What to Recycle & How

August, 2019

What really happens to the plastic, paper, metal, and glass items we recycle every day? Some of those items are recycled into the same product, while others are “recycled down” or turned into something different. For instance, your water bottle could be turned into a polyester t-shirt or a park bench. Here’s the skinny on how to recycle:

Aluminum and Other Metals: Your aluminum beverage and tin cans can be recycled into an infinite number of times. Aluminum cans are the most valuable recycled item in the United States and can be recycled repeatedly without losing any quality. In fact, today’s discarded aluminum beverage containers can be transformed into new cans and back on store shelves in as little as 60 days! 

Take Note: Aluminum foil and foil pans ARE NOT accepted and belong in the garbage

Cardboard: When cardboard is recycled, about half of it will be turned into new cardboard, and the rest is downcycled into other paper products such as cereal or shoe boxes. Don’t forget to remove staples and packing materials before placing it in the cart.

Take Note: Cardboard with food on it, such as cheesy and greasy pizza boxes, cannot be recycled. They belong in the trash. 

Glass: Glass is also endlessly recyclable, as long it's the right kind. Different types of glass have different melting points and can’t be recycled together. Glass food jars and bottles into new glass containers. 

When recycling bottles and containers, there’s no need to spend ten minutes trying to spotlessly remove those sticky paper labels. Just leave them on! The recycling process rids the container of the label eventually anyway.

Paper: Paper consists of long fibers that become shorter and shorter every time it is recycled. The shorter the fibers become, the harder it is to recycle the paper, so this material can usually only be recycled about five to seven times. Paper can be turned into tissues, toilet paper, newspaper, or egg cartons.

Plastic: Most plastics can only be recycled once or twice before being cycled down or losing quality. They can be made into polyester thread for items like clothing or carpet. Today, there are so many types of plastic, with varying degrees of recyclability and value, it’s important to know what is and is not accepted in your curbside recycling program. If your plastics have a twist off lid, they go in most recycling bins.

Lids & Caps

The majority of the items we recycle each day have lids and caps that we don’t know what to do with. After a quick rinse, here’s the lowdown on how to dispose of lids and caps. 

1.     Plastic Twist-Off Containers 

Big or small, when you’re done with a detergent or beverage container, give the bottle a quick rinse, twist the lid back on, and you’re ready to recycle. When you detach a plastic lid from the bottle and recycle it separately, the lid can fall into small nooks and crannies of the machinery and often ends up on the floor destined for the landfill. 

2.     Glass Jars with Metal Lids 

When it comes to glass jars with metal lids, simply remove the lid from the jar and recycle them both, separately. This allows them to be sorted into the right category of material. 

3.     Glass bottles and Metal Bottle Caps 

No matter the fizzy beverage your glass bottle held, the lid is often different than the bottle, so what’s next? The good news is, you can recycle both! Similar to glass jars, after your bottles have undergone a quick rinse, recycle both parts separately.  

Ditch Disposable

There has been a lot of talk about “where it goes” when you put recyclables into your recycling bin. But what if it never went in the bin in first place? What it if never went in your cart, shopping bag, or closet? One way to help the overrun recycling markets it to produce less waste to begin with. 

Each step may seem small -- refusing a straw, bringing your own shopping bags, or using dishware instead of disposable--but it all adds up over time. Plus, if each person made the change, it could make a ton of difference. Literally, all that waste could weigh several tons!

So, next time you reach for a paper towel, grab a cloth one instead. Bring your own “to go” coffee cup to your favorite coffee shop. Give your dishwasher a workout instead of your trash can after your next meal.

Hazardous Waste

Many household products we use daily have ingredients that are considered hazardous. Items with labels that say “toxic,” “flammable,” or “keep out of reach of children,” should be stored, handled and disposed of with care. In fact, improper disposal of leftover hazardous materials may pose significant threats to health, safety and the environment.

While leftover products like antifreeze and motor oil may be obvious no-nos for your regular garbage, some items on the hazardous list may surprise you.

1.    Cleaning supplies. Many common cleaning products such as bleach, rust and stain remover, oven cleaner, or even glass cleaner, contain chemicals that are harmful to people, pets and the environment.

2.    Compact florescent lightbulbs. Also known as CFLs, these bulbs contain sixteen different heavy metals, including harmful mercury, and should be kept out of the landfill. 

3.    Nail polish remover. This product is made of acetone, a highly flammable, and therefore hazardous, substance. Unused nail polish should not be poured down the drain or thrown in your regular trash.

Residents of the Des Moines Metro can get rid of household hazardous materials like these at the Metro Hazardous Waste Drop-Off, located one half mile north of the I-80 Adventureland exit in Bondurant. Residential household hazardous waste is accepted at no charge up to 75 pounds.

Residents of other areas—Check online for the hazardous waste disposal facility in your area.

Focus on Plastic #s 1, 2, & 5

May 9, 2019

One piece of information everyone should know by now is which plastics are recyclable and which are not. Not all plastics are created equal.

A good Rule of Thumb is to never put soft plastics, like cling wrap and Bubble Wrap, in the recycling bin; they tend to jam sorting machines.

For all other plastics, take a look at the little triangle on the bottom of the item. Inside the triangle is the resin code, which tells you which kind of plastic it’s made from.

Numbers 1, 2, and 5 have great marketability in the U.S. You find them in water and soda bottles, milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, yogurt cups and butter tubs. Please remove labels and rinse these containers before throwing them in the bin.

Items made with resins 4, 6, and 7 are contaminants and are tossed in the landfill. These are squeezable bottles, plastic bags, pouches, meat trays, some clamshells, anything Styrofoam, and disposable plates and cups.

The third category is resin number 3. This defines PVCs, which are particularly bad. Never put PVCs in your recycling bin. They are used in packaging for cosmetics, some food wraps, blister packs and pipes. Due to their chemical composition, they can contaminate large batches of otherwise acceptable plastics in the recycling system.

Focus on numbers 1, 2, and 5. These are recyclable.

addicted to plastic?

This is good. From The New York Times.

Don’t Be Idle 

May 9, 2019

            I spend a lot of time in Vancouver, British Columbia, a fast-growing, multi-cultural metropolis that rivals San Francisco for the title of greenest city in North America. I chose to live part-time in Vancouver for just that reason. I wanted to know more about what they are doing to be on the cutting edge of being green.

            Turns out they do lots of things, many regulated by law. One that impresses me is the idling law for vehicles. In BC, and other parts of Canada, it’s illegal to idle your car for more than three consecutive minutes in a 60-minute period.

            The other day I drove through the parking lot of a Des Moines shopping mall a little after the noon hour, and was astonished to find at least 12 cars standing in the drive-up lane at Starbucks. That wouldn’t be allowed in Vancouver. So, it’s hard to find drive-up banking, drive-up food take-out, drive-up prescriptions, drive-up anything. It’s a good law, one step toward a greener future by eliminating all the fossil fuels emitted while car after car is stopped, waiting, doing nothing but waiting.

            Next time you enter a drive-up line, think about changing your habits to avert the worst of climate change. Perhaps just parking your car and going inside would be a better

Reduce Your Lawn

May 11, 2019

            Spring is here, and that means millions of Americans will be seeding, fertilizing and mowing their lawns. America has a lot of grassy lawns. Add them all together and they’d cover an area roughly the size of Florida. All that grass comes with an environmental cost.

            To keep weeds at bay, homeowners dumped 59 million pounds of pesticides onto their lawns in 2012, according to the EPA. Some of those leach into waterways, potentially exposing children and pets to harmful chemicals.

            Grass is thirsty, too. Americans use about 7 billion gallons of water a day, a third of all residential water consumption, to irrigate. Then there’s the mowing, edging, and leaf blowing with equipment powered by gas, emitting 26.7 million tons of pollutants into the atmosphere in 2011, and contributing to climate change. Despite all this, a tidy lawn provides no habitat for bees, butterflies, or birds that feed on insects.

            The good news is you don’t necessarily have to let your yard go wild to lower your environmental impact. Instead, you can chip away one weekend, one season at a time, planting native grasses, shrubs, trees, flowers, and food. Consider replacing some of that needy grass with a low-maintenance ground cover, like clover, creeping thyme, mint, or strawberry. Put in shade-loving plants like hostas and ferns.

            Whatever you plant, avoid pesticides and aerate the soil instead. Fertilize grass with leaf clippings and accept that you may need to coexist with dandelions. Bees and butterflies love them. You can learn to love them, too.

            Source: “Climate Forward,” The New York Times; April 3, 2019.

    Stop Plastic Microfiber Waste

 November, 2017

       There’s a new environmental danger that just may turn out to be the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of. New studies indicate that the fibers from synthetic clothing are poisoning our waterways and food chain on a massive scale. 

       Microfibers—tiny threads shed from fabric—have been found in abundance on shorelines where waste water is released. Alarming numbers of these tiny fibers are making their way from your washing machine into aquatic animals. Health problems among plankton and other small organisms eat the plastic microfibers, which then make their way up the food chain, eventually reaching you and your family in the food you eat. 

       Plastic microfibers are found in Spandex and fleece and outdoor apparel. They’re problematic because they do not biodegrade, and tend to bind with molecules of harmful chemical pollutants found in wastewater, such as pesticides or flame retardants. Plus, fibers from apparel are often coated with chemicals to achieve performance attributes such as water resistance.

       What is astounding is how many fibers are released with every wash. One study revealed that every city of 100,000 residents releases a wash-related volume of microfibers that’s equivalent to 15,000 plastic bags. That means that a city the size of Los Angeles is releasing enough microfibers to make more than half a million plastic bags daily.

       Patagonia (the outdoor and sports clothing company) is in the process of creating, manufacturing, and marketing a bag—called Guppy Friend—to contain microfiber clothing when it’s washed, so fibers don’t pollute water systems. Until washing machines and wastewater treatment facilities can be outfitted with proper filters, and shoppers are willing to transition to fewer synthetics in their wardrobe, Guppy Friend sounds like the best interim solution we’ve got.

       Clearly, the impact microfiber clothing has on the environment is something to consider when shopping for clothing. Your contribution to protect nature matters.



Eliminate Synthetic Fragrance

May, 2018

     Synthetic fragrance is the new second-hand smoke. Here's a good article to tell you why:

Opt for the Car Wash 

 July, 2019

            A trip to a carwash might seem like a water-wasting extravagance, but it’s better than the driveway alternative, according to The New York Times. The most efficient way to wash your car is definitely taking it to a carwash, although most folks don’t think that way.

            Rinsing your car with a garden hose at home can quickly rack up 100 gallons of water or more. The exact amount will vary, but just to give an example: a standard-diameter garden hose, 50 feet long, with average household water pressure will expel about 11 gallons per minute. Having the garden hose running for 10 minutes will use about 110 gallons of water. Self-service carwash stations limit you to around 17 or 18 gallons of water. And most full-service stations average 30 to 45 gallons of water per car. 

            Many machine carwashes recycle and reuse water, too, which helps their bottom line and the environment. At self-service washes, high-pressure nozzles and timers keep water use to a minimum.

            But the biggest reason to go to a carwash is to prevent pollution. When you wash your car at home, all the dirt, oil, engine fluids, soapy phosphates and chlorides from the soap can run with the water into a storm drain and into nearby rivers and lakes. Carwash businesses are supposed to collect the water they use when it can no longer be recycled and send it to a wastewater treatment plant where the pollutants can be filtered out before the water flows into the ecosystem.

            So, use the carwash. 

Source: “One Thing You Can Do: Opt for the Car Wash,” by Jillian Mock. The New York Times, June 26, 2019. 

Learn How to Read Labels

     The savvy consumer learns how to read labels to discern whether a product is green or not. It’s trickier to read what’s printed on the packaging of household and personal care products-- than the labels on food--because the law does not require that all ingredients be listed. Trade secrets are exempt, as are inert ingredients, so consumers have little to go on beyond such mandated signal words as danger, warning, and caution, which in any case warn only of acute exposure, not long-term chronic exposure, which is exactly how we use these products.

    When investigating whether a company has green credentials, look for these words and phrases:

    * Biodegradable in three to five days

    * Plant-based

    * Hypoallergenic

    * Nonflammable

    * Does not contain phosphates

   * Does not contain chlorine

    * Does not contain petroleum products

    * Contains no ammonia, acids, alkalis, solvents, nitrates, or borates

    * Formulated without dye or synthetic fragrance

    Because the words “nontoxic” and “natural” have no legal definitions, they mean nothing on a label. And the word “organic” means one thing when applied to food (where it means grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers), and another thing when applied to chemistry (where it means carbon-based).

    When in doubt, obtain a Materials Safety Data Sheet (or MSDS) which manufacturers are required by law to provide. Some manufacturers make them available on their websites. While not a complete source of information, an MSDS can be a useful tool because it lists chemical substances, precautions for safe handling and use, and known health effects.

    A good rule of thumb: The more plant-based a product the greener it is and the healthier it will be for humans and other living things. If a product has ingredients with long chemical names, chances are those ingredients are  manufactured in laboratories by humans, not found in nature.

Choose One Thing You Can Do

By Linda Mason Hunter

 May 11, 2019

            When it comes to climate change, we’ve had a lot of dire warnings lately. 

 * Since 1901, the United States has warmed 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Sixteen of the warmest 17 years on record have occurred since 2000.

* One million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, leading to what scientists are calling “The Sixth Great Extinction.”

     * More than 3,000 additional people across the country will die prematurely because of higher temperatures by 2050.

It almost makes one want to dig a hole and hide in it. 

      I’m a great believer in the glass-is-half-full theory. We have much to be grateful for. In fact, a good practice is to begin each day with a prayer or meditation of gratitude our green Earth and all it provides for us. Then, set about doing something to solve the problem.

Choose one habit you want to change, then incorporate it into your daily life. It could be to quit eating dairy, or beef, or palm oil—all big contributors to climate change and the degradation of Earth. It could be to avoid drive-throughs and the resulting waste of fossil fuels. It could be to cut down on the amount of plastic you use.

One habit I am battling is the plastic bag habit. It’s like an addiction. One change I’m working on is avoiding the flimsy plastic bags grocery stores provide for fresh produce, the kind that come on a roll and tear at the perforated points. I’m taking three string bags to the market and using them, instead. Next, I’ll try to conquer my Ziploc bag habit. They are so useful for so many things, but so bad for the planet. I already rinse and dry them out and use them again and again, but that’s not enough. I shouldn’t be buying them at all.  

That’s it. Choose one habit. Just one. And work on it.  

Say No to Plastic Straws

July, 2018


        The anti-plastic movement is gaining momentum worldwide. Many countries and cities around the globe are taking steps to eliminate plastic straws, and plan to ban all single-use plastics eventually, too. Scotland plans to be rid of plastic straws entirely by 2019, and Taiwan plans to ban single=use straws, cups, and containers nation-wide by 2030. Canada has shown similar support with Vancouver voting to ban plastic straws, foam cups, and foam takeout containers by June 2019. 

    Single-use items like plastic straws, cups, containers and stir sticks are used once and then tossed away. In some cases, plastic straws can be recycled, but more often than not they end up in landfills or pollute our oceans. One million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die from ingesting plastic each year. Since it can take up to 200 years for a plastic straw to degrade, this builds up at an exponential rate. While plastic pollution is not due to straws alone, banning straws is a good first step towards cleaner oceans and single-use plastic elimination.

The Problem with Paper Receipts

December, 2018

Paper receipts seem so innocuous, but they’re becoming an environmental nightmare. Why? Because these shiny smooth pieces of paper are made of thermal paper that uses heat rather than ink to form letters and numbers. and it relies on bisphenol A to do so. If you scratch a receipt and see a dark line, then you know it contains BPA or its common substitute BPS. BPA is a hormone disruptor and is absorbed through the skin, which means that even reaching for a receipt poses a risk of contamination.

To make matters worse thermal paper cannot be recycled. Its only “safe” destination is the landfill.

What to do? Be selective about the receipts you accept. Only take those you need in order to return an item or claim it as a business expense. Otherwise, just say no. Leave the receipt at the store. If you work in a store and handle these receipts daily, best to wear gloves to avoid absorbing the BPA which invariably gets absorbed through your skin.

It’s not a problem that’s going to be solved overnight, but it is something I suspect we’re going to start hearing more about.

Source: “The Trouble with Paper Receipts,” by Katherine Martinko,, Nov. 7, 2018.