Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tips for a Green Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is all about sharing tradition and food with friends and family. So what better a time is there to start some new traditions? Many of the current Turkey Day traditions, like the types of food we eat and the quantities, lead to a literal tons of waste. Nearly 204 million pounds of edible turkey meat are thrown away every Thanksgiving (approximately 35% of turkey meat produced). The EPA estimates that this holiday also marks the beginning of a season of increased waste production by about 25% that lasts through New Years. That’s a lot of waste.

We can show our thanks for the harvest by reducing our food waste and being mindful of the types of food we serve. Luckily, there are many easy (and yummy) ways to bring green traditions into your classic Thanksgiving celebration.

Here are 8 tips for a green Thanksgiving:

1. Plan your feast according to the number people attending your event. Only cook as much as your guests can eat for dinner. Leftovers are great, but if you’re throwing away more than kitchen scraps then you might want to calibrate the menu.

2. Coordinate with family members to find out what they actually want to eat. If there’s a casserole that always seems to go uneaten, replace it with something your guests will love.

3. Swap out canned or frozen veggies for freshly picked produce. Fresh produce will not only be better for your health, it’ll also mean less packaging and waste sent to landfills.

4. Start a new tradition of going to the farmers market to stock up on good fresh produce before the big day. This an incredibly easy way for you to buy locally grown and in-season foods. Local foods require less energy and produce fewer emissions than veggies that must be packaged, refrigerated, and shipped from out of town and often across the country.

5. Go vegetarian! The most energy costly foods are meats (looking at you turkey). So try out some new vegetarian recipes to replace that Thanksgiving staple. Check out these turkey alternatives here and here.

6. Use reusable plates, napkins, and silverware. Be sure to enlist your guests in loading the dishwasher after the meal for fast clean up!

7. Send guests home with leftovers and compost any remaining food waste.

8. Recycle! If you can’t avoid the odd canned food item or decide to wrap leftovers in foil, remember to throw those materials in the recycle bin.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Eat Ugly Food, Reduce Food Waste

Twitter @UglyFruitAndVeg
How do you decide which fresh foods end up in your grocery cart? If you’re like most people, you go by how they look.

The moment we walk into the grocery store, we are met with a colorful variety of produce. What’s interesting is that we shoppers expect every individual fruit or veggie to look perfect. We often think that how the produce looks will determine its quality. However, that is decidedly false. Smaller produce, slightly misshapen produce, and blemished produce are just as nutritious and taste equally as yummy, if not better, than their perfectly formed counterparts.

Why should we care that “ugly food” gets a bad rap? Consumers have power, and when we use our eyes to pick produce, we send a message to farmers and grocery stores that we only want perfect looking foods. This means that a shocking amount of ugly food--food that does not meet grocery store’s aesthetic standards--is wasted before it even gets to the grocery store.

Twitter @UglyFruitAndVeg
The EPA estimates that 31% (133 billion pounds) of food is wasted each year. This large amount of food waste sent to landfills contributes to 18% of total U.S. methane emissions. Much of wasted food is nutritious and safe to eat, but has been thrown away because it fails to meet aesthetic standards, portion sizes are too large, use by labels are misread, and for many other reasons.

Fruits and vegetables very rarely grow in the ideal shape, size, and color commonly sold in grocery stores across the country. In fact, it takes many extra resources, like water, fertilizer, and pesticides, in order to produce those magazine ready fruits and veggies.

What can we do help reduce food waste?
Twitter @UglyFruitAndVeg
Buy ugly food at the grocery store!
Try to find produce retailers near you that sell “ugly food”
Shop at your local farmer’s market
Make a list and only buy what you need from the store
Eat left overs first before you make a new meal

What is U-M doing to reduce food waste?
The University of Michigan composts pre and post-consumer food waste at its dining halls. This fall also welcomes a new pilot post consumer composting program at the Fields Cafe!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hard-to-Recycle Waste and How to Recycle It

Between Recycling at the University of Michigan and Recycle Ann Arbor, students living on and off campus can recycle most of their waste. Paper, plastic containers, metal, and cardboard are all easily recycled with only a few exceptions. Find the full list of items accepted for recycling at U-M here.

However, there are items that are too difficult to be recycled when placed into a single stream recycling system. Small plastic items, binders, and plastic cleaning product caps and pumps are just some of the items that can’t be thrown into a normal recycling bin.

Luckily, TerraCycle makes it possible for individuals and organizations to recycle their hard-to-recycle waste. This company offers free recycling programs that lets you ship in your hard-to-recycle items.

Take the extra step to recycle those tricky products by taking advantage of these programs offered by the University of Michigan, Recycle Ann Arbor, and TerraCycle! You might even discover some odd items that can be recycled through these programs.
Photo retrieved from TerraCycle

Credit Cards and ID Cards
Send in plastic ID cards and credit cards via campus mail to be recycled the Waste Reduction and Recycling Office at the address below!

Plastic Card Recycling
109 E Madison, 2943

Bottle Caps
Send us your plastic or metal bottle caps to be recycled if you’re on the Ann Arbor campus. Learn how to here.

Plastic Pencils and Pens
Through the Recycle Write program, you can recycle your plastic writing utensils (no wooden pencils please) by setting up your own collection box on campus! Attach this informational poster to your recycling box. This program, made in conjunction with TerraCycle, will also produce $0.02 in donations for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital for every item recycled!

Email when the box is full and we will send you a prepaid shipping label to send the box off for recycling.

U-M now offers binder recycling, a program made possible by teaming up with TerraCycle! Contact to find out how to get those old binders recycled.

If you’re on your way to shop for new school supplies, you may just want to take your old binders with you. At certain store locations, OfficeMax and Office Depot collect binders for recycling for free! You will also receive $2 in savings when you hand over your old or broken binders.

Water Filters
Did your Brita or PUR water pitcher break when you moved out of the dorms? Or is it just time to replace the water filters? You can ship dry Brita and PUR products to TerraCycle to be recycled for free!
Photo retrieved from TerraCycle

Cleaning Product Packaging
TerraCycle accepts pumps, caps, and triggers from spray bottles and disinfecting wipes packaging. Ship them in for free!

Personal Care and Beauty Product Packaging
If you’ve ever lived with roommates, you know just how quickly dozens of plastic containers from shampoo and soap can fill up a dorm room or apartment! Collect that empty packaging and ship them to be recycled by TerraCycle for free! You can also send in tooth brushes and empty toothpaste packaging if they are Colgate Brand.

Recycle Ann Arbor Drop Off Station
If you’re a dedicated recycler, hold on to vegetable oil and glass containers and take them the Recycle Ann Arbor Drop Off Station.

U-M has suspended its recycling of glass, but did you know that the U-M dining halls collect cooking oil to be recycled?

Still curious about what can be recycled at U-M? Visit

Friday, August 19, 2016

New Recycling, Compost, and Landfill Labels!

Hot off the press and ready for the the Fall 2016 semester, the University of Michigan welcomes the new, standardized waste bin labels!

Why are these new labels so great?

It’s a big world out there, filled with plenty of waste bins. Sometimes it becomes confusing, trying to figure out what goes in each bin. Before the University switched over to single stream recycling, there were bins of all different types: paper, newspaper, plastic, you name it!

There are even relics of these old bins still around campus.
Labels before single stream recycling.
Now, you can place any accepted recyclable into the blue recycling bins on campus, regardless of whether they say “paper only.” Those old labels make things pretty confusing!

So get ready to see more and more of the new Recycling, Compost, and Landfill labels replacing the old ones around campus. You can already find a few newly labeled bins at the Duderstadt Library on North Campus.

Easy to Use
These three new labels will let you know exactly what you should place into the bin. Each label includes images and captions of acceptable materials, so say goodbye to the guess work. If the product you wish to recycle isn’t on the sign, put it in the landfill bin! Plus, all three bins will direct you to our website, where you can find loads of information about which materials are accepted as recyclables or compostables at U-M.

Reality Check
The new labels will use the term landfill, which clears up any uncertainty about where products put into that bin will end up in the future. Remember, your trash doesn’t disappear the moment it reaches the bin. The University is dedicated towards reducing the amount of waste it sends to landfills (read more about U-M’s sustainability goals here). To accomplish this waste reduction goal, the entire U-M community needs to see the distinction between sending waste to the landfill rather than recycling or composting facilities.

Minimizing Contamination
The new compost signs also include a popular saying in the waste reduction and recycling world, “when in doubt, throw it out.” While some contamination is allowed in recycling, ZERO contamination is permitted when we send our compostables to the WeCare Organics compost facility. Every single item incorporated into a compost pile must be able break down into a nutrient rich product that can then be used to fertilize gardens and improve soils. Minimizing contamination is a priority when collecting compostables, so if you’re not sure, put it in the landfill bin.

They Look Good
These snazzy new labels will certainly give the waste bins around campus a new look!
So fancy.
So new.

Let's say goodbye to to some well loved, but slightly confusing labels.

Friday, August 12, 2016

College: The Best Time to Reduce Waste

The start of the new fall semester is the perfect opportunity for University of Michigan students to challenge themselves to reduce waste on campus and in their own lives. Taking the extra step to incorporate waste reduction practices into students’ daily lives is a skill that we wish to foster here at U-M.

dontstartslacking.JPGRufus the Recycler will be pushing everyone to challenge themselves to reduce waste this semester. Use this September to practice your waste reduction strategies so that you can win big during the 2016 Nothrowber! Nothrowber is a month long social media event full of waste reduction challenges in October. Make sure to follow Planet Blue on Twitter and like Planet Blue on Facebook to partake in fun, challenges, and prizes!

Being a waste conscious student on the U-M campus has its advantages! Here are some of the ways you can challenge yourself to reduce waste in your daily life!

Power of the backpack
You have a convenient place to store everything you need for class and then some. Try packing these items and see what kind of impact they have on your day.
Reusable water bottle
  • Water refill stations are located throughout campus. They are more convenient than vending machines and they save you money.
Reusable coffee mug
  • Walking around central campus has its perks, like the ability to smell freshly brewed coffee from almost any street corner. It's often hard to resist. So if you stop by for some caffeine, you’ll always be prepared with your reusable coffee mug! Tip: most coffee shops give a discount for bringing your own mug.
Reusable bag
  • Keep a foldable reusable bag in your backpack for any shopping trips you might do before or after class.
Hand towel
  • Do you use disposable paper towels when you wash your hands on campus? Try drying off with your own hand towel. Just remember to wash it after a few uses to make sure you’re not wiping germs back onto your hands.

Green hacking the campus computing locations
Ever noticed stacks of printed on papers by the printers in the fishbowl or UGLI? Those are abandoned pieces of paper often printed on only one side. You can use the backs of these printed pages for scrap paper or practice problems while you’re studying! Don’t forget to recycle the paper once you’re done.

Go healthy
When you pack and plan meals in advance, they are often much more healthful than if you grabbed something on the go during the day. Try packing lunch in reusable containers.

Pick snacks like bananas, oranges, and apples that come perfectly packaged by nature! Then stop by the Dana building to compost peels and cores.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Greenwashed Games for a Blue Planet

Since winning the the bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics in 2009, Rio de Janeiro set ambitious goals for the environmental efficacy of its games. “Green Games for a Blue Planet” is this year’s theme for the Olympics. The world had high hopes for the proposed sustainability of Rio 2016, especially with Brazil’s reputation for producing 85% of its energy from renewable sources. However, as the games approach, it’s apparent that Rio is struggling to meet their foremost sustainability goals.

The Sustainability Management Plan: Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games outlined multiple objectives. The objectives grouped under the theme of “environmental conservation and clean-up” included the following:

  1. “Minimize the impact on the existing ecosystems at the Olympic and Paralympic facilities and their immediate surroundings
  2. Promote the environmental clean-up of bodies of water in the regions of the Games.
  3. Strengthen and accelerate environmental protection, conservation, restoration and rehabilitation programmes.
  4. Expand monitoring of air and water quality in the Games regions”
Many of the headlines you’ve probably seen in the past few weeks paint a dirtier, more polluted picture of the progress made in Rio.

Rio has broken its promise of an environment-friendly Olympics -Vice news

While Rio has made some progress towards these goals, ultimately the environmental pledges remain ineffective. The failure of Rio to meet its own ambitious goals is reminiscent of Sochi’s failure at zero waste for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

What does it mean for promises of sustainability to be repeatedly disregarded on the world stage? Promising to clean up waterways and conserve threatened ecosystems cannot be eye catching, empty promises used to greenwash a world event like the Olympics. These are very real issues felt by both the residents of Rio as well as the half of a million tourists and athletes visiting for the games.

Will we see an Olympics where sustainability goals are followed through and not used to simply secure the bid?

At many organizations, goals are used to kickstart sustainability efforts and encourage the community to partake in these efforts. The University of Michigan has multiple goals that guide us toward sustainability. Visit Planet Blue’s website to learn more about U-M’s goals, the actions being taken towards meeting these goals, and the people making real change.