Welcome to Green Boot Camp

Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Week Two--Setting Up an At-Home Recycling Center

Today I received a wonderful email from a blog reader who is interested in making recycling on a regular basis one of her family's New Year's resolutions. She has been following this Green Boot Camp but is facing a unique challenge--there no regular curbside recycling program in her hometown. That means that in addition to diligently collecting and separating her recyclables, this reader will also need to bring the items to a local facility for recycling as opposed to putting these items out with curbside trash. Here is her message:
For the new year, our family wants to start recycling. This will not be easy as our city does not offer recycling of any kind (curbside or otherwise). We will have to collect the items and then take them to a county recycling center every week.

We are in the process of setting up a "recycling center" in our home and are trying to figure out exactly how to recycle items. This is all new to us, so we are grateful for your "boot camp." We wondered if could answer the following questions:

Should we take the labels of glass/plastic containers before recycling?

Do glass/plastics containers have to be completely washed with soap and water, or can they just be rinsed?

What about metal or plastic lids or caps? Are they recyclable?

I read during "boot camp" that plastic bags could be recycled. What about Styrofoam?
It is not necessary to remove labels from bottles, jars and cans before recycling, but it will help speed up the process on the other end (i.e. at the recycling plant) if you do so. You can soak off the labels, then put them in with your paper recycling, says Earth 911. Also, rinsing out cans and bottles should do the trick in getting rid of any leftover tomato sauce or other food stuff. However, with sticky substances like mayonnaise and peanut butter, you do want to get the container as clean as possible. Here's how I usually accomplish that.

One of my cleaning methods is to put a drop or two of dish-washing liquid in the jar, fill it halfway with warm water, put the jar cap on, and then shake to loosen the gunk. After shaking, I'll take the cap back off, fill the jar all the way with water, then let it soak overnight. In the morning a couple of rinses in the sink usually leaves the bottle spotless. Or, if I'm time-crunched or feeling lazy, I'll pop the jar in the dishwasher, which not only cleans it but usually gets rid of the label, too.

As far as bottle caps go, you should put all of your recyclables that come with tops in the recycling bin without the tops on. This is because the materials that tops are made from often aren't the same material as the containers themselves, and will have to be recycled separately down the line. Again, it makes it easier on the recycling center if you've already separated the top from its container before placing in the recycling bin.

Now recycling Styrofoam might present a bit of a challenge for you in certain circumstances. If you're talking about Styrofoam packing peanuts, then that will be easy--most UPS Store locations accept donations of clean peanuts. However, if you're talking about the Styrofoam you find in packaging around things like computers and TVs, then you might have to do a bit more legwork to find an acceptable drop-off location.

I would suggest checking out the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers. This website includes an address to which you can mail used Styrofoam (mailed at your own cost, sadly) as well as a PDF of drop-off locations. But Styrofoam recycling programs aren't always on-going. Many occur once a year only, just in time for Earth Day (how convenient).

This reader's message has inspired me to research how one goes about setting up a bona fide recycling program in a town that does not offer one. I'll keep you posted on any details I uncover.

Week Two--The 411 on Recycling Plastic, Metal and Glass

I can remember years ago when the only non-paper items that you were allowed to recycle were aluminum cans and glass bottles. Then PVC plastic popped onto the packaging scene, and soon enough recycling companies started taking plastic (though probably not soon enough for most environmentally minded folks).

The key with plastic recycling is that not all plastic is the same. Turn over any plastic bottle you have, and on the bottom you will find a chasing arrows symbol with a number in it. This explains what kind of plastic this container is made from and is your guide as to whether or not your recycler can accept it.

The most commonly accepted plastic bottles for recycling are PET (often #1) and HDPE (often #2). In real life these are soft drink bottles and peanut butter jars (PET #1), and water bottles and laundry detergent jugs (HDPE #2). As the "Better Living with Plastics" website says, all plastics with numbers 1 through 7 are recyclable--it's just up to your recycler as to whether or not they will accept them. (This website also gives a good rundown on what to look for in recyclable plastics.)

Don't forget: plastic bags like you would get from the supermarket, around dry cleaned clothes and from new mattresses are all recyclable. You can put them in recycled bag receptacles you typically see outside supermarkets.

As far as recycling metal goes, according to the Aluminum Association, two-thirds of all aluminum cans in the United States end up being recycled, and these days, post-consumer scrap metal is what largely feeds the making of new cans. That's why recycling your cans--whether through your curbside recycling program or a return-to-the-store collection process in bottle-bill states--is so critical.

Aluminum isn't the only metal that can be recycled. So can the steel cans that you probably have in your pantry and which you might refer to as tin cans. In reality they are made from steel and contain food stuff like soup, canned tomatoes and ground coffee. In fact, steel is the most recycled metal in the United States.

Finally, there is glass recycling. Truth be told in many instances plastic has overtaken glass as the container of choice (I almost fainted when a friend brought to dinner Pellegrino Mineral water in a plastic bottle instead of a glass one). Because glass is much more easily recycled than plastic and more universally accepted, whenever possible choose items in glass containers. Then, when you're done with them, if you can't figure out how to reuse the bottles, make sure that you toss them in your recycling bin.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Week Two--Recycling Plastic, Cans and Glass, Oh My

One of the best ways I trained myself to recycle my plastic, cans and glass from the kitchen was to dump the stuff in the sink. Don't worry--I didn't leave it there forever. No, I put that stuff in the sink because in order to recycle plastic, cans and glass, they need to be clean. And if your soup cans, glass jars and plastic yogurt containers are already in the sink with the dishes, you can easily clean them out--then put them in the recycling bin.

With that in mind, keep your recycling bin near your kitchen sink so that it doesn't become too much trouble to get those recyclables into their proper receptacle (and I don't mean the trash).

Now what about the recyclables you might find in the rest of the house? Well, get recycling bins for each of those rooms. For example, in my laundry room I've got an extra trash can where I can toss empty detergent bottles. Because my laundry room is across the hall from my master bathroom, I'll also use that trash can for bath-oriented recyclables, like empty shampoo bottles or the plastic container that Venus razor blade heads come in (though it might be more environmentally responsible to get the Recycline Razor made from recycled plastic). With these extra bins situated around the house, then all you have to do is make collecting recyclables a part of your garbage-collection routine before trash day.

Of course, one of the best ways to recycle an item is to figure out a way to reuse it. Coffee cans are a terrific place to store loose crayons, and empty jars make excellent nail and screw holders. A Trenton, New Jersey company called TerraCycle has figured out a way to reuse recyclable bottles by turning them into the containers for its eco-friendly products, like bird feeders and worm poop-based fertilizers.

Perhaps on your way to making recycling plastic, cans and glass a new habit, you can come up with creative ways to reuse your items as well. If you do, I'd love to hear those ideas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Week One--The 411 on Paper Recycling

It's all fine and good to know that you want to recycle your paper and make paper recycling a new habit, but it's important to know ahead of time what kind of paper is recyclable and the best way to recycle it. The first place you should check is with your trash collection company, whether it's private or city/town run. Usually, these companies will have an FAQ on their website that explains what kinds of paper they can take for recycling--and what kinds they can't.

Check out this Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District website for an example of what to keep in mind when recycling your paper. This site does a very good job explaining what is recyclable and what isn't.

Here is a breakdown on the most common kinds of paper you're likely to be able to recycle:

* Office paper

* Envelopes (including those with windows or that you might classify as "junk" mail, unless, of course, you're keeping them around for making shopping lists or filing tax receipts)

* Newspapers

* Magazines

* Phone books

* Paperboard (aka cereal boxes)

* Coated paper (aka opaque milk cartons, though not all facilities can take these)

To really make paper recycling a permanent habit, it would be ideal if you didn't have to work too hard at sorting your recyclables. In fact, it would be ideal if you didn't have to sort them all.

Truth is, many companies now offer what I consider to be the gold standard for recycling and that is single-stream or single-sort recycling. Single sort is a bit of a misnomer, because they don't require you to sort at all. You just toss all of your recyclables (paper, glass, cardboard) in one bin, and then it's the recycling company's job to sort things on their end. Research shows that with single-sort recycling programs, participation rates increase significantly.

One of my favorite companies to offer single sort--but which, sadly, does not offer its services where I live--is RecycleBank. Not only are they a single-sort recycler, but also RecycleBank rewards you with gift cards to local businesses based on the amount you recycle each month. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement to make a recycling habit stick!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Week One--Making Paper Recycling Second Nature

One of the easiest ways to make paper recycling become second nature is to have supplies on hand and routines in place as they relate to paper disposal. This way when you go to get rid of any paper, it will end up in the recycling and not in the trash. Here's how I've managed to make it easy on myself to always recycle my paper.

Before I started using reusable bags for grocery shopping, I had my groceries packed in brown paper bags. (Truth be told, if I'm running short on time and need to do some web grocery shopping through ShopRite from Home, I'll still request that my groceries be packaged in brown paper bags.) Because of this I have a hefty supply of these bags, which I reuse as my paper recycling receptacle. I keep the bags stored in a specific kitchen drawer. This means that whenever I need a new bag for recycling, I know where they are--and I'm never left searching for a bag or frustrated because I've got nothing to put my recycling in, so therefore I don't bother recycling. (In addition to brown grocery bags, paper department store shopping bags and the bags that folded shirts come in from the dry cleaner also work well for holding paper recycling.)

In addition to having a designated spot for storing these bags, I also have a designated spot for opening the mail--and it just happens to be near my shredder. This way when I receive one of the six billion credit card solicitations that Americans get every year, I can feed that unwanted mail right into the shredder. When the shredder is nearly full, I'll empty it into a tie-top plastic bag (a leftover plastic shopping bag, most likely), and then put it out with the rest of the recycling.

For catalogs and magazines, I make a pile and then distribute them to one of the magazine racks I have in our bathrooms. (Nothing like a little potty-time reading.) Then, once a week, when I empty the trash and collect the recycling before trash and recycling day, I'll thin that reading material, and put them in those aforementioned brown paper bags with the rest of my paper recycling. (I learned this weekly magazine purge trick from FlyLady's Weekly Home Blessing Hour!)

If I find myself with overflowing amounts of paper recycling, long before trash/recycling day, I try to avoid storing the paper recycling outdoors. Why? In the past, when the paper bags have gotten wet in the rain--and then disintegrated as the recycling collectors picked them up--I usually ended up with a paper-strewn street. I should have called the trash collection company to complain, but instead, I've carved out a recycling corner inside, between my kitchen and dining room. It's dead space, really, so it wasn't being used well anyway, but sometimes even that space isn't big enough to store all of our recycling.

That's why when paper recycling really starts to pile up, I'll load the bags of paper in the car and take them to the Abitibi Paper Retriever dumpster at my daughters' school. I've mentioned these before, about how schools used them as a fundraising tool. I say it's win-win: it gives local people a place to recycle their paper, and it provides a green way for the school to raise money for its activities.

So how can you adopt similar habits?

First, create a designated spot where you can store your paper recycling and/or supplies.

Second, get into the habit of regularly contributing to your recycling, either by opening mail near the shredder like I do or clearing out catalogs and magazines on a weekly basis.

Third, always put your paper recycling out on pick-up day.

Fourth, if you find yourself with an overflowing amount of paper recycling, find an alternative drop-off location, such as the aforementioned Abitibi Paper Retriever.

Just these four simple steps done regularly should make paper recycling second nature for you in no time.

Week One--A Paper Recycling Primer

Welcome to Green Boot Camp, a 52-week program to help fine-tune or change your habits so that you can live a greener life. As I'd posted a few days ago, each week during Green Boot Camp I'm going to be focusing on a different "green" habit. Why one habit a week? I figure that if we take it slowly and consistently, I'm confident that you will be successful in adopting a more eco-friendly lifestyle without feeling like you'd worked hard at it.

I'm lucky. My green lifestyle started when I was a kid and I began accompanying my mother to her volunteer gig at a local recycling plant. To me this wasn’t work; it was fun.

While there I loved tearing the covers off of magazines and the labels off of mayonnaise jars. Then we’d toss them onto two conveyors belt tongues that fed into separate recycling machine mouths. I was almost giddy as I heard this monster smashing the glass and chewing through paper.

None of my friends quite understood what I did on the weekends with my mother.

"What's a recycling plant?" I remember them asking me. "Is it for your garden?"

As a kid, if I wanted to get rid of a piece of paper, I was only allowed to do so once I’d used every inch of it for writing down phone messages or math problems I needed to solve for homework.

I still refuse to get rid of paper unless it’s been used on both sides, and as a magazine writer and book author, I get a lot of paper mailed to me—in the form of press kits. I will disassemble these kits and “harvest” clean paper that I can reuse in my printer.

Speaking of which, for the first week, we're going to focus on improving our paper recycling habits. Today, though, we're going to talk a bit about how you can reuse paper first before you toss it in the recycling bin.

These days nearly every home has a computer and a printer, meaning that you are probably going through a lot of paper yourself. And if you've got kids, you've got lots of paper. If they aren't printing out tons of stuff, like the latest Webkinz they hope to get from Santa, they're likely bringing home piles of paper from school. This means that without even realizing it, you have a lot of paper that you can reuse before you recycle it.

So the next time your printer is running low on paper, set your timer for five minutes and go on a paper hunt throughout your house. See how many sheets of paper you can find that are printed on one side only and which you can use in your printer. Who cares if it's colored paper, if you're just going to be printing out a draft of something. This way you won't have to use brand-new paper at your first printing.

If you find paper that's dog-eared and will jam the printer, then turn it into a scratch pad for phone messages, homework help or shopping lists.

As far as shopping lists go, if you'd like to kill two birds with one paper stone, take all of those envelopes that come in the unsolicited credit card offers we all received nearly daily in the mail and begin to use them for writing your shopping list. The benefit of reusing these envelopes is that you can slip your coupons inside the envelope and have your list all in one place

Let me know some of the surprising places you've found paper to reuse in your printer.

52 Weeks to a Greener You

Research shows that it takes 21 days or three weeks to change a habit. If you're hoping to adopt better habits in 2008 as they relate to green living, I think I can help.

I've come up with a 52-week plan to a greener you. Call it Green Boot Camp. Or 13 Habits of Highly Effective Eco-Conscious People. (Why 13? I've conceived of 13 themes, out of which I've created 52 new habits to a greener you.)

Each week I'll post a theme and to-do list for a new green habit. Some of the time, this stuff will be new to you. Other times, it will be a refresher course or a new way of thinking of an old habit. During that week I'll give you multiple postings (about three a week) that are related to that week's theme.

I'll cover everything from recycling to redoing your gardening. Of course, there's a chance that I've covered some of these topics before, but I promise that I'll give you a fresh spin on them to keep your interest up.

By the third week, the habit from week one should have become second nature. By the fourth week, you'll have two new habits--the one from week one and week two. And so on.

Of course, I should start these postings the first week of January--you know, with New Year's resolutions and all--but I figured that this would be my early Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa gift to you.

So look for postings in the coming days to get you on the path to a greener you in 2008. In the meantime, I'll continue to post about green-related pop culture and other topics of interest, along with the habit-changing ones.