Archive | Sustainable

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 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, 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.


From Generation to Generation: Forte Grants Encourage Environmental Stewardship in Children

It starts by getting kids to recognize the challenges we face as stewards of our environment, and then supporting them in devising solutions. Problems like the environmental degradation caused by litter and chemical pollutants, the vast amounts of food and other resources wasted in school settings, and the lack of affordable fresh produce for low income families are all
abstract ideas until children get a chance to monitor the situation in their own communities and then engage in a hands-on project. Towards this end, Clean Fairfax just distributed $2,275 to fund six different green projects in Fairfax County schools as part of its Johnie Forte, Jr. Memorial Environment Education Grants program.

Belvedere Elementary School will be augmenting the efforts of their 5th grade Waste Watchers (litter clean up) Group with new more efficient and sanitary trash grabbers. They will also track what they are picking up (2x monthly) and share that information with us.

Lanier Middle School will create an all-natural, safe-for-the-environment laundry detergent, using STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) techniques to work on the right formulation. They will then give presentations to all the 7th grade classes to educate students and families about the impact of laundry detergent on the watershed. This project will also qualify them for the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America State Leadership Competition.

Pine Spring Elementary School will supplement their School Composting Program, started two years ago, with four more compost tumblers in order to take food waste from the cafeteria, turn
it into black gold, and use it on their school garden. They will also order a shipment of worms to practice vermiculture, the use of worms to decompose organic food waste more quickly.

Riverside Elementary School ‘s Eco-Action Club will be getting some heavy duty recycling cans and art supplies for informational posters to supplement their recycling program in the cafeteria. Students, teachers and custodians will help everyone learn the process of separating out everything that can be recycled from the trash.

Colvin Run Elementary School‘s 4th grade will add another large composter to their composting system, working on recycling as their service learning project. CRES donates uneaten fruits, snacks and drinks to Cornerstones of Reston. 4th graders pack up the supplies for the volunteers who pick them up on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The composter will
help them divert food waste from the trash, and they plan to use the completed compost in their school garden.

Holmes Middle School Gardening Club will create a community garden that would provide fresh produce to their students and families. The Gardening Club would tend the garden during lunchtime and after school, and they have teachers, students, and parents who live nearby tend to the garden over the summer months.

It is this involvement that cultivates a new generation of environmentalists committed to stewardship of our earth. These children, quite literally, are our future.

For more information about the Johnie Forte, Jr. Memorial Environment Education Grants go to the “Programs” tab at .

Also check out Fairfax County Public Schools’ Get2Green initiative designed for “school district sustainability and engaging students in environmental action.”


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!