Over the last few years, I've found a comfort in keeping logs—subject-specific journals organized in reverse chronological date. Project logs have served as a useful way to remember progress and keep track of drafts over time. Learning logs have helped me maintain forward momentum on very stop-and-go learning processes that I nevertheless want to commit to. And recently, I've discovered that my food waste log has become an interesting way to pay focused attention over time.

My logging protocol has not been very sophisticated up until now because I prioritized ease of getting started and ease of entry above all else. My food waste log was very much an experiment, and having it in an overly structured form didn't make sense until I figured out what exactly I wanted to keep track of. So, my initial solution was a running Simplenote that looked like this:

Yes, I type in Markdown on my phone, so?????

After writing up the blog post last week, I reverted to a more simple format that would be easier to parse in the future:

  • Food item; why it had to be tossed (date)

At the beginning of the month, I also decided that I was going to learn more about recycling by starting a log of all of my plastic waste. This time, perhaps because of how much plastic waste I generate daily, the inadequate structure of notes really started to get to me. I had begun sketching ideas for the perfect interface when I realized I could probably just use Airtable forms to accomplish the same thing.

"Fate" is maybe the best name for a column in any spreadsheet I've ever made.

After about 30 minutes of mind-numbing conversion from notes, my whole plastic waste log now lives in Airtable. I like that I can now quickly sort by plastic type as well as by date, and that it'd be easy to keep track of new things based on the additional notes I'm making (such as location or whether the waste is connected to food delivery).

But most importantly, I like that it is almost as easy as before for me to make an entry. In fact, given that the date autopopulates and the lack of typing up weird punctuation for Markdown, it might even be easier! Here's the new interface from my phone:

Left: Safari shortcut to the Airtable form in an easy to access location; Right: the form itself

The only downside of the new system is that it requires internet to update, but it's easy enough to keep my old Simplenote around as an offline backup/queue.

At the end of June, I'll write up a longer post about what I've learned from logging all this plastic waste, but here's a sneak preview:

  • NYC is actually capable of processing its own plastic/metal/glass recycling (unlike most West Coast cities, who are fucked) thanks to a new facility in Sunset Park that was finished in 2013. The city sells the processed recyclables as bulk material for construction, manufacturing, etc.
  • Like most places, however, NYC's facilities cannot recycle plastic bags or saran wrap (resin code 4) or polystyrene / styrofoam (resin code 6).
  • It is better to throw dirty recyclables in the trash than the recycling if you can't wash them. Same with materials you're not sure if you can recycle.
  • NYC requires any store with more than 10,000 soft of retail space to provide bins for plastic bag recycling—this is a nationwide program organized by a consortium of companies who would like to continue manufacturing plastic bags (NYC Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act of 2009). I take my plastic bags to Home Depot! The closest place to Orbital might be Whole Foods.
  • Tetrapaks (those things that coconut water comes in) are recyclable in a bunch of places even though it's a messy laminated material because they have agreements with recycling facilities.