recycle

Trayless Tuesdays in NYC Schools Inspired by a 7 Year Old

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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.

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Old Gadgets Can Be Useful, Too

Reposted from USA GOV

By Felicia Chou

‘Tis the season to be gushing about the new electronic gadgets you’ve received for the holidays, and figure out what to do with your old ones. Sure, you could keep them in your closet or attic, waiting for the day VHS tapes are all the rage again, or when radio-sized phones are back in style. Maybe that old TV can be used as a giant paperweight. But there are plenty of better alternatives to put your unwanted electronics to use.

I’ve had this laptop since college and believe it or not, it still works. Well, besides the fact that the touchpad and keyboard aren’t working; and I have to keep it plugged in because the battery is pretty much dead. If, like me, you don’t want to part with your old computer just yet, see if you can upgrade the hardware or software to put it on par with your new gadgets. In my case, I would replace the battery and the keyboard, and plug in a new wireless mouse. Or, after clearing out your personal data, you can donate working electronics to those who need them.

The next best thing is to recycle your old gadgets, but before you start carting loads of electronics to your nearest electronics collection program or drop-off point, check if they’re working with a third-party certified recycler. You’re probably thinking, third-party what? Well, companies that recycle electronics can be certified by outside organizations (like R2 Solutions and eStewards) and regularly audited to make sure that your electronics will be managed safely. That way, you can rest assured that your old gadget is being recycled in a way that is protective of our health and the environment. Check out R2 Solutions and e-Stewards® for a list of certified recyclers.

So, why shouldn’t you just let your electronics sit at home and collect dust, or worse, get thrown away in the garbage?

Electronics are made of precious metals and materials, like gold, copper, and glass. If they’re thrown away, all that precious material that required a lot of energy to mine and manufacture will go to waste. When you recycle your electronics, those precious materials can be used in other products, such as electric cars or watches. You’ll also be preventing the pollution that would have been caused by having to mine and manufacture raw materials. In fact, recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power over 3,000 US homes for a year.

So while you’re having a blast trying out all the new features on your shiny new gadgets, just remember to put your old ones to good use. I, for one, will be looking forward to the new battery and keyboard to keep my beloved laptop working for as long as I can.

About the author: Felicia Chou is a Program Analyst in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery at EPA. Find out more about what you can do to green your holiday season at http:// www.epa.gov/waste/wycd

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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My Town Helped Me To Recycle More

By Amy Miller

I thought I recycled everything possible. Papers here. Bottles there. Food waste in the yard. Yes, my trash was reduced to simply trash.
Then my town started a Pay-As-You-Throw program. Suddenly there was this system of measurement and it became like a game. Each Blue Bag counted.

And so I began peeling the plastic off window envelopes and separating wire from the plastic packaging around toys. I no longer tossed scrunched up paper in the trash because it didn’t lay flat. It’s really not the money though, since the bags cost only about $1.50 each. It’s the challenge.
National numbers are similar. Once a town starts PAYT programs, as they are known, people start recycling more.

For instance, Malden, Mass. saved $2.5 million annually and reduced solid waste by 50 percent, thanks to its pay-as-you-throw program. The town saves money in two ways – first it gets revenue from the bags. Second, less waste collection also means more money.

A program in Concord, N.H. is saving the city about $528,000 a year and increased recycling by 75 percent. Gloucester, Mass. reduced waste by 29 percent and is saving $300,000-500,000 a year.

More than 7,000 communities are cashing in on the PAYT perks, according to EPA. Some 300 communities helped by WasteZero, a company that helps municipalities implement PAYT, diverted on average 43 percent of their waste, with many communities coming close to 50 percent.
Of course this means we each pay only for how much waste we create. So in that way, if we pollute more, we pay more.

Mark Dancy at Zero Waste noted that if all residents shared the cost of electricity equally, the way we do waste hauling, many people would be much more wasteful with electricity.

A household that recycles typically only needs a 30-gallon bag and a half of garbage a week, according to Darcy.
If you want to know the hard fast facts of how much our trash pollutes, consider that materials, food, and packaging account for 42 percent of green house gas emissions. Just recycling your Sunday paper saves enough power to run your laptop for more than 3,000 hours. Recycling a milk jug every week saves enough power to run your TV for 189 hours.
The EPA has found food makes up the largest part of what goes to landfill – about a fifth. So we’ll talk more about composting another time.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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.

Recycle, Wrap It

By Jeri Weiss

Here’s a quick quiz: 1. What happens to the packaged snacks second graders decide not to eat? 2. What do hotels do with the half rolls of toilet-paper and half bottles of shampoo you leave behind? 3. Where does uneaten food, including food still in wrappers, end up after a conference ends.

You guessed it: these items end up in the trash.

If you’re anything like me, this kind of waste makes you want to eat food when you’re already full and tote slimy shampoo bottles across the country when you leave a hotel. But a group called Rock and Wrap It Up! has come up with a better solution. And recently this group, along with the Boston Bruins and National Hockey League was recognized by EPA at the Boston Garden.

During the 2010-11 season, the Boston Bruins donated 3,796 meals to the Boston Rescue Mission, keeping about 2.5 tons of food from being thrown out)

In honor of America Recycles Day Nov. 15, EPA teamed up with the Bruins, the New Jersey Devils and the NHL to recognize the program in which the Bruins donate prepared but unused, safe edible food to the Boston Rescue Mission and help to feed needy people while also accomplishing an important environmental service. NHL teams across the country recycle more than 105 tons of food, giving out 163,000 meals in North America.
Food donation is so simple, it’s hard to imagine what took us so long. It has little or no program start-up cost, and provides needed food to hungry people.

Rock and Wrap it Up began at the Jones Beach Theater in New York, when the manager agreed to give away rather than throw away food left over by a band. The organization quickly grew to include theaters across the country, then schools, hotels and sports venues.

Since 1991, Rock and Wrap it Up has given more than 250 million pounds of food. Among the the hotel groups participating are the Langham and Lenox hotels in Boston.

Rock and Wrap It Up’s newest project is Hungerpedia.com, an online database of charitable organizations. Any anti-poverty organization that wants to be on the list can send information in through a straightforward online application and individuals can also get involved through the website.

The cliché is never more true than when it comes to food waste– your trash is truly someone else’s treasure.

Rock It and Wrap It Up (http://www.rockandwrapitup.org/)

About the author: Jeri Weiss works in EPA’s New England regional office, in Boston. She is one of the region’s experts on recycling and waste management issues.

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.

Terminating Our Used Electronics

By Joshua Singer

Anyone who has seen “The Terminator” can appreciate the importance of recycling electronics.

In the original film, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cyborg sent back in time to kill the mother of the leader of humanity in the war against robots. The sequel also features the ex-governator, but as a robot reprogrammed to save the teenaged savior-to-be. In both films, Arnold plays a lethal, flesh-covered machine uncannily well.

The movies provide an action-packed demonstration of why the phrase “end of life” is appropriately associated with safe electronics disposal (I won’t elaborate to avoid spoiling the plot). Rather than throwing away discarded computers, TVs or cell phones, valuable materials can be recycled from them and used to make new products, which helps to protect people and the environment.

You don’t need to see “The Terminator” to understand reasons for recycling electronics. Recycling reduces the amount of raw materials extracted from the earth, saves the energy needed to make new products and reduces landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Discarded electronics contain toxins that can leach into the environment if improperly managed. Illegal dumping, for example, can release lead and mercury.

As we grow more dependent on machines, this issue will grow in importance. Americans discarded approximately 2.4 million tons of TVs, computers, cell phones and other electronics in 2010, roughly 25 percent of which was recycled.

More “end-of-life” electronics should be recycled. And some products that people can’t or don’t want to use anymore are in good enough shape to be refurbished or resold. Electronics recycling is also required in some cases. For example, Illinois will ban additional electronics, such as TVs and computers, from landfill disposal beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

You may be able to unload old electronics at a thrift store (if they still work), a retailer or manufacturer that accepts them, local government drop-off site or a recycling facility. R2 and e-Stewards® third-party certification programs can help ensure recycling companies handle materials properly.

While not quite as dramatic as a war against robots, we need to combat problems resulting from greater use of electronics. Recycling more electronics is a battle we can win, with or without the Terminator.

About the author: Joshua Singer is a press officer in EPA’s Chicago Office.  He works on Superfund, land and chemical issues.

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.

Re-energizing Communities through RE-Powering

By Katie Brown

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Growing up in the 80’s, I learned a dance that went with those words. There will be no demonstrations, but think of the hustle: Do the recycle. Do-do-do…da…do-do-do-do.

The simple mantra has served as a guiding principle that has led me to some surprising ventures, including this latest jump into contaminated lands. The RE-Powering America’s Land program promotes the redevelopment of potentially contaminated sites with renewable energy. This is where reduce, reuse and recycle meet, and then some.

Reduce through Reuse: By repurposing contaminated land for clean energy production, we are able to preserve valuable open space. With the distributed vs. central generation debate in the background, I find inspiration in this straight-forward development approach. Put pollution-free, renewable generation capacity on damaged land. Make use of the good stuff: hike the woods, prairies, and deserts; farm the arable land; play in the parks.

Reuse to Recycle: Many contaminated sites are located in urban areas, generally in economically depressed neighborhoods. By installing renewable energy on this land, we are not only reusing the land but also creating an asset that will serve the community for decades to come.

Building on existing success stories, the RE-Powering America’s Land program is launching feasibility studies at 26 sites throughout the country. The sites have been selected based on proposals from community stakeholders, with backing from the utilities.

Partnering with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the RE-Power studies will provide a detailed assessment of the potential for renewable energy development at each site. The sites range from landfills to mines to former manufacturing plants. In the future, many will provide green power from solar, wind, biopower, or geothermal sources. This effort represents a shift in community thinking about contaminated land use and sustainability.

RE-Powering gives the communities the technical assistance to evaluate the potential for a site. From there, the communities will engage with developers and financiers to move forward with promising projects. It further empowers communities to set the course for redevelopment and energize their homes and businesses in a new way.

Reduce the need to convert open space for industrial needs. Reuse previously-developed land for a green-energy future. Recycle blight into community assets. Now that’s a dance I can do.

About the author: Katie Brown is the AAAS S&T fellow hosted in the Center for Program Analysis in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Prior to her fellowship, Katie worked in the solar industry in product development and at NREL on device design and government-industry partnerships.

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.