Archive for the ‘recycling’ Tag

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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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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TerraCycle: Awesome Idea But How Exactly Does It Work?   Leave a comment

The November/December 2011 issue of the Green American (Green America’s periodical) is about plastics, including disposal of them. One of the sidebars is about TerraCycle, a company that recycles/reuses various hard-to-recycle waste like candy wrappers, cheese packaging, and Solo cups. I had heard about TerraCycle before and thought it sounded like a really great idea, but I hadn’t had a chance to use it until recently. Unfortunately, I still haven’t.

My opportunity was Bear Naked granola bags. A while back I started splurging on Bear Naked granola for my cereal when I got a coupon for it, because it isn’t sweet like most of the other granolas in the store and actually tastes really good. On the back of the bag it tells you not to throw it away because you can either send it back to them or recycle it through TerraCycle, so I kept the bags. All four of them. Unfortunately or fortunately, I transitioned to just putting chopped nuts and fresh blueberries or other fruit and don’t anticipate buying granola in the store for a very long time, if ever. Maybe I’ll experiment with making my own so that I actually like it and don’t find it too sweet or unhealthy. During my winter purge this past year I found the small pile of bags and decided that it was time to get rid of them. According to their website there are two options for “sustainable disposal”: sending them in to Bear Naked and getting swag in return, or recycling them through TerraCycle. For the size bag that I had, I was six bags short of being able to get a reusable grocery bag that I don’t need. So I looked into TerraCycle and ended up horribly confused. I guess you need to sign up with a brigade (or start a new one) and then you can send stuff in for recycling. But I didn’t want to sign up to join something just to get rid of four bags. I guess the minimum amount to send in is actually 5 bags, according to the blurb in the Green American. I would have loved to find out who has a brigade and I would have happily sent them my bags in order to support their organization since they can get money back from turning in items. But I couldn’t find that information without signing up, and again, I had no interest in signing myself up for something for this one-time exchange. So apparently TerraCycle is a great idea…if you are or know of an organization that can collect items to send back, or if you go through enough of the items yourself to justify signing up. Unless of course I’m not understanding the process.

Sadly, my four bags ended up in the garbage. It’s unfortunate since the sustainable packaging program, along with the granola not being really sweet, is why I bought the Bear Naked granola in the first place.


Posted January 23, 2012 by mayakey in environment, food, resource use

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It Really Shouldn’t Be So Difficult To Rent A Pickup   Leave a comment

In preparation for hosting a gathering for the fourth of July, this weekend we FINALLY got rid of the last of the junk that we removed from the house when we moved in last summer. My original desire to have a very low garbage volume has been shot. Percentage-wise we didn’t do that badly since the carpeting and carpet padding was recycled. Then there were the mirrored closet doors in every room, the vertical blinds on the sliding glass door, the broken vertical blinds in the master bedroom, and the window treatment in the kitchen. I knew we were going to have to throw away the broken vertical blinds from the master bedroom, but my plan was to salvage the fabric from the kitchen window treatments for something else, and to take the vertical blinds from the sliding glass door and the mirrored closet doors to the Habitat for Humanity ReUse Store. That was back in July/August…and by the time we finished cleaning and unpacking the rainy season had started and the cloth vertical blinds and window treatments had became a dirty sodden mass. I tried to unsnap the cloth vertical blinds to see if I could wash them for donation to the ReUse store, but instead I accidentally snapped the plastic connector. So the final tally is:

  • Reused in-house: wood from the awning torn down at the behest of the building inspector (ok, not reused yet but will be)
  • Donated: 5 mirrored closet doors, tracks from 5 sets of closet doors, downspouts and 3 gutter sections from awning
  • Recycled: carpeting and padding from 4 bedrooms and hallway; corrugated metal, bent gutter section, flashing, metal shelf pole and various connecting hardware from the awning; metal screen door; 5 mirrored closet door frames; 2 metal tracks from vertical blinds
  • Landfilled (or will be): corrugated PVC and plastic corner shelves from the awning, broken glass from 5 mirrored closet doors, fabric & plastic “rod” from  window treatment, vertical blinds from 2 tracks

Now, to the other point of this post. It really shouldn’t be so difficult to rent a pickup for dirty work. When we replaced Mike’s truck with an SUV he was concerned about what we would do when we were in situations that require a pickup truck. I insisted that it would be fine because we could just rent one, and occasionally we’d be able to use bribe-a-friend.  Having been taken advantage of many times as a pickup owner, he is very sensitive to the latter. I figured that most people don’t own a pickup truck, so there has to be a not-too-inconvenient/costly way to rent a pickup.

When we hauled the carpeting to Oakland for recycling we rented a pickup from Enterprise. That was probably a good move since that means the four hours of driving to and from were done in a clean cab that doesn’t smell bad. That was also way to expensive to make it practical for hauling one or two loads of junk, as I learned when I rented a truck to haul the carpet padding to the recycler and had to pay the $100 daily charge for less than 2 hours of use. So for today’s haul of one load to the ReUse Store and one load to the transfer station for recycling I wanted to find a cheaper option. U-Haul does rent pickup trucks for $20/day; however very very few of the Sacramento area locations have them. I found 1 location. One! I asked the lady behind the counter about that and she said the other locations claim that there is no demand, but that she has lots of demand for her three trucks. We didn’t even get a pickup truck and had to use a small moving truck today because the person who rented our truck yesterday didn’t return it in time and hadn’t returned it by the time our reservation rolled around. This experience was really frustrating, but since I didn’t find out any other options for rental we’ll probably do this again. The ONE location is a half hour from our house, but the price is good. The challenge is finding an available truck.

Posted June 18, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, frugal living, home

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Passing On The Recycled Hose   Leave a comment

This weekend we had to replace one of our garden hoses (although I’m planning on just cutting off the split end and keeping the part that still works fine), and I amused myself by perusing the hose shelf at the hardware store. There are lots of choices out there! Two in particular stood out to me, as my eye is generally caught by “green” claims even if it is often to dismiss them as greenwashing. The first was the hose with the “lead safe” mark on it, and the second was a hose claiming to be made from recycled materials. Oh, there was also a hose specifically stating that it was a vinyl hose. The other hoses don’t say what material they are made of, except for the rubber hoses, so I can’t say if I managed to avoid getting a PVC hose. Since I purchased the “lead safe” hose, I’m fairly certain that it is not vinyl, or at least not the part in contact with the water, since lead is sometimes an additive in PVC. The hose that concerned me the most was the recycled one. It didn’t say if that is recycled plastic or recycled rubber. If it is recycled plastic, it might be okay; but if it is recycled rubber, I want to stay far from that hose. Recycled rubber might mean tire rubber, which means trace amounts of petroleum compounds, lead, and other heavy metals. Yuck. This is foresight that kids drink from hoses, no matter what parents say (I think I remember even drinking from the hose as a teenager when I really knew better), so I want the hose that does not need to have a Proposition 65 warning on it. While I can’t do anything about bacterial growth in the hose (and wouldn’t even consider an anti-bacterial hose if someone paid me a boatload of cash to use it), I can avoid toxics. Sometimes buying recycled is not necessarily the best choice.

Posted May 9, 2011 by mayakey in gardening, shopping

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They Really Don’t Have Recycled Content?   Leave a comment

Here’s a great example of how you can’t make assumptions when it comes to “conscious living”.

For years now I’ve made the assumption that when buying something made of metal there is a good chance that some percentage of the material is recycled metal. Given that metal recycling is fairly common and makes business sense (can be cheaper than mining), it seemed to make sense that the recycled material would make it into the general material stream. However, I’ve recently encountered a case that indicates my assumption is wrong.

I’m in the process of getting curtains for our master bedroom. As a starting point for the hardware, I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond’s website and browsed to see if it was even possible to do what I had in my head. They had lots of options that would work, but before I ordered anything I decided on a whim to search for “recycled metal curtain hardware”. Lo and behold several websites popped up! As I looked at several of them I started wondering how much of the “eco” claims by these retailers are just marketing spin, or if they really are offering a different product. Remember, I was assuming that the rods in BB&B’s stock would have some recycled content as well. So I sent an email to BB&B asking if their curtain hardware contains any recycled metal content. It took a few days since they had to relay my question to the buyer, but the final answer was a simple “unfortunately no.” I was surprised at that, but I guess now I know that even when it comes to easily recycled metals there is no room for assumptions. It is entirely possible that my assumption is correct and each curtain rod has maybe 2% recycled metal content, but if it is not tracked and verified it does not really matter (for marketing anyway). Without some degree of tracking, someone could easily claim 90% recycled content when the reality is 9%. Sheesh, I just reasoned my way into having to figure out how to make sure that I’m not falling prey to greenwashing claims before I buy anything.

Posted February 20, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, home, resource use, shopping

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I Never Would Have Thought I’d…   Leave a comment

The words “You know, before I met you I never would have thought I’d…” or something along those lines pop up every once in a while in our house. Most frequently they are uttered by my husband about something greenie that he’s started doing since meeting me. I guess I’m contagious sometimes.

In this particular case the phrase was uttered as he washed cream cheese wrappers while doing dishes, and he was referring to cleaning recyclables before throwing them in the recycle bin. Before meeting me, he didn’t think twice about just throwing some food container in the recycling without rinsing/cleaning it. But recycling dirty food containers can increase the percentage of a batch of recycling being thrown in the landfill instead of getting recycled. My understanding about the problem of food contamination of recyclables is two-fold: rendering paper unrecyclable and making the sorting process unpleasant. Unlike a garbage truck that is just going to dump stuff in a landfill, recycling trucks are really depositing materials into a sorting factory. That sorting factory is partially mechanized, but does require human oversight and some human sorting. I consider it a matter of respect for the people who work in MRFs that I clean all recycleables at least enough that there is no residue, and nothing to rot or spoil and smell bad or attract pests. In the case of cans and bottles that means a rinse and maybe a wipe down depending on what they contained. In the case of plastic tubs and jars that means a trip through the dishwasher. Things like aluminum foil only get washed if I can actually do it completely. Sometimes the type of food contamination and the crinkles of the foil make it next to impossible to clean, in which case it gets tossed. Flat foil like the cream cheese wrappers, or something that didn’t get any/much food on it gets washed and then flattened.

To be completely honest, I can’t be sure that the foil gets recycled even if I wash it and fold it flat since in the past I’ve seen aluminum foil listed in the “not recyclable” lists. I just checked our list and it doesn’t list foil as ok or not ok. I assume that it does get recycled, and that’s why I buy cream cheese in the wrapper and not in a plastic tub. The packaging for block cream cheese is paperboard and foil. The paperboard is ultimately made of trees, which are a renewable resource, even if the tree harvesting and paper manufacture can have really bad environmental impacts. The foil, which I assume is aluminum, is probably partially recycled metal already. Aluminum was one of the first materials to be recycled, even before it was “cool” because the energy required to recycle aluminum is a very small fraction (5%, see Wikipedia) of the energy required to create virgin aluminum, and hence it is cheaper. The paper can be recycled into more paper, although paper fibers are not infinitely recyclable. Aluminum foil/cans can be infinitely recycled into more aluminum foil/cans/other products, which is called upcycling. Oh, I take that back; I just checked Wikipedia and apparently aluminum cans are downcycled because they are two different layers of aluminum blah blah. I don’t know if the wrapper foil has any coatings or blended metals. The point is that a plastic tub downcycles even faster because of the limited options for use of recycled plastic. More often than not, those products made from recycled plastic aren’t recyclable in turn, and must then be thrown away. So when I do a rough life-cycle analysis in my head comparing the tub to the block of cream cheese, I think the block wins, and that’s what I buy.

The Carpet Is Finally Gone!   1 comment

The old carpet that we removed first thing upon getting our house back in July is finally gone! The whole process of recycling the carpet and padding could have certainly gone better, but it was also not as bad as I had thought it could be.

The first issue was schedule. In the first week of July when I was ripping out the carpet, I just wanted it out of the house. I was focusing on getting the house clean and ready for move-in and just didn’t have time to take care of carpet recycling research. So we rolled up the carpet and padding and stacked them on the concrete in the backyard. The plan was to recycle them before the rains came. In early July, October looks far away. Obviously that plan failed. We ended up with a pile of slightly wet carpet. All of last week our cars were in the driveway and the garage was dedicated for rolling out the carpet to dry since the recycler specified that the carpet be dry.

The second issue was the lack of recyclers. With no carpet recyclers in the Sacramento area, a trip to the Bay Area had to be scheduled. I have used up all my time off at work and the recycler is not open on weekends. Luckily my husband had taken a half day off and was willing to spend it driving to Oakland to deliver the carpet. I have an awesome husband. The carpet pad recycler is also not open weekends, but at least they were local, so I just took a long lunch to haul that load.

The third issue was meeting the requirement of the carpet recycler. It was related to the wet carpet in that we had to take the time to re-roll all of the carpet (even the dry rolls) because the carpet recycler specified that the carpet needed to be rolled yarn side out and tied off with a strip of carpet, not string or tape. That was REALLY annoying! I do not understand that requirement.

The cost ended up working out ok for the recycling, but steep overall. There was no fee for the load of carpet padding, and the fee for the carpet was $10. Considering that the disposal fee at the landfill would have been either $40 or $45 (depending on whether truck bed and cab filled with carpet rolls would have been considered a load or an overload) for the two loads, that’s not bad at all. The problem was that since we had to do both loads on weekday mornings (before 3 pm), we had to rent a truck. And since we weren’t able to get both loads in one day due to the early closing times, we spent $225 on pickup truck rentals (plus gas and bridge toll).

Posted November 9, 2010 by mayakey in home

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Green America Airline Recycling Survey   Leave a comment

In early 2010, Green America’s Responsible Shopper published a report about recycling in the airline industry. The results were pretty sad. In general the airlines aren’t consistent or comprehensive with their recycling efforts. I can’t say that I am really very surprised. I remember many years ago there was a short period of time during which flight attendants would carry two bags when they collected trash, one for trash, and one for cans/bottles/papers. Then that stopped happening. After that I started keeping any recyclable trash and carrying it into the airport myself to recycle when I got off of the plane since I wasn’t comfortable assuming that the trash was being sorted behind the scenes. Most airports are pretty good about having recycling receptacles in the terminal for passengers, at least. Eventually, I got my steel water bottle and now I bring that (empty) to the airport, fill it from a water fountain after security, and drink from that on the plane. On short trips I decline a drink onboard to reduce the waste of the cup and napkin. For long trips, though, my water bottle is not enough and it is nice to get some ice.

The report is an interesting read, and helped put some context on a few things. I had noticed that on Southwest flights when you ask for water they don’t give you a small bottle, but give you a cup instead. Apparently Southwest switched to canned water because the cans are easiest to recycle. It’s true, from a container material perspective aluminum is at the top of the pile. Aluminum is lightweight, easy to recycle (just melt and go), and can be recycled into another can. Glass next because it is also easy to recycle (grind, melt and go), and can be recycled into another bottle. Glass is heavy, though. Plastic is at the bottom because it is hard to recycle (can’t just melt and go), and can only downcycle. You cannot make another bottle out of the plastic.

Back to Green America’s report. Since they put out the report, they have been doing a survey of the experiences of airline passengers. So last weekend on my flights (well, two of the four) to and from Boston, I asked the flight attendants about whether they would be recycling stuff. When I got home I filled out the web form to submit the answers I got. At the end of the year Green America is going to put out an updated report with the results of the survey.

On my flights the flight attendants said that they do recycle cans, bottles, and paper. Everything except papers went into the plastic trash bags, but since they didn’t serve any bottles or cans (just cups) I guess it was all “trash”. I did notice that they would tuck a newspaper under an arm instead of putting it in the trash bag, so I guess that is evidence that the paper really is recycled. On one of the flights the flight attendant was separating out the cups and stacking them in her hand. I asked if they recycle the cups and she said that they don’t, but she stacks them separately so that they take up less room. That way the flight trash fits into a couple fewer bags, thus reducing the number of bags they go through. I could only wish all flight attendants followed that logic!

Posted November 4, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, environment, travel

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The Quest to Recycle Carpet   1 comment

Back in early July when we closed on our house, the first order of business was to rip out the old carpet. Well, since I was focusing on getting the house cleaned and ready for move in, the old carpet just got rolled up and piled in the back yard. Recent rains (and a friend’s home renovation) have reminded me that I need to restart my search for a carpet recycler. Carpet recycling is the hip new thing, right? But Sacramento is also a very non-“green” town.

In early July I wanted to make sure that there was an option to recycle the carpet so I did a web search and found the CalRecycle website, which lists carpet recyclers in the state. There was one listed for northern Sacramento, so I called them. The receptionist at company A said they only recycle carpet that they remove, but she’d have the owner call me. He never did, and I got distracted by other things.

After the rain, I started looking for company A’s name and phone number but couldn’t find where I had written it down. Going back to the CalRecycle website, I found that they are no longer any listed for the Sacramento area, and only three in the Bay Area. One of the Bay Area listings is for Goodwill in San Jose, and I am kind of skeptical that they are recycling and not reusing the old carpet. Plus driving to San Jose might be too much even for me. Union Recovering located in Hayward only accepts carpet pads, not carpets. But before I committed to hauling my carpets to Oakland, I decided to do a bit more searching.

Another web search led me to the Sacramento County website listing two local companies for carpet recycling. But one of them, Habitat for Humanity, does not accept used carpet anymore. I called the second, G&B Carpet Recycling in Lincoln, which only just opened in July. I called, left a message, called, left a message, and waited.

The G&B Carpet Recycling website led me to Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), which only lists the San Jose Goodwill as a Northern California reclamation partner. I was about to give up. By sheer chance, I found the Rancho Cordova Recycling Guide and Handbook, which lists a couple more local companies.

So I called L&N Pad and Foam Recycling and left a message. I tried Sunshine Padding and Foam Recycling where someone actually answered the phone! He told me that they only accept carpet pads, and are only open M-F 7-3:30. Ugh. At this point I tried G&B Carpet Recycling again, and got a hold of a live person. Who told me that they no longer accept carpets for recycling, even though “there is demand”. He told me that Oakland is the nearest carpet recycler currently. So I called Carpet Recyclers in Oakland. They are open M-F 7-4; but they don’t accept rolls that have been tied with string.

At this point there was a little voice that said re-rolling all of the carpet, renting a truck, and driving to Oakland (all while using what little vacation time I have left at work), and then possibly paying a fee to give my old carpet to someone to recycle is absolutely insane and I shouldn’t do it. Then the angel on my other shoulder piped up, commenting that part of my commitment is to go beyond what “normal, sane people” would do so that I can make inroads and make it easier for those normal, sane people to take the same actions.

So now I have to re-roll the carpets in accordance with Carpet Recyclers’ instructions, and then take my road trip before it rains again. I think I will take the padding to the local company to demonstrate that there is local demand for carpet and pad recycling.

Posted September 29, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living, home, mission

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