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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Simple Tip: Fast Food Waste

While I would love to eat healthy, organic home cooked food every day… that’s not how life goes. I travel, I PMS, I get lazy… so yep, sometimes, I get fast food. Everything in moderation, right? However, fast food isn’t the most zero waste choice around. BUT. There are ways to drastically reduce the amount of trash you produce from your fast food jaunts. Here are my tips:

  1. Go inside to get your order instead of going through the drive through. My experience with the drive through is they regularly miss you saying no to straws, napkins, etc. When you go inside, you can better articulate that you don’t need any of the extra items that are automatically thrown into the bag. Which leads me to tip two.
  2. When inside, order your food “for here.” This way, the bag, the napkin, etc. aren’t provided to begin with (most of the time at least). You can then just take your (usually) paper wrapped items, put it in your own reusable bag, and walk out.
  3. If you order a drink, bring your own tumbler or mason jar to fill up at the soda fountain (Whataburger even has their own fancy tumbler). I’ve never had any issues doing this. But more often than not, I forego the drink, and drink whatever I have at home.
  4. Keep your preferred condiments at home or work so you can say no to the tiny hot sauce/ketchup/mustard/red chili flakes/etc. packages.
  5. Compost your paper wrappings such as those that surround burgers and tacos. Compost pizza boxes (or at least recycle the portions of it that aren’t greasy).
  6. And finally. Know your local joints. At this point, I know which taco place gives take out in paper bags versus plastic. And which burger joints give fries in paper wrapping instead of the plastic-lined cartons. Order food accordingly.
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Zero Waste + Eco-Friendly New Year’s Resolutions

Last year was a great zero waste/low waste/eco-friendly year for me. I started this blog, reduced our household trash production by A LOT, and became a Recycling Ambassador with my city. But we (I) can always do better so here are some goals/resolutions/whatever you want to call it for the coming year. And, also, comment and tell me what your green goals are for this year! 

  1. Become a Master Composter. My classes/training starts later this month!
  2. Find a facial bar soap I like. Makeup and skincare products are my “luxury items” — and while I try to buy in glass as much as possible, and recycle everything else with TerraCycle/Origins/L’Occitane… I can do better. So my goal this year is to go totally zero waste when it comes to face wash. I’m thinking this or this.
  3. Re-start my “buy no new clothes” resolution from last year. Last year, I went 10 months (after initially shooting for one month, then three) without buying any new clothing items (except underwear). And by “no new” — I mean, every clothing item I buy must be thrifted (whether at a physical store or from eBay/Poshmark/ThredUp). I’m hoping to go at least 6 months this year. 
  4. Save excess shower/bath water, pasta water, tea pot water, etc. in a bucket to use to water plants during the summer. It gets incredibly hot here in Dallas during the summer and my roses drink a lot of water during this time. So I’m going to make an effort to save water that would otherwise go down the drain at home to water the outdoor plants. 
  5. Repair clothes before replacing them. Darn socks with holes in them. De-pill sweaters, leggings, and t-shirts. Remove stains ASAP. 
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The 5 Easiest Eco-Friendly Swaps to Make This Year

Buh-bye 2018 because 2019 is upon us! If you haven’t gotten on the eco-friendly train yet… what are you waiting for?! I know it can be intimidating at first so (in honor of the new year) let’s take it back to basics. If you are completely new to the zero/low waste world, welcome, and let’s get started on THE simplest, easiest things you can do to start your journey this year.

  1. Ditch paper towels for both cleaning and dining. Have old hand towels, rags, those random towels you get at basketball games? Use them to mop up spills and clean your countertops. For dining, either grab a pack of cloth napkins or make your own using an old flat sheet. When they are dirty, throw it in your laundry, reuse, repeat. 
  2. Commit to taking your own bags to the grocery store. Seriously. It’s so easy to do. Keep both reusable produce bags and grocery bags (you know you have those free bags you’ve accumulated from random events) in your car. Use them.
  3. Keep a reusable stainless steel straw in your car or bag. Use it at restaurants, movie theaters, sporting events, etc. and say “no, thank you” when handed a paper wrapped, plastic straw. 
  4. Switch from body wash in plastic containers with hard to recycle pumps to a bar soap. You can find unwrapped, locally made bar soaps at Whole Foods, farmer’s markets, Etsy, etc. It’s zero waste AND you’ll support a local small business — win, win. 
  5. Stop re-purchasing cling wrap, aluminum foil, plastic bags, and wax paper for cooking and storing food. Utilize reusable silicone baking mats, beeswax wraps, stasher bags, and repurposed glass condiment/jam jars.
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A Less Wasteful Gift Wrapping Guide

Brown paper packages tied up with strings… these are a few of my favorite things!

Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas! Happy gift giving! So you picked out the perfect, thoughtful, mindful, gift — now what? I, like many others, love seeing beautifully wrapped presents under the Christmas tree. I also love watching the joy on people’s faces as they slowly (or not so slowly) unwrap their gifts. So how can we present beautiful gifts without producing waste that goes to the landfill? Here are your options! 

The Bad
First off — check to make sure your local recycling facility accepts wrapping paper. Most do with some caveats. If your wrapping paper has metallic accents or glitter, it is NOT recyclable. Also, bows, ribbons, tinsel, most tape, etc. are all trash. Basically, avoid getting super “extra” wrapping paper, sticking it together with shiny tape, and then putting bows and other things on it. 

The Good
As mentioned above, wrapping paper can be recycled if it doesn’t have metallic accents or glitter. So if you want to use wrapping paper, pick the simpler options at the store and recycle post-gift giving. The same goes for paper gift bags without any additional frills. The upside with plain gift bags is that they can be reused multiple times before being recycled. 

To wrap your present with wrapping paper, utilize washi (there are so many adorable, festive options) or kraft tape. 

The Better
If you’re going the wrapping paper route, you can do one better and use compostable kraft paper or eco-friendly gift wrap (like this one or this). Make sure to wrap with washi tape, kraft tape, or 100% cotton twine.

The Best
I always think the best option is what you already have. So if you have wrapping paper, old gift bags, beautiful shopping bags from Anthropologie, etc. — use those up first. However, if you are starting from scratch, there are some great zero waste wrapping options. Furoshiki (Japanese wrapping cloth), cloth produce bags, and mason jars are all useful and reusable. Add a little something extra with a small pine tree branch or beautiful leaves or acorns tied with twine. 

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