Tag Archives: Trash

If a Tree Falls in the Forest…

JuneFishingTripBack in early June, I went on a fishing and canoe trip with my father and our friend Tommy.  After a few too many Bud Lights and a voyage led by Captain Morgan, we got into a deep conversation on the age-old question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

This is one of those questions with a very legitimate argument on both sides.  Ultimately, it all depends on how one defines sound.  The answer is yes according to the scientific definition of sound (vibrating air molecules that move in waves).  But it would be no if you take the pragmatic approach (sound is the interpretation of these vibrations).

By the end of our debate, we agreed to disagree.  I stood strong with the pragmatic definition, Tommy the scientific one, and my dad split somewhere down the middle.

You may be wondering why I chose to tell this story.  The answer is because I think it relates to an important issue that we face in our world and especially the United States.  If something is out of sight and out of mind, does that mean it is out of existence?

Anyone who knows me well can probably guess that the something I am referring to is trash.

Image Courtesy of the SOAP Group
Image Courtesy of the SOAP Group

Each American generates on average 4.6 lbs of trash per day.  That is over 1600 lbs per year!  What happens to most of that trash?  We put it out on the curb, a truck picks it up, and it “goes away.”  Out of sight, out of mind.  But here is a little secret; it does not disappear.  We either bury it in a landfill, or burn it in an incinerator. In a landfill, it will degrade into its chemical or biological components, many of which are very toxic.  These toxins will eventually leach into the water stream. Or trash might be incinerated. In that case its harmful chemicals and pollutants would be released directly into the air. Why die a slow death, right?  Check out this story in the NY Times for some more eye opening information.

When you throw something away, it might seem to be out of sight, making it out of mind, but it is far from out of existence.  That battery you threw away will come back to visit, unfortunately, you just won’t see it.

I do not want to be too doom and gloom here, so let’s end on a positive note.  We are making progress.  Although there is still a lot of room for improvement, the recycling and composting rate for municipal solid waste is at its highest level ever of 32.1%.  Plus, people are starting to take things into their own hands to change behavior.  Something as simple as this set-up at the Bay Area Discovery Museum might just create enough of a pause by reminding people that trash gets buried.

If you are looking for a few simple steps you can take, I recommend these.

  1. Buy the right quantity for your household with the least amount of packaging. How about buying that large container of yogurt instead of the single serve containers, and dish it out into a reusable container to take to school or work.
  2. Find new uses for things you typically trash or recycle.  For example, coffee grounds make a fun body scrub 1-2x per week and great food for your plants on other days.
  3. Start composting.  If you do not have space for an outdoor composter or are squeamish about indoor worm composting, search Find a Composter for a facility to drop off your compostable material.
  4. Recycle what you can and if it is available in your area, sign-up for RecycleBank to get rewards for your good behavior.  If it is not available in your area, encourage your municipal leaders to join the program.

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates…

Run Forrest Run

Run Forrest Run

“My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”
-Forrest Gump

Generally speaking, I have to say I agree with Momma Gump. I don’t necessarily believe in destiny.  I think people have the ability to choose their path in life.  Take me for instance.  Who would have ever thought that I would be “destined” to start a company that makes athletic gear from “trash” and organizes people to go out for runs and pick up trash?

Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love what I do.  Being able to start a company around things I am passionate about (an active lifestyle and the environment) is a dream come true.  But I question if it was my destiny, or at least I used to.

My mom recently shared a picture with me that I drew when I was about 8 years old.  I was not at all surprised to see it was a scene of people running.  I used to draw sports pictures all the time – from running and soccer to baseball and basketball.  What really caught my attention was the fact that I added a trashcan near the race finish line of the picture.

The Fine Art of 8 Year Old Jeremy Litchfield

The Fine Art of 8 Year Old Jeremy Litchfield

As I reflect on this picture, I have few questions:

  • How did I pass the 3rd grade with these drawing skills? (Although, I was a much better drawer at that age than I am now.)
  • Why does the little dude in the back have such big feet, but such little arms?
  • Did I know when I was 8 that my future would combine running and trash?

I don’t have answers to the first two questions, but maybe the answer to the third is something like this:

“I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”
-Forrest Gump

I would love to hear other people’s stories of destiny, floating breezes, or both.

P.S. My very creative mother turned the picture into some great note cards that I use for hand written notes.  If anyone is interested in custom note cards, I highly recommend her services.  Leave a comment and I will make the connection.

Personal Hygiene and Cigarette Butts: Reflections from a Trash Run

Back Cove Trail  Photo by Phil Poirier
Back Cove Trail Photo by Phil Poirier

On Saturday Becca and I went out for a Trash Run after some morning yoga.  We decided to tackle the Back Cove Trail  in Portland, ME .  As with any Trash Run, there were discoveries of remarkable trash and new trash running terminology (see end of post for new terms).  On this day, there was a definite theme for the bigger items we found – personal hygiene items made of plastic.  Some of the more interesting items in this category included:

  • 4 tampon applicators
  • 2 combs
  • 1 set of green tweezers
  • 1 toothbrush
  • 1 stick of lip balm
  • A partially used stick of deodorant

You may be asking yourself, “Why is someone throwing tampon applicators along a jog/ walk trail?”  The answer is, people are probably not dumping their personal hygiene products.  Much of the trash we picked up probably comes from the streets of Portland and gets deposited into the cove from a storm drain.  If someone does not pick it up, it will make its way into the Atlantic, catch a ride on some ocean currents, and probably end up with its other trash friends at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

We had hoped to cover the entire 3.5-mile loop around the cove but barely got out of the parking lot. There is one simple reason for this-CIGARETTE BUTTS!  We spent over an hour and a half picking up hundreds of the nasty little butts (and forced ourselves to walk by a bunch so we could actually get away from the parking lot).  In that time we covered less than a quarter of a mile. Our trash run quickly turned into a “butt stroll”.

While it is difficult to estimate the number of cigarette butts that are littered each year, they are commonly considered the most littered item in the world.

Not only are these butts a big contributor to landfills and an eyesore for our parks, roadways, and sidewalks, they are a hazard to nature.  While most people may think that cigarette filters are made from cotton and thus biodegradable, that assumption could not be further from the truth.  95% of cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that is slow to degrade (estimates from 1.5 – 10 years).  During this time, the butts have a good chance of ending up in our waterways (18% of all litter does), which endangers marine life that mistakes the debris for food.

A depressing problem, right?  Well that’s if you look at it as a problem.  What if you look at this as an opportunity?  Here is the thing, cellulose acetate has many other uses including:

  • Apparel: linings, blouses, dresses, wedding and party attire, home furnishings, draperies, upholstery and slip covers. (Really show people what a die-hard smoker you are!)
  • Industrial uses: filters (other than cigarettes), ink reservoirs for fiber tip pens.
  • High absorbency products: diapers and surgical products.
  • Award ribbons: Rosettes for equestrian events, dog/cat shows, corporate awards, advertising and identification products.

What if we created the infrastructure to collect cigarette butts, purify them, and re-manufacture them into new materials?  What if we provided an incentive for people to submit them (and not coupons for additional cigarettes)?  What if part of the proceeds from the products sold from the new material went to support youth smoking prevention campaigns?  It may be a crazy idea, but most people thought Columbus’s idea that the world was round was pretty crazy too.

New Trash Running Terminology
Baited – while trash running/hiking/strolling along a body of salt water, you bend down to pick up that piece of trash. But alas, it is a natural gift from the sea. Old net? Nope-dried seaweed. Bit of hard plastic? Nope-crustacean shell. (Good thing you opted out of the harder lunges in yoga. You’ll need those thigh muscles today!)

For some other trash running recaps from Atayne’s contest with I Run Far check out these blogs.  If you did a write up on your blog, please post the link as a comment.

Will Run 4 Trash Part III

For those who have followed my blog for a while, you probably have noticed my fondness for writing about running for trash (Will Run 4 Trash Part I and II).  I promise, I do think about other things, but I had to write about it at least one more time.  This story was too good to not share.

While most people know Atayne as a brand of environmentally friendly performance apparel, that is only a tiny part of the story.  Our company exists to inspire positive environmental and social change through the power of sports and active lifestyles.  One way we do this is by developing high performance products that are sensitive on the environment and safe for the people who use and make them.  But what about the other things we do?

Oh, The Cups...
Oh, The Cups…

Today, I want to talk about how we are helping races and events clean up their act.  Not that they are intentionally trying to destroy the environment, but the current model of how they are run often leaves a heavy footprint.  Consider road races.  When you think about all the cups, energy gel packs, plastic bottles, and cardboard boxes, the amount of waste from even small events can pile up.  Where does all of this go?  Most of the time, it ends up in a landfill.  And then there is the less visible waste: the packaging for all that stuff and the emissions from all the travel to and from the events.

I am not advocating that we should stop these events.  They are an important part of encouraging active lifestyles and fostering community.  What I am advocating is that we need to change the current model.  And here is the story of just one little step we are taking to play our part.

Team Atayne
Team Atayne

After our pilot race sweeping of the Urban Epic, we decided to take on a bigger challenge.  On October 5th, the good people of Maine and the Maine Marathon greeted us with open arms as we worked together to keep as much recyclable material as possible out of their landfills.  Over 30 Team Atayne volunteers (including my 80 year old grandmother Mammie) came together to help leave the course cleaner than the race found it.  Our runners ran the course behind the 3,000 race participants picking up trash, while our aid station and start/finish line volunteers sorted recyclables from non-recyclables. The results speak for themselves:

  • Over 80 bags (30 gallons each) of paper cups were recycled
  • A trailer full of cardboard was recycled
  • Nearly 4,000 plastic bottles and jugs were submitted for redemption and recycling.  This helped raise another $100 for the race charity, the Center for Grieving Children, and saved the energy equivalent of lighting a 60-watt bulb continuously for 2 years and 8 months!

Not only was this good for the environment and the community, it was good for the race.  The event needed to order one less dumpster, which saved them money.  Yep, the proof is in the pudding: going green saves green!

Here’s my challenge to you.  Step outside of your “daily” model (or routine) and think about little steps you can take to create positive change.  Even the smallest steps move us forward on a long journey.  Have fun and be creative.  As Dr Seuss taught us when we were young, “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”

And who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?  All 30 volunteers reported having a great time!  For a more light hearted recap, check out Mike’s latest entry on his Polka Dot Shorts Blog.

Also check out Paige’s and Stephen’s recaps.  Paige ran with Team Atayne instead of running the half-marathon as previously planned.  Stephen ran the Maine Marathon, qualifying for Boston, and then helped to volunteer with Team Atayne.

Atayne Launches with Some Trashy Competition

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Atayne investor dinner in my “What Keeps You Up at Night?” (June 25) blog. Since then, things have kicked in to high gear. Following that meeting, substantial seed funding was secured. The call for support in my June 25 blog was answered as people showed their belief in Atayne by responding to the blog (via personal emails or comments) and by visiting the website to sign up for the email list. We are now running full steam ahead. The website is set to launch this week (as my girlfriend is pushing me to hit the magical 8-8-08 date) and sales will follow about a week later. There is not doubt this success is due in large part to the Atayne community.

On top of all of that, we took part in our first official event on Saturday, July 26 in Portland, ME. Atayne was one of the sustainability sponsors of the Zone Urban Epic (ZUE). Atayne’s participation was not your typical “plaster your logo on everything” sponsorship. No, we decided to get a bit more creative in our visibility and simultaneously do something positive for the environment.

Will Run 4 Trash

Will Run 4 Trash

While the ZUE entrants ran for pride, glory, and accomplishment, Team Atayne ran for trash and a cleaner environment. Following closely behind the race participants on the course, Team Atayne collected trash of all types to leave the course even cleaner than the ZUE athletes found it. Additionally, through an innovative partnership with upcycling firm TerraCycle, we had collection stations for energy bar wrappers, nutritional gel packs, swim caps, polyester-based sports apparel, bottles and cans, and more. What did we do with all this so-called trash? Not send it to a landfill! Working with TerraCycle, Atayne will use as many of those “trashed” materials to make eco-friendly products ranging from tote bags and purses to sports apparel and shoes.

Overall, Atayne’s particaption in ZUE was a great success. We made some new friends for Atayne and collected over 100 lbs of trash from the second segment of the run course (just 3 miles)! For me, it was a rather startling load and yet another wake-up call for the problem we have with waste in our society. (See my June 5 blog for more.)

Team Atayne

Team Atayne

These results would not have been possible without the help of some incredible volunteers. A group of 5 college students/recent grads dedicated their weekend to picking up trash. There was nothing glorious in it for them: just a free shirt and the knowledge that they did something good for the environment.

The evening before the event, Mike and I decided to provide them with a small monetary incentive. But instead of straight pay, we set it up as a competition. Might as well get into the competitive spirit of the event. We would split the group into two teams. The team that collected the most garbage would win $100. Not a ton of money, but enough to get the competitive juices flowing.

Instantly upon announcing the competition, it was on. The teams divided, and the “trash” talk began. Mike and I sat back and smiled as a group of 21 to 22 year olds got excited about the prospect of picking up trash.

Saturday morning we were out at the event bright and early. While setting up, Mike and I talked about how once the collection was over we would help the teams sort what was collected and educate them on what can be reused or recycled and what must be thrown away. This would be a great opportunity to educate this young group on being good environmental stewards.

Back From the Run

Back From the Run

Later that morning when the group, led by Mike, returned from their collection run they were all a bit sweaty but all were smiling ear to ear. They dropped the 9 completely full bags of trash at my feet and joyfully started telling me about their run. After several minutes they stopped, and I asked, “Okay, but who won?”

One of them quickly answered, “Who won? No one won. We all joined forces.”

This caught me by surprise, and I then noticed Mike smiling at me. On a day when we thought we would be teachers, we turned out to be the students. Without saying anything, our young volunteers reminded us that when it comes to saving our planet, we are all on the same team.

Will Run 4 Trash

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Mead

Memorial Day weekend I went out for a great trail run with a college buddy, Mike. We did about 14 miles of running and another 2 miles of hiking through the Difficult Run Trail and Great Falls Park. Everything about the run was near perfect. I was with my best friend and away from the hustle of Washington DC. The weather was in the high 60s to low 70s, and there was plenty of shade to keep us cool. We got off track a couple times (some might call it lost), but that only added to the adventure. Had we been wearing Atayne apparel it would have been absolutely perfect (sorry, that will be the only bit of shameless self promotion in this post).

Besides reminding me that I need to get off the pavement and spend more time on the trails, the run once again opened my eyes to an issue that is often easy to overlook – trash.

As we were walking back to my car at the end of our run, Mike shouted from behind me, “What are you doing?!?” Not understanding what he was talking about I turned around and noticed him pointing at a discarded empty beer can. He continued, “What? Are you going to walk right by it?”

For any of you who know me this may come as a surprise. I am often accused (with good reason) of getting a tad preachy about environmental issues and have been called an organic food snob (something I am proud of). But here I was getting called out. I turned around, picked up the can, and put it in a small pocket of the CamelBak I was wearing.

The rest of the walk to the car, Mike and I continued to pick up glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans. In a short distance, we had picked up 6 cans, 4 plastic bottles, and 1 glass bottle. Unfortunately, these 11 items are a fraction of what we had to leave behind because we could not carry them all.

I think we can all agree that littering is not a good thing. It has the “amazing” ability to turn beautiful landscapes into cluttered messes. However, some of the biggest consequences of littering are ones that we don’t even see. Consider a few things.

Recycling is a very easy way to save energy. Take the 6 aluminum cans we picked up and recycled. By recycling those cans we saved the amount of energy it takes to run a TV set for 24 hours. That is also the energy equivalent of 3 gallons of gasoline. In the US alone, we throw away almost 60 billion aluminum cans per year. So we are essentially wasting the energy equivalent of 30 billion gallons of gas: this is the amount of fuel that 60 million cars use in one year.

Now think about the plastic. I am not even going to address the energy savings. I think I already got my point across above (remember – plastic comes from petroleum). What do you think would happen to the plastic bottles if we had not picked them up? Yes, someone else might have, but more likely rain would have washed them into Difficult Run, a small stream in northern Virginia. They would have flowed into the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay, and then the Atlantic Ocean. Then what? Out of sight, out of mind. Right?

The plastic would have broken up into smaller pieces during its journey. Some unsuspecting bird may then have mistaken it for food. Take a look at the stomach contents of just one albatross that made this mistake (Image taken from Shifting Baselines). Or it may have gotten caught up in ocean currents and made its way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of trash in the Pacific Ocean with a size estimate that varies from the size of Texas to double that of the continental United States.

This is scary and somewhat depressing stuff, but I hope at this point you don’t feel hopeless. Yes, this could be a big challenge. But with every challenge comes the opportunity for greatness, the opportunity to change the game. Let’s think about the “game” of running. Every day millions of people in the US go out for a run, and those millions of people probably pass by hundreds of millions of pieces of trash. What if a few of them picked up just one piece of trash at the end of their run? We could make a pretty big impact.

I am not in anyway going to claim that I am the first person to come up with this idea. Eco-Runner, Samuel Huber and many others were doing it before me. But I am going to claim that I may be the first to calculate the potential environmental impact.

According to Simmons Market Research Bureau there are 13.2 million people who run every chance they get and an additional 13.1 million who run occasionally. So there are over 26 million runners in the US and millions more across the globe. What if 10% or 2.6 million runners picked up a piece of trash just once a week at the end of their run and then recycled it? That would be over 135 million pieces of trash each year. If all the pieces of trash were aluminum cans and those cans were recycled, we would save the energy equivalent of 67.5 million gallons of gas or the equivalent of removing 135,000 cars from the road.

So next time you run by a piece of trash and think that picking it up (and taking it where it can be recycled) will not have an impact, think of the other 26 million runners who might be picking up a piece of trash as well. Together we can change the world.