See Through The Waste


Cyrus Kabiru is a force to be aware of!  His work brought him the honor of being a TED Fellow. The TED Fellows program is a global network of innovators and trailblazers from a spectrum of disciplines.  Every year, more amazing change-makers join the pack.  I clicked on his You Tube video and found myself feeling really good about the world.

Digging through electronic refuse and found materials in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, Cyrus Kabiru, refashions trash into different wearable forms, mostly flamboyantly composed glasses.

“I really love trash. I try to give trash a second chance. I change it to be something else, which is like it will stay for more than 100 years now.”  I love this guy!

His creations shuffle between performance, sculpture, and fashion—embodying the playfulness of the youth generation in Nairobi. “When you walk in town and you see someone with my glasses, the glasses will get all your attention,” said Kabiru. “If you have any stress it is like a therapy.”

In addition to his sculptures and glasses, Kabiru is a self-taught painter.  His subject matter depicts a humorous portrayal of contemporary Kenyan life.  His current series uses thousands of pounded bottle caps sewn together.


Cryus’ creativity is endless.  Every Cyrus link I find exhibits more and more of his work.  It all makes me smile.




How You Can Help:

  • Let Cyrus inspire you to rethink trash.
  • Plug into this vibrant TED community by applying to be a Fellow, sponsoring the program or exploring a world of stories about growth and impact.

Until next week,Kenya_09

Garbage Girl


Is Recycling Wasteful?



This past week, The New York Times featured an article on costly, complicated and inefficient recycling by John Tierney.   It was upsetting.   Mr. Tierney is a noted writer about social sciences, thriving on controversies in science and medicine.  Written in 1996, his first NYT article on the topic, Recycling Is Garbage, was widely quoted, positively and negatively.

In 1995, third graders in NYC were learning the Three R’s — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The year they were born, a barge named the Mobro 4000 wandered thousands of miles trying to unload its cargo of Long Islanders’ trash.  Its journey caused the citizens of the richest society in the history of the planet to become obsessed with their garbage.

Consumer hungry Americans in a throw away culture started to embrace recycling as an act of moral redemption. Recycling would compensate for our excesses.  This obsession let corporations shift the cost of dealing with their disposable products from themselves to the consumer and the taxpayers.

John Tierney stresses that decades of elected officials and corporate leaders  emphatically urging us to participate in curbside recycling hasn’t made it any cheaper to recycle our household waste than to send it to a landfill.  He argues that we are diverting money and energy from genuine social and environmental problems.

Ideally, recycling is a profit motivated endeavor to get used resources back into the consumer chain.  These mostly single use materials still have more value than taking up space in a landfill only to replace them with more.  Tierney thinks the resources are still so cheap that burying them is economically viable.

Politicians are setting higher and higher recycling goals, but the national rate has stagnated in recent years at 34%.  It’s popularity in affluent neighborhoods like Park Slope, Brooklyn with rates upwards of 70% and cities like San Francisco claiming 80% feels really good and sets standards that motivate us to keep going.   A competition broke out between the two resulting in statistical one uppery.

In 2001, New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, suffered the consequences of putting an 18 month moratorium on recycling during his first term.  It was costing the city $4.76billion or twice as much to recycle as to landfill its garbage.  He felt the funds were needed elsewhere but the citizens fought back.  Bloomberg went from no recycling to competitive recycling!

As more cities move  into recycling food scraps and plastics, the costs rise sharply while the environmental benefits come into question.  “If you believe recycling is good for the planet and that we need to do more of it, then there’s a crisis to confront,” says David P. Steiner, the chief executive officer of Waste Management, the largest recycler of household trash in the United States. “Trying to turn garbage into gold costs a lot more than expected. We need to ask ourselves: What is the goal here?”


The future for recycling needs to address many areas.  One significant area would be products that are designed without recycling in mind.  Correcting this problem would require rethinking our industrial processes, says William McDonough, author of “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”.   With his co- author, Michael Braungart, they lay out a vision for establishing “closed-loop” cycles where there is no waste.  Recycling should be taken into account at the design stage and all materials should either be able to return to the soil safely or be recycled indefinitely.  Mr. McDonough has worked with companies like Ford and Google.

An outgrowth of “Cradle to Cradle” is the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a non-profit group in Virginia who  developed guidelines that go beyond traditional packaging design and emphasize the use of renewable, recycled and non-toxic source materials.  Founded in 2003 with just nine members, the group now boasts nearly 100 members, including Target, Starbucks and Estée Lauder, some of which have already begun to change the design of their packaging.

Sustainable packaging not only benefits the environment but can also cut costs.  Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, reduced the amount of packaging it used, saving $3.4 billion and reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by 667,000 tones.      By recycling more of its waste, they avoid disposal costs at landfills and make money selling their waste at market prices.

There is plenty of room for further innovation in recycling. New ideas and approaches are needed such as Pay As You Throw programs, more emphasis on redeemable glass container reuse, and reducing the frequency of garbage/recycling collections resulting in trips to transfer stations or landfills.

Meanwhile a number of cities and firms (like NY, San Francisco, Wal-Mart, Toyota, Nike) have adopted zero-waste targets. This may seem unrealistic but Matt Hale, director of solid waste at America’s Environmental Protection Agency, says it is a worthy goal.  It can help companies think about better ways to manage materials.  It forces them to look at the entire life-cycle of a product and ask if the amount of material can be reduced to begin with or can the product be designed to make recycling easier?

The goals of recycling should be to save energy, raw materials and reduce pollution.  It is important to recycle more, recycle better and design more uses for recycled materials.

The main point is that recycling diverts our attention from the more difficult behavioral changes of reduce and reuse.  The absolute best recycling is the least need to recycle.

How You Can Help:

  • Bulk buying reduces packaging and trips to the store.
  • Buy products that use sustainable or no packaging.
  • Buy better stuff that lasts longer.
  • Avoid single use products.
  • Make your own stuff!  Its fun!
  • Consider recycling when you buy.  Plastic is expensive and inefficient to recycle.  Glass should be redeemable or reused. Paper should be glue and grease free.  Metal retains its integrity through the most recycles.
  • Buy local and bring your own containers to transport your items home.
  • Do you really need that item?
  • Find others who can use your unwanted items.
  • Buy less stuff.

Until next week,  images

Garbage Girl



Space Waste


Orbital debris around earth

This week, NASA found liquid water on Mars, elevating our hopes that we will find life there.   Since NASA plans to put people on the Red Planet, Ridley Scott worked closely with them to take his film beyond science fiction.

Since 1960, there have been 43 successful and failed space missions to Mars.

Each time we send a rocket into space, we leave traces of ourselves behind.  NASA and The Department of Defense are tracking more than 500,000 pieces of space junk orbiting the Earth.  At speeds of up to 17,500 mph a relatively small piece of orbital debris can damage a satellite or a spacecraft.  The increasing amount of space debris is a danger to the International Space Station, space shuttles and all spacecraft with humans aboard.

NASA takes the threat of collisions with space debris seriously.  They have specific guidelines on how to deal with each one. These guidelines specify when the proximity of a piece of debris increases the probability of a collision enough that evasive action or precautions to ensure the safety of the crew are needed.

Orbital debris is any man-made object in orbit around the Earth which no longer serves a useful function.  Such debris includes nonfunctional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris and fragmentation debris.

There are more than 20,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth.  There are 500,000 pieces of debris the size of a marble or larger.  There are many millions of pieces of debris that are so small they can’t be tracked.

Even tiny paint flecks can damage a spacecraft when traveling at these velocities.  A number of space shuttle windows have been replaced because of damage caused by material shown to be paint flecks.

“The greatest risk to space missions comes from non-trackable debris,” said Nicholas Johnson, NASA chief scientist for orbital debris.

With so much orbital debris, there have been surprisingly few disastrous collisions.

  • In 1996, a French satellite was hit and damaged by debris from a French rocket that had exploded a decade earlier.
  • On Feb. 10, 2009, a defunct Russian satellite collided with and destroyed a functioning U.S. Iridium commercial satellite. The collision added more than 2,000 pieces of trackable debris to the space junk inventory.
  • China’s 2007 anti-satellite test used a missile to destroy an old weather satellite and added more than 3,000 pieces to the debris problem.

NASA and the DoD cooperate and share responsibilities for monitoring the satellite environment.  An imaginary box, about a mile deep by 30 miles across by 30 miles long around any space craft predicts that the debris will pass close enough for concern.  Mission Control in Houston and Moscow work together to develop a course of action.

For example, these encounters can be known well in advance allowing time to move the space station slightly to keep the debris outside of the box.  This is cleverly called a “debris avoidance maneuver”.   Other times, the tracking data isn’t precise enough to warrant such a maneuver or the close pass isn’t identified in time to make the maneuver.  In those cases, the crew is moved into the Soyuz spacecraft that are used to transport humans back and forth from the station. They can isolate themselves from the station by closing hatches or they could leave the station if the collision caused a loss of pressure in the life-supporting module or damaged critical components.  The Soyuz act as lifeboats for crew members in the event of an emergency.

Mission Control also has the option of closing hatches between some of the station’s modules.

Debris avoidance maneuvers are usually small and occur from one to several hours before the time of the conjunction. Maneuvers with the shuttle can be planned and executed in a matter of hours. Maneuvers with the space station require about 30 hours to execute because the station has Russian thrusters. The same is true if the propulsion systems on one of the docked  spacecraft are needed because they are Russian or European.

Several debris avoidance maneuvers with the shuttle and the space station have been conducted during the past 10 years.  In a few hundred years the amount of debris will be so great that space operations will be severely limited.

Will Mars end up looking like earth, marked with debris?
Everything we send there will not be coming back.  And, only two Viking landers in 1976 were sterilized enough to kill Earth microbes.  NASA’s next Mars rover, scheduled to launch in 2020, won’t be any cleaner because sterilization adds to the cost and complicates the design.
The Jet Propulsion Labs in Arizona took this beautifully pristine image of Mars’ liquid water.

This image shows Mount Everest. Visitors produce about 12,000 pounds of human waste a year.  A lot of it IMG_0992_3_4_tonemapped-1030x685ends up in waterways that nearby villages rely upon,  Alton Byers, director of science and exploration at the US-based Mountain Institute, told VICE News.

How You Can Help:

I don’t know! American Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko spent more than 170 days on board the International Space Station producing 180lbs of faeces.  Nasa said this will ‘burn up in the atmosphere and look like shooting stars’.  What can I say after that?

Until next week,images

Garbage Girl