Got questions? Ask the Green Geek

Green Geek logoAre you wondering what to do with those heavy plastic bags with handles when you use Target's drive-up service? Or are you wondering how to dispose of fiberglass insulation? Ask the Green Geek. 

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 use the Target Drive-up service frequently. They bring my purchases out in heavy, handled plastic bags. They have a lot of life in them when I get my stuff home? What are my options for multipurposing them?

Thanks,

Bill

Hi Bill,

Thank you for your patience for this response, as I’m sure there have been several Target trips since you submitted your question. 

The great news is that there are several like-minded green stewards out there who have discovered creative ways of repurposing plastic bags, whether it’s these heftier Target Drive-Up bags or even regular plastic bags. Check them out here! A couple of my favorite ideas from this list are the outdoor pom pom lights, DIY outdoor pillows and, if you know anyone who’s good with a crochet needle, you can weave anything from an outdoor mat to a flower pot.

It's good to note as well that if your bags piles up Target does have a plastic bag recycling receptacle right near the front doors.

I’m sure many of us know that plastic bags just aren’t good for Mother Earth, which is why we should recycle them. Here are some updated Environmental Protection Agency statistics to add to what you may already know:
About 1 trillion plastic bags are used annually worldwide and less than 5% is recycled

About 380 billion plastic bags are used annually in the United States, which takes about 12 million barrels of oil to create

Rate average rate of recycling for plastic bags was about 10% in 2018

In landfills, plastic bags photograde and break down into microplastics, contaminating our soil and water supply

Improperly disposed plastic that ends up in the ocean also breaks down into microplastics (it’s estimated for every square mile of ocean, there is 46,000 pieces of plastic)

Microplastics in the marine ecosystem are hazardous to marine life and ends up in our food chain through bioaccumulation, as plastic particles act as sponges for PBTs (persistent bioaccumulative toxic) chemicals and substances

  • About 1 trillion plastic bags are used annually worldwide and less than 5 percent are recycled
  • About 380 billion plastic bags are used annually in the United States and they take about 12 million barrels of oil to create
  • The average rate of recycling for plastic bags was about 10 percent in 2018
  • In landfills, plastic bags photograde and break down into microplastics, which contaminate our soil and water supply
  • Improperly disposed plastic that ends up in the ocean also breaks down into microplastics (it’s estimated that for every square mile of ocean there are 46,000 pieces of plastic)
  • Microplastics in the marine ecosystem are hazardous to marine life and end up in our food chain through bioaccumulation as plastic particles act as sponges for PBT (persistent bioaccumulative toxic) chemicals and substances
Not only is it important to recycle these plastic bags and dispose of them correctly, it’s actually even more important for us to stop using plastic completely. Here are some very enlightening videos presented by Recycle Across America that talk about why we should try to reduce our use of plastic altogether in light of our national recycling crisis.
Americans throw out more than 3 billion batteries per year.

Local hardware stores recycle rechargeable and lithium batteries, but not single-use alkaline batteries. Battery Solutions is a battery recycling company that recycles all batteries however! 

Even though alkaline batteries were deemed safe to throw out in 1996 through the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act (“Battery Act”), disposed batteries that find their way into our landfills still pose a threat to human and environmental health.


Green Geek

 

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,

How do I dispose of fiberglass insulation?

Michael

Hi Michael,

I naturally would like to say — carefully! Please take the proper precautions when handling fiberglass insulation. With regard to an environmentally friendly way of disposing of insulation, I’m afraid I cannot actually provide a "green solution." Sadly enough, there simply is not one available.

I did call around town and make this inquiry to several hardware stores and the answer was the same — throw it out in the trash. The CIty of Tucson’s Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Program responded in the same way. In fact, it’s deemed Roof insulationthat fiberglass is "nearly impossible" to recycle.

The recycling options that are said to be available include melting it down through pyrolysis, chemically breaking it down, manually grinding it or simply repurposing it. However, the lack of technology and the lack of customer demand has inhibited widespread recycling of fiberglass to be done at scale effectively, economically and safely.  

What is concerning to me is that it wasn’t too long ago that manufacturers were recommended to phase out the use of formaldehyde as a binder for fiberglass insulation. The use of formaldehyde was unregulated and grandfathered into the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that there was movement to use alternative binders. Studies have said that the use of formaldehyde was phased out by 2015. However, disposed insulation from houses built before 2015 can leak out over time in the landfill and contaminate the soil and water supply. 

Unfortunately, until there are viable recycling options in place (as a result of customer demand) our insulation will end up in the landfill. If you’re looking to replace your insulation with more earth-friendly materials, some options include soy-based foams, old denim, wool, styrofoam and hemp insulation. 
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