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This is a guest post by Bryn Kingsley

Consumer behavior has undergone quite a remarkable transformation over the past few decades. There’s been a massive spike in the uptake of recycling, and this has occurred at individual, corporate, and governmental levels. For example, in the city where I live we have three bins that are collected by the council each week – a big household waste recycling bin, a big garden waste recycling bin, and a small rubbish bin that is less than half the size of the other two. This sort of service just wasn’t available when I was a kid. In my house we also do our utmost to adhere to strong environmental practices – we recycle as much as possible, our electrical power is sourced from green renewable sources, all of our lights are of the low energy consumption variety, and we offset all our carbon emissions through funding revegetation efforts that sequester carbon.

Even though these are some pretty solid achievements, unfortunately for the majority us this marks the extent of our efforts. We’re still only scratching the surface of what can be done to create a sustainable living environment, and this is largely due to the combined effect of the “I didn’t know” and “It’s too hard” mantras. So in order to combat these impediments I’m going to devote some time to talking about recycling in a way that doesn’t usually feature as part of our collective consciousness – recycled timber flooring.

Timber flooring products leave a large ecological footprint on the planet, partially due to the nature of the product, as also due to the strength of consumer demand. There’s something about entering a room and being greeted by the rich colours of timber flooring under your feet that just feels good. Perhaps it’s because wooden floors somehow manage to fuse two very different styles into the one decor – they combine a sense of lofty elegance with a home-sweet-home vibe. It’s a very well-rounded aesthetic.

When appreciating this type of flooring it’s easy to forget that timber is made from trees; of course it’s something we all know, but it’s often a subconscious recognition. As such, it’s also pretty easy for us to pay little heed to the environmental legacy of the timber floors we encounter. But the fact is that some timber flooring is made from old growth forest, and sometimes even from endangered species. The thought detracts somewhat from the sense of elegant homeliness doesn’t it?

Now I could go getting all hippie on you and start raving on about the importance of protecting the planet, the destruction of the world’s forests, and the rising salinity problems in farming areas, but I figure most people know this stuff (hopefully!), and that it’s more important to talk about economically viable solutions. So as I see it, there are really four sorts of alternatives:

1.) Constructing your floors out of something else
There are plenty of options – carpets, tiles, slate, vinyl, concrete, laminate, and rugs – to name a few. However if we want the look and feel of timber, then these are pretty much non-starters.

2.) Imitation timber:

Imitation timber comes in vinyl and laminate forms, and for some it could be a good option. For others there’s one little point that can’t be ignored: it looks like imitation timber, not like real timber, so if you want to make a statement of style then it doesn’t really fit the bill.

3.) Plantation timber:

This is often a really good option. It has the benefits of real timber, without the environmental problems. There are just two problems with plantation timber that stand in the way of making this a great solution. Firstly, plantation timber can be pretty expensive. Secondly, there’s generally a fairly limited range to choose from – pine trees are a dime a dozen, but some of the more exotic species can be extremely difficult to come by.
4.) Recycled timber flooring

To me this option brings the best of all worlds to the fore. It presents a great environmentally friendly solution, it’s a real timber product so it has an authentic appearance, and it can be sourced at an extremely cost effective price. The clincher though is that recycled timber flooring is often of higher quality than new timber flooring, and here are the reasons why:
a. The timber has been re-milled to present a fresh clean finish that looks brand new;

b. Recycled timber is much less likely to warp out of shape because the wood has already been well seasoned;
c. It’s often much better suited to matching the colour to an existing well-aged floor;
d. It can usually be custom machined to your specific size and dimension requirements.

So, in short, recycled timber flooring is great for the environment, it can be sourced at fantastic quality, and it’s often one of the most cost-effective solutions to creating those deep earthy wooden colours in your house. Next time you’re thinking recycling, allow your mind to do a little creative wandering, and think outside the box of newspaper, plastic bottles, and tin cans – you’d be surprised what you can come up with.

Bryn writes for Fremantle Timber Traders and aims to educate people about the green home renovation. This post is on the topic of recycled timber flooring.

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It is commonly believed that most disposable plastic water bottles are recycled and reused.   In fact, close to 80% of used water bottles end up in the trash that piles up in our landfills.  By switching from bottled water to tap water, we can help reduce the number of plastic bottles that get tossed into the trash.   On average, there are 137 million plastic bottles that get thrown into the trash every day.   That is enough, laid end to end to reach China and back. 

Back2Tap makes it easier to turn away from bottled water with their stainless steel reusable water bottles.   Consider the number of water bottles that you have used in your life until this point.   Now consider how many more water bottles you have the potential to use throughout the rest of your life.   With the help of a stainless steel reusable water bottle, you can eliminate 100% of your future disposable plastic water bottle usage and do your part in helping rid the environment of the millions of plastic bottles that are dumped in our landfills every day.

Precycling.  A new term I just read on iVillage.com used to describe the concept of choosing goods with less packaging waste.  It falls under the concept of “reducing” in the EPA’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle slogan, but I like the “pre” part of it.    This reminds us that we are supposed to consider the waste implications before we buy something. 

These days there are so many choices – especially at the grocery store.   You can buy packaged food as single servings or in containers large enough to serve an army.    Last summer, I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful family of four from Venezuala.  Veronica, the mother, stunned me when she mentioned that preparing meals for her family in the US generated four times more garbage than preparing the same meals back home.  I still can’t quite imagine how they do it, and I’m sure she can’t quite imagine why we are so wasteful.   Clearly, we have a long way to go toward reducing waste in this nation, but precycling is certainly a good step we can take as individuals right away.

 At Back2Tap we sell reusable bottles and bags to reduce the use of disposable plastic bottles and bags.

As frugal as I am, I do not refill disposable plastic bottles.   On rare occasions when I found myself stuck buying a bottle of water, I used to save the empty plastic bottle and reuse it.  Not anymore.  When I was researching reusable bottles last fall, I came across a Canadian study that had tested water bottles in a school and found that 13% had bacteria levels exceeding drinking water guidelines by the end of the school day.   Worse than that, approximately 9% were found to have fecal coliforms.  Ugh!  Apparently, the children hadn’t washed their hands well before opening and closing the bottles.   Even if  hands are clean, there are bacteria in your mouth that will get into your drink.  After sitting at room temperature all day on their desks, the bacteria had multiplied and the bottled water wasn’t too clean. 

With all these germs, it is important to be able to get a bottle clean before reusing it.  Disposable plastic bottles are made out of polyethylene terephthalate, PET or PETE for short.  There will be a #1 in the plastic resin code triangle on the bottom.   They are manufactured for a single use – the plastic is very thin and easily damaged so they are not designed to withstand washing or multiple uses.   Getting them clean is also difficult because the top opening is very narrow.     They never really get dry.

So recycle that disposable plastic bottle if you have to use one, or better yet, get yourself a  reusable bottle like a stainless steel bottle with a wide-opening for easy cleaning!

Ever wonder what happens to all the plastic bottles we use?  A surprisingly small percentage of disposable plastic bottles are recycled – only 23%.    The other 77% go to landfills. 

Due to the complexity of reprocessing plastic, bottles collected for recycling are typically “downcycled” – that is, made into something of lesser value.   Instead of being made into new drink containers, most are used for carpet backing, clothing, etc.   The economics of this process are challenging in the best of times.  It is cheaper to use virgin material – oil – than to use recycled plastic

Given our current economic downturn, the economics of recycling plastic have gotten even worse.  Prices for recycled materials have plummeted as demand from China and everywhere has dropped.    According to a recent New York Times article, “Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up” recycled materials are accumulating by the ton and if things don’t change they may be heading for landfills instead of a second life.

Time to reuse, not recycle!

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