Top Troublemakers: Plastic Foam

eps clamshell takeout containers and eps ice chest,

Have you ever thrown egg cartons, meat trays or takeout containers made of white foam into the recycling bin? Seems like the right thing to do considering they have the triangular recycling symbol on the bottom, right?

Unfortunately, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam – often mistakenly referred to as “Styrofoam,” a trademarked name of a unique type of polystyrene – is not accepted in your curbside recycling. Here is why.

There are two main problems with recycling EPS:

  1. Contamination
    EPS is often contaminated with food debris or liquid and is difficult to sanitize. Food contaminants can cause entire loads of recyclables to be rejected and sent to the landfill instead.
  2. Density
    Expanded polystyrene is approximately 5 percent plastic and 95 percent air. This means it is extremely lightweight and prone to flying away when collected from bins without a garbage bag. It also takes up a lot of room per unit of weight and is not cost-effective to transport.

Alternative Recycling Programs for EPS:

Reduce EPS:

  • Use your own reusable mugs or food containers and be conscious of vendors and restaurants that use expanded polystyrene foam.
  • Opt for wadded paper, shredded paper or newspaper instead of “packing peanuts” to protect fragile packages.

Reuse EPS:

The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Clothes on hangers in store front window

Score! You just found a top for 4 bucks — but is that its true cost? The fashion industry is betting on you not to ask that question.

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion refers to clothing produced rapidly to spur and keep up with ever-changing trends, and accordingly, it is priced to be easily consumable, and designed use for a short period and then disposed of.

The fashion industry has come under fire recently because of production practices that not only encourage excessive consumption, but also make clothing cheap at the expense of people and the environment.

Human Costs

Most of the clothing is produced outside of the United States, in countries where companies can profit off of more lenient laws and regulations. Factory workers can be deprived of living wages and subjected to harsh, unsafe working conditions.

Environmental Costs

Because of fast fashion’s endless cycles of production, natural resources are continually depleted to keep up with the increased demand for more clothing.

In a single year the fashion industry can use enough water to fill up 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools. Due to the toxic dyes used in production processes, the fashion industry is also one of the leading polluters of the world’s waterways.

In addition, the majority of fast fashion clothes are made from synthetic fabrics that release tiny pieces of plastic with every wash and are estimated to be responsible for more than a third of microplastics in the ocean.

And at the end of their lifecycle, textiles, even if donated, can find their way to the landfill, to the tune of around 11 million tons per year in the United States.

Fashion Forward without Fast Fashion

When thinking about how to minimize our consumer impact, the most important thing we can do is to buy only what we need and then use it for as long as possible.

You can choose to invest in clothing made from natural fabrics, or from companies that use more sustainable practices and provide workers fair wages and safe working conditions. You also can start where you already are.

When your jeans get a tear, consider getting them repaired, or try repurposing them into something new. If you’re in need of new clothing try finding gently-used items online or at a thrift shop.

Ultimately, the price of cheap clothing is not reflective of its true cost, and in moving towards a more sustainable wardrobe, the key is to buy that which is truly needed and can last.

The Right to Repair

open computer and tools

What is the Right to Repair?

When your phone screen accidentally cracks or its battery performance starts to wane, what are your options?

Some companies may try to entice you to purchase a new phone, trading in your old one for an upgraded model. Or they may advise you to bring your phone in for an official repair. But what if you wanted to go a different route?

It can be cheaper and more convenient to take a device to a third-party repair shop or even fix it yourself, but unfortunately, some manufacturers have tried to create restrictions that limit these options. Some repairs are limited to the original manufacturer because of restrictions on available information, tools, software, or parts needed for repairs, or even through outright bans explicitly prohibiting repairs done elsewhere.

Right to Repair Movement

That is where the Right to Repair movement comes in. People are pushing back against these restrictions and advocating for the right to repair or modify their own devices.

Right to Repair states that you should be able to take your electronic device to a third-party repair shop, easily find manuals, information and instructions for repair online and source replacement parts.

In a culture where products are increasingly designed to be short-lived or used for only a limited time, the goal of Right to Repair is to make it easier for you to repair the devices you already own. This allows you to get as much use as possible from each device instead of tossing it out.

E-waste recycling – while the right thing to do with all electronic devices that can’t be repaired – isn’t perfect. Recycling e-waste is difficult work that involves the shipping and handling of toxic and dangerous materials. In fact, less than 18% of electronic waste was recycled in 2019. This makes it exceedingly important that we try to reduce and repair our devices and appliances before opting to recycle them as e-waste.

Ultimately, by allowing consumers to repair and get as much use as possible from their devices, the Right to Repair movement helps to fight against a disposable culture and its harmful impacts.

Grocery Shop with Reducing and Recycling in Mind

shelves of products at a grocery store

According to the EPA, plastic containers and packaging make up almost 30 percent of garbage nationally. To cut down on food packaging waste, keep these tips in mind while grocery shopping.

  1. Check the Recycling Guide
    You are more empowered to make conscious decisions at the grocery store when you know the recycling feasibility of different materials. Check out our Recycling Guide for information on how to dispose of food packaging and hundreds of other items. Our guide works great on smartphones so you can quickly pull it up while you are out shopping.
  2. Be Prepared
    Bring your own alternatives to replace single-use plastics. You can make a big impact by packing your own grocery and produce bags. The average American family currently takes home about 1,500 bags a year and uses each for only 12 minutes. To cut back, you can pack reusable totes and produce bags or simply reuse the plastic bags from the last time you went shopping.
  3. Buy in Bulk, When Possible
    Items such as grains, beans and nuts can typically be bought in bulk and occasionally, container-free. This allows you to avoid packaging waste, can save you money, and help you purchase the exact amount you need (consequently reducing food waste). Here are some items convenient to buy in bulk. Call ahead to make sure the store you are going to is doing bulk sales and allowing customers to bring containers in during the pandemic.
  4. Get Your Hands Dirty
    Think about packaged foods you could make yourself at home. Find ideas and recipes online to make staples such as bread and crackers, condiments and salad dressings, or nut butters and milks. Staples made at home give you the option of avoiding additives and preservatives and allow for greater flexibility in making and freezing large batches.
  5. Be Intentional with Your Plastic Purchases
    It is difficult — if not impossible — to ditch plastic and buy only items in sustainable packaging. Do not get discouraged. Instead be conscious and intentional about your purchases. Keep an eye out for the items you need packaged in more sustainable materials like glass, tin, and aluminum. And continue reducing, reusing, and recycling packaging when you can!

Packing a Zero-Waste Lunch for Human and Environmental Health

south west style lunch bowls packed in glass

In our ever-busy lives, we sometimes opt for convenience, and with food, that often means grabbing takeout or an already packaged snack.

And although easier, these convenient choices can lead to us eating not-so-healthy food, spending more money, and producing unnecessary waste. Not only that, but takeout packaging can leach chemicals into your food that are thought to have serious negative impacts on human and environmental health.

If we are able to spend just a little time preparing and packing a meal, we can save money, eat healthier and avoid excess packaging waste. We also get that added benefit of knowing the ingredients of what we are eating and maybe even where it came from!

There is no need to buy anything to get started; use what you already have. Empty pickle jars can be reused to house your leftovers from dinner. Grab any necessary utensils and you are all set. Just be careful with reusing plastic containers, as these can also potentially contain and release harmful chemicals into your food.

And whether you’re packing a lunch for the office or an outing to the park, you can take the zero-waste mindset wherever you go. Even when you want or need to get takeout you are still able to make choices that limit your waste — like requesting minimum packaging and no disposable utensils or straws.

Ultimately, your zero-waste meals and mindset are healthier for you, your wallet, and the planet — and that’s a win all around.

The Marine Debris Problem and What’s Being Done to Curb It

By some estimates, there could be as much plastic trash in the ocean as there are fish (by weight) by the year 2050. Unlike organic materials, plastic does not decompose. Instead it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic. However, just because the marine debris problem is large and complicated doesn’t mean you should give up hope. Scientists from around the world are focused on the ocean plastics problem. Watch the video below to see how one team is tackling the problem in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Do your part to keep plastic out the ocean by Reducing your plastic consumption, Reusing plastic items when possible, and Recycling all recyclable plastic.

Smart Appliances to Save Energy and Conserve Water

Smart thermostat

Conserving energy does not mean you have to eat dinner with the lights off or turn the heat all the way down in the winter. Thanks to a few advances in technology, conserving energy is so easy you might even forget you are doing it.

Save on Your Heating and Cooling Bills

There is no need to stay too chilly in winter or too hot in summer anymore. Smart thermostats can easily control a heating and cooling system based on your preferences. The system adjusts the temperature automatically based on who is home and what temperature they prefer. These devices are considered “learning systems” which means they can program themselves over time. A learning thermostat costs about $250 dollars up front but can pay itself back in energy savings in just two to three years.

Curtail Power-Hungry Appliances

Many appliances use energy when turned off — and can even use as much energy as when turned on. However, with the use of smart outlets, you can automatically shut off power to connected devices and appliances not in use, such as at night or when nobody is home. Though a smart outlet will not generally save you a noticeable amount on your electric bill, the savings can add up when used to strategically turn off unused appliances that draw a significant amount of power.

Conserve Water

Water-saving devices such as smart sprinkler controllers can respond to local weather patterns and shut themselves off if an incoming storm is likely to provide the water your plants need. This can reduce your water bill and prevent lawns or garden beds from flooding.

Keep in mind that not all smart gadgets will save you money. It is important to do the math and consider other energy saving alternatives that may offer a better return on investment. For instance, using energy efficient light bulbs and being diligent about turning off the lights in unoccupied rooms will likely save more energy and money than installing smart light switches.

Fresh Start to 2021: Out with Plastic and In with Reuse

Veggies in a reusable bag

With the start of the New Year, chances are you may have some new resolutions in mind. Why not make a reusable centered, low-plastic lifestyle one of those goals? From takeout dining to buying in bulk, we have seven options to help you reduce your dependence on plastic. We suggest trying one or two of them at first to keep your resolution achievable. Once those are second nature you can try more!

  1. When shopping, always ask yourself: Do I really need this? And is there a more sustainable way I can get this item? This check-in is a great way to think about what is truly necessary and evaluate whether there are better alternatives without plastic and other packaging waste.
  2. With California’s plastic bag ban back in place, most stores are again allowing customers to bring reusable bags with them. Using a reusable bag is an easy way to curtail some unnecessary plastic waste. Call ahead to make sure the store you are planning to shop at is allowing reusable bags into the store.
  3. When shopping for groceries, buy bulk whenever you can. Stopping at the bulk food store, butcher shop or farmers market allows you to buy exactly how much food you need while also cutting back on plastic waste from packaging – a double win!
  4. Make home-cooked meals with real ingredients by shopping on the perimeter of a store and avoiding the middle aisles where food tends to be over packaged to preserve shelf-life.
  5. If you are ordering takeout to eat at home, let the restaurant or delivery service know that you do not want plastic cutlery or a plastic bag. Fed up with all the foam and plastic takeout waste? Try making more meals at home.
  6. Commit with an accountability-buddy. Although we might not be able to gather right now, we can set goals together! Share your commitment with friends and check in with each other regularly about new creative ways to slim down your plastic use.
  7. Assess your progress weekly to check for any improvements you can make. A quick glance into your trash bin can provide the feedback you need.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that impacts of COVID-19 will increase plastic demands by nearly 60%, so what better time to cut out unnecessary plastic in your life than now to do your part?

Options for Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

bulk nuts in cloth bags

One of the most visible sources of household trash is the packaging that our food comes in. These days it is hard to avoid plastic and other single-use packaging while shopping because it’s used to package nearly everything. However, there are certain services and grocery shopping techniques that can help cut way back on packaging.

Zero Waste Grocery Delivery Services

Some companies have jumped on the increasing popularity of grocery delivery services, but with a twist — everything that is delivered to your door comes in completely reusable packaging and there is no waste.

It’s been likened to the modern-day version of the milkman, as essentially, you order your food online, receive it at your doorstep in reusable containers, and then return those same containers to receive more upon your next order. This greatly cuts down on packaging waste because the same material can be used many times before being disposed of. In addition, grocery delivery is also — on average — more eco-friendly from a transportation perspective, than driving to the store.

Zero Grocery, Loop and The Wally Shop are a few examples of these emerging online grocery services. While these services are not yet available in all areas, they continue to serve more communities and offer more products all the time.

Community Supported Agriculture

Another option that has existed for decades is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which allows you to receive deliveries of fresh produce from a local farm. Some companies such as Imperfect Foods even reclaim millions of pounds of perfectly good “ugly” produce that would normally be tossed out and deliver it to consumers at a reduced cost.

Local Stores

The grocery store you already shop at can even be a place to find zero waste packaged foods. For instance, almost the entire produce area of the store can be zero waste if you bring a reusable produce bag instead of using the store provided plastic bags. Bulk bins are another zero waste option for daily staples without any packaging waste. Call ahead because not all stores are using bulk bins during the pandemic or allowing reusable bags.

Ultimately, zero waste grocery delivery services, CSAs and even your local store provide ways to get the food you need while reducing your waste footprint.