plastics 1-7

photo by EKM Mittelsachen

DYK what the numbers on your plastic containers mean? They identify the kind of plastic used to make them, and not all of them can actually be recycled. In short:

 #1s are recyclable but aren’t reusable

 #2s are recyclable and reusable

#3s are rarely recycled and aren’t reusable for food

#4s aren’t usually recycled, except for wraps and bags

#5s are accepted at some recycling centers

 #6s can’t be recycled and shouldn’t be heated

 #7s are rarely recycled and basically are a mix of #s 1-6

Check your local recycling rules online. Some recyclers take caps and lids, but if you’re not sure, throw them in the trash. Try to find alternatives for 3, 6, and 7 if you can. And remember to give your plastic a quick rinse before recycling it!

forget the 3 Rs

I spend more time than I like reducing, reusing, and then recycling everything else. I’d almost forgotten about the original and number one R. Refuse. If I don’t bring junk home, I don’t have to worry about reusing and recycling. Join me in saying, “Thank you so much, but no thank you.” I’m applying this to hand-me-downs, business cards, and event swag (like conferences and parties, although sometimes it’s so tempting). For family, you can even add, “I love you, but I don’t love that (fill in the blank).” If I know I’m going to give it away – cool as it may look at the moment- I’m going to try not to take it in the first place.

i heart my barrista

Note: Americans use 25-50 billion disposable coffee cups each year.

I’ve been going to  the same (nationwide chain) coffeehouse for years. I started bringing my own mug, but I forgot last time. When the barrista determined that I was staying at the cafe, she asked if I wanted a mug. I didn’t even know that was an option. I asked if this was a new policy- she raised an eyebrow and shook her head. Instead of throwing away a cup, lid and a coffee sleeve, ask for a mug or bring your own!

If you’re already doing this- kudos to you. It takes a while for some of us to catch up…

quiz yourself: recycling

How much do you recycle? See how you stack up:

Novice: You recycle easy things, like soda cans and paper, when it’s convenient. Off to a good start!

Intermediate: Your recycling can is twice as full as your garbage can. Your neighbors are in awe.

Pro: You’ve reduced the amount of single-serve cans and bottles you use, so you actually recycle less than before (because you have less to recycle). You’ve started recycling programs at work and in the local schools.

cardboard

photo by justyn nakoiecz

My family orders a lot online. You might too- online sales are now almost 10% of all U.S. retail sales according to the Department of Commerce. Which means more cardboard boxes showing up at all of our houses. Luckily, cardboard is easily recycled. It’s clean, easy to reprocess and saves 17 trees per every reclaimed ton.

Flattened boxes maximize space in recycling trucks (I always wondered why we have to do that!). A little plastic tape is ok, but remove the heavy-duty, wide stuff. It can muck up the paper mill machinery during the recycling process .

foil vs parchment

photo by sarah gualtieri

Which is more environmentally friendly- aluminum foil or parchment paper?

Parchment paper is bleached or unbleached paper coated with silicone. Tin foil is actually a thin layer of aluminium. Mining and processing aluminium takes a lot of energy and resources. And although clean foil can be recycled, once you pull it off something like a lasagna, you have to trash it.  Parchment can’t be recycled, but is created from a renewable resource. It also has nonstick properties that most tin foil doesn’t. So parchment wins in the big picture. I’ve started using parchment paper when I bake cookies, roast vegetables, or broil fish.

Go one step further using silicone baking mats, which serve the same purpose and last for a long time. They’re on my shopping list to try out!

seal it up

photo by juan pablo serrenas arenas

I’ve been walking around my house feeling for cold drafts from windows and doors. I actually found one window that was slightly open (oops!). If you can feel cold air or see daylight when your exterior doors and windows are closed, it might mean the seal around them (called weatherstripping) is cracked or just plain gone. Weatherstripping comes in all sizes and price ranges at the hardware store, and usually just stick right on. Not only will your house feel more comfortable and your heating bills will benefit, but fewer insects can get in. That seals the deal for me!

sleep greener

photo by sylvie tittel

A tried and true way to save energy and money is to turn the thermostat down, especially at night. Ours drops to 62, which makes for great sleeping- even for the kids! (Our automatic thermostat has the house warm by the time we get up.) But slipping in and out of bed can be a chilly experience. Invest in flannel sheets to keep cozy. Stay enviro-friendly by choosing products certified by GOTS, which limits chemical use and includes social & environmental responsibility criteria, or OEKO-TEX, which certifies textiles are free from harmful chemicals and has similar social & environmental guarantees.

water coming and going

photo by kirsten marie ebbesen

If you’re walking away from the kitchen or bathroom faucet or shower while the water is running, think again. For example, leaving the tap on while brushing your teeth uses around 8 gallons of water a day. In a year, that adds up to over 36 bathtubs of water down the drain. Remember, tap water is  cleaned and purified, which also uses resources and energy. Make a bigger impact by installing low-flow shower and faucet heads. It’s easier than you think!

knives, forks and spoons

photo by hue-12

The US uses about 40-100 billion plastic utensils a year. Instead of one-use, disposable cutlery, use your own utensils, whether at home or at work. Ditch the plastic forks with your take out as well. Yes, you will have to wash a fork or spoon, but it’s a lot less resource intensive than making and tossing a plastic one. It saves $$ for restaurants too, so share the love!