Happy Earth Day!

Digitally generated Earth day vector from Deposit Photos

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day! 

I’ve always been proud to be born on Earth Day, despite the fact that I do *not* have a green thumb. I can’t keep houseplants alive to save my life. They don’t tell me they are hungry like my dog does (she’s a beagle; it’s constant) and I always end up over watering them. But one place I have been able to stay true to my Earth Day roots is through avid recycling and more sustainable practices, which I’m happy to share with you.

I’d like to propose that we treat every day like Earth Day!

What I mean by that is that we start now by building small habits that will make a big impact later. By making a few mindful shifts and striving to keep up on education and the changing times (like the fact that as of January 2019, China announced they no longer want our dirty recycling; read about it here and here), we can make a big difference.

The key is not to recycle more, it’s to recycle better or smarter.

The first step is accepting that this is not the easier route, but it’s the better route. Being green isn’t easy, as Kermit has already taught us. But in the end, it’s up to use to make changes in order to ensure the survival of the planet. Just like I advise my organizing clients, start small with what you have/know, practice those habits until they are on autopilot, then build on those habits. Baby steps in this instance really work.

NAPO-SFBA South Bay Neighborhood Group Trip to Green Waste in San Jose
What really made an impact and kick started my small habits was visiting my local recycling and landfill facility in San Carlos, CA. I highly recommend that everyone visit their local facility because it’s highly educational. Kids love it, and the majority of the tours that Recology does in our community are to school age children on field trips.

I won’t lie – it’s loud and it’s smelly, but it’s fascinating (they do give you earplugs). Millions of dollars of equipment help to transport the recycling all over a large warehouse facility from one end to the other, zig zagging all around and using the entire height of the building. I almost got dizzy at how fast the conveyor belts move, sorting the recyclables before they even get to the end of the line where a group of a dozen or so workers pull out the last bits of trash that accidentally got mixed in (whether a mistake or due to not knowing what is and is not recyclable in your specific municipality).

I learned so much on this tour that I went back again a year later and brought friends, clients and colleagues. I also visited another facility in San Jose to see what differed (and surprisingly, it was a lot). These tours are free of charge but you get so much out of it. Each time I came prepared with my list of questions to ask and got each one answered.

From that list I was able to determine the small habits I could start building, and began with adding a compost bin (since my area accepts food scraps and bones to be placed along with yard trimmings in the green bin). I also started saving any plastic bags or film that I came across in my daily life, instead of putting it in the trash. Those two things in combination with my already established habit of recycling allowed me to take out my trash only once a month, because I hardly had any trash. It was all recycling, compost and the plastic film which I took care of weekly.

The compost, as I mentioned, goes into my green bin and is picked up curbside. I have a bin under my sink and place items there:
– egg shells
– bones
– veggie trimmings
– flowers that I’ve bought for myself
– spoiled food or leftovers that I didn’t get to
– even dirty paper products like paper towels I used to clean my house, or napkins soiled with food/grease

Did you know your pizza box should actually go in the compost bin? Soiled with grease from the cheese and sauce, it cannot be recycled, but it can be composted! (if you don’t compost, put it in the trash)

What about the smell? Well, it actually hasn’t been an issue for me. For anything I know that is super spoiled or smelly (like fish or shrimp tails), I continue to leave it in the fridge in a plastic container with a lid. Some people choose to put it in the freezer (I’m limited on space in mine). I eat a lot of whole foods so I have a full bag of compost each week, sometimes I even have to take it out mid week and start a new bag (green bags that biodegrade).

The other habit of separating plastic bags and film was relatively easy:
– Ziplock bags
– plastic film from packaging
– the air pockets used to cushion shipments
– produce bags
– the few plastic bags I’d get from to go orders (plastic bags are banned in my area but somehow restaurants are allowed to use the for carry out orders)

These all get collected in a larger plastic bag. Most of the time I use a flower bag from the grocery store (from those aforementioned flowers I like to buy for myself) to hold all the plastic and when it’s full, I tie it off and take it to the local grocery store for recycling in their bins. Most big brand grocery stores will have this bin either right outside their doors or just inside. In some municipalities, you may also be able to take your tied up bag of bags and place it in your recycle bin.

Finally, I placed a second bin in my bathroom for compost related items (tissues; all cotton/cardboard q-tips; hair from my hairbrush). Again this bin fils up more than the trash bin in my bathroom.

Once I had those habits down I built in a few more over the months/years:
– having the reusable bags in my car so I always had them and didn’t have to buy bags
– saving rubber bands and corks to take back to the grocery store
– trying to use my own coffee mug where possible
– buying glass and metal straws and brushes to clean them with and bringing them with me
– buying bamboo utensils and keeping those on hand, and asking to go places not to include the plastic utensils
– bringing my own mason jar with a special lid to my local lunch stop for smoothies (they loved that I did this)

One thing I haven’t done yet but would like to do is bring small food containers with me for leftovers at restaurants. I’d also like to try the beeswax paper instead of plastic wrap (and recently purchased some to try out).

The key – again – is to start small and with what you have, then build on it. What little changes are you inspired to make this Earth Day to help leave a better planet for generations to come? What things are you doing already that I haven’t thought of or shared here? I would love to hear.

This is the beginning of a “Green Series” of blog posts that will cover recycling, household hazardous waste, and how to be more green in your everyday life. Focus on sustainability and move away from single-use anything. Invest in fabrics or items built to last and that can be repaired instead of disposable fashion or technology. We are going to have to make serious changes to the way we consume, especially since foreign countries no longer want our dirty recycling. I believe we really can make a difference and it starts with one small step. 

I can’t wait to hear what that step is for you (please share below in the comments). Let me know your questions or what you are interested in learning more of with regards to recycling, and being more eco-friendly and sustainable. I’m always happy to share my knowledge.

Again, Happy Earth Day!

Lauren Mang
  • Davina
    Posted at 22:26h, 22 April Reply

    Ooof…. I wish our green waste bins received food scraps. I’m trying to muster the energy to start a compost bin and a little raised bed garden. But I know zero about either! I’m also wondering if any of the local stores in Sacramento receive plastic bags. This is something I will be looking into. Thanks!

    • Lauren Mang
      Posted at 22:17h, 24 April Reply

      Thanks Davina! Most chain grocery stores *should* have the white/opaque bin for plastic bag recycling by their front door. Some have it just outside, some have it just inside the doors. If you don’t see one, ask a manager. I may not be correct but I think it’s the law for them to have them at the stores. Whole Foods used to have them, but don’t. I think the employees still take them if people bring them inside. A compost bin for your raised bed garden is a great idea! But for your own compost pile do not include bones or paper towels, just food scraps (and probably not meat either). I’m sure you’ll find some great tips if you google it or look on Pinterest. Keep me posted!

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