Archive for the ‘Trash Reduction’ Category

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BeingGreen: Gift Wrapping.

March 20, 2009

Okey-dokey.  It’s late and I’m tired (busy working on upcoming Script Frenzy project), so rather than writing about something complicated I’m going to keep it pretty brief and write about green gift wrapping.

Gift wrapping is a total menace.  You get this icky shiny paper and a load of tape and cut out huge sheets to wrap stuff in, then a couple of days later you give the gift to the recipient, who tears off the paper and stuffs it in the trash.

Eew.

So how does one green their gift wrapping?

The most popular method is furoshiki, or Japanese cloth giftwrapping.  You just take a big square piece of cloth, tie it appropriately, and it’s good to go.  No tape, and the cloth is reusable.  Here’s a video on YouTube that demonstrates how to tie furoshiki.

Another method is to wrap your gifts in paper that was originally used for something else – old magazine pages, perhaps, or paper grocery bags with painted shapes on them.  This works best for smaller gifts, and some caution is needed to make sure it doesn’t look cheap.

If you’re not too hung-up on wrapping, gift bags are also a good alternative.  While most of them aren’t made of green materials, they have the excellent property of staying intact when the recipient gets their gift, and can be reused.  Many times if necessary.

Then there are the flourishes you put on your gifts.  I admit to having a huge weakness for wrapping gifts in ribbon – preferably the annoying two-way ribbon that you can barely get off the gift package and comes with a couple of cute little curls that you top with a bow.  The bow isn’t so bad – you can use the same ones for years on end, provided they don’t get mashed – but the strings are pretty much toast once your gift-givee breaks out the scissors.  You could use cloth ribbons, but in my experience it doesn’t make a difference; they get tossed anyway.  Best green option = skip the ribbons.

…er, lost my train of thought here.  Wait, found it again.  Geez, it’s too late to be doing this.

The best option I’ve found for gift-wrapping is simply not to do it.  Of course, this has the unfortunate side effect of not having a gift to open, but if the gift is spectacular enough the recipient isn’t likely to care.  Last year’s Christmas presents were handed out from a plastic bag; oohs and aahs abounded over the handmade pinecone Christmas trees.

So although it is prudent to be green with your wrapping, it seems that the really good reactions are going to come from the gifts anyway.  What does this mean?  Well, certainly not that you should stop wrapping all gifts; kids especially love the experience of unwrapping.  But you might consider it.  And if not, try furoshiki or gift bags.

Geez… I’m starting to sound like Green Girl.  I’ve got to get to bed.

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Recycling: Part 2.

January 31, 2009

Now that we’ve taken a look at what happens to the things you take in to recycle (and learned that, yes indeed, it does get recycled) we can move on to the instructory phase: how to take your trash in for recycling.

First you need to examine your trash (not piece-by-piece; just glance at it and see what it’s made of) to find out which of it can be recycled.  Aluminum cans, glass bottles, pop bottles, and milk jugs are all a given.  Cardboard and gloss-free paper (including newspaper) are also good.  Plastic is a bit trickier.  Most of it can be recycled, but not every recycling center is equipped to take every kind of plastic.  To make this simpler, your recycled plastic should be marked with a triple-arrow with a number on the inside.  These numbers range from 1 to 7 and denote the type of plastic used.  1 and 2, respectively pop bottles and milk jugs, are the most common and the most widely supported (as stated above), but 3 and below are a bit trickier to process.

The next thing you should do is find a recycling center in your area and find out which materials they accept.  Many older facilities are not equipped to handle plastics 3-7 and will discard them.  If you cannot find a center in your area that takes these, you are better off to either discontinue purchasing the product that uses those plastics or finding alternative uses for the used containers.

Finally, prepare your trash for recycling.  This is probably the hardest part, as it requires you to segregate all of your trash by composition (metal, glass, paper, fabric, and the various kinds of plastic should all be separate from one another).  Anything that cannot be recycled (paper layered with metal or plastic, plastic that the center does not accept, and any kind of garbage not listed above) goes into its own container for regular trash disposal.  Once you have full sacks of recyclable material – as many or as few as the family vehicle will hold – you’ll need to drive them in to the center.  For convenience and gas savings, this is best done on your way to perform other errands such as grocery shopping.

Once you get it into the center, it’s a pretty simple matter of dropping the stuff off.  Often your things can be deposited outside, but it may be necessary for you to take your recyclables into the building proper.  From there, the center employees take over and you get back to your business.

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Being Green: Recycling.

January 30, 2009

Recycling is a subject with which most people are probably familiar.  We see its advocates and pieces almost constantly – recycling bins, recyclable labels on packaging, and friendly TV spots reminding us to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t give us a very good idea of what recycling is. Or, for that matter, how to do it (properly).

Recycling is a rather tricky process.  You take your material – for the sake of argument, pop bottles – into a collection station, usually referred to as a recycling center.  You drop off your bottles, they give you some money (sometimes), and you drive home, fairly sure that you’ve done something good from the environment but a bit confused and perhaps a bit discouraged as to what good you’ve actually done.

Meanwhile, at the collection station, they dig themselves into the stuff you’ve brought.  If you sorted the stuff out at home, it can go straight into processing; after being sorted by color, the bottles are crushed into blocks and sold to the processing companies.  Once these guys get ahold of your bottles (and by now, several other people’s bottles), they grind them up, sort out the bits of labels and plastic lids, and use the resultant material to make things.

But where, we may wonder, are these things they’re making?  We pump tons of recyclable materials into the centers each year, but it’s rather rare to actually see anything in a store that’s made from any post-consumer products.  With that in mind, it’s easy to wonder whether they’re actually making use of this stuff that we’re taking our precious time to deliver to them.

Rest assured, though, these materials are being used – especially if cleaned properly, as mentioned last Friday.  PET flakes – the stuff left over once the wrappers and lids are removed – are frequently used to make plastic fibres (such as found in clothing, pillows or those neat reusable shopping bags), or sometimes made into new bottles.  Other kinds of plastics are made into lumber, construction material, picnic tables or other things.  Glass and paper have their own applications.  Aluminum, possibly the most valuable recyclable resource, can simply be remade into new cans for a huge reduction in carbon output.

On the other hand, if you just throw this stuff in the trash, it is hauled away and dumped into a huge trash pile where it will spend the next few decades slowly decomposing and emitting huge quantities of toxic chemicals.  Your choice.

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Being Green: Identifying Green Packaging.

January 25, 2009

I missed out last Green Friday (and the Friday before that, due to Internet downtime, so I thought I’d fill in today.  Come to think of it, I think I did iLOL’d today, too.  I’m starting to slip on my schedule here.   Let this be a lesson to you folks: Never let Internet downtime get in the way of your blogging, because it seriously borks your schedule.

But on to identifying green packaging.

I’m not just talking about paper packaging, although it’s often greener than plastic alternatives.  Nope, there are certain other qualities to look for in packaging that make them greener.

The first and most obvious one is: Is this package recyclable?  If you’re not sure, examine the label.  It should have a triple-arrow sign (the little triangular one) with the word “recycle” somewhere nearby.  If it’s plastic, it may also include a notation as to what type of plastic it is, but sometimes not.

The second thing you should check is: Is the package refillable?  It’s greener to keep re-using the same package over and over than it is to keep tossing stuff into recyclables.  Recycling, though useful, still uses up energy and produces carbon; reuse requires no such effort.  Most packages, like hot-dog wrappers, obviously aren’t refillable, but clean produce bags, water jugs, and rechargeable batteries (think of them as containers for electricity) can be used several times over before you have to toss them.  You might even consider buying dedicated containers for some of your favorites – rather than cycling through several fragile convenience-store drink cups, buy one good mug that will last you for years.

Next thing you want to check: Can the package be cleaned easily?  You can’t re-use a dirty wrapper or box, and recycling dirty things leads to low-quality products.  A decent rinsing to remove any food particles is usually sufficient, though you may want to treat some packages for oils.  (Wow, that sounded professional… what I mean is that you want to rub a little dish soap on the greasy parts and rinse it off in warm water.)

Another good option you might like to look for: Can I reuse the package for something else?  Around here, we save cottage-cheese containers and breadbags and use them to store frozen foods.  Aluminum food cans are used to hold small crafting objects or tools (not that we don’t recycle a lot of those, too).  There’s no point in hoarding mass amounts of containers, but it’s nice to have a few for various purposes.

Of course, there are some materials that just can’t be reused or recycled, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for these.  Anything that combines two different materials (like paper with a plastic or metal lining) can’t be recycled; neither can Styrofoam.  There are also certain plastics that don’t lend well to recycling; dyes and fillers are costly and difficult to remove, and biodegradable plastics have an adverse effect on the quality of the recycled product.  Then there are certain plastic types which just may not be supported by the recycling centers in your area; these can include plastics with the triple-arrow sign.

Another thing you want to watch for is wasteful packaging.  This refers both to packaging that wastes itself (excessive packaging) and packaging that promotes quick ruin of the product.  Excessive packaging includes plastic-wrapped fruit as well as many old-fashioned toy packages.  For product longevity, choose packages that minimize oxygen contact (for meat) or allow some breathing room without too much exposure (for fresh vegetables/fruits).  Also avoid buying food in quantities larger than you can use, unless you plan on freezing the excess for later.  For nonperishable products, choose bags and boxes that fit their contents well and cans in quantities that you consume before they go off.

Of course, no packaging is greener than the nude, but for products other than fresh fruits and vegetables that just isn’t going to work.

(As an afterthought, this and the follow-up article on recycling are considerably more complex than eliminating vampire power. Nonetheless, they are considered Green Basics as they are easier to incorporate into your current routine than other trash-reduction methods.)