Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tips for Recycling Hard-to-Recycle Stuff

By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

In the quest to throw away less, our family has always been challenged by a few things, namely what to do with all that hard-to-recycle stuff. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), batteries and items made of #5 plastic (e.g., yogurt containers) top our list.

So we did a little digging and compiled this little list of resources to help you keep more stuff out of your landfill:

Remember that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, so sending them to the landfill is not a good idea. A few options for recycling include:
Did you know that nearly 3 billion batteries are sold in the U.S. annually? With all the different types out there, knowing what to do with each kind can get confusing. While non-rechargeable kinds tend to be throw-away, re-chargeable varieties should be recycled. Here are some resources:
  • The Environment, Health and Safety Online (EHSO) site is a great one-stop resource for all you could ever want to know about batteries and their disposal. You can search for local recycling centers by zip code too.
  • Earth 911 -- Just put in your zip code and go for batteries too. Search now.
  • Rhode Island residents can bring spent automotive and re-chargeable batteries to any Eco-Depot event.
This stuff abounds. From yogurt containers to take-out containers to you name it, #5 plastic is everywhere. Given its low re-sale value, many municipal/state recycling programs don't take it. There are some great options out there though:
  • Preserve -- The maker of cool recycled plastic toothbrushes and razors has teamed up with Whole Foods and Stonyfield Yogurt to create the "Gimme5" campaign. Details here. 
  • Earth 911 -- Just put in your zip code and go for this stuff too. Search now.

According to a 2008 Consumer Electronics Association study, the average American household owns 24 electronic devices. In an era where it's easier to throw old, broken electronics in the trash instead of repairing them, there is too much potential for some of the hazardous materials in them to wreak havoc. Here are some alternatives:
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with many consumer electronics companies, has launched the "Plug-In e-Cycling" program. Details and retailer drop off locations are here.
  • Earth 911 -- You know the drill. Search now. 
  • Rhode Island resident? Select e-waste items can be brought to most Eco-Depot events
Good luck and be well!

    Sunday, March 28, 2010

    Portsmouth's Newest Turbine: Delivering 110%

    John McDaid over at hard deadlines has an excellent post examining what Portsmouth's newest turbine has delivered in the year since becoming operational.

    The consensus: It is delivering more than anyone could have expected.

    Chew on this quote by Rich Talipsky, chair of the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee:
    "The project team members often look up at the wind turbine and say, 'How did we do it?' And, when we thought about it, we came to the realization that we had developed the right chemistry between the citizens, the Town leadership and the project contractor that enabled an honest dialogue. It was the heart of a working relationship that brought potential problems and issues to the forefront early so that they could be resolved."
    As Tiverton inches ever-forward on our own renewable energy path, such results should reinforce the potential this technology has.

    A small cadre of citizen volunteers are working hard as part of the East Bay Energy Consortium to make renewable wind energy a reality for our area. When it comes time to lend support to such projects, please remember Portsmouth and do your part to make renewable energy happen in Tiverton.

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Don't "CURB" Your Enthusiasm

    Just the opposite: Roll up your sleeves, get educated, and get involved.

    Kudos to former Tiverton Town Council member Brian Mederios on his newest endeavor: Citizens United for Responsible Budget (CURB-Tiverton). In just a short time, Brian has been hitting the media with critical op-ed pieces and a new blog challenging the status-quo when it comes to the fiscal vitality of Tiverton.

    Coming off the debacle of the 2009 Financial Town Meeting, Brian is dead-set on making sure it doesn't happen again. According to the blog, the CURB agenda is simple:
    The CURB-Tiverton Principle:
    To attend the May 8 Financial Town Meeting and vote to support a common-sense budget that neither exceeds the state tax-cap nor results in significant cuts in community/school services.
    CURB is a grassroots effort to preserve Tiverton's quality of life by uniting individuals and community groups in supporting a responsible municipal/school budget that balances maintaining services with containing costs.
    If you're interested, you can sign up to receive free updates through the blog or email.

    As a tax payer, parent of three small children, and user of town services I am keenly aware of what is at stake at this year's Financial Town Meeting. I implore my peers: We need MORE parents at this meeting. We need YOU to help ensure that our town's budgeting process and spend of services is meeting the needs of all of us.

    Being part of a vibrant community is about helping out each other. In some cases, you take one for the team to ensure the greater good. This is just one such instance. Please do your part. Thanks.

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    Help Me Celebrate a Birthday

    By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

    A few weeks back Sustainable Sakonnet turned three.

    Some of you may remember that first ambitious post. Not a lot has changed since then. The inspiration for the blog is still there and I have been humbled by everyone who has taken time to share their stories and insights. For me, S.S. has been and will always be about building community and dialogue.

    But on this birthday, my wish is very simple: Help Sustainable Sakonnet grow.

    If you have ever found value in some story or piece of content on this blog, could you help me grow our readership by forwarding this on to at least five friends? Ask them to sign up to receive free updates via RSS feed or Email. The new "Share" feature at the bottom of this post can help with that.

    I have some exciting new things in the works that I plan to share more on in the coming weeks. In the interim, I have made some changes to the layout and organization of the site (notice the new "page" links at the top?) to help make your visits better and content more accessible. But it's only the start. There is so much more on this journey to share and experience together!

    As always, thank you for your continued support of my work and that of Sustainable Sakonnet. You make all the difference and keep me going!

    Be well,

    [Image: HoneyBee KT via flickr]

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    25 Simple Things to Do With Your Extra Hour of Sunlight

    By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

    Tonight we turn back the clocks. Now before you start lamenting over “losing” that hour, take another perspective: Putting the clocks ahead means another hour of daylight at the end of your day!

    Not sure what to do with that? Here is a short list of simple (and mostly free!) things you can do to make the most of your new-found “time”:
    1. Have a dinner picnic down at Fogland or South Shore beach with your family or special someone
    2. Cook a fantastic meal outside
    3. Take an after-dinner hike at Weetamoo, Fort Barton, Wilbur Woods, or Simmons Pond.
    4. Walk or run some laps at Town Farm or the track at Tiverton High School
    5. Head out on a bike ride around town
    6. Take a stroll through Sakonnet Vineyards
    7. Grab a pick up game of basketball at the Bulgarmarsh Recreation Center or Wilbur & McMahon School
    8. Serve up some tennis at Town Farm or Tiverton High School
    9. Let your kids run off that extra energy at the playgrounds at Wilbur & McMahon or Town Farm
    10. Finally start that garden you’ve always wanted
    11. Plant a tree (or three!)
    12. Build yourself a compost bin
    13. De-clutter your life a little and clean out your garage or shed (don’t forget to freecycle!)
    14. Check out an event or class through the Sakonnet Arts Network
    15. See what is happening at our local libraries (Tiverton, Little Compton)
    16. Hang a clothesline and discover how awesome your clothes will smell after line drying
    17. Get settled watch that sun set (or moon rise)
    18. Enjoy an after-dinner concert by listening to the amazing bird songs at dusk
    19. When it gets warmer, watch the aerial acrobatics of the bats coming out as the sun goes down
    20. Play an after-dinner board game with the kids outside
    21. Cozy up to the fence and catch up with your neighbors
    22. Treat your dog to an extra-long run
    23. Treat yourself to an ice cream at Moose Cafe, Gray’s, or in the Commons
    24. Pencil in the Tiverton Financial Town Meeting into your calendar (Saturday, May 8) and commit to being there
    25. Last but not least, keep your lights, TV and any other electronic gadget off for another hour!
    [Photo: D Sharon Pruitt via Flckr]

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    DIY Dishwasher Detergent

    By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

    On the heels of the DIY Laundry Detergent, here is a new recipe for homemade powder dishwasher detergent.

    What makes this DIY project great is that it uses two of the primary ingredients from the laundry detergent: Washing Soda and Borax.
    • 1 cup of Washing Soda
    • 1 cup of Borax
    • 1 packet of Lemonade Kool-Aid drink mix (for the citric acid, optional)
    • 1/4 cup of salt (optional)

    There are several optional ingredients you could use -- citric acid and salt being at the top of that list. Based on my research most are used depending on the quality of water you have (hard vs. soft). I have used two versions -- one with the citric acid and one without -- with the same results. I have not tried a version using salt. You may want to start with the basic recipe of Washing Soda and Borax and expand from there depending on your results.

    In an empty jar or container (mason jars or large yogurt containers work great), mix the Washing Soda, Borax, and Kool-Aid drink mix. Cover and shake well to incorporate. That's it.

    This recipe yields sixteen 2-Tablespoon "servings" (your per-load amount).

    A note about the Kool-Aid mix: You want to use the lemonade flavor because it is light in color. Other flavors contain coloring that could stain your dishes. (Bad!)

    Unlike the laundry detergent, this DIY project isn't saving you a lot over the conventional dishwasher detergent. That said, if you have the ingredients on hand and can spare five minutes of work, you gain the satisfaction of making something instead of buying it.

    Now the numbers:
    • Store Bought Detergent -- Using the 100-oz box of Cascade as our baseline, the per-ounce cost (according to Stop & Shop's Peapod site) is $0.07. Since two tablespoons weighs about an ounce, this works out to be your per-load cost as well.

    • DIY Detergent -- One cup of either the Washing Soda (55-oz box at $2.99) or Borax (76-oz box at $3.99) weighs about eight ounces. Doing the math, 16 loads works out to $0.85 or $0.05 per load. 
    Now, a two-cent savings per-load doesn't sound like much. But if you run your dishwasher three times a week that adds up to $3.12 in a year. Just enough to buy that next box of Borax!

    Like I said, it's not the savings on this DIY project that counts, but the satisfaction of being resourceful and making something on your own. We have been using it for several weeks now with good results. You can't tell the difference. And, if you want to go all the way and get rid of the Jet Dry, consider using white vinegar instead.

    Good luck! Let me know how you make out!

    Thursday, March 4, 2010

    Minimalism and the March Poll

    Could you define your level of consumption by quantifying how much stuff you possess?

    I have been thinking about this a bit over the past few weeks and wanted to put that challenge out there in the form of our March Poll. In the ever-unfolding quest for simpler, more sustainable living, I have been enamored of late with a few great blogs on the minimalist lifestyle:
    These writers/motivators are helping to lead a revolution in down-sizing our lifestyles (but not our lives!) to focus on the most important things. While the green angle is not always the key driver, it goes without saying that the environmental benefit of a minimalist lifestyle is dramatic. Want less, buy less. Buy less, produce less. Produce less, plunder the earth's resources less. You get the picture.

    As I think about the many woes facing humanity these days, consumption in one way, shape or form is at the root of darn near all of them. Our priorities are skewed. We have lost sight of what true happiness is and can bring. And along the way, lost our true sense of self.

    Let's be clear, I have a LONG way to go to being a Superstar Minimalist, but it is about the journey for me. Letting go and eliminating what is no longer necessary to "be". Eliminating the clutter -- physical, digital, emotional or otherwise. Making way for simpler living at home and at work. Hopefully, using the process to help teach our kids about knowing what is most important in life.

    But I would be remiss if I didn't answer the poll question for myself. For stuff that I alone use, I would put the count at between 100 and 250. This includes everything from books to tools and garden stuff to clothes. Perhaps I'll chronicle the liberation process from time to time. Clearly I have room to improve.

    Where do you net out at? What is motivating you to do more with less?

    [Image: jasontheaker via flickr]

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    Event Notice: Practical Composting Clinic

    You can never compost enough in my book. This clinic, offered through the URI Master Composter & Recycler program, should be great. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Tips for Forming a "Green Team" at Work

    Over the past year I have had the privilege of co-leading the development of a new "green" team at work. Our group is focused on not only educating employees on environmental issues, but more importantly, initiating business activities that benefit the planet AND the bottom line.

    With that, I thought I would pass along some tips for helping you form your own green team:

    Make the Case for Greening Your Business
    Saving the planet is great. Saving the planet AND driving value for your business is even better. Try building your business case and program around the "triple bottom line" of the Corporate Social Responsibility Model: people, planet, profit. Business doesn't have to operate in "value silos". Score bonus points if you can tie "green" or sustainable efforts to your business model, strategy, or value proposition in some way.

    Create a Solid Plan
    If you cannot demonstrate a clear action plan for achieving that triple bottom line your efforts will fall flat. Our annual plan is primarily comprised of two parts: Business Initiatives and Community Initiatives. The former allows us to identify and execute opportunities that drive business value (e.g., reduce electricity or paper usage); the latter enables us to connect with local non-profits with an environmental focus and help their efforts through volunteering.

    Find a Champion
    Otherwise known as getting buy-in from the top. Find someone senior in your organization who shares similar values to "sponsor" your efforts. This person can help forward your mission through public (and visible) support and the removal of organizational obstacles that might get in your way.

    Measure, Analyze, Improve
    Having solid numbers to drive the creation and ongoing execution of your action plan is invaluable. Take baseline measurements such as electricity usage, waste volume, and recycling rates to know where you are starting from. Then as you take steps to improve your performance, you can measure your impact. Regular measurement of your efforts can also help you identify ways to enhance your action plan along the way.

    Benchmark and Network
    More and more companies are embracing ways to make their business more sustainable. Learn from them what works and what doesn't. B Corporation, Climate Counts, and GreenBiz are excellent sites to start this process. If you find a few companies close to you, consider creating an ongoing discussion series to improve networking.

    Be Inclusive
    The more people in your company you can connect with who share the same values and enthusiasm for sustainable business, the better your chance of success. Consider creating a grassroots network of "green ambassadors" throughout your company to help spread the message, execute your action plan, and generate new ideas. Need leader buy-in on activities? Consider the formation of a "green council" to help steer efforts.

    Be Patient
    Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will your new and improved sustainable business. Don't take on too much too soon. Remember, you want to demonstrate the viability and value of your action plan. Early on, focus on the "low hanging fruit" -- those opportunities such as reducing waste and energy usage -- to score some early "wins". From there, you can focus on bigger, more complex things like greening your supply chain or manufacturing processes. Good luck!