Don’t waste the holidays

When you’re making your holiday to-do list, be sure to add reduce, reuse and recycle! There are many great ways to practice the three Rs — from Halloween to New Year’s Eve.

Decorating

  • Shop thrift stores or online for pre-owned décor you want; donate or sell what you don’t.
  • Take good care of your decorations so that they will last many years.
  • Make handmade decorations that are re-useable, recyclable or compostable.

BinnyDance-02-01Cards and Invitations

  • Purchase cards made from recycled content.
  • Make handmade, recyclable cards.
  • Send electronic invitations and cards.
  • Donate used cards.

Costumes

  • Make your own costume from secondhand clothes or items you already have around the house.
  • Skip the chemical-laden face paint (which can be disposed of safely through your local HHW program). Instead, make your own safe, planet-friendly makeup.

Gifts

  • Shop at thrift stores or online to find a unique used gift.
  • Give an experience! Try gift cards for food and entertainment, tickets to a show, or memberships to a museum or zoo.
  • Make a donation in someone’s name.

Gift Wrap

  • Use recyclable wrapping such as old posters, maps, paper grocery bags or the funny papers.
  • Wrap with attractive cloth, fabric ribbons or a reusable bag.
  • Use last year’s boxes, tissue paper, bows and ribbons.

Gatherings

  • Use durable tableware: dishes, cups, utensils, napkins, tablecloths, etc.
  • Recycle cans and bottles.
  • Compost food waste.

Clean Up

  • binnyLightsCompost your pumpkins, gourds and poinsettias. You can also keep poinsettias as houseplants (they’ll bloom year after year).
  •  “Treecycle” your holiday tree, wreaths and garland (natural only).
  • Recycle your old or broken holiday lights.
  • Recycle packaging and cards.
  • Save boxes, tissue paper, bows and ribbons for next year.
  • Donate gently used items to charities or thrift stores.

For more information, visit RecycleSpot.org or call 816-474-8326.

Waste reduction does more than reusing or recycling

reduce-2We’re all familiar with recycle and reuse, but how many of us reduce the amount of waste we create? The Waste Management Hierarchy says that source reduction — or not creating waste in the first place — is preferred over recycling or reusing. Items we recycle at the curb and reuse from the thrift store are important, but are only a drop in the bucket compared to the impact that reducing waste can have.

The production of any item uses energy and resources and generates waste and pollution. Reducing what you buy means less need for resources and energy to create new products, less waste going to the landfill and less pollution released into the environment.

What You Can Do

You can take a number of actions to reduce waste:

  • Don’t purchase products you already have. Keep your belongings clean and organized so you can easily find what you need.
  • Donate unwanted items to friends, family, neighbors, charities and thrift stores.
  • Repair things that are broken instead of replacing them.
  • Maintain homes, buildings, vehicles, equipment, clothing, appliances, etc. Well-maintained items don’t have to be repaired or replaced as often.
  • Buy well-made, durable products. They have a longer lifespan and are more likely repairable.
  • Reuse at work. Find out if your business or organization has a system for reusing, donating or selling surplus supplies and property. If not, suggest it.
  • Share, borrow and rent items you use infrequently. It saves money and resources.
  • When choosing between two similar products, select the one with the least amount of packaging or — better yet — no packaging at all.
  • Choose large or economy-sized items, which often use less packaging per unit of product. However, be sure you can use it all or have friends and family who can share it with you.
  • Choose concentrated products. They often require less packaging and less energy to transport to the store.
  • Use safe alternatives. Many hazardous products have a low- or no-hazard counterpart.
  • Use durable bags instead of paper or plastic bags when shopping for groceries, clothes, toys or tools.
  • Use refillable mugs and water bottles. These days, they come in all shapes and sizes!
  • Use Tupperware for take-out. These can replace disposable paper, plastic and Styrofoam boxes.
  • Be sustainable and save money by shopping for used items. Places to shop include:
    • Garage and estate sales
    • Thrift stores, consignment shops, antique malls or pawn shops
    • Habitat For Humanity ReStores
    • Classified ads
    • eBay or Craigslist
    • Auctions
  • Reuse everyday items. Some common examples include:
    • Plastic grocery sacks as trash bags or thrift store donation bags
    • Dairy tubs as cheap Tupperware
    • Coffee cans as storage containers for hardware
    • Old t-shirts as shop or cleaning rags
    • Popsicle sticks, paper towel rolls, egg cartons, etc. as art project supplies

For more information, visit RecycleSpot.org or call 816-474-8326.

Donation is always in fashion

Clothing-SwapYou’re faced with the same dilemma every spring and fall: what to do with extra clothes, clothes that don’t fit, or clothes that are too damaged to wear. So many people in the world need clothing — and so many landfills don’t — so why not donate your unwanted clothes?

Options for donation

Donating clothes has never been easier. There are thrift stores and clothing donation bins throughout the community, and friends and relatives who might appreciate the hand-me-downs. Charities will often accept your gently worn clothing, too. If you’re donating to a charity, always contact the organization first to find out donation requirements. You may even qualify for a tax deduction.

Wardrobe malfunction?

What about clothes that are ripped, stained or faded? Go ahead and donate them, too! Major thrift operations contract with textile reclamation companies that accept damaged clothing and clothing that won’t sell in stores.

Wearable clothing is sold in different countries throughout the world where it’s in demand. Unwearable clothing can take a couple of different routes. Cotton and other biodegradable materials are often recycled into wiping cloths. They can also be shredded into “shoddy” fibers, blended with other selected fibers, and turned into recycled yarn. Synthetic materials such as polyester are turned into new filament fiber used to make new polyester fabrics.

Clothing Swap

Participate in a clothing swap to exchange your closet clean-outs for clothing you will wear. You can join an existing group, such as Kansas City Pop-Up Clothing Swap, or set up one of your own among friends (see list above).

For more information on donating clothing, visit RecycleSpot.org.

Initiatives to ban foam food containers

clamshellRemember the McDonald’s “clamshell?”

This icon disappeared 24 years ago, in 1990, which means that  an entire generation doesn’t remember that McDonald’s hamburgers once came in something other than a paper wrapper or box. A number of cities have taken steps to see that more restaurants and food vendors follow suit and stop using disposable expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam  food-service products — often mistakenly called Styrofoam® — such as takeout containers and coffee cups. These containers are favored by the food-service industry because they are lightweight and are good at keeping food warm or cool.

Unfortunately, EPS foam products are not good for the environment. Because the material is brittle and light it tends to break apart into smaller pieces that are easily dispersed by wind and water, contributing to litter. EPS foam is pervasive in the environment, and is difficult to recycle because it is generally soiled with oil, grease, condiments and leftovers. Many communities, including Kansas City, don’t have recycling programs for EPS foam food service products, which means it usually ends up in landfills.

New York City recently became the largest city to pave the way for an eventual ban on these containers. In December, the city’s lawmakers passed legislation to ban foam food-service products if a year-long study finds that the material can’t be recycled effectively. The ban will also include the sale of loose foam packing peanuts.

Berkeley, Calif., and Portland, Ore., were two of the first cities to successfully ban foam food-service products back in the late 1980s. Since that time, nearly 100 cities and towns have banned foam food-service products, 75 of which are in California. Some larger cities that have fully or partially implemented bans are San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle and St. Paul. Chicago and Washington, D.C., are currently considering bans. Many of these cities also require food vendors to use recyclable or compostable food service ware.

These initiatives have been met with opposition, primarily from foam manufacturers and restaurant owners who claim that alternatives are too expensive and that EPS foam containers account for only a small percentage of the total waste stream. Opponents of foam bans have been pushing for community-wide polystyrene recycling programs as an alternative.

There are no ordinances in the Kansas City area banning the use of EPS foam food-service products — but there are no local options for recycling, them either. So, what can you do?

  • Support local restaurants that use alternatives such as paper, molded fiber (think egg cartons) and plant-based, compostable food service products.
  • Take your own reusable container for restaurant leftovers and your own travel mug to coffee shops (some even offer a discount).
  • Avoid using plastic foam food or drink containers or other disposable products at home or for parties.

Photo by kimubert

There’s a green elephant in the room

white elephant green bowHappy Regifting Day!

In honor of National Regifting Day, held every year on the third Thursday in December, we’re sharing this fun holiday party idea.

This year, that white elephant in the room will encourage guests to talk about how fun and eco-friendly your gathering is!

A green elephant gift exchange is just like the white elephant version, but with a green twist. Here’s how to set one up:

  1. In your e-vite, ask each guest to bring an item for the Green Elephant Gift Exchange. It must be:
    • Pre-owned
    • Fun — the more tacky and off the wall the better!
    • Wrapped in an earth-friendly manner (reusable or recyclable wrapping only)
  1. Before you begin the exchange write numbers on slips of paper, starting at one and ending at the number of guests participating.
  1. At the party, have guests place the gifts in a central location.
  1. Each participant draws a number. The numbers determine the order in which participants choose a gift.
  1. The first person opens a wrapped gift and the turn ends.
  1. On subsequent turns, each person gets the choice of choosing a wrapped gift from the pile or “stealing” any unwrapped item from another player. Participants must keep unwrapped gifts in view.
  1. The game is over when the last person has taken his or her turn.
  1. Encourage your guests to save any “unappreciated” items for their next green elephant gift exchange.

Notes on play:

  • When a gift is stolen, the robbed player must select a replacement gift from the pile of wrapped presents.
  • A player cannot immediately steal back the gift that was stolen, but must wait at least one round before stealing back a gift.
  • A gift cannot be stolen more than once a turn.

In no time at all, guests will be laughing and you’ll find the true meaning of greening the holidays!

For more information and variations on game rules, search for white elephant gift exchanges online.

Don’t forget to visit www.RecycleSpot.org for all your holiday reuse and recycling needs.

Fight food waste at your festivities

AppetizersFood: it’s the center of every holiday gathering.

But between thinking about all those calories and the sheer quantity of food, most of us don’t consider how much of it gets wasted.  In fact, the average American wastes between 209 and 253 pounds of food every year, with a fair amount of that waste occurring around the holidays. Here are some ways to reduce waste that will help you, your guests and the environment.

  • Precycle. “Precycling” is when you avoid purchasing unnecessary items that will eventually have to be recycled or thrown away. For holiday meals, try to purchase products with less packaging, use durable dishware and cook only for the number of people who will eat at your gathering.
  • Prepare healthy portions. Love Food Hate Waste’s online portion planner will tell you how much food to purchase based on the type of food you want to serve and the number of people who will eat it.
  • Make a list and stick with it. A list will ensure you don’t forget anything and keep you from buying and spending too much.
  • Let guests serve themselves. When guests serve themselves they can choose the items they actually want to eat.
  • Use smaller plates. Smaller plates help fend off the dreaded “my-eyes-are-bigger-than-my-stomach” syndrome.
  • Ask guests to bring reusable containers. This way you won’t have to eat all those leftovers yourself and your guests will have something to eat the next day. Plus you’ll reuse others’ containers instead of buying new ones.

Don’t forget to visit RecycleSpot.org for all of your holiday reuse and recycling needs!

Would you like a bag for that?

Blue_reusable_shopping_bag-webFor the record, I normally use cloth bags for my shopping trips. But while vacationing with family this summer, I stopped at a chain pharmacy in Boulder, Colo., to pick up a few forgotten essentials. I decided to ask for a plastic bag to round up the apple cores, banana peels and candy wrappers that had accumulated in the car since our last stop. I was stunned when the clerk informed me that a plastic bag to hold my purchases would cost me an extra dime.

Boulder implemented the bag fee in July. The city council adopted the fee back in November 2012, but the city put off implementation for a few months to allow time to develop an education campaign and for stores to prepare.

Boulder is not alone. My limited research shows that:

  • At least 150 cities and counties across the country have implemented either bag fees or outright bans on plastic bags; 85 of these are in California. San Francisco holds the distinction of being the first city in the nation to ban plastics bags with a 2007 ordinance. In 2012, Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to approve a ban on plastic bags. A quick tally from a number of sources that track bag ban/fee ordinances indicates that about 50 more cities and counties across the nation are considering or drafting ordinances.
  • The movement to regulate plastic bags is not limited to cities and counties. Hawaii was the first state to ban plastic bags in all counties and a handful of states are considering some form of statewide bans or taxes — most recently Pennsylvania, which is considering a statewide 2-cent fee. Several states have plastic bag labeling, recycling or reuse programs.
  • There have even been a few attempts at the federal level. Most recently, on Earth Day 2013, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran of Virginia introduced a bill to create a national 5-cent tax on all disposable plastic or paper bags provided by stores to customers. Revenue generated from the fee would support the nation’s Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Getting back to my Boulder experience: I went ahead and paid for the bag. So, where did my dime go? Boulder retailers get to keep four cents to cover their costs of administering the program. The county recycling center gets less than a penny to cover the costs of retrieving plastic bags from recycling equipment. The city uses the rest of the money collected from the fee to pay for education and outreach about reusable bags and to cover the costs of free bags that it provides. I considered it a small price to pay.