Reduce Reuse Recycle

Cobbler Cure – Doctor’s Orders

By Thomas O’Donnell It might seem odd to get excited over apple or strawberry cobbler, but this batch touched a special chord. I work in EPA’s Philadelphia office on sustainability and food waste issues. I’ve been trying to find new ways to avoid throwing good food into landfills as part of the agency’s Food Recovery Challenge. The National Resources Defense Council reported that fruits and vegetables make up the largest type of food going to waste from retail stores, 22 percent, in fact. That could easily be more than 14 million pounds of fresh fruit in Philadelphia alone.

Picture of two chefs working in the kitchen

I brought one of the challenge participants, the produce team from Brown’s Parkside Shop-Rite supermarket in Philadelphia, together with Drexel University’s Culinary School. The school’s culinary director and a student were anxious to help and try something new. The school’s mantra in situations where food is heading out the back door is to transform it into healthy, delicious meals. After we got to the store and talked about food recovery options, the folks from Shop-Rite took us to the produce section where they pulled some fruit that had minor imperfections that shoppers were not likely to purchase. A couple of cartons of strawberries and apples went back to the culinary school where the students worked on the challenge of turning what might have been trash into treasure. The next morning, I had six recipes in my email inbox, with the pictures of the cobbler you see included in this blog. (The Shop-Rite folks were the lucky ones who got to enjoy this special treat.)

Picture of a cobbler in a pan.

It’s just cobbler, right? True, but Drexel and Shop-Rite launched a successful experiment in food research that took slightly bruised or not perfectly shaped fruit that was destined for a compost pile, or a trash compactor and transformed it into delicious cobblers. They also created half-a-dozen recipes for things like applesauce and jam. How many times could this be done by someone who wants to make fresh meals for local food pantries or shelters? Could this be a new opportunity for a local business? The experiment has social and environmental benefits – great food for those in need and less food-waste sent to landfills where it becomes methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Fruits and vegetables are among the most difficult foods to repurpose to feeding needy people – a goal near the top of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. This small experiment showed how to create delicious alternatives to disposal, and it was quick and fun. Being part of this little experiment was a blast. And, be assured that we’re going to do more research. Stay tuned!

Cooked cobbler on a plate.

About the author: Thomas O’Donnell (NAHE) is a Sustainability Coordinator with the Mid-Atlantic Region of the USEPA specializing in the Food Recovery Challenge Program. He received a PhD in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia. Tom was one of the originators of the Urban Model for Surplus Food recovery, which is piloting in west Philadelphia. He also teaches at Philadelphia University while developing open, online courses on food systems and sustainability.

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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Get to Know Your Bin

By Colleen Keltz

“We’re in the midst of our Earth Month celebration.”Let’s recycle everything in sight!

Whoa now. Sometimes I get a little excited about Earth Day. After all, there are so many ways you can celebrate Earth Day:

  • Volunteer as part of a neighborhood or stream clean up.
  • Start composting at home or join a community compost program.
  •   Do a bit of spring cleaning and donate, reuse, or recycle the items you no longer need.
  •   Re-familiarize yourself with your recycling bin.
In DC, blue bins are for recycling and green bins are for trash.

In DC, blue bins are for recycling and green bins are for trash.

Think you know what goes in your recycling bin? Well, I’ve lived in the District of Columbia for four years and I just recently looked at DC’s Department of Public Works website to find out what can and cannot go in my residential curbside recycling bins.

The curbside recycling program in DC is single-stream, meaning all recyclables (paper, glass, and plastic) go in the same bin. Pretty easy! After visiting DC’s residential recycling webpage, I realized I could recycle more items than I had thought. In DC, aerosol cans, yogurt containers, and empty over-the-counter medicine bottles can all go in the recycling bin. Great news!

Knowing recycling rules for your area is important because putting the wrong things in the recycling stream can decrease the value of recyclables and even break the equipment at the recycling center. You might be surprised by how different the recycling collection rules are from one area to another. And, you might be able to recycle more than you realized.

I also found out that my area has opportunities for residents to drop off household hazardous waste, pharmaceuticals, and used electronics, as these items require special care when recycling. Sometimes, it can be hard to figure out what to do with odd items that you no longer need – like an old garden hose or used paint. If you find yourself with odd items after spring cleaning, take these steps to make sure the items are put to the best use possible:

  •  If the item still works, give it to a friend, host a garage sale, or donate it.
  • If it’s not on the list of regular recyclables in your community, check for special collection events.

As you approach this Earth Day with great enthusiasm, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with your community recycling program – you never know what may be able to go in that recycle bin!

Happy Earth Day!

About the author: Colleen Keltz began working for EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery in 2008. She’s been excited about reducing, reusing, and recycling ever since.

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 Does Stuff Get Recycled?  Join Reading Rainbow to Find Out”

By Jeffrey Levy

It’s important to reduce how much trash we create, and then reuse stuff as much as possible.  But some things you just can’t figure out how to reuse, so recycling is much better than throwing them away. Recycling conserves natural resources and saves energy, helping to protect our climate.

So when you see a bottle or can on the ground, or are finished with a piece of paper, recycle it!  Don’t toss it in the trash.

Now, have you ever wondered what happens after the recycling gets picked up? For Earth Day this year, Reading Rainbow created a great video that shows us the answer. Follow along as LeVar Burton explores how recycling turns old paper, glass and metal back into stuff we can use.  After you watch the video, learn more on our website about reducing, reusing, and recycling.  (Psst, kids! Try out these fun games and activities.)

About the author: Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications.

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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Upcycling for Life

By Mark Seltzer

With Americans creating literally millions of pounds of trash each year, and 135 million tons ending up in landfills and incinerators in 2012, I’m always looking to upcycle. I enjoy giving unwanted objects new life. Here are some of the interesting items I’ve made over the years out of objects that otherwise would have gone in a landfill.   Macquarium

Back in the day, my high school was discarding Macintosh Plus all-in one computers.  Determined to find a creative use for out-of–date computers, I built a Macquarium – a Macintosh computer aquarium. I took everything in the monitor out and replaced it with an aquarium tank and a filter.  See photos and specific details on how to make one.

Gardening and Composting

Composting is one way to upcycle your food waste, but you can build a composter with recycled materials too. I designed two composters out of reused materials – a tumbling composter with a recycled 35 gallon barrel, and a worm (vermacomposting) bin out of a reused plastic tote.

Reclaimed Wine Bottles

I’ve reclaimed wine bottles by building several prototype lights and pencil cups. These items can be found on my desk at EPA and can make great gifts.

winecup

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ski bench

I work part time as a National Ski Patroller at a local ski mountain, and I decided something must be done with discarded skis. Now skiiers can rest at the top on the bench I designed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planters

I turned a tiny recycling bin into a mini “Zen Garden.”  I wanted a low profile planter and found that a cast-off recycling bin serves as a narrow planter in a high traffic walkway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lights! Bike Light

For a coworker and good friend who is an avid biker, I designed a bike floor lamp.  Certainly one way to recycle!

 

 

 

 

Repurposed Jelly Jars Lights

Jelly jars make great candles. Here are a couple with recycled (filtered) vegetable oil and a wick.   Currently, I’m renovating my house and donating things to a local building material thrift shop. I intend to reuse as much as possible for creative upcycling.  Here’s one gem from my house, a funky shower fixture.  Ideas for reuse? Coat Rack? Bookshelf? Stay tuned … I hope to write a blog post on my reuse ventures from house renovations.

 

 

 

 

About the author: Mark Seltzer works as an attorney advisor for EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention. During the winter months, he can be found on the ski slopes as a ski patroller at a local Pennsylvania ski mountain. During the summer, he can be found running, hiking, biking or canoeing along the Potomac.  

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 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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Green Your Holidays with Our Pinterest Tips Board

By Ellie Kanipe

The holiday season is upon us and to help you be green through the hustle and bustle of the season, we’ve launched a Greening Your Holidays Pinterest board.  See tips on how to reduce holiday food and paper waste, and how to recycle electronic gadgets.  The board also has cool winter-inspired DIY projects that you and your whole family can enjoy together. You’ll find inspiring green ideas for this holiday season with pins like Gift Wrapping Gone Green; Reuse and Be Crafty – Holiday Cards get a Fresh Look; O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Can I Make You More Green; and Reduce Food Waste with a Splash.

Help us reduce our numbers: Americans threw away 250 million tons of trash in 2011, and 134 million tons of that ended up in landfills and incinerators. We can all make a difference this holiday season by reducing our waste, so check out our Greening Your Holidays Pinterest board.

About the author:  Ellie Kanipe works in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery on communications. She loves using Pinterest to find cool DIY green projects.

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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De-Cluttering and the Second “R”

By Lina Younes

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español… ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

As part of my fall-cleaning efforts at home, I decided to tackle the closets. When I looked at them, I felt overwhelmed.  Where should I begin? I confess that I was tempted to just close my eyes and throw everything away, but that wouldn’t have been very green. If I just threw everything away, where would it end up? In a landfill!  Most of the items, such as clothes, toys, and electronics, were still in excellent condition and could be reused. So, the project to remove the clutter from my home became a generous gift for a charity.

It was easy going through my daughter’s closet. I just had to look at the sizes to identify what she had outgrown, and I knew which toys no longer interested her.  My closet was a different story.  Since I’ve changed many sizes over the years, I’ve held onto clothes in the hope that I’ll fit into them again or for sentimental reasons.   Why not give them to someone who could use them now instead of waiting for that moment in the unforeseeable future?

While the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) are beneficial to the environment, reducing waste and eliminating clutter offer additional benefits to your surroundings and your health. For example, eliminating clutter is one of the key elements of integrated pest management. By removing clutter, you eliminate hiding places where pests can breed and hide. Who doesn’t want to have a pest free home?

Do you have any tips to get rid of clutter at home? Do you have anything planned to reduce waste and recycle during the holidays? We’d 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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Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle with Little Free Libraries

By Ellie Kanipe

With America Recycles Day around the corner on November 15th, we’re sharing how communities are reducing waste and conserving resources. Little Free Libraries are one way my community is making a difference – not only by helping the environment by keeping books out of landfills, but by connecting neighbors and building an even greater sense of community.

Earlier this fall, my husband and I attended a 6-month anniversary celebration of a Little Free Library in our Del Ray, VA neighborhood outside of Washington, DC. The Little Free Library of Windsor and Dewitt had festive decorations and yummy treats; crafts for kids; a garden tour where we saw lots of monarch caterpillars; and, of course, books, books, and more books! It was delightful – we gave a book, left with a few books, met new neighbors, and learned about other cool green happenings in our community, like an Upcycle Creative Reuse Center.

Del Ray has three Little Free Libraries and my husband and I love them! Not only do they foster community by bringing people together to share their love of reading, they provide the service of reusing/recycling books. Here’s how it works:

  • The library itself is simply a small, weather-proof container that can hold books.
  • Stewards, often with community support, build or purchase a library and put it in their yard (check out some examples here).
  • The library stewards make it official by becoming a member of the Little Free Library global network.
  • The stewards start the process by putting their own used books in the library.
  • People in the community stop by and leave a book and/or take a book.

Healthier-NeighborhoodsELLE#

What are you and your community doing to reduce, reuse, and recycle? Does your community have a Little Free Library, or other sharing libraries for things like tools and seeds? On Wednesday, November 13 at 12:30 p.m. EST, join a conversation on Twitter about what you and your community are doing. You can participate by following @ EPAlive and the #AskEPA hashtag on Twitter. If you don’t use Twitter, you can still watch the discussion at @EPAlive and #AskEPA. We look forward to chatting with you!

About the author: Ellie Kanipe lives in Del Ray, Virginia, and works for the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery on communications. She loves her community in Del Ray – the people, its walkability, and the neighborhood’s frozen custard shop.

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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Adding Up the Impact of a Coastal Weekend Run

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 Amy Miller

We ran the whole 200 miles of the Reach the Beach relay. Well, not each of us, but all of us together – 12 women from my town – ran the distance between Cannon Mountain and Hampton Beach, NH.

Staying up two nights; cheering on teammates; eating energy bars and date balls for a day and a half; and running three legs in the relay, in my case totaling only 14 miles, were really a blast.

But by the end, I started to wonder about the environmental impact of the relay and the string of vehicles and water bottles it involves. Each of the 450 or so teams had one or two vans and, each of those vans traveled slowly over the New Hampshire roads, dropping off runners, picking up runners, and pulling over to give the runners water. This, I thought, was one of the more frivolous uses of gasoline I had been part of in a while.

So, I decided to find out more about this relay and its environmental impact. Lo and behold, the web site indicates the organizers’ commitment to sustainability. Now in its 15th year, they pledge to ensure the race leaves the “smallest footprint possible on the environment.” To this end, they work with Athletes for a Fit Planet.

Fit Planet provided recycling bins, which were managed by volunteers. Race organizers suggested that teams use giant cloth bags, handed out at registration, to collect bottles, cans, glass, and paper, and then toss these items into bins at transition areas. The race course also hosted portable toilets that used non-toxic chemicals and recycled paper.

The Reach the Beach crew estimates vans and staff vehicles produced about 125 tons of CO2 during the race. To keep that total as low as possible, they urged racers to carpool, come by bus, and purchase $3 tags that offset an estimated 300 lbs. of CO2 – the equivalent of driving 150 miles in a 10-15 mpg passenger van. The offset comes from the wind, biogas, solar, and other carbon-reducing projects funded by proceeds from these tags. Finally, relay folks encouraged us to use bulk water and reusable bottles, which we did. I still feel a bit sheepish about all those miles just for a crazy physical stunt, but I was glad to see the organizers addressing these issues.

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, eight chickens, one dog and a great community.

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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Becoming a Mom = New Concerns and Habits

By Jessica Orquina

Life changes often lead to new habits or concerns. I have always been concerned about the environment and prefer to purchase products that are not toxic to me, my family, or the planet. For example, I recycle whenever I’m able and I prefer walking or public transportation over driving. However, I have to admit I didn’t nag others about these things and have opted for convenience over sustainability more than once.

This year, my husband and I are expecting our first child. I’m finding this new chapter in my life is changing my habits and causing me to think more about my impact on the planet.

As an expectant mother, my concern about the safety of the products I buy has almost become an obsession. The decisions I make no longer just affect me, my husband, and our home – they now have an impact on our child. This new perspective has me researching and reading labels more. Since I work for EPA, I’m familiar with our Design for the Environment (DfE) program and always look for cleaning products that have the DfE label. This helps me feel good that I am not exposing my family – including my soon to be born son – to unsafe chemicals.

When buying other products, I think about the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. As Lina wrote in a recent blog, the first one can often be the hardest to tackle, but it’s the most important; there’s a reason for that order. I also live in the city and have limited space, so it’s an important one for me to consider. As I’m getting ready for our new baby, I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of stuff that advertisements insist I need as an expectant mother. I’ve tried to focus on getting only what both the baby and I will really need. Even still, I have to get rid of some of my old things to make room for the baby and his gear. This is where two other Rs come in: Reuse and Recycle. To make room for the baby, I’ve been giving the things I no longer need to people that can reuse them, or I’ve been donating them. I recycle the rest.

What do you do to help protect our planet for your children?

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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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