Gardening Eden

author Michael Abbaté's Blog

No Waste November Lessons November 30, 2009

Filed under: Michael Abbate,No Waste November,Recycling — Michael Abbate @ 8:23 am

Vicki and I began this little STP (short term project) a month ago.  At the time, we said our goal was to produce no trash for an entire month.  Little did we know that efforts like this are spreading like wildfire (

Motivated by our love of the Creator, and our desire to steward the Creation, we did our best for 30 days.  We faced some unique challenges, including a business trip, over 1000 trick-or-treaters, Thanksgiving dinner, Black Friday, and nearly a week with nine people living in our home, instead of just the two of us.

You might say that we failed – after all, we did, in fact, generate considerable trash that begins its journey to the landfill today.

However, I think about this effort quite differently.  In my view, it was actually quite successful.  Instead of rolling out a trash bin every week, we were able to contain all of the trash we generated during an entire month in a single grocery bag.  That’s an amazing reduction in trash, probably close to 90%.

In addition, we learned many countless lessons on how to live with less while leaving less for the landfill.  Here are our top 13 lessons learned (and when we discussed it in detail):

1.  Think before you toss: first consider reuse, recycle, or compost before trash.

2.  Learn your local recycling options. (Nov. 2)

3.  Learn the joys of composting. (Nov. 18 & 19)

4.  Carry your own cup and water bottle; (and place setting if you attend a volunteer appreciation banquet!) (Nov. 21)

5.  Use handkerchiefs, cloth napkins and towels. (Nov. 8 & 17)

6.  Buy products made from recycled materials. (Nov. 25)

7.  Make packaging a consideration in your purchasing decisions:  buy in bulk, avoid frozen prepared foods, and favor those items that come in recyclable packing. (Nov. 16)

8.  Bookmark; a great source for recycling options near you. (Nov. 23)

9.  Use low-flow showerheads, toilets and faucets. (Nov. 12)

10.  Borrow, don’t buy. (Nov. 13)

11.  Dispose of hazardous materials carefully. (Nov. 22)

12.  Think ahead when you travel. (Nov. 5)

13.  Don’t expect others to match your enthusiasm; lead by example and others will see the possibility, not the challenge.  (Nov. 21)


Vicki and I are going to take these lessons and continue on, learning new ways that we can refuse to make refuse.  Will you join us?  I’d love to hear your struggles, victories and ideas.  Most importantly, don’t lose track of the reason we are doing this in the first place – we have want to honor the one who took us from death to life, from wasted lives to abundant lives.  He deserves every little thing we can do to show our appreciation.


Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life and Our World, by Michael Abbaté, published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, 2009.  ISBN  978-0-30744-499-8.   For more info:


Goal: A Living Christmas Tree November 29, 2009

Filed under: Michael Abbate,No Waste November,Recycling — Michael Abbate @ 1:53 pm

A couple days ago, I mentioned that we were headed off to purchase our Christmas tree.  We had a couple objectives.  First, we wanted to try a tree that was still living, not the typical cut tree that was just a few weeks away from the compost pile.  Secondly, we wanted to get a species of tree that I could plant down along Fairview Creek when the holidays were over.

That shouldn’t be a problem here in the biggest Christmas tree-producing state in the country, right?  Oregon produces about 7 million Christmas trees per year, nearly 40% of all the trees harvested in the US.  The second-place state, North Carolina, produces less than half that many. So finding a live native Douglas Fir or Western Red Cedar ought to be relatively easy.  Or so I thought.

My local nursery had a small but diverse selection of live trees, probably 15 or so to choose from.  Unfortunately, none were the native species I was looking for.  Plant the wrong tree and two things could happen.  Most likely, Noble or Grand Fir accustomed to growing at higher elevations and colder temperatures would not survive very long along our low-elevation creek.  Secondly, even if it were to survive, this would not be a species that would help keep the ecosystem healthy – it would be a foreigner to the birds and plants found along Fairview Creek.

Tree lots and even you-cut Christmas tree farms are abundant in or near the Portland Metro area.  However, they do not offer living trees.  The farms are highly efficient at growing, cutting, baling and shipping trees, and the digging and potting process is not in their business plans.  I thought I might have to give up my dream of a live tree.

There are some fledgling efforts for Christmas tree alternatives, including one local non-profit that offers to rent you a living tree, then plant it in a watershed after Christmas (  However, we did not get our reserved far enough in advance, and I want to plant the tree here, not along some other stream.

Finally, at Portland Nursery (, Vicki and I found a 6 foot Douglas Fir, sheared to be sure, but fully qualified to grow and help shade the Creek for many years after this Christmas.  We brought it home and placed it on our front porch for now.

Live trees bring another consideration – the inside of your house may be cozy and warm to you, but to a living tree, it’s a sauna!  The friendly folks at Portland Nursery recommend that you keep your tree outside as long as possible, and to bring it inside the house for no more than about a week.

This year, our Christmas tree will live on past the holiday season and will help us restore the ecological balance of Fairview Creek.  The gift that keeps on giving, for sure!

Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life and Our World, by Michael Abbaté, published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, 2009.  ISBN  978-0-30744-499-8.   For more info:


Frenzy of Black Friday November 27, 2009

Filed under: No Waste November — Michael Abbate @ 11:57 am

My family’s tradition is the Fred Meyer Sock Sale.  And, you can’t just get up whenever you please and mosey over to the nearest Freddie’s.  Nope.  We’re there when the place opens–5AM.  And, for what? Socks.

You’ve never seen such frenzied people, hustling from one sock bin to another.  It’s hilarious…and a little stressful.  That’s why we do it.

But, this year, I got to thinking about how quickly we make decisions in this sort of environment. Some of the fancy Chrismas socks, come on little plastic hangers.  Packs of socks come in plastic bags.  How can you possibly think about packaging when you’re moving at the speed of sound?

It, at least, got me thinking.  If we slowed down, just a little, how much wiser would we be?

We’re off to purchase our Christmas tree.  I’ll tell you tomorrow about why it’s extra special this year!


Recycling Thanksgiving November 26, 2009

Filed under: Michael Abbate,No Waste November,Recycling — Michael Abbate @ 10:35 am

It is Thanksgiving Day; a time to stop and reflect on all of the things in our lives that we have to be thankful for.  My list is long, and I hope yours is as well.

There is one thing I have noticed as I have traveled to various places around this planet – most of the developing world recycles out of necessity, not as an act of spiritual stewardship.  Whether it is in Morocco, Central African Republic, or China, I have observed an established system of trash collection and recycling for items that had reached the end of their usefulness for one person, but could be of some utility to another.

Sometimes this phenomenon has tragic results.  In Managua, Nicaragua thousands of people actually live in La Chureca – the city’s dump.  Even small children work up to 12 hours a day, digging through the refuse of 1.7 million people.  This video tells the story of heartbreak and hope:

What is considered voluntary for wealthy people like us is a matter of life and death to the vast majority of people in the world.  What strikes me this Thanksgiving Day is this thought:  If you have a choice, be thankful.  If you are not forced to collect cans out of economic necessity, be thankful.  If you can choose to fill your trash can with the detritus of American culture, be thankful.  If you have been blessed with a house, a job, and people who love and care for you, be thankful.  The result?  I should let my thankfulness be expressed in my actions.

Jesus put it this way:  “…from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  Do you fit this description?  I know I do.  It is humbling to acknowledge that I am accountable for how I handle the blessings of this life.

So, this Thanksgiving, I will reflect on the one who has given me hope and take advantage of every opportunity to pass on this hope to others.  Perhaps in doing this, I can recycle the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life and Our World, by Michael Abbaté, published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, 2009.  ISBN  978-0-30744-499-8.   For more info:


Urban Farming November 24, 2009

Filed under: No Waste November — Michael Abbate @ 10:14 am

I never thought I’d be one to consider raising livestock.  After all, my visits to working farms over the years evoked a deep respect and a deeper understanding that it was not the life for me.  Who wants to get up at 5am every morning–rain, shine or sleet–to tend to the livestock after all.  And, from big animals comes big poop.  Nope.  Not the life for me.

But, in my quest to understand Creation Care, I’ve begun to appreciate the unique relationship between human and animal.  Respect and appreciation replaced laziness.

I’m trying to convince Vicki, my wife, to reach way back to her family’s farming roots and get some chickens.  They are sustainable!  They eat your scraps, they produce food almost daily (eggs, that is) and their waste makes wonderful compost.  There are countless resources for those considering raising chickens in an urban environment:,,

Did you know that more than 50 percent of bee populations have disappeared?  Honey and bumble bees are critical to agricultural success.  Without pollination, we’d be nowhere.  Besides that, honey is one of the most amazing creations of God as far as food is considered.  It is antibacterial, full of natural antioxidants and lasts forever (due to its natural preservatives).  Oh, and as a bonus, you women may care to know that honey is hygroscopic, meaning it helps keep skin hydrated and fresh as it pulls moisture out of the air…  (  Quite the product!  Many people I know are so amazed by the product of the honeybee that they’ve taken it upon themselves to help preserve the creature.  They’re easy to care for and help to keep our plants healthy and productive while also providing delicious honey for our consumption.  Great local blog:  I hope to get my own honeybees sometime soon…

Now, if you’re feeling ambitious, urban goats could be exciting.  They produce milk, which I don’t have to tell you is an important component of a healthy diet. Somehow, I couldn’t picture a little goat hanging out in our backyard, especially with the coyotes we have around.  But, to each their own. They do cut down on landscape management, to be sure.

I admire anyone who takes the plunge into urban farming!


What About the Nasties? November 22, 2009

Filed under: Michael Abbate,No Waste November,Recycling — Michael Abbate @ 12:07 pm

So far during No Waste November, we have addressed three main categories of refuse from our homes:

•         Recyclables of many types:  paper, plastic, metal

•         Compostables of many types:  kitchen waste, yard trimmings, and non-recyclable paper products

•         Trash that gets picked up by your garbage company and taken to a landfill or incinerator

But what about those other things that don’t fit cleanly into one of those three buckets?  How about Hazardous Materials like:

•         Paints and thinners

•         Yard chemicals like fertilizers, pesticides, weed killers

•         Old gasoline

•         Hazardous cleaning materials

What do you do with these nasties?  Should we dump them down a sink or pour them down a street drain?  Absolutely not!

Street drains often are piped directly to streams, rivers, lakes and other local water bodies.  So no chemicals should ever be washed into a gutter or dumped on a street or poured directly down a street drain.

Our sinks and household plumbing usually run into a sanitary sewer system that ends up at a wastewater treatment plant.  Here, biological processes are used to breakdown the mostly organic waste that is in sewers, and release clean water back into water bodies.  Chemicals that end up here can often kill the beneficial organisms that are at work at these plants.

Both water-soluble acrylic paints and oil-based paints can contaminate streams, lakes and other local waterways.  In addition, unused paint can be recycled!  It can be turned into new paint.

Well last week, Vicki and I cleaned out our garage and found many items that we didn’t want anymore.  Since we just repainted out house, there were several buckets of old paint that we needed to get rid of, along with some stain.  We also wanted to get rid of a bunch of lawn and garden chemicals that were left by the previous owner of our house. So we loaded up the trunk of the Prius.

We did a little research to find out what to do with our trunk load of chemicals.  It turns out that here in the Portland area, there are several options and all of these hazardous materials are collected, free of charge, in order to encourage people to bring them in, rather than dump them in the environment. The Metro Waste Transfer Station in Oregon City has a huge facility devoted to recycling hazardous materials.  Friendly folks in protective suits unloaded and took care of all of the materials we brought.  We can breathe a lot easier.

So, do your neighbors and Creation a favor by taking care with hazardous materials:  buy less, use them carefully, and dispose of them at a licensed facility.  Keep your nasties to yourself!

Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life and Our World, by Michael Abbaté, published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, 2009.  ISBN  978-0-30744-499-8.   For more info:


Local Chow Down November 20, 2009

Filed under: No Waste November — Michael Abbate @ 8:43 am

I moved to Portland, Oregon about 23 years ago from Southern California.  What drew me was the beauty of the city, the abundance of green life and the size of this little town.  Back then, the restaurant choices were good, but it wasn’t the foodie hub that it is now.  As the area has grown and developed, I’ve fallen more and more in love with this place I call home.  For those of you living in other corners of the country, or the world, here’s a recent blog post on some of what the Portland-metro area has to offer:

Now, many of you don’t live in the Portland area, and you may never even visit.  But, many of the principles I’m going to talk about can be applied any where.  Living green can be a lot of work.  There’s so much to think about.  But, it all pays off in the area of food.  Trying different varieties of vegetables you never knew existed, eating a locally grown apple that melts as you devour it.  Our Creator designed food for us…why not enjoy it to its fullest?

Portland is an epicenter of restaurants with sustainable practices that serve the best of the local cuisine.  And, this is true of everything from fast food to fancy fare.

Take Burgerville, for instance.  It’s the Northwest’s burger joint. Everything they serve is local and seasonal (although not always healthy…who wants a healthy french fry anyway?).  And, their garbage receptacles reflect their philosophies with separate places to put your plastic lid, your paper cup and your uneaten morsels.

Now, as for pizza, you cannot go wrong with Hot Lips.  They use local farmers for everything they put in pizza from wheat to cheese.  And, they’ve received countless awards for their sustainability.  They even deliver pizza in a Hot Lips Smart Car.  Besides all this, it’s quite tasty.

For a nice night out on the town, Vicki and I love exploring all the foodie joints that the Portland-metro area has to offer.  From Wildwood ( to Lauro Kitchen (, from Bluehour ( to Saucebox (, Portland has so much to offer.

Perhaps the best thing of all is that the research has been done for us for many restaurants.  The Chinook Book offers coupons and special deals for local, sustainable businesses, including restaurants.  And EcoMetro offers these same sorts of deals for other cities, too: Denver, CO; East Bay, CA; Seattle, WA; Santa Cruz, CA; Twin Cities.  For only $20, it’s well worth the benefit.

And, it’s a nice break from the packaging nightmares of cooking at home…

Where should I take Vicki tonight?