A below-deck look at reycling and wastewater treatment on Holland America's Zaandam

While the 1,432 passengers aboard Holland America's Zaandam, are enjoying a five-course meal at one of the ship's plush dining venues or unwinding with a hot-stone massage in the vessels'  full-service spa, crew are bustling below, sorting out tons of waste and recyclables.

The Zaandam is one of 11 ships operated by six major cruise lines making weekly departures for Alaska from Seattle's Elliot Bay this summer.

Environmental organizations have long charged cruise lines with producing extreme quantities of waste. According to Bluewater Network, which merged with San-Francisco-based Friends of the Earth (FOE) in 2005, even a week-long  trip generates serious garbage:

"A typical cruise ship on a one-week voyage generates more than 50 tons of garbage, two million gallons of graywater (waste water from sinks, showers, galleys and laundry facilities), 210,000 gallons of sewage, and 35,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water."

But cruise industry representatives maintain crew aboard their vessels are making cutting-edge efforts to be more sustainable.

Everything Zaandam passengers throw away, said Joe Parks, one of Holland America's environmental officers, is sorted by crew members and stored on the ship until the vessel can offload it at a port.

The sorting room (pictured above) is two floors below the first passenger deck. The room has a full-time staff of 6-8 members who separate glass, paper and cardboard, aluminum cans and trash. The recyclable materials are compressed: boxes are broken down and machines hum and clamor, pressing  bucketloads of glass and cans.

Consumers really can affect global warming -- particularly if they live in the United States

I've always been just a hair skeptical about all those admonitions to consumers to save the world -- you know, the "Live simply, that others may simply live"-type instructions. They felt a little too much like guilt-tripping to me, with perhaps not enough corresponding actual environmental good being done. It seems like a way for consumers who are feeling guilty about something -- say, those SUVs they drive -- to assuage their guilt by doing something that doesn't really hurt, like turning off the lights when leaving a room. And of course, we've seen how this mindset can backfire:

Rita Hibbard's picture

Just say 'no' to plastic and paper - bring your own bags until lawmakers - and voters - get the courage to act

Just say no.

To paper and plastic.

An Oregon lawmaker is backing legislation to ban plastic bags. A big fight is shaping up, with plastic bag makers pointing to the  harmful effects of paper, and asking 'who can say paper is worse than plastic?' In Seattle last year, rita_hibbardwebvoters bowed to big spending by big plastic and chemical interests and voted down a proposal to  impose fees on all disposable bags.

The Oregon battle, a long shot to begin with, will be a tough one, marked by rhetoric and big spending by corporate interests that have derailed similar efforts around the nation. Expect that to continue. Why? Because nationwide, grocery stores and pharmacies go through about 92 billion plastic bags a year, compared to about 5 billion paper bags.

“The plastic industry … will try to win local battle by local battle,”  Marc Mihaly, director of the environmental law center at Vermont Law School, says of such contests. “They will intimidate where they can. If they can’t intimidate … they will try to influence legislators.”

But all of us could make the decision ourselves, and just bring our own re-usable bags. Yeah, it's hard to remember.  And really annoying to carry five oranges, a jar of honey and three cans of dog food out of the store with no bag. But, sigh, we could save a lot of money and energy and advertising brochures headed for the landfill if we just said 'no.'  To non-reusable bags, that is.

The Oregonian's Scott Learn writes that State Sen.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Seattle Council's vote for a 'Do Not Mail' registry takes a stand for sustainability

Living sustainably means more than recycling. It also means cutting back on all that stuff that lands on those railroad cars that get sent to landfills in central Oregon from Seattle or barged across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii.

rita_hibbardwebStriking a blow for citizens who want to do their part, the Seattle City Council Thursday passed a resolution urging the Legislature to create a Do Not Mail junk mail registry akin to the Do Not Call registry for home phones. Yes, it will probably take federal action to get results. But it's also true that you have to start somewhere. So take a stand, Seattle!

The resolution would keep catalogs, ads, direct mail and other unwanted solicitations out of your mailbox.It claims the "production, distribution, and disposal of unsolicited direct mail contributes to climate change by producing 51 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually - equivalent to that of 10 million automobiles.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Good news on the garbage front - methane from Seattle's garbage to heat homes

I wrote recently about the folly of shipping hundreds of thousands of tons of Hawaiian garbage to landfills in central Washington. I wrote that the low cost - $99 per 100,000 tons, enables what is so clearly the unsustainable lifestyle that so many of us on this planet live. rita_hibbardwebThere are other issues – the garbage is shrink-wrapped, as if this will somehow prevent transmission of non-native species. As readers pointed out, excess packaging creates excess trash. And in that piece, I mentioned that Seattleites, not just Honolulu residents, must feel this pain, because our garbage also is shipped out of our backyard – not by barge, but by rail, to central Oregon, where it is piled in someone else’s big empty backyard.

Some good news is emerging from that big empty backyard this week. Turns out that methane gas created as garbage decomposes is being created for domestic use at half the cost of wind power and being sold back to Seattle from the same landfill in Oregon.

The energy plant in Arlington, Ore., where Seattle sends about 400,000 tons of trash each year,  provides Seattle about 5.78 average megawatts – enough to power 5,625 homes, writes Emily Heffter in the Seattle Times. The energy produced costs half as much as wind power. What's more, the city expects to be producing more renewable energy in this manner.

How multimedia reporting can improve my environmental journalism (and yours, too!)

rm iwest mugWow. After a draining but fascinating week at the  Knight Digital Media Center's multimedia journalism boot camp, I'm itching to edit the video for what will be my second InvestigateWest piece.

And you, too, can benefit from the Knight Center's expertise -- whether you're a paid journalist or a citizen who is thinking about committing some journalism to right some wrongs. Much of what I learned, and more, is available on the center's website in the tutorials section. For me, this stuff should prove pivotal.

Our marathon learn-while-you-do sessions, lasting from 9 a.m. at least until 9 p.m. each day, allowed teams of journalists to produce actual multimedia stories. My team* was sent out to profile the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, a non-profit formed by teachers to divert useable materials out of the waste stream. It not only helps teachers and artists find cheap stuff -- it also keeps landfills from filling up so fast.

Our multimedia piece features a video, an audio slideshow, a little game, information on the store and links to more resources on reuse.

 I'm grateful that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation saw fit to fund this intensive week of learning, which I'll be putting to practical use very soon.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Seattle sewers are clogged with grease: recycle and limit garbage disposals

An eye-opening, stomach-clenching report in today reveals that 544,000 gallons of grease clog Seattle drains every month, most of it from dirty dishes and food waste. That’s enough to fill seven large swimming pools, reporter Scott Gutierrez tells us, and it causes about one-third of the city’s sewer backups. A video of the interior of a fat-clogged sewage pipe looks eerily similar to what a patient headed for open-heart surgery might be viewing at the cardiologist's office.

It's an issue for any city or county with older sewer pipes and residents who consume animal products. Cities have taken various approaches to reducing the amount of grease discharge, either through stepped-up recycling programs or stronger regulations. Last year in Fairfax County, Va., officials sued donut giant Krispy Kreme for $20 million, alleging that years of greasy waste from a donut plant had fouled up the sewer system.

rita_hibbardwebIn Seattle, most restaurants throw used cooking grease in bins, which is collected and sent to rendering plants or converted into biodiesel. But many residents don’t thoroughly scrape the grease off their dishes, Gutierrez reports. In those cases, it rinses off into the hot water, then accumulates in the city’s pipes.

Although there are hot spots in the city’s sewer system around areas with restaurants, home garbage disposals are a real problem.

People toss their food scraps into the disposal, thinking the ground-up mess will safely drain down through the pipes. But that's not what happens.

Zero waste ethic catches on

From Seattle to San Francisco and beyond, Western cities and parks are beginning to align their recycling policies with a simple fact: we as a society send too much usable stuff to landfills.  And we're paying through the nose to do it.

New York Times reporter Leslie Kaufman describes the zero waste ethic as "simple in concept if not always in execution."

Produce less waste. Shun polystyrene foam containers or any other packaging that is not biodegradable. Recycle or compost whatever you can.

Though born of idealism, the zero-waste philosophy is now propelled by sobering realities, like the growing difficulty of securing permits for new landfills and an awareness that organic decay in landfills releases methane that helps warm the earth’s atmosphere.

With the economy in shambles and landfill space at a premium, companies such as Honda are getting past the problems to implement zero waste recycling policies, trimming their costs in the process.

Here's a tip -- that saves money and the earth -- straight from my zero waste kitchen to yours: stop throwing away perfectly usable food.  I am not referring to moldy leftovers that deserve nothing more than to be composted.  Things happen, leftovers get ignored.

What I am referring to are chicken and beef bones and carrot tops and ends and all the other vegetable bits left over from making dinner.  Take them and freeze them as you go about your day to day business.