Archive | Sustainable

Keeping Amazon Green

ordering-presents-onlineReminder: When you order from Amazon this holiday season, go to to designate Clean Fairfax as a recipient of a portion of your purchase price. You can use your existing account and your purchases will help support Clean Fairfax using the Amazon Smile program!

That being said, Green America is asking Amazon users to urge Amazon to switch to 100% clean energy at its data centers and operations. Unlike Apple and Google who already use 100% renewable energy,  to date, Amazon has not been reporting publicly on its total energy use, and has never disclosed a timeline for reaching its 100% clean energy goal. According to Green America, “The company also refuses to produce an annual sustainability report documenting its full environmental impacts.” logo

Join us in calling on Amazon to publicly set a 2020 deadline to reach 100% clean energy, and to disclose its impacts on the planet and its plans to reduce them.


Greening Your Thanksgiving

What would make your Thanksgiving more green?    green-turkey No, it’s not about a green turkey or even just going for the vegetarian option.

fall-pixFirst of all, how about getting outside in nature? Fortunately, Thanksgiving marks that time of year where, here in northern Virginia, we can usually still enjoy some outside time without having to drag out the down jacket. And, believe it or not, you can still spot wild turkeys in Fairfax County In fact, Fairfax County Parks and Rec has the perfect opportunity for getting outside this Thanksgiving:  On Saturday, November 26, 2016, the whole family can enjoy exploring wild turkey habitat on a Turkey Walk at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. To register, go to

But what about the traditional Thanksgiving meal itself? What are some “green” Thanksgiving practices we might want to consider?

It’s amazing how many different organizations have suggestions when you google “green thanksgiving tips.”  The Nature Conservancy, Big Green Purse, and EcoWatch were obvious sites. And, of course, has suggestions on everything. But then there was advice from Harvard University, the Huffington Post, 7d8853d7ef0c96f4d14075e4933bc04fand even the Personal Finance section of the online U.S. News and World Report!

My own favorite was a 2009 posting on Earth 911 which has some excellent suggestions on shopping for food (think organic and local), avoiding food waste when preparing food and disposing of leftovers, participating in healthy recreation, minimizing carbon footprint for travel, recycling, and using reusable table settings and natural decorations.

Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving 2016 to all!



Green Your Next Event

overflowing-bins-glasto-1024x827America Recycles Day, November 15, 2016 has arrived—and I want to talk about a pet peeve: Large events that provide NO recycling options! I have recently attended indoor and outdoor sporting events, a large training event with teenagers, and a wedding. In every instance, huge quantities of bottles and cans were thrown into the garbage, not because the facility did not have recycling on the premises, but rather because they did not make it easy for participants to recycle.

People want to recycle. According to an April, 2016 Pew Research Center Report, 39% of U.S. adults say the term “environmentalist” described them very well. Data from a Pew 2014 survey shows that close to half, 46%, of Americans say they recycle or reduce waste to protect the environment whenever possible.

So we need to give people a chance to recycle: If you are planning a personal or work event, check with your venue to ensure that adequate recycling options are available for the guests or participants making it easy for them to recycle.

One easy way to ensure that you are “greening” your event is to find Virginia Green Certified venues. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), and the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association (VRLTA) have partnered together to provide opportunities for facilities to reduce the environmental impacts of the tourism and events industry and raise environmental

To become VA Green Certified, Convention and Conference Centers must at a minimum

  • Provide Recycling:provide for recycling at their events
  • Minimize the use of disposable food service products:use products that are made from bio-based or renewable resources and provide for recycling or composting of items
  • Water Efficiency:must have a plan for conserving and using water efficiently
  • Energy Conservation:must have a plan in place to reduce overall energy consumption
  • Support Green Conferences & Events: must offer a “green” or “environmentally-friendly” package for events.

For ideas on Green Events, please check out the fact-sheet on Environmentally-Responsible Conferences, Meeting, and Events

To find lists of Virginia Green Certified facilities, go to




Don’t Demolish—Deconstruct

As we get closer to America Recycles Day, November 15, I wstuff-in-a-landfillanted to talk about a BIG recycling opportunity that often gets missed.

Everyone has seen the pile of cabinets, appliances, light fixtures, countertops, flooring, carpeting, etc. that accompanies a remodeling project. Most of what is in that heap can be recycled or reused—and if donated to a qualified 501(c)3 charity, can be claimed on taxes as a charitable donation at fair market value. While deconstruction does cost more than demolition, and usually takes longer since the materials are being carefully salvaged, the advantagestove-and-fridges of tax savings and environmental sustainability can outweigh those disadvantages

Located in Fairfax, DeConstruction Services, LLC has had over 1,000 deconstruction projects in the area since 2004, donating the property owner’s material to The Rebuild Warehouse in Springfield. According to Amy Hughes, V.P. Human Resources, DeConstruction Services has saved 25,656 trees. This translates to 5440 football-sized plots of plantation pine trees and 192 tons of greenhouse gases not produced. On the economic side, the value of the property owner donations of reclaimed used building materials has added up to approximately $24 million.

Second Chance, located in Baltimore, is another large-scale deconstruction company that does projects in Fairfax County. They are actually a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that, according to their website,  provides “people, materials and the environmenrebuild_salvaged_kitchent with a second chance.” They deconstruct buildings and homes, salvage usable materials and have a retail space for those items in Baltimore. Additionally, with the revenue generated, they provide “job training and workforce development for those with employment obstacles in the Baltimore region.”

Whether your project is a smaller bathroom or kitchen remodel or a whole house major reconstruction, consider deconstructing rather than demolishing. Also check out available rebuild_lumbersalvaged materials for the construction phase.

Locally, The Rebuild Warehouse in Springfield, along with Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores in Alexandria and Chantilly accept—and offer—a wide range of building materials.

For a complete list of deconstruction advantages, go to






Styrofoam Packaging: A Recycling Challenge

styrofoam-mountain-480x319While most of Styrofoam—95%— is actually air, the solid part is the epitome of environmentally unfriendly: not only does it not biodegrade, but when it is burned, it creates a toxic ash. And remember, in Fairfax County, our municipal waste is virtually all burned at the Covanta trash-to-energy plant in Lorton (more on that in a future blog). Also, polystyrene, Styrofoam’s generic name, is made from styrene, a petroleum by-product.

However, it is precisely its lightweight easy to mold qualities that make polystyrene plastic such a desirable packaging material. So, what is an environmentalist to do?

Encourage companies to send items packaged with alternative materials:

  • Puffy Stuff and StarchTech, for example, use cornstarch to create completely biodegradable—and allegedly edible—packing peanuts. This packaging material can even be hosed down and used as fertilizer.
  • EarthAware™’s packing materials are made with a special type of plastic that can biodegrade in just 5 years. That’s a lot quicker than Styrofoam’s biodegradation date, which is never.dscf0019
  • Evocative is making Mushroom® Packaging— an earth-friendly protective packaging product made out of mushrooms(!)— that companies like Dell and Stanhope Seta are using today

What to do with the polystyrene packaging you receive?

Packing “peanuts” can be saved and reused to ship a package. Or they can be donated to UPS, FEDEX, or other shipping stores for re-use.

Molded polystyrene packaging, the kind that cushions new appliances in the box, should not be put in recycle bins, and there are no Fairfax County or nearby recycling centers for this type of plastic.

Cool art project anyone?         styrofoam-art


Not just cans, bottles, and paper…

You can recycle more than you think!

According pile-of-worn-out-sneakersto the EPA, the average person produces 4.40 pounds of trash per day or about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year However, we recycle and compost only 1.51 pounds of our individual trash generations. While the EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, we only recycle about 30% of it! So, here is how you can do your part to lower your trash output even further.

In honor of upcoming America Recycles Day on November 15, here are some items you may want to consider recycling:

To add to that list, TerraCycle and Scotch Tape have created a free recycling program for tape dispensers and cores: scotch-tape-mainimage

Do your part and extend your recycling power!





The Case for Reusable Water Bottles:

America Recycles Day is coming on November 15!

We all know that single-use water bottles are terrible for the environment. The statistics are staggering:  According to National Geographic, Americans buy more bottled water than any other nation in the world, adding 29 billion water bottles to waste disposal. Additionally, in order to make all these bottles, manufacturers use 17 million barrels of crude oil. That’s enough oil to keep a million cars going for twelve months. For every six water bottles Americans use, only one makes it to the recycling bin. Just look around: plastic bottle litter is everywhere.

The fight against single-use water bottles, however, is a tough one: they’re convenient and many believe bottled water is “purer” than tap water.

Coconvenient-water-bottlesnvenience includes both the carrying and the refilling aspects of the water bottle. The advent of sleek, attractive reusable water bottles designed to fit into a purse or ergonomically designed for easy holding, makes carrying your own personal reusable water bottle much more convenient. And many of these are manufactured sustainably.

Also, more and more locations have rapid bottle filling capacity making the filling process easy and quick. For example, Primo Water has filling stations at local retailers. You can use their store locator at


For even greater convenience, consider getting your workplace or local school a hydration station.
Brita offers a reusable bottle sale fundraising program that incurs no out-of pocket costs. Check out the details at

Tap water has been given a bad rap. First of all, according to Food and Water Watch, more than half of all bottled water comes from the tap. Also, tap water is usually tested more frequently than bottled water to comply with Federal standards. If taste is an issue, often due to chlorination or mineral content, a filter can be an easy fix.

If you still have any concerns about your water quality, contact your local water company to request a copy of the Annual Water Quality Report, also known as the Consumer Confidence Report. Go to in Fairfax County.

So, find yourself a water bottle that fits your style… and use it over and over again!




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:

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