Posts filed under ‘Little Action’
Paper use is, at times, astounding. The average American uses 700 pounds of paper per year, which is over 7 trees per person. There are some very easy things you can do to reduce your paper use.
- Stop getting junk mail. This probably won’t be much of a burden. Simply visit Waukesha County’s website to learn how to get off of junk mail lists. Think this won’t make a difference? Every person in our country gets about 250 pieces of unsolicited mail every year, and in the course of a lifetime, you’ll spend about 8 months sorting through it! This easy fix saves time and money. As a quick reminder: if you do get junk mail it is recyclable. Even paper envelopes with plastic windows belong in your blue bin, not the trash.
- Cool as the other side of the paper. Set your printers at work and home to print duplex. Work printers usually have this option, which is easily set. At home, you may need to feed your paper through the printer twice. This post by TechSoup will walk you through the duplexing do-si-do whether you have a duplexing printer or not. Duplexing just not possible? Use the other side of the paper for scratch paper. I like using junk mail envelopes for grocery lists, for example. I just keep all the coupons for that week in the envelope.
- Make paper reduction automatic. Set up automatic bill pay through your bank or the companies that send you bills. Everyone saves postage and paper, and everyone is happy.
- Give wrapping the axe. Wrapping paper is a huge use of paper products. Consider using more creative wrapping that is reusable, like wrapping a kitchen gift in towels or use reusable gift boxes. Need some ideas? I kept track of gifts & how I wrapped them for the holiday season in 2008 and 2007.
- Use & Reuse. Whenever possible, use reusable plates, cups, and napkins, and rags for cleaning. By avoiding single-use paper products you can save yourself a lot of money as well as a lot of paper.
Waukesha County’s sustainability program has a lot of great information about reducing paper use at work.
So why not give it a try? This week, try to reduce your paper use. What ideas worked for you? What other ideas do you have? I’d love to hear about them!
The school year is about to begin. I always loved back to school shopping (if you have seen the commercial with the girl enthused about having a binder for every day of the week you have a pretty good image of me as a child). However, now as a certified reducer, reuser, recycler, rotter, and rebuyer (the three r’s are so passe – we’re up to 5 r’s now) I came up with 5 tips to reduce purchases made at the beginning of the school year.
- Assess. What will still work from last year? Some items may have survived the year before and can be used again. When I was growing up my mom would always wash our backpacks at the end of the school year and repack them with items that were still in usable condition. If you have items that are not going to make it another year, look into recycling options. Crayons, glue bottles, and fabric can all be recycled.
- The Paper Problem. Depending on your student, it may make sense to purchase a binder with tabs for each class and fill with loose leaf paper rather than individual notebooks or a multi-subject notebook. This way there is not those left over sheets in the binder at the end of the year. If your child’s teacher does not already save paper that has been only used on one side, consider saving it at home for scratch paper or first draft paper.
- Quality Over Quantity. Make sure when you do purchase items that they will last the entire year or beyond. Consider purchasing a plain colored backpack and decorate it with patches that can be modified as your child’s tastes change rather than a lesser quality backpack that will not be ‘en vogue’ even if it manages to survive to next year.
- Munch Much? One of the easiest ways to reduce trash throughout the year is to get your child a lunch box and reusable containers. This allows you to buy in bulk and avoid one use items like the single servings of applesauce and plastic baggies. Using a lunch box, reusable containers, and a thermos will save 67 lbs of waste from entering the landfill this school year. Also, your child’s school is paying for that garbage to be thrown away. Think of how much money could be saved if most kids in the school reduced lunch waste to this degree! If you compost at home, also have your child bring home food scraps to add to the pile or bin. I recently posted a link to a post about vermi-composting which is not only a great way to reduce waste, but it is also educational!
- Rebuy. When you do need to purchase an item, make sure there is recycled content when possible. Tissues, writing paper, rulers, pencil bags: all this and much more can be purchased with recycled content. Post-consumer content is best because that means it was purchased from a Materials Recycling Facility and your purchase is helping rebuild these commodity markets.
What do you plan to do to reduce waste this year?
Have you ever wondered what worms have to do with recycling? Vermicomposting or composting with a bin is helping nature recycle food and yard waste into valuable soil additives. Glue Gun Annie has a fabulous tutorial on how to make your very own vermicompost bin. These bins (Annie reuses a Styrofoam cooler) take one pound of red wrigglers which can easily eat 3 to 4 lbs. of food waste every week. These little buggers then supply you with castings, which make a great soil additive. If you are unsure about making the leap into full scale composting in a bin out back, this is a great and easy way to give it a try.
A few quick tips…
- Worms like cool temperatures. The best place for your bin may be in the basement, mud room, or other comfortable place.
- Worms don’t like to be bothered, so don’t put their home too near a washer, a dryer, or a rock concert.
- If your worms are trying to escape (i.e. they are all at the top of the bin every time you open it) there is something not quite right about their abode. Any problem can be attributed to food, air, or water.
- Too much food. This can also cause odor problems. Make sure you are not overfeeding your worms.
- Too little air. Fluff the bedding to make sure it is not too compacted and that there are enough air holes drilled in your container.
- Too much or too little water. Bedding should be as damp as a wrung out sponge. Adjust water levels accordingly. Also, instead of pouring water from a pitcher (how much would you like that if someone did it to you?) try using a spray bottle set to mist to keep the wrigglers happy.
So why not give the 4th R (Rot) a try? Have you ever tried vermicomposting? How did it work for you?
Knowing what products to buy is a sometimes confusing venture. Once you have reduced and reused all you can and the final decision has been made to purchase a product, people are often still left in a quandary about which are the best products to buy. Over the next few posts, I will be looking at different aspects of purchasing products.
Today, I am particularly interested in websites that can assist people in researching products they may be interested in purchasing. There are really two types of websites that can assist with this venture. The first type of website looks to review an entire company in regards to their quality, environmental responsibility, or other factors. The second type of website focuses on specific products that are reviewed.
Good Guide is a website that reviews specific products as well as companies for social justice, environmental impact, and health. Most products that are reviewed are food products, other other personal care products are also reviewed. There is also a blog on the site. This site is a for profit company, although they are a certified B Corporation.
Skin Deep is a website that focuses on personal care products. Products are reviewed based on the toxicity of ingredients. There is a search option by category of product, company, or ingredient.
Other lists are very specific. One example I located is from the NRDC (Natural Resource Defense Council). It looks specifically at toilet paper, napkins, and other paper products. The NRDC also has a wide variety of fact sheets on a wide range of issues. The Environmental Defense Fund has a list of which fish are best to eat. The nice thing about this list is that it has a mobile phone app and a pocket version available for download so memorization is not necessary. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), who have broad databases of products like Skin Deep, also provide a short list of the fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticides used on them. The “Dirty Dozen” are the fruits and vegetables that should be purchased organically to avoid pesticides while the “Clean 15″ have less pesticides used in their production. There is also a mobile phone app.
Also, if you are buying a product that you would like to have for a while, like a grill, sofa, vacuum, or television, be sure to check out the wide range of product review sites like Consumer Reports, Amazon, the Better Business Bureau, or other such site. A product is only sustainable if it stands the test of time.
Hopefully this list gives you a wide range in options when it comes to picking a product that meets your needs. Do you have a favorite site I missed? I would love to hear about it! How do you make purchasing decisions?
This video follows 2 students through their day to show ways that we can all save energy and reduce trash.
While there is a lot of press release gold around this event, the larger goal should be to identify little changes in our everyday lives to save energy. There is a possible involvement of 1 billion people in this years Earth Hour. While it is great that all of these people are going to shut off their lights for an hour, think of the impact if these people also made easy changes to ‘go green’ for the every hour, not just Earth Hour. Little actions could include:
- Getting a reusable mug. The average American uses 100 Styrofoam cups a year. If everyone involved in Earth Hour got a reusable mug, 100,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups would not be used this year.
- Getting a reusable bag. For every reusable bag in use, 288 disposable bags would not be used per year. If everyone involved in Earth Hour used 1 reusable bag, 288,000,000,000 plastic bags would not be used this year.
- Getting a lunchbox. The average school child creates 67 lbs. of trash and food waste per school year. This comes from too-large portions as well as disposable bags and single serve items. If everyone involved in Earth Hour committed to eating what they pack for lunch and packing it in reusable containers, 33,500,000 tons of waste.
- Recycling an aluminum can. Recycling a single aluminum can saves enough energy to light up a regular lightbulb for 4 hours. If everyone that participated in Earth Hour recycled 1 aluminum can, we could light up a light bulb for 456,621 years. In other words, we could light up every lightbulb in every residence in America for almost 2 hours.
- Unplugging appliances not in use. When an appliance is plugged in, even if it is not turned on, it is still using energy. Is your phone charger plugged in right now? What about your coffee pot? These items use ‘phantom energy’ which accounts for up to 5% of your total energy bill. Unplug items not in use or get a power strip that can easily be unplugged when items are not in use.
- Eating 1 local meal a week. The average meal travels 1500 miles. In other words, one meal eaten by every Earth Hour participant travels around the globe 60,236,125 times. By eating one local meal a week, we can save a lot of energy as well as support our local economies. (and eating locally doesn’t necessarily mean eating at a local restaurant!)
While there are some that think Earth Hour is not a good idea because it gives the wrong impression that we need to all sit in the dark to save the planet and others participate just to spite different organizations, I think its a good chance to reassess how much we depend on all of our electronic gizmos and look forward game of scrabble while drinking out of my reusable mug and eating a locally grown salad.
Are you participating in Earth Hour? What do you plan to do?
When I am giving presentations or MRF Tours, people have a lot of questions about recycling paper. The first tends to be “Why should I recycle paper?” Recycling paper is important for several reasons. Like all recycling, it creates jobs and supports a very important industry in Wisconsin. Additionally, recycling paper saves natural resources. For every ton of paper recycled:
- 17 trees are not cut down
- 7,000 gallons of water are not used
- 380 gallons of oil will not be used
- 3 cubic yards of landfill space will not be filled
- enough energy will be saved to heat your home for 6 months
So while saving trees as a natural resource is great, it is by no means the only natural resource being saved. Additionally, when you use recycled paper you are not only saving trees but, in some cases, you are saving diverse forests. There have been accounts that some forests cut down for paper are not ‘tree farms’, but rather old-growth forests. A recent article in the New York Times explains that for certain types of paper, old growth trees must be used. This article focuses on the need to use old-growth forests to make certain types of toilet paper.
Another very common question is “What kinds of paper can I recycle?” In Waukesha County, Wisconsin the following types of paper can be placed in a paper bag or bundled with twine to be collected for recycling:
- newspapers can be recycled
- magazines can be recycled
- advertisements in newspapers can be recycled
- junk mail can be recycled
- envelopes with plastic windows can be recycled
- old homework can be recycled
- printer paper can be recycled (and also reused!)
- construction paper can be recycled
- cardboard can be recycled (and also reduced or reused!)
- phone books can be recycled
- chipboard can be recycled (i.e. cereal boxes, the box that comes around your soda, etc.)
- toilet paper tubes can be recycled
- paper towel tubes can be recycled
Types of paper that cannot be recycled include any paper that has come into contact with wet or greasy food (i.e. pizza boxes or ice cream boxes) and wrapping paper. Also, when you get those credit card offers, make sure to throw the ‘sticky booger’ that attaches the credit card to the paper makes it in the trash as well. All of these items can ruin the paper recycling process down the line.
Paper is 70% of the material that comes into our material recycling facility. We use a ton of paper – if you stack up the paper used by an average office worker in a year, the stack would be over 4 feet tall! Not only is this a huge use of natural resources, but it is also a huge cost. The cost of an average ream of paper is minimal in comparison to the total cost of that paper when you factor in printing on it, storing it, mailing it, and disposing it. The average cost of a ream of paper with all these factors, rises to $62. How much money and resources could you save if you reduce your paper use? In the Department of Parks and Land Use at Waukesha County, the answer is over $17,000 in 2 years.
Some strategies that you can easily implement to your daily routine include:
- Think before you print. Can you store it electronically? A well organized electronic filing system allows you to store e-mails, documents, pictures, and other data in an easily searchable environment.
- Think before you print multiple copies. In our office we have to print lots of agendas. Sometimes we know how many people will be coming to the meeting, sometimes not. Create standards for average attendance and don’t print more than you think you will need. Alternatively, consider making agendas available online or via e-mail before the meeting and have people bring their own copy. This also allows attendees to be better prepared for the meeting.
- Think before you print a copy for everyone and their brother. Route memos through the office. Have a central filing cabinet for documents used by multiple people in the office. One example of a file I keep in the central filing cabinet is background information on Houseshold Hazardous Waste and another on composting.
- Think before you print a ‘final copy’. Use document editing software to review comments via your network. Print draft copies or copies that will not be seen by clients or the public on scratch paper. Default your printer to a tray filled with this type of scratch paper.
- Network. Make sure your computer is networked to others. If you don’t have a network, consider online applications like Google documents to make sure that everyone has access to documents. Google Documents saved me a lot of printing while I was planning my wedding. I was able to keep everyone up-to-date with schedules, to-do lists, and more.
- Get your name off of junk mail lists. Whether it be personally or professionally, there are a lot of sites that can help you get your name off of mailing lists. A few to visit include Catalogue Choice, Yellow Pages, and for more information Waukesha County’s Recycling site.
These are just a few ideas… What are your favorite ways to reduce paper?
I am a sucker for an awards show. In college my roomate and I would host an annual Oscar Gala in which we would dust off old prom dresses and eat food that was selected to coincide with the five nomonees for best picture. (The year Crash was nominated I recall cutting a lot of celery to make “cars”)
And, whether it be THE Academy Awards, or an event with more viscious paparazzi (read: my mother for homecoming or prom), after the lights have dimmed and the hair has drooped, a decision must be made of what to do with THE dress. There are a lot of great uses for those yards and yards of fabric besides keeping them in the back of your closet. A few ideas include:
- Reduce: Don’t buy the gown in the first place. Consider updating a thirft store find.
- Reduce: If you are very talented, make your own dress from found fabrics or newspaper. I recall seing a girl from West Allis that also did this.
- Reduce: Rent a dress from a local bridesmaid or wedding shop. (From Ideal Bite)
- Reuse: When you are done with the dress, consider donating it to a worthy cause. Check out The Bridesmaid Party or The Glass Slipper Project to get your duds to a worthy cause. Locally, there is also a Becca’s Closet chapter and The Boys and Girls Club takes donations for their Sista Pride Initiative (although I can’t find a press release with information on this years drop off sites yet.)
- Reuse: Consider making a patch work quilt ou to f all those shiny materials as a way to remember special formal events. I have a good friend that could rival Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses and she made a beautiful blanket. This trick also works well for the larger-than-life t-shirt collections people collect.
- Reuse: Not too crafty? Take it to a seamstress and create an heirloom piece like a christening gown from a wedding dress.
- Reuse: Seamstress part deux: If you love the top of a dress, consider hacking off the skirt to be left with a formal top.
- Reuse: Make throw pillows
- Reuse: If you have a lot of material, you can easily make a Christmas tree skirt. I did this with the train of my wedding dress and am quite happy with the result
- Recycle: Fabric can be recycled if it is damaged beyond reuse.
Do you have any other suggestions? Please share!