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Got questions? Ask the Green Geek.

Are there any soaps I should stay away from during this coronavirus outbreak? How exactly do I recycle my ancient computer? And what are the environmental implications of using Amazon Prime? 

Ask the Green Geek. Green Geek logo Pima County FYI has a monthly column featuring questions and answers on all things green. Our own Green Geek gets assistance on answering your questions from the sustainability experts in Pima County's Office of Sustainability and Conservation. Send your questions to fyinewsletter@pima.gov. And look for the column the second Friday of each month.

Hi, Green Geek,

I’m in the process of swapping my personal care products to cleaner alternatives. With the coronavirus outbreak, I’ve been doing A LOT of hand washing.. Any soaps I should opt for or stay away from?

Thanks,

Gina


Hi, Gina,

This is a great and timely question. Firstly, when choosing a soap that will be most effective in killing germs, virtually any soap will do. It’s the act of proper hand washing, not the type of soap, that makes it such an effective and important way to slow the spread of disease. Here are the CDC’s recommendations for when and how to wash your hands

If you want to be conscious about the type of soap you’re using, stay away from the following ingredients. These have all been linked to various health and/or environmental concerns. 
  • Parabens
  • Synthetic colors
  • Artificial fragrances
  • Phthalates 
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)
  • Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone
A general rule of thumb is if the ingredient list is extensive and contains words you can’t pronounce, it’s probably not the healthiest soap for you or the environment. 

Bonus tip: Opt for a soap that has minimal, biodegradable, refillable, or recyclable packaging. 

Curious about antibacterial soap? Don’t be. The FDA ruled that many supposed antibacterial additives are not only ineffective but pose more harm than good. The agency banned 19 of these ingredients in 2016, including triclosan. 

Stay green, stay clean!
Avoid idling near schoolchildren. Turn off your engine while waiting to pick up your child after school. Many anti-idling programs focus on schools so many may have resources available, such as a comfortable waiting location for caregivers.

Instead of using drive-thru windows, park your vehicle and walk into coffee shops, restaurants, banks and pharmacies.

 If you’re waiting for someone in a parking lot in warm weather, park in the shade if available and open the windows to catch a cross breeze.

Reduce windshield defrost time in the winter months by securing a sunshade or towels on the outside of the windshield overnight.

Old habits can be hard to break. Place a decal or sticker on the edge of your windshield to remind yourself to not idle when you don’t need to.

 If you’re looking to purchase a vehicle, opt for one that is hybrid or has stop-start technology. Both automatically turn off the engine when they are not moving. Fully electric vehicles are another great option, since they produce no tailpipe emissions. 

If idling is necessary, try to keep it to no more than 5 minutes at a time.


Green Geek

Dear Green Geek,

I would love to know where/how to recycle computers.  I have many that are prehistoric and can't be used. Any suggestions??

Thank you!

Ellen


Hi, Ellen, 

As you know, technology has quickly become an integral part of 21st-century living. And while our tech gadgets offer many perks, the rapid consumption and obsolescence of electronics have created a concerning global issue: what do we do with all that waste? 

Electronics reycling
Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. According to the United Nations, 44.7 million tons of e-waste was discarded in 2016 and only 20 percent of it was disposed of safely and properly. This spells trouble for the environment, because most e-waste is considered hazardous waste. Computers contain toxic materials and chemicals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury, brominated flame retardants and PVC. These elements can off-gas and leach into the surrounding environment—impacting soil, vegetation, animals and aquatic life, air quality and waterways.    
 
Keeping electronics out of the landfill clearly makes environmental sense but it also makes economic sense. E-waste contains various precious metals, like gold and copper that can be reclaimed through recycling. Apple, for instance, re-captured more than 2,000 pounds of gold—worth $40 million—from recycled devices in 2015 alone. 

Fortunately, there are several options to save your computers from the landfill, even if they’re prehistoric and can’t be used! Before you recycle your computers, make sure you remove all your data and personal or sensitive information. This requires more than just deleting your files and accounts. Here’s how to properly wipe your device

Take it to a local recycler 
There are probably nonprofit organizations and local communities that offer recycling options in your area. Check out Tucson Clean and Beautiful’s Recycling Directory to find them. The Pima County Library also has additional resources and information on proper e-waste disposal. Make sure the recycler you choose is certified by Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI) or is part of the “e-Steward” network. This ensures your recycler is handling your e-waste in ethical, transparent and responsible ways. 

Take it to a tech company 
Several electronic manufacturers offer easy, comprehensive recycling programs. Check out this chart on the EPA’s website that lets you search programs by product or company. Best Buy and Staples are two of the many companies that will likely recycle your old computers.


Hope this helps!

Green Geek

Hi, Green Geek,

I, like many of us, am an avid Amazon Prime user and have purchased everything from TVs to protein bars off the website. I love the convenience but can’t help but feel a little guilty as all the Amazon boxes pile up (which I recycle!). What are the environmental implications of using Amazon Prime?

Thank you!

Greg


Hi, Greg,

Who doesn’t love shopping in the comfort of their own home? There’s no doubt that Amazon has changed the way we shop. The convenience of free, expedited shipping for Amazon Prime members have encouraged people to not only shop online but also shop more often. While the benefit itself isn’t a bad thing, it makes opting for greener practices especially difficult and has resulted in notable environmental costs.

How has Amazon Prime changed our shopping culture?
Amazon is an expansive online store that sells pretty much everything, with competitive or lower pricing. Combine that with free, fast shipping and simple returns and the result is obvious: overconsumption. People are buying more and making more impulsive purchases. Consumers are also making more individual purchases rather than placing a single order for several items. This trend, mixed with the urgency of expedited shipping, often means less strategic packaging and deliveries that result in more packages and more delivery trips. Packaging is also highly standardized, which Amazon signmeans unnecessary waste. It’s common to receive a large box for one small item.

In terms of transportation, Amazon has increasingly relied on hundreds of thousands of independent contractors with passenger cars to make these expedited deliveries. However, their vehicles usually can’t fit as many packages or complete as many deliveries per tour as commercial delivery vehicles—meaning more frequent trips to and from the warehouse. Additionally, rushed packages are often transported on planes, one of the dirtiest modes of transportation.

What does this mean for the environment?
More waste. The increase in packaging waste is drastic. Cities are collecting more cardboard than ever before. Waste Management’s curbside collection program has seen a 20% increase in cardboard over the last decade. And while cardboard is easy to recycle, much of it doesn’t make it to the recycling bin or recycling facility and even if they do, recycling has its own carbon footprint. Moreover, as consumption rises, so will landfill waste.
 
More greenhouse gas emissions. The consequence of multiple individual orders that require several deliveries is the utilization of more cars, trucks and planes. The transportation sector already generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, contributing to air pollution, ozone depletion, urban congestion, and much more.
 
It’s worth noting that online shopping, if optimized, could actually be better for the environment by potentially reducing the miles traveled when compared to in-person shopping. That said, Amazon Prime shipping and delivery is far from optimized.

Shopping tips that help minimize your impact
Only buy what you need. The convenience of online shopping make it all too easy to over-consume. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.

Unless you need the product immediately, opt for longer delivery times—even if faster shipping is free. It’s the greener and more efficient option. Amazon has a “free no-rush shipping” option, and as a reward for waiting, you’ll get a credit or discount towards various items.

Don’t check out immediately. If you don’t need something ASAP, consolidate your deliveries by accumulating products in your cart before buying.

For in-person shopping, try to minimize your miles driven by:
  1. Car-pooling with others that need to go to the same stores
  2. Walking, bicycling or taking public transit for some or all of your shopping trip
  3. Trip chaining, which entails planning your shopping trips for efficiency. This could include visiting multiple stores in one errand run, or finding a store that’s on a commute route you already take.
Thank you for your question!
Green Geek
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