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5 Ways to Get Closer to Your Garbage

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When you throw something in the trash, it's easy to think that it stops being your problem -- your friendly neighborhood sanitation workers take it away, and that's that. Well, until the Garbage Apocalypse of 2062, when GarbageNet becomes self-aware and decides to eliminate all humans. Wait, that's a whole other blog post....

GarbageNet jokes aside, we thought you'd appreciate some tips to get closer to your garbage so you can embrace it, learn about it, and reduce it!

1. Carry Your Garbage With You

Some staff members at frog design have taken up a trash challenge: participants must keep all the trash they produce within five feet of them at all times. Exceptions: participants may recycle, compost, donate, incinerate, and flush. The experiment mercifully lasts only two weeks, and staffers taking the challenge write about it on the Trash Talk blog, explaining their personal struggles with non-recyclable, non-compostable trash. It's interesting to read how limited life becomes when these folks have to think about every little piece of trash -- because it's literally weighing them down! Eating out, shopping, and other daily activities become serious challenges with real consequences. Read this introduction to learn more.

2. Install a Composting Toilet

Composting ToiletYou can avoid flushing human waste into the sewer (or your septic system) by installing a composting toilet. These toilets take the, uh, "waste products" and break them down over time into compost and soil. Modern units can be odor-free, and many store the waste in a remote tank that rarely needs attention or maintenance -- think of it like an ultramodern outhouse. But beware, Wikipedia lists an entire section on "Possible health risks and aesthetic issues!"

Possible "aesthetic issues" aside, composting toilets are one way you can dramatically reduce sewage waste and cut down on water use, while producing useful compost and soil. You can learn more by watching this interminable infomercial or reading the Wikipedia entry. See also: humanure.

3. Freecycle Your Stuff

FreecycleInstead of throwing out perfectly decent stuff, why not give it away via the internet? Freecycle communities exist around the world for just this purpose -- using Yahoo! Groups, members post offers of free stuff. If you want the stuff, contact the member privately and make arrangements to and pick it up. Stuff ranges from household items to clothes, toys, computers, even literal garbage that might be recyclable by the right person. The Freecycle approach differs from the Craigslist "free stuff by the curb" section because there's a real community involved, and because of the direct member interaction you're never going to drive across town (wasting gas) only to discover that someone else beat you to the free stuff. Here's a sample posting from my hometown group:

Offer: Santa

I have a santa doll that stands about 12" high. Wearing golds, creams and tapestry cream, red, and green jacket. Still have the $20 price tag on it. I don't know how I ended up with it, but I'm not much into Santa.

Six hours after the post went up, Santa found a new home.

4. Take a Superfun Visit to a Superfund Site

Superfund SiteThe Superfund pays for cleanup of some of the most polluted sites in the United States -- these are places where no other party could be found to pay for the work. Superfund sites are pretty much everywhere, and some are surprisingly scenic (though beware: many are extremely toxic). There's a particularly lovely Superfund site in North Portland, Oregon, by the Willamette River. Blogger Mary Wheeler walks her dog there and shares her experiences in My Dog Walk on the Wild Side. See also: Lyza Danger Gardner's photography of the same site.

5. Visit the Garbage Museum

This one's for the kids. Specifically, the kids who live near Stratford, Connecticut -- home of The Garbage Museum. Here's what the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority has to say about the educational (and kinda fun-sounding) exhibits at The Garbage Museum:

TrashosaurusThe Garbage Museum ... offers visitors an opportunity to meet Trash-o-saurus, a dinosaur made from a ton of trash, which is how much trash an average person throws away in a year! Guests may walk through a giant compost pile, meet resident compost worms and discover how much energy savings is derived from recycling. Watch what happens to recyclables in a "sky-box" view of the tipping and sorting process. From the mezzanine walkway, visitors can follow glass and plastic containers, cans and newspapers through the sorting process and on to the end of the line where items are crushed and baled for shipping to processors, who turn them into products.

Read all about one class's visit to the Garbage Museum, including lots of photos. See also: the CRRA Trash Museum in Hartford, Connecticut.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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