Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations

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Recycling: Creating Hope for a Greener Planet


Recycle and Conserve

“European countries are recycling 35% to 40% [of their plastic waste]. The U.S. only recycles 10%.”

By Linn Smith

I am spending time in a suburb in the Southwestern part of the United States. After being a diligent recycler most of my adult life, I have come to realize that many households do not share my passion for doing their part to prevent further negative impact on our planet. Even though I’m conscientious about buying goods in bulk from local health food stores, I still accumulate some bottles, cans and plastics. It’s the world we live!

I have been in the Southwest for several weeks and have repeatedly asked people and businesses about a drop off place for glass and plastic. The answer is always the same….the surrounding suburbs no longer take drop off recyclables as rates have gone up and in some sections there has been complete halt on even curbside recycling for glass and plastic. Cans are less of a problem, as many are willing to turn them in for cash, but plastic and glass? My efforts have produced nothing.


Recycling Shut Down!

Following is the message I found when trying to locate a place to drop off my recyclables:

All City of *****recyling Drop-off Centers Are Indefinitely Closed
Due to increasing recycling processing fees and decreasing commodity values, the City of **** has found it necessary to reevaluate its entire recycling program. While we value the importance and place high priority on conserving our natural resources, we must also take into account financial considerations to ensure we are able to maintain a sustainable program. The total operating cost for the City of ***** three recycling drop-off centers is approximately $250,000 per year. While we have been pleased to offer this service for many years and appreciate you visiting our centers, unfortunately the decision has been made to indefinitely close all three locations.”


A newly formed mountain of waste.

The Landfill: A Mountain of Garbage!

I then sought out the local landfill. I couldn’t enter as the truck in the picture was on guard to keep out private citizens. But standing on the road running parallel to the landfill, I took in the site of a mountain newly produced by garbage from the city that won’t allow recycled dropoffs. As I stood in disgust of this newly formed mountain of garbage in our once beautiful desert Southwest, I wondered, “Where did we go wrong? Was it just a hundred years ago that people were growing their own food, canning, reusing their jars, sewing their own clothes, living what would now be called a sustainable life?”


Guarding the landfill.

The site of all those recyclable materials sitting in a landfill in our beautiful desert for a hundred years and accumulating day by day, year by year is almost too much for me to comprehend. To me you either care about out planet, leaving future generations with at least the knowledge that you tried, or you don’t… further the “pig sty” concept of what use to be our beautiful earth. The choice is ours to not be lazy!

Where will our Recyclables Go?

The excuse for many cities is this….China quit taking our dirty waste which we had been shipping over to them since 1992 and that alone broke the recycling system in the U.S. Keefe Harrison, CEO of the Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit that seeks to boost the industry, stated “European countries are recycling 35% to 40% [of their plastic waste]. The U.S. only recycles 10%. How tragic is that? We’re fighting an uphill battle to make it cost competitive from day one. The U.S. has previously outsourced so much of its recycling to Asia that the domestic industry languished. And there’s the fact that plastic manufacturers keep making more and more of it, and consumer brands like Procter & Gamble, Nestlé and Walmart keep wrapping more consumer goods in it.”

According to an article in the Sierra magazine, China’s refusing to take our recyclables has given us the opportunity to develop a plan of our own if we care enough to go down that avenue. “The whole crisis narrative has been wrong,” says Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers. “China didn’t break recycling. It has given us the opportunity to begin investing in the infrastructure we need in order to do it better.”

Alliance to End Plastic Waste

There are many different types of plastic. Some can be recycled, some cannot. In the past companies have used the plastic most profitable without considering what happens to their product packaging.

Several petrochemical companies have joined big consumer brands in pledging to make most of their plastic recyclable, reusable or compostable within the next decade or two. Their group, Alliance to End Plastic Waste, has promised to spend $1.5 billion over five years to recycle their packaging products.

Every Bottle Back

Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper recently announced a plan, Every Bottle Back, to reduce their dependence on new plastic by collecting, recycling and remaking plastic bottles from plastic they have already produced. “Closed Loop Partners, the leading investment firm in sustainability, will manage upgrades to recycling infrastructure and fund upgrades to equipment at bottle recovery systems. The fund will also be used to help businesses that turn recycled bottles into plastic pellets for reuse in many products.”

The Ocean Clean Up

The Ocean Cleanup.

The Ocean Cleanup

Then there are the heroes of our planet.The Ocean Clean Up nonprofit organization, started by 25 year old Boyan Slat, is not only working on the clean up of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but has recently unveiled technology to clean up rivers that are streaming garbage to the ocean.
“The Interceptor is The Ocean Cleanup’s answer for river plastic waste. It is the first scalable solution to prevent plastic from entering the world’s oceans from rivers. It is 100% solar-powered, extracts plastic autonomously, and is capable of operating in the majority of the world’s most polluting rivers.”

The Interceptor

The Ocean Clean Up, Boyan Slat

But we cannot depend on a young man in his 20’s to clean up our planet, even though he has diligently done more than his part. We must all do our part also!


*Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr Pepper team up for recycled plastics drive
Toby Hill,October 31, 2019
*NPR U.S. Recycling Industry Is Struggling To Figure Out A Future Without China August 20, 2019


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E-Waste: What Happens to those Electronics?

Renewable Resources

Building Sustainably

“E-waste does not belong in the landfills!”

By Linn Smith

October 1, 2018—Do you have a computer? Smart phone? Laptop? Half of the world’s population now uses the internet. In developed countries, nearly 90% of the population own some form of technology and many people race to get the latest up-to-date gadget without any thought of end-of-life disposal of that cell phone, laptop, or computer! There is no budget attached to the item purchased that reminds us of the need to recycle it, but what if we had to pay an extra 20% fee on the purchased item for recycling? Would that make you stop and think about its disposal?

In 2016, all countries combined generated 44.7 million metric tons of electronic waste. And where did it go? 4% was thrown in the trash, 76% was undocumented and just 20% was properly recycled.

The earth continues to warm

Fight against global warming!

Proper Recycling of E-Waste

What is proper recycling? Recycling electronics can be difficult because removing the wanted rare earth metals means removing glass, toxic metals, plastic and soldered connectors. Proper recycling is taking your unwanted e-waste to a certified company. A certified company has been audited to make sure the company is following strict regulations in compliance with state regulations.

Recycling electronics costs money, but often finding a certified company can cost less because the recycle center may receive subsidies from the local government. If the company isn’t certified you don’t know where your e-waste may end up. E-waste can create huge environmental hazards if not properly disposed of as it contains lead, mercury, cadmium and other toxins. Many uncertified companies are using unsafe methods to extract the wanted metals.

Earth Day

Clean Energy: Make It a Priority!

E-Waste: Thailand

China use to take e-waste, but now much of it goes to Thailand where environmental groups have submitted a letter to the government demanding that the government ban imports of toxic waste. Many factories in Thailand are using the unsafe method of burning the plastics of the electronics to get to the copper, gold, platinum and rare metals, creating toxic fumes in surrounding residential areas.

Rick Neitzel, Director of Exposure Research at University of Michigan, says, “As most users grow dependent on their cell phones, laptops, computers and tablets, the production of electronic waste continues to grow.” His team studied the toxins entering the bodies of workers in contact with metals from electronics, measuring the amount of lead and other toxins that find their way into the bloodstream. The blood tests show high levels of toxins!

Working toward 100% renewables

Working Toward Renewable Energy

Urban Mining: Used Metals

Some electronic manufacturers are using recycled metals from out-of-date electronics in manufacturing new phones. DELL will recycle 100 million pounds of e-waste by 2020 and Apple has developed a robot to take apart old Iphones, dissembling 200 Iphones in an hour and sorting the parts for recycling. The goal of Apple is to completely eliminate new rare metals from its manufactured Iphones, using only recycled metals (Urban Mining). An Apple representative states, “The challenge is to extract the metals at a cost that can compete with virgin metals in sufficient quantities.”

In Chili the attitude is to fix things because they figure they can make more money reselling a product than selling recycled parts.

Clayton Miller of states,”In the early days of my career I spent a good part of my time explaining to people what e-waste was, that it was hazardous and that it shouldn’t be in the landfills, but today I find that the majority of people want to ensure their discarded electronics are properly recycled.”

What can you do? Find a local, certified center near you to recycle your e-waste!

E-waste: Recycle!

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Living Green: Using Our Resources 

building green

Cities, states and individuals must do their part in preventing climate change.

Remember: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!

By Linn Smith

October 12, 2017—-People in developed countries are losing the ability to be resourceful! We “run to the store” impulsively on a daily basis. How did folks survive without today’s conveniences? Today nearby stores provide us with our every need, and we too often toss excess and unused products in the garbage, leaving our landfills and oceans overloaded with toxic materials that may never decompose!

Growing up on a farm, we grew most of our own food. Our basement was lined with many shelves containing hundreds of jars filled with colorful, canned foods from our garden. Cows, pigs and chickens provided us with fresh meat, and our dairy cows provided the milk we drank, and it wasn’t pasteurized! My mother strained the milk through a cheesecloth to get the big chunks (of whatever) out…..and my brothers, sisters and I all grew up healthy! Farm life was what we call green living today….but back then it was just life!

Families use to be resourceful. To obtain something they needed, they reused, fixed, mended or created something new from what they already had.  My grandmother created children’s mittens from old sweaters, it saved money and no new items were purchased.

Earth Day: Let's Clean and Green!

Earth Day today and every day!

Eco-friendly Steps to Going Green

What are some eco-friendly steps we can take to conserve today? Here are just a few:

1. Turn some of your yard (or all of it) into a garden and can or freeze the vegetables. Yards were originally for very wealthy families in England, who used sheep to keep the grass trimmed. Lawns weren’t meant to look like  golf courses. They had dandelions and clover. Today our lawns are toxic with chemicals and leave  huge carbon footprints!

2. Buy unpackaged products from local farmers at farmer’s markets.

3. Cook from scratch instead of buying processed food. It tastes better!

4. Make restaurants an occasional option, not a daily trip. (This includes Starbucks!).

5. Buy second-hand from used stores, garage sales, or auctions. Fix, mend or make-do.

6. Don’t buy more than you need. Several years ago we stored most of what we thought was our valuable “stuff” and went RVing. It cost well over $1000 to store. When we returned and assessed our “stuff,” we realized we could live without most of it. We had a garage sale, making several hundred dollars from the sale of our valuables that had cost over a $1000 to store!

7. Recycle and compost.

Earth Day

Clean Energy: Make It a Priority!

Why Not Go Green?

Here are some excuses people make to avoid helping our planet:

1. It’s too expensive…BUT, if you shop around most things are comparable.

2. One person can’t make a difference….YES, you can! Good thing everybody doesn’t feel this way!

3. No one else around me is living eco-friendly…..WELL, THEN….how ’bout you be the first!

4. It’s too late. The planet is already doomed….OK, pull your head out of the sand and look around at what positive people are doing!

5. Global warming is a myth. NO IT’S NOT! (But I won’t waste my time arguing with you on this point!)

6. It takes too much time and effort. It’s like anything else, it becomes routine when done on a regular basis.

Before you buy something, ask yourself if you really need it, or is there something you already have that could be used…or ask, Can I make do with less?

Remember: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!

Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!

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Recycling Plastic Bottles: An Inexpensive and Sustainable Way to Provide Light

Light for previously unlit homes.

Light for previously unlit homes.

It’s powerful enough to light up a home. But more than that, it’s environmentally friendly, inexpensive and easy to make.”


By Linn Smith

April 7, 2014—“What do you get with the sun and an old plastic bottle filled with water and a little bleach? You get a 55 watt solar bulb that refracts sunlight! It’s powerful enough to light up a home. But more than that, it’s environmentally friendly, inexpensive and easy to make.”–

Environmentally Friendly Lighting

A Liter of Light is a non-profit organization started by Illac Diaz in 2011 in the Philippines, with a goal to provide affordable and sustainable inside light for people living without it. In Manila, he became aware of people living in slum shacks with no windows and no electricity–basically living in darkness inside their small dwellings. Diaz left his job to study alternative architecture and urban planning at MIT in the U.S. where he came across the bottle technology developed by Alfredo Moser in 2002. He returned to his homeland in the Philippines, where his project has grown and provided environmentally friendly, inexpensive lighting for thousands.

Liter of Light

A Liter of Light is installed on the rooftop of unlit dwellings.

Making a Recycled Plastic Bottle Light

Liter of Light recycles liter plastic bottles, the kind used for carbonated drinks or water, filling them with water and a little bleach to prevent the growth of algae. These bottles are fit into the roof of the dwellings, with half the bottle in and half out, applying a sealant around the hole in the roof to prevent leakage. What is produced is a light that fills a small dwelling due to the refraction of the sunlight, which bends the light waves when they enter the water in the bottle. The water causes the light to slow down and bend the light rays towards all sections inside the dwelling. Without the water in the bottle the light would be just a concentrated beam shining on one spot in the house–but with the added water, it becomes multi-directional, like a light bulb! It delivers about as much light inside the home as a 40-60 watt bulb, spreading the light throughout the dwelling. These lights can last up to five years!

Training Locals for Light Installation

Liter of Light provides opportunities for locals to learn plastic bottle installation, as the the organization has set up local training centers. Locals who want to become small business entrepreneurs, learn how to install the bottle lights and make a small profit. This method is kick-starting a grassroots green economy in very poor sections of the cities. Within months of starting the project, one person had installed 15,000 solar bottles in 20 cities in the Philippines. In less than a year, 200,000 bottle bulbs were installed! The goal is one million by the end of 2015.

Plastic Bottle Solar Lights

Plastic bottle nightlights make a village safe for walking at night.

Plastic Bottle Solar Nightlights

Another branch of the Liter of Light organization is installing nightlights, which are made up of a simple circuit, a battery, four LED lights, a small solar panel and, again, the recycled plastic liter bottle. The bottle houses the LED lights with a small solar panel screwed into the top. This provides 3 watts of light that will light up an area of about 15 sq. meters (161 sq. feet). The circuits switch on and off in the presence or absence of daylight. A pcv pipe, bamboo or wooden pole can turn this small apparatus into a street light. The solar nightlight can store up to 10 hours of light through the attached solar panels.

Diaz says, “If you teach enough people how to make solar lights, they can keep their communities safe.Three to five watts is all that’s needed to light an entire village. One watt times a million people who do it could be more powerful than a large-scale power plant.” Today there are Liter of Light chapters in 53 countries with 250,000 bottle lights and approximately 15,000 solar night lights installed.

Instructions for both the day and night lights can be found online.

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wast managemet sweeden

By Lin Smith

August 11, 2013–Sweden, a country of 9 million people, is one of our planet’s leaders in creating a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their goal is to achieve a completely oil free economy by 2020, replacing fossil fuels with renewable alternatives before “climate change undermines national economies worldwide and diminishing oil supplies force astronomical price increases.” Their renewable alternative–turning trash into power! Although at the present time Sweden relies on other forms of energy, burning of garbage accounts for an equivalent of 810,000 homes being heated and the electrical equivalent of 250,000 homes being powered. The waste to energy plants are burning garbage faster than Swedes can produce it, so their solution? Import garbage from Norway!

Sweden sends just 1% of its residential solid waste to the landfill, recycling 50% and thermally processing 49% for heat and power generation in their WTE plants (waste to energy). Charlotta Broman, from the Ministry of the Environment in Sweden, states, “Sweden has a waste program that focuses on waste as both a resource and an environmental problem…We believe it is necessary to look at the properties of the waste. Recycling and recovery should be used for toxic-free materials only. Waste containing hazardous substances should be phased out …or be treated in environmentally sound ways. A lack of information on chemicals in products is an obstacle to achieving resource efficiency through recycling.”

Sweden (and all of Europe) has a classification hierarchy for waste management starting with the most favoured option to the least favoured option: 1.prevention of waste, 2.minimization of waste, 3.reuse of waste, 4.recycle, and the very last option, 5.dispose in landfills. A more aggressive approach to this hierarchy was drafted in March 2013 by the Zero Waste International Alliance. This Alliance, in which Europe is a part, contracted the following hierarchy for waste (best to least): 1.Reduce and conserve materials, 2. Shift incentives to stop wasting (by policies and regulations), 3.Manufacturers will design products for sustainability (don’t allow toxic wastes into consumer products or building materials), 4.Reuse, 5.Recycle, and last again, 6.Regulate disposal. Europeans want to “extract the maximum practical benefits from products and generate the minimum amount of waste” by setting standards that allow everyone to take part in the waste management planning, at the national, state, and local levels, spreading the responsibility to all. The Swedish EPA continues to “fine-tune the rules for different types of waste management, as well as produce guidance for management.”

As in Sweden, landfills for the rest of us should be the final step in the heirarchy of getting rid of garbage, as they are toxic to our environment, poisoning our atmosphere and groundwater. Landfills are sealed in the ground to keep out air and water, decomposing slowly by anaerobic bacteria, an organism that doesn’t require oxygen for growth. Once the landfill is full it is sealed. These seals can not only leak but they also release methane gas, which along with wastewater treatment gases, make up about 2.3 percent of our planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most landfills are not designed to decompose the garbage, only to bury it. If they were designed to decompose garbage more methane would be released into our atmosphere. According to Wikepedia, “the unclear nature of the contents of the garbage in the landfill makes its gas production difficult to predict and control….due to the continual production of landfill gas, the increase in pressure causes the gases to be released into the atmosphere…which risks fire and explosion if not released.” The gas composition from a landfill is 40-60% methane, the rest consists mostly of carbon dioxide. With more than 6,000 landfills in the U.S., the EPA has estimated garbage in our landfills contributes 650 billion cubic feet of methane per year to our atmosphere which has a large impact on our changing climate. Methane is considered 20 times more toxic to our atmosphere than CO2.

Why haven’t other countries done more to move in the direction of Sweden? We create more than 390 million tons of garbage per year in the U.S.alone. Only .3% of power in the U.S. is generated by recycled garbage, which comes mostly from manufacturers not from households. Americans have had the “not in my back yard” reaction to burning recycled waste. Len Rosen states,”you would think that with all the waste humans produce, that incineration would be a preferred method of managing garbage but that is not the case. Why? Because of concern over release of toxins in the atmosphere from burning. The amount of ash, heavy metals, dioxin, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, carbon dioide and other trace gases that burning undifferentiated garbage can produce. These byproducts of incineration are linked to climate change, acid rain, and human illness.”

But Sweden remains innovative in solving their problems of waste management. With the support of their population, recycling has become a way of life. Not accepting the haul-everything-to-the-dump attitude, they have adopted a workable solution and the most ecofriendly method on our planet. So how is Sweden handling the byproducts of incineration? “The country’s incinerators have been designed to collect the pollutants that are the byproducts of burning waste. Only the heavy metals are collected and buried in landfills. Gases going up the smokestack are scrubbed to remove dangerous chemicals, and sulphur dioxide gets converted to sulphuric acid for commercial resale. Ash is collected and exported back to Norway, where it gets used for roads and building materials. The goal is to make incineration a green energy source and Sweden is well on its way!” states Rosen.

According to the EPA, “for every ton of garbage processed at a WTE (waste to energy) facility, approximately one ton of emitted carbon-dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere is prevented. This is because the trash burned at the facility doesn’t generate methane, as it would at a landfill.” The electricity generated offsets the greenhouse gases that would be generated from coal and natural gas plants. Some landfills are trying different methods to “trap” methane and turn it in to energy, which can reduce gas emissions, but these trapped gases still generate significant emissions. According to the EPA, these plants are still releasing methane, with approximately 34% of the methane “trapped” for energy, 38% is flared, or burned, and 28% is released into the atmosphere. A 2012 report by the EPA states, ” Most of the existing data that is available to evaluate emission from landfills is based on flux box data. These measurements do not account for the majority of losses found at landfills…there is a need to better quanitify landfill gas collection efficiency.”

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle and know where your garbage goes!