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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! 


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.


Veggies and More at Fat Moon Farm

A Greene Westford column re-posted.

Fresh local vegetables, herbs and learning opportunities right down the road

Elizabeth Almeida grew up on a farm in Ohio, daughter to a beef cattle farmer and a teacher.  Her husband’s family owns mango and coconut groves in India.  Together, Elizabeth and Noel “share a love of tasty, fresh, and healthy food and hope that you will soon join them at the farm to be part of the local food movement.”
Fat Moon is located at Meadowbrook Farm on Gould Road.  The name, Almeida explains, comes from their son “who would call the full moon the Fat Moon. And the moon over the field is beautiful.”  The farm began last June with pumpkins and squash.  This year she is planning a full season of growing.  Arugula, basil, several varieties of beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, eggplant and that is only up to “E” in her long list of vegetables!  Spinach, Swiss chard, over 10 varieties of tomatoes, turnips and watermelon round out the alphabet.   Her planting plan extends through the fall.  “My goal is to have fresh vegetables through Christmas”, says Almeida.
To help her with this goal, Almeida has installed a high tunnel.  This unheated greenhouse, funded by a USDA grant,  will allow her to start plants earlier.  She has also resurrected the greenhouse located at Robinson Elementary and has been using it to start warm weather crops such as eggplant, tomatoes and peppers.
Currently, she has pea shoots (which are delicious), garlic scapes, lots of herbs, and radishes available at her weekly farm stand on Thursdays from 3 – 7pm.  She updates her website weekly with what is available, along with recipe ideas on her Facebook page.
The small-scale lends itself to organic production methods.  Elizabeth explains that she is following organic methods, although not certified organic because of the cost.  She is perusing another certification called “Certified Naturally Grown.”  I watched as she dug for cutworms and grubs that were attacking the spinach and feed them to the chickens.
In addition to offering fruits and vegetables, Elizabeth offers many classes and opportunities for people to learn about food, how to prepare it, and other healthy living topics.  Picnics and playgroups on the farm are offered free of charge for children and their families.  The Kids CSA teaches children about healthy foods in addition to a weekly share of plants for your garden and/or vegetables.  The kids have also made rain gauges out of old soda bottles (pictured at right).  Cooking classes offer learning opportunities for adults to learn how to cook with local ingredients.  Her latest endeavor is a pumpkin patch with a pumpkin contest in October.  You can sponsor a plant and get your pick of the pumpkins.
She has received such a warm welcome from the neighbors and enjoys giving people the opportunity to “see how things are grown and make a connection to where their food comes from.”
More information on Fat Moon is available on their website.


Happy 2nd Birthday Upcycle It!


Today marks 2 years since the Upcycle It! program started in Westford.  It has been quite a success!
As of today, the totals are:

279, 562 pieces
2,759 lbs of trash kept out of the waste stream
$5,656.46 raised
I was recently informed that Upcycle It! is one of TerraCycle’s MVC’s – Most Valuable Collectors.
Over these 2 years, I have learned quite a bit sorting through the upcycle.  So, on this 2nd birthday, I’d like to share with you some random thoughts and a few things I have learned along the way.

Upcycle It! Top Ten Lessons Learned
10.  No matter how much you squeeze a juice pouch, there is still some juice left.
9.  Box Tops are now on Chex Mix bags.

8.  You can learn a lot by going through someone’s trash.

7. An elementary school does NOT go through as much glue as you might think.
6. It takes less than 2 weeks for juice pouches to really stink!
5. After sorting trash for a while, you can tell what kind of packaging something is just by the color and feel.
4. If you want good shipping boxes, stalk the chip and cereal vendors at the grocery stores.
3. If you sort upcycle stuff, ironically YOUR trash is very large because of the mistake items.
2. The number of candy wrappers upcycled increases from Halloween through Valentines, but so do toothbrushes and toothpaste.
1. People love to upcycle!
Do You Upcycle?
*Top photo used under Creative Commons from Landhere/Flickr


Upcycle It! in the Top 100

Anastasia and Ashley (WA Environmental Club Students) after sorting Upcycle It! 

I have been getting TONS of email lately from TerraCycle.  All good!  I wanted to share the success with all of you.

About 2 weeks ago, I started getting emails with the title:

“Congratulations from TerraCycle–you’re a top 100 Brigade member!”

I get so many emails, that at first I put it aside and figured I look more closely later.  Then 2 more came, from different people at TerraCycle.  Honestly, at first I thought “Do you people talk to each other? I already got this email.”  Sorry TerraCycle.  When I looked closer, it turned out that they were for different brigades (collection items)!  We are in the Top 100 for
Chip Bags –  our total is 53,799,  more than around 9,500 other collection sites
Candy Wrappers – our total is 15,411, more than around 15,000 others
Oral Care – our total is 4,739
Writing instruments – 11,311, more than around 1,250 other locations
These totals are as of today.  We are always sending more shipments and the totals climb every couple of weeks.
In the midst of all this, we hit $5000 in late February.  Somewhere in here TerraCycle asked to feature our program in their blog.  And we were!
As of today, our totals are:
250,736 pieces
2,559 lbs of trash kept out of the waste stream
$5088.36 raised

Our next grant was also announced.  If you are a student, teacher or otherwise associated with one of the Westford Schools and would like to do an environmental project, apply!  There is up to $1500 available in this cycle.  Get an application here.
Keep this grant in mind.  It will be available twice a year around November and March.  Check here and the Westford Farmers Market for details.


3rd Graders Make Great Upcyclers

Photo credit Gavin Stewart/Flickr

If we want to save this planet, kids are the way to go!  Over the past few years I have spoken to many children in their classrooms, girl scout and cub scout meetings, and after school clubs.  They understand Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!  They teach their parents and grandparents to shut off lights and put the banana peel in the compost.  Now, 3rd graders at Abbot Elementary are teaching their fellow classmates and teachers how to upcycle.

Through a grant funded by Sustainable Westford’s Upcycle It! program, Jamie Kelly and Lisa Sanderson are teaching the 3rd graders a valuable lesson.  The students have become “treasure hunters” armed with iPod Touches. They began the year taking pictures of trash barrel contents all over the school.  They collected and analyzed the type of trash being thrown out. From there students created a slideshow presentation of their findings to the entire school.  They then sent out a survey to all students and staff to see what they knew and didn’t know about recycling and upcycling.  This data helped them focus on what education the school needed.  They then wrote, starred in and directed public service announcement video.  Take a look at the videos and survey results on the Abbot Treasure Hunters blog

Fantastic job! Can’t wait to see what comes next.


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?




Brewing Sustainability at The Westford Starbucks

Recently, I featured our local Starbucks in Greene Westford.  Here is that article reprinted from Westford Patch.

Anna Fadden started working at the Westford Starbucks in January 2006 soon after it opened. She quickly noticed a lack of recycling. With a lot of legwork, Anna was able to set up recycling for cardboard, newspapers, glass, plastic, and aluminum cans. 
Starbucks pays an additional $130 per month to recycle these items. They do it because it’s the right thing to do.
They didn’t stop there. Last spring, they started saving their coffee bags for Sustainable Westford’s Upcycle It! program. Since that time, they have saved just over 6,000 coffee bags, generating $120 for Westford schools. They also have a container for customers to drop off their Upcycle It! items.
Westford Starbucks will serve as a model recycler for other area Starbucks. The local district manager will be passing along Anna’s knowledge so that others may do the same.
In the future, Westford Starbucks hopes to have more recycling for its customers.  Anna has also looked into recycling gift cards and is in the process of tracking down an outlet for spent whipped cream chargers.
When you go to Starbucks, do your part too. If you are staying to enjoy your beverage, ask for an in-house dining mug. If you are on the go, bring your travel mug and get a 10-cent discount.
Do you know of any other businesses going green?


5 Easy Steps to Recycling


There is a great blog that I have been reading lately called Reduce Footprints. Each week, there is a new challenge.  This week’s challenge is to share your recycling knowledge and/or tips.  In response to that challenge, here goes….. 

We all know the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle chant.  And guess what?  It is in that order for a reason.  The BEST option – reduce. Don’t use it in the first place if you will eventually need to get rid of it – regardless of whether that is trash or recycle bin.  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. You are more likely to fail. 

I have many posts on what is recyclable and how to recycle it for the Westford MA area.  I have decided to consolidate all of that information into this post, with the added benefit of how to figure this out for your area. 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.  Take a look at Westford Recycling Dos and Don’ts  and Common Misconceptions about Westford Recycling. Each give some basics about curbside recycling in Westford MA.  They will alert you to things to look for in your recycling program.  Do you need to sort?  Can you recycle a pizza box?

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. If you have questions, ask.   I like this method since it 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 with stick with it.  If you need to sort items, do multiple bins 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.  I converted the office trash can to a recycle bin since 99% of what I get rid of in that room is paper.  I also have 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 is 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 a little extra effort.  If you have a local recycling department, they can be a great resource.  
Here are a few I have found.  Again, internet searches and a few follow up emails or calls can do wonders!  Quite a few of these things are recycled by national chains or organizations, find the location closest to you.
  1. Clothing – So many charities would be happy to have your gently worn clothing.  
  2. Wine corks – All Whole Foods locations collect natural wine corks.
  3. Eye glasses – The Lions Club has collection boxes in many locations, or ask a local eye glass shop or eye doctor.
  4. Energy Bars, Chip Bags – local TerraCycle organizations.  This one may be a little harder to find.  Try the TerraCycle Facebook page.
  5. Athletic Shoes – If your running shoes are worn out, take them to a Nike Store to be re purposed into play surfaces.  I think it would be awesome if Gyms had collections for their members – any takers out there?
  6. Plastic bags – Most grocery stores collect plastic store bags, sometimes more.
  7. Cosmetic tubes or jars – Origins and TerraCycle collect old cosmetic packaging.
  8. Brita Filters – All Whole Foods locations collect Brita Filters and all #5 plastics for a company called Preserve.
  9. Bicycles – Bikes Not Bombs is a non-profit that collects bicycles all over the country.
  10. Ink and toner Cartridges – Staples
  11. Rechargeable batteries – Best Buy
  12. CDs, Cables, wires – Best buy
Take it easy. Start small and take steps when you are ready.  If you try to do everything at once you will fail.
Happy Recycling!


Your Trash Is Westford Schools Treasure

reposted from my ‘Greene Westford’ column

Have you heard about Upcycle It!?  Sustainable Westford‘s innovative program collects non-recyclables such as chip bags, granola bar wrappers, cookie wrappers and more to keep them out of the waste stream.
These items are sent to a company called TerraCycle. TerraCycle donates two cents per item and pays for shipping.  These items are then upcycled into new products such as backpacks, tote bags, and flower pots.

In only one year, $2314.38 has been raised and over 100,000 pieces of trash totaling almost 1300 lbs have been saved from the waste stream.  This money is being donated to the Westford Public Schools via a grant program.

These items are being collected all over town – in classrooms, school cafeterias, the J.V. Fletcher LibraryRoudenbush Community Center and theWestford Farmers Market.
What To Collect
It matters more what was in the bag or wrapper than the type of material it is made out of.  Sponsors, like  Frito-Lay for chips and Starbucks for coffee bags, pay the two cents and shipping costs so they are willing to pay for their industry’s waste.  
Think this way – if you can buy it in the “Chip” aisle of the grocery store, it’s considered a chip bag.    Even though a crouton or frozen food bag may seem like similar material, it does not qualify.
The program accepts wrappers or packaging that once held these items.
  1. Drink Pouches: Any branch of foil drink pouch such as Capri Sun and its straw. Please empty the pouch of all juice and place in a separate bag. No juice boxes.
  2. Elmer’s Glue: Glue bottle, stick or pen.
  3. Energy Bar Wrappers:  Any brand of energy, granola, cereal or protein bar wrapper.
  4. Chip Bags: Any brand, any size chip bag.
  5. Cookie Wrapper: Any brand of cookie wrapper.
  6. Candy Wrapper:  Any brand of candy wrapper or bag.
  7. Colgate: Any brand of toothbrush or plastic toothpaste tube.  Place toothbrushes in separate bag.
  8. Coffee Bags: Any brand of foil coffee bag. No cans.  updated July 2011, TerraCycle no longer accepts coffee bags
  9. Writing Instruments:  Any kind of pen, mechanical pencil, marker, or highlighter.
Volunteers must sort through all of the items by hand separating them into the categories collected. Familiarizing yourself with the do’s and don’ts really helps.
The overwhelming support from Westford residents, students, parents, Girl Scout troops, teachers, and businesses has been amazing. Let’s keep it going Westford! 


Despite Road Race Organizers Great Efforts, Litter Still a Problem


Did you know that the Selectmen recently adopted a “Carry In/Carry Out” policy?  This means that any group using certain town land is responsible for removing  trash and recyclables generated by their event.  Who owns which pieces of land in town is a little confusing, so this only applies to those areas which are governed by the Board of Selectmen.  Keep an eye out.  Other areas may follow suit.

One place I am sure it applies is the town common.  Currently, there are trash barrels at the ends of the ends of the common.  That may not be the case in the future so be prepared to take your trash, recyclables and upcycables with you.
I, personally, think this is fabulous!  There aren’t too many of these places in town where this is inconvenient, in my opinion.  If you are at the common, how much could you have?  Take it with you.  If you are there for the Farmers Market or Strawberry Festival, the organizers always have trash and recycling available.  Just look for it.  So this doesn’t mean you necessarily need to carry your items in and out, but the organizers will need to think about what is convenient for their event.
This newly adopted “Carry In/Carry Out” policy was mentioned to the organizers of yesterdays road race.  Not only did they agree that they would take care of trash, but they would also have recycle bins AND a composter for the banana and orange peels.  Awesome! 
I was at the road race yesterday to cheer on my husband and many friends.  Have to admit though I wanted to see that Composter and the Recycle bins in action.  And I did!  It was great to see people throwing in their banana peels.  I commend the organizers for their effort.  Saving the chip bags next year for Upcycle It! was mentioned to them that day and they agreed!
What I didn’t like seeing were the water bottles and cups left along the road.  Even if you didn’t know where the trash and recycling was, did you think leaving it for someone else to pick up was the thing to do?  Thank you to the many volunteers who most likely cleaned up the mess. 
I have also seen trash left on fields after a soccer or baseball game and along the sides of the road.  Is it really too much to pick it up and take it with you?   Does anyone else remember the “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” campaign years ago.  I can still picture the Native American with a tear drop streaming down his face as he looks at all the trash.
As I crossed the street yesterday to recycle our cups, I picked up a few bottles along the way.  Maybe people saw me and thought “Gross”, but hopefully they thought twice about where their own cup or bottle ended up.  Just maybe, they picked up a bottle or two themselves.


Upcycle It! Turning Trash into Cash

Sustainable Westford’s Upcycle It! program is taking trash to new heights and Westford schools are cashing in.

Upcycle It! collects non-recyclables such as chip bags, granola bar wrappers, cookie wrappers and more to keep them out of the waste stream. These items are sent to a company called TerraCycle. These items are then upcycled into new products.

TerraCycle collects 36 different ‘brigade’ items (types of waste) including chip bags, energy bar wrappers, candy wrappers, coffee bags, dried out pens and yogurt containers and upcycles them into eco-friendly products. The awesome thing is that all of the items are non-recyclable or hard to recycle. Now you are thinking, “Wow, that’s cool. But how do they get this stuff. Are they going through landfills?” Lucky for them, no. Any group or individual can sign up to collect and send items to TerraCycle. The shipping is free and 2 cents per item is donated to the school or charity of your choice. TerraCycle then takes the trash and makes backpacks, tote bags, and flower pots just to name a few of their 243 products. Sustainable Westford donates this money back to the Westford Public Schools.

I had wanted to start a TerraCycle program for a few years. Finally last winter, I signed up, joined a few brigades and started asking friends and others in town to collect these items with me. In April, I approached Gloria Gilbert, Westford Farmers Market founder, with the idea of putting a collection bucket at the market to make it more convenient. Little did I know, the group had recently expanded their mission to bring more “green” programs to the community, calling themselves Sustainable Westford. That conversation was the beginning of Upcycle It! Through the spring and summer, Upcycle It! spread through the town. Each week at the Farmers Market the Upcycle It! tent collected bags and bags of items. This past fall, collections began at most of the Westford schools – the 60+ buckets decorated by Westford Farmers Market volunteers are shown above. Students save items in the cafeterias and classrooms, and many others drop off items at the library, Roudenbush and Starbucks.

Since the program began in May, $1010.42 has been raised, over 50,000 pieces of trash totalling almost 590 lbs have been saved from the waste stream.

What to Collect

To participate, you simply need to save the items we collect and drop them off at one of the many convenient locations throughout Westford. Although TerraCycle collects 36 items, Upcycle It! only accepts the following:

  1. Drink Pouches: ANY brand of drink pouch (no juice boxes) and its straw (no juice) – place in separate bag
  2. Elmer’s Glue: Glue bottle, glue stick or glue pen
  3. Energy Bars Wrappers: ANY brand of energy, granola, cereal or protein bar wrappers
  4. Chip Bags: ANY chip/snack bag (any size)
  5. Cookie Wrappers: ANY brand of cookie wrappers (no plastic trays)
  6. Candy Wrappers: ANY brand of candy wrappers or bag (any size)
  7. Colgate Oral Care: ANY brand toothbrush, plastic toothpaste tubes, and packaging (no cardboard)
  8. Coffee Bags: ANY brand of coffee bag As of July 2011, coffee bags are no longer accepted
  9. Writing Instruments: ANY kind of pen, mechanical pencil or marker (no wooden pencils)

We can only accept wrappers and packaging that once held one of these items. So it matters more what was in the bag or wrapper than the type of material it is made out of. Think this way – if you can buy it in the “Chip” aisle of the grocery store, it’s considered a chip bag. So popcorn, pretzels, tortilla chips, etc… are all chips. Same logic can be applied to Candy, Cookies, and Energy Bars. The other brigades are little more self explanatory.

Quiz for you: Using the information above, would a ramen noodle package or a package that contained croutons be accepted?

Answer – No. Neither of these items are considered a chip, candy, cookie, or any of the brigade categories. Other common misconceptions are Crystal Light packages, frozen food bags and nuts. TerraCycle has corporate sponsors who pay 2 cents per item and for shipping. So, for example, Mars sponsors the Candy Wrappers. Mars is willing to pay for ANY brand of candy wrapper since that is their industry, but they won’t pay for a frozen food bag or cheese wrapper.

We appreciate your support in making this program so strong. Our volunteers must sort through all of the items by hand separating them into the categories we collect. Familiarizing yourself with the do’s and don’t really helps. And yes, that’s me in the picture sorting in my garage!

Drop Off Locations
Sustainable Westford has drop off locations at the following:

Westford Farmers Market
Westford Starbucks
J.V. Fletcher Library
Roudenbush Community Center – Main St.
Nabnasset, Abbot, and Miller Elementary – for parents only

If you are participating in Upcycle It! currently, THANK YOU! It is so satifying seeing something so near to my heart succeed. The overwhelming support from Westford residents, students, parents, Girl Scout troops, teachers, and businesses has been amazing. Let’s keep it going!


TerraCycle’s Drink Pouch Brigade hits $1 Million

A million dollars can go a long way in cash-strapped schools and nonprofits. And, when all that’s required is to save items from landfills, it almost sounds too good to be true. True it is. Schools and nonprofits across the country have now earned $1 million through the TerraCycle Drink Pouch Brigade™ program.

At 2 cents a piece that equates to 50 million drink pouches collected over the past 2years. Enough waste to cover the Grand Canyon 9 times. Enough waste to cover 2,000 football fields. Enough waste to weigh as much as 20 full school buses! That’s a lot of juice!

The Capri Sun beverage brand was one of the earliest supporters of TerraCycle, a company that collects would-be trash and turns it into useful items. In participating groups, each used drink pouch collected and sent to TerraCycle earns two cents.

Westford has fully embraced Sustainable Westford’s TerraCycle program – Upcycle It! . Many parents, students and teachers see this as a great way to teach the importance of taking care of our environment while raising money for schools and charities. What kid doens’t like collecting things and seeing how big the nubmers can get. Along the way, they adopt recycling and eco-friendly ideas. It just becomes a part of how they live – not an extra effort. To date, Upcycle It! has contributed 2,325 drink pouches, with another box waiting to be counted. That may not seem like a lot, but consider that Upcycle It! started just this past May.

TerraCycle “upcycles” collected drink pouches into affordable, eco-friendly products, ranging from backpacks to building materials.

“Our goal is for people to look at waste in a whole new way, and through its sponsorship of the Pouch Brigade program, Capri Sun has helped us to expand the numbers of those who are doing so,” said Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle. “The $1 million that Capri Sun has helped us give out is a powerful sign of the enthusiasm that communities across the country have for the goals of this program.”



Aveeno is on a mission to promote healthy habits with its Road to Healthy Skin tour. The tour will be in different cities throughout July, August and September to educate the public about the dangers of sun exposure and promote the use of sun protection. The Tour bus (a 38-foot RV with two exam rooms) will provide free, full-body skin exams by local dermatologists, free sunscreen samples, and you can drop off your empty AVEENO lotion tubes to be sent to TerraCycle! $0.02 for each tube collected on the tour will be donated to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about this until the tour passed Boston and Cambridge. But as a melanoma survivor, I still wanted to post this.

One day I noticed a mole on my inner ankle. Never remember seeing it before. I ignored it for a while. I’m a mom, who has time to call a doctor for yourself, plus I didn’t have a current dermatologist. You know. All the lame excuses we moms use. A while passes and I finally found a dermatologist and figured I should get it checked just in case. When I called in April 2007, the next available appointment was in August. As the receptionist checked other locations and for cancellations I debated “Should I tell her that this is an emergency? No, it’s probably nothing. I’ll wait.” Luckily, there just happened to be a cancellation for that Friday so I took the appointment.

At the doctor’s office, I told him that I noticed this mole a while ago and honestly had no idea if I had one there previously. Either way, it definitely was not this big. I would have known about it. So he took a biopsy. After about 2 weeks I hadn’t heard anything and was about to call. Meanwhile, still thinking “If I haven’t heard that probably means it’s nothing.” It was a Friday afternoon, right before Mother’s Day and the Dermatologist called. It was melanoma. The reason it took so long to get back to me – they sent the sample for a second opinion to an expert in Boston.

Lucky for me, we caught it early. However, I didn’t know that right away. For a month I lived with the fact that it might have spread to my lymph nodes. Melanoma runs the gamut in severity – it can be “nothing” all the way to , “let’s just make you comfortable” I did have surgery on my ankle to remove a large part of tissue in that area. I was on crutches for 6 weeks during the summer, with a 5yo and twin 3 yo!

I never thought this was a possibility for me. I am Armenian so my skin is not super pale. I have always tanned. Yes I did burn a few times as a kid. I guess that was enough for me. Now I wear sunscreen ALL the time, along with hats and clothing to cover more of my skin. And I avoid the sun completely when I can. So do my children.

The Environmental Working Group has a study on the safest sunscreens. To see the results, click here. This is a tricky one for me. I feel like in this case, my and my children’s risk of developing melanoma is greater than what might be caused by a risky toxin in sunscreen. I feel like my best defense is to avoid the sun and use clothing, umbrellas, and hats as protection instead of relying solely on any sunscreen. The sunscreen I do use is what several dermatologists have told me to use. I am hoping that I am not exposing myself and my family to something else. But you make decisions and trade offs all the time on what is best for you.

But back to Aveeno! I think what they are doing is fantastic. I love that they have teamed up with TerraCycle to upcycle their product tubes. They will also accept any brand of cosmetic or beauty tube. Should Upcycle It! add this brigade?


DIY Toothpaste Tube Anything holder

Looking for fun craft with do with the kids…. Look no further! You are already saving toothpaste tubes for the Upcycle It! program, well here is a cute project to make with them. Do your own Upcycling! These could hold pencils, markers, toothbrushes, you name it….. and I’m sure your kids will come up with even more ideas.

5 empty toothpaste tubes
clear tape
hole punch
ribbon or plastic lanyard
binder clips

1. Collect five Colgate® toothpaste tubes. Clean them by cutting off the bottom and slipping your scissors into the side seam. Flatten them out and clean with soap and water.

2. Cut four tubes to 3 ½” x 4 ½” and one tube into a 3 ½” x 3 ½” square. Fold down the top ½” of the four rectangular tubes and tape.

3. Take one of the four rectangles and punch holes every ½” along the two tall sides and along the short bottom side that is not folded. Use this punched piece as a template and punch holes in the exact same spots on the other three rectangular pieces.

4. To punch the small square piece, line up the short punched side of the rectangle piece with any side of the short piece. Repeat punching holes for the other three sides of the square using the short side of the rectangular piece as a template.

5. Then punch two holes near the center of the square. This will be the bottom of the container and the holes will be for drainage.

6. Match up two large pieces and lace up one side tying it off at the top and bottom. Open it up. On one of the non-laced ends, attach to the next rectangular piece in the same way with the printed sides facing out. Repeat for each additional rectangular piece. When you’ve laced all four pieces, connect the two end pieces together and lace creating a cube with your pieces.

7. Match up the square piece with the bottom of the container. Use binder clips to hold it in place. Lace around the bottom of the container and tie it off. You’re ready to put your upcycled toothbrush holder into action.

If you still have more toothpaste tubes, drop them off at your nearest Upcycle It! location.


I want more trash!

OK I admit it. I LOVE trash! I love seeing that Upcycle It! barrel filled to the brim at the Farmers Market. It certainly shows Westford’s support and commitment to sustainability.Many of us are parents. Seems like the “green bug” bites a little harder when you look at those tiny faces. TerraCycle has a few new Brigades ideal for parents. Which would you like to see us join?

1) The AVEENO Beauty Brigade – ANY brand and ANY type of personal care beauty tubes. Examples include lotion, sun tan lotion, face wash tubes, body wash tubes. A tube is a container that is crimped at one end and has an opening at the other.

2) The SCOTT Brigade – the outer plastic from ANY brand of paper towel, napkin, toilet paper or similar paper products – no paper wrappings

3) The HUGGIES Brigade – the outer plastic on ANY brand of diaper/personal product packaging; excluding boxes and bins (from baby wipes). Examples would be the overall outer plastic package wrapping on diapers, depends, pull ups, pads, etc. Does not include the clear plastic wrapping inside a box of diapers.

4) The Home Storage Brigade – This brigade includes ANY size storage bags (freezer, storage, regular, sandwich) and containers. We would need to remove any crumbs and pieces of food, but stuck on ingredients (i.e. peanut butter) are acceptable.

5) The Neosporin Tube Brigade – Any size Neosporin brand antibiotic and ointment tubes

6) The Sprout Brigade – Sprout baby food pouches; excluding glass baby jars.

As you know, through these brigades we are raising 2 cents for each item for the Westford Public Schools. As of today, we have raised $188.50, all in 3 months! And we are not alone. To date, over 1.8 million units of waste have been diverted from the waste stream. Plus Terracycle and it’s sponsors paid over $800,000 to over 50,000 schools or non-profits. If you want to see what else Terracycle collects click here.

To get you started, here are links to coupons for some of these new brigades:

Huggies Little Swimmers:
Scott Paper Towels
Aveeno Baby Products
Colgate Toothpaste: 

Which ones should we add? Leave a comment with your vote!


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