Proper Gadget Disposal

Librarians are a tech-saturated lot. My friends with the most gadgets, who are the most tech savvy are librarians (with an honorable mention to my non-librarian husband!). In the past two years I’ve seen an interesting (and wonderful) trend in my library system – patrons are seeking out help with their gadgets at the library. eBooks, smartphones and tablets are being brought in under the guise of “how do I download an eBook on this thing?” and the next thing you know, library staff are assisting with basic functionality issues with the device.

It is part of our professional know-how landscape to be up on these gadgets and to understand how to provide online library services in gadget friendly ways. However, as exciting as these times may be we have an environmental stewardship issue here that we can help impact.

The rate at which new versions of each gadget are released is causing a significant amount of device turnover. Some people trade up for newer versions, some are just tossing the old for the new.

Innovation and deflation are the watchwords of the consumer electronics industry. Even as the latest designs and technologies are released to the market, improvements are already being planned or manufactured. That innovation lowers costs is most spectacularly seen in this industry. As electronic gadgets become more sophisticated, they actually fall in price, instead of rising. This results in users upgrading their gadgets every few years or multiple times in a single year. What happens to the old gadgets is becoming a serious problem as the years pass. [The Gadgets Blog, June 2011]

The amount of e-waste generated in this world is staggering (US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

  • Over 3 million tons of e-waste is generated each year
  • The vast majority (82.3%) of e-waste discarded in the U.S.  is still ending up in our landfills and incinerators
  • 17.7 percent  of e-waste goes to recyclers

Electronics typically contain many toxic chemicals,  like lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, arsenic, and halogenated flame retardants in the plastics. These can seep into our water supply when they breakdown in landfills, particularly in older landfills with no lining. When they end up in in an incinerator these chemicals are being released into our atmosphere.

Our personal first step is to question our true need of each gadget before purchasing items for ourselves (as evidenced by comments to the shared link, “Ditch these 10 Devices in 2012,” on Sustainable Libraries’ Facebook page) but after the almost inevitable purchase of at least one device we will reach the end point of that gadgets’ useful life – either in its usefulness to our lives or in its functional capacity.

Product Stewardship
Look into whether or not your state has passed legislation related to “product stewardship,” or “takeback programs.” Here are some well known takeback and e-recycling programs:

If you don’t have one of the big electronics retailers near you or your device’s manufacturer doesn’t offer a takeback or recycling program call your municipal or county’s solid waste management department. Often they will host events to manage recycling e-waste as a community.

Beware e-recyclers visiting your town: do your homework. 60 Minutes did a great story a few years ago on how some recyclers just ship e-waste overseas where it is not properly handled and is polluting water, soil and air in those countries. Check out Basel Action Network’s e-Stewards program and ask the recycling hauler coming to your town if they are a “Certified e-Steward Recycler.”

If you’ve taken the time to do this research, share it with your community, campus and school!

 

 

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

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:

Living Building Challenge

A local organization, the Omega Institute, just accomplished what many people have said was impossible – they are one of the first two projects to be certified by the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

The LBC goes way beyond LEED, “it defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions. This certification program covers all building at all scales and is a unified tool for transformative design, allowing us to envision a future that is Socially Just, Culturally Rich and Ecologically Restorative.”

A LBC building must be net-zero energy, net-zero water, non-toxic, provide for habitat restoration on adjacent sites, and urban agriculture is mandated.

One of the most important features of LBC is that it measures the actual performance of buildings. Basically this means that a year after a building was built, measurements are taken to ensure that it is, in fact, net zero in terms of energy and water, etc. This is a big distinction from existing requirements like LEED and CA’s Title 24 which measure performance models and do not hold projects accountable to live up to those models.

LBC has seven performance categories, or ‘Petals’: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Petals are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives:

  • Limits to Growth
  • Urban Agriculture
  • Habitat Exchange
  • Car Free Living
  • Net Zero Water
  • Ecological Water Flow
  • Net Zero Energy
  • Civilized Environment
  • Healthy Air
  • Biophilia
  • Red List
  • Embodied Carbon Footprint
  • Responsible Industry
  • Appropriate Sourcing
  • Conservation + Reuse
  • Human Scale + Humane Places
  • Democracy + Social Justice
  • Rights to Nature
  • Beauty + Spirit
  • Inspiration + Education

The project cannot contain any of the following Red List materials or chemicals:

  • Asbestos
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Chloroprene (Neoprene)
  • Formaldehyde (added)
  • Halogenated Flame Retardants
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • Lead (added)
  • Mercury
  • Petrochemical Fertilizers and Pesticides
  • Phthalates
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol

When I visited Omega this summer they mentioned the Red List and how they had to consult an eight page list of banned materials when buying carpeting for their classroom space. I asked if this was burdensome, “not at all, it’s what is best for the people who use our space.”

Bravo to Omega for taking this leap and being a leader. Showing others what could be is a powerful thing.

“2010 County Sustainability Strategies”

Came across this publication from the National Association of Counties (NACo) as I started to think more about the implications of what I read in the Urban Libraries Council’s recently released publication focused on public libraries and local governments.

Highlights from the NACo’s 2010 County Sustainability Strategies publication:

  • The most important benefit counties are realizing from sustainability efforts is cost savings.
  • “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Generation”, and “Waste Management” are the most common sustainability efforts counties are pursuing.
  • Thirty-four percent of the responding counties identified that they have a staff position to coordinate green efforts.
  • County sustainability coordinators are spread out across several different county departments, with the highest concentrations in County Administration, Operations, Environmental Protection, and Planning and Development.
  • Overwhelmingly, funding is the most significant challenge inhibiting counties from accomplishing all sustainability strategies. The second most cited challenge is staff time.
  • If given the opportunity, the majority of respondents would further invest, in order of priority, in (1) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Generation followed by Waste Management; (2) Green Building Construction/Renovation, and Water Conservation/Reuse; and (3) Green Purchasing, Local Food Systems, and Green Economic Development.
  • In general, counties in the West and Northeast Regions are pursuing all sustainability strategies with greater intensity than South and Midwest counties.

The word “library” does not appear at all in this report. BIG opportunity here folks!

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 Meeting #3

Today’s Green Team meeting at MHLS was a little bittersweet.

I’ll start with the sweet, there was lots of it!
1) We reviewed the content for the new staff web page that will orient staff to what we did with their 300+ ideas they submitted as part of the “MHLS Goes Green” Initiative we launched earlier this year.

  • I noticed a bunch of suggestions were for things we already do so I found a gentle way to convey this and coupled that with a list of short term and long term items we’re acting on that people suggested. These are things that take more research or a bucket load, or even handful, of cash that we just don’t have right now. (Thanks NYS Budget.)
  • Summarized the “Recycling Rules” for the building so there’s one central place to double check if it’s ok to recycle paper with staples (it is).
  • A “Demystification of Myths” Q&A for things we’ve heard that people misunderstand – whether it saves more energy to turn off an office light for an hour or leave it on (turn it off); do we really recycle paper or does it just go in the dumpster (we really recycle it!); why we don’t use vinegar and baking soda to clean; and an explanation of how power is still being used even when things are “turned off” to encourage smart strip usage.
  • Two “personal responsibility” tip lists – the first on paper consumption, what they can do personally to reduce, reuse and recycle paper the second, their top 10 suggestions for conserving energy.

I’ll post the staff page once I finish so you can see what I’m talking about.

2)We agreed on small signs that can go in various spots around the building to reinforce the info on the tip sheets for conserving energy and paper. They will all be branded with the same logo, a green leafy thing with the words “MHLS Goes Green” so they are easily recognizable and to help promote to our members and trustees that we’ve done a coordinated conservation effort. Signs will go on the copy machines to remind people to double side copies, near light switches to remind people to shut off lights as they leave for a meeting or for the day, etc.

3) We planned a staff education event with two parts, classroom time to go over the conservation tip sheets / recycling rules and a walk-thru of the building so everyone can learn how to “use” the building together. We’re planning to integrate opening and shut down procedures for security along with the conservation and recycling rules to help everyone get on the same page. We decided on 4 offerings, max of 6 people in each session to get through it in an hour or less. Our staff is super friendly and likes to chat and joke around when they get together so we figured 6 would be easiest to keep focused!

So the not-so-sweet part? We had a frank discussion about whether or not we could pledge ourselves to the Sustainable Hudson Valley’s 10% Challenge: to reduce our fossil fuel usage and to educate 10% of our constituents about energy efficiency options. While I know for sure we could slam dunk the education challenge the group came to the disappointing conclusion that we could not meet the 10% reduction in fossil fuel usage in the next year.

We’ve probably met the 10% challenge in past years (weatherization, turning down thermostats, water heater, wrapping the water heater) but have plateaued to some degree. At the moment, we are stymied by our budget woes.Since we’ve already implemented the free options and, right now, can’t afford even our next low cost solutions (lamp replacement, water cooler upgrade, etc.) the group felt we’d be setting ourselves up for failure. Next on our list is new windows or at least storm windows and we’ve been unable to come up with a match for the State Construction grant due to our budget situation. Solar panels are on the list, but again, grants cover half and we have no capital budget at this point.

While this may be a short term set back I’m not convinced we can’t do the 10% this year. I’m going to crunch some numbers, call some folks and take a hard look at what 10% looks like and maybe re-pitch this opportunity to the group. Stay tuned!!

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!

Are you for water?

Gotta love the mascot of the EPA’s WaterSense “We’re for Water” campaign, it’s name is Flo, no word yet on what nickname they gave the toilet sidekick [check out photos here].

In all seriousness… I really like how simple they’ve made the “I’m for water” pledge:

Check your toilet for silent leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank and waiting 10 minutes to flush. If you see color in the bowl, you may need to replace your flapper.
Twist on a WaterSense labeled bathroom faucet aerator to save water and energy at the tap without noticing a difference in flow.
Replace your showerhead with a WaterSense labeled model that uses less water and energy, but still lets you shower with power.