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Curses, foiled again! Take that and compost it!

BY JANET SILVER GHENT | NOVEMBER 8, 2023

J. The Jewish News of Northern California


Rinsed-out cans go in the blue recycling bin. Yucky food scraps, napkins and tissues go in the green compost bin. Styrofoam goes in the black garbage bin. That much is clear. But the status of laminated milk cartons with plastic spouts confounded me, so in April I emailed our waste-management provider, asking about their final disposition. Should I toss the carton, spout and all, into the green compost bin? Should I rinse the carton and remove the plastic spout first? Should I toss the entire carton into the garbage? A couple of weeks later, I was instructed to remove the plastic spout and then place the carton in the green bin. Just try removing those plastic spouts, though. At first, I used a heavy-duty scissors, mangled the top of the carton and hurt my wrist. Then my husband bought utility shears, which enabled him to cut through the heavy cardboard, but the shears didn’t remove the spout. He eventually found a pair of slip-joint pliers in what I call the “futility” closet. Those did the trick.


Once again, Allen takes the lead in my columns. Removing the plastic spout from the milk carton required a utility shears and slip-joint pliers. The plastic spout went into the garbage, and the paper carton went into the compost. Problem solved? Not exactly. After months of struggling with the utility shears and slip-joint pliers, we received a newsletter from Green Waste of Palo Alto. The back-page headline in all caps: “YES, YOU CAN COMPOST THAT!” In smaller print: “Plastic spouts aren’t a problem, you can leave them on and they will be screened off at the end with the rest of the plastic material as well.” I was ecstatic. My husband was not. He had finally perfected his spout-removal technique and was proud of his accomplishment. He squashed the milk carton with aplomb before hurling it into the compost bin. RELATED: Is human composting the next big thing in Jewish death practice? But apparently we were still doing everything wrong, according to a Treehugger article: “No need to crush the container, especially because in some places this actually slows down the recycling process.” The article goes on to illustrates the many reuses for empty milk cartons:

  • Fill them with dirt and turn them into planters.

  • Make cute containers for “storing any number of dry items that you’d like to be able to easily pour.”

  • Make a “very cute bird feeder with just a couple of additional supplies (including bird seed), make a lantern (or multiple lanterns) for summer parties, or even Halloween.”

Oy vey! We try to take care of the planet. The key word is “try.” At a choir party in our backyard, a bass singer looked curiously at a green plastic cord stretched above our unwatered lawn. “What’s that?” he asked. “I think it’s called a clothesline,” I said. “Oh yes, my grandmother had one,” he responded. Later, a grandson informed us, “My mommy has a washing machine.” We do not use a washboard, either for laundry or music-making, and we own both a washer and a dryer. But I do like to hang the sheets on the line. I find the process therapeutic. I hear the birds, I smell the flowers and I slow down. I may even sing. And when I slip into bed, those sheets wrap me in comfort. But I can’t seem to stay on top of environmental dos and don’ts. Take paper towels. That same GreenWays newsletter, in an article titled “Zero Waste Living,” calls upon us to embrace the rag. Well, I tried that, but what should I do with rancid rags? Put them in the washing machine with other clothing? Toss them into the garbage? Wash them by hand and hang them on the line? We do not buy drinking water in plastic bottles, and my husband makes fizzy water with a manual carbonator. We try to buy organic produce. I even buy organic gummy bears, though to tell you the truth, I prefer Jujyfruits, which are chewier. Yes, they contain corn syrup, sugar, natural and artificial flavors, mineral oil, carnauba wax, caramel color, artificial colors and God knows what else. But who cares? Not me. We will keep trying. For a week or two, we put pails in the shower to recycle the water and use it to wash clothes, but we wound up spilling water on the way to the laundry room, so we gave up. So far, the recycling police haven’t posted our pictures on the compostable milk cartons. But that could happen. Stay tuned.

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Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at ghentwriter@gmail.com.

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