Environmental Footprint of Milk Containers

bowl of cereal

From traditional cow milk to vegan options like hemp milk, a wide variety of milk is available these days. Milk comes in three main types of packaging: the carton, the plastic jug and the glass bottle. Let’s go through the pros and cons of each of these packaging options to determine which is friendliest to our planet.

Cartons

Pros:

  • Milk cartons are lightweight, which minimizes greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to transportation. Less weight also means less material used in creating new cartons. On average a carton is 94% product and 6% container by weight.

Cons:

  • Cartons are not recyclable because they are made up of mixed materials — paper, plastic and occasionally foil — that are hard to separate. Therefore cartons must be tossed in the garbage and end up in a landfill.

Plastic Jug

Pros:

  • Plastic jugs are made of a single material and therefore can be recycled.
  • Plastic jugs are the lightest weight option of the three most common container types. On average a plastic jug is 96% product and 4% container by weight. This means they have the lowest GHG emissions related to transportation.

Cons:

  • Plastic jugs are not recycled into new plastic jugs due to sanitary concerns. Plastic jugs are typically “downcycled” into materials such as composite lumber. This means virgin plastic is used for all plastic jugs.
  • Plastic is made from fossil fuels.

Glass Bottles

Pros:

  • Glass bottles are highly recyclable. Recycled bottles can be made into new bottles.
  • Some brands such as Straus reuse bottles through a deposit system. This eliminates the energy needed to remanufacture bottles.

Cons:

  • Glass is heavy. On average a glass bottle is 75% product and 25% container by weight. Transporting milk in glass results in higher GHG emissions than transporting milk in cartons or plastic jugs.
  • Extracting new materials for new glass is energy-intensive.

While each type of container has its pros and cons, glass bottles are the most environmentally friendly option. This is due to the fact that extraction and manufacturing require the most energy in a milk container’s lifecycle. Glass bottles have a clear advantage over cartons and plastic jugs because they can be easily recycled into new bottles or even reused without remanufacturing. However, milk sold in glass bottles is usually more expensive than milk sold in cartons or plastic jugs. If milk sold in glass is too expensive, reach for the plastic jug instead. Remember to recycle your glass and plastic bottles empty. Milk cartons go in the trash.

Ask The Experts: What Can I Do with Old T-Shirts?

t-shirts on hangers
recycle questions

Have a tough recycling question?
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Q: I’ve got too many t-shirts. What can I do other than throw them away?

A: Many of us have a shelf or drawer filled with t-shirts from events or gatherings that are meaningful. But what can you do when, over time, these items wear out, or there are just too many of them? Repurpose them! There are a lot of easy home crafts and interesting ways to reuse an old t-shirt and save it from going to a landfill.

New or Usable T-Shirts

Some t-shirts just aren’t the right size or fit, or don’t get worn as much as originally planned. If they’re new or like-new, they can be donated to a local thrift store or charity. If a t-shirt is the right look but not the right fit, consider cutting the sleeves or neck. T-shirts still in somewhat good condition can also be donated to companies that will repurpose them into a new product.

Old and Worn Out T-Shirts

Worn out t-shirts can be cut up into small pieces to be used as cleaning rags around the house. Or cut them into strips and knot or braid them, to create an entertaining dog toy — just make sure your dog doesn’t eat it.

Sentimental T-Shirts

Old t-shirts with sentimental value that still have some life in them make great pieces for a quilt. There are many patterns available online, or craftspeople who accept whole shirts and can do the project from start to finish.

Get Crafty

There are many easy at-home craft projects that are perfect for old t-shirts. These include making bracelets, headbands, plant hangers and so much more. This helpful list provides many options for t-shirt crafts.

Steel: The Most Recycled Material in the World

steel recycling yard

Did you know that steel is the most recycled material in the world? In North America, we recycle around 80 million tons of steel each year. That’s more than the weight of all of the cars in the entire state of California. It’s also more than all the paper, plastic, aluminum and glass we recycle each year combined.

Why Recycle Steel?

Steel recycling is good for the environment because the more steel we recycle, the less mining for new metals we have to do. Every ton of steel we recycle saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone. It also saves energy — recycling steel uses 74% less energy than creating steel from raw materials.

Why Is Steel So Recyclable?

Steel can be recycled over and over again to produce new steel. Why is it so easy to recycle? First, it’s magnetic, so it’s easy to separate from other metals. Second, unlike recycled paper or glass, which suffer from degradation when recycled, steel doesn’t lose any strength when it’s re-melted to make new steel, so it doesn’t lose any of its value.

What Is Steel Used For?

From cars and skyscrapers to soup cans and sardine tins, steel is used to make many of the objects we interact with every day.

Here’s a list of common steel items:
(Click to see how each item can be recycled)

Steel can be used in any of the applications above then be melted down and remanufactured into any of the other items on the list — or even the same item. Isn’t recycling neat?

How Do I Recycle Steel?

It depends on the item. Items such as food cans can be put in your curbside recycling. However, if your steel is scrap metal or large appliances or small appliances, check to see if a scrapyard will take it.

If you have scrap metal you’d like to sell to a scrapyard, start by determining the market price for the metal you have. (A few cans or small steel items are unlikely to be worth the trip.) Then, find a scrapyard by looking up your zip code in the iScrap app. When you bring in your steel, you can recycle other kinds of scrap metal at the same time, including aluminum, copper, brass and cast iron.

Reuse Broken Planters and Grow Beautiful Houseplants

plant

It’s easy to spend money on plants. From chic planters to the newest and cutest blooms, not to mention potting soil and fertilizer, it really starts to add up. But you don’t have to break the bank to grow beautiful houseplants. Just follow these tips to cut back on how much you’re spending. After all, reducing and reusing are two of the three R’s!

Fixing Broken Planters

Breaking planters is all too easy. From window ledges to curious cats to failed macramé knots, there are plenty of ways to send one tumbling. Unfortunately, whether they’re ceramic or terracotta, they’re not recyclable. But it doesn’t have to mean the trash. Here are some ways to repair or upcycle your damaged planters:

  • Planters with cracks, fine lines or fewer broken pieces can be sealed with an epoxy glue or cement adhesive. This will make them watertight, extend their life, and it can even give them a fun, modern look. Alternately, you can take the more glamorous Kintsugi approach by adding a gold or silver tint to your epoxy.
  • Consider repainting the planter, by hand or with spray paint, if you dislike the look after the epoxy has dried. This is also a great way to spruce up any planters whose colors have washed out or faded — they’ll look brand new.
  • Use broken planter pieces as stones in the bottom of other plant pots to help with drainage. This is especially useful in planters that don’t have a drainage hole, so the bottom layer of soil doesn’t get stuck sitting in extra water. Too much stagnant water can cause the soil to become moldy and give your plants root rot.
  • Repurpose your planter pieces. Turn them into plant labels for your garden, succulent terrariums or a mosaic.

Starting Plants From Cuttings

Many houseplants can be turned into new plants just by taking cuttings. This includes succulents, vines, snake plants and monsteras. Check out the video below to see the four main ways plants can be propagated. Then, double check the right way to propagate the plant you’re interested in and get started! Ask friends and family if they’ll give you any cuttings from their plants, or offer to trade with them. Pro tip: Add some liquid organic fertilizer once a week to get your cuttings growing even faster.

Starting Plants From Kitchen Scraps

Food scraps left over from fruits and veggies, including pineapple tops, avocado pits and lemon seeds, can be used to grow beautiful, unique plants for your home. Follow these instructions from A Piece of Rainbow to learn more.

National Cleanup Day

National Cleanup Day is celebrated annually in the United States on the third Saturday of September. It promotes both organized and individual cleanup efforts and volunteering to keep the outdoors clean. 

JOIN US THIS YEAR ON SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2020

National Cleanup Day + Earth Day + Keep America Beautiful in conjunction with World Cleanup Day are coordinating cleanups across the US.

 SLO County Creeks to Coast Cleanup

Formerly known as Coastal Cleanup Day and Creek Day – This year ECOSLO has joined forces with the Central Coast Partners for Water Quality to bring you an even bigger and better event – SLO County Creeks to Coast Cleanup
Find more information here.


Do you want your children to understand that they can be environmental stewards in their school or neighborhood? Register your school as a Schoolyard Cleanup Site to receive assistance and recognition and to be a part of an international effort to protect our coast and ocean, no matter where your school is!

Helping our children understand the importance of recycling and conserving resources will be vital in growing constant awareness of how what we do affects our neighbors, our world, and our future.


Litter is a big problem in California. In 2019, Caltrans spent $62 million on litter removal from our highways. They collected enough trash and debris to fill more than 9,700 garbage trucks.

California Coastal Cleanup numbers for 2018: 759,354 Pounds of Trash and 819,323 Pounds of Debris collected during the cleanup.

Litter is an eyesore to look at and expensive to pick up. To make matters worse, litter often leaches pollutants into the environment, and it harms wildlife, as well. Litter is often carried by wind or rain into rivers and storm drains, where it pollutes our waterways. Recent research from the Netherlands indicates that over 550 marine species have been affected by plastic litter, either by becoming tangled in it or eating it.

If every person in California picked up just one piece of litter today, there would be over 39.51 million fewer pieces of litter. If you and your friends spend just one hour picking up litter in your own neighborhood, you will not only pick up thousands of pieces of trash, you will also make a tremendous impact on your community. 

 

 

Top Troublemakers: Plastic Bags

plastic bags

When it comes to disposing of plastic bags, they must be tossed into the garbage. Plastic bags cannot be recycled in your curbside recycling. Let’s breakdown why they are so problematic when tossed in the wrong bin.

The reason lies in how things get recycled.

Everything in your recycling bin first goes to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where items get sorted into like piles. Plastic bottles end up in their own pile, as does cardboard, glass, steel, aluminum, and other types of hard plastic containers. Plastic bags, however, do not end up in their own special pile but instead in the leftovers called “residuals”. The residuals go to the landfill and are essentially all of the material that were not supposed to be put in the recycle bin in the first place. Plastic bags are residual because they can’t be efficiently sorted with the machinery available at Materials Recovery Facilities.

Not only do plastic bags end up in the landfill, they reduce the efficiency of recycling at the MRF. Plastic bags, because of their lightweight and flimsy nature, can easily get tangled in the machinery. Think of what would happen, for example, if you tried to vacuum a plastic bag. Chances are it would get wrapped around the rotating brush of the vacuum and get clogged somewhere along the system. That is essentially what happens at the MRF, at which point workers have to shut down the entire operation and climb into the dangerous machinery to remove the bag.

So next time you need to dispose of a plastic bag remember to toss it in the trash and not the recycling. If the non-recyclable plastic waste is upsetting to you, try avoiding using plastic bags in the first place.

Extend the Life of Your Wooden Cutting Boards and Kitchenware

cutting board

Cutting boards, butcher blocks, cheese boards, salad bowls, spoons, spatulas: There are a lot of kitchen items that are commonly made from wood. Properly caring for these items can make a big difference in how long they last. A wood cutting board, for example, might last only a year if it’s mistreated or neglected. But when well cared for, a cutting board can last over 10 years.

In order to give your wooden cutting boards and spatulas the proper care they need, you only need one thing: food-grade mineral oil.

By applying mineral oil to your wooden kitchen items somewhere between once a month and once a year (depending on how often they’re used), you’ll keep your boards and spatulas from drying out, splitting or warping. Just make sure the oil you use is food grade so that it won’t go rancid.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Clean your wooden cutting board or utensil. You can use dish soap and water and rinse it off, or coarse salt and half a lemon (or some white vinegar) and wipe it clean. Lemon is especially great at eliminating any odors that might be lingering in the wood. Once clean, let the board dry.
  2. Apply the oil. Use your hand or a rag to apply the oil evenly across the wood’s surface. Let it soak in overnight.
  3. Wipe off the excess. Once the wood has absorbed what it can, use a rag to wipe away any remaining oil. The wood should not feel damp or sticky.

If your wooden board or utensil is brand new, repeat this process 3-5 times before putting it into regular rotation.

If you want to ramp up your kitchen tools TLC even more, you could try a wood butter, conditioner or cream instead of plain mineral oil — these use a little bit of wax to help lock the oil’s moisture inside the wood. Check out A Piece of Rainbow for an all natural DIY recipe as well as some store-bought recommendations. But if you just want to stick to the basics, you can’t go wrong with food-grade mineral oil.

Plastic-Free Solutioneers

July was dedicated as plastic-free, a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – find out more here.

UPSTREAM launched a contest encouraging people to share their stories about how they are building a #betterwaythanthrowaway. The winners are Maladen Gayuek, Jess Blasko, and Ryan Cope. Listen to their stories on this UPSTREAM podcast and find out how ocean plastic and marine pollution are only part of the plastic waste story.

Go Green in Every Room: Low Waste Kitchen

kitchen

There are many easy ways to reduce waste in the home, and one of the best places to start is somewhere most people spend a lot of their time: the kitchen. Taking simple actions such as choosing reusable bakeware over disposable plastics, or replacing single-use items with washables are a great way to start.

Be an Earth-Friendly Baker

Many recipes for baked treats call for a special type of pan and a special way to line the pan when baking. Silicone baking mats are non-stick, easy to use, and come in a variety of sizes useful for lining many types of pans. These mats replace the need for tin foil or parchment paper in baking, and also make a pan easier to wash when you’re all done. When choosing the right pan to bake in, look for something durable that can be used many times, and avoid single-use tins, which don’t hold up and create unnecessary waste.

How to Clean up the Mess

When you’re done cooking or baking, try cleaning up with washable towels and a homemade cleaning solution. Washable cloth towels are a great replacement for paper towels. Over time they work out to be less expensive than their paper counterpart and they eliminate a significant amount of waste. Many common household products such as white vinegar, essential oils, or baking soda can be mixed to create simple cleaning solutions that help you clean up without the chemicals. This article provides chemical-free DIY cleaning solution mixtures for a variety of different surface types in your home. Lastly, try placing your homemade cleaning solution in a glass or plastic spray bottle for easy use and storage.

After completing a cooking project, the food scraps can be composted and recyclables recycled. See everything that can go into your green waste bin and recycling bin. Please avoid “wishcycling” items such as plastic bags. Tossing items not listed in the link above into your recycling bin decreases our ability to recycle the items that can be recycled.