april eco-fool

actual oatmeal

 Food waste is a huge problem. The average American tosses out around a pound of food every day.  I like to think I do better than that.

But not always. Working at home earlier this week I got leftover oatmeal out for breakfast (if it’s not instant it keeps well). I poured in milk, heated it up and added an aging banana (no waste!) and raisins. Yum…but no. It tasted wrong. Salty.  I realized this was not oatmeal, but rice. Rice-a-Roni broccoli and cheese flavor to be specific. (I wish they were a paying sponsor, but they aren’t.) Don’t judge- my kids can kind of make it themselves and I did recycle the box.

This flavor combo, folks, cannot be salvaged. Suffice to say we all throw food away, as did I that morning. Sometimes it can’t be helped. And actually, go ahead and judge me. It’s ok. Now look in your fridge or cupboard and tell me what you’re going to eat next instead of tossing!

paper(less) towels

We keep paper towels in a cabinet for certain messy situations, but not within easy reach.  Paper towels are one-use, bleached products that are not recyclable (except for the brown paper core). We use cloth instead- one for dishes and one for hands.

If you can’t pry the paper out of your hand right away, look for half or quarter sizes and unbleached versions. If every US home used 3 less rolls a year, we’d reduce paper waste by 120,00 tons. One less roll a year would save over half a million trees. You use cloth towels in the bathroom- why not in the kitchen as well?

shave away

photo by laura mitulla

Do you use a new disposable razor every couple of weeks? Billions of plastic razors are tossed into landfills each year. Razor blades eventually rust away, but the plastic casings hang around a lot longer. The best environmental choice is an all-metal safety razor, which is 100% recyclable. I’m happy with a replaceable cartridge and reusable handle, which I’ve had for years. Apparently most men in the US already use reusable razors, but not women. What’s up with that?

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!

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 .