First Day of Spring – 5 Ways to Renew Your Green Spirit

Glass Vase with Spring FlowersSpring marks a time of new beginnings. What a cliché. The thing is, it is actually a good time to refresh our spirits, get stuff done, and be green.

Some of us, maybe most us, tend to put off projects during the winter because it’s cold, or snowing, or raining, or it’s the holidays, or we have year-end deadlines at work.

Well, today is the first day of spring so let’s get going. Below are 5 ideas that will help you renew your spirit and be green at the same time.

Promote Your Brand

We inadvertently, or perhaps on purpose, provide free advertising for all kinds of products and our favorite sports teams, schools, and organizations. The clothes, shoes, and hats we wear, as well as the bags and gadgets we carry around all say something about us. It’s our personal brand.

Author's Reusable Shopping Bags

Expand your own personal brand by ditching single-use plastic bags and paper shopping bags and replacing them with reusable bags that promote your own message.

Reusable bags show everyone that you are an early adopter and willing to make a change to reduce waste and water pollution. You can use your bags to make a fashion statement, advocate for a company or cause of your choice, or keep your thoughts to yourself with plain bags.

Step Away

Woman Eating a Salad for Lunch at Her DeskIt took me many years of eating lunch at my desk to learn that eating lunch at one’s desk is, well, dumb. Why give anyone our free time for free. Besides stepping away from our desks at lunchtime gives us a chance to refresh ourselves and probably be more productive in the afternoon.

You know walking is good for your health, helps you keep your weight down, and reduces air pollution, but just can’t seem to find time to do it. Does this ring true?

Make the decision to step away from your desk at lunchtime and like magic you now have time for a walk. So do it. Walk for fun and relaxation, or run errands if you must.

Kick the Habit

Humans are creatures of habit, meaning we do the same things on a regular basis, often without much thought. Some habits that seem small and inexpensive can really add up over time.

Disposable Take Out Coffee CupsTake a small habit like buying a mocha frappuccino on the way to work or a fruit smoothie for the ride home. Sound familiar? Even if we low ball the cost at say $2.00 each, that’s a big chunk of change over the course of a 40-year work career.

So what if you eliminate this habit?

You’ll save a whopping $20,800. Yep, that’s enough for a down payment on a house, a new car, college tuition, or some really nice vacations. You’ll also eliminate the resource use and waste associated with 10,400 cups, cup sleeves, lids, stirrers, and napkins.

All that—by making one tiny change.

Pass It On

Author's Box of Clothes Ready for DonationSpring is the traditional time to declutter. It’s amazing how getting rid of excess stuff can lift one’s spirits. It’s worth the effort.

Enjoy being able to find a spatula in the utensil drawer, or not having your skinny clothes staring back at you whenever you open the closet, or being able to park your car in the garage, perhaps for the first time.

The best part about decluttering is passing on stuff in good condition to people who may need it, like it, and will use it. Besides redeploying stuff is green, it saves resources and reduces waste.

Use Your Words

One of the great things about living in a democracy is that everyone has an opportunity to make their voice heard.

Woman Writing a Letter with a PenChances are local, state, and national elected officials do not always vote the way you think they should or they don’t seem to care about the right issues. So use your words. Call, email, tweet, write, post, or otherwise let your elected officials know what’s important to you and what you think they should do about it.

For Earth Day last April, I wrote a letter to President Obama thanking him for his efforts on behalf of the American people and suggesting he fulfill his 3-year old commitment to install solar panels at the White House. Voilá! The installation took place four months later in August.

I know the President didn’t personally read my letter and it probably only resulted in a tick mark in the citizens-interested-in solar-power column in some database. But maybe that tick mark was the magic one that moved solar panels from the to-do list to the done list. You never know…

Call to Action

If one of the above suggestions got your attention and seems like something you’d like to do to renew your spirit, green or otherwise, then do it. If not, come up with your own idea and share it with other readers.

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Reduce Comes Before Recycling

Recycling is like dieting. We do it afterwards. We recycle after buying and using stuff and we diet after overeating.

Bales of Plastic Containers Awaiting RecyclingReduce is the first of the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) for good reason. There is no need to recycle packaging or products we didn’t buy or use. Calories we didn’t eat do not need to be worked off at the gym.

Manufacturing, transporting, and distributing the products we buy and use consumes energy, water, and resources, and generates waste. So does collecting, transporting, and processing recyclable materials.

Sometimes I wonder if we use recycling to give ourselves a free pass to continue doing what we’re doing. As long as we recycle we don’t need to change. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of recycling and I’m not suggesting a moratorium on shopping. I am proposing we be mindful about what we buy and challenge ourselves to reduce first and then recycle.

Food Shopping – Packaging Reduction

After observing the volume of recycling our small household amassed each week, I started pondering ways to reduce the amount packaging coming into the house. Buying food is a weekly activity so seemed like a good starting point. Over a period of time some of the changes we’ve made include:

  • Buying more food in the bulk in aisle.
  • Using reusable shopping and produce bags.
  • Cooking with whole foods more and packaged foods less.
  • Purchasing larger sizes when it makes sense (I draw the line at a gallon of mayo in the fridge).
  • Buying locally grown food as much as possible.

For this post, I decided to review the impact these changes have had on what I buy and eat for breakfast and grade myself on whether packaging was reduced or not.

Breakfast Revamp – Packaging and Calorie Reduction

No one would describe me as a morning person. For me, weekday breakfasts have to be fast and easy to prepare.

Coffee

We’ve been buying whole coffee beans and grinding them at home for years. Previously we used the bags provided at the grocery market to transport and store the coffee beans and recycled the empty bags. I began saving the bags, refilling them at the store, and recycling them when they wore out. At some point it occurred to me we could transport Author's Coffee Mug, Bulk Coffee Beans, and Bulk Non-Dairy Creamercoffee beans in one of our reusable mesh produce bags and store them in a container from our collection at home, a large one that held nuts in a former life works well.

Buying and storing coffee now involves zero throwaway packaging.

Packaging Grade: A

Non-Dairy Creamer

I used to buy non-dairy creamer in 22-ounce plastic containers and recycle the empties. That changed when I spotted my creamer brand in a 3.5-pound container while shopping at a warehouse store. Now I buy the large canister and use a 22-ounce container as a dispenser.

The canister holds over 2 ½ times the amount of creamer with only an incremental increase in additional packaging and a 30% reduction in cost per serving. Overall there is less material to recycle.

Packaging Grade: B

Cereal

My standard cereal is a name brand that comes in a cardboard box with a plastic liner. I’ll eat granola, seemingly the only cereal available in bulk in our area, but I’d prefer something else. I decided to skip this one for now and tackle it later.

Packaging Grade: Incomplete

Milk

Author's Packaged Cereal, Milk Carton, Bowl and SpoonI was in the habit of buying milk by the half-gallon, but I mostly use it on cereal so frequently ended up pouring spoiled milk down the drain. I admit I’m picky about milk taste so other people might have drunk it. I switched to buying milk in a third of a quart size. It’s not as economical but it eliminates milk waste and the smaller container means less to recycle.

Packaging Grade: Pass

Fruit Juice

An 8-ounce glass of fruit juice contains 110 to 170 calories (orange at the low end and grape at the high end). I know eating whole fruit is more nutritious and has fewer calories. But fruit juice tastes good and I used to drink it every day.

When I was a kid, we mostly drank juice made from frozen juice concentrate and I carried the habit into adulthood. When we moved to our current home, I discovered the grocery market in our small town generally had a great selection except for frozen juice. I started buying juice in cardboard cartons and plastic bottles.

Eventually throwing empty juice containers in the recycling bin began to bother me and I was also looking for ways to cut calories without giving up my Friday chocolate bar. At first I just drank 4 ounces of juice instead of 8, fewer cartons and calories. One morning I decided to stop drinking juice. Now I eat whole fruit instead and occasionally drink juice. I don’t miss drinking juice every day, and it’s a treat when I do.

Whole Fruit - Apple, Orange, and BananaChanging from fruit juice to whole fruit reduced recycling and saves hundreds of dollars a year. I figure I’ve eliminated at least 25,000 calories from my annual intake, the equivalent of 7.1 pounds. This is a good thing.

Packaging Grade: B+

Reduce First Then Recycle Challenge

The above exercise demonstrates small changes can benefit the environment as well as our waistlines and wallets. It shows that unintended consequences can be good and change isn’t a linear process. If we get stuck in one area, we can move on and come back to it later.

Take a look at your own food shopping and buying habits and challenge yourself to reduce first and then recycle. Share your ideas and accomplishments in the comments section.

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Every Day Should Be America Recycles Day

America Recycles Day, scheduled for Friday, November 15, 2013 is an opportune time to assess our recycling habits and challenge ourselves to do more.

America Recycles Day Banner 2013A Brief History of America Recycles Day

American Recycles Day was initiated by the National Recycling Coalition in 1997 to educate Americans about recycling and encourage people to recycle and purchase products made with recycled content. In 2010, Keep America Beautiful took over as the national organizer and promoter for America Recycles Day.1, 2

President Bill Clinton issued the first America Recycles Day Presidential Proclamation in 1999. In his proclamation, President Clinton mentioned the federal government’s commitment to recycling and buying products made with recycled content.

Every year since, the sitting president has issued an America Recycles Day Presidential Proclamation. In his 2012 America Recycles Day Presidential Proclamation, President Barack Obama focused on recovery of food waste. I could not find a copy of this year’s proclamation but there is sure to be one.

America Recycles Day Programs and Activities

For 2013, Keep America Beautiful and the Ad Council launched the “I Want To Be Recycled” campaign to raise awareness about recycling and motivate people to recycle and purchase recycled content products.3 Website visitors can click on various icons, say a plastic bottle, and learn what it can be made into if recycled.

Visitors to the America Recycles Day website can search for activities in their area hosted by local Keep America Beautiful groups, schools, cities, businesses, and community organizations. These range from recycling drop-off events to recycling contests to installing public recycling bins.

8 Ideas for Actions We Can Take on America Recycles Day

Whether you are an avid recycler or an occasional one, America Recycles Day offers an opportunity to take action. Below are few ideas. Share your ideas and actions in the comments section.

  • Stash of Old Computers, Monitors, and Other E-WasteAttend a Recycling Event – you’ve probably been meaning to recycle your used batteries, household hazardous waste, or old electronics but like many busy people haven’t gotten around to it. Now is the time. Collect your stuff and drop it off at a recycling event.
  • Try a Recycled Content Product – look for and buy a product made with recycled content like a toy, toilet paper, or a jacket. If you have shied away from recycled products in the past, give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised with the quality and price.
  • Make a Few Bucks – collect recyclables, take them to a recycling center, and pocket the money. Or collect recyclables and give them to someone else.
  • Advocate for Curbside Recycling – in 2011, there were 9,800 curbside recycling programs nationwide.4 If your neighborhood doesn’t have a curbside recycling program, contact your local representatives and waste management company and ask them to start one. Get your neighbors involved too.
  • Be Social – along with recycling, tweet, post, pin, talk with your friends, or share your own recycling video.
  • Repurpose and Reuse Stuff – take a look at items you normally toss in the recycle bin and think about whether they could be reused before being recycled. For instance, reuse a cereal box as a gift box, a pint-size yogurt container to store leftovers, and junk mail to stuff a shipping box.
  • Compost BinGive Composting a Whirl – you might not realize food waste and yard trimmings account for a whopping 30.1% of landfill waste (21.3% food waste and 8.8% yard trimmings).4 Composting lawn clippings and leaves is as simple as making a pile in the corner of your yard and occasionally turning it over. With a little more effort you can compost food scraps and make food for your yard or garden. It’s easier and less yucky than you may think.
  • Demand Corporate Responsibility – let’s be real, by putting the spotlight on the general public’s recycling efforts, corporate sponsors behind Keep America Beautiful and America Recycles Day deflect focus from themselves and that they are part of the throwaway container and packaging problem. Let’s tell our elected officials we want companies to be accountable for the entire lifecycle of their products, including disposal.

Every Day Should Be America Recycles Day

According to the U.S. EPA, in 1960, Americans generated 88 million tons of trash of which 6.4% was recycled and a negligible amount composted.5 Fast forward 51 years. Of the 250 million tons of trash Americans generated in 2011, we recycled and composted about 87 million tons, a mere 34.7%.4

Egrets in a Landfill

At this rate, we’ll still be tossing recyclable and compostable items into landfills well into the 22nd century. We can and should do better.

Every day should be America Recycles Day.

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References:

  1. Keep America Beautiful – KAB: A Beautiful History
  2. America Recycles Day – 2012 Report Highlights
  3. Keep America Beautiful – “I Want To Be Recycled” Campaign, July 11, 2013
  4. U.S. EPA – Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2011 (Summary), Published May 2013
  5. U.S. EPA – Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2011 (Full Report), Published May 2013

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