recycle

My Environmental Resolutions

By: Shelby Egan

Now that the holidays are over and the New Year has started, most students have taken the start of 2013 to reflect on the past year and make a list of positive resolutions for the new one.  I know 2012 was a big year for me.  Having graduated college and moved to a new city have definitely made me want to start 2013 on a positive note.  Now that finals are over, one way I am pledging to make worthy changes in 2013 (besides vowing to not procrastinate with reading assignments in school) is to be more active in protecting the environment.  There is no better time to become more environmentally aware than the start of the New Year.  Here is a list of some of things I am planning to do to help protect the environment:

1.   Using reusable shopping bags when I go to the grocery store instead of plastic bags.

2.   Unplugging appliances when I’m not using them, like my computer and cell phone charger.

3.   Making sure to recycle aluminum cans, plastics, glass, newspapers, paper and cardboard.

4.   Reusing binders and notebooks that are still in good condition.

5.   Taking a walk with a friend to a nearby park, or better yet, going ice-skating to enjoy the outdoors, rather than staying inside and watching TV.

6.   Shopping at local thrift stores that sell second- hand clothes.  Not only is this more environmentally friendly, but it’s helpful on my budget and makes for a vintage wardrobe.

To make your 2013 environmental New Year’s resolutions complete, spread the word to your family and friends in taking steps, like the ones listed above, to make a big difference in protecting the environment.

Shelby Egan is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Veronika Scott and Her Amazing Dream Coat

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By Tom Murray

I don’t know about you, but when I watch the nightly news, I look forward to the last news item of the broadcast. You know the one. It is usually a heartwarming story of how one individual is reaching out to another, oftentimes in the most inventive way imaginable. Well, I didn’t hear about this story from my nightly news but it does fall into the same category.

This story comes out of Detroit and is about a young lady who is literally stitching together new hope and dreams for the homeless. Her name is Veronika Scott. Veronika, who is only 23 years old, had a radical idea, and she is now acting on that idea to the delight of many in the city of Detroit. She makes coats out of scrap material and delivers them to the homeless. But this is no ordinary coat and the scrap comes from no ordinary source. You see, this coat converts to a sleeping bag. Further, the scrap material she uses is unused material from the production of vehicles donated by General Motors Corporation. John Bradburn of General Motors tells me that he gave 2,000 yards of scrap sound-deadening material used inside select GM cars — enough to make 400 coats. Oh, and did I mention that these coats are actually stitched together by women in Detroit, who just months ago were homeless?

John is GM’s Global Manager of Waste Reduction and is also a member of the Suppliers’ Partnership for the Environment, an organization of automotive manufacturers and their suppliers who work together to advance the sustainability message throughout the automobile supply chain. This is where I met John, as EPA attends the Suppliers’ Partnership meetings as a federal liaison.

John and Veronika’s efforts here are a classic example of sustainability. Unused scrap material is diverted from the landfill (environment) and is being used instead to help a fledgling non-profit enterprise grow (economy). Further, it is offering a helping hand to the homeless (social). John hopes to invite Veronika to the next Suppliers’ Partnership meeting, and I intend to be the first in line to shake her hand.

Veronika’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by those outside of Detroit. The word is that she will become the youngest person ever to receive the New Frontier Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. See more on Veronika’s remarkable efforts..

About the author: Tom Murray is a senior scientist with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and is currently Chief of the Prevention Analysis Branch in the Agency’s Pollution Prevention Division.  Tom has 40 years in government service.  Tom and his staff are the architects of several environmental partnership programs including the Hospitals for a Healthy Environment program, the Green Suppliers Network and the new E3 (Economy, Energy and Environment) initiative, a cross-agency collaboration with industry focused on manufacturing growth, energy efficiency and environmental.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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What Should We Do With Our Old Phones?

By Lina Younes

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With the advances in mobile technologies, it is hard not to buy one of these new smartphones. The marketplace has numerous mobile tools with the latest applications in wireless communication. These smartphones promise to do everything faster,  with a longer battery life and a higher resolution. So, when you finally decide to purchase a new mobile phone, what do you do with your old one that is still in good condition? You have two options:  You can donate it or even better yet, recycle it!

Cell phones have precious materials such as copper, silver, gold and palladium that can be recovered and recycled. By recycling these materials, you are conserving natural resources, avoiding air and water pollution as well as the emission of greenhouse gases that are generated during the manufacturing process of virgin materials. Did you know that in 2009, discarded electronics such as cell phones, TVs, computers, scanners, fax machines, and keyboards, among others, amounted to 2.37 million tons of electronic waste?

Many retailers across the United States, Puerto Rico and Guam have programs where you can drop off or mail in your used mobile phones. Also charitable organizations have cell phone recycling programs. So, find out more about cell phone recycling programs in your community. By recycling your used phone, you’ll be also protecting the environment and preventing precious resources from reaching your local landfill.

So, once you’ve bought your new mobile phone, are you interested in some apps and widgets that will help you learn more about your health and the environment? Here are some suggestions: Envirofacts Widgets,  AirNow Mobile app, UV Index appIndoor airPLUS,  Just some suggestions of great information technology at your fingertips.

Do you have any favorites that you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Back to School Going Green!

Well it is back to school shopping time so let’s talk about saving some green (a.k.a. cash) and going green with the 3-Rs—Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  Reusing school supplies from last year will reduce the amount of items you need to purchase and decrease your environmental impact.  Look around the house, in your book bag, and under the car seats for pencils, pens, and partly used spiral notebooks.

After you have gathered up last year’s left over school supplies it is now time to go shopping!  Use your environmental consumer super power to purchase recycled versions of items you still need.   There are lots of choices to “make a statement” with your green school supplies purchases.  Purchase brands with the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content.  Become an instant Eco Fashionista!  Recycled purses and bags made from juice boxes, seatbelts, magazines, newspapers, and more.  My favorite is recycled paper with flower seeds imbedded in it for those special notes.   I also stop in at my local zoo’s gift shop to get a Poo Paper fix.   It is paper made from elephant (or other animals) manure; no it doesn’t smell, but it does make a great conversation starter.

Make textbook covers from recycled paper grocery sacks, crayons and markers or an old T-shirt. 

Retro is in!  Stop by your local gently used store to buy a new look and donate stuff from your closet that no longer fits your style or your body.  Purchasing gently used clothing is a huge way to decrease your ecological footprint.

If you take snacks or your lunch to school, remember to purchase regular- sized bags and then put what you need for the day into a reusable container.  With snack-sized bags you pay more for smaller portions AND the extra packaging creates more waste

If you drive, start a carpool!  It will not only save some cash but you and your friends can get a head start on “whatz up!” gossip before arriving at school.

Denise Scribner has been teaching about environmental issues for over 35 years.   For her innovative approaches to teaching to help her students become environmentally aware citizens, she won the 2012 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. Her high school was also one of the first 78 schools across the USA to be named a Green Ribbon School in 2012.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Make School Lunches Healthy and Green

By Lina Younes

Like many parents, I’ve been looking for bargains in school supplies to get my youngest ready for the new school year.  As we do our shopping, I’m especially interested in looking at lunch boxes and the like. This year, I want to make sure that I make healthier food selections for my child and reduce the amount of waste in the process.

When you come to think of it, disposable items might seem “practical,” but they just generate waste in the long run.  Picture an average school lunch:  a drink, a sandwich, some chips, something for desert all packaged in a brown bag. If your child takes this food to school in disposable containers and wrappings every day, how many pounds of garbage will be generated per month? Per year? Not a pretty picture at all.

Here are some Waste-Free Lunch tips for the new school year:

  • Use a reusable lunch box instead of a brown bag.
  • Package sandwiches and food in reusable containers.
  • Give your child whole fruits without packaging in their lunch box. Not only is it greener, but it is healthier too!
  • Purchase snacks in bulk and package them in reusable containers.
  • Include reusable forks and spoons in your child’s lunch box.
  • Don’t use disposable water bottles. Use a reusable bottle instead.
  • Use reusable napkins, not paper ones.

In fact, I found some napkins made of recycled water bottles! When I bought them I felt that they were truly green! Increasingly, you can find numerous school supplies and consumer items made from recycled materials. So, with planning you can make sure your child’s school year gets off to a good start. You can work together with your school and community to make waste reduction a part of their daily lives. Remember, environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Trayless Tuesdays in NYC Schools Inspired by a 7 Year Old

cartoon image

Three years ago, I took my children to the Climate Change exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. The kids raced in and out of rooms and three quarters of the way through, my seven-year-old suddenly stopped mesmerized, contemplating a diorama of a polar bear standing on a pile of trash. She turned to me and said,  “I’m not eating school lunch anymore so I can save the polar bears.” In that pile of trash was a polystyrene foam lunch tray.

I always asked my kids, “What did you eat today?” But I had never asked, “What did you eat ON today?” I was totally unaware of the 850,000 polystyrene trays used per day in NYC public schools.

My kids did the math. That adds ups to153 million trays per year and almost 3 billion trays over the past 20 years. I did the research. These trays, composed of polystyrene, known commonly as Styrofoam, are used for only 20 to 30 minutes and then thrown away, exported to out-of-state landfills.

Several NYC parent groups switched out polystyrene trays in their schools by self-funding the extra cost of alternative products, a prohibitive option for most schools. With the help of other parents and the inspiration of NYC’s 1.1 million public school children, we founded the grassroots organization, Styrofoam out of Schools.

We scrapped our initial plan, to create a media blitz about the environmental concerns, when we learned that 75% of school meals served per day are either free or reduced. The possibility of adding to the already existing stigma around school food participation prompted us to find a different strategy.

We became determined to find a solution for a 20% tray reduction by working with the Department of Education, rather than fighting them. The idea of Trayless Tuesdays developed out of this partnership. It’s simple: by not using polystyrene trays one day per week, we could quickly reach a 20% reduction goal.
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To hear more from Debby Lee and her partners in NYC and to learn how to implement Trayless Tuesdays in your school please tune in to the EPA Region 2 webinar Reducing Waste in Schools: Trayless Tuesdays,” on March 1 at 1:30pm. Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now at:https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/649234322.

Debby Lee Cohen is a public school mom, artist, educator, and co-founder and director of SOSNYC/Cafeteria Culture.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Trade, Baby, Trade

By Lucy Casella

It was a struggle to get our relatives in Pennsylvania to recycle their PC and monitor.

“We’ve got plenty of landfill space in state, and besides, we would have to drive to Staples and pay $10 to recycle them,” they argued.

My husband and I both work for environmental agencies, but they were unmoved by our “responsible recycling” arguments. They even refused our $10 “bribe.”

No surprise then that we found ourselves transporting electronics 350 miles back home from the Keystone State!

After this flush of green virtue, practical considerations intruded: our community didn’t have electronics recycling, we lived 30 miles from the closest Staples and we commute via train.

Fortunately, we found Costco’s elegantly simple mail-in electronics trade-in program. All I had to do was type model information into Costco’s recycling website. If the units had market value, I could ship them free – AND receive a Costco cash card. Since these units had no value, I downloaded a prepaid shipping label and deposited the electronics at a UPS pick-up location four miles away.

At the time of this PC intervention, challenges to recycling included consumer confusion, minimal recycling networks, and few manufacturer take-back programs. The proliferation of cell phones since then has me wondering how many are recycled today.

According to EPA, only about 10 percent of cell phones are recycled. If Americans recycled the roughly 130 million cell phones disposed of annually, the energy saved would power more than 24,000 homes.

Also, many organizations look for cell phones for soldiers and victims of domestic abuse, among others. Many will send you a free mailing label.

As to manufacturer take-back programs, we’ve come a long way, baby: http://epa.gov/osw/partnerships/plugin/partners.htm

In a non-scientific experiment, last week I tested the state of the trade-in market for my Samsung cell phone and Canon camera.

I learned:

  • Costco and Samsung would provide prepaid shipping labels for these “no-value” items;
  • Gazelle (a national recycler) would ship electronics items with value for free;
  • Canon would charge $6 to recycle the camera;
  • Best Buy would ship both for free – AND give me a $24 gift card for the camera. Plus, I could drop them off at any Best Buy.

So look in your closets, do your homework, and decide whether to donate or trade-in your electronics. As for me, I’ll keep the phone and camera – and wouldn’t trade my family for the world!

About the author:  Lucy Casella is a somewhat technologically-challenged neo-Luddite and Strategic Planner in Region 1.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Three R’s

Every so often I wake up with the “The Three R’s” by Jack Johnson stuck in my head. Given where I work it’s an appropriate mantra to be bopping around to. I guess that part of my brain that runs on kids tunes doesn’t need coffee.

“Reduce, reuse, recycle…”

There are worse tunes to have on repeat in your brain, way worse! I’m grateful the catchy number exists on the less than glamorous subject of waste disposal. Perhaps it’s the warm-up to my workday. Fitting.

The concept of the three R’s has been around for a long time and the three arrows are a recognizable icon, but there’s a new kid in town and they need to make some room.

How about accomplishing all three, while making something really cool? Two weeks ago I posed a challenge to encourage readers to submit photos and accounts of an upcycled product they created. As promised, it’s time to show off your goods! Congratulations to Dennis Mijares who submitted this photo on January 31, 2012 on Flickr of purses made from plastic bags.

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Upcycling is like a landfill diet, why toss what we can use? Who knew that waste could look so good? I hope these photos inspire you to give it a try, do share photos of what you create! Professionally constructed to kids crafts alike are welcome. I must admit, I’m a little disappointed I didn’t see any cardboard mantelpieces…

Talk to a friend about it and ask them if they’ve heard of the concept. Be sure to share that it’s good for us by cutting down on waste, helps spread environmental awareness and action and can even support local artisans and communities.

It’s a great idea for a community or school fundraiser, start an upcycling project and let us know how it goes!

If you haven’t Picked the 5 actions you can do for our environment where you live, get on it! Join the 4,000 likes on Facebook and the 8,222 others around the world who have made the official pledge. Share your story and inspire others to do the same!

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How the 3R’s Can Make a Healthier Home

By Lina Younes

I don’t know about you, but it takes me forever to put away all the holiday decorations once the festivities are over. While all my family members are eager to put up the Christmas tree and decorations right after Thanksgiving, I just don’t find the same number of enthusiastic helpers available at the beginning of the new year. When I finally came around to putting the decorations away, I realized that I had to do more to remove the clutter and start the overall process of having a healthier home environment.

When I embarked on this project to get some order at home, I decided to break it down by room because otherwise the task seemed overwhelming. I enlisted my youngest to help me clean up the toy room first to recycle or donate many of those objects that were just sitting neglected in a pile.

Then, I decided to apply the same rule in the kitchen. What were the items that we used the most? What are those items that are more seasonal or can be stored for use at a later date? What items can be donated to Good Will? As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, reducing clutter is a great way to implementing Integrated Pest Management practices and keep the pests away.

Then, I tackled my youngest daughter’s room. She had definitely outgrown many clothes that were still in perfectly good condition. There were some good coats and jackets that will definitely keep a child warm this winter. Then I went through my closet to find some things that I have been holding on for years. Those items definitely could be used by someone else so they were classified under “items to be donated” as well.

While organizing, I found several old cell phones in drawers. You can either donate them to some non-profit organizations or recycle them.  There are precious metals and plastics in those phones that can be recycled and turned into new products. That way they don’t end up in a landfill.

So, do you have any plans to make your home healthier? We would like to hear from you. If you want to take a glimpse as how you can protect the air quality in your home, visit our virtual house for some tips.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Too Much Cookie Dough

By Jeanethe Falvey

It’s not the holidays until you feel sick from intercepting dough before it hits the oven. There are only so many times a year where this is justifiable and I make the most of it.

It’s a morsel of pleasure for yourself, during a month long frenzy to think of everyone else in your life. Between cards, gifts, baking, in the effort to be thoughtful, you can lose yourself in the holiday stress. You owe it to yourself before we ring in 2012 to take a deep breath. Let us all hope for it to be a year of greater health, peace and happiness.

Hope is where change begins.

Right now is the single greatest time when most of us are doing a bit of self-reflection. Whether it’s to eat healthier, go to the gym regularly, send real cards instead of e-mails, laugh at least once a day, recycle more, drive less and car pool more often. There are endless possibilities to make yourself feel better and do a bit of greater good at the same time.

It’s also a season to be concerned about what’s contagious, as the cold and flu make their annual rounds. Here’s the funny thing though, not all things contagious require extra vitamin C – in fact – some turn out to be real gifts that keep on giving. Ever noticed that happiness bounces from person to person? It’s spread through laughter, small gestures of thoughtfulness, it can even jump across a room with a smile.

They sum it up in the beginning of the movie Love Actually when they talk of standing in the arrivals gate at an airport. You’re quickly reminded that the world is a place full of smiles. It’s all what you choose to focus on, it’s all a choice. Throughout each day there are zillions of opportunities to take a brighter outlook on life, those choices add up to either make a day that was horrible, just ok, pretty good actually, or one you’ll never forget.

I’m choosing more happiness this year. I hope it spreads to others in my life. I’m also choosing to use and toss less ‘stuff’ and continue communicating about our environment, I hope it helps us collectively live in a world of greater health and peace.

What are your choices for 2012?

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Pick 5 for the Environment and State of the Environment project lead based in sunny and crisp Boston, Massachusetts.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.