Tag Archives: Landfill

Save a Tree (or a Forest) By Reducing Your “Junk” Mail

Victoria Howland, P.E., LEED AP, Project Engineer and a member of Pare’s Sustainability Committee

and

Amy Gerhard, Communications and Marketing Coordinator

  • Do you feel weighted down by the amount of paper mail you receive every day?
  • Are you frustrated because you don’t know how you were added to a company’s mailing list after you receive the umpteenth catalog for products you will never use? 
  • Do you feel guilty about immediately throwing almost all of your mail in the recycling bin every day? 
  • Did you know that 2.4% of America’s municipal waste stream comes from mail?
  • Are you unsure of how to make it stop??? 

It is estimated that only 42% of the 9.8 billion catalogs that were mailed in 2016 within the United States were actually read.  Furthermore, only approximately 53% of mail actually gets recycled. 

The Sierra Club estimates that a hardwood tree can produce 10,000 to 20,000 sheets of paper.  If the average catalog is 50 sheets and the average tree produces 15,000 sheets of paper, it would take 33 million trees to produce the catalogs that were mailed in 2016.  Of the 33 million trees, 19 million would produce catalogs that weren’t even opened.  Imagine the impact if those trees were left standing!

Ideally all of that mail would be recycled to reduce the impact of that much paper contributing to our landfills.  But a better solution is to reduce it before it becomes junk mail. 

The good news is that there are a few resources to help with that process.

CatalogChoice was founded on the principle of stopping junk mail for good, and over the past eight years has helped over two million users reduce unwanted mail.  It provides a centralized service that sends opt-out requests to merchants based on a household’s mailing address.  After creating an account, the user searches for the company/catalog/magazine to cancel and confirms the basic information including the name and mailing address printed on the label to unsubscribe.  Account holders can also block most free trial subscriptions to magazines through this account, otherwise the website will outline the publication’s removal process.  Because this is household-based, this provides a simple way for multiple family members to reduce unwanted mailings.  Visit www.catalogchoice.org to learn more. 

The Consumer Credit Reporting Companies—consisting of Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion, under the auspices of the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—provide the national “Opt Out” program for offers of credit or insurance.  There are two separate processes that give consumers the choice to “opt out” for five years or permanently.  Consumers need to provide some basic information— including name, telephone number, social security number, and date of birth—all of which is how the credit organizations track consumers.  The five-year program can be completed by phone or online, but the permanent process needs to be done online or by mail as it requires a form to be signed. Learn more at www.optoutprescreen.com.

Another program that can greatly reduce the quantity of mail you receive is the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) consumer website.  For a small processing fee of $2 (credit card online) or $3 (mail-in option), you can enroll three individuals or three variations of one name at the same address to be removed for ten years from the mailing lists of approximately 3,600 organizations, including direct mail companies.  This applies for credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers, and other mail offers such as donation requests and retail promotions. 

DMA also offers an opt-out service to enable caregivers to stop the mail being sent to their ward and the opportunity to flag someone as deceased.  DMA reports their service can reduce mail volume by up to 80% and prevents most new direct mail solicitations.  As of last year, they have reduced direct mail by 930 million pieces.  For more information about these services, go to www.DMAchoice.org. 

The benefits of saving trees, preventing landfill waste, and reducing the time spent sorting through unwanted mail far outweigh the few minutes it takes to create an account and confirm the opt-out process, or the few dollars spent on registrations using these services. 

Reduce your mail—Save a tree!

To learn more,

  • www.catalogchoice.org
  • www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0148-prescreened-credit-and-insurance-offers
  • www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0262-stopping-unsolicited-mail-phone-calls-and-email
  • www.DMAchoice.org
  • www.optoutprescreen.com
  • www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2014-4-july-august/ask-mr-green/how-much-paper-does-one-tree-produce
  • https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2018/paper-catalogs-print-ikea-williams-sonoma-restoration

E-Waste: Mounting Concern & What You Can Do

Did You Know???

  • “E-waste” (as electronic waste—anything with a battery or a cord—is frequently called) is the fastest growing waste stream in the world.  It is quickly filling our landfills and it has the potential to do significantly more harm than household trash.
  • The average lifespan of computers dropped from six years in 1997 to just two years by 2005, and cell phones have a life cycle of less than two years in developed countries.
  • The United States discarded more than 11 million tons of e-waste in 2014 (the data for 2015 and 2016 hasn’t been released yet) but only approximately 20-25% of that waste is recycled each year.
  • For every million cell phones we recycle, 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
  • Recycling one million laptops saves as much energy as the electricity used by more than 3,500 US homes in a year.

Electronics Recycling Drive

By:  Cari Orsi, P.E., LEED AP on behalf of Pare’s Sustainability Committee

The Pare Sustainability Committee is sensitive to the environment and understands the need for reduction in landfill waste, so in March we organized an Electronics Recycling Drive for Pare employees. Through partnership with Northeast Computer Recycling (NECR, http://www.northeastcomputerrecycling.com/), we were able to recycle broken and obsolete electronics rather than putting them in mainstream waste channels.  This year over 40 electronic items were collected including computer towers, monitors, printers, cell phones and various chargers.   Thanks to everyone at Pare who supported this green initiative!

Ryan Lagace, owner and operator of NECR, explained that he was motivated to open NECR after witnessing companies throwing away a lot of old equipment when he worked in the IT industry.  He had a vision to dismantle and recycle these items.  Ryan explained, “100% of the material we take in is recycled, including plastics and metals.  Everything is sorted out.  I even found a local company to recycle polystyrene, and I get a lot of that from packaging.” NECR is staying busy with multiple pickups daily from businesses in MA and RI.  Ryan’s advice about electronics recycling when asked was, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle still rings true, but we don’t just recycle here.  I try to re-sell equipment when I can so items have a second life instead of getting dismantled.”

In addition to diverting waste from landfills, there are two important reasons for recycling electronics. First, materials that make up electronics are valuable resources (metals, plastics and glass), all of which require energy to obtain and produce for electronics. Second, electronics contain many different toxic materials including lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic.  These items cause more potential harm to the environment than your typical household trash.   Left sitting in landfills, these materials may leach into the soils and potentially into groundwater.

Everyone can help to reduce electronic waste; here are a few things to consider before making a purchase:

  • Do you really need that new electronic device?
  • Can you repair or upgrade components on the one you have?
  • If your old electronic items are still working, consider re-selling them or donating them instead of throwing them out or recycling them.

Here are a few additional things you can do to reduce waste:

To learn more about electronics recycling visit the US Environmental Protection Agency’s website at www.epa.gov/recycle/electronics-donation-and-recycling.

EPA electronics recycling






Upcycling Vs. Downcycling

Have you ever attended a swanky dinner party and wanted to impress other party-goers with your overall smartness?  Well, I can guarantee that you’ll be the life of the party after dropping these recycling-themed knowledge bombs.

A few terms that get thrown around when speaking about recycling are the processes of “upcycling” and “downcycling”.  Both have vastly different meanings – which I’ll try to explain below.

In general:

Upcycling refers to the reuse of used/old materials to fulfill other purposes.

Downcycling refers to the degradation of materials after recycling process takes place.

Upcycling

I liken upcycling to being crafty and resourceful with everyday trash.  While most people wouldn’t think twice about throwing these things away, some have made it a goal of theirs to be as thrifty as possible.  Upcycling doesn’t require much effort, and if you’re of the crafty persuasion, it might be right up your alley.  Here are a few examples to help get the point across:

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This outdoor stairway was built using tires found during the cleanup of the area.  Rather than bringing in new materials for building the stairs, or paying for the disposal of the tires, they were repurposed for this hiking path.

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This bicycle wheel was on its way to take up space in a landfill when someone decided that it would serve a better purpose holding pots and pans.  This one actually seems to be relatively simple to do, and yields some truly useful results.

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The truck that this tailgate belonged to was probably wrecked, and the tailgate was one of its last salvageable pieces.  It now helps people sit down and relax.  Though it looks more like a piece of artwork than anything, it still seems like a good way to show off the business’s dedication to being environmentally conscious.

Want more ideas?  How about a hundred?

Downcycling

Unlike upcycling, downcycling is actually a negative side effect of the recycling process.  It refers to the number of times a material can be recycled before there’s no life left to it and it MUST be landfilled.  Though it appears that recycling plastics, cardboard, and metals is equally as beneficial to the environment, not all recyclables are created equal.  As a matter of fact, certain materials that you throw into that recycle bin are actually not capable of being recycled the way you’d think.  Plastics, for example, cannot be melted down and reused for the same purposes as their original products, unlike glass or aluminum.  Therefore, these plastics must be ground up and used for fleece clothing or door mats (not for something that you’d eat out of).

The term downcycling refers to the degree of degradation that occurs to the material after being recycled.  Below, I’ve listed the materials that yield the best bang for your buck in terms of recycling (the lowest rate of downcycling is listed first, the highest rate listed last).

1. Aluminum, Steel, and Glass – All those wine bottles, soda cans and steel girders break down very slowly or not at all during the recycling process.  Take every step you can to recycle these materials, since they can be put back to use for the same purposes down the line!

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2. Paper and Cardboard – This material has around six to twelve downcycles before it must be landfilled.  Because the fibers shorten every time it’s put through the recycling process, the life span of paper degrades rather quickly.

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3. Plastics – The best products that plastics can be directly recycled into are fleece material, carpet, railroad ties, and new products cast specifically as recycled plastic (such as Adirondack chairs).  This means that at most, they have around one to two downcycles before needing to be landfilled.  

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Only a very small percentage of #1 plastic can be recycled and utilized as plastic for bottles and other food-grade plastics.  In addition, it takes significantly more resources to recycle plastic than glass or metals.  It appears that the higher the number on the inside of the recycling symbol (normally #1-7) the more difficult it is to recycle.  In light of this, Rhode Island currently accepts all plastics for recycling, regardless of their numerical designations.

For more information on recyclable materials and their downcycle rates, check out this chart.