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Got questions? Ask the Green Geek.

Wondering if you're helping the environment, even just a smidge, by re-using those Ziploc bags? Or if your AA and AAA batteries are recyclable?

Ask the Green Geek.
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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,

Is the process of cleaning Ziploc bags (albeit with concertedly miserly utilized dish liquid sink water, and some running rinse water) a feasible tradeoff for lowering the demand for these petroleum-based manufactured products, that when disposed of, is likely to find its way into the environment in harmful, if not tragic ways?

Thanks,

Steven


Hi, Steven,

Thank you for your efforts in reusing Ziploc bags! If only this was a more common practice, it would make a significant positive impact for our environment. To put it into context, the average family uses 500 Ziploc bags a year, a majority of whom use it as a single-use storage option. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average family size today is 2.61 and the U.S population has now reached 328,239,523. Feel free to do that math! 

What we need are stewards such as yourself to spread the news about the impacts of these bags in order to decrease the damage their entire life cycle has on the environment, not just their disposal. For your awareness to share with others, check out this breakdown of the life cycle of a Ziploc bag, which includes descriptions of the materials, required energy, and waste associated with each step in its journey. 

Hopefully with this information, I can convince you to consider taking your green stewardship a step further by looking into alternative storage options, such as reusable silicone bags

Every effort to protect our planet matters, so I thank you for doing your part and hope that you continue to search for knowledge that will turn into action and advocacy for the protection and restoration of our home. 
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

Rechargeable batteries

Hi, Green Geek,

What do I do with old AA and AAA batteries?

Ann


Hi, Ann, 


At this time, the majority of households still utilize single-use alkaline batteries (as opposed to rechargeable batteries), so I’m going to answer your question with this assumption if that’s alright with you! 

The short answer is that you can recycle them using Battery Solutions, a reputable battery recycling company that is happy to take our battery waste. They offer pick-up and shipping services that are affordable, especially if you have your fellow neighbors, co-workers or friends participate!  

Now, if you call and ask your local hardware store about battery disposal as I did to do my due diligence for your question, you’ll hear that they do recycle rechargeable and lithium batteries, but not single-use alkaline batteries. Their reason: these batteries no longer contain hazardous materials and are safe to throw out in your household trash. 

To an extent, they are correct. In 1996, the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act (“Battery Act”) regulated the use of mercury in batteries. Because of this, the use of mercury by manufacturers has decreased by over 98 percent, making single-use batteries classified as non-toxic and non-hazardous under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). However, if they are ‘safe’, why is it illegal in California to throw them out with your trash?

Even if the toxicity of batteries has decreased, they still contain metals such as cadmium, manganese, zinc, lithium, and copper, which many will argue are found in nature, but still pose serious risks to human and environmental health relative to the amount of battery waste that enters landfills. 

According to the EPA, Americans throw out more than three billion batteries per year. If these batteries were put end to end, it would circle the world at least six times! Legally, it’s ‘safe’ to throw single-use batteries away, but when we have this volume going into our landfills, their degradation causes the battery casing to corrode and the chemicals leach into the ground and detrimentally impact the local water supply. In addition to this, we must also consider the manufacturing process and the environmental impacts of resource mining, production, and transportation of these batteries. 

Given all of this, I hope you and those reading can become advocates for responsible battery disposal. You can also lead by example by purchasing rechargeable batteries. They recharge up to 1,000 times! Though their upfront cost is higher, your wallet and Mother Earth will thank you in the long run. 

Green Geek
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