Upcycling: Turning Waste into Wonder

Upcycling is a growing trend in DIY crafting that takes an item or material that is past its useful life and transforms it into a new creation, usually with a higher value. Upcycling is a good way to reduce waste by reclaiming objects or pieces of objects and turning them into a product that gives the parts renewed value. Here are a few fun projects that you can try yourself with everyday household items:

By taking pages from an old newspaper, magazine, or book, you can upcycle a regular old picture frame into a piece of art itself! If you still have any leftover paper, you can also create a beautiful bouquet of flowers that will never wilt.Upcycled Paper Flowers and Frame

Come the holiday season, Dolphin Blue gets crafty by upcycling scrap sheets of paper into beautiful and festive decorations to bring joy to all! All you need is a little glue, and you have yourself some holiday cheer.Upcycled Paper Christmas Tree

Looking for a delicious way to display your jewelry? Try upcycling an old box of chocolates into a jewelry box for your pieces. This is a fun and easy project, as well as a great conversation piece!Upcycled Chocolate Box for Jewelry

If you want to find more ways to reduce the waste in your life, check out Dolphin Blue’s supply of recycled products of all kinds—made with fewer resources and less energy than their virgin counterparts. Make green waves in your life!

(This blog was written by Dolphin Blue’s amazing intern, Elisa Rivera.)

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Infographic Friday: Aluminum Cans & Their Infinite Recyclability

Did you know you could keep recycling the soda can you’re drinking out of forever? Well, you CAN (get it?) and here are some reasons why you should:

  • It takes the same amount of energy to create 1 new can as it does to create 20 recycled cans
  • Even though it accounts for less than 2% of the weight of USA’s recycling stream, aluminum generates 40% of the revenue needed to sustain all recycling programs – about a $1 billion a year
  • Recycling aluminum cans diverted 1.7 billion pounds from landfills
  • Used aluminum cans are recycled and returned to store shelves in as few as 60 days
  • Aluminum never wears out and can be recycled forever

So make sure the next can you drink from ends up in a recycling bin and keep the infinite aluminum recycling process going strong!

If you’re looking to add more green to your life, check out www.dolphinblue.com today.
Aluminum can be recycled an infinite number of times.

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Infographic Friday: Sweden Wants Your Trash

All but 4% of the trash produced in Sweden bypasses the landfill and is either recycled or used as fuel in their waste-to-energy programs.  Sweden is able to generate 20% of the energy they need to heat the country and also provide electricity for 250,000 homes.  They’re so successful in their recycling and waste-to-energy programs, they’re actually running out of trash.

Sweden has begun to import tons of trash from neighboring countries in order to gather burnable waste so they can incinerate it and create energy.  Countries like Norway are paying them to take their waste, since it’s more expensive for the Norwegians to burn the trash in their own country and they lack recycling programs.

Waste-to-energy initiatives have been introduced in Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania.  In the USA, 67% of our waste ends up in landfills.  Hopefully someday, we can follow in the eco-friendly footsteps of our European friends.

Sweden burns trash to create about 20 percent of its heat, but the Swedes are so diligent about recycling that the country simply isn’t generating enough waste to create the heat they need.

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What Will They Think of Next?

Test TubeNew green technologies are invented all the time, making life as we know it a little more eco-friendly. Think solar panels, hybrid cars, water-powered clocks, and post-consumer recycled toner cartridges (of which Dolphin Blue has a wide array).

But some inventions are a little more offbeat. Here are three that take something old and make it new again — in totally unexpected ways.

1. Trash-powered street lamps. Webster’s first definition of trash is “something worth relatively little or nothing,” but designer Haneum Lee has a different idea. His Gaon Street Light includes a trash can at its base made for food scraps. The methane from the discarded waste then powers the lamp, and compost is created that can be used to green nearby parks and other areas. With this concept, it is true that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

2. Washing machine beads. Washing your clothes with hardly any water? A company in England says it’s possible. Xeros has developed plastic beads that fight stains while using 90 percent less water than a typical laundry cycle. The nylon beads can be reused hundreds of times, then recycled into things like dashboards for cars.

3. Pig urine brick? 2010 Metropolis Next Generation Design Competition winner, architect Ginger Krieg Dosier, has blended sand, clay, soil, and bacteria together to create bricks with a smaller carbon footprint than traditional cement ones. (Brick production currently creates about 800 million tons of CO2 a year.) Dosier says pig urine may become part of her process in the future.

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3 U.S. Cities for Biking

Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is just one great place to go by bike in Walk Score's third most bike-friendly city.

Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is just one great place to go by bike in Walk Score’s third most bike-friendly city.

For a sustainable — and just plain enjoyable — way to get around, look no further than a bicycle. You can cover a lot of miles with just two wheels, but you won’t be making the carbon footprint you would be on four wheels. Here are the top three U.S. cities for biking, according to WalkScore.com.

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Bike Score: 79

Perhaps it’s the frigid winters that bond the bike couriers, road racers, BMXers, and recreational cyclists in Minneapolis, Walk Score’s winner for bikeability in the United States. If you’re visiting, the Grand Rounds trail nearly circles the entire city, while the Mississippi River Trail follows both sides of the river, to name just two big routes. Learn more about the bike scene in Minneapolis here.

Portland, Oregon
Bike Score: 70

Often considered the cycling capital of the U.S., Portland is a leader thanks to bike lanes, low-traffic bike boulevards, off-street paths, bike parking corrals, and a very lively bike culture. While you’re there, combine two of Portland’s loves — beers and bikes — with a Brewcycle tour (a 15-seater bike contraption that goes from brewery to brewery) or a Pub Peddler Brewery Tour from Portland Bicycle Tours.

San Francisco, California
Bike Score: 70

One of the must-do activities while in the City by the Bay is to rent a bike along the waterfront and pedal across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. The views both approaching the bridge and from among its orange-hued towers are spectacular on a clear day (and the good news is that the wind cooperates with you on the way back, so it’ll be comparatively easier pedaling). Try San Francisco Bicycle Rentals or another of the many shops around town for a good cruising bike.

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Discussing Overpopulation Solutions

CrowdedWhen actress Alexandra Paul took the stage at TEDx Topanga, she addressed a topic not many other people talk about: overpopulation. Recycling, climate change, energy usage, electric cars, oil spills, and veganism are all a fairly big part of the public discourse nowadays, but people still shy away from discussing just how quickly the rate of people on this planet is growing.

Paul has been worried about the sustainability of rapid population growth since she was a child, but just as no one seemed to understand her concerns then, she worries not much has changed in the ensuing four decades.

“I still feel pretty alone in my beliefs, and I’m still shocked that not more people are disturbed by population growth,” Paul said in her speech. “I think it’s because as a species, we’ve decided not to talk about it.”

It took us until 1850 to put the first billion people on the planet. The next billion came in 100 years. Now, we add 1 billion people to the planet every 12 years. What can we do to slow this growth? Here’s what Paul proposes:

>> Aim for one-child families. “Every day, we add 220,000 people to the planet — every day — and this is unsustainable, which means at some point, the world population is going to stop growing,” Paul says. “The question is: how? Will it stop growing because of famine, disease, a war over resources, or will it stop growing because people choose to have smaller families? And by smaller families, I mean one-child families.”

>> Provide more education to women. “The fastest and most efficient way to stabilize the world population is to send girls to school and to empower women, and to give everyone access to and education on birth control,” Paul says. According to the Institute for Population Studies, 200 million women around the world would prefer to delay having children, but they don’t have access to contraceptives and reproductive health care. The more job opportunities women have, the smaller families they choose to have — and the more resources they’re able to devote to each child.

>> Change social norms. “Couples like myself and my husband, Ian, who have chosen not to have kids are ‘childless’ instead of ‘child-free,’” Paul says. Instead of treating those who choose not to have children as if they’re selfish (which Paul has been accused of) or making a huge mistake, we should focus on respecting that decision. The same goes for those who choose to have one child — we should stop equating only with lonely.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Harvey Lacey

Harvey Lacey. Photo by Beccalyn Photography.

Harvey Lacey, a grandfatherly looking Texas inventor in his 60s, has found a simple and elegant solution to a problem that others have found to be completely unsolvable — housing the most desperately poor people on earth. Lacey teaches Haitians how to build dry, well-insulated, and sturdy dwellings made from trash. The basic element of construction is what Lacey calls Ubuntu-Blox. (“Ubuntu” means “humanity to others.”)

Trash to Treasure
Ubuntu-Blox are building blocks made from recycled plastic and Styrofoam. The plastic and Styrofoam are cleaned and then compressed. Later, dwellings arise when the blocks are layered and reinforced with wire and rebar to form walls. Roofing can be done with scrap lumber. Finally, the walls are sealed with a coating of mud or stucco.

Surprisingly, dwellings constructed from Ubuntu-Blox have been shown in tests to be capable of withstanding hurricane-speed winds and a level of shaking found during strong earthquakes.

More about building with Ubuntu-Blox can be seen in a video from the Memnosyne Foundation and a recent article by Gail Bennison published in the Collin County Business Press.

In Haiti, Lacey teaches Haitians (generally women) how to make Ubuntu-Blox and how to use them in construction. One woman described her motivation to become a student of Lacey by saying that she simply did not want to have to stand in water when it rained. Lacey’s students can use the skills they learn in constructing a dwelling for themselves to earn income that will take them out of extreme poverty. They can make and sell Ubuntu-Blox and sell their labor to construct buildings for others.

A Humanitarian
Lacey is supported in his travels by a small grant from Memnosyne Foundation. Lacey’s reward for his work is helping people who desperately need help. He does not want royalties from those who choose to build with Ubuntu-Blox. He conceives of what he is doing as going beyond the familiar parable about teaching a hungry man to fish. He teaches a more advanced technology — a technology that is more like teaching a hungry man how to use a fishing net, not just a fishing pole.

Lacey is now getting calls from all over the world from people who want to find out more about how trash can be used to provide well-constructed dwellings for almost no money. He is very happy to take those calls and to offer his help and encouragement.

Lacey’s work is beginning to have a worldwide impact. That is important in light of a struggle that more and more poor people now have to stay out of extreme poverty. Turning recycled trash into decent housing is an exceptional advance in both humanitarian action and sustainability. If you like what Lacey is doing, you can let him know by sending a message to ubuntublox(at)gmail.com. You could also send a contribution to Memnosyne Foundation, 2902 Maple Avenue, Dallas, TX 75201, and let them know you appreciate their support of Harvey Lacey.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Andrew Revkin

Making the Earth Front-Page News

Andrew Revkin

There’s a saying in journalism that if you’re getting complaints from both sides, you’re doing your job right. If that’s the case, award-winning environmental journalist Andrew Revkin is certainly doing something right, having weathered plenty of criticism over his 25 years of reporting on everything from Hurricane Katrina to climate change.

To continue reading our Heroes of Sustainability: Andrew Revkin blog, please visit http://www.dolphinblue.com/pg-Heroes-of-Sustainability-Andrew-Revkin.html

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Heroes of Sustainability: Bob Willard

Bob Willard, Corporate Straight Shooter

 Some people talk the talk about sustainability — Bob Willard talks it, walks it, and drives it (he has two hybrid vehicles). A longtime businessman, Willard spent 34 years at IBM Canada before becoming a leading expert on corporate sustainability.

 With three books under his belt – The Sustainability Advantage (2002), The Next Sustainability Wave (2005), and The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook (2009) — Willard is among the best at laying out a clear, actionable plan for business leaders to follow in order to institute more-sustainable policies within their companies.

 “Sooner or later, there is a tough message that sustainability champions need to deliver to harried business leaders — the business game they are playing can’t continue,” Willard writes. “It’s been fun, but if they keep playing the game the way they are, everyone will lose.”

 Delivering that tough message is what Willard has made his mission, and to support it, he’s developed hundreds of keynote presentations, numerous webinars, two DVDs, and a Master Slide Set to drive home the point that if we want to have clean air, potable water, nutritious food, and adequate shelter, something has to change in the way corporations do business — and fast.

 Willard’s talent is in quantifying and selling the business value of corporate sustainability strategies to CEOs and other C-level personnel. “Executives might think you are trying to convince them that sustainability is a nobler goal than contending with gnarly business issues like complexity, resource scarcity, and talent shortages,” Willard writes. “It’s sometimes better to back off and reframe sustainability strategies as enablers of executives’ priorities, rather than as another nagging goal to worry about.”

 To communicate effectively, Willard uses sales techniques widely successful in business: He talks the language of the decision-makers, meets them where they are, and makes the connection between what they’re already doing and what they could be doing. He has a personal commitment to sustainability, having been turned on to the importance of the issue when, after plans surfaced in his community to build a water treatment plant downstream from a nuclear power plant, he realized that those in charge weren’t looking out for the well-being of the community members. Since then, environmental issues and taking personal responsibility for making a difference have been at the forefront of his life and work. But even those who haven’t caught the sustainability bug the way Willard has would do well to follow the advice he lays out. “The bottom-line payoff comes from increased revenue, innovation, and productivity, as well as risk-mitigation and eco-efficiency cost-savings,” he writes.

 For more information about Bob Willard, visit www.sustainabilityadvantage.com, and read an excerpt from The Sustainability Advantage here.

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Governmental Buying Practices and Sustainability

Recently, the staff at Dolphin Blue began questioning the buying practices of our government, and evaluating their overall impact on sustainability.  As more corporations continue to manufacture their goods in foreign countries, many tax-supported agencies have jumped on the “low-cost” bandwagon, creating a governmental bidding system with little regard to sustainability.  To answer some of our questions, we consulted with our in-house expert, Dolphin Blue  Founder & President, Thomas Kemper.

  

How does corporate outsourcing hinder the environmental health and welfare of our economy?

When we support the manufacturing of low-cost goods originating from distant places (i.e. China, Malaysia, Vietnam, India), the costs we ultimately incur are numerous, and detrimental to our natural world, local economies, and to the long-term health of our economy.  Every time a tax-supported entity procures an item provided by giant conglomerates, we continue to chip away at the sustainability of our planet (incurring a heavy carbon footprint), our communities (by eroding the local, regional and federal tax base), and our economies (local, state, and national).  Have you ever wondered why our roads, bridges, highways, school systems, county and state hospitals and park systems are in such disrepair, while the tax-supported jurisdictions responsible for their upkeep and maintenance are screaming that they are broke? How much longer can we continue to provide Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and favorable treatment to our largest corporations, so they can continue providing inexpensive foreign goods to the very tax-supported agencies that are responsible for maintaining the infrastructure and systems that are paid for, by us, the tax payers? As we, the payer of the taxes, continue to see unemployment rise, factories close due to unfavorable treatment, and the degradation of our natural resources’ health (clean air, fresh water, soil quality, forest and food stocks), while our very own taxpayer dollars continue buying cheap, resource-depleting foreign goods, creating a huge burden on the sustainability of our planet.

 

Corporate outsourcing clearly damages our nation’s infrastructure, but how do low-cost supplies produced in foreign countries harm our environment?

Products being procured with no understanding of our environment, affect our human health and global ecosystem in ways we are only beginning to understand.  The use of chemicals, such as chlorine and chlorine-containing compounds, affect the human endocrine system, and compromises the immune system’s ability to do what it was biologically designed to do.  The havoc being wreaked upon the health of our children is a cost seemingly hidden in our out-of-control healthcare system, which continues to grow as the fastest sector of our economy.  I saw this issue arising back in 1994, and made a personal and business decision to provide papers that are processed chlorine free, as well as being derived from 100% post-consumer recycled fiber and made in the USA with Green-e certified renewable wind energy.  Thus, it is incumbent upon all of us, as citizens of our local communities first and foremost, to get involved in the decisions being made by our tax-supported government representatives, and demand that they purchase only socially and environmentally responsible products.

 

Many governmental agencies purchase their supplies at a low-cost from large corporate conglomerates.  How does this practice create an unfair advantage for small businesses of all types?

Many of the corporate giants (whose supplies produce an annual revenue of $15 BILLION and upward ), have the financial ability to provide a catalog with as many as 45,000-50,000 items, of which only 5-10% of those products are actually certified as “green”.   Although Dolphin Blue  has the capability to provide a catalog containing approximately 4,000 items, ALL made in the USA, and ALL made with post-consumer recycled materials, other small businesses are unable to offer such a catalog when a tax-supported entity (municipality, county, state, or federal government) requests pricing from the vendor community.  Consequently, if a small business responds without providing a full catalog, that small supplier is deemed non-responsive to the government agencies’ Request for Quote (RFQ), giving the large giants a tremendous advantage in the marketplace. 

When governmental agencies purchase products and services from corporate giants moving goods globally, with little regard to anything but profitability, the tax-supported entity is doomed and destined for failure.  In my experience, very few government agencies leave the door fully open for those who qualify through the GSA contracting system, where buyers can select goods and services through a “best value” contracting criteria.  While it is regrettable that some agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have granted monopolistic exclusive contracts to some suppliers, a true environmentally conscious buyer will go shopping elsewhere, seeking the products and services truly aligned with the EPA’s stated, charted mission. 

 Is there a “Watch Dog” system in place to monitor and measure the environmental degradation, loss to society, or economic erosion of such “full service” catalog purchasing relationships? 

Unfortunately, there is no program in place to monitor these relationships, and if governmental agencies continue to support the taxpayers who fund its existence, the tax-supported agencies will continue to thrive in the marketplace, while we continue seeing our planet’s health degrade.

 Yes, but don’t some of the larger corporations offer “green” products?

Many “green” items being offered by the giants are not certified for the environmental attributes being claimed, and many of the so-called “green” products are not green at all.  They are usually being shipped many thousands of miles to gain business at a very low invoice expense, which further degrades our planet’s sustainability by imparting a very heavy carbon footprint on the health of our planet.  What might that cost be, to our society, our planet, and, to future generations? We’ve already keenly aware of those costs. We see them around us every day. The longer we bury our heads in the sand, the more devastating the costs.

Additionally, many of the purchasing contracts do not require the products to be made in the USA, thus sacrificing American jobs for a few nickels.  While these large “full service” catalog transactions are rampant among many levels of our government, there are many buyers within these agencies that truly understand the meaning of sustainability (meeting the needs of our generation, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs), and practice responsible procurement methods.  For these buyers, I applaud and acknowledge your pioneering spirit.  Thank you.  You understand that we are all in this together, and without us working together to achieve a sustainable planet, we will only be continuing to paint ourselves into a very precarious corner.  As citizens of our neighborhoods, local communities, country, and planet, we must be good stewards, and be responsible with all items, goods, and services we purchase.  We owe it to our children.

Tom is founder and CEO of Dolphin Blue, an online retailer of environmentally sustainable green office supplies and green printing products.

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