Now that the holiday gift-giving season is behind us, we’ve got a lot of waste to dispose of.  Plastic wrappers and containers, wrapping paper and cardboard boxes, and now-obsolete electronic gadgets (e-waste) are likely sitting in piles in your home or garbage bin awaiting garbage trucks to haul them away. (If you’re in New York City, like I am, the blizzard might keep those trucks out-of-service for a few more days…)

Here’s a short guide to why we should care about these three kinds of waste, and the most environmentally-friendly ways to recycle or dispose of them.

1. Plastics and the Pacific Trash Vortex

In the oceans are powerful currents of warm and cool water that keep the seas constantly churning.  These currents are constrained by landmasses – by the continents – to create huge circular currents referred to as gyres.

In the Pacific Ocean, one gyre is called the North Pacific Gyre.  Scientists are now learning that this loop has been trapping plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris for decades, forming what some call the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  The garbage patch extends over an area that might be as large as the continental United States, or as small as the state of Texas; either way, it’s an enormous pile of garbage floating in our ocean.

Nearly 30 million tons of plastic are thrown away each year, and it is predicted that 80% of the plastics in the gyre come from land sources and 20% from sea sources (although it is difficult to scientifically substantiate the sources of these plastics, and the land-to-sea ratio is contested).  Regardless, some of the plastics we dispose of do inadvertently find their way into the watershed, to head out to sea.  On the east coast, our trash has found its way into the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, although the Pacific patch is more notorious.

The accumulation of plastic garbage in the vortex – and in our landfills, as well – is a huge cause for concern.  For that reason, it’s extraordinarily important to recycle diligently and reduce plastic consumption.  Many plastics, like wrappers, are unfortunately non-recyclable.  But many more are – so make sure to check local recycling regulations, and sort garbage accordingly.  Click here to learn more about the Pacific Garbage Patch.

2. E-Waste and Our Air and Waterways

When we receive new gadgets at Christmas, it’s often the older, obsolete gifts we wind up submitting to the landfill.  In recent years, the amount of electronic waste – or E-waste – has been growing substantially due to falling costs of technology, and planned obsolescence.

In the United States, it is estimated that nearly 50 million tons of E-waste are produced each year – around 30 million computers.  The EPA estimates that only 15 to 20 percent of this waste is recycled annually, and that 70% of heavy metals in landfills come from discarded electronics.  This is a huge amount of waste, and runoff from electronic waste can contribute toxins like mercury, cadmium, beryllium, and lead into human and natural waterways.

There are E-waste recycling options available, but one has to be careful not to choose an E-waste recycling program that damages the environment.  Some E-waste recycling programs in developing nations, especially, pump non-recyclable E-waste directly into streams and landfills.  In New York City, one of the most reliable and popular E-waste recycling programs is run by the Lower East Side Ecology Center.  These events occur several times throughout the year (there’s one this weekend!) and more information on them can be found by clicking here.

3. Paper, Expanding Landfills, and Climate Change

The amount of paper that Americans throw away during the holiday season is massive.  Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans throw away 25% more trash than any other time of the year, according to Stanford University.  This accounts for an extra 25 million tons of garbage, or one million tons per week.  Even the number of Christmas cards Americans send is huge – 2.65 billion cards adds up to enough paper to fill a football field 10 stories high.

If the extra trash going to the landfill isn’t enough to indicate the importance of recycling and using recycled products, also consider that when paper goes into landfills it often decays in a low-oxygen environment.  Instead of simply biodegrading into the soil (or the landfill), this degrading paper can release significant amounts of methane, which is a potential greenhouse gas.  Indeed, as the EPA notes, methane is roughly 20-times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

So this year, consider doing something with leftover wrapping paper besides throwing in the landfill.  Reuse it for other gifts or craft projects; shred it and add it to a compost bin or mulch pile to feed your garden; use it to pad packages for mailing.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Keeping trash sorted for recycling and composting isn’t especially difficult when there’s a convenient system in place.  Green Depot offers a few green products to help accomplish the task.

The Umbra Grand Can is a basic garbage can made from virgin polypropylene plastic with a brushed metal finish.  It has a capacity of 9 ¾ gallons.

Indoor composting need not be the smelly nightmare many apartment owners fear it will be.  The NatureMill Home Composter fits under a kitchen counter, and using gentle electric warmth  to speed up the decomposition process, ensures a steady supply of compost all winter long for the spring garden.  Additionally – it’s odor-free.

For a wide range of waste-reducing green products, as well as green insulation like Bonded Logic Recycled Denim Insulation, visit our website at http://greendepot.com.

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Christmas is almost upon those of us celebrating it this year.  At this point, many of us have already bought our gifts.  Some we’ve bought this year are very environmentally-friendly; others, decidedly less-so.  For many of us, struggling through the post-recession haze, buying gifts this year has been a challenge; for others, we find ourselves worried about how much more waste or carbon we might be producing during the holiday season.

And every year, we always forget to buy gifts for a few folks.  Sudden realizations may lead to midnight rushes to dollar stores or box stores for a last-minute gift.  Having remembered to get something for our loved one relieves our guilt, but having bought something environmentally-damaging might plague our conscience.

A recent New York Times piece details a growing trend in gift-giving this year: bartering.

To many, the idea of bartering may be unthinkable – the idea of buying something on-the-fly, and inexpensively, from a Wal-Mart or Target almost seems preferable to re-gifting something that might be used, or giving a skill instead of something material.

But consider, for a moment, what the environmental impacts of those last-minute, non-green products might be.  According to carbonfootprint.com, the carbon footprint of a brand new gift can be…

30 kg of CO2 for an mp3 player.
70 kg of CO2 or more for an electric kitchen appliance.
20 kg of CO2 or less for a board game.
5-10 kg of CO2 for a book.

So, if a green product isn’t an option this year – either because it’s now too late, or because the recession has us all tightening our budgets – consider that sharing a skill or re-gifting with someone might be a good way to share this holiday.

As the Times notes, the growing phenomenon of bartering – either skills or products – is closely related to the recession – and its practice has been growing in recent years.  According to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, net sales are up this year from 13% for last year; and according to scientific polls, 26% of Americans said they were bartering products and skills this holiday season, up more than double since 2000, when the question was first posited.

But the practice of sharing a skill or re-gifting a product this year can have an environmental purpose, as well.  It reduces demand for new production, lowering carbon emissions from the manufacturing process, and it keeps less-wanted gifts out of teetering landfills.  (Consider how many of those last-minute, cheap gifts we received either broke quickly, or were generally unwanted, and wound up in the garbage bound for the landfill.  The thought is certainly sobering.)  So this year, instead of rushing out last-minute for a gift that’s probably going to the landfill, considering a barter of skills, or a re-gifting from last year.  Your wallet, the earth, and perhaps most importantly, your friends and family, will thank you.

For items like green products, green books, and green insulation, you can always visit http://www.greendepot.com. image of books by flickr user nedrichards; image of landfill by flickr user d’arcy norman.
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Last week was a major event in world climate change policy: the 16th Conference of Parties, or COP16.  It was considered a sequel to the disastrous and chaotic COP15, which occurred in Copenhagen at the same time last year.

Now that this round of negotiations have concluded, what can we say policymakers have accomplished?  No one had placed the (perhaps unrealistically) high expectations on Cancun that they had placed upon Copenhagen; and media certainly seemed to downplay this year’s conference relative to last year’s.

What we have now achieved is a somewhat mediocre document: The Cancun Agreement.  It’s not an especially aggressive, or even legally-binding treaty, but it has achieved a few things that many analysts and environmentalists had, up to this point, considered nearly impossible.

The agreement calls upon developed nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions according to the targets they had set in the Obama-brokered Copenhagen Accord.  The Cancun Agreement also calls upon developing countries to reduce their emissions to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  This is an important threshold, indicating that most of the world’s species and ecosystems will survive changing climate patterns; but it is also important to note that an increase of 2 degrees will also mean the complete flooding of several small island nations as oceans rise.  Overall, the agreement locks in an emissions reduction target of 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Surprisingly, though, the Agreement was signed by all nations in attendance, except Bolivia whose objections were overruled.  This is significant, since up to this point China and the United States had never signed into an emissions agreement in the past, and this had been considered by many to be an insurmountable challenge.  Indeed, earlier in the year climate talks in Tianjin, China, leading up to Cancun had ended in a major clash between the United States and China.

But perhaps the most significant achievement of the Cancun conference was the establishment of the Green Climate Fund.  Its purpose is to finance poorer countries to develop less pollution-intensive energy sources, and adapt to a changing global climate as natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity, and infrastructures are taxed to cope with more severe natural conditions.  Developed nations are committed to contributing up to $100 billion dollars annually to the fund by 2020, resulting in a massive resource that poorer nations will be able to draw upon.

Two smaller initiatives were also accomplished: the continuation of REDD, the mechanism in place to provide financial incentives to reduce tropical deforestation and clear-cutting; and the creation of the Technology Executive Committee, whose purpose will be to oversee the transfer of renewable energy technologies from developed nations to developing nations.

Ultimately, the Cancun Agreement has been considered both a success and a failure.  It is a success in the sense that climate agreements up to this point had almost always ended in serious tension and animosity; a unified emissions reduction target had not really been agreed upon since the 1990s.  At the same time, the Cancun Agreement is a failure because it does not require the sorts of changes and reductions in emissions that scientists have called for to avoid dangerous climate change.  Indeed, it is telling that the agreement places such a heavy emphasis on adapting to climate change, rather than avoiding – or mitigating – it.

GREEN DEPOT

Some green products can help individuals reduce their carbon emissions – helping us to fill in some of the gaps that world leaders have left in the wake of the Cancun Agreement.

One of the most significant ways in which individuals contribute to greenhouse gas emissions is through their household energy consumption. Heating homes and heating water are two of the most energy-intensive activities that occur in a home.  So, here are some ways to help the homeowner make the most significant reduction of energy consumption:

Bonded Logic Installation

Bonded Logic Ultra Touch Insulation.

We’ve written extensively in the past about insulating homes and the added benefits of fitting your home so that it retains more heat, instead of losing it.  This is better for reducing heating costs, and thus for reducing our environmental footprint – approximately 4 metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted each year from residences, most of which is the consequence of home heating.  Conventional fiberglass insulation is a suspected carcinogen, so using a green product like Bonded Logic Ultratouch Recycled Cotton Insulation is a major step towards making a greener home.  For an even more efficient home, National Fiber Cel-Pak Cellulose Insulation is a blow-in material that settles into the tiniest corners and cracks of walls, ceilings, and attics.

Water heaters are one of the largest consumers of energy in the average home, and swapping out an older-model water heater for a new, energy-efficient model can substantially reduce energy costs.  The GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater is an especially energy-efficient model, qualified by ENERGY STAR.  It combines heat pump technology with traditional electric elements to save the homeowner up to 62% on annual water heating expenses  — even up to $320.  In addition to the long term cost-saving effects of this heater, it also qualifies for a federal energy tax credit, and additional state rebates.

For these and other green products, visit GreenDepot.com.

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NYC water supply system reservoir in the Catskill mountains, by flickr user CarbonNYC.

This past summer a lot of attention was paid to the issue of “hydrofracking.”  Hydrofracking – or, to use the proper terminology, hydraulic fracturing – is a process of natural gas and oil extraction.  The principle of hydraulic fracturing is relatively simple.  Oil companies use a water mixture that is pumped into rock beds to fracture the rock and release quantities of oil and gas that can then be collected and refined.

In New York state, there has been substantial controversy over this practice especially around the Catskill mountains.  Underneath large areas of New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Virginia is a layer of shale rock, known as the Marcellus Shale, that contains as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or the equivalent of 80 million barrels of oil.  All told, the Marcellus Shale covers an area roughly 48,000 square miles.

Energy companies are keen to tap into this fossil fuel resource, but there are significant environmental and human health impacts that the process entails.  When an oil company wants to tap into the Marcellus Shale, they begin by clearcutting the drilling site of any forest that was once there.  Then, they bore down into the shale layer, at which time they twist the drills around horizontally and extend their machinery out 8,000 feet in each direction.

In the process of drilling, oil companies almost always drill through the natural water table or aquifer.  In each case of hydraulic fracturing, companies utilize between six and eight million gallons of fresh water.  After the initial injection of water, chemicals are added to the shale to make the process more efficient, and often consist of diesel fuel, benzene, and hydrochloric acid.

There have been numerous recorded instances of these chemicals, and even perhaps natural gas and oil, leaking out during the hydrofracking process and entering into local water tables.  Nearby famers and residents of hydrofracking sites have reported increased health issues that many believe are associated with the mining and extraction of natural gas by this process.  Oil companies insist that the “small amounts” they inject into mining sites are benign in those quantities, but there is little government oversight to follow up on extraction and ensure that these chemicals are not leaking into the watershed.  Companies are reluctant to release data on the chemicals they use, and how much of them that they use, nor are they legally required to do so.

This has been an especially important issue for people living in New York state and New York City, because a large amount of our municipal water comes from reservoirs in the Catskill mountains that may be affected by runoff from hydraulic fracturing.  The story of New York City’s water system is truly remarkable – for not only do our reservoirs, 80 miles away, provide an enormous metropolis all the safe drinking water they can consume, the city has also been incredibly proactive in preserving the watershed.  This has ensured that the water supply to New York City is clean and naturally purified of contaminants.  To date, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection has purchased or protected over 70,000 acres of land since 1997, through conservation easements.

A huge amount of effort has gone into preserving our watershed and ensuring our water is safe, which is why both New York City residents and city officials have been so adamant that hydraulic fracturing be outlawed in the state of New York.  And today, on December 6, there has been success in stopping hydrofracking in New York state.  The state has passed a moratorium on horizontal drilling in the state until May 15, 2011, to “allow time for the completion of a detailed and comprehensive scientific analysis of hydraulic fracturing,” wrote City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  “We are confident [the report] will affirm our contention that hydraulic fracturing should never be done within New York City’s upstate unfiltered water supply.”

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

New York City’s drinking water is a very special, precious resource.  It is clean, unpolluted, and naturally filtered.  It should be enjoyed and celebrated!  Drinking water from bottles creates a huge mess for the environment – it takes energy to extract and bottle water, to ship to stores, and then most bottles wind up going to landfill or into the oceans, rather than to recycling.

So here are a few ways to enjoy New York City’s – or any municipality’s – tap water more often.

The GE Carbon Single Stage Filtration System is an under-counter single catridge filtration system from GE, improving the taste and odor of regular tap water by reducing sediment and chlorine.  It fits the cold water faucet of any sink, and can be mounted horizontally or vertically.

The Ovopur Water Purifier uses gravity to dispense water, requiring not electricity to operate.  It is constructed from porcelain, glass, and metal and contains multiple levels of water filtration – including activated carbon, bioceramics, and quartz crystal.  The filer cartridges can be returned to Aquaovo for recycling.

After you’ve filtered your water, you might consider carrying it in the Kor One Water Bottle.  It is a BPA-free plastic bottle that can be recycled by the manufacturer after use to be made into more Kor One bottles.  For each bottle you buy, 1% of the sales go to a charity dealing with water-related issues.  They’re color-coded by issue/charity: blue is for ocean protection; green is for watershed protection; orange is for bottle container recycling, and pink is for the global water crisis.

For more filtrations options visit our water filtration section.  For water bottles, visit our water bottle section.  For other green products, make sure to visit http://greendepot.com

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Today is the very first day of Hanukkah.  While we’ve spent a lot of time talking about ways in which to make the holiday a little more sustainable – by using recycled cardboard wreaths and trees, for instance – we should also remember that the candles we use in our homes for the holidays often contain particles that can be detrimental to our health and to the environment.

Candles are traditionally crafted from paraffin wax.  Paraffin wax is actually a heavy hydrocarbon, produced from crude oil – it is a petroleum product.  While burning paraffin wax is not especially terrible for the environment – the main byproducts are water vapor and carbon dioxide, neither of which are tremendously harmful to human health in the short term – it’s important to consider the entire lifecycle of a product when making purchasing decisions.  The amount of carbon that goes into extracting, refining, transporting, and converting oil into paraffin wax is substantially higher than “green” alternatives, like soy or beeswax.  Using soy or beeswax candles not only avoid the detrimental environmental impacts associated with paraffin wax, but support farmers instead of oil companies.

So consider for this Hannukah, using green tapers, instead of paraffin ones.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Big Dipper Beeswax Hannukah Tapers are made out of hand-dipped, and clean-burning, 100% beeswax.  Traditional paraffin tapers often have lead in their wicks, but the wicks used in this green product are 100% cotton, and are therefore much healthier for you and your family.  Plus, 10% of all net profits from the sale of these candles is donated to organizations dedicated to outreach, education, and efforts devoted to promoting sustainable beekeeping.  They come in boxes of 45, in natural and blue-and-white colors.

For these candles and many other environmentally-friend green products like Bonded Logic recycled denim green insulation, make sure to visit http://greendepot.com.

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In New York City, it’s late autumn and winter is just around the corner.  The leaves have fallen from the trees, cold rains and wintry mixes have arrived, and previously-dormant radiators across the city are clanging away.  This is the time of year to begin weatherizing and winterizing your home – of making it energy-efficient, to lower your electric bill and make your home kinder on the environment and your bank account.

Another important reason to weatherize your home this winter: some of the rebates and incentives that the federal government is providing for energy-efficient upgrades to your home will expire on December 31, 2010.  With these rebates, making your home energy-efficient not only lowers your bills in the long run, but can make the initial upgrades extremely affordable, or in some cases, entirely free.

Lowering your winter electric bill can involve minor upgrades to large, comprehensive projects, according to your budget or time constraints.  They can range from sealing cracks and installing efficient insulation, to buying a new thermostat and installing sunlight’s; using indoor fans (which blow warm air, accumulated at the ceiling, back towards the floor), unblocking air vents, closing (or blocking up) a fireplace, using power strips, switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, buying a new furnace or water heater are other ways for everyone to lower their bills and make their homes more energy efficient.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTONS

1. Insulation

We’ve written extensively in the past about insulating homes and the added benefits of fitting your home so that it retains more heat, instead of losing it.  This is better for reducing heating costs, and thus for reducing our environmental footprint – approximately 4 metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted each year from residences, most of which is the consequence of home heating.  Conventional fiberglass insulation is a suspected carcinogen, so using a green product like Bonded Logic Ultratouch Recycled Cotton Insulation is a major step towards making a greener home.  For an even more efficient home, National Fiber Cel-Pak Cellulose Insulation is a blow-in material that settles into the tiniest corners and cracks of walls, ceilings, and attics.

2. Skylighting

Letting daylight into a room is an effective way to warm a room – especially rooms that normally don’t receive sunlight, and require significantly more energy to bring to a comfortable temperature.  The Solatube Brighten Up! Tubular Daylighting Kit captures light from every angle – even low-angle winter sunlight – and reflects it down a tube into interior rooms, bathrooms, hallways, corridors, utility rooms, and any other spot that might not receive as much sunlight as you’d like.  Indeed, the Solatube can brighten spaces up to 300 square feet large.

3. Caulks and Sealants

Closing up cracks and drafts in homes is an effective – and inexpensive – way to conserve energy and reduce heating and cooling costs.   Using VOC-free caulks is an important way to protect the health of everyone in your home.  VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals that are “off-gassed” from conventional caulks and can cause serious neurological problems, kidney failure, and is a suspected carcinogen.  Safecoat is a toxin-free caulk that can be used to plug drafts and lower your winter energy bills.

4. Water Heaters

Water heaters are one of the largest consumers of energy in the average home, and swapping out an older-model water heater for a new, energy-efficient model can substantially reduce energy costs.  The GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater is an especially energy-efficient model, qualified by ENERGY STAR.  It combines heat pump technology with traditional electric elements to save the homeowner up to 62% on annual water heating expenses  — even up to $320.  In addition to the long term cost-saving effects of this heater, it also qualifies for a federal energy tax credit, and additional state rebates.

5. Other, every day items that you can change around the house can help reduce your electricity bill.  Using an energy monitor or power strip – and ensuring you turn it off when you’re not using appliances – can stop “phantom charges” that slowly drive up your electricity costs.  Using compact fluorescent bulbs – and even more efficient LED bulbs – can bring electricity costs even further.

For these energy-efficient green products and many, many more, make sure to visit http://greendepot.com.

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