waste

De-Cluttering and the Second “R”

By Lina Younes

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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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Greening Your Home for the Holidays

By Lina Younes

 As the holidays are fast approaching, now may be a good time to make some green repairs before the festivities. Personally, I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that here on the mainland many people consider spring to be the ideal season for giving the house a good cleaning or overhaul. I remember growing up in Puerto Rico, where the favored time for home makeovers was the fall. One of the main reasons for the different home improvement habits might be the changing seasons. Since in Puerto Rico we had summer virtually all year round, the motivation to fix the house usually was linked to the anticipated arrival of guests over the holidays.

So what can you do to make your home a more welcoming, healthier and greener environment for your family and friends? Here are some suggestions.

  • Clean your air filters regularly to improve the indoor air quality in your home.
  • Look for mold in your home: it’ll grow in areas where there’s water or moisture. Clean the mold on hard surfaces. Discard those items that cannot be cleaned and make necessary repairs to solve the moisture problem to prevent it from reoccurring.
  • Paint your home to brighten it up. However, if it was built before 1978, it might have some old lead-based paint which can hurt you and your family. Make sure painting and repairs are done safely to prevent lead poisoning
  • If you’re renovating your bathrooms or kitchen, consider installing toilets and water fixtures with the WaterSense label. They’re more efficient, so they’ll save water and money while protecting the environment.
  • Heat and cool your home more efficiently with Energy Star. You’ll reduce your energy bills and make your home more comfortable while reducing your carbon footprint.
  • Think of ways you can reduce waste during the holidays, like using reusable plates and silverware and storing food and leftovers in reusable containers.

Are you planning any green repairs for the holidays? Let us know.

 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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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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Good Time to De-Clutter the Medicine Cabinet

By Andrea Bennett

For many of us, fall can be a good time to de-clutter things around the house, such as the garage, that closet in the guest room, and the medicine cabinet. While going through that medicine cabinet, it’s not uncommon to find expired and never-used medications sitting on a shelf, just taking up space. Flushing them down the toilet means they wind up in rivers, lakes, and streams, potentially hurting animals living in the water and people who drink it.

Fortunately, there are better and safer ways to get rid of these medicines. During National Drug Take-back Day on October 26th, you can drop off your unwanted drugs nearby, usually at a city or county building, police station, or senior center. Information on locations can be found online or by calling 1-800-882-9539.

You’ll also find that many communities have permanent drop-boxes. You can find information about the closest drug drop-box near you online.  Also, some pharmacies have drop-boxes or can provide mail-back containers for drug disposal.

One of my co-workers explains, “I read in our local paper that the police station had a drop-box, and then one got put up at the senior center, too. I had leftover drugs around the house, plus the doctor changed my prescriptions a few times, so it’s great to have safe places to drop off drugs whenever I want.”

There are even permanent drop-boxes for medication for pets and farm animals. For example, the Berks County Agricultural Center in Pennsylvania accepts veterinary medicines.

If you can’t participate in National Drug Take-back Day or you are unable to use a local drop-box, you still can safely dispose of your unwanted drugs at home by following the instructions on our fact sheet.

Remember, we all need to do our part in keeping drugs out of our water!

About the Author: Andrea Bennett works in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Drinking Water and Source Water Protection. She also participates in hazardous waste recycling days.

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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Do Your Part, Be SepticSmart!

By Maureen Tooke

When you think of infrastructure, you typically think of roads, right? But there is a hidden infrastructure we all tend to forget about since it’s underground: our drinking water and wastewater systems. Unless there’s a water main break or a septic system failure, people don’t tend to think much about them.

In my eight years working in EPA’s onsite wastewater treatment (aka septic) program, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about our nation’s water infrastructure. I’ve also learned a great deal about this country’s reliance septic systems, which treat wastewater onsite instead of sending it down the sewer to a treatment plant. About a quarter of U.S. households and a third of all new construction – both domestic and commercial – rely on these kinds of systems.

Today’s onsite systems aren’t like the one I grew up on. These advanced treatment technologies are able to treat wastewater to levels that protect the environment similar to traditional sewer systems. They’re also able to treat large volumes of wastewater from many homes through the use of cluster systems. As the nation’s population continues to grow, and as cash-strapped rural and small communities look for viable, effective methods to treat wastewater, septic systems will continue to play a critical role in our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.

Low-income and rural communities, especially in the South (with 46% of the nation’s septic systems), are particularly disadvantaged in terms of access to adequate wastewater treatment. This creates an environmental justice concern.
For homes with septic systems, proper septic system maintenance is vital to protecting public health and keeping water clean. When homeowners don’t maintain their septic systems, it can lead to system back-ups and overflows. That can mean costly repairs, polluted local waterways, and risks to public health and the environment.

To help raise awareness about the need to properly care for septic systems, and to encourage homeowners to do their part, this week we’re hosting the first SepticSmart Week, September 23-27. By taking small steps to maintain home septic systems, homeowners not only help keep their communities safe, but can save money and protect property values.

About the author: Maureen Tooke is an Environmental Protection Specialist who works in the Office of Wastewater Management at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. She lives across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, where she kayaks and bikes regularly.

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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Hunger in My Neighborhood

By Mike Frankel

I occasionally work from home on Fridays, and as a treat, I pick up a great homemade meatball sandwich from a spot not far from my home in South Philly. The route takes me alongside the I-95 overpass. For months, I saw lines of people stretching for several blocks under the overpass. It didn’t matter the weather – rain or shine, hot or cold – there was a line, and I couldn’t figure out what everyone was waiting for. Perhaps a casino bus to Atlantic City?

One cold, dreary Friday, I took a late lunch – and there they were, in line as always: all ages, all
races, all sizes. But for the first time, the line was moving. I pulled up to the curb, eager to finally see what was so important that people had been lining up for months. Then I saw the truck. Its sign read “PHILABUNDANCE” – our area’s major hunger-relief organization. They weren’t waiting for a casino
jaunt. They were waiting for food!

I was shocked and felt somewhat guilty sitting in my warm, dry car with my $10 lunch. How could
this be happening in my diverse middle/working-class neighborhood? Leaving the truck with a bag of food was a familiar face. In that moment, I realized hunger isn’t something that happens elsewhere – my neighbors were hungry.

Shortly after that experience, EPA started working on a new program called the Food Recovery Challenge. I signed on immediately. You may be wondering what EPA has to do with food. Turns out food comprises 21% of municipal waste sent to landfills, more than paper and plastic. That’s not just a hunger problem; unlike other kinds of waste, food decomposes rapidly and becomes a significant source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. Yet every day, we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl Stadium. In 2011, that added up to 36 million tons of food, nearly all of which was sent to landfills or incinerators.

The sad thing is that most of this food is still wholesome and nutritious. Yet one in six Americans are food-insecure: unsure of where their next meal might come from. Diverting even a small portion of the food wasted could potentially feed millions of our neighbors. EPA is working with organizations to buy smarter and divert good food away from landfills to groups like PHILABUNDANCE. And for food unsuitable for feeding families, we’re encouraging organizations to send it to places that compost it to create nutrient-rich natural fertilizer. After all, that will create soil for growing healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables that help feed us. Now that’s a true model of sustainability!

For more information on Food Recovery and what you can do.

About the author: Mike Frankel is a communications coordinator in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. He is part of an agency-wide group promoting food recovery 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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Once Upon a Time NASCAR Went Green With Al Gore and the EPA

By Matt Bogoshian

Could such a story be true?

NASCAR just held their Green Summit this week in Chicago where I was lucky enough to represent EPA with an impressive group of change makers that included, of all people, Al Gore!

I’ve heard a few people question why EPA is helping NASCAR, but I like to think it fits into the story of the future, a story where all of us are on a continuous improvement path toward an America that’s built to last.

I just read Daniel Pink’s new book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, and he talks about the ways people are moved to take action. One way he describes is to tell stories the way Pixar tells stories, so here we go. Using the Pixar way, here’s one way to tell the story of the future:

Once upon a time, we built a strong and rising middle class powered almost entirely by fossil fuels, not realizing that our over reliance on them would hurt us in the long run. Every day for generations, we burned lots of fossil fuels to make stuff, build stuff, eat stuff, go places and have fun. Year after year, auto racing became more popular and NASCAR became part of the fabric of American sport. Then one day, everything started to change and more of us ended up finding new ways to get ahead using fewer fossil fuels and creating less waste. NASCAR joined the effort to improve their own practices, and help their fans learn new ways to save money, that also protect people’s health and the planet. Because of that, more kids learned new innovative skills and had better health. Also because of that, more people found better jobs and created their own businesses to make things that solved problems and added joy to life. Finally, we realized that by enlisting every American and every organization to work together, we could build a low carbon, low waste society that will create a rising and thriving middle class for this and every generation.

Make believe? Together, we’re on the road to find out …

You can help out, too, by using some handy tools found on our new online Green Sports Website. Next week is Pollution Prevention Week. Take steps to prevent pollution by committing to health, planet and money saving action!

Green for Go!

About the author: Matt Bogoshian is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Senior Policy Counsel in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention where he leads EPA and Obama administration efforts to help manufacturers and their supply chains profit by adopting more sustainable practices while harnessing the power of consumers to demand smarter products and services. Mr. Bogoshian combines strengths of efforts such as the E3: Economy, Energy and the Environment framework, the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge, the Design for the Environment (DfE) program, the EnergyStar Industrial program and the SmartWay Partnership to optimize collective benefit for American manufacturers and their communities. Bogoshian helps lead the President’s Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership initiative, designed to accelerate the resurgence of manufacturing and create jobs in communities across the country.

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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New England Students Recycle

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 Jeri Weiss 

After cataloguing every pen and binder in my son’s school supply pile, we’re still left with a long list of things to buy before he heads back to college.  Could it be true that none of last year’s binders could be used again? Didn’t we just buy him a fan for his room last year? What happened to the extensions cords and that plastic bin for his extra school supplies?

Last week I saw how college students at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) are changing how we can think about back-to-school shopping.  A few years ago, a group of UNH students were appalled at the amount of furniture, clothing, and useful stuff being tossed out at the end of the school year.  They learned four times as much trash got picked up in May as in other months throughout the year.  They realized lots of stuff tossed out was in good condition.  And they saw thousands of items that could be cleaned and re-sold in the fall to a new crop of students.

The UNH students raised $9,000 and developed a plan to collect unwanted items in the spring and store them.  Student volunteers helped clean and organize items before the Trash 2 Treasure yard sale in fall. The first year the sale was in a tent and raised $12,000. The next year they needed a larger space and made $20,000. This year, the third Trash 2 Treasure sale was so big it was moved to the UNH Hockey Arena.

According to UNH, the sale diverted 45 tons of waste last year, bringing the total amount diverted over three years to 110 tons. This has saved UNH about $10,000 in disposal fees. The total raised over the three years was $54,000. Through the sale, parents and students saved about $216,000 at the sale.

This is Reuse at its finest.

The students who started the Trash 2 Treasure sale have expanded. They have gotten themselves a board of directors and advisors. They call themselves the Post-Landfill Action Network and hope to support other colleges and universities. Schools that don’t have similar programs can get funding and resources to start one. And the network will support schools that already have move-out programs to help them improve.

It’s great to see students taking action, and to watch as they work to help other colleges and universities reduce their waste.  Maybe next year my son will buy some gently used binders and plastic bins at his own school’s yard sale rather than buying new supplies he won’t need in a year.

Learn more about Post-Landfill Action Network: www.postlandfill.org.

UNH

About the author: Jeri Weiss works in EPA’s Boston office, where she is one of the region’s experts on recycling and waste management issues.

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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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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Small Business Innovation is Mushrooming

Sometimes I worry that one of the enduring manmade wonders of our time will be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You know the Garbage Patch – the huge concentration of marine debris (mostly plastics) floating in the Pacific Ocean. It may still be there centuries from now. I wonder if a thousand years from now, tourists will visit the Garbage Patch the way we do the Roman Coliseum or the Pyramids. They’ll take pictures and stand there with their mouths agape wondering “how could they let this happen?”

Personally, I’m hopeful we can reduce the “greatness” of the garbage patch – and solve many of our other waste disposal problems – by reducing packaging or at least making it more sustainable.

Wine packaging

Wine packaging made from mushroom mycelium by Ecovative Design

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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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