Archive | Do It Yourself

Cardboard Recycling: It’s Eco-Friendly—and Easy

We’ve all been there: We get home from work and see cardboard boxes amassed in front of our door, often with the familiar “smiling” arrow pointing from the A to the Z in “Amazon.” Some are enormous and others more brick-sized. We vaguely recall the late night shopping binge a few days back.

Or we are cleaning up that pile of empty pizza boxes left from last night’s party. Or that cereal box left with three remaining flakes on the breakfast table. Or pondering the giant box left over from the new appliance delivery. And, of course, if you have moved recently, a herd of empty boxes awaits you.

So what can you do with all that cardboard?

The first stop is to see if you can reuse the cardboard for shipping or storage, to line garden beds and prevent weeds, or even to create a fun playhouse for your child or pet. Or, this time of year, cardboard boxes make great costumes that can often be recycled afterwards.

If it can’t be reused, you can do your part to support environmental sustainability and put it in the recycling bin. According to Earth911, recycling cardboard uses only 75% of the energy used to make new cardboard. It also lessens the emission of sulfur dioxide produced when making pulp from trees. Finally, it saves trees—about 17 trees for every ton. (EPA)

Proper Cardboard Recycling:

Any type of cardboard can be recycled: cereal boxes, packaging boxes, frozen food boxes, egg cartons, shoe boxes, pizza boxes that are fairly clean (see below), milk cartons (rinsed out), and even the cardboard backing on plastic “blister” packs

Collapse the box:  Boxes that aren’t fully flattened are much more difficult to transport and present problems for mechanisms in the cardboard recycling process.

Don’t worry about the tape: It is helpful if you can remove the tape, but according to Recycle Works, the recycling process of corrugated boxes involves churning it up with water to make a slurry. In this process, tape and paper labels will rise to the top and be skimmed off before the final product is sent to final buyers.

Only recycle cardboard that is clean: A small amount of food residue is acceptable, but large amounts of grease or cheese left in a pizza box, for example, can cause problems at the processing center.

Another option is to avoid cardboard in the first place and use a reusable. For example, the average move uses about 60 cardboard boxes. Companies that provide reusable moving boxes in this area include Bungobox and Lend a Box.  For an interesting take on the value of reusable moving boxes, check out http://coastalvanlines.com/reusable-moving-boxes-alternative-cardboard-moving-boxes/

Recycling cardboard is a great way to go green without much effort!

America Recycles Day is November 15 this year. Do your part!

When Clean is Not Healthy

Despite this year’s extension of summer weather into mid-October, we all know that we will soon be closing up our windows and sealing our homes from the cold. Unfortunately, we will also be sealing IN the toxins from our chemical cleaners.

Keeping our drains running freely, our furniture clear of dust, and our ovens, bathrooms, and kitchens gleaming, comes at a cost. Our household cleaners have a range of potential hazards: The Organics Consumers Association points to acute or immediate dangers such as skin or respiratory irritation, watery eyes, or chemical burns, and potential chronic or long-term effects such as respiratory impairment and even cancer.

Corrosive chemicals that are used to clean drains or magically lift burnt food off of oven interiors often result in a burn if there is any skin contact. In addition, the Organics Consumers Association explains that combining products that contain chlorine and ammonia or ammonia and lye, as in the case of some oven cleaners, produces chloramine gas. Chlorine combined with acids, commonly used in toilet bowl cleaners, forms chlorine gas. While low concentrations of these gases produce only mild respiratory tract irritation, the New England Journal of Medicine has stated that exposures in higher concentrations may cause corrosive effects and cellular injury. So even  if you do not have skin contact, just breathing the gases from the cleaners can cause respiratory difficulties.

Fragrances added to cleaners can also cause problem, particularly among asthmatic or respiratory-impaired individuals. Unfortunately, fragrance makers are not required to list the individual ingredients of a fragrance, and have traditionally insisted that their recipes are “trade secrets.” In an effort to be transparent, the International Fragrance Association published a general list of the materials that have been used in fragrance compounds. There were 3,999 items! Procter & Gamble is breaking with tradition and aiming for full disclosure of the chemical ingredients in its products by 2019. Read more at http://www.ewg.org/release/procter-gamble-raises-bar-fragrance-ingredient-transparency#.Wd_VmGhSy70

Using a random sample of 1,136 adults to conduct a nationally representative population survey in the United States, a University of Melbourne study published in Science News in 2016 found the following:  When exposed to fragranced products, 34.7% of Americans suffer adverse health effects, such as breathing difficulties, headaches, dizziness, rashes, congestion, seizures, nausea, and a range of other physical problems. For half of these individuals, effects are potentially disabling, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So, short of letting your pipes clog, the furniture get dusty, your oven crusty, and your bath and toilet covered in an unsavory layer of scum, what are the alternatives?  Fortunately there are two main choices:  First of all, you can purchase non-toxic cleaners. For a list of these, check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning: http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners#.Wd_YgGhSy70

A second choice is for the DIY folks. Amass the following ingredients and then follow some basic recipes (scroll to the bottom of https://greatist.com/health/27-chemical-free-products-diy-spring-cleaning) to create your own non-toxic cleaners: Baking Soda, castile soap, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, essential oils, borax.

In the next few weeks, as you close up your windows and block out the cold, be sure to engage in healthy cleaning practices.

Green is the New Orange and Black: Make your Halloween More Eco-Friendly

October is here and the stores are already displaying their Halloween wares. This year, consider greening up your Halloween.

Decorations:

Use natural items like small gourds and pumpkins, or upcycle old decorations by checking out what local second-hand shops have to offer.

Costumes:

Reuse is the green way to go. Consider buying second-hand items at a thrift store to make a costume. Alternatively, swap costumes.  While you can always swap with family and friends, you may want to broaden the choices and have a costume swap event at your school, community center, workplace, or playground. National Costume Swap day is officially Saturday, October 14.

Treats:

Uncomfortable handing out unhealthy candy, much of which is produced with questionable labor practices? Green America offers some excellent alternatives. Although you might pay a bit more per piece, limiting trick or treaters to one piece each can keep the costs manageable—and give you the peace of mind that you are providing a healthier/more sustainable option. Many kids also enjoy non-edible treats, so check out the suggestions for “treasures” at the end.

Bite-sized Chocolates
These sustainably sourced chocolate companies offer mini pieces perfect for trick-or-treaters, using all-natural, fair trade, and/or organic ingredients:
Alter-Eco Chocolate Minis

Coco-Zen Chocolate Squares

Divine Chocolate Medallions

Endangered Species Chocolate Organic Bites

Equal Exchange Organic Chocolate Minis

Unreal Candy

Healthier Handouts
Cascadian Farm Chewy Granola Bars: Organic bars.
Glee Gum: All-natural, Fair Trade chewing gum.
Honest Tea Honest Kids Juice Pouches:  Organic fruit juice.
Larabar Mini Multipack: Kid-sized fruit and nut bars.
Plum Organics Kids Yo’ Drops: Fruit bars and snacks
Surf Sweets: Organic gummy bears and jelly beans.

Treasures
Crayon Rocks: US-made, soy-based, rock-shaped crayons.
Greenline Paper Company: Pencils made from recycled money or cast-off blue jeans.
Naturally Playful: Nontoxic colored highlighter pencils.
Education and More: Fair Trade friendship bracelets.

FOR MORE IDEAS:  GreenHalloween.org is a resource to green your Halloween. The website includes a guide to hosting your own Green Halloween party, toolkits for holding a community event or Costume Swap, treat and treasure ideas for trick-or-treaters, homemade costume hints, DIY face paint instructions, arts and crafts ideas, energy conservation tips, downloadable posters, kids’ activities, and more!

 

 

Why plastic bag bans or taxes haven’t happened in Fairfax County

As I distribute reusable produce and tote bags at the Fairfax County Farmers Markets during National Farmers Market Week, I often get asked about why Fairfax County has not banned plastic bags or taxed their use like many other jurisdictions around the world.

  • The first problem is that many people are not aware of the extent of the problem caused by plastic bags. In addition to being left as litter, because they are lightweight, plastic bags often fly out of trash cans and trucks, and also escape out of landfills. And, according to most estimates, in part because they are recycled separately from other plastics, only 1% of them ever make it to a recycling center.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags. One out of every ten items picked up in an International Coastal Cleanup in 2009 was a plastic bag.

Locally, Clean Fairfax’s monitoring of two 100 foot stream segments as part of our Clean Streams Initiative showed alarming results: Our Quander Brook monitoring site, which receives stormwater runoff from a Walmart shopping center, had 136 plastic bags just six weeks after the site had been completely cleaned. On Little Hunting Creek, runoff from a high density residential area of apartments left 92 plastic bags three months after that site’s cleanup. 

 

And plastic bags kill wildlife:  Entrapment, ingestion, and leaching as these bags photodegrade wreaks havoc on plant and animal life, particularly as bags float from our streams into the ocean.

  • Another problem with trying to get legislation to stem the tide of plastic bag pollution is that in VA there is the Dillon Rule which does not allow a local jurisdiction to create a ban or tax. While plastic bag legislation has been raised at the Virginia Statehouse, it has not passed. Strong business lobbies oppose it, and many legislators don’t want to ruffle constituent feathers with a perceived inconvenience.

So, it is up to individuals to make the eco-friendly choice by bringing reusable bags to every shopping experience—and to let their state representatives know that they want legislation that will help keep plastic bags out of our streams and oceans.

Attainable Sustainable: Eco-Watch not Eco-Witch

Going into Fairfax County streams to monitor and cleanup the horrific litter problem. Seeing the headlines about the long-range environmental impact of climate change. Watching webinars on the devastating effects of marine debris on wildlife. It’s enough to turn me into an eco-witch, i.e. one who constantly finds fault with individuals and businesses who are not maintaining high environmental sustainability standards in their daily practice—and governmental policy decisions that undermine our environmental quality.

 

It is important to stay vigilant to unsustainable practices, “eco-watch,” but avoid only harping about the problems as an “eco-witch.” It is time to take action. Most people— and businesses— are willing to follow sustainable practices if they 1) are easy to follow, i.e. don’t require a lot of extra work and, 2) don’t cost extra money.

So how might public outreach that is “attainable sustainable” play out?

Be a model of sustainable practices and provide the means for others to follow these.  Your simple actions can serve as a positive “eco-watch” for others: make a point of refusing straws, plastic bags, and single-use water bottles; bring reusable containers to take home leftovers at restaurants; choose fair trade, organic, and locally sourced products (e.g. Farmers Markets); and purchase energy-efficient cars and appliances. In addition to publicly modeling eco-friendly products and practices, actions such as providing friends and family with reusable bags and water bottles and buying them fair-trade gifts help spread the sustainability movement.

On a larger scale, contact restaurants that still use Styrofoam or plastic clamshells for take-out—neither of which are recyclable in Fairfax County—about using more sustainable packaging. Stay on top of environmental legislation (consider subscribing to Daily Action Alerts) and contact your local, state, and national legislators about supporting legislation that helps, not hurts, the environment.

And support organizations like Clean Fairfax that are working to inculcate more eco-friendly practices.

Don’t just complain as an “eco-witch.” Eco-watch and take action.

Weed-free—Naturally!

Keeping our yards weed-free: It’s more than just a desire to “keep up with the Joneses” and not have the ugliest yard in the neighborhood. I would argue that most suburban homeowners in our area strive to maintain a beautiful yard because it is a pleasure to come home to a blooming weed-free paradise after a day of inside work. In our moderate climate zone, we are blessed with a fairly long growing season and an ability to cultivate a large variety of plants. With this opportunity, however, comes responsibility.

I noted in a previous blog (Invasives=Plant Litter March 20, 2017) the importance of planting non-invasives, and, whenever possible, removing invasives. However, what to do about weeds is another aspect of suburban gardening that requires careful decision-making to reduce negative environmental impact.

According to the Plant Natural Research Center, “While most modern herbicides are designed to kill only plants and have little or no toxicity to humans, many still have extreme consequences in the environment, changing habitats in ways that affect insects and wildlife. These consequences extend to water courses where they may kill beneficial aquatic plants and fish.”

In addition, a Purdue University study of dogs from treated and untreated yards found that untreated grass contained chemicals from drift from other yards, and half of the dogs studied who lived in untreated yards still had chemicals in their urine. The Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Purdue found that certain garden and lawn chemicals are linked to canine bladder cancer.

And there is some evidence that toxins in herbicides CAN affect humans. A case-controlled study published in March 1999 by Swedish scientists Lennart Hardell and Mikael Eriksson showed that non-hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is linked to exposure to a range of pesticides and herbicides, including glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup often used to control poison ivy in this area. Relatively unknown prior to the 1940’s—about the time pesticides and herbicides came into more widespread use— NHL is now one of the most common types of cancer.

Fortunately, Earth 911 offers some excellent all-natural ideas on how to take care of weeds: http://earth911.com/home-garden/all-natural-weed-killer/?utm_source=New+Earth911+List+-+2015&utm_campaign=50dab42296-Tuesday+Emails+5.9.17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5e8b4dc609-50dab42296-167852373

You may also decide that that “weed” in your garden is really quite beautiful and worth leaving alone. Make environmentally sustainable choices in your garden this year!

(Native Joe Pye Weed is popular with both bees and butterflies—and is technically not a weed : -)

Beyond “Bring Your Own Bag”

While we here at Clean Fairfax have been promoting the use of both reusable tote bags for grocery shopping as well as the use of reusable produce bags (see blog postings February 7, 2017; Jan 30, 2017; and, September 20, 2017) there is a way to take sustainable shopping to the next level: Consider shopping in stores where bulk items are available— and bringing your own containers.

The article at the website below outlines some excellent ways to shop “litterless” in the bulk aisle. While the link to the stores that sell bulk and allow customer containers does not mention any in northern VA, in fact, all area MOM’s Organic Markets do encourage customers to bring their own containers, but recommend that they get the containers weighed at the cashier prior to filling them. Also, Clean Fairfax is currently working with several Whole Foods in Fairfax County to develop a system that makes it possible for customers to bring in their own containers.

Check with your local food store to make sure it does allow you to bring your own container for bulk items. If not, consider advocating for it to do so!

http://www.litterless.co/journal/howtobulkaisle

 

Spring into Composting

As we head towards Spring, this is an excellent time to consider composting: The warmer weather tends to break down organic materials more quickly, and you don’t need to brave the cold to get to an outdoor bin.  Also, if you start now, you should end up with some excellent quality soil for your summer garden!

 

Why bother? Composting reduces the amount of garbage you create and therefore the amount of landfill space filled, or in the case of Fairfax County, the amount of ash waste produced by incineration. By not purchasing compost or fertilizer for your garden, composting not only saves you money, but it also saves fossil fuels since many commercial methods of producing compost and fertilizer use machinery that runs on oil/gas. Composting also saves your garbage disposal from overworking. And you are creating rich soil to add back to the earth!

What can be composted in a residential setting? Just about any non-meat food scraps or organic yard waste. Here are some exceptions from Eartheasy, Solutions for Sustainable Living: perennial weeds (they can be spread with the compost) or diseased plants; pet manures if you will use the compost on food crops; banana peels, peach peels and orange rinds since these may contain pesticide residue; and, black walnut leaves (leaves create a chemical toxic to many plants called juglone, and though it breaks down fairly quickly in compost, may not be work the risk).

 

How do you get the materials to compost? If you have an outdoor area available to you, there are several options. You can purchase a composting tumbler or a bin. Purchased composters will be accompanied by directions. If you build your own bin, or fence an area to be your compost pile, or just start a pile, you will need to stir it up periodically and keep it moist.

 

Rodale’s Organic Life suggests the following for starting a compost pile more scientifically:

Start by spreading a layer that is several inches thick of coarse, dry brown stuff, like straw or cornstalks or leaves, where you want to build the pile. 2. Top that with several inches of green stuff. Continue layering green stuff and brown stuff with a little soil mixed in until the pile is 3 feet high. For more info, go to www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/how-compost

 

What is the apartment-dweller with no access to outdoor space to do? Fortunately, there are some excellent technologies that make composting possible even for people living in apartments.   http://earth911.com/home-garden/bokashi-composting/?utm_source=New+Earth911+List+-+2015&utm_campaign=877c6ea77f-Tuesday+Emails+2.13.17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5e8b4dc609-877c6ea77f-167852373

 

Early March is a great time to “get back to the earth”—literally!

 

 

 

Plastic Clamshells in Fairfax County, VA: Try not to buy, DON’T RECYCLE, and reuse whenever possible.

They are everywhere: From packaging berries, grapes, tomatoes, and fresh herbs to restaurant leftovers and to-go meals.  And this type of plastic has been a real challenge to the recycling industry. In fact, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), as late as 2010, clamshells were not being recycled in significant amounts anywhere in the United States or Canada. Now however, according to the November 2016 issue of Plastics Recycling Update, recycling programs that include this material are available to more than 60 percent of the U.S. population. But not to Fairfax County residents.

Plastic clamshells are a type of blister packaging, but rather than have a backing of paperboard or thin foil, the clamshell folds onto itself and is made completely from thermoplastic, or plastic that has been heated into its current shape. In the
case of sold food items they may also have a paper label with information about the product.

The problem with recycling this plastic in Fairfax County is twofold: First of all, while many of these clamshells are made of PET, polyethylene terephthalate, or #1 plastic, which IS normally recycled in Fairfax County, the tec
hnology is set up to recycle bottle shaped PET, not the pie-shaped, square-, or rectangular-shaped clamshell. Secondly, some clamshells are made from polystyrene, or #6 plastic which is not recycled in the County.  So the second problem is that at the materials recovery facility (MRF), the optical sorting has difficulty distinguishing between the different plastics.

So, what is the environmentally conscious Fairfax Count
y consumer to do until Fairfax County recycling programs can handle this type of container? For one thing, try purchasing produce that does not come in a clamshell. Also, consider bringing a reusable container to restaurants where you anticipate you will be taking ho
me leftovers.

If you do end up with clamshells, here are some innovative ideas for how to reuse this type of plastic:  https://repurposeful.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/repurposing-repeat-offendors-plastic-fruit-containers/

DIY and Environmental Sustainability

There is a plethora of do-it yourself (DIY) ideas on the internet that promote environmental sustainability. From 100 Ways to Repurpose and Reuse Broken Household Items http://www.diyncrafts.com/6081/repurpose/100-ways-repurpose-reuse-broken-household-items to ideas on how to extend the useful life of old clothes, dilapidated furniture, and even used tires, broken tools, construction debris, and ripped wrapping paper. (See blogs dated 11/8/2016 and 12/22/2016 for the latter two.)

The term “upcycling” is often used to describe this repurposing of objects that have lost their initial usefulness. According to dictionary.com, the definition for upcycle is “to process (used goods or waste material) so as to produce something that is often better than the original” as in “I upcycled a stained tablecloth into curtains.”

Some environmental purists, however, claim that upcycling requires the materials to go back up the supply chain rather than just make the chain a bit longer. They claim that for something to be considered truly upcycled, rather than recycled, it must be a process that can be repeated over and over without the material ending up in the landfill.  For example, they point to soda cans which can be melted down and made into brand new cans. and in the process save over 90% of the energy required to make new ones from scratch. This cycle can continue in perpetuity, reducing energy consumption and effectively removing certain materials from the waste stream. Newsprint can also work this way. Plastic bottles, on the other hand, are usually recycled into carpets, or toys, or winter fleeces which will eventually become trash.

Whether do-it-yourself projects are really recycling rather than upcycling can be debated. However, indisputably, DIY projects can be amazingly ingenious ways to turn potential problems into nifty solutions.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5rhVIwhIs5sbERVY0pwY0E2dVU/view?usp=sha