Thursday, April 22, 2010

Live Green Expo

Hello Everyone,

Earlier this week, Mark and I attended our very first Green Expo!  We were both very excited about it and were able to learn a lot and meet great people while we were there.

First, we had a great conversation with Suzanne Sutton, who works for The Chiapas Project.  She had a table to collect old cell phones and ink catriges.  There were postage-paid plastic bags on the table that you could take home, put your phones in, and ship them to their organization.  The phones that have value are sold to refurbishing companies who then sell the phones to emerging markets.  The phones that don't have value are recycled.  The money generated goes to provide microloans to women in poverty in Chiapas, Mexico.  The small loans are enough to help them get started in their own business, like "raising animals, growing fruit or weaving fabric" (from the Chiapas Project pamphlet).  The income they generate from their business allows them to provide for their family's needs.  I asked Suzanne if there was an alternative to the plastic bags because we're going a year without using new plastic.  She asked where I lived and said she would personally come by my home to pick them up.  Now THAT's a woman who believes in what she's doing.

Our next great learning opportunity was at our local Allied Waste table.  Allied Waste is the company Plano uses to handle the recycling, landfill, and city composting programs.  We asked them many questions.  Here are just a few of them:

Are ziplock bags recyclable?

Even if we take the zipper off?

Is it true that you should take the tops off the plastic bottles before recycling?
This one is tricky, according to Brenda, who was the woman who graciously answered a list of our questions.  If the recycling facility workers see a bottle with a cap on, they will unscrew the caps.  Otherwise, they go to the buyer for those plastics, and the buyer has a laser that chops off the top part of the bottle.  (We weren't clear on whether it was then recycled or not).  However, some buyers will not take plastic bottles that have lids on them.  If you unscrew the lids, the caps may fall through the filtering screen at the beginning of the process, meaning it will not get recycled.

I was kind of bummed when I heard this because I had just recently posted that they couldn't be recycled with the lids on, which I now understand is not the whole truth.  It seems like it's iffy either way.  The best option, my friends?  Not buying plastic bottles, of course!

We also learned the big role that education plays in recycling.  It's not as easy as getting new equipment and using it.  The public has to be educated that another recycling option is available, what materials are now recyclable, and how to prepare the material for recycling.  So much great information!  Mark and I are both so thankful to the people at the Allied Waste booth for taking time to answer all our questions.

There were so many other cool things at the expo, too, like the bio-diesel truck and the green housecleaning booths.  There was also wonderful live music and a step-by-step composting tent.  A huge thank you to all the hundreds of volunteers who made the Expo possible.  If you didn't come, you really missed out on some great information.

As great as the Expo was, I feel there is room for improvement.  I was pretty disappointed when I saw that one of the sponsors was Culligan water company.  Throughout the expo, there were large bottled water stations for people to use for free.  When I turned around, there were at least 10 water fountains not being used.  I'm surprised the city would even let Culligan and the other water companies there, some of whom had signs implying that public water was bad and unhealthy, at a city-sponsored event.  Plano has excellent water.  Water in plastic bottles?  That's just tacky.  That plastic will be around forever, whether it's recycled or not.  It's just tacky and not good for the environment at all.  If you want to know more about the history of bottled water and its effect on the environment, check out the this video, from the Story of Stuff.

Also, at the concession stands, there was a fridge filled with plastic soda and water bottles to choose from as well.  Plastic plastic plastic.  It's just crazy, especially at a green expo.

Maybe you're thinking, "Isn't plastic recyclable?"  Plastic is downcycled, which means it reduces in quality every time it's recycled.  It's also using up a lot of energy to turn it into something new.  If all the bottles were made out of recycled plastic, that's great!  It creates a market for recycled products and uses the material that will be around for over 1000 years anyway (none of the plastic ever created has biodegraded yet, so 1000 years is a common guess, but we don't know if it ever will).  All the plastic that's ever been made is still here, whether in oceans, littering the ground, in landfills, or being recycled. What's convenient about a bottle of water, whether it's recycled or not, that you will only use for an hour but will be around for generations to come?  Nothing.

Despite my disappointment with the plastic water bottles, Mark and I had an awesome time, we learned a lot, we met a lot of great people, and we're so glad Plano decided to host a Green Expo and make it free for everyone to attend.  

Did you go to the Expo?
What did you learn?
What was your favorite part?
Share your comments!

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