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One Can Challenge: home office

Enviromomchallenge Living in this fast-paced, technology-rich world, most homes have a home office. Our house has two because my husband and I found our working styles were incompatible, and we could not share just one home office. How lame is that? At one point we had two DSL lines, three phone lines, two mobile phones, a fax, several printers, and I don't even want to tell you how many computers. And with all this technology at our fingertips, do you suppose our home offices were paperless? Ha! Filing cabinets, in and out boxes, bills to be paid, checkbooks, bookcases filled with CDs, DVDs, software, software manuals, printer cartridges, phone books, labels and letterhead, envelopes in all sizes, shipping/packaging materials, note pads and sticky notes.

Things are a little simpler now that we don't work for two different corporations as telecommuters, but our two home offices remain and offer us lots of opportunities to REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE.

Paper products: Most paper can be easily recycled, which include envelopes with windows, phone books, sticky notes, manuals, etc. REDUCE the amount of paper coming into your home by using online versions when practical. We do mostly online billing now, which has cut down greatly on what we get in the mail. Even though I am old-fashioned and still print out a copy of my bank statements to balance the checkbooks, it prevents us from getting any marketing inserts from the company. Green Dimes and Catalog Choice can help in reducing the amount of junk mail and catalogs you get, but calling individual 800 numbers seems to work more efficiently. You can also opt out of phone book deliveries, but truthfully I've had no luck in actually getting them to stop deliveries. Sad to say, half the phone books we get go straight into the recycle bin. At least we are RECYCLING.

I find that I print a lot less because I moved the home printer far away from my computer. I also went the extreme step of removing garbage cans from both of our home offices and replacing with recycle bins. When I do have a sheet of paper that I no longer need, it goes into the kids drawing supply bin, so that they can use up the other side before we recycle. Or sometimes I cut up big pieces of paper and clip together to make my own notepads for lists. Shredded paper can be recycled curbside but should be bagged so that it doesn't blow around in the wind. It can also be REUSED as an alternative to packing peanuts.

The paper we buy is always post-consumer recycled content. When we buy RECYCLED, we are closing that loop and supporting the recycling industry. Paper made from recycled content uses lots less natural resources to produce. According to the US EPA, every ton of recycled paper saves about 17 trees, 7000 gallons of water and enough energy to heat the average home for 6 months. I'll note that I've never found any quality issues using recycled content paper.

Software media and packaging: My husband is a computer geek. I use the term as a compliment. There is a wealth of computer software and gear that comes in and out of our lives: CDs, DVDs, manuals, jewel cases, etc. The plastic CD/DVD media can be recycled. If you don't have a specialized plastics recycler or depot in your area, stores like Best Buy or eWaste services such as Portland's Free Geek will recycle computer media. Check out Earth911.org for RECYCLING options in your area. We're proud power users of Craigslist.org and Freecycle.org. Believe it or not, there is usually someone out there who will pay a small amount for software that's too old for your needs. Worst case, someone will usually take it for free.

Packing material: If you have clean packing peanuts or bubble wrap, you can of course store them and save until you need to ship something fragile out of your house. We kind of think of it like that old hot potato game. Who can you pawn your bubble wrap and peanuts off on next?? It's like REUSE Survivor!! You can also donate clean packing peanuts to shipping stores such as UPS. Mixed materials, such as paper envelopes lined with bubble wrap, are the hardest to deal with. We REUSE them as much as possible, but they can't be easily recycled. When we buy packing materials, we try to keep it simple: brown paper wrapping from grocery store bags, write the address directly on the paper instead of using an address label, etc.

Electronics: As much as we collectively spend on computer gear and electronics, you'd think these things would last longer! Mobile phones, printers, printer cartridges, out-dated computer gear... at some point we've all got eWaste on our hands. It's important that eWaste is properly handled. There are great services that responsibly recycle eWaste.  Again, check out Earth911.org to find a responsible eWaste recycler in your area. We posted a link to a short YouTube video that profiles an eWaste recycler in California, and the importance of keeping the earth and its people safe from the dangerous components that lurk inside these technological devices. If you have working electronics, you can again probably resell or find someone willing to REUSE your old gear via Craigslist or Freecycle.

Often, the vendor of your printer will recycle its own printer cartridges, then refill with ink and resell. Other companies recycle print cartridges and use as non-profit fund-raisers, and large office supply chains like Staples will recycle print cartridges.

Take the time to so some research when you are purchasing electronics. It's important to know if the company you are buying from has an eWaste program (i.e., they will take back your old computer or phone once it's kaput). EPEAT is a system that helps you evaluate, compare and select computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes. Like most things, if you buy quality, even a computer can last. You also have to resist the marketing that suggests you always need to have the latest and greatest. I blog from an Apple PowerBook G4, that is at least 10 years old. It's had a few repairs and upgrades, but suits my needs and has a long life still to come.

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