Proper Firework Disposal

Fireworks are a fun way to honor the 4th of July holiday, but make sure to celebrate responsibly! Every year, nearly 20,000 fires in the U.S. are caused from improper firework usage and/or disposal. Firework debris can also cause litter on streets, sidewalks and parking lots, and can end up in nearby rivers and oceans. Fireworks also contain chemicals like fuel, oxidizers, and metal and chlorine compounds that are unsafe for SLO County sewer systems and drainage. Follow these disposal steps to do your part in keeping people and the environment safe: 

  • If lighting fireworks in a location other than your sidewalk, bring reusable or plastic bags to contain and transport firework debris back home.
  • Bring a flashlight (or use your phone’s camera light) so that once the fireworks are finished, your group can easily see what litter remains and can pick it up easily.
  • Do not dump used fireworks debris in park or community trash bins immediately after use. 
  • Keep a bucket of water, hose or fire extinguisher nearby in case of fire.
  • Fully extinguish fireworks by soaking in water for at least 15 minutes.
  • Empty soaking water into the toilet or trash.
  • Once extinguished and cool, place used fireworks in bags and place in the garbage.
  • Considering saving leftover fireworks for next 4th of July? Store carefully in a cool and dry location, and avoid buying more than you plan to use for the next round.

Check with SLO County’s fire stations on best practices for firework disposal and to learn about collection available for unused fireworks.

6 Items to Avoid Wishcycling

If you’re not sure if an item is or isn’t recyclable, don’t “wishcycle”. Wishcycling is placing a questionable recyclable item into the recycling bin that can end up contaminating your recycling stream and causing other recyclable items to be dumped in a landfill. 

Here are 6 items that are commonly wishcycled:

1. Loose Plastic Bags 

Plastic bags can jam up the machinery at the recycling facility — keep these out of the recycling bin, and place in garbage only.

2. Greasy Pizza Boxes

While pizza boxes are made of cardboard (which is usually recyclable), if it has any grease or marinara stains, unfortunately, it is contaminated and no longer able to be recycled. Throw any paper or cardboard materials that are soiled with water, grease, or food into the garbage bin. Read this pizza box cheat sheet on what you can or cannot recycle!

3. Bottles with Liquid Still Inside 

Plastic or glass bottles that are normally able to be recycled cannot go in the recycling bin if they still have liquid contents inside. Keep in mind that liquids can contaminate the items in your recycling bin and make them unrecyclable.

4. Styrofoam 

Polystyrene foam, also known as styrofoam, is not able to be thrown into your recycling bin — place in your garbage bin.

5. Certain Types of Glass

Glass bottles and jars are recyclable. However, other types of glass, for example, pyrex, glassware, and wine and drinking glasses, have a different composition that do not allow them to be tossed in your recycling bin. Keep in mind that broken glass is also not accepted in your recycling bin.

6. Loose Shredded Paper

Keep in mind that although a material, like paper, may be recyclable — it must be able to be captured and processed by machinery at the recycling facility in order to be recycled.  Loose shredded paper can get caught up between the machinery and cause problems.

To avoid such issues, place shredded paper in a clear plastic bag in the recyling bin. This will allow the shredded paper to be seen in a clear plastic bag and picked off the line when going through the recycling facility.

Recycle right! If you’re ever unsure, check your handy recycling guide for more information.

Eco-Friendly Baby Care

Did you know that 24.7 billion single-use plastic diapers are used in the U.S. every year, amounting to 7.6 billion pounds of garbage?

Luckily, a new baby in the family doesn’t have to equal more waste. Here are some options to help forgo disposable baby products while caring for a newborn:

Homemade Wipes

Did you know you can make your own baby wipes? Start by filling a large, lidded glass jar with a solution of coconut oil, mild baby soap, and water. Hand roll organic cotton towels together, overlapping edges as you roll to create a cylinder that looks like a paper towel roll. Place the roll lengthwise in the jar so that the towels can be pulled out just like disposable wipes. On the go? Carry a few towels in a silicone pouch and place back in the empty pouch once used so they can be washed and reused.

Cloth Diapers

Many brands of reusable diapers are widely available. Since babies grow so fast, many parent groups online and baby stores carry gently-used cloth diapers of all sizes that you can try out in order to find the perfect fit. For more on how to store and clean dirty cloth diapers, check out Healthline’s helpful tips.

Homemade Baby Food

Baby food is simple to make at home. With a limited palate, most babies eat one-ingredient pureed food, making it super simple to cook. Try vegetables such as roasted butternut squash, roasted carrots, or boiled peas. Blend in a food processor until smooth and place in a reusable container or single-serving silicone squeeze pouch for a mess-free meal. 

Study: Over 1 Million Tons of U.S. Plastic Isn’t Going Where We Think It Is

If you think ocean plastic and other plastic litter isn’t a big problem in the U.S., think again. A recent study by Science Advances found that somewhere between 1.2 and 2.5 million tons of U.S.-generated plastic isn’t properly disposed of each year. In other words, it is being littered or illegally dumped instead of being recycled or landfilled.

According to the study, it’s likely that as much as 1.6 million tons of our plastic waste makes its way into the ocean each year – making the U.S. the third worst plastic polluter in the world. In previous studies, the U.S. didn’t even rank as high as the top ten plastic polluters, but researchers said that was because we weren’t tracking everything.

So what can you do about it?

Every small action helps! Do your best to avoid plastic in the first place. Purchase as little plastic as possible and refuse disposable plastic items. Then, make sure to dispose of plastic items correctly by looking them up in our Recycling Guide

Get Involved!

Join clean-up events and groups in the SLO County area! Check out the following for more information on how you can volunteer.:

By helping to mitigate the trash in your community, you can prevent it from ending up in waterways!

Go Green with Your Summer Water Gear

Whether you’re going to an ocean, river, or nearby creek, there are lots of easy ways to make your next waterside trip eco-friendly. You can start with a great guide here for prolonging the life of your fun inflatable toys. Here are additional ways to go green while playing in the sand and sun:

  • Buy Used

First and foremost, buy used if possible! Look for pre-owned swimsuits or wetsuits at outdoor or watersport specialty stores or online. Here’s a helpful article from 360 Guide on what to look for when buying used wetsuits. Gear such as floaties, coolers, beach chairs, and umbrellas can be found in garage sales, thrift stores and online used gear marketplaces.

  • Buy Sustainable

If buying new, aim to buy from companies that keep sustainability in mind and produce eco-friendly bathing suits and wetsuit options. Options include gear made from recycled materials like old bottle caps or natural rubber, or gear produced in a water-efficient manner or at a facility committed to producing less waste.

Check out Sustainably Chic’s list for 17 sustainable swimwear brands for various genders, body types and budgets and Surf Atlas’ breakdown of sustainable wetsuits.

  • Maintain and Take Care of Your Gear, Used and New

Take care to properly store your gear so that it lasts as long as it possibly can. Salt water can cause metal to rust, so wash or wipe down your gear and dry it off before storing. 

  • Got Extra Gear?

Is your gear collecting dust in your home? Donate your gently-used gear! Otherwise, if your gear’s main function is lost or becomes unusable, check the Recycling Guide for proper disposal, recycling, and/or reuse tips!

How to Refurbish a Barbecue Grill

You may have seen huge, towering piles of old appliances at a junkyard or municipal dump. Large metal items such as these are costly to dispose of, create a large amount of waste, and in some cases, could have been recycled. While it may be a bit too complex for the average person to repair a microwave or fridge, one household appliance that’s easy to refurbish is an old barbecue grill:

  • Step 1: Take the grill apart.

It’s much easier to work on the parts individually. If there is a lot of rust or decaying components, take the grill apart before you begin to repair them. A screwdriver can get the top off the grill and many hoses and valves can be unscrewed by hand. Working on a gas grill? Be sure to remove the tank and close its valve before performing any work.

  • Step 2: Remove rust and paint.

Once the components have been disassembled, tackle any rust and blemishes. Steel wool purchased from a hardware store will help sand off the rust, which can be covered by metal-appropriate spray paint. Choose a color to match what’s already on the grill, or sand down the old paint to a rough texture and repaint the whole grill. 

  • Step 3: Replace parts as needed.

Remove the interior components of the grill such as the drip pan and grate and replace them with new parts if damaged, or use oven cleaner and steel wool to remove old food and save the parts. Reassemble the grill and then check out the gas system. Gas valves and hoses should always be replaced with new parts and tested for leaks using soapy water. Look for bubbles to indicate a leak at any of the connecting points. 

And voila! You are now ready for barbecue season! Grill on and enjoy your hard work!

What Is the Proper Way to Retire or Dispose a U.S. Flag?

Flag Day is around the corner, which makes it the perfect time to talk about the proper way to retire an American flag.

What to Do with an Unusable Flag

If your flag is worn out, badly stained or falling apart, here are some ways to respectfully dispose of it:

Drop It Off

  • Many VFW posts and government offices have official flag disposal boxes outside of their buildings where you can drop off any flags.
  • Most American Legions, VFWs and Boy Scout Troops will accept old flags and retire them respectfully in their next flag disposal ceremony. Many hold these ceremonies on Flag Day, so now is the perfect time to contact them!
  • You can also drop flags off at police stations.

Bury It at Home

  • Another option to retire a flag at home is by burying it in a dignified box after folding it properly.

Bring to a Textile Recycler


What To Do With a Usable Flag 

Do you have a flag in working condition that you don’t want or need anymore? Make sure it stays in use! Here’s what you can do with it.

Donate It

  • Flags that are still in usable condition can be donated to a national cemetery or funeral home. These places often use flags in burial ceremonies.
  • You can also mail unwanted 3’ x 5’ flags with embroidered stars to Stars for Our Troops. They cut out the stars and mail them to active military, veterans and first responders as a show of support and respect.
  • If neither of these options work for you, contact an American Legion, VFW or Boy Scout Troop to take the flag off your hands.

Happy Flag Day!

Pet Waste Protocol

Having a pet can bring many positive benefits – joy, companionship, activity – as well as a greater sense of responsibility. One important responsibility is cleaning up your pet’s waste.

When not properly disposed of, pet waste contributes to litter, community odor issues, and water contamination. When it rains, uncollected pet waste runs into local streams, rivers, lakes and the ocean, causing worms and other bacteria to enter these ecosystems. This contamination in waterways can cause serious health issues in humans. Additionally, the decay of pet waste can create nutrients for weeds and algae to grow, preventing healthy oxygen levels and causing fish to asphyxiate and die.   

Keep San Luis Obispo County waterways safe and community spaces healthy and clean by being a responsible pet owner with these pet waste tips:

  • Keep a well-stocked stash of poop bags by your door or in your car to grab before taking your pet for a walk.
  • Tie poop bags around your pet’s leash or use a poop bag holder attachment.
  • Out of poop bags? If you are at a dog park, ask a nearby pet owner if they can spare a bag. 
  • Tie off your pet waste bags securely to eliminate the potential of contamination or litter.
  • Pet waste cannot go inside your green waste bin – dispose of bagged pet waste in the trash. While unbagged dog poop can also be flushed down the toilet, cat poop should never be flushed down the toilet.

Considering backyard composting your pet waste? While it is possible, the pile must reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit for five days to safely sterilize the fecal matter. Most backyard compost systems, however, do not achieve these important minimum safety standards. 

The Secret Ingredient in Your Takeout Packaging

If you have gotten takeout food, then you most likely have encountered “forever chemicals.” 

Also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, these chemicals are used in takeout food packaging to increase grease and water resistance — and they can also be found in items such as cookware, carpeting, and waterproof apparel and gear.

There are thousands of different types of PFAS. Although they are what help keep grease and contents from seeping out of our food containers, these manufactured chemicals are linked to adverse health effects including decreased fertility, hormone disruption, and growth and learning delays in children.

PFAS are also called forever chemicals for a reason — because the chemical bonds forming them are extremely hard to break down, they persist not only in our environment, but in our bodies. Temporary food packaging for forever chemicals? No thanks!

When the food packaging we throw away finds its way to the landfill, PFAS find their way into our food and water supply. The good news is that California, along with a number of other states, have recently banned PFAS in paper-food packaging, with California’s ban to take effect in 2023. In the meantime, see if there is a restaurant near you that offers takeout in reusable containers, or whenever possible, see if you can bring your own container to pick up takeout from a restaurant, and ditch those forever chemicals for good!

Celebrate April Showers: How To Collect Rainwater For Your Garden

Springtime is a time of growth, warmer temperatures, and rain. As the saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers.” Here are some tips on how you can create your own water-collection system to water your garden using those April showers.

Building a Water-Collection System

There are many different types of collection systems, from a simple barrel to a complete system of pipes and drains. 

This method uses barrels and a few simple connecting pieces you can find at the hardware store. Look for gently-used barrels you can reuse from a local grocery store, brewery, or restaurant supply store. Don’t use anything previously containing hazardous materials. 

When selecting a location for your system, choose one that has level ground and is directly under a downspout where water will drain. Be sure that your barrels seal properly to avoid attracting water-breeding insects like mosquitoes. When summer comes, you can simply fill a watering can from your handy collection system to keep your plants hydrated. 

For other options, check out the many designs from this list, which includes a design for free-standing catchment. The design essentially includes a catch-all such as a water tank or barrel and a large funnel placed on top of the container.

You can build the funnel out of PVC and plastic or buy a large premade funnel. A free-standing catchment is an ideal design if your system can’t easily be situated near runoff water from a roof.

Collecting your own rainwater for your garden-watering needs is an ideal solution for decreasing water usage through summertime — and luckily, the options for collection systems are endless. Once a design is chosen, you can get even more creative by decorating or planting around the system to further integrate it into your garden.