We’re Making a Difference!

You know, sometimes when you write a blog you wonder if you’re really making a difference. You come up with ideas, you do research, you write your posts — but you always wonder if any of it really has an impact.

And then something happens that convinces you that the writing is all worth it. And that happened for us last week.

We put a post together on The Freecycle Network last week laying out how to join and what freecycling is all about. And it had an impact.

The post was picked up on both Digg and Stumbleupon and ended up being read by almost 10,000 people. Better yet, over 1500 clicked through from the post to The Freecycle Network itself.

I don’t know what happened from there, but it’s likely that a few hundred people ended up signing up as members of The Freecycle Network directly as a result of that post. And those few hundred people might save hundreds or thousands of items from heading into landfills.

And that’s awesome!

But it’s not just because of us, it’s also because of our readers. The readers of this blog voted the post up on Digg and Stumbleupon which gave it more visibility. Our readers also share this blog on Facebook and with their friends and family, and helped spread the word. So I think this is something we all should celebrate!

Thanks again to everyone who’s helping us Make A Difference!

A simple step you can take — Join Freecycle

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About ‘freecycling’ and The Freecycle Network

Freeycling is a worldwide grassroots movement of people banding together to recycle items by giving them away for free.

While there are a number of different freecycling groups around the world, the largest and oldest is The Freecycle Network, sometimes called TFN. TFN has groups all across America and around the world, including active groups in France, Australia and Canada.

The idea is simple. If you have something you want to get rid of, it’s better to give it to someone else that it is to dump it in a landfill. And if you need to buy something, freecycling gives you an opportunity to get it for free — which not only saves you money, it reduces your environmental impact since you consume less.

How to Join In

Joining freecycle is easy and will save you money. Here’s how:

1. First, go to freecycle.org and enter the local area where you live.

2. You’ll be presented with a list of towns near you that have Freecycle groups. If you don’t see one close, you can create one yourself.

You should check out a few different groups — the one closest to you may have only a few members while one a bit further away may be much busier. For example, one near me had only 5 recent offers while another had over 100. I joined both.

The Freecycle Network runs on Yahoo Groups currently, so you’ll need a Yahoo id to join.

3. You should review each group’s page and read the rules for that group, then join.

After you select a group to view, you’ll be presented with the Yahoo page for that group. The page will tell you how many members the group has as well as how many new posts there have been in the last 7 days. Here’s an example:

One of the other things on this page you should read are the rules for the group. The Freecycle Network group has a US-based headquarters group that establishes a set of rules each group must follow — or risk losing being kicked out of The Freecycle Network. These rules are generally common sense anyway and, in most cases, can be modified by local groups to fit what the local members want.

For example, in the group we picked above, here are the rules (taken from the page shown above):

Join the Freecycle(TM) movement! The Lawrence Freecycle Network www.lifeinlawrence.com is a group of Larryville residents who want to “recycle” that special something rather than throw it away. Use this email list to post a message about usable items that you’d like to give away. Everything posted must be FREE and legal. No politics, religion, advertising or spam. No trading or bartering. No pets.

Lawrence Freecycle serves the Lawrence, Kansas area and people living in neighboring towns who are willing to travel to pick up items.

This group is part of The Freecycle Network, a nonprofit organization and a movement of people interested in keeping good stuff out of landfills. Check out freecycle.org for other cities and info on the movement.

As you can see, the rules aren’t onerous and there are good reasons for them. They’re basically meant to keep out people trying to sell items or who want to send spam to the group’s members.

Some local groups allow pets to be offered to the group, and some don’t. (I saw one group with a post offering a full-blooded Golden Retriever because its owners both had jobs and couldn’t take care of it.) Other groups don’t allow pets due to concerns that people may take the pets and sell them for medical research, use them for gaming/fighting, or abuse them in other ways.

To join, you simply click on the ‘Join this Group’ button on the page. This will send your request to the moderators of the local group who will then respond and approve your request. In my case, I joined 2 groups — the first responded in about 10 minutes and the second took about an hour.

Once you’ve joined the group it’s like interacting with any other Yahoo group. You will receive e-mails (either individual e-mails or a once a day summary) whenever one of the group members posts an item and you can go to the group’s page and review old items posted.

So that’s it! You’re now a member of a fast-growing, world wide recycling movement! Great work!

Other Options

In addition to The Freecycle Network, there are other similar groups. Among them are FreeSharing.org, Sharing is Giving, and FreeCycleAmerica.

Next Actions:

How to Talk to Kids about Global Warming and Environmental Issues

Me and my kids!

How Should I Talk with my Kids about Global Warming and the Environment?

This weekend we’ve been doing a lot of family activities. We watched a movie together Friday night, worked on homework today, have a barbecue planned for tomorrow, and I made sure to spend some individual time talking with each of the kids over the weekend.

And it got me thinking about something I’ve put a lot of thought to lately — how should I talk be talking with my kids about global warming and the environment?

There are so many sides to the issue. So many different things to discuss. Some of the issues can be pretty scary, too.

They’ll have to face serious issues later. Should they be exposed to them now?

My kids are going to likely live for a long time. They could live to the year 2100 maybe — far past peak oil, potentially. Far past other resources running out. Who knows what other issues they’ll have to do deal with. Whatever the issues are, I’m sure they’re more complicated than I can imagine today sitting on the back porch with a beer after a big spaghetti dinner.

Some of the issues are embarrassing to me. Like species extinction — what if polar bears go extinct in my lifetime? How can I explain that? Should I say I stood by and just watched? But on the other hand, what really can I do? Sometimes there are so many things to deal with that I just feel overwhelmed.

Focus on Values Now.

So here’s what I’ve decided. I’ll focus on values – values and the behaviors that align with them.

Like today, I was talking to my son about some juice packs we got. We purchased Rip & Sip packs instead of normal juice boxes. They use innovative sip-top packaging instead of the regular juice boxes — they’re recyclable and they’re made using less materials. Normal juice boxes can’t be recycled, but these can.

So I described it to my son in simple terms:

“Is it better to drink from a juice box that uses more materials — or one that uses less materials?”, I asked. Of course, he said “less”. Then I asked, “Is it better to have juice boxes that can be recycled? Or not recycled?” — and again he got the right answer. After he finished the juice pack, I made sure he knew to put the waste in our recycle bin.

In this way, I was communicating our family’s values to him. Values are fundamental beliefs about what’s right and wrong — we believe that recycling and consuming fewer materials is important. And now, so does he.

There are other values that are important as well. We covered these in more detail in the essay, The New Values of the 21st Century Citizen, one of the early posts on this website. I hope you’ll take some time to read that post if you’re a relatively new reader here.

Complex theories about global temperatures rising are too complicated for kids. And probably too scary — those issues are for us grown ups. They’re our battles to fight – for now. Our kids will take up that battle when they’re ready.

For now, we just need to teach them the difference between right and wrong from an environmental perspective. Armed with those values, they’ll learn to change the world when they’re old enough.

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Tell Walmart: Take Back the Mercury!

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has got a lot of cleaning up to do.

Recently, Walmart has been pushing a wide range of ‘green’ initiatives. They’ve been focusing on the environment very big, very public way.

One of their biggest initiatives is their effort to sell 100 Million Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs — one for each of their estimated 100 million customers.

This is wonderful. If they meet this target, they will be pretty directly responsible for freeing up enough energy to provide power for 450,000 single family homes. We applaud them for this effort!

But there’s a catch, and it’s an important one. Every one of these 100 Million bulbs contains Mercury — a chemical poison that means the bulbs aren’t allowed to be thrown out in household trash. Instead, they need to be recycled using special procedures to ensure that Mercury stays out of landfills across America and around the world.

If Walmart is going to sell these bulbs, they should provide a way for their customers to recycle them. Putting brochures in their stores isn’t enough — they should provide some convenient, direct way for customers to recycle the bulbs. Otherwise, these bulbs will end up in local landfills where they could build up over time and require local communities to pay for clean up costs later. And the clean up costs would be huge.

About Walmart

As one of the biggest and most powerful corporations in the world, they literally make almost $1 Billion in profit each month. They exert a control over the manufacturing and retail industries unlike any other corporation.

From Wikipedia:

It is the largest private employer in the world and world’s fourth largest utility or commercial employer, only trailing the People’s Liberation Army of China, the National Health Service of the United Kingdom and the Indian Railways.

They’ve also been the target of some dramatic criticism recently. The recent movie The High Cost of Low Prices chronicled in detail many of the company’s worst abuses.

For example, here’s some information from a recent article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

Five of the 10 richest people in the country are from the founding Walton family. But to help the company offer its proclaimed “Every Day Low Prices,” workers are paid an average of $17,530 a year, nearly $2,000 below the poverty level of a family of four. Almost half of the children of those associates are uninsured or on Medicaid.

Walmart has been doing some good things for the environment recently, and they deserve credit for that. Their 100 Million CFL bulb effort has gotten them a lot of press, including this interview on NPR, this article in Fast Company.

Is it too expensive?

Of course, the reason they don’t provide recycling already is that it costs too much. It will reduce profits.

But according to Wikipedia, they earn almost $1 Billion in profit each month. Clearly, they won’t lose money if provide a way for customers to recycle bulbs.

Other companies are helping consumers recycle products

Also, other companies provide similar services. IKEA, for example, provides recycling of CFL bulbs in each of their stores. Why doesn’t Walmart?

Sony, Dell, Apple and HP are all unveiling recycling programs to allow customers to recycle products they buy from them. Why doesn’t Walmart?

Walmart even held a recycling day in 5 US States and accepted CFL bulbs from customers for recycling. It was a single day, 8-hour event, but they took in a lot of bulbs.

Pressure from customers will be key in determining when they role it out permanently. They’ve announced no plans to do so as of yet. But, with pressure from us, I’m certain they will.

What should you do?

So what should you do?

Well, to begin with the first thing is to contact Walmart and tell them to Take Back the Mercury! If Walmart wants to sell 100 Million CFL bulbs they should arrange in-store recycling for the bulbs. It’s that simple.

Right now, the best contact information I have is this contact page on Walmart’s corporate site. For e-mail, this form is the best I can find.

I’d prefer more direct contact information — preferably to Andy Ruben, Vice President of Corporate Strategy/Sustainability for Walmart. If you have better contact information please leave it in the comments here and I’ll add it to this page. For now, here’s the contact info from their corporate contact page:

Contact Walmart:

By e-mail
To contact us by e-mail, fill out our online feedback form.
Submit feedback for your local Wal-Mart
Submit feedback for our corporate headquarters

Via mail
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Bentonville, Arkansas 72716-8611.

By phone
If you’re a customer, call 1-800-WAL-MART (1-800-925-6278).

If you’re an investor or analyst, call 479-273-8446.
If you’re a journalist, call 1-800-331-0085.

How to recycle your old cell phones

Make sure to recycle old cell phones!

Did you know that you can recycle old cell phones and have a charity benefit from your efforts?

Cell phones contain trace metals such as copper, gold and lead. Tossing old phones into the garbage could result in these materials being lost forever — rather than being reused. Companies exist, such as Japan’s Dowa Holdings, that can extract these materials from old phones — they crush old phones and melt them down, then extract the metals for reuse.

Some major cell phone vendors, such as Motorola and T-Mobile have recently launched efforts to increase recycling of older phones as well.

In addition to extracting metals from the handsets, there are also recyclers that focus on reselling the old phones to new users. One of these companies, RMS Communications Group, Inc., operates the website cellforcash.com and will send you a check for your old cell phone. Here’s their page for old Motorola phones — the prices as I write this vary from $4 for older phones up to $50-60 for new models.

This may be the best option for recyclers because these phones are reused — meaning they keep someone somewhere from buying a new cell phone, which has a further impact on reducing waste.

Another option is to donate your cell phone to charity. There are organizations set up to take your old cell phone and donate proceeds from recycling it to charity. Three of these are eco-cell.org, GRC Recycling, and ReCellular (which runs the site wirelessrecycling.com). Another site charitablerecycling.com even provides free shipping by allowing you to print a postage-paid label [PDF].

The sites above not only allow you to send your phone in as a donation, they also provide ways to organize fundraisers for schools or other groups. Running a fundraiser based on recycling old phones would be a great way to raise money as well as increase awareness of environmental issues in your community.

Car passing gas? Recycle those fumes!

At Green Options today they’re passing along a story from Engadget on the ‘Greenbox’ — an aftermarket deice for cars that claims to capture most of the greenhouse gases from cars to keep them out of the atmosphere.

The idea is that you’d attach the ‘greenbox’ to your car and it would capture the gases as you drive — then you’d replace the greenbox with a new one once it was full. The trapped gases would then extracted from the greenbox and used as an ingredient in making biofuels.

According to a Reuter’s article:

Dubbed “Greenbox”, the technology developed by organic chemist Derek Palmer and engineers Ian Houston and John Jones could, they say, be used for cars, buses, lorries and eventually buildings and heavy industry, including power plants. “We’ve managed to develop a way to successfully capture a majority of the emissions from the dirtiest motor we could find,” Palmer, who has consulted for organizations including the World Health Organisation and GlaxoSmithKline, told Reuters.

“The carbon dioxide, held in its safe, inert state, can be handled, transported and released into a controlled environment with ease and a minimal amount of energy required,” Houston said at a demonstration using a diesel-powered generator at a certified UK Ministry of Transportation emissions test centre.More than 130 tests carried out over two years at several testing centers have, the three say, yielded a capture rate between 85 and 95 percent.

Here’s a graphic to illustrate in more detail:

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25 Resources to reduce, recycle and reuse plastic grocery bags

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Here 25 of the best resources we’ve located on recycling plastic grocery bags.

Well, in keeping with our core value to “Reduce, Recycle, Reuse”, we’ve actually provided info on all three of these. All are important.

Learn: Learn about the problems caused by plastic grocery bags:

Here are some resources for learning about usage and environmental impacts of the bags:

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