Archive for November, 2009

No fair

Monday, November 30, 2009

Commuters waiting for the bus have been tossing their trash on the sidewalk and lawn in front of Rosanna Gennarelli’s Bronx home — leaving her to face hundreds of dollars of littering summonses…more

-via Gothamist


Monday, November 30, 2009

2 rad trash stories on other blogs today:

1) Freshkills Park offers an overview of Pulau Semakau, an island off the coast of Singapore made of trash.

2) Flavorpill shares photos of Egypt’s trash city.

Click through!

The Gleaners and I

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A clip for anyone not yet familiar with the full masterpiece, which in referencing yesterday I realized not everyone has seen. See also this past post on modern day gleaning in France.

Trashies make the Oscar shortlist

Friday, November 27, 2009

In case you haven’t heard, Mai Iskander‘s film Garbage Dreams (about the Zabaleen people of Egypt and the challenges facing their trash picking community in this modern age) made the Oscar shortlist for documentaries. It is one of 15 films being considered for the honor. Among the 14 other films selected is The Beaches of Agnes by the legendary Agnès Varda who immortalized gleaners in her groundbreaking 2000 film Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse. That’s not one but two kick ass, trashy, female documentarians recognized in a single year. Not bad. Of course, since Varda’s current doc is about herself and not trash, per se, our allegiance lies with Iskander and the Zabaleen. Toes and fingers crossed…

Happy Buy Nothing Day

Friday, November 27, 2009

In honor of Buy Nothing Day, here’s a little tale from Andy “Cotton” Sarjahani, whom you may remember from his work on food waste. Sarjahani told me recently that he had met an eccentric drifter who saw dumpster diving as an essential part of his life philosophy. I asked if he’d be willing to write up the encounter for and he was kind enough to do so. Enjoy.

Bo Knows Dumpster Diving

A few weeks ago, while filling up my ’97 Toyota Corolla (Marilyn – after “Marilyn Whirlwind” on Northern Exposure), I noticed a fellow holding up a sign saying that he was hungry and needed food. I was pretty hungry myself and since I do sustainable food systems/food justice work, I asked him if he wanted to go get some food with me. He said his name was Bo (Beau?) and that he came up to Montana (where I live) from Oklahoma, in search of “true freedom”.  The quest for our “true liberty” seems to be a recurring theme here in Big Sky Country and will also be in this piece. Bo was definitely keen on food, but insisted on Burger King. He stated that the food there was the only thing he liked. True freedom. After an 87 second pontification on the numerous things wrong with patronizing the home of the Whopper, we finally ended up at the deli of the local food co-op.  We grubbed on beet and kale slaw, maple mustard pastured chicken, and Peruvian purple fingerling ‘taters. Bo had an interesting story to tell indeed. He is 47, but could have passed for 67 (likely due to the multitude of intense experiences that have bombarded his life). He even had a dog named “Freedom” for eleven years that has seen the whole country.  Bo spoke of how cruel the world is, his disdain for “the button-pushers” of society, his days train-hopping, and many other random anecdotal pieces of information.

After Bo and I finished our meals, we bought him some groceries (he was confused that the co-op didn’t carry bologna, hot dogs, and Ho-Ho’s) and then drove out to the Gallatin National Forest to drop him off to head out to his camp site. Bo smoked a bit of marijuana then continued to go off on society’s “button-pushers” and how “weak and insufficient” they are, and how they didn’t know what “true freedom” was. I asked Bo if he saw the irony in this critique of society – I asked him if he felt like he was ever at the mercy of society for his survival. He said no. I asked him if he knew how to hunt and fish and clean/process his own animals. He said yes but he did not do so. I asked him what he did to survive. His answer? Dumpster diving. Bo feels at liberty because he dumpster dives. He then explained to me that he feels comfortable taking money given to him during panhandling sessions and taking it to spend on liquor and drugs.  He feels that if you give someone money, it’s theirs to do whatever they want with it and the giver should just accept that. He feels that he can survive off of dumpster diving and use the money given him for self-medication. Here’s what’s pertinent to readers of this blog and what would be interesting to hear feedback on – Bo kept coming back to dumpster diving as his rationale for a couple of his unique philosophies – justification in taking money and using it for self-medication and the safety net for “true freedom” is dumpster diving.

Bo decided that he wanted me to drop him off at the liquor store because he didn’t want me to know where he camped (for fear I might steal his things). When I dropped him off at the liquor store, he gave me a couple of hugs and said goodbye. He was on his way back to true freedom…

Paul Mastosic

Friday, November 20, 2009

Discover tash artist Paul Mastosic.

"Virtual" Paul Mastosic

This British artist works mainly with recycled materials and wont travel to shows if he can’t justify the carbon footprint. I dig his work with packaging.

Recycled straws in Uganda

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I’m in Kampala this week, attending the International Conference on Family Planning on behalf of the day job. Tonight at the opening session, I was surprised to see the first lady of Uganda on the program.

First Lady Janet Museveni offers me a hi-five (not photoshopped, I swear).

Before today the only reproductive health activities I’d ever heard of her taking part in were events to promote abstinence. She has led a march of virgins, offered scholarships for virgins (not sure how one would prove eligibility) and last year held a big virgin party. During her speech tonight, opening the conference and welcoming participants to Uganda, was apparently the first time she had ever uttered the term “family planning” publicly. That may not sound like much, but in a country where birth control pills remain highly controversial,women have an average of two more children then they want, skyhigh rates of unintended pregancy lead to skyhigh rates of unsafe abortion (it’s legal only to save a woman’s life here) which in turn lead to skyhigh rates of maternal death, it’s a pretty big deal. To thank her for participating, the conference organizers presented the first lady with a gift. They wanted something made by Ugandans entirely out of Ugandan materials. Their choice: a handbag made of recycled drinking straws cleaned at soda factories, flattened by hand and woven by a local association of women artisans.

Ugandan women making crafts from straws

There you have it: progress + upcycling. Not a bad start to a meeting.

The Garbage Girl

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Did you catch the NYT piece on the garbage patch last week and/or check out the accompanying slide show? The author of that article is Lindsey Hoshaw, a freelance journalist who spent three weeks this summer aboard the Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita on an expidition led by Captain Charles Moore to explore that great swatch of plastic in the sea. Check Hoshaw’s blog and puruse the archive for a first-hand account.

Notice the link to at the bottom of the NYT article. It’s a tool for freelancers to raise funds for  their reporting, supporters of which helped to finance Hoshaw’s research. How thoroughly modern.

Side note: in Googling links for this post, I came accross another Garbage Girl, a woman working at a landfill and blogging about it. Stay tuned for more on women and trash.

Happy America Recycles Day

Sunday, November 15, 2009


FACT: Twenty years ago, almost 1,000 curbside recycling programs existed in the United States. Today there are more than 10,000 across the nation.

Nathan Kensinger + Fresh Kills

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I first heard from trash photographer Nathan Kensinger this summer when we discovered a mutual love for abandoned marine transfer stations. Turns out our friends at Fresh Kills Park saw that post and invited Kensinger to photograph the infamous former landfill and capture its refound wild beauty.

Fancy that, this blog connecting trashies.

Trash drug staying on the market

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Yao Lu’s New Landscapes

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Check out these classical mountain scenes photoshopped out of trash mounds by artist Yao Lu via pdn. Thanks for the tip, Victoria!

P.S. I’m in East Africa with crappy internet access so bear with me if posts are light on photos for a week or two. Please.

Garbage Dreams update from Cairo

Thursday, November 12, 2009

This just in! An exclusive from Cairo where Garbage Dreams filmmaker Mai Iskander arranged for our friend and journalist Beige Luciano-Adams to attend a screening of the film and speak with Zabaleen activists.

Following a screening of Garbage Dreams at the International Sustainability Conference in Cairo last month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged an award of $1 million for the Spirit of Youth Foundation, the NGO featured in the film. For the filmmaker and her subjects, the award comes as a welcome surprise, and a testament to a growing international interest in the Zabaleen of Egypt.

But since Mai last filmed Adham, Nabil and Osama, the three protagonists whose wintry narratives outline a broader story of survival in the community, conditions on the ground have deteriorated. Cairo’s Zabaleen are still locked out of the trash trade by the multinational companies that arrived on the scene several years ago as part of the Egyptian government’s failed attempt to overhaul the municipal waste management system.

Recently, in what many criticize as a grossly misguided attempt to prevent an H1N1 pandemic, the Egyptian government culled nearly 300,000 pigs –eliminating an important source of income for the Zabaleen, who raised the pigs on the city’s daily tidal wave of organic waste. Without pigs – and without the legal right to collect and sort trash – many unemployed Zabaleen are resorting to illegal scavenging. According to Ezzat Naim Guindy, who heads the Spirit of Youth Foundation (SOY), the average Zabaleen salary has been cut in half since the pigs were killed.

Guindy and other community leaders say the next several years will be crucial to the fate of the Zabaleen, as activists attempt to legalize their profession and fully integrate them in the formal waste management sector. Currently, Guindy says about 90 percent of the Zabaleen operate illegally. Leaders are also hoping that their campaign for source separation – in which residents sort organic from non-organic waste before it reaches trash collectors – will gain government support and take root among Cairo’s 20-million citizens. With the multinational companies’ government contracts set to expire in 2015, the Zabaleen are focusing on modernizing their trade so they can reclaim a place for themselves in the system.

While the current economic outlook is bleak, there is growing international interest in the Zabaleen’s industrious and innovative recycling practices. Leaders also note that the Egyptian government is finally acknowledging the Zabaleen as a valuable and skilled resource. As for the Gates grant, which has yet to be confirmed, the money will ostensibly be used to support the Source Separation campaign, train workers and modernize recycling facilities. recently sat down with Garbage Dream’s Adham and his teacher, Leila, at a community screening of the film in the Zabaleen settlement of Moqattam, Cairo, to discuss current challenges and visions for the future. The following are edited excerpts from these conversations. What are you doing now?

Adham: I graduated from school, and I’m continuing my studies in the government school.  I’m saving my money to buy a used car so I can work – I want to collect materials at night and do transportation work during the day. How has the economic situation changed for the community since the film – have things gotten worse, or have people found a way to create work in the new system?

Adham: Now there’s no work. The foreign companies took the work. Some people collect materials from the trash and from the multinational bins (scavenging). And starting about a month ago, men here have being doing [plastic] granulating with a company, going to the garbage collectors and working as middlemen.

The Zabal still has some work, but he has lost his [livelihood]. It’s really different now. How has the pig cull affected the Zabaleen?

Adham: Life is very difficult without the pigs. They ate the organic waste – which now has to go to a landfill. This is hard for the Zabaleen because they have to drive [to transport the waste, which cuts into profits]. People aren’t working like they used to. The pigs were also extra income – so it’s very hard for us now. What is your vision for the future of the Zabaleen community here?

Adham: We want to change. We learned a lot in our school and a lot of us now have the [experience] to start companies with more modern ways.

We want help from the government and from society – we need to make them realize how important the Zabaleen are.

We need government support for the Source Separation program. When we traveled abroad, we brought back knowledge we can use here. Now [SOY] is trying to increase the program; they’re trying to get people to understand the importance of source separation – to understand that the problem can be solved at the source. What are some of your personal goals – what’s next for you?

Adham: I want to study outside Egypt because I want to get more experience, so I can make a recycling company here. They [Europeans] have the technical know-how but not the precision. I want to bring the technology to Egypt, and the precision to other countries. How will the Foundation use the money from the Gates grant?

Leila (featured teacher in Garbage Dreams, now principal of the recycling school in the Zabaleen settlement, Moqattam): They’re going to use this money for upgrading the lives of the Zabaleen and their families. They’ll use it to create awareness about the importance of the Zabaleen, the importance of recycling education and the source separation program. This is their vision. The recycling school currently hosts 120 boys, as well as 60 girls (who come twice a week for literacy and computer programs). Are you hoping to expand the facilities or programs, and perhaps include more students?

Leila: We’re hoping that with more money we’ll be able to buy a bigger place (we don’t own the current one we’re in) and be able to expand the school.

As for the kids, we wait until one class finishes their programs and graduates, then we take another. The process takes five years. But, with more than 40,000 Zabaleen in this community, isn’t there a greater demand for the program from young people, especially with the recent economic hardship people are facing?

Leila: Yes there’s a big demand, and a lot of children have come. The children bring their friends and relatives to join. The school is willing to take any number of children, but the children have to apply.

Actually, sometimes we go out and recruit dropouts, and sometimes children apply. We have already started going door to door, on every street [to recruit people]. But there are a lot of dropouts in the community that we can’t reach. The problem is that they’ve come out of government schools, where the standard of teaching is very, very poor. If they’re in the middle of the school year, we can’t help them.

Green Books Campaign: The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way, according to Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.


Logo design by Susan Newman

As part of today’s interactive green blogger book fest, I just finished reading The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle, an illustrated kids book published by Little Green books, written by Alison Inches illustrated by Pete Whitehead. It’s a cute little volume printed on postconsumer waste recycled paper (and even includes a handy definition of postconsumer waste right in the inside cover).



The story follows a googly-eyed personified entity from life as a “thick, oozing blog of crude oil” through incarnations as plastic particles, a plastic bottle, a recycled flower vase, shredded plastic bits and, finally, a synthetic fleece sweatshirt worn into space by an astronaut.

I jumped on selecting this book for the Green Books Campaign because I was psyched to see such a trash-related kids book on the market. I was a bit disappointed to discover the whole thing was written in a “dear diary” format, mostly because I don’t believe in dumbing things down too much for children, but also because it’s a bit confusing in this particular case since the protagonist is a blog of molecules that are reshaped several times over the course of the story.

That said, The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle does an excellent job explaining in clear, compelling and adorably-illustrated text how plastic bottles are made and how they might be reused and recycled beyond a single use storing bottled beverage. There’s even handy glossary in the back to review new terms learned such as “oil refinery” and “extruder”. I do love a good glossary.

But at the end of the day, the overall framing of the story leaves me hesitant to recommend it to parents wanting to give their kids a good green education. While understanding where plastic comes from and how to recycle it is a valuable lesson, a better story would have been one that included ideas about how to avoid using plastic all together…or conserving resources like crude oil for other tasks than temporarily holding single servings of water and soda. It struck me as very add and more than a little sad that a volume coming out of a green publishing imprint that went through all the pains of publishing on uber-pc postconsumer waste paper. Of course, you can’t really have a story narrated by a little bottle and then advocate for that bottle not to exist. Well, I guess you could, but it would be weird and dark…which come to think of it describes all my favorite childhood tales…

In short: this book needs an appendix!

Mark your calendars

Monday, November 9, 2009

November 15th is America Recycles Day.

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