Market for “Dead” Markers

When was the last time you used a marker? Was it a washable marker to create a sign? A highlighter to help you remember some information on the page? A permanent mmarkersarker to label your moving boxes? Or was it a dry erase marker to use on a whiteboard?

And how quickly does that marker go dry? Expo claims its markers can last 2-3 years. As a former teacher, I can guarantee you that my markers never lasted more than a month or two.

Markers are convenient and can boldly proclaim your message. They are, however, almost entirely made of non-biodegradable plastic. They may be small, but the numbers add up: Crayola alone reports that it produces 465 million markers every year. That’s a staggering amount of plastic, especially when you consider the short life of the average marker.

Fortunately, MARKERS CAN BE RECYCLED. The easiest way to recycle them is to team up with a school that is collecting “dead” markers as part of Crayola’s Colorcycle program. Enter your zip code here  to find the nearest participating school, or start a marker collection program at your local school by registering on the Colorcycle website

Crayola’s Colorcycle program takes any kind of marker and pays for FedEx to come pick it up at the school. They then repurpose the markers to make transportation fuels and to generate electricity. (The markers from Canada are made into a wax compound used in asphalt production.) According to Crayola,

— One box of eight (8) recycled markers creates enough energy to prepare a breakfast that consists of brewing a pot of coffee, frying an egg, and making two pieces of toast.recycle-earth

– 308 markers produces 1 gallon of fuel, which is enough to power an SUV (consider 15 MPG) for 15 miles.

– If a classroom recycles 193 markers, that is enough to move a city bus (consider 5 MPG) for three miles.

Markers are well worth recycling!

America Recycles Day: A Call to Action

America Recycles Day, Keep America Beautiful’s nationally recognized day dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling, is November 15 this year. Living in Fairfax County, where we have curbside recycling, it is easy to assume that the U.S. is a leader in recycling. In fact, the U.S. falls behind many other nations, with Americans recycling only 34 percent of all the waste they create, according to a 2013 report from the EPA.

Planet Aid shows here how we compare to other industrialized nations:


Many other countries have developed more successful recycling programs, with Austria at 63% and Germany at 62%, as the world’s leaders.

So, in honor of America Recycles Day, this blog will be highlighting some recycling opportunities in the next few weeks. We definitely have some room for improvement as a nation— and individually.

Clean(!) Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning is amazing: you bring in your wrinkled, stained clothing and several days later pick up crisply pressed clean clothes. There is, however, that faint chemical odor. Therein lies the problem!

In 1996, the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOSH) found that the leading dry cleaning chemical, perchloroethylene, commonly known as PERC, was indicated in causing several types of cancer and had been evident in many hazardous waste sites. Since then, laws have been passed to regulate the exposure of dry cleaning employees to PERC, but most estimates indicate that it still remains in use in 75%-85% of dry cleaning facilities today.

So, what to do with your “Dry Clean Only” clothes?

Some alternative chemicals that seem to have fewer adverse health effects include DF-2000 made by Exxon-Mobil, EcoSolv made by Chevron-Phillips, and a silicon-based treatment called siloxane D5 or GreenEarth that is also found in many personal care products.

According to the EPA, if clothing from the dry cleaners has a strong smell, bring it back and ask them to re-clean the garment. The finishing process of dry cleaning should get much of the chemical smell out of the garment. Another way to potentially reduce the personal hazard of chemicals is to allow the clothing to “off-gas” by removing the plastic bag and letting the clothes sit in an open area.

If you want to truly get that dry clean effect without chemicals, the two most effective natural processes are wet cleaning and liquid carbon dioxide cleaning. Wet cleaning is essentially very gentle washing with controlled amounts of water and non-toxic biodegradable detergents. CO2 cleaning uses high pressure to convert the gas to liquid to wash the clothes, and then with a release of pressure, converts it back to a gas to dry the clothes.

According to the Mother Nature Network, it is important not to just go with a dry cleaner that advertises “organic” or “natural” because there is no legal definition for these terms when it comes to dry cleaners and there is great variance.

ASK your dry cleaner how they plan to clean your clothes. Then, make an informed dry cleaning choice.

Find your nearest eco-friendly cleaner here:

#EcoMonday #Environment #GoGreen #Sustainable #cleantech #greenbiz


What’s Holding Your Six-Pack Together?

Spurred on by pictures of marine animals tragically trapped in the holes of plastic six-pack rings, many of us have dutifully cut up these plastic rings around our soda and beer six-packs confident that no bird, fish, or sea turtle will ever get ensnared in our plastic. The problem, however, goes deeper.

Since 1994 the plastic rings have a photodegradable additive. But this only means that the ocean wave action and sunlight will break down the plastic into smaller and smaller pieces, and fish and filter feeders will then eat those pieces adding those chemicals to the food chain. To make matters worse, the tiny pieces also attract toxins.

Enter PakTech. PakTech has created new recyclable carriers that are made with 96% recycled plastic. Although the CanCarrier contains four times the amount of plastic than the usual kind, when it is shipped, the Can Carrier doesn’t require shrink-wrap or cartons to keep cans on a pallet and therefore both waste and shipping weight are reduced. Also, the production process uses 94 percent less water and releases 85 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the manufacture of cardboard six-pack holders, according to PakTech.

A microbrewery in Delray Beach, Florida took it one step further this past spring: edible six-pack rings made from by-products of the brewery process, wheat and barley. The rings are also 100 percent biodegradable and compostable, breaking down soon after they hit the water. Some scientists, however, express concern that residue from the fermentation process which may contain high levels of phosphorus and silicon could also be found in these rings.

Fishbone Packaging has just started producing a cardboard design that uses less paper than traditional cartons and no plastic. Cardboard is easily recyclable and biodegradable, unlike some plastic.

So, the next time you pick up a six-pack, consider the packaging.

#WaterWednesday #Sustainable #cleanwater #cleantech #plasticfree

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No Butts on the Ground!


Approximately 15%-17% of the U.S. population smokes cigarettes, down from 21% in 2005 according to the Centercig-butts-big-pix for Disease Control and Prevention. While this is a good trend from a health perspective, the rise in “smoke free” establishments for our majority non-smoking population has had an unintended consequence: fewer accommodations for those who do smoke means that many cigarette butts end up as litter.

Ashtrays are no longer standard in most new cars, so the sides of our highways are littered with flicked cigarette butts. Many buildings that don’t allow smoking indoors do not provide ash cans for proper disposal of cigarettes outside. In the case of smoke-free open spaces such as beaches, parks, and campuses, there are often no ashcans nearby.

According to the CDC, cigarette butts are the most commonly thrown out waste worldwide. Approximately 1.69 BILLION pounds of butts wind up as toxic trash each year, creating a huge environmental, health, and economic problem.

Cigarette butts are NOT biodegradable! Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that can break into smaller pieces, but will never biodegrade or disappear.  Also, toxic substances are leached from the filter and tobacco remnants. This hazardous material not only persists in the environment for some time, but also is often ingested by wildlife and pets, not to mention small children, who suffer serious health problems as a result.

American for Non-Smokers Rights makes the following suggestions:

  • Educate community stakeholders about the impact of tobacco waste on the environment
  • Include pre and post butt clean ups as part of smoke-free beach, park, and campus policies, along with clear, positive signage about the pimg_0421olicy

Clean Fairfax continues to work on both these efforts.  We also encourage smokers to purchase car cup holder ashtrays and/or portable pocket size ashtrays. These are readily available online and are inexpensive.

If you are a smoker, think before you flick.



To tote or not to tote?

They’re green in principle, but not in the way people use them.  While many people have made the move to reusable bags, there is still some debate about whether these are, in fact, better than paper or plastic. Some studies suggest that it takes more energy to produce reusable bags, and that a large portion of those are just ending up in the landfill. Clean Fairfax suggests that reusable bags are still a much better choice if you make the decision to use and reuse them.

Read More:2016-09-20-11-42-16

Here is why the reusable tote movement still carries some weight (sorry—couldn’t resist):

  • The cotton bags cited in the article as requiring the most reuse to even out the production impact are the least common option used. It’s not hard to get to the 27 times of reuse identified in the article for other totes.
  • Most reusable totes can be filled much more than a plastic bag, so proportionately we use fewer.
  • Many plastic bags tear before they can be reused, and many people do not reuse the plastic bags.
  • Look around: How many times have you seen plastic bags along the side of the road, in the woods, or, once for me, forty feet under water while scuba diving? Reusable tote bags are much less likely to end up as litter despite the article’s claim that they are ending up in the dumpster.
  • Finally, it takes 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture the 102 billion plastic bags that Americans use annually, according to the United Nations.

Consider machine washable bags that can be rolled up and easily transported, like our fabulous CLEAN FAIRFAX bags.

Check out NationSwell for more facts about our plastic usage and great ideas on how to make some personal changes:

Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?

blog-2-plastic-bagsIf your honest answer is “yes,” consider attending the following:

Sierra Club—Great Falls, Northern VA Chapter invites you to see BAG IT, an award-winning documentary about the effects of plastics on our personal health & the environment. It is the story of a man who makes a pledge to stop using plastic bags at the grocery store and how it changes his life. What starts out as a simple pledge leads to a full expose of how plastics are affecting our lives.

The film will be shown at 7 PM on September 22 at Patrick Henry Library, 101 Maple Avenue East, Vienna, VA. RSVP, if possible, to

Free refreshments. And, the Virginia Green Baggers will be giving away free reusable cloth bags.

According to Eco Watch, over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.

  • 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw
  • Enough plastic is thrown away each year to
  • We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.
  • The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
  • Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste we generate.

Just about every environmental group has a list of suggestions for reducing plastic use. Rather than approach these lists with despair at all you are not doing, congratulate yourself on those steps you have already taken. More importantly, consider choosing at least one more way you can help reduce your own “plastic footprint” each time you see a new list of suggestions.

Try it here with Green Education Foundation’s list of ways to cut down on our everyday use of plastics:

  1. Stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. If a straw is a must, purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw
  2. Use a reusable produce bag. A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade. Purchase or make your own reusable produce bag and be sure to wash them often! (More on this next week!)
  3. Give up gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, aka plastic.
  4. Buy boxes instead of bottles. Often, products like laundry detergent come in cardboard which is more easily recycled than plastic.
  5. Purchase food, like cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins and fill a reusable bag or container. You save money and unnecessary packaging.
  6. Reuse containers for storing leftovers or shopping in bulk.
  7. Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages, even when ordering from a to-go shop
  8. Bring your own container for take-out or your restaurant doggy-bag since many restaurants use styrofoam.
  9. Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters or invest in a refillable metal lighter.
  10. Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic. Even those that appear to be cardboard are coated in a thin layer of plastic. Plus you’ll be eating fewer processed foods!
  11. Don’t use plasticware at home and be sure to request restaurants do not pack them in your take-out box.
  12. Ask your local grocer to take your plastic containers (for berries, tomatoes, etc.) back. If you shop at a farmers market they can refill it for you.
  13. The EPA estimates that 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are discarded in the US each year. Use cloth diapers to reduce your baby’s carbon footprint and save money.
  14. Make fresh squeezed juice or eat fruit instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. It’s healthier and better for the environment.
  15. Make your own cleaning products that will be less toxic and eliminate the need for multiple plastic bottles of cleaner.
  16. Pack your lunch in reusable containers and bags. Also, opt for fresh fruits and veggies and bulk items instead of products that come in single serving cups.
  17. Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor

New Member of the Clean Fairfax “Team:” Wendy Cohen

blog-pixI am excited to have joined Jen Cole at Clean Fairfax part-time as a program manager with a focus on our Clean Streams Initiative. It’s great to be working again with an environmental non-profit (see bio on Clean Fairfax website). I feel I can extend my own zeal for environmental stewardship and urban sustainability to others through Clean Fairfax’s programs.

I have been very impressed with the scope of Clean Fairfax’s influence: providing supplies to groups doing area cleanups, funding environmental projects in schools, giving hands-on environmental non-profit experience to college interns and work-study students, raising public awareness of environmental issues through social media, and, of course, celebrating our environment with the Northern Virginia community at the annual SpringFest.

The Clean Streams Initiative is a new program for Clean Fairfax. As the year progresses, the plan for this project is to have Clean Fairfax work with the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) Stormwater group, the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, and others to locate five streams in Fairfax County for the Clean Streams Initiative. Criteria include “trashiness,” ease of access, proximity to potential volunteer cleanup crews, and equity in spreading locations among supervisory districts. We are currently working out the details to monitor these streams four times a year and clean them up twice annually. We will also be developing educational outreach plans specific to each site to work on pollution prevention.  This will be of assistance to the County in fulfillment of the requirements of their MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) permit. It will be interesting to see what we find floating in our streams and washed up on the banks!

It’s an important time to be working on environmental issues in Fairfax County as the county continues to grow rapidly. While environmental problems I worked on thirty years ago may not have been solved, it is groups like Clean Fairfax that keep these problems in check and ensure a healthier environmental future.

A Lot on My Plate – You Are My Sunchoke

Sunchoke and Spinach Soup

  • 3 ½ cups scrubbed and peeled sunchokes, cut into 1-inch pieces [Tuscarora Mountain Farm, Spring Run, PA]
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1-inch pieces [Porter Farm, Elba, NY]
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Fresh thyme for garnish

Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees. While it’s heating up, clean and cut your sunchokes and onion. On a large baking sheet, toss together the sunchokes, onion, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of oil and a couple pinches of salt. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the sunchokes are fork-tender.

In a medium pot, combine the roasted vegetables, spinach, milk, broth, and a couple more pinches of salt. Bring to a low boil and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the sunchokes are easily squashed with a fork. Transfer to a food processor and blend until creamy, adding salt to taste. Top your bowl with the fresh thyme, parmesan cheese, maybe some caramelized onions, and/or your favorite bready croutons.


(Now that my camera itself has improved, I clearly have some work to do in the composition department…)

So despite a number of unexpected developments and adventures with this recipe, it somehow still tasted sweet, nutty, and delicious. The original recipe didn’t use spinach, but I had some hanging around and figured a little greens never hurt anyone. I neglected to change the amount of liquids I added, so I ended up with more like a hot veggie smoothie than a creamy soup. I’d also never actually used my food processor before, so I wasn’t quite sure how to go about that. BUT somehow it still all worked out and was pretty tasty!

I’d also never even seen, let alone cooked or eaten, a sunchoke before. But I can tell you for sure I will be again! Not only are they actually really amazing for you, but they’re much sweeter and tastier than I was expecting. When I got them in my bag I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them, but that was part of my plan when I signed up with 4P Foods, I wanted to break out of my cooking comfort zone a little and check out some new vegetables. And this was my chance! Most of the recipes I initially found for sunchokes (or Jerusalem Artichokes) were just plain roasted, but I always find those recipes a little boring and better for side dishes. But since I’m a vegetarian (and a working adult) I don’t always have time or means to make a full side-dish + main-dish setup. So I looked around and found this interesting recipe for soup. I’d just gotten my new food processor, so it all seemed ready to work out! And boy, did it. I’m definitely a sunchoke convert now! Some fun nutritional facts about these funny-looking tubers is that they’re a great source of dietary fiber, iron, B-vitamins, and minerals like potassium.