Thursday, March 13, 2008

Recycling printer cartridges

Part 7 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Forget about those “refill-at-home” kits. Not only are they incredibly messy, but they use up nearly as much plastic for packaging as a new cartridge would. Cartridges can be recycled so the manufacturer can refill and reuse -- same with toner cartridges. Ecycle Group is an example of a great way to get this done, and make a little cash along the way!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Recycling electronics

Part 6 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Do not toss that old TV, cell phone, or computer in the trash. Not only is it a wasteful practice, but it is also illegal in most places. Electronics often contain heavy metals like lead, dioxins, PCBs, cadmium, chromium, radioactive isotopes, and mercury -- stuff we definitely don’t want hanging around our environment. Some cities have collection services for such items, and organizations like PC Disposal can take care of proper disposal and recycling of your equipment while ensuring your personal information is secure.

Better yet, find a way to reuse these items. Donate your old computer to a local school or non-profit job training facilities. Battered women’s shelters gladly accept old cell phones so their residents always have a line to safety. Check out Collective Good for some great programs.

Recycling kitchen waste

Part 5 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Food scraps are biodegradable, but they still take up lots of room in our landfills. Reduce this waste and improve your garden by composting. You can also compost paper soiled with food products, like napkins and paper towels -- just make sure they are dye-and-fragrance-free and were not used with any toxic household cleaners.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Treeless Squirrel

There's few things sadder than a treeless squirrel. Why not celebrate Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 25) by planting a tree?

Recycling glass

Part 4 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Like aluminum, glass can be recycled indefinitely as long as the mix is not contaminated and weakened. Recycled glass is remade into bottles and jars, or road paving material. As mentioned above, make sure you remove lids from glass bottles before tossing them in your bin.

Pyrex and sheet glass can not be recycled. Pyrex kitchenware pretty much lasts forever anyway, so just pass it along to your favorite cook or donate to a soup kitchen. Mirrors usually can’t be sent to recycling facilities because of their foil backing, but your local artist’s guild might like them.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Recycling plastic

Part 3 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Most plastics can be recycled by local facilities. How do you know what to throw in your blue bin? Look at the number. Every plastic item has a special resin code on it that signifies its chemical makeup. Some cities only accept plastics with specific numbers for recycling, usually one and two, because some types are less cost-effective to recycle than others. Check your city website to make sure. You can also find this information in your local phone book, or even on the lid of your city recyclables collection bin!

Take the lids off your plastic bottles before recycling. Lids are usually made of a different plastic than the bottles and must be sorted separately. (This goes for glass bottles and jars with metal lids, too.)

Some grocery stores have a collection area for plastic bags. If yours does, use it! If it doesn’t, request one. Some stores even offer a discount on your bill if you return used bags. Your best course of action? Skip both the paper and the plastic bag options and bring your own canvas bag. While this might not be feasible for a big weekly grocery shop, it is perfect for the times you need to pop into the store and just pick up a few things. Reuse your produce bags or skip them all together and place delicate fruits and veggies at the top of your cart.

What about plastics your city won’t accept? Donate as much as possible wherever possible. School art classrooms and local art programs might be able to use your cleaned items. Make sure you ask before leaving a pile of trash on their doorsteps! Better yet, don’t purchase goods with excess plastic packaging that can not be recycled. You really don’t need your avocadoes pre-sliced and plastic-wrapped. You can take the extra minute to slice it yourself. Know what numbers your city accepts and check packaging prior to purchase.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Recycling Paper

Part 2 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

All paper can be recycled one way or another, but your city might not accept all types. Check your municipal website. Whatever they don’t accept, you can compost -- just be careful of dyes and glues. Be aware that as paper rots it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Recycle as much paper as you can before choosing to biodegrade.

Paper can generally be recycled four or five times before the fibers become too weak to reuse. Most post-consumer paper is mixed with virgin pulp to provide strength. When shopping for computer paper, stationary, journals and even checks, choose those with the highest amount of post-consumer content possible. According to the Energy Information Administration, a paper mill uses 40 per cent less energy to produce recycled paper than paper from new pulp. Many mills even use waste product from the recycling process as an energy source!

Phone books, newspapers, office paper, old books, magazine, cardboard, and construction paper are most commonly recycled. Paper products with a waxy finish, like cardboard milk containers or butcher paper, are difficult to recycle, and many facilities do not accept them -- check before tossing them into your bin.

Recycling aluminum

Part 1 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Did you know that recycling aluminum only uses 5% of the energy it takes to create a product from virgin sources? Aluminum can be recycled indefinitely. Today’s tuna can is tomorrow’s hub cap is next year’s soda can! According to Earth911, 54 billion cans were recycled in 2003, saving 15 million barrels of crude oil.

Aluminum recycling drives earn millions of dollars for organizations like Habitat for Humanity, schools, and Boy and Girl Scouts. Aluminum beverage cans are the most often recycled product, but don’t forget other aluminum items like home siding and lawn furniture, and aluminum kitchen wrap.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Green isn’t just the color of the Eagles’ uniforms

One doesn’t normally think of big budget sports teams as environmentally friendly entities. Huge concrete arenas taking over farmland or forests, huge amounts of trash generated by fans at games, huge amounts of carbon emitted into the atmosphere through travel by both the team and its fans. But the Philadelphia Eagles are proving this formula wrong.

In 2003, owners Christina and Jeffrey Lurie launched the Go Green campaign as a means of reducing the team’s carbon footprint. To date, the initiative has both saved and generated enough power to provide electricity to 1,300 homes for a year, eliminated greenhouse gases comparable top that of almost 1,800 cars, eliminated enough trash for 550 Americans and saved 2,300 trees. So far, Eagles fans have prevented 1,059,559 pounds of carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere per year.

How do they do it? The owners implemented an extensive recycling program at the football stadium, purchase and support green power (the teams has invested in the development of solar power sources, purchased enough wind power for all ten home games and offers reimbursement for employee wind power purchases), reclaims unused city spaces to plants trees and other greenery, and teams with environmental groups to play carbon neutral games. Carbon credits are purchased for team air travel, and an Eagles Forest is in the works.

"It's definitely become a passion," Christina Lurie said. "I have children, and I worry about the planet. Is our world going to exist in 50 years? What kind of a world is it going to be?"

The Go Green program has inspired other sports teams to rethink their waste habits, too. Last year the NFL planted 500 trees on an island off of Miami in an effort to negate the one million pounds of carbon emitted by the 2007 Super Bowl. The San Francisco Giants are installing 600 solar panels. Seattle’s Safeco Field recycles 97 percent of its plastics. And the new Washington Nationals stadium is the world’s first green ballpark.

Good to know that green extends beyond uniforms and cash in pro sports!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Synthetic ingredients to avoid

If you have sensitive skin like I do, you know how hard it can be to find beauty products that don’t wreak havoc on your body. I suffer from a recurrent autoimmune skin inflammation that is exacerbated by stress and chemical pollution, so using products that are as natural and organic as possible is of the utmost importance to me.

I found this great list of synthetic cosmetic ingredients to avoid at Aubrey Organics and carry it with me whenever I go shopping.

"1. Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Paraben — Used as inhibitors of microbial growth and to extend shelf life of products. Have caused many allergic reactions and skin rashes. Studies have shown that they are weakly estrogenic and can be absorbed by the body through the skin. Widely used even though they are known to be toxic.

2. Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolamine (TEA) — Often used in cosmetics as emulsifiers and/or foaming agents. They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness of hair and skin. DEA and TEA are 'amines' (ammonia compounds) and can form cancer-causing nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates. Toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.

3. Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea — These are widely used preservatives. The American Academy of Dermatology has found them to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis. Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals contains a good antifungal agent, and they must be combined with other preservatives. Both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic.

4. Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate — A cheap, harsh detergent used in shampoos for its cleansing and foam-building properties. Often derived from petroleum, it is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the phrase 'comes from coconuts.' It causes eye irritation, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, skin rashes and other allergic reactions.

5. Petrolatum — Also known as petroleum jelly, this mineral oil derivative is used for its emollient properties in cosmetics. It has no nutrient value for the skin and can interfere with the body's own natural moisturizing mechanism, leading to dryness and chapping. It often creates the very conditions it claims to alleviate. Manufacturers use petrolatum because it is unbelievably cheap. 

6. Propylene Glycol — Ideally this is a vegetable glycerin mixed with grain alcohol, both of which are natural. Usually it is a synthetic petrochemical mix used as a humectant. It has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. When you see PEG (polyethylene glycol) or PPG (polypropylene glycol) on labels, beware—these are related synthetics.

7. PVP/VA Copolymer — A petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays, styling aids and other cosmetics. It can be considered toxic, since inhaled particles can damage the lungs of sensitive persons.

8. Stearalkonium Chloride — A quaternary ammonium compound used in hair conditioners and creams. Developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener, it is a lot cheaper and easier to use in hair conditioning formulas than proteins or herbals, which are beneficial to the hair. Causes allergic reactions. Toxic.

9. Synthetic Colors — Used to make cosmetics 'pretty,' synthetic colors, along with synthetic hair dyes, should be avoided at all costs. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. Example: FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6. Many synthetic colors can be carcinogenic. If a cosmetic contains them, don't use it.

10. Synthetic Fragrances — The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients. There is no way to know what the chemicals are, since on the label it will simply read 'fragrance.' Some problems caused by these chemicals include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation—the list goes on. Advice: Don't buy a cosmetic that has the word 'fragrance' on the ingredients label."

I can’t vouch for the quality of Aubrey Organics, as I have never used the products, but this is a great list. Basically, forget buying anything at your local grocery, pharmacy or big box store. Philosophy has a nice line of cleansing products that I love. The Body Shop is also great (and they never test on animals or use ingredients that have been tested on animals). Aveda hair products are the best in the business, in my opinion.

I’m lucky enough to live in a major city with an abundance of greener stores like Sprouts and Whole Foods, which carry a wide selection of organic beauty products. If you don’t have those stores in your area, look for GNC or The Vitamin Shoppe -- pretty much every mall has at least one of these. They often carry natural, organic shampoos and lotions, at the very least.

Anyone have any organic beauty brand reviews to share?