Bob Altaras is being saluted as the second WasteNot Champion. He is one of those supposedly retired people who is not retired at all. His contributions are spread across the valley and waste prevention is just one of his specialties.
Bob's service began when he was a tutor for at-risk youth. That path took him to the Maslow Project, which led him to the Ashland shelter program and Peace House's Uncle Food Diner. Bob is an example of someone who wanted to avoid potential waste and expense and was able to instead turn it into an opportunity for Uncle Foods. He has been a master recycler since 2009.
The master recycler training covered the A to Z's of waste prevention, recycling and waste. Bob's involvement with Uncle Food's plus his knowledge as a master recycler came together in a success story that inspired this recognition.
Uncle Food's Diner has served Ashland for 25 years. Most Tuesdays for the past nine years Bob has shown up with a group of volunteers who provide meals for about 100 people. Bob began washing dishes and is now a volunteer cook who helps prepare food for more than 100 weekly meals.
This community event offers dinner plus "take away" food. In order to provide this, the food has to be stored in some sort of a container. This is where the waste avoidance opportunity emerged. Some might have viewed it as a problem but Bob treated it as an opportunity.
Since hot foods and liquids are often served, not just any vessel would work. The typical single-use wax/paper/plastic options tend not to be durable and end up contaminating the recycling or end up in the landfill. Additionally, the container must be able to withstand a commercial dishwasher to be properly sterilized.
When someone suggested purchasing new disposable "to go" containers Bob was inspired to come up with a different option. (Drum roll) His solution was to pick one brand of yogurt with a secure lid. Nancy's Yogurt is a popular family-owned Eugene business. Their containers are heavy duty plastic that can be washed, used, re-washed and re-used many many times and eventually recycled. (minus the lids). Bob's idea needed an easy and convenient way for containers to be dropped off by the community and collected for use at Uncle Food's. To help facilitate this collection Bob got support from Recology to have a special collection cart at the Recycle Center on Water Street for these items.
In the past year and a half Uncle Food's has used and re-used a few thousand Nancy's Yogurt containers. This "re-use" has avoided not only costs to Uncle Food's to purchase containers but also eliminated materials that could have been destined to the landfill.
Bob believes that this sort of successful effort to avoid waste is simple. It is so easy, any one of us can do it. We all see wastefullness. When it's this simple, why not give it a try?
Bob wants to inspire others to do the simple things we can to prevent waste. This awareness came into focus when he became a master recycler. He views waste differently now and is motivated to "bring awareness and encouragement at home and work about what we can do. There are waste reduction opportunities in all our lives."
Bob believes that "one scourge on Planet Earth is single-use plastics. If we have to use them, he says, "let's use durable, reusable containers like Nancy's." Since the container can eventually (at the end of its useful life) be recycled easily, we all win.
Bob wonders where the waste reduction and prevention opportunities are in your life? In the meantime, please consider sharing your clean Nancy's Yogurt containers with lids with Uncle Food's Diner.
They can be dropped off at the recycle center on Water Street. Ask the attendant where the special collection cart is.
— Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a decade. You may reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org. Find past WasteNot columns online at bit.ly/rbwastenot.