Monday, December 12, 2011

Waste less this holiday season

Using these tips/tricks:

For me, the time of year when I buy the most "stuff" is, hands down, the holiday season. I'm sure most of you can probably relate. I remember when I first started really "getting into" waste reduction thinking to myself, "Yeah, but to purchase sustainably around the holiday season is going to be near impossible." Fast forward to this season and I can honestly say that every one of my gifts has some (or a lot of) green cred. Most of my wrapping will also sport that claim. In the spirit of giving, I want to share some tips/tricks that have been helpful to me. (And invite you to share your own in the comments section below.)

You've heard me talk about the waste reduction hierarchy before. We're going to use that hierarchy to look at our gift-giving choices. 

To reduce is to not buy stuff or make waste in the first place. 
A giraffe relaxes in the sun at Oregon Zoo

  • For the person who is impossible to buy for, instead of buying stuff, give money to their favorite charity in their name. Are they an animal lover? Perhaps the Humane Society would be a good choice. If they or a loved one have been affected by an illness, donating to research for a cure is a nice way to say you care about them. 
  • One of the best ways to reduce our consumption of "stuff" is to give experiences. Giving a membership to the zoo or OMSI not only eliminates material goods, but encourages families to spend more time together. Or, you could give babysitting for a night to a family with a new baby or offer to take your nephew to a football game. Whatever your family members enjoy, try to find a way to allow them to enjoy that experience.
  • If you're looking to reduce packaging or the environmental cost of buying something produced out of your area, Etsy can be a great option. Etsy is an online marketplace of handmade products. Often, these products are made with recycled or reused materials. They also allow vintage items, which fall into the category of reuse.
  • Buy durable: The better built a product in the first place, the less likely it will be to break down. If it doesn't break down, you eliminate the need to buy a new one. Often, spending more initially for quality will pay for itself down the line when you still have the product years later. (and you don't have to relearn how to use that new toaster!) When something does break, consider repairing instead of throwing away. For that matter, do you have someone in your life that loves shoes? (I think most of us do....) a gift idea for them would be to find a local cobbler and purchase a gift certificate. Keeping their favorite shoes walking another day will eliminate the resources associated with a new pair.
  • When wrapping presents, consider reusing comics or other paper. (and thus reducing the need for new wrapping paper.) With a little sewing skill, you can also create some reusable fabric bags. I'm very surprised by how well my family has taken to this idea. Now, the bags are usually considered a part of the present and they make an appearance the following year. 

When we purchase or gift a reused item, we're automatically cutting the environmental footprint of that item in half. (by eliminating a new item from being manufactured, transported, etc.) The more an item is reused, the lighter the load on our planet's limited resources.
  • Give the gift of thrift. Shopping at local thrift stores can be an adventure and can result in significant money savings. If you know someone who is a thrift store junkie, many stores have gift cards. 
  • Ebay: Lots of the items on Ebay are actually "new" and the site can also be a great place to find something like that scent that your mom loves but they stopped making or that last glass that completes the set your sister loves, but Uncle Stewart broke last season. 
  • Craigslist: What's better than reusing *and* keeping it local. If you're concerned about the safety of Craigslist, there are lots of common sense tips/tricks to avoid being taken advantage of
  • Swap sites: One of my favorite swap sites is Goozex. You send movies and video games that you're no longer using to other members and receive points based on the value of the sent items. Then, you're able to use those points to get used items from other members. Many swap sites work in this same way and there are lots of different sites out there (for things such as books, clothes, children's items, jewelry, etc.) I have a list (unfortunately, has not been updated in quite some time) of many swap sites. But, if you're wondering if something can be swapped, just do a simple search for an appropriate swap site. If it has value, chances are you'll find a site on which you can swap it.

Lastly, recycling is always important. We have two duties as consumers. The first (and most obvious) is to recycle everything that is acceptable in our recycling systems. The second, though, is to close the recycling loop by buying products with recycled content. If no one values recycled content, the market for those products dies and recycling (and all the associated savings in water, energy and pollution) die with them.
  • As mentioned earlier, many products on Etsy (or at a local bazaar or artists market) will have recycled content. This keeps these items (that may not have a strong traditional recycling market) out of the landfill. 
  • Purchasing recycled content can be tricky, but is not impossible. One company that I think has a strong environmental ethic and has many options for purchasing recycled fibers is Patagonia. They also have a fairly new (launched Black Friday, 2011) intiative in which they encourage all steps of the waste reduction hierarchy. 

So, what about you? What waste reduction ideas have you implemented that you're particularly proud of? What would you like to try next season? What are your concerns about waste reduction in gift giving? What are some barriers that you think have kept you or others from implementing waste reduction techniques around the holidays? 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A few good articles

The problem with food in the landfill, landfill decomposition and recycling myths busted:

A truck delivers a load of food waste to a compost facility.
Are you a train-of-thoughter, like me? My trains seem to be long and varied. I've been working on a presentation on outreach through social media for the Washington Organics Recycling Council. This lead me to do a search for "compost" on Twitter to try to illustrate some of the opportunities for talking about compost. One of my long time Twitter friends, @CleanBinProject was asking if anyone had a good answer to why we should be composting instead of throwing food waste in the landfills. (Seems many people still have the erroneous assumption that food breaks down in the landfill into something useful, similar to food in a compost pile.) I've also been wishing for a few good articles that talk about this. Luckily, I finally found some this time around. So, I'm going to post the articles and then get back to work.

Compost piles release heat-a byproduct of decomposition.
This article talks about food waste. Why we waste, the shocking amounts that we waste and the hidden costs of that waste. I have a beef with the lack of citing sources, but I feel most of it is accurate.

This one talks about landfills and why things don't really break down.  I have a feeling I'll be referencing this article a lot in the future, since "biodegradable" labels seem to be very misleading and confusing for the general consumer. We get asked about this at least once a month. My only beef with this article is the byline that says "most landfills too tightly packed to work well." I'm assuming they mean the decomposition doesn't work well, which is true, for all the reasons mentioned in the article. However, the landfill itself works very well. Landfills are a safe way to dispose of all the waste we're currently creating. Are they a "solution"? Perhaps not. But, to the best of my knowledge, they're the best thing we've got at this point in time. Until we curb our throw-away lifestyles and start reducing, reusing and recycling the majority of our wastes, landfills are one of the safest ways to deal with it.

Finally, here's a bonus recycling-myths-busted article. I've been long looking for one of these, as well. This is well-written and has citations, which I appreciate.

If you're looking for a little levity, here's a cartoon from one of my favorite people illustrating how I sometimes feel about my crazy trains of thought that take me all over the internet.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reuse in Action (photos)

So, last night at Green Drinks, I was guilted about not publishing to my blog. (You know who you are!) ;) (Actually, it's good for me to have a little push sometimes.)

Anyway, I thought I'd be really lazy and post some of the many reuse pictures I've taken over the years and never got around to posting. And, since a picture is worth 1,000 words, I figure this will buy me some time with the guilt-tripper mentioned above. ;) Enjoy!

A rain barrel/water treatment system made from
a large jug. (I'm assuming this is
reused, but admit it may not be.) 
A silk tie made into a doggy collar. Classy!

A handbag made from a Monopoly board.
You can also see a few others in the photo.
The one to the left is an old Pente board game. 

If you like these types of items, you should definitely check out Check 'Em Off, Green on Nov. 12th at the Marshall Center. We've brought together 65+ vendors who have wonderful items like these. This holiday season, replace "cheap crap from China" with wonderful handmade goods/experiences purchased from your community!

That's it for now. But, I have more awesome reuse photos to share with you all, so check back soon.
-The Reuser

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Recycling 101 Class in Vancouver, WA

Plastic Bags ~ Nursery Pots ~Aerosol Cans ~ Cardboard Boxes ~Motor Oil ~ Yard Debris ~ Antifreeze

Ever wondered why only certain items are collected for recycling or whether you really need to take the label off that can before recycling it? Well, the good news is, there will be an informational class to answer all your burning questions about recycling.
Plastic bottles of all types
are accepted in recycling carts
in Clark County,WA.

This 2 hour class includes a tour of the newly updated processing facility.
Saturday, October 22, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at West Van Materials Recovery Center. Space is limited, so sign up as soon as possible.

City-recognized neighborhood associations who send a representative to this class and publish an approved recycling article in their neighborhood newsletter can earn money for their neighborhood association treasury.

For more information or to pre-register, please call 360-619-4122, and provide your name, neighborhood association* and phone number. Your pre-registration will help insure we have enough materials and room for everyone.

*If you would like to just attend the class (not representing a neighborhood) you're welcome to do that. The class is open to the public.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

There, I fixed it! (The Reuser fixes the errors in an article about plastics.)

I recently ran across this article (also see below) about plastics. I'm always intrigued when I read a headline that I hope will address a FAQ for my industry. One of the most typical questions we get (and some of the most complicated answers) are about plastics. Why don't recycling programs take them all, why are they separated, etc. so I was excited to read the following article, hoping it would say what I always say (but have never written down) and I could thus post it to my blog and use it in link format to answer the questions when they come up in the future. Unfortunately, this article doesn't address all the issues. So, after reposting it to my Twitter feed and saying it had errors, I felt like I needed to address the errors here. Also, this post does address plastics well and I have since used it many times to answer questions for people in our area asking about plastics. Lastly, everything I type here is "to the best of my knowledge" and I welcome the opportunity to learn more about this topic.

Dear EarthTalk: Why can’t plastics of all types, instead of being initially sorted, simply be melted together to be separated later? It must be a monumental and error-prone task to separate truckloads of plastics. — L. Schand, via emailThe reason plastics aren’t typically melted together and then separated later is a matter of both physics and economics. When any of the seven common types of plastic resins are melted together, they tend to separate and then set in layers. The resulting blended plastic is structurally weak and difficult to manipulate. While the layered plastic could in theory be melted again and separated into its constituent resins, the energy inputs required to do so would make such a process cost prohibitive.As a result, recycling facilities sort their plastics first and then melt them down only with other items made of the same type of resin. While this process is labor-intensive, the recycling numbers on the bottom of many plastic items make for quicker sorting. Many recycling operations are not only reducing sizable amounts of waste from going into landfills but are also profitable if managed correctly.
Recycling facilities (called Materials Recovery Facilities-hereafter known as MRFs) do NOT mix together everything from a certain resin type. The numbers inside the recycling circle tell you nothing about recyclability and only tell you what general category (resin type) of plastics something belongs to. (Yes, even though it has a recycle symbol, it still tells you nothing about recyclability, recycled content, etc.) A perfect example of this is #1 (PETE or polyethylene terephthalate.) #1 bottles and #1 tubs are not recycled together. Another really striking example (and something I often use in my classes) is #6-polystyrene. Block foam or styrofoam is a #6, but so are Solo party cups. Obviously, these types of plastics are very different, even though they're both polystyrene. They cannot be recycled together.

The process of sorting plastics for recycling is labor intensive (mostly done by hand) but the recycling numbers on the bottom are rarely, if ever, used to help at this point in the process. The only time when the # may be used is when a material comes through that is wildly different from the "usual" materials. Someone on a sort line or who runs a MRF could conceivably then check the # inside the recycle symbol to ascertain the resin type. In practice, though, I've never heard of this being done. People who own and operate MRFs are very good at sorting plastics, mostly by sheer recognition. When looked at from this point of view, it's a feat that MRFs are able to keep up with all the thousands of different types of plastics constantly on the market. 
Manufacturers of plastic items choose specific resins for different applications. Recycling like items together means the reclaimed polymer can be used to create new items just like their virgin plastic forebears. The seven common types of plastic are: #1 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE); #2 High-density polyethylene (HDPE); #3 Polyvinyl chloride (PVC); #4 Low-density polyethylene (LDPE); #5 Polypropylene (PP); #6 Polystyrene (PS); and #7 Other/Mixed (O).
That "reclaimed polymer can be used to create new items just like their virgin plastic forebears." is technically correct, although this is rarely the case. It's rare for plastic items to be recycled into what they were originally. It's much more common for them to be downcycled into a different product (milk jugs into benches, for example) that then can't be recycled any further. (Another example that illustrates this point: plastic lumber is often old plastic bags mixed with sawdust. While it is nice that this material is made from recycled plastic, it cannot be recycled at the end of its life cycle.) Also, this is a bit nit-picky but I wouldn't necessarily use the term "common types" of plastic. The 7 #s are resin codes. They are the 7 codes that are currently in use. Every type of plastic fits into one of these 7 codes, even if they are very uncommon (see more about #7 plastics below.)
One complicating factor is trying to recycle unmarked plastics and those embossed with a #7 (representing mixed resins, also known as polycarbonate). According to Earth911, a leading online source for finding recyclers for specific types of items across the United States, in some cases #7 plastics can be “down-cycled” into non-renewable resin, in other cases recycling operations just send their unmarked and #7 plastics into local landfills.Even though recycling operations have developed relatively efficient systems for generating reclaimed resins, many environmentalists recommend that consumers still avoid plastics as much as possible.
I have a real problem with this paragraph, so I'm going to do it bullet point style. 

  • I would say the more complicating factor for recycling plastics is that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of plastics, even within a resin code. (Fillers, dyes, etc are added to the resins to make them behave in specific ways.) There is no standard of one type of plastic within a resin type. 
  • The other really complicating factor is lack of markets. Every recycling decision is based on whether there is a market for that material and the market is based on there being consumers willing to buy whatever product is being made from that recycled resin. I've heard some people go so far as explaining it thusly: If you're not buying recycled materials, you're not recycling. Consuming willy-nilly is not excusable by recycling. If the materials you put in your recycling bin don't have a strong market behind them, the system is not a closed loop.
  • As far as unmarked plastics: I would assume that most MRFs don't even mess around with unmarked plastics. In other words, if something is made from plastic but they can't determine the type, it will likely end up in the landfill. 
  • I don't know that #7 always is a mixed resin and it's certainly not always polycarbonate.  #7 plastics are simply "other" They are plastics that do not fit into any of the other 6 categories and these days, this includes PLA (see below.) 
  • On the west coast, unknown plastics are often sent overseas instead of to the landfill, in mixed plastic bales. These are then hand-sorted (usually in China) I cannot guarantee what happens to them at that point in the line.

“Simply recycling these products does not negate the environmental damage done when the resource is extracted or when the product is manufactured,” reports EcoCycle, a Colorado-based nonprofit recycler with an international reputation as an innovator in resource conservation. The group adds that over the past half century, the use of disposable packaging, especially plastic, has increased by more than 10,000 percent.Along these lines, products (or packaging) made out of reusable metal, glass or even wood are preferable to equivalent items made from plastic. For starters, an item of metal, glass or wood can be re-used by someone else or recycled much more efficiently than plastic when it does reach the end of its useful life to you.
Agreed. Recycling is not the only solution and we aren't ever going to be able to recycle our way out of the mess we're in. More important solutions include reducing the amount of consumption we do in general and reusing what we can at every opportunity. The only gripe I have with this part of the article is the very end. I'm not sure that metal, glass or wood is always "recycled more efficiently" than plastic. All recycling takes energy and resources to complete, although in every case I've ever seen, this will be less energy and resources than it would take to extract the resources and make the product from scratch.
Wood products and other items crafted out of plant material, even so-called “polylactic acid (PLA) plastic” made from plant-based agricultural wastes, can be composted along with your yard waste and food scraps, either in your backyard or, if your town or city offers it, through your municipal collection system.
This is where the article really started to irritate me. PLA plastic does NOT break down in a home compost system (at least not in my experience!) I've never heard of or seen anyone with a home compost system that can handle PLA plastics. PLA plastics can break down in a commercial composting facility, but even then, these facilities are very careful about what they will accept. With new products coming out virtually every day, each product needs to be tested to make sure it will break down. Finally, when people see that a plastic product is supposedly biodegradable, they often assume that means it will break down into useful components in a landfill. I know of no proof of that. Even if plastics did break down in a landfill, you then have to consider increased methane production and the shifting of the landfill structure if things are breaking down on some regular basis. To see or laud PLA plastics as necessarily better than traditional plastics is folly. 

Happy reducing, reusing and recycling!
 That sentence I can get behind! Indeed!

As I said earlier, everything I've written here is "to the best of my knowledge." If you have specific examples of where I'm wrong, please let me know and I will update the post. 

I get frustrated by encountering scores of people who are so excited about this "new" biodegradable plastic they've found and paid extra money for (but then are going to throw in the landfill.) Or, people who get upset with our collection system because we don't use the resin code system. (Trust me, I'd love to, it would certainly be easier...) Plastics recycling is a complicated issue. Unless and until there is some standardization or clarification of the resin code system, many communities will continue to not use it because it simply doesn't work for the materials they need to collect and send to end markets. In my opinion, articles like this one that try to simplify a complex issue only continue to confuse the public. I hope I've provided some more insight into the complicated world of plastics recycling. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact me. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Laura from Vancouver Green Drinks talks worm composting

My partner in green, Laura, was recently featured on KPTV, talking about vermicomposting. Check it out!

I'm not sure how well this is going to show up on my blog or for how long it will be available (KPTV said they'd only have it live for 3 weeks.) We're going to try to get the video, though, so you can watch in perpetuity. But, please watch now in case we don't get access to the video file.

Monday, July 18, 2011

PurJuly day 11 - basket

I'm not sure where this basket even came from. I think it might have been an auction item. I'm not a real big basket person, so I decided to go ahead and purge it.

The one thing I kept was the pair of ribbons. Ever find yourself with extra ribbons from random places? Reuse them on your luggage-it helps you to tell yours apart from all the others. 

#PurJuly follow up to day 1

Remember the frame glass from Day 1? This post that shows them upcycled makes me even happier I purged them. They were just sitting around, taking up space in my house and now they're beautiful glass plates. Excellent!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

PurJuly day 10 bonus- board shorts

One of my colleagues, Gregg purged a pair of board shorts and gave them over to one of his friends that needed a pair. He sure looks happy! :D

#PurJuly day 10 -utensil drawer and cutting boards

Here's the pic of all the items that were purged from the utensil drawer. Here's where you can see the 3 melon ballers. What's sad is that I'm pretty sure I have a 4th one that is with my food dehydrator that I lent to my cousin. But...the good news is that I haven't bought any utensils I haven't needed in years. 

I included this pic because it shows the cutting board that I also purged. I pulled all the cutting boards out but this was the only one we don't use on a regular basis. Short post, but that's my purge for day 10! 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

#PurJuly day 9

Utensil drawer

One of the things I've learned from this project is that in the past I definitely bought more stuff than I needed. (as evidenced by the 3 (yes, 3!) melon ballers) I also bought a lot of low quality items because "Hey, it's cheap!" so what was I really risking/losing by buying it? I lost space by buying cheap items, as evidenced by the photos. I also lost money, even if it was a small amount-and those small amounts add up quickly. When we buy things we don't really need, it's the same thing as throwing our money down the toilet. Especially if we buy things that have no resale value or quality.

Our utensil drawer "before"

And "after" This drawer sometimes would not
close properly because of too many
things jammed in it. Now? No problem!

Another side effect of this project is that I'm much more aware of the items I own that do have quality. I was doing my laundry the other day and realized I've had some of my clothes for years. I read an article once that said something like whenever the author looked at the lint in his dryer, he felt like he was seeing the life that had been beaten out of his clothes. Now, I try to hang my clothes as often as possible. I'd say, on average, my clothes go through a dryer maybe 1 out of every 4 times they're washed. The residual heat in our house has always been more than enough to dry my clothes on a collapsible clothes frame I bought from Ikea. Every time I spend that extra few minutes hanging my clothes instead of throwing them in the dryer, I'm saving the energy that the dryer would have used and the wear and tear on my clothes.

How about you-what do you own that has quality? Have you owned something for years and still love it? How about the other side-have you bought stuff in the past because it was "cheap" and then realized later that you didn't use it or it wore out quicker than it should have because of shoddy construction?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

#PurJuly day 8 - catching up

So, you might have noticed that I completely fell off the radar after day 7. This means I'm almost officially a week behind. I've still been purging, but not finding enough time to post. After stressing myself out over it, I realized that wasn't really the point and tried to just stop stressing.

One of the best things about this project is the pressure to just do the purging. How often do we have the urge to purge (forgive the rhyme) but we give ourselves excuses or decide to do something else with our time? I'm not saying that's inherently a bad thing (I doubt anyone thinks to themselves on their deathbed, "Gee, I wish I had been more organized.") However, a fair amount of satisfaction can be had from the process of purging as well.

These next two drawers fall into the satisfying category. I hadn't planned to purge these when I originally conceived the idea of PurJuly, but then I was standing in the kitchen and just started. Luckily, I had a camera nearby, so I was able to grab some pics.

The ones I decided we could do without

The final result:
I wish I had taken a "before" photo because
this is quite impressive.
Our pots and pans cupboard hasn't been
this clean and organized since we moved in.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

#PurJuly day 7

Again, I'm cheating. I actually purged this suitcase a few weeks ago, but I wanted to include it, because it never belonged to me. I borrowed it from a friend (Thanks, Josy!) for the two trips we took this year. I needed a carry-on sized suitcase but didn't want to buy one and then have to store it, etc. (Oh yeah, and I'm cheap!) I sent an email to a small group of friends to see if anyone had what I needed and of course, someone did-A good thing to remember when you need something just once or a few times. A smart (and easy) waste reduction tip is to borrow items from others. Finally, this belongs in the PurJuly category because I had it sitting around my house for about a month and a half after the last vacation and I still hadn't returned it. PurJuly sparked the return. Yay for borrowing and yay for purging!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

#PurJuly day 6

I have a very small purge today. I purged this hat. Dear BF gave me a set-it had a hat, scarf and gloves. I've since misplaced the gloves and scarf (I'm sure they're somewhere around here...) but I kept holding on to the hat, hoping I'd someday magically like it more than I do.

You see, it doesn't fit me correctly. I have this giant noggin that causes hats to slowly slip northward and look ridiculous. If the hat in question doesn't stretch enough, it never stays put. I've held onto this hat because it was a gift and because it was part of a set. I realized though that I don't wear it because it doesn't fit correctly and that even when/if I find the gloves and scarf, I still wouldn't really want to wear the hat because it does not fit.

I feel like this all sounds really silly, ("If the hat never fit, why did she hang on to it for so long? What is she, stupid?") but I'm hoping that there's some readers out there who can relate to my hat story and finally let go of their proverbial ill-fitting hats. If something doesn't fit properly, work properly or is for some other reason cluttering up your life/home, perhaps it's time to just let it go? 

The hat will be at the clothing swap in August. If you love it and have a smaller noggin than me, you should come out to the swap and try to score it for yourself. Hell, if you really like the hat that much, let me know and I'll set it aside for you. Because I'm considerate like that. See?-purging has already made me a nicer person! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

#PurJuly day 5

I picked up sewing for a few reasons. It's a good skill to have in order to be able to repair your own clothing and other textile items. I'm able to make my own reuse projects, like a pillow for the dogs made from a ripped blanket or a drawstring bag from the leg of old boxer shorts. I'm also able to make reusable fabric gift bags (hat tip to my Green Drinks cohort, Laura for the idea.) which my family covets in a strange yet satisfying way. Special thanks to friends Amanda and Sister Diane for helping me get started with sewing.

Today, I purged half of this basket of sewing goodies that I bought at an estate sale. The whole basket cost me .75 (I know!) but I hadn't ever put the time forth to go through the basket and find out what I got for my large investment. I knew there were enough things in it to make it worth the purchase and I also knew there was some stuff I'll never use, so this was a nice excuse to go through it and separate everything.

When I'm faced with large amounts of items that I need to go through, I like to make 3 piles-keep, purge and maybe. Then, I count the maybes and split them down the middle. For me, it's an efficient set of rules that helps me make the decisions.

In this case, I only had 2 items that fell into the maybe pile and everything else was pretty straightforward. I have no idea what those little green things with animals woven into them are, though. Anyone recognize these?  I thought they might be kinda nifty as a quilt addition (In the picture, they're folded into thirds, but they're all actually squares) but I'm not a quilter, so I ultimately had to just purge them. Hopefully they'll find love in someone else's hands.

The final purge:

#PurJuly day 4

Yes, yes, I forgot to post yesterday. We had a fun day, hanging out with friends and by the time I remembered I was supposed to post, it was almost midnight. I just couldn't do it.

I did purge, though. I'm getting rid of this watering can. I bought it at a thrift store and unfortunately, it doesn't work-the water literally doesn't come out of the spout. That explains why it was in the thrift store in the first place, I guess. Why I've kept an item for so long that doesn't work is a mystery. It's usually about not wanting to get rid of something either if I think I'll use it in the future or if someone else can get use out of it. 

This item is a very rare example (for me) of something I bought at a thrift store that didn't work out. Usually, when I decide I need a new item (for example, a vacuum sealer) I look at thrift stores first. In this way, I find very little items that I have to buy new. This saves me money and lessens my footprint on the resources of our planet. It can also make me feel better about purchasing items that I don't necessarily "need" but do still "want" (For instance, a candle warmer.)

Here's some great reasons to thrift store shop. For the purposes of this blog, reuse is the best, of course, but I've learned to never question people's motives for making greener choices. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

#PurJuly day 3

I just got some totally awesome PurJuly stories from Josy (see below)

My item today is: A Stitch doll. I have just a few stuffed animals in my home. I kept my Grimm and Lorax* stuffed animals, but I decided I could probably give up Stitch. I honestly don't remember why I have a Stitch in the first place. The only thing I can come up with is that it might have been a gift from a family member who went to Disneyland. If that is the case, I hope they'll understand that I have way too many things. Plus, to me, a stuffed animal should be loved (ala Toy Story) Hopefully, now Stitch will find a new home and be loved. 

*If you are an environmental educator and you haven't read The Lorax, I highly recommend it. I find the book a really easy way to talk about complex concepts like pollution, consumerism, activism, habitat, etc.

Here are the pics and stories behind Josy's purged items:

Item 1: I finally pulled the dryer out of my basement, previous owners left it. I put it by street for scrappers not sure if it worked.  My neighbors across street saw it and asked if they could have it.  Turns out they haven't had a working dryer in 2 years!!!  I helped get it over there and it totally works and they were so happy which made me very happy. 
Item 2: Treadmill went fast 

I guess sometimes getting rid of unwanted items is as easy as purging them from your home and letting others know you've got some items to give away. 

I'm not sure how Josy's going to get weights on those items for the tracking spreadsheet. Crazy! I'm feeling a little bit of that glow-after-purging vicariously. Way to go, Josy! 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

#PurJuly day 2

Today, I purged a box of clothes. Most I had never worn or hadn't worn in a really long time. The box weighs a whopping 9 lbs. 

One of the PurJuly participants, Laura, emailed me her items today. I like her "lessons learned"-don't you? I think they're both really great lessons to remember for de-cluttering (or, not having clutter in the first place...)

July 1  
Purged-one grocery sized bag of misc household/clothes sheets & free hand out type stuff from yesteryear Lesson learned: (again) take only what you want/need. :-) 13 items 

July 2 
Purged-returned/exchanged misc baby gifts (duplicates or too small) to Target for other needed items. 5 items. Lesson learned: If someone loves us enough to give us a gift-they would want me to exchange it for something we can actually use/need as well.

My clothes (and I'm guessing Laura's as well) will be going to the clothing swap at the end of August. Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 1, 2011

#PurJuly day 1

Day 1:

And I'm already cheating. This item is something I purged last weekend, but it's because I *had* to purge it then, because the artist that I gave it to was in town. So, I think that's a valid excuse for cheating. Rules are meant to be broken, right?

These glass pieces were left over from my upcycling project last year. I made jewelry organizers from thrifted frames, corkboard and fabric, but had much* of the glass left over. When Recycled Arts Festival rolled around this year, the organizer asked me to facilitate an artist material exchange. We worked with 2Good2Toss to set up a special section of their website dedicated to materials artists could give away, sell or solicit for. I put my glass on there and was emailed by one of the artists. I luckily remembered to weigh my glass before I loaded it up and it weighed (a surprising to me) 11 lbs! I found Naomi in the park and then had to go back later to take a pic, because I forgot that part. :D Thanks Naomi! I hope the glass works well for your project.

1 down, 30 to go...

*A little story about the glass: We have a framed picture of our logo for Vancouver Green Drinks. At Check 'Em Off Green last year, some rambunctious kids were running around the easel holding the frame. They knocked it, it dropped and shattered. Besides it being a huge mess, I was upset that we would have to find a new frame or go without. Then, I remembered that I had all these pre-cut pieces of frame glass at home and sure enough, had the right size for a replacement.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

PurJuly item tracking

We now have 10 people participating in the #PurJuly challenge! So exciting! There's still time to sign on to the challenge.

An interesting side benefit is that I've learned that spreadsheets on google docs can be easily filled out by multiple people. Witness, this form. This is a simple way for anyone partaking in the challenge to log their daily purged items. Awesome. (Ok, yes, I'm a geek...)

If you don't see your name in the drop down menu, just let me know and I can add it. (Or, if you prefer, you can use the Anon sign-in.)

I will post a link to the spreadsheet of data, once it's filled out a bit. I'm getting excited (and a teeny bit nervous, too...)

Here's to de-cluttering in the month of July!

Friday, June 24, 2011


Can you give up one item a day for a month? Let's find out! Let's make the month of July the month for purging. It's Purge-July (PurJuly)

Last week, I tweeted something about an exciting blog project. Today, I unveil to you what that was all about. I recently read something about a family purging one object from their lives every day for a year. Because I'm not really *that* dedicated, I decided to take on this challenge for a month. I want to invite you to partake in the challenge with me. Read on for more details.

About six months ago, a co-worker had the idea for us to save every item that we discarded for a month that was not recycled or composted. The experience was fun, interesting and surprising. It's strange to be able to look in a box and see the waste you made weeks ago. Normally, once we've thrown something "away" we never give it a second thought. It also had me thinking about ways to be even friendlier to humanity's chance on the planet. It has had some lasting effects on my behavior. I'm hoping the experience of purging one thing from my life, blogging the experience and hopefully having others join me in the experience will also have some lasting effects. 

So, here are the rules (they're pretty simple.)

  1. Purge at least one thing from your life every day for the month of July. The "thing" can be something tangible  (items you're not using, like clothing, media, electronics, etc) or they can be something more creative than that. (Got files clogging up your computer system? Perhaps purging some of that old stuff will be a positive step towards helping those of us with a little touch of the hoarding.) If you miss a day, it's ok, I won't tell! The important thing is to give it a try.
  2. If the item is tangible, send me a picture of the item (you don't have to do this every day, unless you want to) and I will try to blog everyone's items (If I get swamped, I might just pick a few each day.) I'd also like to keep a running list of the items with a brief description/weight, etc. 
  3. The Twitter hashtag for this project will be #Purjuly
See? Easy! Let's take on this challenge together and see what happens!

Remember, we have the clothing swap coming up in August, for those of you in the area. So, if you're cleaning your closets, you have a built in place to bring those items you're no longer using. I take no responsibility whatsoever for any setbacks you might experience by filling up the space you cleared with new treasures. ;)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Recycled Arts Festival Tossed and Found experience

The last weekend in June is the award-winning Recycled Arts Festival in Vancouver, WA. This event is totally amazing-A wonderful way to see the creativity from artists all over the region. (This year the festival features 108 artists!!!) Get a jump on your holiday shopping!

One of the unique aspects of the festival is the Tossed and Found booth. 

"I can't believe someone threw that away!"
Pictured are actual items from the 2011 collection.
The tossed and found experience offers a glimpse into what people are disposing of at the transfer station. Items are collected at the transfer station for about 2-3 months prior to this event and displayed for the public to view. Following the event, everything will be donated to The Paws and Claws thrift store (The St. John's one on 52nd Ave.) where it will be available for purchase. Be sure to visit this display for an awe-inspiring glimpse into the world of waste and to learn about alternative disposal ideas. Make sure to pick up a copy of the Clark County Thrift Store Map!

The Tossed and Found Experience is brought to the festival by Waste Connections, Inc. and Columbia Resource Center.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Recycling 101 Class in Vancouver, WA

Plastic Bags ~ Nursery Pots ~Aerosol Cans ~ Cardboard Boxes ~Motor Oil ~ Yard Debris ~ Antifreeze

empty aerosol cans such as this one are
acceptable in the curbside program
in Clark County, WA
Would you like to learn more about recycling – What goes in the cart, what doesn’t and other places where things can be recycled? Please join us for a free recycling class 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., Wednesday, June 22, in the Cascade Park Library Community Room. The library is at 600 NE 136th Ave., next to the Firstenburg Community Center.

City-recognized neighborhood associations who send a representative to this class and publish an approved recycling article in their neighborhood newsletter can earn money for their neighborhood association treasury.

For more information or to pre-register, please call 360-619-4122, and provide your name, neighborhood association* and phone number. Your pre-registration will help insure we have enough materials for everyone.

*If you would like to just attend the class (not representing a neighborhood) you're welcome to do that. The class is open to the public.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why Recycle?

Curbside recycling is
simple and convenient
Recently, I presented at a series of recycling classes put on by the City and County. Part of the class requires the participants to include a recycling article in their neighborhood newsletter. I thought this one did a good job of capturing a lot of the reasons for recycling that we discussed at the beginning of the class. Enjoy!

So What’s the Big Deal About Recycling?

A lot of us in Hough {Neighborhood} are good and diligent recyclers, toting our big blue carts and glass bins to the curb every collection day.  Most of the time we don’t think about doing it because we know it’s the right thing to do.  During my recent attendance at the Recyclingest Neighborhood Workshop, I was asked the question, “Why do you recycle?”  “For my child’s future,” I replied, but after I answered I was wondering where the concrete evidence was to prove I was doing the right thing.  Luckily, our trainer for the day, Terra, had the answers and they were pretty impressive.

Many of the products found in
the landfill could have
been recycled, if
separated properly.
First, let’s talk conservation since that’s often the moral grounds for recycling.  According to the British Metals Recycling Association, we save approx. 60% in energy costs when we recycle steel and a whopping 95% when recycling aluminum.  When you think about the process it makes sense.  Instead of mining iron or bauxite ore then refining it to get the virgin base metal, we’re simply melting down material that’s already been processed and reforming it.  Recycling most paper products saves approximately 40% and glass 30% in energy costs.  For those a generation older than myself or those from other countries, you may recall sending bottles back to the bottling company to sanitize and reuse.  Guess how much that saved in energy costs compared to making new glass bottles: Over 300%!  Glass bottles can be reused an industry average of 12 times before they are recycled.  

Glass is accepted in
most recycling programs.
So there’s a lot of energy to be conserved by recycling, what about the other major pitfall for our future generations, the environment?  How much does recycling really help us here?  When we can’t eliminate the need for paper completely, recycling it will reduce air pollution by 74% and water pollution by 50% compared to making it from virgin material.  Steel mills using recycled scrap instead of new iron reduce air pollution, water, pollution, and mining wastes by 70%.  Recycling glass and other metals also has substantial environmental benefits in the reductions of pollutants. 

Not enough of a reason you say?  You wanna get down to recyclable brass tacks?  Well here’s where you can put your money where your mouth is.  In Clark County, residents who’ve reduced the size of trash containers from 96 gallons to 64 gallons (because they are recycling so much more in the big blue carts) save an average of nearly $200 per year. (Figure calculated by Waste Connections Waste Reduction Specialist.)  Businesses with robust recycling programs are saving money as well by reducing their trash container sizes and, in some cases, are even creating revenue from their recyclable material.  And the recycling and reuse industry is big.  How big?  Roughly the same size as the US auto manufacturing industry!  And talk about job creation, for each 10,000 tons per year of trash, 1 job is created in the waste industry.  However for each 10,000 tons per year recycled material produced these many jobs are created:  Composting – 4, materials recovery – 10, recycling-based manufacturing – 25, plastics – 93, and computer reuse – 296!
All of these reasons are substantial in their own to start recycling today and I encourage folks to take it a step further.  Organize with your neighbors to combine trips to the West Van Materials Recovery Center when you need to get rid of Household Hazardous Wastes or other recyclables that they don’t collect curbside.  Offer to take your neighbor’s collection of plastic bags to the store next time you’re planning a trip.  There are so many ways we can create a more sustainable community and recycling is a key element.  I’m doing it for my child’s future, why are you?

Article reprinted with permission from Brian Boothe

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Do you create recycled art or fashion?

If you live in the Vancouver/Portland metro area and create recycled or reused fashions, accessories or other goods, here are some opportunities you should know about:

Do you create fun recycled goods,
like this lightbulb bud vase?

-- The Earth Day celebration at the Marshall Center is getting bigger and better with each passing year. There are still a few vendor spots left this year. Email 

-- For Earth Day, The Stream Team of Clark Public Utilities will be holding a fashion show and are looking for fun fashion and accessory items to show off. Email 

-- In June, the theme for First Friday in Camas is Recycled Arts/Go Green. They are looking for vendors. Email  

--Perhaps one of the most well-known (and certainly one of the biggest!) events to show and sell your wares is the annual Recycled Arts Festival put on by Clark County Department of Environmental Services. This event is all full for 2011, but there is a waiting list. 

--In November, Vancouver Green Drinks is going to repeat their wildly successful Check 'Em Off, Green event. We are looking for creators of recycled/reused goods and also for local businesses to be part of our "local experiences" booth Email

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Free Recycling Informational Class

Ever wondered why only certain items are collected for recycling or whether you really need to take the label off that can before recycling it? Well, the good news is, there will be 4 informational classes to answer all your burning questions about recycling.

Glass recycling is one of the many things you'll see
while on a tour of West Van Materials Recovery Facility
This is a free 2 hour training session, offered four times this year. Three morning sessions that include a tour of the newly updated processing facility will be offered Wednesday, March 23, Thursday, March 24, and Saturday, March 26, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at West Van Materials Recovery Center. An evening session will be offered Thursday, March 31, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the PUD Electric Center, 1200 Ft. Vancouver Way.

Space is limited for the daytime tours, so it is important to pre-register. Please call 619-4122 by March 21, and leave your name, address, phone number and the Neighborhood Association you are representing.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Poster Save = Epic WIN!

One of the really great things about the people I work with is their willingness to go the extra mile to make sure usable items stay out of the landfill, it at all possible.

Recently, my "partner in crime" for Green Drinks, Laura, approached me to tell me that she knew of a large stack of science posters that needed saving. Sure, she could have just thrown them in the recycling container and yes, they would have been recycled.... But, of course she wasn't happy with that outcome for such a resource and neither was I.

I talked to my colleague who works with local schools and he quickly found some interest in the posters. Local Science teachers would love to have these posters in their classrooms, we figured.

Round about this same time, sweet serendipity sent Mark to our January meeting of Vancouver Green Drinks. Mark works with science teachers in our region (Like, all of them!) and was so excited to hear about this "waste" item that we were trying to re-home.

Mark and two of his colleagues show off some of the 3,000 science posters
that are destined for science classrooms instead of a landfill
I'm happy to say that through the efforts of The Reuser, Laura, Gregg and Mark, the posters will serve their highest purpose, educating local children in science classrooms around our region, rather than be relegated to the recycling bin. Epic poster save WIN!

Here's what Gregg had to say about this project: "Setting up this Poster Save was a great idea. Thanks for helping make this happen Terra and Laura, and for connecting us with Mark! Through his work as Science Coordinator for ESD 112 Mark is going to distribute these 3,000 science posters to teachers all over Washington and Oregon."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Empower Up

Hopefully by now you've had a chance to visit Empower Up and meet some of the dedicated staff and volunteers that make this amazing program possible. If you haven't, try to make time soon. This program has so many facets, it's hard to explain them all. Some of the many wonderful things they've done with unwanted technology (computers, printers, etc.) include: donating video game systems and games to Marshall Center, after the center was burglarized, Donating 13 computers to local non-profits in the month of January alone, countless classes and internet cafe hours... trust me, the list goes on and on.

I also happen to know that Yours Truly sent on the wish list for the Southwest Washington Humane Society to Empower Up and they were able to help with some of their technology needs as well. What a wonderful example of great programs helping each other out, right here in Clark County.

Empower Up can always use donations-your supplies and dollars go a long way toward ensuring that EU will be around for many moons to come and will continue to support our community in the amazing ways that they do.
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