Reducing the trash we create and getting to zero waste takes all of us: individuals, communities, and companies that make products and packaging. We know some inspiring people who are taking action every day to get as close to zero waste as they can—let them inspire you to take action!
The Conrod-Wovcha Family
Baltix Sustainable Furniture
Modern Radio Record Label (Tom Loftus and Peter Mielech)
Yogiraj Charles and Vonda Vaden Bates
Dave and Florence Minar of Cedar Summit Farm
Sarah, Lloyd, Helen, and Theo Cledwyn
Are YOU the next Zero-Waste Hero? Send us your story and photo (or nominate someone you know) and we’ll post it here!
Sean Alter started and leads Urban Compost, which designs and implements on-site composting systems for high-density apartment buildings. Composting on-site avoids the need for collection and transportation to a processing facility.
The finished compost is made available to local urban farmers to help create nutrient-rich soil so they can grow higher quality food and some is used for the gardens around the apartment buildings.
Urban Compost utilizes the Bokashi composting method, which was developed in Japan. It uses a fermentation process to break down the compostable materials, which takes just a few weeks.
Composting at apartment buildings is a challenge, and education is key to getting more participation. Sean is preparing to host some community get-togethers at different apartment buildings he works with to further education residents.
Sean said, “Apartment buildings by design tend to isolate people from each other and having a gathering is a great way to get people to know each other, have fun, and learn about something productive. When residents understand how easy and valuable composting is, more people participate.”
For Sean, Urban Compost is a way to bring together a passion for “zero waste, education, the joy of growing food, and building more connections with each other.”
Eureka Recycling is committed to getting every bit of compostable material out of the trash. And, an important aspect of our zero-waste approach to composting is to prevent wasted food before it would have to be composted at all. Eureka Recycling is developing tools and education to make preventing food waste easier. By making changes to our cooking, shopping, and food storage habits, we can save money and the environment!
Vern Xiong, program manager at the Lao Family Community of Minnesota, introduced the preventing wasted food program to his own community. He participated with his family, and invited 30 Hmong households from the Greater East Side of Saint Paul to take part. Their involvement will aid Eureka Recycling in shaping this program into one that will become an option for more neighborhoods in the months to come.
When asked about his involvement in the project, Vern explained, “I’m glad we got to share this with others. It’s motivating when a whole community is involved and everybody is doing their part in trying to reduce waste.” He also stressed the importance of making a habit of including waste prevention ideas in regular conversation, highlighting both successes and challenges.
Vern continues to discuss this topic with his wife and friends. Vern says that his family now has a system for planning dinners, and that labeling and dating items in the freezer has also been helpful. Vern’s example shows that preventing waste can be easier to accomplish and more meaningful when friends and family are involved.
Jeff Conrod and Sarah Wovcha are parents of three in Saint Paul with a strong commitment to reducing waste. In fact, they generate so little trash their garbage hauler only picks up from them once every three months.
The family approaches zero waste together, asking “do we really need this?” before making purchases. They rarely buy packaged food, and nearly every bit of kitchen waste is composted to be used in their garden. Whenever possible, they purchase clothes and items for their home from consignment shops and salvage yards. In the summer, they keep a set of picnic dishes in the car so they can bring their own reusable plates, cups, utensils, and cloth napkins to gatherings rather than use disposable items. They also donate extra packaging to a neighboring antique dealer for reuse and return their egg cartons to the egg farmers at the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market.
Sarah says that her children are involved in all that they do at home to save energy and reduce waste. Conversations about less wasteful practices are frequent, especially making sure the kids are aware of the energy required to bring food from the farm to their table. The kids also sort the family’s recycling, take out the composting, and reuse their lunch bags. The eldest is urging his school to rethink giving each kid a new bag with breakfast each morning.
“The environment is in crisis, so it’s our job to do everything we can,” Sarah remarked. “We feel that the things we do are critical to the health of our community and world, and that we should be an example to our kids to inspire them to take action as they get older.”
Rob Peick is an English teacher at Cretin-Derham Hall with a great passion for setting a green example for his students. At the school, he has spearheaded a yearly locker/locker room purge in which all recyclable and reusable items are removed and sorted. He says as a result, massive amounts of clothing are donated to shelters, textbooks are sent to charities, and notebooks, pens, and other school supplies are collected to be reused.
Rob is well known around Eureka Recycling’s Zero-Waste Hotline as a frequent caller who checks on the recyclability of materials; he does this with fervor that has sparked conversation and outside-the-box thinking amongst his students and Eureka Recycling staff alike about the reusability potential for a wide variety of items. “Even a used staple doesn’t make it to the trash because there’s another use for it,” explained Alexandra Bishop, one of Rob’s students. “If the world was filled with Mr. Peicks, there would be no need for landfills."
This affinity for waste reduction is also reflected in his at-home practices of composting and recycling, but what is really striking about Rob’s commitment to green practices is his humility and nonchalance. He states simply that in our land of abundance, “taking care of resources is a moral imperative” and that his practices are something that he has always felt naturally inclined to do.
How do issues of sustainable furniture correlate to issues of zero waste?
As a sustainable furniture company that has a commitment to reducing waste, we follow the mantra of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” in every aspect of manufacturing: energy control and minimizing the waste of water, energy, and scrap in materials. We hire out locally with Minnesota contractors and use Minnesota materials as much as possible. We also are conscious of carbon footprint impacts and make a point not to use resources from areas a long distance away. We design the furniture itself for a long life, and we package and ship the furniture as efficiently as possible.
Why did you decide to participate in the Recycled Paper Co-op?
We like to be able to “walk the walk” in every aspect of our business, including office paper. It’s a good product for internal use, competitively priced, and convenient, and we like being able to help support a co-op and Eureka Recycling.
Is there anything else you want to share about zero waste in your own life?
My business partner and I have always tried to live sustainably, both financially and environmentally. This personal belief we feel is reflected and reiterated in our business.
Arielle was an intern for Eureka Recycling who worked on the Multifamily Outreach Program during the summer of 2010. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in environmental sciences, policy, and management. Now, she is the State Chapter Coordinator for Reuse Alliance Minnesota.
What habits have you incorporated into your daily life to reduce waste?
I think the “Reduce Reuse Recycle” phrase is in the perfect order—reducing is first. I won’t buy excess things in the first place. And, when I do need to use something I will find a reusable alternative. For example, I use reusable containers and washable napkins for my lunch, so that I don’t have to throw anything away.
What other sorts of environmental efforts are you passionate about?
I am a strong proponent of local and organic foods because that affects so many different issues—environmental, social, and economic.
What suggestions do you have for other people trying to reduce waste?
Buy in bulk and bring re-usable containers to the store so you don’t have excess waste. The less packaging the better. And, instead of buying things new, buy them used. There are some real economic benefits to reusing materials. An inspiring statistic I learned from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is that the reuse industry creates more jobs in the U.S. than the recycling and waste industries. And reusing eliminates new things entering the world that are just going to end up in the landfill or incinerator.
Tom Winckelman, 14, is an intern at Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis and is the son of Eureka Recycling board member Kathy Klink.
Jesse Haas, the assistant manager at Mill City Farmers Market, said that they appreciate Tom’s dedication to the Market’s Zero-Waste Project. “Tom’s creative enthusiasm is incredibly valuable to the sustainability of our zero-waste efforts, and we couldn't be more grateful!”
Eureka Recycling talked to Tom about composting, zero waste, and his internship experience.
What got you interested in composting?
I first developed an interest in it when I came to the Mill City Farmers Market for the first time in 2009 and saw that they were composting.
Tell us about your experience at the Farmers Market. What is your favorite part about interning there?
I am probably the only fourteen-year-old kid on the planet who happily sorts through trash with my bare hands for no pay. I love when people are amazed that their “plastic” cup is actually made from corn, or when they realize for the first time that the container that they've been tossing stuff in is a compost bin.
What is the easiest part of reducing waste in your family’s home?
Reuse. We keep bags from stores and reuse them (for example, we use the plastic bags to store clothes). I keep a lot of packaging to use for storage in my room.
What suggestions do you have for others who want to reduce waste in their homes?
Traditional recycling is good, but there are other amazing ways to recycle, like e-waste recycling and, my personal favorite, composting. But, more importantly, reduce and reuse! If you can solve the problem at its source, you won't have to worry about all the other ways to deal with the problem later.
Eureka Recycling spoke to Modern Radio partner Peter Mielech about their zero-waste practices.
Tell us a little bit about your record label. What are some of the zero-waste actions you are taking? What inspires you to take these actions towards zero waste?
Started in 1999 by founding partner Tom Loftus, Modern Radio has always used second-hand, recycled shipping materials. As a small business, we do whatever we can to keep our costs low, and these materials are a big expense of our mail order and promotional campaigns. We love the fact that we can work to reduce our waste while at the same time reducing the cost of doing business. For instance, recently we got free LP mailers through the Eureka Recycling website twincitiesfreemarket.org. A number of our releases were produced with recycled material, too.
Has making this change affected other decisions that your business makes?
We’ve given a lot of thought about anticipating demand for certain releases, and tend to be more conservative in our pressing quantity, which limits cost, and in turn, reduces waste.
How do you share your zero-waste actions with others?
Most recently, I used my involvement as an intern with Eureka Recycling’s Recycled Paper Co-op to engage my friends, family, and co-workers in issues of zero waste. Tom is also an avid backyard composter, recycler, and co-op contributor.
When Minneapolis resident Dallas Rising went with her husband to the eye doctor she used the opportunity to ask about the environmental impact of eyeglasses.
She said, “Usually, I wouldn't have thought to ask, but I asked if any eyeglass frame brands were more environmentally friendly than others, and learned a ton about frame production. It was actually pretty cool—but none of it was noted anywhere in their displays.”
Dallas found out that some companies recycle the plastic shavings generated when creating the frames and/or use all recycled materials in their packaging or displays. By inquiring about the impact of eyeglasses on the environment, she let the business know that this mattered to her, and it helped her make the purchasing decision.
We are so saddened by the loss of our treasured friend, Yogiraj. We are grateful for the wisdom and inspiration he so freely and generously offered to us and our community. Our thoughts, prayers, and love are surrounding his family and friends, and especially our dear Vonda. ~All of us at Eureka, 6-19-2012
Yogiraj Charles and Vonda Vaden Bates bring reusable metal lunch boxes with them EVERY time they go out to eat, so they never have to use disposable to-go containers!
“We eat out a lot, and the pile up of to-go containers used to take over our small kitchen: paper cartons, stacks and stacks of plastic containers, and impossible-to-recycle Styrofoam set off our environmental values alarms to a level we could no longer ignore,” said Vonda.
So really, how DO they remember to bring it with them every time?
According to Vonda, “We have duplicate containers. One or more is always in the car ready. We wash them right away and return it for the next outing, keeping it visible in the back seat. If we enter the restaurant without it, we return to the car before accepting a carton!”
Located in New Prague, Minnesota, Cedar Summit Farm’s certified organic creamery sells its milk and cream in reusable glass bottles that customers can return for the company to refill—an even better option than recycling!
Their reasons for deciding to sell their organic milk in glass bottles were simple: taste and the environment.
According to Florence, “Protecting the environment and providing a healthy product for our community is part of our mission statement.”
“Anything in glass will retain its true flavor and not pick up flavor from the packaging, and glass does not leach anything into the product, such as plastic might,” explained Florence. “Glass can be reused many times and then it can be recycled. Glass also keeps the product colder when it is taken out of the refrigerator. We knew this would be a niche market and fit the needs of health and environmentally conscious customers.”
Aki Shibata volunteers at zero-waste events in the Twin Cities with Eureka Recycling to educate people about zero waste and inspire them to reduce waste in their own lives!
Aki explained what she finds valuable about contributing to zero-waste events like Rock the Garden and Wishes for the Sky:
“I enjoy being outside and talking to people about zero waste,” she said. “So many people are surprised by how many things they can recycle and compost. And a lot of times people realized how difficult it is to dispose of plastic.”
If you’re interested in volunteering at a zero-waste event in the Twin Cities, contact us and we’ll send you emails as opportunities arise throughout the year.
Sarah Cledwyn and her family compost everything they can in their backyard bin, and plan their meals and shopping to avoid wasted food as much as possible!
We asked her for a few more details about her family's everyday choices to reduce waste:
“We make a weekly menu plan with a grocery list so we only buy the food we are planning to eat and we know exactly what we're cooking. We use leftovers from our meals for our lunches which we pack in reusable containers and bring to work in a reusable bag,” explained Sarah.
But it doesn’t stop there! “We use canvas bags at the grocery store and we've sewn our own bulk bags to cut down on packaging. We use veggie discards to make soup stock before we compost them and we only eat one or two meals that include meat per week meaning most of our food waste is compostable in our yard. We also cook almost all our meals from scratch so they are healthier and create less waste in packaging and processing.”