What are microplastics?

Microplastics, microbeads, microfibers…You might have heard of them, and you probably know they’re not great. But, what really are microplastics, and how can we limit the amount of microplastics that we bring into our lives–and our ecosystems? Read on to get all the details on these macro-menaces, and how you can reduce your microplastic footprint!

What are microplastics?

Microplastics: as their name suggests, this word refers to any small plastic pieces less than 5mm long (roughly the size of a sunflower seed); and includes microbeads (manufactured round pieces of polyethylene), as well as synthetic microfibers from non-organic materials like nylon. Microplastics can either come from larger pieces of plastic beginning to break down into smaller pieces, or, like microbeads, be intentionally manufactured for use in various products. Another major source of microplastics come from our clothing, and are often referred to as microfibers. Lots of conventional clothing contains non-organic, synthetic threads that come loose in the wash, pass through filtration systems, and heading to our waterways.

No matter what type of microplastic it is, these nuisances are bypassing filtration systems and ending up in our oceans. From there, the pieces are being ingested by aquatic and marine life…which, in many cases, are eventually consumed by us! Whether you’re looking at the impacts of microplastics on our ecosystems, or our bodies, the result is the same: something needs to be done to mitigate this problem before it gets even worse.

What are microplastics? EarthHero

Ecosystem Impacts & Bioaccumulation

Although they’re small (sometimes so small they cannot be seen by the human eye), microplastics are likely to be the most numerically abundant type of plastic pollution in the ocean today–and will only increase as larger pieces of plastic begin to slowly break down (it usually takes at least 250 years, depending on the type of plastic!)

Beyond the quantity of microplastics in the ocean comes another problem: they are literally everywhere. Studies have found microplastics inside of animals that live in the Mariana Trench, a 7-mile deep spot that is known as the deepest point in our world’s oceans, as well as inside of animals who live in shallow tide-pool ecosystems. These microplastics can block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and reduce reproductive behavior. The problem is so bad that recent reports say plastic pollution will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050, due in part to the 8 million tons of new plastics that are dumped into our waterways every year. Yikes.

Larger pieces of plastic, aka non-microplastics, are known for killing or suffocating the animals they come in contact with. Remember the recent story of the whale filled with plastic bags, or the sea turtle with the plastic straw stuck in his nose? But small, nearly invisible microplastics can often be ingested without immediately impacting the creature who consumed it, which means microplastics are more likely to travel through the food chain, leading to something called bioaccumulation! Plastic pellets are highly absorbent, and can collect persistent organic pollutants (POPs); aka hazardous human-made chemicals that are also poured into our waterways and oceans. When animals ingest the combination of microplastics and POPs, the chemicals begin to accumulate in the fatty tissues of marine animals. Over time, these chemicals can cause cancer, malformation, decreased immunity to disease, and impaired reproductive ability in their host animals. Beyond the ability of plastics to attract POPs, many microplastic pieces already contain their own chemical additives like BPA, phthalate plasticizers, flame retardants, and more, all with their own slew of long-term health impacts.

When an animal containing these particles and chemicals is consumed by another animal in the food web, bioaccumulation ramps up even more. Think of it this way: if a whale eats 1,000 plankton a day, and each plankton contained .5 grams of plastics, now the whale has 500 grams of plastic particles inside of it. The whale is unable to metabolize and excrete these toxins, so it accumulates inside them. This is a major problem, not only for animals, but for humans, as we are at the top of the marine food web and consume a wide variety of marine species.

What are microplastics? EarthHero

Human Health Impacts

Because microplastics are so widespread, it’s no surprise that they’re also in some marine and freshwater species that humans consume, both wild & farmed. Scientists have discovered microplastics inside 114 aquatic species, and over half of those species are readily consumed by us! So what does this mean for human health? Hint: it’s definitely not good…

A recent report by the United Nations Food + Agriculture Organization has found that people do consume trace amounts of microplastics from aquatic life. Luckily, we don’t consume nearly as much as other animals due to the fact that humans really only eat the muscle tissue of animals, leaving out the guts of fish, where the bulk of microplastics and chemicals accumulate. But, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem! Microplastics over time become “nanoplastics”, which are almost invisible pieces of plastic. These nanoplastics can penetrate cells, and move into tissues and organs, and their effects have been relatively unstudied.

The truth is, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what microplastic accumulation is doing to us. Part of this is due to the fact that we’re so highly exposed to chemicals and plastics that it’s hard to separate each cause and effect. Plus, running tests on humans is difficult due to our longer life-span than many marine animals, so tests require more time to analyze the long-term health impacts. But we think it’s pretty safe to say that reducing your exposure to microplastics and their associated toxins can be nothing but good for you.

How to Reduce your Microplastic Footprint

Microplastics, although they’re making waves in recent news, are not a new problem. Plastic microbeads first appeared in consumer goods about 50 years ago, as companies began to shift away from organic ingredients. Flash forward to 2012, and most consumers were still unaware of the prevalence of microbeads, partially because companies were not required to disclose if their products contained them (crazy, right?). Despite a general lack of awareness, in 2015, President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which banned plastic microbeads in cosmetics & personal care products. But this is only half the battle.

Microbeads are just one source of microplastic pollution, and are easier to tackle because they can be banned through legislation. The other two main sources: larger plastics breaking down over time, and synthetic microfibers, are where we need to direct our attention now.

Checkout 6 ways to reduce your exposure to microplastics below!

What Are Microplastics? EarthHero

Although the government has banned microbeads in “rinse-off” personal care products, the ban didn’t immediately take affect. The Microbead-Free Waters Act is so recent that products with microbeads were still sold in stores as recently as January 2019! We suggest you play it safe and only shop with brands that are proud to say they’re truly non-toxic. Better yet, look for brands with third-party certifications like USDA Organic or NSF Certified to prove it! Switch to products with natural exfoliants like walnut shells, clay, or rice grains. If you’re still unsure, check ingredients lists for ingredients like Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

  • Reduce your overall plastic consumption, and therefore plastic waste!

As we mentioned above, many microplastics come from larger pieces of plastic slowly breaking down into even more hazardous pieces. That thin plastic grocery bag, over the course of 50 years, will break down into thousands of particles that will never truly biodegrade. By reducing the amount of plastic that you bring into your life, you can help tackle this problem at the source. For tips on how to ditch plastic, checkout these blogs!

  • Support small scale plastic cleanups, and large scale plastic cleanups!

Whether you’re taking part in a local community beach cleanup, or lobbying to your local politician for more ocean plastic cleanup technology, it’s important to address the plastic that already exists on our planet.

  • Wear organic clothing that doesn’t contain plastic or synthetic microfibers!

Microfibers are a maaaajor source of microplastics, and come almost exclusively from non-organic fabrics being washed. Washing machine filters can’t catch these nearly invisible fibers, and they’re easily ingested by animals once they reach our waterways. Instead, buy clothing made from organic sources (think organic cotton, wool, and hemp). You’ll reduce the amount of synthetic fabrics that get washed, and therefor reduce microfiber pollution. Plus, producing organic clothing typically uses less water and energy than synthetic materials!

Cora Ball Microplastics Laundry Ball | What Are Microplastics | EarthHero

  • Use a Cora Ball to collect any leftovers microfibers that may be going from your washing machine to the ocean!

Unless you have a wardrobe made up entirely of organic cotton clothing (we can dream, right?) there probably will be some of those pesky microfibers leaving your washing machine no matter what. That’s where the Cora Ball comes in–a microfiber catching laundry ball made from 100% recycled plastic. Just toss it in the washer with your clothes, and watch as it begins to catch microfibers in its spindles. Then, simply pull the threads out and toss them in the trash. It’s an easy and awesome way to cut down on microfiber pollution in your home. Get yours here!

  • When disposing of small plastic pieces, or any small non-biodegradable waste items, try to contain them so they can’t be easily digested!

If you buy a six-pack of soda, you’ll likely cut up the plastic bottle holder to make it harder for animals to get stuck in it. Take this approach and apply it to any non-biodegradable/non-recyclable waste you come across in your life! Think of little items like plastic straws, bread twist ties, rubber bands, hang tags from the store, etc. By containing them inside another item, like a plastic bag or enclosed bin, we can reduce how easily they fly away and enter our ecosystems.

 

Tidying Up Without Trashing the Planet

It’s time to start tidying up.

Here’s how to do it without trashing the planet.

If you’ve been totally obsessing over Marie Kondo and Tidying Up like we have, you’ve probably also been going through every drawer and cabinet looking for things that don’t “spark joy.” And while minimizing and tidying your space really can transform your life, it can also impact the planet if it’s not done mindfully. Tidying, in essence, has a lot of the same intentions & steps as living a low-waste lifestyle…so be sure to make tidying up less trashy with some of our favorite tips below!

Marie Kondo Zero Waste

Textiles

While you’re decluttering, you may find old towels, unused bedding and blankets, pillows, and other textiles. Instead of throwing them away, check with your local animal shelter first! They can use them as bedding and blankets for the pets. Cozy shelter animals? Now that really sparks joy.

If these textiles are in pretty bad condition and cannot be donated… it’s a little trickier. There currently isn’t one hub for textile recycling, but inspiring organizations are opening up to tackle this issue. In New York, GrowNYC accepts fabric scraps (36 square inches or larger), and works with other groups to have them turned into clothes again, made into rags, or even used for insulation! You can also check with local schools and art centers to see if they could use what you have for a project, or even cut them into cleaning towels depending on the fabric!<

Tidying Up Zero Waste

Clothes

Tidying up in the closet can be…difficult to say the least. But when you’re done–don’t just toss it! You can try to sell pieces in good condition at local consignment shops, or use platforms like Poshmark that allow you to connect with an online community to sell your clothes and accessories.

Or, you can donate! The American Red Cross uses donated clothes, accessories, linens, and small toys to benefit victims of natural disasters. The Salvation Army also accepts clothing for men, women, and children, with proceeds going towards their adult rehabilitation centers–and will pick up your stuff for free. Dress for Success has a number of drop off locations nationally, and works to provide unemployed, low-income women the professional clothing they need for job interviews. Career Gear, Planet Aid, Becca’s Closet–there are tons of options for sending your gently used clothes to a great place!

Clothing breaks down very slowly in landfills–and some studies estimate that there are nearly 13 million tons in our landfills already. So while you’re mastering your Kondo fold technique, hop online or go to a local clothing drive to make sure your clothes don’t end up as trash!

Marie Kondo Zero Waste Tidying Up

Technology

Electronics (think old DVD players, iPods, cords and cables) are almost always made with valuable resources–so if it’s time to tidy up your tech, be sure to donate or recycle them so that those resources can be conserved!

For Apple products, there’s now a recycling program where you can give them damaged cables & tech products for them to recycle into newer versions. While they won’t give you a replacement, it’s totally free to recycle any Apple product at their stores. And in a world where computers, on average, are used for less than 3 years, this can make a huge impact on our tech waste. Other companies like LG and Samsung offer mail-in recycling programs for their phones & TVs, while Best Buy accepts phones, TVs, PCs/laptops, and other electronics!

For other “E-Cycling”, check out databases like this one that list reuse, donation, and recycling programs across the US specifically for tech products. Or, you can simply consider selling it locally, or donating it to a school or library in your area.

Marie Kondo Tidying Up Zero Waste

Books

Need to declutter the book shelf? We get it. So head on down to the library! I know that sounds counterintuitive, but most have a Friends of the Library Society where they accept gently used books to stock the library, or sell them at fundraisers to support the library. Of course there are also local thrift stores like Goodwill and The Salvation Army, and even new “mini bookstores” called the Reading Tree that are popping up nationally!

If you don’t mind paying for the cost of shipping your books, there are tons of charities finding truly amazing ways to give new life to older books. Books for Soldiers allows you to create a care package of books & DVDs and send it to deployed soldiers overseas. Additionally, Books 2 Africa looks for educational textbooks and reference books to send to students in Africa. There’s also Books Through Bars, Book to Prisoners, Better World Books…Do a quick search online, and you’re sure to find the perfect place to send your books!

Marie Kondo Zero Waste Tidying Up

Toiletries

We all have them…that unmatched foundation you used once, or a body wash that’s almost empty but you can’t let go of. Thanks to the magic of tidying up, you can reclaim your space! Warning: this may leave you with a box of tubes and other toiletries that you don’t know what to do with.

For products that are primarily empty or have expired, be sure to empty them in the trash, then use a resource like TerraCycle to learn how you can recycle the product container, since most cosmetics and personal care products come in non-recyclable plastic! TerraCycle’s free take back programs let you recycle those tricky mascara wands and shampoo bottles so your bathroom space can be truly tidy.

For products that can still be used (gently used, mostly full), there’s a ton of awesome places that will accept donations for great causes. Women’s shelters use donated toiletries to empower the women in their shelters to start fresh, while groups like Amenity Aid accepts unused hotel size toiletries for use in housing programs, community centers, and other charitable programs. Depending on what you find in your bathroom, there is no shortage of ways to turn toiletries you don’t want into a meaningful experience for others.

Marie Kondo Zero Waste Tidying Up

Staying Tidy

Once you’ve completed the 5-step KonMari Method, and found joy in your home again, you’re definitely gonna want to keep it that way–even if your only motivation is to never have to tidy up again. Keeping your new space tidy happens in two major ways: not buying new junk to fill the empty space, and organizing the items that you decide to keep.

With all the new space you’ll create in your home tidying up, whether it be in your closet, garage, or kitchen, you may be tempted to re-fill that space with new items. The most important thing you can do with that new space is honor it–which means filling it only with things you need, that bring value to the space. For you, this could mean not supporting fast fashion, being a more conscious consumer, or shopping within certain sustainability values–like plastic-free!

If you’ve seen the show or read the book, you’ll notice one of Kondo’s power-moves is a box of boxes that she uses to transform drawers, cabinets… you name it. And while we absolutely love her idea of upcycling old shoe boxes and jewelry boxes into organization tools, there’s no shortage of other ways to maintain your tidy home–while also keeping it sustainable. For storage, we love Ziptuck bags and Stasher bags because they can be used in the kitchen, bathroom, and everything in between.

By turning to reusables, you can minimize the amount of “new” waste you have to tidy up. Single-use items like plastic-bottles, plastic bags, dryer sheets–these all can be replaced by reusable items (reusable bottles, bags, and even dryer balls!) that bring more joy and less waste. Tidying up is all about loving what you have, and making what you have last!

The KonMari method is simple: you, your things, and your space can all feel and look better–if you prioritize what brings you joy, and leave the junk behind. But, be sure to let your tidying up bring joy to others by donating, recycling, and repurposing where you can. And while we can’t help you figure out if that old lamp sparks joy, we can give you the resources you need to make tidying less trashy. Checkout a full list of resources below, and share some of your sustainable KonMari hacks in the comments!

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.” – Marie Kondo

Recycling Centers

TerraCycle Free Recycling Programs
TerraCycle Zero Waste Recycling Boxes
Eco-Cycle’s Recycle, Compost, & Reuse Guide
GrowNYC
Apple Recycling Program
LG Recycling Program
Samsung Recycling Program
Best Buy Recycling Program
E-Cycling

Resources

KonMari
Friends of the Library
Women’s Shelters

Donation Centers

American Red Cross Donations – clothing, shoes, and accessories for men, women, and children across the USA
The Salvation Army Donation Pickup – clothing, shoes, and accessories for men, women, and children across the USA
Dress for Success – professional clothing, shoes, and accessories for low-income unemployed women
Career Gear – professional clothing, shoes, and accessories for low-income unemployed men
Planet Aid – clothing, shoes, and accessories for men, women, and children living in developing nations
Becca’s Closet – prom dresses and accessories for low-income students
Pick-Up Please – accepts clothing, shoes, accessories, jewelry, house and glassware, books, toys, bikes, stereos, radios, TVs, tools, and small electronics
Books for Soldiers – books for deployed soldiers overseas
Books 2 Africa – textbooks and educational materials for students in Africa
Books Through Bars – books for the incarcerated to help them learn & grow
Books to Prisoners – books for the incarcerated to help them learn & grow
Better World Books – affordable books and donation centers
Amenity Aid – takes unused hotel products to give to those in shelters or without access

 

How-To: Compost

Fact: food scraps and other organic waste currently makes up 30% of what we throw away every year, where it will sit in our landfills unable to decompose properly–but there is a better way to toss organic waste. Composting is becoming a major trend in environmentalism, with restaurants, some grocery stores, even very special office spaces participating! So what’s the deal with composting, and how can it make a massive impact on our planet’s waste situation? Read on to learn why it’s changing the planet for the better–and how you can get involved.

 

Why should I compost?

Whether you’re trying to have the most nutritious soil on the block, or if you’re just looking for another way to lower your carbon footprint, composting your leftover food and organics is the move. While it’s true that food will eventually biodegrade in our landfills, there are some seriously nasty side effects that come with it.

When organic materials break down in a landfill, they do so “anerobically”, or without oxygen. When compost is unable to break down naturally, it actually leads to the release of a very harmful greenhouse gas: methane. Believe it or not, methane has heat trapping capabilities that are 23 to 71x times that of carbon dioxide (yikes!)–and is linked to global climate impacts, as it traps heat in our atmosphere. By diverting organic waste from our landfills, and into commercial or home composting piles, we can greatly reduce the amount of methane gas emissions that come from landfills, which can directly (and positively) impact the levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Here’s what composting can do for you!

  • You get to take your trash out less! Keeping food waste out of your trash can mean fewer trips to the curb! If you pay for garbage pick up, composting could decrease how much “trash” needs to picked up by the garbage truck (and that equals more money in your pocket).
  • No more smelly trashcans. Keep compost in a designated bin, such as this snazzy, stainless steel one or this recycled plastic one! Both of these bins have aeration holes which help neutralize unwanted scents, too! *More tips for smell-free composting below!
  • Into gardening? While store-bought fertilizers can be pricy, your leftover food is chock full of nutrients (and it’s free!) Try out a backyard compost to create your own nutrient rich, chemical-free soil.

Backyard Composting vs. Commercial Composting

So you’ve decided to start composting, and stop throwing food in the garbage. You. are. AWESOME. But, depending on where you live, there might be different rules or regulations for what can be commercially composted–or there might not be any city-wide compost at all, which is a great reason to start your own backyard compost.

Commercial Composting: The breakdown

Commercial composting is a great option if you want to divert your organic waste but don’t have the time or space to maintain your own outdoor compost pile. This method often means decomposition happens more quickly AND ensures that bioplastics (think corn-based cups and plates) definitely break down.

It’s important to find out which foods and materials are acceptable to compost in your city. This differs from facility to facility but it’s good to steer clear of adding things like pet waste, liquids, dirt or rocks. 

There are typically three techniques used in commercial composting:

Windrow: This open-air process is primarily used for yard and gardenwaste and involves five foot high piles (“windrows”) that get regularly turned. Turning encourages decomposition and helps ensure that every layer has a chance in the warm center of the pile, where all the good bacteria hangs out.

In-vessel: This is an enclosed space setup which means it can process all forms of organic waste, from meat and other food scraps, to manure and bio-plastics (with no bad smells!).  This system allows for optimal control of temperature, moisture, and airflow regulation and also means compost is ready within a few months. In-vessel composting is able to reach incredibly high-temps (over140 degrees) and this helps kill off harmful bacterias!

Aerated-static pile: This system is optimal for large generators of homogeneous organic waste, so it is likely the option found in cities and towns with a commercial compost facility. The aeration process employs bulking agents like wood chips and shredded newspaper and also a network of pipes that periodically blow air into the pile. Food waste, paper products, and bioplastics are traditionally what goes into these piles and compost production is fast, typically only taking a few months.

DIY: Backyard composting

Creating your own home & backyard compost is great, especially if you’re trying to save money on soil fertilizer. It also means you have greater control over what goes in. If you’re into gardening, you can really tailor your compost to the nutritional needs of your own soil and garden. For example, if an organic garden is important to you, make sure the compost is comprised of all things organic, too!

Here’s how to start your backyard compost:

  • Step 1: Begin by finding a shady spot on your land. Close proximity to a water source can be helpful, as moistening any dry compost additions can help the microbial processes. The ideal size of your pile or bin is 1 cubic yard, as that will allow enough space to hold in heat without keeping our air.
  • Step 2: For the best compost, you’ll want to combine two parts “brown” (dry leaves and twigs, for example) with one part “green” (grass clippings and your food scraps). This recipe results in a perfect blend of nitrogen and carbon.
  • Step 3: Chop up your large veggies or big sticks, to help them decompose more quickly!
  • Step 4: Turning over the compost regularly will help air and moisture move throughout the pile and will help break up any clumps of organic material.
  • Step 5: Depending on outside temperature, your nutrient dense, natural fertilizer will be ready within in 2-5 weeks and will only continue to gain potency as time goes on!

Countertop compost bins: What to look for

So, you’ve chosen your compost method–great! Now make it a little easier on yourself and choose the perfect countertop compost bin to store your scraps between they head to the compost pile or curbside bin. But there are so many options! Here are some pros and cons of our favorites:

  • This bin attaches to the edge of the counter so that sweeping food scraps away is a snap, plus silicone is an excellent alternative to plastic. It also fits neatly into the door of your freezer, which is an excellent storage location for compost–frozen food doesn’t smell!
  • This 1 gallon bin is great for countertops and is made from molded bamboo, so it looks beautiful on your kitchen counter! Use charcoal filters in the lid to keep odors in.
  • Need a little more room? This 1.8 gallon stainless steel bin is super easy to clean, and adds a classy look to any kitchen! The lid holds a charcoal filter as well, so it’s a great odor-reducer as well!
  • Looking for more functionality, less fancy? This 1.5 gallon bin comes with a release button that pops the top open, making it easy to open and close quickly. Plus, it has a bar that holds your compost bag in place, so you’ll never have to worry about losing the corner of your bag under an old banana peel!

Tips for Success

  • Worried about the smell? Keep your bin in the freezer. This is a particularly useful tip during those hot and humid summer months when it seems like even your fresh food is excited to decompose.
  • Add a slice of lemon to neutralize any bad smells. That detoxifying morning lemon water now has another purpose!
  • Keep charcoal filters near the bin. This is especially helpful if you have a larger bin because these filters seriously stretch the time between when the compost needs to be taken out. We like these!
  • How will my family know what to compost? Coffee grounds are basically compost gold, but chicken bones? Not so much. Here’s a simple guide we really like. Gardening? Check this out for the best DIY compost fertilizer! Also read our tips on how to reduce your food waste in general.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

If composting is out of the picture for you right now, either due to location, space, or time, there are other ways you can get on board. Choosing compostable items such as bags and dishware means less plastic gets used and discarded. While we love reusable choices whenever possible, compostable plates and utensils definitely come in handy during travel or on a picnic. However, Earth Hero’s beware! Not all biodegradable dishware is created equal! Some require extremely high temperatures in order to break down completely, and not all commercial compost facilities are able to reach this high heat. These bowls, plates, and utensils are great options because they can all break down in backyard soil!

Composting Starter Essentials

Whether you’re looking for recycled plastic, bamboo, silicone, or stainless steel, EarthHero has a bin for you! These are all small enough to hang out on your kitchen counter or even in your freezer and have aeration holes to promote decomposition and keep smells at bay.

Line your compost bin or trash can with compostable bags and help keep one less plastic bag out of the landfill. Even your dog can be zero-waste with these compostable dog-waste bags! Since pet-waste can contain parasites, it’s best to be sure it never ends up in any actual compost piles.

Don’t just stop composting there, bring composting into every aspect of your life with compostable products like fun straws, hemp pot holders, and food wraps. Even these amazing body products come in compostable packaging!

Now that you’ve learned a bit about composting, share some of your favorite tips, tricks, and ideas in the comments below, or on our Earth heroes Facebook Page!

 

Product Breakdown: TerraCycle Zero Waste Box

Recycling is one of the best things you can do for the environment. It reduces landfill waste and diverts litter from the world’s oceans (hit with 10-20 million tons of plastic pollution every year) and prevents them turning into microplastics, tiny plastic particles that impact animals, natural ecosystems and, ultimately, humans. The eco action also conserves natural resources, offsetting the need to mine the planet for new, “virgin” materials.

EarthHero | How to recycle everything | TerraCycle Zero Waste Box

Most of us have some experience with recycling, learning about it in school, growing up with it in the home, and understanding it to be an easy way to do good by the planet.  But an issue plaguing recycling efforts is the fact that only certain waste is accepted for recycling while the rest has to be thrown away. Public recycling systems cannot handle many of today’s most common waste streams we interact with on a daily basis. Thus, most items are sent to landfill, where they can take years to break down.

EarthHero | TerraCycle Zero Waste Box | How to recycle everything

Enter TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes, easy-to-use recycling boxes for households, individuals and businesses looking to reduce their environmental impact. The Zero Waste Box platform provides solutions for nearly every difficult-to-recycle waste stream that cannot be recycled through regular municipal recycling programs.

EarthHero | TerraCycle Zero Waste Boxes | How to Recycle Everything

Coffee capsules, plastic packaging, disposable cups and cutlery, candy and snack wrappers, writing instruments, alkaline batteries, shipping materials, ink and toner cartridges, drinking straws and more can be easily and effectively recycled through the Zero Waste Box platform.

Here’s how it works: Select the size and type of box needed, fill with the appropriate waste stream, and ship the box back to TerraCycle using the pre-paid shipping label once full. Once collected, TerraCycle separates and processes the products and packaging by material to prepare them for use in new production.

TerraCycle Zero Waste Box | EarthHero | How to Recycle Everything

In addition to Zero Waste Boxes for specific waste streams, the product line also offers room-specific solutions for waste generated in bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens or breakrooms. The most popular and all-inclusive of these solutions, the All-In-One Zero Waste Box, accepts nearly every type of waste from every room in the home or business without the need for separation or sorting. Available in different sizes, this no-separation option takes the guesswork out of recycling, no matter where you live.

We believe that making a positive impact through recycling can be convenient and accessible. TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box platform seamlessly integrates sustainability into the home, office, facility or event by making it easy to recycle life’s most common waste items. Conscious consumption considers the full lifecycle, sourcing to end-of-life, and we are pleased to offer TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes as a way to reduce your individual impact.

Upcycling vs Recycling

Reduce, reuse, recycle, repeat… say hello to upcycling–the manufacturing revolution changing the way we turn wasted materials into amazing new stuff! While both recycling and upcycling reduces the amount of junk that goes to our landfills, upcycling turns that same waste into a product of a higher quality–while recycling slightly decreases the quality of certain materials. Simply put: recycling breaks products down into their raw materials to be made into totally new things, while upcycling creatively repurposes old materials while maintaining some of their original characteristics.

Recycling, Downcycling, Upcycling | EarthHero

Why bother?

“Well, if I recycle, why do I need to upcycle?” Not only does the process of upcycling keep tons of waste from entering our landfills, lakes, and waterways (where they’ll sit for centuries!), it reduces the amount of CO2 entering our atmosphere by making use of old materials instead of extracting resources to create new ones. Believe it or not, for every ton of tossed textiles that get upcycled, 20 tons of CO2 is prevented from entering the atmosphere! Also known as creative repurposing, upcycling is about more than just enjoying a fun DIY–it uses less water, energy, and raw materials to create something new than traditional production.

If you weren’t already itching to try your hand at upcycling, here’s one of the best parts: it will save you money! Instead of buying that expensive trendy new lamp, repurpose old mason jars for an industrial looking chandelier. Have old tee shirts? Cut and sew them into plastic-free produce bags for the grocery store! Or, do you want to use less energy to heat your house? Upcycle old tees into a “draft stopper”, and boom, you just saved money on your energy bill for a grand total of $0. You could also try your hand at sewing old jeans into dog ropes and save money next time you hit the pet store! There’s truly no shortage of wallet-friendly repurposing hacks out there.

At the end of the day, upcycling can be a heck of a lotta’ fun, while helping your wallet–and the planet. From scouring local thrift stores for fun pieces to repurpose, to bringing friends together for an upcycling party, it can be an awesome way to rally your community around sustainability.

How can I do it at home?

Conceptualized in 1994 by Reiner Pilz, the term upcycling is still relatively new. Upcycling refers to a system where “old products are given more value, not less.” From weekend DIY projects to large-scale manufacturing, all upcycling projects start with creativity. Pro tip: there are no mistakes when trying your hand at upcycling, only valuable lessons learned. After some practice, you’ll start seeing innovative products hiding within what others would consider junk everywhere you go! We break down our top upcycling tips below:

Step 1: be prepared! This means before you cut, hot-glue, or hammer anything, you need to begin with a plan of action. From the tools you’re gonna use, to your raw upcycled materials, starting with some knowledge under your belt will make the upcycling process go smoothly. It all starts with proper planning!

Toothbrushes repurposed as plant markers!Step 2: get creative. There’s tons of innovative ideas out there, from DIY recipes, to zero waste challenges and tips. Use your imagination, and don’t let the intended use of an item discourage you from transforming it into something totally different and unique! Feeling stuck? There’s Pinterest boards, groups, and tons of resources (like this one!) for upcycling inspiration.

Step 3: reach out to your community! Before you toss away something in good condition that could be upcycled, first reach out to your local or online communities and see if anyone has a way to repurpose the item, or would like you to send it to them so they can use it! Many local stores and businesses will accept certain items–for example, most animal shelters accept towels with holes in them to upcycle into dog beds and toys.

Why we love upcycling!

Do-it-yourself not your thing? You’re in luck. There’s a ton of awesome brands taking upcycling into their own hands, and making some seriously awesome stuff while at it. Check out some of the awesome conscious companies we’re proud to have in the EarthHero family below!

Alchemy Goods | Upcycling vs Recycling | EarthHero

Alchemy Goods

In 2003, product engineer and bike rider Eli Reich had his messenger bag stolen, and decided to try his hand at making a new one out of a material he happened to have a ton of–used bicycle inner tubes. The result was a easy-travel bag that was durable, water-resistant, and ruggedly stylish. Beginning small in Seattle, Alchemy Goods quickly took off, and began to reach out to bike shops across the US to keep up with demand. To date, these uniquely upcycled bike bags have kept over 425,000 bike tubes out of our landfills!

Chop Value | Upcycling vs Recycling | EarthHero

Chop Value

Asian food is amazing. The single-use chopsticks that you get every time you eat it–not so much. In Vancouver, Canada alone, a whopping 100,000 bamboo chopsticks are tossed every single day throughout 2,000 restaurants. This inspired German native Felix Böck to launch Chop Value, a company that repurposes bamboo chopsticks into innovative home products and yoga blocks. In just two years, they’ve transformed over 2.5 million chopsticks into beautiful long lasting decor.

Flowfold Wallet | Upcycling vs Recycling | EarthHero

Flowfold

Charley Friedman was working on a sailboat off the coast of Maine in 2005 when his old leather wallet fell to pieces. Inspired by the sailcloth he found around the docks, he crafted himself a simple wallet that was water-resistant, durable, and eco-friendly. From there, Flowfold was born! From repurposed sailcloth wallets, to discarded climbing rope dog leashes, they’ve worked for the last decade to find materials and production methods that reduce waste, use less energy, and create the smallest impact on the planet.

Green Guru | Upcycling vs Recycling | EarthHero

Green Guru

What do wetsuits, bike tires, and old yoga mats all have in common? They’re the upcycled materials that make up Green Guru’s line of handmade vegan products. Founded just a few miles away from the EarthHero office in Boulder, Colorado, Green Guru has teamed up with outdoor companies and customers nationwide to take back everything from used bike tires to nylon factory scraps. To date, they’ve prevented over 500,000 pounds of waste from entering our landfills!

Indosole Shoes | Upcycling vs Recycling | EarthHero

Indosole

In the USA alone, 300 million tires are disposed of annually, staying in our landfills for centuries, where they can pose fire risks or become bug breeding grounds (yuck!). Indosole is on a mission to change the course with their responsibly made flip flops, created from upcycled tire soles with a touch of natural rubber. Sustainably crafted without any animal products or fuel powered machinery, these kicks are ready to hit the road.

Osom Socks | Upcycled vs Recycled | EarthHero

Osom Brand

Did you know that the fast fashion industry is the second biggest polluter on the planet, right behind the oil industry? Osom Brand combats textile pollution with their upcycled socks, made from clothing scraps that are upcycled without chemicals, dyes, or toxic fabric treatments. Their ultimate goal is to “close the loop” to a circular economy, keeping textiles out of the trash by repurposing them into new things whenever possible. Awesome work, Osom!

 

At the end of the day, there’s no shortage of creative ways you can bring upcycling into your life, from shopping with brands that upcycle materials, to trying your hand at it with what you already have available!

Rethinking Recycling

It’s no secret that recycling can be a little confusing…to say the least. From following guidelines that differ not only from one town to the other, but that also depend on what waste hauler you’re using–recycling properly can take a little bit of research. That’s why, to fully kick off our “Journey to Recycling June”, the EarthHero team took a trip to Boulder, Colorado’s “Recycle Row”.

What’s Recycle Row, you say? The City of Boulder conveniently placed all of its recycling infrastructure in one place. To take the next step on our own recycling education, we toured two of these locations–the Boulder County Recycling Center (BCRC), and the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM).

We’d like to give a big thanks to Eco-Cycle for running the BCRC and CHaRM Facilities, and for leading the charge in working to transition Boulder to a Zero Waste city!

Needless to say, we got the dirt on all things recycling. While it’s easy to simply toss things in your blue bin and forget about it, there’s so much more that goes into turning our trash into brand new treasures. Here’s the EarthHero team with the breakdown:

Not-so-fun Facts with Juliet

I’ll be honest, until recently, I was what some would call a “wishful recycler”. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably hoped that recycling is as simple as throwing anything and (almost) everything paper or plastic into the bin, and walking away guilt-free. News flash: recycling doesn’t work that way, and there’s a lot more to it than you might think.

From what to do with paper towels (they’re paper, right?) to the age old “to crush, or not to crush” aluminum can debate, I had so much to say that this quickly turned into its own post. Lucky for you, you can read my full report of the 7 Surprising Things You Can’t Recycle Curbside! We’ve tried our best to chose tips that are applicable to most recycling centers, but as always, we recommend you do a little research into your local recycling guidelines. Your local recycling center, and the planet, will thank you!

Hard-to-Recycle with Hannah

Visiting the BCRC and CHaRM, I already had a good idea about what goes into recycling the little things. I try to do my best to sort everything properly, and only recycle what actually can be recycled. What I was missing, however, was understanding the impact of some of the larger items–which just happen to be the ones that cause the biggest landfill issues! My biggest takeaway from this experience was actually what to do with all of the stuff that normal recycling centers can’t take.

Recycling the big stuff

Refrigerators

When you think of recycling, do you think of your refrigerator? Probably not, but check this out! I learned recently from our friends and Project Drawdown that properly disposing of refrigerants (think: anything that’s used to keep things cold) is the #1 way to cut down on greenhouse gases. In fact, HFC’s (the main cooling culprit) has the capacity to warm the atmosphere 1,000 to 9,000 times more than carbon dioxide.

Now, we’re lucky to have CHaRM (Center for Hard to Recycle Materials) nearby, where we can recycle these more difficult items, but I know it’s not that simple everywhere. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, though! Try one of these if you’re looking to responsibly get rid of a large appliance:

  • Call up your local energy utility services to see if they offer an appliance recycling program!
  • Ask your waste management service if they offer large appliance pick-up and recycling.
  • Seek out a scrap metal recycler nearby! These facilities often have the ability to correctly recycle those cooling chemicals.
  • Many retailers will pick up your old refrigerators when you buy a new one–just ask them to make sure it will be properly recycled.

Mattresses

The awesome part about mattresses is that they have so many reusable materials. When sent to the landfill, however, that wealth of materials can backfire–think about taking up a ton of space! In the US, we dispose of about 20 million mattresses annually. That takes up to 132,000 square miles in the landfill! On average, 85% of what makes up your traditional mattress is recyclable (from the foam to the fabric to the spring!) Next time you’re upgrading your mattress, think about where you’re sending your old one.

What you can do:

  • Like appliances, retailers will typically pick up your old mattress when they bring you a new one! Just ask them to make sure it’s being properly recycled.
  • Call your local waste management center and see if they have a mattress recycling program.
  • Call your local thrift store and see if they offer mattress recycling.

Becki’s Breakdown

For me, this tour of the BCRC and ChaRM was special. Before EarthHero, I worked for Eco-Cycle, the incredible non-profit recycler that runs both the BCRC and CHaRM facilities that we toured. Throughout my time at Eco-Cycle, I worked within the community to educate others about our local recycling guidelines, and how our ability to process waste is largely dependent on the types of equipment that are available to us. The amount of times I had to explain to someone that their perfectly clean, #1 plastic container was not going to be recovered by our facility was, frankly, disheartening.

Technology to the rescue!

This time around, the tour symbolized how a community can mobilize and make big changes in the way we process waste. The BCRC had just undergone a huge upgrade, receiving two optical sorters to help more efficiently process materials. Funded in part by the Boulder County Recycling Tax, this upgrade was possible because our residents rose their hands and agreed that supporting recycling infrastructure is important to them. Now, the amount of aluminum we can recover rose by 90%, and many new shapes and types of plastics can be recovered and recycled properly. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is!

Recycling: the end destination

In the world of recycling, there’s another topic looming over the conversation: China. As some of you may know, The US exports approximately ⅓ of its total recyclable material, with nearly half of that heading to China. However, China has recently banned dozens of types of foreign recyclables from entering the country, causing a huge commotion for American recycling centers. Rumor has it that our recyclables are too contaminated, so the processing is more expensive and results in a lower quality product. We’ve heard a lot of people wondering what that means for their recyclable materials–are they just being “thrown out”?

Luckily, we’ve learned that the BCRC has created many local partnerships that can take our recyclables directly, so the materials being collected in Boulder County aren’t being trashed. Phew! However, we know not all cities will be so lucky, so we wanted to provide some advice on what you can do if your town’s recyclables are piling up.

  • This one’s obvious. Reduce, reduce reduce! When you’re grocery shopping, you can find a ton of products in reusable glass containers, or utilize reusable produce bags to cut down on unnecessary food packaging. We don’t want to sound like a broken record, but never underestimate the waste you can reduce by investing in reusable straws, coffee mugs, water bottles, utensils, and food containers.
  • Find alternative places to recycle the tricky stuff. EarthHero has recently teamed up with TerraCycle, who’s doing incredible things in the world of recycling. Their motto, which is literally “Recycle Everything”, leads them to find recycling solutions for everything from electronics, to sports equipment, to toothpaste tubes. If you have a collection of empty face wash containers, toothpaste tubes, and other empty personal care items, you can send to to EarthHero and we’ll recycle it with TerraCycle! We also have a collection of their Zero Waste Box recycling solutions available here!
  • Buy products made from recycled content (say it again for the people in the back!). Seriously, the final step in the recycling process is using collected materials to create something new. So, if you’re not buying anything made with recycled content, you’re not really participating in the full recycling process. We need to create a market for recycled materials, or this build up of unusable waste will just get worse, and that’s the last thing we need.

Ryan’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

In my efforts to stay educated on local sustainability issues, I’ve toured the local recycling center multiple times, and this time, my reaction was no different. Each time I’ve visited and viewed the continuous stream of human designed trash flying in all directions at dizzying speeds, I have mixed emotions. On one hand, it’s amazing to see so much material being diverted from the landfill and on its way to becoming new products. However, the dominant feeling is one of sadness. How did we get to this point of having so.much.stuff? How is it possible that this much material is being processed (and wasted) all over the world, every day? While recycling is certainly a massive and necessary band-aid for our consumption habits, it’s definitely not the only answer.

There are proven ways to make and consume products better, and it’s time for them to become the new normal. We’re in desperate need of a paradigm shift–we buy and consume too many things that are literally designed to end up in the landfill. Think about all the one-time use trash we generate. From food packaging, to coffee cups, to water bottles, straws, utensils, etc.

It’s moments like this that reassure me that we’re on the right path with EarthHero. If we can provide a reliable source for one-time-use replacements and products made from these recycled materials, while supporting companies that are creating products in better, more sustainable ways, we can be part of the shift towards a more sustainable future.

Recycled Products that Change the Way You Look at Trash

Does recycling really make a difference? The (annoyingly vague) answer: Yes…and no. Recycling in and of itself doesn’t save the planet from tons and tons of waste–the real difference comes from creating new products from those recycled materials. From children’s toys made of milk jugs, to wallets made of sail cloth, there are amazing companies that don’t just reduce their impact, they actively prevent trash from entering our landfills and oceans, closing the loop to a circular economy. These super cool upcycled and recycled treasures might just change the way you look at trash!

Recycled Products Minnow Skateboard

Minnow Cruiser Skateboard 

We’ve all heard the horror stories about the gyres of plastic trash (just look at what happens to plastic straws) in the oceans, or sea turtles getting tied up in plastic 6-pack rings. But how can all this ocean trash be transformed? Bureo is tackling part of the problem with their recycling program Net Positiva, working with locals in Chile to collect discarded fishing nets and turn them into something totally new. The result? Durable, eco-friendly skateboard decks, each made from 50 square feet of recycled fishing nets. It’ll arrive at your door in recycled and recyclable packaging, and when it reaches the end of its life, you can send it back to Bureo to be recycled again!

 

RADIUS Source Toothbrush | Upcycled & Recycled Products | EarthHero.com

Upcycled Money Toothbrush

Every year, the U.S. Federal Reserve removes and destroys about 5,000 tons of money, costing millions of dollars (and tons of trees!). RADIUS saw this huge waste of resources, and found a way to use this recycled money in the handles of their classic Source toothbrush. Made in Pennsylvania on low-energy machines in a women-run solar powered factory, this crafty toothbrush is certified cruelty-free by PETA and Leaping Bunny, vegan, and BPA-free. Plus, the bristles are made from vegetable-based nylon, and can be replaced, so you can keep your money handle for years and years.

 

House of Marley Chant Bluetooth Speaker | Upcycled & Recycled Products | EarthHero.com

Chant Mini Bamboo Bluetooth Speaker

This tiny speaker has a huge positive environmental impact. House of Marley’s upcycled tech and music gear not only uses recycled and upcycled materials like hemp, aluminum, plastic bottles, and cotton–they also plant a tree for every item purchased, with over 25,000 trees planted to-date! Standing at 3.3 inches tall, this little powerhouse has 6 hours of playtime, a clip to hang from your bag, and a splash resistant exterior. Superior sound, sustainably crafted.

 

Flowfold Sailcloth Wallet | Upcycled & Recycled Products | EarthHero.com

Minimalist Sailcloth Slim Wallet

Founded and crafted in Maine, Flowfold is addressing the problem of sailcloth waste with their upcycled and vegan wallets made from reclaimed racing sailcloth, originally constructed from a blend of mylar, polyester, and aramid fabrics. These sailcloths are particularly damaging to the environment due to their complex material makeup, as well as their tendency to unfurl in landfills, which can cover and “lock in” other waste. Flowfold takes this durable, lightweight material and instead creates hardy, low-impact wallets (shipped in recycled mailers!) that will last you for years.

 

Green Guru Bag | Upcycled & Recycled Products | EarthHero.com

Brooklyn Backpack

Alchemy Goods has created value out of the seemingly invaluable with their upcycled bike inner tube bags. Handmade locally in Seattle, they’ve set up programs that collect reclaimed bicycle inner tubes from bike shops across the country to use in their unique, durable bags and wallets. So far, they’ve upcycled over 500,000 tubes! With a padded laptop sleeve, padded straps, and colorful zippers–you’ll love the classic functionality paired with a bold upcycled style.

 

 

Haiku Jaunt Crossbody | Upcycled & Recycled Products | EarthHero.com

Jaunt Crossbody

Discover a bag so cute, you’d never know it’s made from 12 plastic water bottles! Haiku constructs all their vegan pieces from CyclePET, a durable recycled polyester fabric that’s water resistant, inside and out! Lift up the stylish front flap of this crossbody to reveal a RFID-blocking ID holder that protects all your vital info from theft. These bags were created by women, for women (and the planet!)

 

 

Recover Tee | Upcycled & Recycled Products | EarthHero.com

Classic Henley

The awesome power of recycling trash into treasure isn’t just for accessories–there’s some seriously amazing clothing out there that helps to combats the thousands of tons of textiles that end up in our landfills every day! This eco-tee from Bighorn, shipped in a recycled mailer, uses 65% recycled polyester and 35% recycled cotton, making it 100% a go-to closet essential. 

 

 

Green Toys Kid's Toys | Upcycled & Recycled Products | EarthHero.com

Recycling Truck Toy

What better way to teach your little one about recycling than with a recycling truck, made from recycled milk jugs? Green Toys makes all their BPA-free, phthalate-free, PVC-free toys from 100% recycled content, with no added metal axles. Manufactured locally in the USA, every pound of recycled milk jugs that goes into their fun kids toys saves enough energy to power 3,000 AAA batteries, or a laptop computer for a month!

Reclaimed Sailcloth Dog Leash | Upcycled & Recycled Products | EarthHero.comReclaimed Climbing Rope Dog Leash

The problem: rock climbing gear, especially climbing rope, is not the place to let frays and breakage slide. Lives literally depend on it! That’s why, when climbing company Sterling Rope gives their ropes a quality check, some just don’t make the cut.

The solution: Turn these still barely imperfect climbing ropes into colorful dog leashes that are strong enough to wrangle any pup. Made in America, FlowFold’s 6ft leashes keep climbing ropes out of the landfill, and your dog within reach!

 

Osom Socks | Upcycled & Recycled Products | EarthHero.comUpcycled Hiking Socks

Thanks to fast fashion, the average American will throw away 81 pounds of clothing textiles each year–which adds up to 26 billion pounds of clothing annually! Osom Brand keeps these textiles out of the trash by turning them into innovative socks made from 95% upcycled textiles. Plus, their upcycling process requires no dyes or water, and they ship their awesome socks in envelopes made from 100% recycled polyester!

rPETe Bottle Sling ChicoBag | Upcycled & Recycled Products | EarthHero.comrPETe Bottle Sling

Plastic water bottles are out–and reusables are in! But the key to making the switch is all about preparedness, and that means bringing your bottle with you wherever you wander. This neat bottle sling features an exterior made from recycled PET, a strap liner from recycled polypropylene, and a 78% recycled aluminum carabiner. You can even send this bottle sling back to ChicoBag at the end of its life to be recycled into a totally new item! That’s recycling, on recycling, on recycling.

 

7 Surprising Things You Can’t Recycle Curbside

We’ve all heard of reduce, reuse, recycle. Like most, you probably assumed that recycling was as simple as throwing anything and (almost) everything paper or plastic into the bin, and walking away guilt-free. News flash: recycling doesn’t work that way, and there’s a lot more to it than you might think.

In order for recycling to be a worthwhile way to collect and produce new materials, recycling facilities need to be profitable enough to support the recycling process–it is a business, after all! So, in addition to purchasing products made with recycled content, one of the best ways you can support recycling worldwide is to recycle properly.

Here’s some of our go-to tips for how you can recycle smarter, after reducing and reusing what you can. Your local recycling center, and the planet, will thank you!

7 Surprising Things You Can't Recycle | EarthHero | Recycling Guide

1. Anything smaller than a Post-It note

Yep, that includes candy wrappers, scrap paper, small bits of aluminum foil, most bottle caps, etc. Stuff this small often can’t be picked up by manual or electronic recycling sorters, and can end up contaminating the rest of the recycling stream. Contamination simply means that foreign materials end up in the finished “bale” of recycled material, dirtying the finished product, and lowering the price the recycling center can resell that material for. With some items, like aluminum foil, you can save it up and form it into a ball larger than 2” wide. For most of these other small items, however, you’ll save the workers at the recycling center both time and energy by just tossing it.

Recycling Guide | EarthHero | Surprising Things you Can't Recycle

2. Plastic bags

It’s plastic…so it can be recycled with everything else, right? Wrong. Thin plastic bags and films (think sandwich baggies or grocery bags) get caught up in the machines that sort recyclables, stopping the giant gears and potentially causing major damage. For most facilities, this means someone has to go in, by hand, to remove all the plastic bags, usually multiple times per day. If you’ve forgotten your reusable grocery bag and end up with disposables, we suggest you collect your single-use bags and drop them off at a large grocery store chain–most of them will take back grocery bags and send them to a separate recycling center. They must be clean and dry, and if you’re confused about what types of plastic films can be recycled, check for the #2 or #4 on the plastic to make sure they’re an acceptable material. When sent to the right facility, these plastic bags will be used to create new plastic bags, or plastic lumber for furniture, fencing, or playground equipment!

Recycling Guide | EarthHero

3. Frozen meal boxes

These tricky little boxes look like they’re just made of paperboard, but there’s a secret lining of plastic that makes this freezer essential totally unrecyclable by most centers. Even if the box says it’s recyclable, many facilities will send it to the landfill, as the polyethylene lining reduces the quality of any paper that ends up being recycled with it. Although there are a few cities like San Diego and Phoenix that allow these boxes to be recycled, we always recommend checking with your local recycler before making assumptions. If you’re unsure, do everyone a favor and toss it in the trash next time–or better yet, ditch the frozen meal altogether!

Shredded Paper | Recycling Guide | EarthHero4. Shredded paper

Shredding bills and personal information is vital, so don’t stop doing that. But the sad truth is that thin paper pieces are too lightweight, and can fly around the recycling center with just a little wind. This floating paper can contaminate glass, aluminum, and metal recycling streams, or even get blown outside of the recycling plant and pollute the local environment. Check out your local recycling center for this one–some feature a secure paper shredder that protects your privacy and ensures your paper makes it to the recycling center, contamination free. Bonus points: if you can’t find an acceptable shredding service, just compost it!

Paper towels | Recycling Guide | EarthHero

5. Paper towels

Here’s another tricky one–paper towels. They’re literally called “paper”, so why can’t they head to the recycling center with all of your other notes and files? When paper gets recycled, it downgrades into a lower quality paper each time. Napkins and paper towels are usually made from this lower quality material, and are the end of the line for recycled papers. Sticking paper towels, especially used ones, into your curbside bin will just contaminate the clean paper that’s already been collected. Instead, stick it in your backyard or commercial compost bin, where it can turn into soil!

Starbucks Cups | recycling guide | EarthHero

6. Starbucks hot cups

Lattes, matcha, cappuccinos, whatever–Starbucks cups for hot drinks (or pretty much any other coffee shop cup) can’t be recycled due to a thin plastic lining that keeps your coffee cup leak-free. This plastic lining is impossible to separate from the paper layer, rendering both materials non-recyclable. While they’re busy putting millions of dollars into finding the right compostable single-use cup, we suggest you swap it out for a reusable alternative you won’t need to put in the landfill.

Recycling Guide | EarthHero | Aluminum cans

7. Crushed aluminum cans

Did you know that aluminum and glass can be infinitely recycled? Yep, forever, and ever, and ever (and ever!). But, when you crush your aluminum cans, there’s a chance it could end up being missed by the recycling sorter and land in the landfill. Aluminum is the most recycled beverage container on the market, so great work there, but we still have a long way to go! Next time you’re enjoying an ice cold soda or drinking a refreshing beer, be sure to leave your aluminum cans uncrushed so it can be recycled for decades to come!

Meet the new golden rule: when in doubt, throw it out. But educate yourself so there’s less doubt to begin with! Most local recycling centers have detailed info on their website about what exactly they recycle, and what needs to go to the landfill. We wish everything could be recycled and recyclable (circular economy, what what!)–but until that day comes, let’s help out the awesome folks at recycling centers across the country by sorting our waste the right way.

Know of a confusing item that we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments below!

 

The Lifecycle of a Plastic Straw

The Final Straw

If you’ve been paying attention recently, you’ve seen businesses and cities alike are banning plastic straws due to their inability to be recycled or biodegrade at the end of their life. If plastic straws aren’t busy taking up space in our landfills, they can usually be found polluting our oceans, disrupting marine ecosystems, and trapping nearby animals. At this rate, if we don’t cut back on our plastic usage, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 (!!!)

So why keep using single-use plastic straws if they’re so destructive towards the environment? While many of us are unaware just how bad it is for the planet to sip that iced coffee through a straw, others don’t think that their “small” amount of waste can have an impact. The truth is, when just a little bit of trash is created by a whole lot of people, thousands of tons of waste can be produced in mere minutes.

The good news? Straws don’t have to suck. With reusable options made from glass, bamboo, stainless steel, and even compostable materials, you can have your smoothie and sip it too! Join us below as we break down “the break down” of yucky plastic straws, and give you all the facts you need to buy a truly better alternative.

plastic-straw-microplastics

Used For Minutes, Here For Centuries

Invented in 1888, the modern straw was made from just paper strips and glue to solve a common issue: the natural rye straws once used to sip whiskey left a grassy taste that the new straws did not. Flash forward a century later, and paper straws have almost been entirely replaced by their plastic counterparts, made from a chemical called polypropylene (composed of molecules of toxic propylene gas!)

Polypropylene, and plastic for that matter, is designed to withstand being submerged in water without falling apart. In other words, they’re made to last (and last they do!) This chemical substance, called “petroleum bi-product polypropylene” in full, never biodegrades and can stay in our environment for thousands of years.

Believe it or not, every plastic straw that was ever created still exists in some form today, whether it be in a landfill or the ocean. To add salt to the wound, straws are often individually packaged in unnecessary paper or plastic, and they travel huge distances from the factory, to your dinner table, and then back to the landfill. Just think of all the carbon emissions that come from simply transporting all of these flimsy straws!

Once a plastic straw is used (which is usually about one drink long), it will get thrown away and hauled off to a waste management plant–if the wind hasn’t already blown it from your trash bin and into our waterways, that is! At the waste management plant, there’s three places your straw is likely to go: the incinerator, the ground, or the landfill. While the incinerator may sound like a better option because it completely eliminates your plastic straw, it also releases yucky toxic dioxins into the air that can settle onto our crops and eventually end up stored in our bodies. Depending on your city, they are sometimes buried in the ground, leaching more chemicals into the soil and groundwater than if they were sent to the landfill. Most disposable straws, however, end up in overflowing landfills, where they remain for centuries!

If you try the recycling route for your plastic straw, you’ll be shocked to find that most centers can’t recycle straws at all.  Many mechanical recycling sorters can’t identify the lightweight item, which increases the potential for them to slip through the sorter and contaminate entire recycling bundles (costing recycling plants time & money!) Despite your good intentions, it’s likely that your straw will still end up in the landfill, where it will outlive even your great, great, great grandchildren.

Garbage Patch Madness

Believe it or not, plastic straws are one of the top polluters on our beaches. Whether you recycle or toss it, the lightweight plastic can get blown by the wind into our waterways and rivers, at which point it’s nearly guaranteed that it will eventually end up in the ocean.

When trash floats around in our ocean, it often finds itself meeting other plastics in a gyre, aka a circular ocean current, where it can stay for years. The largest accumulation of trash in the world, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, covers a surface area twice the size of Texas!

While the straws may break down in size in these gyres, the materials are with us forever, and broken down plastic isn’t necessarily a good thing. When these plastics break down into particles less than 5 millimeters in size, they become microplastics. These small plastic “crumbs” are even easier for marine life to consume, and even harder (virtually impossible) to remove from the ocean. The problem has gotten so bad that at least 100 million marine mammals are killed each year from plastic pollution alone, as well as a countless number of fish.

plastic-straw-environmental-impacts

No straw, please…

Straws are everywhere–in your water glass at a restaurant, in your frappuccino to-go, and even in your vodka cranberry at the bar. Lucky for you, making the switch from single-use straws can be easier than you think! By simply saying “no straw, please!” when ordering, you can make a huge impact. With just three little words you can help reduce the number of straws that end up in our landfills or polluting the oceans, and show restaurants that consumer preferences are changing around plastic. That’s the power of voting with your dollar!

Remembering to say “no straw, please!” does take some getting used to, and some servers are bound to forget your special request. If you do get stuck with a plastic straw here and there, don’t give up! You can minimize the negative impact by making sure that your garbage bags are tied tightly before going to the landfill, so your straws don’t get carried away in the wind. Just keep up your no-straw efforts, and with enough consumer action, businesses will start to take notice.

And don’t worry… you’re not in this alone. Tons of environmental groups and nonprofits are taking a stand against single-use plastic straws, pushing for taxation or bans around the toxic accessory. Organizations like 5 Gyres envision a world free from plastic pollution, and even founded the Plastic Pollution Coalition to bring together businesses and leaders who support a plastic-free planet! But it doesn’t stop there. Innovative companies all over the world are popping up with plastic-free alternatives to the classic straw, using everything from bamboo, to glass, stainless steel, and even compostable paper. Not sure which is right for you? Join us as we break down the most sustainable options below!

Straws Don’t Have to Suck

Straws aren’t the problem–plastic is. By switching out one-time-use plastic straws for more durable versions that can last you years, you reduce the 1.6 straws tossed daily by the average American (which really adds up over time!)

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Simply Straws

Did you know that glass can be infinitely recycled? Unlike plastic alternatives, glass straws can last you for years when taken care of properly, and at the end of their life can be recycled again and again. Plus, they contain no toxic BPA’s that could leach into your hot drink, and are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning. From wide smoothie straws to thin sippin’ straws, Simply Straws has tons of fun colors for everyone to enjoy, all with a lifetime guarantee. Say hello to the last straw you’ll ever need with Simply Straws!

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Brush with Bamboo

For hundreds of years, natural bamboo straws were traditionally used in rural parts of India for drinking beer. Flash forward to today and those same hand-made straws are being crafted from sustainably grown bamboo for Brush with Bamboo’s organic drinking straws. Made from real whole bamboo stalks that haven’t been re-compressed or processed, these artisan-made straws are CERES Certified Organic and can be used with any drink. Plus, when you’re done with these durable vegan straws, you can toss them in any commercial compost (instead of the landfill!)

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U Konserve

There’s over 5 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing more than 250,000 pounds, floating in our oceans (that’s over 700 pieces of trash a person!) With U Konserve’s non-toxic stainless steel straws you can reduce plastic waste in your own home, and in our oceans. This certified B Corp promises BPA’s, phthalates, and lead stay out of your straw, so you can enjoy your drink without added chemicals. On top of that, the durable food-grade stainless steel is basically indestructible, so whether your straws are nestled in the bottom of your purse or tucked into the corner of the dishwasher, you’ll never have to worry about broken pieces!

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Bambu

Grasping for straws? Swap that disposable straw for this USDA Certified Organic bamboo straw from bambu. Biodegradable & compostable, these reusable bamboo straws are naturally cut from nature to make every sip a little more beautiful. Made from sustainably grown and harvested bamboo that’s ultra-durable for years of use, these naturally anti-microbial and water-resistant bamboo drinking straws are sure to become a favorite in your home.

Sip Smarter

Plastic pollution, and plastic straws specifically, has been getting more and more attention, as consumers like you become more educated about our impact on the planet. Join us as we take a stand against plastic straws! The little things we do have a big impact on the world, so lets make it a little cleaner by sucking the single-use plastic straws out of our lives.

Reduce Your Food Waste

Did you know that food waste takes up more space in our landfills than any other material (21.6% of landfill space, in fact!) On the surface, this may not seem like a huge deal… because food decomposes, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the whole story when it comes to food waste. 

When organic matter decomposes in landfills, it gets trapped among all of the other plastic and non-organic matter, which seals it off from distributing nutrients back into the soil correctly. This creates and releases methane, which is roughly 23 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.

It’s no secret that it’s important to reduce food waste, both locally and globally, but changing personal habits can be difficult and it can take time. The key to minimizing waste is reducing how much you “consume” in the first place, which will leave you with a decluttered mentality and a happier wallet. As conscious consumers, we are the pioneers in encouraging a shift towards more package-free food options by changing our shopping habits and becoming aware of the items we purchase. When you only buy what you and your household will definitely consume while avoiding unnecessary packaging, you can protect the environment from pollution, conserve finite resources, and even save money in the process. It’s a win-win!

Don’t know where to start? Here are some zero waste tips to clear your cart and home of excess waste!

Package Free Grocery Shopping

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Aisles in conventional supermarkets are full of products that are pre-packaged in non-biodegradable materials or high-grade plastics. Think microwaveable popcorn: kernels inside of a paper bag wrapped with plastic, encased in a cardboard box. Or picture your pre-cut veggies, sitting on a styrofoam tray wrapped in (again) plastic. There is so much wasted packaging that can be avoided by buying items like popcorn kernels in bulk, and vegetables in their whole form. Not only is plastic-free better for the environment, but it’s typically much less expensive.

According to the EPA, 23% of landfills are full of packaging materials, many of which are food related. Take a stand and step away from unnecessary packaging. Making a change takes time, intention, and proper planning. Next time you go to the store, try to reduce your footprint by doing just one or more of the following…

BYOB – Bring Your Own Bag! 

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Avoid pre-cut/pre-packaged items, especially produce, and forgo the plastic produce bags. The only purpose these serve is to get your produce from the grocery store to your home. Instead, opt for your own reusable produce bag or create your own by using an old pillowcase.

When it comes time for the question, “paper or plastic?,” instead go with option 3: hand over the reusable bags you brought from home. Reusable grocery bags and produce bags are easily stowable in your glovebox or backseat, and can reduce a ton of non-recyclable plastic bags from entering your home. Keep these bags in a handy spot in your car so you’re always ready to go, even for those impromptu trips. If you’re a rockstar on your road bike and prefer to take that instead of a car (props to you), try a grocery pannier–they are the perfect size for shopping trip necessities and will lay flat against your bike when not in use.

reduce-food-waste-bulkBuy in Bulk

Buying in bulk is another great way to pass on cardboard boxes and plastic bags. Look for items like dried grains, nuts, candy, spices, flour, or sugar to buy in bulk. To do this, you’ll just need some empty containers to take to and from the store.

Mason jars are a fan favorite, or you can reuse glass containers already lying around the house (we love pickle jars and pasta sauce jars!). Cloth bags or small food canisters can also be a great way to carry your bulk food items from the store to your home. Shopping for oils and liquids? Use empty wine bottles or a growler for craft beer or fresh kombucha! Take it one step further and bring your containers to the deli counter for meats and cheeses! 

How to take on the bulk bins:

  1. Weigh the empty container and note it–this can be done at home, or stores usually have scales
  2. Fill the container with whatever your heart desires
  3. Note the PLU (Price Look Up) or Bin#–you can write it on your container or simply just take a photo of it on your phone
  4. Pay & enjoy–it’s that easy!

Plus, checkout our top ten tips for buying in bulk here!

Not all packaging is equal

Prepackaged items in grocery stores are popular for their convenience, though they’re often unhealthier and more processed than fresh, natural alternatives–but let’s be realistic; nobody’s perfect. We all have our indulgences, and sometimes you just gotta grab something and go. When you do need to buy something that’s packaged, try aiming for recyclable materials like glass, aluminum, and cardboard/paper boxes, and avoid plastics and styrofoam.

Food Friendliness… Lets Taco-bout it

You’re an expert on packaging waste; you know why it’s bad, and how to avoid it. Let’s spend some time on how to reduce food waste: the seed of life and star of the game. Food waste is a global epidemic. In fact, 1/3 of all food produced in the world is unconsumed. Believe it or not, over half of that wasted food is the fault of retailers and consumers in industrialized nations. In the United States alone, 30-40% of food supply is wasted at the retail and consumer level, creating about 35 million tons of food per year! Worth about $161 billion dollars, that could feed a whole population of people, but instead it’s decomposing in landfills and producing that environmentally degrading greenhouse gas, methane.

While these facts are scary and unsettling, we have the power to change it! Here are some tools to start the transition towards reducing your waste food at home.

Plan Ahead

It sounds simple, but it’s the little things that count. Take inventory of what you already have in your fridge and pantry before going to the market to ensure you aren’t over-purchasing. Make a list and have a plan of meals for the week to avoid impulse buys, which greatly contribute to food waste. Refrain from over-serving food and make sure to save your leftovers. Our eyes are often times bigger than our stomachs, which can lead to a bunch of wasted food. Start by serving yourself modest portions on smaller plates, and go back for seconds if you find your tummy is still grumbling for more. Save what you don’t finish and eat it for tomorrow’s lunch, or get crafty in the kitchen and create a new dish out of what’s left.

reduce-food-waste-ugly-veggiesPick the Not-So-Perfect Produce

So many fruits and vegetables get tossed because they aren’t picture perfect, even though they are completely edible and full of nutrients. Bruises can be cut off and odd shapes don’t mean bad tastes. Give the imperfects a little TLC next time you’re at the store. (Bonus: farmers markets usually offer a discounted price for blemished produce, just ask for “seconds” or “imperfects”). You’ll be saving food, dollars, and resources!

Shop the Local Farmers Market

For those of you who are lucky enough to live in an area where fresh food is grown locally, take advantage of it! Local fruits and vegetables are much fresher, since they begin to lose nutrients once they are harvested. Experience the variety that traditional grocery stores don’t always have: purple cauliflower, heirloom tomatoes, and quail eggs. By shopping locally for seasonal produce, you’re helping to preserve the farmland and green space of your region, while also minimizing your carbon footprint! Support your farmers and embrace the community feel of your local market.

 

Make it last!

Food is always better when it’s fresh… did you know that some materials can keep your produce fresher, for longer?

There are a ton of options for wrapping up your sliced lemons, halved avocados, and diced carrots. Here are some of our favorites!

The reusable resealable!

Replace your resealable plastic baggies with something that’s more durable, freezer save, dishwasher safe, and that keeps your food super fresh. Plus, these silicone bags come in a wide variety of colors, making food storage just a little more fun! There are too many awesome features of this bag to delve into here, but check them out to learn more!

 

EarthHero - Original Food Huggers - 5 pk - 6

Keep it fresh with a hug

Food Huggers are specially designed to keep fruits and veggies fresh and moisturized longer, in five stretchable sizes for differing produce sizes! Just pop this over the end of your cut fruits and veggies (love avocados?), and the seal will make sure that it will stay fresh until you need it next. No more slicing off that ‘not-so-fresh’ end!

Bonus: these work great over opened cans, too!

Bye plastic wrap, hello naturalEarthHero - Small Beeswax Wraps 3 Pack 3

We get it–food wraps are super convenient. We don’t get why plastic should be the only option, though. Check out these beeswax cloths instead! Simply mold these around your foods with the warmth of your hands, and they’ll mold to the perfect shape. Beeswax is a natural preservative, so your fruits and veggies will stay bright and ready for your next snack. Looking for a vegan option? Check these vegan cloths out instead!

In the end…

Freeze Your Produce and Save Your Scraps

It’s super easy to buy too many fruits or vegetables and not be able to finish them before going bad. Reduce food waste by preserving your produce and saving them for another time by sticking them in the freezer. Cut the produce up and put them in mason jars for headache-free storage. You can keep them frozen for a year before the quality starts to decline, so there is definitely time to find a use for the leftovers. These are perfect for making smoothies when the craving hits, making banana bread, or adding to yogurt or ice cream as a topping!

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It’s also a good idea to repurpose other scraps including carrot tops, onion skins, and meat bones (stay with us here…). Keep them in the freezer, and once you have enough gathered, make a veggie or bone broth!

You can put your coffee grounds to good use by mixing them with brown sugar and coconut oil to hydrate and scrub dead skin away. Did you know banana peels can be used to whiten your teeth? Try rubbing the peels on your teeth once or twice a day after brushing. They can also be used to shine your shoes! Rub the inside of the peel across your tattered leather shoes and watch them shine. You’ll be surprised at how far your kitchen scraps will go! Want to DIY a bit? Check out some our zero waste home tips here!

Compost

For those leftovers you just can’t salvage, scrape your food waste into an odor-free compost bin and feed them back to mother nature. Most compost bins feature a charcoal filter to absorb odors, so you won’t even know it’s there. Chopping up a storm? This compost bin makes it simple to swipe scraps off the cutting board and into the bin, thanks to its nifty cabinet attachment–and it perfect for freezing scraps, like we mentioned before! 

Some cities will pick up organic waste right at your home and others may have local drop off locations. You can see what’s available near you at findacomposter.com, or print the awesome composting guides below! When in doubt, check out EcoCycle’s composting guideline chart, and these guidelines for what non-food items you can compost! Plus, check out the EarthHero blog on How-To Compost here!

The Take-Away

No matter how hard we try, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate waste from our lives. Start at the source and cut down on food packaging when possible! When items have reached the end of their life and can no longer be reused or repurposed, dispose of everything properly. Our goal isn’t to be 100% waste free (shoot for the moon, though!), but it’s to take steps in the right direction of eliminating how much waste we are producing. 

Ready to take zero-waste past the kitchen? Check out how to start the transition here!