The Down and Dirty on Disposable Diapers

The Oregon Country Fair is coming up July 7 to 9. BRING will once again be making your peachy experience a little less poopy by providing a cloth diaper service. Cloth diapers will be available for $10 per dozen with a $30 refundable deposit. Plastic storage bags and pins are available, but diaper covers are not. Diapers can be rented or returned during Fair hours. Diaper service is located on Wally’s Way, near the Childcare area. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

While you’re thinking about diapers (something you probably do a lot if you’re a parent, and avoid at all costs if you aren’t), we thought we’d take this opportunity to do a little diaper education. Disposable diapers represent a surprisingly large portion of the waste stream, so it’s worth having anyone engaged in diapering think about ways to cut down on consumption.

Many eco-friendly parents have turned to cloth diapers as a greener alternative, but they may not be as environmentally sustainable as you think. We dig into why cloth diapers aren’t the end-all, be-all for planet-loving parents.

Diapers in the waste stream

In 1998 (the last time data was compiled) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that Americans threw away close to 20 billion disposable diapers every year. Given that nearly 95 percent of all households with children reported using disposal diapers at some point, this figure probably isn’t surprising. In total, diapers made up 2.1 percent of everything we throw away in a year.

One of the problems with putting diapers in landfills is that they contain fecal matter, which makes them more hazardous than other types of waste. (Technically, users are supposed to place all fecal matter in the toilet before trashing disposable diapers, but studies show than fewer than one percent of Americans do that.) Should they spill out of a trash container – or should a landfill begin to leak – they pose a real health and environmental danger.

And forget about the environmental impact for a minute and look at the cost. A breakdown on this website estimates that it costs about $750 to keep a child in diapers for a year. The cost of cloth diapers (factoring in the initial investment of buying the diapers and covers) is estimated at $225 a year. This assumes the family washes their own diapers and does not pay for a diaper service.

Cloth diapers vs. disposal diapers

Cloth diapers have long been considered the greener alternative to disposable diapers. To begin with, they aren’t disposable, which should automatically make them better than their non-reusable counterparts. Diaper covers can often be passed on to another family when you’re finished using them. Any cloth diapers you can’t give away or sell can be used as rags. This gives them a life even beyond their initial purpose.

However, the conversation about whether cloth diapers are better than disposal diapers is not as clear cut as you might expect. There’s been a lot of debate over the years about whether using cloth diapers will really lower your carbon footprint that much.

When you think about it, cloth diapers still consume resources. Someone has to grow cotton, bamboo or other fibers to make them. Non-organic cotton in particular is a very water- and pesticide-intensive crop that requires a huge amount of input, which has a negative impact on people and the planet. Then the fibers must be transported (typically from far-away places) and manufactured into cloth. The synthetic diaper covers also must be manufactured and transported.

Cloth diapers have to be washed frequently so smell and bacteria doesn’t built up. They also need to be washed in warm to hot water, often with bleach or another type of disinfectant. Washing machines use a lot of water and energy. When you have to dry diapers in the dryer (as opposed to a clothesline), that takes even more energy.

A report (available for download in this Washington Post article) from the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that the carbon footprint of cloth diapers is 570 kg of CO2 equivalent over 2½ years. The carbon footprint of disposable diapers is 550 kg. This is just one study, but it does demonstrate that cloth diapers may not be as green as everyone thinks they are.

In addition, disposable diaper manufacturers are taking strides to make their diapers less impactful on the earth. The article referenced above reports that Pampers and Huggies source their paper products from certified sustainable sources, and Pampers has plans to reduce manufacturing waste, water usage and emissions.

It’s harder to make a plain cotton diaper more eco-friendly, but there are a few things you can do to lower the impact of diapering even more:

  • Use washcloths instead of wipes on your baby’s bum. Wash them with the diapers.
  • Make your own diapers from flannel fabric you already have on hand. If you don’t have any, source it from friends or a craft reuse center such as MECCA or St. Vincent de Paul.
  • During the summer months, dry your diapers on a clothesline rather than putting them in the dryer.

Some families chose to shorten their diapering period through early potty training. There are multiple books that coach parents on how to toilet train children as young as three or six months. This isn’t a good solution for every family, but if it’s something you’ve considered doing anyway, the environmental impact of less diapering might be one more reason to go ahead.

Cloth or plastic?

The last thing we want to do is talk you out of using cloth diapers if you feel good about that decision. Nor do we want to advocate for switching to disposable diapers, which still have plenty of problems. Families often have good reasons for choosing one or the other; maybe cloth or plastic gives their child diaper rash, or perhaps they don’t have regular and affordable access to a washer and dryer.

Because we’re dedicated to keeping items out of the waste stream and encouraging reuse whenever possible, we still feel good about giving a thumbs up to cloth diapers. If you feel the same way, make sure to visit us at the Oregon Country Fair July 7 to 9. We’ll have all the supplies you need to keep your little one comfortable and keep as much trash out of fair bins as possible.

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The Meaning and Impact of Embodied Energy

Whether it’s a water bottle, a carrot, a basketball, a freight train, or a pile of concrete blocks you found at BRING, there’s a story about energy that longs to be told.

Embodied energy is a term used to describe all of the energy that goes into the production of a product. From raw resource extraction to manufacturing processes, and distribution by plane, train, and automobile, each inanimate thing that exists originates from the earth and a measurable amount of energy is used to put the pieces together and put it in front of consumers. When we embrace this concept, we can dive deeper into our understanding of what it means to be ecologically sustainable.

Take the average toothbrush, for example. Can you think of all the energy required to create an inherently disposable toothbrush? First, petroleum gas-powered machines are used to extract more raw petroleum, which is shipped using petroleum to the manufacturing factory. Burning fossil fuels to power their computers, toothbrush designers spend countless hours crafting the next shapes and colors to hit retail shelves. After production, shipments of fresh enamel-cleaners travel long routes to faraway corners of the world, consuming even more petroleum and fossil fuels.

It’s mind-boggling, and it doesn’t stop there. What happens when the toothbrush wears down? End-of-life disposal requires energy, too. The garbage truck transports the toothbrush to the local waste-handling facility. Using even more petroleum, machines compact our trash and ship it to the landfill, the final resting place of the product and all of its embodied energy. This toothbrush will surely be replaced, representing an endless cycle of energy use.

Living a sustainable life includes minimizing embodied energy. And you may now be wondering: where is a good place to start? One way is to focus on either growing your own food or purchasing organic produce directly from local farmers, in order to minimize the distance that your food travels and eliminate the chemicals that are common in industrial food production.

The same idea can be applied to building materials. Using indigenous, locally-sourced materials generally saves on transportation and processing energy. Reusing existing materials means keeping the embodied energy that already exists in a product rather than requiring a new energy output. Purchasing durable goods and repairing broken items, instead of replacing, saves embodied energy and drastically reduces your carbon footprint.

What are your next steps for preserving the embodied energy of products you already own, or lowering the amount of energy required for the products you use every day?

Making the Case for Designing Better Buildings: Local Cases Studied

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings are responsible for an enormous amount of global energy use, resource consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States alone, buildings account for nearly forty percent of national CO2 emissions and out-consume both the industrial (thirty percent) and transportation (twenty-nine percent) sectors. When compared to traditional building projects, green buildings save energy, reduce waste, and lower the long-term costs associated with operating a building.

It’s no wonder that green building is gaining in popularity. Nationally, the green building sector is outpacing traditional building projects and is expected to rise. And Lane County is no exception; business owners are using green building practices to save money on construction costs and to create unique spaces that are practical, beautiful, and efficient.

Materials Matter

Michael and Angie Marzano, owners of Hot Mama’s Kitchen + Bar (HMKB), a new restaurant slated to open this summer at Oakway Center, made green building practices a priority. Whenever possible, the Marzanos chose products and materials that were either reclaimed or manufactured with sustainability in mind.

  • To cut down on toxic chemicals typically used in construction projects, Low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) paints, sealants, and adhesives were used.
  • Booths, chairs, and tables were purchased from a chain restaurant that had gone out of business.
  • The bar top was made using reclaimed teak, ensuring that no live trees were cut down.
  • Tile, made by Fireclay, a California-based company that uses post-industrial and curbside glass, granite, and porcelain, was used behind the bar and in bathrooms.

“We want HMKB to be a reflection of who we are and what we stand for,” said Michael Marzano. “We want to prove that you can reuse kitchen equipment, furniture, and construction materials to create a beautiful, upscale environment and save money while you’re at it.”

Emily and Bryan Jensen, of Thinking Tree Spirits, wanted to create a space that is aesthetically interesting and cost-effective. The couple was hands-on when it came to remodeling their space located at 88 Jackson Street. During the demolition process, they took care to salvage items such as exterior siding, sound and thermal insulation in the walls, wiring, plumbing, and glass. Several of these items were reused at the distillery and the rest was salvaged and reused in other projects in the Eugene area. In some cases, they traded materials found in their project for materials salvaged from other projects.

“We used the old exterior siding to create the bar face, sliding office door, and post coverings in the tasting room,” said Emily Jensen. “These pieces, along with our Thinking Tree, make the space both inviting and interesting.”

The Thinking Tree, created by local metal artist Jud Turner, is a life-sized tree made of repurposed iron pipe, valve handles, broken pressure and temperature gauges, piano keys, and many other found and salvaged materials.

For the Jensens, reuse played a huge role in their equipment as well. “The mash tun, where grain or molasses is mixed with water and other ingredients, is a 1960s dairy tank built by Van Vetter of Seattle,” said Bryan Jensen. “The reflux still and the distillery’s primary still’s ‘thumper,’ where Vodka & Gin are refined or the traditional Caribbean style Rum is finished, are stainless steel kettles reclaimed from a storage facility in Salem.”

Even the distillery’s primary still, lovingly named Floyd, is a reclaimed, jam-mixing tank from the 1940s.

Built for Efficiency

A common impression is that building green is too expensive. However, studies show the costs of green buildings are similar to typical development projects.  And by integrating green design from the outset, costs over the long term are less.  

With long hours of operation and equipment running continuously, efficiency was a priority for the Marzanos. “HMKB’s commercial vent hood uses variable frequency drive (VFD) to manage fan speed based on need, while the kitchen exhaust recovery system captures and repurposes heat straight from the stovetop below,” said Michael Marzano. “We worked with Rowell Brokaw, a local architectural firm, to create an equipment platform to decrease the metal and ductwork needed for venting the kitchen and heating equipment and to increase equipment efficiency.”

The restaurant is designed to make the most of natural light. LED fixtures and lighting controls will save twenty-five percent on lighting costs compared to halogen or track lighting.

The Jensens agree that saving on operating costs was imperative. “Energy use is an important factor, and water use, even more so,” said Bryan Jensen. Water plays a key role not only in the distilling process, which adds to the flavor of the Spirit, but also in the heating and cooling process.

“The distillery’s proudest accomplishments are  two closed-loop systems, one for steam that heats the kettles and another that cools the stills then recycles the waste heat back into the process,” said Jensen. “By preheating the mash strike water and/or rejecting waste heat into an in-ground floor heating system that stretches from the Tasting Room and back to the Plant, we’re reducing about 50,000 gallons of discharge water per year at design-production capacity. The cooling system saves an additional 125,000 gallons of wastewater per year.”

A Game Changer

The green building business is booming. By 2018, green construction will directly contribute 1.1 million jobs and $75.6 billion in wages in the United States. The industry’s direct contribution to U.S. gross domestic product is also expected to reach $303.5 billion from 2015 to 2018. LEED building construction projects are estimated to contribute 386,000 jobs and $26.2 billion in wages by 2018.

Locally, contractors including RE:think Business, Essex General Construction, are seeing all kinds of green building projects including the new Mahonia building.

Julie and Charlie Tilt of Hummingbird Wholesale broke ground on the new Mahonia building this winter and set out to create a project unlike any other in the area—a commercial straw-bale building. The couple is utilizing locally sourced straw, a waste material, in an innovative design that is low in embodied energy and high in insulating properties.

The Tilts are working with BRING and other reuse retailers to source as many materials as possible. The building is expected to be completed in the fall of 2017 and will house additional space for Hummingbird Wholesale and office space for non-profit organizations and other like-minded businesses.

Additional Benefits

As green building begins to take its place as an important industry, the improved indoor environments are being recognized for their numerous benefits. For example, studies report that green buildings which utilize natural light show an improvement in employee productivity and a decrease in workplace injuries and absenteeism. More benefits will likely become known as the industry grows.

When In Doubt, Throw It Out!

Portions of this article were originally printed in Lane County’s Recycling News School Edition.

Have you ever put a clamshell container, plastic bag or other item in your curbside recycling bin with the thought, “I’ll give this to the experts. Surely they’ll know how to recycle it”?

While we applaud your commitment to recycling, putting anything in your curbside bin that doesn’t belong there can actually undermine the recycling process and make it harder to recycle items like paper, plastic bottles and tubs, and aluminum cans.

Tossing something into the recycling bin with the hope that someone will sort it out is called “wishful recycling.” This inclination can cause serious damage to the recycling sort machinery.

If you’re not sure whether something can go in the recycling bin, put it in the trash. Remember this mantra: When in doubt, throw it out. Otherwise you may be doing our recycling system more harm than good.

It’s also a good idea to educate yourself about exactly what can be recycled in the commingled bin that goes to the curb every other week. “How recycling is accomplished and collected can be very different from community to community,” says Kelly Bell, Master Recycler coordinator for Lane County Waste Management. “It’s important to find out what can be recycled in your community.” (For more information about commingled recycling in Lane County, and to see videos about how sorting technology works, click here.)

In Lane County, the materials that can be recycled curbside have remained pretty consistent since the 1990s. Paper, some plastics and aluminum cans can go in your recycling bin. Glass can go in a separate container for pickup. Grass clippings, twigs, weeds and other plant material can go in the green waste recycling bin.

Anything else should be consider suspect. One way to determine if you can recycle something in your commingled recycling bin is to check your hauler’s app. Both Sanipac and Lane Apex, our region’s two largest haulers, have cell phone apps you can download. “Recycling information is literally as close as your smartphone and your pocket,” Bell says.

You can also learn about these three worse recycling offenders – and tell others about them – to help stop wishful recycling.

The #1 most damaging items in mixed recycling:

Plastic bags, clothing and stringy things like Christmas lights and extension cords. These wrap around the equipment’s sorting conveyor system, slowly clogging it up so it doesn’t sort effectively and eventually shuts down.

While these items can’t go in the commingled recycling bin, many of them can be recycled if you take them elsewhere, says Sarah Grimm, waste reduction specialist for Lane County Waste Management. “Plastic bags can be taken to grocery stores or the transfer station. Clothing and Styrofoam can go to St. Vincent de Paul. Christmas lights and electrical cords can be recycled as scrap metal or taken to Next Step.”

The #2 most damaging material is:

Paper designed to stay strong when wet. Napkins, plates, cups, freezer boxes – anything intended to hold wet food or otherwise stay strong when wet is either lined with plastic or has been drenched with a chemical agent called wet-strength, or both. These items are NOT recyclable for this reason, and because the likelihood of food contamination is so great.

Worst offender #3: flat plastics act like paper in the sort system

Clear or colored #1 plastic clamshell, lettuce boxes or tray shapes are taking over grocery stores. Lightweight and semi-flexible, they easily flatten when baled or compacted for transport and end up contaminating the bales of paper sold to local paper mills. They are not recyclable in our area.

It may be possible to save up these items and take them to a recycler in the Portland area (check Metro’s website for more details). But the easier thing may be to reconsider your buying habits. Wishful recycling often happens because people feel guilty about throwing things away. If you can avoid bringing those items home in the first place, Bell points out, then you don’t have to grapple with the issue at all.

“What we really want to get to is waste reduction, which is avoiding the waste in the first place,” Bell says. “If you’re continually bringing something home and you have questions about whether its recyclable, or you learn it isn’t, that’s a chance to reevaluate what you’re buying. Can you buy it in bulk? Can you buy it in recyclable packaging? If we stop buying things in non-recyclable packaging, perhaps it will go away and other types of packaging we can more easily deal with will come back. Or perhaps more stores will go to more bulk opportunities.”

There may also be ways to reuse items that can’t be recycled in the curbside bin. Wash plastic bags and use them repeatedly (a bag dryer can make this process less frustrating). Use clamshells to store bulk vegetables purchased at a farmers market or grocery store. Large plastic tubs from lettuce or spinach make good project boxes, while containers with screw top lids can hold screws, nails, craft supplies or small tools.

So remember: Wishful recycling does more harm than good. When in doubt, throw it out. And whenever possible, find ways to reduce the amount of packaging you purchase instead of worrying about where to recycle it.

5th Annual BRING Beer Benefit Coming up June 9

The 5th Annual BRING Beer Benefit will take place at Claim 52 Brewing on Friday, June 9 from 4:00 – 8:00 pm.

Support BRING while you celebrate Eugene Beer Week at Oregon’s best nano-brewery. Sample traditional beer styles including German Kolsch, IPAs, Northwest red ale and other seasonal varieties. Festival-style food truck SAMMITCH will serve up fresh, locally-sourced food for those who want a bite. Their menu includes many creative spins on traditional favorites.

The generous folks at Claim 52 will donate 50 percent of proceeds sold throughout the night to BRING. We’ll have music and a fun, family-friendly atmosphere. It sounds like a great way to kick off the summer!

9 DIY Mother’s Day Projects Made With Salvaged Building Materials

Create a Mother’s Day gift with not much more than a canning jar, some paint and one of these ideas

Are you looking for a last-minute DIY project for mom? BRING may have a solution. Pick up a few salvaged building materials from the Planet Improvement Center, combine them with things you’re likely to have at home (or can pick up at MECCA, a craft store or other home improvement store), and you’ll have a one-of-a-kind gift ready just in time for Mother’s Day.

Keep in mind that our stock changes all the time. If you can’t find what you need among our many fine offerings, pick one of these projects as a backup. Next week you can always start dropping hints with mom for what you’d like for Father’s Day. Or maybe one of these projects could spark a craft day for the whole family.

Another Mother’s Day gift option is a mosaic tile stepping stone, which you can create at our Make It! workshop on Saturday, May 13. Check out this blog post for more details.

Shelf with branches

If you have fallen branches left over from this winter’s snow and ice storms, combine them with a few planks of salvaged wood to create an eye-catching shelf. These posts from The Home Depot and The Family Handyman have very different designs with detailed instructions.

Button-edged mirror

Mirrors sometimes make their way to BRING because the frame is looking worn. The best way to make that old

Buttons, buttons, who’s got some buttons?

mirror look like new again is to edge it with a pretty decoration like buttons. All you need to complete a project like this button-edged mirror is a hot glue gun and several handfuls of buttons. If buttons aren’t mom’s thing, what else could you add?

Painted flower pot

Give a plain flower pot a unique twist by painting it. This is a quick, easy project for kids; all your need are some paints and a used clay flower pot (which may need a quick scrub first). Fine Gardening has instructions and ideas for painting clay pots.

Tile coasters

Speaking of projects that require only paint: grab some of our secondhand tiles and have the kids craft a set of coasters for mom. They’ll be perfect for an outdoor dining table. If you want to use them indoors, back them with cork or felt.

Spinning craft caddy

Does mom enjoy adult coloring books, painting or other crafts? This spinning craft caddy may be just what she needs to store her colored pencils, markers, paintbrushes or other tools. Grab some of BRING’s recycled PVC pipe, pick up a lazy Susan at a thrift store, and you have almost everything you need.

Door knob coat rack

Door knobs can be a decorative item as well as a practical one. A great way to show them attractive ones (and create a useful item for your home) is to attach them to a board and use the resulting piece for a coat rack. A blog post from This Old House has instructions for making one. If you can only find a few door knobs you like, intersperse them with coat hooks.

Drawer pull jewelry rack

Along the same lines as the door knob coat rack is a cabinet door pull or drawer pull jewelry rack. Paint a piece of wood, securely attach the pulls, and mom has a beautiful place to hang necklaces and bracelets. If you want to get really creative, attach the jewelry rack to a frame with pegboard or screen so she has a place to put earrings.

Outdoor light fixture

Chandeliers are a trendy outdoor decoration right now. To transform an unstylish indoor light fixture into a modern outdoor piece, a light fixture with an attractive shape just needs a few coats of the paint and/or some embellishment. This blog post from Curbly gives some guidance for upcycling chandeliers.

Canning jar crafts

Canning jars are so versatile; they can be used to make everything from candleholders and vases to light fixtures and soap dispensers. Browse this list of 50 canning jar craft ideas. Mom is bound to love one or two of them.

Make It! Mosaic Tile Stepping Stones Workshop

On Saturday, May 13 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (just in time for Mother’s Day!), BRING will host a fun-filled

workshop on how to make your own decorative and practical stepping stones at the Planet Improvement Center. Join us to design and create a great gift for mom! Purchase lunch from Sammitch food truck, then get a free sweet treat from Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss! Plan to come early as this is one of our most popular workshops.

This is a hands-on activity working with concrete and tile pieces. Concrete can be messy, so please dress appropriately. One per person while supplies last. A $3 to $5 suggested donation will help us cover the cost of materials.

More exciting events coming in June – stay tuned!