Friday, December 14, 2018

Reuse Artist +Brauer Featured in Waste360

The December 14, 2018 Waste360 includes the article "NEW Artist Sees the Beauty in Forgotten 'Junk'," which highlights the work of the Paris-based artist known as +Brauer, a graphic designer who has created "numerous album covers for French and international artists and pursued his personal artistic expression through painting, photography and sculpture."

The article explains: 'According to the artist's site, +Brauer carefully chooses vintage objects that have an industrial past, that are marked by time and whose patina have been molded by years of manual use. He admires the beauty, sometimes hidden, of these discarded industrial parts, alters their appearance, sculpts them and incorporates light sources into their structure before assembling the parts together to create a unique and poetic piece. The site also notes that right from conception, the element of light is an integral part of the artwork: each robot is designed to interact with its environment in a different way whether it is turned on or off. 'Each piece is a statement of poetic resistance to mass consumption,' according to +Brauer. With his Plastic Icon series, the artist turns to plastic, a material threatening the planet. Every second, plastic is dumped in the oceans, more than 100,000 marine mammals die every year and if the world goes on like this, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, explains +Brauer.'

Check out the Waste360 article for a slideshow of some of +Brauer's work, including some awesome robots and mosaics made from found plastic objects. Learn more on the artist's web site. The "Books" section of the site, listing books in which the artist's work is featured, has just added to my already too-long Amazon wish list and Goodreads "Want to Read" lists. You can also follow +Brauer on Facebook, as I've just done. I look forward to lots of adorable upcycled robots in my news feed!

From the Plastic Icon series by +Brauer.

This one's called Tom. Image from +Brauer's web site.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Need a Winter Coat? Consider Refurbished Clothing from Patagonia or the North Face

I'm not a huge fan of snow, especially when I have to shovel it. Yesterday morning as I tackled the first "shovel worthy" snow fall of the season, I was grateful for warm socks and my hooded winter coat.

Luckily my kids, who are super tall and still growing, have not outgrown their winter coats from last year, so I haven't had to go coat shopping recently. But if you or members of your family are in the market for a "new" coat or other outdoor gear, and don't have any luck finding the right size at your local thrift shop, you might consider buying a refurbished item.

Working on sustainable electronics related projects for my day job over the past several years, I'm used to explaining the term "refurbished" as it relates to electronics. Refurbished electronics, such as my own refurbished laptop, are typically items that have been returned for some reason to a manufacturer or vendor. They may not have been used and are therefore essentially new, or the may have had some defect. Not all refurbished items are returned by customers; sometimes they're items that simply weren't sold, or no longer being pushed to vendors because a new product has been released. Sometimes they are functional items or those with minor performance issues that have been collected via a recycling program by an IT asset management firm. Whatever the case, they are repaired if necessary, and tested for proper functionality to meet original factory specifications before they are resold. That's what sets a refurbished electronic device apart from something is simply used. There's a quality control factor that gives you more peace of mind that you could hope for by shopping for a cheap device on eBay or Craigslist. Because refurbished items are not new--even if they never were actually used by a consumer--they cannot be sold as new despite being assured of functioning like a brand new item. Thus, they tend to be sold a discounts. I'm always advising people to check for refurbished options when they need to buy a device because it saves money and keeps products in service for longer, thus saving the resources invested in manufacturing.

Similarly, refurbished clothing is that which has been collected and repaired so it meets the standards of new items. Patagonia has long offered a clothing repair service to its customers, as well as repair and care guides on its web site. In April 2017, they launched a take back service, providing store credit in exchange for unwanted Patagonia clothing turned in at their retail locations. Items that can be repaired are, and those items are resold through the company's Worn Wear line at discounted prices. Note that the Worn Wear line includes all sorts of clothing, not just coats and other outerwear.

In the summer of 2018, The North Face followed suit and launched its The North Face Renewed product line, comprised of refurbished clothing from returns or defects. Again, discounted prices are a bonus for doing your part to extend product life cycles.

Considering the fact that 85% of textiles end up in landfills, any program that facilitates the repair and reuse of clothing is a great idea in my book. As you shop for holiday gifts or in general seek to keep yourself and loved ones warm this winter, shopping for refurbished clothes can be a great idea for your pocketbook too.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

October 20 is International Repair Day and National Reuse Day

October 20th is National Reuse Day!!! Happy reusing! As described in an article from yesterday's Waste 360, "The day helps raise awareness about how much material Americans waste and how buying, using or donating reusable, reclaimed and remanufactured products can make a difference." Their article includes a slide show with ideas for ways you can incorporate reuse into your everyday life. (Though I would argue that composting is NOT reuse of food but rather recycling it; food donation, repurposing leftovers, using food scraps that weren't used in one recipe for a different one--THAT is reuse. Composting is important, it's just not the first thing one should do with food that is unwanted or unneeded, unless that food has already spoiled.)

Sadly there's really not much information available online regarding National Reuse Day, which the Reuse Alliance worked have recognized--not even on the Reuse Alliance web site. Austin, TX seems to take it seriously, extending their celebration throughout this entire weekend, as noted in this article from KXAN, Mayor Adler to announce sixth annual Reuse Day.

This day meant to encourage people to reuse is vastly overshadowed by America Recylces Day, which is coming up on November 15. That's sad not just because I clearly love reuse if I have an entire blog devoted to it; it's sad because reuse is a strategy one should always try to employ BEFORE recycling in order to make the most out of the "embodied resources" that have gone into the production of goods we use. A great deal of energy, water, and human labor goes into product manufacture and distribution, not to mention the extraction of materials from the natural environment (or their creation in a lab if the materials are synthetic). Even more resources go into the distribution of materials and completed products. While recycling is certainly important, if we can reuse an item or material before it is broken down into a state that can become feed stock in a new manufacturing process, we will be using our resources even more wisely.

But I take some comfort in the fact that October 20, 2018 is also the second annual International Day of Repair, and that is getting a bit more attention thanks to repaid advocates like the good folks at iFixit, the Restart Project in the UK (which actually launched the day in 2017; thank you Restarters!), and other members of the Repair Association.

I see repair as a form or reuse, though it can also be seen as a form of "reduce" (reduction), because through repair we keep items in their originally intended purpose for as long as possible, which is probably just a little higher on the waste management hierarchy than repurposing items prior to recycling (e.g. repairing a chipped mug and continuing to use it as a mug as opposed to repurposing a chipped mug into a bird feeder; both reduce waste through avoidance but might also be seen as reuse. That bird feeder is a reuse craft though, NOT a "recycling" or "recycled" craft no matter what anybody tells you, because you're not crushing the mug into feed stock for some new product, whatever that might be. And don't put mugs into your recycling bin; they don't get recycled and don't belong there.). 

To read more about why and how you should reduce your environmental impact through repair, see my recent post for the GLRPPR and ISTC blogs, #P2Week Day 2: Reducing Your Impact Through Repair. That post includes a list of Champaign-Urbana projects that foster repair, including my personal favorite, which I helped launch and have coordinated for the past few years, the Illini Gadget Garage. The Illini Gadget Garage provides free assistance to consumers, helping them troubleshoot and repair their electronics and small appliances. Right now, the Illini Gadget Garage is going through a transition. The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center will not continue to coordinate it in the future, but I'm exploring options for the project to be "adopted" by another entity on campus so it can continue to serve the community. Meanwhile, you can still set up an appointment to work on your gadgets by emailing or by sending a message via Facebook.

To read more about International Repair Day, see the iFixit blog.  You can also check out the site which outlines why repair is important, how it contributes to sustainability and independence, and how repair creates jobs (According to iFixit, for every 1000 tons of electronics, landfillling creates less than 1 job, recycling creates 15 jobs, and repair creates 200 jobs.)

Reuse something! Fix something! Make an impact by making less of an impact on the world.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Circular Economy Short Courses Offered by Cranfield University

Cranfield University in the UK is launching a suite of Circular Economy short (CPD) courses which may be of interest to those involved with product design or those teaching industrial design, engineering, materials science, sustainability and related topics. Reuse, in its various forms, and repair, are key components of the circular economy, as illustrated in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation infographic on the concept at

Set to begin in spring 2019, the Cranfield courses include:

  • Circularity in Practise. This is "a two day interactive course including inspirational key note presentations, case studies, group work, practical workshops, one to one feedback and mentoring. As well as hearing from experts who have implemented circular thinking, participants will have the opportunity to network with a cohort from a variety of backgrounds and industrial sectors about their own challenges of implementation."
  • Circular Design. "This course will inspire designers, doers, thinkers, entrepreneurs and business leaders to rethink the role of design and its value for the transition towards a circular economy. The course will introduce design and system thinking techniques within a practical approach, so participants can have a hand-on experience in implementing circular design."
  • Circular Innovation. "This is a three-day short course, hosted within the Centre for Design – C4D's strength and uniqueness is in its ability to deliver "informed creativity". By combining creative design practices with systematic applied research to create circular innovation business models. As well as hearing from experts who have implemented circular thinking, participants will have the opportunity to network with a cohort from a variety of backgrounds and industrial sectors about their own challenges of implementation."
  • Extending Material Life. "This course will set the basis for innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders to keep materials in high value use. Individuals will be introduced to multiple circular business models, case studies and supported implement circularity form materials point of view."
  • Mining Value from Organic Waste. "This course will offer an update on the most recent applications of circular economy in biological systems (low-value, high volume materials) and will provide an overview of the essential properties of organic waste biomass, methods for their critical appraisal and how to use them to design closed loop processing systems. Understanding the characteristics of the waste material is pivotal for implementing circular cycles. The course will develop the knowledge of the participant, introduce them to appropriate tools (waste characterisation and LCA etc) and combine all to solve a case-based problem."
  • Circular Economy Renewable Energy. "Renewable energy has gained traction in recent years, with the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive setting the challenge to generate 20% of total energy demand from renewable sources by 2020. This is a two-day interactive course including inspirational key note presentations, case studies, group work, practical workshops and facilitated discussions. As well as hearing from experts working in the renewable energy and resource management sectors, participants will have the opportunity to network with a cohort from a variety of backgrounds and industrial sectors about their own challenges of implementation."
These courses are offered on the Cranfield campus (though some also have online components), in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. For complete course descriptions, dates, prices, etc., visit the Cranfield Univeristy web site.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Happy 'Earth Overshoot Day,' aka 'Let's Stop Living Beyond Our Means, Humanity Day'

It's August 1, 2018, and besides being completely astounded that the summer has flown by and I need to register my kids for school tomorrow, I'm utterly amazed that it's already Earth Overshoot Day.

What is Earth Overshoot Day, you ask? Well, that's the sad and sorry day that we humans have officially used more resources than our poor planet can replenish for the year. Or as stated more precisely and academically on the Earth Overshoot Day web site,

"Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity's demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Earth Overshoot Day is hosted and calculated by Global Footprint Network, an international think tank that coordinates research, develops methodological standards and provides decision-makers with a menu of tools to help the human economy operate within Earth's ecological limits.

To determine the date of Earth Overshoot Day for each year, Global Footprint Network calculates the number of days of that year that Earth's biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity's Ecological Footprint. The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot. Earth Overshoot Day is computed by dividing the planet's biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity's Ecological Footprint (humanity's demand for that year), and multiplying by 365, the number of days in a year:

(Planet's Biocapacity / Humanity's Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day"

Whichever explanation you prefer, the whole thing frankly sucks. Put slightly differently, in 2018 we'll use the equivalent of 1.7 Earth's worth of resources to support human civilization. As a species, we're collectively living well beyond our means--I say collectively, because of course there are plenty of people in this world who barely have access to enough resources to survive, so it's not as if each and every one of us as individuals is behaving recklessly here. But our collective impact and demand for the limited resources available is out of control.

This is not a new phenomenon, alas, but this year we have reached the earliest collective Earth Overshoot Day ever. Check out our "progress" in terms of consumption of resources since humans first started overshooting Nature's annual budget around 1970:

As I said, this is the earliest collective overshoot day. Some countries (like mine, the United States of America) clearly consume more than others. So the Global Footprint Network has also calculated when Earth Overshoot Day would occur if the entire human population of Earth consumed as much as the population of each given country. Those figures are called Country Overshoot Days. Here's a graphic displaying those dates for 2018:

If it's hard for you to read, you can check out a larger version and associated data at Let me just point out that if everyone consumed the way we do in the US, Earth Overshoot Day would have happened way back on March 15th. 😒 Our consumption is outpaced only by that of the United Arab Emirates, Luxembourg, and Qatar (so take whatever incredibly small comfort you can from that).

If you're not depressed enough already, you can use the Global Footprint Network's calculators to determine your "personal overshoot day"--how many Earths would we need if everyone lived their lives like you? You don't have to show anyone your results. But it may get you thinking about what you might do to reduce your level of consumption.

And that's what all this information, and this post, is really about, rather than trying to make you feel guilty (although it sure does that effectively--I feel guilty, don't you?). It's about giving you a visual, relatable way to understand big concepts like global resource consumption, and hopefully be inspired to act in some small way. Things like sustainability and waste reduction can be abstract, and when a waste reduction and reuse advocate like me starts spouting facts and figures or talking about some case study of horrific resource depletion or pollution happening on the other side of the planet from you, even if you care in the moment and feel empathy for those directly impacted, it's hard to maintain that level of concern or understand how all of it effects you, because the impact isn't direct and the price paid isn't immediate. That's normal. We all have coping mechanisms to keep from being overwhelmed. The trouble is, those mechanisms can be too effective and numb us into inaction. Or maybe they aren't effective and we do get overwhelmed, and then we don't act because we have no idea where or how to start in order to improve the situation. But we have to act. All of us. In whatever small way we can, so that we can stop "drawing down the biosphere's principal rather than living off its annual interest."

So, what can we do? You already know and probably learned it in elementary school. "Reduce, reuse, recycle." Consult the EPA's Waste Management Hierarchy.

Think about ways to reduce the amount of resources you consume. Maybe you turn off that extra light which you don't need to have on. Maybe you refuse products offered that you don't need, especially if they're meant to be disposable (think of all the news lately about companies eliminating their use of single use plastic straws). Find some small way you can reduce your consumption and do it. And then think of another way, and do that. Repeat as you're able, a little bit at a time. It really does get easier to do with practice, and it usually saves you money too. The entire focus of this blog is reuse--and that's one of the best ways to reduce consumption. If resources have already been extracted from the environment and/or human labor has already been spent on creating a product, then those materials and products should be used for as long as possible, as many times as possible in their current form, to avoid the need to extract MORE from the natural pools of resources. Reuse can be simple, like donating old clothes you don't need so someone else can use them, or a little more complex, like repairing an item with minor performance issues or damage instead of choosing to replace it. And I've explained it before, but I'll reiterate--reuse comes before recycling, which is breaking down a product or material into constituents to become feedstocks in the creation of new items. Recycling is important, but it uses energy and other resources, and materials aren't always easy to reclaim from products. Even if they are, the quality of some materials degrade with every time they go through the recycling process, and they can't be used in quite the same way their next time around--this is called downcycling. So start by reducing. Where reduction isn't possible, reuse whenever you can, repair rather than replace, and when you no longer need or want something that still can be used, donate it, pass it on, or sell it so someone else can use it. And finally, when an item can't be practically reused anymore, recycle it if the infrastructure to do so exists in your area. If you observe materials that can't be recycled, contact the manufacturer and tell them you'd like to see their products be made from only materials that can be reclaimed for recycling. Or, depending on the situation, contact local authorities and let them know you'd like to see recycling options for the material in your community (e.g. if your curbside recycling accepts plastics with resin codes 1 and 2 only, and you'd like to see all types of plastics recycled). For more ideas, explore the "Solutions" section of the Earth Overshoot site. Also check out the "Steps to #MoveTheDate" section for specific tips.

And remember what the Global Footprint Network says in that section on solutions: "The current trend is not our destiny. The past does not necessarily determine our future. Our current choices do. Through wise, forward-looking decisions, we can turn around natural resource consumption trends while improving the quality of life for all people. While our planet is finite, human possibilities are not. The transformation to a sustainable, carbon-neutral world will succeed if we apply humanity's greatest strengths: foresight, innovation, and care for each other. The good news is that this transformation is not only technologically possible, it is also economically beneficial and our best chance for a prosperous future." In other words, we got ourselves into this mess. We can get ourselves out of it. We just need to recognize the problem and make better, smarter choices.

It's August 1, 2018. Seems like a good day to begin shaping a better destiny for ourselves, doesn't it?


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

#BeatPlasticPollution By Choosing Reuse on #WorldEnvironmentDay

Today is an important "holiday" of sorts for those of us who are sustainability professionals. On this day in 1972, the UnitedNations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden, began (conference dates were June 5-16, 1972). The purpose of that conference was to discuss human interactions with the environment, as well as encouraging governments and international organizations to take action related to environmental issues, and providing guidelines for such action. This was the UN's first major conference on international environmental issues, and it culminated in what's commonly called the "StockholmDeclaration”—the first document in international environmental law to recognize the right to a healthy environment. Two years later, in 1974, the first World EnvironmentDay was held on June 5 with the theme of “Only One Earth.” Since then, World Environment Day has been celebrated annually on June 5th. Each year has a theme around which activities center, and beginning in the late 1980s, the main celebrations began to rotate to different cities around the globe. Learn more about the UN Conference on the Human Environment at and the history of World Environment Day at

This year’s World Environment Day theme, chosen by the host nation, India, (New Delhi is the host city) is “beating plastic pollution,” with the tagline “If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.” If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already aware of why reuse is so important and why “reuse” is a higher priority on the US EPA Waste Management Hierarchy than recycling or other forms of materials management (if you need a refresher on that, check out myprevious post highlighting a “Well-written Piece on Reuse vs. Recycling”). Still, it’s worth taking a moment to ponder some statistics related to plastic consumption that make the choice of reusable products rather than single use products so important. According to the WorldEnvironment Day web site: "While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. Around the world, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Every year we use up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags. In total, 50 per cent of the plastic we use is single use. Nearly one third of the plastic packaging we use escapes collection systems, which means that it ends up clogging our city streets and polluting our natural environment. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, where it smothers coral reefs and threatens vulnerable marine wildlife. The plastic that ends up in the oceans can circle the Earth four times in a single year, and it can persist for up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates. Plastic also makes its way into our water supply – and thus into our bodies. What harm does that cause? Scientists still aren't sure, but plastics contain a number of chemicals, many of which are toxic or disrupt hormones. Plastics can also serve as a magnet for other pollutants, including dioxins, metals and pesticides."

To combat the environmental and human health issues associated with the global addiction to single use plastics, the UN Environment Programme is encouraging people to join the global game of #BeatPlasticPollutiontag. Here’s how to play:
  • Choose which type of single-use plastic you're ready to give up.
  • Take a selfie (photo or video) showing yourself with the reusable alternative that you're ready to embrace.
  • Share your selfie on social media and "tag" three friends, businesses or high-profile people to challenge them to do the same within 24 hours. Be sure to use the #BeatPlasticPollution hashtag and mention @UNEnvironment.

So what single use plastic item will you pledge to give up today—straws, plastic shopping bags, bottled water, plastic coffee pods, or something else? Here are some resources to support potential positive changes:

 Check out to learn more about the impacts of single use plastic straws on the environment, particularly on wildlife. See also thisWaste 360 article on National Skip the Straw Day. If you can opt to drink straight from your glass or take-out cup, that’s great, but if circumstances (e.g. drinking in the car, dental equipment such as braces or expanders, offering a drink to child that hasn’t learned how to handle a cup, etc.) mean the use of a straw would still be preferred, consider reusable stainless steel or glass straws, which can be washed using special brushes typically available from the same vendors as the reusable straws. Encourage party planners, restaurants, and other large food service operations to consider sturdy paper straws rather than plastic. Paper straws will at least degrade faster than plastic, and the resulting materials won’t be harmful. Where composting facilities exist, paper straws could be put into the compost bin along with food scraps. There are even edible options like the LOLISTRAW or the simple switch to using hollow pasta to sip your drink, as is done in a restaurant in Bristol in the UK. For even more alternatives, see

Reusable tote bags for groceries are pretty common these days, with many retailers selling their own branded bags near check outs. If you struggle to remember to bring in your reusable bags from your car to the grocery store, consider options that can fold into a pouch when not in use. There are some small enough to clip onto your keys, like those made by Chico bags, so if you’ve remembered your car keys, you’ll have at least one reusable bag with you (if you’ve locked your keys in the car, you have more immediate problems than waste reduction!). I’ve gone a step further and purchased a few cloth produce bags to replace the plastic options offered by stores; just a few examples include Chico’s produce bags and those made by Ecobags. Also, are you faithfully taking reusable bags into your grocery store, but not using them at other retailers like the book store, clothing store, etc.? Start using them whenever you know you’ll need a bag, or if you’re only making a small purchase, tell the retailer you don’t need a bag at all. 
If you're reading this blog you probably don't need suggestions for a reusable water/beverage bottle, but let me point out a couple of twists on the concept. Consider a product that can be both bottle and cup, like a traditional thermos or the Dopper by Preserve, which can be both a bottle and a cup. Currently produced in the Netherlands, Preserve will be working to ultimately manufacture the Dopper in the US from 100% recycled materials. Secondly—I always say the greenest product is the one you already own. Consider washing out a glass jar that originally held sauce, jelly, or other product, or use an old mason jar to hold your cold beverages. If you're lucky like me, you’ve got a mason jar-style mug with the logo of your favorite local barbecue joint, which once upon a time held delicious sauce. 

If you’re using a beverage maker that employs single-serving plastic pods, reusable versions of those “coffee pods” exist, into which you can put your own coffee grounds or tea that you’ve bought in bulk. Check out alternatives at Perfect Pod.