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Making Sense of the Massachusetts Bottle Bill

MAking Sense of the MA Bottle Bill |


This November, Massachusetts voters are being asked whether or not they want to expand our current “Bottle Bill” to cover more types of bottles and cans.

You’d think that I would be all for the bottle bill.  In theory, I am.  More recycling, great!  But I had a lot of trouble with this one.   I have been thinking and talking to so many people about this.  A big issue was  separating facts from opinions and spin, on both sides of this issue.  I tried really hard to find independent data to verify various claims on both sides of the argument.  But I’ll admit, it was tough.  Below are my findings.  I tried to be objective, but some claims just didn’t make sense to me.  And I called them out.  But you decide.

Proposed Law

Let’s look at the actual wording of the original bill.  I refuse to believe any TV ad, articles or other paraphrases.

Please don’t crucify me if I oversimplified things here and there.  I’m trying to describe the law as accurately as possible without over complicating and confusing people. 

  • Expands the types of bottles/cans covered by the existing 5 cent deposit law. It will expand the current deposit system to cover other non carbonated non-alcoholic beverages in liquid form.  “excludes beverages that are primarily derived from dairy products, infant formula, united states food and drug administration-approved medicines,”.  Contains such things as water, juice, and tea.
  • The amount of this deposit (currently 5 cents) would be evaluated every 5 years and adjusted based on the consumer price index.
  • Increase the minimum handling fee that grocery stores and redemption centers are paid for returning the bottles/cans to the bottler/distributor. This is something I didn’t know about before.  Stores/redemption centers are paid by makers/distributors of the beverages for handling the returns.  Depending on who is accepting the returned bottle, the fee varies currently.  This law would make all handling fees 3.5 cents per bottle.  This is an increase from 2.25 cents for distributors.  It is an increase from 1 cent for bottlers.  So for example, Coke currently pays Stop ‘n Shop 1 cent per bottle to handle taking back a coke bottle/can.  This fee will increase to 3.5 cents.
  • The handling fee is assessed every 5 years by the secretary of the executive office of energy and environmental affairs and adjusted based on the consumer price index.
  • NEW: Establishes a Clean Environment Fund where abandoned deposits go. “Amounts deposited in said fund shall be used, subject to appropriation, for programs including but not limited to projects supporting the proper management of solid waste, water resource protection, parkland, urban forestry, air quality and climate protection.”  The way this is worded, the funds could be used for other purposes.
  • NEW: Small dealers can apply for an exemption so that they are not required to accept empty containers. 


The Claims

It really annoys me that in the official “Massachusetts Information For Voters 2014 Ballot Questions” brochure put out by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the for and against sections are written by proponents and opponents of the ballot question. Of course, each group spins it for their own gain.  You won’t hear anything negative in the FORs nor positive in the AGAINST.  I just want the truth, without the spin, and let me decide.  I don’t mind a few – hey that means this will/could happen, but let me decide with ALL the facts not just the ones that support your argument.

Here is my attempt to “fact check” the claims made by each side.  I tried to remain objective here as much as possible, but in the end I, of course, ended up with an opinion about these “facts”.  I have shared those with you, but please I urge you to make up your own mind. Maybe you don’t agree with me.  That’s fine.


Before I get into their claims, who is FOR this bill:  environmental groups like MassPIRG, Sierra Club, various local Climate action networks; League of Women Voters; health organizations like Leukemia and Lymphoma society and HealthLink; Government officials like representatives, senators and mayors. 

How much have they spent to educate voters:  $750,000

  • The Bottle bill works – 80% of beer and soda containers are redeemed/recycled. Only 23% of non-deposit containers are recycled.  I had a hard time figuring out if this was true or not.  What I looked at was a 2010 waste characterization study.  What is a waste characterication study?  MassDEP personnel literally sift through and sort trash to see what’s in there.  According to this study,  0% deposit aluminum cans were found in the trash.  0.5% of the total trash was plastic beverage bottles.  This doesn’t exactly prove that the recycling rates stated are correct, but it does tell me the aluminum cans, the ones that have a deposit currently, are NOT ending up in the trash.  And the plastic bottles, ones without the deposit, are.

My Conclusion: TRUE

  • Save municipalities up to $7 million. I looked at the study that came to this conclusion.  The most significant savings was estimated to come from reduce collection costs due to reduced items to collect.  This is the cost of the trucks driving around collecting trash/recycling.  The trucks still have to drive every street, ever week.  I just can’t believe that little bit of extra room in a truck will reduce the number of trucks thus reducing the cost.  However, if people return water bottles and the like instead of throwing them in the trash or on the ground, that will save cities and towns on “tipping fees”.  The cost of trash is 2 fold – one cost for trucks picking up the trash and a second cost, per ton, to dispose of the trash (tipping fee). It will also save a bit of labor picking up the litter.

My CONCLUSION: TRUE, but overstated

  • Less litter.   Someone will pick up those bottles and return them for the deposit. So this is probably true.


  • Curbside recycling doesn’t help these situations because people drink these away from the home.  This doesn’t really fly with me. OK, maybe you are more likely to drink a bottle of water than a soda on a soccer field, or out for the day, but why aren’t there recycling bins out and about like there are all the trash cans these bottles are ending up in?  Or why aren’t people taking them home to recycle?  This point says to me, we need more public recycling bins, not necessarily an expanded bottle bill.


  • Restores the Clean Environment fund. This was in the original bill in 1981.  In 2003, Gov. Mitt Romney dissolved this and many other ear-marked items and sent them to the general fund. This is a fact.  What isn’t made completely clear is that only a portion of the unclaimed deposits go to the fund.  Not sure what that is.  And it seems like it’s still subject to appropriation.  So we have to watch this one and make sure funds don’t get taken away like they did in 2003.

MY CONCLUSION: TRUE, but must be watched

  • Increased Responsibility.  Like so many other items that are short lived, there is a cost associated with the waste generated from these bottles.  Cities/Towns and residents are bearing most of the cost in higher trash/recycling fees.  Some believe that the producer of such items, should share in the cost a bit.  Producers will have to pay the dealer/distributor a higher handling fee for bringing the bottle back to them.  Currently, bottlers (The Coco-cola’s ) are paying distributors and dealers (Market Baskets’) 1 cent per bottle returned to them.  This would increase to 3.5 cents and cover a lot more bottles.  Is it less expensive to toss your bottles into your recycling bin at home, probably.  But cheaper for who?  Is increasing bottle deposits the best way to increase responsibility?  Maybe not.




Who is Against this bill:  Beverage Distributors and Bottlers: Beer Distributors of MA, Berkshire Brewing Co., Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England; Liquor stores, Grocery Stores: Big Y, Market Basket; Waste Disposal Companies

How much have the spent to educate voters:  $8 million

  • 90% of households have access to curbside and community recycling.   The original statement was that 90% had access to curbside recycling.  The FOR side called this out as untrue, so the AGAINST side clarified by saying they meant curbside and community access (a drop off location).  I started out combing through MassDEP data to figure out what percentage of households actually did have access to recycling.  Then I stopped.   This is the way I view it.  If your city/town does not provide any sort of trash and recycling service to you, what do you do with it?  You have to do something with your waste, right?  Some will hire a company to come pick it up at the curb. Some will bring it to a transfer station or dump.  In MA, there is a thing called a waste banNo person can toss anything that is commonly recyclable into the trash.  No person can bring said material to a landfill or incinerator.  So, even if your town/city does not provide any trash/recycling services you are still responsible for it, correct?  And since no one can toss recyclables into the trash or transport them, it is your and your trash/recycling person’s responsibility to make sure these items are are recycled.  So maybe the opponents fudged the truth on the recycling stat a bit.  But I’d argue that 100% have access to and are responsible for recycling already.  

MY CONCLUSION: TRUE, but it doesn’t matter


  • Waste taxpayer dollars on expanding an uneconomical 30 year old system. There are no details here.  I’m not sure where this figure comes from.  I can’t figure out what taxpayer dollars would be going toward.  The administration of the law perhaps?  From what I can tell, the government doesn’t get too involved in the process except that stores are responsible for reporting how much money they collected in deposits and how much they paid out to the alcoholic beverage commission monthly. ???


  • Raise your nickel deposit and additional fees every five years – without your vote. Yes the 5 cent deposit can be raised every five years based on the Consumer Price Index.  This is a percentage based on how much prices on goods and services have changed over the five years.   Also remember, that the “additional fees” mentioned here, are fees the bottlers are paying, not you.  Sure, they will threaten to raise the prices and pass this on to the consumer.  Studies have been done to show that the price of  a beverage in bottle bill vs non bottle bill states is the same.


  • The Recycling Rate will only increase less than 1%.   To evaluate this, you need to look closely and know a few recycling definitions.  When someone refers to the “recycling rate”, they are referring to the overall rate at which all material being discarded is recycled.  For example, if I discard 10 lbs worth of stuff and 7 lbs goes into my trash barrel and the other 3 lbs go into my recycle bin, I have a recycling rate of 30% (3/10 lbs).  According to my look at the waste characterization study, plastic bottles made up 0.5% of the waste.  So, as long as you are clear on what this means.  It’s probably pretty close.  Just be sure you realize that it is not disputing the 80% recycle rate claimed by proponents. 

MY CONCLUSION: TRUE, but make sure you understand what is being said

  •  More than $30 million of unclaimed nickels go to the state’s general fund not to environmental programs.  Under the current law, this is true.  The ballot question aims to change that.  As I said above, though, this will need to be watched.  However, the way this claim is worded, it makes people think that the money is still going to be going directly to the general fund, which, strictly speaking, it’s not.  A NO vote will continue to send the money to the general fund with no hopes of funding environmental issues.




Ever wonder what happens to the bottles/cans you return?  They are sold by the bottlers to scrap metal/plastic/glass dealers to be recycled.  Yes, SOLD, as in the bottlers are making money from the materials just like your curbside recycler does.  Actually they are making more than many of the curbside recyclers.  Since these bottles/cans are separated when they are returned, they are of a higher quality than single-stream recycables.  They command a higher price.  How much?  I don’t know.  But they are recouping some of the money they are spending on handling fees, maybe more.  

Why are the bottlers, distributors, and grocery stores lobbying so hard to get you to vote no?  In addition to the $8 million they’ve spent on this, they have spent who knows how much more money over the years to keep this bill from getting on the ballot or being passed by the legislature. Ask yourself why?  

Curbside recyclers are against this bill because it will take revenue out of their stream – less plastic bottles for them to sell.  So apparently there are enough of these bottles ending up in recycling bins to affect the recyclers.  I’m not sure what to make of this.  I see so many plastic bottles in the trash that I can’t imagine that the 20% or so that are recycled make that big of an impact.  But maybe 20% of a HUGE number is still a huge number and recyclers would rather see money being spent on encouraging people to recycle the 80% into their revenue stream.

The opposition urges us “Let’s stop throwing money at an inefficient system and invest in modern recycling technology”.  Sounds great!  Sign me up! Are they offering up the money to do this?  I agree that maybe the bottle bill system is redundant, but it works. Normal recycling without incentives (or penalties perhaps) just doesn’t get the job done as well. 

Yes it is a pain in the neck to lug these bottles back to the store/redemption center rather than throw them in your recycling bin.  But think about this, most of these items are not good for your health or are a waste of money.  Stop buying them and avoid the returns and cost all together.  If you feel you must buy bottled water, buy the larger sizes and fill your own bottle.  They are less expensive, no deposits and can still be recycled.

 Yes recycling is available to most residents now where it wasn’t when the bill was first introduced.  However, in all those 25+ years, people still aren’t taking advantage of this recycling- for one reason or another.  Unfortunately, it seems as though unless you hit people in their wallets, they don’t pay attention.  I don’t like that, but I see it more and more as reality.  Ask your friends who live in communities where they pay for bags/barrels of trash (Pay as You Throw, PAYT, systems).  Have they taken the time and  figured out how to reduce their trash to save some money?


Ultimately, I just wish everyone would be more reasonable and realistic.  Instead of fighting about this, can’t we all agree that 1) bottles create litter 2) they aren’t being recycled at a high rate  and 3) let’s ALL do something about it.  Heck, take an ever broader view and look at all waste.  Design the ideal system – easy, efficient, cost effective – and EVERYONE do their part.  Producers, consumers, stores, recyclers, government, EVERYONE!


But for now, I still need to decide how I will vote on Question 2…….




Did You See Me On The Queen Latifah Show for Earth Day?!?!?!

Did you see me on The Queem Latifah Show?!?!} #qlshow #dannyjseo


This was one of the most amazing experiences ever!  It is still sinking in.  But let me back up, the road  getting here wasn’t always clear – at least to me.

It started on a Monday night with an email.  A woman named Emily who claimed she worked at The Queen Latifah Show wanted to “chat about my story”.  They were filming their Earth Day show and wanted to “highlight women who are making a difference in their community”. 

Sounds cool!  But me!?  Really?  They are probably emailing TONS of women, I bet they didn’t even read my blog, just saw a few keys words and shot off an email to see who’d respond first.  I let the email sit for a day.  I asked some of my Green Sisters if they’d gotten similar requests.  No one had.  Hmm.  OK I’ll bite.  So I emailed her back. 

We spoke on Thursday afternoon.  She asked me how I got started, what prompted me to start Upcycle It!, that kind of thing.  She told me again, that they were highlighting women making a difference, that she was speaking to a few other people and she’d let me know later that day.  OK, whatever, we’ll see.  I’m a little more convinced she’s for real, but still feel like I won’t get picked.  At one point she asked what other “green” things we do around the house.  We recycle, compost, use cloth napkins.  Then she asked if we had an electric car.  Oh no, she’s not going to think I’m “green” enough.  You don’t need an electric car to be green, there are tons of other things you can do.    I had to convince her I was committed even though I drive a minivan that gets a pathetic 20 MPG, if I’m lucky!   I talked about why my husband and I didn’t have an electric car –we have 3 kids and a dog and I’m constantly driving them and a friend or two places, so we really need a larger vehicle and the electric vehicles out there at the time just didn’t work for us.  But I’d love to have one.  Did I convince her? I hoped so.

 Two hours later the phone rang again.  It was her asking if I could come out there Sunday to tape the show Monday.  I screamed when I got off the phone!  I couldn’t believe it!  My kids were so excited!  My 12 year old is very into fashion, makeup and being on TV or movies.  She kept calling me a movie star.  Yea, I’m a cool mom!

As I started telling people, I started to wonder if this was a scam.  I know, how paranoid am I?  But I had recently read an article about a female reporter who was almost lured to Russia under the guise of reporting the Olympics only to discover last minute that it was a human trafficking scam!  OK, I need to do some checking on this.  I double checked the email domain name. Yup looks like the same one they use on the QL website.  But scammers can fake that.  OK, what to do….  I couldn’t find a phone number, so I emailed the generic “contact us” address of the show and asked if this was legitimate.  I figured I might not get a response since I’m sure they get 100’s of emails daily but it was worth a shot.  Well, within about a ½ hour, I had a response.  This was for real!  OMG!

The next few days were a whirlwind of getting ready to be gone for a few days, my amazing Mother-in-law came up and help with the kids, and the most important thing – figuring out what to wear!  So I’m doing all this and I still am not really sure what’s going to go on.  I emailed my contact and asked if I’d be interviewed so I could prepare.  She told me that they were honoring a few people, that I’d be in the audience, Queen Latifah  would point me out and might ask me a quick question.  Oh, OK.  Honestly, I was a little disappointed.  All this traveling across the country for 2 days and like 10 seconds on camera.  But she said that they’d be able to mention my blog name and hopefully get me a bunch of traffic.  Woo Hoo!  What every blogger wants!  Plus how cool to be flown out to LA for all the work I’ve been doing for the last 4 years. 


 Sunday morning.  Oh did I mention that the night before my flight I slept on the floor of a mall?  Yes, I was at a girl scout Pajama Palooza with my 12 year old.  It was a lot of fun, but needless to say I did not get much sleep.  I came home, showered, changed and  headed to the airport.








When I got to the studio the next morning, they brought me to where the audience waits. Watching the taping of the show was fun.  I’d never seen a show filmed before. Someone was supposed to come get me after the first segment or 2, but there I was 3 – 4 segments later.  Did they forget about me?  They changed their minds.  Ugh, they are running out of time and I’m not even going to be on TV at all.  I’m starting to get a bit down.  Finally, someone came to get me and took me to hair and makeup.  VERY COOL!  What they can do with makeup and hair is amazing! 

I spoke with the associate producer who told me that Queen Latifah would be saying a few words about Upcycle It! and might ask me why I started it. So I was fitted for a microphone.  OMG, I’ll get to talk.  Please don’t sound foolish.  She then told me that sometimes Queen Latifah likes to give her guests something.  If that happens make sure I really react.  That on TV it may not look like people are reacting so go big.  Got it.   So back to the audience we go.  

Then Queen Latifah starts to talk about me, “We have someone in the audience…” then I sort of blanked out.  I have no idea what she actually said.  My brain completely slowed down and I could only process one thing at a time.  Am I smiling? Smile. Where is the camera? Is it on me? Should I wave? Don’t forget to breath.  Oh God, what is she saying about me? You need to listen and smile at the same time!  All I heard were a few words – “Kristina…”   “started a program in her school district…”  “Let’s bring her on stage”.   OK, I have to get up and walk.  So I hear, “bring her down” and I get up.  Please don’t fall please don’t fall…. 

I am directed to the stage and I step in between Danny Seo and Queen Latifah.  She then asks why I started this program.  I start to say that I have 3 children, say their names, then I have no idea how I answered the question.  Again, hoping I made some sense but I’m really thinking I said the Beauty Pageant equivalent of “End World Hunger”.  She then asks how it feels knowing that I’m making a difference.  It feels great.  At some point in there I tell her that it’s easier than you might think.  And she looks at me and says “Really?” I say “Yes it is.”  When did I say that, did it make sense?  I have no idea now.  So then she says that someone else noticed what I was doing, again I’m totally paraphrasing here since I was totally in a fog at this point just trying to remember to smile, breath and not fall over!  She tells me that Ford wants to give me a home electric charging stations.  Great?  What am I going to do with this. This is weird. What’s going on?  But I’m on TV, big reaction.  Great!   She asks,  “Do you own an electric car?”  “No”, I say, “but it’s still cool.”  Then I’m thinking, wait a minute… 

The next thing I hear is  “You do now!” and out rolls a gorgeous red Ford CMAX Energi    I about died.  So surreal I can’t even explain it.     Like an out of body experience. We walk over to my ….. MY car!!!    And I’m gushing about the color –  it’s my favorite gorgeous deep red.  Now tears are forming.  I get in and I’m saying how comfy it is.  Danny is saying something about how great the mpg’s are.  The audience is going nuts.  I just comment on how comfortable and nice it was and how I loved the color.  I just could not express how incredible this was.

My new Ford CMAX Energi!  #qlshow  #dannyjseo

 I am still speechless.  To be noticed and recognized in such an amazing way for what I have been trying to accomplish for years, there are no words.  There are times when I think to myself, “What the heck am I doing sorting trash in my garage!”  Volunteering hours of my time.  Am I making a difference?  Does anyone notice and care?  I guess they do!  When I told people I was going to be on the show, they were truly happy for me and said how hard I work and how much I deserved it.  I’m tearing up again.  I don’t do this for the recognition, but I do hope that people notice and that I am making a difference.

And can we just talk about an electric car!!!!!!  YEAH!  So happy to be able to use this new technology. I can’t wait to test it out and see how long I can go without going to a gas station!

Thank you Queen Latifah!!!  Thank you Danny Seo!!!  Thank you Ford!!


Just in case you missed the show, you can watch clips of it here.

Top and Bottom photos courtesy of The Queen Latifah Show


What Do Kids Think About School Lunches?

School has started and so have the school cafeteria lunch discussions.  In the news recently, I have read about schools dropping out of the National School lunch program for various reasons, parents wanting better food, new “healthier” guidelines,  kids “refusing” to eat the “healthier” lunches, etc….  But has anyone wondered what the kids think?

I was cleaning out an old stack of papers yesterday and came across this.  It’s my daughter’s persuasive writing assignment from 5th grade.  I think it’s interesting to see things from the child’s perspective.  Even more interesting to find out that not all of them want junk food.

 Now, I am not naive.  I completely know that she still loves pizza , desserts, potato chips and the like.  Is she going to refuse that dessert when she buys lunch at school, no way.  But if she can make the connection between food and how she feels and performs, Woo Hoo!  Proud Mom moment!!!  And I’ll take it!  All my home cooking and talking sunk in.  Even if it was only to help her write this paper, it’s in her brain to stay.


An 11 year old's thoughts on school lunches


What do your kids (and you) think about school lunches?



Green Around Town: Recycling and Composting

Every once in a while, I get the feeling that we as a country and planet, are not moving quickly enough towards sustainability.  It gets discouraging.   I can start to lose steam, almost a “why bother, no one else does,” attitude. 

This time,  I decided to really notice green actions and examples near me.  I made sure to take pictures and went through my old ones to see all that WAS happening around me.  Here are all the examples I found of recycling and composting alone near Boston.


My parents sent me this picture while at my Mom’s college reunion at Clark University in Worcester, MA.



It was great to see recycling right next to each trash container on our town common during the annual strawberry festival in June.



I took this over a year ago while at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. Love the graphics!  Hate that the trash is still overflowing.


I saw these all over Boston on a recent trip.



This was great to see a few years back when Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH added them.  Before that they had no recycling whatsoever.



The owner of Westford Pilates, Chris, put this at her studio all on her own.  She told me she takes it home to recycle because her building doesn’t have it available.


Still wish more was happening, but this  was encouraging!  I came across even more in other categories like solar power and electric vehicles, but I’ll save that for another time.

Do you see green actions around you?



You Say Trash, I Say Opportunity

How the Massachusetts waste ban should be a money maker { }

Incinerator floor filled with trash…and recyclables


Did you know that in Massachusetts certain items are banned from your trash?  In 1990, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) deemed certain items that should not be put into the trash either because they are hazardous or they are easily recyclable.  The recyclables ones are:

  • Ferrous & non-ferrous metals
  • Glass & metal containers
  • Leaves & yard waste
  • Recyclable paper, cardboard & paperboard
  • Single resin narrow-necked plastics (plastics #1 and #2)
  • White goods (large appliances)

Metal, glass, paper, plastic.  All commonly recyclable in Massachusetts.

Here’s the legal-ease:

“No person shall dispose, transfer for disposal, or contract for disposal of the restricted material except in accordance with the restriction established in the table. No landfill, transfer facility or combustion facility shall accept the restricted material except to handle, recycle or compost the material in accordance with a plan submitted pursuant to 310 CMR 19.017(5) and approved by the Department.”

I highlighted the word person in the above statement. Notice that this is generic. It applies to everyone, not just big businesses or just residents. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E!


What happens if these items are found in the trash?

If enforced, a fine can be issued in the amount of $100 to $25,000 for each day of violation. I spoke to our regional MassDEP representative who said that if they are able – they go after everyone – the person/company that threw out the recyclables, company who hauled it away, the municipality, and the landfill or incinerator that accepted it.

Even with these bans in place, recyclable material is still being thrown away.  According to a study conducted at a local incinerator in 2010, waste entering this facility still had:

  • 27.3% paper
  • 11.6% plastic
  • 5.7% metal
  • 1.8% glass

In theory, another 45% of the trash being tossed in these MA towns could have been recycled.  Almost half!  As you can see from the picture I took at this very facility, there is a lot of cardboard and paper being tossed.  Can you find the Christmas tree?


Why do municipalities want to increase recycling?

Although there are many who want to make a positive impact on the environment, usually the bottom line is money and compliance to the above ordinance.

I took a look at Westford’s disposal costs for 2012.

Recycling cost $240,000  for 2816 tons  => $85 per ton

Solid Waste cost $1,173,352  for 8168 tons  => $143 per ton

Granted recycling is picked up every other week in Westford so the cost of the trucks is ½ what it would be for trash pickup.  For recycling, however, that is where the cost ends.   We can recycle as much as we want without this pickup cost changing.  The recycler is then able to take this resource, yes resource, separate it and resell it for a profit.  In reality, the per ton cost ($85) will go down if we recycle more.  Not so for trash.

For trash disposal, we not only pay for the trucks to pickup, but we pay an additional fee to the incinerator for each ton of trash disposed  (a tipping fee as it is known in the industry).     The total cost of solid waste is split about equally between pickup and disposal in this particular scenario.  With approximately 45% of this 8168 tons of trash containing recyclables, there is a real money saving opportunity here.  About $250,000!

Many people don’t even know about the waste ban.  Why would they?  You never hear of enforcement, businesses routinely neglect recycling because it costs extra, initially; even some cities and towns don’t force their own employees (including schools) to recycle!  It drives me crazy.  I would love to see more education and enforcement.


Why isn’t there more recycling? 

I’d love to know!  Many municipalities in MA have moved to a PAY-AS-YOU-THROW (PAYT) system.  You pay for all or a portion of the trash you throw out.  In these situations, recycling is usually free.  In those towns/cities, recycling rates have sky rocketed and trash rates have plummeted!  Recycling rates in Massachusetts vary from area to area.  Usually in direct proportion to how much residents are asked to pay for their trash.  The lowest trash rates being in those towns/cities where residents pay for all of their trash.

Normally, I am not one to support this type of negative reinforcement, but I am beginning to think that unless there is some immediate detrimental effect, people do not change their habits.  And the results are pretty impressive.


Talk about a quick money maker! Take a few MassDEP employees a few days a month to go around and educate on the waste ban.  Then round two: fine businesses, residents, haulers, incinerators and landfills still allowing recyclables into the trash.  I’m sure the word would spread pretty quickly!  This could boost the recycling industry and lower business’ and municipal disposal costs.  I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but still….  what an opportunity!


What are the recycling rules where you are?


This post has been shared at Simply Natural Saturdays, Green Living Thursdays


Starbucks $1 Reusable Cup: Is it Right For You?

Starbucks $1 Reusable Cup:  Is It Right For You?  {The Greening Of Westford}
In January Starbucks introduced their $1 reusable cup.   In an effort to encourage more customers to bring their own mug instead of using a disposable cup each time.  Starbucks feels that this low price will make it an affordable alternative.  Their goal is to serve 5% of their beverages in reusable cups by 2015.  Currently, that number is only 1.9% (2011).
 I had to try it out for myself.  My local Starbucks sold out quickly.  The manager told me that they were only given 75 to start, but she ordered more.   So I went back a few days later and purchased one along with the man in front of me.
My Initial Impressions
  • Inexpensive, at this price customers might be able to have a few to make sure there is one in the car at all times
  • Saves 10 cents each time it is used paying for itself in 10 uses.
  • They are recyclable in most areas once they wear out 
  • It is HOT!  Like too hot to hold without a sleeve.  Both the man in front of me and I commented on this.
  • It is plastic.  Although it is BPA-free #5 plastic, the question among those concerned about plastics is “What is replacing the BPA?”  And in the end it is still plastic.
  • The top was difficult to remove and put back on.  I was afraid I was going to spill the entire mug.  It loosened after a couple of uses and isn’t a problem anymore.
  • Only good for 30 uses.  
  • I still wondered if I’d remember to bring this mug.
Since I now have a “spare” reusable travel mug, it actually stays in my car!  I have used it a couple of times.  Only a few because I don’t get coffee out that often.
To fix the temperature issue, I used an old sock.  I cut off the top of one of my husband’s old socks (had a hole in it and happened to get washed with something red turning it slightly pink).  It’s not the prettiest thing but it works and the barista commented on how cute it was!
I’m still concerned about it being plastic and that is meant to carry a hot liquid.  Plastics are more likely to leach toxins when heated.  That is why I never put plastic in the dishwasher or microwave.
I wasn’t pleased to discover that this cup is only expected to last 30 uses.  When this cup wears out, I will invest in a stainless steel one to keep in the car – along with my reusable grocery bags.  I think I’ve proven to myself, that if I have an extra mug designated for the car, I will leave it there.  
Personally, I would love a see a borrowing type of system.  Maybe you join a club for a small fee, or leave a deposit, and you get a travel mug – a stainless steel one.  Next time you bring that back for them to clean and get another one.
I’m curious to find out if this new cup is bringing Starbucks closer to their 5% goal. 
Have you bought one of these cups?  Do you bring your own mug?


The Milk Industry Wants to do What??? {Know The Facts}

What the Milk Industry really wants

Have you heard the latest craziness?   In 2009, the Milk industry petitioned the FDA to allow the use of artificial sweeteners in milk without additional labeling on the front of the package.  Labels such as “reduced calorie” or “reduced sugar” are required now when artificial sweeteners are added to dairy products as an extra notice to consumers.  

FDA is now asking for comments on this petition and articles are flying around the internet.  The problem is that quite a few articles are incorrect or unclear on what the petition is actually asking.  Many are claiming that the milk industry wants to add artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame) without including that ingredient in the ingredient list.  This is not true.   Other articles are claiming that the industry is asking to be allowed to add artificial sweeteners to milk.  They already can!  What they are actually asking for is to remove the additional front of the package labeling.

I did quite a bit of reading of the actual petition and this is my interpretation and that of the Huffington Post and Snopes.

Straight from the petition:

The IDFA (International Dairy Foods Association ) and NMPF (National Milk Producers Federation) jointly submitted a citizen petition (Ref. 1) on March 16, 2009, requesting that FDA amend the standard of identity in part 131 (21 CFR part 131) for milk (§ 131.110). Specifically, the petition requests that FDA amend § 131.110(c)(2) to allow the use of “any safe and suitable” sweetener in optional characterizing flavoring ingredients used in milk.”
What does this mean?  They want to redefine the word “milk” to include “any safe and suitable” sweetener – i.e. artificial sweeteners, also known in biz as “non-nutritive sweeteners”.  Nutritive sweeteners such as sugar and high fructose corn syrup are already part of the definition.  This does NOT mean that they don’t need to be listed in the ingredient list.  Just that by definition, milk can contain these items and still be called just plain old “milk” without any qualifiers on the label – the front of the label.  So why bother you might ask, well…..

The petition goes on to say:

“The petition acknowledges that the use of non-nutritive sweeteners in optional characterizing flavoring ingredients in milk is allowed under the existing regulatory scheme, with certain additional requirements. …  Therefore, while the milk standard of identity in § 131.110 only provides for the use of “nutritive sweetener” in an optional characterizing flavor, milk may contain a characterizing flavor that is sweetened with a non-nutritive sweetener if the food’s label bears a nutrient content claim (e.g., “reduced calorie”) and the non-nutritive sweetener is used to add sweetness to the product so that it is not inferior in its sweetness property compared to its standardized counterpart. 

Artificial sweeteners can already be added to milk, as long as there is additional labeling on the packaging.  We usually see something like “reduced sugar” or certain ingredients have an asterisk with a note such as “*Ingredients not in regular milk”.  I recently found this on a yogurt container with Sucralose.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize at the time that sucralose is code for Equal.

So what is their reasoning for this.  Again from the petition:   “However, IDFA and NMPF argue that nutrient content claims such as “reduced calorie” are not attractive to children, and maintain that consumers can more easily identify the overall nutritional value of milk products that are flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners if the labels do not include such claims. Further, the petitioners assert that consumers do not recognize milk—including flavored milk—as necessarily containing sugar. Accordingly, the petitioners state that milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can “more easily identify its overall nutritional value.”

OK, so let me get this straight.  I, as a consumer, don’t recognize that milk should contain sugar. Right, plain milk shouldn’t.  Flavored milk however?  Unless it’s broccoli flavored milk, I’m pretty sure there is a sweetener of some kind in there.  But let’s keep going…. if I see “reduced sugar” on a bottle of chocolate milk I might get confused and think this isn’t milk?????  So they are doing me a favor.  And the piece d ’resistance” children are not attracted to a product that is labeled “reduced sugar”.

Personally, I think this is another marketing tactic and I do not agree with it.  Yes, the ingredients will still be listed but it is getting more and more difficult to decode ingredient lists.  I have added comments to this effect on the FDA petition.   

Comment period on the petition ends May 21, 2013.  Here is good read on the subject.

Misleading articles and the damage they do

With a little reading of the actual petition I could tell there was something not right about the initial articles I was reading.  Writers:  Do your due diligence!  You are hurting the environmental movement by jumping to conclusions and getting people riled up about something that is not true.  Many articles refer to petitions asking to stop the FDA from “adding aspartame to milk” or to require it in the ingredient list.  These petitions are asking the wrong thing.  Many people are submitting comments to the FDA on the wrong issue!  The FDA will be dismissing these comments as not relevant.  I hope these article are corrected and the petitions amended.  

What are your thoughts on this change?   Were you confused about the petition?

This post was shared at Green Sisterhood


A Day in the Life of This Eco-Mom

Day in the life of this eco-friendly mom

This random thought came to my head the other day – how is my life different from other friends that aren’t as green?  How many things do I do in a day to help the Earth?  I started to think of all the seemingly little things I have adopted over the years and there were quite a few.  Obviously, I don’t do ALL of these things in ONE SINGLE day, but you get the idea.

I wake at 6am and jump in the shower. If it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday I wash my hair with an environmentally safe shampoo that I checked out using the Environmental Working Guide’s Safe Cosmetics database.  On the other days I just rinse it with water.  Really no need to wash your hair EVERY day and use more products with toxins.  I tried the no-poo method and it just wasn’t for me.  I grab this awesome scrubbie thing that holds a bar of soap in it instead of using bath gel -less packaging and I’m not paying for the water in the gel.

Despite being on the, shall we say natural side of things, I do wear some makeup.  Most of my makeup and my facial cleansers, moisturizers, etc come from the Whole Body spa, because I know the owner well and she only creates or sells items that are safe. I also use some whipped coconut oil on my legs as moisturizer and eye makeup remover at night.

As I head downstairs, I throw in a load of laundry, on cold.

I start to make breakfast for my children.  On Tuesdays we have pancakes – made from scratch with half whole wheat flour, coconut oil and some flax seed meal on a cast iron griddle, served with real maple syrup.

Next I pack lunches and snacks in reusable lunch bags, snack bags, containers and water bottles creating waste-free lunches.   The kids fill their own snacks and usually complain that “There isn’t anything good!”  Sorry, no chips or candy for snack.  Other moms who torture their children this way, please contact me!  I need to find a “support group” for my deprived children. 😉  Can you hear the sarcasm??

We walk to the bus stop on most days.  If it’s too cold, we drive, but I shut off the car – no idling.   We live less than 2 miles from the school so I have to pay for the bus.  Honestly, I do this because it’s easier for me to get them to the bus stop than all the way to school.  Plus the bus goes right by our street regardless of whether they get on or not so this saves me gas.

Before we head out the door, the kids’ are responsible for taking the recycling to the garage.  Our recycling bin fills in a day!

I make more granola and granola bars – don’t want the ingredients in the store bought ones or the extra packaging waste.

We are running low on lotion and lip balm, so I get all the ingredients out.  While I’m at it, I mix up some more of my cleaners and check to see how the citrus infused vinegar under the kitchen sink is coming along.

I run all of my errands on one day to reduce my miles.  I am dying for a coffee.  So I stop at Dunkin’ Donuts, no reusable mug in sight, but I get the coffee in Styrofoam anyway – can’t do it all!  I hit the library to pick up a new book or return others.  Pick up the Upcycle It! items, then head to the grocery store, park the car and grab my reusable shopping and produce bags – they are always in the center console next to my seat.  While I’m in the produce aisle, I try to buy as many of the Clean 15 as I can, where I can’t I opt for organic.  The organic strawberries are so pricey and don’t look great today, conventional it is.

Lunch time.  It’s cold and I really want some soup.  Grabbed a mason jar from the freezer filled with homemade pea soup.  It took 30 minutes to defrost and re-heat.  Much more time than a can of soup, but hands down this soup was way better than any can!  And no BPA.

I read some online environmental articles and freak out about yet another thing that causes some sort of disease or defect.  I get upset that companies are allowed to put out products like cleaning supplies and personal care products (shampoo, soap, etc) without any safety testing!   Then I calm down and just try to do my best.

Time for the kids to come home.  My son loves getting the mail on his way in from school.  Not too much since most of our bills come electronically and I get very little junk mail.

My girls and I head to the mall for a little shopping.  I smile as they run to grab their reusable shopping bags without me even saying a word.

We have leftovers at least one night a week to reduce food waste.  And homemade pizza always includes some sort of leftover to make an interesting topping.  Lots of our food is stored in various glass jars/containers.  While making dinner, most of the scraps either go to the compost or in the freezer to make stock with at a later  time.

At times it does seem overwhelming.  More so when I am at someone else’s home for an extended period of time and not in my own surroundings with all of my “gear”.  Over Christmas, there were 12 family members in one house for 4 days.  We used paper plates on occasion.  My Mom does not have many glass containers, so I had to use plastic wrap to cover leftovers.  I could still recycle, but others didn’t and I was too tired to pick through the trash – although I did once.

We can’t do it all, but I feel good about what I am able to do.  I also hope that since my children are growing up this way, it will just be second nature for them to compost and recycle and they won’t have to remember to bring their reusable bags.  It will just be how it’s done.


Struggles with Going Green


Each week Reduce Footprints presents a challenge to her readers called Change the World Wednesday.  This week’s challenge is to:

This week, please share road blocks to green living. For example, perhaps you’d really like to compost but don’t. We’d like to know why. Maybe you don’t recycle … let us know why. We’re looking for all the reasons for NOTadopting a green activity. If you’re not struggling with any road blocks at this time, then please share ones which you’ve heard from others. For example, one of the most common reasons is that it’s too expensive.

Then …

Take a look at the road blocks shared and offer solutions. For example, to people who say green living is too expensive, we might share examples of how green living is actually frugal. The idea of this challenge is to help us all find solutions and “bust” all excuses for not living green.

I know that I am not perfectly green by any means.  There are lots of things, I’m sure, that I don’t do and maybe should.   What has been bothering me most lately is when I give in and do the not so green thing because of what someone else may think – including my children.
I wrote an entire article on how to Have a Green Halloween.  In it I talked about costumes and how not to buy a brand new one each year.  I was all set with this one in early October.  My oldest daughter found a great Spanish Dancer costume at a yard sale.  It was an old dance costume, well made and $1!  My son decided he wanted to be Frankenstein.  Great!  I went to Savers (it’s basically a huge indoor yard sale) and found a blazer for $4.  I figured he could wear jeans and a T-shirt.  I would figure out how to use old wine corks for those head bolts and just needed to look into some eco-friendly face paint.  Two down, one to go.  My youngest daughter decided she was going to be a witch and wear her sister’s old costume.  Yeah!  I did it!!!!
Then, the two younger kids changed their minds.  Less than 2 weeks before Halloween.  I sort of brushed it off and thought I could convince them to go with the original ideas.  No dice.  My son now wanted to be a Ninja.  Daughter #2 still wanted to be a witch but now refused to wear her sister’s costume.  Ugh!  Now what?!  Do I “force” them to wear the other costumes?  How do I explain this to them so they want to reuse another costume?  Why do they think a new, cheaply made costume is so cool?

I ended up giving in and bought 2 costumes.  I consoled myself by remembering that my kids love to play dress up.  These costumes would be used many more times. And when they were done, I could donate them to other children to use.

Update: I meant to explain a little more on why I gave in.  As I re-read this, people may think my kids were being bratty and I gave in because of that.  Not the case.  For my son, he rarely asks for anything and is quite happy, most of the time, with whatever he is given.  So when he expresses a real opinion on something, I want to listen to him and honor that request when I can.   As for my daughter, she is the younger of 2 girls.  As soon as she could express herself, she has copied her older sister on everything.  As flattering as people might think this is, her older sister did not this flattering.  Much tension over this exists.  So, when she does express her own interests, no matter how small, I like to recognize and encourage her to be her own person.  Now, I probably could have found a way for them to be what they wanted without buying brand new costumes.  I did try, but couldn’t find used ones and I am not terribly crafty so making them myself wasn’t going to happen.  So there you go!

There are lots of things my kids do that others may not – we use cloth napkins all the time (even for school lunches), they recycle, upcycle, have reusable water bottles and snack bags, etc.  At times though I don’t want to risk alienating my children or making them feel they are sacrificing just for my ideas.  Of course, I hope these also become their ideas, but they may not.

As far as what other people think, I don’t want to become that person.  I rarely tell people about environmental issues unless asked.  I don’t want to come off as preaching even though at times I am biting my tongue.  Every soccer season I cringe when the parents in charge of the snack bring out the individual drinks and individually packaged snacks for everyone.  I can’t help but do the math in my head – X teams in the town, Y games per season, then multiply this by all of the towns in the state, country – how much plastic is being used on fields each Saturday morning.  And that’s just one sport!!!!   What is wrong with a big jug of something to drink and their reusable bottles (which most kids bring).  The communal snack, well, it can be muddy and maybe not the greatest idea for each kid to be grabbing into a bowl, but there has got to be a better way.  Each year I say I am going to suggest that kids bring their own bottles to refill, but I don’t.  I didn’t play sports as a kid so I have no idea what was done then.

I am, by nature, much more private and non-confrontational.  So putting myself out there is not natural for me.    But at this point in my green journey, I feel like I should be more active in educating people and pointing out things they could do or at least do them myself and hope that some will follow.  For now, I do it in this blog and Greene Westford column – sort of passive.  Maybe that’s enough?????

Any suggestions?  How do you deal with other people?


The Greening of Westford 411

On Earth Day 2006, I was watching Oprah. It started me thinking, “I want to be more green.” Being a mom of three young children, you want the world to be a better place for them. I had this feeling it wouldn’t be. So I decided to do whatever I could. Being an engineer, I, of course, researched and made a list of what I could do to be more green. Very orderly and methodical 😉 I picked a few things and started. The usual CFLs and using reusable grocery bags. It took me almost a year to remember consistently to bring the bags into the grocery store.

As each new green item was mastered, I would pick another off the list to tackle. I did this slowly and only when I thought I could handle another. Eventually, I started to look for new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle – automatically. I didn’t need to think about it, it became part of my day and my life. The really cool thing, was that it became commonplace for my children too. The other cool thing I noticed was that being green actually saved me time, money, and/or aggrevation. Who doesn’t want that?!

As I was researching what to add to my “green” list, I noticed that some things didn’t seem to apply to this area. The fact that Boulder, Colorado has a place to take things that are hard to recycle is great, but it doesn’t help me. I would love to have solar panels. Do they really make sense in Massachusetts? So I started trying to find local answers to the reduce, reuse, recycle questions.
So this is the aim of The Greening of Westford – to give people local options for going green, share information and inspire.



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