Paper: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

As promised, here are the ideas the staff at MHLS came up with for reducing paper waste:

Reduce
o Print only when necessary
o Use narrow margins on Word documents
o Check to see if the printer you use can print double sided
o When making copies use the 1-2-sided/double/duplex option
o Avoid a cover page when faxing, if possible!
o Can you read a journal online rather than having a hard copy sent to you?
o Getting junk mail? Call the company and have your name removed from their mailing list
o Consider online handouts rather than printed packets for workshops and consultations
o Proofread before printing or copying; use the “Print Preview” function before printing
o Develop a page on the web site for frequently requested information
o Use email rather than mail when possible
o When replying to an e-mail, delete previous e-mail correspondence in the body of the e-mail in order to eliminate a large amount to be printed should the recipient choose to print your response.

Reuse
o If you have your own printer, print drafts and reference material out on scrap paper
o If you share a printer with a co-worker, agree on one tray being filled with scrap paper
o Reuse envelopes
o Use cut up scrap paper for note taking/scratch paper

Recycle
o We posted the recycling rules for MHLS by every printer and copier:

o   MHLS recycles all paper and card board

o   There are blue recycling bins on all floors

o   Eligible for recycling:

o    All office paper, including paper with staples

o    File folders

o    Envelopes

o    Newspapers

o    Journals/magazines

BPA-Free Receipt Paper

Last year we saw a series of news stories on how our gas station receipts were toxic because of “BPA.” But it didn’t stop there, receipts from the ATM, the grocery store, at the mall and at the library also contain BPA. [BPA Receipts Bombshell (CBS); Cashiers May Face Special Risks From BPA (Science News); Another Reason You Don’t Need Your Receipt (U.S. News & World Report)]

BPA, Bisphenol A, is a chemical that has been “used for more than 40 years in the manufacture of many hard plastic food containers such as baby bottles and reusable cups and the lining of metal food and beverage cans, including canned liquid infant formula. Trace amounts of BPA can be found in some foods packaged in these containers.” [1]

The Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry has stated that “when it comes to BPA in the urban environment, “the biggest exposures, in my opinion, will be these cash register receipts.” [2]

The man-made chemical has been shown in scientific experiments to mimic the hormone estrogen, and government reports in the US have, in the past, expressed relatively minor concern about exposure. However, the fact that BPA is found everywhere – in a study conducted in2009 by the US Health & Human Services Department it was found in 93% of all test subjects’ urine – the saturation of the chemical in our environment – and our bodies – has become a larger concern.

So large, in fact, that in September 2010 Canada officially declared BPA toxic. BPA is now on their toxic substances list based on concern about possible risk to fetuses and babies

Last year I came across an article about the Eugene Public Library which reported that the library had switched to BPA-free paper:

“When deciding whether to make the costly switch — the BPA-free paper costs 5 percent more — library staff members said they used the city’s “triple bottom line” standard, which assesses the best decision based on environmental, social and fiscal costs.[emphasis mine]The conclusion: Switching was the best option.

Looking ahead, the library hopes to make paper receipts a thing of the past.”

Bravo Eugene!!

An even bigger “Bravo!” to Multnomah County, also in Oregon, as they actually realized a cost savings through switching to BPA-free:

“Jeremy Graybill, marketing and communications director for the library, estimates it will save between $1,400 and $3,200 through its switch to BPA-free paper this fiscal year.

Graybill said it is tough to pinpoint the exact savings that will result from the change, since the library has yet to move through a whole year of inventory. But the library uses about 8,300 rolls of receipt paper annually, mostly as hold slips to direct patrons to books they’ve ordered. In its previous fiscal year, the library spent $10,000 on receipt paper. At the low end, the projected savings from the switch looks to be at least 14 percent.” [3]

So take a fresh look online or call your current receipt paper supplier, prices have come down on BPA-free paper throughout 2010 and I expect this trend to continue.

Make the switch, it’s the right thing to do for your staff and your patrons.

Book Donation Policy

Every year I get a lot of books for Christmas and I’m at the point where my shelves are at capacity, I’m trying to stick to a “one in, one out” policy at home now which means I’ll end up with a box of books to donate to my local library. I try to think to myself, “would someone else actually buy this?” Like if it’s a travel book that’s a decade old or a classic that’s a little too classic and is falling apart, those I will not foist on my library I’ll recycle them myself.

But many community members are not as thoughtful as me… maybe that’s because they are not the facilitator of the MHLS Friends Support Group and they haven’t heard how much the volunteer book sorters loathe donors who drop off moldy, musty, damaged books that no one would actually pay money for.

Each time this subject comes up at the Friends Support Group meetings it is news to at least one group that they can recycle books, I follow up with an email to the group about where to recycle the books and wonder how many others are doing the midnight dumpster dumps (because everyone knows we get yelled at for throwing away books!) rather than recycling what they can.

If you haven’t already, create a policy that defines what you take and what you will not, check out this example from the Plymouth Public Library. Here’s what I like about it:

  • Defines when the library accepts donations
  • States the library’s right to dispose of donations that do not meet the needs of the library or their book sale
  • Defines what is accepted, in terms of format, currency and condition
  • Expresses gratitude for thinking of donating to the library

In a perfect world your library would also have written sorting criteria for volunteers that would include what to do with books unworthy of the book sale, it would be great if it defined recycling as part of the procedures and instructions for what to do to prep materials for recycling and what condition an item would have to be in to be unacceptable for recycling in your community. Call your recycling center or transfer station (usually municipal or county based) to understand their rules.

For Disappointed Donors: I like the idea of creating defined times of year for when the library will accept donations. This helps the library manage storage of donations and schedule volunteers in a more streamlined way. But just because you have the policy doesn’t mean everyone in your community will have read it or follow it (I know, scandalous!) So occasionally a well-meaning citizen will arrive at your library with a trunk full of their unwanted treasure for the library when you are emphatically, but politely, not accepting. Help out by having a list of alternate organizations that are open to accepting donations. Check out this “Re-Use Guide” put out by the County of San Mateo.

Greening Meetings

Maybe it’s just me but I feel like I go to a lot of meetings, a lot of workshops and a fair number of conferences. I was struck this year by the obviousness of those facilities and organizations that have made an effort to make more sustainable facility and operational choices in the context of the “meeting experience.”

  • paper handouts vs. online referrals to handouts
  • the quality of the plates, cups, forks/spoons/knives, napkins provided
  • individual plastic water bottles
  • quality or (heavenly absence of) “giveaways” – bags, notepads, pens
  • recycling for cans and bottles
  • snack choices

While it may seem minor in some cases all of these things contribute to a meeting/workshop/conference experience. Here’s how my mind was working this year, I forgot my stainless steel water bottle at an event recently and had to break down and buy a bottle of water. I had to carry it around for hours, literally, until I found a recycling receptacle.  I was actually distracted by this, my mind was constantly on the look out! This was at a conference with hundreds of people attending, how many of them didn’t hold on to their bottles until they found it? That’s probably hundreds of bottles just thrown in the trash.

I actually had a visceral reaction when I realized I’d have to use a Styrofoam plate at one of our own, catered, events. How to rectify this? I’m suggesting that next year this is part of our contract with the caterer, that plates, napkins and utensils contain recycled content.

As consumers we can enact change. Libraries spend a lot of money in communities, if we start demanding specific sustainable aspects we can change how people do business.

Don’t be complacent, fill out that workshop evaluation form and suggest healthier, more sustainable options. Planning an event? Check out:

Building Orientation

Last week we conducted a building orientation for all staff members. This idea came out of the MHLS Green Team. During one of our meetings our facilities guy was commenting on how a few staffers were consistently leaving on the lights at night which was wasting electricity. The conversation that followed revealed that some of us didn’t know where the light switches were for certain lights and others were not sure it was our job to turn them off (thinking there were still others in the building).

We designed an hour long program, limited it to 6 staff people at a time and did a couple of sessions to make sure everyone had a chance to participate. We stated it was mandatory (but that we knew they would come along even if it wasn’t!)

Before the sessions we implemented some signage we had agreed on and labeled all light switches.

We met around a table to begin and
1) Reviewed the “Building Basics”

  • building operating hours
  • alarm
  • opening and closing procedures
  • lighting basics

2) “Safety First” alerted staff to

  • emergency procedures
  • fire safety
  • some basic personal precautions to take to protect themselves when leaving the building after hours

3) MHLS “Goes Green” Challenge Results

  • shared the results of the Challenge in which they all took part (more than 120 ideas were shared!)
  • let everyone know some of the things that were already being done that had been suggested
  • what energy efficiency items have been included in our facility plan (new windows and solar panels)
  • reviewed the building recycling opportunities and guidelines
  • shared tips from Staff gathered through the Challenge:
    • “Top Ten Tips” for Conserving Energy – some ideas were very specific to our building but here are ones that work anywhere:
      • turn off computers and monitors at the end of every day
      • use the Power Options setting on PCs to help machines save energy while idle
      • unplug equipment used infrequently (pencil sharpeners, laminator)
      • use the stairs rather than the elevator
    • Paper: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Then we toured through the building, starting at the door everyone enters and leaves through. On each floor we pointed out:

  • how doors lock, when they should be locked
  • fire extinguishers
  • circuit breaker boxes
  • light switches
  • where lights could be shut off when no one is in the area
  • safety tips (like closing blinds on the first floor at the end of the day)

It went amazingly smoothly. Everyone “played along” and were helpful, coming up with more ideas along the way – motion detectors for the bathroom lights to help make sure lights are off when no one is in there, glow in the dark tape on key light switches, tips for using a fire extinguisher… it was great.

Have I mentioned yet how glad I am we did the MHLS Green Team? ;-)

Green Team Saves Us Money

Very cool thing happened this week as a result of starting the Green Team @MHLS – we’re saving money already.

Our organization is in some dire financial straits after five cuts in two years from New York State and thanks to the fact that NYS has released just 50% of our funds and we’re in the 9th month of our fiscal year. Not fun.

Our interim director and business manager have done a super human job of cutting back, freezing spending and keeping “the ship afloat” so far. I was able to show that a number of the ideas we came up with on the Green Team would save us operating costs (upgrades to the lighting, new windows, etc.) But we’re in such a tough spot that even relatively small investments ($1,500 for the lighting) are out of reach right now.

But the collective mind proved to be stronger than the individual once again as more of my coworkers got thinking about things they are involved with.

  • Our discussion about getting a water cooler that was less of an energy hog has resulted in the negotiation of not only a better water cooler but the company is waiving the lease fee.
  • In talking to the person in our business office about what logos to look for on paper and other office products to make sure they are as environmentally responsible as possible we poured over the office paper catalog and I longingly pointed to the FSC paper which was more expensive than what we were currently purchasing. She said  “I can get better prices than these” and she did. We’re now paying even less than we were before on a more environmentally responsible choice.

I’ve said a number of times what  great experience the Green Team has been but to finally see cost savings, even minor ones, AND good choices being made is really rewarding.

Green Team Meeting #2

Today was our second Green Team meeting and it went really well.

  • We reviewed the benchmark data gathered since our last meeting:
    • electricity usage in both buildings
    • gas consumption for both buildings
    • paper recycling levels
    • solid waste recycling levels
  • Options for providing safe drinking water for staff and guests were reviewed in light of the decision to stop providing serving bottled water – bottleless water cooler option looking very attractive (not to mention a lot cheaper than what we’ve been doing). Decided we needed to think about it more and will revisit this at our next meeting.
  • Reviewed the results of our complimentary lighting audit done for by a consulting firm that works with our utility company. I need to double check the numbers but it looks like we could completely convert our lighting in the office building to T8s, get a 50% rebate from our utility AND payback the remaining cost through energy savings in 1.21 years. Not to mention the on-going savings after that.
  • Then came the fun stuff. Over the past three weeks we challenged our coworkers to come up with “green” ideas. Anything goes – that was the only parameter! I received 130 ideas! I’ll share the best ideas in a later post but just wanted to say that at this stage the act of asking everyone had so much benefit:
    • Staff buy-in for change
    • Revelation that some were unaware of existing recycling and energy saving rules already in place building-wide – really made us think about how we convey the rules and how staff are oriented to the way things should be done
    • Behavior is already starting to change – more people are turning off lights in unoccupied offices and rooms, more people are using ceramic mugs rather than disposable cups for coffee…
    • Excitement that they can help the System save money by changing how we do things – people were so anxious to help, it was wonderful
  • Next steps identified:
    • Codify existing rules related to recycling and energy savings and create a staff web page so people can reference the info – things like what is recyclable, who is responsible for turning off lights, making sure everyone is turning off computers/monitors at the end of the day…
    • Create tip sheet on reducing paper use based on the input from staff gathered over the last month
    • Work with the Computer Operations Department to audit all computers and printers in the building to make sure they have basic energy saving settings in place and to develop how-to info for people that want to adjust the energy saving settings
    • Use input from staff to create a checklist of things they can personally do to reduce energy consumption
    • Develop a staff education event to orient them to the building, how they can play a part in reducing, reusing and recycling

So for those of you in our member libraries – the Business Office won the MHLS Go Green Challenge – they came up with twice as many ideas as the other two floors. Doris, our receptionist, was the champ, I got more ideas from her than anyone in the building! Go Green!

Greening Presentation for Onondaga County Public Library 5.7.10