Recycling 101

February 25, 2010

You've never seen people so grateful to see sunshine as those who live in the city of Washington, DC this week. I did exactly as I said and waited for the sun to melt the snow around my car. But after ten days, I confess I got a little impatient. I searched out the house shovel, walked the half mile to my car and shoveled for about ten minutes before I was able to easily drive off.

We have a beautiful planet. It may be a little cold and wet at times, but it's a gorgeous, beautiful and amazing place to live. And while I've been locked up in the house this past bit, I had a lot of time to look at some of the garbage that we carelessly toss around it.

That's because, of course, I was locked up with my recyclables. When the city shut down due to the heavy snowstorms, we lost garbage service.

I've always tried very hard to recycle everything that I can, from used soda bottles to the cardboard rolls inside of toilet paper. (How many crafts did I imagine as a child?)

I grew up on a rural farm where all of the kitchen refuse was collected and fed to pigs. Anything that he could, my father would burn and toss into a compost pile for use in fertilizing a flower bed behind the house. The rest, after careful sorting (Dad hated to throw away so much as a button that could be reused) and washing, was sent to a landfill about 15 miles away.

This past week, I could see on a Capitol Hill listserv that a growing number of my neighbors were becoming very uncomfortable with their garbage. Because I recycle so much, I was just fine.

I bought a small “step can” (purchased at Goodwill) that is lined with a plastic bag where I put wet garbage. I'm convinced that the majority of the items put out in “regular waste bins” are probably recyclable, if I clean and sort them properly.

I've got a couple of large bags of clean recyclables that are blocking off a corner of my kitchen while I wait for full services to resume. There is a sizable box of nonrecyclable items (mixed plastic and paper containers, a few single use batteries and a little bit of this or that) and my tidy, sealed ziploc bag of wet garbage.

I'm looking forward to the city coming around for recyclables this week. Now that I've lived with my garbage in my small apartment for three weeks, I've got a much healthier respect for it. I could put my garbage, unsorted, out for the collection services, but now that I know what it's like to live with it, I don't want the planet to have to live with it either. I'm more excited than ever to recycle and keep my part of our world as green as possible.

By the way, have you chosen a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm to buy your produce from this summer? It's that time! We'll talk about that next week.


10 Days of Shut Down: What We Can Learn from Snowmaggedon

February 18, 2010

I have mentioned that I live in Washington, DC. Unless you've been living under a rock, you are probably aware that Washington has recently endured a record setting series of snowstorms, dumping 40 inches of the white stuff on Dulles Airport in the last week and a half. An additional one to four inches are expected this week and no one here is looking forward to it.

But there are lessons here to be learned.

For the last ten days, my car has been parked on a side street adjacent to Pennsylvania Avenue. I drop by to look at the snow surrounding it every few days. I keep hoping that the snow will melt off and I'll be able to get in and drive it away with only a minor effort. But in the meantime, you know, I'm not really suffering.

Let me admit up front that I stocked my pantry well before the storm hit. But other than that, I haven't given it a second thought. I don't need to drive around that much, and beyond a trip to various stores that aren't quite as convenient with my car, I'm doing just fine. If I gave it some consideration, I could park my car and quite happily drive only every other week or so.

If all of Washington gave similar efforts, our Beltway wouldn't be so legendary for its traffic problems.

A lot of people have been telecommuting, too. Road crews took days to clear out the first round of snow before the second round hammered down. To be honest, I'm being quite generous when I say “clear out.” (There are still dangerous amounts of ice and piles of snow on the street, blocking views and obstructing traffic.) I've actually envied a lot of those telecommuters; they seem to have the best situation of all.

Area children have one more day off. Schools are closed for the holiday, but opening on Tuesday. One last thing that is greener about this community (in this case, I mean green as in tax dollars) response in school districts: officials in two area jurisdictions have issued appeals, asking residents to help their school systems in their efforts to reopen.

In Fairfax County, officials called for volunteers to clear paths so classes can resume Tuesday after being closed Monday for Presidents' Day. "Your community needs you," Braddock District Supervisor John C. Cook was quoted as saying in the Washington Post as he issued a call for shovels and those with the backbone to properly use them. Arlington County also issued a similar call and reminded property owners to clear their sidewalks.

I think most residents would have done almost anything to clear the walkways, but it is always better to use human strength, rather than strong chemicals.

Washingtonians learned a lot about themselves and dealing with Mother Nature these last few weeks. Undoubtedly, nature always has something to teach us, including about Greenifying.


Greenifying In A White-Out World

February 15, 2010

I am considering what I can do to Greenify this week from a very confined corner of the world: Washington, DC.  In case you didn't see the news this past week, the nation's capital was directly in the path of a huge winter storm.  It struck with the force that hasn't been seen in more than 50 years. 
 
It started at mid-morning on Friday with tiny and widely scattered flakes.  By mid-afternoon, there were several inches on the ground.  And before it was done snowing around 6pm on Saturday, there were more than 20 inches of snow on the ground.  Washington, DC is getting a dose of "how to conserve resources" this week.

The city is shut down.  The federal government is mostly closed, except for "essential personnel."  I had to go in (I'm not very important, yet somehow, I was considered "essential") to work and because I knew things might get difficult, I went to work on Friday night with an overnight case and pillow. 
 
In spite of regular treatment with plows, sand and chemicals, the streets were soon blocked by snow and impassable.  Only the main thoroughfares of town got plowed immediately (and even they had to be plowed repeatedly).   The buses shut down.  Metro, the famed federal rail service also closed wherever the rails were exposed aboveground.  Trash pickup and recycling services also are out of commission.  So what's to do?

For many people, it was still a day of work by telecommuting.  Thousands of federal and other workers went to work in their pajama pants and sweaters.  They "ordered out" from their own refrigerator.  They got their work done without wasting the time, gas or other resources of commuting. (Commuting in Washington, by the way, can add an extra ninety minutes on each end of the day.)  Studies have shown that many people are happier, more relaxed and more productive when they telecommute.  And employers like it better, too, because they don't have to provide office space. 
 
Tomorrow, a lot of Washingtonians will be doing the same.  Maybe you should consider it, too.  Talk to your employees about telecommuting.  Talk to your boss about telecommuting.  Consider whether the work that is being done in your office could legitimately and more reasonably be done at home for one or more days per week.  You may be quite happy with the results.
 
As for me, my car is just off Pennsylvania Avenue, under about 2.5 feet of snow.  I'm not going to dig it out.  I'm going to let nature take its course.  Which means tomorrow, I may have to "telecommute" to the gym.  That's my new name for my pilates workout DVD. 


Greenifying: One Soda at a Time

February 4, 2010

Have a Coke and smile. You are Greenifying. As we have often discussed here at the Green Business Alliance, going green is a good thing for the environment and for business. And one of America's biggest names in business apparently realizes that. That's right, the world's biggest maker of beverages, Coca Cola, has begun using new bottles made partially of plant-based materials, making them biodegradable. The new bottles are only 30% made of plant-based materials, but Coca Cola sees it as a step in the evolution of packaging.

As we all know, plant materials like corn and sugar cane are renewable resources. The U.S. currently uses over 200,000 barrels of oil per day in production of plastic. The old Coke bottles that we've all grown accustomed to required 17 million barrels of petroleum per year to produce. The new bottles will decrease that amount and with it, Coke's carbon footprint in packaging falls an estimated 12 to 18 percent.

The move is part of a new nation-wide movement away from petroleum-based products. The motivations behind it are three-fold: concern about the price of oil and our dangerous dependence on it, safety concerns about chemicals in plastics production and of course, our growing worries about the amount of plastics we are putting into the environment. Instead, the newer plastics are dependent on corn, wheat, sugar beets, sweet potatos and rice to make an alternative to plastics called polyactic acid, or PLA.

Other companies that have already starting using such bottles include Newman's Own (which has been one of the companies at the forefront of the green movement), Wild Oats, WalMart and yes, Coca Cola's nemesis in the beverage market, Pepsico. And if you're drinking soda, you might as well have a few chips. Sunchips are also in a new bag which is made of 33 percent polyactic acid, with plans to increase that amount to 90 percent.

Keep in mind, consumers still need to recycle the packaging itself. PLA is wonderful stuff, but tossed along the side of the road, those bottles and wrappers will likely still be there in a few years. And it's not perfect: products shelf-life isn't quite as long using the PLA packaging. But the manufacterers are working on that as well.

But isn't it amazing to see how important and vital to their industry (and marketing!) greenifying is? They consider it a key part of their strategy. It's the direction they want to go and they want others to see them heading that direction as well.

The new bottles were unveiled at the recent Copenhagen Climate Summit. Drink up! And if the soda you're drinking tastes greener, maybe that's because it is.


Space Heaters: Energy Efficient?

February 2, 2010

Are space heaters energy efficient? Or are they sucking the life out of your energy efficiency plan, one outlet at a time?

When I was growing up, my family lived for a year in a small two bedroom house. It wasn't a shanty in the Appalachians, but a farm house on a family ranch in the West. There was no central heat or air and not even a window unit in the summer. But winter was the time that things got really tricky. The house was heated by a black coal-fired pot-bellied stove in the front room.

Most people like sleeping in a chilly house and this one certainly accomplished that handily. My father arose early every morning to restart the fire and get it blazing for when he woke the rest of the household. And when it was time to get cleaned up, the bathroom was in the farthest corner of the house. It was cold in that bathroom! So we had a space heater.

Dad guarded the use of that space heater with his life! He would turn it on low while we were in the tub, and allow the highest setting only as we got out to shiver while drying off. We only lived in that house for about 10 months until a new home could be built for us. And these days, of course, heaven bless my college professor father for teaching his children to be frugal about both energy and money. But I also wondered if that old space heater was really the expensive consumer of power that he said it was.

Modern space heaters can actually be extremely energy efficient little machines. If you live in a large house and don't use parts of the house during various times, or if you have an employee who is always colder than the rest of the staff, then you know how helpful these little gadgets can be, if you purchase the right one.

With central heat, you lose a large amount of the heat into the system of ducts and vents weaving in and through the house. With a space heater, you can individualize the heat. You can turn the temperature down in the rest of the house or office, while applying heat directly where desired. Think of all the times you've been blown through a business' front door and wondered how the person at the front desk ever tolerated the wild shifts in temperature that came with the arrival of every customer. It was likely that they had a space heater just below the front counter, trained on their knees.

Space heaters often use between 900 and 1500 kilowatts. This can be quite a lot of heat, but if you only need to supplement one smallish area, they can be a lot more energy efficient than using central air to heat the entire house or building to a desired temperature when only one (or perhaps two?) rooms are needed.

Should you try to heat the entire house with a space heater? No, that would be overuse and in fact, could overload the electrical circuitry. (You'll need to make sure your outlets, fuses and circuitry can handle the full 1500 watts) But dropping the temperature to slightly below the comfort zone in most of a house or business and using space heaters in one or two rooms could see an 8 percent savings on the fuel bill.

And that would be good Greenifying on for both the environment and the home or business expense.


Grocery Store Greenifying

January 26, 2010

How was your last trip to the grocery store? Did you remember to take your own reusable grocery bags? I keep mine in the trunk of my car and I must admit that last year, I didn't always remember to bring them into the stores with me. But I definitely remember now, because with the start of 2010, the city where I live is charging a fee to use those plastic "disposable" grocery sacks. Nothing like a five cents per bag fee to jog the memory about bringing your own bags.

Bringing my own grocery bags along is something I like to do. I have probably about 7 or 8 of them in varied colors, sizes and styles. Some are made of a flimsy (but remarkably strong) polyester that seems to be the same stuff that is used to make disposable hospital gowns. A few are sturdier black or dark green nylon and rather stiff. (I'm betting these will be around for years.) One is made of burlap and trimmed in red and so stylish that I sometimes wonder if I should drag it along to work.

I've discovered that if I use them and then put them next to my keys, I can remember to return them to the trunk the next time I go out. Even if I forget to take them into the store, that doesn't really matter, does it? I can take the groceries to my car and load them from the cart into the bags in the trunk. Anything to keep that five cents in my pocket a little longer.

I say this because I think that's how a lot of us feel right now. The economy seems to be recovering, but jobs are not and businesses, while surviving, seem to be running a little sluggishly. It's a good time to look at what you can do, easily and inexpensively to remind customers that you're still in business. Have you put your name on some inexpensive reusable tote bags at your business?

Even if you are not in the grocery business, it's still a good idea. The bags are inexpensively made, mass-produced and growing numbers of people are using them, which means that plastering your business name and logo across them and selling them at cost is a great way to greenly advertise. Think of all the uses: groceries, books, school notebooks, kids projects and anything else that could be dragged along, while advertising your name.

But also think of the good you are doing the environment. Those so-called "disposable" grocery bags are a major source of pollution. Over 500 billion of them are produced and used world-wide every year. Most of the bags are not biodegradable, end up overstuffing landfills or worse, flying around in the wind or floating in the water and choking fish, waterfowl and sometimes even the algae.

The strange thing about them is, they started out as an answer to paper bags. Manufacturing the plastic bags compares favorably with producing paper bags. They consume 40 percent less energy, generate 80 percent less solid waste, produce 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to 94 percent fewer waterborne wastes, according to the Society of the Plastics Industry.

But now we know the better answer is to make stronger reusable bags that will stand up to months of use and reuse. Advertising on the bags gets one more use out of them for yourself. It makes them just a little bit greener, don't you think? If you want to Greenify your grocery experience with the help of Green Business Alliance, click here to view our reusable bags for purchase.


New Year’s Greenification: One Step at a Time

December 22, 2009

It’s that time again.  2009 will soon be behind us.  2010 is right at our door.  It’s time to make a few new resolutions.  I’d like to offer you a few.

Resolve to not buy anything new for a week.  Just one week.  You might be able to do that sometime this winter.  Or maybe you’ll keep that resolution in the spring.  But do it sometime.  And once you’ve made it a week without purchasing something new (other than food), you might make it a couple of weeks.

Resolve to recycle every week.   And look for ways to increase the amount that you are recycling.  Do it every week.  If you can get to the point where the amount your employees put into the recycling bin exceeds the amount in the trash bin, you are doing great!  But definitely, recycling can and should be something that you do, do with relish and hope to exell at doing.

Resolve to freecycle.  Did you know there are now listservs and websites for freecycling in most major urban areas and many small locations, too?  You want to be part of these!  In fact, if you can get a freecycling message board going on your company website, think how many more visitors to your website you might draw.  That’s an optimal idea for a small business!  Think of the community you’ll build among your customers!

Resolve to be a locavore, if only for a few weeks this summer.  Grow a garden in your backyard, on your balcony, in a few herb pots in the window, but wherever you can.  Grow a few plants and add to the oxygenating lifecycle of our planet.  And of course, harvest and eat your vegetables and herbs.

But even if it turns out that you have a “black thumb” and can’t grow anything, you can still try your hand at eating local, seasonally produced foods.  And you’re likely to get better quality, fresher tasting vegetables at the same time. 

Resolve to check the air pressure on your company fleet and personal car’s tires regularly.  You should check at least once per month to get better gas mileage, better handling and better wear on those tires.  Find out what pressure your tires should be at and start a regular habit of checking their inflation.  You’ll arrive safer that way, too.

You don’t have to do these things every day, but if you do them on a regular, scheduled basis, you will lead a more Greenified, economical and higher quality life.  And you might lead your employees and customers to do the same in 2010.

We wish you all a very Green New Year and look forward to blogging with you in 2010! 


A Quieter, Greener Christmas

December 17, 2009

I want to have a quieter, but still Greenified Christmas this year.  And I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do.  It’s economical, environmentally sound and perhaps one of the more thoughtful gifts I’ve given in years.

I’m going to go to a big warehouse store and buy a couple of packs of energy saving light bulbs.  And I’m going to take them to my parents’ house and replace every old-fashioned fluorescent light bulb in their house with an energy-saving, money-saving CFL bulb.

My parents are older, so they see better with a lot of lighting.  CFL are often brighter than the older bulbs they replace.  But my folks also don’t buy a lot of new things.  I’ve told them that the new energy-efficient bulbs are cost effective, but it’s hard to convince them that it’s actually less wasteful to throw away (or even recycle) a perfectly good light bulb and replace it with a new one.  Or to throw away a couple dozen perfectly good light bulbs.

Did you know that the average U.S. household has 45 light bulbs?   Since you save about $30 or more in electricity costs over each bulb's lifetime, that means replacing that number of 75-watt incandescent bulbs with CFLs would save $180 per year.

And if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.

My parents have about that many, so it won’t be a cost-effective gift for me.  But when I think about all the money they will save, I believe it’s gift that will keep giving throughout the entire year.  And I know it’s one I’ll feel great about giving, too.

It’s a great way to Greenify and give a truly thoughtful gift this season.  I invite you to share the simple gift of light, from an energy efficient bulb, with someone you care about this season.  Happy Holidays!


Have a Greenified Holiday Season!

December 14, 2009

Did you get out the old family Christmas lights yet?   Good!  Did you put them in the recycle bin?  Excellent!  Time to Greenify with new LED lights.  Did you know by using the newest LED strands of lights, you can actually save 90% off your electrical usage bill?  If you are lighting up the house, the yard, the trees and the fence out front, well, shame on you!  But nine times the shame (and certainly nine times the expense) if you do it with non-LED lights.  

I am actually sort of excited because for the first time in years, I’m going to go out and buy a strand of these things.  I haven’t had occasion to have a tree for the past couple of years, so I didn’t bother.  So this is the year that I am going to pick up the LED ones.  I’m still haggling in my brain: one bright strand of multi-colored lights?  Or “just plain white ones, thank you!”  I have to admit, vanilla is my favor flavor of ice cream but when it comes to Christmas, I like the world a-glow in multiple shades of Christmas red and green, a little Hanukkah blue with some orange and yellow lights tossed in for the added fun of it.  Forget to buy the tinsel and you’ll be well ahead of the game.  What else? 

How about if you make your own Christmas wrap this year?  Most packaged holiday wrap is thrown away anyway.  (I hope no one is burning that toxic-paint-covered stuff anymore!) Consider wrapping in old newspapers (get the kids to add their own holiday themes) or maps.  The comics section works great, but you’d better ask the neighbors for theirs, too.  How about old maps?  A scarf or dish towel?  Give grandparents a thrill by wrapping it in the kids’ artwork.

Here’s a shocker: if every family wrapped just three gifts this way, we’d save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

One last green holiday gift: give your old phone to a charity. You’re getting a new one for Christmas, right?  Remove all the numbers and drop off the old one at any Staples office supply store. The Sierra Club recycles them, keeping their lead, cadmium and other metals out of our landfills. 

There are lots of ways to make your holidays bright and Greenified.  We’ll see you again next week with more. 


Greenified Gifts in Style!

December 6, 2009

Now that it is December, I thought we would do some more Greenified gift shopping.  I want to show you how truly easy it is to do that this year.  In fact, it’s easier than ever.

I received a catalogue from a major department store in the mail recently. In it, the retailer featured a number of exciting gift items that I wondered if I might find produced more greenly elsewhere.  I want to show you what I found. 

This year, it seems the e-tailers have figured out that what we want is high quality, well-made and environmentally sustainable goods for gift-giving.   This store seems to specialize in just such green clothing and goods.

They feature a lovely gift guide, and I particularly liked this shawl, made of sustainable bamboo.

Earlier this year, I invested in bamboo sheets:

And look at this blanket, made of bamboo blended with polyester for durability.

I also wanted to look for greener dinnerware.  Paper plates benefit no one.  They don’t hold up well with food, nor are they ecologically sound.  So how about some bamboo dinnerware for the holiday party?  I found it here at bambu.

If all you can afford is the bamboo socks, here they are.

These types of gift items all help Greenify, are very exciting and may already be on the wish list of someone you know.

(Hum the last verse of “Jolly Old Saint Nick” as you read this next part:)

“As for me, my little self is ecologically wise.  I prefer the things I’ve bought previously; they’re paid for and in just my size!” 


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