Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dryer Balls

I don't intend to post many product reviews on this blog, mainly because I can't afford to test all the new products on the market boasting "green" and "environmental" qualities, but also because writing about such inane things bores me to no end. For the most part, I'll leave the testing and polls and feedback charts to the folks at Consumer Reports, but tonight, I want to tell you why I have decided that the Dryer Balls I purchased last winter were a good buy.

I hate dryer sheets. I hate the way they smell, I hate the way they leave a thin film of chemical residue on my clothes, and I especially hate how quickly I go through a box of those little papers, disposing of multiple sheets each week.
I got my first set of Dryer Balls for Christmas, and gave them a test run for about a month, using them only when I dried linen loads. I noticed a little more static with some fabrics than I did with others, but the overall difference was not that noticeable. What impressed me more was the marked improvement in the fluffiness of my towels-- my linen closet looks much fuller than it did at this time last year. Granted, some of the towels are new, but even the old ones look more inviting than they have in ages.

Satisfied that they worked well enough for my liking, I bought another set a couple months later and made a complete switch. My fingers no longer feel weirdly sticky when I finish folding my laundry, and my clothes smell clean-- not like a "spring rain", a "tropical breeze", or even like "fresh linens"-- just a good, pure clean. Not quite as good as if I had hung them on a clothes line, but pretty close!
While dryer sheets may seem like a relatively insignificant addition to our overall waste output, eliminating even this wisp of a chemically laden solid helps with waste minimization efforts. Good for up to 1,000 uses, these Dryer Balls will last me 10-15 years will keep me from buying 20-30 boxes of disposable dryer sheets. I'll save money in the long run, so I approve!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Abt Electronics-- Pleasing the Planet...Since 2006

Earlier this spring, I spent a blustery Saturday morning searching the Internet for a place to recycle the small pile of broken electronics and appliances that had been accumulating in my dining room all winter. I had a toaster, a cell phone, two cameras, a tuner, and a handful of batteries that didn't qualify for Walgreen's recycling program. Nothing big, but nothing I wanted to trash, either. I found places that recycled computer parts, and others that accepted obsolete (but still functional) electronics, and even a site that charged exorbitant amounts of money for me to pack my e-waste in their special box and ship it to some recycling company in another state.

Frustrated, I was about to give up when I stumbled across this small, inconspicuous link on the Abt Electronics web site. Their flagship store in Glenview has a stand-alone recycling center, located on the southwest side of their lot, slightly behind their main building. Not only would they accept all the odds and ends in my bag of miscellaneous electronics, all but a select few appliances (such as TVs, computers, air conditioners, and refrigerators) are recycled free of charge. They are also one of 75 drop off centers for Sony-- meaning that all Sony products may be dropped off for "e-cycling" at no cost to the consumer.

According to their web site (and some related links), they also accept cell phones, cardboard, and styrofoam-- STYROFOAM!-- and recycle "...five tractor-trailor loads of appliances each day". Much of this volume includes the old appliances they haul away when new ones are delivered, but word is spreading and the public is catching on fast. They also recycle much of the packaging the new appliances arrive in, as well as the wooden pallets on which they are delivered. The company has implemented an impressive number of other green initiatives, but I'll try and limit my focus here, so I don't get all giggly about solar panels and green fleets. You can read a number of articles on their environmental prowess, linked from their site, provided you can find it!

The recycling center opened in 2006, and-- according to the guy who helped me recycle my sad old TV, a styrofoam cooler, and a friend's broken printer last week-- "e-cycling" was made available to the public late last year. From 2:00-7:00, Thursday through Saturday, people can just drive up and drop off whatever they want to recycle. The only complaint I have with this program is that the information isn't posted more prominently on their home page, and that they don't really advertise these services. If it were me, I'd be shouting it from the roof tops!

While I try to avoid a trip to the North Shore as much as the next city dweller, I have yet to find a place in the city that accepts such a wide range of appliances. Some chain retailers of electronics and office supplies do accept a few of these items for recycling, but the fee they charge is pretty steep by comparison. So, in my mind, the remarkable environmental service that Abt Electronics provides to the Chicagoland area at little to no cost to the public makes it well worth the drive.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Old Linens get New Life

I feel like I've been taking a lot of pictures of trash cans lately (which I have), so I want to take things in a different direction today, because recycling glass, plastic, aluminum, and paper is only part of (what can be) a much broader solution. I like to think of the mantra "Reduce, Recycle, and Reuse" as the three R's of the twenty-first century, and any discussion of recycling would be incomplete without addressing this triumverate of waste-reduction techniques in its entirety.

I volunteer at a local animal shelter, and one of the ways I help out is by doing laundry. I wash, dry, and fold blankets, sheets, towels, throw rugs, and even placemats, which are used to line cages and provide soft places throughout the shelter where residents can sleep, hang out, and play. These linens are washed daily, which is a seemingly endless task, and an astounding number of them are needed to replace the soiled linens that are being washed and readied to use again the following day.

At home, I've recently replaced my threadbare towels, and now that I've upgraded to a queen-sized bed, my full-sized sheets are obsolete. Since the towels are no longer fit for human use, and my sister only needs so many sets of sheets for her guest bed, my first thought was to donate them, along with some bathmats and throw rugs given to me by my mother during her "you can never have too many bathmats" phase. This way, I won't feel guilty about giving crappy towels to Goodwill or anything, and I know they'll be put to good use for a bunch of deserving and grateful recipients.

Shelters always have a need for blankets and towels and the like, and they always welcome donations-- not all donations have to be monetary. In fact, many shelters have "wish lists" posted on their Web sites-- they can use more than just pet food, toys, and blankets! A perfect solution to the overstuffed linen closets of America, donors can't help but feel all warm and fuzzy about providing a touch of home for some warm fuzzies, still awaiting a home of their own.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A True Architectural Feat....

You know how, in my last post, I was saying how nice it would be to have compartmentalized trash/recycling receptacles in our parks? Well, it turns out that we do. The city installed eleven of these shiny new receptacles near "The Bean" in Millennium Park earlier this summer. These 40-gallon receptacles are the result of a design competition. Not just any design competition, mind you-- this contest pitted teams of young architects-- ARCHITECTS!-- against each other.

These brilliant structural engineers put their heads together, sketched blueprints, and toiled for more than three years to come up with the object you see here-- an elliptical catch-all with a trash bin on one side and a recycling bin on the other. The magnitude of this competition reminds me of a contest held back in the early 1890s before Chicago's Columbian Exposition. The object of this competition, however, was to design a structure that would rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which was unveiled at their World's Fair back in 1889. The winner of that competition was a bridge builder from Pennsylvania, George W. Ferris, who invented-- you guessed it-- the Ferris Wheel.

All sarcasm aside, these receptacles are pretty cool. They look sharp, incorporate some recycled and reclaimed metals in their design, and seem to work pretty well. The winning team of Deborah Kang and Amanda Smith calls their design the EcoTrio "Millennium" model. The original design had three compartments, but was later scaled back to two. I assume this was done to increase capacity and to reduce the risk of confusing the tourists.

The duo has several different models out, including receptacles for home and office use, with more models in the works. I am particularly excited about the "Restaurant" model (I cringe every time I think about the amount of recyclables that enter the waste stream at food joints every day, simply because these restaurants don't have the time/space to source separate). The different-shaped slots on the recycling sections are not new, but as the designers explain:

"The receptacle has a circular opening for containers and a rectangular slot for papers. These openings invite users to recycle. The waste section of the container has a lid that is opened by an attractive elliptical foot pedal. The extra second it takes for users to access the waste section of the container will give them a chance to think if the material they are throwing out could be recycled instead."

The "Pricing available upon request" part leads me to believe that these snazzy bins cost a pretty penny, but I still would like to someday see more of these receptacles (or something similar) throughout our great city. The idea is so deceptively simple, it's brilliant. And c'mon-- if the tourists can figure it out, we all can.