Reduce Reuse Recycle

Tackling the First R

By Lina Younes

I’ve always encouraged my family to abide by the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Personally, I’ve always made an effort to recycle while I’m at home, at work or on the road. If I don’t find a recycling bin readily available, I’ll hold on to the soda can or bottle and then discard it in the recycling bin I have at home. I’ll do the same with the free newspaper I read on the metro.

Frankly, recycling seems to be the easiest of the 3R principles to live by. In my opinion, the most difficult one to implement is the first one: reducing waste from the outset. It’s ironic that the most difficult principle to live by, reducing waste, is the one that has the greatest impact on the environment.

What are some of the benefits of reducing waste? Well, they include preventing pollution, saving energy and using fewer natural resources in the big scheme of things. But, one of the benefits that we can all understand at the personal level is that reducing waste actually saves us money!

How can you save money at home and have fewer things to throw in the trash? Well, buy products with less packaging. I know that individually wrapped items might seem practical, but how much paper or plastic wrapping will end up in the trash in the long run? Seems like an unnecessary waste to me. Another idea: choose reusable silverware, plates and cups at home and in the office.

Before you go grocery shopping, do you check your refrigerator and pantry to see what you really need? Are you sure that the vegetables in your refrigerator need to be thrown away? Can you, instead, make them into a casserole or freeze them so they won’t need to be thrown in the trash? Remember: we should feed people, not landfills.

With some planning, we all can work to make a difference in our environment. Do you have any tips to share with us? Have you done anything special lately to reduce your carbon footprint? We 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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Suburban Chickens: Sustainability at Work in My Home

by Mindy Lemoine, Region 3

As a child, I hung out at my grandparents’ farm outside of Ville Platte, LA, where they had chickens, pigs, cows, guinea fowl, a garden, a smokehouse, fruit trees, etc. Now, my house sits on about 1/64th of an acre just outside the city limits of Philadelphia. And just as my grandparents did, every morning I put on my barn coat and walk about 30 steps to feed my two chickens.

Chicken

The chickens, Marshmallow and Speedy, live in a coop tucked discreetly behind my garage. Since the spring, my hens have provided me with one or two eggs daily: sage green from Marshmallow and speckled brown from Speedy.

How did a former country kid, who grew up to be a scientist living in the suburbs, start keeping chickens? As a child, I loved to feed the chickens and gather their eggs. While living outside of Philadelphia, one day my nephew offered me his hens because he was moving and had no place to keep them. I jumped at the opportunity to return to my farm roots and put more of my sustainability views into practice. I was fortunate: thanks to an enlightened elected official who was a fellow chicken lover, my township allowed residents to keep chickens.

The space behind my garage had a nice 6×18-foot fenced-in area that was perfect for keeping my girls safe.

Aside from the fresh eggs, one of the delights of owning suburban chickens is that neighbors and their children stop by to visit my hens.

Because of my work at EPA, I know the importance of keeping food waste out of landfills. My hens know something about that, too, because they get excited about the old rice, carrot peelings, food scraps, toast crusts, etc., that I feed to them.

The food scraps that the chickens don’t eat, and other things like coffee grounds and egg shells, are a great addition to my compost pile. The hens help out with the compost as well: their droppings provide a rich source of nutrients that will eventually help nourish my garden. Compost reduces the amount of fertilizer, weed killer and water that my garden needs – a model of sustainability!

The hens are part of the family, and the next generation has arrived. I have four adorable fuzzy baby chicks peeping under a heat lamp in my basement! But as a mom, the best thing about owning chickens is pictures of my son and his friends with chickens sitting on their heads!

About the author: Mindy Lemoine is a Life Scientist and Pollution Prevention Coordinator for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. A native of Opelousas, Louisiana, Mindy grew up rambling in the woods and fields with her siblings and developed an abiding curiosity about what might be living in that ditch. She holds an MS in Geography from Louisiana State University.

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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Have a Green Summer!

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By Lina Younes

I was reviewing my electric bill recently. I noticed that there was an increase in the amount of energy used at home this year in comparison to last year. While we are already taken steps at home to be more energy efficient, we still can do more to save energy and money at home. So, I decided to share some tips  on how you can also be greener this summer.

  • Turn off the lights when you leave the room! Pretty simple, right? But, I have to remind my daughter and other family members to do so frequently!
  • Unplug phone and computer chargers when you’re not using them.
  • Change home air filters regularly! This improves the efficiency of your A/C and saves you money in the short term and costly repairs in the long term.
  • Also, consider using ceiling fans. With the fans, you can raise the temperature of the A/C and still feel comfortable during the summer heat.
  • Seal and insulate your home.
  • Are you planning to update one of your appliances? Purchase an Energy Star product when buying new appliances and electronics for your home.
  • Do you have a leaky faucet? Fix it! Did you know that more than 1 trillion gallons of water are wasted from leaks in U.S. homes each year?
  • If you are planning to refurbish your kitchen or bathroom, get WaterSense labeled fixtures to save water and money.
  • Do you use a sprinker to water your lawn? Inspect it to make sure there aren’t any leaks or broken sprinkler heads. Set the sprinkler for early in the morning. And definitely don’t turn it one if has rained in your area!
  • Planning a family gathering this weekend? Make sure to use reusable plates and containers. Remember your three R’s  during the summer months!
  • Planning a summer day trip? Well, you should also consider getting your car ready for the journey. A well maintained vehicle with properly inflated tires will save you a lot of money in fuel and maintenance costs and will also reduce gas emissions.

Do you have other suggestions as to how we can be greener this summer? As always, we appreciate your input. Love 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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Tips for a More Environmentally-Friendly Spring Cleaning

By Ashley McAvoy

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Spring has arrived! It’s time to say goodbye to the cold weather and hello to new life once again. The flowers are just breaking through the soil, the birds are singing, and the trees are growing new leaves. These are familiar images and usually mark the beginning of longer days, picnics in the park, riding bikes and more than anything else, enjoying the warmer weather. If you’re like me, one annual task looms in the way of that fun: the dreaded spring cleaning. This chore is tedious and incredibly time consuming, but it’s necessary after months of being cooped up indoors. There are so many things to do: tidy up the garden, wash the car, dust the curtains, sweep the floor, etc. Don’t forget to use cleaning methods and cleaning products that are the safest for your family, your home, and the environment. Here are some reminders before you get started.

Reuse whenever possible

  • One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Give your unwanted clothes a new life by donating them to your local thrift shop or charity. By reusing clothing and other goods, we can cut down on waste entering landfills.

Recycle all that you can

  • Always check with your local recycling center for any recycling restrictions in your area. Some places only accept certain types of plastic or metal. You should check the bottom of any glass or the back of any plastic container for the recycling number. This number will indicate the type of plastic that it is.
    Check out more at the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle website.

Use cleaning products that are safer for your family and the environment

  • Look for products that are labeled biodegradable, eco-friendly, or non-toxic

Find more information about environmentally safe cleaning products at the Protecting Your Health website

  • Avoid products with labels that read toxic, corrosive, irritant, flammable, or combustible

Conserve water

  • To water the lawn, consider using grey water or even rainwater. An average family typically uses 30% of its water for the garden or the lawn. By using alternative water such as rainwater from a rain barrel, you can cut down on wasted water and even lower your water bill.

For more information about safer cleaning methods for your home and the environment, please visit the Green Homes website.

Happy cleaning!

About the author: Ashley McAvoy is an Intern with the Office of Web Communications for spring 2013. She is a double major in Environmental Studies and Hispanic Studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.

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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Wrapping Presents – With the Environment in Mind

By Amy Miller

I must apologize to my nieces and nephews. Although I give them their share of holiday gifts, they suffer the wrapping – used paper decorated with old pieces of tape and sometimes a tag with someone else’s name on it.

Sure, a gift is a gift. And the alternative – gifts wrapped in newsprint – is worse. Little hands get covered in black by the time they get to the truck or baby doll.

We got into the whole wrapping paper thing during Christmas 1917. Apparently, stores had run out of white tissue sheets, the preferred wrapping of the day. Stores began using the pretty lining paper made for envelopes. The public liked the alternative and wrapping paper became part of our holiday gift tradition.

According to Earth911.com, about half of the 85 million tons of paper our country uses each year goes for packaging, wrapping and decorating goods. Wrapping paper and shopping bags alone make up 4 million tons of this, they say. And some estimates put the amount of trash generated around holidays at 25 million tons more waste than is typically created during a 10-week period. Whatever the numbers, we know we use a heck of a lot of paper over the holidays.

Sure we can try to recycle, but much wrapping paper is not recyclable. The dye or lamination, the glittery metallic or plastic additives and the tape all present problems.

So my own feeble effort to fight this involves trying to carefully unwrap the gifts I get so the paper can be reused. I even try to get my son to unwrap his car-sized presents in a way that doesn’t decimate the paper.

But using last year’s wrapping paper for this year’s present – or buying recycled paper – means someone had to manufacture, transport and buy the paper in the first place. So ideally, we will find other ways to cover our packages.

One woman in my Maine town began a company making beautiful fabric bags. The bags pass from person to person telling stories of the gifts along the way in a booklet that comes with the bag.

Children’s old artwork makes for great wrapping. Parents can save masterpieces but use some of the art we could not and would not want to save. Colorful magazine pages make unique wrapping and won’t leave newsprint on your hands. Finally, a collage makes the wrapping personal.

Perhaps by 2017, we can celebrate a century of wrapping paper and move on to a more eco-alternative.

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 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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Help Put the “E’s” in E-Cycling

By Grace Parrish

Since childhood, recycling has been an effortless task that was part of my daily routine. Using five bins labeled: aluminum, plastic, glass, paper, and tin, I thought I was the bee’s knees when it came to being eco-friendly. During my internship at the EPA this fall, I realized that although it is beneficial to keep these items out of the waste stream, I was mistaken in thinking my responsibility ended there. I always recycled my yogurt cups, pizza boxes, and cell phone boxes, but never thought about where the phone itself ends up. My role in recycling must extend a bit further to “e-cycling,” otherwise known as the recycling of electronics.

In this era, everyone’s buzzing with the newest laptops, cell phones, TVs, cameras, you name it! I am guilty of getting caught up in this hype. As a student at the University of Maryland, I must keep up with the latest trends and I rely on my cell phone and laptop daily to receive emails, check class information, research, and of course for everyone’s favorite, Facebook.

Now I find myself questioning where these devices end up once I’m done with them. During my time with the EPA, I gained a fresh perspective on electronics beyond tearing apart the box to a new cell phone received during the holidays.

According to the EPA, we generate almost 2.5 million tons of used electronics every year in the United States. By recycling electronics, we can do our part to improve the health of our environment. E-cycling lessens pollution, shrinks landfills, saves resources from manufacturing, and conserves precious metals, including gold and silver, and other materials used in production. EPA is working with big retailers and manufacturers in its Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge to make sure they are recycling electronics in a safe and responsible manner.

So next time you bee-line it to the store for a gadget that is luring you in, think first if you really need it; when the urge inevitably takes over, rethink your options about where your previous electronics will go. Is donating to a family member, friend, or charity an option? If not, check out an electronics take-back location near you, simply visit: “Where Can I Donate or Recycle My Used Electronics?” We can do our part to put the “e’s”—electronics and environment, in e-cycling!

About the author: Grace Parrish is an intern for the EPA office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, and is intrigued by the impact of recycling electronics. She hopes that her pursuit of an Environmental Science and Policy degree at the University of Maryland, College Park will facilitate her in promoting the ideal of sustainability in a future career.

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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Recycling is Still RAD – Reflecting on Six Years of EPA Partnership

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By Melissa Fiffer

Behind the wheel of a pick-up truck, driving the cardboard recycling route, is not where you would typically expect to find an undergraduate environmental science and policy major from New York City. But in my college days I was determined to figure out how I could help improve the environment, and decided I had to experience it for myself. That’s why I chose to do my work study assignment with the recycling service on campus. Sure enough, I learned a lot about the practical and financial ins and outs of recycling options. Perhaps more important, though, was the experience of collaborating with the recycling service and the students to reach common goals.

Nowadays I no longer drive a truck, just a compact car, but collaborating on recycling goals to protect the environment is a major part of my job here at EPA. I manage a voluntary partnership called the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program. On a typical day, I talk to appliance recyclers about the trends they’re seeing in components of old fridges, freezers, window air conditioners and dehumidifiers. Like recycling cardboard or aluminum, recycling appliances makes sense to minimize waste, and there are other important reasons, too. Refrigerants and foams, for example, often contain substances that can harm the ozone layer and climate system if they’re released rather than recovered at an appliance’s end-of-life. Or, I might chat with a partner utility about an upcoming campaign to collect and properly recycle old, inefficient fridges sitting in customers’ basements. Did you know that getting rid of a 20-year-old fridge could reduce your electricity bill by more than $115 per year?

Today, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the sixth anniversary of the RAD program, and welcoming our 50th partner, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. RAD partners include 43 utilities, four retailers, one manufacturer, and two state affiliates. Since 2006, partners have helped recycle nearly three million appliances, providing a climate benefit equal to keeping about 1.3 million cars off the road for one year, and can you imagine how much material they’ve kept out of landfills? There are 160 pounds of recyclable metals, plastic and glass in just one fridge. So, what are you waiting for?

If you’re buying a new, Energy Star qualified fridge this holiday season, the feeling of properly recycling your old one through a RAD partner would really add to your holiday cheer.

About the author: Melissa Fiffer has worked on environmental policy and partnerships for the federal government since 2007, when she signed on as a Presidential Management Fellow. She holds a Master of Environmental Management degree from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Her most RAD achievement was the day that her grandfather, still working in bulk food sales, gave in to her grandmother’s urging and recycled the fridge and chest freezer in their basement.

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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Super Mommy vs. Toy Packaging

By Sarah White

“Open it please.” Ugh! Those dreaded words again.

My son looks up at me, his eyes wide with anticipation as he hands to me the object of his desire- a newly bought action figure complete with accessories. The toy is entombed in layers of cardboard, plastic and sadistic twisty things.

“Okay, okay” I tell him, “but I’ll need my tools. Go get me the scissors.”

As I contemplate my plan of attack, my son trundles off to look for the scissors. He returns and like an eager apprentice, he hovers beside me eager to assist. In my 8-year-old son’s eyes I am on par with his super heroes. He has complete faith in my mommy super power abilities.

I start with surgical precision, cutting the top layer open. I pull back the cardboard under which is another tight layer of plastic. I see the toy figure smugly beaming out at me. More cutting but the plastic is thick and hard to cut. I reach for a knife from the drawer and begin to pry. My finger catches the edge of plastic.

“Dang it, ouch! band-aid! Go get mommy a band-aid.”

I tear away the plastic, finally ripping it open only to reveal dozens of tightly wound twisties. Drat! Evil, hideous things those twisties. I make a mental note—next time we go toy shopping, we’re buying from a thrift store.

As I curse the toy, I am not thinking of the trees being felled at a rate of 100 acres per minute to box this plaything. I am not concerned with statistics about the 250,000 plastic bottles dumped each hour in this country, making up nearly 50 percent of recyclable waste in the dumps, waste that takes close to forever to decompose. Even the fact that plastic thrown into the sea kills and destroys sea life at an estimated 1,000,000 sea creatures per year fades into significance. I am too busy combating the twisties.

Is it my imagination or is that toy figure mocking me. Mom vs. toy packaging.

I slowly begin to untwist the ties finally emancipating my son’s beloved action figure. My son is thrilled. I take comfort in that in his youthful eyes I still wear a cape and a suit with a big “M” on the chest. One day he’ll realize Superheroes are just toys and I am just a mommy.

About the author: Sarah White is a community involvement coordinator in EPA New England’s Superfund Program.

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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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…Routine

By Alexis Glears

This summer, I’m working at EPA. Because this is an agency whose mission is to protect the environment, I decided to try to create long-term, environmentally conscious habits. Every day for a work week, I chose one simple task to work into my daily routine.

On day one, my friends and I went shopping. Instead of using bags from the store, we brought our own. This wasn’t as hard to do as I thought. The only difficult part was remembering to bring bags. To solve this problem, I’ve left some in my car trunk for impromptu shopping trips.

As a college student, I spend a majority of my time on the computer writing papers and surfing the web. On day 2, I explored different ways to save energy while on the computer. I learned that turning your computer off when you step away for more than 2 hours and using the power-down or sleep modes, can significantly reduce energy use. (Note: Screen savers are not energy savers!)

This summer is proving to be a scorcher, so day 3 was all about water. Instead of paying $2 for a plastic bottle of water every day, I brought a reusable water bottle. Bringing my own bottle was so convenient because I could refill the bottle many times a day. Also, I’m very frugal and hate paying for something that should be free.

About 77% of Americans drive alone to work each morning. I usually drive to the local train station and take the subway to work each morning. Instead of driving by myself on day 4, I commuted with my mom. Commuting with other people can save fuel and money for everyone. Plus, it’s always more fun when you have some else come along for the ride.

Advocacy is important when promoting a cause. I love social networking. It’s the quickest way to share information with my generation. On day 5, I used this method to spread awareness of environmental issues. By far, this was the easiest habit to include because I’m constantly on social media.

All of these habits were easy for me; I plan to keep most of them and will try to add more in my quest to being more environmentally conscious.

What are your green habits?

About the author: Alexis Glears is a summer intern in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. She is studying public relations at Hampton University and will be graduating in December 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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