Green living and sustainability: how to clean and recycle

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The paper milk carton, or polycoated gable-top cartons, are made from virgin paperboard. But buyer beware: they are not always accepted in municipal curbside recycling programs. Check the accepted items for your city, Calgary, or look into drop-off depots to ensure cartons get recycled and pulped into new paper products like tissues.

Put simply, "reuse" comes before "recycle", making glass the top choice. Torn between plastic and paper? Consider this: if you go through a lot of milk, choose one four-litre plastic jug to buying two two-litre paper cartons — "reduce" is the first "r" after all. And be sure to keep both plastic and paper milk containers out of the landfill. Always recycle!

4. Do you have a suggestion for recycling VHS tapes beyond Craigslist, Freecycle, etc.? I've read you shouldn't put them in your garbage due to chemicals on the black tape.

Maureen of Port Moody, BC

Oh VHS tapes; those were the days. If the ones you own are too damaged to view and hence donate or give away, recycling is an option. The Recycling Council of BC has a great website with an easy-to-use search engine, or what they call the RCBC Recyclepedia. All you have to do is select the type of material you want to recycle, "electronic", then the item, "VHS tapes", and select the city you live in. It's that simple.

The bad news from the Recycling Council of BC is that "VHS and audio cassette tapes are difficult to recycle because the ribbon of tape cannot be recycled, only the plastic portion. Some companies request that you take the ribbon out of the cassette before you drop them off." I won't keep you in suspense; the results for your area are: London Drugs — Green Deal Recycling Program or Pacific Mobile Depots. Given RCBC's cautionary note, I'd suggest calling ahead before you start pulling out reels of tape. I'm not aware of chemicals found on or leaching from the tape. You could always wear gloves if you're concerned.

Live outside of BC? Check out Earth 911 and search VHS tapes, then enter your postal code or city to find a recycling depot near you.

5. I'm considering switching to LED holiday lights to decorate my house this year. If I make the switch, what do I do with the old tangled string of lights?

Chris of Vancouver, BC

Making the switch to more energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) holiday lights is an excellent tradition to establish this year. LEDs use 90 per cent less energy, last 10 times longer, and are more durable because they don't have filaments or glass bulbs like traditional lights. Where they don't differ much is in the price. You might also want to purchase a timer to save even more money on your utility bill.

As for recycling that old string of lights, you have options:
Most regional recycling facilities can help. Find out what you can recycle in your area by contacting the BC Recycling Council at 1-800-667-4321. In 2009, for example, BC Hydro set up an incandescent light-string recycling program in the Lower Mainland during the Bright Nights in Stanley Park seasonal event. No matter where you live, you can visit the website of your utility provider to see if it is hosting a similar local event.

Various retailers, such as Home Depot, have also hosted holiday light exchanges in the past. Find out if your local hardware store is collecting old strings. Some stores will even reward your recycling and energy-saving efforts by offering discounts on LED options.

Holiday LEDs is an e-commerce company that offers a program to recycle your lights. It's free, but you will have to pay to ship the lights to Michigan. Consider getting together with friends or family and put together one parcel. In 2009/2010 Holiday LEDs recycled about 4,500 kilograms of old lights.

6. My dishwasher recently died. How can I choose an energy-efficient model and then get rid of my old clunker?

David of Calgary, AB

Let's cover the often-overlooked issue of disposal first. Most cities have large-item pick-up or drop-off programs that run throughout the year. Always check your city's website; across Canada each city will treat large-appliance disposal differently.

Calgary has a Throw 'n' Go program with facilities set up at the entrance of all three city landfills. They'll accept your appliance for a charge. You may want to inquire about the disposal fee by calling 3-1-1.

When it comes to all types of appliances, look for the ENERGY STAR logo. Dishwashers that qualify for the logo use about 32 per cent less electricity than the least-efficient ones on the market.

ENERGY STAR is an American-based program, but here in Canada, federal law requires that the EnerGuide label be placed on all new electrical appliances manufactured in or imported into Canada. This label indicates the amount of electricity used by that appliance. When you're on the floor looking at display models, find the black-and-white EnerGuide label to compare the energy use of similar models and estimate annual operating costs.
And last but not least, don't overlook the type of soap you'll be using in your new dishwasher. If you haven't switched to an eco-friendlier option — one without phosphates or chlorine — now's the time. How will you know it's free of harmful chemicals? Choose a soap that has all the ingredients listed on the label. You'll be surprised at the lack of transparency which will make your decision quite easy. You can also make your own with the Queen of Green's home cleaning recipes.

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