Recycling Bin in the Bathroom

Recycling BinIn order to encourage more recycling, I placed a recycling bin in the bathroom.  We use it for toilet paper rolls, shampoo bottles, and other recyclables that could easily be forgotten.  It might seem like a small action, but according to this source, “Over 17 billion toilet paper tubes are thrown away each year. That’s enough to fill the Empire State Building. Twice.”  Small changes on an individual level can help change behavior and culture thus leading to larger changes.  To make sure that my recycling bin is not confused for a  garbage, I took a plain bin (from Goodwill) and added a recycling decal.  The decal itself is inspiring!

Recycling Facility Tour

View inside the material recovery facility.

View inside the material recovery facility.

How is a glass pickle jar with a metal lid recycled?  Recently, I had the opportunity to tour a recycling facility in Milwaukee and learn the answer.  An organization called Keeping Greater Milwaukee Beautiful hosted the tour of the Milwaukee County/ Waukesha County material recovery facility.  This is where all of the recyclables are sent to be sorted.  Once they are sorted, they are sent to specialized companies to actually do the recycling.

The largest paper baler in North America!

The tour was very educational and interesting.  This facility fills 10 semi trucks per day with sorted/ baled recyclables.  I learned that this particular facility has a 92% success rate meaning that 92% of the stuff that comes into the facility can be recycled.  Basically saying that 8% of the stuff shouldn’t have been put in the recycling bin to begin with.  That is the 2nd highest success rate in the country.  Go Milwaukee!

Recycling is an important part in a vision for future sustainability.  On average, only 35% of recyclable materials are recycled.  What a shame.  Recycling is not the answer to all of our environmental and climate problems, but it is certainly an EASY step in the right direction.

P.S. The glass pickle jar is broken and then the metal lid is free to be sorted with the other metals.

My Mom and Me in front of bales of aluminum cans.

My Mom and Me in front of bales of aluminum cans.

Save Water from the Shower

Brewers BucketThis summer I read a book that inspired me to make another Green change in my life.  I decided to collect water from the shower as it is warming up.  In order to do this, I went to Goodwill to look for a bucket.  As usual, I found the perfect thing.  It is a plastic Brewer themed bucket that one might use to keep beers chilled.  Now as I’m waiting for the shower to heat up, I save the water.  Then I take the bucket out of the shower so it doesn’t get soapy.  This whole exercise would be pointless, unless I used the water for something.  Therefore, I use the water for my houseplants.  The United States Geological Survey estimates that individuals use 80-100 gallons of water every day at home.  Imagine 100 gallons of milk (except filled with water) lined up every day waiting to be poured literally down the drain.  It is great to know that I will never have to fill my watering can from the sink again, and that I am doing every small bit to reduce my water consumption.

Orangutan Blood and Redwood Tears

Sometimes a little bit of exaggeration can be a helpful tool.  In the spirit of helpful exaggerations, I have coined two terms: orangutan blood and redwood tears.

OrangutanOrangutan blood is what I call palm oil.  Palm oil is a very pervasive ingredient that is linked to major deforestation of the orangutan ecosystems (see my earlier post for more details).  If you tell people you don’t buy some brands of butter/ peanut butter because they contain palm oil, most people won’t really pay much attention.  But, if you tell people you avoid a certain brand because it has orangutan blood, they will probably ask you a follow-up question and have a better chance of remembering what you tell them.  I’ve written to many companies to inform them that I no longer buy their products because the products contain palm oil.  All of the companies respond saying that their palm oil is sustainably harvested and is not contributing to deforestation.  Since I have no means of evaluating their claims, I avoid palm oil as much as I can.

Redwood tears is a general term referring to excessive, useless paper products.  Redwood treeA stack of unused paper napkins in the garbage at a restaurant is redwood tears.  A ream of paper at work that someone accidentally printed is redwood tears.  Endless amounts of junk mail are redwood tears.  Redwood trees are not actually used to make paper products.  However, it was the redwood trees that inspired me as I traveled through the beautiful forests in Northern California.  At the time, I was reading The Story of Stuff which taught me that “about 40 percent of the stuff in municipal garbage is paper”.  I thought of the wasted paper products, and I imagined forests everywhere crying.  We use paper without even thinking of the trees used to make the paper.  Referring to needless paper products as redwood tears gives us a reminder of where that paper originated.

I hope that these exaggerated terms encourage people to buy fewer products containing palm oil and reduce their paper consumption.  But, if nothing else, I smile every time I use the terms.

A unique idea to go green at work- the Eco Tray

So you’ve probably read lists of ways to go green at work.  The typical lists have good ideas that should definitely be implemented if possible.  However, this is an idea that I haven’t seen on any other lists, and you don’t need to be the president of the company to make it happen.  I call it The Eco Tray:

The Eco Tray is a way to reduce paper usage when printing.  Of course the best option is to avoid printing things, however depending on your job, that might not be possible.  For my job, I have to print sheets that are posted on boards and therefore my print-outs can only be one-sided.  We also have a large printer at work that has 3 different trays for paper.  I started to collect used papers that were only printed on one-side.  Then I would load those one-sided papers into a specific tray of the printer.  And thus, the Eco Tray was born.

Eco TrayWith the Eco Tray, if you have to print a one-sided document, you can select the Eco Tray.  Then your document will be printed with something else recycled on the other side of the document.  This works well at a high traffic printer where you can usually find papers that no one picks up.  These are un-wrinkled and staple free so they make prime candidates to be loaded for re-use in the Eco Tray.

In order to spread my idea, I posted a notice near the printer so that others were aware of the Eco Tray.  Also, I set the default of the printer to show the Eco Tray as “green” colored paper.  This prevents people from accidentally printing to the Eco Tray.  The printer never defaults to use the Eco Tray.  Users instead must manually select the Eco Tray prior to printing their document.  At first I was the only person using the Eco Tray, but now I am happy to hear others talking about it and using it.

I hope that others can apply this idea at their jobs to reduce their paper usage.  Message me if you would like the actual signs that I used to mark the Eco Tray.  It is satisfying to know that when I can’t avoid printing something, at least I’m re-using the piece of paper.

Worm Bin- Round 2

“Round 2?” you might ask.  Yes.  Although my worm bin was going really well, eventually I must have neglected it because the worms all died.  My theory is that I did not give them enough water.  I felt really bad about killing my worms, but I missed the opportunity to compost. Therefore, after the appropriate mourning period, I went back to the bait shop to pick up new red wigglers.

confused wormThus began Round 2 of my Worm Bin.  I used the same bin.  I added 3 containers of red wigglers (same amount as last time).  I gave them food scraps similar to the ones I successfully fed my other worms.  I watered the bin with a spray bottle to avoid a repeat of the previously fatal mistake.  I put the bin in its secondary home under the bathroom sink since the kitchen sink was under maintenance.  Everything was set as usual.  Then the horror began!

Later that night, I went into the bathroom and gasped.  There was a worm in the middle of the rug.  It was dried up and dead.  I gasped again as I realized that he was not alone.  As I looked around our small bathroom, I found about 8 other worms.  All dead except 1 struggling survivor whom I quickly returned to the bin.  After scouring the bathroom I debated if I should mention this creepy crawly incident to Greg.  That’s when I found 2 more little worms outside of the bathroom in the carpeting!  Those poor little things!worm

Now a week after bringing the worms home, I’ve had a few more escapees- never as many as that first night.  Based on brief research, I  think I must have had too many worms in the bin or just a particularly wanderlust batch of worms.  Thankfully the escapes have ceased so I believe my bin is chemically healthy.  Time to compost!