Archive for October 2012

So What Plastics Are Recyclable?   2 comments

One of the questions that came up as I was preparing to sort my trash for this year’s solid waste audit was what plastics should be classified as recyclable and which as non-recyclable. In 2001 when I did my first personal trash sort this was an easy question to answer. This was back in the day when recyclable plastics were only types 1 (PET) and 2 (HDPE). So the “recyclable plastic” category was just plastics with those numbers on them, and everything else was considered non-recyclable. In 2006 and 2012 it’s a little bit different because officially any numbered plastic can be put in our recycling bin. I’m a little skeptical that all types are recycled, though. I’m inclined to think that the commonly recycled plastics are sorted out and the rest are trashed, but that they tell people to put all numbered plastics in the bin to make it easier for the general population and increase recycling rates.

My understanding is that types 3 (PVC aka vinyl) and 6 (PS aka polystyrene) are not commonly recycled because of the potential for release of toxic gases during the process (that would be chlorine gas and styrene). Type 7 is the catch-all number, and includes everything from polycarbonate (of BPA fame) to the new corn starch plastic PLA, and much more. With so much variety inherent in type 7 plastics, there must be a variety of physical properties, which I would think makes it difficult or impossible to recycle type 7 plastics. As far as I know, types 1, 2, 4, and 5 are currently the only commonly recycled plastics, so those are the only ones I throw in the recycle bin. In 2006 that was also how I differentiated between recyclable and non-recyclable plastic. But for 2012 I wanted a little bit more certainty so I tried contacting the company the collects our waste to find out what actually gets recycled. The reply that I got back was confidence inspiring: “As far as I know everything is recycled except for Styrofoam.” (with no name or email signature). Not helpful. Do I take this response at its word? Or do I assume that it was someone who didn’t know what they are talking about? I suppose maybe the various types could be compressed enough combine them and make something new.

For the trash sort I worked out a compromise. “Recyclable plastic” was types 1, 2, 4, and 5. “Non-recyclable plastic, no number” was plastics with no identifying number, so that I’m not even supposed to throw in the recycle bin. “Non-recyclable plastic, 3,6,7” was plastic types 3, 6, and 7, which are uncertain but assumed to be non-recyclable. But I’m still left with a little bit of a dilemma: do I continue throwing away types 3, 6, and 7 or do I start tossing them in the recycle bin in case the waste management company ISN’T sorting them out and throwing away. So far, we stick with the status quo. But I’d hate to think I’m throwing away what I could be recycling.

Posted October 24, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, environment, resource use

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Passing On the Best Gift I Ever Received   1 comment

What do I consider to be the best gift I’ve ever been given? The gift of college, fully paid by my parents (well I did have a small scholarship). Especially in today’s world I am incredibly grateful to have been able to go to the university of my choice, focus on my classes without needing to work during the school year, and get a college degree without having a loan to pay off afterwards. This is a gift that I really, really, really want to be able to pass on to my children as well. My parents did this using savings in bank accounts and CDs. We’re going to add another investment option to our arsenal: a 529 plan. Years ago when I first heard about 529 plans I didn’t think they were that great because I thought it meant you were picking the state where your kids would have to go to school. Having been given the choice to go anywhere in the country, except for schools located in-state or near home, I couldn’t imagine setting that kind of limitation for my kids. But when I realized that the invested money can be used for qualifying education expenses anywhere, I changed my tune.

To be honest, we’re not fully taking advantage of all the potential benefits of a 529 plan. Really the only benefits we’re taking advantage of are the tax-exempt nature of the distributions and the hopefully higher rate of return than a simple savings account or CD. Depending on the state there are other benefits available (I think typically only to residents) like tax deductions. This will seem kind of random, however, but we’re not enrolling in the California 529 plan, or the New Mexico 529 plan. We’ve enrolled in the DC 529 plan. It’s because SRI (socially responsible investing) is very important to me, and the DC plan is the only one (as far as I know) that is managed by an investment firm dedicated to SRI, Calvert. My Roth IRA is through Calvert and I really like the work that they do. TIAA-CREF, the plan manager for California ScholarShare, has some SRI funds but I don’t know that those funds would be part of the 529 plan. I don’t know if Oppenheimer, the plan manager for The Education Plan (NM) has SRI funds. By investing through the plan managed by Calvert I can rest assured that all of the funds in the plan are SRI funds. And I know that I am comfortable with the positive and negative screens that the company uses, and with the shareholder activism in which they engage.

Now we just have to manage to put enough money into savings in the next 18 years to be able to pay for whatever college will cost in 2030.

Posted October 17, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, money, pregnancy

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2012 Solid Waste Audit Results   1 comment

My project this summer (other than enjoying pregnancy and getting ready for baby) was to do a solid waste audit. Yes, that means that we saved all of our trash for a month, and then I sorted and weighed it. Like the energy audit we did last summer, this audit only measures waste generated in our household and not solid waste generated upstream, downstream, or outside of our control. By upstream waste I mean the solid waste generated in the creation of the products we use. By downstream waste I mean particulate or solid matter in wastewater. I’m not sure how much of the soap that goes down the drain flows through the wastewater treatment plant, gets consumed in the wastewater treatment plant, or gets disposed in the sludge. Solid waste outside of our control would be stuff like the asphalt that was scraped off our street before repaving. This audit also doesn’t take into account stuff that goes into the give-away pile, or stockpiles (plastic bags to be used for garbage, receipts tossed at the end of the year, saved magazines, etc.).

I was hopeful that this year would show improvement over 2006, when I last did a trash audit. I’ve started recording on the calendar from our trash company what weeks we take our bins to the curb, and we’re pretty regular. Almost exactly monthly we take out the recycling and the trash, and that schedule is determined by when the recycling bin is full usually. It’s pretty rare for the trash bin to be more than half full. Based on weight we recycle almost 90% of our trash (that’s skewed a bit by the density of the paper and glass jars in the recycling). Last year I think we only took out the green waste once, but this year it’s been quarterly as I rip out part of the lawn and throw that in the green waste instead of compost so that I’m not spreading my weed seeds.

There were a few major reductions in weight: newspaper, organics, and unrecycleable plastic. Newspaper is out of our control as that just means the Bee is smaller than it was 6 years ago. However, I’m very happy to know that our compost pile is diverting approximately 8 pounds of waste per month. Unrecycleable plastic also makes me feel good because I think that is an indication that the attention we pay to reducing packaging is paying off. We also had a couple significant increases in weight: glass and mixed paper. Glass: well, we are eating more jarred pickles now. We’ve got a good stockpile of jars in the pantry for food storage but we go through more pickle jars than there’s need/space to store them. And the mixed paper? Oops. When we moved we completely forgot to sign onto the “do not mail” registry at our current address. We’ll be doing that now.

Overall, though, I’m happy, we had a 30% reduction in solid waste weight from 2006. That puts us only 15% more than my 2001 audit results, which was just my one-person household. Wonder where we’ll stand in 2016 with kids in the family.

Posted October 10, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, home, resource use

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Furnishing a Nursery, My Way   1 comment

Preparations for Baby’s birth are slooooowly happening. I hope that I don’t regret the balance that I have right now between experiencing the pregnancy now and preparing for the baby. Of course one of the big tasks is getting the nursery ready. If you walk in our house, though, I have to confess that it doesn’t look like we’ve gotten anywhere on that task. But looks can be deceiving. I hope.

Decor is a third of the way done: The room was painted a year and a half ago, with no-VOC paint for the top half and very low-VOC high gloss cabinet paint on the bottom half (hopefully easy to clean). The carpet isn’t installed but I’m working with the contractor and trying with some success to not get too frustrated at the slow pace (we’re installing the same carpet as in the other two bedrooms). The curtain rod is sitting on the floor (hopefully to be installed this weekend), and I’ll order the same organic black sateen as in our room to make the back curtain. The decorative front curtain can wait; we might as well see what the kid’s personality is first. The ceiling light installation will have to wait until the highs are no longer triple digits so we can hire someone to go into the crawlspace (yes, even always-cold me is ready for temps to drop from the 90’s and 100’s). We’ll get some black construction paper and make a fun black shape mobile, eventually to be replaced by a fun colorful one in a couple months. I plan on taking the “full length” mirror that I bought in grad school, flipping it sideways and installing it somewhere on the lower wall. And I have an adorable old calendar that I’ve been keeping so I could mount the pictures and put them on the walls to make it fun for me while we wait for kid personality to rise.

Furniture is two thirds of the way done. Rocking chair? Check, I have the one my parent’s bought when we lived in Costa Rica. Comfy chair? Check, we have the love seat from the old sofa set that has a few more years in it. Dresser? Sort-of-check. We’re not going to get a dresser right away. I have a hanging sweater rack that seems like it would be really convenient for storing the “clothing that fits right now”. And we’re going to move our old TV cabinet into the nursery to provide additional storage. Changing table? Sort-of-check. We have an office table that we were using as our dining room table when we moved into this house. I’m going to cover it with organic cotton batting (which I have), and a fabric cover (which I need to order still). It’s big enough to be able to fit a changing pad and have room to lay out the diapers and stuff.

The only big-ticket items that we don’t yet have are the crib and bassinet. The crib has been ordered but there’s a three-month lead time. We’re getting a solid maple wood crib, handmade in Oregon, with a low-VOC finish. In a week or two the mattress should be here: an organic cotton and wool mattress. The wool puddle pad and fitted sheets (Fair Trade organic cotton with natural dyes and no formaldehyde or other problem finishes) have already arrived.

The bassinet has been a sticking point. I have found some absolutely adorable Amish-made wooden ones, but they cost the same as a full-size crib. I’m really struggling with spending almost a thousand dollars on something that’ll only be used for a few months. I have looked into the Arms Reach bedside sleeper, and I’m thinking that we might go that route if I can see one in the bedside sleeper configuration first. It is plastic, but according to their FAQ it is nylon and polyester, not vinyl. I just need to confirm that I can get an organic and untreated mattress for it. It’s a trade off. I’d rather not be buying something plastic and probably-not-low-VOC paint, but it doesn’t really look like there’s a really practical alternative. And our bed is a conventional mattress anyway, which I’ve been sleeping on throughout the pregnancy, so I think this is a choice I can live with as one that doesn’t make a situation worse but only maintains the status quo.

Posted October 3, 2012 by mayakey in fair trade, home, organic, pregnancy, shopping, simple living

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