Recycling right

recyclingA couple of weeks ago, our local paper published an interesting article about a “day in the life” of a Denver Recycling worker. I wish I had video of the way they pick up the carts – it is really cool. I think the city is catching on. For the first few months, I was out turning our neighbors’ carts around so they could be picked up. And maybe I’ll leave a cold can of Pepsi for them this summer.

In the City of Denver, we have an easy recycling process that lets us throw paper, paperboard (yay!), cardboard, glass, aluminum foil, cans, and plastic (if it is shaped like a bottle) into one container and wheel it out every other week for curbside pickup. I love the system.

We don’t have easy recycling for other materials like plastic tubs, styrofoam, electronics or sneakers. And when I walk around my neighborhood, I often see “mistakes” in the recycling bins. Here are a few tips on recycling right – by our rules, anyway. Check your own community’s rules to be sure you’re on track there:

  • The caps must be removed from plastic bottles. What to do with all those caps? Here is an extensive list of suggestions (some of which won’t even touch the plastic-cap problem). Between now and May 10 (Saturday!) take 25 or more caps to an Aveda store for recycling and get a free sample. No word on whether they’ll continue collecting after this weekend. The first list mentions several fund-raising efforts collecting caps – sounds like a good idea.
  • Metal pans (like a non-disposable baking pan) and large metal objects typically aren’t recyclable in your home bin. But in ours, steel cans and empty aerosol containers are OK.
  • Waxed/plastic-lined paperboard (like milk/juice cartons and tetrapak) isn’t recyclable through standard means. This is my #1 reason for switching to purchasing gallon (plastic, recyclable) milk jugs.
  • Plastic bags aren’t recyclable in our recycling carts. But nearly every grocery store now has a bag-recycling center by the door. AND, these centers accept not just grocery sacks, but case-wrap, newspaper bags, and more. Check the “how to” sign on your center (or ask your grocer to set up a center). Ours is always full, so it is obviously in high demand.
  • Lumber isn’t recyclable in the cart. Duh. But I’ve seen it there. Give it away, build something, use it for firewood (if it’s not pressure-treated — that stuff is carcinogenic!), chip it and compost it or use it for mulch … but the city can’t recycle it.
  • Styrofoam isn’t recyclable in the cart. Bag it up and take it to your local pack-and-ship store. At ours, they sell the packing peanuts at $3 or $5 for a bag. They just smile at me like “Sucker!” when I give peanuts I receive to them. But that’s OK; it’s worth it not to throw it out.
  • Other plastics — like #5 for yogurt and margarine tubs — ARE recyclable, they’re just not always accepted because the process can be more expensive. Earth911 has an interactive tool to let you find recycling programs in your area – or where to send things nationally.
  • CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs – These contain mercury, so they require specialized recycling. The EPA has a Web site with a map link to resources for recycling these and other hazardous materials. Many IKEA stores recycle them, and at least in Colorado, ACE Hardware now is recycling CFLs.
  • Sneakers can be reused or recycled. If they’re still in good shape (they just gave you blisters, or you’re becoming a couch potato instead), give them to a thrift store or donate them to be sent overseas. If they’re good and thrashed, Nike will convert them into surfacing. See this site for links.

Finally, for a great guide on all kinds of recycling, check this site.


Newspaper pots for Earth Day

potsHappy Earth Day! It was a gorgeous day here in Denver.

I helped with a project this afternoon for my daughter’s Daisy Scout troop, planting bean seeds in newspaper pots.

If you haven’t ever made these seedling pots, they are a great way to start seeds. They recycle newspaper, which adds a carbon (dry) aspect to your garden, and they provide a very gentle way to transplant seedlings — gentle enough that you can even give a head start to plants that don’t really like to be transplanted. When it’s time, you simply dig a hole and put the whole pot in the ground. The newspaper readily decomposes, and the plant’s roots are free to grow as if the pot never existed.

Sadly, I had to tear through the explanation of the project because Little Cheap had a bad stomachache and we had to leave Girl Scouts early. I hope the girls got something out of it, but I’m afraid it was so disjointed they might not have.

Anyway, here’s the play by play for those of you who weren’t at Girl Scouts today — or who saw me as the blur I felt like I was.

suppliesYou’ll need:

  • Newspaper
  • Potting soil & trowel
  • Seeds
  • A bottle, cup, yogurt container or any other cylinder of about the size you want your pot to be
  • Some kind of container (waterproof) that you can set the finished pot(s) in

Time commitment:

  • A few minutes per pot.

How to do it:

  1. stripCut or tear a strip of newspaper about 5″ wide (for bigger pots) or 3″ wide (for smaller pots) and 20″ long (I just cut a strip off the length or width of our newspaper). For bigger diameter pots (3″ or so) I use two strips on top of each other; for smaller pots (1.5″ wide) I use one strip.
  2. Place your cylinder across about half the width of the short side of your paper strip.
  3. Roll the paper around the cylinder to the end of the strip. The cylinder will fill half the width of the roll; the other half of the roll will be hollow.
  4. Fold/crush the hollow half of the roll up to meet the bottom of your cylinder.
  5. Gently remove the cylinder, holding the cup-shaped pot in place. It will be a little – but not too – flimsy and will want to tip over.
  6. Fill it most of the way with soil. Set the new pot in a waterproof container. (In my photo, I’m using old clamshell containers from salad greens.)
  7. Plant your seeds in the soil.
  8. Water and leave in a warm place. If your home isn’t warm this spring, you can cover the container with the clamshell lid, waxed paper, a pan, etc., to keep it warm and humid while the seeds sprout. Keep the soil moist. Seeds will sprout in the dark. Once they have germinated, they need light to grow.
  9. When the seeds have grown to a good size (2-4 inches high in most cases) and you have passed your area’s last average spring frost date (for instance, here in Denver, ours is around May 15, but I’ll generally wait till June 1 for warm-weather plants just in case), you can plant them outside. To do so, dig a hole big enough for the pot you are planting and put the entire pot — newspaper and all! — in the hole.
  10. Water it in well and watch it grow.

This was our technique for last year’s champion butternut squash plants (two vines generated 15 8-lb. squash — and they are still lasting! We have two or three left in the laundry room). Today, I planted this year’s crop: Butternut squash, cantaloupe, pumpkin, okra, peanuts (from our plants last year) — and the scarlet runner beans from today’s Girl Scout activity.

Let us know how you marked Earth Day – and what you’ve got growing for spring.

Update on TP packaging

Last week, I received a thought-provoking comment on my January post about recycled toilet paper. Anon wrote:

Um, I hope you know you are not doing any favors buying single rolls; the additional plastic packaging is just discarded by the store. You’d be better off buying it by the pack and saving money.

I replied, in part, regarding the money-saving perspective:

If I bought multipacks at the price listed there from Amazon, I would save 8.25 cents per roll, or $2.97 per year (and have to store toilet paper for 18 months at my household’s current rate of consumption) … but then I know we’d be looking at additional packaging (to me; the case might be just the same) as well as shipping, which takes up extra fuel vs. shipping one case to my local store.

But I just double-checked, and the point is moot, because the price at Amazon has gone up since July to $47.99, or $1 a roll — a cent more than at my local store and a 10 percent increase from July. So I can buy it locally (supporting a family-owned natural foods chain) and save money too.

However, the comment got me thinking, and so I inquired with Seventh Generation. I asked whether, indeed, they wrap the paper-wrapped packages in plastic before shipping. I could imagine that perhaps the entire case of paper would be in a plastic bag to prevent water damage, although I also surmised that they might take that gamble and just box up the paper-wrapped rolls.

Customer service wrote to me:

The single rolls are shipped in boxes with no plastic – they are wrapped in the paper instead, so at least the paper can be recycled. All of our other sizes are wrapped in plastic though, because they do not fare well through shipping and handling wrapped in paper.

We are in the process now of looking for ways to upgrade all of our packaging, including paper, so we will see what we come up with later this year!

Sounds like they are up to something interesting … and in Seventh Generation’s case, hopefully we can count on “upgrade” meaning something other than “wrap in sturdier, custom-shaped, less-recyclable plastic to protect our items from an eventuality.”