America Recycles Day – Aluminum Cans and E-Waste

Recyclable Items Poster - America Recycles Day

This year, for the 20th annual America Recycles Day on November 15, 2016, be an eco-hero by forgoing aluminum beverage cans and tackling your e-waste.

I believe this, that, or the other thing “days” or such and such “months” can be informative and inspiring, motivating us to take meaningful actions related to the theme. For instance, Earth Day in 1970 helped launch the modern environmental movement and the proliferation of pink ribbons each October during Breast Cancer Awareness month has surely brought awareness to the issue.

What about America Recycles Day?

America Recycles Day

The first thing you see when you visit the America Recycles Day webpage is an opportunity to enter the sweepstakes drawing for a gift card.

You can use Google Maps to look for an event, join 67,464 other people in making a pledge to start recycling plastic bottles or watch a one-minute I Want to be Recycled video that follows a plastic bottle’s arduous journey to become a plastic bench overlooking the ocean.

The online store offers America Recycles Day booth canopies, flutter flags, and merchandise, like t-shirts, buttons, and pencils made out of newspapers.

Hmmm. Is America Recycles Day promoting recycling or shopping? Buying stuff to later recycle it doesn’t make sense to me.

Aluminum Beverage Can Challenge

Bales of Crushed Aluminum Cans Awaiting Recycling – Photo: West Boylston, MAHere is an aluminum beverage can challenge for you to consider doing for America Recycles Day.

Picture yourself grabbing an ice-cold aluminum Coke can from the cooler at your local mini mart, guzzling down its contents, and responsibly tossing the empty can in the recycle bin outside the store.

With your thirst quenched, you are feeling good about being a conscientious recycler, right?

Yes, but you could do more.

You probably know that aluminum is a valuable and highly recyclable material, but do you know what is involved in making and later recycling an aluminum beverage can? I did not until I looked into it and found out that aluminum cans have a significant environmental footprint.

Mining and refining bauxite (a major source of aluminum) and smelting aluminum is immensely energy intensive, uses large amounts of water, and generates air, water, and soil pollution. Making aluminum can be harmful to workers and the people who live near mining, refining, or smelting operations. Making the cans and later recycling them involves using additional resources, electricity, and water.

To make matters worse, Americans only recycle 55.1% of our aluminum beer and soda cans, meaning 44.9% end up by the side of the road or in a landfill.

Regardless of whether you recycle the can or not, it seems to me that using aluminum to make single-use disposable beverage cans is not a good idea.

If you agree, take the challenge below.

American Recycles Day Challenge – eliminate the need for recycling aluminum cans by not purchasing them in the first place.

E-Waste Recycling Challenge

E-Waste Dropped Off During Earth Day Event - Photo: Cal Recycle 160

Below is an e-waste recycling challenge for you to consider doing for America Recycles Day.

All across the country, city agencies, companies, and community organizations offer electronic waste drop-off recycling events on America Recycles Day and at other times throughout the year.

Imagine this scenario. You can finally get rid of your broken laser printer, an e-reader you never use, a 3-year old desktop computer, a collection of cell phones, and an obsolete game console. You load everything in your car and drive to the drop off location where helpful volunteers take custody of your surplus electronics.

Whew. You are feeling relieved to get this stuff out of your closet or garage and off your hands.

By recycling your unused and unwanted electronics you are enabling the valuable and sometimes rare materials they contain to be retrieved and later used to make new devices, reducing the need for mining and manufacturing new materials which can be harmful to people and the environment (ditto aluminum above).

In addition, keeping electronics out of your local landfill prevents toxic materials like mercury from leaching out of broken computer monitors into the ground and polluting your groundwater basin.

It’s all good, right?

Maybe, but ask yourself these questions.

Was there something wrong with my 3-year old desktop computer, or the cell phones, or the game console other than they are not the latest models? Do I feel compelled to replace my electronic devices when a new model comes out? If so, why?

Recycling an electronic device that is in good working order only to turn around and buy a new one just creates more future e-waste.

If the above scenario rings true for you,  take the challenge below.

America Recycles Day Challenge – do drop off our unused and unwanted electronic devices at an e-waste collection event. Then resist the urge to buy a new device.

The Bottom Line

An important and often overlooked aspect of recycling is reducing the need for recycling in the first place.

I acknowledge that change is difficult. It is also rewarding.

If you stop picking up a six-pack of beer in aluminum cans on the way home from work or buying a new cell phone every year, then there is nothing to be recycled.

Now you are an eco-hero.

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America Recycles Day – Start at the Store

America Recycles DayAmerica Recycles Day 10 in the Bin Flyer on November 15, 2014 offers people an opportunity to drop off recyclable materials at collection points across the country.

In addition to dropping off cans, newspapers, and bottles, take advantage of events that allow you to safely dispose of recyclable stuff that requires special handling and should not be put in public or curbside recycling bins like batteries, Styrofoam™ packaging, fluorescent light bulbs, household hazardous waste, and electronics (e-waste).

I am a fan of recycling and an avid recycler so when I ran across America Recycles Day last year I decided to dig into its history and purpose and then wrote Every Day Should Be America Recycles Day.

Container and Packaging Recycling

For this year’s post, I decided to focus on containers and packaging, something everyone deals with on a daily basis. It seems like most things we buy come in some kind of container or packaging, sometimes multiple layers. As soon as we open or use the product, the container and packaging becomes waste unless we recycle it.

According to the EPA, at 75 million tons, containers and packaging accounted for a staggering 30% of all solid waste generated in the United States in 2012. 1

Beverage manufacturers, consumer product companies, and recycling industry representatives tout the container and packaging recycling figure of 51.5% as a recycling success story. That still leaves 48.5%, or over 36 million tons of steel, aluminum, glass, paper, plastic, and wood containers and packaging in landfills across the country. 1

Egrets Standing on Garbage in a Landfill

Making boxes, cans, bottles, pouches, canisters, bags, tubs, wrappings, sacks, and cartons consumes energy, water, resources and generates waste. So does collecting, transporting, sorting, and processing recyclable materials. Not all containers or packaging is recyclable.

Clearly, our first priority should be to reduce containers and packaging in general. Next, make sure recyclable items do not end up in landfills.

Recycling Starts at the Store

If you think about it recycling starts at the store. While shopping, we have an opportunity to look at a product’s container and packaging and consider its recyclability before we bring into our home.

Grocery shopping is a universal activity that has a significant impact on what goes into our recycle bins, from cereal boxes to shampoo bottles. Let’s look at some ideas for shopping with reducing and recycling in mind.

Pile of Single-use Plastic Bottles - Photo: WikipediaSkip It – some products are wasteful regardless of whether they come in a recyclable container or not. Leave these items on the shelf, like bottled water.

Less is Less – buy in bulk, it usually results in less packaging overall, is more cost effective, and does not necessarily involve buying a huge amount of something.

BYOB – putting three apples in a plastic produce bag and toting groceries home in single-use plastic bags has become a habit for many America shoppers, but it can easily be broken by bringing your own bags or in some cases not using a bag. It’s easier to convert than you may think.

Just Add Water – cut down on plastic bottles by purchasing concentrated cleaners and adding water at home. Spray bottles conveniently marked with fill lines help unhandy people like me pour in the correct amount of solution and water, no measuring needed. By eliminating unnecessary water, which adds bulk and weight, these products have the added benefit of reducing transportation carbon emissions.

Confusing Recycling Label Collage - Image: Recycle Across AmericaCheck the Code – materials like cardboard and glass are relatively easy to recognize and are highly recyclable. Many plastics are recyclable too, but not all. Look for the recycling symbol and become familiar with recycling codes and which plastics your recycling company accepts.

Lose the Laminates – some foods and drinks come in pouches and bags made with recyclable materials like aluminum and plastic, but once the materials are fused together, they cannot be separated for recycling. I cringe when I remember the drink pouches we used to buy for our kid’s lunches.

Watch Out for Wrappings – what is the difference between eating a handful of cookies directly out of a box or grabbing three 100-calorie individually wrapped bags of cookies out of a box? One option involves three times as much packaging. By the way, the first box of cookies probably costs less.

Cases of Soda Cans Stacked to Resemble American Flag - Photo: Daniel OinesMaterial Matters – it doesn’t make sense to use certain materials for disposable containers. For example, aluminum is valuable, recyclable, and has a huge environmental footprint. It is an important material for making cars, electronics, and building components. Think twice before putting a six-pack of single-use aluminum beverage cans in your cart.

If you are you already a savvy shopper, then celebrate America Recycles Day by safely disposing of your household hazardous waste or e-waste at a local event, reducing junk mail by getting off catalog mailing lists, or swinging by a local retailer and dropping off your used batteries or fluorescent light bulbs.

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References:

  1. U.S. EPA – Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2012

Resources:

Central Coast Bioneers Conference 2014 – Growing the Movement

2014 Bioneers Program CoverIt is impossible to attend a Bioneers conference and then walk away untouched, uninspired, or unmotivated to act.

October 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the annual Bioneers conference, a gathering of people intent on creating an equitable, compassionate, and democratic society living in harmony with the natural world. This year’s program theme was Growing The Movement: The World We Want & How to Get There.

Bioneers brings together people of every ethnicity, culture, and creed, from teenagers to elders, indigenous people, scientists, activists, faith leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, farmers, social justice advocates, business people, environmentalists, health professionals, designers, government officials, educators, storytellers, and grassroots organizers.

The multi-day Bioneers conference agenda is jam-packed with speakers, performers, films, hands-on workshops, and field trips.

In addition to the national event held in northern California, at least a dozen groups spread across the country host local conferences in their communities. These groups make up the Resilient Communities Network, previously called Beaming Bioneers. Attendees have an opportunity to view the national keynote speakers and performers via video and participate in local workshops and field trips.

Central Coast Bioneers – Resilient Communities Network Partner

One of the Bioneers Resilient Communities Network partners, Central Coast Bioneers, is conveniently located where I live in San Luis Obispo County, CA.

Ecologistics, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in San Luis Obispo orchestrates the Central Coast Bioneers conference, which draws participants from Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties.

Bioneers Co-founder Nina Simons and Ecologistics Co-founder and CEO Stacey Hunt with Drew Dellinger at 2013 Central Coast Bioneers Conference - Photo: Central Coast Bioneers
Bioneers Co-founder Nina Simons and Ecologistics Co-founder and CEO Stacey Hunt with Drew Dellinger at 2013 Central Coast Bioneers Conference – Photo: Central Coast Bioneers

I discovered the Central Coast Bioneers conference in 2012 when an announcement in the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter newspaper caught my eye. The event seemed interesting so I bought tickets for my spouse and me.

It was a joyous and thought-provoking three days and spurred us to action. I recounted the experience in two posts, Bioneers – Revolution from the Heart of Nature and Central Coast Bioneers – Breakthrough Solutions for People and Planet.

We attended again in 2013 and came away informed and inspired, with an even longer to-do list. I commemorated the occasion by writing Bioneers 2013 Conference – Turning Vision into Action.

iFixit Repair Cafe at 2013 Central Coast Bioneers Conference - Photo: Central Coast Bioneers
iFixit Repair Cafe at 2013 Central Coast Bioneers Conference – Photo: Central Coast Bioneers

Central Coast Bioneers Conference – 2014

October 2014 marked the fifth anniversary of the Central Coast Bioneers conference and our third time attending.

National Keynote Speakers and Performers

We watched the national keynote speakers and performers on a big screen in the main auditorium. A few of my favorites are noted below:

Paul Stamets hefting a huge mushroom, showing the audience how mycelium networks communicate and transport water and nutrients through vast interconnected underground webs, and describing how fungi can help heal the earth.

Severine von Tcharner Fleming, a young agrarian, engaging the audience with her enlightening and sometimes humorous talk about the challenges faced by young farmers trying to gain a foothold in today’s agriculture industry.

Xiuhtezcotl Martinez, the 14-year-old director of Youth Guardians, standing in front of a crowd of thousands and delivering his presentation with poise and passion.

Robin Kimmerer quietly and eloquently speaking of plants and the lessons we might learn from them if we listen.

Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman, the Climbing PoeTree duo, embodying beauty and power while captivating the audience with their spoken-word poetry performance.

Note: click on each presenter’s name to watch a video of their presentation.

Local Keynote Speakers

Our local keynote speakers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, John Foran, Corrie Ellis, and Summer Gray shared their work with The Climate Justice Project.

Local Field Trips

One field trip took us to Kukkula Winery, an 80-acre farm growing wine grapes, walnuts, and olives mostly without irrigation (dry farming) and no pesticides. The winery buildings and owner’s home were built with green building materials and passive solar techniques.

Kukkula Winery Vineyard - Photo: Kukkula Winery
Kukkula Winery Vineyard – Photo: Kukkula Winery

We also visited Tierra Nueva, a cohousing community of 27 homes built among an existing 5-acre avocado orchard. Members of the community share a common house with dining and recreational facilities, a fully equipped workshop, and a food and flower garden. Residents care for common areas, get together for group meals and activities, and run the community in a collaborative manner.

Tierra Nueva Cohousing Community - Photo: Tierra Nueva
Tierra Nueva Cohousing Community – Photo: Tierra Nueva
Entertainment, Food, and Books

Afia Walking Tree and Michaelle Georlitz energized us in the mornings with their amazing drumming on a fascinating collection of percussion instruments.

The Centrally Grown food truck arrived just in time to feed the hungry lunchtime crowd. We enjoyed delicious grilled chicken and veggie tacos.

Volumes of Pleasure Bookshoppe was back again with their onsite bookstall offering a selection of books relevant to the conference topics. I purchased several books to add to my collection.

Thank You Central Coast Bioneers Volunteers

2014 Central Coast Bioneers Program CoverThe Central Coast Bioneers conference is made possible by a small group of volunteers who undertake the herculean task of planning and putting on the event all while fulfilling their day-to-day responsibilities and working at their day jobs.

Imagine the myriad of tasks, large and small, the volunteers accomplish throughout the year culminating in several hectic days during the conference. They do everything from searching for potential sponsors and asking them for money to providing a water station for filling up reusable water bottles at the venue.

I feel deeply grateful and indebted to Stacey Hunt, Michael Jencks, Celia Zaentz, Amanda Smith, and Nadia Brenner of Ecologistics, Inc. and all the volunteers who give of their time and expertise to bring the magical experience of Bioneers to the California Central Coast.

Ecologistics Secretary Amanda Smith and Ecologistics Co-founder and Board Chair Michael Jencks with Kenton Smith at Elkhorn Slough Reserve - Photo: Central Coast Bioneers
Ecologistics Secretary Amanda Smith and Ecologistics Co-founder and Board Chair Michael Jencks with Kenton Smith at Elkhorn Slough Reserve – Photo: Central Coast Bioneers

Have you been to a Bioneers conference yet? If not, mark your calendar for next October and check out the Bioneers website to learn more about the national conference or to find a Resilient Communities Network partner near you.

Help grow the Bioneers movement and Resilient Communities Network by volunteering, making a donation, or better yet both.

See you next year!

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