recycling

Sharing is Sustainable – Expanding the Sharing Economy

Sharing—with your partner, parents, children, friends, community, or even a total stranger—is a big part of what life is all about.

My neighbor Henry has nearly every power tool that a grown man could want, and he generously shares them with me and others on our block. Which means we don’t need to buy tools and let them sit idle in our garages.  By connecting with people, we are entering an era in which everything from a bicycle to a car to a power tool can be fully utilized by a network rather than just one owner. And that’s good news for our environment and our economy.

Bicycle-and car-sharing can happen informally between family and friends, but collaborative websites and organized programs now help us do the sharing. Last year, Bay Area Bike Share put 700 bicycles into curbside stations in five cities. The 350 bikes within San Francisco—half the fleet—are used 900 to 1,000 times per day.  That translates into a significant decrease in local auto traffic and tailpipe emissions. EPA has been working with the City of Honolulu to promote bike sharing and reduce congestion.

Our cars sit idle 90% of the time, so sharing them can have a huge impact. For example, when miles driven in the U.S. dropped just 3% in 2008, road congestion declined 30%. Every shared ride is a win for our environment and our health, because less traffic means less stress. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Don’t Trash Your Old Clothes

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Gina Snyder

The public schools in my town now host smart new boxes that collect unwanted clothing and textiles for recycling. Not only do these boxes look really sharp, they actually are “SMART” – they are from Baystate Textiles, a member of the “Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association.”

I’ve seen clothing collection boxes before, but this new program will accept almost any fabric (even things like handbags, shoes, and stuffed animals). Stained, torn or ragged, as long as a textile is clean and dry, they’ll take it.

With 25.5 billion pounds of useable textiles thrown away each year (70 pounds per American), there is a lot of waste that can be prevented. Contrary to popular belief, donations in any condition are welcomed by both for-profit and non-profit textile collectors.

You can even donate items with stains, rips, missing buttons or broken zippers because textiles are a valuable commodity. Items that don’t sell in a thrift store are baled and sold to brokers or graders who sell to other markets. This income helps thrift stores support their mission.

The boxes at my town’s schools provide work for local companies, which turn about 30% of the donated textiles into industrial wiping cloths. A Massachusetts company cuts used clothing and other textiles into rags and sells them to commercial garages and public works operations. The remaining 20 percent is sent to fiber converters -another local textile recycler – where textiles are broken down into their basic fiber components to be re-manufactured into insulation for autos and homes, carpet padding, or sound-proofing materials.

Reusing textiles uses less energy and less water than any competitive products made from newly produced paper or textiles, according to SMART. You may even have used wipes made from recycled fabric in your home or for your car (for example, soft lint-free wipes or super absorbent rags). By recycling my old or unwanted fabrics, I can help my town save trash disposal costs, help generate revenue for the schools and have a positive impact on the environment.

When cleaning out your closets, donate your textiles rather than throwing them away!

More EPA info on textile waste and recylcling

More EPA information on Trash and Recycling

About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee.

 

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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Be Green and Save Green this Holiday Season

blog Samantha Nevels

Samantha Nevels, CEA

By: Samantha Nevels

In a recent study, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® found that 60 percent of consumers are concerned about their energy bill. The first step in cutting your bill is understanding your energy use. CEA has made this easy through an interactive consumer electronics energy calculator available at GreenerGadgets.org. In just a few easy steps, the calculator will estimate the amount of energy used by your consumer electronics devices based on what electronics you use and how often you use them. The calculator determines your energy cost per month and per year, and compares your energy use to that of the average U.S. household. It also provides some easy tips to save energy!

Here are some tips on how to be green during the holidays: 

  • Look for the ENERGY STAR: Electronics are a popular gift and now you can give a great present that also gives back.  Look for the ENERGY STAR  when shopping for electronics. The trusted blue label indicates energy efficient products that will save you money on your energy bill and help protect the planet.
  • Recycle your old Electronics: Whether you get or give electronics this holiday season, be sure to recycle the old one, allowing the valuable materials inside to be used again in new products and to save natural resources. Find an electronics recycling site near you at GreenerGadgets.org.
  • Read the Fine Print: Check your owners’ manuals to make sure you are taking full advantage of any energy conservation capabilities that your electronics may have.
  • Plug and Unplug: Plug electronic devices like televisions, game consoles, set-top boxes, and even your holiday lights into eco-friendly power strips. Also, unplug those holiday lights during the day!

With these quick and easy tips you’ll be on your way to having more money in your pocket and contributing to a better, more sustainable world. Visit GreenerGadgets.org to learn more about how you can live green, buy green and recycle responsibly.

Samantha Nevels is the coordinator of Policy Communication for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).  CEA is a consumer electronics authority on market research and forecasts, consumer surveys, legislative and regulatory news, engineering standards, training resources and more.  CEA works closely with EPA through the ENERGY STAR program, to promote greater adoption of ENERGY STAR certified consumer electronics.

 

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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Auraria Campus Celebrates America Recycles Day

By Virginia Till

My school, the University of Colorado Denver, is part of the Auraria Higher Education Center. At Auraria, we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty. In fact, we enjoy it. As part of our participation in the EPA-led Food Recovery Challenge, and in celebration of America Recycles Day, we did the first-ever waste audit of the Tivoli Student Union.
 

Americans tossed out more than 36 million tons of food in 2011, and nearly all of it ended up in landfills or incinerators. The Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to reduce as much of their food waste as possible – saving money, helping communities, and protecting the environment.
 

With EPA-supplied bench scales, we weighed 26 bags of compost, recycle, and landfill materials gathered from the Tivoli’s 3-bin collection stations. This was then resorted to determine potential for improvement.

By looking at how we were recycling, we learned that we’d do a lot better by sorting properly. Knowing this will help Auraria determine strategies for improving recyling in the Tivoli Student Union and reduce the amount of waste sent to local landfills. It was fun getting our hands dirty and finding out how the campus can improve its waste management. How much of your food and money are you literally throwing away?

For more information:
http://www.epa.gov/smm/foodrecovery/
http://americarecyclesday.org/

About the author: Virginia Till is a graduate student at the University of Colorado Denver, pursuing a master’s in integrated sciences. She studies and works on sustainable building operations and is a Recycling Specialist for EPA Region 8 in Denver.

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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Don’t Let That Used Phone Go To Waste

By Lina Younes

The other day, I was looking through the newspaper ads checking out cell phones, computers, TVs and other electronics. Even though I’m not planning to buy anything special right now, I like to see what the market has to offer. The latest developments in mobile technology and electronics are hard to resist, though, even for the most frugal shopper. It’s funny, but when I even hint at getting new cell phones for the family, my children quickly declare that the new features are “must-haves.”

While the new features and available applications might be great, think carefully about whether you really need a new phone. Is your current phone damaged beyond repair, or can you still use it? Have you thought of donating or recycling it?

Electronic products, like cell phones and computers, contain valuable materials like precious metals. By recycling them, you can conserve natural resources and avoid water and air pollution generated during the manufacturing process. Recycling a million cell phones means we can recover 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium. In turn, these recovered materials can be reused to manufacture new products.

Some retailers offer the option to donate or recycle electronics at their stores. You can check out which companies have recycling centers in your area.  Community organizations also work with retailers to host e-cycling events. You’d be surprised how many electronics are recycled at these events.

If you decide that your current cell phone is perfectly fine and you don’t need a new one, we might have a green mobile app available for you. Check out our site for nearly 300 apps that will help you understand and protect the environment. This green technology is just a click away.

 About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual 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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Protecting the Chesapeake Bay

By Lina Younes

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to visit several sites in Maryland and Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay. I marveled at the beauty of this important watershed. Did you know that the Chesapeake Bay watershed covers six states and Washington, DC? In fact, it’s the largest estuary on the U.S. mainland.

Even if you don’t live along the coast, did you know that what you do at home, at school, at work or in your community affects the water quality and well-being of this important ecosystem? So, what can you do to protect the bay or your local watershed? Here are some tips:

  •  Use water wisely. Start by turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth or shaving. Also, take shorter showers instead of baths. Make sure that you have a full load of laundry or dishes before using the washer and/or dishwasher. Repair leaking faucets and toilets.
  • If you like gardening, plant native plants. They require less water and nutrients and are more resistant to pests.
  • As part of your next landscaping project, consider planting a rain garden. It’s a great way to reduce water runoff.
  • Keep your car in shape to avoid oil leaks, which contaminate water. If you change your car’s oil yourself, take the used oil to a service station for recycling. Did you know that used oil from one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water?
  • Use greener cleaning products with the Design for the Environment (DfE) label. They’re safer, they protect our water and they’re better for the environment as a whole.
  • Get involved in your community to increase awareness of water quality. Participate in a stream or park cleanup activity.
  • Pick up after your dog. Don’t let his waste pollute our water.

If you’re still doubtful of the link between your activities and water conservation, I recommend you watch this video so you can be part of the solution.

What did you think? Do you have any suggestions? We would love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual 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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Spotted: a Big Belly….

By Mike McGowan

Big Belly Compactor

Big Belly Compactor

No, it wasn’t that long beaked bird with the big appetite…nor was it that fellow on the train, but rather an innovative trash bin system. It’s a Big Belly Solar Waste Compactor system on the corner of West Broadway and Barclay, just up the block from the World Trade Center Path Station. It showed up with little or no fanfare and it doesn’t carry much in the way of information. So, we did a little digging.

It turns out that Mayor Bloomberg announced the arrival of 30 Big Belly units with three bins – one each for cans and bottles, garbage and paper – this past March. At the launch, the Mayor promised that there would be more than 1,000 units in place in all five boroughs by year’s end. The first 30 Big Bellys were scattered around Times Square, replacing 53 standard trash cans.

Trash Overflow

Trash Overflow

Tested in other American and European cities, the system promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent through a combination of compacting trash (each bin can hold five times the amount of trash than the standard bin), reducing pick-ups and increasing recycling. The quantity of material in each bin can also be remotely monitored.

Rumor has it, there are some Big Bellys in Union Square. If they’ve made it to your New York neighborhood, let us know and we can help spread the word. For more information on the organization behind Big Belly go to www.bigbelly.com.

About the Author: Mike is Chief of the R2 Intergovernmental and Community Affairs Branch in Public Affairs. He is a nine-year veteran of EPA and travels thru the World Trade Center station as part of daily his commute.

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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Switzerland – The Land of Alps, Watches, Chocolate and …. Extreme Recycling

By Paula Zevin

Garbage Ball Geneva

Garbage Ball Geneva

Everyone knows how serious we are about recycling and its benefits at EPA. The past decade has shown that we can change our mindset and adapt to change: throwing things away without a second thought is a thing of the past. If you need a reminder, check out the EPA community website, which contains so much valuable information on helping to protect our environment and our recycling resource page.

We also have heard or even seen how much more serious Europe in general is about the 3-R mantra. “Reduce, reuse and recycle” is not just a buzz phrase; it is a way of life in the Old World, which in many cases is way ahead of the United States. Switzerland was one of these revelations. The occasion to visit this beautiful country came about almost as an afterthought to attending my 40th high school reunion in Heidelberg, Germany in June of this year. Reunions can be fun, but also stressful, so a little R&R in the beautiful cities of Zurich and Geneva seemed just what the doctor ordered. And it was! Past and present blend seamlessly, the scenery is truly breathtaking, the friendly locals made us feel welcome and it didn’t hurt to be able to sample delicious chocolate, raclette and Movenpick ice cream!

As an EPAer, I never quite leave the environmentalist behind. The sight of so many distinctive bags all over Zurich piqued my curiosity. So I asked at our hotel. The answer, “Oh, they are our special waste/recycling bags” led to some investigating and some illuminating answers. They’re called “Züri-Säcke” or “Zuri-Bags” and according to the city’s website, about 30,000 are picked up daily. What Zurichers don’t recycle at the ubiquitous drop-off points for plastic, glass, etc, must go into these special bags. The catch is that they are quite expensive. The bigger the bag, the more you pay. If you’re not already so inclined, the incentive to reduce, reuse and recycle becomes purely economic. In addition to familiar advice, such as dropping off your electronics, textiles and other household items at recycling centers, such as we have in my home county of Somerset, NJ, you are encouraged to take all your outdated or broken electrical appliances back to the store where you bought them – they are obligated to accept them at no charge to you! The advice is given in a gentle, yet firm way. Check out the English website for how to deal with modern life’s trappings.

Recycling Advertisement

Recycling Advertisement

Geneva does things in a similar manner, noting with pride that “Genevans recycled 45% of their waste in 2011 up from 37% in 2003 (recycling in the city of Geneva is lower, at only 36.2% in 2011).” For more information on this and on Geneva’s recycling programs visit the English language website.

Geneva took the visual impact of being environmentally responsible to a different level. They are displaying a ball of garbage weighing 35 tons at Place du Plainpalais in Geneva. This was after officials started a campaign to encourage citizens to dispose of their garbage responsibly. The 35-tons of garbage represent the amount of waste that is collected from public trash cans over a period of three days.

We are doing so much already in New York City and in the surrounding areas to reduce, reuse and recycle. These glimpses into another culture remind us that the work is never done and that it is upon us to do it.

About the Author: Paula Zevin is currently an Environmental Engineer in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment at the Edison Environmental Center. Her work is centered on the technical and programmatic aspects of ambient water monitoring. She is also the volunteer water monitoring coordinator for EPA Region 2. Paula has been with EPA since 1991, and has worked in the chemical, pharmaceutical, textile and cosmetic industries prior to joining EPA. 

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 Bronx High School of Science’s LEAP Club Strives to Reduce our Negative Environmental Impact on the World

By Richard Yue

 

Reused Cartons

Reused Cartons

Students in the League of Environmental and Animal Protection (LEAP) club at the Bronx High School of Science are working on raising awareness about the school’s recycling program, educating  students about the importance of conservation, promoting the use of less energy and making the school a more environmentally friendly place. These efforts will not only benefit the school by saving money and resources, but will also benefit the environment.

The LEAP club has worked on implementing a recycling program throughout the school. Each classroom was provided with a special bin for paper recycling. The organization, GrowNYC, has been instrumental in helping the school in setting up the recycling program and donating the recycling bins. In addition to promoting recycling in the classrooms, three recycling stations have also been placed in the school’s cafeteria. Each of these stations includes a bin for plastic bottles and milk cartons, a bucket where any remaining liquid from the containers can be emptied, a desk where lunch trays can be stacked, and a bin for any remaining garbage. The club is also reusing old trash to make something useful – and fun! Students bring in old paper and use it in paper making activities. They also use old juice cartons and turn them into wallets.

 

Earth Day

Earth Day

Currently the club is trying to raise awareness about the implemented recycling system and to encourage students to cooperate.

In order to further raise awareness about environmental issues, LEAP organizes an annual Earth Day celebration in the school. The event does not take place exactly on Earth Day, April 22. Instead, it is usually scheduled in early June when the weather is warmer and the festivities can take place outside in the courtyard. The Earth Day celebration includes a number of activities: paper making, selling of plants, selling articles made from recycled and reused materials (i.e., wallets made from old juice cartons), educational games, and speakers to talk about environmental issues. Proceeds from the Earth Day celebration are donated by LEAP to an environmental organization chosen by the club’s members. Every year, there is a big turnout for the Earth Day celebration, which is something the LEAP club is proud of in helping to make a positive impact on the environment.

About the Author: Richard Yue is an Environmental Engineer in the Region’s Clean Air and Sustainability Division. Mr. Yue has been with the EPA for over 22 years and is a graduate of Polytechnic University of New York. 

 

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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Missing: One Smelly Old Garbage Gremlin

By Felicia Chou

Today, I found out that our office’s beloved Garbage Gremlin costume is M.I.A, after being “borrowed” by someone from another office. While I’m sure it’ll turn up somewhere soon, its disappearance eerily coincides with the release of our new report that tells us what our nation’s recycling rate is, what is in our trash, how much of it ends up in landfills and incinerators, and how we’re doing compared to previous years.

Perhaps the missing Garbage Gremlin (a grumpy monster that hates recycling) is a sign of how far we’ve come as a nation when it comes to recycling. Maybe we’ve moved past needing a grumpy, stinky ol’ monster to remind us that most of what we throw away is actually recyclable, and that creating less waste in the first place is really the way to go. On average, Americans create 4.4 pounds of trash per day, and we’ve kept 87 million tons of garbage from landfills and incinerators, compared to 85 million tons in 2010 by recycling and composting. But even so, more than 60% of our trash still ends up in landfills. So while we might not need the Gremlin as much as we used to, we’ve got some work ahead of us.

This infographic gives us a general overview of our nation’s progress, the environmental impact we’ve made through recycling, and what we can do to continue to make a difference.

There’s also the new report, along with the fact sheet, where you can learn all sorts of other neat things.

Learn more about the stuff we throw away, how it impacts climate change, and what you can do to make a difference.

About the Author: Felicia Chou is a Program Analyst in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. She is currently organizing a manhunt in search of the missing Garbage Gremlin, and is considering offering a reward of eternal gratitude with a three-month expiration date.

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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