Eco Cycle’s Rosie Briggs on Zero Waste and Recycling
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Intro: Welcome to the Simple Switch Podcast where you'll join me, Rachel, the founder of Simple Switch to talk about conscious consumerism and positive impact purchasing. Spending our money in a way that helps our planet and the people on it can be complicated and frustrating, and we're passionate about bringing ease to your journey. Join us as we demystify big ideas about conscious consumerism and hear from amazing business owners using their work for positive change. Thanks for being here and enjoy the show.
Rachel: Hi, Simple Switchers. Today's episode is really exciting. It's our first educational episode. So instead of interviewing one of our partners, we will be talking about a topic, a buzzword surrounding conscious consumerism away that we can help our planet and the people on it. Today we'll be talking about zero waste and recycling, all the confusion and controversy that goes along with those things as well as some practical solutions that you guys can take home and start trying.
I got the huge honour of working with Rosie from Eco Cycle right here in Boulder, Colorado. She has a great local knowledge of the system, but also a great knowledge of what you guys can be doing no matter what community you guys are in. Just a little personal note, the reason I wanted to start off with zero waste as a topic is because it was near and dear to my heart in my recent past. As I've been starting Simple Switch, I was trying to think of a way to decrease my environmental footprint that I was making. And waste diversion was one that really stopped me in my tracks as an easy fix that I had not made yet.
So I spent 2018 with a little bit of a crazy mission. Anything that I touched, if I could not compost or recycle it, I had to take it with me. I ended up with a bag of trash for six months. Weighted it at the end of six months, and then again at the end of the year.
And just by diverting my waste. So this was things like starting to compost and making sure that I was intentionally recycling. I was able to decrease my landfill waste from the national average of 150 pounds a month to six pounds over that six months. This was a huge accomplishment and showed me how really easy it is for us to do this. I didn't make that many lifestyle changes. I started making some like buying in bulk, but really a lot of it was just learning how to divert my trash correctly. So anyways, it was a wonderful experience getting to work with Rosie and I hope that all of you enjoy the interview as much as I did. Here we go. Thanks for being here with us, Rosie.
Rosie: Thanks for having me. Yeah.
Rachel: Okay. So we'll start really simple. Who are you and what is it that you do?
Rosie: So my name is Rosie, like you just said. I work for the campaigns department at Eco Cycle. So Eco Cycle is the non-profit---a recycler for Boulder County, but we're one of the oldest and largest non-profit recyclers in the U S and we do a lot of outreach and education and policy as well, and so I a whole bunch of things. We all wear a lot of hats at this organization, but I run campaigns, I do volunteer coordination, I do a lot of outreach and presentations and things like that.
Rachel: Very cool. Yeah. So as I said in the intro, I kind of had a very zero waste year last year. And I met Rosie at one of her outreach events that she hosted about composting. So that was a very cool experience for me and getting to kind of know the basics and she's really helpful. So I'm excited to have you. So why are you personally passionate about the work that you're doing at Eco Cycle? Why does it matter?
Rosie: So I am very passionate about sustainability in general. And I don't think I really have to talk about why specifically that's an important thing to care about. But I've been in the zero waste kind of niche of the sustainability umbrella for a while now. And it's just---I think it's a really cool thing to talk about because obviously it's really important for us to be talking about energy and transportation and things like that.
But zero waste is just, or waste in general is just something that regardless of who you are you have a million decisions to make every single day when it comes to waste, you come in contact with every single day and it's not something that only applies to certain people. So you could either be doing it in a way that's sustainable and in a way that's helpful to the environment or you could do it in a really unsustainable way. And so I think just the fact that we were all given those options every single day is a really important thing to engage with and talk about a lot.
Rachel: Oh, that's so cool. Yeah. I just love how you said that, because that makes a lot of sense, right? We get a ton of information thrown at us about the environmental crisis and what we can be doing. But some of those things are a little bit out of our control. You know whether it be policy decisions that we have to be really intentional about or yeah, you, like you said, transportation, some of those larger scale things, but man, yeah, zero waste is something we can all participate in, that's awesome.
Rachel: Okay. With that being said, we are getting all of that information thrown at us. We have a company value at Simple Switch ease without apathy. So allowing people to kind of engage in things without feeling burned out by you know, guilt or the things that are coming at them. But I think this is one of those areas where some of our listeners might feel a little hopeless when it comes to the part they play in making this environmental change. This is a question that I get asked to me a lot as an entrepreneur. What does the win look like? So if we as a society were to win at waste reduction, what do you think that would look like? And do you think it's, you know, can we get there?
Rosie: Yeah. So, this is one of the things. I know you have a question about talking about the actual term zero-waste but yeah, it can be super….
Rachel: Feel free to mix and match.
Rosie: Yeah, it can definitely be discouraging because of the way that our society is set up, it's set up as a linear economy. It's set up to just…you have to work hard to avoid all these single use items and all these wasteful practices. So we're not set up for success and it can be really discouraging. But so zero waste is not, it doesn't mean that, you know, we think that you should create no waste because in the way that our society is set up and the way our economy is set up, it's really not possible for you to do that without making some really abnormal sacrifices.
Rosie: So really just redesigning how we consume and make and dispose of our goods. We’re working toward a circular economy, that's really the goal. And so that's really shouldn't be, you know, it's important for all of us as individuals to be mindful of what we're consuming and how we're consuming it.
Obviously this is what you talk about all day. But it's also, you know, it's not just that each individual has to refuse a straw. It doesn't fall there, you know, it falls on the greater design of how our society works. And as voters and as community members, we need to work on pressuring people like manufacturers to redesign their products and set us up for success in that way. If we…zero waste is also just in terms of recycling and composting.
It’s one of the most cost efficient ways to make a climate impact. And so if we all started recycling and composting in all of our communities in a real and successful way, that would be the equivalent of shutting down 20% of the power plants in the U S.
Rosie: And yet ometimes it's hard to make kind of the connection between zero waste and the climate. But the statistic that we use a lot is the EPA Hazard Statistic,that says that 42% of all of our greenhouse gas emissions come from how we produce and consume and dispose of all of our stuff.
Rosie: So ignoring, like our stuff…footprint. Then that's, you know, it's a huge chunk of the climate crisis that we're ignoring. So if we can really tackle that, then that’s…and like I said, you know, it's a cost efficient thing to do and we're making this stuff anyway so we can either do it right or wrong, It's not like we have to redesign. I don’t know. It's just something that I think is often ignored when we’re talking.
Rachel: Absolutely. Yeah. You're so right. Because that's not, what we hear about. I mean I remember----so at this event where I met Rosie, where we were talking about composting, they showed a really great video just talking about how that could make such a difference. Because I've gotten a lot of questions as I've started composting from friends.
One said, okay, well I've been getting compostable things, but then throwing them away in the trash, right. Because I figure that's better because then it will just become dirt and it's like the same thing, right, If I'm throwing compostable is into the landfill? And we learned, I'll let you say more, but we learned a little bit more about the way that landfills are treated differently than you know, what a composting would be and so that actually never happens, right? Because it's treated so that the trash like cannot break down.
Rosie: Right. So that’s definitely one of the questions I get every single day, it’s such a good question. That composting is----I mean---I'm again, I'm going to talk about, why recycling is a good idea. But composting is really just like-----it's this perfect system that exists and we just broke it entirely. And if we could go back to like letting nature do its thing, then that is like the true recycling.
Rosie: The way that they----when we put organics in the landfill, I understand why people think that it would just break down in the landfill. But unfortunately when you put those organics in an air tight situation, which is what the landfill is, it's airtight. It undergoes what's called anaerobic decomposition. So those organics need access to oxygen in order to break down in the way that we want them to. And when they're put in an airtight landfill, then they just, not only do they really not break down, like they break down super, super slowly, but also they just start to release methane instead.
And so, which is something that they wouldn't do under oxygen rich circumstances. So when they release methane, that's a powerhouse of a greenhouse gas that's 84 times more potent than CO2 as a heat trapping gas in the short term.
Rosie: So it's really something we care about. So yeah, when we put [tcrosstalk10:03]
Rachel: I know it’s such an easy switch, right? Like, I mean, you can use those same materials, you have the same amount of waste. Say you're, grabbing your kitchen scraps, throw them in a compost that makes a positive difference, then pulls, those things out potentially, and helps with the food growth. And it's just amazing to me, the composting thing has won my heart over in the last year.
Rosie: Me too. [unclear10:22] Yeah. It's really, it's like exactly, like you said, it's either bad, it's creating methane, it's filling up our landfills. or it's, yeah, it's not only like you're stopping that problem by not putting it in the landfill, you're stopping landfill---your stopping methane emission. But also, yeah, you're making nutrient dense soils to grow new food. And also those regenerated soils have the ability to actually draw carbon out of the atmosphere.
So it's like, totally black and white situation in terms of just like you have access to composting, can you just move your hand over five inches and composted instead?
Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. Oh, so fun. We started a home composting bin with worms, recently and there's eight people living in my house. We live in a community lifestyle and it's been so fun for us to get to do that. And then it contributes to our garden. Our gardens way healthier and obviously so many things, so that really fun. Okay.
So sorry to bring it back. I took us down a rabbit trail because I just love composting. But yeah, so I guess the win kind of what you're saying is like it would have to be a combination of our personal practices changing, making those easy switches and then putting some pressure on policy so that if we have that circular economy, does that sound right? That's kind of what the wind would look like?
Rosie: Definitely. Yeah. And yeah, I think as individuals putting pressure on legislation and on policy, but also as consumers putting pressure on who we buy from and how they're making their products, which is again, what you're an expert on.
Rachel: Yeah, yeah, totally. Oh, I love that. This hopelessness idea, I hear that from a lot of people and I definitely have landed there right. Where I'm just like, we can't do anything to make this right. You know, only more powerful people can do this. Or you know, it would have to be a generation long. I was so encouraged yesterday, I was at outdoor retailer and we were talking to a few B Corp's in different partners.
And then I went to a booth that makes shoe in souls and it's a friend of my dad who I was with. So we were talking with them about how they make them and the sustainable practices they're trying to push. And he said, you know, there's some things that we know are not great environmentally that we're trying to phase out but we just can't yet, you know, and so we're trying to innovate.
And my dad has worked in technology and computers for a long time. And he said, what's interesting is I remember when we said it would be completely impossible to eliminate CFCs. And he was like three years later they were gone. So that feels really encouraging to me when we think about, Oh, this is hopeless. Like it's such a big part of our life. There are steps that we could take to get this things, you know, single use plastics and other things out. So,
Rachel: that's right. That's another, another rabbit trail.but…
Rosie: Examples of like, yeah, you can make all these excuses about how we've built a lifestyle around these things and stuff. But like, yeah, CFCs is actually an example that I use all the time and it's like, Nope, everyone just decided to do it and then it happened and then we've never gone back.
Rachel: Yeah. So good. Yeah. So that feels really, that feels really hopeful to me and I'm sure to a lot of our listeners that those things are possible. And it really, I mean, it takes each one of us, and it takes a lot of intentionality, but I think we're going to get there. Okay. So you touched on this a little bit. But like simple definition, what is zero waste? What does that mean? It's kind of a buzzword.
Rosie: Yeah. So like I said, it's not that----it sounds intimidating to some folks that it sounds like, you know, that we're asking you to give up waste, to you know, essentially generate zero waste. And like I said that's really not possible in navigating our current economy and society. So it's really just about---first of all, it's about, you know, recycling and composting as much of the waste as you can. You know, obviously correctly don't just like throw plastic into the compost, but also is just really about the upstream. So just about conscious consumption of, you know, single use items and things like that. So just to reduce that waste in the first place so that, you know, not only are you diverting it from the landfill, but you're just avoiding having it in the first place. And so, like I said, it's about an individual like you, you know, collecting your trash in a jar is so, so cool. But also just as an economy, redesigning, you know, redesigning what we're doing into a circular model. So like loop is an example of this that's coming up right now. So if I buy my ice cream, I get it in a stainless steel container from Haagen Dazs. When I'm done with it, I send it back to Haagen Dazs and they reuse it.
Rosie: That's an example of a situation. And that's, you know, that makes so much more sense if it's designed well and those--the infrastructure for it that makes so much more sense than just, you know, buying it in a little plastic covered cup and [crosstalk15:09]
Rachel: Definitely. Yeah. I love that. I always say this, I feel like I get to work with the people who are just like the best of the best at this, right? Because they are choosing to create these innovative solutions to these problems, but also doing it in a way that's like really winsome and cool for consumers. So, for instance a partner that we're talking with right now about bringing on specifically for plastic free July----is they realized.
So I have a baby niece and baby nephew and they are always eating from those pouches that have like applesauce and baby food and stuff inside, which are really convenient and honestly as someone who cares for little children and every once in a while like I understand their existence. But she's created a reusable version of that where you can, you know, be making those foods and putting them in this pouch and using that convenience.
So, but it's cool to see consumers, you know, saying, okay, well we do have this thing. We don't have to cut it out, but we need to make it better. Like, why would we choose to leave it stagnant and leave it where it was?
Rachel: So that's cool, cool to hear about that. Okay, here's the hard hitting questions that I get a lot and a lot of times don't know how to answer. There's a lot of controversy around specifically with recycling. It's confusing. We were hearing stories of mismanagement overseas. Just the word China with recycling gets thrown around a lot. High costs, conflicting views on whether it's even worth it, the different materials. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
Rosie: Yeah, absolutely, so like I said Eco Cycle is a recycler. So we, you know, we are contracted to operate the Boulder County Recycling Centre, which is the local materials recovery facility here in Boulder County. So, but first and foremost, we are a mission based non-profit. So although really the only money that we may, or most of the money that we make is through selling those materials on the recycling markets. If we went out of business because people just stopped using single use products and just, you know, started redesigning and reusing and things like that. Then that would be the best. Like that's--we would be super happy about that.
Rachel: Oh, yeah.
Rosie: We want to recycle everything that we can because it makes sense to do so. But if we turn, you know, if we moved toward a circular economy where that wasn't necessary, then that is, that's our main mission. We want to reduce as much as we can on the front end.
Rachel: I love that. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Right. And that's in that order?
Rosie: Right, exactly.
Rachel: That's cool that you guys care about that.
Rosie: When like we throw in rot and redesign and things like that. Even before we say [unclear17:45] what we say recycling is not like---it's great. it's silly not to recycle, just again in our current economy and our current society. But, it's not---it's not the answer. It's a stepping stone to a circular economy, but it's not the be all, end all.
Several reasons for that. So for something like one---first of all, there's so many different materials and they all have really different impact and a different footprint, and a different recyclability. So like aluminium. Aluminium is pretty costly and energy intensive and pretty damaging to the environment to mine and then make it to aluminium.
So we have to mine, you know, bauxite ore then we have to turn it into aluminium. And then from there to use all that energy and water just to turn it into a Sprite can and then drink it for two seconds and then throw it in the landfill. That is such a stupid thing to do. You can take that aluminium and you can actually recycle it infinitely. You can turn it back into a can as many times as you want and it won't lose quality. And so when you look at like the money and the energy and the water use, of making a new can versus recycling that can, it's just, it's staggering. I mean it's not terrible really. So we should be recycling that can because we already made the aluminium. And you know, we don't want to be like mining our own landfills for this valuable material in the future.
But that being said, there are other things---like, you know, now a lot of people will drink Sprite. I'm just using the Sprite example because that's the first thing I said. If you are drinking Sprite out of a plastic bottle, then plastic bottles are not, they don't have the same impact, they don't have the same recyclability as an aluminium cans. So, plastic is just kind of its own category and I think it is being treated more and more like its own category these days which is awesome. Because people are becoming more aware of things like micro plastics and the China markets and things like that. So with plastics, it's not really this infinite thing. Plastics can be recycled depending on which kind of plastic it is, one or two times. And that thing usually goes to the landfill, after it's used one or two times anyway. And then that doesn't actually slow down how many fossil fuels we're using to make new plastics. It's still, you know, it's not---it's not making, it's not being turned back into the same thing.
So that brings me to the China question, which is, yeah, again, something I get every single day these days.
Rosie: I'm sure.
Rachel: [unclear20:13] people like know about it and, or reading about it. so yeah, we, as a nation has kind of found ourselves in a big pickle with China because we are, you know, we're cranking out this insane amount of plastic, and plastic single use items. And many, many, many recyclers across the US we're just marketing those plastics to China. Because you can either, it's really just kind of a business approach. You can either just invest a lot in your sorting materials and making strict guidelines and investing in establishing and maintaining local sustainable Markets and doing outreach to communities so that they're only recycling what is actually recyclable. Or you can just not do a lot of that and just kind of throw it over the ocean and it's not as clean a stream.
So local markets [unclear20:59] so then China was taking it, now they're not taking it at all. So those recyclers that we're marketing to China are really floundering, because they just don't have the markets or the facilities to deal with the materials that their communities are giving them. So, yeah, it's a huge deal because our markets are just…it's a huge ripple effect across the US.
Boulder County, we're doing fine. We weren't selling to China anyway and we have many of the same markets that we did when we first began in 1976. But that being said, you know, we're tied to the rest of the US and we're certainly seeing some crazy things happening in, American recycling markets. So I think that, I mean, overall this is a good, this could be a really cool thing actually, like a cool opportunity for us because, once we start seeing all this plastic actually pile up in front of us, we can't just like throw it away, you know, literally across the ocean anymore.
Rosie: That's when we have to start to think about creative ways to just like, you know, we have to think, why are we even making, you know, polystyrene things? Like, why are we making Styrofoam cups? There's no, no one will buy it, we can't recycle it.
Rosie: Like, let's just redesign that and we have to kind of start thinking, talking amongst ourselves and thinking of creative and innovative solutions. So back to your original question.
Rachel: I mean all of that’s related for sure.
Rosie: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I just, yeah, big picture, definitely recycling. Like I said, totally depending on every material is different in terms of how helpful it is to be recycling it really and the impact that recycling that item has. But like we, as a recycler, we will always, always, always say, you know, we care about reducing and redesigning and composting and things like that far before we care about recycling even though--but if we ignore recycling and we don't build the infrastructure and we don't have those markets then that is-- that is a silly thing to do as well.
Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.
Rosie: Because of how much we currently have.
Rachel: Yeah. And it does catch a lot of that waste. I mean hopefully, you're using, you know, people are--I think kick the plastic is a campaign I've seen recently or kicks single use or something like that. Hopefully people are doing that reduction. But then if you're not--one thing that I thought was really interesting when I was doing, you know, my more intentional year was that I would save things almost everything that I ended up having with single use plastic, like especially bags. And then at the end, before I weighed my trash, I would take it to You All facility, the Hard to Recycle Materials. And it was interesting how much they were able to take. But even those things are so much less recyclable. Yeah. I just love everything you had to say.
So, kind of like top three recyclable things that have kind of that aluminium status, what are those? What are the easy ones that you know are really important to be recycling? Because they're really, I mean, everything's important to be recycled, but these ones, does that make sense?
Rosie: Yeah. So, aluminium was a great one because like I said, it's infinitely recyclable. It's energy intensive to mine in the first place. And it's light too, so you can ship it around. Yeah, a huge carbon impact. So glass, is also infinitely recyclable. That's awesome. Just inherently the material is really great, you know, just obviously just melt down and then turn it into a new bottle or whatever. The tricky part about glass is that it totally depends on your local facilities and infrastructure because glass is actually really heavy. So, you know, if you're in something like a mountain town and you're nowhere near a glass market, then you know, shipping all that glass down there, it's probably going to offset any good you would do by recycling any way. So that's sometimes, even though glass is inherently super recyclable, depending on the facilities and the infrastructure, it won't be recyclable if you're somewhere where that doesn't make sense. But, so here we have, in the Boulder County area, the Denver area, we have a great closed loop system on glass. So all of our markets are in the state. And we have really [unclear25:02]
Rachel: Yeah. That's so cool. You guys talked about that on the tour. And does that have to do with the fact that we have so many like breweries that are looking for glass bottles around? Or not necessarily?
Rosie: Well, so, a lot of it is just due to Momentum, which is the local glass recycler around Broomfield. So they were previously in Utah. And we also have Cores here which is, you know, obviously a huge part of the glass market. So I don't want to give us credit for having Momentum move here, but we definitely, we're interested in having them move here. So now if you recycle your bottle, we will sort it out at the recycling centre and then we'll send it to Momentum and then they have these cool lasers, where they'll take out contamination sort of by colour and then, it can get turned back into a bottle at Cores or Rocky mountain bottling.
Rosie: And then, yeah, I mean, the breweries play into that, but those are kind of the big players on glass. So here because of that infrastructure, if I have to buy a single use item, and I have an option to buy it in aluminium or glass over plastic, I'll always do that. But you know, always check with your, your local guidelines. And then, cardboard is a funny one because corrugated cardboard. You know, like a cardboard box, a pizza box and Amazon box, whatever. That is historically a really valuable material in the markets. So typically in the past we could offset things like plastic that don't pay very well at all with things like corrugated cardboard. So we take both and then we kind of break even and then nobody gets landfilled. Right now because of various things including fibre markets. But also what we call the Amazon effect where the markets are just getting flooded with a corrugated cardboard because of topping.
Rachel: Oh, Yeah
Rosie: Corrugated cardboard is, it's really low right now. Hopefully it will come back up, but, I'm just giving you kind of an update of where we are right now, but typically..
Rachel: Yeah. That's great.
Rosie: I hate to see corrugated cardboard in the recycling or in the, in the trash. I love to see it in the recycling [unclear27:07] in the trash because it is a valuable thing. And if we can't even, you know, if people can't get on board with recycling cardboard, then that's really, you know, that's just kind of the first step to take. If you're someone that doesn't recycle at all, you should at least please be recycling cardboard.
Rachel: Yeah, that's great. So you kind of just were speaking to this, so it's a really natural transition. But we're spoiled right in Boulder County with this closed loop. I remember when I went for the tour, you guys have like a train that goes right by and that's why you built your, you know, factory there, are your centre there so that you could just put the recyclables right on the train. And so it takes away from those transportation costs as well.
How have you seen waste, you know, go differently in different communities? What does Boulder County do that stands apart and what are some good rules of thumb for listeners who maybe aren't in a community that's set up for success in that way?
Rosie: Yep. yeah, I mean, it's always when we're talking about sustainability issues and zero waste issues, I mean, privilege is such an important thing to talk about. Because yeah, it's, it's so unfair to shame people for producing single use plastic when, you know, economically they have no other option. But also just geographically. Yeah. Like we have the infrastructure here that so many communities just might not have. So even if you're an individual who really cares about it, there's really nothing, you know, you really, you're going to feel guilty about it even though it's not really on you to set up that infrastructure. We are unique in that, like I said, we were one of the first areas to get, I don't know if I said this, we're one of the first counties or municipalities to start recycling back in the 70s.
Rosie: Like don't quote me on this maybe, but, I think top 10. First 10 municipalities in the U S.
Rachel: Very cool. Nice.
Rosie: Recycle, it just started as a total grassroots thing back in 76. So just because our recycling program goes so far back, you know, it just started being part of the culture early on. So I think that's a big part of it and it is really unique in that we are a non-profit recycler. Usually I mean, it's pretty typical for someone who is maybe a landfill company to also run the recycling centre. So there are only, I think four major non-profit recyclers in the U S so that's another unique part of it. That there's a lot of outreach and campaigns and policy stuff that we do that just wouldn't be in the business plan for other recyclers and other towns, plus that reduction piece. I mean, you know, Boulder is just a groovy place in general where the city's---like City of Boulder partners with us on so many things and they're super willing to help us out with funding. And to partner with us on a variety of really cool things. Like the Centre For Hard To Recycle Materials is actually, City of Boulder is a partner on that. So you were talking about where we can, you know, divert our harder to recycle things. City of Boulder was willing to make that happen with us.
So yeah. We, you know, we have access to an industrial composter. So A One Organics is out in Weld County, but you can get your compost picked up on the curb and that's definitely you know, a privilege that many, many cities don't have access to.
Rosie: So yeah, I think, you know, it's a combination of just, we've been here for a while, its part of the culture, and you know, and partnership with local governments. But also just the fact that originally when Eco Cycle started and recycling started, it was just an absolutely grassroots movement. So there was huge buy in from the community. So, you know, it's not just that we are shouting at you all to recycle, it's just the whole community is, has been into it and is into it ever since 1976.
Rosie: If you are in a place where this is not the case because this is kind of the perfect storm for zero waste here. Yeah, I think, like we said, when we talk about zero waste, it's important to talk about recycling and composting, but it's more important to talk about reduction and consumption in the first place.
So again, like having access to bulk stores is a privilege for sure. And I think that there's just---it's becoming more and more of kind of a movement to start navigating our grocery stores and to reduce in the first place and get creative and share tips and stuff. And I think that that can be pretty universal. Just, you know, learning those tricks and trades and things like that.
Rosie: Definitely checking with your local guidelines if you have a recycling program or a composting program or both, is really important because it is always really key to keep in mind that guidelines change from place to place based on local markets and facilities. So just, familiarizing yourself with what's happening locally is really important. And like we said voting----well voting, but also voting with your dollar is important wherever you live.
Rachel: Totally. Oh, that's so good. Thank you for that perspective. Yeah, I definitely have friends who live, you know, maybe in Southern States or different things who are making these, I mean great efforts to do the recycling, composting thing, but also just change the way that they are ingesting in the first place.
Rachel: You mentioned this and I just want to clarify. I said reduce, reuse, recycle. And you said you guys add a few more terms to that. Can you tell me what that is?
Rosie: Yeah. I don't know Ego Cycle has one, you know, one that we say always in the same order or anything like that.
Rosie: I think there's a lot of words that are popping up that we should put before recycling. So yeah, reduce and reuse is awesome. And then redesign is just one that I always say too.
Rachel: Oh, yeah.
Rosie: Because that falls into the infrastructure part that we were talking about in the circular economy. And then rot is another one that I say because [unclear33:17] like again, you can recycle your number one P.E.T.E. bottle, but you know, if it gets turned into a carpet, that carpet is still going to go to the trash. If you can, if you can have a compostable drinking vessel or something like that. You know, composting, like we talked about it as just such a beautiful thing that we should all be engaging with. So if we're having like the three Rs and we're ignoring compost, then we're missing a big chunk of it.
Rachel: Totally. I love that. And redesign, I mean, redesign is a huge deal. Some of us have the ability to be actually redesigning system. So if you're that listener do it and if not, let's put some pressure on other people to be those re designers as well. That's cool. I love that. I'm just kind of a curiosity question. So for those people who do bring up like, Oh, I had a compostable, so that's better than nothing. Let’s, say like those compostable plastic cups that we actually see a lot of in Boulder. If people were getting that but did not have an industrial composting facility nearby, is it better to use that than it would be to use recyclable plastic?
Rosie: That is such a good question. And it really depends on who you ask and what they care about. I think because that's a really complex one because, I think that all of these compostable plastics, quote unquote plastics, corn, plastics, showing up everywhere in places where---well showing up everywhere, when industrial composting facilities are not universally accessible is kind of putting the cart before the horse, In some ways. If what you're talking about is downstream impacts. So like we said, if you are putting, you know, an organic material, whether it's food waste or, you know, a PLA plastic in the landfill, it's it, you know, it's going to break down anaerobically and it's going to release methane. So, I mean, of course that methane impact is different. If you're talking about a PLA, plastic and food waste just because of the organic mass that they both have is different.
But so in that way, yeah, it's not great to put that in the landfill. It's not like a really great feel good action. But if what you're talking about is the upstream impact, then you know, that's a different story, than a plastic cup. If you have a PLA cup, then you're disengaging with the fossil fuel end of plastic production, which is something that we do care about all obviously. but maybe, you know, if you're a pollinator person then you would care about that conventionally grown GMO corn, you know, like there's, there's so many aspects there that it's hard to break it down in a black and white way. I think though, just the simplest answer is that, we shouldn't be really redesigning single use cups back into single use cups. We should be, you know, a single use cup is a single use cup, whether it's compostable or not.
The best version of a cup is a reusable cup. Because you are using a compostable cup and that cup is going to the compost. You know, that's still a lot of water and energy and money and everything that it just took to make that cup that you drank out of 15 seconds to just put it in a waste stream anyway. When, you know, what if you used a stainless steel cup, like vessel is a great example of that. Like if we all shared cups and just kind of wash them and could deposit them in a kiosk, then, you know, that makes so much more sense than a compostable cup.
Rachel: That sounds--I haven't heard of vessel. I'll have to look into that. But it's fun to see----I mean larger events, larger organizations doing that kind of thing. I recently, for instance, saw that church instead of having, because you know, they'll have coffee available for the people who are going into the church. They had, you know, congregants bring in all their old mugs and now they have this huge mug wall and they just get a couple of people to wash those mugs.
Rachel: So instead of, you know, taking out all the trash here, they're able to just do that. And I mean, it's like cuter and more fun anyway when we're doing that kind of thing. It adds intentionality and sometimes style even.
Rosie: Cool and it always saves money too.
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah, that's important. Important point. Cool. Okay. So lastly, what are some easy at home ways that listeners can be more responsible when it comes to waste?
Rosie: So this really, obviously a really great and important question to wrap things up. But definitely it depends on who you are and what kind of waste stream you produce in the first place.And we all produce different waste streams. So, I think---what I always say is if you are someone that's looking to improve, how much waste you produce. Then doing a little self-assessment is such a cool way to start. Because you know it adds intentionality, like you were saying. And it adds self-awareness. So there's so many things that we consume without even thinking about it that you might not even know what your biggest offenders are in terms of single use plastics or whatever you're throwing away.
Rosie: So like, I'm so excited for plastic free July. But I always do like a self-assessment just to kind of like regroup and I always make someone else do it with me, like my roommate or my sister or something.
So what I do is just, I'll keep my, you know, my trash and recycling compost full, you know, for a week. And then before I take it out, I'll just literally go through it and be like, what am I throwing away? And so I can pick out, I'll just kind of examine every item. And so I'll look like, you know-----the first time I did this last year, I was like, wow, I have a lot of like, energy bar wrappers and like, you can't recycle them, you can't compost them. There's no option where I could buy them, where the packaging would be recyclable or compostable. So I like, it wouldn't be that hard for me to just make them, so I just started making them.
And it's like I took one. One item and I'm sure you've had similar experiences with your trash journey. But I took kind of like one item at a time and just like made a swap. And so if you start with the really ones like, I don't know, like I again, like my waste stream is super different from somebody else's.
Rachel: No, but it's good to hear those practical examples. I think it helps people spark you know what theirs are. I love that idea of the self-assessment.
Rosie: Totally. Yeah. So like even---but even if the packaging is recyclable or compostable, like then I would move on to like, yeah, I got rid of my trash items, but I still have these single use kombucha bottles. Like I had a bunch of glass Kombucha bottles. So I was like, what can I---so I went, I started filling up growlers at natural groceries with [unclear39:22] each bottle anyway. So I think just like, yeah, first step is doing an assessment and then I think start with plastics as much as you can. Obviously there's some things that you just are not going to be able to avoid if you need that item. But I think it's between, you know, is there a bulk option? Is there a recyclable option? And then even like with me like ice cream, I just had these like ice cream containers. There's not a recycler compostable version of that. But I was like, you know what, I don't even like ice cream that much. Like, honestly, like I would rather eat, you know, pie or whatever. Like it was.
Rosie: I was like I could, you know, I wouldn't really suffer at all if I gave that up. So, you know.
Rosie: [unclear40:01] out on that more than I did.
Rachel: Oh, I love that. Yeah. I just love the idea of that strategy of this self-assessment for anything. Right? So like when we're talking about simple switch, that's like what we're doing is like, what am I ingesting? How can I switch it to a better company that's doing better things in the world? But just that idea of having every strategy in your life be okay. First a self-assessment and then being able to take those small, small steps. So that's where I feel like a lot of people hit burnout as they like do a self-assessment. And they're like, I'm making all the negative impact, you know. and then just burning out and deciding not to make any changes as opposed to being able to have grace with yourself and say, okay, where can I just chip away at one little thing and then chip away at another little thing?
Rachel: man. Yeah. I love that attitude.
Rachel: Yeah. Those wrappers for like bars and stuff was a huge one for me too. It's tricky.
Rosie: I know. Same because I'm like, I'm always hungry. I always need like chocolate. So
Rachel: One of my housemates makes things like that. She like makes snacks, she's amazing. I need to do more of that.
Rosie: Tell her to make like yeah, like kind of protein bars and then I would just put them in like the beeswax wraps and it was nice. It was cute and fun.
Rachel: Cool. Love that.
Rachel: Awesome. Okay. Well we always ask guests this. How can our listeners be supporting you?
Rosie: So if you are a Boulder County person. We have what's called the Eco leader network and it goes back, dates back to the 70s when, recycling is starting. It’s essentially just being an ambassador of zero waste in wherever you hang out. Really. So if we just had the ideas, if we had one person in every neighbourhood, school, office, gym, whatever. That, you know, cares about zero waste, understands, can spread, the word, can point out places where we could improve and then start to work toward those improvements.
Can answer questions, et cetera. Then that's when we're really going to become, you know, a shiny example of a zero waste community.
So if you, go to eco cycle.org/network. You can sign up to be an eco-leader. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are someone that's outside of Boulder County, if you're in Denver, you can be part of our Denver campaign because we're working hard, to improve the situation at our, [crosstalk42:16] yeah.
Rachel: Yeah. That’s exciting.
Rosie: And, even if you're not in either of those areas, we definitely have, if you sign up for our email list, we definitely have, opportunities for you to engage in. We, you know, we work on state legislation. We just passed a major bill last session. So we can always, you know, we always have like petitions to sign and legislators to write to and things like that. And then, yeah, I think just regardless of where you are, we have also a site called, Eco Cycle Solutions Hub. And that's just really like our mission as an organization is to make kind of templates. So yeah, like you were talking about, we can do all this cool stuff in Boulder County because of the infrastructure, because of the, community members because of the policies that we have.
But, you know, if we're not, if we're just like a bubble, then it's really not worth it. So we always try to just make templates that can then be exported. So Eco Cycle Solutions Hub is really that. It's if you're-- regardless of where you are, regardless of who you are, you can learn more about how to build that infrastructure and policy and community buying in your own community. And yeah we also, we'll always need, you know, volunteers for things like zero waste events and stuff like that. So if you just go to our website, you can see all the opportunities to get involved.
Rachel: Awesome. Well, I am both an Eco leader and on your websites or on your email list, so I can vouch for those being really great resources. And, an easy ways to get involved. You guys, this is not like a huge commitment that you'd be making, but it really just allows you to have a little bit more of that education just at your fingertips, which is awesome. Cool. Well, is there anything else that you want to share with us? Anything else you think we should know?
Rosie: I think the more I talk to people about zero waste, the more I understand like how intersectional all of this is. So yeah, we were talking about, you know, human rights or whatever, you know, conscious consuming or whatever it is. Like all of it, all of combined so well.
And I think it's so cool how we all like find our way into each other's circles. Because it really all falls together. The more you start to buy based on nutrition, the more you're going to be zero waste, the more you're going to be buying consciously, and you know, socially responsibly. So anyway I just wanted to thank you for what you do because, so that plays into what I do. So…
Rachel: Yeah, I'm also very thankful for the way the community is so supportive of each other and how it just naturally flows. I think you're so right. Yeah. When you decide you want to be someone who buys organic, then that like very much goes into the zero waste. Because a lot of those people, the at the head of that stream care about both things and it's cool to see how those things happen. And yeah, you spoke a little bit about privilege and just the way that we can really be caring for people by the way they were consuming as well. Love that and thank you. Yeah. For being with us and for the work that you're doing and for taking time to speak to all of us. I think it's going to be really valuable for a lot of people.
Rosie: Yeah. I hope so.
Outro: Thanks so much for joining me today. If you'd like this episode, you can support us by leaving a great review, sharing with your friends and subscribing. Thanks for caring about our planet and the people on it. We'll see you again soon.