Archive | Recycle

Glass Recycling: Fairfax County Offers a Local Option

While much of our attention has been on the environmental toll of single-use plastics, glass recycling is also an important part of the solid waste management picture. As the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services points out, glass is produced by sand, the most consumed natural resource after air and water.

Recycling glass reduces the need to buy or mine more gravel and sand.

Recycling glass in Fairfax County where we have single-stream recycling, meaning that all recyclables can go into one bin, should be a “no brainer.” There is, however, more to glass recycling than meets the eye.  There are two options for what to do with glass that both residential and commercial establishments can consider.

The first option is to recycle the glass into the curbside recycle bin. A few words of caution here: While all colors of bottles and jars are accepted, and metal lids and paper labels can be left on, windows, mirrors, and glass and pottery dishes cannot be put in the regular recycle bin. Windows and mirrors should be taken to the I-66 Transfer Station or I-95 Landfill Complex for disposal.  Contrary to popular belief, broken glass can be put into the recycling bin.

There is a second option for recycling glass that keeps this resource local: Fairfax County is hoping to encourage glass recycling with a new pilot program designed to turn glass into gravel and sand that can be used locally. Source- or color-separated glass can be brought to the I-66 Transfer Station or the I-95 Landfill Complex where special machinery has been installed. The end products can be used in landscaping, construction projects, and even remanufactured into new glass.

Commercial establishments currently are required only to recycle their cardboard. Consider the number of bottles thrown away by a typical restaurant that serves alcohol— think beer, wine, and liquor bottles. By partnering with the County, glass becomes a valuable local resource.

America Recycles Day is November 15. Do the right thing: recycle your glass and encourage your local restaurants to do the same!

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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!

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!

 

 

China and Recycling in Fairfax County

A successful recycling program is a constant balancing act of supply and demand. It depends not only on input—people choosing to recycle and recycling appropriately— but also on output, a market for the recycled materials.

Ironically, China’s move to go green, a proposal to improve its air quality problem by stopping the import of a number of foreign recycled materials by the end of 2017 (some types of glass, metal, plastic, paper and textiles), may have a huge impact on the U.S.’s efforts to go green with recycling.

For a long time, China has been remanufacturing scrap from the U.S. into everyday objects that the U.S. then imports. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI), one-third of all the scrap recycled in the United States (including $1.9 billion in scrap paper and $495 million in scrap plastics) is prepared for shipment to the export market, with China as the recycling industry’s largest customer by far. ISRI points out that not only will the U.S. be losing a large market for recyclables when the ban goes through, but that many of the over 155,000 U.S. jobs supported directly by the export of recyclables could be threatened.

While other overseas markets are picking up, the Association of Plastic Recyclers asserts that domestic markets may be poised to pick up the slack. “U.S. plastic reclaimers have the capacity to handle additional tonnage if China bans recycled plastic imports, as expected, at some point this year.” But ACR also goes on to emphasize the need for more robust sorting systems—a combination of ensuring proper recycling efforts and additional mechanical and optical equipment at the Materials Recovery Facilities.

It is precisely the contaminants in the scrap that has led China to propose the ban. As they say in their statement to the World Trade Organization: “[W]e found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This polluted China’s environment seriously. To protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health, we urgently adjust the imported solid wastes list, and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted. [Objectives:] Protection of human health or safety; Protection of animal or plant life or health; Protection of the environment.

 

While our single-stream recycling program in Fairfax County offers an easy way for us to recycle since we can mix all recyclable materials except plastic bags together, it can contribute to greater contamination of the recyclables since it relies on sorting at the Materials Recovery Facilities. As individuals, we do not have control of the recycling end markets, but we can improve the recycling input.

To ensure minimal contamination, we need to be sure that we are recycling correctly: only putting accepted items in the bins (see http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/recycling/minimum.htm for a list of recyclable items) and cleaning items prior to recycling to avoid food or chemical contamination.  Even better, of course, would be to reduce our usage of single-use plastics, paper, and metals! We can do our part to keep supply and demand of recyclables in balance.

Spotlight on Eco-Friendly Business: THE INSIDE SCOOP

The Inside Scoop               

Owner: Daniel Azar

Opened for business: 2/14/2014

The Inside Scoop, a local food truck selling organic homemade ice cream and treats, made some eco-friendly changes after participating in Clean Fairfax’s SpringFest, an annual celebration of Earth Day that encourages sustainable practices.

According to owner Daniel Azar, “SpringFest’s requirements prompted me to look for alternatives that I used for that event.  After that, it stuck, and I started phasing out as much plasticware as possible.” Daniel also noted, “There is a growing concern over how much non-compostable waste we are producing.  All you have to do is google ‘landfills’ and you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of garbage that will never break down.  There needs to be more laws in place (such as California’s required recycling), but also grassroots efforts to help raise awareness and make changes, without needing to wait for a federal mandate, because it’s just the right thing to do.”

Daniel found that depending on the item, it was either the same price as plastic or a little higher, but went on to say that the slight increase in cost should be a trivial concern to businesses, small and large, because “our environment, our ecosystem, is worthless if we can’t live in it.”

His recommendation to other businesses is to “not let the bottom line be more important than the overall health of both ourselves and all of our neighbors: Fourlegged, bipedal, winged or otherwise.”

EXAMPLES OF ECO-FRIENDLY PRACTICES USED AT THE INSIDE SCOOP:

Avoidance of single-use plastics (straws, packaging, utensils, dishes, containers, bags) 

Phasing out of plastic dishes and spoons for paper and wooden ones.

Energy conservation 

Turn off and unplug any appliance not currently in use.

Recycling

Recycle at every opportunity!

Local sources

Dairy, heavy cream, and several ingredients & toppings are

locally sourced from farmers markets right here in Fairfax County and from our nation’s

Dairy State: Pennsylvania.

Organics

Dairy, agave & heavy cream are Organic.

Fair-trade 

The coffee in Espresso Chip ice cream is Fair Trade.

Composting

Wooden taster spoons, teaspoons & paper cups are all compostable.

Waste Prevention (e.g. donations of unsold product to needy)

Donated to 3 different homeless & needy shelters in the D.C Area.

Support this eco-friendly business and enjoy some yummy ice cream and treats:

http://www.theinsidescoopcreamery.com/

 

 

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.

Prime-time for Farmers Markets: Lots of Fresh Produce and Special Events

July and August are definitely the best months to get to the Farmers Markets in this area. According to the Virginia Harvest Calendar http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/pdf/producechart.pdf published by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services this is when most of the produce is being harvested, so you will find great abundance and variety at the Farmers Markets. Also, August 2-12 there will be special events to celebrate National Farmers Market Week. (see July 26 Facebook post @CleanFairfax)

Go eco-friendly:Bring plenty of reusable tote bags, reusable produce bags, and reusable containers. Clean Fairfax is encouraging Fairfax County residents to join the #plasticfreeproduce movement. Also, consider composting the remains of your fruits and vegetables.

Why support the Farmers Markets?

1. Freshness:

Fruits and vegetables are guaranteed fresh since they are local. You can talk directly to the farmer to find out about the produce you are purchasing.

  1. Protect the Environment:

Food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate. All this shipping uses large amounts of natural resources (especially fossil fuels), contributes to pollution, and creates trash with extra packaging. Conventional agriculture also uses many more resources than sustainable agriculture and pollutes water, land, and air with toxic agricultural by-products. Food at the farmers market is transported shorter distances and is generally grown using methods that minimize the impact on the earth.  (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture)

  1. Support Family Farmers:

Family farmers need your support, now that large agribusiness dominates food production in the U.S. Small family farms have a hard time competing in the food marketplace. Buying directly from farmers gives them a better return for their produce and gives them a fighting chance in today’s globalized economy.  (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture)

  1. Promote Humane Treatment of AnimalsAt the farmers market, you can find meats, cheeses, and eggs from animals that have been raised hormone- and antibiotic-free. Also, they are often openly grazed and cage free rather than forced into cramped feedlots and cages.
  2. Connect with Your Community

Farmers Markets offer a communal gathering place for neighbors.

National Farmers Market Week with cooking demonstrations, games, kids’ activities, raffles for gift baskets and more is running from Wednesday, August 2 to Saturday, August 12, 2017 at the Fairfax County Farmers Markets. Watch the promotional video (https://goo.gl/MHQGte) for additional information.

For directions and vendors at each market visit

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/farmersmarkets or call Community Horticulture at 703-642-0128.

Plastic-Free Farmers Markets

This summer Clean Fairfax is working with area farmers markets to encourage a move towards going plastic-free. We will be at area markets distributing reusable tote bags and mesh produce bags to replace plastic bags. Farmers market attendees often already own tote bags, so we are especially promoting the use of smaller mesh bags. These can also be purchased at Whole Foods or online. For example, Bag Again has mesh produce bags made from recycled plastic bottles:  http://www.bagagain.com/home.html

Right now, even when going to the farmers market, many people are forgetting their reusable totes at home or in the car, and most people are using small plastic bags for produce purchases. I personally observed 126 plastic bags in a two hour time period at one area farmers market!

Although a plastic bag can be reused—and most environmentally-minded people do say they use them at least once again—consider the life cycle of a plastic bag: From petroleum use in the production to the energy use necessary to recycle these bags—that is, assuming people bother to take them to the grocery store—plastic bags waste resources.

Source:  https://greenerideal.com/life-cycle-of-plastic-bag-large/

Plastic bags are also a huge source of litter in our streams. I have participated in numerous Fairfax County stream cleanups this spring and have found as many as 161 plastic bags in one 100 foot long stretch of stream. Since they are not part of the curbside recycling program in Fairfax County, many plastic bags are NOT getting recycled back at the grocery store and end up in the waste stream or as litter. On the other hand, I have never seen a reusable bag (or reusable bottle for that matter!) littering a stream.

And plastic free farmers markets can be done. Farmers markets on the West Coast went that direction years ago, and countries around the world are taking the lead on complete plastic bag bans or plastic bag taxes.

In Fairfax County we have no legal restrictions or taxes on our plastic bag use. It is up to each of us to voluntarily make the environmentally friendly switch to reusables. Please remember to take your tote bags AND mesh produce bags to the farmers market and grocery store this summer!

Holey Driveways!

According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, increased development across the Potomac Watershed has made stormwater runoff the fastest growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. The non-permeable asphalt that covers our roads and parking lots coupled with the roofs of densely packed buildings in Fairfax County, force rain water and any litter or chemicals into stormwater drains which have outfalls into our streams. The faster flow of water caused by the impervious surfaces also is a major source of erosion.

Here are some suggestions from Recycle Works for individual homeowners to try to reduce the polluted run-off that ends up in our streams and the erosion that this water flow causes:

Replace solid driveways with porous alternatives.  Replace solid concrete and asphalt driveways, with pavers, cobblestones, brick and turf stone, all of which will slow down the flow of water and allow it to settle into the ground. Another alternative is using impervious paths for the car tires with green plant material in between. Solid concrete can also be broken-up with decorative and functional paver inlays.

Porous paving or pervious pavement.  Pervious pavement is a cement-based concrete product that has a porous structure allowing rainwater to pass directly through the pavement and into the soil at the rate of 8 to 12 gallons per minute, per square foot. This is achieved without compromising the strength, durability, or integrity of the concrete structure itself.

Use dry laid patios and walk ways instead of wet laid. Wet laid patios are set in concrete, which does not allow for any stormwater to be absorbed in that area. In contrast, dry laid patios are set in stone dust, which slows the velocity of sheet flow and allows for some absorption of storm water in that area. An additional benefit for regions that receive freezing temperatures is that dry laid patios will not crack like wet laid surfaces.

Interrupt walkways.  Small planting beds and creeping groundcovers, such as thyme, can be incorporated into the edges of walkways and patios. These planted areas will help to slow storm water flow and create a more aesthetic space.

Rain Barrels.  Placing rain barrels at the end of downspouts enables collection of run-off water impermeable roofs that can then be used for watering gardens. Note: Due to possible leaching from roof shingles, rain barrel water is not recommended for vegetable gardens.

Decking materials.  Treated wood, commonly used for decking, can be replaced with several alternatives. The first, and best alternative, is salvaged lumber. Salvaged lumber has been harvested from previously existing sites and is in good condition. Salvaged lumber can be attained in bulk from salvage shops.

A second alternative to using treated wood is lumber certificated sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The Council utilizes region-specific forest-management standards to judge if a particular forest operations is in conformance with FSC standards. A certificate is issued, enabling the landowner to bring product to market as “certified wood,” and to use the FSC trademark logo. This process is at the landowner’s request.

A third option is plastic wood or products such as TREX, which is made from reclaimed plastics and woodwaste. Advantages of plastic wood include thatit will not rot, does not need to be sealed, is resistant to moisture, bacteria growth and graffiti, and cleans up with soap and water. Guide to Plastic Lumber.

Vegetated steps.  Utilize groundcovers and moss as the landing surface cover onsteps that are located in low-traveled areas. A solid riser will still be needed to retain the integrity of the step.

Recycled concrete.  Use concrete from demolished walkways and driveways to build retaining walls and patios.

Green retaining walls.  Build small out-pockets and planters on the sides of retaining walls. Planting these planters with visually interesting material and vines will also help to absorb water and reduce run-off.