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July 07, 2008

Microsoft Recycling Updates

Microsoft recently changed how we recycle stuff. The minor point is that we got rid of separate aluminum and paper recycling containers and now we just throw it all in mixed recycling containers, which matches up with what homeowners in Redmond (like myself) do.

More interestingly, we replaced our polystyrene utensils and plates with compostable ones. The rumor was that the polystyrene was burnt to produce energy but it only returned 14% of the potential energy, or something. The new stuff, meanwhile, can be composted as yard waste, which is another option that Redmond homeowners have.

Here is the old polystyrene stuff:

and the new paper versions:

This is a closeup of the bowls (polystyrene on the right; the paper doesn't have the cool scallop design on the edges):

And these are the utensils; the compostable ones are made of a mix of potato starch and corn starch, but are quite solid (however there are signs warning that they might warp in hot liquids). In all cases the compostable ones are on the right. You can see that they aren't quite as elegantly shaped as the polystyrene, but they have a blunt, workmanlike appeal, the spoon in particular recalling the one that Corwin used when attempting to saw through the door of his cell in Amber:

The old polystyrene utensils were available in black versions also (a closer examination reveals there are actually two suppliers of the utensils: ones that have a slight pattern on the handle, and plain ones with a Dixie logo on them):

As it happens, around the same time I was talking to somebody about composting at home and she mentioned that they used BioBags to hold their kitchen waste. She brought in a couple for me to try, and then I bought some of my own (they sell them at QFC). They are reasonably sturdy kitchen bags which are 100% compostable. So I hauled out an old garbage can with a lid on it, stuck it under the sink, and now we're trying to dump all of our food scraps (and paper plates and paper towels) in there. It looks like it will save us one or two bags of garbage each week (warning to anybody from Philadelphia: I use "trash" and "garbage" interchangeably).

I looked around the Waste Management site for Redmond and found this page on yard waste collection which includes a link to a page on what can go in your yard waste bin (as far as I can tell this includes any food, including meat and nutshells, plus most paper products if too food-soiled to go in regular recycling). While we're on the subject, here is what can go in the recycling bin; surprises on the list for me included juice boxes, detergent bottles, vitamin jars, and cream cheese tubs.

I also found a link that discusses the age-old question of whether it is better to put food waste into the garbage disposal or the trash (answer: in the trash, the sewage treatment system is in worse shape than the landfill system). Of course the best option is to compost them. Now that we have our BioBag-lined can set up, I can continue to work on my goal of not pre-washing the dishes, except now instead of scraping the extra stuff into the garbage disposal, I can scrape it into the compost.

The Microsoft compost bins warn you only to throw Microsoft paper products into them, although from the Redmond site it looks like any uncoated plates are OK (although maybe uncoated plates are unusual). I do have one moral dilemma; if I know I am going to be using plastic utensils at home, is it appropriate to prepare ahead of time by helping myself to the compostable ones from Microsoft?

Posted by AdamBa at July 7, 2008 10:26 PM


There are three inventions of recent times, in which Microsoft might be interested: They are called porcelain dishes, metal cutlery and dish washers. I know, they are new inventions, but I already use them and they are quite good.

Posted by: Tony at July 8, 2008 02:03 AM

Great Zelazny reference.

Posted by: Rick Lobrecht at July 8, 2008 04:45 AM

Tony: As it happens, there is a handout in the kitchen with a Q&A and it has that question.

Q: Why don't we use ceramic or other nonperishable products?

A: We would have to install dishwashers in all the kitchenettes and cafes. The water usage and cost would dramatically increase, as well as electricity and maintenance costs. Using nonperishable items is a net negative to the environment.

I don't 100% buy that argument; I have heard that dishwashers are more efficient than washing by hand, although maybe in this case the dishwashers would be run only partly full--but still if you extrapolate from this argument then at our house we should junk all of our dishes and silverware and switch to compostable products, which seems "wrong" to me. Although I will mention that on this very day somebody is coming to our house to repair our dishwasher, presumably driving a carbon-spewing van to get there. Hmmmm.

A more pressing issue would be the fact that in an office environment, it would be hard to evenly distribute the work of loading and unloading the dishes.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at July 8, 2008 12:22 PM

Yes, but have you quit buying enormo flats of bottled water yet? (Have you been replaced by an alien version of my brother??)

Posted by: Becky at July 21, 2008 04:42 PM