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


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.

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:


Recycling 102: Beyond the Basics September 12, 2008

Filed under: General,Green home,Green living,Green tips — velobaker @ 9:10 pm
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What’s in your garage, or in your house? Quite possibly a lot of “stuff” that can be recycled if it cannot be donated for reuse. You just might be surprised at how many items other than the usual glass, cardboard, aluminum, tin/steel and plastic bottles- can be recycled. The following is a list of some of the hard-to-recycle, but recyclable!, items:

  • Athletic shoes- recycle at participating shoe stores and/or recycling centers
  • Audio equipment– home stereo components, car stereos
  • Batteries– alkaline, carbon, zinc, cadmium, rechargeable, marine, and car batteries
  • Big durable plastics #2– large plastics marked with the #2 such as Big Wheels and plastic play structures, plastic lawn furniture, plastic watering cans, laundry baskets, plastic buckets, crates, rigid backyard kiddie pools, litter boxes, flower pots, and plastic trash containers, etc.
  • Bike tires and tubes
  • Carpet– your carpet installer might be able to recycle it. If not, call your local recycling center
  • Ceiling Tiles
  • Compact fluorescent bulbs and tubes– can be recycled at some chain home improvement stores
  • Computer and office manuals
  • Computers and computer parts
  • Computer disks– through Green Disk and other sites
  • Cooking oil– canola, corn, olive, vegetable, and sesame
  • Copiers and fax machines
  • Empty aerosol cans
  • Eyeglasses- chain stores LensCrafters, For-Eyes, and Pearle will take glasses, clean, repair, and measured to determine the correction and then given to those in need
  • Fire Extinguishers
  • Fleece- Patagonia recycles Patagonia fleece
  • Cosmetics
  • Metal hangers– your local dry cleaner
  • Polystyrene packing and peanuts- drop off at UPS, Mailboxes, Etc., or The Postal Annex
  • Salvageable construction materials
  • Small electronic items– digital cameras, PDAs and Gameboys, video game systems, Walkmans/iPods
  • Textiles– clothing, bedding, towels, fabrics
  • Thermometers and thermostats
  • Toilets, sinks, and urinals
  • Toothbrushes
  • TVs and VCRs/DVD players
  • #6 block foam packaging

Call your local recycling center to see what items they accept. If they do not accept items you would like to recycle, ask if they can refer you to someplace that does (or ask them to consider recycling more materials). Some areas have collections for hard-to-recycle items a few times a year. For many of these items there is nominal charge to cover the costs of recycling. If you’re having trouble recycling an item, try re-purposing it to give it a new life – get creative! Also, a great site to get information about recyclers in your area is


Recycling Saves Energy October 30, 2007

Just the other day a friend of mine was telling me how she was throwing out the plastic that was used for some food that she bought at the supermarket. Her daughter told her to recycle it instead and showed her mom the recycling triangle on the bottom. Kids are sponges when it comes to learning about things such as recycling. They monitor our behavior and love to remind us of all that they know. And they are right–Ii is easy to recycle. Besides giving new life to used materials, it saves us energy.

Although recycling does use some energy–for sorting, transporting, etc…– in general it saves far more than it uses. Even better, the amount of energy used in recycling is being minimized all the time. For instance, some waste management companies are looking for ways to make the vehicles used to pick up recycled materials more energy efficient. When companies make such investments, not only will they save energy and help the environment, but they also will be reduce their own costs.

Here are some energizing facts:

soda-can.jpg1. Recycling aluminum cans takes just 5 % of the energy needed to produce aluminum cans from raw materials. Any time that we can recycle, instead of having to rely on the processing new materials, we will save significant amounts of energy, not to mention that aluminum can be recycled indefinitely.



2. Glass is another item that takes less energy to recycle than to produce. Glass can be recycled over and over again and is easily made into new glass jars and bottles or into other glass products. Recycled glass takes about 40% less energy to make into another glass product than making it from scratch. The recycled glass melts at a lower temperature than the raw materials used to make glass (sand, soda ash, and limestone).


3. Recycling paper uses about 65% less energy than cutting down new trees and using wood pulp. Though some may arguepaper.jpg that a recycling mill may consume more fossil fuels than a paper mill, recycled paper requires less bleaches and chemicals. Of course, when we reuse paper by printing on the back of discarded paper or reduce the use of paper by not printing out documents that we can work with electronically, we are doing even more to protect the trees.


When industries have recycled materials at their disposal, it is easier for them to save energy since they do not need to mine virgin resources. This translates to fewer greenhouse gas emissions while preserving our precious natural resources. California’s Department of Conservation had a great way of looking at how recycling saves energy. “Energy drinks are all the rage, and in recent years beverages that invigorate consumers have flooded the marketplace. What many people might not realize is that as the summer’s heat intensifies and people reach for the air-conditioning switch, the same bottles and cans that provide them with energy beverages could actually save the kind of energy needed to power their homes, air conditioners and televisions….[In 2004] the 12 billion bottles and cans recycled by Californians saved the equivalent of enough energy to power up to 522,000 homes, according to DOC calculations.”

Though some may argue that recycling takes more energy than using virgin materials, this is clearly not the case. Recycling is a great way for each of us to save energy and help the Earth, as well as being a simple thing to do.


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