Sunday, May 31, 2015

Happy Birthday Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Bayonne Golf Club, overlooking the Hudson River and New York City, is one of hundreds of recreational sites built on what were once trash dumps. (Jim.henderson/Wikimedia)

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Repeat.  

Better resource use, less waste and more recycling. The United States has been on a 50-year journey toward those goals since passage of the first national law on waste disposal.
World Environment Day, June 5, is a good time to look at the progress. The U.N.-sponsored event draws attention to planet-friendly practices, and the 2015 theme is “7 Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care.”
“Consuming with care means living within planetary boundaries to ensure a healthy future,” the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) declares. That ideal rests on one uncompromising fact: If growth, development and population continue at the current rate, human demand soon will far exceed Earth’s resources.

A 1965 federal law for the first time set nationwide U.S. standards for solid waste disposal. The 1976 U.S. Resource Conservation and Reclamation Act took a major leap forward by shifting from an end-of-pipeline approach to one based instead on pollution prevention, involving government authorities at all levels.
States, cities and towns have powers to develop their own approaches. Still, the concept of “integrated waste management” underlies all waste management policies. That means inclusion of these elements:
  • Source reduction to prevent waste creation and encourage reuse.
  • Recycling and composting to promote recovery over disposal.
  • Landfilling and combustion, which provides safer disposal capacity.
The United States is making steady progress in the reduce, reuse and recycle campaign.
The national recycling rate is almost 35 percent of all trash generated, although state waste policies vary widely. For example, 10 states have mandatory deposits on containers. You buy a beverage, pay a container deposit and get a refund for the empty.
Ford Motor Company is reducing waste produced from auto manufacture. (© AP Images)
Many cities and counties use mandatory recycling policies to better manage waste generated by dense urban populations. Collection rates for glass, metal and paper are high in cities such as Phoenix, New York, Seattle and San Francisco.
Beyond government actions, manufacturers are voluntarily using less and recovering more. Major automakers Ford and General Motors are both making great strides to minimize the waste generated as they build cars.
In the beverage industry, manufacturers have found they can make product containers with 25 percent less plastic than was used decades ago, resulting in a 114 million kilogram decrease of plastic per year in the waste stream.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Recycling Artist Spotlight: Elisa Guerra

By Ryan O'Connor

Guatemalan eco-artist Elisa Guerra has been painting for more than 20 years, inspired by her native surroundings.
Are you creating eco-art? Know someone who is? Contact me on Twitter @_ryanoconnor

The list of countries from which I have been able to find eco-artists continues to grow! This week, I’m featuring Elisa Guerra, a professional painter, who was born and raised in Guatemala.


Elisa had been creating art since she was a young girl but started to paint with oil and acrylic techniques 20 years ago. Since then, she has grown and developed many skills and styles of painting, including eco-art, which she started creating about 10 years ago.

She cites many inspirations for her art, such as the landscapes of Guatemala, the vibrating contrast of colors and the culture – all of which are clearly evident in many of her works. Take, for example, the bottle below that was both painted and photographed by Elisa


It bears a very vibrant and colorful resemblance to Antigua, with Volcán de Agua towering high above the city. And if you’re not sure what either of those things are, take a peek at the image below captured by Flickr user Rambling Traveler.

The above image was originally posted to Flickr as Agua Volcano, Arch of Santa Catalina, La Antigua Guatemala.


Elisa has participated in art exhibitions for the last five years in Guatemala, in addition to selling her art to people around the world, including in the United States. She has upcoming exhibitions in Guatemala City and you can contact her for more information if you’re in the area!


One day, Elisa hopes eco-art will become mainstream, explaining that it is necessary we become more creative in reusing the waste we create. This is true for painting upcycled materials, as well as just general practices of recycling: The more we develop innovative ways of reusing what we’ve created, the better off we’ll be. Elisa is particularly amazed at other eco-artists’. She says that each one is very different, but they all have a great input to the planet; each one bringing forth very cool and innovative ideas.

In Guatemala, in particular, Elisa was able to cite two specific eco-artists (who hopefully will one day be featured on this blog), Arturo Ruano and Roxana Giracca. Elisa also mentioned an artist from Indonesia who goes by the name Ono Gaf. I was only able to find limited information about Ono Gaf, but what I did find was pretty cool - he made an enormous turtle out of found metal objects. The list of eco-artists is ever-growing, and regardless of which artist was Elisa talking about, she said each does a great job giving breath to the planet while making beautiful pieces with a lot of creativity.

I did ask Elisa both what she thinks the world is doing well and what we could stand to improve on. She has a very positive outlook for the future and some of the initiatives going on right now but doesn’t want to ignore that there are some environmental issues that urgently need to be addressed. Somewhere along the way, she explained, that the world has gained such an increased number of consumers, so much so that our culture of buying things is the norm.

Changing how you shop is one way to lessen this problem. Elisa said shopping at thrift stores is a great way of recycling, for example. At thrift stores or flea markets, you can buy used furniture rather than purchasing brand new furniture. She says we are losing a lot of our trees and other resources due to the constant need for the next new thing - rivers and lakes are being contaminated, and pollution is a real concern. But change starts at a very micro level, and individuals can start to do their part by being more conscious about what they are using and re-using.

So far, in seeking out eco-artists, I have spoken to people in the Netherlands, Guatemala and the U.S., and what I can sense from each of them is they are truly practicing what they preach. I have no doubt that Elisa is really living the things she is talking about and has a very profound and important voice on environmental topics.

I am fortunate to have had the chance to speak with her, and I would encourage any other eco-artists to get in touch with us to share your art and thoughts on the environment and sustainability. I certainly have learned from these artists, and I’m hopeful that other people have, too.

If you have any feedback or know of anyone else that should be featured on this blog, find me on twitter @_ryanoconnor.

About the author

Ryan O'Connor is an IT Security Professional. He recently obtained his Master's Degree in Business Analytics from the University of Connecticut. He also has a knack for whimsy and is a self-proclaimed adventure aficionado
Learn more about Ryan O'Connor

Friday, May 29, 2015

Recycling Artist Spotlight - Sonia Muralles

By Ryan O'Connor

Guatemalan artist Sonia Muralles transforms bottles into beautiful pieces of art.
This weekend I present to you Guatemala based artist, Sonia Muralles.

Sonia is an acquaintance of the artist I featured last week, Elisa Guerra, and a native of Guatemala. Her path to eco-art is not unlike the paths others have taken. At a young age, Elisa learned there are many more surfaces you can paint on than just a blank canvas. She would paint on walls, tables and floors, as children are want to do. Old habits die hard - Elisa was painting on walls up until age nine or ten. And as an adult, she has only moved to other non-traditional surfaces. The difference now is she is applauded for her diverse choice in mediums, whereas at a young age she was scolded for her wall scrawls.

The list of surfaces Sonia is using is long, yet it all started with one simple drawing on a discarded bottle she found on the ground. She picked it up, took it to her house, cleaned it, and she had a surface to paint on. From there she began to use more discarded bottles as well as oil paint, acrylic paint, brushes, paper, corks, cornstalk leaves, corn, beans, water, plants and earth. What is so wonderful about Sonia’s art is it is so tied into her Mayan culture and heritage.

Six of Sonia’s works are painting of beautiful Nahuales. In Mayan culture, there are legends of human beings that have the power to transform either spiritually or physically into an animal form.


She has plenty more to paint if she wants to make up the last 14 Naguales, but with how much Sonia talks about her enjoyment of recycling and creating art at the same time, this won’t be much of a problem. If you’re curious to see how the other bottles turn out, you can follow her artist page on Facebook.

Four years ago, Sonia began to take art more seriously, studying it to truly develop her skills. The ideas and techniques began to flow, and in a short time of four years, she was able to start her own art studio. Sonia’s entrepreneurial spirit comes from within, but is also supported by her involvement with a program, which goes by the name “Mujeres Emprendedoras” or “Women Entrepreneurs.”


The program is sponsored by Citi and has a vision to help women develop the ability to become business entrepreneurs, take risks and make decisions that benefit them both individually and communally. In Latin America, as in countries all over the world, women need to be able to have this type of entrepreneurial spirit and access to support if they are going to succeed. tells us that “In 2011, only 11 percent of capital investment funds went to women entrepreneurs - 89 percent of capital investment went to male entrepreneurs - despite the fact that 20 percent of top entrepreneurs were women.” Needless to say, I found it very exciting to stumble across this type of program in Guatemala. I would encourage any women in the U.S. reading this to strongly consider a program with goals including stimulating self-esteem, sense of belonging, and solidarity of women. For those of you who understand Spanish, Sonia is featured in a video for Mujeres Emprendedoras which can be found on vimeo.

In the spirit of Sonia’s entrepreneurialism, she displays her bottles in a different commercial center every week. She enjoys the experience of showing people they can make something different with bottles, rather than disposing of them improperly and contaminating the earth.



These public displays of Sonia’s art are a great way for her to show the amazing work she is creating. In addition, they are also unique venues for her to show others what is possible with eco-art. One other piece of artwork Sonia has created is a series of bottles. These stuck out in my mind as very decorative pieces that exhibit the fusion of color and culture so true to art from Guatemala.


Aside from just making art, artists like Sonia are deeply embedded in the climate of eco-art. Understanding how artists are feeling not just about their own art, but the state of the art being created outside of their own studio can provide important insights into the local eco-movements and sentiment. So far, the artists I have spoken with share very similar feeling to Sonia. The general sentiment is “we aren’t quite there yet, but we can get there.” Sonia gets the sense people don’t really like recycling but thinks we can make a difference by showing different and interesting alternatives. She thinks this is already taking place, too. People are waking up and creating new alternatives to just discarding waste. This is a valuable and real contribution to the future of our world.

As for improvements to the state of recycling, Sonia brings up a very interesting fact. She told me the world population is growing so fast people now produce enough trash in one day to fill the entire Empire State building. I don’t doubt Sonia here. The Empire State Building is referenced a lot in order to show the sheer size of how much trash we are collecting. stated “The aluminum cans recycled in 2010, stacked one on top of the other, would be 1,454 times taller than the Empire State Building.” claimed, “New York City alone throws out enough garbage each day to fill the Empire State Building.” Whatever the case may be, it’s unlikely any of these estimates are far off. We’re a trash producing society. Recyclable materials need to be taken and used as material for a new purpose. With the help of eco-artists, hopefully creativity can flourish and we can start to clean-up with art.


About the author

Ryan O'Connor is an IT Security Professional. He recently obtained his Master's Degree in Business Analytics from the University of Connecticut. He also has a knack for whimsy and is a self-proclaimed adventure aficionado
Learn more about Ryan O'Connor
- See more at:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Triangle Volksmarch 2015

 Triangle Volksmarch 2015

Volksmarch patch
June 6, 2015
Celebrate National Trails Day with a self-paced walking challenge for all ages.
Earn the Volksmarch patch!
Pick up your passport and map at event locations. Visit stamp stations along the Capital Greenway anytime between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Choose-your-own short treks, or walk the entire 5.6 miles.
Volksmarch location map
10 a.m. – 12 p.m.Decorate a Walking Stick. Free sticks available for the first 250 participants. NC Museum of Art Amphitheater.
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.Citizen Science. Help biologists do real science experiments. Prairie Ridge EcoStation.
12 p.m. – 2 p.m. Forestry and Fire. See live demonstrations and meet Smokey Bear. Schenck Forest.
1 p.m. – 3 p.m.Wildlife Mini-Safari with Park Rangers. William B. Umstead State Park, Reedy Creek Entrance.
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.Triangle Volksmarch after party. Celebrate a day of hiking/walking with local food, fun, family and friends at Great Outdoor Provision Co. in Cameron Village.

logo link to Friends of State Parks websitelogo link to Public Lands Every Day websitelogo link to Great Outdoor Provision Company website

N.C. Division of Parks & Recreation • 1615 MSC • Raleigh N.C. 27699-1615

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Nature Consevancy's Green Swamp Preserve

Why it's worth the at The Nature Consevancy's Green Swamp Preserve

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Schedule

Happy Memorial Day Folks. The administrative offices of the Coastal Environmental Partnership are closed today.

The Tuscarora Landfill, Grantsboro Transfer Station and Newport Transfer Station will follow their regular schedules.

Thank you to those who serve, those who have served and their family and friends for the sacrafices you have made for our freedom.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Day Schedudle

The administrative offices of the Coastal Environmental Partnership will be closed tomorrow for Memorial Day.

The Tuscarora Landfill, Grantsboro Transfer Station and Newport Transfer Station will follow their regular schedules.

Thank you to those who serve, those who have served and their family and friends for the sacrafices you have made for our freedom.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

World’s First Skateboard Made From Recycled Fishing Net

Friday, May 22, 2015

Have a Great Holiday Weekend

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, consider a few of these tips to make your holiday more eco-friendly.
The start of the summer travel season officially begins this weekend with the Memorial Day holiday. This patriotic holiday, wherein Americans celebrate service members and their sacrifices for freedom, generally consists of long weekends at lakeside cabins, BBQs and, of course, gratitude for those who have served. Most people who enjoy this yearly rite of summer focus on avoiding traffic, buying enough hot dogs and stockpiling firewood. But how often do people think about the ways to make Memorial Day a bit more eco-friendly?

It turns out there are tons of different ideas for saving resources (and money) while protecting the planet at the same time during the Memorial Day season. From travelling efficiently to making your backyard party more sustainable, you can definitely celebrate your patriotism and your dedication to the earth at the same time. Memorial Day, as with many of our national holidays, is about reflection and gratitude. Why not offer it to both service men and women and Mother Nature at the same time? Check out these tips on how to have a more sustainable Memorial Day Weekend.

Keep travel costs and carbon footprints low

According to AAA, there will be approximately 37.2 million Americans traveling at least 50 miles from home this holiday weekend. Of these, about 33 million will be driving to their destinations. If you are one of the road warriors about to face the open road, there are a few things you can do to ensure an eco-friendly (and money-saving trip). Use the GasBuddy app on your smartphone to check gas prices in your area – find the lowest price and fill up there before heading out. At the same time, make sure to check your oil and tire air pressure in order to ensure your engine is running efficiently. To avoid traffic, try to leave at an off-peak time if possible. But if you must sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, do not idle – it’s a waste of gas.

Remember to respect the Earth – and others around you

A traditional way to celebrate Memorial Day Weekend is to go camping or stay at a cabin. The great outdoors are a wonderful place to reflect and see what Earth has given us – this gratitude should be returned by respecting where you are. Do not litter (obviously!), and remember the old rule – “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” Ripping down branches in the woods surrounding your getaway spot is disrespectful both to the local eco-system and to the potential owners of the land. In addition, blowing off fireworks is fun at the time but can be quite an environmental issue the day after as debris fills lakes and wooded areas. Instead of using traditional roman candles or bottle rockets, use sparklers – then dispose of the metal wand properly.

Upcycle your Memorial Day décor

Decorating for any holiday is always a great time, especially if there are children in your home. Patriotic times like Memorial Day are a good chance to teach kids about the importance of the holiday while also making a fun craft or art project. From gorgeous tin can luminaries to line your backyard to a DIY red, white and blue clothespin wreath, the ideas are endless. This website has lots of fun and easy patriotic crafts for the whole family that are sure to impress your party guests.

Make your Memorial Day party eco-friendly

Just like any other get-togethers, Memorial Day barbecues and lakeside cocktail parties can always be made more eco-friendly. Remember to avoid single-use plates, cutlery and cups, especially ones made from Styrofoam. If you need to use single-use, there are products out there are made from recycled materials. The same goes for table runners and other party essentials. Encourage guests to carpool or bike to your fete if they can, thus reducing the party’s carbon footprint. And don’t forget the recycling and compost bins around the property – having a goal of a zero waste party will not only help the Earth but perhaps even educate your guests.

About the author

Rachelle Gordon is a Minneapolis-based writer and life enthusiast. She enjoys writing on subjects that relate to social justice, personal finance and wellness. When not writing, Rachelle likes playing with her dog Fonzie and collecting LEGO sets. Read more from Rachelle here:
Learn more about Rachelle Gordon
- See more at:

Steel and the Eiffel Tower

     Did you know? The US recycles enough steel to build 25 Eiffel Towers each day 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

DENR architect earns prestigious national recognition

DENR architect earns prestigious national recognition

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ own Renee Hutcheson was recently recognized as a fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

The AIA Fellowship program was developed to elevate those architects who have made a significant contribution to architecture and society and achieved a standard of excellence in the profession. This career designation is achieved by only 3 percent of licensed architects nationally.

“Election to the fellowship not only recognizes the achievements of the architect as an individual, but also honors before the public and the profession a model architect who has made a significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level,” says Terry Albrecht, Hutcheson’s section chief in the state Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service. “We are so fortunate to have Renee on our DENR team, sharing her architectural and energy expertise.”

Hutcheson, who works as an energy architect with the state’s Utility Savings Initiative in DENR, was inducted into the AIA College of Fellows in Atlanta on May 15.

Her career includes more than 20 years as a practicing architect in Florida and North Carolina designing and consulting commercial buildings including educational facilities, medical offices and banks.

Her colleagues say Hutcheson’s passion for energy efficient building designs and construction has been evident in her work in the public and private sectors. In her private sector work, for instance, Hutcheson helped craft public policy to promote energy efficiency in North Carolina state agencies and universities. In 2009, Hutcheson joined the state’s Utilities Savings Initiative, a DENR program that assists public facilities to be more efficient and higher performing. At DENR, Hutcheson has established best practices in post-occupancy energy analysis, and helped the way owners, design professionals and government officials approach energy efficiency in building projects.

Hutcheson was honored with the 2012 Gail Lindsey Sustainability Award by American Institute of Architects - North Carolina Chapter, for her work in advancing energy efficiency in North Carolina.

Renee Hutcheson works as an energy architect with the state's Utility Savings Initiative, a program in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.Renee Hutcheson works as an energy architect with the state's Utility Savings Initiative, a program in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
DENR's Renee Hutcheson (middle) is congratulated during a May 15 ceremony in Atlanta by Albert W. Rubeling, Jr. (right), the Fellowship of American Institute of Architects, 2015 Chancellor of the American Institute of Architects' College of Fellows and Elizabeth Chu Richter (left), the FAIA's 2015 AIA President. The ceremony was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.DENR's Renee Hutcheson (middle) is congratulated during a May 15 ceremony in Atlanta by Albert W. Rubeling, Jr. (right), the Fellowship of American Institute of Architects, 2015 Chancellor of the American Institute of Architects' College of Fellows and Elizabeth Chu Richter (left), the FAIA's 2015 AIA President. The ceremony was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

7 Cool Things People Have Made from Plastic Bottles

The List: 7 Cool Things People Have Written by Made From Plastic Bottles    

Written by
Some people’s trash (or recyclables) is another person’s raw materials for amazing reuses.

Unless I’m really in a bind, I’m pretty good about not buying bottled water anymore. I have a whole shelf of travel bottles that my family and I use when we’re out and about, and, since I’m trying to make an effort to drink my 8-plus glasses a day, I’ve always got a giant tumbler by my side as I’m working or running errands.

But when we do have a thirst emergency and have to break down and buy a bottle, I always try to reuse it however I can. It ends up cut open to be used as a vessel for a painting project, or by the sink to fill for plants as I’m getting hot water, or I even refill them to drink from once or twice, although this is not recommended for health reasons.

Still, doing my little part seems like a drop in the ocean when I go to events and see the huge volume of plastic bottles of water and other beverages being purchased and discarded — whether in the trash or in the recycling bin. Wouldn’t it be great if these quantities of bottles could be repurposed? I’ve seen some great projects that make use of a bunch of bottles. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. An eco-hotel in Fiji has made a boat entirely from plastic bottles, a layer of foam for increased buoyancy, and plastic sheeting. Want to make your own? Instructables has directions to make an open-topped kayak from bottles.

  1. Ever noticed the pretty blossom design on the base of the water bottle? One creative designer has – she cuts the bottoms off and strings them together to make transparent room-divided curtains. She includes instructions so you can try it yourself.

  1. British designer Michelle Brand uses those same bottle-bottom blossoms to make strings of flower lights with LED bulbs as well. She also uses them to make cascading chandeliers.

  1. You’d need a LOT of bottles to make them, but I’ve even come across plastic bottle greenhouses. You can find various instructions and examples online, and one intrepid soul even built a solar water heater from plastic bottles. If you want to make your own greenhouse, you can purchase a book with instructions

  1. I’d love to lounge in this plastic bottle chair made by designer Pawel Grunert, or these beanbags filled with shredded plastic bottle caps made by Hong Kong company Kacama, which solves a big disposal problem in places where caps are not accepted for recycling.

  1. At a 2010 event, a Peace Corps volunteer showcased how plastic bottles filled with trash (to make them opaque) can be used to build an entire building. Laura Kutner also used this unique building material to build a schoolhouse in Guatemala.

  1. I love the idea of plastic bottle planters to use as a vertical garden… they look best if you have a bunch of them, but even a few would work. These instructions should help you get started.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Steel Roofing
Slated for Tip Top Performance: A Sustainable, Long-Term Investment
Steel roofing: the natural choice for any environment
Light, strong and durable, steel roofing comprises about 80 percent of the metal roofing market, and demand for this long-lasting, sustainable roofing material continues to rise. Builders, as well as business and home owners, like the long life of a steel roof. It is made from a zinc-coated steel that provides excellent corrosion resistance and weatherability, giving the roofing system long life. The steel itself boasts a minimum of 25 percent recycled content. In addition to being much lighter and stronger than traditional roofing materials, steel roofing systems offer a wide variety of shapes and colors, allowing them to resemble different styles and materials. Use of steel roofing in regions of frequent snowfall is growing thanks to its snowshedding ability, while on the West Coast, steel is used for its light weight and noncombustability, which are attractive features in seismic areas.
Steel roofing: puts the lid on costs
Steel roofing is extremely durable. Prepainted steel roofs can easily last 30 years or more. Steel will not crack, shrink or otherwise react to the effects of humidity and sunlight, extending the roofing system’s life beyond other materials. Steel is noncombustable, enhancing safety in the case of lightning strikes or other ignition sources, and is not an inviting habitat for termites and other insects. In new construction projects, light-weight steel roofing reduces internal structural support requirements, lowering material costs and labor. Disposal costs are a routine part of cost estimates given for re-roofing jobs; however, with steel roofing systems, disposal costs are minimized. Steel roofing is lightweight and can often be installed directly over most old roofs, resulting in quicker installation time and less material that ends up in the landfill.
Steel roofing: the peak of recycling performance
In addition to its long life, a steel roofing system will give back to the environment long after it is removed from service. Even after decades of protecting a structure, steel roofing systems are completely recyclable when separated from other materials during the demolition process. The steel from roofing systems is as recyclable as the steel cans, cars and appliances recycled through community recycling programs. It won’t be long after the steel roof is removed that it will be a part of a new steel product. For nearly as long as steel has been made, steel scrap has been a key ingredient in the steelmaking process. All new steel is actually made from a mixture of steel scrap and other necessary raw materials, creating its minimum of 25 percent recycled content. This recipe for recycling has long been driving steel recycling accomplishments. For the past 50 years, more than 50 percent of the steel produced in the United States has been recycled. Today, about two-thirds of the steel produced each year is recycled by the steel industry’s scrap-hungry furnaces. An extensive steel recycling infrastructure has developed around this need for steel scrap. When a structure with a steel roof is demolished, the steel is not landfilled but sent to one of more than 2,000 ferrous scrap processors that prepare steel scrap for recycling. Then, this desirable steel scrap is shipped to the steel mill for recycling into new steel and, ultimately, into new products.
About steel recycling
Steel has long been North America’s most recycled material. For the steel industry, using old steel products and other forms of ferrous scrap to produce new steel lowers a variety of steelmaking costs and reduces the amount of energy used in the process by 75 percent. That’s why more than 60 million tons of steel scrap are recycled each year. In fact, more steel is recycled than paper, aluminum, glass and plastic combined. As an end result, recycling steel scrap also saves landfill space and natural resources. Steel roofing materials, like other steel products, are a part of the steel industry’s massive recycling efforts. What’s more, all new steel made in North America contains recycled steel. Parts of new steel roofs may have once been a part of an automobile, refrigerator or soup can. Choosing a steel roofing system means buying and using a product that contains recycled steel and that will be recyclable at the end of its useful life.

Monday, May 18, 2015

High Tech Fiber

Whether it's making carpet from plastic bottles or protective gear from high strength polymers, science allows North Carolina’s traditional textile industry to create new fibers to meet high tech needs.
MCADENVILLE — “The carpeting you walked on as you entered this office started from this,” says Russ Dirks, the Director of Fiber Extrusion for the carpet division of Pharr Yarns. Dirks unscrews the cap from a mason jar and pours tiny white pellets from the jar onto a large conference table. The pile of pellets looks like a bunch of aspirin, but far from it.

The pellets are called PET (polyethylene terephthalate) pellets. Made from several organic compounds mixed with chemical catalysts, chemically it’s a fully cross-linked polymer. But depending how it is processed, it can be made into thousands of products from clear plastic soft drink bottles to the clear packaging used in grocery stores. The average person probably knows its more common name — polyester.

It turns out, this type of plastic is also easily recycled. Those same properties that allow polyester molecules to be shaped into bottles and food containers allow Pharr Yarns to stretch it into thin carpet fibers. That’s right, you might be walking on the plastic bottle you drank from just a few months ago.

The stretching process is called extrusion. It’s all based on chemistry and it begins about three stories above the Pharr Yearns conference room, in a cavernous factory. Giant hoses run down from the top of a machine into huge bags of pellets on the floor. In a weird way it looks like the machine is drinking through a straw.

Inside the system, the pellets are dried and melted at about 300 degrees Celsius. That’s about 570 degrees Fahrenheit. The semi-molten fiber is then drawn through a spinneret. The series of spinning wheels that pull the yarn in and out of the machine shape the fiber and also stretch it.

“What chemists found years ago is that with polyester, if you stretched it the fibers got stronger,” explains Dirks. “The long chain molecules that this vessel creates allow you to stretch the fiber so that all of the molecules interlace themselves and that gives you a long, strong fiber.”

Dirks opens a door on the side of the gigantic machine to show the thin, glittering, just-created fibers being pulled through the device. When asked what it was about polyester that made it so popular, Dirks explains that it was the combination of costs and capability that drew the attention of chemists.

“Nylon was expensive, polypropylene was cheap, polyester was in the middle but it has great properties for carpet and it’s great for textiles,” Dirks says, tugging at his t-shirt to make a point. “If you look at a t-shirt, it’s a 50-50 blend and that’s because polyester is synthetic and cotton is natural. Cotton has wicking capabilities and polyester doesn’t like water so it wicks on its own.” 

Ironically for all of the machinery that towers above the factory floor, transforming PET pellets into carpet fiber only takes about seven minutes. But the heat and chemical properties of the molecules allow the material to be made thinner and thinner as it goes through the process.

The wheels on the extrusion machines have the fiber moving at 120 miles per hour as it is wound. It takes about 200 filaments to create a fiber bundle, so the goal of the process is to have about 20 miles of finished fiber stretched out to 20% of the width of a human hair.

And if that’s not enough of a wow factor, a photo cross-section of the fiber that is magnified about 800 times shows the fiber is also shaped into what appears to be an addition sign. It’s the shape that makes the carpet soft.

“If you have a yarn system made out of different shapes and wrinkles with corners on edges, then you have the ability to put air in between the filaments,” says Dirks, handling a newly made bundle of carpet fibers. “So if you feel a carpet that has that springy buoyancy, it’s because we’ve textured the yarn, which really makes the yarn bigger than it’s supposed to be.”

You don’t think about carpet and science, but the work that is happening at Pharr Yarns is all based on chemistry and the particular features the chemical properties give to each type of fiber.

“We’re yarn spinners and the science in all of this is that we want to know the different fibers and the efficacy of the fibers, and their value in protection or performance,” explains Michael Strader, New Business Innovation Manager at Pharr Yarns, as he walks through the production floor. It is noisy and there are long rows of machines spinning fibers that seem to stretch forever. 

“Of course once we know all of the properties of the fibers, we have to know how to blend them,” Strader adds.

He points out what looks to be a bale of cotton.

“This material is made from regenerated cellulose, which you might remember from biology is part of what forms the cell wall in plants,” he says as he pulls out a hunk of snow white and soft fibers. “But in this case, it is made from the bark of birch trees. It’s very fire resistant.”

Nearby is a similar looking bale, but Strader says that one is made from the same material as PVC piping. There are coils of blue fiber not far away, which is traditional nylon. But when it is combined with other materials it produces fiber that is cut resistant.

Pharr Yarns produces about 150 types of fibers. Over the years, Pharr Yarns has morphed from being just a true synthetic, polyester, or commodity type producer of yarns to high performance materials. Today, Pharr Yarns produces about 150 types of fibers.

“There is no one fiber that solves every problem, so you take the best properties of different fibers and blend them,” says Strader. “Today our science is about protecting people and protecting products, and we are proud to say that includes making the fibers that are used in garments that soldiers and airmen and women wear in dangerous situations.”

You could say the properties of some of the fibers are out of this world. It turns out that would be true. Pharr Yarns makes some products that are orbiting the earth.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Grants awarded to support cleaner vehicles, improve air quality

Grants awarded to support cleaner vehicles, improve air quality

RALEIGH - State environmental officials have awarded $223,550 in grants for projects to reduce air pollution from diesel-powered mobile sources.
“Cars, trucks and other mobile sources collectively contribute significantly to air pollution in North Carolina,” said Sheila Holman, director of the N.C. Division of Air Quality, or DAQ. “These grants will help assist the transition to cleaner-running diesel vehicles.”
Mobile sources are any type of vehicle that can pollute the air, including automobiles, trucks, buses, locomotives, motorcycles, off-road vehicles, construction equipment and lawnmowers. The grants can cover a range of projects, such as retrofitting school buses with controls to curb diesel emissions, repowering non-road equipment with cleaner-burning engines, converting vehicles to run on alternative fuels.
The projects funded by the grants will assist DAQ in its efforts to protect and improve air quality in North Carolina. Air quality has improved substantially across North Carolina over the past decade, with the entire state now meeting current standards for major air pollutants such as ozone, particle pollution and carbon monoxide.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources awarded the grants through the 2014 Diesel Emissions Reduction Grants program, which is administered through the Division of Air Quality. Funding for this year's grants came from the Environmental Protection Agency's Diesel Emission Reduction Act, or DERA program. The purpose of DERA is to support grant, rebate and loan programs which are designed to achieve significant reductions in diesel emissions.
The 2014 grant winners include four projects. The recipients and grant amounts awarded are:
  • the city of Thomasville, which received $45,000 to replace a refuse truck
  • Iredell County, which received $37,500 to replace a refuse truck
  • the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, which received $102,250 to replace five school buses
  • the N.C. Department of Transportation, which received $38,800 to apply a selective catalytic reduction unit to a locomotive.
For more information about the mobile grants program, call Anne Galamb at 919-707-8423 or visit the Division of Air Quality’s website at

Saturday, May 16, 2015

NC State Stewards cap successful second year

NC State Stewards cap successful second year

At Earth Fair, NC State Stewards shared the benefits of reusable bags.
As the NC State Stewards think and do, NC State’s campus is becoming more sustainable.
Launched in 2013 as a student sustainability ambassador program supported by the University Sustainability Office, the NC State Stewards promote sustainability on campus through projects and peer-to-peer education. Among the activities and accomplishments of this year’s 26 Stewards are:
    • Receiving a nearly $30,000 grant to develop and install an outdoor solar charging station and student lounge near Tucker Hall. Funded by the campus Sustainability Fund, the station will allow students to charge electronic devices using renewable energy.
    • Facilitating residence hall energy competitions during Energy Action Month (October) that saved more than $9,000 in avoided energy costs at the Tri-Towers as well as at Wolf Ridge Student Apartments.
    • Continuing efforts to reduce use of single-use plastic bags on campus through the plastic bag recycling program, which has collected more than 6,000 bags.
  • Creating a series of themed virtual tours of unique plants located on campus. Those tours were brought to life every Friday during Earth Month (April) when the Stewards led guided “Plant Walks” on campus.
  • Conducting a series of DIY workshops at the Crafts Center, where various crafts were developed from discarded material.
  • Educating about sustainability through presentations, participation at major campus events, and the creation of educational events including displays about environmental politics, water, composting and environmental justice.
  • Placing 4th in NC State’s Shack-A-Thon with a shack that was co-sponsored by the Stewards, WISE and the Goodnight Scholars and built from repurposed pallets, plywood, carpet tiles and scrap pieces of wood.
NC State Stewards studied the most unique plants on campus and led Plant Walk tours in April to explore those plants. Missed the tour? Check out the virtual tour
NC State Stewards led Plant Walk tours in April to explore interesting campus plants.  Check out the virtual tour
These efforts will only build: 11 additional students have been selected to join the Stewards program in the 2015-2016 academic year. Plus, a handful of first-year students will be accepted during a recruitment period in September. Learn more at

Friday, May 15, 2015

Awesome new play area at NC Aquarium at PKS!

Awesome new play area at !

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The History of the Three R's

By Rachelle Gordon

"Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." It's a familiar phrase to most, but where did it come from?
We have certainly heard of the Three R's as they relate to sustainability – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – but do you know where the slogan came from or why? Being green is definitely the norm nowadays, but the creation of this popular phrase, logo and practice can certainly be viewed as one of the main catalysts for the environmental movement as a whole. And while the Three R's have definitely influenced society to be more conscientious of our planet’s health, there is still much to be done.

Where did the Three R's come from?

There tends to be bit of debate about the creation of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan, but the practice of working towards reducing our waste output, reusing what we can and then recycling what we can’t has been around for centuries. Many in the pre-Baby Boomer generation remember needing to stockpile certain materials – or avoid using some altogether – in order to save resources for use in World War II. The economic boom in the 1950s did lead to an increase in the amount of trash – and litter – being produced by Americans due to the growing popularity of single use items. However, it was not long until people began to realize the environmental impact humans were having on the Earth’s eco-system.

Earth Day and the beginning of a movement

Inspired by the “teach-ins” held across the country to educate citizens on the Vietnam War, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson spearheaded the first national Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Nearly 20 million Americans celebrated together at fairs, festivals and other community events organized to raise awareness of environmental issues. The holiday grew in popularity and is now celebrated in over 100 countries around the globe. As citizens continued to raise concerns about conservation, the federal government formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Around the same time as the formation of the EPA came the passing of the Resource Recovery Act by Congress. This bill was created with the intention of shifting both federal and community attention to the practices of recycling, resource recovery and the conversion of wastes into energy. Throughout the 1970s, many different laws were enacted – both at the federal and state level – to promote conservation efforts and raise awareness of them to the general public. Thus, the Three R's were born.

The rise of the Three R's

As society began to learn more about the Three Rs, an increasing number of opportunities to engage in the practices emerged. Schools and communities worked to develop curriculum, events and programs with the overall goal of every person understanding the importance of protecting the Earth. Today, children in preschool to students in college study ways to be eco-friendly and the potential consequences of not acting. In addition, recycling programs became far more user-friendly throughout cities as free bins and no-sort practices come to be the norm. But while we continue to engage in sustainable practices, what can we do to get back to the core values of “reduce, reuse, recycle?” Check out some of the easy tips we compiled!

Reduce the amount of waste you create

Americans literally create tons of trash every year and it’s getting out of control. When you reduce the amount of waste you produce, you are helping to prevent crowded landfills and the environmental damage it can cause. Try to avoid using products like paper plates or plastic cutlery as it usually can only be used once. Reducing food waste is also important – Americans toss out nearly one-third of the food they buy every year. Only buy what you need and try to be creative with the ingredients you do have.

Reuse items that could have a future purpose

If you took a good hard look around your home, pantry or recycling bin how many items could be reused? There are the obvious items, such as clothes or the extra canned goods that could be donated to the needy. Some items require a bit of creativity, such as those mason jars that could be turned into vases. Families with young children can encourage the kids to make their own instruments out of cereal boxes or Tupperware containers. Just remember before you toss out that box of “junk” in the attic that another’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Recycle whatever you can

There is no need to feel guilt about creating waste – not every single thing in the universe can be reduced or reused. Luckily, a lot of items we use can be recycled as probably noticed in your own home. Again, there are obvious items such as plastic milk jugs and glass bottles but people often wonder about trash that seems to walk the line. Greasy pizza boxes, despite being made from cardboard, cannot be recycled. Plastic shopping bags are also not recyclable in many areas and have been banned outright by some communities. The best thing to do if you are not sure if a certain item can be recycled is to contact your local provider.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

STEM and 3D Printing

Toys Aimed at Teaching 3DPrinting to STEM Families
Shawn Wasserman
Divergent Tris Barbie doll. Image courtesy of Mattel and Business Wire.
Divergent Tris Barbie doll. Image courtesy of Mattel and Business Wire.
STEM families will now be able to design their own Mattel toys using Autodesk 3D’s Printing technology. Using a combination of digital games, physical toys and apps, kids will be able to customize and design toys. Once they are done designing, kids will be able to print out their toys via a 3D Printer. “We’re constantly inspired by the passion and creativity we see among kids around the world,” said Doug Wadleigh, Sr. VP at Mattel. “Technology is changing daily and by harnessing Mattel’s expertise in play and Autodesk’s expertise with creative apps and 3D printing, we’re able to offer a new kind of 3D design experience, continuing the Mattel legacy of inspiring imagination and creativity.”
The team up of these two giants will allow kids and fanboys/fangirls interested in STEM education to brush up on their design skills. The aim is to grow the maker community while promoting the creativity, customization and imagination of kids.
 “Autodesk is dedicated to providing powerful, yet easy-to-use 3D design and 3D printing apps to unlock the creativity in everyone,” said Samir Hanna, VP at Autodesk. “Partnering with an iconic brand like Mattel provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate how Spark, our open 3D printing platform, can help create amazing experiences that bridge the digital and physical worlds and push the boundaries of creative play.”
Apptivity Hot Wheels. Image courtesy of Mattel and Business Wire.
Apptivity Hot Wheels. Image courtesy of Mattel and Business Wire.
Many of the details around the partnership are still hush-hush, but what is known is the first app and 3DPrinting hub will be available around Q3 or Q4 of 2015. Will the partnership see a new family-sized 3DPrinter? Or will Mattel be re-packaging the Autodesk Spark? If a new printer is in the cards, this vague announcement doesn’t leave much room for comparison to other family-sized 3DPrinting tools, such as Tinkerine, Da Vinci Jr. or MakerBot. If it is just a STEM initiative, I’m curious to see how it will compare to other maker movements like the FabLab.
It is clear, however, that this partnership will stand out in the area of licensing. Mattel owns the rights to everything that’s cool, from Barbie to Hot Wheels to WWE to DC Comics to Disney. The potential to get STEM education to kids with these brands is practically endless. Let’s just hope they do the right thing and target everyone. 3D Printers shouldn’t be just “a boy’s toy.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Plastic isn't just for bottles and other containers

By Michelle Lovrine Honeyager

Plastic isn't just for bottles and other containers. Check out what these crafters have done with an everyday recyclable.
You’ve probably heard that the world is swimming in plastic waste. According to the EPA, in 2012, 32 million tons of plastic waste was generated, and only nine percent of that was recycled. But these innovative crafters are doing their part to make use of all that plastic. Turns out plastic doesn’t just have to be turned into more milk jugs. Following are some examples of recycled plastic for everything from lamps to jewelry to wall hangings, and you’d never even know that a lot of these items were made out of old plastic. 

To learn more about any given item, just click on the photo.
 1. Plastic Lamp 
Believe it or not, this lamp was made out of recycled plastic bottles. Some of the plastic was sandblasted to turn it white. Colored plastic bottles and polypropylene sheets make up the lampshade. It looks like a new item you’d just find in a home goods store.
2. Recycled Plastic Beads 
These were made from recycled plastic bottles as well. This fun DIY project is a great way for crafters to reuse and save money. The beads were made by coloring the plastic with permanent marker, folding the plastic with pliers and molding it with an embossing gun. You can see a video tutorial at the image source link above.

3. Jewelry Stand
Here’s a great use for the bottom of old soda bottles. These were drilled and sanded to form a flower pattern. A basic metal rod with washers and nuts form the base of this piece. Full project photos are available by clicking on the image above.

4. Soda Bottle Lanterns
This fun idea for old soda bottles would be great to hang at parties. It’s made from tissue paper that was painted onto the cut soda bottle with a white glue/water mixture. Mod Podge would also work quite well. Holes punched at the top would create a good place for hanging ribbon.

5. Plastic Bag Tote
The bag above was made from recycled Wal-Mart bags. Looks like fabric, doesn’t it? The bag was crocheted using 1-inch strips of plastic bag that were rolled into what is called plarn (plastic yarn). You can find the crochet patterns by clicking on the image above.

6. Recycled Plastic Messenger Bag
This creation was made out of other recycled bags. The plastic was heat-fused, cut and re-sewn. This is a great way to upscale old bags you don’t want anymore into designs you do.

7. Upcycled Plastic Wallet
This is a good example of how versatile old plastic can be. The old residual plastic was fused to create this new, strong material via a heat press. Any type of plastic can be used this way, everything from old bags to signs.

8. Recycled Plastic Rug
Here’s another great use of plarn (plastic yarn). This rug is made from 250 plastic bags and is naturally waterproof.

9. Plastic Piece Bracelet
This piece was made out of upcycled plastic links. It’s hard to tell the plastic was even reused. The links were hand-colored in those shades of blue.

10. Plastic Shirt
Here’s a great piece for making a statement. This corset piece was made out of plastic bags, packaging, bubble wrap and recycled cans. You can lace up the back with recycled rope as well.

11. Napkin Ring
This was also made out of recycled plastic bottles. These bottles were cut, heated and shaped into the flower pattern above. These honestly do just look like blown glass.

12. Butterfly Wall Hanging
These gorgeous pieces were made out of PET bottles. The translucent plastic catches the light nicely. The bottles were hand painted once they were fashioned.

13. Upcycled Plastic Toy
Sometimes you don’t need to get too involved. This accessible project was a plastic toy that was painted, sealed with a matte finish and cut to make room for the plant. It makes a unique planter with a bit of humor to it.

14. Plastic Tote
This bag was made out of upcycled brown grocery bags and pink cotton warp thread. The thread blends well into the bag, making the piece look like a classy item that was made out of new materials.

15. Plastic Bow Here’s another creative use for plarn. It’s attached to a metal barrette clip for easy use. This was originally old grocery bags as well.

16. Clear Plastic Necklace
This necklace actually used to be the lid of a plastic storage container. It looks like something you’d find at the mall. As the site says, it would go great with any outfit.

17. Banner Bag
This colorful piece used to be a PVC banner. It was hand-painted with heat-set acrylic paint. The abstract paint job gives it an arty, playful feel.

18. Grocery Bag Wallet
Here’s a clever take on an upcycled wallet. The bags are placed in a unique, textured pattern.

19. Plastic Necklace
Here’s another piece that looks like it could easily be made out of new materials. This crafter said she become interested in upcycling plastic after viewing the badly littered beaches of Morocco. She started gathering trash and making it into beautiful new creations ever since.

20. Necklace from Plastic Lids
You wouldn’t even know this funky piece was made from recycled plastic lids. It just looks like a fun jewelry piece.

21. Bottle Bracelet
Here’s a great example of a bracelet that was made out of old plastic. The base was formed out of a plastic bottle. Metallic wrapping paper, wire and rhinestones add a fun look.

22. Button Bracelet
This is a good use for old buttons. If you have some colorful buttons around, don’t forget what great embellishments they make on jewelry. In this case, the yellow buttons and weight beads were entirely upcycled.

23. Water Bottle Necklace
Yes, this used to be a water bottle. These creatively cut pieces make the plastic look like bits of blown glass. It certainly creates a fun and classy look.

24. Record Cufflinks
These used to be vinyl records. They’d make a great gift for any music fan. Just goes to show how versatile old records can be.

About the author

Michelle Lovrine Honeyager is a freelance writer living in Southeast Wisconsin. She’s written for a variety of publications about sustainability, DIY and green living. She’s passionate about reducing her carbon footprint and creating a more sustainable future.
- See more at:

Home Electronics Disposal