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Category Archives: Trash and Recycling

January Green Tip: How to Dispose of Hazardous Waste

For each month of 2016, I plan to highlight a simple, easy tip to help you to contribute to a better, cleaner, greener environment. All of the tips will be either little or no cost, easy to do, and help you generally be a better local and global citizen.

For my first post, I will cover how to dispose of hazardous waste. During this post-Christmas, pre-Spring-cleaning time of year, it’s the perfect time to cover this topic.

Hazardous waste includes items like household cleaners, paint, automotive products, pesticides, fluorescent light bulbs, batteries of any kind, and e-waste (computers, cell phones, or almost any other electronic device). These items should NEVER be placed in your curbside bin, flushed down the drain, or dumped in the storm drain. They are toxic to plants, animals and humans and must be disposed of properly.

Some items (rechargeable batteries, CFL’s) can easily be disposed of at your local home improvement store. For example, the Lowe’s in Rancho Santa Margarita has waste bins for these items conveniently located by the customer service area. I know, the photo is not great, but here is what the bin at that store looks like:

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Cell phones can generally be returned to your carrier or donated to charities, like Cell Phones for Soldiers.

Many local schools and organizations collect e-waste such as computers, monitors and digital cameras as a fundraising opportunity. Our local high school has a collection event next month.

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But other items like paint, motor oil, and pesticides may be a bit trickier. That’s where the hazardous waste services come into play. These free services are located in most counties. There are four here in Orange County – Irvine, Anaheim, Huntington Beach and San Juan Capistrano.

Maybe you think it takes too much time, or it’s a hassle, or “it won’t make a difference if I just throw these few batteries in the regular trash can.”

So to demonstrate just how quick and easy it is, here is a video I did a few years ago for my OC Family blog where I take you along on a trip to Orange County’s household hazardous waste collection center in Irvine.

The trip didn’t turn out exactly as I planned (or maybe didn’t plan) – take a look:

Needless to say, I do recommend you leave your iPhone safely stowed away, but I can’t stress enough how fast and simple it is to dispose of this stuff properly. Also, it’s completely FREE.

A complete list of items accepted at these locations can be found and downloaded here.

Instead of throwing out those old cleaning products, paints, batteries, fertilizer, pesticides, or e-waste, place them in a box in your garage, and make a quick trip once or twice a year to your local hazardous waste disposal facility.

Each location in Orange County is open from 9:00am to 3:00pm Tuesday through Saturday – swing by on your lunch break, or when you are out running errands on Saturday. It only takes a minute to make a difference.

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Everything You Need to Know About California’s Plastic Bag Ban

On Friday, August 30, 2014, the California state legislature enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags. If signed into law, the measure would become the first of its kind in America.

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A number of cities and counties in California, including Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach, have already passed their own ordinances against use of plastic bags by retailers. But at a state-wide level, this ban will be the first in the United States.

The bill, approved by the CA Senate, must still be signed into law by Sept. 30 by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

The measure would ban grocery stores from handing out single-use grocery bags with customers’ purchases, but does allow retailers to charge 10 cents per bag for paper and reusable bags. The bill also includes $2 million in loans to help plastic bag manufacturers shift to the new model.

The ban prohibits the use of plastic bags in grocery stores and pharmacies beginning July 1, 2015, and goes into effect for convenience and liquor stores on that date a year later.

Although the ban is still not officially signed into law, the naysayers are already speaking up to offer criticism and complaints. Here are just a few that I’ve heard so far, along with a response to each…

It’s too hard to remember to bring my own bags.

If you are like most Californians, you spend a lot of your time in the car. Just stash your reusable bags in your trunk, so you will always have them with you when you are running errands. After unpacking your groceries at home, simply put the bags back in your car for your next use.

If that’s still not convenient enough for you, stash a couple of Chico Bags in your purse, backpack or bag. Small, reusable bags that shrink into a small pouch, Chico bags take up virtually no room and are always with you when you need them. They wash super easily too. They are literally one of my favorite inventions ever.

But, I still might forget my bags.

You may still purchase either paper or reusable bags for 10 cents each at the time of purchase. You will not be forced to carry all your items in your arms to the car, I promise.

I don’t think I should have to pay 10 cents for something that is now free.

If you think you aren’t already paying for plastic bags right now, think again. More than 10 billion plastic bags are used in California each year, according to an estimate by Californians Against Waste, an advocacy group that supported the bill. This group further estimates that California’s tax payers spend between $37 million to $107 million annually to manage plastic bag litter in our state.

Plastic bags are also an environmental nightmare, littering our roadways, rivers, oceans, mountains, and everything in between.

In California, there is particular concern that the bags, when swept out to sea, harm ocean life. When floating in the ocean, plastic bags look like jelly fish, and end up being consumed by loggerhead sea turtles and other marine life. If not consumed, the bags break down into micro-plastic particles, which are toxic to marine life – and to humans. Those small bits of toxic plastic end up in the guts of animals or wash up on shorelines, where we come into direct contact with the toxins.

Can’t we just recycle the plastic bags?

The reality is, plastic bags are rarely recycled. In fact, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) indicates that in 2012, the category of plastics which includes bags, sacks, and wraps was recycled at a rate of only about 12 percent. What’s more, the plastic recycling process is very labor and energy intensive – as compared to aluminum, glass and paper. There are also fewer applications for the resulting recycled material.

When plastics are recycled, it’s generally referred to as “downcycling”, which basically means that the incoming bottles, bags, etc. can only be recycled to make a lower-quality form of plastic. Plastic water bottles, for example, cannot be recycled into new plastic bottles. Instead, the resins from plastic bottles are used to make fibers, that can be used in pillows, insulating fill for jackets, etc. Common products that are made from recycled plastics (toys, car parts, plastic lumber, drainage pipes, clothing fibers, and trash receptacles) usually cannot be recycled – making plastics a “dead-end” waste stream.

While recycling plastic is still much better than throwing in the trash, reducing the overall use of plastics is the best possible scenario.

But I use my plastic bags to … (clean up dog messes, line my trash cans, carry home dirty clothes, etc.).

There are still plenty of plastic bags in the world – and most are used only once thrown in the trash. There are produce bags; bread bags; bags your to-go restaurant orders are packaged in; and many, many more.

If you think outside the box a little bit, you will see that you already have enough plastic bags for most purposes. For example, my favorite doggie waste bags are tortilla bags – yes, the bags that your tortillas are packaged in. They are great because they are a perfect size for dog waste cleanup, and have a ziplock-type closing at the top that seals in that unpleasant smell – keeping your outdoor trash can smelling like something other than dog poop when you open the lid.

Finally, whether measured by dollars and cents or in terms of our own health, we are all already paying the price for those free, cheap, ubiquitous plastic bags. It’s time to step up and do the right thing. This new ban may cause you to have to think (for ten seconds when you immediately get out of the car), “Oh wait, let me grab my bags from the trunk”, or pay a few extra cents at checkout, or save a few of the plastic bags that you normally toss to use again.

You have to ask yourself if this small inconvenience (that you will become accustomed to with just a little time) will be worth the long term gains for our environment, our health, and ultimately future generations.

As for me, I vote yes. I hope you will do the same.

Plastics by the Numbers

I get asked a lot about plastics. I think it’s because many people are confused about the different types of plastics, what is and is not recyclable, and what all those little numbers in triangles mean.

Plastics are a big problem. They are made from a non-renewable source (petroleum), can leach toxins into your food or drink, and some types are virtually unrecyclable.

In my ideal world, we wouldn’t use plastic at all. However, that’s pretty unrealistic so what’s the answer? I think it’s to use plastics more wisely and more sparingly. You can reduce your use of disposable plastic. You can also choose safer plastics, particularly for those items that are likely to come into contact with your mouth –  the most common way the chemicals in plastic enter our bodies.

The first step to choosing safer plastics is to understand what the numbers represent. So turn your plastic container over, check out the number inside the triangle, and read on to see what those numbers mean.

Safer plastics include:

  • #1 PETE or PET (polyethylene terephthalate)  – this plastic is used for most clear beverage bottles, such as water bottles, and two-liter soda bottles. It is one of the most commonly recycled plastics on the planet. The key here is to think about the No. 1 meaning “one-time use”. So don’t reuse single-use plastics. They can break down and release chemicals into your food or beverage when used repeatedly.
  • #2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene) – used to make most milk jugs, shampoo bottles, and laundry detergent bottles. Because No. 2 plastic has been found not to leach, many reusable water bottles are now made from this plastic rather than No. 7 as they were previously.
  • #4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene) – used in most plastic shopping bags, food storage bags, some cling wraps and some squeeze bottles.
  • #5 PP (polypropylene) – used in opaque, hard containers, including some baby bottles, cups and bowls, and reusable storage container (i.e. Tupperware). Drinking straws, yogurt containers, and cottage cheese containers are sometimes made with this. This plastic has a higher temperature limit than the others, so it is sometimes referred to as “food-grade plastic”.

Avoid These Plastics:

  • #3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) – commonly called “vinyl” is used in commercial plastic wraps and salad dressing bottles, shower curtains, and believe it or not, kids toys, backpacks, lunch bags, and binders. PVC contains phthalate (softeners need to make the plastic bend) and they have been found to interfere with hormonal development. The production of and burning of PVC plastic releases dioxin, a known carcinogen, into the atmosphere. It’s bad for our health and bad for the environment.
  • #6 PS (polystyrene)  – used in Styrofoam cups, meat trays and “clam-shell”-type containers. No. 6 plastics can release potentially toxic materials (including styrene), especially when heated. Yep, that’s right, when heated. So that insulated Styrofoam coffee cup and the “to go” container that you put hot food in, well those don’t seem like such a good idea do they? Also, styrofoam is the largest contributor to ocean plastic pollution and is virtually unrecyclable.
  • #7 Other  – A wide-range of plastic containers are lumped into this category – basically any plastic not rated 1-6. The plastic to be concerned about in this category are the hard polycarbonate plastic bottles which contain bisphenol-A (BPA). No. 7 plastic is used in some reusable water bottles, baby bottles, and some metal can linings. Soft or cloudy colored plastic is not polycarbonate. Avoid polycarbonate, especially for children’s food and drinks. Trace amounts of BPA can migrate from these containers, particularly if used for hot food or liquids.

In addition to understanding the numbers, you can also use plastics more safely by following these tips:

  • Don’t microwave in plastic containers. Heat can break down plastics and release chemical additives into your food and drink. Use ceramic or glass instead. Cover food in the microwave with a paper towel instead of plastic wrap.
  • Use plastic containers for cool liquids only, not hot.
  • Don’t reuse single-use plastics (the number one – PET plastics). They can break down and release plastics chemicals when used repeatedly.
  • Do not use old, scratched plastic containers. Exposures to plastics chemicals may be greater when the surface is worn down.
  • Wash plastics on the top rack of the dishwasher, farther from the heating element, or by hand.
  • When using an electric mixer, use a glass or metal bowl instead of plastic to avoid chipping bits of plastic into your food.
  • Use wooden cutting boards instead of plastic ones.
  • Pick a cotton shower curtain instead of vinyl.
  • Choose glass or BPA-free baby bottles with a clear silicone nipple.
  • Avoid plastic to mouth contact, especially for babies and kids. Give your baby natural teethers like frozen washcloths.
  • Look for toys made of natural materials, like wool, cotton, and uncoated wood.
  • To avoid PVC in school supplies, check out the Center for Health Environment and Justice’s (CHEJBack-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies, which lists the most common back-to-school supplies made out of toxic PVC and suggests safer PVC-free products in over 20 product categories.

Finally, when rethinking and reducing your plastic, remember to recycle any that you don’t need or don’t feel safe using any more. Keep in mind that No. 1 and No. 2 are almost universally recyclable. Other numbers depend upon your trash service provider.

If you are serviced by Waste Management in Orange County, you can go to this page of their website, select your service area, and bring up a list of the types of plastics they accept for recycling in your curbside bin. In my service area (County of Orange Unincorporated), Waste Management accepts plastics numbered 1-7 for recycling.

To simplify plastics recycling, here is the basic rule of thumb – if the plastic bottle has a neck that’s smaller than the body and has “alor2” symbol on the bottom, nearly every recycling program will accept it.

And due to recent changes in the recycling process, you can now leave your caps on the bottles when you recycle them. Yay, no more removing and trashing the caps prior to recycling!

Spotted in OC: 7g Recycling Bins

I just saw these today in the parking lot of the Lowe’s in Rancho Santa Margarita.


I had to take some pictures and then go home to investigate further.

Turns out, these are placed there by a company called 7th Generation Recycling. 7G partners with local non-profits, religious organizations, schools, community groups and others to recycle clothing, shoes & household textiles. The company’s collection efforts ensure that the recycled clothing benefits people in our local communities as well as people in Third World Countries.

It is a “green” business, not a non-profit like, say Goodwill or Salvation Army, so keep that in mind if you do donate. But 7th Generation Recycling appears to be a social responsible business that helps promote charitable recycling drives to benefit non-profits and local community programs.

What I do like about these bins is the convenience factor. When I have donations I can just put them in my trunk and the next time I see these out and about, I can toss it in the bin – rather than making a special out-of-the-way trip to a designated donation site.

You can place in the bins any used clothing item and household textile such as pants, dresses, hats, shirts, drapes, curtains, blankets, towels, sheets, handbags, belts, and paired shoes. Stuffed Animals also acceptable. Yay, we have no shortage of those I’d like to see passed on. 😉

Textiles must be dry and in clean condition. Material that is wet or mildewed or contaminated from any liquid is not acceptable. Rubber, plastic toys, carpets, and floor mats are not acceptable.

So, if you have a few bags of clothing, shoes, or accessories taking up space in your home, toss it in your trunk and maybe you will find one of these bins in your local area. Or, swing by this one here in the Santa Margarita Marketplace in RSM.