fbpx

How to Reduce Clothing and Textile Waste 

Every year, billions of pounds of clothes are thrown into landfills to be buried forever. The US EPA reported that 66% of the textiles produced in the U.S. are sent to the landfill, which is equivalent to about 22.6 billion pounds. Of that amount, 18.14 billion pounds consist of clothing and footwear. This not only leads to a waste of resources, but also results in millions of pounds of carbon dioxide and methane being emitted, contributing to atmospheric warming and climate change. 

As consumerism and capitalism continue to drive our fashion choices, this pattern is likely to persist. However, as consumers we have the power to change this and divert our clothing and textile waste away from the landfills. There are many sustainable practices we can adopt instead of throwing away our old clothing, shoes, blankets, etc. 

First let’s go through some ways to reduce the need to get rid of your clothes in the first place. 

  1. Avoid purchasing trendy clothes 

Clothing trends have always been around, but with the current fast fashion industry and the help of social media influencers, trends are coming and going more frequently. These are known as microtrends. Some clothing item or shoe will be trendy for 1-3 weeks, people will purchase said item, and in a few weeks when it’s no longer trendy, the item will sit in a closet before it’s thrown away or donated to a thrift store.  

To break this cycle, consider investing in timeless and classic pieces that have neutral colors and patterns; items you can see yourself wearing five or even ten years from now.  

  1. Invest in high quality clothes 

Comfortability, thickness, stitching, and fabric blend are all characteristics to look for in a lasting garment.  

  • Comfortability — If a garment is itchy or rough, you’ll likely not wear it very much.  
  • Thickness — Thin garments will not last as long as thicker ones.  
  • Stitching — Well-stitched clothes will pass the tug-test, which is when you tug on stitching and buttons to make sure it won’t fall apart.  
  • Fabric Blend — A blend of cotton and polyester allows for the softness and breathability of cotton and the durability and wrinkle resistance of polyester.  
  1. Repair clothes 

Have a hole in a pair of jeans, sweater, or t-shirt? Don’t throw them away! Repair them! Take your garments to a repair shop, tailor, or learn how to repair your clothes yourself. We live in a time where we have access to a wide variety of resources to help repair our clothes, from online tutorials to community center classes. Consider even asking friends and family if they know how to sew and if they can help.  

  1. Properly take care of clothes 

According to the American Cleaning Institute (ACI), 32% of people always read the care instructions, 42% sometimes read the instructions, and 23% rarely or never read the instructions. If you’ve bought a brand-new garment or pair of shoes, chances are that there is a label with care instructions on it. Following these instructions will ensure the longevity of the clothes you spend money on. Here is a guide from the ACI on how to read the fabric care symbols on the tags of your clothes! 

Now that we’ve gone over how to reduce textile waste and how to make sure clothes last, here are some ways to reuse unwanted textiles/clothing instead of sending them to the landfill.   

  1. Upcycle textiles/clothes 

Give your textiles another life by upcycling them into a new garment or textile. A pair of jeans can become a skirt, a t-shirt can become a tote bag, a sweater can become a pillowcase. There are so many creative ways to upcycle what you have. Find ideas online to inspire you; the possibilities are endless.  

  1. Donate to a women’s/family/unhoused shelter 

Instead of donating to a thrift store, try donating to a shelter for unhoused individuals. Not everybody has money to buy clothes, so donating clothes to a shelter is a great way to make sure your clothes are going to people who need it.  

  1. Donate textiles to an animal shelter 

There may be animal shelters in your area that will accept old towels, blankets, etc. to keep some fur babies warm! Call your local shelter to check their needs. 

  1. Host a clothes swap with your friends and/or community 

Swapping clothes is a fun way to not only part with unwanted items, but also receive new-to-you clothes, all while avoiding sending them to the landfill! 

These are some of the many ways we can extend the life of our textiles and prevent them from being buried in the landfill forever. We hope these tips are insightful and helpful in your textile waste reduction journey! Let us know if you use any of these tips! 

Rethinking New Year’s Resolutions 

A new year naturally allows for us to reflect, reevaluate, and rethink how we can live our lives more aligned with the values we hold. Resolutions usually revolve around what we can add into our life in the new year, whether it’s more exercise, healthy foods, reading, etc. But what if we rethought how we conceive resolutions? Instead of always making goals to add more into our lives, what about creating goals that remove things from our lives, especially ones that aren’t serving us or our planet? In turn, we might even live a life that feels fuller.  

Below are three resolutions that can help you both curb consumption and limit waste as we head into the new year: 

Replace single-use plastic with long-lasting alternatives 

While banning single-use plastic water bottles has been the focus in the waste world for years, there are many household items that can be replaced with non-plastic alternatives. This process, while important, can also be overwhelming; our world still operates with a lot of plastic in it and replacing it can be seen as time-consuming and expensive. It doesn’t have to be though! An accessible way to tackle replacing plastic in your home would be to approach it starting room by room.  

  1. Start with a smaller room, like a bathroom, and write down what plastic items you could replace with an alternative material.  
  1. Once all the items that can be replaced are recorded, use what you have at home, look for items you can refill, or shop secondhand for long-lasting alternative items that are made of glass or metal. Fun fact: glass and metal can be recycled an infinite number of times!

    Tip: A great place to find reusable items are at refill shops or the bulk section of a grocery store to eliminate the plastic packaging. Some local refill stores even deliver reusable household items to your door! 
  1. Once finished with one room, move to the next and repeat until all the rooms of your house have been accessed and updated with non-plastic or reusable materials.  

Through this process, you can make your house full of more sustainable options at your own pace.

Swap clothes with friends and family 

While buying secondhand or thrift shopping is a great way to acquire new clothes, unfortunately a lot of clothes that are donated to thrift shops still make their way to the landfill. One way to add new pieces to your wardrobe is to hold clothing swaps with your friends and family. Continuously hold these throughout the year by adding them to birthday parties or get-togethers as a fun activity. It doesn’t require much preparation either! Just a table and a clothing rack if desired.  

  1. Encourage everyone to bring 5-10 items 
  1. Lay items on a table or hang them on a clothing rack 
  1. Have people throughout the party “shop” around and take new-to-them articles of clothing 
  1. After the event is over, whatever is still left can be donated to a local thrift store or charity that is accepting donations.  

This practice will lessen the amount of clothes that are donated while also giving the clothes that were swapped a new life with your friends and family! Plus, it’ll be fun to see them rock some of your old wardrobe in a new way! 

Eat vegetarian once a week 

It’s been well-documented that raising animals for human consumption contributes heavily to methane gas being released into the atmosphere, which is raising the average temperature of our planet. While going vegetarian or vegan is not possible or healthy for everyone for numerous reasons, it’s easier and more accessible to commit to not eating meat once a week, rather than cutting meat out completely. This idea was popularized a few years ago in the media, with it being called “Meatless Mondays.” It might be intimidating or confusing at first to start making meals without meat, but it’s possible with small steps! Start by making your favorite meals and substituting meat with meatless options, such as tofu, tempeh, or soy meat; you can also create dishes that focus on highlighting vegetables, grains, and legumes. This article is a great place to start if you are looking to be inspired for vegetarian recipes.  

While these three sustainable new year’s resolutions can help you curb consumption and limit waste, there are so many ways one can be more sustainable in one’s daily life. The world of sustainability can be overwhelming at times, with the pressure to be perfect or to never waste a single item. But the goal of sustainability isn’t to be perfect – it’s about slow, small changes that will be long lasting. For small steps turn into ripples, ripples turn into waves, and waves make big changes!  

Happy New Year from RethinkWaste! 

Food Waste, from Farms to Our Forks 

Historically, humans have had a close connection with food. In the United States, 90% of the population lived on farms in the 1800s, while today the number is only around 1%. Over time, the industrialization of food production has caused many people to become increasingly removed from what they consume. While living off the land used to be commonplace, we now can simply walk into a grocery store and be met with an abundant food supply. There’s no doubt that this has made accessing food easier for some. However, people have also become less connected to their food, leading to decreased awareness about food waste. Food waste is a major issue in the U.S. According to Feeding America, each year, 119 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States alone. In this blog, we will discuss the main contributors to food waste and provide techniques for how we can prevent it.   

Waste occurs at every stage of the supply chain, from farm to fork. Businesses such as  grocery stores, restaurants, and businesses, account for most of the food waste in the U.S. On the production side, excess food gets left on the fields or discarded due to stringent cosmetic standards. In the manufacturing phase, byproducts of the produced foods are discarded even though they are perfectly edible. For example, when baby carrots are produced, the whole carrot is cut into the familiar small, rounded shape, while the majority of the rest of the carrot is discarded. In the retail stage, unregulated date labeling accounts for 50% of food waste. It’s commonplace for high quantities of edible food to be thrown away due to sell-by or best-by dates placed by manufacturers.  

By the time food reaches our plates, a fraction of it has already gone to waste during the manufacturing process. However, a new law was recently passed in the state of California and currently being implemented called Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383), with the goal to reduce the amount of compostable material (food scraps, food/beverage soiled paper, and yard trimmings) that is sent to the landfill. This law targets businesses, mandating them to compost food scraps and for large food generating businesses/organizations to recover edible food for donation or work with an entity to redistribute the edible food.  

Although businesses create the majority of food waste, households are still significant contributors to the problem. At RethinkWaste, we promote the 4 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. We always recommend finding creative ways to reduce and reuse your food scraps before tossing them in the compost bin.  

While there are many ways to reduce food waste at home, being intentional about what you purchase and creating a meal planning technique that works for you is one effective strategy to combat food waste.  

  • Create a meal plan for the week with the shelf-stable food you already have and go to the grocery store once or twice a week to buy specific perishable items you need for a recipe.  
  • Store perishable items in a highly visible spot in the fridge so that you don’t forget to eat them. This is especially important considering perishable items contribute to three-quarters of total food waste.
  • Reuse your food scraps. One example is using coffee grounds to make an exfoliating body scrub to use in the shower. With certain produce items, you can even re-grow your food scraps. You can also collect vegetable scraps in your freezer to make vegetable stock later.  

The last R in the 4 Rs is Rot. This is short for composting! Under SB 1383, California residents are required to divert compostable material to the green compost bin/cart as of January 1, 2022. Composting is essentially the food version of recycling, as food scraps naturally decompose into carbon-rich fertilizer under the right conditions. In addition, composting is a better alternative to throwing food scraps into the garbage because of the environment the food breaks down in. In the landfill, food scraps aren’t properly aerated, which causes them to release excessive methane gas as they decompose. Therefore, composting helps repurpose food scraps and avoid excess greenhouse gas emissions.  

If you live in the RethinkWaste service area, you may request a compost bin/cart from Recology if you don’t already have one. Click here to learn more about why composting is important, how to compost properly at home, and what does and does not go in the compost.  

From farm to fork, food waste is a major issue, but there are also groups of determined people working to eliminate it at every step of the way. We encourage you to join us on our journey to reduce food waste and divert organic materials from the landfill! Feel free to reach out with any questions or comments about food waste, SB 1383, or composting using the contact information on our website

Sources:  

http://www.pbs.org/ktca/farmhouses/sustainable_future.html  

https://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/reduce-food-waste#:~:text=How%20much%20food%20waste%20is,food%20in%20America%20is%20wasted

https://refed.org/food-waste/the-problem/#what_is_food_waste

Why Right to Repair is Crucial to the Circular Economy 

You may have heard a lot of buzz recently about “Right to Repair” policies in California, and all around the world. Typically, this refers to laws which require manufacturers to provide documentation and resources available to the public that allow for third-party repair of electronics or appliances. Right now, with many complex electronics and appliances, there are two options available to people when it breaks down.  

  1. Send your item through the manufacturer’s repair program and wait weeks (sometimes months) for them to fix the item.  
  1. The item gets landfilled. When a manufacturer doesn’t have a repair program or repair is too costly and time-consuming, options are limited. 

You may have noticed this in your own life. In many instances, it is more expensive to repair electronics and appliances than it is to toss it into the landfill and purchase a new one! Not only is this option not environmentally friendly, but it is also costly to constantly purchase new items. How does “Right to Repair” aim to solve this? 

Take SB 244 (Eggman), the “Right to Repair Act,” which recently passed the State Legislature in California and awaits the Governor’s signature before October 14, 2023: 

“It is the intent of the Legislature to provide a fair marketplace for the repair of electronic and appliance products and to prohibit intentional barriers and limitations to third-party repair.”  

SB 244 aims to do this by requiring manufacturers to provide documentation, service and repair facilities, and parts available to “third-party repair” shops, like your local mechanic or electronics shop. Right now, manufacturers have a monopoly over parts. For example, even if your favorite local electronics shop had the know-how to repair your children’s toys, they often find it difficult to purchase the parts to do so. The only way to get those parts is to contact the manufacturer, which most likely doesn’t sell those parts. By forcing manufacturers to make those available, we can lower the cost and barriers to repairing our products, and thus keeping them out of the landfill! 

Now, the title of this post is “Why Right to Repair is Crucial to the Circular Economy.” What exactly is circular economy? Here is what the European Union defines circular economy as: 

“A model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible.” 

As an organization, RethinkWaste is committed to the ideals of circular economy. We recognize that landfills are not a renewable resource, and we should all be stewards of our environment. Right now, about 54% of our waste is still headed to a landfill, rather than being recycled.  

At RethinkWaste, we fully support a world where all appliances and electronics are repaired, recycled, and repurposed. According to CalRecycle, electronics are becoming increasingly complex and specialized, making it difficult to recycle. As a result, many of these products may not be recyclable and may become improperly disposed of. To stop that from happening, the best method available to us is extending the life of our products, and thus reducing the source of our waste. The “Right to Repair” law is one step in the right direction. Let’s keep moving forward to create a system where low-cost repairs are accessible, equitable, and easy to do!  

Sources: 

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240SB244

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/economy/20151201STO05603/circular-economy-definition-importance-and-benefits

https://www2.calrecycle.ca.gov/PublicNotices/Details/2347

Using the 4 Rs During Back-to-School Time! 

It’s that time of the year again where kids reunite with their schoolmates, meet their new teachers, and embark on their new school year journey. That’s right, it’s back-to-school time! Going back to school is a great time for some refreshers on how we can use the 4 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot) both at school and at home. 

Reduce

Reduce is the first and most important of our 4 Rs. Reducing simply means using and consuming less. By reducing our consumption, we reduce the amount of waste we produce in the first place. Below are some great ways we can practice reducing at school. 

  • Instead of buying individual glue sticks, create reusable glue sponges to lessen plastic waste. They are simple to make and can help reduce how many individual plastic glue sticks we use! 
  • Buy only the essentials when back-to-school shopping. Tip: Make a list of needed items, so there’s less chance of overbuying.
  • When grocery shopping for lunch, buy in bulk to reduce unnecessary waste. 
  • Lower transportation emissions by carpooling to school. 
  • Use a share table at lunchtime to reduce waste at school. A share table is a designated area where students can donate any unopened food they don’t plan on eating. Then, students who are still hungry after eating their own lunch may select items from the share table to eat! 

Reuse 

Reuse means to use something again. We can reuse in many different ways. A common way to reuse is utilizing reusable water bottles or shopping bags to limit our use of single-use plastics. Another great way to reuse is upcycling. Upcycling involves reusing materials to turn them into new things. Ideas for how you can reuse at school and practice upcycling can be found below. 

  • Use reusable lunch containers and utensils.
  • Rent or buy used copies of books needed for the school year instead of buying new.
  • Shop at local thrift stores for back-to-school clothes. 
  • Clean out and reuse your backpack from last school year; chances are it’s still fully functional! 
  • Melt leftover crayon stubs and turn them into cute recycled tie-dye crayons

Recycle 

Recycling means turning waste materials into new products. We can recycle by putting correct items into our blue recycling bins. Remember to empty out any liquids into the liquid bucket at school or down a drain before putting items into the recycling. Common recyclable items you might see at school include: 

  • Empty milk cartons 
  • Empty soda cans 
  • Empty yogurt containers 
  • Homework papers 
  • Cardboard boxes (just remember to flatten before recycling!) 

    Fun fact: Glass and metal materials can be recycled an infinite amount of times! 

Rot 

Rot is just another word for composting! When we place items into our green compost bin, these items break down and “rot” in the process of being turned into finished compost. It’s really important that we ensure all of our compostable items end up in the compost. If it mistakenly ends up in the landfill, it releases a potent greenhouse gas called methane which contributes to climate change. Common compostable items you might see at school include: 

  • Food scraps – be sure to scrape out any food left in your containers into the compost bin before placing the container into the correct bin. 
  • Food-soiled paper products that do not have any plastic on them including food trays, napkins, and paper plates. 
  • Leaves, twigs, and flowers.  

In general, it’s important for us all to be mindful of how much we consume and how much waste we produce. Simply remembering and practicing the 4 Rs can make a big difference! 

Show us how you’re putting the 4 Rs to use during back-to-school time by tagging us on social media! Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 

10 Sustainable Summer Tips 

It’s summertime, which means it’s time for fun, travel, and a LOT of hot weather. Whether you are on vacation or spending time at home with friends and family, you can still make this summer a sustainable one! Here are 10 tips to help you be sustainable while staying cool and having fun this summer! 

  1. Save energy by utilizing passive cooling and fans 
    Instead of using the AC, try passive cooling. Passive cooling is a type of building design that focuses on keeping the temperature in your home cool without using electricity. One easy way to passively cool your home is to keep your curtains and blinds closed. By allowing that sunlight into your home, it’s heating up! Cover your windows with curtains or blinds. Consider using fans rather than AC to reduce the amount of energy you’re using.  
  1. Maximize the use of natural sunlight
    Instead of turning on the light, take advantage of the extra daylight! Opt for natural lighting in rooms such as kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, and bedrooms for as long as possible instead of using electricity.   
  1. Switch to LED lights
    Did you know that the type of lights you use could be contributing to heating up your home? Switch out your incandescent and CFL light bulbs to LEDs! They emit no heat, produce the same amount of light, and saves money on your energy bill. 
  1. Set the AC to 78 degrees for maximum energy saving and comfort 
    According to the US Department of Energy and Energy Star, setting your thermostat to 78°F is the standard temperature to stay comfortably cool and save money! 
  1. Avoid single-use plastic utensils, plates, and cups when traveling 
    Whether visiting a new place or going to a restaurant, avoid takeout containers and cutlery and bring your own reusables or dine-in. 
  1. Need a cool place to hang out or rest? Take advantage of your local library’s AC 
    The library is not just a place to get a book. You can find really cool events to attend, play games, do some art, utilize their computers, all while cooling off with their AC! 
  1. Water your garden in the morning or evenings 
    It may seem obvious, but watering your plants in the mornings or evenings is a great way to save water by preventing it from evaporating during the hot daytime. And it’s better for your plants too! 
  1. Hang dry your clothes 
    Instead of using the dryer, take advantage of the sun! Did you know the first patented dryer was granted in 1892? However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that they became popular. Up until then, the traditional way to dry clothes were on clotheslines. This summer, try to save energy by hang-drying your clothes. 
  1. Buy seasonal produce at your local farmer’s market 
    Buying produce in season and locally allows for your produce to be fresher, taste better, and less energy intensive since it does not need to travel far. 
  1. Avoid driving when you can
    Get some fresh air and exercise or hitch a ride by walking, biking, or using public transportation this summer. Turn a five-minute drive into a 20-minute walk, six-minute bike ride, or a walk and ride with the bus! 

Who knew that there were so many ways to help the planet in the summer?! Summer is the best time to incorporate these sustainable practices. Just a few changes can make a huge impact!  

The Problem with Bioplastics 

Bioplastics are quite the hot topic these days. From plastic cups with a green stripe around the base to utensils that proclaim they are 100% compostable, is it all too good to be true? The plastics industry is notorious for employing tactics such as misleading labels and mastering the art of greenwashing in order to make their product more appealing to eco-conscious customers. But what are bioplastics exactly and why are they such a source of controversy?  

Bioplastics can serve as a catch-all term for a few different types of materials. Bioplastics are often made at least in part of some form of organic material; however, they only need to be composed of 20% bio-based material to qualify as a bioplastic. Biodegradable plastics are plastics that can be broken down in nature, in water, or by various organisms. Sometimes even petroleum-based plastics can qualify as ‘degradable’ if certain organisms such as bacteria can break them down. Compostable plastics are plastics made of 100% organic material that are, in theory, supposed to break down in an industrial compost facility along with the food scraps and yard trimmings to form finished compost to be used on crops or gardens.  

Unfortunately, this does not mean any of these materials will break down in a landfill or in an industrial composting facility. Landfills lack the required exposure to air and sun for organic material to break down. Organic material in the landfill, including bio-based plastics, releases methane – a harmful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. So-called ‘compostable’ plastics often don’t break down in industrial composting facilities because they either don’t meet the required heat threshold or time period for them to break down into finished compost. Therefore, as a general rule in the RethinkWaste service area, we only accept BPI-certified compostable bags in the green compost bin. Hard compostable plastics need to be landfilled because they don’t break down during the 60-120 day period at the industrial composting facilities we send our material to. Additionally, many countries around the world, particularly developing nations where plastic pollution is an even greater problem, don’t have the infrastructure for industrial composting facilities. This means that compostable plastics are not yet a global solution to the prevalence and pollution of plastic products.  

An additional consideration regarding the production of bioplastics is that the product must come from organic material. The most used bioplastics are polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) and polylactic acid (PLA). PHA is typically composed of sugars grown from algae or produced by microorganisms. PLA, the cheaper and more prevalent of the two, is composed of sugars from corn and sugarcane. Growing these crops for the purpose of making bioplastics requires more land for agriculture that could otherwise be used to grow food for Earth’s growing population.  

Another important consideration in the bioplastic debate is how to dispose of these single-use products on a large scale. Despite the impressive advancements in technology that allow manufacturers to create products out of organic material, the burden is still on the consumer to figure out how to dispose of the product. Thankfully, the implementation of extended producer responsibility laws for plastics are being put into place in California, which mandates manufacturers to take responsibility for the lifecycle of their products, from design to their end-of-life.

Though there are drawbacks to bioplastics, there are positives as well. First, organic material is renewable as opposed to the oil used to produce traditional plastics. Bioplastics also don’t contain BPA and won’t leach toxic chemicals into food or soil therefore causing disease or harming the environment like traditional plastics. From production to breaking down, bioplastics produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional plastics as well.  

In summary, bioplastics are not a magic solution to the world’s plastic problem. Bioplastic production can use up valuable natural resources that could otherwise be used to grow food, they often don’t break down in industrial composting facilities, and they place a burden on the consumer to determine how to dispose of them properly. While there are promising developments in the field, such as creating bioplastics from wastewater or food scraps, avoiding plastics altogether is the most conducive way to reduce your waste.  

Many cities in San Mateo County have passed a Disposable Food Service Ware Ordinance, which requires a transition to fiber-based foodware products in restaurants; a step in the right direction for ensuring that single-use foodware is actually compostable. Purchasing products wrapped in paper or fiber (which can be composted), using reusables, and refusing plastics whenever possible are the best way to reduce your plastic consumption, at least until bioplastics have fewer negative environmental impacts and can be reliably composted. 

Sources:  

https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2017/12/13/the-truth-about-bioplastics/

https://e360.yale.edu/features/why-bioplastics-will-not-solve-the-worlds-plastics-problem

https://greenhome.co.za/blog/the-pros-and-cons-of-bioplastics/

Rethink How You Celebrate Earth Day

If there were ever an Earth Day where climate change is most pertinent in the minds of the Bay Area community, it may be Earth Day 2023. 

In recent months, climate change has affected many of us personally. The recent New Year’s Eve atmospheric river resulted in the second-wettest day on record in San Francisco.  Subsequent flooding ensued, affecting residents and businesses alike, who were generally ill-prepared for such a historic event. On February 24th, rare snowfall was seen throughout the Bay Area, leading to various road closures and traffic incidents. Largely unprecedented winter storms continued into March, where we have seen historical snowpack in higher elevation regions of California. 

Flooded Shoreway Road in San Carlos where the Shoreway Environmental Center is located
Flooded Shoreway Road in San Carlos where the Shoreway Environmental Center is located
Flooded tunnel that trucks use to load material in at the Shoreway Environmental Center
Flooded tunnel that trucks use to load material in at the Shoreway Environmental Center

Our houses have been flooded, our streets have been ravaged by potholes, trees have fallen on our properties, and we have been subjected to days on end with no power in our homes. These disasters result from a lesser-known manifestation of climate change – more frequent and intense storms. Greenhouse gas emissions cause our land, ocean, and atmospheric temperatures to rise. Warmer oceans result in more water evaporating into the air, leading to heavier precipitation once storms reach land. Simultaneously, our warmer atmosphere allows for more moisture to be held at any given time, exacerbating the issue. Nonetheless, some may say these recent events are a welcome change to the previous extensive drought and wildfire seasons we have become accustomed to in California. Regardless of what catastrophic weather events are occurring at any given period, they have one thing in common: they are all driven by anthropogenic, or human-induced, climate change

Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions trapping heat in our atmosphere and, thus, warming our Earth. Greenhouse gas emissions are produced through a variety of human activities including the burning of fossil fuels, transportation, agriculture, and waste generation. To combat this global problem, various international agreements have been set in place including the Kyoto Protocol and the infamous Paris Agreement. The goal of the Paris Agreement was initially to keep global warming below 1.5˚C to avoid catastrophic climate disaster that occurs at and after that threshold. However, we are currently on pace to reach 2.8˚C of warming because of inadequate global climate policies.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report indicated that in order to have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5 ˚C, we would need to make swift, deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels globally. Achieving this reduction would need to include retiring fossil-fueled power plants, implementing carbon removal technologies, and decarbonizing and electrifying various aspects of our society. 

Now, you may notice that these changes would require change on a massive scale, far beyond the scope of individual consumers. But individual choices do matter! While our own individual decisions may not tip the scale in the right direction in terms of emissions, our collective decisions can certainly make a difference. The largest greenhouse gas emitters: power generators, industry and the agriculture sector, are all driven by consumer demand. In other words, they only produce at an unsustainable rate because of the demand in them we create.

However, we have the opportunity as individual consumers to modify this demand. For example, if enough of us chose to eliminate meat and dairy from our diets, production of these carbon-intensive commodities would decrease due to decreasing demand, thus greatly reducing emissions within the agriculture sector. Other changes we can make include choosing electric vehicles, supporting a circular economy, electrifying our homes, reducing food waste, and practicing the 4 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot). 

While collective consumer efforts are massively important, they are only one part of the solution to the climate crisis. Unprecedented, far-reaching action on behalf of national governments will be necessary to avoid the worst climate risks of global warming. This would need to include clear goals addressed by laws, policies, international cooperation, and technology. Our individual and collective voices can make a huge impact here! We as individuals can help advocate for climate action by contacting our local representatives, writing letters to editors, or even engaging others in conversations about key climate issues.

From record heat waves to unprecedented storms to wildfires that turn our sky orange, the climate crisis has become painfully evident in the Bay Area. As the effects of climate change begin to manifest more prominently in our community, we must ask ourselves how we can become part of the solution. The climate crisis is a wicked problem whose solution will require a great deal of cooperation, cohesion, and sacrifice. Luckily, we can all work together through collective action to fortify our voices and power. This Earth Day, you can begin your journey and join the fight against climate change by wielding the power that you have as an individual. The sky’s the limit!  

Share with us how you’re celebrating this Earth Day by tagging us on social media! Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

How to Practice “Reduce” at Home

If you are looking for ways to work towards a zero to low-waste lifestyle, look no further than the 4 R’s hierarchy: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (Compost). Reduce, which means to lessen waste by using fewer items and resources, is at the top of the pyramid and the one we should all be practicing the most. Check out these tips to practice reducing at home to conserve our natural resources and decrease your environmental footprint! 

The 4 R’s Hierarchy

If you are looking for ways to work towards a zero to low-waste lifestyle, look no further than the 4 R’s hierarchy: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (Compost). Reduce, which means to lessen waste by using fewer items and resources, is at the top of the pyramid and the one we should all be practicing the most. Check out these tips to practice reducing at home to conserve our natural resources and decrease your environmental footprint! 

Discover What You’re Throwing Away! 

A good first step to understanding how much waste you generate is to conduct a waste audit right before your home’s collection day. A waste audit of the three bins gives you a means to discover what you are throwing away so that you can lessen that material. For this exercise, you will want to take account of factors like: what rooms you keep the waste bins in, the bin contents, what items take up the most space, and how many landfill bags you fill each week. Record your detailed findings and add any surprising discoveries or bin similarities!  

Once you have a chance to reflect on the contents of your three bins, it will be easier to see how reducing can be applied in your home. You can even examine your energy and water bills to understand how to utilize the natural elements to lower your energy usage.  

Things to consider post waste audit: Composting is an important part of reducing one’s household waste, but if your compost bin is overflowing with spoiled food, this could be due to overbuying or improper food storage techniques. Have a plan when you go to the grocery store, and keep your leftovers organized in reusable containers. It is important to eat food that will spoil first, but always remember an overripe banana can make delicious banana bread or a yummy smoothie! Another way to get creative with the contents of the green bin is if you have a lawn, to leave grass clippings on it to return nutrients to the soil. Another way is to mix wood ashes from fires into home compost piles to provide nutrients to the garden. 

If your landfill bin is filled with a lot of soft plastic wrappers, try buying snacks in bulk and storing them in reusable containers. While it eliminates individual wrappers, it also saves a trip to the grocery store.  

Get Creative With Your Belongings 

Use what you have! Reusable containers do not need to be purchased. Consider utilizing takeout containers, pasta sauce jars, empty plastic bottles, tin coffee cans, and so on. You can even reuse items like shoe boxes to keep your shoes in great condition or create storage for household trinkets.  

If you must obtain things by mail, try opting to go paperless for bills or requesting recyclable packaging from companies. Packaging materials and newspapers can be saved and reused for gifting, moving purposes, making textbook covers, and so much more. Tap into your creative side!  

Used textiles such as cotton shirts can be turned into tote bags, wash rags, or braided into rugs or toys for your dog, quilts, or napkins. However, before you cut up an item to repurpose it, think of whether it can be fixed or of those who might benefit or need it. Clothes, toys, food, plants, appliances, and books that are no longer desired can be donated to friends and family, local shelters, or displayed at a yard sale to find their next loving home. 

We hope these tips help you and your household reduce the waste that you generate. By taking care of the things you already own, less waste will be generated, and more items can be diverted from the landfill – leaving us with a brighter, greener future.  

Share with us how you’re reducing your waste at home by tagging us on social media! Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 

Let’s Talk Textiles Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste held a textiles webinar on February 15, 2023 featuring three expert presenters – Dr. Joanne Brasch, Dr. Connie Ulasewicz, and Shana McCraken. The three presenters shared textile recycling and mending projects and answered questions from the audience.

This page provides the presentation slides, links to resources, the recording of the event, and questions and answers from the audience.

Resources

Webinar Recording

Questions and Answers

1. What are the most effective methods for reducing the amount of textile waste generated?

Dr. Connie Ulasewicz: The first thing you can do is support a circular economy. Instead of purchasing clothing, wearing it, then throwing it out, you can rent it instead. You could also do a clothing swap with others, and even include a sewing machine at your clothing swap to mend pieces and make them special again. Another thing you can do is buy garments that are 100% made of one kind of a fiber content that is easier to recycle than other types of fibers. Lastly, you can seek out local organizations that offer textile recycling or reuse events.

2. I use a lot of fabric and textiles, and often am left with fabric scraps. What can I do with these?

Dr. Connie Ulasewicz and Dr. Joanne Brasch: First, I recommend utilizing and cutting garments in a way that uses as much of the fabric as possible to reduce waste. Another option is textile recycling through various organizations and services. I recently worked with a company who mails bags to customers to fill with their leftover textile scraps to then be sent back and recycled. However, I can’t always be 100% sure that these scraps were actually recycled by this company. That’s why it’s important to do thorough research. There are also several paid and subscription-based companies where they claim to send textile scraps to be recycled in places like Europe, but don’t end up actually recycling them. We shouldn’t have to ship scraps off to Europe to be recycled in the first place. We should have local textile recycling options here with no extra costs.

3. What is being done to make textile recycling more accessible locally?

Dr. Joanne Brasch: California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) is sponsoring legislation this year on textile recycling and reuse in California. Hopefully, if that bill is passed, there should be some local solutions available down the line. Our goal with this legislation is to create an equitable circular economy in which the funds follow the materials, so that everyone in the circular economy is supported financially.

4. Can you speak to the current state of chemical recycling in California and the US?

Dr. Joanne Brasch: It’s important to be wary of anyone who calls themselves a chemical recycler. Chemical recycling is one of those blanket terms that’s commonly misused because you can use chemistry to recycle in a lot of different ways. But most of the chemical recycling processes are not transparent in their energy use, their water use, and the pollution they generate from the process. We know a lot of textiles have PFAs, which are chemicals that are added to our textiles and fibers. So, it’s important to question where those are going during the recycling process. But I will say the chemical recycling space is growing, and there are some advanced recyclers that use different types of processes including depolarization. Because chemical recycling is a blanket term, it’s important to ask questions to understand what specifically their process is like and what their system inputs are. I will add that these recyclers are thirsty for textiles. So, if we don’t continue to supply them with our textiles and scraps, they will start turn to usable materials, just to keep their technology fed.

5. Can you talk about what textile waste in Ghana and what can be done about that?

For context, Ghana is one of the many victims of the fast fashion industry. It has become a dumping ground for unwanted textile apparel, which has started to quickly accumulate on its beaches and lands. As fast fashion causes the quality of clothing to worsen, clothing articles generally have shorter average lifetime use. This increases textile waste, and leads to environmental disasters similar to what Ghana is currently experiencing.

Dr. Joanne Brasch: Ghana and the accumulations of textiles in secondhand markets is ultimately what results from these textile waste problems being externalized. So, when everyone turns a blind eye and no one is really paying for the recycling, it begins to accumulate and affect our most vulnerable communities.

6. Is there a market for street banners after they’ve been turned into bags and other products? I know there’s been no demand in some places due to high prices.

Recyclestuff.org is a great resource for residents of the counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara. This website helps patrons identify how and where to recycle a variety of materials (including various fabrics) in order to increase waste diversion from the landfill.

Dr. Connie Ulasewicz: Yes, there is definitely demand here. I know of two organizations that are currently working on this now. They’re able to upcycle street banners into tote bags as well as create other things like zippered pouches.