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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…….




The 5 R’s – Refuse Reduce Reuse Repurpose Recycle

The 5 R's - Refuse Reduce Reuse Repurpose Recycle #earthdaygs  {}

Have you been following me and my green sisters along on instagram this week?  There have been some fabulous refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and (tomorrow) recycle ideas out there.  So what are some simple ways to start living the 5 R’s?  What do the 5 R’s mean?

What!?  There are 5 R’s now!  Yes a couple have been added in recent years.  There are subtle but noticeable differences in the 2 additions – Refuse and Repurpose – but the basic jist is the same.   Use less!  Use what you have!  

Again, have to point out that the R’s are in this order for a reason.  The closer the the beginning of this option list, the better.  So start at the top and see which one you can do.



At first I had a difficult time understanding the difference between refuse and reduce, honestly.  But then I got it!  Refuse is to say no to things people offer you that you don’t need, that you never even asked for.   Refuse to buy products that can harm you, your family and the environment.  Use the power of your dollar to tell companies what you want and don’t want.

  • Think freebies that companies give away.  Now if you are going to use that pen or reusable grocery bag, by all means take it.  But if it will end up in the trash eventually, just say no thanks!
  • Say no to plastic grocery bags, especially if you only have a couple of items that you could easily carry.
  • Refuse to buy harmful products, like cleaners.  Buy more eco-friendly options or make your own.  
  • Refuse to buy GMOs
  • Say no to single use plastic



Reduce, to use less.  Think about what you use and buy.  Could you use less?

  • Reduce your junk mail
  • Do you really need the latest smart phone?  Could you make due with the one you have for a bit longer?
  • Reduce the amount of energy you use to heat your home by getting an energy audit (a lot times for free)  and save MONEY in the process.



Reuse something you already have instead of buying something.   Replace needing a single use item, with something you can use over and over again.   Both of these options will save you money as well.

  • Slowly replace any single use items with reusable ones – like reusable grocery and produce bags, reusable water bottles, travel mugs.
  • Instead of tossing those return envelopes you get but don’t need, reuse them for permission slips to school or other things that need to be sealed but don’t need a fresh envelop.
  • Reuse those cereal bag liners
  • Reuse glass jars such as the ones from pickles, jellies, and salsa as new containers for leftovers or pantry storage instead of buying something else.
  • Make your own reusable mop head instead of buying disposables.



 Repurpose – to take something and use it for something else.  This requires a bit of thinking and crafty-ness, but doesn’t have to be gorgeous.



And last but not least, if the above 4 options won’t work, recycle.  I don’t mean this in a negative way either.  Recycling is important.  When you are just starting to use the 5 R’s, it can be difficult to use the first few options.  Maybe you missed the opportunity to refuse or reduce because you just weren’t there in your green journey when these purchases were made.  Maybe there is no alternative.  Recycling is a great way to open your eyes to all that you toss and a chance to rethink your future purchases.


The 5R's - Refuse Reduce Reuse Repurpose Recycle #earthdaygs {}

This post is part of Green Sisterhood’s Earth Month Blog Party.  For more great ideas, take a look at these other posts:

Almost All The Truth – The 5 R’s
ecokaren – How Much Waste Do American’s Generate?
Green 4 U – We Should Teach the 5 R’s from Refuse to Recycle 
Green Talk – 15 Ways to Recycle or Repurpose Underwear
Jen and Joey goes Green
The Soft Landing – 4 Simple Ways To Reduce Waste that Will Impress Even Your Most Skeptical Friends
Eco-Novice: Going Green Gradually  –  Reduce Your Spending, Toxic Exposure and Waste By Ditching Disposables



 Can you think of others?


13+ Ways To Recycle An Old Yoga Mat

13+ Ways to Recycle Your Yoga Mat {}


My yoga mat has seen better days.  It’s about 5 years old… at least! And it’s starting to fall apart.  I often leave little bits of hot pink yoga mat at class.  But what to do with my old yoga mat?!  I will not toss it in the trash!  How do I recycle my yoga mat?

Say it with me, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE – in that order.  


Could I keep using this mat and not get a new one?  In this case, no.  Like I said, I’m leaving a trail behind me and I’m feeling like this mat has lost its cushion which isn’t good for my back.

That doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t reduce as part of this new yoga mat journey.  But that is for another post.



The next best option would be to reuse it somehow.  So off to pinterest and the internet.  Here are just a few ideas I found.

Oh and make sure you clean/disinfect your mat really well before using it!  

  1. Ask your yoga studio if they’d like to have an extra for people who forget.
  2. There are 2  companies I found that reuse old mats for at risk individuals  –   The Boulder Mat Company   and Jade   .  They both have lists of drop off locations.
  3. Ask your local Animal shelter if they could use it as a lining for pet crates.  Or use it for your cat or dog crate.
  4. Under a pet crate to protect the floor
  5. Shelf or drawer liners
  6. Cut the mat into squares and use them as “bases” while playing baseball.
  7. Jar openers – cut the mat into squares or circles and use to grip those hard to open jars.  This probably wouldn’t work with those thick mats, but perhaps the thinner ones.
  8. Foot pads for furniture on wood or tile surfaces.
  9. Tent “door mat” – Bring it camping and place it outside your tent as a place to sit and remove shoes. 
  10. Coasters
  11. Knee pad while gardening
  12.  In between pots and pans so they don’t get scratched while stored.
  13. Place mat for pets’ bowls



If the above ideas won’t work for you, there is always the recycle option.  Although, I’m coming up blank in this department.  Recycle Your Mat used to take them, but it seems they have stopped and now direct you to other programs.  Some of which I have mentioned here.


So what will I do with my yoga mat?  I’ll keep it around and use it for a few of the reuse options above.  I may give it to my puppy for her to practice her downward dog.  


13+ Ways To Recycle Your Yoga Mat {}


How Will You Recycle Your Yoga Mat?

 This post has been shared at Simply Natural Saturday List It Tuesday, Small Footprint Friday



Local Styrofoam Recycling: ReFoamIt

Local Styrofoam Recycling: ReFoamIt  {}

For the longest time,  I didn’t think anything could be done with Polystyrene – or better known as Styrofoam.  It has the chasing arrows #6 recycling symbol on it?  Why can’t I recycle it with all my other plastics and glass.  The answer always came back – sorry, no.

The reason is one of simple economics.  No one seemed to want recycled Styrofoam.  No demand, no need to collect it.

Well, that has changed!   About 4 years ago, I heard of a company called ReFoamIt, then out of Framingham, MA.  They recycle Styrofoam!  I have spoken with Dave and Barbara Sherman, owners of ReFoamIt, a few times over the years at various events and have watched their business grow.  

When I first met them at the Westford Farmers Market in 2010, they were hauling the Styrofoam to Rhode Island for processing and held a few collection events a year to collect Styrofoam.  Now, they have their own facility in Leominster, MA, hold several collection events, have containers collecting Styrofoam in many towns in MA, have agreements with business that have excess Styrofoam and can accept Styrofoam at their facility.

In Leominster, they sort all the Styrofoam that comes in.  Dave explained that they have to separate colored Styrofoam and process it separately.  They must also ensure that all of the items are, in fact, polystyrene and are free of any tape or paper.  The Styrofoam is then ground into bits.  From there it is densified into large blocks for transporting to a manufacturer who will reuse the material.  The grinding machine used  was found used on ebay!  Talk about recycling!

Densified Styrofoam

38 lbs of Styrofoam “densified”

A pickup truck load of Styrofoam can be densified into a block such as the one above.  This block is approximately 2 ft. by 1 ft. 10 inches and weighs 38 lbs.  

Most of ReFoamIt’s Styrofoam gets sold to a company in Tennessee.  “I believe in doing American business in America.”,  explains Dave.   Recycled foam can be made into picture frames and house molding.

Many towns/cities have containers for their residents to recycle with ReFoamIt.  They include Harvard, Newton, Carlisle, South Hadley and Newburyport.  Many more, like Sudbury, Westborough,  Melrose, and Ipswich, hold special collection days during the year.  

Now I am all for REDUCE as the first option, but in some instances it may not be possible.  If you can then combine recycling with a cost savings, win-win!  The cost savings have to be of interest to businesses.  If you are business that deals with a lot of Styrofoam, take a look at this.  If you can reduce your number of dumpsters or times they are emptied, you know you will save money!

The picture at the top is one load from a company in Uxbridge, MA.  This company sends 2 to 3 trucks weekly with approximately 1200 – 1400 pounds of foam per load.  This company makes Styrofoam products and sends their rejects and scrap here for recycling.  

A furniture company used to fill 3 dumpsters in less than a week.  They were paying to have the 3 dumpsters emptied twice a week costing $60 per dump – that’s $360 per week.  Once they found ReFoamIt, they were able to reduce to one trash dumpster, emptied once per week, and one Styrofoam container emptied once per week.  This saved them about $200 per week in trash fees.  Dave related a similar story involving a hospital that saves $4,000 per year in trash fees by recycling their foam.

If you would like to recycle your Styrofoam, call ReFoamIt to arrange for an appointment.  A few other tips I picked up from Dave:

  • Remove any tape
  • Make sure there is a #6 recycling symbol 
  • Do not crush or break the pieces.  They need to be able to see the #6 recycling symbol.
  • Packing peanuts not accepted. They can go to a UPS or similar shipping company.
  • Foam wrappers like this, are not accepted

Styrofoam Not Accepted

For more information on what is and is not accepted,  look here.



Know Before You Donate

Know Before You Donate

Used under Creative Commons license by DarkroomDaze/Flickr


There are so many great organizations that rely on donations.    Whether it’s clothing, furniture, shoes, …..  It CAN be used for a good cause.  There are also loads of recycling options for metals, chips bags, wine corks and other items.  IF, and this is a big if, the organization can use it!   Disposable costs can be high, not to mention the wasted time and energy used to sort through the items.  Make sure your good deed is actually GOOD!

Understand What to Donate

Many organizations have websites with explanations on what they accept.  Some even have specific lists of do’s and don’t.  They fascinate me. I know, recycling geek that I am!  But I have discovered many items I did not think could be re-used by looking through these lists.  

Many charities work directly with people in need.  For this reason, they can only use donations that still have some life left in them.  They are not recycling the items.  One such organization in my area is The Wish Project.  In their October Newsletter they stated: 

“Currently, more than 20% of goods donated are unwanted and we struggle each week to find a way to recycle them or relocate them. “

On the other hand, there are textile recyclers who can take just about any kind of textile (fabric) as long as it’s dry, clean and free of mildew or hazardous materials like oil or paint.  But you need to be sure that where you are donating can handle this.

Still Not Sure….

If you still aren’t sure, ASK!  I’m sure they’d prefer to answer a few emails or phone calls than get mountains of unusable items.  It takes a lot of time, energy and money to dispose of the items a charity can’t use.  Trash disposal is big bucks.  Money that your charity can’t use to further their cause. 

Don’t think – Oh I bet they’ll be able to use this.  They may not.  I once had a mountain of plastic clothes hangers that I didn’t want to recycle since they were still useable – just not by me.  I thought a local charity might be able to use them, but hangers were not on their list of acceptable items.  So I emailed to check.  Turns out they CANNOT use them.  They usually fold all of their clothing.  Good to know! 

Asking saves you time and energy as well.   If I had just assumed they could use the hangers, I would have wasted time and gas bringing the hangers to them.  Instead, since I discovered that Savers does accept and use plastic hangers.

I write this with first-hand experience.  I sometimes get the weirdest things in the Upcycle It! bins.  Some people think I can recycle ANY plastic.  Not true.  Those items aren’t so bad, but it does take extra time and energy to sort through it all.  Take a look at MY trash after one sorting session   Ironic isn’t it!



It’s the really weird things that make me go, “huh?”  I once received a bag full of what looked like wall board and carpet fibers, a CFL light bulb, and scrap wood.  I kid you not.  I’m really not sure what the thought process was here.  In my trash they went, well except the CFL which went to the hardware store to be disposed of properly.  I appreciate the effort people make to donate goods, recycle, and reduce waste in general.  Just make sure you aren’t unknowingly causing more of a mess somewhere else.


Got any good donation tips?


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?



Out Of The Box School Fundraisers

Back to School!  We are at the mid-point of the summer.  Back to school sales are upon us.  We’ve even started searching for back to school supplies.

Many schools are hurting for funding and are looking at ways to creatively raise some cash.  It is a necessary evil.  Boy, I really don’t care for most of the traditional school fundraisers.  The items are almost always overpriced because there is a middle-man taking their cut.  The products can be sub-par as far as quality in some cases.  Most people feel obligated to buy something.  Wouldn’t it be better to go a different way?

As part of a Back to School Blog Carnival hosted by Retro Housewife Goes Green, I’ve put together a few options that won’t cost family members an arm and a leg and actually do some good besides raising the profits of the company selling the junk  merchandise.


Out of the Box School Fundraisers {}


If you have been reading this blog, you know that I started a TerraCycle program called Upcycle It! a little over 3 years ago.  TerraCycle collects otherwise un-recyclable items, keeping them out of the waste stream,  and turns them into new products.  They accept over 40 different items such as chip bags, granola wrappers, writing instruments, cell phones and much more.  

As if that wasn’t cool enough, for each item sent to TerraCycle, money is donated to your school or non-profit.  Most items are 2 cents.  Doesn’t sound like much does it?  But it’s pretty much free money.  Think about all the granola bar wrappers coming into schools each day.  All you have to do is get those wrappers into a box, slap a pre-paid shipping label on it and voila – money!  Since starting Upcycle It!, we have raised almost $9,000.  Yup, 2 cents at a time folks!


ShoeBox Recycling

Got shoes that you’ve outgrown?  What school aged child doesn’t!  Collect those paired, reusable shoes, ShoeBox Recycling will pay you $0.50 per pair.  Our school district’s elementary and middle school Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) started this program last school year.   The Elementary schools alone made almost $3000.  The President of the PTO said it was so easy!  She was very smart and placed boxes at our local library, a couple of shoe stores in town and the senior center in addition to the elementary schools.

The shoes are “distributed for resale and reuse in [their] original form, at various local marketplaces around the world.”  ShoeBox Recycling provides the boxes and FedEx will deliver them, free of charge.  Your school will receive a monthly check with your earnings.


Natick BoxTextile recycling

Did you know that you can donate clothing that may be ripped or stained?  Yes, you can!  And your school could benefit.  There are many companies that collect old clothing or fabric of any kind (including old stuffed animals, curtains, towels and more) and pay those who house their collection bins. 

One such company in my area, Bay State Textiles, pays schools $100 per ton.  Bay State Textiles works with your school and provides education materials to help spread the word.   They are currently working with several towns in the area.  One, Beverly, MA, collected over 11,000 pounds in the month of June alone.  The school made $586!  


All of these programs take minimal effort, reduce items going into the waste stream, and don’t cost parents or relatives a dime.  Win-win-win.  The environment benefits too – WIN!

 For more great back to school posts, be sure to check out the blog carnival.

Know of any other out of the box fundraisers?


This post has been shared at Fabulously Frugal Thursdays, Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Thank Goodness It’s Monday


The Gifts Live On

Losing a loved one is always difficult.  No matter how long it was “expected”.  When this happens, the last thing on your mind may be how to donate unwanted items.  Most people are just too distraught to think about that and it might even seem weird to give away your loved ones possessions.  Although I can’t imagine tossing them in the trash seems better.  I think people just find it overwhelming and are not up to the task during such a difficult time.


{The Greening Of Westford} Donating Unused items

My Auntie Charl was an amazing woman who we lost to cancer in March.  She would always take the time to sit and talk with you and if you ever needed a piece of candy, you knew where to go!  When my cousins and I were young, she was the president of the Wild Cats Club.  A club she made up when we all slept at our grandmother’s house.

She lived pretty simply.  My 7 cousins and I were left her house and needed to prepare it to be sold.  I felt strongly that anything useful should be reused by some.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it the weekend my cousins were going through the house.  They were behind me, but had no idea how to sort out what could be donated and where it could go.  I did!

I gave them a list of things that I knew I could recycle/donate easily:

  • Furniture – it might have been from the 1950’s but it was quality furniture
  • ANY fabric, old sheets, curtains, clothing that couldn’t be worn, etc
  • Books, CDs
  • kitchen items like dishes, pots, pans
  • Pictures and other decorative items

The picture above shows everything that fit these categories.  Unbelievable from such a small house with only one person.

Now to find donation places near her house.  Around my house, I knew exactly where I could go, but I didn’t want to have to move it 30 minutes away.

{The Greening of Westford} donating furnitureFURNITURE  

A quick internet search for “furniture donation” with her location, gave me loads of options.  I ended up finding Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance.  They work with local social workers to identify families and individuals that can use the donated items.  They were perfect.  And they could come the following week.  All of the furniture went to them:

  • Hutch
  • Kitchen table and 6 chairs
  • Bedroom set
  • TV stand
  • 2 matching end tables and  coffee table



Easy!  My cousin had already taken all of the wearable clothing to a Multiple Sclerosis charity.   All fabric, whether ripped, stained, broken, can be donated!  While waiting for the furniture to be picked up, we loaded all of the blankets, pillows and other fabric items into the truck and made 2 trips to the Salvation Army donation bins that were right down the street.  I think we filled one of them!


We filled the truck again and took it to Savers to be sold again.  Savers gives a portion of their proceeds to the Epilepsy Foundation.

A few phones calls and a couple of hours saved a dumpster-worth of usable items from the landfill.  The only reason these last few items were still left was because we didn’t have any more space in the truck!


What was left

I felt great, knowing that many of her precious belongings will be put to good use.  I like to think this would make her happy too.




What To Do With My Old Cell Phone?

{The Greening Of Westford} Reduce Reuse Recycle Your Old Cell Phone

My old cell phone sitting in my car to be donated

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Your Old Cell Phone

While doing some de-cluttering, I found my old cell phone.  Sitting in a draw.  I know I can recycle it or possibly donate it to a charity.  But where exactly can I bring it and how can I be assured it will be used to the highest degree possible?

So started my investigation…

I couldn’t find a consensus on how many cell phones are purchased each year in the U.S., so I did my own math.

According to the US census for 2011, there are 233 million people between the ages of 15 and 80.  Assuming each of those people has a cell phone and the average life of a cell phone is 3 years (which is probably on the high side), 77.7 million cell phones are being replaced per year.  That’s a lot of phones!  Worldwide, the numbers are closer to 1 billion per year!

Not only do you want to make sure that your old phone doesn’t end up in a third world country or landfill, but go one step further.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – in that order.


Do you REALLY need a new cell phone?  Can you get by for a bit longer with this one?

Or maybe you can buy a used phone.  Look for a refurbished phone through your cell phone provider or on Ebay.


Gift it   Can someone else in your family use your old phone?  Maybe a grandparent or a teen?

Sell it    If it’s still fairly new try selling it.  Gazelle, a Boston based company, will give you an estimate right on their website.

Help victims of abuse

Verizon’s HopeLine Recycling Program will accept any phone in any condition from any provider.   The phones are scrubbed of personal data, refurbished and sold or given to victims of domestic abuse. Phones that cannot be refurbished are recycled responsibly.  Verizon accepts phones and accessories at any of their Verizon Wireless Communications Stores, through Hopeline phone drives or through the mail with post-paid label.

Make the internet safe for kids

Sprint has  a program that “Enables anyone to recycle wireless phones, batteries, accessories and data cards for free, regardless of carrier or condition. Program benefits Internet safety for kids.”  According to their website,   More than 90% of the devices collected are reused. Any equipment not reused is recycled.”

Many cell phone providers are offering buy back deals, reuse opportunities with charities or recycling options.  When you upgrade, ask what they can do with your old phone.


As a last resort, recycle it  If you know your phone does not work, recycle it for FREE:

In the end, I decided to bring it to the Verizon Wireless store at our local mall.  I had to go there anyway, so it was easy.

Do you have an old cell phone sitting around?

This post has been shared at Natural Living Monday, Living Green Tuesdays, Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Thank Goodness It’s Monday


How Reusing Can Help Build Aidan’s Playground


While at my daughter’s soccer practice a few weeks ago, a mom I know told me about a friend of hers who was raising money to rebuild the young children’s section of a local playground in memory of her nephew, Aidan Mallio. Aidan was a loving, happy and very active little boy who was lost in a drowning accident in July of 2012 while his father was in the hospital being treated for leukemia.  My heart was breaking for this family.  

My friend went on to explain that one of the big fundraisers was huge yard sale. Yard Sale, reuse, then use the money for something good!  Right up my alley!  I offered to help out.  So, if I’ve seemed a little quiet lately, this is why.

This yard sale idea has been chosen by O, The Oprah Magazine for their De-Clutter for a Cause Contest.  Yes Oprah!  Some of you may recall that my light bulb moment for going green happened as I was watching The Oprah Show on Earth Day!  

Along with O Magazine, Peter Walsh, professional organizer from TLC’s Clean Sweep, will be hosting the huge yard sale event.    De-Clutter for a Cause: Aidan’s Playground with O, The Oprah Magazineand Peter Walsh is shaping up to be an awesome event – entertainment, raffles, an auction, food and of course loads of treasures for purchase.  

They have been gathering donations for the yard sale for weeks.  At the Town Wide yard sale a few weeks ago, we had a truck there to take away anything left at the end of the day that people didn’t want to bring home.  You should have seen the looks on some people’s faces – like they had won the lottery.  “Once it’s out of my house, I don’t want it back!” said one woman.  I hear ya!

May 18 9am – 2pm at Little Storage Solutions 509 Great Rd Littleton, MA.
Items Accepted: Books, DVDs, CDs, Household Items, Kids and Adult Clothes, Linens, Toys, Sporting Goods, Tools, Jewelry and Furniture – all in good, saleable condition

Items Not Accepted: Mattresses, Cribs, Couches, Large Electronics and Car Seats
It’s been amazing to see how many people are lending a hand, donating items for sale, raffle prizes, auctions, storage units (from Little Storage Solutions), printing, you name it! 

There is a whole group of people doing what they can and love to raise money on their own.     In the spirit of bringing the community together, the Together We Build project has been launched.   From bake sales to business donations, the site asks people to “do the thing you love best to make a difference….. It couldn’t be easier. Do something you already love and be part of this community project. Whether you make $5, $25, or $50, it’s all important. We can do this together!”

Several restaurants have donated including Papa Gino’s and Littleton Sub Shoppe & Pub.  Not Your Average Joe’s in Acton, MA will be donating a portion of your meal every WEDNESDAY IN JUNE.

Also just added:

An Evening With Peter Walsh to Benefit Aidan’s Playground

This intimate meet and greet event will take place on May 31 7:30 – 9:30 at Mangia Mangia Italian Grille in Westford, MA.  Tickets are $50 and can be purchased online.

To date, over $16,000 has been raised toward the $50,000 goal.  We are still accepting raffle and auction prizes.   If you would like to donate on behalf of yourself or your business, contact us:

For more information on all of these events, check out the main website at Castle In The Trees and our Facebook page.

Hope to see you on June 1!


What I Learned About the Environment From Elementary School Students

{The Greening Of Westford} Speaking with Kindergartners about Recycling
Speaking with Kindergartners
Nestled in a neighborhood in the Burncoat section of Worcester, MA sits a special  Elementary school – Thorndyke Road School.  It looks like an old mansion from the outside with its large entrance and beautiful columns.  What was going on inside, was even more amazing.
Being that Earth Day was last week,  this Kindergarten through 6th grade school had a very special week planned!  They did some spring cleaning and learned how to clean with vinegar, 4th, 5thand 6th grade students participated in an Environmentally themed Science Fair, and  they asked me to be a guest speaker for the day.  I was thrilled!
TRS had only recently started recycling at their school this year.  Through the efforts of one teacher, Stephanie Syre-Hager, and almost 50 5th and 6thgrade students they have made huge strides in “greening” their school.    They are focused on recycling right now, but I have no doubts they will be doing much more very soon.  The 5th and 6thgrade students volunteer to become Recycling Leaders and give up one lunch and recess per week to work on recycling in their school!   They broke into groups to work on different areas – there were Recycling Educators, Recycling Cheerleaders, Recycling Artists, Recycling Performers, Recycling Managers and the Celebration Planners.
Stephanie explains
Since the start of school, recycling leaders have been busy learning about recycling and coming up with ways to share information with the whole school.  The artists made posters, and they hung signs by the recycling bins to remind everyone which items should be recycled.  They also decorated an educational bulletin board.  Other groups have been working diligently too. The recycling educators are working on presenting ideas to teach younger children about recycling.  The cheerleaders presented a cheer on America Recycles Day, and the performers wrote and performed a play for several grade levels.  Our recycling managers have taken on the responsibility of distributing and emptying the bins on a weekly basis under the direction of a parent volunteer. We also had a recycled art contest around Thanksgiving. Finally, the Celebration Planners came up with ways to celebrate America Recycles Day on November 15th.  We had over 100 students take the Green Team Pledge with their families.
I had the pleasure of speaking with each of the Kindergarten through 6th grade classes throughout the day.  They were amazing!  For only starting to recycle this year, they knew a tremendous amount about the environment.  We talked about why we recycle, what we can recycle and of course I showed them my TerraCycle bags.  Kids (and adults)  just love these!  They were all so fascinated by the fact that trash could be turned into such cool tote bags, lunch bags and more.
With each grade level I was amazed at what they knew.  As I was discussing why we want to recycle, I asked how paper was made, what it was made from, of course they all knew – Trees.  I went on to explain that recycling saves trees – for every ton of paper recycled 17 trees are spared.  TRS will probably save about 20 trees this year through recycling, which doesn’t sound like much, but we did some quick math and realized that if every Massachusetts Public school recycled like TRS, we could save over 65,000 trees per year!  That made an impression, on me too!
Then I went on to ask why we want to save trees – I mentioned that trees take a long time to grow and that if we cut them all down for paper we might not have any left at some point and that would be ugly!  One third grade boy also told me that, “trees help us live by giving us oxygen”. Right on!!  A  4th grade girl explained that trees are homes to small animals and where would they go if all the trees were gone?!  Another boy said “We wouldn’t be able to build more homes” since they are also made of wood.  I was speechless!   Each classroom I entered surprised me more and more.  Happily!  They get it!  I told each classroom that they could help their parents and grandparents.  They thought it was funny that they could teach their parents.  But it’s so true!  We didn’t learn this in school like they are now.  
Speaking with the Recycling Leaders


Toward the end of the day, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with the Recycling Leaders.  The enthusiasm, knowledge and dedication blew me away.  We talked about what steps they could take next – maybe introduce recycling in the cafeteria or start their own TerraCycle program.  I wasn’t even going to mention composting because I thought it might be too much, well a 5th grade girl asked what they’d have to do to compost the food scraps from the cafeteria!
The day ended with parents and students back at school looking at the Science Fair projects, announcing the winners and honoring the Recycling Leaders.   Many students I had spoken to during the day smiled, waved and said “Hi Mrs. Greene!” I am tearing up just thinking about it.  So cute!   I wish I could have written down all of their names because I have the feeling that I will be hearing their names in the future, doing great things.
The intent of having me there was to show them that other people are doing what they are and more.  To help encourage and inspire them to keep going.    Well, they are the ones that inspired me.  I truly left there more inspired and encouraged to go further myself.  
Thank you TRS! 


30 Green Tips For Earth Month 2013

Green Tip #27: Get rid of old prescriptions properly at a National Drug Take Back Day or at a pharmacy. Disposing of drugs properly eliminates the possibility of them entering rivers or oceans harming aquatic life.

Green Tip #26: As the weather starts to get nicer, hang you laundry outside to dry. This can save you up to 12% on your energy bill.

Green Tip #25: Children’s lunches can create 67 pounds of garbage per child per year. Consider buying reusable sandwich containers, water bottles, reusable utensils, and reusable snack bags.

Green Tip #24: All sorts of textiles (fabric) can be recycled.

Green Tip #23: Stop buying bottled water. Buy a reusable water bottle and save yourself loads of money. If you need more convincing, see the film “Tapped” – available on Netflix.

Green Tip #22: MA residents: Take advantage of your FREE energy audit. Schedule one today!
{This is an affliate link, so I will get a few $ if you sign up through my referral 🙂 }

Green Tip #21: From GREEN TIP TUESDAY: Recycle or Reduce your paper use: Each TON of recycled paper SAVES: 17 – 35’ Trees, 380 Gallons (2 barrels) of oil, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 4077 kilowatts of energy, 6950 gallons of water.

Green Tip #20: With regular oil changes and properly inflated tires, you can improve your gas mileage by as much as 3%.

Green Tip #19: Harmful chemicals can be in everyday cleaning products. Consider changing to eco-friendly ones or make your own green cleaners.

Green Tip #18: Indoor air quality is 2 to 5 times worse than air outdoors. Open the windows, often. Many common house plants will also help filter the air.

Green Tip #17: From America Recycles Day: how much should you rinse cans and bottles before recycling? 

Answer: You don’t absolutely NEED to rinse your cans and bottles before recycling because they will be cleaned during the recycling process. Dumping out the liquid inside your can or bottle will keep things cleaner and may lighten the load in your recycling bin, but your material definitely does not have to be squeaky-clean before you recycle it. Think of it this way: if you’re out and about, you don’t rinse out your soda bottle before placing it in an outdoor bin, and it still gets recycled!

Green Tip #16: Pay your bills online to save paper, time, transportation costs and stamps. Each bill paid electronically will save you $5.28 a year in stamps alone.

Green Tip #15: Recycle or donate your unwanted electronics. Proper recycling keeps harmful materials out of the air, soil and water and recovers useful plastics and metals while donating keeps something useful in use!

Green Tip #14: The average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash each day. Can you decrease your trash?

Green Tip #13: Americans waste up to 50% of the food they buy. This waste contributes to climate change because more water and resources are used to produce this food that isn’t used. Save yourself some $ and use up those leftovers!

Green Tip #12: Instead of buying a book, check one out from your local library. Libraries also have movies, music CDs, and magazines.

Green Tip #11: Your trash could be someone else’s treasure. When you come across something you don’t need, think about donating it to a charity or offer it on FreeCycle.
Green Tip #10: Save money and packaging waste by making your own foaming hand soap

Green Tip #9: Green your laundry.  Wash your clothes in warm or cold water. Most of the energy its takes to do a load of laundry is spent in heating the water.

Green Tip #8: 100 million trees are used each year to produce junk mail. Reduce your junk mail, saves trees and reclaim your wasted time.

Green Tip #7: Eating just one meatless meal per week can reduce your carbon footprint. It is estimated that the meat industry generates almost one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Skipping one hamburger can save 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide and 280 gallons of water.  Ever tried Falafel?

Green Tip #6: Plastic bags of ANY kind cannot be placed in your curbside recycling bin. I would stake my reputation on the fact that this is true for ANY curbside program in the US. Take them to the grocery store along with all plastic bags labeled with a #2 or #4.

Green Tip #5: Plastic can leech chemicals into your food. Consider reusing glass jars to store your leftovers. Spaghetti, salsa and applesauce jars are some of my favorites.

Green Tip #4Old eye glasses can be recycled by the Lion’s Club. Drop off locations are located at the J. V. Fletcher Library , Nab One Stop and The Roudenbush Community Center, Inc. among others around town and beyond. This is a national program.

Green Tip #3: Electronics can be recycled at Westford Recycling Commission drop off event this Saturday 8am – 2pm at the Highway Garage. All are welcome, fees apply.

Green Tip #2: Refresh your memory on recycling rules. Whether you live in Westford or not, watch the latest Westford Recycling Commission video.

This information applies to any town that uses Integrated Paper Recyclers (like Chelmsford) but my guess is that most curbside programs in MA follow most of these rules as well. It will give you some questions to ask your own recycling program.

Green Tip #1: Upcycle all those Easter Candy wrappers. Bring any candy wrappers, big, small, any brand, to an Upcycle It! drop off point – J. V. Fletcher LibraryThe Roudenbush Community Center, Inc., or Westford Starbucks.


Think Before You Trash


Think donate BEFORE you toss {}

I recently cleaned out my children’s craft closet.  It was a daunting task.  It had not bee touched in who knows how long and we hadn’t seen the floor in quite some time.

Yes there actually is a floor in there, somewhere.

I was determined to recycle, reuse or donate as much as possible.

I started pulling everything out of the closet and of course, made even more of a mess at the start.  What I noticed was that there were certain categories of things.  Most of which my children had outgrown, but still usable.

stickers – > DONATE
foam stickers -> DONATE
little craft items -> DONATE
coloring books that were hardly touched -> DONATE
paper, empty boxes to be recycled -> RECYCLE
beads and other jewelry making supplies – >KEEP
old fabric scraps -> RECYCLE

So I got organized.  I got some boxes, recycling bin, and a trash barrel.  And I labeled them – well in my head.  



Some of this would be donated and some kept.  I tried to organize the each pile so that I could donate like items together – ensuring that the person who unpacked this donation would be able to figure out what it was and not think I was giving them trash!  Anything we were keeping I would be able to figure out the best way to store it in the closet so this didn’t happen again…. well,not for a while at least.

It took me a couple of days, but I did it!



This is what I took out of the closet (there was more recycling).  The left most pile was taken to Savers.  The fabric recycling pile was taken to the clothing donation bins around town.  They can reuse this fabric as rags or in stuffing things like furniture.  Recycling – into our curbside recycling bin.  The trash is only about a quarter of the total amount of stuff!

This did take me a bit longer than if I have just trashed everything, but honestly not that much longer.  And I felt so much better about it.  

One thing I learned, there is such a thing as too many foam stickers!  Definitely need to think before I buy any more craft items.

The Results:



The shelves still need a little straightening, but you can now see the floor!  In case you were wondering, yes that bin on the right was there in the Before pic!

Even though I did this project about a month ago, I was prompted to post it now because of Reduce Footprints challenge this week:

This week, before tossing anything out, consider alternate uses. For example, could the item be composted or used for another purpose? Could the item be given away and used by someone else? And here’s a “biggie”: could we avoid the item in the first place thereby eliminating the need to toss it out? The idea is to think before tossing anything and end up with less trash at the end of the week.

Is this something you think about? How do you reduce your waste?  


Give the Gift of Warmth

Where to donate winter coats

Winter in New England means snow ball fights, sledding, making snow men and snow angels.  You can’t possibly do that without a good winter coat!  And winter is here!

A few weeks ago, I had my kids try on all their coats, mittens, hats and boots.  Now I have a pile of perfectly good winter gear that doesn’t fit anyone.  What to do with it?

Well, I could of course donate them where I donate the rest of our clothing.  But there are so many organizations that specifically collect winter gear that I’d like to make sure these items get there and get into the hands of people who need them.  NOW!  It’s cold in Massachusetts and you NEED a winter coat, hats, mittens, ….

There are many organizations that collect winter coats. 

One Warm Coat

One Warm Coat collects coats, jackets, hats, mittens, sweaters, sweatshirts and any other outwear to keep someone warm.  They have collection sites across the country including Burlington Coat Factory and The Container Store locations.  Check here for a donation site close to you.

Coats For Kids

Massachusetts based Coats for Kids is sponsored by local Anton’s Cleaners.  This is the 18th year Anton’s has run this coat drive, collecting over 744,000 coats in the first 17 years.  All coats are cleaned, by Anton’s, free of charge, and donated to those in need.  The coat drives from Oct through January 12, 2013.  You can bring your gently used coats to any Aton’s Cleaners, Jordan’s Furniture, or many schools throughout Massachusetts.  Local schools who participate receive rewards for their donations.

Local Schools, Churches, Scout Troops

Many schools and other community organizations have coat drives.  I know my children’s school usually does a coat and/or hat drive most years.

Local Charities

I always knew that The Wish Project in Lowell, MA took all sorts of in season clothing, but only recently realized that a local food pantry – Loaves and Fishes in Devens,MA – also takes seasonal clothing, including coats.

Just remember that someone will need to wear this coat, so they need to be in good, working condition and clean.  If your coats are past their prime, they can still be recycled.

Have Any Winter Gear to Donate?


5 Easy Steps To Recycling

5 easy steps to recycling
We all know the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle chant.  And guess what?  It is in that order for a reason.  The BEST option is to reduce. This can be easier said than done and does require a lot more effort and change.  So I say, start with the easier one – recycle – for now.  In time you will get there.  You can’t do it all at once.  Don’t try.  

Recycling varies widely from state to state, town to town, sometimes even within the town!  It can be very confusing and can change.  The thing to remember is to keep taking a peek at the rules – usually things that were NOT recyclable will become recyclable in some manner. 
You also need to find out what is available to you.  Most likely, you have a convenient option available to you for common items like paper, plastics and metals (cans). Then there are other items that, with a little effort, can be recycled or reused as well.
Step One:  Educate Yourself
Find out what form of recycling is available to you.   Do you have curbside recycling, a transfer station or do you use a private hauler?
If you don’t know, do a quick internet search on “your town/city state recycling”.  For example, if I type the following into a search engine “ westford ma recycling”, the first thing that pops up is our town’s recycling website with tons of information.
Once you have this information, take time to read and understand what can and can’t be recycled.  Keep this handy.  You will refer to it often.  
If you have trash and recycling services provided by your city or town, there will be tons of information on recycling.  A little known fact – municipalities pay big bucks for trash and recycling services.  Recycling services are cheaper so they will do whatever it takes to educate and encourage their citizens to recycle instead of throw in the trash.  This includes composting in some areas.  Our town offers a backyard composter for a fraction of the retail price.
Step Two: Analyze Your Trash

This goes along with Step one.  Concentrate on everything you get rid of for a week or so – really look at each item and figure out if it is recyclable in your area or if you can do without it. If you have questions, ask.  This method focuses you and makes it very applicable to what you use. 
Once you know where things go, it will become second nature and you won’t need to think about it.
Step Three: Make It Easy
If something is easy and convenient, more likely you and your family will stick with it.  If you need to sort items, multiple bins might make sense for you.  Do you have space in your kitchen for separate bins?  Where is the best place to put the recycle bin?
Put bins all over the house to catch recyclables.  Convert the office trash can to a recycle bin since 99% of what you get rid of in that room is paper.  Place  another bin on the second floor to catch toilet paper tubes and plastic bottles.
Step Four:  Get Your Family Involved  

Teach them – especially the kids.  They will nag your spouse or grandma for you!  Kids catch on so quickly.  It will become second nature to them in no time.  I have seen this in our schools and with my own children.
Step Five:  Expand Your List of Recyclables

Once you have the easy stuff down pat, add to it!  There are other items that can be recycled or reused with very little extra effort.  If you have a local recycling department, they can be a great resource.  

For more ideas on recycling, check my guide on How to Recycle Everything.

If you are ready for the REDUCE step but need a little push, educate yourself on some of the dangers of the packing you use.  


Happy Recycling!



Got Electronics?

A Greene Westford column reposted.

Recycle your old broken computers, TVs and toasters at the Recycling Commission’s Electronics Event this weekend

You know you do.  That old cell phone, computer or printer sitting in the basement.  How about a broken hair dryer, blender, toaster or anything else with a cord?  If you have electronics that work, but aren’t being used, there are other reuse options.  You might even be able to make a little cash selling them.   If they are not working, they can all be recycled at the Westford Recycling Commission’s Electronics Collection event.
Saturday June 23 8am – 2pm at the Highway Garage 28 North St.
The Westford Recycling Commission (WRC) holds these events 3 times per year – March, June and September.  Electronics need to be handled properly when being disposed of and the WRC wants to make this as easy as possible for residents.  It is not always clear what should be done with certain things, but the WRC has an extensive list of how to recycle beyond plastics and paper.  If you have questions, please check the WRC website or ask.  They are there to help reduce trash in Westford and are a wealth of information.  You can now find them on Facebook.
WRC has used Electronics Recyclers International (ERI) from Holliston, MA for several years.  One of the main reasons is that they are “responsible recyclers”.  What does this mean?  It means that these items will not end up overseas in a dump nor will your personal data be in jeopardy.  Last September, ERI announced that they achieved both the Basel Action Network’s E-Stewards Certification and the EPA’s R2 Certification for Responsible Recycling Practices for Electronics. ERI is the only e-waste recycler in Massachusetts to be both R2 and E-Stewards certified.
As of the last collection in March, fees charged have been reduced.  CPUs with mouse and keyboard, appliances without CFC (stoves, washer, and dryers) and cables are now free.  The fees for many other items have been reduced as well.  Check out the entire list here.
Over 34,000 lbs of electronics were collected at the last event in March.  According to Terry Grady of ERI, this event brought in more electronics than any event in 2011.  Only 3,200 lbs of this was computer equipment.  About half of the items collected at this event were monitors, TVs or other “screen” devices and over 7,500 lbs consisted of printers, stereo equipment, DVD players, VCR’s or other items with a cord.
Just load up your trunk, drive to the highway garage, pay your fees as your items are removed from your car, and be on your way.  All are welcome!
[Top photo used under Creative Commons license US Army Environmental Command via Flickr]


15 Tips to Live Green


As part of Going Green With the Grizls Summer Blog Challenge, today’s topic is “15 Tips to Get Through Life”.

Putting my “green” spin on things, my top 15 are easy ways to go green.  These are low impact on you, but can add up to big impact for your wallet, your health and the earth.  In no particular order…..

Newsweek Ad in March 2012


  1. Get Informed  I cannot stress this one enough.  It amazes, infuriates and frustrates me to no end how little information is in the main stream media on, what I will call, green issues.  There are many people that believe we greenies go over board.  We make mountains out of molehills.  When my son was 3, his favorite snack was an apple. I thought I was doing such a good thing for him, giving him an apple each day.  Then I found out that apples are one of the fruits with the highest levels of pesticides.  REALLY!  I just want to give my son a @#$%^# apple!  Now we buy organic apples and applesauce.  Without reading, I would not have know that.  Find a source you like and just start.
  2. Get Rid of Junk Mail  I despise wasting my time with junk mail.  I’m never going to order whatever it is you are trying to sell me!  Stop wasting all the paper.  The US Post office will NOT help you with this.  They are trying to bail themselves out of bankruptcy by selling companies access to your mail box.   Try these tips to reduce your junk mail or these.  If you are crafty, make art with your junk mail.
  3. Recycle All You Can Curbside  Figure out your curbside recycling rules.  Look here if you live in Westford.  Trash costs municipalities huge dollars.  Recycling is much cheaper.  Towns/cities WANT you to recycle and compost.  They will help you reduce your trash. Find your town’s recycling website, Facebook page, flyer, or person to ask.  There is something I guarantee it!
  4. Recycle More Once you master what can go into your curbside bin, expand what you regularly recycle to include other items.  Did you know plastic grocery bags, bread bags,and cereal bags among other flimsy plastic items can most likely be recycled at your grocery store.
  5. Reduce Your Food Waste  In 2009, the EPA estimated that food scraps accounted for 14.1% of our national waste.   When you throw out food you are wasting money, costing more in trash disposal fees, not to mention all the resources that were wasted growing and getting the food to your house.  There are so many websites out there to help reduce food waste.  Menu planning helps, but once you have the food, other sites help you make something delicious with it or let you know how to make it last longer.
  6. Use Reusable Bags For the grocery store definitely, but other places as well.  The Mall, Warehouse store, pharmacy, anywhere.  If you routinely forget them, take a look here for some suggestions.
  7. Stop Buying Bottle Water  I’m sure there are times when this might be necessary, but not a regular basis.  Get yourself and your family a good reusable water bottle.  They are everywhere now!  If it’s plastic, make sure it is BPA-free.
  8. Switch ONE cleaner for a safer alternative Next time you find yourself needing window cleaner or an all-purpose cleaner, refill that bottle with stuff from your cupboards!
  9. Receive ONE bill electronically You will save the paper and, if you combine this with paying electronically too, the stamp.  Many bills can be paid automatically with a credit card or from your checking account.  I have done this with many bills and it saves me so much time each month and my bills aren’t late!
  10. Switch ONE personal care product Next time you run out of soap or shampoo, take a look at the skindeep database and pick one that doesn’t have parabens, sodium laurel sulfate or anything else potentially yucky.
  11. Replace ONE plastic food storage container with glass Next time you empty a jar of salsa, jelly or pickles, keep the jar and use it to store leftovers.  They are the perfect size for small amounts.   I now keep ALL glass jars and usually find uses for them – leftover in the fridge, dry beans, dried fruits, rice, chocolate chips, sugar….
  12. Add to your reusables Do you have a water bottle, travel mug for hot drinks, lunch bag, reusable snack bag, glass or metal straw ….  Look at all the items you use once, and try to replace just one.
  13. Open your windows as often as possible Indoor air quality can be 2 – 5 times worse that outdoor air.  Opening your windows once in a while to let new air in. For more ways to improve your indoor air, take a look here.
  14. Wash Your Clothes in Cold Water  Most of the energy used to wash your clothes goes into heating the water.  Take a look at this website to figure out how much you could save.
  15. Don’t Buy Antibacterial Soap Most of these contain Triclosan.  According to Dr. Frank Lipman, Triclosan is A synthetic antibacterial ingredient that has been compared to Agent Orange.”  Save some money and your health and buy regular old soap.  It is JUST as effective against germs as long as you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.

Have any others to add?



You CAN Donate Ripped And Stained Clothing

Summer is coming.  Are you switching out your winter for summer clothes?  What do you do with clothes you will no longer wear or that don’t fit? 
There are MANY bins around that will accept old clothing.  Salvation Army, Goodwill, New England Clothes Recycling, plus various charities such as The Wish Project.
If your clothes are in good condition, donate them to a charity like The Wish Project .  These charities give clothing straight to people who need it.  They must be in wearable condition – no stains or rips.
So what do you do with items that are torn, broken in some way or stained beyond help?  DONATE THEM to Salvation Army, Goodwill or the (cream colored) NE Clothing Recycling bins around town.  These organizations work with members of the textile industry to recycle everything possible.  Members of the nonprofit trade association SMART (Secondary Materials And Recycling Textiles) include companies that work with used clothing, wiping materials (rags) and the fiber industry.
SMART members purchase excess textiles from charities and other collectors of clothing.  They then sort and grade the clothing based on condition.
  • 45% is generally exported to lesser developed countries where demand is high.  We were told by a member of SMART that many people in foreign countries will purchase this clothing, fix it, then resell it to make a living.
  • 30% become wiping and polishing cloths unused in commercial areas.
  • 20% is reprocessed into fibers for furniture stuffing, upholstery, insulation, yarn etc.
  • 5% is unusable and gets, truly, thrown out.
The EPA estimates that the average person throws away 70 lbs of clothing annually.  My guess is that most of that comes from children!  They outgrow items very quickly or are tough on them causing stains or rips.
The generic term textiles is used to mean any clothing, fabric, sheets, towels, etc.  According to EPA, textiles made up 5.2% of the waste steam in 2010.  Of this waste, only 15% is recycled in some way.  That means there is a lot of room for improvement.  The other 85%, making up over 11 million tons of clothing, could be recycled.  It may not seem like much given that it is a small percentage of the total waste.  But think about the jobs it creates along the way, the money charities can raise, and the energy that is saved because new items aren’t being made.  And it’s easy!
We want the public to know all clothing andhousehold textiles such as tablecloths, sheets, shoes, belts, and stuffed animals can be recycled.  As long as the items are clean, even if they are stained or damaged, there is a recycling use for the material,” says Larry Groipen, SMART President and President of ERC Wiping Products (Lynn, MA).  
MassDEP  didn’t know these statistics until recently. Last fall then began working with SMART to get the word out that ALL textiles can be recycled in some way.
As long as they are dry, clean and free from mildew or hazardous materials like oil or paint.
Where do you recycle clothes?
Photo on top used under Creative Commons license by Alvimann/Flickr

This post was shared at Green Sisterhood


Plastic Bags on the Decline at Market Basket

A Greene Westford column re-posted.

Plastic Bags on the Decline

Plastic Bags end up everywhere
[Photo Credit Lauren/Flickr]


Market Basket joined 11 other supermarket chains in a voluntary disposable bag reduction effort with MassDEP

How many plastic grocery bags do you have in your house right now?  Every time you buy anything, a plastic bag is most likely used.  There are lots of problems with plastic bags. They litter our streets, waste natural resources, and can expose us to toxins.
In 2007, the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and Massachusetts Food Association (MFA) recognized this problem.  Together they set a goal of a one-third reduction in the number of paper and plastic bags used by 2013.  Over 500 grocery stores are members of the MFA, including Market Basket.  This effort was voluntary in nature.  The idea was to encourage people to bring reusable bags.
From a flyer created by the two groups, the MFA members committed to:
  • Promoting the use of reusable bags 
  • Providing in store plastic bag recycling bins for customers 
  • Offering reusable shopping bags for sale made with recycled content
  • Using disposable bags with more recycled content
According to Keith Peters, a manager at Market Basket in Westford, they have seen a 40-50% increase in the number of shoppers bringing reusable bags.  Plastic and paper bag use has decreased approximately 20%.  Peters stated that signs were used to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags.   “Choose to Reuse” was the slogan, although the signs are not being used now.
Some stores, such as Stop and Shop and Hannaford, gave a 5 cent discount for each reusable bag.  Stop and Shop and Whole Foods still give 5 cents.
In November 2011, the MFA and MassDEP announced that the goal of a 33 % reduction in the use of disposable bags was reached 2 years ahead of schedule.  The groups will continue to work together to encourage this trend. 
Many cities around the country have implemented bag bans or charge for plastic or paper bags.  Washington D.C. instituted a 5 cent tax on plastic and paper bags in January 2010.  In one year, $2 million was collected to clean up the Anacostia River.  A study in 2008 found that plastic bags made up 21% of the trash in the river and 40% in its tributaries.  The law was estimated to generate closer to $4 million in the first year.  Obviously, people are not using disposable bags.  The ban is estimated to have created a 50% decrease and it is viewed as one of the most successful programs in the country.
For the bags that you still accumulate, stores have plastic bag recycling stations.  Every grocery store in and near Westford has one.  At Market Basket, look for a white barrel container near the far exit.  They accept more than just plastic store bags.  The list includes:
  • Grocery bags
  • Newspaper bags
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Retail shopping bags (with strings and rigid plastic handles removed)
  • Bread, cereal and produce bags
  • Plastic wrap from paper products and bulk items (think wrapping around toilet paper and paper towels)
  • All clean, clear bags labeled with a #2 or #4 recycling symbol
All plastic must be CLEAN AND DRY!
These bags should not be put in your curbside container.  They get caught in the sorting mechanisms at the recycling facility.
It takes a while to adopt new habits.  It took me almost a year to consistently remember my reusable bags.   I used quite a few helpful hints to do it.  Just keep at it.

Do you Use Reusable Bags? 


How To Recycle Everything

This past Wednesday Reduce Footprints put out another Change the World Wednesday Challenge:

This week create a recycle bin for all the non-curbside recyclables – batteries, CFL bulbs, misc. plastics, etc. – and then find out where to recycle them. 


Or … 

If you’re already a recycling “guru”, please tell us about your toughest items to recycle and how you’ve managed it. And, of course, any tips and ideas you have for recycling would be wonderful!

I already have a spot in my closet for “clothing to donate” and another spot for “plastic grocery-type bag recycling”. 

In doing the de-clutter challenge last month, I came to the conclusion that I need a few more spots for non-curbside recyclables.  For me, these include:
  • miscellaneous broken electronics
  • gift cards
  • greeting cards
  • completely beat up shoes that no one could ever wear (we end up with more of these than you’d think!)
Although I love to talk about recycling.  I have to point out that it is the 3rd R in  Reduce, Reuse , Recycle.  Still a good one, but the higher on the list you can go the better.
OK, back to recycling….
Over the past few years, I have compiled quite the list of how to reuse or recycle various things.  some of these options are actually reuse, which I feel better about.  
So here is my list of odd things you CAN recycle – beyond normal curbside recycling.  I have listed what I have found local to Westford, MA, but also, where I could, gave an idea of how to find a place close to you.  I can’t stress enough that if you have curbside trash/recycling pickup, get in touch with your local municipality for information on recycling.  Trash pickup costs big bucks and they are very eager to encourage recycling where they can to reduce this budget.
Note that some of these items, especially electronics, can be recycled at large national chains that can be found across the country.
Athletic Shoes – If you have any type of athletic shoe that has completely come apart (we have a few of those), the Nike Reuse-a-Shoe program will re purpose them into play surfaces.   If you don’t have one close to you, ask shoes stores.  Some around here will recycle them for you.
Alarm ClockBest Buy will recycle numerous electronics.
Appliances, small (breadmakers, blenders, hand mixers, curling irons, irons, hair dryers, etc..) – Anyone who lives near Westford, can recycle these items at one of our 3 Electronics Recycling events.  There is a $1 fee per item.
Appliances, large (Washers, Dryers, Refrigerators, ovens, etc…)  There are several options in Westford based on whether you would like someone to pick up can drop off.  These items have a  lot of valuable metal to reclaim.  Search your local area.  You are bound to find something.
Alkaline (Single-Use)  –  NOTHING IN MA.  According to MassDEP, they can be thrown in the trash.
Button Type – They contain mercury.  Check Hardware stores or your local Board of Health.  In Westford, they can be brought to Ace, MacKay’s and the Board of Health.
Lithium Batteries – considered household hazardous waste.  in Westford, you need to wait for a household hazardous waste event.  Some locations have them more frequently.
Rechargeable batteries –  Radio Shack, Best Buy, call2Recycle locations  in many hardware stores
Books– Check your local library.  Ours has book sales 4 times per year and accept many booksReading Tree is another organization that accepts all kinds of books.
Bicycles – A Boston based organization, Bike Not Bombs, collects bikes to send to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean or are used domestically in their youth programs on bike safety.   If you are not in the Boston area, check here.
Brita Filters  – Every WholeFoods recycles Brita filters through the Gimme 5 program.
Cables, connectors and wires– including chargers – Best Buy
CalculatorsBest Buy
Carpeting – small area rugs can generally be donated to charities.  Installed wall-to-wall type carpeting is a lot more difficult for the consumer to recycle.  Ask your new installer if they can recycle your old carpeting.
Carseats(expired) – The options are limited, but I think more recyclers are understanding that they can do something with that big hunk of plastic.  You will most likely have to disassemble it yourself and take the fabric, metal and plastic to various places, but it’s worth looking into.    I recently heard form one of our local charities that this was one of their largest sources of trash.  They then hooked up with a local recycler who can accept them!
CDs/DVDsBest Buy
CFLs– Because of the mercury content, these should never be put into the trash.  Most hardware stores and larger stores such as Home Depot will recycle these.  In Westford, Ace and Mackay’s accept them.
Clothing– Again, if they are wearable, check out a Salvation Army, Goodwill or other charity.  There are fabric recyclers.  New England Clothing Recyclers is one such company.
Cosmetic Tubes or jars – Origins Makeup Store locations
Digital Cameras and Camcorders – Best Buy
Digital Photo Frames – Best Buy
Electronics (Computers, Monitors, TVs (Tube < 32”, Flat Panel LCD, Plasma, LED), Modems/Routers/Hubs, Memory cards, Pedometers/Heart Monitors, PC game controllers, Video Game Consoles, Shredders, Software, Speakers, DVD/Blu-ray player, E-readers, GPS (portable, in-dash and outdoor), Stereo Receivers, Turntables, Two Way radios, VCRs, Webcams)
Electronics can also be brought to one of Westford’s 3 electronics drop off events.
DVDs – Best Buy
Eye glasses – The Lions Club has collection boxes in many locations or ask a local eye glass shop or eye doctor.  In Westford, locations are located at the JV Fletcher Library, Nab One Stop, Roudenbush Community Center, among others.
Fans – Best Buy
Gift Cards – Best Buy
Greeting Cards – Any greeting card can be sent to St. Jude’s for repurposing.  
Hearing AidsHelp the Children Hear gives hearing aides to children who cannot afford them.
Inkjet cartridges – Staples, you will receive $2 to use at Staples.  Many schools run fundraisers recycling used inkjet cartridges.  They are also accepted at Best Buy.
Linens – If your linens are not candidates for reuse by a charity, look into animal shelters or your local animal control.  They often need old blankets, towels and other linens for the animals.
Mercury Thermometers and Thermostats – Because of the mercury, they need to be disposed of properly.  In Westford, we can take them to our Board ofHealth in the Town Hall.
Motor Oil – Try returning used oil where you bought it.  In MA, whoever sold oil to you is required by law to take back up to two gallons of your used oil per day, without charge, provided you still have the sales receipt.   If you don’t have your receipt, try your local Fire Station.
MP3 Players – Best Buy, Target
Packing Peanuts – Most delivery type places like UPS will take these.
Pizza Box – Some recyclers will accept pizza boxes without too much grease.  THIS IS VERY RECYCLER-dependent, so ask, it could ruin lots of other recyclables.  Even if you can’t recycle greasy boxes, you can recycle part of it.
Plastic bags  Plastic bags can be recycled at most grocery stores.  I use reusable bags mostly, but there are so many more items that can be recycled  big “Plastic Bag” bins at local grocery store. Check you local grocery store.  In our area, Hannaford and Stop and Shop accept any bag labeled #2 or #4.   I have found this on carrot bags, grape bags, toilet paper wrappers, bread bags, produce bags, cauliflower wrappers and more.  Check for more information in your area.
Plastics #5 – If your local recycler does not accept these, they can be recycled at Whole Foods via the Gimme 5 program
Professional Clothing – Many local organizations will accept professional clothing, to donate to men and women applying for new jobs. In Lowell, MA, Suitability provides this service.
Prom Gowns – Many local organizations will take prom gowns or other formal gowns and redistribute them to local young ladies who cannot afford.   In our area, Priceless Prom Gowns provides this service. 
Sporting Equipment Many Boy Scouts Troops do sporting goods sales for usable equipment, Play it Again Sports is a national company that buys and sells used sports equipment.   When the sports equipment is beyond usable, there are 2 companies that will make your old equipment into chairs, wine racks and more.
Telephones – Mobil, cordless, corded phones are accepted at Best Buy.  Cell phones are also accepted at call2Recycle locations in many hardware stores.
Toys (Small) – Small toys are accepted at many charities such as Salvation Army and Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS).  In our area, BBBS will pickup from your home or you can bring them to Savers in Nashua, NH.
Toys (Large) – The only options I have found are to give away to a friend or on Freecycle or sold at yard sales.
Vacuums (Upright/canister, robot, brooms/stick) – Best Buy
Wine CorksAll Whole Foods locations collect natural wine corks in conjunction with Cork ReHarvest.  update 1/7/2014: Unfortunately, Whole Foods is no longer participating in this program.  I’m still looking for alternatives.  In the meantime, try your local liquor/wine store.
Yoga MatsRecycle Your Mat will recycle your used up yoga mat.  You can find a location near you or ship your mat.    
Other Non-Recyclables – There are over 40 random items that can be upcycled through a company called TerraCycle.  These include chip bags, granola bars, used writing instruments, candy wrappers, toothbrushes and more.  To learn more about the program, look here.  If you live in Westford, MA area, check out the UpCycle It! program which collects many of these items and raises money for the Westford Public Schools.
I still can’t seem to find a place for leftover paint!  Anyone?  I think I will need to get creative and use it for craft projects.

Have you found any other odd items to recycle?




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