Reduce Reuse Recycle

The View from Vermont

By Jeffrey Levy

Ah, Vermont. Where I go to get away from my job, but also where I’m reminded of why I do my job.

Every summer, we go to “camp,” the cabin on a Vermont lake built by my wife’s great-grandfather in 1913.  Think “rustic,” not “luxury.” The walls are plywood, the floors creak, there’s an abundance of spiders and usually a few mice, and it smells musty.  I try to convince my daughters that spiders help keep the mosquito population down, to mixed success. When I sit up late at night reading, or we stargaze, the world outside vanishes.  In other words, it’s heaven.

Camp is where we take stuff like furniture and appliances when we buy new things for home. The recliner chair where I’m sitting to write this is at least 50 years old. Some of the books on the shelves date to the 1930s. The cupboard is full of plates from when my mother-in-law grew up. People here were reusing long before we started talking about “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Our water is another subject related to EPA’s mission. For the first 15 years I came up here, we couldn’t drink the water from the tap because it came out of the lake; we had to buy water. Now we have a well, but I worry about getting it tested regularly. There’s never been heavy industry here, so swimming has always been ok. But when I consider how many lakes and rivers were seen as places to dump toxic chemicals, I can see how most U.S. water bodies weren’t fit for swimming or fishing when EPA was founded in 1970.

One of the best things about camp is the clean air. We come in August, when DC is at its hottest and haziest. No code red days up here! When we hike up nearby mountains, and I’m sucking in lungfuls of air, I appreciate EPA’s efforts to make sure everyone has healthy air to breathe.

I don’t mean to say that I’m constantly thinking about EPA when I come to Vermont. But it’s good to be reminded so directly why EPA’s mission is so important.

Where do you go to get away from it all? Do you ever think about the environment when you do?

About the author: Jeffrey Levy joined EPA in 1993. Before becoming Director of Web Communications, he worked to protect the ozone layer and end acid rain.

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 post.

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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Texas Teens Kick Plastic Bags to the Curb!

By Wendy Dew

Have you ever stood in line at the grocery store and counted how many folks are using reusable grocery bags instead of paper or plastic? I have noticed a significant increase in the amount of people using reusable bags over the past few years. Can you imagine a day when no one asks you paper or plastic? Some teens in Texas can!

The ECoppell Club has dedicated itself to helping the environment by offering free cloth bags to residents of Coppell, TX. The club began in September 2009 with the goal of eliminating plastic bags from the Coppell area. They started with Coppell with the hope of eventually replacing plastic bags in United States and even the world!

Doing their own leg work, ECoppell collected statistics of cloth bags vs. plastic bags.  They found that great majority of people in Coppell continue to use plastic bags while less than 10% use cloth bags.  The students compiled their statistics by standing outside three major food retailers making notes of people with cloth bags and people with plastic bags as they left the retailer.

ECoppell intends to reduce plastic bag usage by 8% initially.  To help achieve this goal, the members are distributing 5000 free cloth bags to the community. The club members went door-to-door and gave presentations at various activities to raise money to purchase the cloth bags.

ECoppell members have garnered support from the local community and businesses.  We can all help support teens who are making a difference. I have been using canvas grocery bags for years now, they are a lot easier to carry and never break. We can all make a difference by kicking plastic bags to the curb!

Find out more about reducing, reusing and recycling

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

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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Hey Kids…Think Green For The Holidays!

By Wendy Dew

It’s about that time of year again when we are all making our wish lists for holiday presents. What if this year instead of wishing for things that are just for us…we wished for things that help the world around be a little bit greener? Imagine the difference we could make if we all greened up our holiday season. Here are some green tips for kids and families:

  • give a gift that is made of recycled or reused materials
  • decorate with recycled or reused materials
  • volunteer during the holidays
  • make home cooked meals and invite friends and neighbors over as a holiday gift
  • combine your holiday shopping trips to save on gas
  • wrap gifts in recycled or reused paper
  • send recycled-content greeting cards
  • buy a potted tree and plant it after the holidays

This is my favorite time of year. Not because of gift giving, but because we get to slow down a little and spend time with friends and family (and eat yummy food!). Let’s all enjoy the holiday season in a simpler, greener fashion this year.

For more green holiday tips

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 14 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

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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America Recycles Day

By Felicia Chou

There is this beaten up, raggedy Garbage Gremlin costume we wear to events or school talks every year to encourage people of all ages to reduce, reuse, and recycle. The crusty, mold-green fur reeks of decades’ worth of sweat and tears from the EPA employees that have braved sweltering heat and freezing cold to don the costume for the sake of environmental outreach. Thankfully, the internet was invented so we wouldn’t have to rely on a communications prop that I personally wouldn’t touch without a ten-foot-pole and a hazmat suit. Our new-and-improved What You Can Do site offers great consumer tips and resources on Going Green, and doesn’t smell like last summer’s old sneakers. And what better time to explore what you can do to help our environment than today, America Recycles Day?

Regardless of whether you’re at home, at school, at work, or on the go, there are all kinds of things you can do to make every day America Recycles Day. With hand-picked tips organized by season and subject, helpful resources from buying green to greenscaping, and a section dedicated to things around the house you might not expect to recycle, we’re working to make it easier for everyone to do their part to make a difference.

So when you’re wondering about where to recycle your old electronics, what to do with all the leftover food from your holiday party, or how to set up a recycling program in your community, you won’t have to chase down the Garbage Gremlin to find out. And on behalf of all the dedicated public servants who have had to wear the suit, we thank you.

About the Author: Felicia Chou is a Program Analyst in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. She has avoided wearing costumes of any kind ever since her mother made her dress up as an oversized lady bug for Halloween in 7th grade.

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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Greenscaping For All Seasons

By Lina Younes

The leaves in the Washington, DC area will soon reach the full range of the fall spectrum. Since we have been having unseasonably warm weather, we still can see many flowering bushes in bloom in gardens and parks in the area surrounded by the multicolor autumn foliage. In fact, I’m actually looking forward for the temperatures to become steadily cooler so that I can plant bulbs that will blossom in the springtime. I guess I’ll have to be more patient.

As we’re talking about the changes in seasons, we should start to think about taking special steps to protect our gardens. With careful planning this autumn, we will be rewarded with colorful flowers and green lawns next year. We can achieve this goal without resorting to chemicals. We can go green in our yards through greenscaping!

How to greenscape?  Well it boils down to some basic resource conservation issues: reduce, reuse, and recycle. The green 3 R’s. By implementing these principles you can save millions of gallons of water, pesticides, while protecting the environment. First, reduce the production of waste in your gardens. Select native plants and perennials. Secondly, reuse products prolongs the useful life of these materials and delays their final disposal. Thirdly, recycle lawn trimmings and yard debris in a compost pile to be able to feed your lawn with minimal use of chemicals. Some work now will go a long way for a healthier environment.

What are your thoughts on the issue? Any tips? Planning anything special for your garden this year? We love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. 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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Reduce, REUSE, and Recycle!

By Erin Jones

The 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle have been around for awhile. I think people understand the basic concepts behind them. In a nutshell: REDUCE—look to purchase products that require less packaging or to limit the waste you are producing; REUSE—use a travel mug or reusable water bottle and avoid single-use bags; and RECYCLE—paper, plastic, glass, magazines, electronics, and more can be processed into new products while using fewer natural resources and less energy. This is the 3 R’s mantra.

I am always looking for ways to make these 3 R’s a little bit more fun and a whole lot “cooler”. I find a lot of cool when I look at the REUSE possibilities. A whole culture of folks across the U.S. are taking yesterdays products, reusing them and making those things cool again. I recently attended the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago, IL and found a whole lot of cool REUSE action in the crafts that artists were selling there.

I saw birdhouses and picture frames made from reclaimed wood, bottle caps reused and turned into magnets, cufflinks and jewelry made from reused maps and postage stamps, seatbelts reused to make belts and guitar straps, and skirts and dresses made from old textiles and tailored into new modern clothes.

This makes me think, what do I already have, that I could REUSE and make cool again?? It also gets me thinking about these artists whose jobs help reduce the waste that our society has produced. Craft fairs and other markets for “green” consumer products seem to be popping up all around us. And although these products reduce harm to the environment to differing degrees, I believe every little change I can make in my consumer behavior has got to help. So step back, think about the 3 R’s, and try to make them fun and interesting in a way that matters to you. Break out of the traditional 3 R’s mantra and be creative and find ways to make reducing, reusing, and recycling cool enough to be a part of your every day life.

Note: The Renegade Craft Fair is a traveling show with free admission. This past year, it stopped in Austin, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago throughout the spring and summer months and will return to Chicago and San Francisco in December 2010.

About the author: Erin Jones is an Intern at EPA Region 5 working in environmental education. She is currently working on her Master’s in Geography & Environmental Studies at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, IL.

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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Have you spoken to your kids about the environment today?

By Lina Younes

It’s that time of year when many parents are sending their kids off to college. Everyone has some sort of checklist for the things they will need as they leave the family nest whether it’s books, computers, clothes, household items, etc. As parents, we hope that we have prepared our kids to be independent, to excel academically and professionally, to manage their expenses, etc. But I wonder…have we prepared them to be good environmental citizens?

Now that our children will be living on their own, will they remember to save energy and water? Will they turn off the lights when they leave the room? Will they do simple things like closing the faucet when they brush their teeth? Will they use household products safely?

How about the three R’s—reduce, reuse, and recycle? Finding new uses for common items and recycling both go a long way to reducing waste. And in this day and age of electronics, we shouldn’t forget eCycling. Taking old computers, DVD players, and cell phones to a recycling center will allow the reuse of some valuable natural resources and prevent some hazardous substances from ending up in landfills.

Undoubtedly, we shouldn’t wait till we send our kids to college to talk about environmental awareness. Appreciation of our environment and the world around us should start at a very early age. It is likely that children today have already incorporated a green lifestyle. Nonetheless, talking to your children about environmental protection is never too late.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. 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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Kids Get It!

Just last week, I visited Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Hyattsville, Maryland for their Career Day. This time, I was assigned to speak at three separate classes—3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. During my presentations, I discussed the Agency’s mission, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and different types of jobs at EPA. In order to keep them engaged, I quizzed them on a variety of environmental issues. I was very interested in finding out what they thought about how best to protect the environment.  I was very pleased to see that the kids have definitely mastered the concept of the three R’s “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” Whenever I asked them about what they could do to help, “picking up trash and recycling” were the first issues highlighted in each of the classes. They also mentioned other useful green tips such as saving water, saving energy, and riding a bike instead of driving a car, to name a few.

At the school, they were incorporating many green habits into practice. One of the classes had even planted their own garden. The teacher mentioned that there were a group of students that lived nearby and regularly took care of it. I was able to see how the children talked about the garden with pride.

It was very inspiring to see that these children have internalized many of the values necessary to protect the planet. Children can be great teachers. In fact, we can learn a lot from them only if we truly listen. That reminds me of a song I heard recently on one of my daughter’s CD. It’s entitled “Wake up, America.” would like to share the chorus:

“Wake up, America. We’re all
In this together
It’s our home
So let’s take care of it
You know that you want to
You know that you got
To wake up America

Tomorrow
Becomes a new day
And everything you do
Matters
Yeah
Everything you do
Matters
In some way”

So, let’s listen to these teachers, TODAY!

If you want to see some key examples of young students who have taken environmental stewardship to the next level, I would recommend you see the projects presented by the winners of the President’s Environmental Youth Awards.  For more information on sponsoring a young person or group, visit our website.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. 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, Recycle!

Hey Pick 5ers, it’s time again for you to share what you’ve done, how you did it, etc.  If you haven’t done it yet, Pick 5 for the Environment and then come back to comment. Today we cover action #4: reduce, reuse, recycle. Please share your stories as comments below.

In my house, we try to recycle everything. For example, I use newspapers instead of paper towels to clean windows, glass tables and mirrors. Afterward, I shred them to be placed in my compost. We save our cans to take them to a collection facility once a month. Money made from the cans is used to buy gas for our next recycling trip to the collection facility.

When making my trips to the grocery store, I bring my own canvas bags instead of getting plastic bags at the counter. Canvas bags are offered at the grocery store, are very inexpensive, and using them helps to save our landfills from filling up.

I also have a compost box in my backyard. All of my kitchen waste is placed in there along with my yard waste and other items. I use this soil in the spring to plant my garden. It’s amazing how little changes in your life can help save the environment. It’s been a lot of fun seeing what I have done to help.

Now it’s your turn: How do you reduce, reuse, and recycle? If you’re not sure what you can do, learn more on our site.

You can also still share how you save water, , commute without polluting, and save electricity.

Note: to ward off advertisers using our blog as a platform, we don’t allow specific product endorsements.  But feel free to suggest Web sites that review products, suggest types of products, and share your experiences using them!

About the author: Denise Owens has worked at EPA for over twenty years. She is currently working in the Office of Public Affairs 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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¡Envuélvalo—no tan rápidamente!

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

En nuestro quehacer cotidiano, nos vanagloriamos de hacer todo de manera más rápida, mejor y más eficientemente. Sin embargo, lo que se ha convertido en la conveniencia también ha resultado en costos imprevistos. Por ejemplo, me refiero a la comida “rápida” y en especial, a la envoltura de esta comida de rápida preparación.

Sea que estemos trabajando o en momentos de ocio, alentamos a todos a comer su comida en utensilios reutilizables y si es posible seleccionar un almuerzo libra de desechos. En realidad, el comer en casa sentados alrededor de la mesa familiar no siempre es posible. Cuando se trata de comer, con frecuencia vamos al restaurante de comida rápida o servi-carros local. Y después buscamos el basurero más cercano para deshacernos de los desperdicios. Mientras puedo entender el llevar tazas de café reutilizables a la cafetería más cercana, aún no veo como práctico el llevar platos reutilizables a la cafetería o al servi-carros más cercano.

Habrán notado que hasta hace poco la gran mayoría de las principales cadenas de comida rápida usaban el foam de poliestireno (conocido comúnmente como Styrofoam) y las envolturas no beneficiosas para el medio ambiente para servir y envolver comida rápida y bebidas. En años recientes, en respuesta a la presión popular, muchas compañías están adoptando medidas de reducción de desechos y utilizan envolturas biodegradables. Más y más compañías están participando activamente en el rediseño de envolturas sostenibles. De hecho, EPA es un miembro fundador de la Coalición de Envolturas Sostenibles, un grupo de profesionales de la industria establecido en el 2004. Esta amplia coalición va más allá de la industria de envolturas de alimentos. Brinda un marco de colaboración en varios asuntos relacionados a la envoltura sostenible a fin de reducir la huella medioambiental de la envoltura. Tengan en cuenta en que los impactos medioambientales de la envoltura van más allá de los desechos que entran a la cadena de desperdicios; como por ejemplo, los impactos de energía y las emisiones de gases con efecto de invernadero en otras etapas en el ciclo de vida de cada producto desde la extracción y adquisición de materia bruta, la elaboración de materia prima en productos, el uso de los productos por los consumidores y finalmente la disposición de los productos.

El programa de consorcio WasteWise de EPA también destaca los avances exitosos en las áreas de procesamiento y envoltura de alimentos así como en la industria de bebidas.

Asimismo, si está buscando más información sobre técnicas de sostenibilidad usadas por su restaurante favorito o cafetería de comida rápida más cercana, puede visitar Earth911.com para consultar un informe de calificaciones de restaurantes. Sobre todo, involúcrese, participe. Usted puede hacer una diferencia para alentar a muchas compañías y al público en general a seleccionar prácticas sostenibles beneficiosas para el medio ambiente.

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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