Do You Have the Right to Repair Your Own Electronics?

5-20-18

Apple, Microsoft, Verizon and a host of other tech companies all have something in common: They don’t want you to repair your damaged devices on your own. You might think that buying a TV or a smartphone gives you the right to fix it — or at least to bring it to a knowledgeable, independent repair shop. Currently, however, that isn’t how most tech companies see it.

From a manufacturer’s perspective, providing you or your repairperson the parts and information needed to repair your devices is an act of leaking valuable intellectual property. It may make them vulnerable to hackers interested in exploiting this knowledge or stealing data from users. Unfortunately, the result of such policies is that manufacturing companies now have a monopoly on repairs. With this kind of monopoly, repairs are typically more expensive or unavailable, forcing consumers to replace old devices at a rapid rate. The unnecessary electronic waste this policy creates is extensive. Additionally, independent repair shops that used to thrive are now struggling to stay open.

Across the country, legislators are proposing bills that would grant the “Right to Repair.” If these laws pass, they will require electronics manufacturers to offer any necessary tools, parts and repair guides for all of their products. Consumers will have more affordable repair options, and the amount of devices tossed each year could decrease significantly. In California, a Right to Repair Act has been introduced by Assemblymember Susan Eggman of Stockton. Learn more about this ongoing issue from Consumer Reports.

Take an Eco-Friendly Vacation With These 5 Tips

5-6-18

Living green at home may be second nature to you, but traveling comes with its own set of environmental concerns. However, a vacation doesn’t have to mean a vacation from being eco-friendly. Use these 5 tips to make your next vacation easier on the environment.

1. Look for Green Destinations

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council has numerous resources for selecting green destinations. Hotels in particular can present a host of environmental concerns. Before booking, search online to find locations with in-house green programs and sustainable certifications. Outside of the hotel, take advantage of the beauty, entertainment and relaxation that nature itself provides. A scenic hike, bike or picnic could be the greenest part of your vacation. Just remember to stay on paths and avoid feeding any wildlife.

2. Don’t Leave Waste at Home

Your opportunities to reduce waste start before you even leave the house. You’ll probably remember to leave all your lights off, but that’s not the only way to prevent wasted energy. Many electronic appliances use power while they’re not even running. Unplug all your appliances or plug them into a power strip that you can shut off to prevent this “phantom energy loss.” Put your thermostat on a schedule that will protect your home from extreme temperature damage but use minimal energy otherwise. Finally, check your fridge for food that will spoil while you’re away. If you can’t freeze it and don’t have time to use it yourself, try to donate it or give it to a friend.

3. Pack Smart

Now that your home is ready, it’s time to pack. Planes, trains and automobiles all use more fuel when carrying heavier loads, so try not to pack inessential items. Also, avoid relying on disposable containers while traveling by bringing your own reusable water bottle, reusable bags and refillable toiletries. If you plan on a day at the beach, pack a biodegradable sunscreen that doesn’t have one of these harsh chemicals. Chemicals in your sunscreen will wash off in the water, bleaching coral reefs and harming aquatic wildlife. Instead, find a healthier sunscreen with some help from the Environmental Working Group.

4. Travel Green

Choosing how you reach your destination is another opportunity to reduce waste. For an estimate of the pollution your trip will produce, use The Converging World’s Carbon Calculator. Trains are one of the greenest ways to cover long distances. If you need to fly, try to book a flight with the fewest connections. Renting a fuel-efficient car is another way to reduce pollution and save money. If you’re a fan of tour groups, smaller groups tend to be less wasteful than larger ones.

5. Think Like a Local

Thinking like a local can reduce waste in all kinds of ways. Public transport is almost always the greenest way to travel when you can’t walk or bike. Try taking local busses and trains instead of renting a car. Eat locally grown foods and consume locally brewed beverages — you’ll not only immerse yourself in the culture, you’ll also reduce waste created by international shipping. Finally, remember to recycle — recycling abroad might not be as easy as at home, but the effort will be appreciated by locals.

Don’t Recycle Bungee Cords

4-29-18

Bungee cords are dangerous to place in your recycling. They can become wrapped around sorting machinery, which damages the machinery, causes delays, and endangers the workers who need to untangle them. The same goes for garden hoses and Christmas lights. Any cord-shaped item is a safety hazard if it ends up at your recycling facility.

If your bungee cords are no longer usable, throw them in the trash. They cannot be recycled. If they’re still functional but collecting dust in your garage, donate them or give them a second life with one of these ideas from Good Housekeeping.

Break Down Boxes for Recycling

4-22-18

Do you need to break down your cardboard boxes to recycle them? Yes! It’s easier for sanitation workers to handle and sort boxes that are broken down. Many people forget to break down their boxes, but it increases the efficiency of our recycling program. Make sure to flatten your cardboard boxes, and share this video to tell your friends!

Needles and Sharps Never Go in the Trash or Recycling

4-15-18

Needles and sharps are hazardous waste. It is illegal to put them in the trash or recycling, where they pose a serious health risk to sanitation workers. When needles are hidden in trash or recycling, it’s easy for workers to accidentally handle them. If a worker is pierced by a needle, they may have to wait up to a year to know if they’ve contracted a blood-borne virus, such as hepatitis B.

To protect yourself, your family and your sanitation workers, always dispose of sharps in designated sharps containers and take them to a sharps disposal facility. Learn how to get containers and find disposal locations here.

5 Ways to Replace Toxic Cleaning Products in Your Home

4-8-18

Cleaning products expose you — and your family — to a host of harmful chemicals. A recent study found that those who use cleaners every day can suffer lung damage comparable to smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Replacing them with healthy alternatives is easy. You can buy the ingredients for these five DIY solutions in bulk and use them with a reusable spray bottle and cleaning cloths to reduce waste from packaging, paper towels and disposable wipes.

1. Kitchen Cleaners

Many cleaning products used in kitchens contain ammonium compounds that irritate the skin and lungs. These products can also contain butyl cellosolve, a compound on California’s Toxic Air Contaminant List for its harmful effects on lungs, kidneys, hormones, liver, skin and the central nervous system.

To clean up greasy messes without these chemicals, mix the following ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well: 2 cups of water, ½ teaspoon of natural liquid soap (such as Castile), and 1 tablespoon of baking soda. You can also make a useful disinfectant spray by mixing ½ cup of white vinegar and ½ cup of rubbing alcohol with ¾ cup of water. After spraying surfaces, wait 10 minutes before wiping up disinfectant.

2. Bathroom Cleaners

Cleaning your bathroom with common products may also expose you to butyl cellosolve.

To avoid this chemical, wipe down your bathroom with an all-purpose cleaner made from ¾ cup water, ¼ cup rubbing alcohol and 1 squirt of natural liquid soap.

3. Glass Cleaners

Common glass cleaners achieve a streak-free shine with ammonia, which irritates the lungs, and can lead to chronic bronchitis and asthma.

An ammonia-free glass cleaner can also achieve streak-free results. Make one from 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol, 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and 2 cups of water.

4. Oven Cleaners

Many oven cleaners contain ethanolamine, a skin and lung irritant.

Instead of using this harsh chemical, sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda on the bottom of your oven, spray with water and leave to soak overnight. Scrub and rinse away the mixture the following day.

5. Scrubbing Powders

You might think some tough kitchen and bathroom messes require tough chemical scrubs. These products often contain chlorine, another skin and lung irritant.

Make an effective cleansing scrub by mixing equal parts natural liquid soap and baking soda and adding just enough water until it forms a paste. Apply and scrub with your choice of sponge, brush or rag before rinsing.

A note on fragrances: Many cleaning products contain fragrances to offset the odors of their chemical cleaning agents. Manufacturers are not required to specify the ingredients that make up a fragrance, but an EPA study found at least six different chemicals linked to a wide variety of health effects.

For fresher air, open your windows. The air in your home could contain up to five times the pollutants fresh air does. You may consider adding some air-cleaning plants to your home. To eliminate odors, try leaving an open container of baking soda, charcoal or cedar chips out. All are natural odor absorbers. Essential oils are a healthy way to add pleasant smells to your home, and you can put a few drops in any of the above recipes.

For more information on what chemicals to watch out for in your cleaning products, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. You can also find their top-rated products or look up any cleaner in their database to find its health rating. If you decide to ditch your old products, read this post to find out how, or consider donating them to a local shelter.

In the mood for more spring cleaning? Check out our tips on decluttering your home.

Toss Those Plastic Easter Eggs

4-1-18

An Easter egg hunt with colorful plastic eggs is a spring tradition, but you may want to consider an eco-friendly update this year. Plastic eggs are not recyclable, and some have been shown to contain lead paint and the harmful chemical BPA.

If you need to buy new eggs this year, look for ones labeled “BPA-Free.” An even safer option are the wooden, ceramic and cloth eggs available online and at craft stores. Many of these eggs have hollow centers so you can still fill them with treats for the kiddos. Whichever eggs you choose for your egg hunt, make sure they all get collected to avoid accidentally littering.

If you’re retiring your plastic eggs this year, either donate them or use them to make decorations such as Easter centerpieces and wreaths. Check out this article from Pop Sugar for more ideas. Otherwise, make sure they go in the trash.

Trash Wheels Making a Splash in Baltimore Harbor

3-25-18

Two barges collect debris out of the Inner Harbor of Baltimore before it can reach Chesapeake Bay. The barges use paddle wheels to filter trash out of the moving current. Dubbed “Mr. Trash Wheel,” and “Professor Trash Wheel,” they are a Twitter sensation. The trash wheels look like bug-eyed conch shells, and perform their water filtering with a combination of solar energy and hydraulic energy from river current.

Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel have been a quick success. Since the first was deployed in 2014 and the second in 2016, they have collected over 1.5 million pounds of trash. The trash is mainly from neighborhoods in Baltimore — it gets washed into nearby rivers, which then carry it into the harbor.

In addition to keeping trash out of the water, the trash wheels have also given insight into what kinds of litter wash out of the city and into waterways. Some of the most commonly picked-up items include cigarette butts, plastic bags, chip bags, foam containers and plastic bottles. Note that all of the problem items are single-use and lightweight — avoid these items when possible, and be extra careful when disposing of them.

Newport Beach is trying to get their own trash wheel to reduce pollution in Upper Newport Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Debris from Orange County washes into San Diego Creek, which then flows directly into Newport Bay. A wheel is estimated to cost $1 to $2 million and would take 2 to 3 years to implement. Read more from the LA Times.