Recycling Christmas (Trees!)

January 1, 2009

Christmas 2008 is now past; the Happy New Year of 2009 Greenifying your business lies ahead.  That may mean that Job One at the top of this (usually quiet) week's list is disposing of the holiday tree.  And your options can be very green, indeed!  Recycling, or treecycling, is easy and convenient, whether you are taking down your business or home tree; work in an industrial park or strip mall; live in a house with curbside yard waste collection service or a multi-tenant building.

Last year, recyclers kept over 800 tons of Christmas trees out of landfills, and this year, with many convenient options, even more could be collected. 

Christmas trees are recycled by being ground up in huge tub grinders.  The resulting material becomes mulch and compost. Because recycled trees are generally put to use in making landscaping and garden products, flocked trees can not be recycled. Some of the ingredients used to flock the tree can harm the quality of compost. Also, before recycling your tree, remove tinsel, lights, ornaments, rod supports, and the stand.

And do be considerate of recyclers.  The grinders that turn trees into mulch are powerful, heavy machines, but even they have their limits.  Their huge jaws pulverize branches and even some stumps, but they can be choked by items like metal Christmas tree stands. Metal Christmas tree stands or rebar remaining in tree trunks can jam grinders, stall engines, break off grinder teeth, or fly out of grinders which poses a threat to workers.  Make sure you provide the cleanest, most natural tree possible for pick-up by recyclers.

You'll also need to check with your local community for information about recycling trees.  Some cities provide pick-up for businesses, but not all.  And various trash haulers have different requirements for the proper way to recycle trees to ensure smooth loading and increase available space in collection trucks. For example, some cities ask residents not to put Christmas trees in yard waste containers. Instead, they want residents to cut in half any trees longer than 6 feet, and place the trees next to refuse and recycling bins.

Most local governments and their trash disposal services want to help residential and commercial clients to recycle their trees.  It does help maximize space in the landfill, and provide valuable mulching materials that help Greenify homes and businesses far into the year 2009 and beyond.


Trees: Greenifying the Old Fashioned Way

December 24, 2008

Have you planted a tree recently?  I ask with good reason.  Trees are one of our most important natural resources.  They provide shade, fruit and seed and oxygen regeneration services for all of us.  They are great places for birds to live and for people to sit under on a hot day.  And they are just plain beautiful.

“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.”  Those words were written over 100 years ago by Alfred Joyce Kilmer and they’ve never been forgotten.  Trees are truly lovely.

They are graceful in the summer as they sway in the breeze.  They are colorful as cooler temperature turns their leaves different shades of red and gold and everything in between. They are austere and dignified in winter as the snow falls on their stark empty branches.  And they are the first sign of spring, popping back to life with little bits of green with just the smallest bits of inspiration from a passing warm breeze.

In addition, trees can help lower your heating and cooling bills at home and the office.  By providing shade in the summer and a barrier against winds in the winter, they soften your carbon footprint. “If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3% less,” says Dr. E. Greg McPherson, Center for Urban Forest Research. “In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12%."   They also add between $1000 and $10,000 in value to any property.

Trees are wonderful and needed everywhere.  Add a tree to the front of your business and it instantly signifies a more friendly atmosphere to customers.  It says “we are settled here” and in business to stay.  And it says that your business is concerned about the environment and making a contribution to a better planet. 

Trees are wonderful ways to Greenify the planet, your business, your home, the air and the view immediately before us.  They are contributing members of our earth and should be valued and taken care of as such.  Trees are one of the easiest and most wonderful ways to Greenify a business or home.


Cyber Greenification

December 22, 2008

Have you thought lately about the computer that you’re using and how much it costs the environment?  Computers in the business sector waste $1 billion worth of electricity a year.

First, let’s consider the kind of computer that you have.  PC or laptop?  A standard personal computer uses a significant amount of more energy to operate during a daily work cycle than a laptop.  PC’s are the “6 cylinder engines” of the computer world.  What you want to be operating is more like a moped.  A laptop can pay for itself in the course of one year, in energy savings over a personal computer. 

Make it a policy to invest in energy-saving computers, monitors, and printers.  You’ll want to research, looking for energy-saver decals and then once you buy them, use the most energy-saving cycles possible. 

So now that you’ve got the computer, make a habit of turning it—and the power strip it's plugged into— off when you leave for the day. Otherwise, you're still burning energy even if you're not burning the midnight oil. (You definitely want to check with your IT department before doing this to make sure the computer doesn't need to be on to run backups or other maintenance.)

During the day, setting your computer to go to sleep automatically during short breaks can cut energy use by 70 percent. Remember, screen savers don't save energy.  Turning the computer off or putting it into hibernation both save energy.

When it’s time to get a new computer, look for a recycler with a pledge not to export hazardous e-waste and to follow other safety guidelines. Old computers that still work, and are less than five years old, can be donated to organizations that refurbish them, giving them another life in new homes.   (You may even get a tax deduction.)

Computers are part of our life, but they shouldn’t be allowed to take control of our environment.  And certainly not after they are done being of service.


Clean Hands – Clean Environment

December 19, 2008

Is it fair to say you can help Greenify our world by cleanifying your bathroom habits?  Wash your hands with good, old-fashioned soap and water to prevent disease, and let’s talk about what you’re using to lather up. This is an important decision that many of us don't think twice about, but it can help us keep a healthier environment on the most basic level.

The main ingredient in most liquid soaps lining store shelves is triclosan.  That’s a pesticide that kills bacteria.   If you put that in the restrooms at your business, you’re using a howitzer to kill a housefly.  It turns out you just need to banish germs from your hands, not kill them.  Studies have shown you only need to get rid of the germs, not kill them.  Scientists know that antibacterial soaps aren't any more effective at preventing illness or removing germs than good old-fashioned soap and water.

And those anti-bacterial pesticides may do more harm than good. 

Researchers are concerned that triclosan may be contribute to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria (like those that are currently slowing New England Patriot Quarterback Tom Brady’s recovery from knee surgery) and that’s not good for anyone.   Triclosan has been found in our bodies and in breast milk, as well as in streams. The Environmental Working Group says the pesticide has been linked to developmental defects, livery toxicity, and cancer in lab studies.  It may also affect thyroid and other hormones crucial to development in children. 

The best thing you can do for yourself, your employees, and your customers is avoid those liquid “antibacterial” soaps.  Look for the old-fashioned bar soaps, the powdered soaps from the 1970’s, and maybe even some of those sanitary sheet soaps for individual protection.  If you aren’t sure, just check the label for triclosan or triclocarban (a similar compound that's found more commonly in bar soaps) which are the active ingredients. If you see them, move onto another product that can help you go green. 


2009 New Year’s Resolutions: Greenify!

December 18, 2008

It’s time to start thinking about those New Years’ resolutions.  Most of us think about what we’d like to do differently in the coming year at some point.  The start of a new year is a great time to resolve to Greenify our planet, and whether the plans you make are big or small, we all can help.  Here’s a list of ideas to get you started:

1.  Recycle bottles and cans as well as paper and plastic and everything else possible.  20 years ago, recycling was difficult and only done by society’s oddballs.  Now if you don’t put out at least one recycling bin, you can count on being shamed by the neighbors.   If your city doesn’t do it, there’s almost certainly a recycling center nearby.

2. Drive the most gas-efficient car you can find. The average mileage of this country's car fleet is a piggish 18 mpg. It's easy to find a car (even an American-made one) that gets 30-40 mpg.  If we all did that, we would still get to all the places we have to go, while saving billions of dollars, cutting the influence of Middle Eastern oil on our economy, and seeing huge cuts in acid rain and greenhouse emissions.  Our cities might even meet Clean Air Act standards.

3. Tighten up your house.  Experts say, we’re leaking a Saudi Arabian oilfield out of our attics and windows.  The fix is simple: insulate, caulk, and weather strip.  Keep the furnace tuned up to run properly.  And put in double-glaze or heat mirror windows.

4. Start and maintain a compost pile.  If your kitchen and yard wastes get in with your trash, the paper becomes unrecyclable.  If they go to the landfill, they turn into methane, a greenhouse gas.  If they go to an incinerator, they become carbon dioxide, which is poisonous.  If you compost them, they put carbon and plant nutrients back into your soil.  And its simple: all that is necessary is to mix organic material with air and water and a little soil to provide bugs to do the work.  Some folks just make a pile at one corner of the garden and then shovel out the good black stuff from the bottom of that pile whenever it’s needed.

If we all just do these few things, we’ll save our pocketbooks and Greenify the planet at a time when we could use both: in 2009.

 


Greenify a Holiday Reading List

December 10, 2008

It’s that time of year when a well-chosen corporate gift can say a lot to a client or friend.  It can set the tone for a relationship, or set an example for a lifetime.   Here’s a list of  some of the best, most well-regarded books that focus on Greenification. 

Walden
Henry David Thoreau

The original ode to the environment.  This is more than a literary staple of English classes across the United States.  It is Thoreau's most famous work and chronicles his two-year retreat to the woods, celebrates the simple life.

Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit
Al Gore

Gore’s book, written well before An Inconvenient Truth set the public consciousness spinning on global warming, the former Vice President was beginning to stake out his position on the environment.  In Earth in the Balance, he argues, "We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization."

The Omnivore's Dilemma
Michael Pollan

This is the gift for the cook on your list.  Pollan follows the journey of four meals from farm to table: the corn-addicted path of McDonald's take-out, a home-cooked dinner of Whole Foods organics, a sustainably grown supper "off the grid" and a modern hunter-gatherer's meal.  A veritable feast of the senses for environmentally sensitive.

Silent Spring
Rachel Carson

Viewed widely as the book that gave birth to the modern environmental movement, Carson exposes the hazards of pesticides and other pollution, sounding both a warning and a call to action.

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
Marc Reisner

This book offers a look at the history of water management, as well as mismanagement in the Western United States.  Reisner's compelling chronicle work brought well-deserved attention to the pressing need for wise water use policy.

Collapse
Jared Diamond

This nonfiction piece offers modern-day lessons from locations as far and diverse as Rwanda and Japan while Diamond's haunting narrative explores doomed civilizations to make the case that ecological catastrophe can be averted if we make the right choices.

The Lorax
Dr. Seuss

For the child in all of us, Dr. Seuss spins an unforgettable story of a world once lush with truffula trees.  Told in his beloved rhyming style, the Lorax is written to charm youthful minds and hearts while at the same time introducing complex environmental ideas.

Send a tin of cookies and give them something to munch on; send a book and give them something to Greenify on for years to come.

 


Greenifying as Winter Does Its Worst

December 9, 2008

Keeping walkways safe for customers is a challenge that many businesses face during the winter months, with or without snow.  But can de-icing be Greenified?   Ice on sidewalks, driveways and parking lots creates physical hazardous conditions for people, and legal hazards for business owners.  So what's the best way to de-ice without doing in the environment?
 
Snow and ice removal is best done non-chemically with shovel and plow but, admittedly, the results on sidewalks at least, isn't always adequate to ensure safety. Chemical de-icer and/or a grit like sand is often part of a comprehensive strategy to make getting around to do business a safe prospect.
 
Chemical de-icers work by melting snow and ice and forming a liquid brine. This brine seeps downward to contact paved and over impervious surfaces, spreads outward breaking the bond between ice and cold surfaces, and makes it possible to physically loosen and remove whole sheets of compacted snow and ice. Used in advance of icing conditions this brine can also prevent ice from forming on surfaces.

Salt or chloride based products are staples of the de-icer industry. Rock salt (sodium chloride) is among the best known and widely used products. Salt may be a fairly benign chemical in most environments under limited use. However there is considerable evidence of water problems associated with excess runoff of salt based materials.  Other products on the shelf will have labels saying, "Contains Primary Potassium Chloride & Secondary Urea Sodium Chloride". These are primarily fertilizers repackaged as de-icers. 

Product packaging may claim to be "non salt based" or "environmentally friendly".  It’s best to evaluate that claim by checking the label.  In fact, what we're looking for is an acetate product. CMA is the most widely tested and used de-icer in the acetates category. It is a natural acid that is soluble in water and it has chemical properties similar to vinegar.  Only labels with calcium magnesium acetate, CMA or another acetate based product is really the organic choice.

Always follow label directions when using a de-icing product. However, any de-icer that is mixed with equal parts of sand can help reduce the use of the de-icer and provide grit for added traction. You may want to consider choosing deep tray-type doormats with stiff bristles to allow people entering the building to brush off their shoes and boots before entering the building.

There is another possibility: heating the sidewalk.  This involves adding concrete pads at busy entryways.  Embedded within these insulated pads are flexible pipes for carrying hot water. The water gives up its heat to the concrete and prevents snow and ice from accumulating. But the energy costs and installation outlays of heated sidewalk systems need to also be taken into account. 

Greenifying and de-icing may not seem at first to be the best fit together, but with proper care, you can protect the environment as well as customers, even when winter does its worst. 


Greenify Your Garland

December 7, 2008

Is the holiday tree up at your home or office?  It’s what most of us consider to be the epitome of the holiday season: a Christmas tree filled with bright lights, colorful ornaments and encircled around by garland. 

We’ve talked about the tree.  It could be artificial and save on cutting down trees and annual expense or a real tree (considered by many to be a renewable resource) that is either living or recycled into mulch by many county recycling authorities. 

And we’ve talked about the lights.  The new LCD lights are available which cost considerably more, but last a lot longer and will save money over the life of the bulbs because they use only a tiny percentage of the electricity used by the incandescent bulbs.

But what about garland?  As a child, I loved to put pieces of tinsel on the family tree, one by one by one. The tree shone with a silvery sheen.  As an adult, I realize that such tinsel makes the tree more difficult to recycle because the shiny aluminum bits don’t break down.  They are not recyclable, reusable, or renewable.  They just use up resources, look pretty, and are off to the dump.

Let’s consider other forms of garland.  Even an aluminum garland is reusable.  But let’s consider other options.

These days, there are numerous options for an environmentally sensitive consumer.  There are amazing ornate garlands made of hand-blown glass by artisans.  There are beautiful, unique beaded pieces as well. 

But for a truly green-thumbed Greenification enthusiast, there are decorations made the old-fashioned way: by hand.  Imagine the beauty of a tree decorated in a garland of its own fruits.  Collect pinecones and string them together using fishing line.  Add a touch of glitter spray and you’re done.  Leave it natural and use the pinecones to start home fires burning after the holidays.  Or how about a return to childhood roots by making a garland of popcorn and cranberries?  The squirrels outside your backdoor will appreciate you greatly after tree season is past.

It’s a great time of year to Greenify, even in the smallest ways.  And Greenification is as close as your front room, waiting to brighten your holidays from one season to the next. 


Greener Holiday Party Ideas

December 5, 2008

If you’re going to make the rounds of holiday parties or give one yourself, plan now to Greenify.

Going to holiday parties, you want to make sure to carpool, right?  This makes it easier to save gas, save wear and tear on the car, and potentially save lives.  The latter because this is the time of year when we all enjoy seeing our friends and business associates and sharing holiday foods and drinks together.  Carpooling makes it much easier to designate a driver so that everyone makes it home alive.  It’s better for the environment and all of us in it because we all feel better when there are fewer drunk drivers on the road.

If you are the one throwing the holiday party, consider going “old school.”  Even if you are trying to cut costs and downsizing the party from country club to office commissary, forget about the past years of plastic cups and throw-away paper table coverings. 

Buy a fabric tablecloth.  Festive holiday clothes of all sizes can be had at discount stores for prices close to the same as those of the throw-away paper ones, but with far less of a carbon footprint. 

The same goes for plates, cups, and silverware.  You can rent or borrow the same, depending on the size of your party.  You may be able to cut costs if you know a church that rents their hall or their linens, flatware, or other houseware items.  These groups often have the items in bulk and may also be looking for ways to make extra money. 

You could even purchase them at a discount store and give them away (for pickup later, after they’ve been washed) as a door prize. Choose well and they’ll be appreciated.  Such things have been done before by our parents’ generation.  And this time, there’s the added benefit of Greenification. 

If you have to wash a few dishes, is that really so bad?  A holiday party downsized per cost but upsized with glassware, silverware, and linens isn’t going to feel as sparsely provided. 

And your company’s carbon footprint shrinks a little more all the way into the New Year. 


Holiday Colors: Red and Greenify!

December 4, 2008

Have you thought about what kinds of goodies your business will give to its customers this holiday season?  You can Greenify your corporate gifts this season without missing out on taste or quality, while enjoying the knowledge that you’re helping the environment.

So let’s look at a few possibilities. How about some coffee? A nice bag of organically grown brew is a welcome gift in most offices and there are dozens of brands out there.  There is an entire website devoted to the organic coffee association and what their growers do to bring you a greener cup of joe:
   
While you’re at it, maybe look around for a well-made mug.   Your client will save a lot of money if they start drinking their own office coffee from their own cup.

Like chocolates?  These are grown pesticide-free so you don’t have to feel any guilt about enjoying them.  And Sierra Club staffers say these three are the best:
Amano Chocolate
Dagoba Chocolate
Ithaca Fine Chocolates

If you’d rather have cookies, these have all won awards for taste and for being eco-friendly:

Dancing Deer
Bellas Cookies

Liz Lovely

Going low-carbohydrate and healthy?  Try some pesticide-free nuts:

Living Tree Community
Sun Organic
Wilderness Family Naturals 

And if you’ve got a one of a kind customer that is worth “a million” to you, then maybe this next one is for you.  This website offers one of a kind heirloom Teddy Bears made from repurposed used fur coats.

You can show you care about your customers and the earth by giving greener gifts this season.  You can Greenify while greeting the season with style.


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