Posts Tagged ‘Recycling’

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Dig In and Know Your Trash: Hazardous or Not?

By Stephanie Tsao

We all produce household waste. Beyond the banana peels and plastic wrappers, some common household items need special treatment. If not disposed of properly, certain light bulbs, batteries and unused electronics can be hazardous to the environment and to public health if thrown in with your regular trash.

That is why everyone should take steps to learn what is hazardous.

This post focuses on two common household waste items: compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and rechargeable batteries.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)

CFLHave you heard of those swirly bulbs called CFLs? A similar product are energy-saving LED blubs (more formally known as light-emitting diodes), which are becoming more common in cities and buildings as they strive for energy efficiency.

CFLs are hazardous wastes because they contain a small amount of mercury in their curly tubes. If the bulb is broken in a garbage truck or in your house, you can expose other members of your residence, pets and the environment to mercury vapors.

To properly dispose of a broken CFL, the EPA recommends opening a window and airing out the room where the bulb broke for five to 10 minutes. The shards from the bulb should be double-bagged using Ziploc bags. The EPA provides further detailed instructions for disposal on their website.

For unbroken bulbs, keep them in an old coffee can or sturdy container and check your county website to find  hazardous waste disposal sites. Or, you can drop them off at certain local hardware stores such as Home Depot, which offers a CFL recycling program.


Rechargeable batteries

LithiumBatteryRechargeable and lithium batteries commonly used in cell phones and computers are another common household hazardous waste.

Your standard alkaline AAA and AA, batteries are considered universal wastes under federal waste regulations and can go in your regular trash. Rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries that are used in mobile phones, cameras, and other electronics cannot go in the trashcan.

Where you can dispose of household hazardous waste

Washington, DC and surrounding counties offer a drop-off locations for hazardous materials.

  • Within Washington DC, the drop-off location for household hazardous wastes is at the Fort Totten transfer station, located at 900 John F. McCormack Drive, NE. It is open on most Saturdays from 8am-3pm.
  • Arlington County, Virginia collects CFLs at certain libraries and rechargeable batteries at certain fire stations, which are listed on their website.
  • Another option is to visit Mom’s Organic Market, which has locations in northeast DC, Maryland and northern Virginia. The market offers a recycling program that accepts a mix of hazardous items such as light bulbs and electronic wastes, but also takes non-hazardous items like old shoes and eye glasses.
  • You can search Call2Recycle to find areas near you that offer drop-off locations for batteries and old cell phones.

Hazardous wastes are tough to dispose of because of the risks that they pose. Some people may opt for the easy way out: throwing the item in the trash. I recommend learning to identify your hazardous wastes. There are many others, such as aerosol cans and expired medicine.

Know your trash! Know what is hazardous and find out if there are local disposal options. That little bit can prevent a pet or the environment from being exposed to mercury and chemicals.

Further resources:

Stephanie Tsao is a journalist and freelances in her free time. Outside of writing, Stephanie enjoys hiking, biking and exploring the outdoors. Her views are her own and do not reflect that of her employer.


posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Why “The Why” is Needed to Recycle Right

By Cara Blumenthal

You just finished lunch at your favorite salad hotspot. You get up from the table, gather the plastic bowl and lid, plastic fork and knife, and flexible plastic packaging (that previously packaged the fork and knife) and head over to the trash and recycling bins. Quick! What do you do? Do you stand there, for longer than you are proud of, contemplating into which bin to sort your waste? Perhaps you use some haphazard decision-making process that draws on hearsay and a recent conversation among your coworkers about what is and is not recyclable? If so, welcome to the club.

As an avid recycler, I am often the person to whom my family and friends turn to ask the question, “Can this be recycled?” I am the first to admit, however, that I don’t always know the answers. Recycling rules can be outright confusing. What constitutes narrow-neck versus wide-mouth? What do the plastic identification numbers 1 through 7 mean? To complicate the matter, recycling dos and don’ts vary widely from place to place depending on regulations and the capabilities of the local recycling facility, among other factors.

unnamedBut following recycling rules may be more important now than ever. Recently, the news has been littered (pun intended) with articles about the financial struggles of the recycling industry. A medley of recent trends have contributed to the recycling industry’s crisis—including declining oil prices, low commodity prices of recycled materials, a changing waste stream (most notably “lightweighting” of materials), a quickening trend toward single-stream recycling, and increasing processing costs.

At the same time, there has been a noticeable increase in interest around waste over the past few years. Some trending waste and recycling news stories include Adidas’ sneakers made from recycled ocean plastic and a spike in interest around outrageous food waste statistics. Moreover, an increasing number of cities (including Washington, D.C.) and corporations (such as Procter & Gamble and Sears) are committing to zero waste goals. These zero waste goals should be pursued through waste reduction and reuse first, but they will be achieved largely based on the success of recycling initiatives.

So what can the average citizen do? According to the June 20, 2015 Washington Post article on recycling, one of the biggest challenges with recycling in DC is the problem of “contamination.” Contamination is a somewhat jargony term used in the waste industry when non-recyclable material is sorted incorrectly with recyclable material. When this happens, it can degrade the value of the entire recycling stream, or worse, it can render the entire batch of recycling non-recyclable. In other words, contamination can cause your recycling to end up in a landfill or, for the majority of DC’s waste, to be sent to an incinerator.

To echo the letter to the editor response to The Washington Post’s June 2015 article, consistent messaging and education are needed to solve this problem. Explaining “the why” of correct recycling sorting is a crucial component of this much-needed educational process. People should not just be told what to do and what not to do when sorting their waste. People should be told the reason behind these actions.

Paper_recycling_in_Ponte_a_SerraglioTake for example the recycling of plastic bags. According to the D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW), plastic bags can be included in your residential recycling—with a very important caveat. The DPW website states, “Please put your plastic bags into one plastic bag then place it in your recycling container.” However, there is no mention of the reason why this request is made. (Pssst! The reason is that single plastic bags clog and tangle around the recycling equipment!)

A quick Google search revealed good examples of simple educational tools that municipalities and waste companies have used to educate the public of “the why” in order to influence recycling behavior. Clark County, Washington, for instance, has this simple one-pager with pictures and arrows to show why plastic bags are not allowed in the county’s recycling carts. Similarly, the city of St. Louis, Missouri has an entire webpage dedicated to the details about why plastic bags are not accepted in its recycling stream and tips to reduce plastic bag use.

Simple fliers, websites, videos and other educational tools will be vital to decreasing contamination and supporting the success of recycling in D.C. The recycling industry has the potential to contribute to the D.C. economy through revenue from material sales and job creation in addition to contributing to a cleaner environment and saving natural resources. Let’s give the recycling industry a fighting chance once more. Let’s both educate ourselves and call on our local government to educate us about “the why” so that we have the tools and knowledge to recycle right.

Cara Blumenthal is a graduate from the Masters in Sustainability Management program at American University. She recently started working for the D.C. Department of General Services on recycling and waste management implementation.

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rethinking Recycling : EcoHour Recap

When we think of recycling, we generally think of the plastic bottles and aluminum cans thrown into plastic bins and set out to be collected. There is a feeling of accomplishment in sending in eighteen wine bottles  – even if those bottles will just be purchased again in the following months.  However, there is an entire world of recycling that exists beyond milk jugs and aluminum cans. At April’s EcoHour, the EcoWomen were lucky enough to learn about some of them.

In honor of Earth day, DC EcoWomen’s April’s EcoHour focused on a few unconventional forms of recycling.  We had two great (and not to mention hilarious!) speakers from two very different but equally great causes giving us a glimpse at recycling from for-profit and non-profit sectors.

Elizabeth Wilmot, founder and president of e-recycling company TurtleWings/Data Killers shared her entrepreneurial story.  Jessica Weiss, founder and executive director J of the non-profit growingSOUL, shared her story: how a woman with a truck and a vision can change the way a community sees food waste.

Jessica Weiss – growingSOUL

Jessica, a California transplant, is a small woman with an enviable amount of energy.  The passion she has for her work radiates throughout the room, inspiring even the most eco-challenged individuals. With degrees in English Literature and Education, her interest and work in food recycling may seem a bit unconventional. Her journey into food waste and composting began with her experience reading the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle A Year of Food Life.  She started to see food differently and wanted to work towards finding ways for everyone to have access to food – good, real food (no Cheetos and Diet Coke here).

Jessica explained how she began to act on her goal by jumping in her pickup truck and visiting restaurants, asking if they were interested in composting. While this may seem like a bold approach, it’s right in line with one of Jessica’s best pieces of advice for success: Do not be afraid of looking like an idiot.

She also believes, “A rind is a terrible thing to waste,” which is why she takes extra food from food banks and delivers it to farmers to use as animal feed.  One of Jessica’s greatest successes is working with Chipotle restaurants on composting its waste and taking Chipotle’s used vegetable oil to power the Veggie Mobile, a truck that runs almost exclusively on used vegetable oil.

Elizabeth Wilmot – TurtleWings

The road to following your dreams is not always easy or clear.  As Elizabeth Wilmot says, there is never a good time to start a business, you just have to do it.  The TurtleWings founder and president may look quiet and demure, but inside is an inspiring, determined woman with an incredible sense of humor.

Elizabeth was inspired to create her electronics recycling business while she was trying to get rid of an old laptop and found there weren’t many options for recycling electronics.  She left her cushy marketing job at Citigroup to start TurtleWings with little more than the determination that this was a problem that needed a solution.

The Duke grad created a business plan for TurtleWings, outlining her vision and the exact road she would take to being profitable in the first year.  She quickly realized that the shiny business plan she created was great in theory, but more useful as a coaster than a playbook for success.  When she began her business she admitted that she didn’t even know what a hard drive was, other than it existed.  It was a series of trial and error and a lot of learning experiences for the single parent.

Her goal of being profitable by the first year didn’t happen, nor by the second. She finally succeeded by the third, right about the time where her initial funding (supplied by herself) ran out.  The pride that she felt when TurtleWings made its first million could be felt by the entire room.

Through Elizabeth’s path to success she has also stood by her principles. She only recycles products in the United States – the electronics collected by TurtleWings will never be shipped overseas or discarded improperly.  Elizabeth knows exactly where parts are shipped and what happens to them once they get there.

Listening to Jess and Elizabeth about their respective recycling and entrepreneurial experiences was inspiring and educational.  The EcoWomen members in attendance were engaged and had a never-ending series of questions after the session.  Attendees also praised the different viewpoints and their presentation.  We hope Jess and Elizabeth never stop working for the planet – but if they do, I think they both have a career in comedy.

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This post was written by DC EcoWomen Board Member Lauren Rosco

posted by | on , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 8 Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint: Earth Day in DC

Guest Post by Catherine Plume

Today is the 44th celebration of our environment and our planet – Earth Day. Now, with climate change hitting hard, we need to make sustainable choices more than ever.  Chances are that by now, you’re a vigilant recycler, ensuring that you, your family, and/or housemates put all ”allowables” in the bin.  But after you’ve mastered the art of the recycling bin, what’s next?  Have you ever looked at your plastic footprint?

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First, it’s important to understand why plastics are so bad. In a nutshell, there are a host of chemicals in plastics, and their impact on the environment and on human health is not looking good.  Plastics take a very long time to decompose, creating waste that lingers and/or is ingested by wildlife.  While most plastics are recyclable, it’s often cheaper (in short-term financial terms) to produce new plastic than to make products out of second-hand plastic. And most of the secondary products are not themselves recyclable – recycling a plastic water bottle only prolongs how long it takes to reach the landfill. Bottom line: throwing your plastics into your recycle bin is not enough.  So, what to do?  How about reducing the amount of plastics you consume in the first place?  

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  1. Buy products that have no – or less – plastic packaging.  You can buy peanut butter, catsup, mustard, etc in glass jars. Pasta in a 100% paper package is just as good, if not better than pasta in a package with the little plastic window on it.

  2. Use glass containers for storing and microwaving your leftovers.   Save your glass jars and reuse them for storing leftovers. Just remember, NEVER MICROWAVE PLASTIC!

  3. Don’t buy or drink water in plastic bottles.  If the folks who work at on water quality at EPA drink DC water out of the tap, you can too!  Get a stainless steel water bottle and fill it up!

  4. Reuse those plastic vegetable bags.  In DC, we’re all about bringing our own bags to the store.  Take the next step and clean and reuse your vegetable bags!  Buy in bulk as you can!

  5. Make your own shampoo! This isn’t for everyone, but about 6 months ago, I gave up shampoo for water mixed with baking soda. I use white vinegar as a rinse.  It took my hair a few weeks to learn how to make its own oil again, but now my hair is as soft, if not softer,than when I used commercial shampoo.  Google “NO POO” and you’ll find a ton of information and testimonials.  I also use baking soda as toothpaste.  As an added benefit, my job requires considerable travel, and using baking soda has reduced TSA issues.  I’m so glad I made this change!

  6. Use baking soda and white vinegar as your primary cleaning products (just don’t combine them in a container!).  Instead of throwing out your empty (plastic) squirt bottles, reuse them to make your own environmentally friendly cleaning products. There are tons of recipes on the web!

  7. Use astringent to clean your face?  Make your own!  Basil, vinegar and lemon juice make good options – and they go soft on your pocketbook as well as the environment.

  8. Make your own food!  I’m a big consumer of plain yogurt, so my recycling bin was loaded with large plastic yogurt containers.  Then, a friend gave me a yogurt recipe that involves milk, a crock pot and a bit of yogurt to get the process going. EASY! By making my own yogurt, I’ve reduced by plastic consumption by some 50 large yogurt containers per year.  I store it in a crock that I found at Value Village. Now, I’m making my own hummus, tapenade, granola and raita, and I’m looking forward to expanding my repertoire.  AND, I’m saving money and making better food than what I can buy in the store – all while reducing my plastic consumption.

About two years ago, while doing research for my blog (, I came across Beth Terry’s My Plastic Free Life blog.  Her book, Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, was entertaining and easy to read, and gave me some great ideas for reducing my plastic footprint.  Check it out!

And, when you think about Earth Day, recognize that you’re not going to save the world on your own.  The carbon footprint I accumulate through my work travel every year is embarrassing, and I still buy frappuccinos in plastic cups even though I (really, really) mean to bring my own. I still have plenty of plastic in my life, but at least I’m thinking about what I do buy, and the impact of what I’m buying on the environment.  That’s a start right there!

Catherine Plume is the blogger for the DCRecycler