landfill

Your Single-Use Water Bottle Probably Isn’t Recycled & If It Is, It’s Not Helping

Once a single-serve plastic water bottle is consumed it does not just disappear when it is tossed into a garbage can.

 

plastic-bottles-mini

Source: Treehugger

 

Of the 80 million single-serve bottles of water consumed daily, 30 million end up in landfills. That stat is old data as of 2009. As of 2018, I can assure that it is much much more.

If those > than 30 million bottles do not make their final resting place in a landfill, they could either be incinerated or become a disturbance in natural ecosystems. I see them all the time!

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be so reliant on bottled water, but we are.

We are wasting valuable space in landfills by filling it with bottles that are perfectly recyclable.  While not purchasing bottled water is the best option, recycling the bottles is the second best option because it reduces demand for landfill space.

Unfortunately, it does not help reduce the demand for oil because bottlers are not using recycling content anyway (Royte, 2008). Ironically, it is cheaper for bottlers to use virgin PET than recycled PET.

Great…

In an effort to combat criticism of high environmental and energy costs, some companies have turned to a new approach. The new approach, called ‘lightweighting,’ reduces the cost of production, the energy required for shipping, and the mass of plastic in landfills (Gleick, 2010).

These are the new eco-friendly water bottles with the flimsier plastic and smaller shape.

Regrettably, lightweighting does not increase recycling rates or reduce the number of bottles in landfills (Gleick, 2010). It definitely does not decrease the amount of bottles American purchase; it only helps them feel less guilty about it.

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New Homes for Old Pillows Hard to Come By

Being that our household includes two later twenty-somethings who still have a lot of things from college and from our parents, we have acquired some items from family members that have an unidentifiable and questionable age.

While there is nothing wrong with that for pots/pans, or baking sheets, it’s helpful to know how long someone had been sleeping on that pillow you found in the closet at your parents.

I was recently waking up with a sore neck, which I attributed to my pillow. So for Christmas, I was given a new one (#adultstatus).

But now I have an old pillow that I don’t know what to do with.

We already have at least 2 extra pillows lying around for when the occasional guest stays over, and we don’t have the room to be piling up pillows.

I am not going to make it into a dog bed (don’t have a dog), or craft it into throw pillows (no room for those), and donation centers don’t take used pillows.

So what is a person supposed to do?

I wanted the pillow to avoid a landfill end and was intrigued by it keeping a shelter pet nice and cozy. So, I checked almost every Chicago animal shelter’s website to see if they were accepting old pillows.

None of them do, but many took sheets, blankets, towels, and comforters, which is very good to know since we will be getting all new versions of those when K and I get married.

Here are the Chicago animal shelters that take various old textiles, but not pillows:

So I have a home for all of that stuff, but not my delipidated pillow. Now what?

Since we don’t have a lot of seating in our place, I am thinking that I might get some fabric and make a nice floor pillow with the stuffing like this one here.

Otherwise, there are plenty of other options for what to do with sad pillows:

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!

On the Way To A Less Wasteful Wedding

135 days to go until our wedding day.

Less than 5 months.

engagement3

That doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you start this wedding planning journey a whole year and a half beforehand, it’s a lot.

Plenty of things have been crossed off the to-do list, but there are still many more tasks to go.

Here is a roundup of my less wasteful wedding planning experience so far:

Yet there is still so much to do!

 

wedding dress

This is NOT my wedding dress. Just one I tried on.

 

No, I Don’t Want Your Coupons

Hey Chicagoans,

Have you ever come home to one of these at your doorstep?

insideshopper1

The bright red bag of the Chicago Tribune Inside Shopper/RedPlum shows up on our stoop every week, every month, I don’t even know, but it is always there.

insideshopper2

Inside are a bunch of coupon circulars for our whole building that no one ever touches. The bag o’ coupons usually sits on the stoop for days or weeks. Maybe it makes it inside into the vestibule, but no one wants it, so no one touches it.

Eventually, the bag of papers disappears. Someone caved and threw it out or maintenance picked it up. I will never know.

The point here is that these coupons are unwanted and they keep coming to be instantly (or many weeks later) tossed in the trash can.

If I am the one to cave and pick it up, I will recycle it, but what about all those other houses out there who immediately throw it into the landfill?

Finally fed up with these things, I actually took a look at that red bag and it said:

“For service inquiries or if you do not want this product delivered to you, please call 1-800-874-2863 or email us at insideshopper@chicagotribune.com.”

Apparently, I could have called long ago to get these to stop, but I just assumed like most of the local mailings, you couldn’t get out of it.

I am not the first one to be pissed off by these stupid red bags of coupons. See here, here, here and here. Someone even sued the Tribune about unwanted delivery even after multiple attempts to be removed.

Anyway, I sent an email off to Inside Shopper, we shall see what happens…

Shaking Up Wasteful Office Culture

I am finding it really hard to send an email.

It is not just any email.

It’s an email to facilities management at work.

I’ve noted before that our office provides compostable plates and bowls, but nowhere to actually compost them.

 

work compost

I usually smuggle my compostables home to compost

 

It seems very counterintuitive and a bit greenwashy to me (Look at us! We offer compostable plates! Oh la la!). It is a step in the right direction, but providing compostable plates without somewhere to compost them is like providing real plates and silverware, but nowhere to wash them. It totally negates the point.

So I have been working up the courage to send an email to facilities management, but building up courage has been a slow trickle, with renewed aspiration here and there when I see the wrong things in the recycle bin or when people compliment me on BYOP (bringing my own plate).

 

BYOP

My parents were cleaning out their kitchen and came across this plate I painted at a pottery place. Since my name was on the back of it, I figured I’d take it and make it my work plate.

 

I know what the email needs to say:

  • There is no point in having compostable plates/bowls without providing composting service (but I also don’t want them to think, “Oh okay, we will order styrofoam then!”)
  • Provide the benefits of composting and why putting compostable items in the landfill doesn’t work
  • Provide resources to composting services in Chicago (this is a larger building, so not sure how waste management on a single floor scale works…)
  • Discuss what is recyclable from the building’s recycling hauler and how we can educate the staff about what belongs in the recycling bin and what does not
  • Explain that I would be willing to work with them to make our office a greener place to spend 40+ hours of your week

Despite knowing what the contents of this email will be, I am more afraid of the response I will get.

Will I immediately be shot down? My email promptly deleted and never even responded to? 

I have no idea and that is why I have not sent it yet (or even written it).

I am going to do it though. I promise.

I risk nothing besides the office thinking I am a crunchy composting hippie, which is fine because I would totally love to be labeled that.

Have you ever tried to green your office? Any suggestions or tips for writing this email? Any help would be appreciated!

Paper: Compost or Recycle?

A while ago, a friend asked me which was better, composting paper or recycling it.

the funnies

That is a really good question that required me to do a bit of research.

And the answer is that it depends.

Paper is not infinitely recyclable (unlike glass), it’s fibers eventually degrade in quality after being recycled 5-7 times. Printer and office paper require strong fibers, so its fibers have only been recycled a couple times. Newspaper, wrapping paper, and tissue paper, on the other hand, can use lower quality fibers.

Here is what should be recycled and what should be composted and in what situation:

Recycle

  • Glossy magazines, advertisements, and catalogs (these are more likely to contain toxic additives you won’t want in our compost if you are using it to grow produce)
  • Office paper
  • Sticky notes

In general, paper that is of higher quality should be recycled so that it can be used again, thus saving resources compared to virgin paper production.

Compost

  • Paper products that are soiled with food waste, like napkins, paper towels, and paper plates (they can’t be recycled anyway)
  • Newspaper
  • Tissues
  • Brown paper bags with food stains from takeout
  • Greasy pizza box
  • Shredded paper (even if it is shredded office paper, it cannot be recycled)

As for composting, it is better to add lower quality paper that is less likely to be recycled. In addition, adding paper is good for the health of your compost pile, helps keep it from being smelly, and absorbs water.

Unfortunately, some paper products can’t be recycled or composted and have to be reused or ultimately end up in the trash can.

Landfill

  • Plastic coated paper products like coffee cups
  • Glittery, glossy, and metallic wrapping paper
  • Glittery tissue paper

So there you go!

There are some other things to remember though.

  1. When buying paper products, opt for post-consumer recycled content to save as many trees as possible. There needs to be a demand for it!
  2. Soley composting high-quality paper keeps those good fibers from the production stream, meaning there is less recycled paper to work with, also meaning more virgin resources being used.

 

Resources

Actions for A New Year

Happy 2018 Everyone!

I spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day hanging at home, getting recharged for the year ahead.

In general, a lot is coming up in 2018, and a lot of big and small decisions will be made that will have both big and small impacts on the environment.

There are definitely actions I can do better at and these are what I plan to focus on in 2018.

2018 goals

What are your goals?

Do you have any suggestions on how to reach these goals?

 

 

How I Did on Those 2017 Goals

I made a number of goals for myself to be less wasteful last year. Find a refresher of what I aimed for here.

Without further adieu, let’s see how I did.

resolution1

I am proud to say I crushed this goal!!! As of right now, without my December compost bucket weighed, we kept 272.91 pounds of food waste out of the landfill. Add in another 18-22 pounds from this month’s bucket and we almost doubled the goal! Holy cow!

In addition to composting at home, I am also planning on composting at my wedding in 2018.

resolution2

Another goal semi-crushed! We partook in a CSA box this summer and I challenged us to only purchase locally grown food for 24 weeks. That’s not the entire year, so that’s why I say this goal is semi-crushed. We definitely made an effort though and are more cautious of where our food comes from.

resolution3

I definitely still spent money this year, but I like to think that I did a decent job of not wasting money on frivolous purchases. From Craigslist buys to making a waiting list, I did employ tactics to keep money in my wallet. Having a tiny apartment also helps because I can’t buy things if I know there is nowhere to put them.

resolution4

Still working on this one…

resolution5

I still have a lot of clothes, plus there are still some clothes at my parent’s house. I am going to a clothing swap next month, so I am excited to see how that goes! As for repairing, I definitely tried mending a pair of jeans but failed miserably. At least I was able to give that pair a second life as housing insulation. My running shoes also get a second life as a track floor. I also pulled together resources for what to do with clothing and textiles that are beyond repair or normal use. Check that out here.

resolution6

In terms of biking, this was one goal I did not really accomplish at all, but in terms of walking, I definitely did some of that. Where I live and work are both very walkable and also have access to great public transportation options.  I really do want to try biking to work, but that will have to wait until after the winter.

So all in all, I think I did a pretty good job with my goals! Still working on a few, but that’s okay.

What are your goals for 2018?