Recycling Coffee Bags with TerraCycle

We save money on fair-trade organic coffee by buying five-pound bags.  Larger bags also mean less garbage per pound of coffee, but those metallized plastic bags are still an environmental problem: Most recycling programs won’t take them, and they’re not biodegradable.

For several years, I collected coffee bags—our own and those discarded by friends, co-workers, my church, and people attending various events at church who saw my flyer on the bulletin board and tacked their bags to it—until I had enough to pack a box very full, and then I mailed it to the Netherlands, to a company that was making tote bags out of coffee bags.

That was pretty cool, but trans-Atlantic postage is expensive, and then the company began struggling economically, reduced production, and told me they didn’t need more bags.  I’m not sure if they’re still in business now.  But I never stopped collecting bags.  I needed another way to recycle them.

TerraCycle specializes in recycling unusual items that are difficult to recycle because of the multiple materials used in one item—things like juice pouches, toothpaste tubes, and three-ring binders.  Read more of this post

Houses Built from Plastic Water Bottles!

This guy in Panama is building a village of houses whose walls are insulated with empty plastic beverage bottles!  Click through to watch the video.  This is a really great idea for making use of garbage, reducing construction costs, and building well-insulated homes that will require less energy to cool or heat.

BUT!  This is not a reason to drink bottled water!  Don’t think that because somebody’s found a use for the empty bottles, it’s perfectly okay to buy and discard them.  Bottled water has a huge environmental impact and on average is not as clean and safe as tap water.  Drink from the sink, refill a reusable bottle when you need to carry water, and if your local tap water is not safe, keep fighting until it is!  Bottled water should be for emergencies only, not an everyday thing.

Pen and Marker Recycling: Starting Year 3!

My son Nicholas is in fifth grade. He and his friends Emma and Sadie have been running a recycling program at their school since third grade. Each year they have to make arrangements with the principal so that their recycling bins will be left alone by custodial staff and they have permission to go around emptying their bins–for which they give up their recess time twice a week.  I’m so proud of these kids for being diligent about their program, week after week, year after year!

You might think pens and markers aren’t recyclable or it isn’t important to go to the trouble of recycling them.  It’s true that most curbside recycling programs don’t accept pens and markers because the process of separating the recyclable case from the inky part, and sorting the cases according to what type of plastic they are, is complicated.  However, TerraCycle collects writing instruments and recycles them into plastic storage tubs.  When Nicholas learned that our friend Suella had launched a Writing Instruments Brigade, he wanted to help!

2015/09/img_2536.jpgAfter two years of seeing just how many ballpoint pens, dry-erase markers, highlighters, permanent markers, and regular felt-tip markers are discarded by a school of over 800 students, I’ll never again think that it would be no big deal to let all that plastic go to a landfill or get incinerated into our air!!  The kids haven’t been counting their collections (although I’d love to see them do that, to get some numbers to wow the student body and also to satisfy my curiosity) but Nicholas brings home approximately a half-full grocery bag most weeks.  We usually bring the markers to Suella at church, but when there’s an especially big haul we’ll drop them off at her house while running errands by car.  It’s easy for us, and she says her role is easy, too: Just collect markers until the box is full and send it off to TerraCycle!

The first year, Nicholas and friends collected markers in bags that they taped to the walls next to the school’s staircase entrances.  It worked, but it wasn’t as convenient for students or teachers as having collection bins in the classrooms, so they weren’t recycling as many markers as they thought they could get.  (Also, the bags were flimsy and didn’t always stay in place.)

Last year, I made an announcement in church asking people to bring in empty, clean containers that were the right size to hold about a dozen markers.  We got a great haul of plastic containers from yogurt, cleaning wipes, coconut oil, dish detergent, etc.  Nicholas and friends decorated them and put one in each classroom.  Sure enough, they got more markers that way!

Nicholas brought home all the bins at the end of the school year and planned to use them again.  Unfortunately, some kind of parental malfunction occurred: Daniel and I remember that the bins were stacked in the corner of the dining room near the basement stairs for quite some time and that we both felt they should get put away somewhere…and then they weren’t there anymore, so one of us must have put them in a better place…but where?!?  We looked everywhere that seemed plausible, but we couldn’t find them!

Thus, the bins you see at left were created last weekend.  Because we were in a hurry to relaunch the recycling program, we sprung for new plastic containers–these have the advantage of a standardized appearance that will help students and teachers spot them in the different classrooms.  They are deli food containers from Gordon Food Service (which has stores where anyone can shop), sold in a pack of 25 for $5, without lids; since we didn’t need lids, it was nice not to have to pay for them or figure out what to do with them!  The containers are made of polypropylene (#5 plastic) so when they are worn out, they can go into curbside recycling.

Nicholas and his friend Ashlyn covered the bins with paper from his craft supplies, clearly labeled with marker and attached with tape.  It took them less than two hours to prepare 50 bins. Read more of this post

Eco-Friendly Building Materials for Your Home

This is a guest post from the staff of, a site for home ideas and inspiration.  The Earthling’s Handbook is not affiliated with any of the businesses whose products are linked here, and the editors of The Earthling’s Handbook have not used any of these products in our own home–but we strongly encourage recycling and thinking green when you improve your home! By Jane Blanchard

new home construction

Image via Flickr

When you’re passionate about improving the environment, everything you do should be sustainable. If you’re in the market to build a new home or make improvements on an existing one, there are lots of different materials that you can use that are eco-friendly. Whether you plan on adding a new recycled rubber roof to an existing home or using recycled steel within your new construction, these materials are great places to begin when looking for eco-friendly building material options.

Recycled Steel

Using recycled steel in the construction of your home is one of the simplest ways to be eco-friendly. Steel is one of the most recycled materials in the world, and in 2008, 97% of it was recycled, according to Wikipedia. Chances are, the steel you plan on using for your home already contains some recycled material. Read more of this post

Save Money on Earth-Friendly Products!

Earth Day is coming up in less than a month!  What will be your Earth Day resolution?

One easy thing to do is to switch to a more earth-friendly version of something you use regularly–like toilet paper.  There are many brands of toilet paper on the market now that are made from post-consumer recycled paper (that’s paper that good citizens put into recycling bins) and either not whitened or bleached with oxygen instead of chlorine bleach–and they are not all scratchy!  In fact, I haven’t encountered a scratchy recycled-paper toilet tissue in about 15 years.  If you’re really particular about texture, buy a small amount of a brand before you try my money-saving tip.

One objection to switching to a better product may be that it costs more or it isn’t sold at your usual store.  Of course, nobody wants to make a special trip every time they run out of toilet paper or wants to spend a lot of money on it.  There’s a simple solution to both problems, and it will make your life more convenient, too! Read more…

Recycling Used-Up Pens and Markers

This is a guest post by Nicholas Efran, nine-year-old son of ‘Becca and Daniel. He wrote this article for the June 2014 issue of the Colfax Communicator, his school‘s newsletter. (Mr. Sikorski is the principal.) We hope it inspires other kids to start recycling things that are getting thrown away in their schools!

Three third-graders started a recycling program for used-up markers, pens, and highlighters at Colfax. Nicholas Efran, Sadie Rothaus, and Emma Reints got enthusiastic support from Mr. Sikorski in setting up bins around the school, next to the staircase entrances. Anyone may bring their used-up pens, markers, and highlighters from home, as well as those used in school. Read more…

Use those last drops of cooking oil!

One of the annoying things about recycling food containers is that you’re supposed to get them relatively clean and rinsed-out before you put them in the recycling bin.  This is particularly difficult with cooking oil because it clings to the inside of the bottle, and it doesn’t mix with water to rinse out, and if you use soap to get it off then you get suds inside the bottle that drip out and make a sticky (still-oily) mess in the bottom of the recycling bin.  It’s also frustrating to see just how much oil is left in the bottle when you’re no longer able to pour out reasonable amounts for recipes–good quality oils are expensive, so I hate to see any amount going to waste!

I used to try to drain the last drops from the old bottle into the new bottle.  There are two problems with this.  One is that old oil, if it is getting on toward rancid, might spoil the new bottle.  The other is that it’s really difficult to balance one oily bottle on top of another, and if it falls, the oil will probably splatter around the room.

Now I’ve come up with two ways to use the last few drops of oil in the bottle!  When a bottle becomes too empty to pour from, remove and discard any shaker-top (if you can’t get it loose with your fingers, put a chopstick through the hole and push diagonally upward; this will remove any top that isn’t factory-sealed onto the bottle), put the cap back on the bottle, and set it aside for these two purposes:

  1. After washing dishes, turn the bottle upside down against the palm of your hand to get a small amount of oil.  Rub it into your hands to moisturize skin and cuticles.  Save money on hand lotion!
  2. After cleaning and drying a cast-iron skillet, turn the bottle upside down in the skillet.  Rub the oil into the skillet with your fingertips.  Let dry.  It will help to season your skillet to prevent food from sticking and prevent rust.  An almost-empty bottle will give you just about the perfect amount of oil for this purpose–it doesn’t take much, and if you use too much oil it can make your skillet gummy or rancid-smelling or attract dust.

I’ll admit that this is one of those times I’m posting good advice on the Internet to help me remember to follow this good advice myself!  At the moment we have four almost-empty oil bottles cluttering the counter next to the sink in our small kitchen!  I keep forgetting to moisturize my hands after washing dishes, until I’ve gone to bed and I feel my scaly dishpan hands snagging on the sheets.  I keep forgetting to remind Daniel (the usual skillet-scrubber in our home) to use the dregs of oil instead of new oil to season the skillets.  Let this be a reminder to both of us!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more cooking-related articles!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more handy tips!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Fabulously Frugal Thursday for more ways to make the most of what you’ve got!

Pens Made from Recycled Plastic (B2P product review)

Note to my relatives coming to my house for Christmas: Spoiler alert! Don’t read this until after Christmas!  

I’ve had a pretty hectic December–including a back injury that has made some tasks impossible and forced me to spend more time resting than usual–but my gift shopping has come together pretty well.  Just last night, though, I realized I had forgotten to seek out any stocking stuffers and didn’t have any already on hand.  Luckily, there’s a product I discovered earlier this year that everybody can use, that I can buy at my handy neighborhood 24-hour drugstore!  This is not a paid endorsement; this is a spontaneous, honest review of a product I’ve used myself.

Bottle 2 Pen ballpoint pens are made from recycled plastic beverage bottles.  83% of the plastic used in the pens comes from actual used bottles deposited in recycling bins, and another 3% is recycled from factory scraps.  When these pens run out of ink, they can be refilled with standard Pilot ballpoint refill cartridges, so the pen case is reusable.  However, unlike some refillable pens I’ve had, B2P pens are so affordably priced that I wouldn’t be upset if I lost one.  They come in 5 colors, including purple and green!  They are retractable, so there’s no cap to misplace.

I bought a pack of B2P pens in the early summer and have been using them since then, including a few lengthy writing jobs.  They write very smoothly and are comfortable to hold.  They are at least as good as most ballpoint pens and very superior to the super-cheap non-refillable type.

Even in this electronic era, everybody can use a pen!  Children especially like to have their own pen and are fascinated by the spring-loaded retraction mechanism.  Because B2P pens are designed to be taken apart for refilling, kids can take them apart and put them back together over and over again–great for practicing fine motor skills and learning about how things work.

B2P pens work for me, as stocking stuffers and in life in general!  Visit Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways for other low-cost, Earth-friendly ideas!  Check out my other practical stocking stuffer ideas!

Holy Recycling!

It’s Works-for-Me Wednesday, and it’s also Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  If you don’t belong to a religion that observes Ash Wednesday–or even if you do–you may never have thought about where churches get the ashes that are used to draw a cross on each person’s forehead to remind us that our physical bodies are made from dust and will return to dust.  The ashes are made by burning dried palm fronds, and although it’s possible to buy ashes, the tradition is for each church to make its own by burning the palm fronds that were used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.

I love that.

Not only is it a clever way of getting two uses out of the same material (not recycling, technically, but repurposing) but it’s a way of bringing us full circle, connecting each year to the next, reminding us that the story of Jesus is not a one-time thing but a series of eternal truths to relive every year.  Read more…

What’s the grossest thing you’ve done to help the environment?

A while back, I got into an online discussion on the topic, “What’s the grossest thing you’ve done to help the environment?” started by someone who thought it was really, really gross that she had swished her smelly dish towels in a mixture of hot water, vinegar, and tea tree oil with her bare hands, rather than throw them away and buy new ones.

The poor dear.

Here is what I posted: Read more…

Lazy Composting

This is the composting method that works for me!  It’s really simple, and it produces rich dirt for my flowerbeds quickly enough to suit me.  If you are serious about making really high-quality compost or doing it quickly or being certain it is safe for growing food, then you should seek out instructions from somebody who has bothered to learn all about that!  But if you just want to keep some of your garbage out of the landfill and make some good dirt, read on… read on…

Origins 2008 Recycling Report

Last year I wished this story had a happy ending.  Now it does!  The Greater Columbus Convention Center had recycling bins for cans and bottles, and for paper, set up in many parts of the building during Origins this past weekend.  I am thrilled!  Last year’s news was so discouraging, I hadn’t expected them to try again…but this has been a year of increasing greenishness in the popular culture, and apparently they realized the public might be more willing to cooperate than before.  Based on what I saw, glancing into recycling bins and the trash cans next to them, people were doing a pretty good job of sorting.

There were some flaws in the recycling arrangements, which I am mentioning here not to complain that it wasn’t perfect but to point out some considerations for any readers who may be planning to implement or improve a recycling program: Read more…

The origins of recycling at Origins

Origins is a huge game convention (“con”) held annually at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.  We’ve attended every year since 1999.  In addition to enjoying the exhibits and activities, we’ve helped our friends from Looney Labs sell their wonderful games and operate their “Lab”, a large room where people can try out their games and compete in their tournaments.  Volunteers who help Looney Labs are called Mad Lab Rabbits and wear lab coats.

We’ve also helped the Looneys with smaller game parties at other cons, and at most of these I set up a recycling bin for bottles and cans discarded by guests and staff.  Kristin Looney heard many favorable comments about the recycling, and in 2001 she asked me to “make it happen in our space at Origins.”  I made it happen. It turned into a much more ambitious project than Kristin had envisioned. Read more…

The Evolution of an Environmentalist

No matter how strongly you feel you should do your part to save the planet, it can be difficult to change your lifestyle. We recommend a gradual approach: Do one new environmentally-friendly thing every few months. This gives you time to get used to each change and incorporate it into your daily life. As an example, here’s a list of changes I’ve made in my own life.

[UPDATE IN 2012: I am linking this old article to Your Green Resource in hopes of inspiring people who are at an earlier stage in their journeys!]

Read more…