Tag Archives: GreenPARE

How Much Does Your Caffeine Routine Contribute to the Waste Footprint?

By Victoria Howland, Civil Engineer and member of Pare’s Sustainable Design Committee

Each morning you wake up, get ready for the work day, and reach for that delicious, aromatic and caffeinated beverage…which is filling our country’s landfills. Yes, I’m talking about coffee. An estimated 83% of adults in the United States drink 587 million cups of coffee a year. Coffee provides us with caffeine to keep us alert through the day and antioxidants to keep us healthy. This miracle beverage has even been linked to reducing our risk of getting (liver) cancer. So if you drink coffee, there’s no way you could be doing any harm, right? Wrong.

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Coffee has become a large contributor of waste. Every time you go to a coffee shop and grab a cup to go, your cup contributes to the waste footprint. Some companies use paper cups, which is an easy material to recycle. But do you recycle it? Other companies use Styrofoam for its insulating properties. It’s understandably difficult to turn down a cup option which keeps both your hand and the precious liquid a desirable temperature. And these environmentally unfriendly options are of low cost to the coffee shop and consequently to you.

Professor David Tyler, a chemist at the University of Oregon, addressed Styrofoam’s “worst material” stereotype by conducting a life-cycle assessment. The results of his study demonstrated that Styrofoam cups are no worse than paper cups for the environment. The carbon footprint of a Styrofoam cup (i.e., its contribution to greenhouse gases) is less than a paper cup. However, it does take Styrofoam longer to degrade. The choice is up to you; do you care more about carbon footprint or garbage reduction?index

Before we’re able to take a sip, we need to address another important coffee waste concern which is infamous in the New England region: the double cup. Found in both icy and sweltering temperatures, Dunkin Donuts and other coffee shops allow you to request your iced coffee in a cup within a cup. In the colder weather, your plastic drink cup is slid into a Styrofoam cup to keep the iced coffee from chilling your already chilled hands. In the warm weather, the Styrofoam second cup catches the condensation from your refreshingly cold drink. In both cases, the Styrofoam cup is being added as an insulator. And in both cases, you are contributing twice the amount of waste to the garbage.IMG_0829

And it’s not just cups that are filling our landfills.

In recent years, the single-serve coffee brewer has been at the forefront of home brewing. Keurig (now owned by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters) developed the K-Cup brewing system in the mid-1990s. As most of you know, it consists of a brewer and a K-Cup – a plastic container with a filter and 11 grams of ground coffee beans, vacuum sealed to prevent oxidation. The plastic container is made from a special plastic mix designed to withstand the heated brewing process. The brewer punctures a hole in the top and bottom of the K-Cup and passes hot water through the cup and into a mug. Once the K-Cup is brewed, it is disposed of, and it becomes a component of our waste footprint. While coffee grounds are compostable, K-Cup plastic containers are not. That isn’t to say they aren’t reusable though! Click the image below for ways to reuse your office’s K-Cups.

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John Sylvan was the brains behind Keurig and what he calls the “single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.” He created Keurig in 1992 and sold off his share of the company in 1997 for a mere $50,000. Keurig is now generating $4.7 billion in revenue. Now that the K-Cup has received backlash from consumers, environmentalists, and more, John Sylvan states, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”

Coffee grounds are compostable, however the K-Cup plastic container is only recyclable in a few Canadian cities. The good news: Keurig Green Mountain has taken a pledge to create a fully recyclable K-Cup. The bad news: It won’t make its debut until 2020. Until then, we’ll have to be conscious about how we make our coffee!

Now that we’re finally ready to take a sip, cherish that taste of sweet…guilt! But perhaps there are ways we can lessen the guilt and lessen the environmental impact of drinking coffee. Coffee has always served as a treat, an energizer, and it is known for bringing people together. Consider bringing people together for an even greater benefit by encouraging environmentally responsible caffeinated practices in your office, whether it is supplying company-wide reusable coffee cups that all coffee shops are eager to fill, or by using a coffee-koozy to substitute the Styrofoam cup. Hey, there are some great opportunities for company branding here!

Use these links to read the details of Professor Taylor’s research, and the fascinating story of John Sylvan’s remarkable invention:
http://cascade.uoregon.edu/fall2012/expert/expert-article/

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/03/the-abominable-k-cup-coffee-pod-environment-problem/386501/

The Upcycle Series: Bourbon Barrels

By Tim Thies, Managing Environmental Engineer at Pare

There have been other posts on this blog about recycling, upcycling, and downcycling, each espousing the virtues of re-use.  Whether you’re re-using a product for a higher or better purpose than it was originally intended, or simply trying to salvage a small amount of value out of a product before throwing it away, any type of “cycling” gives new life to a product and ultimately increases the usefulness of the resources and energy that were used to create it.  The more use that we can extract from the resources and energy we spent making a product, the lower the overall impact that product will have on our environment.

I recently learned about an interesting example of recycling that adds real value to a very specific product.  During a recent conversation with my brother-in-law about beer and whiskey (because what else is there to talk about), I learned about the not-so-secret second life of bourbon barrels.  My brother-in-law has a family maple sugar farm (Baker Farm in East Dummerston, VT) where they recently produced a bourbon-flavored maple syrup (which is quite delicious I must say).  He told me that they buy the bourbon barrels from a distillery in Kentucky after they’re used in the bourbon making process.

Bourbon whiskey barrel

While each barrel is carefully crafted out of oak, they’re only used once in the bourbon making process.  In the past, the bourbon barrels were often burned for fuel after their first and only use.  However, some barrels find a second life at the Baker Farm.  After the distiller is done with a barrel, the Baker Farm fills that barrel with maple syrup and lets it age for a year, infusing the syrup with the smoky bourbon flavor that once filled the barrel.

Bourbon whiskey barrel 2

In terms of recycling, this process is great because it doubles the life of each barrel, which means it doubles the usefulness of all the resources and energy that went into making the barrel.  But wait, it gets even better.  After the Baker Farm is done with the barrels, they give them to the Harpoon Brewery in Boston MA and Windsor, VT (www.harpoonbrewery.com), who in turn uses them to make a maple bourbon barrel-aged beer.  Each barrel is now used three times, effectively tripling the usefulness of the resources and energy that went into their original creation.  Amazing!  This conversation with my brother-in-law got me thinking, what else could bourbon barrels be used for?  Well, a quick internet search reveals that bourbon barrels can be used for any number of things, including meat smoking, wine making, and antique-looking hardwood floors, just to name a few.  Apparently I stumbled onto a very poorly kept secret about the second life of bourbon barrels.  I found this cool infographic on tastingtable.com (http://www.tastingtable.com/bourbonbarrels) that shows how barrels from just few bourbon distillers find second, third, and even fourth lives.  So next time you’re drinking bourbon, order a second and rest easy knowing that the barrel that gave birth to your bourbon probably found a second life beyond your favorite distillery.

Bourbon barrel bottle

 

An upcycling experience by one of Pare’s civil engineers, Victoria Howland:

The three R’s, “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” is a common phrase coined by the environmental movement. This message encourages us to reduce those things we buy, use and throw away. Recycling promotes the separation of trash materials such as paper, plastic and glass, which can be re-manufactured to provide a new use. Reuse however, combines the principles behind reducing and skips the step of recycling. It involves thinking ahead and outside of the box. While tricky to start, it may be the most rewarding “R” of all.

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“Upcycling” is a glorified term for reuse. How can we alter the function of an object that has already been used for its primary purpose? How can we take a common household item that is taking up space in the house, and prevent it from taking up space in the trash? Can this item surpass its original function? This blog begins a series of upcycling posts, because one of the most helpful contributors to upcycling is sharing ideas!

Herb Gardens

Herb gardening is an easy way to consistently add fresh greens to a meal. Better yet, an indoor herb garden can function as an air purifier! I brought a few seedlings home from the store in an attempt to start my garden, only to realize I had nothing to plant them in. Looking around my kitchen, I noticed a ton of mismatched glassware that I hadn’t used in years. Each was a different shape and size, all holding fond memories from different places, yet taking up space in my cabinet. Cue upcycling idea! I decided to plant my herb garden in my old glassware.

Items you will need:
1. Assorted Glassware
2. Proximity to window or ample sunlight
3. Potting soil
4. Herb seedlings of your choice (or seeds, if you’re feeling patient)
5. Enough flat pebbles/rock/slate to create a thin layer at bottom of glass
6. Newspaper (or any type of barrier used for easy clean-up after potting, especially indoors)

Step-by-Step:
1. Rinse Glassware
2. Add layer of flat pebbles to bottom of glass for drainage
3. Fill glass 3/4 full with potting soil
4. Plant seedlings or sprinkle seeds (check seed package for more detailed planting info)
5. Water (more thoroughly than often)
6. Take pride in your upcycling efforts, and enjoy extra flavorful meals!

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Before

In order to finish the project, I did have to visit my local Savers (a store dedicated to reusing) and purchase two additional glasses for under $2.00. I also needed more potting soil than anticipated.

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Final product

Overall, the final product came together just as I had hoped! In this case, upcycling was a benefit to my cooking, the environment, and don’t forget, my wallet!