Overview: Believe it or not, there is a Waste Hierarchy, and as inhabitants of this beautiful planet we call home, we owe it to Mother Earth to learn how to care for her. We've all heard about recycling, but the creative and more efficient concept of "reuse" seems to somehow fly under the radar. What exactly is reuse? What does a reuse center do? What are the benefits for me and for my environment? New homeowners, existing homeowners, landlords looking to furnish their apartments, universities, retirement homes, non-profit organizations, and businesses, both small and large, all have the opportunity to contribute in their own unique way. Read on to learn how you can save some green while going green.
Table of Contents:
The Waste Hierarchy
What is it? The Waste Hierarchy consists of the three R's and structured in order of efficiency. From most efficient to least efficient, they are: reduce, reuse, and recycle.
This is the most desirable of the hierarchy, the top tier. It is the gold standard for being sustainable. It involves minimizing the amount of waste one generates. In order to reduce, the requisite is being educated, knowledgeable, and aware of everyday practices that can be carried out in order to make your environmental footprint a little less noticeable.
Tips for the individual
- Save electricity by turning off lights
Tips for industry
- Decrease materials in product design/packaging
- Use remanufactured equipment
- Use hand blowers in restrooms instead of paper towels
Click here for more helpful insights on reduction.
This occurs when a discarded item is used 2 or more times, often with a completely different purpose (repurposing) than it was originally intended for. Reuse uses less energy than recycling and is therefore higher up on the hierarchy because the extra step of breaking a product down into its basic raw materials is energy wasted compared to simply keeping an item together and reusing it.
Tips for the individual
- Attend garage sales frequently
- Donate clothes to the Salvation Army
- Refurbish electronic items
Tips for industry
- Purchase "recycled" toner cartridges for office printers
- Reuse mailers, bubble wrap, cardboard, and other packaging materials
- Visit the Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity ReStore
When a discarded item is broken down, separated into its basic material, and used to create a brand new product. There are two different types of recycling:
- Upcycling (more efficient): transforming broken down materials of little value into a product of higher value
- Downcycling (less efficient): transforming broken down materials of high value into a product of lesser value
Tips for the individual
- Designate a trash can specifically for recyclables
- Recycle newspapers (the fibers can be used up to 7 more times!)
- Inquire about recycling programs (check out the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority for Lancaster's recycling programs
Tips for industry
- Donate outdated computers and other electronics
- Recycle pallets (Lancaster County pallet recycling companies: Strasburg Pallet Co. and P & P Recycling
- Contact a Lancaster recycling vendor to get a complete waste analysis specific to your organization to determine the most effective solutions
Click here for a list of Lancaster County Recycling Vendors
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Follow the Waste Stream Road
The waste stream is the flow of garbage from when it is first produced, to when it is sent to a landfill or is recycled and put back onto retail shelves to repeat the process again. There are two different paths waste can take: the recycling process, or the disposal process.
The Recycling Process
When recyclables are sent to the Waste Management Facility, they are divided up on conveyor belts into four different categories:
Let us take a close look at the path paper takes.
- There are four different categories that paper is divided up into by the Waste Management Facility: Corrugated Boxes, Old Newsprint, Mixed Paper, Office Mix.
- The Waste Management Facility then bales the paper and sells them to paper mills.
- Once at the paper mill, the bales are places in massive containers of water which removes the ink. What remains is the consistency of mush.
- The mush is then heated and pushed through rollers, trimmed, wrapped, and sent to printing warehouses.
The Disposal Process
Anything you place in the trash either goes into a landfill or a waste-to-energy facility.
- Landfill: a large hole in the ground or a mound on top of the ground in which trash is placed for long-term disposal.
- Waste-to-Energy Facility: Using combustion, trash is converted into electricity for lights and heating systems.
The Habitat for Humanity ReStore doesn't interrupt the waste stream process, but it keeps materials from ever entering it in the first place.
Landfills, An Overview
Donating to the ReStore helps eliminate waste from landfills, thus reducing the potential threats they pose to our biological health and to the environment of Lancaster County.
A landfill is a sport stadium-sized hole either built into the ground or on top of the ground in which trash is covered over with soil for storage. It is different from a dump in that landfills are quarantined from the rest of the surrounding environment whereas a dump is accessible to rodents, etc., creating even more unwanted waste and the potential for bacteria.
What kind of trash goes into a landfill?
- Community solid waste (hospitals, school, churches, etc.)
- Construction and demolition debris (building materials)
- Manufacturing waste (from large company warehouses and industrial sites)
- Hazardous waste (pesticides, batteries, light bulbs, etc.)
Landfills were created as an improvement upon the trash "dump" with the intent to keep trash separate from air and groundwater, which would reduce quality of life and spread disease. While in a landfill, trash cannot decompose.
Landfills can be traced back to 500 B.C., but modern landfills became prevalent in the 1920's and even more so after the United States Army adopted them for use during World War II.
In 1998, there were roughly 8,000 landfills in use, whereas a decade later in 2008, only 1,812 were in use. But there isn't too much cause for celebration yet, because although the quantity has diminished over time, the size of those landfills has grown exponentially, almost completely cancelling out those decreasing numbers.
There are four parts that comprise the modern day landfill:
1. Liner: Made from either synthetic plastic or clay, the liner is placed underneath all of the waste in a landfill and acts as the separation between trash and our environment.
Problem: Clay and plastic liners crack and weaken due to household chemicals like alcohol, nail polish, vinegar, and others. If the liner fails, and it will over time, hazardous waste permeates through, running loose into our environment.
2. Leachate Collection System: Leachate is the polluted liquid that drips down through the pile of trash, collecting bacteria and becoming increasingly dirty. The collection system is an engineered pipeline that sits at the bottom of the landfill, gathering the leachate to be eventually transported to the local wastewater treatment plant.
Problem: If the pipes clog, leachate fills up the entire landfill, causing damage to the liner. Also, the pipes themselves are impaired over time due to chemical corrosion. If they crack, the leachate cannot be traced and will run free into its surroundings.
3. Cover: The cover made of clay and placed on top of a landfill in order to keep out rainwater which would then create leachate. Thick layers of soil are placed on top of the cover, allowing plant life to grow.
Problem: Erosion caused by weather; roots from plant life may infiltrate through to the trash-filled center of the landfill.
4. Natural Hydrogeologic Setting: If water/leachate does break free from the system, cracks and slopes in the earth underneath the landfill will determine where that contaminated water flows. It is the goal of engineers to determine where this natural flow of water will lead in the event leachate escapes.
Problem: Not all landfills have a safe hydrogeologic setting. Some pose potential dangers and could leak into ground-water systems.
Waste needs to be disposed of somehow, and at the moment, we need landfills in our society. Until we figure out a more sustainable method, what we can do as citizens of Lancaster County is reduce our consumption and waste through the concept of reuse. A single ReStore can help eliminate up to 1,000 tons of waste per year that would be thrown into a landfill, thus reducing the potential for the risks stated above.
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Reuse, a Deeper Understanding
How Can I Reuse?
There are tons of creative and fun ways to implement the concept of reuse in your daily life. Below is a compiled list of the most favorable, efficient methods. Check them out!
A remanufactured item is one that contains several used parts that have been cleaned and are in good condition. Then, it mixes those parts with brand new parts in order to make the product meet the "like new" standard. This provides a way for (re)manufacturers to spend less money in the process of creating goods.
Remanufacturing gives a particular part "nine lives" so to speak, reducing the amount of production required.
According to the Fraunhofer Institute, "The yearly energy savings by remanufacturing worldwide equals the electricity generated by five nuclear power plants or 10,774,000 barrels of crude oil which corresponds to a fleet of 233 oil tankers."
Envision what society would be like if every product that was created was designed with the intent to not be thrown away. We can achieve this ideal world by becoming active advocates of the remanufacturing industry.
This procedure decreases consumption as well as cost. It is essentially equivalent to refurbishing. The difference is that refurbished products are not required to be held to the same "like new" standard and are not tested before resale.
Bottle Deposit Programs
Have you ever sipped an ice cold bottle of water, and while peering down to the bottom of the container you notice that little plastic "5 cent REFUND" imprint? That is a financial motivator for citizens to return their used bottles of beer, water, soda, milk, etc. to their local state deposit program.
The great thing about glass is that it can be reused forever. That's right; it never deteriorates, wanes, or degenerates. That means that in an ideal world where everyone deposited their bottles for reuse, the production of glass would be able to stop completely after hitting that threshold number! Not all resources are similar to glass in this sense, so it would be wise for us to take advantage of this while we can. We're in a good situation when it comes to glass.
Bottle deposit programs center on the concept of reusing packaging. Bottle deposit programs exist because of bottle bills, currently sponsored in only 11 states. According to The Earth Works Group Recycler's Handbook, these 11 states have up to 40% less litter than those states without bottle deposit programs. With your help and persistence, we can commence a bottle bill campaign for our beautiful state of Pennsylvania. Visit www.bottlebill.org to take the next step.
Another great form of reuse, and easily the most creative. Repurposing is when you use an item that was originally created for a specific purpose, but you use that item for a completely different function.
Furniture, clothes, Halloween costumes, statues, vases, carpets pillows. You can repurpose anything; the list is endless.
If you like crafts, you probably have already repurposed items without even realizing it. A great example can be used during the "back to school" season. Do you have a mountain of textbooks that need covering? Don't have enough money to buy brand new covers? Use brown paper bags! Collect them every time you go food shopping to ensure you will never run out.
In our beloved city of Lancaster, sitting right on Queen Street is a small shop named Mommalicious. This is, in a sense, the adoption agency of products. Objects and accessories have been brought in by their former owners, giving them hope for someone new to walk in and give it a new life. If you're interested in originality and fashion with a twist, check out their site here.
For more innovative ideas on fun and interesting ways you can repurpose, click here.
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A reuse center is essentially a mini Home Depot or Lowes. They provide one convenient location for both the donation and purchase of used, but perfectly functioning, building materials, supplies, and furniture.
Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity
The leading organization for building reuse centers around the globe is Habitat for Humanity. Founded in 1976 by Willard Fuller and his wife, Linda, they are a non-profit Christian organization with the unswerving determination of assisting in the elimination of poverty. The official mission statement was just recently changed: "Seeking to put God's love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope." Year- round, they build homes for low to middle income families in need of decent housing in local communities across 83 countries. Families in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific, Europe, and Latin America are now able to come home to a cozy house. Habitat for Humanity truly is "glocal."
All the homes built are energy efficient. Habitat is leading a sustainability effort to not only increase awareness of the environment, but to actually do something about it. Included in their recently developed handbook of ecological standards are the guidelines for an ENERGY STAR qualified home. These homes are 30% more efficient than a typical house. Incorporated into the building project is top notch insulation, high quality windows and air ducts, and electricity saving appliances and lighting equipment.
Due to these environmentally friendly building practices, homeowners are responsible for lesser amounts of monthly bills and costs, making their lives easier.
To this day, Habitat for Humanity has built over 350 thousand homes for families since its inception, 63 of which are right here in Lancaster. According to the U.S Census Bureau, as of 2010 9.4% of the population in Lancaster County lived below the poverty line.
If you or someone you know are in need of housing, or even want to donate a car or truck to be used for transporting materials to and from construction sites, apply online at lancasterhabitat.org.
For information about the local builds on Queen Street, Perry Street, and Fairview Avenue, and to learn how you can become a volunteer to help strengthen Lancaster, take a quick look at the two minute interview with Kate Zimmerman, Director of Community Relations for the Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity.
Photographs provided by the Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity
Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity ReStore
The Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity operates as the mother organization of the Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity ReStore, a reuse center located on 155 Independence Court.
What exactly does the ReStore do?
The Lancaster ReStore sells new and gently used building materials at a fraction of the retail price. You can receive 50% off retail for brand new items and up to 75% off used items.
So, how does the ReStore acquire the materials in their inventory? Well, they rely on community support for regular donations. There are two major ways. One method is that they obtain goods from businesses, both small and large. More specifically, there are three common instances when this will occur:
1. When contractors or major department stores such as Lowes or Home Depot order by the truck load, they often over order a product, resulting in an excess of brand new products.
2. When major department stores drop a product from their inventory altogether, they must remove it from their shelves and the surplus products can be donated.
3. If packaging on a product is updated, even to the slightest degree, the department stores want to get rid of the outdated packaging. The ReStore provides a place for them to get rid of these perfectly usable products without letting them go to waste.
The ReStore also receives donations from individuals. Environmentally conscious homeowners may be shopping for brand new building materials to fix up their house and getting rid of the used materials due to personal taste or other reasons.
Can I benefit from the Lancaster ReStore?
Who in the community of Lancaster can take advantage of this awesome site of sustainability? If you ask Tim Hellberg, the manager of the Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity ReStore, he will tell you everyone, including:
- Landlords looking to furnish their apartments
- Businesses, both small and large
- Millersville University and other schools in the area
- Contractors (The Lancaster ReStore specializes in building materials more so than ReStores in most other communities. If you are a contractor working in the area, the ReStore's resources are at your fingertips!
- Retirement homes
- New homeowners and individuals seeking new furniture.
Willow Valley, Luther Acres, and Woodcrest retirement homes update and renovate their buildings every eight to ten years, and so they have come to donate regularly. Currently in stock are their mini stoves in exceptional condition that may have been used once or twice.
Drew Tyson, Assistant Manager and Donations Coordinator at the ReStore, makes constant efforts to expand inventory by traveling to local community businesses and organizations such as these, presenting them with the financial and economic rewards of reuse, and asking for their donations. And now, he has something new to tell them.
New homeowners and individuals seeking new furniture can especially rejoice over this news. As of right now, the majority of the Lancaster ReStore's inventory is made up of building materials, but on November 16, 2011, they made the exciting announcement that beginning in 2012 they will start carrying household furniture in stock. This is huge. It is an uplifting message from the people at the Lancaster ReStore to their community. They are reaching out, not just to independent contractors or "do-it-yourself" kind of guys, but to normal, everyday families and homeowners in our community. This is a significant change in that it expands the potential market of both donators and consumers, thus increasing the amount of transactions and foot traffic in the store.
What are the incentives of using the ReStore?
Donations are tax-deductible: Abiding by the Internal Revenue Service's guidelines, any donation worth $250 or more are tax-deductible. Donations over $5,000 require a submission of the IRS Form 8283.
- Helps reduce and eliminate waste that would be thrown into landfills: Some ReStores have kept up to 1,000 tons of waste from going into landfills in just one year.
- Saves the consumer money and the local municipality in regard to disposal costs: What would be put to the curb and disposed of as trash is picked up by the ReStore. For donations over $150, they will come to your house and pick it up for free.
- Brings new jobs into the community: The Lancaster ReStore is run by five employees.
- Dependable products: Products at the ReStore may be more reliable and have a more solid design than new products on the market, which tend to be cheap as companies attempt to reduce costs.
- Reduce production, save energy: Reusing materials multiple times replaces manufacturing of new products that would have been made for a "one-time-use," therefore cutting production and saving energy while simultaneously reducing consumption
- Prolongs product life: Reusing materials more than once increases efficiency.
- Unites people working toward one goal: Brings community members of all faiths, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status together for fulfilling volunteer opportunities.
- Profits go straight local home builds: All profits of the ReStore are sent directly to their mother organization, the Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity, and it's put toward building new energy efficient homes in Lancaster.
- Helps build the local community of Lancaster: All of these positive results coalesce to strengthen Lancaster.
How Do I Donate?
The ReStore is in existence solely because of donations provided by community members. They depend on your support. The great thing about the ReStore is that they don't accept just any donation, they inspect each donation with great care ensuring it is clean and in good condition, so you know when you make a purchase, it is 100% operational.
There are 3 steps to donating:
1. Call the ReStore (717-293-0250). Tim or Drew will ask you to describe what you are donating.
2. Bring your donation to the ReStore to be inspected and gain approval. If you have a large donation and can't bring it in, the ReStore will come to your home, inspect the product, and pick it up for you.
3. Ask for a tax document when your donation is complete.
So, what are acceptable and unacceptable donations? Below is a compiled list of rules and guidelines.
The ReStore usually does not accept appliances from individuals.
Please call a manager for appliance guidelines.
-Double wall ovens, toasters
-Electronics: TVs, VCRs, Stereos, Phones
-Used Water Heaters
-Old Air Conditioners, Large Units, 220Volt Units
Bricks, Block, Pavers, Tile
-Bricks and Pavers, clean
-Items with mortar or grout
-Blocks, Chimney block
-Kitchen, Bathroom, Bookcases (must have all drawers, doors and a sound structure)
-Water-damaged, moldy or soiled cabinets
-Cabinets missing doors, drawers or unsound structure
-Formica, Corian, Granite, Marble
-Formica sections (no cut-outs)
-Old worn-out, scratched or chipped, pieces with metal trim, very large sections
-Formica sections with cut-outs, large L-shaped pieces
At times, the amount of doors accepted may be limited due to space restrictions.
-Hollow Core interior: no peeling paint, delaminating panels or holes
-Garage doors: insulated metal or fiberglass
-Rusted, rotted, peeling paint, moldy, delaminated, holes or pet doors
-Doors with single thickness glass windows
-Commercial, steel doors without frame
-Patio Doors with 'fogged' windows
-Patio Doors without frames
-Wood Garage Doors, Garage Openers
-Most items in working order
-Most incandescent fixtures
-Used fluorescent fixtures or tubes
-Used recessed cans or track lights
-Wood floors in box lots only
-Used carpet, used tile, used wood flooring
-Small amounts of wood flooring–solid or laminated
-All wood only
-Small Mirrors (under 3'x 4') brought to the store
-Mirrors in frames, only type that can be picked-up
-Mirrors over 3'x4', Mirrors with adhesive spots
-Door and cabinet hardware
-Nails and screws in separate containers
-Mixed containers of nails or screws
-Working order, not broken, all glass intact
-Used fluorescent tubes or fixtures
-Used recessed cans and track lights
-Dimensional (2x's) over 5'
-Trim over 6' long
-Sheets larger than 1/3 sheet
-Wood with exposed nails/screws
-Must be at least 3/4 full cans
-Messy, rusty lids, dry, lumpy or moldy
-Toilets and Sinks–only black, white or light cream
-Claw foot tubs
-Sinks: Stainless Steel, Porcelain, Stoneware
-Colored Toilets and Sinks (other than above)
-Double bowl vanities
-Incomplete Toilets, dirty, scratched or defaced
-Water softeners or used water heaters
-Shingles (2 packs minimum)
-New vinyl siding, full sheets
-Sealers, pitch 1/2 can or more
-Small amounts of shingles
-New, full lengths
-Over 10 pieces
-Short pieces under 8'
-Hand and power tools in good working order
-Lawnmowers, tillers, spreaders
-Used battery pack tools, incomplete battery tools
-Complete window units with double pane glass, vinyl or metal clad
-Old single thickness glass in a wood sash with multiple panes (4, 6, 8)
-Newer window sashes
-Wood framing only
-'Fogged' double pane glass
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1. Each year, Americans throw away 7 billion pounds of PVC pipe. Only 18 million of that, one fourth of one percent, is recycled.
2. On average an American family spends $2,000 on energy costs per year, $1,000 of which is spent on heating and cooling.
3. The Unites States produces approximately 250 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) annually.
4. Construction and demolition (C & D) debris are responsible for 160 million tons of waste per year.
5. On average, the typical U.S family will move every 10 years of their life. More often than not, when a family moves they renovate the home.
The ReStore's mission, in affiliation with the Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity, is to transform statistics like this into something more green-friendly.
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