empty cans after recycling paint at Johnson county kansas environmental facility

How to Safely Dispose of Paint: Johnson County Kansas does it right

Solvents, and pigments and paint, oh my! Ten years worth of old paints, stains, pesticides and other unspeakables had been gathering rust and dust in my basement and the time had come to deal with them. In my particular suburbia of Johnson County, Kansas, the question of what to do with my personal hazmat generates an increasingly rare answer: “We can help you with that!”

With an appointment residents can drop off a long list of bad stuff at a facility located in the the county’s oldest wastewater treatment plant. (Businesses and other non-residents must apply for the program.) My appointment was this past weekend, so I loaded up an embarrassing amount of half-full containers of nasty what-not and headed out!

entrance gate Johnson County kansas environmental hazmat disposal facility

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Sustainable Curiosities and Novelties: Flushable Toilet Paper Tube

Aqua tube flushable toilet paper roll

Aqua Tube Toilet Paper Tube: photographed in grass because it's "green"

Consider the fate of the common Toilet Paper Tube: destined to be violently ripped and separated from its Toilet Paper child whom it has cradled and supported since the day of TP’s birth manufacture. While TP flushes merrily downstream headed for the rapture of sustainable biodegradation, the Mother Tube is forgotten, abandoned, tossed…then forced to travel alone, void of greenness, to a dark and desolate landfill populated by despised, low-life non-recyclables.

Well, no more. Because THIS Tube is flushable. THIS Tube shall not be left behind, but shall be safely flushed with its beloved TP, where they can biodegrade and return to our earth naturally. Together.

Many thanks to Constance Ward at Thought Leader Zone, who found this Sustainable Curiosity in her Marseille, France lodgings while attending World Water Forum 6. Somehow she knew we’d like it!

Note: This item has not been deemed flushable by Pat and Dan. Also, since we Don’t Flush the Baby Wipes, should we flush the tubes?

Sustainable Curiosities and Novelties: In which we present the oddball, assorted knick-knacks, inventions and ideas for more sustainable Earth occupation by humankind. Or something like that. Submissions welcome, contact the Thirsty in Suburbia “Curator” here.

The Legality of Toilet Planters: Answer Man Tackles the Question

Now who could be opposed to reuse and recycling? Go green, woo hoo! Just don’t go green where you , uh, you know, go!

A toilet planter via VTscapes on Flickr

Is it a tad enviro-ugly if your neighbor reuses an out-to-pasture  toilet for a whimsical planter? Surely there’s a law! A code? Something? A regulatory loophole somewhere that would prevent such a tasteless display in your well-manicured suburban oasis?

The complex legal issues surrounding toilet planters were covered in a recent post to “Answer Man” in Rochester, Minnesota’s PostBulletin.com…and we don’t think the questioner will be happy with the lawyer-approved answer!

Dear Answer Man, is it legal to plant flowers in an old toilet and keep it in your front yard in this lovely city of ours? A neighbor recently did this and it doesn’t do much to enhance the otherwise nice, well-kept neighborhood. In fact, I cringe every day when I drive by it. I could see maybe in the backyard or at the end of a long, dirt road, but in the middle of northwest Rochester? Please help me to clear the air.

I’m always happy to flush out the truth. To help with the flushing, I called City Attorney Terry Adkins, who said it was the very first time in his career that he’s heard this question.

There’s no ordinance to prohibit the use of a toilet as a flower pot, but a few lines in the city housing code get close to the mark. “The open area of your premises must be kept in a reasonably clean and neat condition, including the removal of all inoperable machines, appliances, fixtures and equipment,” the code says.

“I suppose someone could make the argument that a toilet out there is inoperable” and thus violates the code, Terry says. But then he called the city building safety department. Amazingly, “they have received some complaints (historically) and have taken the position that it’s not a violation of the ordinance,” reasoning that the “fixture” in this case is “operable” because it’s loaded with plants.

If it wasn’t used as a planter and was simply in the front yard, presented as a Duchampian work of art, it presumably would be illegal. At least that’s the response of the city.

And in my idyllic suburbia? I come down squarely in favor of toilet planters; in fact, I have one of my own, though please note that my interpretation uses only the tank and is displayed privately in my backyard. (Happily filled with impatiens right now.)

gayle leonard's flower planter made from a recycled toilet tank

I’ll bet the toilet gardener in question imagines they are quite creative, but the idea is not unique; a quick search on Flickr produces a ton of dirt on the topic!

The Phattest Water Butt of All

It should surprise no one (but delight everyone) that some clever person has produced a water butt in the shape of a butt. (Note for the non-Brits: Water Butt = Rain Barrel).

What really makes the smartly-named “Butt Butt” a standout, though, is the wicked tramp-stamp tattoo decoration! Well done, chap! Just a bit unfortunate on the spigot placement, though. Tell me, how much would it cost to haul Butt to the US?

Does this water butt make me look phat?

Why, yes it does, because as you surely know by now, collecting rainwater for garden re-use in “water butts” (known as “rain barrels” here in the US) is a smooth conservation move.  Therefore, it’s time to get off your butt and get your own butt installed, and this free guide from Dobbies.com is in fact, pretty phat!

While I was browsing their site I tried hard to dispel the sophomoric giggles about the “butt” double-entendre, but of course I could not. One thing I learned besides water harvesting tips: cropping is a powerful tool in that can be used for nefarious purposes in the hands of the wrong person!

Watch out for the power of the crop tool

Redneck Reuse: Toilet Tank Planter

Hooray for redneck reuse! Isn’t it grand to live in an age in which you can park broken toilet parts in your garden  and be viewed as eco-aware rather than just trashy and tacky! (My family still claims this is decidedly more tacky than trendy!)

For “Fix a Leak Week” this year my pathetic DIY debacle cracked the toilet tank, necessitating a full toilet replacement. But that tank is now rejoicing in it’s more glamorous second life as a planter. (The bowl? Gone to the landfill; even I will admit that’s going too far!)

Plus…don’t forget to repurpose packing materials for planter drainage!

Eco-Absurdity: The Water-Soluble Wedding Dress

What a dilemma: say you’re a greenie bride, and you’re tortured because, after your big day, there’s no recycling outlet for your wedding dress. And it’s not compostable, either! Reuse is out, as no one you know can fit into the overly (large, small, tall, short) size.

This is a complex problem requiring collaboration between great fashion and engineering minds and YES, a solution has been devised! Read more

DIY Upside-Downy Tomato Planter

You’ve seen it on TV and you want one, right? Here’s how I made a DIY tomato planter (aka “topsy turvy” planter) out of PET trash and recycled objects around my house.

1–This bulk-size container is just the right size and has a nice wide-mouthed opening.

2–I used a hole-saw drill bit to make a opening in the bottom of the container. (even with the hole saw, this wasn’t easy…it was surprising thick!)

3–Next, measure equal thirds around the top opening and drill holes with a regular drill bit to attach a hanger.

4–This step is probably optional, but folks around my ‘burb wouldn’t appreciate trash hanging from my home, so I spray painted it to make it look nicer. (It might be functional too, as I don’t think direct sunlight would be good for the plant’s roots.)
UPDATE: This puzzling picture is not trick photography, just a bad crop job! The container is mounted on a stake in the ground to facilitate the painting. (Thanks, Wayne!)

5–Then, I attached an old chain hanger to the three holes in the rim; you could use wire, sturdy twine, even some old coat hangers if that’s what you have.

I don’t think we need yet another “how to” on how to get the plant in there; let’s just say that getting the plant through that hole reminded me of childbirth! Tip: wrap the foliage in a snug tube of newspaper to help work it through the bottom with a minimum of effort and damage. Or, just buy a smaller plant, which is what I wish I’d done!

The finished product: NOT seen on TV, but available for no easy payments of $0.

Wild Recycling: Flush Away Cancer

I’m always on the lookout for new ideas on how to recycle old toilets (like this and this) and “Flush Away Cancer” demonstrates wild and wonderful out-of-the-bowl thinking on creative loo reuse.

Traveling Toilet photo via www.wbng.com

Traveling Toilet photo via www.wbng.com

For the Tri-Town (New York) Relay for Life, one team has conceived the hysterical “Traveling Toilet.” to raise funds. For a $10 donation, the team will plant a brightly painted toilet on the lawn of your choice. The receiver of the “Traveling Toilet” either donates $10 to have it removed, or can send it to the next location of their choice for a $15 donation.

Sounds like a lot of fun, especially since all money benefits the American Cancer Society. And if you’re like me, you immediately began compiling a mental list of people that you WISH you could put on the receiving end!

What Modern Water Engineers Can Learn from Ancient Infrastructure

From TED: The ancient ingenuity of water harvesting: With wisdom and wit, Anupam Mishra talks about the amazing feats of engineering built centuries ago by the people of India’s Golden Desert to harvest water. These structures are still used today — and are often superior to modern water megaprojects. You’re likely familiar with TED (the organization has logged 50 million views since they began posting video two years ago) and TED Talks have become a powerful cultural force. TED presents short lectures from some of the best thinkers in the world from a broad range of disciplines with the mission of “spreading ideas” via “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.” TED began in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from the increasingly melding worlds of Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Since then its scope has widened to embrace prominent thought leaders from around the globe. See Anupam Mishra’s bio here or access an interactive transcript of this video.