Thursday, April 30, 2009

plastic bags-why not curbside?

I got an email today at work about plastic bags and why don't we accept them in our curbside recycling program. The answer took me more than an hour to write and I think it has some great links, so I thought I'd re-post it here. If you have any questions, feel free to email me or leave them in the comments.

Thank you for your email and your concern about plastic bags. Yes, we're well aware of the damage plastic bags have on the environment. In fact, at the Home and Garden Idea Fair that we were at last weekend, we were trying to raise awareness of this issue with a display that depicts the average amount of plastic bags used by consumers each year and we gave away free reusable tote bags and decals that say "Got Bag?" (a program of Leadership Clark County) to fair-goers.

However, the problem is not as simple as us accepting plastic bags for recycling. Plastic bags cause huge problems for recycling plants. Here is a great article that very accurately portrays the problems we're up against when it comes to plastic bags. (author note: actually, I linked originally to page 2, which I think has more to say about specific recycling issues.) Recyclers across the nation all have this exact same problem with plastic bags. In some parts of the country, they are accepted curbside and in others (like here) they're not. Regardless of whether or not they are an "accepted" item, they still get into the recycling stream.

I'll give you an example. In Portland, they do not accept plastic bags in their curbside recycling program, either. However, the plant that sorts all of their recycling gets enough plastic bags (that never should have been in there in the first place) that they have to shut down the equipment every two hours and send someone in with a box cutter to manually cut the plastic bags out of the machinery. This equates to an estimated 25% capacity reduction for them.

The problem of plastic bags was also featured on the front page of our newsletter. There is a picture of a sorting screen badly clogged with plastic bags. I just talked to one of the materials recovery facility staff and he said that he conservatively estimates that he sends out 60+ tons of plastic bags a month-if he has a buyer for them. That's the other piece of the recycling puzzle-anything that we collect for recycling has to then be delivered to someone who can actually recycle it economically. In a lot of cases, this means shipping our recycling overseas.

Here's two more articles that just came in my inbox (weird/good timing) about plastic bags.

Honestly, the best possible answer is that people don't use plastic bags in the first place. Reusable shopping totes are an inexpensive way to avoid ever using a plastic bag again. I wish everyone understood the damage that plastic bags can do to wildlife and habitat. Perhaps more of us would be willing to make the switch to reusable shopping bags, if that were the case. For any plastic bags that you do have that you don't want, returning them to a grocery store is the second best way to dispose of them-this ensures clean plastic bags that can then be recycled.

I hope this explains some of the reasons we don't accept plastic bags curbside. We do, however accept them at our transfer stations-again, it being a case of clean bags that never have a chance to damage machinery.

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

So many uses for old 55 gallon drums...

Via instructables. There's a ton more projects (worm bins, rain barrels, etc.) on the right hand side. I linked to an Earth Box. Does anyone recognize the mulch in the first picture and/or have any idea why it's there? (I'm assuming it's pine needles and I'm also assuming for weed control but I was wondering if anyone else knew?)

Green Drinks One Year Anniversary Success!

Tonight was the One Year Anniversary of Green Drinks. I was so proud! We had about 85 people turn up and the Mayor of Vancouver, Royce Pollard spoke, followed by the City's sustainability coordinator, Mike Piper. Click here for some pictures from the night. Thanks everyone! I look forward to the next year!

Home and Garden Idea Fair

Here's some pictures of my crew and I setting up for HGIF this past weekend. We answered lots of questions about commingled recycling reusable bags.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

license plate birdhouse

There's lots of ways to reuse old license plates. I have a plate that has particular sentimental value to me, so I'd like to make this out of it. We'll see if I ever actually get around to doing it!

Two uses for old mini-blinds

Here's one: Plant Markers

Also, related, one of my neighbors has square foot gardening plots set out in her front yard and she used vinyl blinds to mark the 12" segments. (Sorry, no photo.)

Duct Tape no-sew tote bag

via Instructables

Extraordinary Uses for 16 Ordinary Household Items

via Make: and Woman's Day, uses for household items. There's some neat ones.

Of course, I don't condone #3 for plastic cups.

Algae bioreactor

I don't pretend to understand this post from Make: but I thought it was cool because not only does it reuse water bottles, it also is about alternative energy.

Reusing plastic bottles

Via Make: here's 10+ uses for plastic bottles.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Naked Lady Party!

This is not probably as interesting as what you're thinking. Here's a description of what a naked lady party is. My thrifty girl friends (we sometimes call ourselves the "trashy ladies") have held two of these so far and have made a pact to hold one every six months. It's a great way to be encouraged to clean out your closets, to get new-to-you clothes and to reuse clothes instead of throwing them out.

Hold a naked lady party with your friends soon! If you have any questions about how they work or how to set up a successful one, drop me a line! BTW, we don't "auction" off every item the way it mentions in the link. We just let people grab and have fun. Sometimes we'll do a wear-off with fashion model type strut in the item of clothing, if there's any discrepancies about who it should go to.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Money and waste saving tip #5 (actually, it could be 5-47, but we'll just call it 5)

42 reuses:

This article is fantastic. Some of the items are pretty "evergreen green" on the spectrum, so don't feel like you have to do them all. But, hopefully you'll find some good tips for reusing and saving!

Are you Pea Soup green or Evergreen green?

The important thing to remember is that it doesn't matter!

Often, when talking with people about being green, they say things like, "I don't know where to start." or "it's too overwhelming." This is when I pull out my "spectrum of green" analogy. (Special thanks to Sara L. for introducing me to this topic) If you think about it, we're all probably at least a little bit "green." Perhaps you have made some green changes to save money or you've seen some startling information that has interested you and convinced you to make some changes. Either way, you fall somewhere on the green spectrum. What I try to tell people (especially if they're overwhelmed) is that it's ok to be pea soup green for awhile. You know why? Because it's better than not caring at all. And, you'll probably change other behaviors, once you've integrated the first changes into your lifestyle enough that it doesn't even seem like a change anymore.

When I first understood the benefits of using reusable tote bags instead of disposable plastic or paper bags, I only ever remembered to put my bags in the car once in awhile. Then, eventually, not only was I remembering to put them back in the car, I was actually remembering to bring them in to the grocery store with me. Now, it's very rare that I go somewhere without my own tote bags. I can't remember the last time I accepted a plastic bag from a store-any store.

I'm not trying to brag or make you feel guilty if you're still at the "they're at home on the table" stage. What I am saying is that we all start somewhere, that change is never easy but that if you stick with it, eventually you'll come out the other end of the spectrum and never even remember being pea soup green in the first place.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Star Wars and green?

These are this green geek's dream come true!

I really like the "Recycling-it's not just for Jawas" one. Awesome!

I got worms!

Ok, I don't, but it's been a topic of discussion lately. Here's the workshops coming up in the Vancouver area for the next few months. For $35, you can get started with worm composting. Or, you can opt to attend the Earth Day event at Marshall Center this weekend and take the worm workshop for free!

I'll also be there, giving a "recycling 101" workshop. I hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

food waste scraps-preferred disposal method?

This is in response to a question I got through Twitter. I was asked: "Since I haven't progressed to composting yet, what's better for fruit peels and the like: garbage disposal or trash?"

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll just post a link to this answer to that very question. (Alex, if you want help tracking down the methane question, let me know. I'd be curious to know the answer for Portland. I'm currently tracking down the answer for Vancouver.)

However, I will also note that there's some other options. Just about everyone can compost. Composting with worms can be a little tricky, but can be done inside and with very little space. Composting outside on a balcony is also an option. Finally, there is the bokashi method of composting. Urban Farm School gives workshops on this and I'm planning on attending one in the future. I don't know a lot about it yet, but in the case of an apartment dweller, even if you don't have plants that would love the nutrients, you could easily give it away on craigslist. If you don't have many food scraps (which I'm assuming Alex doesn't) or if you're a lazy composter like me, you can freeze the scraps in a container until you're ready to compost them. There also might be a local community garden somewhere close that would take your food scraps (especially frozen-not already decomposing) and compost them. Ideally, food scraps will get composted. This is by far the best solution for them.

Thanks for the question, Alex! Keep 'em comin!

Monday, April 6, 2009

landfill bound labor posters find new life as whiteboards

From Jeffrey Smedberg, Recycling Program, County of Santa Cruz Public Works Department, Santa Cruz, California:
A waste reduction success story:
Every employer has to display a wage and hour poster enumerating labor laws affecting employees. We recently took down dozens of these large laminated posters in our County offices because the information was outdated. The blank white backside - an expansive 25" x 39" in size - serves admirably as a wipe board for use with dry erase markers. We advertised the availability to employees and also to the public via the local Freecycle Yahoo group like this: "Give the kids a place to safely draw on the walls. Cut a poster down to size if your shopping list never gets this long." The interest in reuse of this otherwise landfill-bound item has been surprisingly strong.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

My waste-free grocery lists

I used to reuse little scraps of paper (junk mail envelopes, receipts, etc.) and write down my grocery list. However, I type much faster than I write, so once Dear BF gave me an iphone, I thought I might be able to use no paper at all for my grocery lists. Enter Ta-Da Lists. I signed up for a free account and have used it for everything from my bucket list to weekly grocery lists. When I go into the grocery store, I simply bring up my list and click done as I'm adding things to my cart. I love it!

Oh yeah, the other impetus for this conversion was that my personality is the type that once I write something down, I purge it from memory. One time, I lost my grocery list half-way through shopping. I couldn't do anything at that point but give up and go home. I've only (mercifully) had that happen to me once. I'm pretty useless without my lists. Now, they're always conveniently waiting for me on the internet.

Pictured above is today's list. It's pretty small, as we already have most of the items we need for this week. Oh, and "nut things" is supposed to be "nut thins" My fingers were on autopilot and I couldn't be bothered to correct it.

Pill bottle key holder

I saw this craft a long time ago and always wanted to post it on my blog-once I was up and running... I think if you started out with a brown bottle or painted the top, it would be even more stealthy. I doubt many criminals would think to look for a key hidden in this way. Love it! I know two of my friends could have very much used this recently and saved themselves some hefty locksmith fees. I'm thinking about making them as gifts for family.

I particularly like this one, because even though you probably would only ever need one of these for your own house, it is a use for an item that is sometimes hard to recycle. (In most places, any plastic bottle with a neck is accepted curbside. However, I've been told by materials recovery facilities (the places that sort your recycling into categories in order to be recycled) that anything smaller than your fist oftentimes won't make it through the processing systems correctly.)

Making hexagonal storage boxes

This one seems a tiny bit complex, but I would like to try it sometime. We certainly eat enough cereal in my household to always have plenty of material on hand.

gift bags from envelopes

Seems I'm on a bit of an envelop kick. Here's a tutorial on making gift bags from gift card envelopes. Enjoy!

Making your own padded envelopes with reclaimed materials

This post is awesome! Check it out. I'm going to add her whole blog to my blogroll, as she appears to be just the talent I was thinking of when I started this blog.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Coffee Collar punchcard

Dear BF relayed a story to me the other day of a local retailer (Edit: the retailer is Backspace.) that has coffee collars (you know the skirt you put on your hot coffee cup to protect your hand?) that also doubles as a punchcard-thereby encouraging reuse of the collars. Genius!

Earth Day Celebration

If you're looking for a fun, interactive and FREE Earth Day event, drop by the Marshall Center on April 18th. I'm even giving a class that day! (Recycling 101) Check out details here and/or follow the Twitter feed. This event is open to the public, family-friendly and free!

Got Foam?

If you have block foam (styrofoam blocks-like those used to pack electronics) that you've been collecting, there is a block foam collection event for SW WA residents tomorrow! Click here for more details.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Habitat for Humanity ReStore Grand Opening

Habitat For Humanity has opened a ReStore here in Vancouver. Even better, it has the Vancouver version of Free Geek (called CREAM) within its walls, as well. Check out the details for the Grand Opening.
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