Thursday, July 25, 2013

Being Green in 2013: Week 9

Zero-Waste and the Food Industry

Are zero-waste restaurants coming to U of M?

The sustainable food movement has been growing in recent years, with restaurants opening up all across the country and world offering organic food, local produce, vegetarian and vegan menus, grass-fed beef and free range chicken. More recently, some of these restaurants have been looking to take the next step in decreasing their carbon footprint by setting goals to achieve zero waste. 

The restaurant industry is highly waste-intensive by nature. From packaging to food waste to carry-out containers, achieving zero waste at your restaurant is no small task. Hannah Bretzel, an organic sandwich shop and catering business with four locations in the Chicago area, was the first fast casual restaurant to eliminate plastic bags in 2007 and today uses 100 percent recycled bags and biodegradable packaging. According to Earth911, 10 percent of internal waste is recycled and 80 percent is composted at Hannah Bretzel's busiest location, giving the restaurant an overall 90 percent waste diversion rate. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's new London restaurant also strives towards zero waste. According to Big Hospitality, Jamie Oliver's Diner, "has elected to enforce a zero per cent landfill policy meaning all produce will be eaten, composted, re-cycled or up-cycled. Some items on the menu will even be made by ingredients thrown out by other restaurants and shops."

In theory, a zero waste restaurant is possible. All it takes is recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable packaging and a compost system for pre- and post-consumer food waste. But there are many challenges that come with adapting these waste reduction methods. For one, the primary concern of most restaurant businesses is to bring in enough profits to sustain business. Sustainable packaging options can be more expensive, causing price hikes that deter customers. Even more problematic is the lack of widespread municipal or commercial composting centers. According to Florian Pfahler, founder of Hannah Bretzel, since there is no composting facility nearby the restaurant contracts with a compost pick-up service who transports the compostable waste to a facility in Indiana, a 45 minute drive from the restaurant. The added cost of composting, especially in areas like Chicago without commercial compost facilities, essentially means that only high-end restaurants can achieve zero waste. However, as more cities adopt municipal compost systems and the number of people willing to spend a little more in the name of sustainability increases, zero waste restaurants will become increasingly feasible and continue to pop up in cities all over the world.

Here in Ann Arbor, our municipal compost system indicates a future for zero waste restaurants. Although no Ann Arbor restaurants currently designate themselves zero-waste, initiatives have been taken at food service sites operated by the University. In Fall 2012, the U-M Waste Reduction and Recycling Office (WRRO) piloted a post-consumer food composting program in the Michigan League. The pilot determined that with enough funds, stakeholder engagement, promotion, and patron education, there could be a future for widespread campus composting. Click here to view the full report on the post-consumer composting pilot program at the Michigan League.

The U-M WRRO has also created a guide for hosting zero waste events at U-M. Departments holding events can contact Plant Operations to set up composting at an event. Promoting "BYOD" (Bring Your Own Dish), using compostable plasticware, and ordering bulk food items with minimal packaging can reduce waste at your event. For more tips on waste reduction at a U-M event, click here to see the Zero Waste Events at the University of Michigan How-To Guide.

Do you know of an Ann Arbor restaurant that may adopt zero waste practices? Pick Up America offers 10 great tips for restaurants looking to achieve zero waste. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Being Green in 2013: Week 8

Why Thrift?

People thrift for all kinds of reasons—because it’s cheap, because it’s cool, because Macklemore does it, and also to be environmentally and socially responsible. Shopping at thrift and resale shops is an important way to be a link in the reduce-reuse-recycle chain. With second hand stores all over Ann Arbor, anyone at U of M can shop thrift!

Every item purchased second hand means one less item produced AND one less item sent to the landfill. The production of clothing has a greater environmental impact than you might have guessed. Cotton is the most pesticide-intensive crop in the world and an input of 2,500 liters (660 gallons) of water is required to produce one cotton T-shirt. Furthermore, the manufacturing and transport of clothing and its components is energy-intensive, and studies show 97.4% energy savings from reusing cotton clothing.

Many popular clothing brands including H&M, Target, Gap, JC Penney, Nike, Old Navy, Limited, Banana Republic, and more have been accused of using sweat shops and child labor, providing unfair wages and poor working conditions. Buying from these brands may be supporting social injustice. Thrift shops, on the other hand, often support charities like Salvation Army and Purple Heart, so you know your money is going to the right place.

U of M
Property Disposition is where surplus items from U of M departments are sold, responsibly disposed of, or recycled—you could think of it as our campus thrift shop! Both UM Departments and the general public can shop at Property Disposition, and it can be a great, cheap, sustainable way to stock or furnish your home, dorm, or office. Items you can expect to find include chairs, tables, desks, book cases, file cabinets, computers, copiers, kitchen supplies, and lab and hospital equipment. Hours are a little funky and are different for UM departments and general public so be sure to go online before you visit:

U of M also contributes to reuse culture through the Student Move Out program. Students can bring unopened food and toiletries, and lightly used clothing, bedding, household items, and furniture to donation boxes or “Take It or Leave It” areas in every dorm. These items are then donated to local charities and thrift shops—last year, almost 12 tons of donations were donated to Purple Heart, Food Gatherers, St. Vincent De Paul, and the Salvation Army!

Become a link in the reduce-reuse-recycle chain by donating your clothes to thrift stores, selling them to consignment stores, and buying second-hand clothing whenever possible.

Second-hand Stores in Ann Arbor

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Being Green in 2013: Week 7


We'll break it down for ya!

A couple weeks ago, Elif Bilgin (age 16) won the $50,000 prize from Scientific American’s Science in Action competition for her project which successfully developed a new bioplastic from discarded banana peels. Sounds impressive, right? Imagine a world where food and agricultural waste could be converted into plastic! Where plastics don't remain in the ground or oceans for hundreds of years! Well that is only a partial reality in the world of bioplastics, but as this sector of the plastics industry grows, people are starting to ask questions. Here are some answers:

What are bioplastics?
Bioplastics are plant-based alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. The three main types of bioplastics are made of starch, cellulose, or biopolymers. Currently, the most common uses for bioplastics are in packaging, insulation, and plastic utensils.

Why are they important?
Switching to bioplastics has the potential to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous waste created by the petroleum-based industry. With the increasing price of petroleum and potential of using agricultural byproducts and food waste in production, bioplastics may also provide a more cost effective alternative to conventional plastics.

Are bioplastics biodegradable?

Bioplastic products are often labeled biodegradable, but the real question is what does this mean? This labeling is often a form of greenwashing. "Biodegradable" is an unregulated and essentially meaningless term. The term "compostable" however is strictly controlled by scientific standards. If a plastic product is labeled compostable, it must have appropriate ecotoxicity levels and experience at least 60% breakdown in 180 days. The City of Ann Arbor does not accept any bioplastics or biodegradable plastics unless they are labeled compostable, BPI certified, and have ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, or EN 13432 certification. A list of these products can be found on the Biodegradable Products Institute website.

Are bioplastics good or bad?
Unfortunately the answer’s not so simple. Bioplastics offer a potentially ecofriendly alternative to conventional plastic, but critics have raised many concerns. Some point out that the high carbon emissions and use of petroleum in the production of corn and other crops make bioplastics equally unsustainable. Others have raised concerns about the impact of crop production for bioplastics on the world food supply. Bioplastics are often non-recyclable and can contaminate recycling, lowering the quality of recycled plastics. Bioplastics that end up in landfill may be no better than petroleum-based plastics since the landfill process ensures that materials will not decompose and the gases and chemicals leaching from bioplastics may be just as harmful as those from conventional plastics. 

There’s no question that in order for us to reap the benefits of bioplastics, we must eliminate confusion and have the right system in place. We must dispel any misconceptions that plastics labeled biodegradable can be chucked into the home compost pile or worse—littered onto the street. With clear, widespread information campaigns and wider access to compostable bioplastics and commercial compost systems, bioplastics could have a real future.

Sustainable innovation in the plastics industry is important, but remember: using uncoated paper plates, cups, and napkins is the way to go, as these items are truly compostable, or better yet—reusables! Reusable items like metal silverware and glass cups are always a better alternative to single-use disposable items and an easy way to avoid all the confusion!

Read more on bioplastics:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Being Green in 2013: Week 6

Recycled 4th of July Crafts

Happy (almost) 4th of July! In honor of keeping it green on our favorite red, white and blue holiday, here are some of our favorite patriotic recycled crafts. Enjoy!

American Flag Cup Wreath

cup wreath final   

What you need:
  • Red, white and blue paper cups (10 blue, 12 red, 10 white)
  • Glue gun
  • Ribbon (for hanging)
1) Stack the cups, spaced 1 to 2 inches apart

2) Glue the cups together by putting dabs of glue half way down the outside of each cup. Only put glue on one side since the cups will only be touching on this side

3) Start angling the cups into a circular shape and glue the final two cups together to complete the circle

4) Tie a ribbon around the wreath and hang in front of a door or window

This craft is a perfect way to reuse cups from your 4th of July party and can be displayed as a patriotic tribute year-round!

American Flag Mobile Craft


What you need:
  • 9 Soup can lids (Alternative: Tops from plastic containers)
  • Red, white and blue acrylic paints
  • Paintbrush
  • Hammer and nail (Alternative: Superglue)
  • 2 White wire coat hangers
  • Strong black or white thread or clear fishing line

  • Clear sealing spray
  • 18 gauge craft wire
  • Red and blue 8mm faceted beads
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Wire cutters

1) Paint the soup can lids. Let one side dry and then paint the other. Two coats of paint may be necessary to achieve the desired look. Spray with acrylic sealing spray or other protective top coat if desired

2) Punch a hole at the top of the lid. This can be done using a hammer and nail.
Alternative: To avoid using tools, try using superglue to attach the thread to the lids

3) Optional: Cut 9 5-inch-long pieces of 18 gauge wire. Thread each piece into the hole in the lid. Add a bead. Use the needle nose pliers to make a tiny loop at the end to keep the bead from falling off. Make a decorative loop in the wire. Repeat at other end of the wire (add bead, loop, and curl). See photos for help

lower bead loop  decorative wire  completed lids  

4) Cut bottom straight part of wire coat hangers. Tie together in a cross shape using thread or thin wire. You may also want to add a dab of superglue
Alternative: Use the white cardboard rods attached to some wire hangers instead of the metal hanger itself to avoid sharp ends or if you don’t have wire cutters

5) Optional: Add beads to the end of the wire hanger at each of the 4 ends. Secure with superglue or use pliers for the curling technique

6) Cut lengths of thread or fishing line: 4 short lengths, 4 medium, and 1 long. Tie to the end of each painted lid. Tie the 4 shortest lengths to the ends of the hanger wire. Tie the medium lengths in the middle of each wire. Tie the longest length to the center of the cross. Add a thread to the top of the cross for hanging

Tip: To get the balance right, play with the placement of the threads along the length of the metal cross until it hangs straight

This craft is a great way to upcycle those hard-to-recycle caps and lids. Hang your mobile and enjoy!

4th of July Rockets

4th final

What you need:
  • Cardboard tubes (toilet paper, paper towel, gift wrap)
  • Red, white, and blue colored paper OR white scrap paper + red, white, and blue markers
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Straws
  • Red tissue paper
  • Other embellishments: glitter, sequins, ribbon, etc
  • Wood or metal skewers

1) Decorate tubes with paper, markers, and other embellishments

2) Cut circles 5” in diameter. Cut a slit to the center of the circle, roll into a cone shape, and secure with glue. Then use glue to secure the cone to the top of the tube

3) Decorate the straw “fuse” and add fringed red tissue paper “flame” to the other end of the tube

4) Place skewers in the lawn, slip the straws over the skewers, and place your rockets on the straws

Enjoy your patriotic lawn decorations!

4th 4

Remember to keep this years crafts for next year's 4th!

Inspiration for the projects in this post comes from and