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December 2009: You CAN recycle Styrofoam

After Christmas in 2009 West Bild, the developer of Burien Town Plaza, loaned us an empty store front in the Bartells and Ace Hardware parking lot. For 2 afternoons we collected Styrofoam to take to Styrorecycle in Renton. (Someone who dropped off a bag of peanuts is missing a pair of shoes, please contact us if you can identify them.) They grind it up, then run it through a 3 stage progressive heater to form it into semi-solid logs. While it's still soft it's pressed into blocks, then once it's cooled it's stacked on pallets until they have 40,000 pounds. That's enough to make a full trailer load to be shipped off to a company that recycles them into picture frames, TV cabinets, computer cases, etc.

The densifying process reduces the Styrofoam by 90:1, so an amount that would nearly fill a pickup bed and canopy reduces down to about 1 cubic foot, which makes it practical to ship across the country. You can drop off clean, white Styrofoam of the right type at no charge. They will pick up large quantities for a reasonable fee.

They accept white Styrofoam (#6 or EPS) materials, the types most commonly found with new electronic products, appliance packaging, computers and monitors, furniture packaging and picnic/shipping coolers. They also take clean packing peanuts, both Styrofoam and starch, which are reused. They must be clean with no foreign material mixed in. They do NOT accept material that isn't clean, Styrofoam food containers, urethane foam cushions, expanded polypropylene (EPP), foam insulation, plastic wrap, bubble wrap or hard plastics.

To determine if you have the right material look for the "#6" or "EPS" inside the recycle symbol, if it's sheet material bend it - it should break and snap with loose beads. All foreign material like plastic sheeting, tape, staples and cardboard must be removed.

Styrorecycle is on the west side of Ikea in Renton. Check their website for days, hours and acceptance guidelines.

December, 2009: Christmas Leftovers

Christmas season generates a lot of items that used to end up in the trash, but many can now be recycled. Of course it's best if you can avoid generating the waste in the first place. See this Waste Management Greener Holidays page for ideas.

Recycle the following items:

  • Styrofoam: at Styrorecycle on the west side of Ikea in Renton all year long. They accept clean white Styrofoam (#6 or EPS) materials, the types most commonly found with new electronic products, appliance packaging, computers and monitors, furniture packaging and picnic/shipping coolers. They also take clean packing peanuts, both Styrofoam and starch which are passed on for reuse. They must be clean with no foreign material mixed in. They do NOT accept material that isn't clean, Styrofoam food containers, urethane foam cushions, expanded polypropylene (EPP), foam insulation, plastic wrap, bubble wrap or hard plastics.

    To determine if you have the right material look for the "#6" or "EPS" inside the recycle symbol, if it's sheet material bend it - it should break and snap with loose beads. All foreign material like plastic sheeting, tape, staples and cardboard must be removed.

  • Christmas Trees: In your yard waste (Ornaments and other non-biodegradable items need to be removed, check with your waste collection company to see how much cutting you need to do) or at the Boy Scout Fund Raiser Sat and Sun Jan 2nd & 3rd at Herr Backyard Garden Center from 9 AM to 4PM. 107 Southwest 160th Street in Burien. Donations requested.

  • Boxes and wrapping paper: In with your regular recycling as long as you've removed ribbons, bows and any other non-recyclable material. Foil wrappings, wrapping with embedded material and other non-paper wrappings are not recyclable.

  • Electronics: Under a Washington State law that went into effect January 1, 2009 TVs, computers, monitors and laptops can be recycled for free at many locations. Usable, working items can be dropped off at most charities who will resell them. Dead or out-dated items can be recycled at a number of locations. Personally I suggest taking all electronics to RE-PC in Tukwila or South Seattle. They will resell what they can, and what can't be sold is recycled properly and locally through Total Reclaim which is important. Some recycling locations ship material out of State or worse yet out of the country for "recycling" and that can cause big problems. See our archived tip for details. If all you've got is items that can't be resold, save a step and take them all to Total Reclaim. Contact them to see what else they'll take.

  • For other Holiday related items: See the links in the top right corner of this King County Solid Waste Page. That page will also let you look up many other types of material, from animal waste to vehicles. Be sure to check for the best deal in your area. For instance some places charge more for alkaline battery recycling than others. Compare prices and locations.

April 25, 2009: Got garden?

Are you looking for a place to have a small garden? Have you got space in your yard that you're not using that others could use for a garden? The two of you should talk. To see if one of your neighbors is offering garden space (or to offer some yourself) visit There are currently three garden locations listed for Burien. One location is in the south part of Burien, and the listing was put in the SODO section because there was no Burien section at the time. But they've added listings for North of Seattle and South of Seattle to see how much interest there is, so be sure to check the South listings too. There several listings in that section now, not all of them in Burien. Check it out by scrolling down the page at UrbanGardenShare: Listings

There are all sorts of varieties of Community Gardens out there these days too, ranging from large farms working under the Community Supported Agriculture principle where subscribers agree to buy the crop in small portions using a variety of subscription methods, to small projects involving a couple of neighbors. To get involved with CSA farms you can visit and get a list of farms in this area. To find about a possible large community garden in the Burien area, stay tuned to this page.

February 1, 2009: Mint, corn and fresh eggs.

The best way to get healthy food is to grow your own. That can range from a small herb garden on your patio, to a full blown garden in the backyard, all the way up to a small chicken coop for fresh eggs. Not only can you save money and have some fun, the quality of what you raise will be better than almost anything you can buy. If you don't have room for a garden, come to our meetings and work with the group that is trying to get some community gardens started. Also see the Food section of our Links page for more information. And you really can raise chickens in Burien so that you can have fresh eggs. City code allows up to three chickens but no roosters. Neighboring jurisdictions have different rules, be sure to check.

The Parks Dept is sponsoring another class on raising backyard chickens on Wednesday evening, April 22. The first class was so popular that they're doing it again. See our Events page for signup details.

December 10, 2008: Recycling Electronics, not as easy as it seems. Even when it's free.

In the State of Washington, beginning January 1, 2009 recycling many electronics can be done for free. The program applies to televisions, computers, computer monitors and portable/laptop computers. Peripherals like keyboards, mice and printers are not covered under this program, but many places already take at least some of them for free. The Department of Ecology has more information about the new program. That site also has information about reusing electronics, which is an excellent way to reduce the impact by keeping them out of the waste stream.

But how can you tell what will happen to your equipment once you turn it in? The idea of recycling them properly is to keep the toxic materials they contain out of the environment. Among other things they contain lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, and polyvinyl chlorides, plus lesser amounts of other metals and chemicals. To be safe the parts need to be broken down in an enclosed, controlled facility with safety equipment.

Several years ago there was an uproar when people realized that many of the electronics they turned in for recycling were being sent to Asia, where they'd often end up on a stream bank in a rural area. People would break them up with hammers and pliers, and a lot of the toxics would end up on the ground or in the stream. And in the people.

So rules were made [at least in some places] that were intended to prevent electronics from being exported to locations like that. Many countries also prohibited the import of those materials. And recycling companies in the US vowed to do it right and protect the environment.

The problem is that until recently nobody was confirming what was being done, at least nobody independent. Now the Basal Action Network is trying to confirm the statements by various recyclers, but it's not an easy thing to do. And while most companies are probably being honest, considering the risk and the cost to all of us, it would be nice to know for sure.

60 minutes recently did a story where they tracked some containers leaving a "green" recycler and found they were full of computer monitors going to China. They tracked one all the way to the destination, where women sitting at coal fires would heat circuit boards until the solder got soft enough to let them pull out the chips. They'd pour the melted solder off the boards. And breath the fumes. In different places around town huge piles of electronic scraps were smoldering as they burned and melted. Ash from these piles was being dumped in the stream, and children played in it. Studies have shown that the town has the highest levels of cancer causing dioxins in the world. The local water is so polluted that drinking water is trucked in. But what about anyone [and anything] downstream?

You can read the 60 minutes news article at CBS. The video of the show is also available at CBS.

The good news is that the Basal Action Network and a number of major e-cyclers have joined together to certify e-cycling companies. The list of certified companies is short but growing. BAN's November 10, 2008 news release E-Stewards: Activists and industry join to certify responsible electronics recyclers has more information. They also have links to other reports about e-cycling problems. They have set up a web site where you can get more information, including a list of known reliable recyclers. Figuring out if the place you take your equipment is working with a responsible recycler still isn't easy, but it's getting better.

One option is to avoid the middle man and go straight to a certified recycler. Three that are reasonably close to Burien are Total Reclaim in south Seattle, Re-PC in Tukwila and south Seattle, and Cascade Assets in Kent. I just took a bunch of stuff down to Total Reclaim and Re-PC in south Seattle. Total Reclaim doesn't do much sorting, they just break things down for recycling. If you have things that are re-usable, take them to Re-PC. They'll sort them, resell what they can and take the rest down to Total Reclaim for recycling. Be sure to check the BAN list for approved recyclers, more will be added as soon as they can.

November 19, 2008: Go Green for the Holidays

For many of us, this festive time of year brings an uptick in decorating, traveling, shopping, and feasting---and an increase in our environmental footprint.

Lots of people are making the shift to green holidays.� There are many ways to celebrate while limiting our impact on the planet.� Here are just a few ideas.

  • Be creative with your gift wrapping.� Consider re-useable gift bags.� Or, wrap in papers you would otherwise recycle, like newspaper.� Used fabrics are a classy way to dress your presents, too.
  • A live tree can bring a healthy bit of magic into the home.� Plant it after the holidays.� It offers a lovely way to literally keep your memories alive, while serving as a gift to the earth.
  • Green giving can be a colorful affair.� Give consumables or experiences, instead of more �stuff.�� Food, services, tickets to the show---these treasures help build memories without creating so much waste.� Making a donation to a charitable organization in someone�s name can be particularly meaningful.� Handmade gift s, too, are often closest to the heart.
  • When is the last time you created a paper snowflake?� Or made a garland of popcorn?� For many families, crafting homemade decorations has become a cherished tradition.� And, trimming the home this way can help trim the budget and trim the waste.

Give the earth a present this season.� Green up your holidays.

For tips for a Green Thanksgiving [that can also apply to Christmas] see this article.

September 19, 2008: Food scrap recycling.

Begin food scrap recycling now! Here's a tip from Dr. Lynn Mikel in our Community Pod.

Those of you who recycle through King County Waste Management are now allowed to recycle food scraps in yard waste containers. Keep a small covered container in a convenient location near or in your kitchen (i.e. under the sink or out in the garage) to collect kitchen food scraps. Use a container that has a tight fitting lid and empty it into your yard waste container every other day or so.

To avoid odor and fruit flies; empty the container regularly, wrap food scraps in newspaper, rinse container frequently, line container with used paper bag or towel, sprinkle with baking soda or layer with shredded paper. By the way the yard waste bin is the only way you can recycle shredded paper. If you put it in the regular recycling bin it actually contaminates the other recyclables. The paper fibers in shredded paper are too short to be recycled, so they're just garbage. When shredded paper gets into a batch of recycled items, often the whole load ends up in the garbage because it's too hard to clean up.

Food scraps include fruits, vegetables, grains, bread, egg shells, nut shells, coffee grounds and filters, vegetable and fruit leftovers, tea leaves and bags, meat and dairy products [yogurt, cheese, etc.). Soiled paper like pizza delivery boxes, paper towels and napkins, uncoated (not shiny) paper plates, cups, paper (not plastic) food wrap, food bags, grocery bags, egg cartons, and paper berry cartons. No plastic, no grease or liquids, no pet litter or waste, no diapers, no soil, no rocks, no stumps, no lumber, no metal no glass and no hazardous waste. Waste Management has a flyer that shows what you can and can't put in the yard waste bin. Contamination increases the cost of recycling, if in doubt do not recycle, throw it in the regular garbage.

While I prepare dinner I open up a few pages of yesterday's paper and set it near the sink. As I clean lettuce or prepare vegetables and fruit, the peelings, core or wilted leaves go on the newspaper. While food is cooking, I clean up by folding up the food scraps put them in a small covered container in our garage (under the sink works too). The newspaper keeps the odor down and container fairly clean. I empty this into the yard waste recycling bin every couple days. No odor, little mess and we're starting to see our garbage container at least 30% less full! You might even be able to save money by using a smaller garbage can. "Think globally act locally!" Everything we do helps so enjoy the process of making a difference and start now!

Waste Management in Burien collects food scrapes now. The city of Seattle will require food recycling in 2009 and will provide a specific container for this purpose. Check with your service provider to see what their rules are.

We have more information in the Recycling Section of our Links and Resources page and in our Tips Archive.

September 5, 2008: Drugs in the environment.

Prescription (and non-prescription) drugs are a huge problem for the environment. Both the ones you take and the ones you don't. The ones people take are the larger part of the problem, accounting for the majority what leeches into the environment. That includes the ones that people take indirectly, like antibiotics and hormones that are given to livestock and used on crops. Some of those go directly into the environment, some go through people first. Fixing the problem with the ones you don't take is by the far the easiest of the two.

It used to be that when people ended up with left over prescription medication the recommendation for disposing of them was to flush them down the toilet or wrap them up and toss them in the garbage. It turns out that that isn't such good advice after all. Drugs are being found all through the environment, and many of them are known to have negative effects. On May 5, 2007 the Seattle Times published The environmental side effects of old medicine.

Back in 2004 a coalition of local and State governments, and non-profit groups formed the Unwanted Medicine Return Program to try to deal with the issue. They now have pages about medicines in our water supplies and lots of Press links with more information.

And they've actually done something about it. In cooperation with Group Health and Bartell Drugstores they've started a pilot project to collect unused medications and dispose of them properly. According to estimates from Pharmaceuticals from Households: A Return Mechanism (PH:ARM) Executive Summary (PDF File) A state wide collection program in Washington may reach 600,000 lbs annually

For more reading the EPA has an article about how drugs get into the environment and the harm that causes. And has a PDF file available titled Disposal of Medications from Residential Consumers, Issues, barriers, and opportunities.

August 24, 2008: You can have your plastic grocery bags (and Styrofoam™ containers) and eat them too.

OK, they're not really plastic, and you probably shouldn't eat them, but it's pretty close. There are biodegradable grocery bags (usually made from corn products) available that could be provided at store checkouts for those who didn't bring their own bag. Plastic bags don't biodegrade, they just break down into smaller and smaller pieces of toxic plastic. And those Styrofoam™ take out food containers? They do the same thing, but there are biodegradable equivalents for them too. At this time the cost is a few cents more than the Styrofoam™ versions (which is a significant percentage) but the prices will come down as demand increases and more are produced.

According to this August 21, 2008 Seattle Times article the University of Washington has started using biodegradable food containers throughout the campus. And they have tips for others who are thinking about it. And if you can buy in enough bulk, it's possible to save money by using them.

Inside the Seattle City limits, it will be mandatory soon, but anyone can do it voluntarily. Start asking your favorite stores and restaurants if they have a biodegradable option. See if you can talk them into buying at least a few and providing them to people who ask for them, perhaps even charging a few cents extra if necessary. I'd pay for it, would you? Some restaurants will let you bring your own food container for your Take Out order, see if yours will. And you can buy the bags yourself at some stores in Washington, including biodegradable bags for pet waste. Which means it can be composted if you want. Even if it still ends up in the garbage, at least it will break down properly. We have information about biodegradable bags and food containers on our Links and Resources page, including a link to a list of stores in King County that sell some of the bags. Ask your favorite store if they'd consider getting on that list.

July 27, 2008: Vampire Power

Did you know that when you shut off your TV, stereo or many other appliances, they aren't really off? Instead they simply draw much less power. Sometimes this is needed in order to retain settings or keep a timer running. Other times it's just so that when you turn it back on, it turns on faster. Sometimes it serves no useful function at all. One example of the latter is the wall wart/power adapter that many small appliance use. Even when they're not connected to anything, the adapter is drawing power. If it's warm, it's wasting electricity. The average appliance only uses 1 to 10 Watts in standby mode, but this adds up, estimates of the percentage of a home's power that is used by vampire devices are usually in the range of 8-10%.

Many new appliances are designed to use minimal power in standby, older appliances are often less efficient. If you want to check your house for vampires, you can use something like a Kill-A-Watt meter. It's available online and many hardware stores carry it. For things that don't really need to be on all the time (like battery chargers) you can just unplug them, plug them into a power strip so you can really turn them off, or use special plugs that will shut them off when they only draw a trickle of electricity. More information about vampire power is available at Wikipedia.

Here's a few more related links, all from the Department of Energy.
This site lets you estimate appliance energy consumption. You can use this to calculate the operating cost of existing items or compare potential new products.
These calculators allow users to enter their own input values (e.g., utility rates, hours of use, etc.) to estimate the energy cost savings from buying a more efficient product.
This page lists standby power consumption for a lot of products.
They also have an older page on standby power hosted at UC Berkeley. The last update appears to have been in 2001 or 2002, but there's lots of good information. Javascript is required for the menus.

July 5, 2008: Getting rid of food waste.

Did you know that putting food scraps down the garbage disposal is not the best way to handle them? Food scraps often contain grease, which is very bad for the sewer system, but they also add significant amounts of solid material. That requires more processing, and by the time it is processed, much of the nutritional value in the food scraps has been removed, so it doesn't go back into the food chain. It's even worse if you use a septic system because the additional solids mean you need to pump more often and risk clogging the drain field sooner.

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

The best way to deal with food scraps is to buy food with less excess material [pre-trimmed if possible], generate less if you can [use leftovers in stews, soups etc.], and compost what you can't reuse. Do your own composting, or if you have Residential Yard Waste Service, see if you can put your food scraps in with the grass clippings and tree branches. Many areas in Washington State now have this available. If you don't have food scrap recycling available and can't compost [for instance if you live in an apartment], then you have to choose between the disposal or the garbage. Residential volumes are not a huge problem for sewage plants, but look for alternative ways to dispose of them if you can. Talk to your landlord, your Waste Management Provider, or your local government. Food waste is a large proportion of our solid waste stream no matter where it goes.

For more information about food scraps and garbage disposals you can Google. Grinning Planet has an old [before food scrap recycling was available] article about this, and many local sewer districts mention it. Consumer Reports has a section titled THE DOWNSIDE OF DISPOSERS. Of the three options; sewage system, landfill or composting, there is no doubt that composting is the best method if it's available. There is some debate about whether landfills or sewage systems are less costly [in several ways], but if you can, compost it.

June 7, 2008: Plastic Bags

Plastic bags don't biodegrade, they photo-degrade, breaking down into small toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food-chain when mistaken for zooplankton or jellyfish. Many large stores have bins for used plastic bags. They aren't actually recycled, but they are disposed of as safely as possible.

You can minimize your use of disposable plastic bags. Use a Reusable bag for groceries and other purchases. If you only have a couple of items, carry them in your hands instead of a bag. Many stores sell reusable bags for a reasonable price, and some offer a small discount if you carry in your own bag. If you're picking up take out food, don't use a plastic bag if you don't need it.

You can also do something like buy different colored bags from then use one color for groceries, one for clothes shopping, etc. Their bags are small enough to fit in your pocket.

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Content Updated June 24, 2010
Minor update July 13, 2009.