Issues Of The Environment: 'Trash Talk Tour' Seeks To Inspire Zero Waste Culture In Ann Arbor

Sep 15, 2021

Dan Ezekiel
Credit Ann Arbor Wiki / localwiki.org

When it comes to environmental protection and sustainability, getting a better handle on America’s “throw away culture" is important. That's the motivation behind the upcoming "Trash Talk" tour in Ann Arbor. WEMU’s David Fair checked in with Dan Ezekiel from the Washtenaw Zero Waste Coalition to learn more about the tour, what it offers those who participate, and why this is expected to become an annual event.


Overview

  • According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generate about 5 pounds of trash per person per day. Discarded material doesn’t disappear, it just moves to another location or is recycled into something else. 
  • On Sunday, September 19, 2021 The Washtenaw Zero Waste Coalition and its partners will hold the first-ever “Trash Talk Tour”. The mission of the Trash Talk Tour (TTT) is to educate community members, showcase ways to shift toward a zero-waste lifestyle and overcome obstacles in doing so. It will also serve to connect community members who are trying to reduce the community’s contribution to landfills.
  • There are 10 stops on the TTT, which can be visited in any order from 12-4pm. Stops include Allen Elementary School, Recycle Ann Arbor Drop-off Station, the old Ann Arbor landfill, Ann Arbor Compost Facility, Zingerman’s Delicatessen, People’s Food Coop, and several other local businesses committed to zero waste. (Michigan Stadium is also on the tour, but only available 9:30am-9:50am.) 
  • Dan Ezekiel is a retired science teacher, local environmentalist and former chair of the Sierra Club of Michigan’s Huron Valley Group. He and Anya Dale helped organize the Trash Talk Tour. Anya is Manager, Waste Reduction and Engagement for the University of Michigan.
     

The following is directly quoted from www.trashtalktour.org.

TTT Frequently Asked Questions

What does "zero waste" mean?
The definition adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is:
Zero Waste: The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them, and without discharges to land, water or air that threaten the environment or human health.

How do I participate in the tour?
Visit our Tour Map page for a list of tour stops and go visit the ones that interest you. We would love it if you would register but it is not required.

Is there a particular order for the tour?
No. Visit the stops that interest you in the order that you choose. Greeters will be available at many locations the entire time, 12:00 - 4:00pm. NOTE: Michigan Stadium is open only for a 20-minute tour at 9:30am. Meet at Gate 1 on the east side of the stadium above the tunnel.

Is it OK for participants to just pick a couple stops, e.g., just a few downtown Ann Arbor walkable locations?
Absolutely!

That’s a lot of stops for four hours! How can I squeeze them all in? - Note that most tour stops are open every day or almost every day. There are three tour stops that are not normally available to the public, so you may want to visit them on tour day; the old Ann Arbor landfill and the Ann Arbor compost facility open between 12:00-4:00pm. Note that the Michigan Stadium tour especially is only open at 9:30am on tour day.

Will there be arrangements to bicycle the tour? - Yes. Find out more at www.meetup.com/Sierra-Club-Huron-Valley

The following is directly quoted from www.trashtalktour.org/map

10 Stops on the TTT

Allen Elementary - public elementary school whose staff has long worked to involve students in the goal of reducing our carbon footprint and encouraging lifelong eco learning and action. We want all children to know that each of them alone can make a big difference! We will have an informational table showing what we have worked on in the past including how we involve students in our stewardship, recent limitations due to Covid and other factors, and plans for the future. We are hoping to secure an electric bus for this stop on the tour.

Recycle Ann Arbor Drop-off Station - Recycle Ann Arbor is a 43 year old, local mission-based recycler/zero waste organization. We provide collection, drop-off, construction/demolition and recycling processing services to the community and region. We will provide tours of the site, discuss drop-off opportunities and impacts, showcase a new state of the art recycling truck and provide information and graphics on the new Ann Arbor materials recovery facility being built in Ann Arbor. No open toe shoes or flip flops, please!

Old Ann Arbor Landfill - The Ann Arbor Landfill, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the corner of Platt and Ellsworth Roads, was for decades a solid waste disposal facility that buried local trash and garbage beneath layers of soil or other cover materials.  This landfill may well have a future life as a large (24MW) solar-energy facility. The original cells of the landfill became filled decades ago, and when a new cell was dug, it hit groundwater (not good for disposal of possibly-toxic garbage!), and the landfill was closed.  It later leaked, and millions of dollars were spent trenching around it to a depth of 70 feet, to prevent the old garbage from contaminating local water sources.  The grassy hills that now cover the trash are up to 70 feet high and afford a fine view of the south side of town, including the Big House.  The landfill, usually closed to the public, provides habitat for threatened ground-nesting birds such as Bobolinks.  Methane, generated from the slow decomposition of organic (compostable) garbage within the mounds, is gathered in a series of pipes and later burned in a small facility on site to generate electricity.

Ann Arbor Compost Facility - At Denali Water Solutions, we believe that it is the collective responsibility of us all to protect the quality of water through recycling waste in ways that are sustainable, beneficial to the land, and reduce or eliminate the use of landfills. Denali's vision is to meet this responsibility by offering innovative and economical solutions for the management, handling, disposal, and conversion of many types of organic waste materials. Denali Water Solutions operates the Ann Arbor Compost Facility. We will have an informational table, self-guided tour, and staff member on-site.

Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop - We are a local, nonprofit thrift shop promoting equity in our community by supporting Ann Arbor Public Schools’ parent teacher organizations and student activities. One of our guiding principles is to encourage stewardship of the environment. We will have Managers present to greet and provide answers about our nonprofit and its operations.

By the Pound - 1952 South Industrial Highway, Ann Arbor, MI, 48104United States (map), grocery store selling bulk quantities of pantry staples, snacks, and other items by weight, rather than in pre portioned sizes, 

BYOC Co. - We are a refill station and zero waste shop that allows folks to bring in their own containers from home to refill directly with household cleaning and personal care products. We aim to reduce single-use plastic consumption by purchasing in bulk and using a closed loop system when we can. A large majority of our brands allow us to return 5 gallon containers to them to be cleaned and refilled over and over again. Our non-refillables come in minimal to no packaging and are sold as such. We try our best to source as locally as possible to cut down on shipping and the packaging the goes along with it. We will be ready to chat! All Trash Talk Tour participants can receive 10% off between noon and 4pm on Sunday, September 19th.

People’s Food Co-op - We offer and use a variety of environmentally friendly and zero-waste products to our customers. We also have everyday standards in place for recycling to help with zero waste. We will have an information table, someone to chat with.

Zingerman’s Delicatessen - Zingerman's Delicatessen is the original and flagship business of the Zingerman's Community of Businesses.  We opened in 1982 in a historic building in Kerrytown with a mission to share the Zingerman’s Experience by selling food that makes you happy and giving service that makes you smile.  We are best known for our corned beef reubens and other sandwiches, our exceptional array of specialty foods that stock our grocery shelves, and the coffee and dessert shop that sells products from our partner's businesses. We are led by a set of guiding principles and an organizational vision that calls for us to work in harmony with nature and to be stewards of our planet.  We continuously work to understand and lessen the impacts our food-based business has on our ecological footprint.  We are eager partners of the City of Ann Arbor's A2Zero program.  This year, we are working with DTE's Energy Manager program to look into our energy consumption and also will be working with the CIty and other restaurants on a reusable container pilot program.

Common Cycle - Common Cycle is the Ann Arbor bicycle co-op. We want to help people ride their bikes more by teaching them how to keep their bikes happy. Happy bikes -> happy people -> happy community. We will be holding a public bike repair drop-in session during the Trash Talk Tour. People can stop in to get help with their bike or just get a tour of our workspace.

Transcription

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and in our news department, we take pride in having reasoned, non-sensational, fact-based stories and conversations, but every once in a while, we have to talk some trash. I'm David Fair, and we will most certainly be talking trash today, but within the same ethical parameters we always follow on Issues of the Environment. My guest today is one of the organizers of this weekend's Trash Talk Tour in Ann Arbor. Dan Ezekiel is a retired science teacher, local environmentalist, former chair of the Sierra Club of Michigan's Huron Valley Group, and is now working with the Washtenaw Zero Waste Coalition. And Dan, good to have you back on WEMU.

Dan Ezekiel: Oh, thanks for having me, David.

David Fair: So what exactly is this kind of out of the box idea you're calling the Trash Talk Tour?

Dan Ezekiel: Well, the Trash Talk Tour is a fun, self-guided, family-friendly opportunity for people to go out into the community and learn about ways to reduce our throwaway lifestyle into innovative things that people are trying in order to get closer to zero waste.

David Fair: So was this just a light bulb moment, or was there a genesis to this idea coming about?

Dan Ezekiel: Well, we were mindful--and by we, I mean the Washtenaw Zero Waste Coalition--we were mindful of some past efforts in the environmental area that have borne fruit around here. We were thinking about the various green belt bus tours that have happened. We were thinking about the old tour de sprawl. We were thinking about the Ecology Center Eco ride. And we thought it would be fun to put together an opportunity for people to go around our community and see some of the waste reduction infrastructure that exists and some of the things that people are trying. It was originally scheduled for May 2020. And, of course, the pandemic had something to say about that. It was originally scheduled to be a bus tour. And when we rescheduled it for this month, we said, "Well, we'll have a bus tour. If they have the Ark there." That will make it self-guided.

David Fair: Yeah, for years, you and a number of like-minded people and organizations have been preaching reduce, reuse, recycle: it's the three R's of moving closer to a zero waste community. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says, on average, each person in the country is generating about five pounds of trash every day. There are almost 330 million people in this country. So, without trying to do math off the top of my head and hurting myself, let's just say that's a lot of garbage. Are we applying the three R's in significant ways, or is most of this ending up in landfills and waterways?

Dan Ezekiel: Well, our community does better than most, and, at the same time, we can do a lot better. And I'm so glad you mentioned the three R's because this is the opportunity that you're going to have on the Trash Talk Tour. By the way, the website is Trash Talk dot org. So you mentioned reduce, reuse, recycle. For reduce, we're going to have that and bring your own container, which is a shot downtown where you can bring your own container and refill with cleaning and beauty products. Also, By the Pound and People's Food Co-op, which are places where you can buy in bulk with your own container. And also Zingerman's Cafe, which is piloting reusable takeout containers when it comes to reuse. We've got the PTO Thrift Shop, where you can donate items that you don't need any longer, and they are sold to benefit the Ann Arbor Public Schools. We've got Common Cycle, where you can donate your bike, and it can be fixed up and given or sold to someone who needs transportation. We've got We Care Organics, which is where our compost is processed. And when it comes to recycle, we've got the recycling Ann Arbor dropoff station and we've also got Allen Elementary School, which is doing some innovative things with recycling from the classroom and especially from the lunchroom.

David Fair: So, in total, about 10 stops on the tour that will take place this coming Saturday. And it is a way to engage in different ways and to do so with other members of the community who have this aspirational goal of making this as close as possible to zero waste community.

Dan Ezekiel: Well, that's exactly right. This is going to be a fun, joyful event. It's self-guided. It's an opportunity to interact with other people who are also interested in heading for that aspirational goal of zero waste to see some of the innovations that are being tried and also to hear about to hear about some of the challenges.

David Fair: Issues of The Environment and our conversation with Dan Ezekiel of the Washtenaw Zero Waste Coalition continues on Eighty-Nine One WEMU. And well, there certainly are a good number of people who do care and who do look for ways to reduce our waste footprint. There's just as many, if perhaps not more, who are kind of out of sight, out of mind when it comes to trash. How do you think participating in the Trash Talk Tour might kind of change perspectives?

Dan Ezekiel: That's a great question. And I hope that for everyone who comes on this tour that they'll bring family members or bring neighbors who maybe aren't so aware of these issues. We have this mindset sometimes in our society that I call the "make it, use it once, throw it away" mentality. But there's no such place as away. When we're done with a resource, it goes somewhere. If we don't intentionally reduce and reuse and recycle, where it ends up is that the landfill. Landfills make methane. Methane is 34 times as much of a greenhouse effect gas as carbon dioxide, and landfills emit 12 percent of all the methane that goes into the atmosphere, mostly from organic matter, like food that could and should be composted.

David Fair: Once again, this is Issues of the Environment on WEMU. We're talking about moving our community away from throwaway culture with Dan Ezekiel from the Washtenaw Zero Waste Coalition. Now, one of the true wonders of the world, if you've ever been to a football game at Michigan Stadium after the game, if you ever watch how they go about cleaning that stadium in such efficient manner, it's really impressive. And you're going to have an opportunity, a very short window, to experience something unique at Michigan Stadium, right?

Dan Ezekiel: That's right. Now, the whole rest of the tour is between noon and four p.m. But there's a special opportunity for this one stop, which is Michigan Stadium from nine thirty to ten to go inside and take a look and see what it's like the day after a game, when all the waste materials are sorted out, and the stadium has made great efforts in the last few years to move towards zero waste. So that's going to be a wow opportunity.

David Fair: I know that, in putting this tour together, you spent a great deal of time and worked with a number of people to pick the right places and to experience the right operations. So, as you were going through this, did you learn something new in putting it all together?

Dan Ezekiel: Oh, my goodness. Yes. And I want to guarantee anybody who comes on our tour is at least a few times going to say, "Wow!" And at least a few times, they're gonna say, "Gee, I didn't know that," because that has happened to me over and over. And, David, can I thank a few people?

David Fair: Absolutely.

Dan Ezekiel: So, Anya Dale has been my co planner for this event and also really want to thank our partners at the Washtenaw County Water Commissioner's office, especially Theo Eggermont and all the folks at the Ecology Center, especially Mike Garfield and also Andrea Garcia, who designed our cool website. And the website is Trash Talk Tour dot org. And that's where you can find out about participating in our tour.

David Fair: All right. Now, let's talk a matter of practicality. There is the opportunity for people to visit these 10 locations as part of a car tour. And you kind of do that, as you mentioned, self-guided. There is a bicycle tour as well. That will be a part of the event. Ten stops is a lot for those who will be going to be in cars. How on Earth are bicycle riders like you going to get it all done?

Dan Ezekiel: That's a good question. So, one thing that I'd like to point out about the tour is that some of the stops are open every day, and you don't necessarily need to visit them during the tour. All the retails, like the People's Food Co-op or By The Pound--those are open every day. I want people to feel free to pick and choose, go to Trash Talk Tour dot org, look at the map, pick out the things that you're most interested in, but there are a few opportunities that you won't have on other days. One is the Big House between 9:30 and 10 in the morning. And also, people usually are not able to drive into the old landfill on Platt Road, where we have several stops. So, if you want to focus on a few stops and then go see the other one another day, I think that's what you should do. [

David Fair: Sometimes, I think people start to tune it out when they feel as though they're being lectured on environmentalism. And this is a way to make it experiential, and it's entirely different. Do you plan to make this an annual event?

Dan Ezekiel: Absolutely. We definitely envision this as an annual event. We have to cut quite a few stops from the tour. As you mentioned, ten is a lot of stops, and we absolutely are looking forward to doing this again and visiting different places. And we hope people will make suggestions to us about how to improve the tour.

David Fair: Dan, thank you very much for the time today. I appreciate you making time to share with us.

Dan Ezekiel: What a pleasure. And, David, thank you for giving us the opportunity to publicize the Trash Talk Tour.

David Fair: That is Dan Ezekiel, retired science teacher, local environmentalist, former chair of the Sierra Club of Michigan's Huron Valley Group, and now working with the Washtenaw Zero Waste Coalition. And, again, to learn more about the tour and the movement towards zero waste, visit our website at WEMU Dot Org, and we'll have all the information and links you need. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. And you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is Eighty-Nine one WEMU FM and HD one Ypsilanti.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu