waste

Staying Sustainable at School

By Maddie Dwyer

As fall approaches, there’s one thing on every college kid’s mind: living on campus. Whether you’re excited or not, dorm life is coming, and it’s time to start getting ready. For me, this means using the things I learned at EPA this summer. Below are some tips for green living, which can help you whether you’re living in a dorm or an apartment, or at home.

  1. Saving Energy: It’s easy to save energy by making a few simple changes to your routine. Remember to always turn off the lights when you leave your room. If you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning, and the luxury of controlling it, make sure it’s not left on if no one’s around.
  2. Conserving Water: There are lots of ways to use water efficiently. Take shorter showers and turn off the water when you are using soap, shaving, or brushing your teeth. Also, fixing leaky faucets is an important way to reduce wasted water.
  3. Reducing Waste: College is a great time to get into sustainable habits. Make a commitment to recycle everything you can, even if it means carrying recyclables until you find a recycling bin. Most campuses offer green dining options, like reusable take out boxes, glasses, and silverware. Take advantage of all the green options your school has to offer!
  4. Getting Involved: Every school is different, and will have different environmental issues to address. For example, as part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, my school is working to construct bioswales to filter run-off before it reaches the bay. Check out EPA’s resources for students looking to be greener at school. Whether you are advocating for safer cleaning products or encouraging energy efficient appliances, your school will be better off with your involvement.
  5. Make a Green Agreement with Your Roommate: Helping one another is a great way to make both you and your roommate more sustainable. Ask if it’s okay to unplug each other’s unused electronics, do laundry together, and figure out a schedule to keep the lights and AC off. I’ve been lucky to have lovely roommates and other amazing friends who are committed to green living, and it has helped me to become more sustainable every day.
Maddie and her roommate Grace

Maddie and her roommate Grace

So when moving back to campus, be sure to keep these tips in mind and have a wonderful, sustainable school year!

About the author: Maddie Dwyer studies environmental science and policy at the University of Maryland. She works as an intern for EPA’s Office 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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Sustainable Materials Management: A Life-cycle Perspective

As companies and decision-makers seek sustainable ways to manage resources and meet consumer needs, they are confronted with an array of choices, labels and practices that claim to be better for the environment. Terms such as “recyclable,” “recycled-content,” “biodegradable,” or “organic,” all suggest a more sustainable use of resources, but all focus on a limited set of environmental impacts. At EPA, we found that asking which of these practices is better for the environment may not be the right question. We’ve found benefit by taking a broader perspective that considers the full “life cycle” of a product.

Governments and businesses can make better-informed choices with “life-cycle thinking,” or considering the environmental impacts caused at all of the stages of a product’s life cycle. These impacts may include releases of pollutants to air or water; raw material depletion; loss of trees, vegetation and wildlife through disturbance of land and water ecosystems; and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The stages of a product’s life cycle include extraction of resources, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life management. Focusing on just one stage (such as waste management) or one effect (such as organically-raised or grown) can be misleading in total environmental impact. A broader look at life-cycle considerations can show unsuspected or surprising effects – such as high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from washing clothes with hot as opposed to cold water (since fossil fuels were likely burned for the energy used to heat the water). 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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(WASTED) FOOD FIGHT!

By Amanda Hong

Consider this shocking fact – a whopping 40% of food produced in the U.S. goes to waste.

Though we preach waste reduction in my household, we contribute to that percentage of waste. My partner purchased a box of mangoes last week. We love mangoes, but were only able to enjoy a few before the rest went bad. The remaining ones went to the compost heap. As I peeled off the stickers to prepare them for composting, scolding myself for not finding time to preserve them, I thought about the 1,500 miles these mangoes had traveled only to be tossed out.

When we waste food, all the resources that go into growing, packaging and transporting it are wasted too. One quarter of all water used in the U.S. goes to growing food that is thrown away. Only 5% of food scraps are composted nationally – the rest goes to the dump, where it decomposes to produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. When composting is done properly, the balanced decomposition of organic materials in the compost does not release methane. Organic material that is in a landfill does not receive the proper amount of oxygen, producing methane.

Food isn’t just wasted in households, it’s wasted along the entire supply chain: retailers throw out imperfect produce; cafeterias have lots of leftover lunches; caterers are left with trays of untouched gourmet cuisine after events.

 

The Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants is available online, for anyone to use.

The Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants is available online, for anyone to use.

I feel privileged to work with the Pacific Southwest Region’s Zero Waste team on finding ways to chip away at that 40%. We recently released a toolkit that helps restaurants and food services cut back on their food and packaging waste, saving them money while reducing their environmental impact. It’s called the Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging Toolkit.

Understanding waste is the first step toward reducing it. The kit includes an Excel audit tool that allows users to tailor their waste tracking to the level of detail needed for their facility. Once the data is entered, the spreadsheet generates graphs and summaries to help users identify opportunities to reduce waste.

The PDF guide provides source reduction, food donation, and composting strategies. One of my favorite examples is tray-less dining. Simply removing trays at campus dining halls discourages college students from taking more food than they can eat. This strategy has led to a 25-30% reduction in wasted food!

Find more information on how to cut back your food waste at http://epa.gov/waste/conserve/foodwaste/. Together, we can reduce the food we waste, conserve the resources we use to produce it, and help mitigate climate change.

About the author: Amanda Hong is a graduate fellow with EPA’s Region 9 Zero Waste Section and a Master of Public Policy candidate at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Her work supports EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of materials through their entire life cycle, including how they are extracted, manufactured, distributed, used, reused, recycled, and disposed.

 

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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Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Environmental Achievements

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy presenting Charles Lee with the EJ Pioneer Award at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting on February 11, 2014

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy presenting Charles Lee with the EJ Pioneer Award at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting on February 11, 2014

 

As a Chinese-American and one of the individuals who played an instrumental role in our nation’s environmental justice movement, I believe that it is especially fitting that we use this year’s Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month to salute the many environmental contributions of the AAPI community. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Presidential Executive Order on environmental justice. Members of the AAPI community have contributed significantly to safeguarding our environment and promoting health and sustainability for our citizens.

As an advocate for environmental justice, I am excited about the various grassroots initiatives led by AAPI organizers over the last several decades that have aided traditionally underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. For example, AAPI community members in Richmond, California played a pivotal role in securing a multilingual warning system for local residents living in close proximity to a nearby oil refinery. Several years ago, Native Hawaiians organized a successful campaign to prevent polluters from continuing to dump waste in the Wai’nae coastal community. More recently, the Vietnamese-American community in East New Orleans, which is still rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon disaster, initiated a sustainable aquaculture system that is contributing to the Gulf Coast’s economic development efforts.
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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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In Communities across America, Buildings Save Money and Cut Carbon Pollution with Energy Star

Did you know that the energy used in commercial buildings accounts for nearly 20 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions? That adds up to more than $100 billion in energy costs per year! More companies across America are recognizing that energy efficiency is a simple and effective way to save money and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. With help from Energy Star, facility owners and managers are improving the energy efficiency of their buildings and businesses, while at the same time increasing their property value, providing better service, and making their communities more desirable places to live. In fact, since 1999, ENERGY STAR certified buildings have saved more than $3.1 billion on utility bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use from 2.2 million homes.

April is Earth Month, a great time to showcase the importance of energy-efficient buildings by announcing EPA’s Top Cities for Energy Star certified buildings and the winners of our annual National Building Competition.

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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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Earth Month Tip: Compost

Composting your food and yard waste reduces the amount of garbage you send to landfills and reduces carbon pollution. Using food and kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic waste to create a compost pile can also help increase soil water retention, decrease erosion, and replace chemical fertilizers.

Learn more about composting at home: http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home

More tips: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/actonclimate/

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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Earth Month Tip: Recycle

A series of daily tips throughout April.

Did you know that recycling reduces carbon pollution? EPA estimates that our current national recycling efforts reduce carbon pollution by 49.9 million metric tons of carbon, which is equivalent to the annual carbon pollution from 39.6 million passenger cars!
Still, there’s more to do. Recycling in your home helps conserve energy and cut carbon pollution. Calculate how much energy you save when you recycle here: http://www.epa.gov/wastes/conserve/tools/iwarm/


More tips: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/actonclimate/

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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Small Repairs, Big Savings

By Lina Younes

Recently, I was shocked to see that my monthly water bill had almost doubled. What had caused the unexpected increase in water usage?  There had to be a logical explanation.

I reviewed our daily activities for the past month to find the reason for this alarming increase. Given that it’s still winter, we definitely had not been watering the garden. Nobody was taking more showers than usual.

So, I went on a fact-finding expedition around the house in search of the possible cause. Could it be the kitchen faucet? I thought I had instructed everyone to close it a certain way to prevent it from leaking.  All the toilets seemed to be working well, except the one in the basement.  I found the culprit!  My daughter confessed that sometimes it got “stuck” and kept on flushing. She mentioned it happened usually at night, but she had failed to tell me earlier. So, literally hundreds of gallons of water, and our money, were going down the drain.

My husband and I went to the local hardware store looking for a flapper to repair the toilet.  I saw that there were a variety of flappers and toilet repair kits that cost between anywhere between $4 and $20.  Luckily, he was able to repair the toilet himself. That small repair ended up saving us hundreds of dollars, and was worth every penny.

Did you know that in the U.S. over 1 trillion gallons of water are wasted in household leaks? That’s why EPA and its partners want to remind people to check the plumbing fixtures in their homes during Fix a Leak Week. Do you think you have a toilet leak? Place a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the color shows up in the bowl within 15 minutes without flushing, you have a leak. Fixing it will go a long way to save you money and protect the environment.

If you are planning on making some major repairs to your plumbing fixtures, it might be time to invest in faucets, showerheads and toilets with the WaterSense label. These water efficient products have helped consumers save over 487 billion gallons of water and nearly $9 billion in water and energy bills since EPA’s WaterSense Program was created in 2006. You can help save water, too. Every drop counts.

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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