The Power of Rechargeable Batteries

a line of rechargeable batteries

From Walkie Talkies to RC cars, rechargeable batteries let you play just as hard as single-use batteries — but without creating as much waste. Let’s break down how they can reduce waste and save you money!

Reducing Waste

A rechargeable battery can be recharged up to a thousand times before it no longer holds a charge and must be disposed of. Different rechargeables vary in capacity and longevity, but even at the low end of performance, you can expect one to act as the equivalent of 100 single-use batteries. At the higher end of performance, one battery might do the work of 500 to 1000 traditional alkaline batteries.

A study by the State of California found that about 4 billion single-use batteries are shipped to the U.S. each year. If Americans switched to rechargeable batteries for most applications, we could keep billions of batteries from needing to be mined, manufactured and recycled each year!

Saving Money

Considering batteries are in everything from clocks to your wireless computer mouse to the TV remote, it won’t take long for your pocketbook to start reaping the benefits. A rechargeable battery can pay for itself in about six recharges — even factoring in the added cost of a wall charger.

According to the New York Times, the average U.S. household uses about 47 batteries a year. By switching to rechargeable batteries, as few as 4 batteries, charged once a month, and you wouldn’t need to buy any additional batteries for years!

Keep in mind that rechargeable batteries are generally not a good idea for emergency items, such as smoke detectors which generally relay on a single-use batteries discharge rate to alert you when it’s time to replace batteries. Consult your owner’s manual to find out what batteries you should use. In addition, rechargeable batteries don’t always hold a charge as long as single-use, alkaline batteries when sitting around unused. So they are also to be avoided for emergency preparedness kits.

No matter what batteries you end up using, remember to dispose of them safely by checking our Recycling Guide for the latest instructions.

Never dispose of batteries in the garbage or recycling where they can start dangerous fires.

Low Waste Alternatives to Traditional Wrapping Paper

gift wrapped in brown paper

Giving and receiving gifts can be a joyful experience, but the wrapping paper waste it creates can be a bit off-putting. When it’s just one present, it’s easy to simply toss the paper away and move along. But after a holiday, party or shower, the waste is difficult to ignore.

According to Earth911, 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper is produced annually in the US alone. Approximately half of that – 2.3 million pounds – makes its way to landfills. That’s the equivalent of tossing out 10 Boeing 757 airliners each year!

Wrapping paper can’t easily be recycled because it’s a combination of paper fiber and non-paper materials laminated together. This also means that traditional wrapping paper is not biodegradable. The good news is there are many inexpensive and sustainable alternatives to wrapping paper.

Here are a few sustainable wrapping paper alternatives:

Recyclable

  • Newspaper with secured with twine* (pro tip: try using the comic section)
  • Paper bags with a piece of nature such as a pine sprig or leaf attached*
  • Cardboard boxes tied with decorative string*

*Remove any non-recyclable material before recycling

Reusable

  • Old fabric with a decorative print or interesting color (try tying it in a Japanese Furoshiki style)
  • DIY reusable fabric bags (Don’t sew? Find ready-made ones on online marketplaces such as Etsy!)

Still have some old wrapping paper?

If you still have traditional wrapping paper or gift bags hanging around, use and reuse it as many times as possible before tossing in the garbage.

Recycling for Environmental and Social Justice

Dozer on pile of garbage

When you hear the word “recycling,” you may think of paper, bottles and other items you place in a separate bin. Recycling is something we do to reduce waste and lessen our impact on the environment.

Recycling is one of the most recognizable acts of environmentalism, but it supports more than just a healthy planet. Similar to an ecosystem, where everything is interrelated, recycling connects back to people. That means when you recycle correctly you’re contributing not only to environmental sustainability, but also to social justice.

Everything we throw away has to go somewhere. If an item goes in the trash, it will end up burned or in a landfill, buried underground. When items are buried in a landfill, they are unable to decompose properly, and produce gases that not only contribute to climate change, but also can cause respiratory illnesses and cancer. Older landfills can leak and contaminate soil and groundwater, also significantly impacting human health.

All things being equal, you likely would not choose to live next to a landfill, but not all of us are able to avoid it. And unfortunately, people of color are most likely to bear the brunt of the environmental and health impacts that come along with landfills and incinerators.

It turns out that race is the single greatest predictor of whether you live near a toxic site. People of color are more likely to be live near environmental hazards leading to adverse health effects and a reduced quality of life.

That’s where environmental and social justice come in — the philosophy that everybody should have equal access to clean water and air, and a healthy place to live, work and play. When we reduce the trash we produce, we decrease the need for more landfills and incineration. Fewer toxic sites means fewer people impacted by those sites.

In reducing our waste and recycling correctly, we have an effect on not only our planet, but also its inhabitants. Recycling is more than an environmental act, it’s also an act of social justice.

Clean Out Your Junk Drawer

drawer full of junk

Everyone has that one drawer or shelf where they put small and hard to dispose of items. It’s like purgatory for items such as batteries, dead electronics, empty lighters and a whole host of other oddball objects. We get it. Who has the time to figure out what to do with these things? To save you time, we’ve assembled a list of common junk drawer items so you can clean out your drawer before it gets too full to open.

Common Junk Drawer Items
Click on items to see the correct way to dispose

Find something else in your junk drawer? Search the recycling guide to find it.

5 Easy Ways to Cut Back on Food Waste

dehydrated fruits

Food requires a lot of resources, including land, water and energy. It should come as no surprise then, that the food we waste accounts for a whopping six percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to cut back on food waste. It can even be fun! Check out these five ideas for waste-preventing, emission-reducing inspiration.

1. Store food properly

How you store food makes a big difference in how long it lasts. First, check out this food storage guide from the EPA to learn which foods last longer when kept inside your fridge and which ones don’t. Next, find out what parts of your fridge are best for which foods.

2. Freeze, dehydrate or pickle food that’s about to go bad

If you have too much food sitting in your fridge, don’t let it go to waste! Extra bananas can be peeled and frozen for future use in breads and smoothies, while other fruit like peaches and berries can be frozen and stored for smoothies, pies and other baked goods. Uncooked meat can be frozen for future meals, and cooked meals like soup can be frozen for an easy meal on a lazy day.

Have an abundance of fruit or veggies from your garden harvest or a deal at the supermarket? Try dehydrating and storing them for use later. This guide will help you reach the perfect level of dehydration for storage.

If you have extra veggies like cabbage, carrots, cucumber or green beans, try pickling them to make them last. You don’t have to learn canning, either — quick pickling works just as well.

3. Eat veggies without peeling

Not only will it save you a lot of work, it will cut down on food waste, increase your dish’s flavor and give you more nutrients. The veggies you can stop peeling include beets, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, ginger, parsnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Worried about dirt? Soak your veggies in water for a few minutes to get most of it off, then use a vegetable brush to finish the job.

4. Find ways to eat the parts of your food you’d normally toss

If there’s a part of some kind of food that you always toss, see if there’s a way you could make it edible. Here are some of our ideas:

5. Put your food scraps to work

Not all food scraps are destined for the bin. Try out some of these fun ideas to give your scraps a second life:

  • Make a broth out of carrot, celery and onion scraps.
  • Make an exfoliating coffee scrub out of used coffee grounds. Simply add a little oil of your choice (like coconut or jojoba) to freshly brewed grounds and exfoliate away! Use a drain catcher to keep the grounds from clogging up your plumbing.
  • Make potpourri from dried orange and other citrus peels.
  • Grow new plants out of food scraps.

Go Green In Every Room: Plastic Free Pantry

Pantry that is free of plastic containers

The pantry can be a place where many single-use plastics live, including food packaging and plastic storage bags. However, there are a few easy ways to purchase the same great food while reducing waste. Consider the options below to help reduce plastic waste in the pantry.

Glass Storage Jars

Glass jars can be purchased or recycled from other food products, such as pickle jars for example. They are an ideal way to store food, as it’s easy to see what’s inside, they typically fit nicely next to one another on a shelf, and their lids generally seal better than plastic food containers. When buying groceries, it’s easy to put bulk items like beans or grains in a glass jar brought from home. Depending on the store, cashiers may ask to weigh your jar before you fill it or they may ask you to self weigh on store provided scales. This weight will then be subtracted from the total weight when it’s time to pay.

Be sure to call ahead to see if there are any COVID-19 related bulk container restrictions at your store.

Silicone Storage Bags

This lightweight option is a great way to store smaller items or leftovers, like crackers or chips. It’s easy to bring on the go, just toss it in a lunchbox or backpack when you’re headed out of the house.

Reuse Spice Jars

Once the original packaging of a spice is empty, it can be reused. Both glass and plastic spice containers are refillable, and often have a lid that can be unscrewed for easy refilling. Spices can be bought in bulk and are typically cheaper than their pre-packaged equivalents. When it’s time for more, simply bring the container to the store, have it weighed when empty, and refill it at the bulk bins.

Be sure to call ahead to see if there are any COVID-19 related bulk container restrictions at your store.

Beeswax Food Wraps

These handy cloths are made of fabric dipped in beeswax. They can be purchased from a local vendor or even made at home. They’re great for protecting baked goods like breads or muffins. The cloth is wrapped around the items, and then naturally clings to itself creating a seal around the food.

November 15: America Recycles Day

america recycles day logo

America Recycles Day is November 15th! To celebrate, people all across America are taking the day to organize, educate and make our recycling systems more functional! Keep America Beautiful, the organization who founded this celebration of recycling, says that November 15th is “a nationally recognized day dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the United States.” They encourage the public to participate by utilizing toolkits provided through the America Recycles Day website and forming action groups with other community members.

Why Recycle?

So, why does recycling need a special day? The United States recycles less than 22% of materials discarded, though much of what’s wasted could technically be recycled. A big part of the problem is caused by public confusion on how to recycle. If we can sort out the confusion, many of these items could be turned into new goods and prevented from entering landfills. For example, recycling five plastic bottles produces enough fiber to fill one winter jacket. Here’s another surprising fact: every three months, enough aluminum cans are thrown into landfills in America to build the nation’s entire commercial airline fleet.

Get Involved

America Recycles Day is aimed at helping dissolve the confusion around recycling, offering many ways for the public to get involved, from attending an event, or organizing one to simply signing up to participate individually. Those who wish to take the recycling pledge can sign up on the website, and commit to a 3-step promise: learning more about their local recycling facility and how to recycle, taking action to reduce waste over the month beginning November 15th and sharing their new knowledge with others.

Ways To Take Action

  1. The first step to creating meaningful change in recycling is to educate yourself on what’s recyclable in your community. Our recycling guide includes disposal information for hundreds of commonly used items as well as alternative ways to recycle, ways to reduce, and ways to reuse.
  2. Once you’ve got a handle on how to recycle, go the extra mile and attend a recycling or cleanup event. Check out Keep America Beautiful’s upcoming events to get involved.
  3. Another way to support recycling is by spreading the word. To make this easy, Keep America Beautiful has provided templates for writing letters to the editor and getting proclamations from local government leaders.

Ask the Experts: What is Biodegradable Plastic?

dishwasher pods
recycle questions

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Q: What is biodegradable plastic?

A: Biodegradable plastic is a tricky topic! Why? Because it’s a blanket term applied to many different plastics. It’s made in different ways by different companies, but called the same name because it’s designed for a similar end: biodegrading.

Let’s start by defining the term biodegradable. When something is biodegradable, that means it can break down into organic materials. Regular plastic can’t do this — it can only break down into smaller pieces of plastic, which is a synthetic material.

How Biodegradable Plastic Is Made

In general, biodegradable plastics are made from petrochemical (oil-based) polymers that are put through a chemical process to turn them into plastic. In this way, they are just like any normal plastic.

However, some biodegradable plastics are made from plant-based plastics — bioplastics — or a combination of plant-based and synthetic plastics. Plant-based plastics are made by taking polymers that exist in nature and putting them through a similar chemical process to turn them into plastic.

How to Dispose of It

It’s important to know that biodegradable plastics are not recyclable. And just because they are capable of biodegrading doesn’t mean that they will. Some require very specific conditions or special microbes in order to biodegrade, and some require a very long time.

For instance, one of the more common types of biodegradable plastic has chemicals added to it that can help it break down in open air and sunlight, whether that’s out in a field or floating in the ocean. However, it isn’t designed to break down when buried underground (in a compost or landfill) or submerged in water. Without enough oxygen and sunlight, it may never biodegrade.

You wouldn’t really want this kind of plastic to break down in the environment anyway, though — or in a compost pile, or in your water supply. The chemicals that have been added to it can leave behind a toxic residue, and some types of “biodegradable” plastic won’t actually break down into organic molecules at all. Instead, they break down into smaller pieces of synthetic plastic, also known as microplastics.

For these reasons, anytime you see something labeled “biodegradable plastic,” toss it in the trash. That way, if and when it breaks down, it won’t pollute anything other than the landfill.

Dishwasher & Laundry Detergent Pods

Dishwasher pods and laundry pods are the exceptions to this rule. These products are made from polyvinal alcohol, often referred to as PVA or PVOH. They are designed to dissolve in water and are fully biodegrade with the help of certain microbes present in wastewater treatment facilities.

Tricks to Beat the Plastic-Wrapped Treats

candy corn in mug

Scientists agree that single-use plastic is a big problem for our planet. Straws, takeout containers and plastic grocery bags are banned or in the process of being banned in many cities and states across the country. Unfortunately, single-use plastics seem to be built into many of our holiday traditions. Here are some simple tips to help you ditch the single-use plastic candy wrappers this Halloween.

Halloween Candy

Americans bought 600 million pounds of Halloween candy in 2019, and of the top ten most loved brands, eight are wrapped in plastic. For a holiday that encompasses just a single night, that’s a whole lot of single-use plastic.

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to recycle plastic wrappers. They’re too small to be sorted effectively by machines or by humans working on a fast moving sorting line. So wrappers must be thrown in the garbage where they will end up in a landfill.

If you love candy, but hate the waste check out these sweet tips:

  • Buy from the Bulk Bins
    Many stores and candy shops offer bulk candy which can be put directly into a container or jar. Even if candy is individually plastic-wrapped, buying from the bulk bin eliminates the need for a big plastic package.
  • No-Wrapper Candy
    (e.g. candy corn, gummy bears and chocolate covered raisins)
    Some candies can be purchased from the bulk bins with no wrapper, which is the most environmentally-friendly option. No-wrapper candies are perfect for candy bowls at home and other places where germs are less of a concern.
  • Foil-Wrapped Candy
    (e.g. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey’s Kisses and gold coins)
    While the wrappers will still be too small to recycle, foil is non-toxic and decomposes more rapidly than plastic.
  • Paper- and WaxPaper-Wrapped Candy
    (e.g. Pixy Stix and Bits-O-Honey)
    Like foil-wrapped candy, these items are too small to be recycled but are less toxic than plastic.
  • Paper-Boxed Candies
    (e.g. Nerds, Dots, Milk Duds, chocolate-covered raisins and Junior Mints)
    Paper boxes can be recycled once empty. Unlike plastic wrappers, paper boxes can be shredded into pulp and recycled various paper products. Place empty paper boxes into a paper bag and staple shut before placing in the recycling.

No matter how you celebrate this Halloween, do your part to minimize single-use plastic and reduce your impact on the planet.

National Zero Waste Conference Highlights

The National Recycling Coalition has partnered with EcoJustice Radio and Adventures in Waste to spread the Zero Waste message beyond the walls of the conference.  They have recorded podcast episodes highlighting National Zero Waste Conference speakers, including efforts around Zero Waste and social equity, as follows:

Connecting Waste and Climate Change, Episode 53 – Interview with Leslie Lukacs, Executive Director of Zero Waste Sonoma

Reducing Single-Use Culture Through Legislation, Episode 55 – Interview with Mike Sangiacomo, President & Chief Executive Officer of Recology and Eric Potashner, Vice President & Senior Director of Recology

Social Equity in a Zero Waste Baltimore, Episode 58 – Interview with Meleny Thomas, Shashawnda Campbell and Greg Sawtell, of United Workers, Baltimore, Maryland.