January 26, 2009

Consumer Behavior

There’s a gap between consumer attitudes and behavior; so people don’t always act on environmental and social concerns. What’s the reason for the difference between what people say they are willing to do, and what they choose to do or purchase?

A recent report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (200 of the world’s largest companies) cites the three most significant barriers to behavior change as lack of understanding, selfishness, and high “up-front” costs. That last one is certainly relevant until we get out of this recession.

However, another excuse is the tendency of consumers to act only if they see their peers acting as well. So all of us need to jump onto the green bandwagon—taking big steps, as well as smaller ones. It’s time to say “I will if you will.” Maybe the glass is half-full.

January 7, 2009

"Vampire power"

Vampire power is a term you may have heard. It describes the electricity that is consumed by most of our electronics, even when they’re turned off! Your coffee maker, garage-door opener, microwave oven, clock radio, chargers for cell phones, and MP3 players siphon energy when plugged in, even if they're not charging a thing.

Today’s “off” button usually means “standby.” A Cornell University study tells us that a TV with remote control likely uses more energy during the 20 hours a day that it’s turned off and in "standby power" mode than it does during the hours you’re watching it. According to Cornell, we’re using the equivalent of seven electrical generating plants just to supply vampires that are turned "off."

The typical home has 20 energy vampires that add about $200 to your annual energy bill. They are easy to recognize by their continuous digital display, like those glowing clocks on microwaves. A Sony PlayStation 3 or Microsoft Xbox 360 left on 24 hours per day, seven days per week, will consume as much electricity each year as two new refrigerators.

So what can YOU do to combat vampires and phantom power? Unplug rarely used appliances and chargers that aren't in use, especially when you’re on vacation. Plug all components of a computer or home entertainment system into a power strip; then turn off the power strip with a single switch. Anything plugged into the strip now is truly turned off.

Buy energy-efficient appliances bearing the Energy Star label. That way, at least your vampires will suck away less energy. Find a list of products at EnergyStar.gov.

If you're not sure how much power is being drained, buy a watt meter. But be prepared for some shocking revelations!


Love ‘em or hate ‘em — Crocs are on a lot of feet.

But we take shoes for granted. Crocs, Inc. launched a recycling program, SolesUnited, in early 2008—in response to the desperate need for footwear in impoverished countries and areas affected by tragedy. They’ll sort, clean, grind, and remold them into new shoes. They’ve given away 2 million pairs already, most in Malawi. You can donate your old Crocs at The Campus Shop or Williamsburg Trading Post. By the way, in case you’re ever on Jeopardy, Crocs are neither plastic nor rubber; they’re Croslite.

Kudos to Nike — For their very successful “Reuse-A-Shoe” program that accepts worn-out sneaks—no matter what brand—and literally tears them into pieces. No dress shoes, cleats, or shoes with metal pieces.

This “Nike Grind” is used in basketball courts, playgrounds, tracks, and even new Nike products. In 2008, Nike donated five new basketball courts to help “Rebuild New Orleans Two Feet at a Time.” Worldwide, Nike has collected 22 million shoes since 1990. More than 1.5 million pairs of post-consumer shoes are collected for recycling each year. This is in addition to thousands of tons of manufacturing scrap material that is recycled.

Just drop them off at your local Nike store or outlet. http://www.nikereuseashoe.com/ for more info.

Payless Adds a Shade of Green to Its Footwear In 2009, Payless Shoes is launching a line of shoes designed to have a lower impact on the environment--a line of shoes that are made with organic cotton and linen, hemp, recycled rubber and biodegradable glues. The line will include up to 12 women’s shoes, and Payless plans to expand the line to include shoes for kids and men.

The shoes will retail, on average, for less than $30, and will be available in about 500 of the company’s 4,600 stores, with select styles in about 1,000 stores.


Plastic Baby Bottles — Are back in the news as concerned parents weigh the conflicting reports about the chemical, bisphenol-A (BPA), that’s in many clear, rigid plastic baby bottles and formula cans. More than 90 percent of Americans have traces of BPA, which mimics the hormone estrogen, in their bodies, so Canada did not over-react by banning this chemical in baby products.

To play it safe, avoid plastic with “PC” for polycarbonate or the recycling number “7.” Avoid warming food in such containers, since heat can release the chemical. Instead, use safe alternatives such as glass or bottles labeled “BPA-free.”

5-14-09 update:
Minnnesota just became the first state to ban BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups and Chicago the first city to take this action. As of Jan. 1, 2010, neither Minnesota nor Chicago will allow the sale of products containing Bisphenol A if the product is intended for any child under the age of three.

WHY? Look at this news from today: Advocates for new regulations have yet another new study to highlight the need for change. When 77 Harvard student volunteers drank cold liquids from baby bottles for just a week, the levels of Bisphenol A detected in their urine rose 69%. The Harvard University and Centers for Disease Control Prevention study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. Their conclusion, stated simply: "One week of polycarbonate bottle use increased urinary BPA concentrations by two thirds. Regular consumption of cold beverages from polycarbonate bottles is associated with a substantial increase in urinary BPA concentrations irrespective of exposure to BPA from other sources."

Time to stop drinking from my favorite insulated cups?

Corks (recycling)

Corks don’t need to go to landfills. Mail both natural and synthetic corks to TerraCycle, ATTN: Cork Brigade, 121 New York Ave., Trenton, NJ 08638, and they’ll recycle them into new products.

Organic wine

updated 6-2-09
Cheers! Salud! Prost! Let’s celebrate. Even with folks dining out less during this economic downturn, sales of moderately priced $10 to $14 wines are going strong. Your doctor may advise that wine, in moderation, is good for you—assuming no substance abuse issues. The wine industry is adopting more environmentally responsible practices. In a recent survey, 80 percent of the vineyards say they reduced their use of chemicals and used sustainable farming practices during 2008 on at least part of their acreage.

Organic Wines (see June 2009 update below)— Are now more widely available and selling well, but the term "organic" means different things in different countries. In France and Italy, wines labeled "organic" may contain added sulfite, a preservative that stabilizes wine. But the U. S Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that U.S. wines that carry a “100% Organic” (no pesticides or chemicals) or “Organic” (95% organically grown ingredients) labels can have no added sulfites.

Then there’s “Made with Organic Grapes” on some wine labels, but no USDA seal. Those contain at least 70% organic ingredients, and it’s a clue that sulfites have been added. That's not necessarily a bad thing, unless you’re allergic to them.

Even if your favorite vino doesn't have an organic label, it could come from a vineyard that operates organically, yet chooses not to apply for certification. So it's a good idea to buy from a store or local vineyard where they know their products. Williamsburg Winery, for example, “uses a sustainable approach,” says vineyard manager Tom Child, “and we lean organic as much as possible, but the humidity here is a big challenge.”

The Wine Seller on Monticello Road “stocks from 10 to 15 certified organic wines, with an additional 30 to 40 made with organic grapes,” said general manager Heather Hatcher-Dunn. Virginia’s Associated Distributors’ district manager, Rosa Diaz Hall, also told me that area grocery stores carry the BonTerra label that’s “made with organic grapes” and it’s selling well.

No Whining Please — Consumers can anticipate major changes in wine packaging during the next five to ten years, as producers replace corks with screw caps, and shift to lightweight ‘bag in box’ packaging and even plastic bottles. Boxed wine is often shunned by some wine snobs, but it boasts less than half the carbon footprint of bottled wine since heavier glass requires more fuel for shipping.

Wine drinkers can truly think outside the box with a new organic wine, Yellow+Blue (get it?). It comes in a light-weight TetraPak container, traditionally associated with juice boxes, to reduce its shipping weight.

Boisset Family Estates recently announced that all of its Beaujolais Nouveau exported to North America will be in lightweight PET plastic bottles. The annual release of this wine is always on the third Thursday of November—just in time for Thanksgiving.

New Organic Wine Labeling Policy Effective: June 2, 2009
Labels on organic wines now a bit clearer? Perhaps!
Listen up if you are confused about the difference between made with organic ingredients and certified organic.

Wines that are labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients" will now have to indicate if there are non-organic ingredients in the wine, too. It can be done with a variation on one of the following statements:

--“Made with Organic and Non-Organic Grapes”;
--“Made with Organic [variety] Grapes and Non-Organic [variety] Grapes”;
--“Made with _% Organic Grapes and _% Grapes”;
--“Made with _% Organic [variety] Grapes and _% Non-Organic [variety] Grapes”

But it’s still a tad confusing. Just because a bottle of wine contains 100 percent organic grapes, it does not mean that it meets the USDA’s standard to be certified organic. If the wine contains added sulfites or it did not go through the USDA certification process, it cannot be certified organic.

In order to avoid confusion, (REALLY?) if a wine is made with 100 percent organic ingredients, it cannot be labeled "100% organic ingredients." The concern is that consumers might think it’s certified. Instead, the wine may label itself with something like “Ingredients: Organic Grapes.” This is supposed to let consumers know that there are no non-organic grapes in the wine.



There's no free lunch on plastic plates. Consumers are pinching more pennies than ever and it’s now vital that environmentally friendly products be price-competitive. During these tough economic times, the good news is that most green products no longer cost more. The bad news is that many solutions to our eco-woes may not deliver all that they promise.

Conventional plastic packaging alone uses 200,000 barrels of oil a day in the US, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Everything from plastic plates to food containers are being reengineered in the hope of finding a truly disposable container that will quickly decompose underground or in the ocean. Several are made from sugar cane, wheat, bamboo, or rice. Spudware (a clever name) is potato-based.

Bio-Plastic — Is one alternative to traditional plastic that’s usually made from corn. Its technical name is polylactic acid (PLA). Last July, I noticed the words on my Ben & Jerry’s smoothie container—“corn-based cups, made from a renewable resource.” The bottom of the cup, from NatureWorks PLA company, even had a recycling logo (with #7) and the word “compostable.” That sounded promising. Having an inquisitive green mind, I buried this container in my compost pile three months ago to see what might occur. I just dug it up and it looks just as it did on the day I buried it. Surprised? So was I.

NatureWorks website explains that their bio-plastic is “only compostable in industrial composting facilities where available throughout the world.” Calls to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality confirmed that there are none in Virginia, so any bio-plastic products that you toss into your garbage at this time are going to a landfill. But don’t assume they’ll biodegrade there. The same website also stated, “the low oxygen concentration and drop in temperature” will not allow their bio-plastic to biodegrade in a landfill—or in your backyard compost pile.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advertising guidelines state that “When you see a "compostable" claim on a product or package, it means the manufacturer should have made sure the material can be safely composted in home compost piles.” Hmm.

So bio-plastics may not be the ideal disposable green packaging at this time, but they do reduce our oil use. However, can our farmers grow enough corn for food, bio-fuel, and now bio-plastic?

Biodegradable and Compostable — Are not the same thing. The FTC defines “biodegradable” materials as those which break down and return to nature in a reasonably short time when they are “exposed to air, moisture, and bacteria or other organisms.” That’s definitely NOT describing a landfill.

“Photodegradable" materials disintegrate into smaller pieces when exposed to enough sunlight.
“Oxy-Degradable Bags” are made of conventional oil-based plastic, with an additive that enables the plastic to break down. Many are marketed as “completely biodegradable and compostable,” but again, only in commercial composting facilities—not in oxygen-starved landfills.

So what can YOU do? Don't be "hoodwinked" by deceptive marketing. Spread the truth about bio-plastics. Email manufacturers and ask them to re-label their products.

Consumer Reports translates what eco-labels really mean at www.greenerchoices.org/eco-labels Be sure to check out what these terms REALLY mean and whether they're truly trustworthy.

Invasive Japanese stilt grass

Japanese Stilt Grass — or Microstegium vimineum is one of the worst invasive plants in our area. It is a summer annual grass, native to Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia and India. It was accidentally introduced into the United States around 1919 in the state of Tennessee. It apparently was used as packing material for porcelain from China and this may have been how it was introduced into the U.S. It was first discovered in the U.S. in Tennessee in 1919. Microstegium has spread through much of the East, and is found throughout Virginia.

Our local Native Plant Society members aggressively pull it up on their nature walks. Local chapter president, Helen Hamilton, says stiltgrass “is a nasty invasive, but harmless-looking grass. It furnishes no nutritive value to wildlife and rapidly outcompetes all natives” including wildflowers and tree seedlings. It also creates an excellent habitat for ticks, chiggers, mice, and snakes.

If you have stilt grass on your property, the most ecologically-sound control is to pull it up NOW before seed production is complete by late September. For large patches, mow or weed-whack it. Herbicides such as Roundup can help control it, but be sure not to use products like this near watersheds.

Many homeowners cannot identify this invader that’s often called the “crabgrass of shade.” See www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/mivi1.htm to help you recognize it. If it’s in a natural area, it may be more than two feet tall by October.

Kudos to Historic Rivers Master Naturalists for risking poison ivy rashes and pulling out these and other invasive plants. Contact them to volunteer.

Lawn fertilization and topdressing

Here’s the straight poop.

Now that I have your attention, I’m referring to manure, fertilizer, biosolids, or whatever you choose to call human and animal waste. It may not be the most savory topic, but it’s timely. Green lawn fans in this area are preparing for their annual September ritual—topdressing lawns.
Thirty years ago, many US cities dumped their raw sewage directly into our rivers and bays. Today’s wastewater treatment plants can leave us with treated biosolids that meet the most stringent federal and state standards and can be safely used to topdress lawns. But don’t smother your grass to amend the soil. Our heavy clay soils really benefit from just ¼ to ½ inch annual topdressing.

Which products are best? It’s difficult to flush out (pun intended) the facts, but here is some information.

Nutri-Green — Comes from Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s (HRSD) wastewater treatment plant. HRSD sends treated biosolids to a company that adds recycled paper products and woodchips. This mixture is turned frequently and proper aerobic conditions are monitored.
After about 60 days, the product (regulated by the Department of Environmental Quality) is fully stabilized, free of weeds and pathogens, and tested for nutrient and trace metal content. It has a guaranteed analysis of 2% nitrogen, 2% phosphorus, and 0% potassium, and won’t burn your lawn. It’s sold at Ace Hardware and Anderson’s Greenery.

Milorganite — Is similar to Nutri-Green, but comes from Milwaukee’s wastewater treatment plant. Some folks even swear that it’s an effective deer repellant too. It’s available at almost all lawn and garden stores. Milorganite is 6% nitrogen, 2% phosphorus, and 4% iron, and it will not stain concrete, as Ironite can.

Speaking of Ironite, made from steel mill waste, I used to recommend it as a quick “greener upper” for lawns, but the EPA website now reports, “The presence of heavy metals in Ironite has resulted in its banning in Canada and lawsuits in the United States due to the potential release of heavy metals, most notably arsenic and lead.”

TerraCycle Plant Food — Is the latest eco-friendly potted plant fertilizer from an innovative company, founded in 2001 by two Princeton students who were concerned about the huge amount of solid waste generated by the university’s dining halls. TerraCycle now diverts thousands of tons of organic waste (food waste, paper waste, and garden clippings) from landfills and feeds it to millions of worms! The final product, from the aft end of the worms, is 5% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus, and 4% potassium. The company even goes the extra green mile and packages this “vermicompost.” in used plastic milk jugs and soda bottles. Rutgers and the American Horticultural Society endorse this eco-capitalism success story. Locate retailers or buy online at http://www.terracycle.net/

REMEMBER . . . Cool-season grasses such as fescues do NOT need fertilizing in the spring, in spite of those ads from our favoite two big box garden centers. Check out Virginia Tech's Turf Info for the latest expert advice.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation also offers Healthy Lawns; Healthy Waters.

Another catchy ad program that promotes NO spring fertilization of lawns in our area is from the Chesapeake Club. They like to say "Help save the crabs. Then eat 'em."


LEEDing the Way — is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s national green rating system for homes and commercial buildings. The new Washington Nationals team may not have a winning record, but their new stadium is a winner. It’s the first LEED certified major league stadium.

State and local governments are adopting LEED for public funded buildings. William & Mary’s newest dorms and recreation center are LEED certified, and the Prime Outlets’ new expansion may apply for certification soon.

Two county-constructed LEED projects are in the works in James County. “The first is the new community gymnasium at the Warhill Sports Complex that’s under design now, with construction to start next year.” reports JCC General Services Manager John Horne. “The second will be the new police headquarters building on Opportunity Way across from the new TNCC building.”

Building Green

Greener homes are on the way. Homeowners are now “building green” more often, as they seek to reduce both their utility bills and carbon footprints—even during this struggling housing market. Green renovation will also continue to grow as more home owners choose to stay in their homes.

Building an environmentally friendly home no longer means sacrificing comfort or paying a lot more. A July 2008 survey found that the national median price of green homes was $239,000. 52 percent of green homes cost "about the same" as comparable non-green homes.

Check out the U.S. Building Council's Green Home Guide website at http://www.greenhomeguide.org/ for extensive green building info, as well as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program guidelines.

EarthCraft Houses — are energy efficient homes that are really catching on in Virginia, most recently in our area. The National Association of Home Builders recently named this program its "Local Green Home Building Program of the Year." “Everyone deserves good indoor air quality,” says EarthCraft’s local technical advisor Steve Tetreault, “and you shouldn’t have to pay a ton of money for it.” Tetreault recently certified our area’s first five EarthCraft homes, all built in Ford’s Colony by A. DeRose & Sons. More are on the drawing board elsewhere.

EarthCraft gives builders a flexible point system. Builders earn points by using mold resistant wallboard, formaldehyde-free cabinets, low-VOC carpet and paint, cork or bamboo flooring, permeable pavement, sealed conditioned crawlspace, and lumber that meets sustainable harvest criteria. If any of these are on your radar screen, visit http://www.ecvirginia.org/

Snap, Crackle, Pop—May come to mind when you see the seven acres plus of new porous parking lot at the Prime Outlet expansion on Richmond Road. What’s being touted as "the largest pervious concrete project in the United States" may remind you of Rice Crispy treats. These parking spots should reduce stormwater runoff into Powhatan Creek by allowing it to infiltrate through the Envira pervious concrete. Is this a successful green compromise between controlled growth advocates and economic growth? Time will tell.
Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) is also a term you'll see more often. It certifies that the wood has been harvested from "well managed" forests according to international standards.

Kudos—To Cooke’s Garden Center and Williamsburg Sentara Hospital for their plans to install the first two “vegetative roofs” in our area later this year. These green roofs, predominantly planted with drought-tolerant sedum plants, can reduce stormwater runoff by retaining up to 80 percent of the rain that falls on them. William & Mary’s biology department is also a partner on the Sentara project.

Green toys

Green Toys — made in California from 100 percent recycled milk jugs are now sold at Monticello Marketplace’s School Crossing. Store owner, Sherry Phipps, says “It’s a new line of toys in the last 2 months, and they are really selling well as parents become more concerned about toy safety. Also, more toy manufacturers are seeing recycled content and packaging as important factors.” This environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastic toys includes play cookware, gardening kits, and beach toys. See www.greentoys.com/green.html to find local stores that sell this line.


Raise the Blades —On your lawn mower during these hot summer months to the highest setting, especially if you have cool season fescue lawns. Experts tell us that the healthiest lawns are mowed at 4 inches during the summer to keep the roots cool and conserve moisture. If your lawn has a white hue rather than a green color after you mow, it is a good bet that your blades are too low.

Virginia Tech experts recommend that homeowners sharpen mower blades at least three times per growing season. A dull blade causes excess leaf damage and becomes a site for fungal entry, leading to a diseased lawn.

July is Smart Irrigation Month The peak water-usage month for lawns is July, but August is also a water-guzzler. To raise awareness of smart irrigation practices and water conservation, the Irrigation Association has named July Smart Irrigation Month.

According to the EPA, we are wasting more than 50 percent of the water when we irrigate our lawns and gardens—up to 1.5 billion gallons every day across the country. That’s not only a waste of money, but likely washing fertilizer into our waterways, adding to the nitrogen nutrients that contribute to algae blooms and fewer crabs. Overly wet lawns are also susceptible to fungus diseases when the night time temperatures remain high.

James City County has the largest public water supply system in Virginia that depends solely on groundwater (wells and aquifers), not on reservoirs. Between 60 and 70 percent of James City water customers irrigate their lawns. Since that water comes from a limited source, it’s the sixth year for mandatory watering regulations here. Hundreds of door tag warnings have already been issued for every-other-day watering violations. Patience may be wearing thin and fines may not be far behind.

If you suspect a leak in your irrigation system, look at your sub-meter to see if it’s moving slowly when the sprinklers are not on. Call a certified irrigation specialist. A pinhole-sized water leak can waste up to 170 gallons each month.

Rain Sensor Rebates — Are available in James City. If your irrigation system was installed without a rain sensor prior to March 8, 2005, and you are a JCSA customer, save your newly purchased rain sensor receipt. You may qualify for a reimbursement up to $50. Irrigation systems installed after that date are required to have a rain sensor and do not qualify for this rebate.

James City County announced even more rebates if a replacement washing machine, dishwasher, or toilet (after 8-1-08) are Energy Star compliant or high-efficiency, Contact JCC Environmental Education Coordinator, Beth Davis, at 757-253-6859.

Green Vacations (updated 8-18-09)

Go on a Guilt-Free Getaway

Green resorts are now in vogue as more “green tourists” make vacation plans. If you recycle at home, it’s almost painful to throw away soda cans or newspapers in your hotel room. Whether your taste tends toward lavish or laid-back vacations, you don’t need to leave your green credentials at home when you travel.

Eco-friendly resorts no longer mean using composting toilets or being deprived of modern conveniences like AC or TV. The leisure industry is taking giant steps toward responsible practices and encouraging sustainable travel. Conservation is no longer just for minimalist eco-lodges.

But don’t be fooled by "green-washing." Some resorts, as a marketing ploy, claim eco-credentials that do not bear scrutiny. There are now more than 70 major eco-labels for hotels. It’s not easy to separate the green-doers from the green-washers. But if they’ve earned a seal of approval from an independent sustainable tourism certification program, that’s a good sign that they’re making more than a token effort.

Conde Nast Traveler has a website with great tips on sustainable and socially responsible travel at http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/makeadifference

Green Lodging — Is Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality’s voluntary certification program that encourages Virginia’s tourism and hospitality industry to do what they can to protect the environment.

Kingsmill Resort, Williamsburg Marriott, Hampton Inn Center, Williamsburg Hospitality House, Great Wolf Lodge, and York River Inn B & B are among the more than 300 hotels across America that have sought this “Green Lodging” certification.

This tiered, self-policing program has a long list of initiatives that range from water and energy conservation to bulk purchasing and using green cleaners. At the very least, the resorts must offer guests the opportunity to recycle and to request “optional linen service,” where sheets and towels are not automatically changed every day during your stay. Plan a vacation that’s one shade greener and stay at resorts like these.

8-09: The Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance earned certification as a “Virginia Green Travel Organization” by the Virginia DEQ, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Virginia Hospitality and Tourism Association. Click here http://www.williamsburgcc.com/media/TheAllianceGoesVirginiaGreen.cfm

Kudos — To Marriott’s Manor Club at Ford’s Colony which recently partnered with TFC Recycling to provide recycling opportunities in its timeshare and rental villas. Director of Operations, Jeff Hobson, said “The six sessions of bi-lingual training that we offered our housekeeping staff made all the difference,” in making this program effective. “We made refrigerator magnets to educate our guests and bought recycling containers for each villa. Any costs were offset in reduced landfill expenses.”

Pine straw mulch

Use Pine Straw as Mulch—Because it’s a renewable resource—“mulch manna from heaven.” Pine needles remain loose and don’t form a hard crust as bark mulches do. Then rain can soak into the soil, reducing runoff. Also, it breaks down slower than wood mulch and doesn’t wash out of beds. Best of all, it’s lightweight and much easier on your back muscles.

For new beds, three inches, which settle into one and a half inches, is recommended. Then one inch topdressing is usually needed annually.

Plastic Bags!

Plastic Bags—are also the nemesis of recycling plants, especially the “single stream” facilities like TFC Recycling in Chesapeake, where the reusable materials we put out on our curbs every week are separated for recycling.

Tim Lee, Business Development Manager at TFC, invited me to tour this amazing facility after my first Easy Being Green column. Lee is proud to report that “Forty tons per hour of recyclables are processed from Williamsburg, James City, York, and the greater Hampton Roads region.” I will refute any pessimist who says “those recycling trucks go right to the landfill.”

However, plastic bags are not supposed to go into our recycling bins. I was amazed to see countless plastic bags that well-meaning recyclers put into their bins, without realizing that they clog TFC’s huge separating machines when the bags get beyond the hand-removal step. I witnessed these machines abruptly stopping, requiring the plastic bags to be hand-cleared. So if you’re putting your newspapers back into the bag they sometimes arrive in before you toss it into your recycling bin, please change this habit. The only plastics that should go into your recycling bin are #1 and #2 plastic bottles with necks.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Have You Heard—of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch?”
It’s millions of tons of floating debris, on or just under the surface, held in place by swirling currents and winds. First seen by a sailor in 1997, this mega-flotsam is now almost as large as the continental U.S—and growing at an alarming rate.  Cleaning it up is not considered feasible at this time. It will not disappear in our lifetime, our children's lifetime, or the lifetime of our grandchildren.

Why is this important to Virginians? At least 80 percent of this shameful garbage soup is plastic, and that’s 100 percent appalling. Much of it is "nurdles" or small pieces of plastic, sometimes called "mermaid tears." Haven’t we always said that plastics would never biodegrade? Almost everything in this “floating landfill” started out as litter. It makes a strong case for reducing our use of disposable single-use consumables such as plastic water bottles. I find these frequently along the banks of the James and York rivers.

Mailbox Clutter

Reduce Your Mailbox Clutter—by getting rid of unwanted catalogs.

Each year, 19 billion catalogs are mailed to American consumers. You can free up space in both your mailbox and our landfill, plus reduce manufacturers’ costs, by opting out of catalogs that you no longer want to receive. Visit http://www.catalogchoice.org/ (.org, NOT .com) for a user-friendly and free service, funded by the Merck Family Fund and endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Just find the catalogs you want discontinued and this free service will contact the merchant on your behalf and request that they no longer send you their catalog. You can always contact the companies yourself, but this is easier. Almost 600,00 people have already joined the Catalog Choice community and opted out of 7.2 MILLION catalogs.

ForestEthics tells us that it takes more than 100 million trees to produce the total volume of junk mail that arrives in American mailboxes each year—that's the equivalent of clearcutting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every 4 months. Each American household receives about 800 pieces of junk mail each year. It's NOT your imagination!

So ForestEthics has mounted another agressive campaign to stop unwanted catalogs at http://www.donotmail.org/ This group also releases an annual "Santa's list of nice retailers" that use recycled paper and avoid paper from endangered forests.


Some of your junk may be someone else’s treasure. We’ve all heard that old adage, but there are folks in your area who prove it every day by focusing on the second word in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra. Register for free at freecycle.org .

The average American produces about 4.6 pounds of garbage per day or about 1600 pounds per person each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In Virginia, the latest figures available indicate that 16.7 million tons of municipal solid waste had to be hauled away. Many of those tons could have been diverted from Virginia’s 250+ landfills. If you read this carefully, you can also free up Last Word space and save newsprint!

Freecycle Rhymes with Recycle—for the obvious reason. The Freecycle Network is a free, web-based service that’s keeping tons of items out of landfills—300 MILLION tons worldwide last year alone. Waste Management, Inc. is a major sponsor of this grassroots movement that is changing the way we think about what we buy and what we can do with it when we no longer need it.

Since 2003, Freecycle’s regional groups are giving and getting useable items for free and keeping unnecessary waste out of landfills by posting an email when they want to give away an item or are looking for a specific item. Each local group has a volunteer moderator who reviews each posting to assure adherence to Freecycle’s policy of no spam, ads, barters, trading, or selling. Local website moderator, Ginny Dickerson, stresses that “Freecycle is NOT a way to get and re-sell items for flea markets,” and that “Gazette Last Word readers who are seeking items are the ideal users.”

To sign up, go to http://my.freecycle.org and find your area in Virginia. There’s already an active group of more than 1000 in the Williamsburg group and 560 in the Yorktown one, both growing every day. After reading the guidelines, members post OFFER, WANTED, or TAKEN messages online. Safety and privacy are very important. Users do not include street addresses or phone number to the full list, only to an individual.

So if you’re upgrading your computer or TV, replacing furniture or appliances, or cleaning out closets or bookshelves, give away your old things that are still in good shape to someone in your area who really wants it by posting an email. After that, it’s up to the giver to decide who receives the item and to set up a pickup time for passing it on.

Of course, Freecycle encourages members to also remember local charitable groups such as Disabled American Veterans or Salvation Army.