ve been doing a lot of it, but like you’re looking at this piece of paper, maybe I want like the lizard in the middle or the foreground, but then there’s this background. And so then I like automatically start imagining like, well, where does that piece go? And it kind of helps with this like, sort of larger scale view and like making connections in advance rather than just thinking of like one thing at a time, right? And I can go backwards to I know that I’ll have random things I’m like, What am I gonna do with this? But it makes me think back. How did I get this thing? Yes. Where did the exact wrong? Did I buy it? Do I? Do I buy things like this a lot and then not know what to do with them? It’s it’s that awareness and then it brings me backwards. And then my awareness shopping is different. Yes, totally. I think
we can i reuse this somehow or it was just gonna go straight to the landfill or is this gonna go to turn up green creative reuse is that should I do that?
Or is it even worth buying in the first place? Did I need it when I bought it
I know people tell me a lot of times they’re like, oh, like, I bet you just come home with so much stuff working at turnip green because you see so much stuff and I’m like, I hate stuff. Like I don’t want stuff ever because I see how much stuff comes in. And I would love to say it’s all like very second, third, fourth, fifth hand but a lot of the stuff we get is still packet. Wow. Because stuff is so accessible. People just buy it. It’s like, yeah, and I’m glad they’re donating it to us honestly. But I agree with you Like, you should always be thinking about the material before it’s in your hands. You shouldn’t be like having something and say, What do I do with this? Now, you know, you should be thinking of the whole picture. And ideally your ideal.
Yeah, yeah, totally. That’s, it’s a good sort of like goal, you know, for us to be thinking in that way. And that’s the that’s probably really intimidating for a lot of people. That’s how I felt in the very beginning. I felt almost kind of shameful. Like, how did I get all this stuff and why do I continue to buy more? And do I really need it like Michael said, and you two are very inspirational to me. I mean, in that sense, if you’ve been if you see Michael’s house, it is it is so clean, and he is the epitome of a minimalist. He could tell me about my
wife, Carol, is I am a minimalist and really neat because of her For instance, when we were in LA and she first read Murray condos book I was like, Oh, it’s almost like giving an arsonist a can of gasoline or something. She’s a mentalist, like you would not believe, if we don’t use it. We used to live in photo studios, you could see everything. There’s no closets, hardly any storage. So we just got into the habit of things just collect us and have to get moved around. So why do you have stuff? And because of our lifestyle, that minimalism became important. Let me let me ask you a quick question. Because we have this sub topic in our head or I do is we’re talking about Maria Kondo. It’s like, you know that it’s great. It’s great that people are cleaning and organizing their closets and trying to get their lifes done or whatever but some of that advice like ripping your favorite parts out of books and then throwing the books away. I didn’t
I didn’t know that anything hurts in
her book and I you know, I’m like, hashtag books are not single use, you know, like,
You could probably Yeah, yeah, probably straighten up a few of those things. And the first thing that comes to my mind the only show I’d seen one show of hers on TV, and going through all their stuff, and packing everything up. And the first thing that came to my mind was, where are you gonna play? stuff? Are you gonna ring it? Are you going to reuse it? Are you going to recycle it? But that is a misconception in our society right now is there is no away. It’s a constant, that I say it all the time. Now there is no way you think your stuff is just gonna magically disappear. And it’s not you have to really be thoughtful about it. And that’s what I love about turnip green. It’s so thoughtful and it brings people together. And I love getting to know all of your team and seeing how we can work together during this pandemic, especially. So if there’s some takeaways here. We’ve been kind of trying to highlight the main points of our talking of our conversation. And so I want to point out that They’re still up and running. They’re virtual. They’re doing their best to get savvy with technology and more videos so you can get online and you can have all that information fresh in front of you. And if there are things that you have questions about, send them a message. Yeah, well answer, and they will answer they’ll actually answer. Yes, we do. Um, and shout out to Kelly for supporting all of us. She’s met with Michael and I, a couple times and we’ve always had some great support and encouragement from her. So we love turnip green. Is there anything else? You want to leave the people?
You know, one thing that we didn’t touch on, forgive me for not discussing earlier. But one other cool thing that we do is a green gallery. We have two green galleries and so those are our galleries that feature local artists who use repurpose materials. Their work, and it, you know it, sometimes that turned up and people were like, okay, you have a gallery over here you have a shop over here, you have education over here, they’re actually all super connected, right? They all fall under our mission of fostering creativity and sustainability through reuse. And there’s a lot of education in the gallery. Whenever people walk it, you guys have been attuned to green. So you know, the first thing you see when you walk in on the right, is like this nice, polished sort of the crown jewel. And it’s like, wow, that’s beautiful work. If you didn’t see the rest of the store, you might not ever know that it came from what people call trash. We don’t believe in that word, but you know what I mean, right? And then you pan over to the left when you walk into turn a green and you see all of the raw materials. So you can in one sort of snapshot, see, this is stuff that I may have associated like with trash, I may have thrown this kind of stuff away, but look what it can become, if worked and curated and given like attention. So So we think that The gallery is really important for elevating artists and art and also just educating people about what you can do with these materials rather than throwing them away. But we have, you know, we don’t have people coming in right now, but we do have virtual gallery shows, so we’re still doing the art crawl. A lot of other galleries are too so I definitely want to plug that do an art one. That’s the first Saturday from six to nine. So we usually do like an Instagram or a Facebook Live and we interview the artists and we have them curate their own shows at home. You guys will love this mic. Windy. If you haven’t met Mike windy, he’s our current artist. Y’all would hit it off so hard. So he he has always been an environmentalist and an artist, as far as I know. But every day in 2020, he’s made a sculpture out of something he’s found on a walk or in a parking lot. Everyday everyday. Yeah, they’re so cool and like the way he has them curated. If you look on our web, You’ll see he has them in his get he has a gallery at his house. And it’s just beautiful all together. And there’s a story, you know, like a really funny title behind every single one. But there’s 120 in his current exhibition, and that’s our main show in our green gallery right now. So, if you go on our website and you purchase one, you also get to name your own price because he really believed in keeping this accessible. So it’s not gonna be like you have to be a millionaire to afford these art pieces. And then the other he’s splitting the cost between turnip or the proceeds between turnip green and educators cooperative, which is an awesome organizations guy. Yeah, that’s like an easy way to be sustainable support arts and education. I mean, what what could be better for But yeah, I definitely just wanted to talk about the gallery piece too, especially because our gallery coordinator works really hard and our gallery works really hard and that’s something else people can tune into and check out they want to see lady art. Absolutely.
Love that. Anything else? Yeah, that was it. about Michael
No, I just think it’s awesome what they’re doing and the art of being able to buy art virtually right now everyone’s probably thinking, we’re out of work everything’s, you know, up in the air but you’re sitting at home looking at blank walls like why not look at something that inspires you and you know, spread, spread what good cheer and money there is around to each other and just like supporting restaurants, artists who can’t forget artists as well, they’re the galleries are shut down just like the theaters and the, the, you know, the auditoriums for us to go see live music and the restaurants and all. We’re all in this together. And I think art brings along life. Yeah,
yeah. And it’s like just a really great example of how that’s another way to make sustainability accessible. Like maybe I don’t like art, but maybe I love buying clothes. So a way that I can support sustainability without changing too much like I can start searching sustainable clothing brands, you know, that’s a quick Google search away. So like, I think there can be some stainability integrated into almost any interest in like, where where you are putting your dollars or your time or your energy or your conversations. So I think that’s just another really like good way to think about it. Like, what am I getting online to buy right now? Or like, what am I getting online to like, watch a YouTube video up and maybe see if there’s sort of a sustainable version or tie in. And that’s a great like entry point into this really like overwhelming sort of concept of how to be greener.
No, yeah. Cheers to that. Well, thanks so much for chatting with us today and sharing all the good things that you’re doing. Turn up green, creative reuse.org. And there’s lots of fun stuff on there. They actually have a Facebook group as well our Facebook page and I just saw the virtual tour. So Leah gives a personal virtual tour of everything if you want to go see it for yourself and support our artists support our community and less waste in the landfill, which is say,
whoo, thank you so much chiller, amazing for you. Spreading the good word and for so many other reasons
you think are amazing to good people attract other good people, and we’re just gonna keep spreading the love. Thanks, Leah. Thank you both