Earth Day and Arbor Day Notes

Ash Tree

Credit: W. Carter (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Having recently observed Earth Day, we thought it would be appropriate to share some tips for protecting the environment. First, however, since today is Arbor Day, it is important to take a moment to appreciate trees. Everyone knows that trees transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis. Trees cool the Earth during this process as well, not only by removing the greenhouse gas CO2 but also by the absorption of sunlight used to synthesize hydrocarbons.

Trees are used as building materials and to manufacture paper. Four billion trees are cut down each year to produce paper; and compared to building joists or wooden furniture, the lifecycle of paper tends to be ephemeral—used once, and then discarded. About four million tons of paper that could be recycled are thrown out each year in the US—enough to build a 12-foot-high wall from New York to California. Paper consumption in offices is particularly egregious; 45 percent of office paper printed each day ends up in the trash.

It is therefore crucial to recycle. Reprocessing can turn recycled paper into other paper products numerous times before the paper fibers become too weak for further reprocessing. White office paper is particularly useful as it can be used to manufacture products such as new office paper, stationary, magazines, paperboard, and tissue. Moreover, recycling saves energy. According to the US Energy Information Administration, recycling paper versus using unrecycled pulp in the manufacturing process yields a 40 percent reduction in energy use, while the International Bureau of Recycling claims a 64 percent reduction.

Credit: Lance Cpl. Michelle Brinn (Public Domain)

All businesses in New York City are required to recycle metal, glass, plastic, beverage cartons, and cardboard, in addition to paper. Furthermore, it is currently illegal to throw in the trash electronics including TVs, monitors, laptops, mouse devices, keyboards, servers, printers/scanners, tablets/e-readers, MP3 players, VCR/DVD/DVR players, fax machines, video game consoles, and cable/satellite boxes. There are several ways you can recycle unwanted e-waste. Manufacturers of computers, televisions, and other electronics are required to accept products for recycling under New York State law and to provide free take-back programs. Electronics can also be recycled through drop-off programs at retailers and sanitation locations, community recycling events, E-cycleNYC pickup for apartment buildings, mail-back programs, or donating working electronics. Residents of Staten Island can request free curbside pickup appointments through the Department of Sanitation’s e-waste pilot program.

In addition to implementing a robust recycling program in your office, there are a number of other things that can be done to make your office more environmentally friendly. These include:

  • Activating power management settings on computers.
  • Keeping window shades drawn during the day to reduce absorption of solar radiation during the summer and to reduce heat loss in the winter.
  • Turning off lights, computers, and other electronics when not in use. Since many electronics are in standby mode and not truly powered down when turned off, use a power strip to conveniently power down multiple devices at once.
  • Promptly reporting problems such as leaky faucets and too-high heat or air conditioning to maintenance personnel.
  • Encouraging staff to use reusable coffee mugs, dishes, and silverware rather than disposable paper or Styrofoam products.
  • Going paperless whenever possible by using email and conference room technology to avoid unnecessary printing. If you must print, print double-sided. Reuse one-sided printouts for scratch paper.
  • When ordering office supplies, purchase recycled paper products and toner cartridges whenever possible.

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