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:


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:


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:


After a Week… November 9, 2009

Filed under: No Waste November,Recycling — Michael Abbate @ 10:26 am

Week 1

Week one of No Waste November is behind us, and we learned something a bit dismaying about ourselves.  Try as we might, we are unable to live completely waste-free, even for just 7 days!

During a week that included 1,008 Halloween trick-or-treaters (that’s not a typo!) and a four-day business trip, we produced 27 items of garbage, ranging from milk jug caps to a cottage cheese container lid, plastic food bags to a shaving cream cap and label, creamer containers to a string cheese wrapper.  Of the 27 items, 22 were trash because they were made of unrecyclable plastic.  The five other items were: 1) a waxed paper milk carton (which I understand is recyclable in Berkeley), 2) candle wax which dripped onto a counter, 3) elastic from an airline luggage tag, 4) masking tape, and 5) a styrofoam cup.

On the cottage cheese container lid, could somebody please explain why the container itself is recyclable, but the lid, which appears to be made of the exact same material, is not?

So, No Waste November has become, Not So Much Waste November.  It doesn’t just roll off the tongue, does it?

But now we have a baseline – can we be even more successful next week? Keep checking in on our progress, and Vicki and I would welcome your comments and suggestions!

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:


Alice’s Restaurant, part deux November 7, 2009

Filed under: No Waste November,Recycling — Michael Abbate @ 5:35 pm


Alice Waters is an amazing woman.  She may be the single most important influence in the development of “California Cuisine” –  a fusion of food styles that is marked by local, fresh, in-season, and organic ingredients.  She has written many books, and I’d particularly recommend The Art of Simple Food, published in 2007 by Random House.

But her restaurant, Chez Panisse, is her legacy to the culinary arts (  I went, like thousands others, to sample some of the freshest, most delicious food prepared anywhere in the world. Much has been written about Chez Panisse’s sources for their ingredients: local farmers, ranchers and fishermen.

But I was there for another reason as well; after all, it is No Waste November.  So, enough about how the food comes into the restaurant; let’s look at how waste leaves the restaurant at the other end!  How does this world-class foodie-haven, committed to sustainable culinary arts, manage their waste?  The wonderful people at the Chez Panisse were gracious enough to give me a look behind the scenes.

Between the dining room and the café, they serve 400-500 meals a day.  Refuse from a restaurant like this can range from spoiled tomatoes to uneaten food, meat trimmings to rosemary stems, egg shells to cooking oils.   And there is a lot of it!

First of all, many of the unsold food items from the previous day are served the next day at the staff lunch.  You talk about some fantastic leftovers! So, the first step in waste management is to consume, rather than toss.

What struck me next in the kitchen were two large gray trash cans on wheels.  One was lined with a bio-bag from the City of Berkeley’s commercial food waste recycling program.  This exceptional initiative has 100 Berkeley businesses that participate, keeping 300 tons of organic waste out of the landfill each year.  (  Another one of their kitchen waste bins collects food scraps which are returned to the farm that grows many of the ingredients.  At the farm there is a large commercial composting system that converts this waste into rich organic compost for the next crop.IMG_6649

Near one of these 40 gallon trash cans for organic waste was a small wastepaper basket.  “What is that for?” I asked.  Jennifer, the General Manager explained, “that is the container we use for actual trash, things that cannot be recycled or composted.  We pride ourselves for not generating more than one wastepaper basketful each day.”  Here were a few pieces of soiled aluminum foil, plastic wrappers and other items that could not be recycled.  Amazing!  Every day their kitchen creates more than 100 times the meals that you and I cook in our homes, and it generates far less trash than most of us.

Their cooking oils are recycled and converted into bio-diesel.  Milk and cream come in reusable glass milk bottles, vegetables come from farms in reusable plastic vegetable trays, minimizing the number of produce boxes.

They have also instituted a practice that actually hurts their bottom line, while helping the environment – they do not sell bottled water.  They filter and carbonate water on-site, eliminating the need for, and the substantial profits that come with, bringing in bottled water for a buck that they can sell to patrons for six.

It was refreshing, albeit unusual, to see a business that is obviously very successful in three arenas: professionally, financially, and environmentally.  We should all learn a few lessons from Alice and her talented staff at Chez Panisse.


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:


New Life for Old Stuff November 2, 2009

Filed under: No Waste November,Recycling — Michael Abbate @ 8:47 am

So, here we are.  Committed to not generating any trash, but still living in the real world.  Is this really possible?  What about the flotsam and jetsam of daily life?  What should I do with this debris if I don’t want it piling up inside my house?

Remember, the goal is to keep as much as possible out of the solid “waste stream”.  Refuse to make refuse.  The possible options are familiar to all of us:




Let’s focus on the last of these options today – RECYCLE.  Here in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, we are blessed with a very extensive curbside recycling program.   It is coordinated by Metro, our regional government.

The large roll carts that are given to households allow us to put all sorts of mixed recyclables in the same bin – no sorting necessary.  This includes paper, plastic and metal items.  Glass can be recycled too, but just placed in a separate bin.  Since Mondays are trash days in our neighborhood, on Sunday night I placed all our recycling items into the blue roll cart to roll out to the curb in the morning.  An inventory of the items accumulated in the past week include:  Newspaper, plastic yogurt and cottage cheese containers, old metal hardware, cereal boxes, steel and aluminum cans, aluminum foil, plastic milk jugs and cardboard egg cartons.

Recycle Sticker

However there are many other items that can be recycled, but just not at the curbside.  These are items that we collect, save and take to special recycling facilities such as Far West Fibers (  Here, they accept items such as CD cases, clean plastic bags and film, and rigid plastic containers marked #1-7.

When you look around, it is truly amazing how many items can be recycled and reborn as new products. As the supply of recycled material grows, the market is responding with new and innovative products made from this cheaper source of raw materials. My daughter Brooke and her husband just purchased new carpet for their home made from recycled milk jugs.  I wonder what happens if they ever spill milk on it…

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: