Crafty (and Sustainable!) Gift Wrapping Ideas

It’s that time of year again!

Your (obviously sustainable) Turkey Day is all tucked into tupperware and the happy tummies of your friends and family. Holiday music has already been on the radio for a month, and the gaudy red and green splashed merchandise has gravitated to the front of the store. Now, I suppose, is the time to start thinking about presents.

May I encourage you to make it a DIY Christmas? In these hilarious accounts of just such, one my my favorite writers (Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan) delves into the practice with her entire family. But if you can’t encourage your whole family to switch, you can use tips like these to make your holidays chock-full of some crafty goodness.

Making your own gift, rather than buying from a store, usually involves less materials and therefore less waste. Homemade jelly packaged in a reusable glass jar, a hand-sewn throw pillow or even a framed picture decorated by you are all simple and thoughtful gifts. Some would even say they’re more authentic.

But if that’s not an option for you, at least consider the wrapping paper. According to Stanford, if every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields! This is a tremendous savings to both you and the planet. This Treehugger piece is a great space for inspiration for some excellent DIY wrappings.

Here’s a little more inspiration below, but please check out the Treehugger piece for even more!

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Wait, You Can Recycle That?

Has your bin been a little empty after reading that list of things you couldn’t recycle? Never fear! There’s plenty more to toss in those orange and blue boxes. As a follow-up to last week’s post, here are some unusual items that actually CAN be recycled!

Once again, courtesy to Mother Nature Network for the list. Also again, for any questions about where to locally donate or recycle some of these materials, check out the list from the city of Gainesville. They’ve got you covered.

1. Athletic shoes
“Tired, broken-down, “fragrant” running shoes are most generally directed to the trash, but given our penchant for kicks, that’s a lot of sneakers stinking up the landfill. A better future for your athletic shoes is to introduce them to one of Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe recycling bins. Nike in turn will incorporate them into the raw material called Nike Grind, which is used in everything from running tracks to shoe soles to zippers.”
2. Bicycles
“Americans send more than 15 million bicycles out to pasture every year. But rather than throwing them in the dump, you can give your old two-wheelers a second life by donating them to Bikes of the World, which collects, refurbishes and donates bikes to lower-income people and select institutions in developing countries.” Or, if you’re at UF, you can leave your bike on campus over break, and the bike will be removed and added to a collection. However, that’s not necessarily the best way to go about it.
3. Bras
“There comes a time in every bra’s life when it just has to move on, and bras aren’t generally the kind of clothing we women toss in the “to donate” pile. But the Bosom Buddy Program, started by a textile recycling company in Arizona, wants your weary bras. After sprucing them up, they donate the revamped brassieres to women’s shelters or other programs that help women gain self-sufficiency.”
4. Brita water filters
“Ditching plastic water bottles for filtered water is a resourceful move, even if you are left with spent water filters. But if you use Brita products, you’re in luck. They have teamed up with the company Preserve, and between the two, they are recycling Brita plastic pitcher filter casings into Preserve’s eco-friendly, 100-percent recycled products such as toothbrushes, cups and cutting boards. Also cool: the activated carbon within the filters is regenerated for alternative use or converted into energy.”
5. Compact fluorescent light bulbs
“The mercury content makes CFLs a trickier disposal problem than basic bulbs, leaving many people confused about what to do with them once the light has been extinguished. But now both Ikea and Home Depot provide CFL recycling programs, and other lighting stores are also beginning to accept these bulbs as well. If neither of these chain stores are nearby, see 5 ways to dispose of old CFLs for other ideas.”
6. Cosmetics
“Cosmetic packaging probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when considering recycling, but compacts, tubs, tubes, and other containers can be easily recycled. Various companies have their own programs, including: M·A·C CosmeticsOrigins and Aveda, to name a few. (You can also avoid packaging altogether by making your own.)”
7. Crayons
“This may sound crazy — clearly crayons aren’t public enemy number one – but with 120,000 pounds of crayons produced each day in this country, the landfills could become surprisingly colorful. Fear not, the National Crayon Recycle Program will recycle your rejected crayons and turn them into new ones. So far, the program has diverted more than 88,000 pounds of crayons from landfills.”
8. Crocs
“Love them or hate them, the molded petroleum-based foam shoes that seem best suited for emceeing a circus are here to stay; if not in fashion, at least in the environment, given the enduring material from which they are made. But the company that everyone loves to hate has done something good with the formation of Crocs Cares, which recycles used Crocs into new shoes and donates them to underprivileged families.”
9. Eyeglasses
“There is something profoundly counter intuitive about throwing out old eyeglasses, it just doesn’t feel right; but how in the world can we recycle old glasses?  It’s actually quite simple, and better yet, they can be reused by people in need. The Lions Recycle for Sight program collects used eyeglasses and cleans them before sorting by prescription strength and distributing them to people in developing countries. They accept prescription and reading glasses, sunglasses and plastic and metal frames. Children’s glasses are especially needed. Drop them in a Lions Club dropbox or send them by mail, here’s how.”
10. Hair dryers
“Hair dryers usually have a decent lifespan, but once they need replacing, what to do with the old clunky beast? Folica.com is one option for recycling; the company accepts mail-back dryers and will issue a $40 credit towards the purchase of a new one.”
11. iPods
“If you bring your old iPod to an Apple Retail Store, they will take it off your hands and also give you a 10 percent discount on the purchase of a new one.”
12. Mobile phones
“Currently, only about 10 percent of cellphones in the U.S. are recycled; and while some components require proper hazardous waste disposal, other parts are highly recyclable. There are many charities that accept old phones for recycling. See a list of mail-back programs at earth911. And if you have an iPhone, you can return it to Apple for recycling; if the device is eligible for re-use, Apple will give you a gift card for the value.”
13. Packing peanuts
“Polystyrene packing peanuts, oh how they perplex! The masters of static cling areparticularly problematic because they take up a lot of room, waste-wise, and they fail to biodegrade. Fortunately, they don’t lose their packing prowess upon being reused, so many shipping companies will take them back. Try Mailboxes, Etc and UPS, you can also find other drop-off locations at loosefillpackaging.com.”
14. Pantyhose
“The global hosiery market is expected to reach $20.3 billion by 2015, and given pantyhose’s propensity to so easily render itself unwearable courtesy of snags and runs, there is a seemingly endless stream of pantyhose finding their way to the trash can. Fortunately, there are many ways you can reuse retired pantyhose, and when all else fails, you can recycle them. No Nonsense legwear company accepts all brands of nylons, knee-highs and tights and recycles the material to be used in carpet, anchor rope and park benches. Get a mailing label here.”
15. Plastic dry-cleaning bags, bread bags, produce bags, etc
“Some municipalities have fantastic curbside recycling options for plastic, but others don’t. If you live in the latter, there’s a secret that too few people know about. Nearly any plastic bag or plastic wrap can be deposited in the grocery bag recycling bin at many supermarkets. For more details, see Recycle sandwich bags, dry-cleaning bags and more.”
16. Resealable sandwich bags
“Few items create more inner turmoil for eco-moms than zipper-style sandwich and freezer bags; for many they embody the sinful duality of being both wonderfully indispensable yet easily disposable. For those who can’t give up their resealable bags, you can now recycle them at any of more than 18,000 in-store recycling centers. And you can even earn reward points for doing so. For details, see Ziploc launches new recycling program.”
17. Wine corks
“Yes, cork is biodegradable and in the big picture, bitty little wine corks are perhaps not the most vexing of items to warrant recycling. But if you consider that in the U.S. alone we consume more than 850 million gallons of wine, you realize that the corks can really start to add up — and there are only so many DIY coasters and homemade memo boards one house can handle. Fortunately you can send your corks to places like Yemm & Hart or recork.org, who will kindly take them off your hands to create new products.”
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Wait! You Can’t Recycle That!

Stop!

Before you toss that hairspray can in the recycling bin, take a look at this list. There are a ton of things that are unable to be recycled, from coffee mugs to napkins to batteries. Things that you’d think belong in those orange blue boxes just don’t.

Most of these items have a designated location for someone to collect them. So check out this super handy recycling guide from the city of Gainesville. It has a huge list of items, complete with all the information to make recycling everything a breeze.

Courtesy of Mother Nature Network, here are some items that you (shockingly) can’t recycle! So think twice before you chuck any of these into your bins.

Aerosol cans: Sure, they’re metal. But since spray cans also contain propellants and chemicals, most municipal systems treat them as hazardous material. [That means no hairspray, shaving cream or PAM cans!]

Batteries: These are generally handled separately from both regular trash and curbside recycling.
Brightly dyed paper: Strong paper dyes work just like that red sock in your white laundry.
Ceramics and pottery: This includes things such as coffee mugs.
Household glass: Window panes, mirrors, light bulbs and tableware are impractical to recycle. Bottles and jars are usually fine. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) are recyclable, but contain a small amount of mercury and shouldn’t be treated as common household bulbs. For ideas on how to handle them, see 5 ways to dispose of old CFLs.
Juice boxes and other coated cardboard drink containers. Some manufacturers have begun producing recyclable containers. These will be specially marked. The rest are not suitable for reprocessing.
Napkins and paper towels: Discouraged because of what they may have absorbed. Consider composting.
Pizza boxes: Too much grease. While some compost enthusiasts steer clear of adding pizza box cardboard to their pile, others report no problems. It’s that or the trash.
Plastic bags and plastic wrap: If possible, clean and reuse the bags. Make sure neither gets into the environment.
Plastic-coated boxes, plastic food boxes, or plastic without recycling marks: Dispose of safely.
Plastic screw-on tops: Dispose separately from recyclable plastic bottles. Remember that smaller caps are a choking hazard.
Styrofoam: See if your community has a special facility for this. [We don’t, but you can ship it to a place that does!]
Tyvek shipping envelopes: These are the kind used by the post office and overnight delivery companies.
Wet paper: In general, recyclers take a pass on paper items that have been exposed to water. The fibers may be damaged, and there are contamination risks.
Happy recycling!
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Rethinking Recycling

This video shared by Treehugger’s own Margaret Badore is a simple and excellent look at the changing landscape of recycling over the years. This 3-minute video discusses the switch from refillable to plastic bottles, and the actual source of the  American anti-littering campaign.

Towards the end of the video, she brings up the idea of “Product Stewardship,” which is a topic that has been generating interest lately. One of the more notable takes on the idea is within the book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Written by Micheal Braungart, a renowned German chemist, and William McDonough, a famous American designer, the book explores the system of waste and product generation in the world today, as well as possible solutions to each of the issues presented.

Personally, I highly recommend the book. It was one of the first I picked up in my search for continuing environmental education, and it was an awesome introduction into the world of greater thoughts on sustainability. Do you have any picks for some green reading? Let me know!

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Simple Tips for Greener Groceries

“Bus or car?”

“Publix or Trader Joe’s?”

“Chicken or beef?”

“Organic or imported?”

 

Decisions, decisions.

 

“Paper or plastic?” isn’t the only choice at the grocery store. In fact, it’s only the beginning, and like all of the questions above, none of these scenarios are black and white. Thinking outside of the box bag gives you more options and more opportunities to flex your brain and put those newly learned green-minded skills to use.

Here are some simple tips to save you time, money and plastic at the grocery store:

  1. Making good choices at the store goes far beyond simply using reusable bags, but they are certainly a great start. Cloth bags hold more than a  plastic or paper bag, and using them prevents your would-be disposable bag from entering the waste stream. But if you’re in a pinch, paper is a (slightly) wiser choice than plastic. For an in-depth analysis of that debate, check out this excellent Treehugger piece.
  2. If you’re only buying one or two things of produce, don’t use a plastic bag. Just rest the item gently in your bag or cart. This was the biggest revelation for me, because most people use a plastic bag even for something as simple as a single apple. Skip that and buy your snack plastic-free!
  3. However, if you are buying enough produce that it would look silly rolling around in your cart, try paper bags. Some stores have them near the mushrooms, or you can always bring some from home. They can be recycled or thrown into a compost pile when you’re done.
  4. Whenever you can, buy products in bulk.  Bulk products, which include things like nuts, grains and flours, can be purchased as some stores in great quantities. The larger the quantity, the less plastic you use to bring it all home. Pro tip: avoid single-serve anything whenever you can. It’s a complete waste of plastic.
  5. Try carpooling with friends, or making your grocery run just one stop on your errands. The most economical use of your car or bus trip means less fossil fuels wasted for your trip to stock up on snacks.
  6. And as always, remember to be on the lookout for The Dirty Dozen and The Clean 15 and to be seasonal!

Some of these steps can be accomplished by choosing to source your products as locally as possible whether it be at farmers markets or independent grocery stores (hint: Ward’s is a great Gainesville choice!)

Good luck grocery shopping!

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Let’s Go All-In on Selling Sustainability

For your (somewhat) long video of the week, check out this 13-minute talk by Steve Howard, the chief sustainability officer at IKEA.

Howard gives an engaging talk about the importance of sustainability, and how it’s role in society has changed throughout the last few generations. He talks about how the importance of conservation and preservation of energy, and indeed, our society, had jumped to the forefront of our culture. Sustainability, he says, has gone from a “nice-to-do” to a “must-do.”

I won’t go into more detail, but take a listen.

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So, what’s a BPA?

Labels you might see when purchasing plastic products. (Pro tip: Just avoid plastic all together!)

Labels you might see when purchasing plastic products. (Pro tip: Just avoid plastic all together!)

If you’ve ever paid attention to plastic products for sale, you’re bound to have seen at least a few companies advertising their goods as “BPA-free”. Seeing that on a label leads most consumers to immediately believe that BPAs must be bad for them, but the truth in this situation is a little murky, so here are the facts:

Bisephenol A (or BPA) is an epoxy used to make clear, hard plastics. You see this kind of plastic every single day, whether it be in the grocery store, in vending machines or in the tupperware you use to store your food. It’s often used as coating inside plastic bottles or tin cans. At high-dosage levels, BPAs have hormone like properties. They are endocrine disruptors, and some studies show that they can cause possible negative effects in animals and fetuses, causing birth defects. Some of these effects are stronger when BPA filled plastic is chipped, broken or heated.

In a historic move, Canada has recently declared BPAs toxic. This is upsetting to the American Chemical Council, which says that their product, Bisephenol A, is perfectly safe. One quote from that article said that, “last week, Statistics Canada disclosed that 91 per cent of people tested positive for BPA in their urine, with higher levels for children aged 6 to 11 than for adults over 40. The highest concentrations were in children.”

Most world governments, including the US,  Australia and the EU, have declared that BPAs are mostly safe for human consumption at low levels. However, several countries (even the US) have banned BPA use in products such as baby bottles.

But there are many, many studies supporting both sides of the debate, with the main issue being that studies showing harmful effects of BPAs (even at low does) are hard to reproduce. Scientific American covers the controversy surrounding the issue pretty well.

Wherever you fall on the argument, limiting exposure to possibly toxic chemicals is just another reason to use less plastic. But a life without plastic can be pretty tough. The stuff is ubiquitous! What’s a green-minded consumer to do?

The best way is the simplest, use alternatives.

Whenever possible, refuse plastic, single-use, disposable items. Choose glass, aluminum or paper over plastic whenever you can. Why? Because when items like these are recycled, they can be turned into new and equally useable products. Plastic, not so much. Keeping plastic out of the waste stream is just one more way to make a smaller impact on the Earth, and if it means being a little healthier in the process, even better!

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Greener Eats

Healthy food is currently making a resurgence in popular culture. Even the all-mighty villain of good eats, McDonalds, now offers apple slices as a side choice for their kids meals! As food trends go, I think this one is here to stay. But why exactly are your eating habits so important from a sustainable standpoint?

Whether or not you go fully vegetarian/vegan or remain omnivorous, eating less meat is a cheaper, healthier and more environmentally friendly way to go. Livestock and meat production is highly land, energy and resource intensive. If you’re in for a long read, the Vegetarian Society has a very in-depth piece on the environmental benefits of going veggie. One of the main points is that worldwide, farmed animals produce more greenhouse gas emissions than the world’s entire transport system (18% of the total vs about 13%).

If that number doesn’t jump out at you, then don’t worry. You don’t need an environmental justification to enjoy vegetables! Cooking without meat (or dairy, if you so choose) allows you to be much more creative. Instead of relying on fat and meat to flavor everything, you get to experiment with the whole rainbow of spices and natural flavors. Plus, cooking your own vegetables means you can make them exactly the way you like them best, whatever that means to you.

Or, if you’re not ready to fully commit to a meat-free lifestyle, you can follow in the footsteps of one of the most famous food writers, Mark Bittman, who writes for the New York Times. Bittman is a member of the growing movement of people who define themselves as “flexitarians”. Not vegan/vegetarian all the time, just more often than not. He sums it up perfectly in this article, titled “Going Vegan, if Only for a Day”.

While I am not personally a vegetarian or vegan, I try and live a little lighter on the planet by choosing more vegan options. One of my favorite ways to do this is by exploring food blogs. There are thousands on the internet, but I’ve found a few vegan/vegetarian blogs that I’m just obsessed with. I’ve shared a few below, I hope you check them out and enjoy them as much as I do!

Produce on Parade

I list her first because Katie, an Alaskan vegan with a healthy sense of humor and adventure, is quickly becoming one of my favorite food blogs – period. She lists tons of comfort food, vegan style. I guess it comes with the territory when you live somewhere that cold! Her awesome recipes come complete with beautiful photographs, so I highly recommend you check them out!

Rockstar Recipe: I have yet to try any of hers yet, but her Coconutty Cinnamon Roll Pancakes look out of this world!

 

Cooking Stoned

No, he isn’t really stoned. However, Jerry James Stone is an EXCELLENT chef. A vegetarian, Stone often dabbles in vegan or gluten-free recipes, all accompanied by cute instructional videos and recipes.

Rockstar Recipe: Everything I’ve made by his recipes has been great, but his Balsamic-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Crushed Pine Nuts and Parmesan are a hit among all of my friends, and they’re so easy to make!

 

The Vegan Stoner

This website is downright adorable. Every recipe is illustrated by cute, cartoony depictions of the ingredients that look, well, a little high. Sarah Conrique and Graham I. Haynes are the designers behind the recipes and drawings, and their mission is to offer vegan recipes that don’t require an extensive kitchen of ingredients or complicated instructions to prepare.

Rockstar Recipe: I’m a big fan of their Cashew Ambrosia Salad. It’s creamy, nutty and sweet. They even have a cookbook in select stores, with even more doodles and cheap, easy vegan recipes.

Oh She Glows

Angela Liddon’s vegan blog is one of the most popular and established in the genre. She has hundreds of popular recipes, and updates frequently. In addition, some of her recipes are gluten-free, soy-free or free of processed foods. There’s a ton of recipes to choose from, so get ready to fall down the rabbit hole of vegan cuisine.

Rockstar Recipe: I love her Tex Mex Spaghetti Squash with Black Bean Guacamole for a hearty and flavorful meal. I recommend plenty of her desserts as well, for those with a sweet tooth.

 

Budget Bytes

While this food blog may not be particularly vegetarian or vegan themed, this is my all-time favorite food blog. Beth caters to those with good taste and slim wallets. She does a price breakdown of every recipe for the budget-concious readers, which is great. She has a drop-down menu on the side that has vegan, vegetarian and vegetables categories.

Rockstar Recipe: I’m currently working my way through her recipes, but Beth so far has not disappointed. Recently I made her Island Rice Pilaf  for my roommates and they ate up every bit. Although, to be fair, it’s like that with every one of Beth’s recipes.

 

Bon Appétit!

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What’s an Ecological Footprint?

Your ecological footprint is a measure of how much land it would take to produce the resources necessary to sustain your lifestyle.

Your ecological footprint is a measure of how much land it would take to produce the resources necessary to sustain your lifestyle.

Maybe you’ve started to dip your toe into the waters of the sustainability movement, and you’ve heard some chatter about footprints. Carbon footprints, global footprints, ecological footprints — any kind of footprint, really. “What gives?” You may ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

The most accepted”footprint” these days is an ecological footprint. An ecological footprint is “a measure of how much biologically productive land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes, using prevailing technology”. It’s also another way of expressing carrying capacity, which is the total population a certain set of resource sources and sinks can sustain and absorb. The USA has the largest carbon footprint of any nation on Earth, which means that even though we may not have the largest percentage of the global population, we use the largest percentage of resources.

When you fill out a footprint calculator, it asks about certain behaviors, including how much you spend on your electricity bill, how often you eat meat and how often you use fossil fuels. It takes these behaviors and gauges how much land is necessary to produce all the food, fuel and power to keep you at your standard of living. It then tells you how many Earths it would take to produce all the resources needed if everyone on the planet lived the exact same way you did.

When you fill out this quiz, you may be alarmed to find that your footprint would take 3, 4 or even 7 Earths to sustain over the long run. While you can lower this through making more more sustainable life choices (i.e. conserving water, eating less meat or using alternative transportation) there is a certain amount of this calculation that is immobile the second you click “USA” as your home nation. The US uses resources to produce crops, maintain an army and basically do things every government does. We just happen to do it more wastefully than most.

FInding out your personal ecological footprint is a great way to put your lifestyle choices in perspective, and to see what kind of an impact your lifestyle and choices make. Interested in finding out how you score? Check out this handy calculator to find out for yourself.

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Greening Your Game Day

999766_10151883300359104_1683425524_nGame day is here once again, Gator fans, so rise and shine to watch the boys of old florida do WORK in the Swamp.

But while you’re enjoying the day’s festivities, why not take a hint from Albert and be a little greener?

Whether you’re grilling and chilling in the comfort of your house or on campus, here are a few tips to ensure your game day is a little more eco-conscious.

First of all, the simplest way to make a difference is to bring the same Earth friendly habits you have at home to your tailgate. The number one way to do this is to reduce the amount of waste you create. Use reusable dishes, cups and silverware instead of paper or plastic. They can be purchased cheaply at thrift stores, or you can pool your resources with your friends and use what you have.

But if you must go disposable instead of reusable, recycle or compost everything you can. An easy way to encourage your guests to do the same is to have a clearly marked spot for recyclables and compostables. Do you want to do more? Consider volunteering for the Tailgator Recycling Team and helping to keep the Swamp clean and green.

Time to fire up your grill. What to use, propane or charcoal? Propane may be a fossil fuel, but it burns cleaner, which means it releases less airborne pollutants into the atmosphere. Charcoal is much dirtier, not to mention more cumbersome and unwieldy. However, you can choose a better charcoal, one made of renewable, plant-based waste products like these coconut shell charcoal briquettes. Skipping the chemical-laden lighter fluid and using a charcoal chimney made of newspaper gets you even more bonus points. This handy tutorial explains the technique quite nicely.

Now comes the fun part – food! Switching out your hot dogs and burgers for veggies is the easiest way to make your tailgate green. Vegetables taste awesome grilled, so even if you aren’t serving them as the main course, it doesn’t mean your tailgate has to be strictly carnivorous. Sourcing your munchies as locally as possible is another simple way to reduce your impact. Beverage wise, Gainesville has plenty of awesome local or organic brews just waiting to fill your coolers.

As for the entertainment, remember to not leave your car running if you’re using the radio. Or, you can skip the fossil fuels all together and try something cooler, like this solar-powered wireless speaker system.

Next is a tip that seasoned greenies are used to hearing, carpool! Walk, bike, bus or dance to the stadium, whatever works for you. Reduce your fossil fuel use and spend a little more time in nature in the process. And if you must bust out your hot rod, try not to ride solo. Plus, parking on game day is miserable anyway.

Once you get to  the stadium, remember that they recently added compost bins in addition to the recycling bins. You can now toss your empty popcorn box, hot dog wrapper and straws in the compost bins. Check the complete list of acceptable compost items out here. In the recycle bins, toss  your plastic bottles, cups and spoons.

You made it! Now sit back, enjoy the game and go (green) Gators!

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