When China stopped taking American waste for recycling last January, it threw Boise and other western U.S. cities into a tizzy. Boise added the orange energy bag and a confusing set of rules for home recyclers.
Now a movement is taking shape to push beyond recycling, and get past the complexities of programs like Boise’s, by working toward a sweeping goal: eliminating the need to recycle or discard waste.
“Zero waste” is the mantra. No more No. 1 plastic water bottles. No more stiff clamshell packages for apples at Costco, each apple snug and protected in its own molded dome.
One woman at the movement’s forefront locally is Jillien Eijckelhof, a mother and environmentalist. She founded the nonprofit Zero Waste Boise Institute in June to reframe the discussion.
“We support recycling, but it’s an imperfect solution,” she said. “I’m concerned about what goes into the landfill, but I’m more concerned about what we’re manufacturing and buying every day.”
Does zero really mean 0?
Eijckelhof began thinking about zero waste a several years ago, when she read Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” to her son. The fable that tells of creatures who destroy the environment for corporate profit brought it home for her. Then, when China banned certain plastics in January, “it increased our sense of urgency,” she said.
“I realized it was time to spread the message of ‘The Lorax’ — that if you take and take and take, you’ll have nothing left,” she said.
The zero waste movement started in Europe in the late 1990s, but it has been gaining momentum in the past few years. The Treasure Valley may get its first zero-waste grocery later this year when Roots Market plans to open in Garden City. With the store’s weigh-and pay-model, you’ll bring your own bags, mason jars and other containers and be able to fill them with grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, beauty products and more.
“Zero” is a goal, not a call for people to stop using wasteful packaging immediately, Eijckelhof said.
“It’s about adopting solutions that are realistic and achievable for the average consumer,” she said. “It’s about incremental change, toward an eventual goal of zero waste — or as close as possible — through the choices we make every day.”
Change is hard
A new Boise company, Stewards of Sustainability, or SOS, consults with small businesses and producers to create low-impact festivals and other events.
“My priority is to avoid the waste stream all together,” founder David Broderick said. “Right now we’re just trying to accommodate our current lifestyle. We need to work on changing how we do things.”
Broderick wants events like Treefort Music Fest to be more efficient and environmentally friendly. He and his partner Jenna Duffin track everything — the number people who bring their own reusable steel cups, the number of plastic cups that get used when people forget, and the amount of trash that gets hauled away in the end.
As a consultant, Broderick worked with Treefort for the past five years. In August, he and his team did a test of the city’s orange-bag program — which collects nonrecyclable plastics for conversion into diesel fuel — at the Boise Bicycle Project’s Goathead Fest. They sourced cups that can go in the orange bags, and volunteers helped make sure they went into the correct bins. Vendors offered people who brought their own cups $1 off for beer.
“We had almost no contamination,” Broderick said. “But it took a lot of work, time and money to make it happen.”
Tips for shopping
Eijckelhof’s website, zerowasteboise.org, is in development. It will offer a “Reuse to Reduce Directory,” or R2, as a clearing house for places and people to help you keep the things you want out of a landfill.
The site will offer a “Lite Life Guide” with tips on how to shop your way to a smaller, lighter lifestyle.
“The power to change the world is in your shopping cart,” Eijckelhof said. “Pause before you leave the house and think, ‘What can I bring with me so I can minimize my impact throughout the day?”
Among the tips the guide will include:
- Make yourself a kit with a stainless steel straw, a reusable spork, a cloth napkin that you carry with you.
- Grab a stainless steel container to bring home your leftovers instead of the disposable restaurant container.
- Don’t buy items that are packaged — and often over packaged in nonrecyclable plastic, such as the molded plastic containers for greens.
- Think before you toss something, think before you take.
“The little changes do add up,” Eijckelhof said. “Once you build in one habit in your life it trains your brain to develop more.”
How did recycling get so complicated?
You can learn more about Boise’s orange-bag program and get answers to other recycling and zero-waste questions at “Reduce, Reuse, Rethink: Understanding our new recycling reality,” at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26, at Payette Brewing Co., 733 South Pioneer St., Boise.
It’s a free event put on by the Idaho Statesman, the city of Boise and Payette Brewing. Experts will answer your questions. There will be games and prizes, and you can learn more about Zero Waste Boise and other organizations.