Inspiration, Social Entrepreneurship and Garbage

First Fridays kind of make my head explode with ideas. I get all ramble-y and dreamy. All thanks to Creative Mornings.

One of my personal goals for 2013 was to reduce our garbage output. Or at least take a look at what we put on the curb, why we do it, and examine if there are other better places to put that stuff. Since buying a house and having some kids in the last 4 years, our lives have gotten a lot more complicated. Five years ago, M and I lived out of backpacks and were acutely aware of our trash production because of the "pack it in-pack it out" practice on the AT. But even then, we rarely carried more than a week's worth of garbage, and once we dumped it, we never thought about it again. It's so easy to throw things away in our country. Four years ago, we lived in a one bedroom apartment, paid about $20 a month on electricity and rode our bikes everywhere. Now we drive a lot more, and I noticed that the pile of trash bags that we lugged out to the curb was getting awfully big.

The first thing I did was examine the guide I got from the city of Pittsburgh about what to recycle. Turns out I was pitching a lot of stuff that ought to be recycled including plastic #6 and #7 and junk mail. That immediately reduced our trash by a bag or two. Then I started putting our food waste in the compost again. We need to educate ourselves about properly composting, because we have one of these, which is good for small spaces, but doesn't seem to be efficiently breaking down the food. What do you add to your compost to balance the food scraps?

We started using our cloth diaper stash again, which is a little bit of a pain, but definitely reduces waste.  We labeled some mason jars so we would remember to take them to the bulk section and fill them up instead of using those plastic bags they have there. I'm diverting some of the paper bags and cardboard into our craft closet so we can use them with art projects. Painting sessions with a three year old can use up a LOT of paper, and we never end up keeping very many of them. I think if I use nontoxic water colors it would be fine to still put these paintings in recycling after we are done with them.

Ok, so I diverted a lot of stuff out of our garbage bags and into our recycling bin, but was still horrified at the sheer amount of stuff that we end up bringing into the house and then sending out again.  I'm a busy lady though, and I went back to writing curriculum and feeding babies and organizing community workshops and stopped thinking about my trash for a while. Until today.

And then, because Pittsburgh is filled with awesome, innovative people these days, I attended a Creative Mornings lecture given by Ian Rosenberger of Thread International. He has a business model that takes trash, namely plastic bottles that are everywhere in Haiti, and employs Haitians to help turn this plastic in fabric. This video gives a brief overview of what they do.

Ian said something that really resonated with me, especially based on my experience working on low-income communities in the US for the past ten years, as well as what I saw in Uganda in 2008. He talked about digging in and really examining the impact that your actions have on the community you are trying to serve. He cited the example of Tom's Shoes, which everyone thinks is a good idea at first (you buy a pair, they donate a pair), but one of the effects is that these donated shoes put cobblers out of of business in the places where these shoes go. Oops. But a common mistake in NGO practice. Give a man a fish, and all that.

I've been mulling over this problem as it relates to education. I think I have the beginnings of an idea to engage parents. But I need a profit motive to make it all work. How do I turn family-centered tutoring and mentorship in low-income areas into a profit-driven business?

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