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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!

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!

 

 

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.

What’s for lunch?

As children head back to school, it is easy for parents to get into what I call the “fast and furious” mode, particularly when it comes to packing lunches. Although the school year pace often feels frenetic, we all want our children to get the healthiest food. That may take some careful thinking.

Now is a great time to consider your shopping choices and stock up on the products you want your children to eat—and also consider using sustainable lunch containers.

Eco-friendly lunch boxes/bags:  Look for zero to minimal

synthetic materials or bags/boxes made of recycled synthetics.  Be open-minded about materials you may never have thought of before like stainless steel and wool!  Also, consider reusables for packing individual items like sandwiches, fruit, chips, etc. rather than single-use plastic bags.

http://smartmommyhealthybaby.com/smart-mommy/products-for-moms-on-the-go/lunch-bags-and-food-containers/

Alternatives to foods with GMO’s: http://www.gmoinside.org/non-gmo-lunchbox/

Healthy foods kids might like: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/healthy-lunches-for-kids

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.

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.

Energy Star Program on the Chopping Block

If you have shopped for a new appliance in the last 25 years, you may have seen the ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate by promoting energy efficiency.

The program helps shoppers identify products that use less electricity. It also certifies buildings that meet strict energy performance standards set by the EPA. According to the EPA website, “ENERGY STAR certified buildings save energy, save money, and help protect the environment by generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions than typical buildings.”

When news broke that the Trump administration wants to defund the program as part of the budget plan, more than 1,000 companies called for it to be saved in a letter to Congress.

This program is a great example of the government and the private sector working together. It costs just $50 million a year, and the EPA estimates that it has saved Americans $430 billion on utility bills since 1992.

So, why would the Trump administration want to cut this program? A CNN report on April 26, 2017, revealed that 11 of Trump’s 15 properties in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco have received scores below 50 (out of 100) in energy efficiency from the Energy Star program. Buildings with low energy efficiency — like Trump’s properties — tend to have lower property values than their competitors. Corporate, public and individual buyers are increasingly looking for green buildings, especially when these offer cost savings in the long run. Energy Star provides a mechanism to publicly inform buyers of the energy efficiency of their potential purchase, thus “outing” the energy hogs.

Congress needs to hear from individuals as well as corporations on the benefits of this important program!