Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Acknowledging the Haters

Recycling is an environmentally-friendly behavior commonly accepted in society today. Even the most basic of actions can cause controversy, however. There exists a large group of recycling critics - people who believe recycling has an overall negative effect on the environment. Here at WRRO, we've looked a bit closer at some of their arguments against recycling.

Above is a photo of paper sludge. This photo was retrieved here
Firstly, the disbelievers argue that recycling causes an increase in air pollution because of the amount of energy it takes. In an article for ListVerse, author Andrew Handley mentions that a recycling plant in Northwest Washington is among the region's top polluters. Amy Westervelt, in an article for Forbes, compares recycling to any other business, "It’s neither altruistic nor completely self-serving; it comes with clear societal and environmental benefits–perhaps more so than many other businesses–but it also comes with some costs and cannot be considered a perfect solution to the United States’ large and ever-growing consumption and waste problems." Sure, recycling takes energy, and that energy comes from fossil fuels. But so does almost everything else we do as a society, except recycling also saves precious natural resources such as iron ore, limestone, and tin. In addition, Handley failed to acknowledge the amount of energy recycling saves. We've all heard the fun facts, such as this one: "Recycling just one can saves enough electricity to light a 25 CFL bulb for 14 hours." Or this one, from Rachel Cernansky's Forbes article, "It takes two-thirds less energy to make products from recycled plastic than from virgin plastic." Another argument against recycling is that it creates a lot of waste. It is called paper sludge, and it is created when you let recycled paper sit in water and some ink-removing chemicals until the ink comes off. According to Handley, the sludge is then "either burned or sent to a landfill, where it can leach dozens of toxic chemicals and heavy metals into groundwater." Landfills also create "garbage juice," which is a toxic liquid that can also seep through the landfill linings and contaminate our groundwater. The fundamental idea behind recycling is that it prevents landfills from growing considerably larger (despite the sludge) and therefore is keeping groundwater contamination to an absolute minimum.

There is also a macroeconomic argument against recycling. In the Listverse article, Handley argues that demand for most recycled products is too high for their supply to keep up. This is not an argument against recycling; it is an extremely excellent motivation to recycle! Handley also claims that paper companies harvest 15 million acres of forest each year and plant 22 million. He says that this will decrease the demand for recycled materials. This is also not a negative effect of recycling, however, since the demand is already too high. The Listverse article explains that in the United States it costs $4000 to recycle one ton of plastic bags, but a ton of recycled bags only sells for $32. According to Handley, as a result of this low-rewards scenario, about 300,000 tons of the plastic bags end up in a landfill every year." As the technology for recycling plastic becomes more and more sophisticated in the coming decades, the cost for recycling plastic bags will decrease. In addition, the demand for recycled materials is high and will continue to grow, which will drive up the price for recycled bags, making the recycling of plastic bags profitable.

Recycling "haters" also criticize the technical process of recycling. They claim it has contamination issues which lower the quality of products made from recycled materials. A contamination is not just a plastic chip bag (clearly meant for trash) being put into a recycling bin and then someone on the recycling line picking it out - it could be an aluminum can containing lead paint becoming a soda can that someone drinks out of. In an article for Discover Magazine, Rachel Cernansky argues that any contamination will compromise the strength and durability of the recycled material that is produced. Contamination is a serious issue in the realm of recycling, but Materials Recovery Facilities work hard to make sure contaminations are so few they become nonthreatening. 

This photo was retrieved here.
The recycling of plastics in particular is frowned upon by the community of anti-recyclers. According to the Discover Magazine article, only about 6.8 percent of the total plastic used in the U.S. actually gets recycled. The Forbes article also discusses how the stats on plastics recycling come from the American Plastics Council and the Society of the Plastics Industries, Inc. (SPI), both trade associations representing the plastics industry. Thus the Discover Magazine article proves that any data about plastics recycling is skewed and therefore irrelevant. Recycling plastics is tricky because every container is made of a unique blend of dyes, chemicals, and molding agents to give a different "marketable" look. As a result, they cannot all be melted down and recycled together to make a new product. As was previously mentioned, the technology for plastics recycling will improve and more facilities will be able to accept wider varieties of plastics for recycling.
A recycling bin on U of M's Ann Arbor Campus Diag. 
This photo was retrieved here

Lastly, the doubters argue that recycling negatively impacts consumer behavior with respect to the environment. Handley argues that recycling allows us an excuse to be more wasteful in other areas of our lives, and that it encourages consumption. As someone who continues to strive toward a more sustainable life with each passing day, I believe practicing sustainable behaviors has a positive re-enforcement effect. The more you do, the more you want to do. Or in consumption's case, the less you buy, the less you want to buy. Recycling is the 'gateway drug' of sustainable behaviors. It is easy to do, everyone has products that can be recycled, and most people have access to a recycling bin. On U of M's campus you have access to a recycling bin near every trash can! Overall, recycling is an excellent method of education for conservation of natural resources and living sustainably. 

What do YOU guys think? Is recycling good for the environment and our society? I think the benefits (education, positive reinforcement, conservation) outweigh the cons (energy use, paper sludge, inefficiency). I also think that it would be nearly impossible to calculate the value of recycling in comparison to its costs. One would need to consider the energy used by recycling facilities and compare it to another calculation of how much energy is saved by recycling.  The value of the material and energy saved from recycling would need to be incorporated, as well as the value of the property that will not become a landfill as a direct result of recycling. Lastly, one would have to consider the value recycling adds to the economy, considering it creates jobs across all sectors.

Just remember, folks. Haters are gonna hate, but keep on recycling.
This photo was retrieved here.
Works Cited
Westervelt, Amy. "Can Recycling Be Bad for the Environment?" Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 25 Apr. 2012. Web. 27 July 2014.
Handley, Andrew. "10 Ways Recycling Hurts the Environment - Listverse."Listverse. Listverse, 27 Jan. 2013. Web. 27 July 2014.
Cernansky, Rachel. "July/August 2014." Discover Magazine. Discover Magazine, 26 July 2009. Web. 29 July 2014.
"Recycling Saves Energy." Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. State Government of Pennsylvania, 2014. Web. 30 July 2014.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Celebrities - Leaders in Sustainability?

Many celebrities involve themselves in various philanthropic causes. Some (including those listed below) have even jumped on the environmental bandwagon! The Waste Reduction and Recycling Office has taken time to assess the commitment of each of the following celebrities to this movement.

The Dave Matthews Band offset their tours' carbon emissions by running their own Bama Green Project, a project focused on planting trees and building wind turbines. Power generators for each of their concerts are fueled by biodiesel, and recycling (yay!) and composting (double yay!) is a must at every show. The band also founded a large coalition of environmentally-minded musicians and music industry leaders called the Green Music Group. Members include but are not limited to Linkin Park, Willie Nelson, and Sheryl Crow. 

Natalie Portman
This photo was retrieved here.
Natalie's environmental activism seems to be much more personal than just an activity to fill extra time, or a strategic marketing move. It is deeply rooted in her core; Portman has been a strong advocate of environmentally-friendly behaviors for decades. Natalie is a proud vegan, raising her vegan image to new heights by introducing a chic line of shoes composed of all man-made materials. She also works aggressively to conserve the wild silverback gorilla population through her involvement in the Animal Planet documentary "Saving a Species: Gorillas on the Brink."

This photo was retrieved here.
Shailene Woodley
is a symbol for self-sufficiency and the belief in natural beauty. Her lifestyle is inspiring to all earth-lovers out there. For example, she collects her own drinking water by lugging 5-gallon jugs up into the mountains. She then drinks that water out of glass Mason jars because "she doesn't want to expose herself or the planet to the chemicals used in plastics." Next, Shailene buys exclusively used clothes. She also makes her own lotions, body oils, and toothpaste. In the coming weeks there will be a blog post on making your own beauty products. But if that's not your style, there's a company called Earthpaste who will make all-natural toothpaste for you. 35% of her diet is from wild foods; Shailene goes into the mountains and finds herbs and other plants she can use for food and medicinally. Lastly I'll leave you with a closing quote from Ms. Woodley herself: "I'm going to be a citizen of this planet, and I'm going to do my responsibility and live in stride with nature instead of constantly fighting against her."

Cate Blanchett
This photo was retrieved here.
"It makes me furious when you're in the line in the supermarket and people just put everything into [new] plastic bags. I very self-righteously pull my crumpled plastic bags out, you know. It's such a joke amongst my friends, me and my plastic bags." This is a quote from our latest Oscar-winning actress, who does much work toward sustainability in her professional life as well as her personal one. Aside from equipping the Sydney Theatre Company building with solar panels, she also assisted in adding rainwater collection systems for the Theatre. Under her guidance, the theater also started reusing and recycling costumes and props (yay!)  Cate is an inspiration. About her environmental goals, she stated "I’m an optimist. I believe we’re ready as a generation to seize this opportunity to make profound environmental changes for the better. After all, what’s the alternative?"

Leonardo DiCaprio
This photo was retrieved here.
In 1998 our good friend Leo started the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to promote awareness of environmental issues. The Foundation lobbies for forest preservation, healthy oceans, access to clean water, and renewable energy. Another significant portion of his environmental efforts is that he co-writing and production of the global warming documentary "11th Hour", which you can watch here. Apparently he is executive producing an eco-friendly reality program called "Greensburg," which chronicles the green rebuilding of a Kansas town that was destroyed by a tornado. Oh, and not to mention he has donated hundreds of millions of dollars of his personal earnings toward conservation efforts.

Edward Norton
Norton's approach is unique; he focuses his work on specifically-focused programs and organizations. For example, Norton set up the BP Solar Neighbors Program in 2003. The goal of the program is every time a celebrity purchases a solar energy unit, BP donates solar panels in low-income Los Angeles homes. The Fight Club star has also been vocally supportive of The Wilderness Society and EarthjusticeNorton, like Leo, hosted a National Geographic series called "Strange Days on Planet Earth," which aired on PBS.

In your opinion, what is the most important action a famous individual can take to help a movement such as the environmental one? Are their individual behaviors important? Or is it their grand gestures, such as starting a foundation or hosting a documentary? Would education about these celebrities' efforts help encourage recycling and sustainability at U of M?

Works Cited
Terlato, Kailyn. "42 Celebrities Who Care about the Environment." Examiner, 28 Sept. 2012. Web. 08 July 2014.
"Green Living Tips." Good Housekeeping. Good Housekeeping, n.d. Web. 08 July 2014.
"15 Green Celebrities." CNBC, n.d. Web. 08 July 2014.
"Top 20 Green Celebs." Elle. Elle, 28 Apr. 2008. Web. 08 July 2014.
Shumaker, Dresden. "Green Celebrities – 20 of Our Favorite Eco-Friendly Celebs." Babble. Disney, 08 July 2014. Web. 08 July 2014.
O'Connell, Megan. "Top 10 "Green" Celebrities." Beliefnet. Beliefnet, n.d. Web. 08 July 2014.
Weisman, Aly. "The Star Of The Huge New 'Divergent' Franchise Is A Hardcore Hippie." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 06 Mar. 2014. Web. 08 July 2014.
Jefferson, Whitney. "Who Said It: Shailene Woodley Or Some Old Hippie?"BuzzFeed. Buzzfeed Celeb, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 08 July 2014.
Jefferson, Whitney. "The 9 Most Wonderfully Hippie Things That Shailene Woodley Has Said." BuzzFeed. Buzzfeed Celeb, 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 08 July 2014.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Have Yourself An Eco-Friendly Road Trip

campdavis 027
This photo was retrieved from Camp Davis' website.
In tribute to an upcoming road trip I am particularly excited about, (I am taking a three-day-cross-country drive to UM's Camp Davis in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to study geology for the next month) I've decided to write a post about being green while on the road. Sometimes when we go on long trips we cheat on our green morals - I'm the first to admit I've thrown out a plastic water bottle for convenience. Here are some tips to help you stay eco-friendly while on the road!

1. Bring reusable tote bags
This photo was retrieved here.
Plastic shmastic is right! We're always making stops while we're on the road, picking up snacks and drinks here and there. You ALWAYS bring your reusable tote bags when you go shopping at home ;), so don't slack off just because you're on the road. Also, tote bags can be super handy for storing the random items that end up laying around your car during a road trip - someone's left shoe, a soccer ball, or maybe some old maps.

Say No To Fast Food
This photo was retrieved here.

2. Say "No" 
More specifically, say "no" to fast food. You'll be doing Mama Earth a favor if you pack your own lunch. Also, if you avoid purchasing fast food, you reduce the amount of idling you do with your car, which reduces the amount of greenhouse gases you release into the atmosphere.

This photo was retrieved here.

Packing a lunch will also significantly reduce the waste you produce - use tupperware to pack yourself some sandwiches and you're looking at a zero waste lunch.

4. Bring your own coffee mug. 
This photo was retrieved here.
Heaven knows you need caffeine when you have 100 miles to go and the sun has already set. Be sure your cup is reusable. Starbucks has specific goals set in place to increase the amount of reusable cups they sell. Biggby  and Peet's Coffee also offer travel mugs. Au Bon Pain offers a free travel mug if you join their eclub. Caribou Coffee gives a 10% discount to anyone who uses a reusable mug. Tim Hortons is looking more at recycling regular cups than using reusable mugs. The reusable mug situation at Dunkin' Donuts, Gloria Jeans, McDonald's seems less prominent than others.  

5. Recycle at rest areas
This one's pretty straight-forward.
This photo was retrieved here.

6. Set your cruise control
This photo was retrieved here.

Staying on cruise control can help limit your gas usage by preventing sudden stops and changes in speed.

7. No Air Conditioning
This photo was retrieved here.
Ditch the AC and leave the windows open. Maybe you'll catch a pic of your dog doing this!

8. Bring card games,
board games, and other non-electronic entertainment systems. It will save energy, not to mention waste from batteries and excess packaging.
This photo was retrieved here.

9. Avoid excess weight
You don't want to be looking like this poor fellow. Also it will allow your car to have a more fuel-efficient trip. 
This photo was retrieved here.

10. Stay in an energy star hotel
There's a complete list of Energy Star hotels in America.
This photo was retrieved here.

Works Cited
Made Just, Right Team. "10 Steps to an Eco-Friendly Road Trip." Made Just Right by Earth Balance. N.p., 2 July 2013. Web. 11 June 2014.
Admin. "Keeping Waste to a Minimum: Seven Ways to Recycle on the Road."Greatwide. N.p., 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 11 June 2014.
"ENERGY STAR Labeled Buildings & Plants." Energy Star. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
"Green Seal Hotels & Lodging Properties (listed Alphabetically by State)." Hotels and Lodging Properties. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.

Monday, July 7, 2014

How (un)sustainable is your fast food?

AA is one of the greatest places to eat in the entire world. Our food is so good that Buzzfeed even wrote an article about it. World famous eateries line our streets, like Zingerman's, Angelo's, and Tíos (which was featured on Man vs. Food for their Mount Nacheesmo). But we aren't lacking in America's beloved fast food restaurants, either. Fast food, with its high-profits-at-any-cost-to-society atmosphere, however, is not very eco-friendly. This post features a go-to guide on our city's fast food restaurants and their varying levels of (un)sustainability. 
Image retrieved from Google Maps.

1. Wendy’s 
This photo was retrieved here.
The first stop on our tour is Wendy's, located in the basement of the Union. Since we are the Waste Reduction and Recycling Office, this post will focus mostly on each company's packaging and recycling programs. 
Wendy's, unlike some others on this list, does include a page on their website for 'Environmental Sustainability,' but it's so vague that it's practically useless.They make statements like,"We continually strive to be good stewards of the environment by working closely with our vendors, to purchase products and services with a view toward energy efficiency and a low environmental impact." What are the more energy-efficient products? What does 'work closely' mean? 
This photo was retrieved from the 'Environmental Sustainability' page on Wendy's website. 
A vague "many" of their restaurants recycle corrugated cardboard boxes and used cooking oil, so that's something. Also, Wendy's recently started using tray liners made from 100% recycled materials, which they claim represents saving 21,250 trees a year. See the image to the right for more fun facts. Also, see the bottom of this blog post for an assessment of Wendy's sustainability by Tree Hugger.

2. Subway 
This photo was retrieved here.
Our next stop is right around the corner from Wendy's. Literally around the corner in the Union basement. Subway seems to be making more of an effort to include recycled materials in all of their products, as well as to be more transparent about it. Their towel and tissue products are made with 100% recycled material and are printed using soy or water-based inks. Subway is also making significant strides with waste reduction. They are reducing waste by removing the paper interleaf between their cheese slices, which has removed 450,000 pounds of paper from their waste stream. It's a bit harder for them since anyone can be a franchisee, but they do have recycling and composting bins available for any interested franchisee. The recycling and composting program isn't necessarily being enforced, though. However, according to Tree Hugger's analysis below, Subway is making considerably more effort than most other fast food chains. 
3. Noodles & Co.
This photo was retrieved here.
Now let's move up State street to Noodles & Company. Well, this is embarrassing. For them, I mean. I can't find any information on them making a single sustainability initiative. While they do not appear to be making any sustainability initiatives directly, they are inadvertently reducing waste by serving their dine-in meals in china dishes rather than disposable packaging. 

4. Five Guys
This photo was retrieved here.
Cross the street after Noodles, and we've reached Five Guys. Similar to Noodles, it is my inference that Five Guys engages in a number of sustainable behaviors without explicitly trying to. For example, they only have coolers, no freezers, in their establishments. While they do this to sustain the delicious flavor in their patties, it is also more energy-efficient. In addition, their packaging is minimalist - an unbleached paper bag, some aluminum foil, and a paper cup will be your only waste from getting a burger and fries. They also process their own fries on site, cutting down on pollution from transport. However, they serve mainly beef, which is the least energy efficient form of meat - it takes thousands of gallons of water to raise a cow, not to mention the energy it takes to process the meat. 

This photo was retrieved here.
5. Potbelly
Cross the street to the corner of State and East Liberty and we're at Potbelly. Potbelly claims they recycle at 70% of their shops.The chain has an ongoing initiative to increase recycling; they're working with their landlords and waste collectors to expand their recycling program and decrease waste. Whenever possible they reuse a building’s existing wood floors, brick walls, ceilings and other historical elements. It’s an acknowledgement of the building’s history, but it’s also less wasteful and therefore better for the environment. 

6. Chipotle 
This photo was retrieved here.
Chipotle is right across State Street from Potbelly. Chipotle has an in-store recycling program that captures glass and plastic bottles from consumers and cardboard from the kitchen. Construction projects recycle roughly 95% of their waste through the creation of a construction waste management plan. They take measures like using 25% fly ash (a by-product of coal combustion) as a recycled material in their concrete. Chipotle also uses packaging materials that have minimal effect on the environment. Their burrito bowls are made from 93% recycled material (mostly recycled newspapers) this saves over 58,000 trees a year. Their aluminum lids are made of 95% recycled materials, including aluminum cans. By using 100% recycled content in their napkins, the company saves over 22 million gallons of water per year. They've reduced more than 140,000 pounds of chemical pesticide since 2005.  
7. Panera 
This photo was retrieved here.
Head South and round the corner at North University and you'll find Panera. Panera, like Noodles & Company, uses real dishes, so this is a waste-reducing effort made on their part. According to Mother Nature Network, they've also promised to remove all artificial ingredients from their product by 2016.

8. Taco Bell 
This photo was retrieved here.
Keep heading down North University to the basement of the League, where you'll find Taco Bell. Taco Bell is owned by Yum! Brands, who have developed Sustainable Sourcing and Waste Recovery Principles for their restaurants. Sustainable Sourcing ensures that paper and paper-based packaging products aren't coming from illegal fiber sources. This also means they are going to prefer suppliers who provide certified wood fiber. They also hope to source fiber from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Yum! wants to increase the amount of recycled content in their packaging, but they say that limited availability of recycled fibers restricts their ability to do so. They spent 6 months in 2013 surveying their global suppliers, asking questions about recycled and certified fiber content and country of forest fiber origin. Next, their Waste Recovery Principles are active in both restaurants as well as corporate offices. Yum! is expanding recycling to all of our restaurants as recycling systems become available. They also work with cross-industry groups such as the Paper Recovery Alliance and Food Waste Reduction Alliance to further food waste recovery and recycling efforts.
Works Cited
"Environmental Sustainability." Home. Wendy's, n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
"Environmental Leadership." Environmental Leadership. Subway, n.d. Web. 10 June 2014.
"Green Initiatives." Respect the Planet. Potbelly, n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
"Chipotle: Restaurants." Chipotle: Restaurants. Chipotle, n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
"Chipotle: Food With Integrity." Chipotle: Food With Integrity. Chipotle, n.d. Web. 09 June 2014.
"Sustainable Paper-Based Packaging." Goal. Yum! Brands, 2013. Web. 11 June 2014.
Chheng, Tommy. "Fast Food Companies Fall Short on Deforestation Commitments." TreeHugger. TreeHugger, 27 May 2014. Web. 11 June 2014.