Batteries: The Recycling Process

November 6, 2009

Have you thought lately about batteries?  Those little portable cells of energy you often use?  The global battery market is about $50 billion US, of which roughly $5.5 billion is allocated to rechargeable (secondary) batteries.   US demand now exceeds $14 billion dollars annually, in both the primary (one-time use) and secondary (rechargeable) batteries.  And what happens to those toxic lead-acid batteries when you are done using them?  Here’s a rundown of what happens at the recycler:

On arrival, batteries are broken apart in a hammer mill, which is a machine that hammers the battery into pieces. The broken plastic pieces are then placed into a vat, where the lead and heavy materials fall to the bottom and the plastic floats.  Then the polypropylene pieces are scooped away and the liquids are drawn off, leaving the lead and heavy metals. Each of the materials goes into a different recycling “stream”.

Lead grids, lead oxide, and other lead parts are cleaned and heated within smelting furnaces. The molten melted lead is then poured into ingot molds. After a few minutes, the impurities float to the top of the still molten lead in the ingot molds. These impurities are scraped away and the ingots are left to cool. When the ingots are cool, they’re removed from the molds and sent to battery manufacturers, where they’re re-melted and used in the production of new batteries.

Old battery acid can be handled in two ways: 1) The acid is neutralized with an industrial compound similar to household baking soda. Neutralization turns the acid into water. The water is then treated, cleaned, tested in a waste water treatment plant to be sure it meets clean water standards. 2) The acid is processed and converted to sodium sulfate, an odorless white powder that’s used in laundry detergent, glass, and textile manufacturing.

Of course all of this only works if we recycle batteries.  We’ve got a 99% success rate in recycling batteries, but most of that comes from car and industrial batteries.  Make sure you help with the remaining 1% and help Greenification go all the way.


Greenifying by the Numbers

November 3, 2009

Have you looked in the waste bins at your business lately?  I'm hoping you have and they were empty, except for an odd assortment of mixed media containers, cast-off food items, the occasional piece of styrofoam and odd bits.  We are doing better at recycling in the United States, so let's look at a few numbers. 

1: the number of times that most of the more than 25 billion cartons manufactured in the U.S. are used. 
We could use a lot of work on this area, but we are improving.  The largest category of recycled paper goods was newspapers, which totaled 89% of paper recycling, followed by corrugated cardboard at 72%.

55 percent: the amount of water saved by producing recycled paper as compared to virgin paper.  Recycled paper also takes 60-70 percent less energy to produce than paper from virgin pulp. 
Since many areas of the United States are in permanent drought situations, (including CA, AZ, NV and parts of UT), we need to concern ourselves with recycling paper in order to conserve water. 
Some paper can't be reprocessed because of being soiled by food, etc.

120: the number of tons of steel saved if every UK office worker used one less staple a day.
I added this staple purely for its jaw-dropping effect.  It’s a stunner, don’t you agree?

8 billion: the number of gallons of gas saved if every commuter car in the U.S. carried just one more person. 
We need to carpool in places where we hadn’t thought of it before.  Malls at Christmas?  School parties and holiday gatherings?

In short, with paper products, we're doing pretty well.  Nearly half of the paper used in the USA is now being recycled into new paper products. That's more than glass, metal, plastic and "miscellaneous" combined.
 
Don’t put your home grass clippings out for the landfill.  Both grass clippings and food waste can be easily composted and shouldn't ordinarily be sent to the landfill.  And with the holidays soon coming, it’s a good time to check with your municipality about picking up tree trimmings and Christmas trees and turn them into mulch for parks and landscaped street medians. This has an added benefit of saving irrigation water.
 
We’re doing better.  We have a long way to go and plenty of time to pursue our goals.  But there is no better time to start to Greenify than today.


Loca-Procurement

October 28, 2009

So by now you've heard of the "locavore movement."  You may even be using a locavore approach in your own food shopping and dining habits.  Locavores are people who try to eat foods in season and shop for their fruits and vegetables within a limited distance.  One popular approach is to dine only on foods produced within 100 miles as much as possible.  But how about putting your business on a "100 Mile Diet?"  How about if you tried green procurement?
 
Green procurement would be seeking out goods and services that are less environmentally damaging.  A good portion of a product's "greenness" can often be based on proximity.  And here's good news: goods and services that are produced locally are going to be less environmentally damaging than goods and services produced from afar, as less energy is expended getting them to the consumer.  Many times the savings in terms of shipping a product or hiring in a service can be passed along to purchasers.

Even if all you do is purchase your office supplies from a supplier in the local town, rather than driving to another town to purchase them, consider the carbon emissions eliminated by limiting the distance involved.  You'll almost certainly save money on gas and possibly on the investment of your own valuable time as a business person.  If you tally up the mileage, gas, and general wear and tear on your business vehicle, the savings could be considerable.  They certainly could be sizable for our environment.
 
Some things will not be purchasable in terms of the production aspect.  Few enough companies produce pens or paper; but in the service aspect, the local movement may open wide.  And we can supplement green procurement with reusing and recycling.  The savings in terms of carbon emissions and actual dollars may benefit both sides of the equation, if we:
•  make the office more paperless by printing only when necessary
•  use double-sided printing whenever possible
•  invoice electronically rather than sending invoices through the mail
•  use refillable pens rather than "throwaways"
•  reuse old file folders

We've got a long way to go and lots of little ways that will help us get there, if we Greenify together. 


A Greener Halloween Ahead!

October 26, 2009

With Halloween coming up this weekend, we thought we’d take a sneak peek at some of the various green, sustainable ideas around the cyberworld for the annual Day of the Dead. 

All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween as it has come to be known, has been celebrated for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  It was a pagan harvest celebration that turned spooky, and in recent years has become rather commercial.  Jumbo-sized bags of candy are given away to children wearing plastic masks that obscure their faces and visual fields, making the holiday a little troublesome for parents.   So what’s out there that might be a little greener?

This sustainable design site offers ideas, some of which it claims are last minute:
(I’m particularly fond of the “Where the Wild Things Are” head and footgear for little people.)

Click here to view this site which offers ideas for costumes made of recyclable materials: The bat costume (#5) is a great use for old, broken-down umbrellas you never threw out.

Want to make the scene among the SERIOUSLY GREEN?  Click here for an idea on that.

Sending the kids out for tricks or treats?  Give them a reusable bag for their loot, which oddly enough, the Jane Goodall Institute is offering for sale here:
Begs the question “what do chimps know about tricks or treats?” doesn’t it?

If you are hosting or attending a neighborhood party, then you will want to make your own special holiday treats, but otherwise, we all know to stick to the commercially prepared items, because no one wants to worry about tampered with items.  Or see a child upset when parents remove something in question. 

And the day after, don’t forget to remind the kids that candy wrappers go in litter receptacles.  And that jack ‘o lantern will make great compost to be used on your lawn next summer.  So tuck it in the bin behind the house after you’ve enjoyed it for a day or two.  You’ll thank yourself next spring when you have Greenified this orange and black holiday.  And a Happy, Greener Halloween to you and yours!


Green Versus Lean

October 22, 2009

Should Greenification supercede the economy? It's a vital question that a lot of people are pondering these days. Which is more important: economic survival or environmental sensitivities?

"When I came into office there was this kind of belief that you can only protect the environment or the economy, you have to choose between one or the other," California Governor, Arnold Schwarznegger said at an event staged to accept $26.5 million in federal clean air grants. He dismissed the argument bluntly: "We don't have to accept that."

The environment often has been a luxury item for California voters. Though "going green" was always a concern, it seemed to rank higher in interest when economic times were good.

But that view may be changing, as indicated by a July poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. Sixty-six percent of Californians, for example, supported the global warming bill signed by Schwarzenegger. That is still technically "landslide" territory, but it is down from 73% support in 2008. Institute president Mark Baldassare blames some of the slippage on the economic downturn, but he also says some is clearly the result of partisanship: Democrats are greener at 78% support ahead of Republicans at 43%.

That mirrors national polls. Last year, 73% of the more than 1,000 Americans surveyed said they favored an expansion of offshore drilling for oil and natural gas in protected U.S. waters, even though many environmental advocacy groups have deemed offshore drilling as hazardous to the environment.

But environmental activists argue that choice may not have to be made.

"It's a false dichotomy," said Carroll Muffett, deputy campaigns director at Greenpeace. "In truth, what is truly good for the environment is what is truly good for the economy, because a shift to better energy solutions would create jobs."

That's on a large scale. On a small business scale, we are idealists here at Green Business Alliance, but we also need to be realistic. For the average small business, survival in a difficult economy has to come first. There are some out there who are facing such choices and although we hope that's not you, if it is, we understand. We hope you'll continue to do the things you can and look for more ways to greenify through the recovery period that we all know is ahead.


The Business of Green Marketing

October 21, 2009

So now that your business is green and has been marketing itself that way for awhile, what's ahead? It seems like everybody these days is trying to market themselves as the environmentally conscious, greener, alternative solution with a lower carbon footprint. And that's a good thing. Aren't we glad that we're all doing these things and that society is coming to care (and care all the way deep down in its pockets) about protecting our planet, preventing environmental damage and cleaning up past damage as best we can? Yes, indeed, but what's next?

Here are a few predictions offered by Jacquelyn Ottman, president and founder of J. Ottman Consulting. These predictions were made in a recent article for Advertising Age. They may give you some insight into where things stand and where to look next in your approach to Greenifying.

1. Ottman predicts now that the "green hype" (and some of it is purely hype) has hit a high, there will be a slowdown and maybe even an end to the use of meaningless green marketing terms. This would be helpful. We are seeing that there is a lack of supervision and a need for better definitions of some terms. We need standards to be set in order for business and the consuming public to truly understand what these terms mean. She also predicted there would be a slowdown in the creation of eco-marketed house brands.

2. More electronics companies will create take-back programs, thereby reducing the use of toxic chemicals in order to market themselves as green. In some cases, this may backfire. A recent "60 Minutes" segment covered the illegal and unethical actions of one "take back" program claiming to handle the toxic chemicals but which illegally exported and dumped them in a foreign country. The company involved in that program is now being prosecuted.

3. More green products will be marketed in order to satisfy retailer demands for reduced packaging and better energy efficiency. Consumers will be thrilled to see an end to hard plastic clamshell packaging. Standard green marketing claims will take a back seat to pitches based on such things as higher performance levels, aesthetics and cost effectiveness.

4. Green products sales will soar behind the major brand acquisitions (Remember Clorox buying Burt’s Bees and Colgate snapping up Tom’s of Maine), which will help increase sales of green stand-alones like Method and Seventh Generation.

If these predictions are accurate, 2009 will continue to be the "Year of the Green Business" but in new and different ways that we hope will help your business profit.


College Cafeteria Food: All You Can Carry

September 28, 2009

As the classes begin on campuses around the country, some students are Greenifying without even knowing it.  In campus dining halls, the latest trend is to eliminate cafeteria trays.

You remember lunchroom trays.  They’re usually made of hard plastic in some nondescript color that resembles latte, toothpaste, or a red apple.  You can pile on a plate or two, plus a couple of side dishes, salad, a bread plate, dessert, a beverage and a glass of water with room leftover for flatware.  They are the stuff that the “freshman 10 pounds” is built upon.  They are also wasteful of resources.

The trays allow meals selections to be stacked up, to be sure, but it also is made entirely of plastic, generally is not recycled, and uses up valuable resources in cleaning and storing the trays.  So why not get rid of them?  Why not have “our finest students” learn to carry their food back and forth to the table?

It seems that a good number of the nation’s higher education institutions are in agreement.  Aramark Higher Education estimates that 60% of the 600 campuses it serves are trayless; Sodexo Inc., which works at a similar number of schools says 40% of its clients are making the change.

There have been a few complaints.  Northern Michigan University students grumbled so steadily about the prospect of having to carry their food that the plan was scuttled. 

Lots of schools have “all you can eat” meal plans for students.  The tray-less schools generally continue those plans, but the students occasionally have to make a second trip.  That alone has apparently saved some cafeteria in terms of waste and cost.  The University of California at Santa Cruz last year saved $100,000 in lower board costs. 

Another excellent result: in a country with more than 60% of its population struggling with being overweight, lower consumption is to be encouraged.  

Then there’s the cost of cleaning and sanitizing them.  Surely the cost of a commercial dishwasher filled several dozen times daily with cafeteria trays, compiled over the weeks and months of a school semester could be money better spent on holding tuition costs down.

With both sides benefitting, plus an environmental dividend, can there be any doubt of why Greenifying one cafeteria tray-load at a time is the right thing to do?


Winterize and Greenify – Part 1

September 21, 2009

If the cooler temperatures haven’t hit where you live, they cannot be far off.  It’s time to winterize at home and work. I thought we could use a few reminders.  Here are the first five (of ten) winterizing tips:

1) Furnace Inspection

· Call a HVAC professional to inspect your furnace and clean ducts.  Let a professional do this for maximum energy efficiency.
· Stock up on furnace filters and change them monthly.
· Consider switching out your thermostat for a programmable thermostat.  This is easily done and can save impressive amounts of energy and money. 
· If your home is heated by a hot-water radiator, bleed the valves by opening them slightly and when water appears, close them.  If the heater was installed before 2004, you may want to install an insulating jacket on the heater for greater savings.
· Remove all flammable material from the area surrounding your furnace.

2) Prepare the Fireplace

· Cap or screen the top of the chimney to keep out rodents and birds.
· If the chimney hasn't been cleaned for a while, call a chimney sweep to remove soot and creosote.
· Inspect the fireplace damper for proper opening and closing.
· Buy firewood or chop wood. Store it in a dry place away from the exterior of your home.

3) Check the Exterior, Doors and Windows

· Inspect exterior for cracks and exposed entry points around pipes; seal them.
· Caulk windows and use weatherstripping around doors.
· Replace any cracked or broken windows, prime and paint exposed wood. 
· If your home has a basement, consider adding protective shields over window wells. 
· Switch out summer screens with glass replacements from storage. If you have storm windows, install them.

4) Inspect Roof, Gutters & Downspouts

· If your winters include temperatures below 32 degrees, adding extra insulation to the attic will prevent warm air from creeping to your roof and causing ice dams.
· Check flashing to ensure water cannot enter the home.
· Replace worn roof shingles or tiles.
· Clean out the gutters and use a hose to spray water down the downspouts to clear away debris.
· Install leaf guards on the gutters and extensions on the downspouts to direct water away from the house.

5) Service Weather-Specific Equipment

· Service or tune-up snow blowers.
· Sharpen ice choppers and buy bags of ice-melt / sand. 
· Replace worn rakes and snow shovels.
· Clean, dry and store summer gardening equipment.
· Drain gas from lawnmowers.

We’ll be back with more tips for winterizing soon.  Until then, enjoy the remnants of nature’s green efforts outside for as long as possible.  (to be continued)


How Much for That Grocery Sack?

September 15, 2009

How much is that plastic grocery sack worth to you?  How much is the convenience of an always available plastic grocery sack worth in your life? 

A few years back, I discovered that one particular grocery store in the area where I live charged for the plastic grocery sacks that have become de rigeur in the last 20 years.  I was a little shocked that they wanted three cents bag.  These days, I think they should charge closer to three dollars.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year.  A tiny fraction of the number of plastic bags produced will be recycled.  Even more are packing our landfills.   But worst of all, somewhere between one to three percent of the bags aren’t recycled or in landfills, but instead are littering our world.  

You know what litter is, right?  A few years ago, living in California, I took notice of the state’s anti-litter advertising campaign which says “whatever you drop ends up in the ocean.”  It only takes one visit to the beach to make clear the truth of that statement.

These days, while no longer living in California, I still feeling a growing longing to protect the environment, I have become a collector of reusable shopping bags.  I have two bright green ones, a white one, a black one, and a gorgeous red and natural burlap sack with a charming picture on the side.  I’m not actually going for a rainbow (although I certainly don’t mind!) or any specific designer look, so I usually just accept what I’m offered.

Your customers are probably doing the same: just accepting what they are given.  It’s still such a new concept we’re living with that an offer of a new grocery sack is likely to be greeted with appreciation.  If you’re about to order more disposable plastic sacks for your business, let me encourage you to put in an order for reusable carriers as well.  Offer them to your customers at as low a price as possible. 

At some point soon, that recyclable bag will be worth far more than its weight in so-called “disposable” (plastic) grocery sacks in your world and theirs.


Green Bamboo? …Maybe

September 11, 2009

Have you noticed all the green marketing around lately?  It’s on everything from clothing to clothing to coffee filters to recycled paper.  I’m not about to debate whether recycled anything is green, but let’s take a look at the claims being made about bamboo.

Bamboo, as you may be aware, is the woody stalk of a plant that grows so fast and using so little resources (very few nutrients and a small amount of water) that it’s being labeled as green.  It’s made into cutting boards, clothing, sheets, coffee filters, and flooring.  But are those products truly green?

Let me just ask you a quick question.  Have you seen any bamboo being grown commercially around where you live?  And have you checked the products certification?  There is no global certification standard for using responsibly produced bamboo, and until it’s developed, you may want to the producers for guidance.

Bamboo is popular in clothing, sheets, towels and other textiles because it’s cool against the skin, absorbs water well, and feels soft.  But the process of turning the woody stalks into silky fabric uses a lot of water, energy, and chemicals, according to industry insiders.   Laura Wehrman, owner of Tela Verde, a New York-based company that tracks sustainable textiles for the fashion industry says that it “does not meet the definition of sustainability."  She also says, it’s probably less of a planet-taxing alternative than non-organic cotton or polyester, and has the potential to be greener if manufacturing processes improve.

The group, “Oeko-Tex” certifies textiles that have met safety and environmental standards.  Consumers can check for compliance with this standard.

Bamboo flooring is also growing in popularity because of its low cost and durability.  The Forest Stewardship Council certifies environmentally responsible flooring. Look for the council's symbol when seeking out bamboo construction materials.

One product that is known to be on top of the “ecologically sound” movement is Bambu, a line of tableware available at Target and other retailers.  It is certified organic by a Swiss body, IMO.

Bamboo can be a smart alternative to wood products, but don't assume it's synonymous with sustainability. Most of it is grown and the products produced in Asia, where there is already concern that demand for it is causing clear-cutting of old growth forests. The carbon footprint of shipping it around the world is not insignificant.  So check with companies before you buy, and don't buy new if you don't really have to. 


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