Thursday, June 28, 2012

Recycling is Patriotic

As the 4th of July holiday nears and everyone is gearing up for parties and barbeques, I would like to take a minute to reflect on the history of recycling in this country. Recycling isn’t a new idea brought on by the “Green Revolution”. America was made stronger through re-use and recycling. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at wartime efforts.

During WWII America was in full swing with efforts to get people to re-use for as long as possible and recycle many metals, fabric, cooking fats and other materials needed for the war effort.  Japan cut off access to rubber in Indochina and German U-boats threatened interception of rubber coming out of Africa and South America. So rubber drives popped up all over the country and it became almost impossible to buy tires for anything.

As is still the case, making metal from ore takes more energy than making it from scrap. Aluminum drives were everywhere as the government needed it for making aircraft. Children showed up in large numbers donating their toys, mostly made of metal in those days, to the war effort (sorry, Erector sets).

Paper was being recycled in huge numbers to make boxes for shipping supplies to troops. A lot of blood plasma was sent this way.

Recycling wasn’t only important during wartime either. While the percentage of raw materials supplied to manufacturers has varied, recyclables have remained an integral part of America’s industrial base for over a century. It is more expensive to mine new materials and create a product than it is to use scrap. Energy, water, resources, and pollutants (which we have to deal with in many different and often expensive ways) are all saved by recycling.

So, recycling makes good economic sense as well as being patriotic.

Did I mention that recycling creates jobs?

And in the United States, according to the U.S. Recycling Economic Information Study, there are more than 56,000 recycling and reuse establishments in US and they employ approximately 1.1 million people. This number of workers is comparable to the automobile and truck manufacturing industry in the region, and is significantly larger than the mining and waste management and disposal industries there. In addition, wages for workers in the recycling industry are notably higher than the national average for all industries. Overall, annual revenues of about $236 billions are generated. (

To think, the recycling rate in the U.S. has been hovering around 30-34% for quite some time now. It has been estimated that up to 75% of our waste is readily recyclable. Imagine the economic benefits if we got to that number!

Let’s take a first step if you haven’t been recycling up until now and this 4thof July, recycle all you can. And remember, you are helping the economy too!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Steps to a greener party

I recently had the pleasure of throwing a party at my home for my son’s first birthday. We all know a first birthday party is really for the parents to celebrate keeping their sanity during the first year, but I digress. I have thrown many parties before, so I am a seasoned veteran of most green things you can do for a party. For example: I have washable plastic plates, reusable silverware, re-usable table cloths, recycle bins, drinks that are served in re-usable glasses, and other beverages that come in recyclable containers. Rarely is there much waste at a party at my house.

Now, did I mention that this birthday party was HUGE? I have never had 65 people at my house for a party before. Nor did I ever have to figure in the catering fiasco. Does the chicken really have to come in a paper box that I can’t recycle due to grease? Why does the shredded beef have to be shrink-wrapped in plastic? And don’t forget the “mom factor”. This refers not to me but to my mom who can find a way to get involved in anything. She did find some awesome pop-up recycle bins that we were able to use in various places in the yard and garage (and are reusable for future parties I might add). But she also wanted heavy duty paper plates, plastic silverware, and way more paper napkins than I will use in a lifetime.

So, what do you do in a situation like this? How do you find a balance between convenience and over the top environmentally minded? Blending the two and taking a few small steps toward a greener solution can help take this daunting task and make it a smaller more manageable one.

 I ended up using paper plates because the alternative was to buy 50 more washable plastic ones that I would probably never need again and are made using non-renewable resources. We donned the plastic tablecloths, half of which we saved and are using again for our much smaller 4th of July BBQ.  Plastic silverware was the unfortunate best option due to the number of people and kids running around and also not wanting to lose my real silverware to the trash. But there is an upside! Some of the food was made by me and family members and was served in reusable containers. Some of the catered food came in aluminum trays (which we know to be recyclable). The leftover food was able to be taken home by guests in recyclable aluminum to-go trays (thanks for finding these, Mom!). Most of the decorations were paper and were promptly recycled. All the drinks were in reusable cups or in containers that ultimately ended up in the recycling as well. And of course, we can’t forget the presents! All of the wrapping paper was recycled and we are saving the gift bags to use again.

At the end of the party we ended up with two 33 gallon garbage bags, and nine 18 gallon recycle bins over flowing! I see more trash than that in a week at some houses in town so I think we did pretty well. Were there things we could have done better? Sure. I had a nightmare about the amount of trash we did have if I am going to be completely open and honest.

The biggest hurdle was trying to inform guests about what to recycle. As much as I would love to believe that everyone I am related to and friends with recycles, I know that is simply not the case. At the end of the night, if you had driven by, you could have seen my husband and me digging through trash and recycling and moving things to their correct bins. That would have been a great picture to put on facebook. Luckily no one captured that photo… as far as I know.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

3 ways to… 5 things that are… 10 strategies for…

These days everyone is trying to get you to implement their “easy steps to success” for multiple things. I am not here to tell you how to be perfect in any way or to tell you that you need x, y, or z to be successful in life or love. My goal is simple. I want to offer a glimpse into the life of a self –proclaimed “greenie” to share stories of the complexities and struggles in my everyday greenish life. I hope that I can share some fun, insight, and ideas that you can take with you and share with others and to share your stories with me. I call this blog Greening Steps because that is what it is. This is a way for us to take steps forward that are more sustainable. Like babies taking their first steps of freedom, we can get up and take small steps toward greening our lives. We may stumble and fall but ultimately, we are going somewhere. Maybe we don’t quite know exactly where that is, but we can continue taking baby steps to get us there.