Plastic

A Zero Waste Super Bowl?

I don’t really care about the Super Bowl.

Commercials are good and I generally enjoy eating the food associated with a Super Bowl party.

But you know what really gets me pumped about a Super Bowl? Waste reduction! This year will attempt to divert 90% of the stadium’s waste.

Which is awesome!

Back in the day, while interning at the U.S. EPA, I had the chance to interview the NFL’s Environmental Program Director about that year’s Super Bowl. It was a really neat experience.

Check out the post below.


Science Wednesday: A Sustainable Super Bowl XLVI

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection.Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Marguerite Huber

On Sunday, February 5th 2012, thousands of people descended upon Indianapolis, Indiana to watch Super Bowl XLVI. While millions watched the game, they were probably unaware of the sustainability actions that were put forth at Lucas Oil Stadium.

I spoke with NFL Environmental Program Director, Jack Groh, about what his job entails. He describes his job as incorporating environmental principles into sporting events, all the while making good business decisions. In the 18 years Groh has been with the NFL, they have kept expanding their sustainability actions, moving from just solid waste recycling to green energy seven years ago.

This year the NFL will be offsetting the energy for the stadium with Renewable Energy Credits for an entire month! “We are renting the stadium for a month, so we believe we are responsible for our tenancy,” states Groh. In addition to the stadium, the program will be offsetting the city’s convention center and four major hotels. That’s an estimated total offset of 15,000 megawatt hours.

“Every year there is something new and exciting. We want to push the envelope and look for new impacts and strategies,” Groh proclaims. For example, diverting waste from landfills by promoting recycling and reuse, collecting extra prepared food for donations for soup kitchens, donating building and decorative materials to local organizations, and reducing the impact of greenhouse gases from Super Bowl activities. My favorite is the 2,012 Trees program, which will help plant 2,012 trees in Indianapolis to help offset environmental impacts.

What I found most interesting from talking with Mr. Groh was that he does not spend a lot of time with publicity, which is why many of you may have never heard of this program. “People are amazed that we have been doing this for two decades. We don’t do it to create an image or green presence in the media, but do it because it’s the right thing and a really smart way to run things. Our goal is make the Super Bowl as green as we possibly can make it.” Groh admitted.

Sustainability and sports is a growing trend, even if it is not seen on the surface of our favorite sporting events. I am excited to see how professional leagues will mold the core of their existence into a new form of competition that is not just for teams, but for the professional leagues themselves. With sustainability, everybody wins!

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Bottled Water Didn’t Exist Until 1989

Decades ago, portable, plastic water bottles did not exist in the United States.

According to Elizabeth Royte, author of 2008’s Bottlemania, people did not start walking down the street, to the gym, and anywhere else with their bottled water until 1989 when water could be put in clear, lightweight bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Like before I was born, getting a 24 pack of bottled water was not a thing.

After that, bottled water sales in the 90’s tripled in size.

 

 

 

Pretty much all of the stats from my thesis are now horribly outdated. But one thing is for sure, that Americans love bottled water, like really love it, even more than when I wrote my thesis in 2010.

It is truly insane.

Americans are also chugging those bottles and then tossing them into the landfill.

One quote from my thesis that did stick out was this:

“Every second of every day in the United States, a thousand people buy and open up a plastic bottle of commercially produced water, and every second of every day in the United States, a thousand plastic bottles are thrown away, 85 million bottles a day. More than 30 billion bottles a year at a cost to consumers of tens of billions of dollars,”

-Peter H. Gleick, author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water

To put that into perspective, if it took a reader 20 seconds to read this blog post so far, 20,000 bottles have already arrived in the landfill…

 

 

Bottled Water is Dumb

I love water. It is basically all I drink.

Do I need to drink water from commercially produced disposable plastic bottles to stay hydrated? Uh, No.

I have access to high-quality Lake Michigan water flowing out of my faucet, but some people don’t have this luxury and bottled water is the only safe drinking water option for them. In that case, bottled water is OK.

Water is not something I am willing to pay the marked up $6.00 for at a sporting event. The water fountain is fine, thank you.

But there needs to be a water fountain…and it should not be full of lead

Anyway, this is not the first time I have taken to writing about bottled water. I wrote my senior honors thesis about it in college a whole 8 years ago (That is terrifying). I remember sitting at my desk, letting the words flow out, but they sounded too casual, too informal, too dare I say, like a blog.

My advisor made me lose the conversational tone and it made my thesis seem less like me. I didn’t want to talk at people with loads of science jargon about what makes bottled water a threat to our health, environment, and our wallets. I wanted to talk with people and engage with them about it.

So here I am. Eight years later. With a blog. That some people read.

Therefore, it is finally the time I discuss this topic how I wanted it to be discussed in the first place.

Each purchase and consumption of bottled water could be dangerous to one’s health, damaging to the environment, and adds up to water that is 1,900 times more expensive than tap water.

It doesn’t seem like common sense to continue purchasing bottled water due to the enormous ramifications it causes, but millions upon millions of people keep buying, keep drinking, and keep polluting every single day.

Stay tuned for more fun facts that I learned while writing my thesis!

An Audit of Our Recycling

Yeah, our recycling in Chicago is pretty much the pits.

I am pretty skeptical that anything we put in the recycling bin actually gets recycled, and that is why many people don’t even bother. I totally get that.

But recycling is a habit that I don’t plan on breaking.

We have a legitimate recycling bin in our house and it was one of my most favorite Christmas gifts. That’s right, I wanted and received a recycling bin for Christmas a number of years ago! I feel no shame!

recycling audit3

Our bin gets filled up every week or so, depending on what is going on. When it is full, I take it downstairs and dump it into the recycling tote sans bag like you’re supposed to.

Since I basically recycle on autopilot, I wanted to actually pay attention to what is in my recycling bin by taking an audit of what’s inside. 

Below is probably about a week’s worth of recycling. 

recycling audit1

 We have:

  • 1 dishwasher detergent bottle
  • 1 cardboard beer caddy
  • 4 glass bottles
  • 1 aluminum can
  • 2 plastic salad containers
  • 3 cardboard boxes
  • 1 plastic bottle
  • 1 aluminum takeout container
  • 1 milk carton
  • 3 paper bags
  • 1 pile of junk mail, envelopes, newspaper and paper

That’s not too bad. We can definitely do a better job of buying plastic-free lettuce, and we usually get milk in returnable glass bottles. 

Each week is different and I am going to start noticing what goes into my bin more and see where I can make changes.

Up next, a waste audit! Yup, going to go through the garbage. Stay tuned! 

10 Most Overlooked Ways to Reduce Waste: Part 2

Welcome to Part 2!

If you missed Part 1, you can check that out here.

10 most overlooked ways to reduce waste.p2

Let’s get right into it.

#5 Vote with Your $$$

Every time you purchase something, you are contributing to its demand. This is simple economics.

Put your money towards products and companies that you believe in. If it is important to you that your items are produced using renewable energy, then support companies that do.

For instance, there is a fair trade shop just around the corner from our apartment and it is currently struggling, so after work today I popped in and used my dollars to buy wool dryer balls and Bee’s Wrap. My dollars did not just get me faster-drying clothes in the dryer but they made a statement that I support these kinds of shops and want them in my neighborhood.

Resources:

#6 Your Pantry and Fridge

Open your fridge.

Now open your pantry.

How much of the stuff in there is going to end up in the trash can/landfill? I am not just talking about food packaging and wrappers, but food waste too.

Keep this in mind when you are at the grocery store. I am not asking you to only shop in the bulk aisle of Whole Foods, but just start noticing.

Once you do it is hard to shake it.

 

CSA week 7

Joining a CSA helped us cut down on packaged produce, but sometimes we still received things in plastic. 

 

Resources for Cutting Back on Packaging:

#7 Wait it Out

When I find something that I want (not need), I bookmark it in my browser under a folder called “Things I Want to Buy.”

And then I leave it there for days, weeks, and months.

If I am still thinking about it long after I saved it, then I will consider it further. If not then it gets deleted, and to be honest, not many things have survived the “Things I Want to Buy” folder.

Basically, avoid impulse buys by having a waiting period for each item. You might find that you didn’t like it as much as you thought, or get home and realize you already have 5 black sweaters.

Resources:

#8 Put Some Effort into What You Already Have

Did something break? Then fix it.

Do your jeans have a hole in them? Sew them.

jean-patch2

The #8 overlooked way to create less waste is also known simply as taking care of your stuff! Wash and dry clothing according to the directions. Store equipment in the proper place. Use a coaster. Give your car regular maintenance. Fix the soles of your shoes when they have worn through.

Putting a little extra effort or elbow grease will make your stuff live a longer life.

Resources: 

#9 Buy Secondhand/Previously Loved

If you’ve followed this blog, you know that the majority of our furniture is secondhand. Everything pictured below has either come from Craigslist, a garage sale, or family/friends.

Not only is it way cheaper than buying anything new, but it keeps pieces out of the landfill. Beyond furniture, I do have some pieces of clothes that are secondhand, but the majority of my wardrobe is not. It is something I am working on.

Resources to get your secondhand shopping on:

#10 Don’t Give into Trends

The fashion world likes to tell us that we need new styles of clothing every few months. If it is not the 70’s bell sleeves, the chokers, or those “cold shoulder” shirts, it will be something else tomorrow. That way you can buy, buy, buy.

Don’t give into that crap. You don’t need any of it. I like to think that the clothes I purchase will be something I wear for a long time, so I stay away from trends and keep my closet pretty neutral.

Whatever the next ridiculous trend is, pass on it, and just wear your regular sweater that covers your shoulders with pride!

More Resources:

 

What else would you add to the list?

10 Most Overlooked Ways to Reduce Waste: Part 1

Millennials love lists, according to my friend Julie, and she requested I put this list together.

This list is not going to tell you to use a refillable water bottle and reusable bags. Those things are on pretty much every list about going green, but come on, we can do better than that.

So I present to you:

10 most overlooked ways to reduce waste.p1 (1)

#1 Choose Quality

In life these days, we are inundated with cheap, cheap crap (and by crap I usually mean plastic) on Amazon, in the line at the store, and basically everywhere. We are enticed by the price, make a purchase, and within some short amount of time, that piece of crap breaks or gets worn out.

Into the landfill, it goes, where it will exist until, well forever.

We can avoid this by choosing more quality pieces when we make a purchase. When going for quality there are a number of things you want to look out for:

  • What is it made from? Choose materials that are known for their longevity like stainless steel or solid wood.
  • Who made it? A local craftsman puts time and hard work into their products.
  • What is the guarantee? Look for companies that have lifetime guarantees and will take back or fix your purchases.
  • Price? Yes, upfront it may cost more, but in the long run, it is something you will not have to replace.

Resources for making quality purchases:

#2 Your Lunch

First of all, don’t buy lunch.

Bring your own. Yes, pack up your lunch in the morning or the night before and bring it to work. I do it every single day.

But everything you bring doesn’t need to be destined for a Ziploc bag tossed in the trash. Make some investments (or go secondhand or use what you already have) in reusable pieces that you can pack your meal in every day.

Resources for a less wasteful lunch:

#3 Say No/Don’t Take Stuff You Don’t Need

This one is really easy, but also really hard at the same time. Sometimes it is difficult to say no to people, but a simple “No, thank you,” should suffice in most situations when you are offered useless (but sometimes useful) stuff.

You are not required to take anything from anyone. If you have no use for something, just don’t take it. Don’t feel obligated in any way.

Here are some common situations where you can be offered stuff you don’t necessarily want:

  • Dentist (You can accept another roll of floss when you finish the one from 3 years ago)
  • Conferences (water bottles, magnets, pens, notepads, etc.)
  • Races (shirts, water bottles, drawstring bags, etc.)
  • Generic events (tote bags, glasses, hats, pens, etc.)
  • Sporting events (magnets, calendars, t-shirts, bobbleheads, etc.)

ALL of those things are the first to go when you declutter. You know I am right. 

Resources to say no:

#4 The Bathroom/Beauty Routine

Bathrooms can be a haven for where body lotions go to die in the back of the cabinet.

The first step is to take stock of what you have versus what you actually use and need. From there, swap out disposables for reusable items.

Easy and not so scary swaps:

 

cotton rounds

My washable cotton rounds

Resources for taking it a step further:

#5 Limit Online Shopping

Yes, Amazon Prime is amazing, but everything you order on the world wide web comes with packaging, and usually, it is excessive packaging.

I for one would rather shop in a brick and mortar store where I can see the quality of an item, and I can touch it and feel it. When buying online, despite how many reviews you read, you aren’t quite sure what you are going to get when you open the overly packaged box.

One thing I try to do is see if an item I am looking for is available at a nearby store for pickup. When shopping online, a lot of clothing stores let you see if your item and size is available at specific locations. You can reserve it right then and there. No shipping involved.

Resources:

 

Stay tuned this week for part 2!

Getting Back on Track

We got back from our European jaunt on Saturday and I am still recovering from jetlag and getting back on track with work and life.

That means I have not had time to blog, so for now, I leave you with two pictures of recycling we encountered on our travels.

recycling in France

Paris, France had corner recycling centers

recycling in austria

Recycling in Austria at the train station has bins for metal, paper, plastic, and other waste.

If you are disappointed that all I am going to post of my trip are of recycling, do not fear. Keep scrolling!

eurotrip1

Paris, France

eurotrip2

Paris, France

eurotrip3

Paris, France

eurotrip4

Paris, France

eurotrip5

Paris, France

eurotrip6

Munich, Germany

eurotrip7

Munich, Germany

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Munich, Germany

 

eurotrip10

Hallstatt, Austria

 

 

Those Pesky Plastic Bags

I had a friend ask me what I do with plastic bags that I eventually accumulate.

Not just the standard grocery bags, but the plastic packaging, bread bags, dry cleaning bags, or other types of bags that are labeled as plastic #4 and don’t belong in the curbside recycling bin.

These bags should not be tossed in with your regular recycling because they basically mess up all the machinery and cause all sorting to come screeching to a halt as they have to pull bags free from the machines.

plastic bags

As any normal person does, I hoard them under the kitchen sink until I have a full bag. Then I drop them off at my local grocery store, like Mariano’s, Target, Jewel, Walmart, and more. Check here to see what stores have drop-off locations near you.

In reality, we shouldn’t be using these plastic bags in the first place, but sometimes we get them. They get handed to us before we get a chance to even say something, or a friend sends you home with your leftovers wrapped up in a bag.

It happens. It’s okay.

But it is important to note that using plastic bags because you can bring them to the grocery store to be recycled is NOT THE ANSWER.

Instead, bring your own reusable bags to the store. You’ll also save $0.07 on the bag tax (if you live in Chicago, IL).

 

Beach Clean up with Zero Waste Chicago

Cool things are happening in Chicago, and the creation of Zero Waste Chicago is one of them.

They host monthly events and this month they asked me to lead a beach clean up since I am an Adopt-A-Beach Team Leader. (Check out my other clean up posts here, here, here, and here.)

We headed down to 31st Street Beach, a beach I have not been to or cleaned up before.

31st street beach

For a Tuesday night, it sure was hopping. Families were out barbequing and kids were splashing in the water, trying to squeeze the last few days of summer before back to school.

31st street beach2

A great crew of volunteers showed up and spread out all over the beach armed with bags and litter monitoring surveys.

31st street beach3

Overall, we collected 35.66 lbs of trash, recycling, and compost!

31st street beach4

Some highlights:

  • 609 cigarette butts
  • 221 food wrappers
  • 200 pieces of plastic
  • 135 metal bottle caps
  • 110 pieces of foam
  • 94 pieces of glass
  • 69 balloons
  • 56 pieces of paper
  • 54 plastic bags
  • 46 straws
  • 18 band-aids
  • 7 hair ties
  • 1 razor
  • 1 tampon
  • 1 condom

 

 

Sometimes You’re Gonna Be Wasteful

Not that I need to share this with the internet world, but I had “minor surgery” this week.

I diligently go to the dermatologist annually to keep an eye on my fair skin and my numerous moles, but this year a mole on my back decided to grow, and my doctor thought it was best to remove it.

So “minor surgery” it was. And minor surgery means major waste.

Between the individually packaged sterilized tools and the gauze, and who knows what else (I was keeping my eyes closed. I DID NOT want to see what they were doing), there was already a bunch of waste just the day of the procedure.

For the next two weeks, I have to clean and change my bandage twice a day. That’s a lot of band-aids.

I know this is wasteful and legitimately all of it will end up in a landfill. We all have to make concessions sometimes, especially when it comes to our health.

Trying to make this situation less wasteful is not something I am up to doing. I am not making my own cotton band-aids and I am not risking infection, so landfill-destined bandages it is.

No pictures for today’s post. No one wants to see my stitches!