The Pink Elephant Lady
Becoming a Garbage Lady
I can't say I envisioned this turn in my life. But here I am.
I have a 10 year old minivan with close to 140,000 miles on it. And with this minivan, last week I hauled 2,430 gallons of recyclable material (including 1,387 pop cans) and 1,476 pounds of compostable food scraps.
This job can be kinda gross. And smelly. Like the bag of banana peels, banana mush, and a mystery liquid - excessive liquid in compost bags weakens the bag. The bag broke as I attempted to toss it into the compost bin - the mystery liquid soaked my pants. The worst is when food scraps and plate scrapings end up in the recycle bins. It's tough for the bottle return machine at Kroger to read the barcode on a Pepsi can covered in a mélange of cake frosting, mustard, and nacho cheese. Luckily I have pretty high tolerance for 'ick'!
Why am I doing this? Sights like this
trash can just outside of Comerica Park are my motivation. To me, this is nothing short of shameful. Somehow, we can figure out how to pay those men playing ball inside the ballpark many millions of dollars, but there just doesn't seem to be any funding for figuring out how to recover all that plastic. "Somebody should do something about that!" I would say to myself after seeing waste like this again and again at events and venues everywhere. Some company with big pockets - DTE, Quicken Loans, I don't know - somebody with lots of resources. But surely not me. My tiny company surely could not make a dent in this kind of waste - or could we?
It all started with our catering/wine bar friends at Brut Detroit. (Brut Detroit handled the catering at our retail store Grand Opening and things went smashingly - they didn't even break a sweat when our store's power went out for the ENTIRE event!) They had catering clients seeking to make their events more eco-friendly. Could we somehow help with that? Sure! Of course! No problem! But then we needed to figure out how. Pronto. Like, in a week. My supplier got us everything we needed in just a few days. Phew!
Where does all the stuff we collect actually go? Midtown Composting comes to our store every week to pick up our coffee grounds, food scraps, and certified compostable disposables. And now, we've partnered up to provide event waste management and drop-off composting services at the store. The recycling goes to Detroit Disposal and Recycling, and if our dumpster is too full, we take it to Recycle Here, Detroit's recycling drop off center.
I bring a janitor's caddy to event sites with me, loaded with rags (not single-use paper towels) for wiping down the bin lids, refillable spray bottles loaded with floor cleaner and all-purpose cleaner (my own products, of course), gloves, and extra bags. I also bring a 'Wet Floor' sign and a mop, just in case. I learned that lesson after bag leaked garbage juice all the way down the hall at the Durfee Innovation Center.
Sometimes the bags leak in the van. In the summer, the van interior can get rather ripe! I'm hoping to get thinner doing this work - I've hauled as much as 525 pounds a day, lifting the bags into the van and then taking them out again to the compost processor. Even though I initially doubted a company so small could make much of a difference, our clients have included Ford Motor Company, Detroit Start Up Week, Hazon: The Jewish Sustainability Lab, and more. Small but mighty - I like the sound of that.