It’s the home stretch in the Renton Neighborhood Challenge, and the competitors are still going strong.
Over the past four weeks, the six East Renton Plateau families have reduced their trash by a combined 80 pounds – from just over 146 pounds at the first May 29 weigh-in to just over 65 pounds at last Wednesday’s.
Tomorrow, (Thursday) the six neighbors will lug their trash bags to the scale one last time. The family whose trash has lost the most weight over the five weeks wins the challenge. That means a recycling makeover and prize package, and bragging rights, of course.
Nearly all six families have dramatically reduced their waste over the weeks. But none more than Baiba and Joe Rubino’s family. The Rubinos and the Nichols began the challenge with the heaviest trash. But each came from different ends of the recycling and reducing spectrum. The Rubinos were the rookies and the Nichols the veterans. But both families have learned useful tips and changed their consuming and reducing habits throughout the last month. Baiba Rubino and Bonnie Nichols share their experiences below.
Bonnie and Rob Nichols and sons Brandon, 13 and Derek, 11, and two cats Cody and Ginger.
Starting weight: 30.8 pounds. June 18 weight: 20.1 pounds. Reduction so far: 10.7 pounds. Ranking: Third.
• The Nichols started the contest with a handicap. As dedicated recyclers and composters, they didn’t have as much room for improvement as the rookies. But their experience didn’t deter Bonnie from enlisting her family.
“I just thought it would be an interesting opportunity to learn more about what we could do to cut down on our waste,” Bonnie says. “I thought it would be interesting to learn some new tricks.”
• Food scraps and food soiled papers in the yard waste bin. This service is available in much of King County, but not yet in the competitors’ East Renton Plateau neighborhood. An exception was made for the challenge.
“That was the big thing,” Bonnie says. “What’s been interesting is that alone cut our waste by 50 percent.”
• Shredded paper in the compost.
• Paper waste bin in the upstairs office.
• Reusing containers, like cottage cheese containers and other plastics that may not be able to be recycled. (A recycling symbol doesn’t necessarily mean the product is recyclable.)
• Cloth napkins – an old Nichols trick that Bonnie’s recently brought back.
• Buying used books off Amazon.com. “It saves you money, and also you’re not putting stuff into the stream of stuff.”
• Some things can’t go in the yard waste or recycling bin, such as foil, the indefatigable styrofoam, some plastics and cat litter.
“We can’t get rid of that,” Bonnie says. She and her fellow cat-owner competitors discovered the stuff weighs more than diapers.
Did she consider shipping away her two cats for the contest’s duration?
“Believe you me,” she says.
• Party guests: “Everyone’s like ‘I won’t throw anything away,’” Bonnie recounts.
She had to remind herself that picking recyclables out of the garbage during a party is not good host behavior.
• Disposing of waste properly is work, even for experienced greenies.
“It definitely takes effort to think about things,” Bonnie says. “There’s a lot of different ways you can dispose of things without putting them in the garbage.”
“You really do have to think about it; you have to change some behaviors,” she adds.
• The challenge made Bonnie “see the whole 360-degree approach — begin with considering purchases, and then once you have things really thinking about proactively recycling or composting or reusing.”
• Reducing, reusing and recycling saves money.
• The moms are leading the charge in a lot of the families, Bonnie says. But her kids have always enjoyed composting.
“They’re pretty good,” she says. Still, before the contest, she says, “Definitely I was the one picking through the trash.”
Her husband’s reaction to the new paper recycling bin upstairs: “‘Whatever,’” Bonnie reports.
• “I think Baiba’s got us all, ‘cause she started with so much.”
• “Hopefully we can keep it up, be proactive after the contest,” Bonnie says. “… Maybe my garbage picking days are over. But I don’t know.”
Baiba and Joe Rubino and children Anna, 3, and Joey, eight months.
Starting weight: 62.6 pounds. June 18 weight: 18 pounds. Reduction so far: 44.6 pounds. Ranking: First.
Before the challenge, Baiba says the only waste her family didn’t throw away or chuck down the disposal was “the obvious stuff, like diaper boxes.”
An “Oprah” show convinced her to start recycling cans. But she didn’t know how much farther she’d go.
“I didn’t think I wanted to jump in full-bore, and now here I am doing exactly that,” she says.
• Using the green bin each of the families received for food scraps.
• Buying smarter. Baiba’s stopped buying juice boxes and started making juice and pouring it into sippy cups for her daughter.
• Precycling – a word Baiba thought she made up until an Internet search told her different. The pantry: Pasta and rice is stored in tupperware, fruit snack packages in a big glass jar, cereal and baby food have been taken out of their cardboard. The fridge: Uneaten bread gets turned into bread crumbs, uneaten chicken and ground beef chopped up and stored for future dinners for Anna.
• Recycle bins in the garage, bathroom and kitchen.
• Baiba’s husband Joe. “He just won’t go to the same lengths,” she says. His diet-Coke habit doesn’t help.
“He’s home on vacation, so I have to really keep an eye on the trash,” Baiba said last week. “Last night I made him corn, and this morning the corn was in the trash. I was like, ‘No, that goes in the yard waste.”
But Joe does set his Coke cans on the counter for recycling. “He’s not totally sabotaging the thing, but I wouldn’t say he’s a team member,” Baiba says.
• Disposable diapers. A week of used Joey diapers weigh about 17 pounds. She asked about switching to cloth diapers, but a King County official told her the water used to clean the cloth makes a comparison between the two “kind of a wash.”
• “I have to make a self-conscious decision, should this go in there, there or there,” Baiba says. “I used to just open this side (the right side of the cupboard
See RECYCLING, page 11
containing the trash). I have to remind myself. Now that we’re a couple weeks in I’ve retrained myself.”
• As a stay-at-home mom, Baiba says she has more time than some to make a concerted effort at keeping her trash green. But it’s easy after the set-up.
“I can see how people might not have the time,” she says. “But once you have a system it doesn’t take extra time. It’s just a matter of getting established.”
Baiba’s daughter Anna helps her mom carry out the garbage and recyclables.
“Do we recycle, babes?” Baiba asked Anna while coloring last week.
“Does daddy recycle?”
“We’re trying to get him to, right?”
• Her family. “We’re not going to get down to two pounds, but we got below 30. I think that’s really good,” Baiba said last week.
She’s already decided what she’ll do with the IKEA gift certificate that’s part of the prize package.
“I’d like to get a bench for out front,” she says.
• Does Baiba think the Rubinos will continue their green habits?
“I do,” she says. “I haven’t done anything so drastic that we couldn’t just keep it up.
The food scrap program will be gone until Renton gets its program up and going. So that won’t continue.
But “everything else — absolutely,” Baiba says.
Emily Garland can be reached at email@example.com or (425) 255-3484, ext. 5052.