At Overland, we try our best to be good citizens of the world. We understand that what we do and how we live has a big impact on our community. I mean, we grow the vegetables for our lunches in our garden that is cultivated with water we harvest from our rain barrels.

Despite our best intentions, we occasionally miss the mark. Our most recent gut check came from our trash bins. Initially, we had three cans: TRASH, RECYCLABLES, & COMPOST. We noticed our TRASH bin was constantly overflowing. The RECYCLABLES bin was filled with food-soiled Styrofoam, coffee-soaked paper, and plastic take out containers. The COMPOST bin smell was pungent and had been decommissioned. The surrounding trash area was piled up with cardboard packaging.

Overland's initial trash system consisted of bins for trash, recycle, and compost.

Overland’s initial trash system consisted of bins for trash, recycle, and compost.

The Sustainability Team decided it was time to investigate. We researched which items were recyclable and which were not according to the City of San Antonio’s Solid Waste Management department. We rolled up our sleeves and dove into the trash to track the items that were most abundant. After tracking the trash flow throughout the week, it was obvious that we had to rethink how we were processing our trash.

Compost Coffee Creamer

Reviewing previous compost discards, we found items that were not disposed of correctly, like this coffee creamer.

The TRASH bin was filled to the brim, daily, with items that were, in fact, recyclable. Many items that were placed in the RECYCLING bin were not recyclable or were so contaminated with food they could not be recycled. The COMPOST bin was too large for the actual amount of food waste it housed and could not be easily emptied in our outdoor composting bins. We were surprised by our own misunderstanding and misconceptions regarding recycling. Our trash needed an overhaul.

We made initial changes to the system and modified our signs to help educate everyone on recycling practices. We created a recycling poster (pictured below), for in-house purposes, containing information found on the official City of San Antonio RECYCLING ACCEPTED AND NOT ACCEPTED MATERIALS list and posted it in the firm.

City of San Antonio Recycling Materials List

We rededicated our large COMPOST bin to ALUMINUM CANS. Our intention was to sell the cans to an aluminum buyer and donate to charity. As part of our commitment to the American Institute of Architects 2030 Challenge, we track Overland’s annual carbon emissions from in-house processes. We did some preliminary calculations based on the number of annual aluminum can purchase to determine the dollars our collection would yield.  Over a years’ time, the estimated $36 per year in aluminum can sales did not justify the effort.  Instead, we decided we could recycle the cans by placing them amongst the other recyclables in our RECYCLE bin.

We ultimately decided a PAPER bin would be better than an ALUMINUM bin.  This would allow our paper waste from the kitchen such as newspapers, magazines, cardboard, and paper towel rolls to occupy its own dry space, away from the cans and bottles that had soda and water seeping out. A smaller, more manageable COMPOST bin was placed under the sink with a new label clearly identifying food waste that is compostable. A week into our new system, we decided a small PLASTIC bin was needed to collect plastic bags.

The final set up of our trash overhaul.

Overhauling our trash at Overland not only changed our trash system, it also sparked an unexpected amount of discussion surrounding process, mindfulness, consumerism, globalization, and industry. As we rolled out the new process, we were bombarded with questions on the recyclability of things ranging from paper envelopes with plastic windows and post-it notes to paper drink containers with plastic spouts and trace paper.

Tracking our waste lead to more in-depth research about recycling. Although we had a list to guide us and a trash system overhaul, we were still uncertain about certain practices and had many unanswered questions. We contacted the City of San Antonio’s recycling company, Recommunity, and arranged for a sit-down discussion and a tour of their facilities.

This was a huge learning process for the entire firm, the Sustainability Team included. Many people expressed that this effort has inspired them to reevaluate how they live and operate within their own homes.

We’ve started an intentional discovery. This has been a huge opportunity for us to learn and share our learning experience with all of you. We are constantly refining and improving. Every well-oiled machine needs calibrating. We needed a trash overhaul.

Learn more about our Recommunity tour in future posts.

  • Martha Durke

    I remember when, years ago, we had to collect our recyclables and drive it across town.
    San Antonio has come a long way and each individual’s commitment is so important!
    Thanks for leading this, Sandra!