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:

Sustainable Forest Management and Certified Wood

Deforestation - Logging in Tropical RainforestPeople rely on trees and forests for survival, livelihoods, and convenience. Products made from wood surround us in our daily lives. Trees take years or decades to grow so sustaining a steady supply of wood requires pre-planning. As the last tree in a forest falls to the ground it is way too late to say “Let’s plant some trees”.

Humans are not great at thinking ahead. If we were, we might not be in our current predicament of living on a warming planet with a growing population and shrinking resources.

Luckily we do have a good track record at adapting and changing even though we don’t always like or want to. By practicing sustainable forest management we can and are reshaping our relationship with forests and looking to the future.

Why are Forests Important?

First and foremost forests are beautiful magical places in their own right. Forests offer us a place to walk, sit, and explore, a place to renew our spirit and connect with another part of nature.

Humans seem to view practically everything on earth as a resource for our use. Forests provide “services” like absorbing and storing CO2, moderating the climate, retaining and distributing water, preventing erosion, and furnishing living quarters for 50-70% of the world’s plants and animals 1, 2 as well as millions of people. Forests supply a renewable flow of “goods” such as wood, food, and rubber, and support the livelihoods of over a billion people 1.

We cannot survive without forests and yet we cut down or burn 30 million acres of forest each year 1. A prime example of not thinking ahead.

Fortunately, some people in every generation are good at looking to the future, planning, and getting other people on board. Forward thinking people have been practicing sustainable forest management for millennia by making sure some trees are always left standing in a forest, respecting the interconnectedness of forest trees, plants, and animals, and planting new trees to replace trees that have died or been cut down.

Sustainable forest management is not new. Its globalization is.

What is Sustainable Forest Management?

Definitions vary but in general sustainable forest management is the thoughtful and careful preservation, use, and management of public and private forests. The overarching goal is to ensure forest goods and services are available for current and future generations. It’s a human-centric approach that happens to benefit all denizens of earth.

How Does Sustainable Forest Management Work?

Over the past couple of decades, sustainable forest management organizations have sprung up across the globe. They endeavor to help balance the needs of the environment, people, and businesses. These organizations include Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and PEFC, to name a few.

Sustainable forest management organizations develop standards, establish certification criteria, and promote sustainable forestry. Third party companies ensure that criteria are met by forest managers, forest product manufacturers, and others wishing to obtain certification.

Forests and companies that achieve certification may use the seal of the certifying organization to inform potential business partners and customers that they practice sustainable forest management and / or source materials from sustainably managed forests.

Sustainable Forest Management Certification

Standards for sustainable forest management certification may vary depending on the certifying organization but generally include:

  • Trees, Ferns, Stream in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, CA - Photo by AuthorMaintaining forest health and productivity
  • Conserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species
  • Complying with laws and international treaties
  • Respecting indigenous people’s rights
  • Enhancing worker and local community social and economic well-being
  • Documenting, monitoring, and assessing management plans and outcomes
Chain-of-Custody Certification

A lot can happen between the forest and the store shelf. Chain-of-custody certification ensures that wood and other forest materials sourced from certified forests are tracked through the supply chain to the end user.

Mixed and Recycled Certifications

In order to encourage more businesses to source at least part of their forest materials through responsibly managed forests, some organizations offer a mixed certification. This allows forest products manufacturers to mix certified material with non-certified material. Generally, the non-certified material must also meet certain requirements, like it was not obtained by illegal logging.

Reclaimed wood and recycled wood fiber certifications recognize companies for reusing forest materials.

Watch the video below for a brief history of how the Forest Stewardship Council started with one business partner on board and grew to be an international organization.

Imagine Your Daily Life without Products Made from Wood

Stop for a moment and look around you. Now make a list of the first 10 things you see that are made from wood or another forest product.

I did this exercise while sitting in my home office writing this post. Here’s my list: house, desk, calendar, printer paper, note pad, box of facial tissue, book, picture frame, cardboard box, and a pad of sticky notes. I could have gone on but stopped at ten.

Author's Book, Calendar, Rubber Gloves with FSC SealIt’s unrealistic to think we will stop buying toilet paper, furniture, or items packaged in cardboard boxes but we can look for and buy products that come from responsibly managed forests.

Thousands of items from lumber to paper towels are available with FSC, SFI, PEFC, or other sustainable forest management certification. So, the next time you shop look for the seal.

For a global perspective on the world’s forests (past, present, and future) read State of the World’s Forests 2012 prepared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

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References

  1. Forest Stewardship Council United States – Overview
  2. World Wildlife Fund – Forests as habitat

Resources

Paper Facial Tissue – Green Alternatives

Person Contemplating a Beautiful Green ForestIf we can save 385,000 trees by swapping just 1 box of facial tissues from virgin to recycled paper fiber 1, imagine how many forests we can save by always blowing our noses with recycled paper tissues, treeless tissues, or cloth handkerchiefs.

A previous post delved into the history of paper facial tissue and its environmental impact. In this post we’ll evaluate green alternatives to facial tissue made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine.

I decided to experiment with facial tissues and cloth handkerchiefs. As a person with chronic post nasal drip or just a low tolerance for nasal dampness, I feel I am a qualified tester. My family will say I’m picky. I like to think of myself as discerning.

Facial Tissue Experiment

My habit is to stuff slightly used facial tissues in my pocket or purse and reuse them several times if possible. Our household goes through an upright box of facial tissues every 2 weeks or so.

Our small town grocery market has a limited selection of facial tissue so I picked up a few boxes while visiting my sister and niece and on a trip to the “big city”. The 8 brands tested don’t constitute an exhaustive study but do give an idea of what’s available.

The facial tissues tested (in random order) were: Kirkland Signature, Natural Value, Puffs Basic, Seventh Generation, Up & Up, Kleenex Expressions, Green2, and Softly. All tissues were white, 2-ply, unscented, came in a recycled paper box (except Green2 which contains no wood), and were deemed adequately absorbent. For the full results click Author’s Facial Tissue Comparison 2013-12-05.

8 Boxes of Facial Tissues for Author's Facial Tissue Experiment

Facial tissue material, softness, price, country of origin, and certifications were evaluated. To keep things simple each brand received a grade from 1 to 3 (high to low) in three categories: softness, environment, and price.

Test Findings

  • Tissues made from virgin paper pulp scored highest on the softness test, but not all brands scored high.
  • Natural Value was the only brand to bear the Totally Chlorine Free seal of the Chlorine Free Products Association.
  • Green2 was the only treeless tissue. It’s made from bagasse, a byproduct of sugar cane production, and bamboo grass, both of which are rapidly renewable.
  • Three brands made from virgin paper pulp (Up & Up, Softly, and Kleenex) carried the FSC Mixed label meaning they meet Forest Stewardship Council requirements for sourcing a portion of their wood from sustainably managed forests and other wood meets specific social and environmental conditions.
  • Softly also carried the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal indicating it meets certain sustainable business practices and its wood complies with FSC requirements.
  • The only product both sourced and made outside the U.S. was Green2 which is made in China.
  • Of the two recycled paper brands, Natural Value was about ½ the price of Seventh Generation and had the same softness.
  • Kleenex Expressions was the most expensive of all brands tested and cost 50% or more than virgin paper pulp brands Kirkland Signature and Up & Up which had equal softness.

Handkerchief Experiment

The handkerchief experiment could not begin until I obtained some cloth handkerchiefs. I walked to one of the local antique stores and purchased 8 pre-owned handkerchiefs of various sizes and fabrics.

Test Findings

  • Author's Collection of 8 Second Hand Cloth HandkerchiefsSome fabrics felt soft in the store but not on my nose.
  • Smaller handkerchiefs were less bulky when folded and stuffed in a pocket or purse (duh).
  • Absorbency varied but was satisfactory for all handkerchiefs.
  • Handkerchiefs tended to “dry out” between uses (unlike facial tissues that just got soggier).
  • One handkerchief lasted all day.

Conclusions

My informal experiments demonstrate there are viable and low cost alternatives to buying paper facial tissues made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine.

It is not necessary to pay more for green alternatives.

Even virgin paper pulp facial tissue companies are beginning to focus on the environmental impact and sustainability of their products. Makes sense if ones product relies on a constant supply of trees, clean water, and energy.

Handkerchiefs

I was surprised to find I preferred a cloth handkerchief to any brand of facial tissue. The small green bordered handkerchief in my collection was the softest and most absorbent.

A possible downside of handkerchiefs is their fabric. Cotton is an extremely water intensive and pesticide heavy (if not organic) crop and synthetics are often petroleum based.

Pre-owned handkerchiefs that are reused a lot seem the best choice. You never know, you might find some stuffed in the back of a drawer or tucked away in a chest in the attic.

Facial Tissues

Although I like the idea of Green2’s treeless paper, the environmental impact of shipping bulky boxes of facial tissue from China to the U.S. just doesn’t make sense to me.

At about half the price with same softness, I selected Natural Value over Seventh Generation for recycled paper tissues to have around the house.

I admit if I get a really bad cold, I’m blowing my nose with virgin paper pulp facial tissues (unless I find a more eco-friendly brand with equal softness). Out of the 5 brands tested, I think the best choice is Up & Up due to its softness, FSC Mix certification, and low price.

Try Your Own Facial Tissue Experiment

Now you’re armed with information and some choices for green alternatives to facial tissues made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine. The next time you shop for facial tissue, look for an eco-friendly brand and try one out. Or skip facial tissues and give hankies a try.

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Note: Kirkland Signature, Natural Value, Puffs Basic, Seventh Generation, Up & Up, Kleenex Expressions, Green2, and Softly are registered trademarks.

References:

  1. Seventh Generation – 100% Recycled Facial Tissue: Did You Know…

Disclaimer: The author conducted the above product evaluations for reader information only and did not receive any financial compensation for this post.