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June 21, 2010 — Today’s Way: One of the best things you can do with your kids is to allow and encourage creative time and space for them.  Kids love to get their craft on…imagining new purposes for ordinary objects at an early age exercises their fine young minds and helps develop an aptitude for critical thinking. And you know what else?  It’s fun!

One of my favorite craft items when I was a kid was the good ol’ ordinary toilet paper tube (along with its brother, the paper towel tube).  We used to paint them, bedazzle them, punch patterned holes in them, make them into kaleidoscopes, build castle turrets (on top of cardboard boxes) with them, tape them together to make binoculars, telescopes and periscopes (complete with mirrors), we poured beans into them and sealed the ends to make rattles for our imaginary rock band…you name it, we made it.

Start collecting your tubes now so that, on the next rainy day your children (or nieces or nephews, or grandchildren) are trapped inside, you’ll have a ready stash to repurpose.  And get the kids involved, enlist their help to collect the tubes and make a special box for them (a box, by the way, that could also be reused and decorated just for this purpose).  Believe me, when they grow up, they won’t remember their score on the video game they always played, but they will remember time well spent with you, creating fun new things out of ordinary objects that would otherwise have gone straight to a landfill or recycle bin.

To get you started, there are several websites with lots and lots of ideas for projects using toilet paper tubes, and here are just a few:

May 15, 2009–Today’s Way: A big part of living Earth Day everyday is looking at ordinary things differently.  Take your daily used coffee grounds, for instance.  Most households still just throw them in the trash (cringe).  But when you start seeing the world through green colored glasses, you begin to think of all the useful things you can do with used coffee grounds before ultimately sending them to the compost bin.  Here are a few ideas:

  • For softer fur, rub used grounds into your dog’s coat.  Rinse well.  Sounds weird, but it works.
  • Used coffee grounds make a great tan dye for paper or natural fiber fabrics.
  • Coffee grounds are said to repel ants and slugs.
  • Adding used coffee grounds to the soil of your houseplants makes a great fertilizer.
  • Mix fine coffee grounds with a little warmed cocoa butter and/or olive oil, then use as a very effective body scrub.

May 5, 2009-Today’s Way: A while back, my girlfriends and I realized that we had a lot of overlapping subscriptions to the same magazines.  So, when it came time to renew, we selectively let some subscriptions go, so that each of us kept a different title and promised to swap our read magazines when we were finished with them, and then to recycle them or pass them along to someone else in turn.  Not only did this save us all a bit of cash, but it helps to keep virgin papers out of the waste stream, as well as the energy required to process, print, ship and dispose of them.

May 1, 2009–Today’s Way: Water is our most precious natural resource and we cannot live without it.  Luckily, there are lots of things we can do to conserve and protect our fresh water, and we all should, whether you live in the parched desert or the abundant Great Lakes.  One really simple one is to save the water you use to boil or steam vegetables with, and then water your house or garden plants (or trees, or shrubs) with it once it’s cooled.  The nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals that were released into the water from boiling the vegetables will in turn nourish other plants and fortify the soil, instead of simply going down the drain.

April 29, 2009–Today’s Way: Let’s talk plastics.  With the growing prevalence of curbside recycling, I have heard a lot of folks expressing confusion about what is and what is not recyclable, especially among plastics.  And that’s Chasing Arrowspretty understandable due to the common misconceptions formed from the “chasing arrows” symbols stamped on the bottoms of bottles, jars and tubs.  Most people have come to identify or associate the chasing arrows with recycling, but not all plastics are recyclable, despite the chasing arrows stamp.  It is actually the number surrounded by the arrows which tells us the relevant information, and which we need to consider when making purchasing and recycling decisions:

  • (1)  Number One identifies Polyethylene Terephthalate plastic (PET or PETE), generally a hard, clear plastic used for water bottles and ketchup and salad dressings.  This is a highly recyclable plastic, but it should not be reused and foods should not be reheated in containers made from PET plastic, as it is suspected to leach chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA).
  • (2)  Number Two signifies plastics made from High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), and is most commonly used for milk jugs but is also used for making grocery or garbage bags.  HDPE is among only a few plastics which do not leach chemicals into foods or beverages.  Another highly recyclable plastic.
  • (3)  Number Three designates PVC plastic, which is of course what PVC piping is made from, as well as shampoo and detergent bottles, due to its ability to stand up to chemicals.  PVC is rarely recycled, and most municipal recycling programs do not accept PVC.  PVC should be avoided wherever possible, due to its non-recyclability, as well as containing chemicals, such as lead, which can be leached out of the plastic as it degrades over time.
  • (4)  Number Four plastic is Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE), and is generally used for squeezable bottles and very commonly used to make sandwich and food bags, as well as grocery bags.  LDPE is recyclable and is generally accepted wherever HDPE and PET plastics are taken.
  • (5)  Number Five represents Polypropylene (PP), and is typically used for plastic caps, cosmetic jars and medicine bottles, as well as straws.  PP plastic is recyclable but not all recycling facilities accept it—though, it is becoming more widely accepted.
  • (6)  Number Six is Polystyrene (PS), also commonly known as Styrofoam, though this is actually a brand name for the expanded insulated product.  PS plastic can also be clear and brittle, and is most commonly used in the ubiquitous take-home food containers used by restaurants and food joints.  Only some municipalities accept PS plastic, so you’ll need to check with your local recycling authority.
  • (7)  Number Seven is the sort of miscellaneous and mysterious category of “Other”, often used for water cooler bottles, cd and dvd packaging, and for blister packaging of various products.  Number 7 plastics are NOT recyclable, and should be avoided if possible.

It’s also important to note that, despite their high recyclability, most plastics that we are recycling at our curbs is NOT being reused to make more containers; instead, most of these plastics are made into non-recyclable products such as woodless lumber, children’s playsets, fabrics and textiles, which are a good idea but they’re not contributing to the closing of the recycling loop.  Nearly all plastic containers are made from virgin materials.  It is up to us citizens to encourage plastics manufacturers to recycle plastics into containers and packaging that can used and recycled again and again before being made into end products which can no longer be recycled.  You can learn more from the Ecology Center website.

April 27, 2009–Today’s Way: In the WoodSprite office, we’re able to cut our paper costs by about half simply by printing documents on both sides of the page.  We also set aside single-sided sheets for re-use, then print on the blank side or cut them up for use as scratch pads before finally sending them along to the recycle bin.  Of course, we also use 100% Post-Consumer recycled paper (that’s the paper you and I recycle at our curbsides) that is processed without chlorine.  Just by instituting this simple policy, we’re not only keeping our office supply budget in the black, but helping to save a lot of unnecessary pollution, energy and cutting and processing of trees to make new paper.

You can make transitioning to this system easier for your own office or home by posting a sign on the copier or printer, reminding others to use the two-sided printing options, and then placing a paper sorter for single-sided sheets only next to the printer or copier where they will be handy.  Encourage your family or co-workers to turn over a new leaf of paper—it may take a bit of time to implement, but once everyone gets the hang of it, you’ll be saving your company or office money and saving trees at the same time.

April 21, 2009–Today’s Way: In terms of environmental impact, aluminum foil beats sandwich bags because of its ability to be recycled over and over again.  In our house, we actually re-use our aluminum foil by washing it, until it becomes torn or too small to be of further use.  And then, it goes right into the recycling bin with the tin cans.  Even so, the initial implications of bauxite mining (a major component of making aluminum) can be extremely taxing to the environment, and so it is only when we re-use aluminum that its impact is reduced.  The greener thing to do is to purchase recycled aluminum foil in the first place, which, according to If You Care (a manufacturer of 100% recycled aluminum foil), saves 95% of the energy required to make virgin aluminum foil.  Besides, aluminum foil is more diverse than plastic wrap or bags; you can use it to cook with and then it also protects foods in the fridge or in your lunch box. Best of all, then it can be recycled again and again, thereby closing that important recycling loop.  Though I’ve found it to be slightly less thick, the If You Care brand holds its own against the leading national brand, while costing only slightly more depending on where you live.  And its environmental benefits more than make up for it.  You can find recycled aluminum foil at most natural foods grocers as well as online.

One other little tip about aluminum foil before you recycle it; it works really well to sharpen household scissors!  Just fold the foil over into a few layers, make several cuts into the foil with the scissors, and that’s it!  Your scissors will be sharpened.  Then, roll up the foil and put it in your recycling bin.

April 20, 2009–Today’s Way: We spent part of Saturday at our park’s annual Earth Day Cleanup and poked about the woods, picking up trash that has escaped the humans who created it.  Now, this is something we do every day we’re at the park, picking up litter as we go along on our daily hikes and throwing our finds into the garbage or recycle bin when we get home.  There wasn’t really anything much different about Saturday, other than that there were other people there for once, cleaning up the litter, too.  At our particularly favorite trail, which is an unpaved series of hike and mountain bike paths up and down hills and in the middle of the woods, I am struck by how much trash I see there, every single week.  And the majority of the junk I pick up is left there by supposed outdoors types who frequent those same trails…athletic types, mostly, from the looks of the stuff they drop on the trail for others to deal with.  I know the biking people by the “Go Juice” packets we find glittering in the creek, and the family types by the “On the Go” cracker and snack containers fluttering in the breeze.  Sandwich bags, empty bottles and cans (which, in Michigan have a 10-cent bottle refund), candy wrappers, cigarette butts, chip bags, all scattered like leaves among the trees.  Unfortunately, our “On-the-Go” packaging culture has created more trash than ever, which is too often ending up on the ground.  From the amount of carelessly abandoned trash I see, it seems there’s an entire generation who missed the message from the old “Don’t be a Litterbug” public service campaigns.  I wonder if those litterbugs who are trashing our woods, parks and meadows think that their junk just miraculously disappears, or that it’s somehow not their problem.   Except, it has become a problem for others, and the miracle disappearing trick is performed by folks like me who are trying to clean up after them so that we all can enjoy the beauty of our natural surroundings.

But there is hope.  I’ve noticed that, when strangers see me pick up a piece of litter, even though it is not my own, then they often start to do it, too.  It’s as if they are just waiting to be reminded that we all can make a difference, and then they are inspired to be part of it.  We can’t wait for another public service message to change the world–it begins with us, and just one simple step.  You just start taking small actions, and then others will follow.

If you’re out and On-the-Go, don’t wait for Earth Day to pick up the litter that you encounter.  It takes only a moment to bend down and toss it in the nearest trash can.  Teach your kids to do the same—teach them that trash doesn’t simply evaporate into the ether, and to be responsible and make less of it and dispose properly of the trash they do create—and then take it a step further and show them that other people’s litter is every person’s problem.  Conscientious citizens are not born, they are made.  Just make it a habit, and sure enough, little by little, you will motivate others by your example, and our world will be cleaner and more beautiful, one little piece of candy wrapper at a time.

April 13, 2009–Today’s Way: Monday is recycling day for us, and every week, I am baffled by the amount of paper that goes into our bin.  Most of it is paper that we never wanted or even touched, except to put it directly into the recycle bin.  Flyers, advertisements, newspapers and those ubiquitous credit card offers litter our mailbox every single day.  Despite the fact that most of us regard junk mail as an annoyance and a burden, millions of trees are cut down, tons of energy and water are used in the processing of turning those trees into paper,  just so we can throw it all away without a cursory glance.  So many of us feel helpless to stop or slow the flow, but there are a few organizations working to do that very thing.  Catalog Choice is one website that enables consumers to opt-out of a huge database of mail order catalogs.  DMA Choice is the Direct Marketing Association’s project to help you reduce prospecting junk mail.  Do Not Mail is compiling a petition list of Americans who would like to see a comprehensive Do Not Mail registry.  Tonic Mail Stopper (formerly Green Dimes) takes a different approach to helping you opt-out of most junk mailings; for a $20 membership fee, they work to get you off mailing lists as well as plant 5 trees on your behalf.

While there is still no single cure-all to address the ailments of an obsolete system such as junk mail marketing, these options can certainly help to reduce the amount that finds its way into your mail box every day.  And if enough of us make the effort to support these organizations, eventually the direct marketers will listen.

April 10, 2009–Today’s Way: Getting into the habit of recycling has become easier than ever, with curbside recycling services available in more municipalities every year.  However, a big part of closing the recycling loop is actually buying recycled products, especially paper.  And the kind of paper we most often forget to consider is the stuff that we literally flush down the toilet every day…yup, we’re talking toilet paper.  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, if every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper (500 sheets) with a roll made of 100% recycled fiber, we could save 423,900 trees.  That’s a lot of trees!  Just to wipe your—well, you know.  Aside from the conservation of trees and energy, a good recycled toilet tissue is usually processed without chlorine and therefore, reduces the amount of hazardous dioxins and other contaminants released into our environment.  When looking for recycled toilet paper, be sure to buy the tissue with the highest possible post-consumer waste (PCW) content—that’s the paper that you and I recycled on our curbs—and also be sure that it says “processed chlorine free”.  The NRDC has a very helpful chart on their website, rating the environmental sustainability of different toilet paper brands.

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