cardboard_box_clip_art_22876by Richard M. Goodman

When purchasing necessities or special gifts, deciding what items to buy based on its sustainable packaging can have a significant impact.

According to the Sustainability Packaging Coalition, the two most relevant sustainable packaging principles to the average consumer include:

  • Sustainable packaging optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials.
  • Sustainable packaging is physically designed to optimize materials and energy.

Let’s look at how to implement these two principles.  The recycling industry incurs big expense in their sorting operations to remove undesirable or toxic materials from the recycle stream.  If the packaging industry can create packaging that is easily sorted and not likely to introduce potential contaminants, then it makes the recycling industry’s job easier and ultimately reduces their costs. Proper on-package messaging from the packaging industry can help consumers help recyclers, which in the end helps the packaging industry.  Consumers should insist on greened packaging.

Paper-based packaging such as boxes, containers, cartons, sacks and bags are part of our everyday lives. Unlike other packaging options, paper-based packaging is made from trees – a renewable source that is sustainably grown, managed and harvested specifically for the paper industry – or from recovered fiber, allowing reuse of its products. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper-based packaging is recovered more than any other packaging material. Paper and paperboard represent more than 70 percent of all packaging recovered for recycling in the U.S. and, in 2011, 91 percent of old corrugated containers were recovered for recycling.

Another consideration involves the use of compostable materials for packaging. This can best be satisfied if the earth’s biosphere effectively recovers the nutritive value of the basic biological materials and no toxic or dangerous substances are released through any stage of the package’s lifecycle. It should be noted that the conditions for effective biological degradation do not exist in landfills and the release of problematic substances is a further concern. Managed composting and anaerobic digestion with energy recovery are examples of sustainable systems.

In summary, we should observe the following considerations when looking into the packaging of consumer goods:

  • Avoid overly packaged goods.
  • Look for packaging materials that are fully recyclable, including plastics with the recycle labels, aluminum, cardboard and paper.
  • Look for compostable materials and either use them in your own or neighborhood composts or put them into the recycling system.
  • Read the labels to be sure you are removing any potentially toxic materials from the recycling streams.

If we as consumers follow these guidelines we can help promote the use of sustainable packaging and help create a positive reinforcement to manufacturers to increase the use of these materials

Richard M. Goodman, PhD, is a chemical scientist and consultant focusing on how surface science concepts can solve real world problems.  The periodic column considers aspects of sustainability from a scientific perspective. See Goodman’s profile with Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers (ACC&CE) at www.chemconsult.org

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BG_HH_Jan13_eviteHappy New Year

To all our friends, associates, sponsors and supporters, Bethesda Green looks forward to celebrating our 5th anniversary with you in 2013, and we welcome your ideas, energy and commitment in sharing our mission to promote sustainable living practices and a healthy local economy.

We kick off the new year this Thursday,  Jan. 3, with a Happy Hour @ Redwood Restaurant, 5-8 pm.  In addition to enjoying complimentary appetizers, networking and casual conversation, we will share Green Resolutions for 2013.  Submit your green resolution to info@bethesdagreen.org to be eligible to win a $50 gift card from Redwood.

Click here for more info about the Jan. 3 Happy Hour.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

For my money, Green Resolutions always start with a re-commitment to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Reducing your consumption and reusing products help preserve our natural resources. Recycling paper, plastic, aluminum, scrap metal and a range of household and office materials divert these items from landfills.  Creating products from recycled materials also requires less energy and can save money in the long run. It’s a win-win solution!

Montgomery County’s Division of Solid Waste Services makes it easy for county residents to recycle a wide range of materials through its comprehensive and convenient programs and resources. The county provides information about how to recycle everything from plastic bottles to cooking oil. A variety of services and resources for businesses and residents are available, including some great waste reduction tips.

A while back, we published specific green resolutions — 5 Tips to Break Bad Habits & Get a Green Routine — aligned with the reduce, reuse and recycle theme, which we’re delighted to share again here.

What’s your green resolution this year?  Let us know so we can share them with others.

All the best in the coming year.

Sustainability of Rugs and Carpets

by Richard M. Goodman

We often overlook some rather obvious sources of environmental degradation or missed opportunities to conduct ourselves in a sustainable way.  I recently encountered information about an area of sustainability many of us would never consider.

In talking to a representative from a major carpet manufacturer, I learned that discarded carpets and rugs historically have taken up about 3% of landfills.  While that’s not a huge percentage, it does represent a significant amount of stuff — dirty, old, unsightly carpets that are hard to condense into landfill space and consist of many materials deliberately designed not to be very biodegradable.

What I learned is that the carpet manufacturers through their Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) have developed a program to potentially recycle 100% of used carpets.  It is noteworthy that they have done this rather quietly without a major PR campaign or expensive commercial hype.

CRI has established carpet and rug recycling centers where used carpets can be properly segregated, broken down (where appropriate) into components and raw materials for recycling.  The CRI has defined a Seal Of Approval for carpets that spells out how the manufacturer is to describe the materials of construction and how they are to be recycled.  Components end up in plastics feedstock, new carpets, etc.

The vast majority of carpets are used in commercial buildings such as hotels and office buildings, and owners should recycle carpets when renovating their properties. Consumers can do their part by recycling carpets as well. Montgomery County provides free carpet recycling under its Bulk Trash Collections program.

Currently, more than 70% of carpets nationwide are recycled. The goal is 100%, and when that happens, a significant waste stream to landfills will have been eliminated.

Richard M. Goodman, PhD, is a chemical scientist and consultant focusing on how surface science concepts can solve real world problems.  His periodic blog posts consider aspects of sustainability from a scientific perspective. See Goodman’s profile with Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers (ACC&CE) at www.chemconsult.org.

Speedy Signs:  Offering Eco Friendly Options for Your Business and Personal Sign Needs

By Lori Hill

If you’ve ever been in the Bethesda Green office, you may have noticed the big Bethesda Green sign in the conference room.  I’ve always assumed that everything in the Bethesda Green office is eco-friendly, and indeed, that sign is no different.  It was created by Dave Taghipour and the team at Speedy Signs in Wheaton, MD.

You might wonder, “How can a sign be eco-friendly?”  The materials used to make the sign are one component, but the business practices of the company making the signs also matter.  I produced special events for 16 years and signage was one component of just about every event.  I became more conscientious about the materials used to make signs when I realized that foam core and foam board are not going to biodegrade and corrugated plastic, a material I once used on a regular basis, will take a very long time to break down in a landfill.  So what materials should you use?

According to Taghipour, “In place of acrylic and other plastic materials, one can use 3form materials. Made from ecoresin, their co-polyester sheet material contains a significant amount of both pre- and post-consumer recycled content. Their products range from 25% to 77.5% pre-consumer recycled content, to 100% post-consumer recycled content. Utilizing 3form materials can contribute to LEED points. In place of conventional banner materials, one can use BIOflex™, the first biodegradable vinyl banner material.

“When exposed to conditions in a landfill (darkness, high heat and moisture), BIOflex™ attracts microbes that break down PVC and turn it into dust. One can also use EarthSmart™, a non-PVC banner material that is 100% biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable. In place of foam core, one can use BioBoard™, which contains approximately 63% post-consumer recycled content (cardboard) and is 100% recyclable.”

Recently, Bethesda Green had Speedy Signs make bike rack signs made of recycled aluminum and printed using bio solvent inks. Speedy Signs made these signs out of a plastic sheet containing approximately 30% recycled content, sandwiched between two sheets of recycled aluminum.

Speedy Signs works hard to minimize its footprint in an industry that is full of scraps, vinyl, and waste.  They start by purchasing eco-friendly materials when feasible (clients must be receptive and often be willing to pay a small premium), continue with consciously utilizing the materials to slash the amount of waste, and finish with recycling whatever scraps are left at the end. The post production vinyl scraps that are too small for their machines to use are absolutely perfect for creative use by artists and children, so they always look to give these items a second chance at utility before being so quick to scrap them.

Although they we were one of the original 20 companies to obtain Montgomery County Green Business Certification in April 2010, they engaged in green practices long before then. For example, they were among the first businesses in the Wheaton area to join a buying group to purchase wind power.  And even though the landlord at their previous location did not offer any recycling program, they have been recycling cardboard and other items by driving to the Derwood transfer station weekly since the company was founded.

Other company green initiatives include:

  • Conserving paper by conducting 90%+ of their promotions through the Internet
  • Conserving water by using dual flush toilets and utilizing automatic faucets
  • Conserving energy by using flat panel monitors on every computer in the store and turning off unused equipment
  • Conserving resources and building with reclaimed wood from barns, fences and old structures along with bamboo and cork
  • Encouraging employees to carpool or take public transit, offering incentives
  • Using natural biodegradable cleaning materials throughout the business
  • Using e-mail, rather than paper, whenever possible for all correspondence
  • Using natural lighting instead of artificial lighting throughout showroom
  • Telecommute whenever possible, reducing gas usage and emissions
  • Providing employees with access to kitchenware, reducing the need for disposable cutlery
  • Providing customers with a station of Energy Star information

Taghipour, who also owns  All-Eco Center, which sells sustainable building materials, was involved with launching GreenWheaton.

Lori Hill is a sustainable lifestyle consultant and former green event producer.  Visit her blog  for more green lifestyle tips.

Expo Offers Visitors Latest Info on Solar and Green Home Services

Bethesda Green’s 3rd Annual Solar & Green Home Expo, Saturday, June 9, 10 am – 4 pm, offers visitors an information-packed showcase event featuring many green home expert services and solar providers. The spotlight on solar will include purchasing and investment opportunities, and incentives for home installation. Local area green home businesses will display their services while individual workshops related to greening your home will be conducted throughout the day.

The goal of this event at Bethesda Green —  4825 Cordell Avenue, second floor above the Capital One Bank — is to provide homeowners and other interested parties an opportunity to get the latest information about area services and incentives to green their homes.  This is a free event for the community.

Companies and organizations participating in the Solar & Green Home Expo include: Solar Energy World, Standard Solar, Solar City, ecobeco, Green Savings Coop, Amicus Green Building Center, Clean Currents, Karmalades, Live Green, The Compost Crew, Savenia Labs, Complete Home Solutions, A.I.R. Lawn Care, Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, STIHL, Kenergy Solar, Astrum Solar, The Cleaning Corps, Bethesda Systems and Garden Gate Landscaping.

Check our website for more info.

Science & Sustainability

by Richard M. Goodman

How many times has someone said that substituting electronic communications for paper-based communications is good because you can “save a tree?”  At first this seems to be a no-brainer; how can distributing information electronically not be better than using a piece of paper?  That’s where the concept of sustainability comes in.  Sustainability preaches that we leave earth’s resources in better shape after we are done than before or at least at an even position.

It is true that paper companies plant more trees than they harvest.  (For the record, we are not talking about destruction of virgin forests but the more likely harvesting of young growth trees strictly for paper stock.)  It is also true that we can recycle a significant amount of the paper we use.  On the other side we discard electronics at an alarming rate; lifetimes of 2 years or less are common for many devices. The discarded electronics often contain toxic or limited resources.  Also, what about the source of power for the devices and the Internet?  It is almost always sourced from coal or other cheap but dirty fuels.

Now I don’t want to get into a detailed debate, however, it turns out that the comparison between printing information and transmitting by electronic media is not always in favor of electronics.  I belong to a working group that is part of the International Standards Organization (ISO), a global initiative to provide useful standards for virtually every industry.  One of the recent endeavors has been to exactly address the question of electronic vs. paper for all communications.  The conclusion from the initial study: “Users of this international standard should acknowledge that the CFPs (carbon footprints) developed according to requirements from different communication programs may not be comparable.”  In short, it’s not clear when comparing diverse technologies, which has the best carbon footprint or environmental friendliness – reinforcing the notion that green is the new gray.

Richard M. Goodman, PhD, is a chemical scientist and consultant focusing on how surface science concepts can solve real world problems.  The periodic column considers aspects of sustainability from a scientific perspective. See Goodman’s profile with Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers (ACC&CE) at www.chemconsult.org.

Local high school green teams and other interested recyclers, here’s a great way to do your part to reduce waste and help support Bethesda Green.  Collect your old cell phones and bring them to Bethesda Green for recycling.

We’ve partnered with two of our Green Business Incubator CompaniesGreenSavings.Coop and their Supplier Member VertiGO Solutions — to turn your old cell phones into a valuable donation.

Just bring your old phones to Bethesda Green — 4825 Cordell Avenue, on the second floor above the Capital One Bank — and deposit them in the VertiGO Box at the front desk.   The company’s VertiGO RECOVER service specializes in mobile phone recycling to ensure wireless devices are handled in a way that doesn’t compromise sensitive information or impact the local environment.

VertiGO Solutions will make a cash donation to Bethesda Green for the value of any recycled phones.