Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Grant Writing: An (Unglamorous) Necessity

To date, Patrick and I have met several people to discuss various aspects of the project. We've met Ken Baierl, Director of Communications and Marketing; Jim Yocom, Director of Media and Events; Susan O'Brian and Calvin Manns of the Recycling Center, and several IUSB faculty members.

In addition, last week I met Cheryl Schade, Director of Adult Services at the Logan Center. We had a great conversation discussing the possibility of forming a partnership with the project. And she had some really good ideas on reusing plastic bags! In the meantime, however, I must be patient--my goal is to secure a partnership with the Logan Center because this project depends on establishing solid relationships with the community. So please cross your fingers for me!

In other news, Patrick and I have been diligently writing grant proposals. Though necessary, grant writing is an unglamorous task. (I actually considered taking a photo of me writing, but the idea of taking an "action" shot of me writing sounds, well, silly!)

To be honest, it's really not that bad. In fact, writing grant proposals can be quite *enjoyable*--just ask Patrick-- somehow, I've managed to refine his geek skills. Now, Patrick spends his Friday nights working on his grant proposal. Woo Hoo!!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Only Store That Offers Plastic-Bag Recycling: Wal-mart

By now, it's clear there are no facilities in Indiana that will recycle our plastic bags. Susan O'Brien (Account Manager of Waste Management) was the first person to give me the news.

The question, according to Susan, was to call the local grocery stores and ask them where plastic bags are transported for recycling. So, I took her advice and made a few calls. This is what I found out:

Kroger's used to offer plastic-bag recycling, but that service was discontinued eight years ago. Why? Well, recycling these plastic bags became an expense. It simply cost too much to transport the bags for recycling. So they quit offering the service.

Martin's also used to offer plastic-bag recycling. But this service was discontinued when the LaPorte Mill shut down in 2001. After the LaPorte Mill closed, the nearest facility was in Chicago, and they simply couldn't afford to pay the transportation costs. So, they also stopped accepting plastic bags for recycling.

But take note: Martin's offers a .03 cent credit to anyone that reuses their old plastic bags (or cloth bags). Of course, if you're like me, that means you're bound to forget to bring your old bags with you to the store! So here's a challenge: After you're done reading this blog, grab a handful of your plastic bags, and put them in your car. That way, the next time you're at the grocery store, you'll be prepared to bring your bags with you.

Now, when speaking to the store manager of Martin's, I discovered there is one store that offers plastic bag recycling. Which store? He didn't want to name any names, but I thought I heard him mutter, "Wal-Mart". That piqued my interest--I had to call!

So, I called Wal-Mart. Long story short, I had to call 1-800 Wal-mart to ask where they ship their plastic bags for recycling. And then I had to wait three days for their answer--but I did receive a call from them. And this is what I found out:

Each week, a semi-truck picks up plastic bags and other recyclables at Wal-Mart. Those materials get shipped to Bentonville, Arkansas (that's where the Wal-Mart headquarters is located). There's a mill in Bentonville that recycles plastic bags into patio furniture and chairs. Wowza! What a revelation!

So, folks, Wal-Mart is the only store in South Bend that offers plastic-bag recycling. And those plastic bags get transported down south to Bentonville, Arkansas. It's not exactly nearby, and it's certainly not cheap!

As a brief aside, I wonder how much gas money is spent to haul these plastic bags to Bentonville, AK. (How much money does it cost to fill up a semi-truck, anyway?)

Oh! Now that you've finished reading this blog, don't forget the challenge!

Friday, August 18, 2006

The State of Garbage in Indiana

Each year, there's a nationwide survey* that provides an overview of how garbage is handled in the US. Hold your nose: it's not exactly a pretty story.

So, looking at the 2006 report, we (the US population as a whole) generated approximately 388 million tons of garbage. Of that total figure, 64.1% is sent to landfills, 28.5% is recycled & composted, and 7.4% is combusted.

Wowza. That's a lot of garbage.

So what about Indiana? Care to know what the survey said?

Our state alone generated approximately 13 million tons of garbage in one year. To date, there are 36 landfills in Indiana, and 60% of our garbage is directly sent to landfills. The rest of the trash is either recycled (35%) or combusted (5%).

And get this: In one year, Indiana residents generated 2.1 tons of garbage per person. That's you, me, and everyone else, but on a personal level. (Good grief!)

By comparison, Georgia residents generated 900 lbs of garbage per person that same year. There's approximately 2.5 million more people in GA. Yet, despite having a smaller population in Indiana, we Hoosiers generated 4.8 million tons more trash than GA folks!

(Ok, now before my friends in GA get smug, they should know that 90.6% of their garbage is directly sent to landfills, 8.3% is recycled, and 1.1% is combusted.)

So that's the state of garbage in Indiana. Not quite appetizing, I must admit. But rather than feeling guilty and ultimately ignoring this situation, I propose we become proactive in reducing our waste. Please tell me what you do to reduce waste--I want to know and be inspired by you!

*Survey information provided by BioCycle magazine, April 2006.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Touring the Recycling Center

My student, Patrick Cravalho, and I toured the recycling center last week. What an amazing experience! I was so impressed by the facilities. Calvin Manns supervises the production team at the General Recycling Center. Calvin has 40 years of experience in the industry--he's a bonafide expert on recycling! We also met Susan O'Brien, the account manager of Waste Management. So Patrick and I were in good hands as we discovered interesting facts about recycling. For instance, there are four semi-trucks that ship recycled materials everyday to various locations (e.g., Warsaw paper mill). There are also goods that are shipped internationally!

In addition, the recycling center accepts pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House Charity in LaPorte Co.

And, check out this employee who graciously allowed me to take his photograph. His job is to bale cardboard using this oversized contraption:

Incredible! So, for those of you who are suspicious about whether your recyclables are actually recycled, I can assure you they are!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Project Goals & Ideas

Since the auspicious evening, I've had to organize my thoughts on this project. There are three primary aims:

1) To raise public awareness on the use of plastic bags

2) To instill a sense of personal responsibility that inspires behavioral, environmental, and economic changes in the South Bend community

3) To apply statistical training and knowledge that addresses a real-world issue in our community

To meet these goals, several activities have been planned:

1) I will be conducting service-learning program in my statistics courses, Spring 2007. This service-learning component will allow students to apply their statistical training to this issue. A major part of this progam includes collecting plastic bags within a 5-mile radius of campus, gathering survey data on the use of plastic bags in South Bend, and creating a pile of plastic bags, which will be tallied as bags are collected. Information from the survey will be used for statistical purposes that fit within the framework of course expectations.

2) In addition to the service-learning program, plans are underway to host an on-campus event on the use of plastic bags. This event would include students, faculty, and community members. One aspect of the event would include plastic-bag donations from community members. Other aspects of the event include distributing information on the consumption of plastic bags, contests, and fun-filled activities that provide a visual means of understanding the importance of recycling and re-using plastic bags.

3) A critical aspect of the event raises the issue of handling the pile of plastic bags. At this time, the state of Indiana does not offer facilities to recycle plastic bags. Therefore, one idea is to consider re-using plastic bags in a creative, and potentially, cost-effective manner. That is, by applying basket-weaving techniques, people can learn how to create plastic shopping bags. As a long-term outcome of this project, this skill may be taught to individuals who could make and sell these bags for far less than it costs to purchase a cloth shopping bag.

4) There's another *treat* in store for this project. At this time, however, I will not let the shark out of bag! (I think Steven Soderbergh used that line when asked about a future film project. In any case, I'm known by my friends for butchering well-known phrases and quotes!)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Inspiration (or why I lost sleep over plastic bags)

This project began from a conversation I had with my friend Michael. I told him I was fed up with having so many plastic bags in my house--indeed, my "plastic bag" cabinet was overfilled, and there were a couple of plastic bags strewn in the kitchen. I wished there was something I could do about this--plastic bags just seem to accrue without any awareness. And I try to remember to bring my cloth shopping bag, but I always seem to remember when I'm *at* the store, and never *before* I get to the store!

Anyway, what began as an expression of frustration somehow escalated into a full-fledged project on conservation. I knew I was in big trouble when I got off the phone at 2:30am and excavated the plastic bags from the cabinet. I laid out the plastic bags on the kitchen floor, counted them, and photographed the scene. I must have taken 80-100 pictures of these bags.

I didn't go to bed until 4am, thanks to these bags. Yes, I'm in big trouble now. Something has to be done about conserving plastic bags. And I've got a few ideas on just how to address this issue.

(In case you're wondering, There were 71 plastic bags in the stack.)