Friday, August 23, 2013

Being Green in 2013: Week 13

Recycled School Supplies
Start out the semester a green wolverine!

So you stepped on the M and now you're done for... you're going to fail your next Blue Book exam! Well what if we told you you never have to take a Blue Book exam again? Head on over to Ulrich's and buy yourself a Green Book instead! U-M students can also get free Green Books from the Alumni Association. Made with 30 percent post-consumer recycled paper content, Green Books are one example of school supplies made from recycled materials. Maybe, just maybe, the U-M Dept. of Myth Enforcement (or whoever deals with that stuff...) will cut you some slack and pass you for using recycled school supplies!

You can find school supplies made with recycled content at all major school and office supply retailers. Recycled notebooks come in anywhere from 30 to 95 percent post-consumer recycled content, and many are made from 100 percent recycled materials (including both pre- and post-consumer waste). Other products including printer paperPost-It notes, and even calculators can also be found with recycled content.

There are recycled options for pens and pencils as well. Pilot brand's B2P "Bottle-2-Pen" is the first pen made from recycled plastic bottles and contains 89.9 percent post-consumer plastic. Shepenco is the maker of Newsprencil-- a pencil made from 75 percent recycled newspaper and TreeSmart makes pencils from 100 percent recycled newspaper. Cardboard pens are also a popular options and some brands, including Logomark, are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled material.

Ever wondered what to do with your writing utensils once they run out of ink? Recycle Write!, a program of U-M Recycling and Procurement Services, allows U-M students, faculty, and staff to dispose of pens, pencils, and markers in an environmentally responsible way. Send or bring your recycled instruments to Recycle Write!, Plant Building & Grounds Services, 109 E. Madison, Campus Zip 2993. Click here for more information on the Recycle Write! program.

Responsible waste disposal is extremely important, but is not where recycling ends. Close the loop and keep the cycle going by purchasing recycled content materials! 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Being Green in 2013: Week 12

Power to Recycling!
The importance of battery recycling

Batteries are one of the only everyday consumer products with federal laws controlling their disposal. The EPA designates batteries as a hazardous waste product. Throwing lead batteries in the trash is illegal in 30 U.S. states and many states also have laws surrounding the disposal of cell phone and rechargeable batteries. So what's the big deal about batteries? Why are they any more hazardous than other waste? The answer has to do with heavy metals. 

All batteries contain heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, zinc, manganese, and lithium which react with electrolytes to generate power. Batteries are not dangerous when we use them because they are well-sealed with plastic, but this plastic degrades after disposal allowing heavy metals to enter the environment. Excessive exposure to heavy metals can damage mental and central nervous function, blood composition, and vital organs such as lungs, kidneys, and liver. When batteries are thrown in the trash and sent to landfills or incinerators, these heavy metals may contaminate the soil or pollute the air and water, posing a threat to human health.

The Corporation for Battery Recycling, funded by Duracell, Energizer, and Panasonic, aims to create a national battery recycling program with an eventual goal of zero waste from batteries. Call2Recycle, a non-profit funded by various battery and electronics manufacturers, was established in 1996 to help consumers recycle rechargeable batteries. The program has since diverted over 70 million pounds of disposable batteries from landfill. The auto industry also promotes battery recycling and according to the EPA, 96 percent of all lead-acid car batteries are recycled. Nearly all car dealerships selling lead-acid batteries also collect used batteries for recycling. The EPA says a typical lead-acid battery contains 60 to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic!

Here at U of M, batteries are collected through the Hazardous Materials Management Program (HMM) at OSEH and sent off campus to be recycled. All types of batteries are accepted by HMM. The program manages all aspects of battery use at U of M to ensure that the University is in compliance with State and Federal regulations. To request a battery collection bucket, call OSEH at 763-4568. Students in Residence Halls can ask the front desk for the location of their building's collection container. This information and more can also be found on our website:

Friday, August 9, 2013

Being Green in 2013: Week 11

What's in the Water?

Plastic pollution: problem, solution, U-M's response

In honor of Shark Week, let's talk about ocean pollution and the presence of plastics in our waters. You may have heard the claim that there is an island of plastic twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. An enormous gyre of marine debris, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, indeed exists, but if you're picturing a monumental pile of plastic bottles and beach toys, you're a little off. This area of the Pacific is characterized by having an exceptionally high concentration of suspended plastic particles, or tiny pieces of plastic, in the upper water column. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a source of alarm and has gained a great deal of media attention, but is only one part of a much greater problem. A similar, lesser known area of marine pollution exists in the Atlantic, known as the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch. Plastic particles are also found in lower concentrations throughout all our bodies of water, freshwater and saltwater, from the Pacific to the Great Lakes.

How does it get there?

Dumping of plastic into the sea was banned in 1988, but since the start of plastic production, hundreds of millions of tons of plastic have been poured in the oceans. The majority of plastic in our waters starts out on land and is transported to water by wind, rain, or currents. Some of the plastic comes from larger debris broken down by wind, waves, and UV radiation in a process called photodegradation. The rest starts out small and comes from things like the small plastic pellets used in plastic manufacturing, discharged with stormwater or spilled directly by cargo ships. Plastic microbeads used in abrasive hygiene products such as face wash, body wash, and toothpaste have also become a recent source of plastic pollution, as their small size allows them to go undetected in wastewater treatment plants. According to ABC News, personal care brands including Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and L'Oreal have announced plans to stop manufacturing products containing microbeads as a response to studies indicating pollution and environmental damage.

Why is it bad?

The key issues regarding to aquatic plastic pollution have to do with environmental and human health. Plastic in the ocean threatens marine life through entanglement, ingestion, and ecosystem alterationScientists have long been aware that fish, seabirds, and marine mammals have been ingesting large amounts of plastic. Recent research now shows that plastic is ingested at lower levels of the food chain as well, meaning it bioaccumulates in higher trophic levels causing increasing rates of ingestion along the way. Plastic consumption is the proven cause of many marine animal deaths, and affects humans as well. Humans are part of the plastic-polluted food chain. As fish digest plastic, chemicals are released into their bodies that are then ingested by humans. A key human health concern comes from Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which have been found in high concentrations in marine plastics. Studies have associated POPs with numerous detrimental health conditions including cancer, diabetes, endocrine disruption, and more. For more information and specific studies on the effects of plastic ingestion on human health, go to:

How do we fix it?

Since most of the plastic in our oceans and lakes has already broken down into tiny fragments, we have yet to find a practical way to clean it up. The use of filtration nets could remove the plastic but would also remove microscopic plankton vital to aquatic ecosystems. So what can we do? The best we can do is to intercept plastic debris before it breaks down. Coastal cleanup efforts are going on all over the world, including the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) held by the non-profit group Ocean Conservancy. During the 2012 ICC, 10 million lbs of trash were removed by over 500,000 volunteers worldwide! Cleanup efforts help raise awareness and avert some plastic waste from the water, but to truly tackle the issue of plastic pollution we must reconsider our disposable lifestyles. As long as plastic remains such an integral part of our everyday lives, some will make its way to our waters. Reducing our use of plastic is the best way to prevent plastic pollution, and ensuring proper disposal and recycling is the next. Click here to view the EPA's comprehensive guide on What You Can Do to help reduce and prevent marine debris and plastic pollution.

What's U-M doing?
The University of Michigan Water Center is helping to fund the 2013 Great Lakes Restoration Conference, where the issue of plastic pollution has been addressed before. U-M has also begun to aid efforts to reduce plastic use by installing over 100 drinking fountains with water refill stations to encourage the use of reusable water bottles. What's the next step? So far, 16 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada have issued campus-wide bans on the sale of bottled water, helping to reduce the production of plastic waste on campus. Could U-M be the first in the Big Ten to ban bottled water? The Plastic Pollution Coalition also has a Plastic Free Campus campaign, encouraging schools to educate, collaborate, and take action against plastic pollution. The Plastic Pollution Coalition has teamed up with schools including Penn State and UC Santa Barbara, and with plastic pollution in the Great Lakes presenting a growing issue, perhaps it's time for the U-M community to join the team.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Being Green in 2013: Week 10

Music Meets Recycling
What to do with your old instruments and how to make new ones out of trash

We all made our own instruments in preschool, putting beans in tin cans and rubber bands around shoe boxes, but recycled instruments are for big kids too! Making instruments out of recycled parts can be a fun DIY project and a great way to salvage perfectly good, quality materials or old, broken instruments.

Tons of musical instruments end up in landfills each year. Last year, Hunter College High School of New York's upper east side sparked controversy when around 20 cellos and violins were left on the curbside to be picked up with the school's trash. According to DNAinfo New York, passers-by were disgusted by the sight of the discarded instruments, calling the careless act a "disgrace of our public funding" and walking home with cellos stashed in strollers. A representative from the school claimed that instruments with broken soundboards were thrown out because they were beyond repair, but one woman who took three violins from the pile with the intention to have them refurbished and donated pointed out that hundreds of children at schools nearby without music programs and instruments would appreciate those ones.

In another case of careless instrument disposal, last January a man in Texas found a violin in a neighbor's curbside garbage bin and had it appraised on the PBS television show "Antiques Roadshow." Turns out this man found an instrument that, with a simple cleaning procedure, would be worth as much as $50,000!

Fixing, donating, or selling old instruments is always a better option than throwing them in the trash. Here in Ann Arbor, old instruments can be donated to Kiwanis Thrift Shop, Salvation Army, and many of the other second-hand stores listed in the Mrecycle Blog's "Being Green in 2013: Week 8" post. Music Go Round, a used musical instrument dealer in Ann Arbor, also buys, sells, and trades used instruments.

Homemade musical instruments from recycled parts are another way to combine your passions for music and recycling. Cigar box guitars, for example, have become a phenomenon in recent years, with online forums, plans, and how-to guides for making the instruments. Innovative guitar makers also make guitars from old and broken skateboards. Buzzfeed and Earth911 have both published articles featuring various DIY musical instrument projects. 

A documentary titled Landfill Harmonic, scheduled for release in January 2014, tells the story of a Paraguayan slum built on top of a landfill where local musician Favio Chavez started a music school in which students play instruments made entirely out of recycled materials found in their trash dump. The youth orchestra calls themselves the "Recycled Orchestra." The movie's webpage says, "Landfill Harmonic is a beautiful story about the transformative power of music, which also highlights two vital issues of our times: poverty and waste pollution." Click here to view the documentary trailer.

Do recycled instruments have a place at U-M? With over 1200 student groups at U-M, it might surprise you that we don't already have our own "recycled orchestra." U-M School of Music student Annick Odom gave her input on the topic of instruments from recycled materials. Spoken like a true musician, Annick says:
I think learning to be more open about what makes a violin a violin or a clarinet a clarinet would lead to so many more opportunities for the love of music to be more accessible to the masses. It would be really interesting to have a course at U-M that lets you create an instrument. We do have a wonderful creative arts orchestra and an improvisational forms course which have opened my eyes to the possibilities of music as well as the current boundaries of the classical music world.
A U-M course on creating your own instrument would be a fantastic way to incorporate the musical and visual arts into the triple R (Reduce Reuse Recycle) cycle. Do I sense a collaboration between the U-M School of Music and the U-M School of Art and Design coming on???