Friday, July 23, 2010

G is for Glass

Good old glass…glass has been used for centuries for storing many liquids including medicines, olive oil, wine, and of course foods such as pickles, mason jars full of beets, relishes, tomatoes, berries, etc.  Today, glass is still used for those items, as well as spaghetti sauce, soda, juices, liquors, perfume and much more.   One reason I like glass is that it doesn’t leach into your food the way plastic does and it can be recycled infinitely.  Of course the drawbacks are that it is heavier and more breakable than plastic.  Luckily, glass containers are 40 percent lighter than when they were 20 years ago, and I don’t know about you, but I prefer my food without leached chemical additives.  This is also the reason I prefer to reheat in the microwave with glass/Pryrex instead of plastic.  

Glassmakers have always known about the properties that allow glass to be recycled, but over the years, glass recycling has grown in part due to the increased curbside recycling efforts, and in part due to consumer demand for recycled glass in varying products.  Currently only a small fraction of all glass (especially bottle glass) is actually recycled - something like 2.5 million tons of the 17 million tons of glass in the waste stream is actually reused by bottle makers each year. The US does not mandate the recycling of glass like Europe does, so its up to the individual and industry to make sure the glass gets recycled. While statistics vary on the amount of glass recycled, the EPA reports that 34.5 percent of glass beer and soft drink bottles and 28.1 percent of all glass containers were recycled in 2007.  Today, Americans recycle nearly 13 million glass jars and bottles every day.  But, we can and should do better, and surprisingly there is a greater demand for glass than what is actually recycled; a whopping 1 million tons!

Because glass recycling is not required in the US, recycling rates vary widely, from 15% to 80% depending on the state.  California, boasts a glass-recycling rate near 79 percent.  But what about the glass that is not recycled?  It has been estimated that every month, we throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill up a giant skyscraper.  Those glass bottles and jars would take 4000 years or more to decompose -- and even longer if it's in the landfill.  

If we were to recycle 50% more glass than we are currently recycling here in the US, we would save enough energy to power 45,000 homes for an entire year, which is the size of a small town! Put in another way, the energy saved from recycling just ONE glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours or a compact fluorescent bulb for 20 hours.  A recycled bottle also causes 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution than when a new bottle is made from raw materials.  One thing to note is that while recycling programs will accept glass containers and bottles, they will not take drinking glasses, light bulbs, and Pyrex because they are treated when manufactured and that processing would contaminate the other recyclable glass. 

So, after the glass is collected, what happens to it?  SMAAASH!  The glass is crushed into material called “cullet”.  Then glass manufacturers mix sand, soda ash, limestone, and cullet and heat the mixture to a temperature of 2,600 to 2,800 degrees F.  Then it is molded it into the desired shape. Using cullet saves manufacturers money and helps the environment; cullet is less costly and melts at lower temperatures than raw materials, and as a result, less energy is needed to produce the new glass and that helps reduce greenhouse gases.   As mentioned above, the need for cullet overshadows the amount deposited for recycling by over 1 million tons each year.

Speaking of recycled glass, 90 percent of recycled glass is used to make new bottles and containers, and 10 percent is being made into new and exciting items daily.  There are examples of beautiful recycled glass items everywhere...I couldn't believe how many interesting things are made from recycled glass!  I was in awe at the recycled glass items I found on the internet: beautiful glass beads, glassware, mulch, jewelry, coasters, sun catchers, tumbled glass for fish tanks or vases, drawer pulls, counter tops, spoon rests, soap dishes, tiles, and more.

Beautiful coasters by Aurora Glass
However, one of my favorite sites, has amazingly beautiful, useful gifts which caught my eye.  But it is their noteworthy humanitarian mission that really captured my attention.  The Aurora Glass Foundry is a waste-based business that not only recycles glass, but funds the charitable works of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, OR.  All profits from Aurora are returned to the community in the form of assistance for homeless and low-income people through emergency services, housing, jobs, training, and other charitable endeavors.  In my book, that's about as GREEN as it gets! 


Monday, July 19, 2010

F is for Footprint...Carbon footprint

The original idea for this blog came from wanting to help my family learn to reduce our carbon footprint, and the goal is to take babysteps to get us there.  Some of the steps have seemed painful to my kids, but they are getting a little bit more "greenwashed" each day.  

 According to Wikipedia, one's carbon footprint is:
"the total set of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event or product" [1]. For simplicity of reporting, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent of other GHGs, emitted."

The goal of many, including myself is to reduce the carbon footprint of an individual, family, company, town, country, or the world.  The development of alternative energy projects to promote carbon offsetting, such as solar, geothermal, wind energy, and reforestation, are ways to reduce one's carbon footprint.  On a smaller scale, not idling the car while in the carpool line, or riding your bike for local errands will also reduce your carbon footprint.  

When you think about it, every choice we make can have an impact on our carbon footprint.  For example, whether I choose to buy produce that is trucked or flown from far away (this results in emissions and thus my carbon footprint), or buy from a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), or grow my own vegetables does impact my carbon footprint.  And although I am only one person, who is trying to teach the other 5 family members, and who chats about the changes we've made to family and friends, I'd like to think that the ripple effect of positive changes will make a difference.  

If you are interested in finding out more about CSAs in your area, Google CSA + your town or state, or check out this link  You can't beat fresh local produce, it tastes better, you support your local economy, AND you are helping to reduce your carbon footprint!  Every little green babystep counts! 
Source:, July 19, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

E is for Electricity and Energy

So officially we are using the energy from the sun to dry our clothes!  

It's been a sultry July, and we've been sweating it out around here, NOT using our window ACs to cool the house, even at night.  To the chagrin of the family, I've opted to deal with a little bit of humidity and pull the cooler air in by window fans because the thought of our electric bill doubling due to ACs has not been appealing!  During the cooler morning, we suck cool air in, use the window shades to keep out the heat, but,  I now will feel less guilty about using the ACs if the mercury rises because we are not sucking power for the dyer....and in this house of 6 we do more loads per week than the average household (that is a discussion for another time!).   

On a side note, I do need to invest in a dryer rack as well because the ladies of the house (excluding myself) are in an UPROAR that their unmentionables might be seen.  Mind you our backyard is as private as can be this time of year, we can't see any of our neighbors houses because of the gloriously green trees!  

I couldn't resist a quick tally of the watts used by the 5 window units: including  4 window units in the bedrooms and one larger unit that cools the downstairs...those ACs use up a grand total of 4026 watts!!! 

And then I had to compare the wattage of the overworked and underpaid dryer - that baby sucks up a whopping 4400 watts and gets a workout weekly, and often daily all year long!!!

I'm hoping that using the sun to dry the clothes will offset the times that we use the AC, and that in the long run we will save electricity and energy since we can use the clothesline even when we don't need the AC :)  

Can't help but smile about summer!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

recycling on the road

Well, it's been awhile, but we are still thinking and doing green deeds even though it's summer!  We're just back from a trip to the Jersey Shore, we had great weather and fun on the boardwalk, rides, at the waterpark and of course the beach.  Too bad we had obnoxious teenage neighbors above us who disturbed our sleep each night at horrible hours!  But we didn't let them ruin our fun :)  

So while we were on vacay we continued to recycle the items that NJ recycles such as cans, bottles, and glass. However, it just didn't feel right to toss out the cardboard and paper goods, juice boxes that need to go to Terracycle, and aluminum foil from our lunches on the we brought them home and recycled them here!  I drew the line at the compostables though and they did not make the trip home :)