Saturday, May 2, 2009


This is the time of year of new beginnings. Mother Earth has shed her shroud of wintry death and come to life once more. That's right, spring is here and with it comes time for spring-cleaning. As many know, spring-cleaning is when you take some time to sort through the mountain of things obtained throughout the last 12 months and decide what stays and what goes. It follows the assumption that we've consumed needlessly and because of this, we have more than we need.

Now, some people choose to rid themselves of their belongings through a mechanism called a Garage Sale. No, no one is trying to sell there garage, though some people do have too many of them, they simply pack all their unwanted things into the garage to have a sale. I myself have attended many of these events and at a time, I once held such an event myself. Anyone who has ever attended a garage sale can tell you this, in fact I mentioned it earlier in this rant, the items at a garage sale are un-needed things. Sure, you might find something interesting, you may even find something rare, perhaps you'll find a great deal you just can't pass up. One thing is for sure, you don't need it. If you needed it, you would have gone out and bought it months ago, that's what people do in our culture.
Now if you are not the type to hold a garage sale or you simply don't have a garage to sell out of you have a few other options. You could donate your belongings to a charitable society who in turn will sell them back to people just like you and me to help fund their cause. You could use a web service such as Freecycle or Kijiji, craigslist, ebay... the list goes on and on.

Another seldom thought of means of trinket disposal is to use a local auction house though it should be noted that items often are grouped for a sale and once the buyer has hold of the item they actually wanted many things end up tossed before the end of the day.

Since the vast majority of the items you are trying to dispose of could easily be cast into the category of JUNK, perhaps what is needed is a trip down repurpose lane. Bed sheets could become reusable grocery bags or covers for the plants in your garden. Old silverware could be turned into a beautiful wind chime. Yesterday's gift basket can be turned into a comfy place for a cat to sleep. The only limit is your imagination.

When you do your spring-cleaning this year try to keep everything, you can from going to the landfill. And this year try to keep from acquiring the un-needed.

Monday, April 27, 2009


My last trip to the landfill had me leaving with a new mantra and some new baggage.

One of my good friends and fellow scavengers, a.k.a. Trashcan Superman, has shared his slogan with me on many occasions and though I have found it to be accurate in the past, I hesitated to adopt it as my own, until now. It is a simple yet ironic view but accurate nonetheless.


It works like this... I'm in a skip looking through detritus when the weather changes and the wind picks up. Being that I'm at a landfill, the wind tends to pick up any loose debris and thrust it at you like a giant sand blaster. This makes vision a luxury only afforded to those who have come prepared. I try to always be prepared when scavenging but this time I was caught off guard. Luckily, THE DUMP PROVIDES, and as I looked down to find some footing I saw before me a bright blue box containing a wonderful pair of safety glasses that fit great, saving me from losing an eye to a flying bread tag.
I've found unopened bottled water when I thirst, a wheel for my office chair a day after one breaks at home, a toque and jacket just as I start to shiver, a flashlight as it gets too dark to see. The list could go on forever. Just as you have a need for something, you turn around and it's there. It's almost as if the wasteful being who tossed the item knew you were going to need it and very generously donated it to your cause. That must be it, they knew if they left those glasses at the curb for pick up on Wednesday that someone in need would find them just in the knick of time on a Saturday evening while rummaging through the rest of their trash. Bless their little hearts.

While there I also came away with a great hiking pack, a couple drums, two tambourines, a small xylophone and a set of dice to name a few. The hiking pack had tags on it telling a bit of its story. Bought in Vancouver, packed and flown to Honolulu, where it probably stayed in the hotel room, re-packed and flown back to Vancouver. Moved to this area and was discarded. Priced out, this bag is worth $50-$90. My win!

P.S. Another good mantra shared with me while scavenging... "He who digs, prospers." This is also very true. Thanks Ron.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Truly Wasteful

I must apologize for the lapse in new posts. You see I haven't written in a while because I have been focusing the majority of my efforts on selling our beautiful blue home.

Recently my family and I have made a conscience decision to stop wasting our precious time and hard earned money on servicing our debt, a.k.a. mortgage. And since we are self-employed, we decided we were going to make use of our homes equity to relocate to an economically depressed area of our fine country where we can live a debt free life. I see this, as a giant step towards an early retirement, after all isn't retirement defined as a time of financial independence and a slowing of lifestyle. Not a time for sitting on my ass doing nothing, but a time to smell the roses, to find enjoyment in my everyday activities rather than finding them a chore. Something as simple as tending my own garden can prove challenging when your daily activities keep you away from home 10-12 hours of each day. As long as I continue in a pattern of 8-5 'til 65, I fear I will not find the time nor the energy needed to actually live a meaningful life. Now to me, that would be shamefully WASTEFUL.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


This has to be one of the best ironic films of our generation. But look out for the freak garbage slides.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Living Lean, Truly a Kaisen Event

I have worked within the manufacturing realm for over ten years and have heard numerous "catch phrase" ideas trickle down from corporate offices. Most of these ideas had some good points however would quickly lose their effectiveness as my fellow coworkers would lose interest. Before long yet another "great system" would be thrust upon us from on high and the cycle would begin again.

One system that was suggested however maintained its effectiveness long after all others had faded into oblivion, that system was the concept of Lean Manufacturing.

Lean Manufacturing enlists five base principals.
1. Define value from the customer's perspective: Identify value added activities, and eliminate non-value added activities.
2. Identify and map the value stream: You'll end up with a picture of your current processes from start to finish and all parts in-between. You can then use this map to identify bottlenecks and other inefficiencies.
3. Reduce or eliminate waste, (what a great idea), and improve flow: A Lean enterprise eliminates all activities that utilize resources but that do not create value for the customer.
4. Pull from the customer: Information and material is pulled based on customer demand.
5. Pursue Perfection: Continue to perfect your Lean plan by returning to Step 1 and repeating this process for a cycle of continuous improvement.

Now if you've been a cog in a manufacturing machine such as I have, and even if you haven't, it's easy to see how implementing these ideas could improve upon the bottom line. But how do you keep this system from fading away with time as all others have before it? The difference between this program and others is step #5, Pursue Perfection. Step #5 is achieved through what is refereed to as a Kaisen Event which in its simplest definition means to continuously improve. A kaisen event empowers employees to improve their own working environment making them a part of the solution encouraging a drive to continue the process.

Now, how can this manufacturing principal be applied to every day life? Well I think we all strive for continuous improvement one way or another but let's take a look at applying the five Lean principals.

1. Define value from the customer's perspective: In this case you and your family are the customers so take some time to identify the things you do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis that add value to your lives, at the same time identify activities that don't add value or detract from the value of your lives.

2. Identify and map the value stream: You'll end up with a picture of your current routines from start to finish and all parts in-between. You can then use this map to identify activities that "eat time" and produce waste as well as highlight other inefficiencies in your daily life.

3. Reduce or eliminate waste and improve flow: Take your findings from steps one and two and eliminate the activities that don't improve upon your life. Improve upon inefficient routines eliminating wasted time and wasted resources.

4. Pull from the customer: Learn to trust your own feelings and senses about what you truly need. Don't be distracted by advertisements telling you you need what they have to sell.

5. Pursue Perfection: Continue to perfect your value of life by returning to Step 1 and repeating this process for a cycle of continuous improvement.

Now I'm going to use these principles to assess one of my weekly activities, the act of purchasing groceries. This is a value added activity as my family and I need to eat and rather enjoy it too. Using a scrap of paper I'll identify the process in which I obtain my groceries from writing the list to eventually consuming the food purchased. One thing I could do is purchase items differently reducing packaging that I would eventually have to spend time trowing out and hauling to the curb. Menu planning could reduce the types and quantities of food purchased saving dollars from my bill. I also had an epiphany on how to reuse my grocery list. I think that I will post the list upon the fridge once I have returned from the store to use as an inventory of the fridges contents preventing me from having to stand with the door open trying to determine what to eat. I will purchase more whole foods rather than prepared foods using my menu plan to its fullest and in exchange I will allow myself a treat such as some chocolate or some salted nuts to keep myself sane.

I've learned a number of valuable lessons from this Kaisen event and next time I go shopping I plan to revisit this scenario and see what other steps can be taken to improve upon the process. I feel in charge of my own destiny and look forward to applying this practice to other aspects of my life.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Saving The World Is an Endless Job

Once again I have found myself saving the world from being burried within the countless layers of our trash. The best part is how easy it was to clean up the planet. If only the real job of cleaning up this world was as easy.

If we all do our part the clean up doesn't have to be a painful process. And eventualy we should be able to shift our focus from clean up to complete initial recovery within a zero waste environment..

Saturday, January 10, 2009

When It Hits The Curb It Disapears

Isn't garbage day a magical day? Like clockwork every week I awake early in the morning hours and drag my previous weeks detritus to the curb and a few hours later the garbage fairies arrive, wave their enchanted work gloves and my garbage disappears never to be heard from again. I just love the magic of the moment.

The previous statement may seem cheeky but I truly do believe a significant portion of our society believes it to be true. The reality however couldn't be further from the truth. Most of the debris we toss will actually out live us taking decades, centuries, perhaps even millennia to break down.

Landfills, believe it or not, are designed to slow down the decomposition of their contents. In order to break down, organic matter requires access to air/oxygen yet in a landfill the trash is compacted and sandwiched between numerous layers of clay and sometimes stone to increase landfill space and ultimately the landfill's lifespan.

Oxygen may not be able to reach our discarded belongings however, rainwater can as its gravitational relationship allows it to percolate deep into the many layers of debris. When water mixes with the nasty garbage juices, leachate is created which seeps into the surrounding soil in the form of a Garbage Plume. Plumes can swell rapidly and often will find their way into local water tables. Most new landfills are required to use liners to prevent plumes. The liners can be effective but are far from foolproof.
The reality, though unpleasant, is that our garbage will be around longer than we ourselves will. Let's make a decision now to reduce our own consumption and leave our squanderous ways in the past.

The Magic Mountain

I happened on a great article the other day by author Matthew Power, titled "The magic mountain: Trickle-down economics in a Philippine garbage dump". He effectively paints a picture of a day in the life of a mangangalahig at the Payatas dump site in Quezon City, Manila.

The manangalahig is a scavenger, sorting through trash for recyclables which can be exchanged for a few rupees. The conditions and minimal payback may seem futile but the few rupees they do earn is far more than they would be making farming as they had in the past. And when metro Manila produces on average 6,169 tons of garbage daily you know there is plenty of trash to go arround. Multiply that mass by 364.25 days in a year, and again by 20 years and you can begin to understand how this 130 foot high, 50 acre, 45,000,000 ton mountain grows.

The Payatas dump site was home to a tradgic event in the year 2000. Monsoon rains permiated the garbage mountain, which had been piled at a 70ยบ slope, and caused the pile to slide killing hundreds of mangangalahig and their families living at the base of the heap. Exact numbers on the casualties will never be known for sure as the recovery effort was forced to stop days later, when hope had been lost.