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!
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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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 Cosmetics
, to name a few. (You can also avoid packaging altogether by making your own
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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
, who will kindly take them off your hands to create new products.”
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.
Ceramics and pottery: This includes things such as coffee mugs.
: 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.
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!
“Bus or car?”
“Publix or Trader Joe’s?”
“Chicken or beef?”
“Organic or imported?”
“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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!