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10 Tips for Reusing Paper Bags


10 Tips for Reusing Paper BagsWhile it’s preferable to always use reusable shopping bags sometimes it’s not an option.  I know every so often I’m in the store doing my grocery shopping when I realize that my bags are still at home on the dining room table.  If you find yourself in this situation you’ll probably be given the option of paper or plastic when you get to the checkout.  If you choose paper, you could benefit from some of the ideas below. 

1. Cover your child’s schoolbooks.  I know when I was in high school many of our teachers required that our textbooks be covered to protect them.  Instead of spending money on a cover just use a paper bag.  Once you’ve got it covered your child can decorate their book with stamps, stickers, paint, or anything else that suits them.  If you’re unsure how to go about covering the book, check out this step-by-step tutorial from Instructables.   

2. Wrap gifts.  Much like covering school books, gifts can be wrapped in brown bags.  Just flatten out the bag and wrap with the non-printed side out.  You can then decorate with paint, ribbon, etc.

3. Remove spilled wax from a tablecloth.  ChasingGreen provides this brilliant idea.  “To clean up candle wax stains from your tablecloth or carpet, simply spread out an opened paper bag and move a warm iron quickly back and forth over the spot. This will effectively soak up the grease and lift out any trace of the stain.”

4. Keep your produce fresh.  Some items, mushrooms and onions in particular, can be kept fresher longer by putting them in a paper bag and storing them on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator. 

5. Ripen up your produce.  Interestingly enough, paper bags can also be used to help ripen some things.  Peaches, avocados, pears, or tomatoes can all be placed in a paper bag on your countertop to help them ripen faster.  The paper bag helps to hold in the ripening gasses and keeping them at room temperature ensures that you won’t stunt the ripening process. 

6. Separate trash and recycling in your vehicle.  If you’re like me you tend to accumulate a lot of trash in your car.  Since people tend to dispose of this trash at gas stations (where there is generally not a recycling option) use two separate paper bags to collect waste.  That way you can throw what you need to in the trash while saving bottles and cans for the recycling.

7.  Make large drawing canvasses for your kids.  There is nothing better than having a giant piece of paper to draw on.  Make one for your kids by cutting down the seams on a paper bag and flattening it out.  They’ll have a huge drawing space and you’ll have at least 10 minutes of them being distracted!

8. Collect your paper recycling in it.  This will make recycling your paper that much easier since you’ll be able to toss the whole thing in the bin. 

9. Peel potatoes into a bag.  Once you’ve got all your peels collected into the bag you can take the whole thing to your compost pile. 

10.  Cut paper bags into strips and use them for packing.  Instead of using something like foam peanuts or plastic bubble wrap just cut paper bags into long strips that can be stuffed around fragile items in your boxes.  Once you’ve moved you can use the strips for composting or recycling. 


What do you think?  Do you have other ways that you reuse paper bags?  We’d love to hear them!  

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An Introduction to Closed Container Guidance


An Introduction to Closed Container GuidanceIn December of 2009 the EPA issued guidance for both Large Quantity and Small Quantity Generators concerning how to decide when a container is “closed.”  The guidance is pertinent whether waste is being accumulated in central accumulation areas (CAA) or satellite accumulation areas (SAA) or at RCRA permitted interim facilities.  Today we will be providing an overview of this EPA guidance but keep reading in coming weeks for more in-depth looks at guidelines for specific storage areas and container types. 

To begin we need to understand that the EPA defines a container as “any portable device in which a material is stored, transported, treated, disposed of, or otherwise handled.”  The regulations in 40 CFR 265 require containers that are holding hazardous waste to be closed during storage and open only when adding or removing waste.  Additionally, it stipulates that containers must not be opened, stored, or handled in a way that would cause the container to rupture or leak.

Typically, like in the case of 55 gallon drums, the EPA recommends that a container cover is, “properly secured with snap rings tightly bolted, bungholes capped, and, where appropriate, pressure-vacuum relief valves to maintain the containers internal pressure and avoid explosions.” 

A container accumulating free liquids or liquid hazardous waste is considered closed when all openings or lids are properly and securely affixed to the container unless waste is being added or removed from said container.  A container holding solid or semi-solid hazardous wastes is closed when, “there is complete contact between the lid and the rim all around the top of the container.”  Generally speaking, the EPA considers a container closed when it is, “sealed to the extent necessary to keep the hazardous waste and associated air emissions inside the container.”

The reasoning behind the closed container guidelines is explained in the preamble to the final rule created in 1980.  It states:

“…Its purpose is, as it was originally, to minimize emissions of volatile wastes, to help protect ignitable or reactive wastes from sources of ignition or reaction, to help prevent spills, and to reduce the potential for mixing of incompatible wastes and direct contact of facility personnel with waste.  While many commenters argued and the Agency agrees that storage may properly be conducted in open tanks and surface impoundments, requiring containers to be kept closed does not unnecessarily restrict storage options.  All containers have lids or some other closure device, and keeping containers closed whenever possible is simply a matter of good operating practice. It is not expected that containers of hazardous waste need be opened routinely to inspect the waste or the container for reasons other than to add or remove waste."

What this means is that you can view container regulations as akin to performance standards intended to minimize the risk for potential spills, leaks, or air emissions.  So remember to keep your containers closed.  If you have tips or strategies let us know in the comments!


Quoted and cited information (unless otherwise noted) for this blog post was gathered from the EPA Memorandum on Closed Containers.  As always, this blog post is not intended to be comprehensive and it is always best to check with the EPA and local government for full, up-to-date, rules and regulations.   

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50 Ways to Go Green!


In looking back at responses to our previous posts, it bcame clear that what many readers find most helpful are lists of several ideas for how they can make a “green” impact.  We’ve done several posts that are “10 things you can do” or “8 tips you can try” but this time we’re going big with a list of 50 ways you can save energy, help the environment, and decrease your personal carbon footprint.  So without further ado we present our list of: 

50 Ways to Go Green1.  Take public transportation.

2.  Stay away from chemical cleaners when you can.

3.  Buy local.

4.  Turn off the lights when you leave a room.

5.  Layer up in the winter.

6.  Wear loose airy clothes in the summer.

7.  Ditch the paper towels and use washable instead.

8.  Buy recycled paper.

9.  Separate your recyclables at home.

10.  Start an office recycling program at your work.

11. Avoid overly packaged foods.

12.  Buy in bulk to cut down on the packaging waste you incur.   

13.  Pass green knowledge on to the next generation; your kids, your neighbors kids, etc.

14.  Start a compost heap.

15.  Get involved in urban gardening if you live in a city.

16.  Plant your own garden if you have the space.

17.  Shorten your showers.

18.  Switch to LED or CFL light bulbs around your home or office.

19.  Participate in HHW days to make sure old chemicals are disposed of properly.

20.  Print on both sides of the paper.

21.  Reuse items whenever possible.

22.  Unplug appliances and chargers when you’re not using them.

23.  Invest in a reusable water bottle.

24.  Do you banking online to cut back on the paper you’re sent.

25.  Pack your lunch instead of buying from a fast food joint, you’ll save waste on the bag and the food wrappers.

26.  Reusable shopping bags; have them in your car at all times so you’ll never be without.

27.  Buy things used when you can.

28.  Plant a tree.

29.  Start upcycling.

30.  Invest in an office plant.

31.  If you’re able use a rake, not a leaf blower.

32.  Use a shovel, not a snow blower.

33.  Buy some solar panels for your home or business.

34.  Get a low-flow showerhead.

35.  Don’t preheat your oven.

36.  Wash your clothes in cold water.

37.  Participate in a work carpool.

38.  Buy upcycled items.

39.  Shop from eco-conscious companies.

40.  Buy a fuel efficient vehicle.

41.  Ride your bike instead of driving your car when you can.

42.  Use a carwash instead of washing your car yourself.  It can save about 50% of the water you use.

43.  Don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth.

44.  Wrap gifts in fabric or old newspaper.

45.  Install a programmable thermostat.

46.  Use your ceiling fans.

47.  Make sure your home is properly insulated.

48.  Stay away from Styrofoam.

49.  Check your air filters.

50.  Spread the word!


So, now that you are armed with a multitude of ideas what will you do to help the planet? 

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What is Waste Minimization?


Waste Minimization PyramidA couple of weeks ago we did a post on how the government is addressing waste minimization.  I have since realized, however, that we never really defined what waste minimization is.  According to the EPA, “Waste Minimization refers to the use of source reduction and/or environmentally sound recycling methods prior to energy recovery, treatment, or disposal of wastes.”  Ergo, treatment of a wastestream does not constitute waste minimization.  The EPA takes this further by clarifying that “compacting, neutralizing, diluting, and incineration are not typically considered waste minimization practices.”  So in the hierarchy of materials management source reduction and recycling come before energy recovery, treatment, or disposal.

What is Source Reduction?

Source reduction (which is also known as pollution prevention or P2) is a practice that reduces or eliminates the creation of wastes at the source.  Additionally, source reduction “refers to any practice that reduces the use of hazardous materials in production processes.”  The EPA lists the following examples of source reduction:

  • “Early retirement of equipment such as mercury-containing devices like switches and thermostats;
  • Reformulating or redesigning products, such as creating new PVC compounds without using lead;
  • Using less toxic feedstocks, such as switching to the use of lead-free solder in manufacturing;
  • Improving work practices, such as reorganizing paint batches in order to reduce cleaning operations.”

How is Recycling Utilized?

While most of us know about recycling from a personal standpoint we probably still can learn about recycling at the manufacturing level.  In most cases recycling is used when source reduction is not seen as practical economically.  In the manufacturing process, “Recycling includes the reuse or recovery of in-process materials or materials generated as by-products that can be processed further on-site or sent offsite to reclaim value. Recycling is a broad term that encompasses the reuse of materials in original or changed forms rather than discarding them as wastes. Recycling can also be thought of as the collection and reprocessing of a resource so it can be used again, though not necessarily for its original purpose.”  The EPA provides a few examples of the types of recycling that can be used for waste minimization:

  • “Direct use/reuse of a waste in a process to make a product, such as reusing a purge product used to clean paint lines rather than disposing of it by incineration.
  • Processing the waste to recover or regenerate a usable product, such as collecting vapor from dry cleaning operations, turning it back into liquid, and reusing the liquid to clean more clothes.
  • Using/reusing waste as a substitute for a commercial product. When mercury is recycled from old equipment like switches, it can be used in new products that still require mercury, such as fluorescent bulbs. Recycling of mercury has been so successful that there is now enough recycled mercury in the U.S. that manufacturers do not need to use new mercury from mines.”

How can Waste Minimization help companies? 

Aside from being good for the environment, waste minimization can help companies on an economic sense by eliminating wasted materials, improving production efficiency, and improving product quality.  Additionally, the EPA states that “reducing waste generation through waste minimization has helped some companies change their RCRA regulatory status from large quantity generator (1000 or more kilograms of hazardous waste generated per month) to small quantity generator (between 100 and 1000 kg of hazardous waste generated per month), or to conditionally exempt small quantity generator (up to 100 kg of hazardous waste generated per month). Some have managed to eliminate the generation of hazardous waste and avoid RCRA regulatory requirements altogether.” 

What do you think about waste minimization?  Does your company have plans and processes in place to achieve waste minimization goals?  Have you seen a good ROI on your efforts?  We’d love to hear about it in the comments section!


Quoted and cited information (unless otherwise noted) for this blog post was gathered from the EPA FAQ Page on Waste Minimization.  As always, this blog post is not intended to be comprehensive and it is always best to check with the EPA and local government for full, up-to-date, rules and regulations. 

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10 Ways to Reuse Milk Cartons


Reuse Milk CartonsEven living in a single person household I find myself with at least one empty half gallon milk carton a week.  When I was growing up I’m sure my family went through two or three gallons!  So what happens to all those empty cartons?  For many of us they end up in the recycling bin (or worse in the garbage).  If you want to offset that a little you can try some of the ideas we’ve come up with below!

1.  Make a piggy bank.  All you’ll need is some pink paint, a pipe cleaner for the curly tail, construction paper for the ears, pieces of a toilet paper roll for the legs, and maybe some googley eyes and you will be in business!  The cap is your pig’s snout and you can work back from there.  If you have trouble figuring it out, check out this eHow article

2. Make an igloo.  This one will require saving a lot of milk jugs but it can be a really fun project with your kids!  Apartment Therapy has a tutorial over on their site if you’d like to try your hand at milk carton construction.

3. Store your kids craft supplies.  Cut off the tops of some milk cartons (gallon or half gallon) and they become great places to store crayons, pencils, scissors, and more.

4. Make a watering can.  I’ve actually used this idea already this summer.  Once you empty your milk rinse out the container.  Then use a hammer and nail to put holes in the lid.  Fill it with water and you’ve got an upcycled watering can.

5. Rope off part of the lake.  Do you live on a lake that has a steep drop off?  If so you can use some poles, yarn, and milk jugs to mark the line.  Just firmly plant the poles in the soil at the bottom of the lake and use the yarn and empty milk jugs to make a floating line between them.

6. Make a bird feeder.  Simply put a small hole in the cap to run a string through and cut some holes in the body for the birds to be able to access the food.  If you want to give them a place to perch while eating consider using old popsicle sticks.

7. Make a yarn dispenser.  To do this you’ll need to cut the top of the milk container off just enough so a ball of yarn and your hand can fit into the hole. Once the ball of yarn is in take the end of the yarn and bring it through the handle of the milk jug. This is a great way to keep the yarn from getting tangled together!

8. Make a quick lantern.  This can also be used as a Halloween craft idea.  By dropping a glow stick into an empty milk jug you can set the whole thing aglow.  Add spooky faces and different colored glow sticks to make a fun fall craft.

9. Irrigate your plants.  By poking small holes in the bottom of a milk jug and burying it in your garden you can create a little root irrigation system.  Just fill the top with water and it will trickle out as needed.  This can be a lifesaver for your plants if you go away for the weekend.

10.  Store odds and ends in the garage.  If you find yourself with an assortment of nails, nuts, and bolts with no home try storing them in the bottom half of an old milk carton.  This way it won’t matter if they are a little rusty or dusty.


Want more reuse ideas?  Check out some of our previous posts:

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What is Green Chemistry?


Green ChemistryIn a previous post about the EPA’s Waste Minimization plans we mentioned green chemistry.  If you’ll remember the EPA defines green chemistry as “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances.”  Green chemistry applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, use, and ultimate disposal. Green chemistry is also known as sustainable chemistry. 

Green Chemistry can be differentiated from waste remediation because it “reduces pollution at its source by minimizing or eliminating the hazards of chemical feedstocks, reagents, solvents, and products,” whereas waste remediation involves cleaning up and / or treating waste.  The extent to which Green Chemistry is used can be seen by looking at the 12 principals associated with it.  These 12 principles, according to the EPA, include the following:

1. Prevent waste: Design chemical syntheses to prevent waste. Leave no waste to treat or clean up.

2. Maximize atom economy: Design syntheses so that the final product contains the maximum proportion of the starting materials. Waste few or no atoms.

3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses: Design syntheses to use and generate substances with little or no toxicity to either humans or the environment.

4. Design safer chemicals and products: Design chemical products that are fully effective yet have little or no toxicity.

5. Use safer solvents and reaction conditions: Avoid using solvents, separation agents, or other auxiliary chemicals. If you must use these chemicals, use safer ones.

6. Increase energy efficiency: Run chemical reactions at room temperature and pressure whenever possible.

7. Use renewable feedstocks: Use starting materials (also known as feedstocks) that are renewable rather than depletable. The source of renewable feedstocks is often agricultural products or the wastes of other processes; the source of depletable feedstocks is often fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, or coal) or mining operations.

8. Avoid chemical derivatives: Avoid using blocking or protecting groups or any temporary modifications if possible. Derivatives use additional reagents and generate waste.

9. Use catalysts, not stoichiometric reagents: Minimize waste by using catalytic reactions. Catalysts are effective in small amounts and can carry out a single reaction many times. They are preferable to stoichiometric reagents, which are used in excess and carry out a reaction only once.

10. Design chemicals and products to degrade after use: Design chemical products to break down to innocuous substances after use so that they do not accumulate in the environment.

11. Analyze in real time to prevent pollution: Include in-process, real-time monitoring and control during syntheses to minimize or eliminate the formation of byproducts.

12. Minimize the potential for accidents: Design chemicals and their physical forms (solid, liquid, or gas) to minimize the potential for chemical accidents including explosions, fires, and releases to the environment.”


Quoted and cited information (unless otherwise noted) for this blog post was gathered from the EPA article Basics of Green Chemistry.  As always, this blog post is not intended to be comprehensive and it is always best to check with the EPA and local government for full, up-to-date, rules and regulations. 

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Be Red, White, Blue, and GREEN this 4th of July


Be Red, White, Blue, and GREEN this 4th of July

I don’t know about you but I am very excited about this long weekend we’re looking at!  You may remember a previous post we did about July 4th Safety but this year we’re going to tackle how we can all be a little greener while celebrating.  We’ve collected the five tips below and we hope everyone has a safe, happy, and eco-friendly holiday!


1. Green your cook out.

You can do this a couple different ways.  Firstly, you can buy your food locally.  Get you veggies and fruits from a local farmers market and try not to drive far to get your other items.  This will help by cutting down on your travel and the distance your food will travel before it gets to you.  Once you’ve got your food together the next step is to ditch the plastic and/or Styrofoam dishes.  If you MUST use disposable plates and cutlery we recommend finding biodegradable options like those made of bamboo or using recycled paper plates.


2. Reuse your decorations.

If you’re hosting a party, or if your town has a block party, encourage them to save the decorations.  The decor for Independence Day (namely red, white, and blue everything) is probably not going to change any time soon.  So cut back on the waste you generate by saving your streamers, table toppers, and festive clothing.


3. Rethink your fireworks.

The short of the story is fireworks are bad for our air quality.  That said, it just wouldn’t be 4thof July without them!  So what can we do to lessen the negative impact?  We recommend going to see your city’s fireworks display as opposed to trying to do your own.  Did you know that on average individuals purchase about ten times the fireworks that city’s do?  Skip that and you can cut back on pollution, be safer, and probably see a more impressive show.  If you want to do something at home you could try biodegradable paper lanterns.  They provide a bright glow and are a fun deviation from the typical fare.    


4.  Cut back on waste and recycle what you make.

If you are having guests over opt for large containers of water and lemonade that can fill up reusable cups instead of bottled beverages.  If you must use bottled or canned options make sure you have a separate container available for people to recycle them.  Glass is an especially important one to recycle since it can be reused indefinitely.   


5. Take it outside.

Cut back on the energy you need to use by hosting your Fourth of July party outside!  This way you won’t have to worry about lighting and cooling a house full of people.  Plus, outside parties mean you can get a game or two of cornhole going!  Just make sure everyone wears their sunscreen and keeps hydrated and you’ll be good to go.

We hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday!  Tell us in the comments section how you plan to bring some green into your red, white, and blue! 

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The RCRA 8's: An Infographic


A couple of weeks back we did a post on the RCRA 8 Metals which people really seemed to enjoy.  This week we are going to take it a step further with the infographic below!  This infographic covers the basics of the RCRA 8's (including their designated degrees of concentration).  Additionally, the size of this infographic is perfect for printing at 12"x36" size!  Just click the image below to download!

RCRA 8 Infographic resized 600


Quoted and cited information (unless otherwise noted) for this blog post was gathered from the eHow article, A List of RCRA Metals and the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.  As always, this blog post is not intended to be comprehensive and it is always best to check with the EPA and local government for full, up-to-date, rules and regulations. 

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5 More Upcycling Project Ideas


It has been a few months since our last upcycling projects post so I thought it was high time for another.  So if you have some spare time or are looking for a fun summer project keep reading for 5 more ideas you can try.

1. Make grater lights.  These could be especially fun for an evening on the porch.  Simply get a wired light kit (available at most hardware stores) and use an old cheese grater in place of a shade.  This will create an interesting light that will cast a unique glow on the walls around you.

Grate Lights 

2. Make your own apothecary jars.  To do this all you will need is a few empty glass jars, a drill, some spare drawer knobs, and a can of spray paint.  Heidi at Parties for Pennies offers a step-by-step tutorial for the project here.

Apothecary Jars 

3. Use old drawers to make hanging shelves.  This would be a great project to start at a thrift store.  Find an old piece of furniture with drawers that are removable and strong.  Check the bottom of the drawers as well since having a bit of a lip will be helpful for mounting them.  Next you’ll need some spray paint in whatever colors you like.  Once you get all of your supplies home remove the drawers and spray paint them the colors you’d like.  Once they are dry use nails to hang the drawers on the wall.  Now you have some whimsical new shelves. 

Drawer Shelves 

4. Use a mason jar to create a tiny sewing kit.  This would be a great gift idea as well!  The tutorial can be found in Martha Stewart’s Sewing and Crafts book which Traci at the Stolen Moments blog used to make the ones pictured below.  Basically, by turning the top of the jar into a pincushion and putting the other supplies in the jar you can make a fun (and finger sticking proof) sewing kit. 

Mason Sewing Kits 

5. Make a suitcase table.  The one pictured below was from the SalvageShack Etsy shop and has since been sold.  If you’re feeling adventurous and crafty though you could make one for yourself!  All you’ll need is an old suitcase, some table legs, and tools and you can create your own masterpiece.    

Suitcase Table

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How is the EPA Addressing Waste Minimization?


How is the EPA Addressing Waste MinimizationAccording to the EPA, “The National Waste Minimization Program supports efforts that promote a more sustainable society, reduce the amounts of waste generated, and lower the toxicity and persistence of wastes that are generated.”[1]  They are working to do this in a few different ways.  Firstly, the EPA has a list of 31 “priority chemicals” that they are working to reduce.  They are doing this by identifying where these chemicals are found in “our nation's products and wastes [and] finding ways to eliminate or substantially reduce their use in production. If these chemicals cannot easily be eliminated or reduced at the source, [they] focus on recovering or recycling them.” [2]

In addition to working to eliminate the priority chemicals, the EPA has four major tools and projects they are supporting that help with waste minimization.  These four main tools are lean manufacturing, energy recovery, environmental management systems (EMS), and green chemistry.  Each of these is explained in more detail below.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

According to the EPA, “Lean manufacturing is a business model and collection of tactical methods that emphasize eliminating non-value added activities (waste) while delivering quality products on time at least cost with greater efficiency.”  Engaging in lean manufacturing allows companies to “create a culture of continuous improvement, employee empowerment, and waste minimization.”  What this means is that companies who support and implement lean manufacturing initiatives see benefits outside of the scope you might expect. [3]

What is Energy Recovery?

Energy recovery is done through a process called gasification.  According to the EPA, “gasification converts carbon-containing materials, under high temperature and pressure, into synthesis gas… or syngas… Syngas can be used as a fuel to generate electricity or as a basic chemical building block for use in the petrochemical and refining industries. Syngas generally has a heating value that is approximately two-thirds that of natural gas and, when burned as fuel, produces emissions that are similar to natural gas. In the petroleum refining industry alone, about seven to ten million tons of hazardous byproducts containing carbon, currently managed under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), could be converted into useable fuel or chemicals using gasification methods.” [4]

What are Environmental Management Systems?

The EPA defines Environmental Management Systems (EMS) as “a set of processes and practices that enable an organization to systematically assess and manage its environmental "footprint" –the environmental impact associated with its activities, products, and services.”  Environmental management systems are variable in scope and practice but all have rather similar goals; to improve environmental performance by providing a company with the tools they need to manage their environmental activities and impacts in the most beneficial and cost effective manner. 

The EPA lists several benefits of EMS including:

  • Helping to comply with regulatory responsibilities and providing a way to address non-regulated environmental aspects like energy use and the conservation of resources;
  • Facilitating the assessment of risks and liabilities;
  • Increasing operating efficiency by creating standard operating procedures;
  • Increasing the environmental awareness of employees;
  • Potential for environmental and financial benefits; and
  • Providing a competitive edge over competitors not using EMS. [5]

What is Green Chemistry?

The final of the four primary tools being used by the EPA for waste minimization is green chemistry.  The EPA defines green chemistry as, “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances.”  Green chemistry prevents pollution at the molecular level and applies to all areas of chemistry.  The result is “source reduction” because it actually prevents the generation of pollution.  It also “reduces the negative impacts of chemical products and processes on human health and the environment, lessens and sometimes eliminates hazard from existing products and processes, [and] designs chemical products and processes to reduce their intrinsic hazards.” [6]  We will talk more about Green Chemistry in a future post.   

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