Gardening Eden

author Michael Abbaté's Blog

Three Weeks Down… November 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael Abbate @ 8:01 am

Same ol’, same ol’.  Week 3 looks about the same as weeks 1 and 2:  25-30 non-recyclable items, with a heavy preponderance of plastic bags, films, and caps. New this week:  the plastic plates, and straws from a volunteer dinner we attended on Friday night.  We’ve washed the plastic silverware and will use it for lunches at work.

One confusing item:  alkaline batteries.  A helpful website for recycling information is  There, you will read:

Because batteries disposed of in municipal landfills and trash incinerators can disperse significant amounts of heavy metals and other toxic substances into the air and water, battery waste prevention and recycling strategies are essential. Because of the materials of which they are made, these batteries may or may not be considered hazardous waste in your state. Therefore, you should always check with your local government health, solid waste or recycling department before you consider their disposal.

However, when I check with my local provider, there is not much guidance about alkaline batteries.  Even the Environmental Protection Agency’s website does not give consumers very clear advice on how to dispose of them:

I have heard anecdotally from a person who coordinates solid waste recycling for a nearby city that alkaline batteries are too difficult to disassemble in order to get at the recyclable components, and that by opening them up, you increase the likelihood of contamination.  Therefore they should just be tossed into the trash.  That’s what I’m planning to do until I hear otherwise.

Rechargeable batteries are a different story, however and should always be taken to a facility that specializes in hazardous waste.

After three weeks, we have learned that we can’t live waste-free, but we can dramatically reduce the amount of garbage we generate.  As we head into Thanksgiving week,  I imagine it will be the toughest week during No Waste November!  Stay tuned….

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:


How can we prevent Garbage Guilt? November 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael Abbate @ 9:29 am

OK, let’s be honest.  Guilt is a lousy motivator.  Get very deeply into No Waste November and you find yourself cringing every time you have to reluctantly drop something into the trash.  And what if it’s not even your fault?

Last night I went to an awesome dinner where dozens of wonderful people were being recognized and thanked for their volunteer service.  The food was great, the conversation with my fellow table guests terrific, and the thanks expressed by the leaders heartfelt and moving.  It’s a great Christian organization, dedicated to serving Jesus, loving others and making a difference in its community.  So, where’s the guilt?


Well, the entire dinner was served exclusively utilizing disposables:  plates, cups, cutlery and table linens.


Now for most folks, this wouldn’t cause a second thought, much less guilt.  But for Vicki and I, it was noticeable because we are trying to reduce our waste.  I brought home the items that we used so I can record our contributions to the waste stream this month.  That generated some weird looks, for sure!

So, here’s my question for all of you:  How have you handled these types of situations?  How have you influenced others in positive, constructive ways that create mutual respect and appreciation?  Because, after all, guilt is a lousy motivator.


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?


Pile it On, Part 2 November 19, 2009

Filed under: Composting,No Waste November — Michael Abbate @ 12:46 pm

Yesterday I talked about the Ten Commandments of Composting.  The First Commandment was to pick the right composting bin.  You want your bin to be a container that allows air to enter, keeps rodents and rain out, keeps heat in and looks more attractive than just some pile of rotting leaves and fruit, especially if you have neighbors.  A bin will also do one more thing – it will save you space in your garden.

You can build your own bin or buy a prefabricated one.  They need to have open bottoms, covered top, and enclosed sides that still allow air to enter, but with openings too small for mice or other pesky varmints.

Another option is to use a prefabricated plastic bin.  There are several common types.  The predominant version is like an open-bottom garbage can.  Compost goes in on top (with lid removed, of course), and out comes wonderful organic compost out the trap door at the base.  Of course, it is not quite so simple as this!

Remember, one of the keys to composting is that you need to turn the pile every few weeks to keep air circulating and speed the decomposition process.  This type of bin is actually a bit difficult to reach into with a gardening fork or spade to turn the material.  Often it is easier to just lift the bin up off the composting pile, move it a few feet away, then spade all of the compost into the newly moved bin, aerating and turning the pile in the process. 

My choice is the BioStack composter.  It consists of three stackable sections. 

The beauty of this alternative is in the turning process.  The Biostack allows you to take one level off at t a time, move it, shivel in the compost, then add the next section and so forth.  This makes turning the pile relatively easy and keeps the pile contained at all times.

I got mine from Smith & Hawken, but with them going out of business recently, I am not sure if the Biostack is still available.  There are other versions of the same principle, however.

There are many other types of bins to choose from. Spend an inspirational evening at home googling “compost bin” and let your eyes wander far and wide!  

You’ll see bins that make the turning process very easy – they rotate on a spindle.  I’ve never used one of these, but I have heard that since compost tends to be pretty wet, these bins get a bit leaky and full of water, with no place for the moisture to go.  Give it a try though and let me know how they work! 

For more info, go to 

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:


Pile it On, Part 1 November 18, 2009

Filed under: Composting,No Waste November — Michael Abbate @ 9:45 am

If you have been following our No Waste November efforts for any time at all, you realize that we would be hopeless if it weren’t for our home compost pile.  Into it has gone our yard debris and also lots of stuff that would normally have gone in the trash, including kitchen waste, paper towels, tissues, cotton swabs, and waxed paper. 

The ten commandments of composting are: 

    1. Pick the right bin
    2. Keep the bin out of extreme heat or cold
    3. Chop material down as much as possible to help break down more quickly.
    3. Balance the 4 ingredients of compost:  Air, water, browns (dry organic material) and greens (moist organic materials) at a ratio of 5:1 to 20:1 (browns:greens, by volume)
    4. Mix “greens” (fruit and vegetable trimmings, lawn clippings, weeds, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags and “browns” (leaves, paper products, waxed paper,chopped woody prunings, sawdust from untreated wood, ashes from fireplace/fire pit)
    5. Add water to keep ingredients as moist as a wrung-out sponge
    6. Turn pile as often as practical to speed process (every two to 12 weeks)
    7. Keep out meat, dairy products, grease, and pet feces
    8. Add kitchen scraps
    9. Keep out rodents
    10. Monitor the pile every 1-2 weeks 

The benefits of composting are many.  First, you keep material out of the normal landfill waste stream.  Second, you promote a natural decomposition process right at home.  And finally, you get to benefit from a magical transformation from trash to the most wonderful organic compost that will help your garden thrive and produce lots more compostable material! 

For more info, go to 

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:


Flourish Magazine Interview… November 17, 2009

Filed under: Michael Abbate — Michael Abbate @ 10:51 am

…read the latest interview with Gardening Eden author, Michael Abbate, today!