Tag Archives: Reuse

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

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.

RRR

“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!

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.