Eco-Coach

Green your life at home, work & play

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.

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 

 

Cell Phone Recycling September 17, 2010

Cell phones have become so popular in our society that they have taken over the public telephone.  It is rare that you find a public phone in the streets nowadays.  It seems that everyone from age 5 to 75 has a cell phone; the average consumer always wants to have the latest and greatest of this technology.  Yet what happens to the phones when consumer “upgrade” their old device?

Many companies have implemented cell phone recycling programs for their companies and they take in phones from any provider.

Verizon has implemented a program called, Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine, that donates unused cell phones, batteries, and accessories to victims of domestic abuse. (Verizon Wirless)

T-Mobile has partnered up with the U.S. Environment Protection Agency to help promote  and participate in the “Plug-In to eCyling Campaign“.  The company has made recycling very accommodating for their customers.  T-Mobile has designated areas for the consumer to recycle their old phones and places self addressed envelopes in new cell phone packages so the customer can easily send their old phone to be recycled proper through T-Mobile. (T-Mobile USA, Inc.)  AT&T has a similar program that they have implemented in their stores.

When getting ready to upgrade your phone, activate a new line, or migrate to a new company, know that many of the major cell phone companies are ready and willing to take your unused phone.

You can also donate your cell phone to many worthy causes, such as to soldiers or senior citizen charities.  Find out the nearest place that will recycle your cell phone here.

 

Do you E-cycle? August 7, 2010

Many people have been or have started recycling, but there are still those who don’t know about electronic waste.  Electronic waste, also known as e-waste, e-scrap, or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, includes old electronics like cellular phones, televisions, and batteries, must be recycled properly, not just thrown away.  From 1999 to 2005, the recycling rate of e-waste was about 15%, and 85% was disposed of in landfills, primarily.

The reason it’s important to recycle e-waste is because simply disposing of it is dangerous.  New LCD screens have mercury, and other televisions and computer monitors contain up to eight pounds of lead.  Batteries have health hazards in addition mercury and lead such as lithium and other toxics.  If this waste is thrown away and sent to landfills,  toxic metals can leak from the landfills into groundwater systems, or if they are incinerated, the toxic metals can be released into the atmosphere.

What you can do: take your used and non-working electronics to an electronic recycling plant. Many office supply stores accept used toner cartridges, or they can be mailed back to the manufacturer.  Used batteries can also be dropped off at many home improvement stores.  Don’t forget that working cell phones, DVDs, CDs, and other electronics can also be donated!

Before buying new electronics, check out Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics for the top manufacturers based on their policies on toxics, recycling, and climate change; also explore the Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices Electronics Reuse and Recycling Center for ideas about buying electronics, extending the lives of current electronics, and how to go about donating or selling your unwanted electronics. Finally, check to see if the recycling company you use is a member of E-Stewards.

 

The Fun Green Museum – Trash! July 8, 2010

Although all green museums are fun, the Trash Museum in Hartford CT, and the Garbage Museum in Stratford CT managed by the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority are particularly geared towards making information about landfill-destined waste interesting and engaging.

Proud owners of the Trash-O-Saurus and the Temple of Trash (made from more than a ton of salvaged trash), these museums run environmental and recycling educational programs including suggestions on how to implement recycling at home. Besides tours of recycling facilities lead by trained educators, the museums run school and community programs, their overall attendance reaching nearly 60,000.

These museums run on a fraction of the budget of large-scale centers such as the California Academy of Sciences, and yet have a widespread tangible, positive impact on their communities. More museums need to take on the responsibility of teaching their patrons about practical skills for improving their everyday lives.

Note: Photo by everywheremag.com

 

 
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