Creative Ways to Cut Your Holiday Waste

By Grace Doran and Jessica Kidwell

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, American household waste increases by more than 25 percent. Trash cans full of holiday food waste, shopping bags, bows and ribbons, packaging, and wrapping paper contribute an additional 1 million tons a week to our landfills.

As we celebrate the holidays, it pays to be mindful of sustainable consumption and materials management practices. They may help you focus even more on caring and celebration during this holiday season, and could even reduce the strain on our fiscal budgets and  the natural environment.

Giving

  • Less is more. Choose items of value, purpose, and meaning – not destined for a yard sale.
  • Give treasure. Pass on a favorite book, plant start, or antique. Check estate sales, flea markets, and resale shops for unique finds.
  • recycling, energy, power, environment and ecology concept - clos

    Consider rechargeable batteries

    Give “anti-matter.” Focus on the experience, rather than wrapping and shipping. Share event tickets, museum memberships, gift certificates, or even your time and talents.

  • Impart values, not wastefulness. Start a child’s savings account, or make a donation to a favorite charity in the recipient’s name.
  • DIY. Handmade food and gifts display your creativity and demonstrate your dedication.
  • Consider the source. Choose recycled or sustainably sourced materials. Shop local to support area shops, makers, and artisans while reducing shipping costs and impacts.
  • Recharge. Consider rechargeable batteries (and chargers) with electronic gifts.
  • Blank linen shopping bag

    Use a reusable cloth bag

    Use a reusable cloth bag for your purchases. Avoid bags altogether for small or oversized purchases.

  • Plan ahead. Consolidate your shopping trips to save time, fuel, and aggravation. You’ll have more time for careful gift choices.
  • Rethink the wrap. Reuse maps, comics, newsprint, kid art, or posters as gift wrap. Wrap gifts in recycled paper or a reusable bag. Or skip the gift wrap, hide the gifts, and leaves clues or trails for kids to follow.

Celebrating

  • Trim the tree. Consider a potted tree that can be replanted, or a red cedar slated for removal during habitat/farm maintenance.
  • Light right. Choose Energy Star energy-efficient lighting. LED outdoor holiday lights use 1/50th the electricity of conventional lights and last 20 to 30 years.
  • Choose LED lights

    Choose LED lights

    Make it last. Choose and reuse durable service items.

  • Keep it simple. For larger gatherings, choose recyclable or compostable service items. All food-soiled paper products are commercially compostable, unless plastic- or foil-coated.

Looking Ahead

  • Reduce. Donate outgrown clothes, old toys, and unwanted gifts.
  • Reuse packing and shipping materials. Save ribbons, bows, boxes, bags, and décor for the next holiday.
  • Recycle old electronics and batteries with an e-steward.
  • Replant, mulch, or compost your live tree. Compost food scraps.

About the Co-Author: Grace Doran is a student intern in EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands and Pesticides Division. She is a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia, studying civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering. Grace has a passion for environmental education, listening to podcasts, running and pizza (and those don’t contradict each other).

About the Co-Author: Jessica Kidwell is a hydrogeologist with EPA Region 7’s Environmental Data and Assessment staff. She’s provided technical expertise and worked with stakeholders to advance scientific, environmental, and sustainability objectives for nearly 20 years.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Endorsing a Path to Healthier Schools

One of the most rewarding parts of my job as Assistant Administrator is visiting schools that have transformed themselves by reducing the unnecessary exposure of students, teachers, and staff to pests, allergens, and pesticides. Safer, healthier and well-maintained school environments can improve attendance rates, student learning and even school pride. Reduced pesticide use can also save money.

How have these particular schools done it? It all starts with a champion – someone to introduce and advocate for his or her school to change its approach to pest management. This person can be a school superintendent, nurse, plant manager, teacher, or even a parent. Second, the changes can be simple.  Very often it’s about tackling the source of the pest problem which can remove or reduce the need for pesticide treatments in the future. This approach is called Integrated Pest Management, or IPM.

With so many success stories popping up, the question was: how can EPA reach the thousands of school administrators, nurses, plant managers, teachers and PTAs across the country to give them information they can use to transform their schools?

Recently we took a huge first step towards meeting this challenge! Twenty national organizations came to Washington, DC to stand with EPA and sign on to help the agency in the effort to reduce the unnecessary exposure of students, teachers, and staff to pests and pesticides.

The goal is to “make IPM practices the standard in all schools over the next three years.”  And these partnering organizations agreed to use their vast membership and communication channels to help get sustainable pest management practices adopted in schools across the United States. Here’s the impressive list of organizations:

Simple preventive measures like sealing cracks and openings, installing door sweeps, fixing water leaks, and refining sanitation practices can make a school unappealing to pests. Conducting regular inspections, monitoring for pests and pest-conducive conditions, implementing an IPM policy or plan, and providing IPM education for the school community can institutionalize this smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to pest control.

Where preventive measures are not sufficient to eliminate pests, the judicious and careful use of pesticides can complete your school’s pest control strategy.

For more information on EPA’s School IPM program, visit: https://www.epa.gov/managing-pests-schools

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

‘Tis the season to be Green!

By Sarah Aquino

Now that Thanksgiving has passed us, it’s starting to feel more like winter here in Washington, DC. Thanksgiving and Christmas just happen to be my favorite holidays. Christmas will creep up on us in a couple of weeks, hopefully with a chance of snow. So, in order to enjoy your holiday season filled with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a nice hot chocolate with extra (fluffy) marshmallows, here are some tips to go green this season.

My three favorite Rs are Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!

  • Reduce: When shopping for groceries to make enjoyable meals, plan your list of groceries so you can make sure to buy things on your list. Also, bring reusable cloth bags, or combine your purchases in one big bag rather than getting a new one at each store.
  • Reuse: Get a little creative this season. Use cool wrapping materials, such as posters and maps. Or you can save ribbons and bows you get on your presents and reuse them for next year.

Last, but not least (and my favorite) –

  • RECYCLE: We know it can be a struggle to provide plates and utensils for a big family. Avoid using disposable dishes and utensils when entertaining friends and family. If you happen to buy them, make sure they are compostable and recyclable.

Remember to use these tips and spread the green this holiday season!

About the Author: Sarah Aquino is a senior at the University of Maryland. She is studying Communications with a minor in Sustainability Studies, and will be graduating in May. She is an intern at the Office of Web Communications.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Back to School Going Green!

Well it is back to school shopping time so let’s talk about saving some green (a.k.a. cash) and going green with the 3-Rs—Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  Reusing school supplies from last year will reduce the amount of items you need to purchase and decrease your environmental impact.  Look around the house, in your book bag, and under the car seats for pencils, pens, and partly used spiral notebooks.

After you have gathered up last year’s left over school supplies it is now time to go shopping!  Use your environmental consumer super power to purchase recycled versions of items you still need.   There are lots of choices to “make a statement” with your green school supplies purchases.  Purchase brands with the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content.  Become an instant Eco Fashionista!  Recycled purses and bags made from juice boxes, seatbelts, magazines, newspapers, and more.  My favorite is recycled paper with flower seeds imbedded in it for those special notes.   I also stop in at my local zoo’s gift shop to get a Poo Paper fix.   It is paper made from elephant (or other animals) manure; no it doesn’t smell, but it does make a great conversation starter.

Make textbook covers from recycled paper grocery sacks, crayons and markers or an old T-shirt. 

Retro is in!  Stop by your local gently used store to buy a new look and donate stuff from your closet that no longer fits your style or your body.  Purchasing gently used clothing is a huge way to decrease your ecological footprint.

If you take snacks or your lunch to school, remember to purchase regular- sized bags and then put what you need for the day into a reusable container.  With snack-sized bags you pay more for smaller portions AND the extra packaging creates more waste

If you drive, start a carpool!  It will not only save some cash but you and your friends can get a head start on “whatz up!” gossip before arriving at school.

Denise Scribner has been teaching about environmental issues for over 35 years.   For her innovative approaches to teaching to help her students become environmentally aware citizens, she won the 2012 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. Her high school was also one of the first 78 schools across the USA to be named a Green Ribbon School in 2012.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Trayless Tuesdays in NYC Schools Inspired by a 7 Year Old

cartoon image

Three years ago, I took my children to the Climate Change exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. The kids raced in and out of rooms and three quarters of the way through, my seven-year-old suddenly stopped mesmerized, contemplating a diorama of a polar bear standing on a pile of trash. She turned to me and said,  “I’m not eating school lunch anymore so I can save the polar bears.” In that pile of trash was a polystyrene foam lunch tray.

I always asked my kids, “What did you eat today?” But I had never asked, “What did you eat ON today?” I was totally unaware of the 850,000 polystyrene trays used per day in NYC public schools.

My kids did the math. That adds ups to153 million trays per year and almost 3 billion trays over the past 20 years. I did the research. These trays, composed of polystyrene, known commonly as Styrofoam, are used for only 20 to 30 minutes and then thrown away, exported to out-of-state landfills.

Several NYC parent groups switched out polystyrene trays in their schools by self-funding the extra cost of alternative products, a prohibitive option for most schools. With the help of other parents and the inspiration of NYC’s 1.1 million public school children, we founded the grassroots organization, Styrofoam out of Schools.

We scrapped our initial plan, to create a media blitz about the environmental concerns, when we learned that 75% of school meals served per day are either free or reduced. The possibility of adding to the already existing stigma around school food participation prompted us to find a different strategy.

We became determined to find a solution for a 20% tray reduction by working with the Department of Education, rather than fighting them. The idea of Trayless Tuesdays developed out of this partnership. It’s simple: by not using polystyrene trays one day per week, we could quickly reach a 20% reduction goal.
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To hear more from Debby Lee and her partners in NYC and to learn how to implement Trayless Tuesdays in your school please tune in to the EPA Region 2 webinar Reducing Waste in Schools: Trayless Tuesdays,” on March 1 at 1:30pm. Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now at:https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/649234322.

Debby Lee Cohen is a public school mom, artist, educator, and co-founder and director of SOSNYC/Cafeteria Culture.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Snowed Under in our Green House

Jeffrey Levy stands in knee-deep snowHi everyone. If you’re looking for the question of the week, it’ll be back next Monday. Our offices are closed Monday and Tuesday because of record-breaking snow, so our team wasn’t able to post it. And we’re expecting another several inches Tuesday night into Wednesday.

I’m sitting here in my dining room trying to get at least a little work done, though.  Looking around my house, I remember all the green building decisions we made when we renovated last year.  Right from the beginning, we did our best to reduce, reuse, and recycle (thanks for your good comments on that post!). Some of these choices might save us money over time, but our main motivation was that green building and home location is just the way it should be done:

  • zero-VOC paint and low-VOC caulks and adhesives
  • a high-efficiency Energy Star furnace (and air conditioning, for when summer returns), plus an Energy Star dishwasher to replace the original that died a month after moving in.  We kept the other appliances, and will replace them with Energy Star units as they stop working.
  • Energy Star double-paned windows and doors
  • light-colored roof shingles to reflect the hot summer sun
  • compact fluorescent light bulbs (other than on my youngest child’s night table because she keeps breaking them)
  • bamboo floors where the old floors couldn’t be saved, and refinished hardwood and parquet that could (like the appliances, why throw out stuff that works?)
  • kitchen countertops made of recycled glass and bamboo
  • Watersense water-efficient sinks, toilets, and showerheads
  • blown foam insulation that’s keeping us nice and toasty.

We also put the old kitchen cabinets in our laundry room and basement, and donated a lot of extra materials and fixtures to a local organization that sells them again.

The house’s location is also pretty green, since I can easily walk or bike to the subway.  Our kids ride the bus and walk to school, and we’re a 10-minute walk to the library and a small commercial district with several restaurants, a drug store, and our favorite: a local ice cream shop.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to find a home near public transit, and not every building option is available or affordable.  For example, while wood and other materials were greener, they were too expensive compared with vinyl windows.  But we did as much as we could.

We’re happy with our choices, but we enjoy discussing them, too.  What’s your favorite green feature of your home?

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

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.