What I Learned From Doing A School Recycling Audit

One of my responsibilities as a Recycling Ambassador for my city involves conducting “recycling audits” on local schools. These audits aid schools in bettering their recycling practices by pointing out areas of improvement. After auditing schools, I gained a better understanding of what works in encouraging large groups of people (kids and adults) to properly recycle. So use these tips if you are looking to encourage better recycling practices at your office, school, or other community space!

  • Put trash next to the recycling. Like. RIGHT NEXT TO IT. Don’t stick it 5 feet away. Otherwise, people will just throw things away in whatever is closest/most convenient.
  • Put trash and recycling cans next to all exits, under sinks, in hallways, and in bathrooms. These are the top locations that people will be looking to pitch items.
  • Signs, signs everywhere. Preferably with pictures. Make it very clear what items go in each container. You would be surprised to learn how many times I’ve been asked whether paper towels can be recycled. (The answer is no. However, it can be composted!)
  • Make sure your janitorial staff is aware of the recycling guidelines in your city (i.e. recycling must either be unbagged or bagged in clear bags; glass and paper should be recycled separately, etc.). Put up guidelines (with pictures) in any cleaning closets. Ensure that trash and recycling are ending up in the correct outdoor dumpsters.
  • Finally — educate those around you. Tell people WHY they should recycle. Find out what would incentivize them to recycle more. Teach them about better recycling practices.
Encourage recycling at your school or office pin.
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My Zero Waste Car Kit

First off, what is a zero waste car kit? Basically — it’s the collection of items you always have stored in your car that’ll help reduce your waste while you are out and about in the world. This includes items needed for grocery shopping, coffee buying, eating out, etc. I love having a car kit because it keeps me from forgetting anything at home and I’m always prepared for any scenario.

So what’s in my kit? And how do you create your own? Gather the following:

1. A cardboard box. I use this to corral all my items together in my trunk so things don’t roll around all over the place. Use whatever you have — a canvas bag, an Amazon box, a reusable shopping bag.

2. Items used when grocery shopping. This includes your reusable shopping bags and produce bags. We all know this, right?

3. Mason jars (I recommend the 16 oz. size). These come in handy for multiple scenarios. You can use them when buying bulk at the grocery store or farmer’s market. Or if you’re craving a frappuccino from Starbucks and your reusable coffee cup won’t hold all the delicious whipped cream. Or you just need some water from the park water fountain. I’ve even gotten a soda in mine from a fast food joint where the only option was the throwaway cup. If you don’t have mason jars, use clean glass pasta sauce or condiment jars.

4.  Eating out items. I have an old fork/spoon and reusable straw wrapped in a cloth napkin ready to go if I’m someplace with only plastic options. I also keep a reusable coffee cup for any on the go hot beverage purchases.

5. Take out container. I have an old lunch box (that was meant to hold a sandwich + 2 “sides”) that I keep in the car for when I need to take home leftovers from a restaurant. Did I feel a little self conscious the first time I shoved enchiladas and leftover rice + beans in my little box from home? Sure. Worth it? Yep. This is a good use for any leftover plastic tupperware containers you have in the house.

And that’s it. Put together whatever you already have at home in a little “kit” and you won’t be caught off guard when out in a world that hasn’t 100% caught on to reducing waste just yet.

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My Favorite TerraCycle Programs

I love TerraCycle’s free recycling programs. It allows me to recycle items that otherwise would end up in the landfill. This doesn’t mean that I purposely pick a packaged item over a bulk one in order to TerraCycle it BUT it is exceedingly useful for those items that I don’t have much of an alternative for. TerraCycle also has paid programs (where you pay for a box to fill up with various items and then ship back to them to recycle) but I’ve had great experiences with the free programs. Some programs do have a waitlist but I’ve gotten into most within a few months. So how does it work? Browse the programs and sign up for the ones that interest you. Collect items to recycle, put everything in an old cardboard box, print a pre-paid shipping label from the TerraCycle site, and drop off at UPS! That’s it. And it’s all free. So here are my favorite programs that I’m currently a part of:

Note: Some of these programs accept packaging only of a certain brand while others accept all brands so definitely read through the accepted items list for each program. In addition, while most programs involve shipping, there are a handful that involve dropping off your recycling at a specific retail location.

Wellness Pet Food Recycling Program: This was a happy coincidence since my dogs eat Holistic Select food (part of the Wellness brand) so I am able to recycle the plastic dog food bags we get.

Burt’s Bees Recycle on Us: I don’t really get a lot of Burt’s Bees products these days, however, I do have some old items from my pre-minimal-waste days. Once these are used up, I’ll send them via this program!

eos Recycling Program: Same as above. (Who doesn’t have old eos lip balms in the little spheres?)

Malt-O-Meal Cereal Bag Recycling Program: While we don’t get bagged cereal, we do get the boxes. I save the plastic cereal bag liners to recycle through this program. This program accepts all brands of cereal bags.

Colgate Oral Care Recycling Program: I recycle toothpaste tubes and caps, toothbrushes, toothbrush outer packaging, and floss containers of all brands through this program (great for all those oral care items I’ve accrued from my dentist over the years).

Snack Bag Recycling Program: Chips, cookies, candy snack bags of all brands get shipped via this program. Great if you have kids who eat those little snack sized chip bags.

Subaru Recycling Program: We have a Subaru so this is particularly easy since we can recycle whenever we’re at the dealership for an oil change. But Subaru retailers now have TerraCycle boxes to recycle all disposable cups and lids, candy and snack wrappers, and coffee, tea, and creamer capsules. I don’t use capsules but I do save any candy/snack wrappers and cups/lids that come my way in order to recycle at the dealership.

L’Occitane Recycling Program: This is a new one that I haven’t used yet. But I am super excited by it! It appears you can take all skincare and makeup packaging of any brand to your local L’Occitane store for recycling. Has anyone done this yet? Let me know!

And finally, some eco-friendly tips for TerraCycling:
– Ship as much as possible at once. For example, don’t ship one toothpaste container at a time. Collect everything in a box and ship once or twice a year. Or, collect items to recycle from friends and family to bulk up more frequent shipments.
– Save old boxes and packaging to ship everything. Amazon boxes are great for this.
– Make sure everything you ship is clean, dry, and empty as not to contaminate the rest of the shipment.

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Top 5 Eco-Friendly Laundry Swaps

Continuing on with our little eco-friendly swap series… we’re on to the laundry room! I think the laundry is one of easiest areas to make eco-friendly swaps because there are so many good, effective alternatives.

  1. The item: Liquid laundry detergent in plastic jug
    The swap: Powder detergent in box
    I personally love the JR Watkins powder detergent (linked above). It’s a bit tough to find but it’s usually available somewhere online. One box lasts me about 9 months and it’s worked just as well as my old Tide detergent.
  2. The item: Dryer sheets
    The swap: Wool dryer balls + essential oils
    Another super easy swap. A couple drops of essential oils on a wool dryer ball and you have lovely smelling, dry laundry! I particularly love using peppermint essential oil during the winter when drying my bedding. Smells like Christmas! I’ve had my dryer balls for 2 years now and they are still going strong.
  3. The item: Lint roller
    The swap: Lint brush
    As a triple dog owner, this is a necessity but the sheets are super wasteful. I’m still using up the last of my bulk lint rollers but plan on switching over to reusable lint brushes. Anyone else use these?
  4. The item: Hand wash soap in plastic jug
    The swap: Dr. Bronner’s Bar Soap
    I see all these different, fancy “hand wash” soaps to use for delicate items. But honestly, the very multi-use Dr. Bronner’s bar soap works just fine when washing clothes in my bathroom sink.
  5. The item: Washing clothes in hot water
    The swap: Okay. So that wasn’t an item. BUT it’s an eco-friendly tip. Only wash in hot water if absolutely necessary (i.e. you need to really sanitize something). I’ve never had issues with using only cold water and it’s much better for your clothes and the environment.
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Top 5 Eco-Friendly Food Swaps

Last week, we talked eco-friendly kitchen swaps. And this week, we’re drilling down even further to food specific swaps! We all know that if you can find a specific item in the bulk section (grains, spices, oil/vinegar, tea/coffee, candy/chocolate, baking ingredients), you should go for that and stick it in your own containers. But here are some other food items that usually aren’t in the bulk aisle that I’ve found some alternatives for.

  1. The item: Yogurt in plastic container
    The swap: Yogurt in glass containers
    My husband goes through A LOT of yogurt. Which also means a lot of plastic cartons. I found this brand at Whole Foods and Central Market that sells their (delicious) yogurt in large glass jars. Bonus — I reuse the jars afterwards for storage. Also — if you want a single serving yogurt option — Yoplait now has cute little French style glass jars.
  2. The item: Bags of frozen berries
    The swap: Pick your own berries or buy at the farmer’s market when in season and then freeze away!
    I pick enough blueberries during the summer to last an entire year for smoothie, jam, and pie making. Strawberries are a little tougher since I haven’t found a pick your own farm nearby. BUT I’ve been able to snag strawberries without any packaging at the farmer’s market (and occasionally at Central Market) to then freeze for later.
  3. The item: Bread in a plastic bag
    The swaps: Make your own bread or pick up from the bakery section in your own bag
    I have a bread machine that I use to make my own bread about half the time. However, if I am looking for a specific type of bread that I don’t have the ingredients to make, I just grab a package free loaf from the bakery section at Central Market and stick it in an old pillowcase.
  4. The item: Ice cream in a carton (these cartons are usually not recyclable unless your city specifically mentions it)
    The swap: DIY ice cream
    I have an old ice cream maker given to me by a friend. That + the 4 ingredients required to make vanilla ice cream allows me to have delicious, fresh, ice cream any time I want. And you can have fun creating your own flavors using the vanilla base!
  5. The item: Vegetable broth in a carton
    The swap: DIY broth
    Save veggie scraps (i.e. onion, celery, bell pepper, carrot) in a container in your freezer. When full, boil + simmer the veggies in water. Bam — veggie broth. (And absolutely no waste.)

    What are some swaps you’ve made food wise?

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