Beyond the 3 R’s

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle are the 3 R’s of the environment. But lately I have been hearing other words to add to it: Rethink, Redesign, Redefine, Repair…can you think of more?

Simply reduce what you buy and what you use. So often, I am designing homes more for the peoples stuff and not as much for the people. The square footage is always so much less when people are realistic about what they need surrounding them. Think about what you really need. Maybe someone else could use that “thing-a-ma-bob” that you haven’t used in more than a year. Reduce the amount of square footage in your home and you will reduce your construction and operating expenses and you will reduce the impact on the environment.

When you buy fast food, do you find your self throwing away more volume in packaging than you have in food? Try to find food vendors who reduce the amount of packaging used. Also, throw away packaging on site so the restaurant can experience their own trash volume and hopefully rethink the way they are packaging their food.

Also a simple concept. Buy reused when you have an opportunity to buy and reuse what you already have. We saved about $30 on school supplies this year by looking around the house for everything we needed. Next time you need building supplies, furniture, clothing, automobiles etc. search the locale resale shops or Craig’s list before you buy new. There is an extraordinary great supply of quality used items for sale everywhere. This reduces our dependence on raw materials.

We are really good at donating to Good-Will, but are we as good at buying from them? Check out their stores next time you need a new kitchen gadget, children’s book or gift.

Austinites are doing a fantastic job of recycling. The single stream recycling that began last year increased our participation in recycling from about 60% to about 95%. The downside, at least at this time, is that in the state of our economy there is less revenue from recycled materials. This will change as our economy improves. To help on a personal level, make sure you buy products with recycled content or packaged with recycled materials.

Recycling Styrofoam is not very practical because of it’s limited uses. Be sure to keep it out of your single stream recycling bins, even the foam food boxes that have the recycling symbol. All those little bits of light foam get mixed in with the paper and can ruin a large supply of recycled paper. The best option is to try to avoid Styrofoam products like food packaging and packing materials. If you have any Styrofoam packaging to recycle, we are lucky to have one of the few Styrofoam recyclers in the nation right here in Austin. Cycled Plastics, located near the corner of Burnet Road and Rutland, recycles Styrofoam and most other types of plastics. Please call 512-339-8787 before dropping anything off to make sure that you have the right kind of Styrofoam.

Here is a comprehensive list of where to recycle most everything you can think of!! Ecology Action: Recycling Resources

Recycling glass is a huge benefit to reducing the need for raw materials. But sometimes saving something from being recycled is an even bigger benefit. Wouldn’t it be cool if we saw vendors at our local farmers market using all shapes and sizes of glass jars reused from jellies and condiments? In fact, I think that would catch our eye; what a conversation piece for those vendors. Hmmmm…

Remember when you couldn’t get out of Target for less than $100? Did you really need all that stuff? I love Target, but they are so great at marketing inside their store. They have fresh, trendy merchandise that is affordable. Rethink: Do I really need this? Do I already have one? Can I get this used somewhere? Can I make one out of stuff I already have?

Next time you have a party, ask your guests to bring their food storage containers with missing lids or bottoms. Maybe there is a match out there somewhere???

When designing your new home or remodel addition, plan spaces on your site for city or county trash and recycling bins and for onsite composting. In side your home, plan for trash and recycling bins to make it most convenient to dispose of waste properly.

Homeowners and builders need to redesign the way construction waste is managed. To save money in dump fees, construction waste should be reused on site, saved for the next job, recycled or sold to another builder.

Have you thought, “I would rather chuck this broken thing and just go buy a new one.” But this economy has forced us to rethink our old habits. Certainly repairing a broken item can be more time consuming than shopping for new, but the value or repairing is much greater than the thing it self.

In remodel construction, the flow of demolition materials should be: What materials can be reused on site –> what materials can be reused by someone else –> what materials can be recycled –> the remaining materials are trash.

In construction both new and remodel, there are phases of construction to pay attention to. For example in the framing stage, what lumber is being thrown into your dumpster? Get it all out and redefine the value of each piece to your builder. Efficient framing can leave very little lumber unused on site to reuse later for another small project or chipped into mulch. In the finish stages, there are appliances, windows, hardware and other items that are shipped in boxes that should be folded flat and recycled. Look at Austin Energy Green Building to help your builder redefine their construction waste management practices. Sustainable Building Sourcebook: Construction Waste Management

Zero Waste
For the city’s initiative to get to Zero Waste or as close as possible by 2040, we need to start changing habits on a personal level now. The waste industry is rethinking every facet of waste management. From removing carbon from the atmosphere by making Biochar; using methane gas released from land fills as fuel and making biodiesel out of brown and yellow grease from waste water, engineers and scientists have their rethinking caps on. To support this effort, visit these websites and take a fascinating tour at Austin Water Utility’s Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant and enjoy the best bird watching sites in Texas. Enjoy!!

Zero Waste International Alliance
Grass Roots Recycling Network
Zero Waste Alliance
Austin’s Future: Zero Waste
Biochar by Wikipedia
Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory

An enormous thank you to Jessica King, with COA Solid Waste Services and
David Greene, P.E., with Austin’s Water Utility whose expertise presented at the Austin Energy Green Building seminar gave inspiration for this newsletter.

Green Living Tips!

I welcome inspirations from your home to put into future newsletters. Email them to me; Cammi Klier. Thanks!!

Letting your grass grow long in times of drought will increase its drought tolerance. Also, understand the dormant period for your type of grass. Some varieties can go up to 4-6 weeks with out water but the typical sleeping lawn needs about 1/2″ of water every 2-3 weeks.