Tag Archives: composting

(Wasted) Food for Thought

This weekend I cleaned out my refrigerator.

It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Not quite this bad, but there have been times…

I’ll spare you the details (and the images) but let’s just say a lot of stuff went directly into the compost bin. So while it was no longer fit for consumption (or possibly so) at least it isn’t going into the landfill.

Yet it was food we purchased and didn’t use. So at the very least, it was a waste of money. And our experience is, as I found out, pretty typical. According to this article on the Sustainable Brands website, up to 40 percent of America’s food is lost on the way from farm to table and from there to trash.

That’s 400 pounds of food per person per year. More than the body weight of my wife and me combined. In effect, we throw ourselves away each and every year.

And it’s not just the food that’s wasted. It’s the water that went into growing the food, and the fertilizer, and the shipping cost, and the time and energy the farmer put into producing it. The effect is felt across the entire life cycle.

Taken from the Sustainable Brands website article.

What’s going on? Is it an ironic curse that we have so much food we don’t appreciate it? My grandmother raised a family during the Great Depression and into her nineties she saved ham bones to make soup. She understood the value of food and that you didn’t waste it.

(Please note: I’m aware there are many people in this country who are undernourished and go hungry. For this post I’m focusing on the average American who has instant access to as much food as he/she wants.)

And I’m not talking just about what we buy for ourselves at home. Every running event I’ve been involved with has had some amount of food that was either only partly eaten, or (worse) taken by someone and then thrown away uneaten. I’m talking about entire cookies, bagels, bananas, oranges, and even entire sandwiches.

Why? Just. . .why?

This sort of careless, indifferent waste of food baffles me. If after your race you grab a banana out of habit and then decide you don’t really want it, okay. Take it home and eat it later, or give it to one of your kids.

And if that doesn’t bother you, perhaps this will. When you throw food away, in effect you paid more for it. You don’t buy organic because it’s more expensive than the conventional kind? I’ll bet if you bought the organic in smaller quantities and used it all, you’d save money in the long run.

Sure, my wife and I refer to Whole Foods as “Whole Paycheck,” but we buy many meals from that store and others like it. Not that we hate to cook – in fact, we enjoy cooking – but we work long hours and the prepared food bars are very convenient. It’s all fresh and nutritious, and tastes good. And it doesn’t disappear in the back of the fridge, to be rediscovered one weekend when it’s no longer recognizable as what we once put in the cart thinking, “Yeah, that looks good.”

So it wasn’t surprising that after emptying the fridge and putting back only the items I know we’re going to eat, it looked pretty empty. Not only that, I found I hadn’t put all the shelves back. And I like it that way!

Why does this feel so personal? Like I’m opening my bathrobe?

The more open look makes the food in there much more visible, and given that we’re empty nesters, we shouldn’t be stuffing the fridge full anyway. We’ll see if this makes a difference in how much food we throw away from now on. I sure don’t want to repeat the experience!

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Zero Waste: Adding 3 More “Rs” to Running

Some of my faithful readers know that I have a strong interest in sustainable practices. For those of you who didn’t – well, I have this strong interest in sustainable practices.

Reduce Reuse RecycleThat means, basically, that I support and encourage the three “Rs” of managing waste. I’m also firmly in favor of renewable energy sources and organic farming. This was once considered fringe, “hippie” stuff, but it’s rapidly becoming mainstream, and hopefully will be standard practice before long.

So I’m thrilled to tell you that this year I’m helping bring sustainable practices to another activity that I love – the world of running.

I run, pace, and/or volunteer at over twenty events every year, and it bothers me how much waste they generate and send to landfills. That includes a lot of recyclable cans, bottles, and cardboard, and food waste (banana peels, half-eaten muffins, etc.)  that could be composted.

Trash from a small event last year. All of it went to the landfill.

Trash from a small event last year. All of it went to the landfill.

I figured there had to be a better way, and in my research I came across the Council for Responsible Sport and their certification program that recognizes waste reduction and redirection.

Gazelle Girl 2015 - 3,000 runners, and this is all that went to the landfill.

Gazelle Girl 2015 – 3,000 runners, and this is all that went to the landfill.

After volunteering at an annual women’s race in Grand Rapids that applies the CRS standards to achieve nearly zero waste (read my 2015 post about that here), I knew I wanted to bring what they did to the Ann Arbor area. So I approached my favorite running events company, showed them what was possible, and made my pitch to help them do the same.

To what may be their everlasting regret, they accepted. And so RF Events “Team ZW” was formed.

Saturday's ZW crew - ready to rock that trash! Yours truly on far right.

Saturday’s ZW crew – ready to rock that trash! Yours truly on far right.

To get things going, we obtained a small grant from the Can’d Aid Foundation’s #CrushitCrusade, and used it to obtain training and waste disposal tents from ZeroHero, a company that specializes in sustainable waste management for events all over the country. We scheduled Trail Marathon Weekend, April 23-24, as our inaugural Zero Waste event. We recruited volunteers, deployed the tents, and hoped for the best.

Stylin' it on the trail!

Stylin’ it on the trail!

The results were better than I could have hoped for. Of the nearly 500 pounds of total waste we collected over the weekend, less than 50 went to the landfill. Everything else was recycled, composted, or will be sent to TerraCycle for “upcycling” into new plastic products. And we got several positive comments from the runners. “Those are the coolest tents EVER!” I heard one of them say. (Oh, wait, that was me. But I’m sure many other runners were thinking it.)

So if you’re going to a Running Fit race this year, look for the green shirts and the coolest tents ever, and know that we’re doing our best to make the sport we love better than ever!

Below are more ZW photos from Trail Marathon. Enjoy!

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In-Between Marathon Musings: Eating, Singing Bears, and Talking Trash

While picking up my Martian Marathon race packet at the expo, I got to talking with a woman whose husband is going to attempt his first ultramarathon. That’s macho enough in my book, but not for him; he’s going right to a 50-miler, and a tough one at that (the September North Face Challenge, as I recall).

“Do you have any advice for him?” she asked.

“I can do no better than repeat the advice of (ultramarathon legend) Caballo Blanco,” I told her. “Run slower. Eat more.”

My next three races will all be on trails, and all are marathon length or longer. Time to put on a little weight!

I'll have one of everything, please!

I’ll have one of everything, please!

It will have to come from (mostly) healthy, whole foods, of course. My body needs all the nutrients it can get to recover from Martian and build strength for Trail Marathon and beyond. Such foods contain fiber and fill me up faster, so eating more actually takes some effort. (Yes, I’m aware you’d like to have that problem.)

I also have this sense of perverse guilt when eating a lot and not immediately burning it off with hard training and lots of miles. I know it’s silly, but it does put a damper on my appetite. (Yes, I know.)

Songs are better in this version, however!

Songs are better in this version, however!

In other news. . .

I took my wife to see The Jungle Book on Saturday. So “The Bear Necessities” has been running in my head the past three days. Was even humming it while nose-deep in banana peels and water bottles at the Gazelle Girl.

And speaking of…

I volunteered once again for the “Green Team” at the Gazelle Girl half marathon & 5K on Sunday. Over 3,800 runners participated in the events, plus plenty of family and other spectators.

Gazelle Girl 2016 - If Trump Can Run sign

That kind of crowd generates a lot of waste, and I spent much time sorting through it, but if one must sort trash, there couldn’t have been a more beautiful day for it. Part of the time I manned one of the ZeroHero waste collection tents, which we’ll also be using at the Trail Marathon races this weekend. More on that in an upcoming post.

Good waste! Yay!

Good waste! Yay!

The good news: the great majority of the generated waste was either compostable or recyclable. Last year their total landfill waste didn’t even fill one small cardboard box. This year, due to unexpected non-recyclable packaging from their food supplier, there was quite a bit more. I’m sure they’ll fix that for next time.

Bad waste! Boo!!!

Bad waste! Boo!!!

Also, for some reason far more non-recyclable coffee cups showed up this year. I’m calling you out, Starbucks, Biggby, and McCafe. Get with the program and go compostable! Bearclaw Coffee has, and they will be our coffee supplier at Trail Marathon. You can bet they’ll get a lot of good pub from us!

If you're coming to TMW, look for the orange van!

If you’re coming to TMW, look for the orange van!

Finally, what a great day it was in Boston today for the 120th Boston Marathon. Saw a thrilling men’s wheelchair division finish. And it was great to see Roberta (Bobbi) Gibb honored as Grand Marshall for breaking the gender wall in 1966. She “bandited” Boston that year after being denied registration due to her gender, beat two-thirds of the otherwise male field, and was the first woman finisher again in 1967 and 1968. I don’t cry at weddings, or much of anything for that matter, but I came pretty close here. Looking forward to joining the fun there in 2017!