Tag Archives: composting

Fast Food & Soft Drinks

no_fast_foodI could write for days and days about all the ways that fast food & soft drinks are horrible things to do to your body. There are oh so many reasons to avoid both at all costs, but I’ll rein it in and mention a few that are most closely related to sustainability, as there are plenty of resources to learn about all the nasty effects on your health of these nutritionally depleting grab-bags of chemicals, neurotoxins, carcinogens, and endocrine disruptors. If it sounds like I’m being harsh, you should read more about what these do to your body over time. For example, here, and here.

Sustaining your family – the economics

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Despite what many people think (I don’t know why) it’s not more economical to buy fast food rather than regular food at a grocery store to make at home, if you buy the right things. It’s also often pointed out that soft drinks are commonly cheaper than other drinks. True, for many drinks.

But what about water? Or make yourself tea or coffee. Jasmine iced tea and mint iced tea are two of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had, and you can’t buy them just anywhere. You have to buy the tea and make it at home. Much less expensive and much better for you than any bottle or can of soda.

The problem here may well be the food deserts that many lower-income families live in, and the lack of education regarding food economics. These are problems that desperately need to be solved, for the health and welfare of everyone.

Trash talk

The amount of garbage produced by these businesses is astronomical. Everything comes individually wrapped. Some of it ends up in the dumpster and some of it ends up graciously adorning our streets and parks. A study was done in the San Francisco Bay Area to determine the sources of litter. 49% of the litter collected in random samples from four Bay Area cities was from fast food.

According to the ‘Waste Disposal and Diversion Findings for Selected Industry Groups‘ (2006), fast-food restaurants generate about 6,528 lbs of waste material per employee per year. Per employee! How many employees does McDonald’s have? If you let that sink in for a moment, it’s horrifying. A staggering 42% of what gets thrown away, winding up in a landfill, is classified as “disposed, easily divertible,” which means it’s recyclable or compostable and it wouldn’t take that much effort to do it. And that doesn’t include the 2.5 million plastic bottles that North Americans throw out every HOUR. And THAT doesn’t include all the aluminum cans that don’t get recycled, each of which could save the amount of energy produced by half that can full of gasoline. (For those and other fun facts, click here.)

Accountability for sustainability

sea-1017596_1280Did you know that We need to start holding these businesses and ourselves accountable for this waste. By making the choice to make food from scratch at home, you improve your own health and the health of your finances, as well as living more sustainably. Of course, the packaging of items at grocery stores is also typically very wasteful, but, again, you have the power of choice; find as many products as possible that are less wasteful or whose containers can be reused. Example – stay away from unnecessarily pre-packaged vegetables. Those things do no one any good. They don’t save you any time – they still need to be washed.

This is a simple, real way we can each contribute to sustainability – say no to fast food, soft drinks, and other things that are wastefully packaged.


Breaking Down Composting

Get mulching

Basically, if you can, you should. It doesn’t require a large area and it will help all of your brothers and sisters and the planet by saving on landfill space. Plus, in some places you’re charged by the pound and/or by the bag for trash removal, so you might even be able to save yourself money.

If you have a garden, there’s a clear benefit for you: nutrient-rich soil that will help you grow delicious vegetables. Growing vegetables takes vitamins and minerals out of the ground. That’s great, because they end up in our bodies, making us healthier, but the soil needs to be replenished for the cycle to continue.

The fact is, there’s a problem with trash. We use landfills. When they’re full, we have to find space for another. It’s a growing issue in many towns and cities. Well, isn’t a landfill basically a big compost heap? No. And never mind all the toxic stuff that goes into landfills, let’s just look at the organic material.

When trash goes to a landfill, everything gets piled on top of everything else, so oxygen can’t get to the organic waste. When bacteria breaks down organic material with the help of oxygen, it’s aerobic decomposition. This kind of decomp doesn’t produce nearly the amount of ammonia and methane that anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition produces. Methane is a major contributor to global warming, and ammonia is extremely toxic to aquatic animals, though humans and other mammals can deal with the diluted small amounts that might be found in compost.

Composting doesn’t solve the problem all by itself, but it certainly helps. We have a duty to engage ourselves and our children in environmental stewardship, and this is a clear step in the right direction. Plus, if you do have children, composting can be a great learning tool for some pretty cool science stuff. What kid doesn’t want to know where dirt comes from?

Composting also requires very little effort, even for the initial setup. Some people build their own compost containers, but it’s not necessary. You can buy a simple container or just use chicken wire. It’s also possible to just have a pile, though it doesn’t look very nice. Here’s a simple guide from wikiHow that can get you started.

What to do with all this compost?

If you don’t have your own garden, you might be able to give it to people who can use it. Donate it to the community garden. Put a sign out front that you have free mulch. Go to your local farmer’s market and let people know that all they have to do is come get it.

Make sure you compost responsibly. If you’re offering this prized possession to others, let them know you take pride in your work. There are certain things that shouldn’t go into a compost pile because they can negatively effect the gardens that are ultimately grown from the compost. Chemicals, for example. You can compost paper towels, but don’t throw dyed paper in there. The chemicals from the dye will be in your beloved soil.

Check out this list of things never to put into your compost pile (damn, I really thought bread was okay.) Some of them are to protect you from unwanted “varmints” while others are to protect the health and vitality of the plants that will one day spring from this soil and could end up on your dinner plate.

The rest is simple. Keep a compost bucket somewhere out of sight in your kitchen and dump it on the compost pile every few days. Every once in a while, take a rake or pitchfork or shovel and turn the pile over, to aerate the mulch and keep the decomposition process going. Throw your grass clippings, broken branches, and dead leaves in there, too. You can buy worms to help the process along, but it’s not necessary, especially if your compost container has an open bottom – the worms will come to you.

You don’t have to go it alone

Here’s an idea for those of you who live in an apartment or housing complex and don’t have the space: how about a community compost? Is there anywhere near you that could be used? Do you have neighbors that would engage in this project? Talk to people and find out.

Reduce, reuse, recycle – composting is all three rolled into one.  There’s so much for you and your community to benefit from, and what is there to lose? A square yard or 2 of lawn space?

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