Green your life at home, work & play

Greening Hospitals April 6, 2012

The health care industry has a great, untapped potential to be more environmentally friendly. Currently hospitals in the U.S. create 6,600 tons of waste per day. There are many problems that the health care industry faces that others do not, such as infectious and hazardous waste. The proper disposal of these items is important for both human health as well as the environment. Current methods of disposing of infectious or hazardous waste, although effective, are not the best for the environment. Incinerating waste is important to not spread infectious diseases or have chemicals leach into the ground in landfills, but this causes air pollution from mercury and dioxin.

Contrary to what many may believe, a large amount of waste created by the health care industry is actually regular trash and recyclables – plastic, cardboard, etc.  The need for sterile instruments has led to the “single-use” culture, which has been facilitated by prevalence of plastics. In certain instances this is necessary (needles, etc). However, in other instances, reusable products could be utilized. A re-assessment of how hospitals use materials is necessary to find this difference. For example, plastic is commonly used for packaging, but glass or other materials can be a substitute when there is less risk of breakage. Glass is a great material because it can be recycled infinitely without degrading, unlike most other materials.

Fortunately, some people realize the great impact that the health care industry can have on the world’s carbon footprint. In 2000, the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care was created to promote eco-friendly practices, which include pollution prevention and resource conservation. There are also many hospitals in the U.S. that are going green as well.

Photo Courtesy of Planet Green


Food Waste: Waste Not Want Not February 24, 2012

It’s well known that our society produces too much waste, but food waste is particularly important because there is an easy alternate solution: composting. However, composting is not usually utilized. In 2010, America discarded 34 million tons of food; that’s 14% of all municipal solid waste! Much of this food is still in decent condition when it is discarded, and could instead be used to feed some of the millions of Americans who lack food and supply needy food kitchens.

Food waste is a huge problem at home. In 2006, the average American household threw away 14% of the food they had purchased-that’s $600 in the trash. But, it is especially significant in the restaurant and grocery industries since their business is food! Unfortunately, grocery stores don’t always like to give food away because they are afraid of being liable if someone gets sick. They cannot guarantee food will be handled properly after it is donated and worry they will be held responsible for any negative outcomes. However, the contrary is actually true. The “Good Samaritan” Law protects grocery stores from liability if they donate what they think is perfectly good food. Fortunately, many grocery chains, such as Safeway, do participate in food donation programs,  and also receive tax benefits. This helps them with ‘going green’ as well as with their bottom line – once again, showing that green saves money.

The EPA outlines five key steps in reducing food waste: reducing its sources, using it to feed people, using it to feed animals, using it for industry, and composting it. All of those steps allow food to be used in ways that don’t include burying it in landfills, taking up valuable and ever-disappearing landfill space. Recently, a new social initiative called “Going Halfsies” developed to allow restaurant goers to choose to eat half a normal portion size and donate the rest of the meal price to charity.

Luckily, there are many food rescue groups fulfilling the second step established by the EPA by getting directly involved. Food Finders in California and Waste Not Want Not in Florida work with restaurants and grocery stores to deliver much needed food to food kitchens. The USDA also supports and encourages the creation of various food recovery programs. Many AmeriCorps programs have been focused around reducing food waste, either by recovering crops left on the fields or collecting food from grocery stores.

Of course, you should also encourage restaurants to compost if they are not donating the food – be sure to ask your local restaurant if they do, and check out the blog Wasted Food and the movie Dive! for more information.

Photo courtesy of Sustainable development and much more


16 easy ways to cut down on your waste stream at work February 10, 2012

Using as many of these tips as possible will cut down on costs your workplace has related to trash disposal, help your employees get in touch with their waste stream and even provide some resources for the community:

  1. Keep one–and only one–trash can in shared office space, but give everyone a recycling bin at their desks for paper, aluminum, plastic.
  2. Shred paper that has been used on both sides and use it as packing material for shipments – or offer the shreddings to the gardeners in the office to use as compostable material.
  3. Organize office staff on a rotating schedule to take the trash to the main collection area or dumpster instead of having it magically disappear each night thanks to the cleaning crew.
  4. Keep a container (with a lid) in the office kitchen/coffee area to collect used coffee grounds. Find the gardener in the office group who would love to take those spent grounds to use on their roses or tomato plants.
  5. Eliminate Styrofoam cups for hot beverages.  Give employees quality reusable mugs (with your company logo, of course) and have the same available for guests to use.  Also, provide a scrub brush and dish soap at the sink for cleaning mugs.
  6. Buy cartons of cream and bags of sugar/sweetener for beverages instead of offering individual-sized packets.
  7. Ditch the bottled water in the vending machines and provide employees with a cooler with filtered water.  Another reason to use those wonderful corporate mugs you gave out!
  8. If unnecessary printing of documents or emails is a concern, program your print command to trigger an additional popup that asks the person printing to consider the cost in trees and to the company before going ahead with the print.  Vary these messages, make them humorous and add some little graphics for greater effectiveness.
  9. Switch to refillable, recyclable, non-toxic whiteboard markers—such as AusPen—and pay less than you would for traditional ones.  AusPens are available through EcoSmartWorld and other vendors.
  10. Provide each employee with an individual dry erase board for notes and reminders, to help reduce the overuse of sticky notes in their office space.
  11. Have printers and copiers set to black ink only, draft quality and duplex mode by default since these options should be sufficient for most internally used documents.
  12. For paper that is only printed on one side, designate an area for it to be collected and reused for scrap paper (before being shredded or recycled).  Ask your local commercial printer if they will take your one-sided printed paper, cut it and make it into notepads for office use.
  13. Cancel or unsubscribe from mailed publications that your staff are not taking the time to read.
  14. Designate a cupboard or other organized area to swap used office supplies such as binder and paper clips, file folders (provide blank adhesive labels so they can be repurposed), manila envelopes (can be relabeled too), and rubber bands.
  15. Wooden pallets should never be land-filled.  Recycling contractors will often agree to collect them and then will resell them to shipping companies.  If that is not possible, tree-trimming companies may take them to shred for mulch.  There are even some entrepreneurial types who have realized the value of decorating and making furniture with them.
  16. Don’t ditch used office equipment or furniture.  Find a resale store in the area (Goodwill, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, or Habitat for Humanity ReUse store) that will accept the items—they may even come and pick them up for free.

Which is better for the environment-using paper or a computer? January 6, 2012

With the rise in popularity of mobile devices, such as smart phones, tablets, and e-readers, the question of whether it is better to read something on an electronic device or in print has become even more complicated. The answer is just as confounded. To truly know the environmental impact of a product, you need to assess it from production to disposal (which hopefully involves recycling!). Although a full environmental assessment of all options is not possible here, I will attempt to give an overview of the environmental impact of electronic devices and paper.


A piece of paper releases 0.03 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents (the amount of greenhouse gases in terms of carbon dioxide impact). If the paper has 100% recycled post-consumer content, it produces a lot less-0.017 pounds of CO2 equivalents. In terms of newspapers, 1 ton of newsprint kills 12 trees. The average recycled content for newspapers in the U.S. is only 35%. Creating wood pulp out of the trees is very energy-intensive and produces large amounts of pollution. In fact, the pulp industry is the third highest polluter in the U.S.

Farming trees specifically grown to produce paper also reduces biodiversity. Some tree species provide better quality paper, so we plant more of those and cut down old-growth trees to make space. This emits carbon dioxide into the air that had been stored for hundreds or thousands of years, and which these new trees can’t hope to recapture during their short lifespan. Pesticide and herbicide use is also a problem, since these are required to maintain the monoculture of tree farms.

The moral here is, if you are going to print something, please use recycled content paper, or better yet-reuse paper by printing on the blank side (though this strategy doesn’t really work for books).

Electronic devices

Alright, so everyone probably knew that making paper kills trees. But do you know what impact computers, e-readers and other mobile devices have on the environment?

Electronic devices are usually made out of plastic, which biodegrades extremely slowly, and also often contain rare metals like coltan that require mining. They also require a lot of energy to manufacture, ship and discard, and sometimes include toxic chemicals inside. Using a computer or other mobile device also requires a lot of electricity, which in the U.S. mostly comes from coal. The energy goes towards powering the device itself, but a significant amount also goes towards powering internet servers, even more so now that the use of “cloud computing” has increased in recent years. In terms of CO2 emissions, Apple has announced that using an iPad only releases 0.004 pounds of CO2 equivalents per hour and that over its lifetime (including manufacturing, transport and recycling), an iPad will produce 231 pounds of CO2 equivalent, which is the same as 7,700 sheets of regular paper or 13,600 sheets of recycled paper. In this comparison, the iPad comes out on top if you think of the number of pages you can read on an iPad during its lifetime without killing one tree.

However, International Paper,  a world-wide printing company, argues that the large energy consumption of devices such as the iPad makes paper a better choice. Powering a computer for five months requires the same amount of energy used to produce a year’s worth of paper for the average person. It also points out that paper has a much higher recycling rate in the U.S. (60%) compared to electronic devices (18%), which are instead often shipped to third-world countries where they contaminate landfills.

To sum up, the answer is complicated. If you read thousands of pages a year on your electronic device, then it might be better than printing thousands of pages. But then in four or five years (or probably sooner), you’ll have to buy the newest iPad, so what happens to the plastics and chemicals used in your original tablet? If you don’t read quite as many pages, then paper might be a good choice, but you would still be killing trees, encouraging biodiversity loss and increasing pollution from the pulp industry. Ultimately, whether to read print or electronic versions of your favorite newspaper or book is really a personal decision. If you already use your computer or tablet often, then also use it for reading. If you prefer the feel of a newspaper or book in your hand, then make sure to plant some trees.

Photos courtesy of Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Building Green 


Moving Towards Zero Waste November 7, 2011

Reduce, reuse, recycle. This mantra has been publicized tirelessly in recent years, emblazoned on hemp tote bags, organic cotton t-shirts, and reusable water bottles. While it has been moderately successful in raising public awareness about the waste stream, this slogan mainly targets consumers, and most of those consumers are just recycling. In reality, the man-made waste stream is a much larger issue. Consider the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Bigger than the Great Wall of China, the Fresh Kills Landfill was the largest man-made object on Earth and could be seen from space with the naked eye until reclamation began in 2009. Humans are the only existing species that produce non-biodegradable waste. More importantly, this waste is not only created at the consumer, end-of-product-life level. Raw material extraction, product and packaging design, manufacturing practices, sales and distribution, and government policy are all contributing factors.

This is where the concept of zero waste comes in. Zero waste practices seek to tackle our “throw away” attitude by emphasizing resource conservation, reduction in pollution, increased economic opportunity, and quality over quantity. Mimicking nature, zero waste initiatives promote a cyclical manner of resource use over a linear approach. Zero waste perspectives perceive waste as a resource going in the wrong direction. Many discarded materials or resources often viewed as “waste” can be used to make new products, effectively cutting infrastructure costs, creating new jobs and revenue opportunities, and encouraging innovation. Rather than targeting only consumers, zero waste efforts employ system wide principles, optimizing resource use and keeping producers, consumers, and policy makers accountable. The overall goal? To eliminate waste as much as possible. Below is a step-by-step breakdown of zero waste fundamentals and their existing counterparts:

  • Raw Material Supply: emphasize recycled material use, sustainable harvesting and non-toxic materials over exhaustion of virgin resources and piecemeal toxic material management
  • Product and Packaging Design: encourage waste minimization, durability, repairability, recyclability, and longer product lifespans over manufactured obsolescence in the interest of maximized sales
  • Manufacturing: reform operations to abate emissions, minimize resource use and account for end-of-life product management instead of skirting compliance costs
  • Sales and Distribution: instill an active sense of environmental responsibility in wholesalers and retailers and support regional distribution and sales rather than large-scale, mass distribution
  • Government Policy: promote and incentivize conservation industries, maintain accountability at the producer stage, and institutionalize efficient strategies to control environmental, economic and social impacts in place of subsidizing uneconomical virgin extraction industries and managing waste at the expense of taxpayers
  • Consumption: select products on basis of quality, price, and environmental impact and increase participation reuse/recycling programs instead of overconsumptive behaviors

Clearly, zero waste initiatives require a significant shift in societal awareness and dedication. Informing and educating the public is crucial to this process of surmounting existing barriers. In 2007, director Louis Fox, filmmaker Annie Leonard and Free Range Studios released a 20 minute documentary trying to do just that. Titled The Story of Stuff, the animated film takes a critical stance on excessive consumerism and the materials economy, explaining the impacts on environmental, economic and social health. Since its release, the documentary been translated into 15 languages and viewed in 228 different countries and territories.

Pick Up America is a more interactive, hands-on approach to raising awareness about reducing waste. In 2010, co-founders and University of Maryland alumni Davey Rogner and Jeff Chen and the rest of the PUA crew embarked on nation’s first coast-to-coast roadside litter pick up. From its starting point in Assateague Island, Maryland, PUA will span thirteen states in its journey to the San Francisco Bay area, picking up trash, coordinating volunteers, and educating communities about zero waste practices along the way. So far, the PUA team has collected 109,796 pounds of litter over 1,000 miles.

And what about implementation? Since the birth of the zero waste concept, numerous district councils and city divisions have adopted waste reduction and recycling strategies to enable a transition to a waste-free future. In 1998, the Opotiki District Council in New Zealand became the first local authority to endorse zero waste practices. Canada has also been a leader in blazing the zero waste trail, developing more sustainable methods of waste management and diversion in multiple municipalities spanning the provinces of Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia.

To find out more about what “zero waste” really means, check out the following:


Austin Grocery Store Goes “Package-less” October 3, 2011

Picture yourself entering a major grocery store.  Look at the aisles of shelving.  On the shelves sit items in boxes, bags, jars, and cans.  The majority of product packaging is used just once before it is thrown away or hopefully recycled. According to Time, one-use packaging represents 40% of the U.S. waste stream.
Packaging Waste
In October Austin, Texas will welcome the zero-waste grocery store in.gredients.  The store will be America’s first packaging-free grocery making it a little easier for shoppers to reduce their own waste.  To play their role, shoppers will have to bring their own containers in which to take their groceries home.  The store will offer compostable containers for shoppers that forget to bring their own.  Visit in.gredients’ website for more details.

While package-free groceries are new to the U.S., a bulk food store named Unpackaged opened in London last year.  In order to sell items like dairy that require packaging, Unpackaged offers the products in returnable glass bottles.  The Unpackaged, website provides more information about their zero-packaging efforts.

Package-free groceries are setting out to show consumers that they can carry all of the products of a conventional grocery store (minus the junk food) without all the waste.


Begin Reducing Your Company’s Electric Bill September 19, 2011

Building waste accounts for 72% of the United States’ electricity consumption. In particular, office spaces consume the most energy of any type of commercial building1, emitting a significant amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. At present, there is no price for carbon, but this is bound to change as carbon taxes gain more support. By reducing your energy usage now, you will decrease operating costs and relieve your company’s vulnerability to increases in prices or CO2 regulation later.

If you have not yet taken steps to improving your energy efficiency, begin by determining your carbon foot print (note – this is one of many calculators and is provided as an example only). Track it through different installations and changes made in your office space so that you can see the difference impact measures make on your greenhouse gas emissions. Start with simple improvements, such as upgrading lighting systems, beforemaking large scale improvements.

Improve Your Lighting: Upgrading the lighting system of an entire building can have dramatic effects on your yearly operating costs. Make changes to the lighting system in your building before you make changes to the HVAC system since inefficient lighting produces a lot of heat waste, adding to the cost of air conditioning during the summer. Replace incandescent lights with more efficient compact florescent (CFL) or light emitting diodes (LED) lights. Encourage employees to turn lights off when leaving a room, but utilize dimmers and sensors in the office building to regulate lighting usage since it is difficult to change habits overnight.

Improving Your HVAC System: Before overhauling the HVAC systems in your building, reduce your heating and cooling requirements. Take simple steps such as cleaning and maintaining preexisting equipment, installing window treatments to block direct sunlight during the summer, and caulking cracks that let heat escape during the winter. Only after taking steps to reduce the amount of conditioning your space requires, look into more efficient systems. Investigate renewable sources of heat generation such as geothermal and solar heating, and make sure upgrades to the air conditioning units are appropriate for the size of the space.

Buying Energy Star:  Companies today need many different types of electronic devices in order to keep business running smoothly. Office equipment like computers, printers, copy machines, and digital displays shoulder much of the burden for the company’s carbon foot print; many of these products can be found with an Energy Star certificate. In particular, because of the immense amount of time workers spend on computers, ENERGY STAR computers are required to meet high standards while running, as well as while they are on standby and sleep mode. Use the Power Management settings to put the computer in to a lower-power state after business hours. For help selecting the best products for your newly green business, visit, the EPA Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool.

Visit other posts to learn about saving energy in a particular field of business: Greening RestaurantsSustainable Companies Achieve 200% ROI Per Bloomberg,  Eco-Friendly Conference Centers And Where to Find ThemBenefits of TeleworkCar Rental Takes A Turn For The SustainableWhat Do You Know About Clean Energy


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