Back to School Tips

Day 229 – On Day 151, I wrote about GotSneakers, a FREE sneaker recycling program for individual sellers and organizations of all types and sizes. I have partnered with GotSneakers to resell, donate or recycle the sneakers we collect during the Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycle Popup.

GotSneakers sent out a newsletter that listed a number of great suggestions to ensure a more sustainable school year.

  1. Reuse What You Can: Reusing items helps to avoid polluting the environment and eliminate unnecessary costs.  See which items from last year can be reused like pencil sharpeners, pens, erasers, and pencil cases.
  2. Look for Items Made from Recycled Materials: For the items you need to purchase new, look for brands the promote sustainability through the use of recycled materials.  Even better if the products you buy have certifications such as Green Seal, Safer Choice, and the Forest Stewardship Council.
  3. Prepare Zero Waste Lunches: Stock up on reusable containers, water bottles, and lunch boxes to help make zero waste lunches! There are many products that help to keep your child’s lunch fresh and make sure it doesn’t get squished.
  4. Refresh Your Child’s Closet Sustainably: Let’s face it, most kids love showing off their latest outfits — especially on the first day of school.  While taking the time to research brands that are eco-friendly, make sure you are recycling your family’s clothing.

Lastly, did you know that it can take between 30-40 years for sneakers to fully decompose in landfills?  GotSneakers has a solution – send your footwear to them where they will make sure it gets recycled or reused. You can also drop off your sneakers at the monthly Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycle Popup.

Consider starting your school year with a school wide sneaker drive fundraiser.

Tomorrow,  questions about recycling nail polish.

Reusable Takeout Containers

Day 211 – The number of plastic takeout containers we collect at the monthly Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycle Popup is significant. When I think about the number of plastic and polystyrene disposable takeout containers used day in and day out, across the city, the state, throughout the country, and around the planet, it makes my head hurt. There is a solution to this problem and people are beginning to take action.

In New York, the restaurant DIG (691 Broadway in Manhattan), has started a program called Canteen. Those who enroll in the program will install a smartphone app, Canteen by Dig, and consent to a fee of $3 a month for the service. In return, they’ll be able to take their lunch with them in a hard-shelled, reusable bowl made from black melamine, complete with a white plastic lid. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Create your account to start using Canteen by Dig. A membership costs $3 per month and allows you to check out one bowl at a time.
  2. Enter the four digit location code and click “Use Canteen Bowl”. Show the Good to Go screen when you place your order to have it packaged in a Canteen Bowl.
  3. By using Canteen by Dig reusable bowls, you’re saving resources, energy, greenhouse gas emissions and single use trash from landfills.
  4. Return the bowl to a participating Dig location. Find the Canteen Bowl Return sign, Open your app, click on the “Return Your Canteen” and scan the QR code on the sign to check the bowl in. Leave the bowl in the designated return container.
  5. There is no limit to the number of times you can check out and return a Canteen Bowl each month, so reuse often.

Before there was Dig, there was Go Box. Go Box started offering reusable takeout containers at food carts in 2015. The program has expanded to include 110 restaurants and food vendors across Portland, Oregon. Consumers purchase monthly subscriptions, which start at $3.95 per month and show a QR code to participating food vendors to have their to-go orders packed in reusable containers. The used containers are deposited in drop boxes at restaurants and participating partners such as bike shops and banks; Go Box washes and sterilizes the reusable container before restocking with vendors.

Companies like RePlated are making reusable food containers for people who want to enjoy takeout, without feeling bad about waste. The containers are designed and made In Australia from recycled plastic. Each lunchbox saves eight soft drink bottles from landfill. RePlated helps businesses build flexible systems to make single-use plastic containers a thing of the past.

More and more companies are popping up to offer this service and it is one we desperately need. We can only hope that reusable takeout containers are not something we have to seek out, but will be part of our everyday takeout experience.

Tomorrow, a look back on Plastic Free July.

Exporting plastic waste: We need to stop passing the buck

Day 97 – Today is World Health Day. The focus of this year’s World Health Day is building a fairer, healthier world.

“As COVID-19 has highlighted, some people are able to live healthier lives and have better access to health services than others – entirely due to the conditions in which they are born, grow, live, work and age.

All over the world, some groups struggle to make ends meet with little daily income, have poorer housing conditions and education, fewer employment opportunities, experience greater gender inequality, and have little or no access to safe environments, clean water and air, food security and health services. This leads to unnecessary suffering, avoidable illness, and premature death. And it harms our societies and economies.” – World Health Organization

The exporting of our plastic waste to other countries is a perfect example of the unfairness that exists. The U.S. is sending plastic waste to poor countries that really do not have the infrastructure to effectively process it for recycling. This waste ends up causing major harm to the environment, economy, and health of the residents.

Photo credit – Earth911.com

The U.S. used to sell extra recyclables to China. However, the high contamination rates led China to the ban of importing recyclables in 2018. Now, the U.S. along with other industrial countries are sending their contaminated recyclables to countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Unfortunately, these countries are not able to handle the influx of plastic waste. A lot of this waste ends up in landfills, the oceans or burned, creating toxic fumes.

This attitude of “Not in my backyard” (NIMBY), needs to stop. We can not continue to avoid the plastic waste problem by sending it to someone else to worry about it. The U.S. and all the other countries exporting their plastic waste, need to address the issue, at home.

So, what can we do?

  1. Adopt the attitude, “my waste, my responsibility”
  2. Support plastic reduction plans in your community.
  3. Buy in bulk with reusable containers.
  4. Choose renewable packaging options instead of plastic.
  5. Reduce unnecessary consumption.

We need to work toward ending NIMBYism. The buck needs to stop with us.

Tomorrow, reclaiming building material.

Circular Economy: Eliminating waste and minimizing the use of resources

Day 96 – You find that your shampoo bottle is just about empty. So, you take it to your local store and refill the same bottle. No need to toss the old bottle and buy a new one.

You order takeout from your favorite restaurant and your food is given in reusable containers. When you bring back the containers, you get back the deposit that was paid when the order was placed. Those containers are then sanitized and used again for another order.

These two scenarios are examples of a circular economy. The circular economy is a closed loop system where the focus is on eliminating waste by reusing, recycling and refurbishment of equipment, products, machinery and infrastructure for a longer duration. Currently, only 9% of the world’s economy is circular. It’s calculated that the opportunity to profit from the conversion of the remaining 91% sits around $4.5 trillion.

A circular economy is based on three principles:

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

A circular economy is not only good for the planet, but it is also beneficial to the companies implementing the system and for the consumers. Reusing resources is much more cost effective than creating them from scratch. As a result, production prices are reduced, so that the sale price is also lowered, thereby benefiting the consumer.

The days of the linear economy needs to come to an end. The planet can no longer withstand more waste. We have reached a threshold and changes need to be made. As consumers, we need to demand the use of a circular economy.

Image borrowed from H2AD.org

Many businesses are paving the way. From edible cutlery, to farm waste being used to create building material, companies are finding ways to reuse, reduce and recycle.

Loop is one example of companies that are using the circular economy system to bring grocery and household items to consumers. By offering their clients reusable containers, there is no waste produced from consuming these products.

So, what is preventing us from becoming a 100% circular economy?

Sadly, the answer is, us. Our behavior and attitude toward this type of economy needs to change. We need to stop buying new and tossing our unwanted items into the trash.

Image borrowed from H2AD.org

There are five actions that will help consumers to choose products and services that are better for the environment and, at the same time, provide monetary savings and an increased quality of life: (outlined by ECO Soluciones)

  • Promote energy savings as well as the efficiency, durability and recyclability of products.
  • Improve the enforcement of existing RULES on guarantees and tackle false “green claims.”
  • Support an increasing focus on “buying green” by governments and public bodies.
  • Improve reliable and adequate consumer information.
  • Increase the demand of products and services that are supportive of the circular economy, which will create new business opportunities.

The time is now! Help close the loop. Help save the planet.

Tomorrow, the effects of shipping our trash around the world.