waste

Sustainable Beauty

Editor’s Note: During these times of uncertainty, finding ways to proactively care for ourselves and our surroundings can have a grounding effect. However, we must recognize that having this opportunity is a sign of our privilege. I encourage you to take a moment to appreciate the labor of essential workers.

16 Top Ethical and Sustainable Beauty Brands You Should Know [Space Nation Orbit Blog]

Eco-conscious consumerism may seem like an unlikely investment of time during a global pandemic, but quarantine has allowed many of us to slow down and listen to our bodies. Practicing self-care can take many forms and adopting a skincare routine is one. When we discuss personal care products, however, we should also consider the life cycle and environmental impacts of their packaging.

According to a report compiled by Statista, the 2020 United States skincare market has generated $18.1 million and the average consumer has spent $55 on skincare. The bottles, tubes, and containers used annually by the cosmetic industry adds up to 120 billion units of plastics packaging. But how does this hurt our planet?

Of the 120 billion units of plastic packaging used each year, 70% ends up in landfills. Bioplastics do not degrade naturally or within the average human lifespan. They can be composted, but require such an intense degree of heat to break down that they must be returned to an industrial compost site.

Through the dumping of waste in developing nations and irresponsible waste collection practices, plastic ends up in our oceans and breaks down into microplastics. When ingested, plastics and microplastics jeopardize the health of marine life and move in such a way mimic the movements of prey consumed by fish and seabirds. Plastic pollution, which PEW Research Center estimates currently totals up to 8 million pieces of plastic in the ocean, can also become entangled with aquatic life. This has resulted in the strangulation of sea turtles and marine mammals’ necks, and the asphyxiation of aquatic life.

Alternative forms of packaging have been used by companies in response to rapid deforestation and plastic pollution. An increasingly popular material is bioplastic, which is made from the sugars in corn starch, cassava, and sugar cane. Bioplastics are defined by being composed of 20% or more renewable resources, and are free of the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA (bisphenol A). This alternative seems appealing compared to the use of petroleum-based packaging, but the conservation community warns that there are many contingencies to the success of bioplastics. It is often cited that they emit less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based plastic, due in part to the fact that they are not unearthing trapped liquid carbon dioxide. However, a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that extensive land use, as well as fertilizer and pesticide application, lead to more pollutant emissions than traditional plastic. Not only are these agricultural practices harmful to the environment, but they also threaten our hormonal and skin health.

The use of “natural” ingredients in products and packaging disproportionately impact people of color. On the agricultural side, migrant farmworkers in the United States experience routine exposure to pesticides and other environmental hazards associated with industrial farming (such as California’s continued wildfires), heat stress, and contaminated drinking water. These laborers are essential to the $200 billion agricultural industry, yet farmworkers make about 40 cents per bucket of produce picked. On the consumer side, there has also been an uptick in lawsuits based on exposure to toxic ingredients in household brand health and beauty products. A notable example is litigation based on mercury contamination in skin-lightening products. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology issued an opinion that women of color are disproportionately exposed to unsafe ingredients in beauty products due to the societal pressures they face to conform to Western beauty standards. For these reasons, looking at sustainability through the lens of human rights and racial/social justice is key to the growth of the sustainable skincare/beauty industry.

So where does our beauty waste go?

Our demand for resource-intensive products contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. This is because skincare products contain ingredients like soy, palm oil, and sugar cane, which are grown on large-scale farms that consume extensive stretches of land. Not only are the effects of our consumption felt on land, but also seen in the oceans. Alarm has been raised surrounding the ethical implications of agricultural sourcing. By diverting land and energy away from food production, companies are exacerbating food insecurity in many developing countries. Ecovia (formerly Organic Monitor), a market research firm that examines the organic beauty industry, compares the debate over “beauty crops” to that of biofuel. While both are striving to improve sustainability in their markets, advancing technology while failing to address food security ignores the basic human right to food. Developments in the industry, such as the commitment to sustainable palm oil-sourcing (see Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), have been created to address these concerns. Similar roundtables exist for soybeans and cocoa, all with the intent to responsibly and ethically grow consumer crops.

How can you find sustainable skincare products?

Greenwashing has frequently become more apparent as brands jump onto the eco-conscious trend. This term refers to the marketing strategy which deceives consumers into believing that the product is better for the environment (i.e. by having a lighter carbon footprint or donating to an environmental organization). Usually, greenwashed products use earth tone colors, have pictures of natural landscapes and/or leaves, and include key words such as “eco-,” “natural,” and “sustainable.” Greenwashing misleads consumers to think they are making decisions that positively impact or vaguely-reference the environment, when in reality, these companies continue to package in plastic and encourage wasteful consumption patterns. Many argue that bioplastics are an example of greenwashing due to inadequate composting infrastructure or consumer understanding of the waste process.

Along with greenwashing, be wary of the word “organic.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a certified organic label indicating that the crops “are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing… soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible” (USDA 2012). According to the New York Times, an amendment to the certification allowed 38 synthetic ingredients into organic products. With this in mind, conducting research on specific company policies in regards to ethical and sustainable sourcing is key. Look for Fair Trade Certified and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Certified products when possible, and explore package-free products/options! Becoming more environmentally conscious doesn’t happen overnight – and it isn’t always financially sustainable for many people. Mindfulness about our practices and consumerism doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right, but that we’re conscious and working towards change.

Thank you. Gracias.

Considering Sustainability During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Lauren Pawlowski

Plants growing at the community gardens in Derby, CT.

Personal, financial, and health requirements may prevent you from being your most environmentally-friendly self right now, but there are still small steps you can take each day to support a more sustainable lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health and safety is of utmost importance at this time, but if you have the time and means to do so, you can try out the following tips for living more sustainably during a pandemic. 

  1. Use washable, reusable masks. Many people hand make them out of extra fabric or other materials and sell them on Etsy, Facebook sale pages, etc. You can also make your own, if you have free time. Wearing disposable masks every time you need to use one creates a great amount of waste that can be avoided if you are able to wash and wear reusable masks. 
  2. Try to stick to reusable containers, towels, etc.  You’ll need to wash them more frequently, but this will prevent unnecessary waste.
  3. Buy in bulk when you can.  This reduces wasteful packaging and helps minimize grocery store visits. 
  4. Clean up your spaces and declutter!  Now’s a great time to clean out any junk drawers or messy spaces in your home. Donate these materials to Goodwill, Savers, the Salvation Army, or other organizations near you. Many of these organizations will sell the donated items if they can, or send the unsaleable materials to other processing centers for reuse or recycling. If you want a new project to tackle, repainting furniture from a thrift store can save you some money and make your stuff more meaningful.
  5. Spend quarantine free time reading new books – audio books and earbuds allow you to multitask while you learn. You might even get a head start on the UConn Reads book this fall, Amitav Ghosh’s “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” which addresses climate justice from a Global South perspective. Many websites, such as Alibris and Betterworldbooks, have great selections of used books online for low prices. This saves you money while also encouraging reuse of materials! You can also choose to go paperless and tune into TV shows, YouTube videos, movies, and podcasts.
  6. Volunteer at a community garden, urban forestry initiative, coastal cleanup, land trust, watershed group, or other environmentally-focused organization. This can include planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, grounds maintenance and more to benefit your local community. Helping out sustainable community initiatives provides support to people in need and also the local environment. 
  7. Get outside! Now is the perfect time to explore the great outdoors, where there is plenty of room for social distancing. Go hiking, walking, running, biking, kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming, picnicking or gardening. Travel to new places nearby or visit a local park. Get your friends and family outside to spend some time together in nature. Take a garbage bag with you to make sure you leave “nothing but footsteps” or even to clean up after others!
  8. Research and support sustainable brands. This can include cosmetics, clothing, household products, and more that produce durable products and are committed to protecting environmental and human health.
  9. Grow your own fruits and veggies, visit local farmers’ markets, and try new recipes that are meatless or more sustainable. Some farmers’ markets are still operating even in these times by offering goods for sale online or by outdoor vendors. Individual farms may have their own stores operating as well, although you should call ahead or check online for hours and restrictions. If you have free time, it could be fun to test out some new recipes with different vegetables, grains, and other ingredients that are healthy and sustainable.  
  10. Start a compost pile. This prevents food waste from entering the waste stream in landfills, where, in CT, it will be incinerated as trash. Instead, you can use the healthy soil from the compost in your garden or for any plants you have!

 

Disclaimer: CDC, state, and local health department guidelines should always be followed in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and risk of infection. The above recommendations should not supplant health guidelines from public health agencies and the medical community.  These suggestions should only be employed as they align with CDC, state, and local health guidelines.  

Waste Management and Reduction: Part II – How to Use the University’s Systems

By Rachael Shenyo, UConn Sustainability Coordinator

In the last installment, I discussed the various aspects of the waste management and reduction program at UConn, in response to frequently asked questions. For this blog, I will walk you, the user, through the program, and tell you how to find the various resources you need for using it.

Using Single Stream Recycling:

The most important two things to know about single stream recycling are:

  • All recyclable items can be mixed together in any container with the single exception of the paper-only bins at the HB Library
  • Guidelines for what items can, and cannot be recycled, are available online here.

It is a common misconception that “single stream recycling” means that regular garbage and recyclables get mixed together. Single stream actually means that all recyclable materials are collected together, and separated at the plant upon arrival.

 If we use a single stream program, why do I still see dual-stream bins for recycling collection? We get this question a lot. The answer is quite simple: economics. There is nothing wrong with the old bins. Dual stream bins have openings shaped to permit cans and bottles, or paper, etc. to be placed inside. The reason we do not replace them is that it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace either the bins or lids. The old bins are still collected as recycling and processed as such. You can always lift the lid to add new items that do not fit the standard openings.

To use the bins, check the guidelines. Wipe out or rinse the items if they are heavily soiled with greasy or thick food residue, such as plastic food containers that have salad dressing in them. Light soiling is acceptable, but heavy soil interferes with the recycling process. Be conscious, and make it a point to check your items every time you throw something away. In many cases, all or part of most items is recyclable. For example, the plastic boxes that some biological equipment comes in are recyclable, even if the tips themselves must be disposed of as hazardous waste. Most hot beverage cups however are not. It only takes a few moments to educate yourself. For hard copies of the single stream guidelines for your area, in English or Spanish, please contact the OEP Sustainability Coordinator at x5773.

If you think an area could use more recycling bins, or a larger bin, please contact Dave Lotreck in Facilities to arrange a delivery.

E-Waste:

E-Waste is defined as material having electronic components, such as computer boards, digital displays, or microchips. This definition includes digital cameras, television sets, handheld devices, cell phones, etc.; and also includes printers, ink cartridges, and batteries. It should be assumed that none of these items should be disposed of in a regular waste stream.

Your first consideration with small items should be the E-Waste recycling program, which has collection centers in the library, Student Union, and Co-Op. The program accepts cell phones, cameras, laptops, ipods, PDA’s, and ink cartridges; and the small refunds provided by the company (a few cents per item) are used to support the Campus Sustainability Fund. Look for comprehensive guidelines to e-Waste to be posted soon to the OEP web site.

For e-waste items that the recycling program does not accept, Wayne Landry at Central Stores accepts all non-hazardous e-waste- from televisions to computer monitors to printers and faxes. Non University-owned items still in usable condition should be donated to the spring Give and Go program when possible to do so. All University-owned items are returned to Central Stores, typically through the department or via the IT representatives for your area. You can contact Central Stores by visiting this website:

Batteries and other items deemed as hazardous must be handled by the Environmental Health and Safety Department. Please see their guide on proper battery disposal, by type. You may contact them here to arrange for a pickup of hazardous items. It is also a good idea to check if your department has any regular collection bins or programs for these items. Used car batteries are accepted by the Motor Pool.

Taking Advantage of University (and Local) Waste-Reduction Programs:

The University of Connecticut provides several incentives for waste reduction at the point of purchase. The UConn Co-Op offers their wooden nickel program, which donates to one of 4 charities/ groups of your choice each time you choose to not accept a new plastic bag with your purchase. Our cafes offer a $.15 reduction on each hot beverage purchase made with a reusable cup. The Food Court has a re-usable food container program that lets you purchase your food in a re-usable container, then return the container directly to them for cleaning and re-use. Your program participation, after the first purchase, is verified via a card similar to the store cards you may already have.

For items, such as napkins and hot beverage cups, that cannot be recycled, the University has a post-consumer recycled content policy. Most of these items are created using the maximum amount of post-consumer recycled paper content allowed by law.

The Give and Go Program is the University’s largest donation program, but keep in mind that several other campus and local groups can use donated items either as re-use or for resale. Watch for fund-raisers for old clothes, and know that there are community donation bins in many regional areas. One of the closest is a book, clothing, and electronics donation/ recycle box on Rte. 44 just past the intersection with Rte. 32. Savers in Manchester is a great community store that accepts donations, and the Salvation Army has many regional locations. Community Outreach maintains a list of organizations always in need of donated clothes, household goods, and electronics. All of these organizations offer tax deductions for the value of donated items.

Other Items that Cannot Be Disposed of as Trash:

Items such as compact and overhead fluorescent light bulbs, rags soaked with solvents, aerosol cans, and antifreeze cannot be placed into the regular waste stream. The University Environmental Health and Safety Department maintains a comprehensive guide for proper disposal of these items.

Waste Management and Reduction: Part I – UConn’s Program

By Rachael Shenyo, UConn Sustainability Coordinator

In my position as sustainability coordinator, I receive a lot of questions regarding what I would refer to as our waste reduction and management program at UConn. A program, in this sense, is anything that your University does that touches the concept of waste management and reduction, including procurement of supplies, disposal of hazardous waste, placement of recycling bins, use of composting, etc.

I recently compiled information for the 2012 Sierra Club Cool Schools survey, where I had to detail the tonnages of waste from various sources, and trace what happens to that waste. The process prompted me to write a blog series on waste management at UConn, in order to help interested personnel understand how waste management happens at the University, and what kinds of volumes we deal with (where applicable). The next section will deal with how students, staff, and faculty can navigate our various recycling channels most effectively. The third section will cover the vision for the future, and ways that you can get involved.

Sources of Waste:

The major sources of waste at UConn Storrs Campus can be divided into a

few groups for simplification:

–  Dining Halls

–  Residence Halls and Student Areas-  Procurement and Supply

–  Construction-  Academic and Support Buildings

–  Laboratory and Medical/ Biomedical

–  Landscaping

–  Agriculture

Classification of Waste:

Waste from each area should then be considered by type; resulting in classes within each area such as hazardous waste, bio-hazardous waste, organic waste, bulky waste, reusable items, recyclable waste, compostable non-organic waste, electronic waste (“e-waste”), and non-compostable inorganic waste. Even within categories, there may be more than one classification. For example, cell phone batteries are a type of e-waste that are classified as hazardous, and must be handled as such when not encased in cell phones. Some organic wastes can be composted, and some cannot be. Proper waste classification is the key to any recycling or reuse program.

Composting:

Composting CenterMuch of our regular waste is comprised of organic food wastes, and Dining Services has pilot programs in place that are testing trayless initiatives

and food composting in three of the largest dining halls. Food waste, including meat scraps, is collected and composted in an e-correct machine to be reused as fertilizer in these programs.A large composting facility on Rte. 32 was opened in 2010 to handle agricultural and landscaping waste. It currently handles 100% of organic landscaping waste (grass

clippings, tree branches, discarded plants, etc.), and a significant portion of manure waste. The 2011 amounts reported were 800 tons of manure waste composted (50% of the total generated), and 21.25 tons of landscaping waste. The 800 and so odd tons of waste not composted were used as fertilizer for the farm fields. Due to varying nitrogen levels, not all manure waste is suitable for our composting facility.

Construction Waste:

Construction Waste

Construction and repair projects generate a lot of waste that does not get included in our regular waste stream. The work on projects is performed by independent consultants, who sub-contract for waste removal and recycling. While exact rates are unknown, a review of practices shows that contractors are recycling as much as 95% of all waste generated on any given project, due partly to regulations for LEED contracting, and partly due to high landfill costs.

Reuse and Donation Programs:

By far the University’s largest re-use program is run internally through Central Stores, which handles procurement, distribution, and collection of University-owned property. All large materials distributed to the University- furniture, computers, etc.- are returned to the Central Stores warehouse. Items that can be, are refurbished, and either reused at the University or sold through the Public Store. Only items beyond repair are discarded, and they get handled through the regular waste stream.  http://www.stores.uconn.edu/surplus.html#obtain

Recycling Shoes

Dining Services runs a food donation program at the end of the year, and the Office of Community Outreach coordinates a huge moving out program that collects items for donation and reuse by local charities and non-profits. Called “Give and Go,” this program collects over 12,000 lbs of items each year.

The Office of Environmental Policy also collaborates with Willi-Waste and the Nike “Re-Use a Shoe Program” for its  annual sneaker recycling drive, which in 2012 collected almost 4000 lbs of used sneakers for reuse and recycling.

Recycling Program:

UConn Storrs campus runs its recycling program through Willi-Waste, which recently went to Single Stream recycling. This means that all recyclable materials can be mixed together in the same receptacle, because they are later sorted mechanically and manually at the processing plant. NOTE: Single stream does not mean that garbage is mixed with recycling, simply that plastics can be mixed with glass, cardboard, and paper.  Last year, we recycled 888.76 tons of material through the mainstream program.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_H-B0jeFhE&w=420&h=315

Hazardous, Radioactive and Bio-Waste:

As a research and medical university, we produce a fair amount of items that cannot be disposed of via regular trash. By law, all hazardous and biological waste is handled through our Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) Office, which works with areas that generate this type of waste to provide appropriate receptacles and schedule pick-up times for secure and safe handling and storage. Loose batteries of all kinds are handled by either EH&S (lithium, alkaline) or the Motor Pool (vehicle).

E-Waste:

Waste that contains electronic components, dubbed “e-waste,” is handled in 3 different ways. Our e-waste recycling program collects used cell phones, printer and toner cartridges, laptops, i-phones, mp3 players, and other small handheld devices in bins located throughout campus. These items are collected by the OEP, packaged, and donated for recycling. The money from the sale of the items is used as a donation to the Campus Sustainability Fund. Students, staff, and faculty may contribute to the e-waste program.

Central Stores collects all larger items (computers, televisions, etc.) and recycles 100% of the ones that cannot be refurbished as part of their program, recycling over 60,000 lbs of material total some years.

Regular Waste Stream:

Garbage Truck

All items from academic and residential areas not covered by one of the above programs is handled via our regular waste stream. In 2011, the UConn campus generated 4253 tons of materials via the regular waste channels. This material is incinerated in closed systems for electricity generation, creating a byproduct of ash that must be stored in landfills. In the next two segments, I will be writing about how we are working to reduce this amount, and how you can get involved in the process.

http://williwaste.com/