Random Acts of Green

Day 161 – I can only hope that this blog has brought some people a few good ideas and a little inspiration when it comes to living a more environmentally friendly life. I am just one of thousands blogs/websites that offer helpful information. Today, I wanted to share one of those thousands.

They may be located in Canada, but their message is for the world to hear. Random Acts of Green is a climate action community where everyone is empowered to take action together and promote environmental sustainability. Their mission is to prove that we can all make changes that add up to make a big collective impact. They are dedicated to encouraging and motivating people to choose greener choices.

They offer membership to businesses and individuals. However, information on their blog is free to everyone.

You could read about various topics, all focused on sustainability and the environment.

  1. 15 Sustainable Products to Try
  2. How Does Paint Get Recycled
  3. 8 Best Upcycling Garden Ideas for an Eco-friendly Outdoors
  4. It’s Time to Breakup with Plastic
  5. 9 Ways to Extend the Lifespan of Your Food and How You Can Use Up Everything

A little reading can lead to some action that can result in significant changes in helping the planet. Take a little time to educate yourself on how you can make a difference.

Tomorrow, a great option to recycle those well used children clothing.

Plastic Toys: It’s not all fun and games

Day 152 – One of my least favorite toys that I had to assemble for my children was a kitchen. A rather large, plastic kitchen. All the pieces were attached and had to be separated before they could be reassembled to resemble a kitchen set. I did it all by myself on a Christmas Eve and it was absolutely the worst. However, the kids loved it! And when it’s all said and done, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Well, I sure drank the KoolAid on that misconception. Most of us don’t give much thought about the cheap, plastic toys we purchase for our children or young people in our lives. Our main concern is usually their happiness. So, we spend our money on toys that will most likely not even last a year and will end up in the trash.

About 90% of today’s toys are made from plastic. Sadly, most of the plastic is not recyclable. Think about the plastic toys you played with as a kid. Those same toys are still sitting in a landfill somewhere and will be there for centuries to come.

So, what are our options when looking to purchase toys?

Find toys made from other materials, like wood, cotton, metal or natural rubber

Companies like Big Future Toys and Begin Again Toys are finding other ways to produce fun and entertaining toys without the use of plastic.

Find toys made from recycled material

Companies like Green Toys and Luke’s Toy Factory are using recycled material to create their toys.

Find toys with take back programs

Numerous toy manufacturers are taking back their toys. If you have toys that have reached the end of their life, from any of the following companies, you can ship them, at no cost, to be recycled. Be sure to check out the list of accepted toys for each program.

Hasbro

V-Tech

Leap Frog

SpinMaster

Matel

Lego

*The Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycle Popup collects all the toys listed here. The next popup is June 19th.

Find alternatives to toys

Another great option to avoid plastic toys, is to give the gift of an experience. Maybe it’s a trip to the bowling alley, or the arcade. A movie with all the popcorn and candy you can eat, a hike in a beautiful wooded area, or a day at the waterpark, would all make awesome gifts.

So, the next time you are faced with the challenge of finding that perfect gift consider avoiding the cheap plastic toys. There are so many great alternatives out there. You just need to look.

Tomorrow, a company that has found a purpose for the plastic from discarded children toys.

National Learn About Composting Day

Day 149 – I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I hear someone has started to compost. A friend, my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law have all started composting at home using commercial composting. They have made the decision to reduce their carbon footprint by diverting food from the landfill and helping create nutrient rich soil, instead.

Today is National Learn About Composting Day! I have spent the last 6 months telling anyone who wants to listen, how awesome it has been to compost our food scraps and many other nonfood items. On Day 2, way back on January 2nd, I posted about how my family started composting using a commercial composter. I wrote about the ease of the entire process and how it’s not as labor intensive as composting at home. Now, if creating an at home compost pile is up your alley, I highly encourage you to go for it. However, if you’re like me, the simpler the better and commercial composting is the answer!

  1. We spend the week filling our bucket with our food scraps. We have a smaller receptacle on the counter that collects our scraps on a daily basis. Once, the smaller bin is filled, it is dumped in the 5 gallon bucket provided by WasteNot Compost (for $10 a week). The 5 gallon bucket is kept in the basement, where it is nice and cool.
  2. On Thursday mornings (the day assigned to us) the bucket goes out on the front porch. WasteNot picks up the bucket and leaves us a clean and sanitized, empty bucket.
  3. No liners are needed, in either the countertop bin or the 5 gallon bucket.
  4. Not only can all of your food waste go into the bin, but so can napkins, paper towels, wood toothpicks, popsicle sticks (wooden), pizza boxes, compostable wrappers, and soiled paper products.

The United States discards more food than any other country in the world: nearly 80 billion pounds, every year. That’s estimated to be 30-40% of the entire U.S. food supply. While these numbers seem difficult to comprehend and the situation seems out of control. We, the consumers, can help. We can decrease the greenhouse gases emitted from food waste, by keeping our scraps out of the landfill. According to the World Wildlife Federation, the production of wasted food in the United States is equivalent to the greenhouse emissions of 37 million cars.

There is no doubt that food waste is a global problem and it’s going to take consumers (produce 43% of food waste), restaurants, grocery stores, food service companies (40%), farms (16%) and manufacturers (2%) to work together to first, reduce our food waste and secondly, keep it out of landfills.

So, on this National Learn About Composting Day, take a little time to consider either starting your own compost pile or check out the numerous composting companies that will be happy to do all the work for you.

  1. WasteNot Compost – north side of Chicago
  2. Collective Resource Compost – Chicago and suburbs
  3. Healthy Soil Compost – south side of Chicago
  4. The Urban Canopy – Chicago and suburbs
  5. Northshore Composting – North Shore (Chicago suburbs)
  6. Block Bins – Chicago and suburbs – A great option for entire blocks to chip in on one bin!

What are you waiting for?

Tomorrow, sustainable options in footwear.

Costa Rica Plans to Eliminate Single Use Plastics. Why can’t the U.S.?

Day 148 – Costa Rica hopes to be the first country to eliminate single use plastics. In 2020, President Carlos Alvarado Quesada announced the ambitious plan at his inauguration. He wants to achieve this goal this year, 2021. It does seem like an impossible achievement, but Costa Rica has proven time and time again that they are committed to finding ways to protect and preserve their country. Costa Rica has been an example to the world by reversing deforestation and doubling its forest cover from 26% in 1984 to more than 52% in 2020. They also get almost 99% of their energy from renewable sources. The country uses resources like rivers, volcanos, geothermal, solar, and wind power to make energy.

The plan to eliminate single use plastics consists of 5 strategic axes:

  1. Municipal incentives
  2. Policies and institutional guidelines for suppliers
  3. Replacement of single-use plastic products
  4. Research and development
  5. Investment in strategic initiatives

In June of last year, the country officially launched its national strategy to replace the consumption of single use plastics for renewable and water-soluble alternatives. All single-use items must be recyclable or biodegradable. Petroleum based single-use items will not be allowed in Costa Rica.

So, why wouldn’t this work in the U.S.?

In an article published by NPR on May 18, 2021, a report by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation is discussed. The report offers one of the fullest accountings, to date, of the companies behind the production of single-use plastics. The study identifies 20 companies as the source of 55% of the world’s single-use plastic waste, while the top 100 companies account for more than 90%.

“At the top of what the foundation calls its “Plastic Waste Makers Index” is the energy giant Exxon Mobil, followed by the Dow Chemical Co. and China’s Sinopec. The report found that Exxon Mobil was responsible for 5.9 million metric tons of such waste in 2019, while Dow and Sinopec contributed 5.6 million and 5.3 million, respectively. Taken together, the three companies account for 16% of all waste from single-use plastics such as bottles, bags and food packaging, according to the report.”NPR

Big business and big money is preventing the U.S. from making any headway in the fight to eliminate single use plastics.

“The report also traced the money invested in the production of single-use plastics, finding that 20 institutional asset managers hold shares worth close to $300 billion in the parent companies that make up the foundation’s rankings. The top three investors are U.S.-based Vanguard Group, BlackRock and Capital Group, which according to the report have an estimated $6 billion invested in the production of single-use plastics.” – NPR

Until, the U.S. can get everyone on board (government, industry, and consumers), we will never be able to accomplish what Costa Rica plans to do and will most likely be successful in doing, saying goodbye to single-use plastics forever.

Tomorrow, celebrating National Learn About Composting Day.

Extending the Life of Your Cell Phone

Day 141 – There are close to 300 million smartphone users in the United States (Statista). Now take half that number and that’s how many smartphones are tossed in the trash each year. And that’s just phones. When you include all the other kinds of e-waste, the number goes into the billions. On Day 72, I shared a list of electronics that Best Buy will take and recycle. On Day 132, I shared a few places that will accept your usable electronics and places where your electronics can be recycled.

What if we could extend the life of our electronics? Today’s post shares some ideas on how you can extend the life of your cell phone. Considering the hefty price tag of cell phones, it would be helpful to find ways to hold on to them a little longer.

Earth911 came up with some suggestions:

  1. If you phone is operating slowly, free up some storage space, by deleting unneeded apps, photos and videos.
  2. Power down your phone at least once a week and leave it off for at least a minute or two.
  3. Protect your phone with a sturdy case and screen protector.
  4. If in the market for a new phone, purchase one with high repairability score. You can use the iFixit Smartphone Repairability scores for guidance.
  5. Consider replacing the battery before ditching the entire phone.
  6. Don’t feel pressured to purchase a new phone. If you don’t need it, don’t allow your cell phone carriers to convince you that you do.

Shiny and new are hard to resist. However, sustainability is so much cooler.

Tomorrow, the pros and cons of solar power.

Climate Pledge Products

Day 139 – I feel like you either love Amazon or you hate them. I don’t know if there are many people that feel indifferent. Many count on Amazon to make quick and easy purchases. While others, blame the mega company for putting a lot of businesses out of business.

Whether, if you’re a fan or not, Amazon is making efforts to be more environmentally friendly. They have come out with Climate Pledge Products.

“We partnered with trusted third-party certifications and created our own certification, Compact by Design, to highlight products that meet sustainability standards and help preserve the natural world. We are committed to building a sustainable business for our customers and the planet.” – Amazon

Click HERE to see the certifications involved in making a product qualify for Climate Pledge Friendly. A product only needs one of the listed certifications to qualify. However, the more certifications the better!

To find Climate Pledge Products on Amazon, you could type in “Climate Pledge Products” in the search box. You can also browse by category by clicking HERE.

So, feel a little better knowing that the products you are purchasing are making the planet a priority.

Tomorrow, saving the bees.

Does Infinitely Recyclable Plastic Exist?

Day 138 – Wouldn’t it be amazing if companies were responsible for the products they manufactured? We’re not just talking about in the beginning, at the moment of purchase, but at the end, as well. The consumer needs help to figure out how to responsibly dispose of their “stuff” and manufactures are nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, more times than not, the consumer is left to navigate the confusing world of recycling and for those that don’t have the time and patience, the landfill seems to be the only option.

It is cheaper for manufacturers to use virgin resin (new plastic) then it is to use recycled plastic. Add the fact that in many countries there are no rules or regulations in place to steer companies away from single use plastics. Combine that with zero infrastructure to deal with the absurd amount of plastics flooding waste management facilities and you have a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully, science is coming to the rescue.

“A multidisciplinary team from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has created a plastic that can be disassembled at a molecular level using an acidic solution. Then, it can be reassembled with a new color, texture, and shape, again and again. Unlike traditional plastic, which can only be recycled two or three times at most, this material, called poly(diketoenamine), or PDK, is infinitely recyclable.” – Earth911

Even though the initial creation of PDK is expensive to manufacture, it is significantly less expensive to recycle this type of plastic compared to the very popular, PET and HDPE plastics. Recycled PDK will even be less expensive than virgin plastic, making it very appealing to manufactures.

While it’s helpful to have plastics that are infinitely recyclable, we also need to hold companies accountable for the products they produce. The responsibility can longer be placed solely on the consumer. We need to start supporting companies with take back programs and trade in options. By supporting these companies we are making it very clear that we are tired for carrying the burden and need other companies to step up and create a plan to help the planet.

Tomorrow, products on Amazon that are environmentally friendly.

The Impact of Sending Back Those Online Purchases

Day 136 – I have had my share of trips to Kohls to send back Amazon purchases. A majority of those trips come around the holidays, but they can also occur throughout the year. More times than not, I am not alone in line. There are plenty of other people waiting their turn to send back their items, as well.

I was at Kohls last week, returning baseball pants purchased from Amazon because they were the wrong size. I didn’t think to purchase different sizes of the same pants, so I could send back the pair that didn’t fit. I have learned that this is a common practice among online shoppers and retailers love it. The process is called bracketing. It’s when you “buy now and choose later”. Most of us are aware that returning unwanted items will result in more carbon emissions into the environment as a result of transporting those items. However, what most people don’t know is that there is an even bigger environmental impact.

“In the U.S., return shipping creates over 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually – more than the emissions from 3 million cars. But most people assume that returned goods are simply resold, the same way that items discarded in a dressing room or left in a shopping cart are reshelved for sale in a store. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Five billion pounds of returned goods end up in U.S. landfills each year. Less than half of returned goods are resold at full price. Sometimes it’s cheaper to throw away merchandise than to repackage, re-inventory, store it, resell it, and ship it out again.” – Earth911

We can only hope that the U.S. will follow in the footsteps of France and ban companies from throwing away many kinds of unsold goods. In France, they now have to reuse, redistribute or recycle unsold products. However, we can not wait for the U.S. to make these changes. As consumers, we need to start taking some of the responsibility for this problem. When we’re making purchases, whether online or in-person, we need to make sure that we have done our homework on the product and are confident that we are purchasing the product we plan to keep. It is only through our responsible shopping practices that we will be able to help decrease the waste ending up in our landfill due to bracketing.

Tomorrow, a place to recycle your snack bags.

Reasons to Buy in Bulk

Day 135 – There was a time, not too long ago, when my family was all about the individually wrapped snacks. Individual bags of chips, individual cups of apple sauce, individually wrapped cheese sticks, personal frozen pizzas, and so on and so on. Even though these food items were extremely convenient, they also produced a great deal of waste. We have turned the corner on individually wrapped (though granola bars pose a challenge) snacks and vow not to go back.

Buying in bulk can happen in two ways.

  1. Purchasing larger sizes of food items, like what you would find at Costco and Sam’s Club.
  2. Purchasing food items from bulk containers, choosing the amount you need and more times than not, being able to place it in your container. Similar to what you would find at zero waste stores.

For this post, I’ll be sharing reasons as to why purchasing in bulk at stores like Costco and Sam’s Club is helpful. I’ll cover purchasing in bulk at zero waste stores in a future post.

Pros of buying in bulk:

  1. Overall, you can save money. Per unit, you will most likely pay less.
  2. By having a larger amount of a product, it means less trips to the store.
  3. Less packaging is needed.

Now, with pros come cons:

  1. The initial expense of bulk items can be expensive.
  2. Finding space for all those large items may be challenging.
  3. Having a large amount of product may cause you to use more of it.

In my family, we have found that the pros outweigh the cons. Buying in bulk has been helpful in our goal to be more environmentally friendly. However, if you have a smaller family, it may make less sense. Another option is to shop with a family member or friend and share the bulk items between the families. Saving money and saving the planet. It makes perfect sense.

Tomorrow, the environmental cost of online returns.

Wishcycling: You can’t wish your waste away

Day 127 – I am guilty of placing things in my recycling bin, not really knowing if they can be recycled or not. I hope they can and figure the people at the recycling center can make the call. However, there is a real problem when you rely on wishful thinking to recycle your waste.

This post will outline what the City of Chicago accepts in their blue bins. Personally, I have lost faith in the Chicago recycling program and have started going to an independent recycler. There, I drop off my accepted and sorted recyclables. If it’s at all possible for you, I highly recommend you find a company or organization that collects recyclables. The likelihood of these items being recycled is greater than using your blue bin. I have heard of churches collecting paper and cardboard. Scrap yards will collect your metals, like aluminum.

Only these items should be placed in your blue bin:

  1. Food and beverage cartons – Orange juice cartons, milk cartons, juice boxes (not pouches). Empty carton and replace the cap.
  2. Aluminum and steel cans – Pop cans, cans that store vegetables and other non-perishables – Clean out cans. Place lids of can inside the can. The smaller the item, the harder it is to properly sort.
  3. Glass bottle and jars – Empty and clean bottles and jars.
  4. Paper – Mixed Paper, mail, newspaper, magazines and flattened, clean cardboard.
  5. Plastic – Milk jugs, shampoo bottles, laundry detergent bottles, food containers (like sour cream and spreadable butter)

Let’s talk more about plastic. This category becomes the most confusing. When you see a number with the chasing arrows on your packaging, it does not always mean that it is recyclable. All this is telling you is the type of plastic you have.

Plastic #1 – PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) – ALL ACCEPTED curbside

  1. soda bottles
  2. water bottles
  3. salad dressing containers
  4. mouthwash bottles
  5. peanut butter containers

This plastic is recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece.

Plastic #2 – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) – ALL ACCEPTED curbside

  1. milk jugs
  2. household cleaner containers
  3. juice bottles
  4. shampoo bottles
  5. detergent bottles
  6. butter tubs
  7. yogurt containers

This plastic is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles, to name a few.

Plastic #3 – V or PVC (Vinyl) – Only detergent & shampoo bottles & rigid clear food packaging accepted curbside

  1. food wrap
  2. plumbing pipes
  3. detergent bottles
  4. shampoo bottles
  5. clear food packaging
  6. cooking oil bottles

This plastic is recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.

Plastic #4 – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) – NONE of these are accepted curbside

  1. squeezable bottles
  2. shopping bags
  3. clothing, carpet
  4. frozen food bags
  5. bread bags
  6. some food wraps

This plastic is recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.

Plastic #5 – PP (Polypropylene) – ALL ACCEPTED curbside

  1. yogurt containers
  2. ketchup bottles
  3. syrup bottles
  4. medicine bottles

Polypropylene is recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bicycle racks.

Plastic #6 – PS (Polystyrene) – NOT accepted curbside

  1. foam egg cartons
  2. foam plates and cups
  3. anything considered styrofoam

It is recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation.

Plastic #7 – Other, Miscellaneous – NOT accepted curbside

  1. All of the plastic resins that don’t fit into the other categories are placed in the number 7 category
  2. sunglasses
  3. iPod cases
  4. computer cases

It is recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.

These things should never go into your blue bin.

  1. No plastic bags or wraps. Even the blue bags made for recyclables.
  2. No food or liquid
  3. No scrap metal
  4. No hoses, cords or chains

This list could go on and on. There is a lot more that can not go in your blue bin than can go in. If you end up putting something in your blue bin that is not recyclable, you run the risk of contaminating your entire bin. If this happens, it will all end up in the landfill.

The City of Chicago created an A-Z list for items and if they are recyclable. I am currently in the process of making my own list with resources are know are up to date. I can not say the same for the city’s list, but it is a good start.

Click HERE for a picture guide of recyclable items accepted by the City of Chicago.

Ultimately, we have to cut down on the amount of waste we are producing. The market for recyclables is shrinking and we are beginning to run out of places to put stuff. As a society, we need to move to a circular economy if we are to survive and not be buried under our own garbage.

If you have 15 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching this video created by NPR. It explains the complicated business of recycling and the idea of wishcycling.

Is Recycling Worth It Anymore? People On The Front Lines Say Maybe Not

Tomorrow, the donation centers do not want your broken stuff.