When redecorating for spring, don’t run to buy new or throw out – go green

Spring is finally here, and if you’re anything like me then you like to mix some redecorating in with your spring cleaning. Recently, I have been redecorating my dining room while trying to focus my efforts on reducing my consumption.

Admittedly, the easiest decision may have been to just head to a big box store and pick-up the prettiest items on the shelf, but I wanted do my best to reduce my impact on the environment.

I decided to follow the buying decision chart below. I did my research and decided that I would paint and recover my old dining room chairs. I also decided that we really needed a larger dining table. My first choice was to look for a used table on Craigslist and at thrift/antique stores. However, I soon discovered that the size of table I wanted was not a common size.
(Chart from Infographic)

(Chart from Thenotepasser.com)

My next best option was to find an affordable table made from sustainable materials. Through a little research and some patience, I actually found a local artisan who builds custom furniture from sustainably harvested native Kentucky wood. Yes, I did have to wait for it to be built. However, it is a piece that I know will last, and surprisingly it cost less than many of the mass-produced pieces I have seen at various stores.

Now my dining room has a beautiful new look, and I know that I made a more eco-friendly decorating choice.

If you are looking to do some eco-friendly decorating of your own, I’ve got some tips for creating an environmentally conscious living space. You can find some more tips and even some projects on our Pinterest board here.

When you are trying to do some eco-friendly redecorating, your first step should be to reduce the number of items on your “want list.” Ask yourself, “Is this really something that I need?” or “Will I still want this item in a year?” If the answer is no, resist the urge to purchase.

If the item is something you really need, buying it new shouldn’t be your first choice. Try buying the item used, or look for items made from recycled or sustainably produced materials. Craigslist, Ebay and thrift stores often have great, gently used items for amazing prices.

Do you have some old wood furniture in your house or in storage? Rather than simply discarding it, you could give the piece new life by refinishing, repainting or repurposing it. If you do need to get rid of any item, why not contact your friends and plan an exchange party? I bet your friends have furniture or accessories they are ready to change out.

Their bookshelf might be the answer to your living room storage needs, and your lamp could be the piece his/her bedroom was missing. If it can’t be repurposed or exchanged, consider donating home items you’ve replaced to nonprofits and thrift stores.

Eco-friendly redecorating may take a little more time and energy, but the results are usually worth the time and effort. So when you are redesigning or redecorating, try taking some of these steps to move toward a green theme – and I don’t mean the color.

Ashley photo

Ashley Bryant Cheney is the green jobs coordinator for Bluegrass Greensource, connecting green businesses with a young workforce and preparing students for green careers in the Bluegrass. From Knoxville, she’s worked in volunteer and program management at various nonprofits. She has a bachelor’s in Psychology from Carson-Newman University and a master’s in Urban Studies and Community Development from Eastern University.


This article appeared in KY Forward on April 3, 2014.


Bluegrass Greensource Staff Tour Rumpke Facility

A group from Bluegrass Greensource had the pleasure of touring the Rumpke Material Recovery Facility in Cincinnati, Ohio on February 19th.  Each day Rumpke takes in tons of unsorted recycling and uses some very skilled people and amazing technology to sort everything that makes its way into the facility.   When Rumpke’s old recycling facility burned to the ground in 2012, they committed to building a bigger, better, more efficient facility. This new facility includes six optical scanners, two electromagnetic eddy currents, hundreds of spinning discs as well as nearly 100 employees to sort 500 tons of material daily. Rumpke isn’t stopping there; they hope to have the facility running 24/7 and bring the facility up to maximum sorting capacity.

If you would like to schedule a tour of Rumpke, please visit http://rumpke.com/education/facility-tours

rumpke1Rumpke Tour Guide gives Deputy Director Maxine Rudder, Development and PR Coordinator Chris Clabes, and Board Member Babette Overman an overview of the sorting process from the observation deck.














Tour guide explains how the many spinning discs separate out the plastic bottles while the cardboard slides across the top of the discs.














This Optical Scanner separates out cartons and plastic bottles from the other recyclables.


In this season of giving, let’s try not presenting the planet with more waste

‘Tis the season for a lot of waste. Ok, I don’t want to be a Scrooge, but it is also the season of giving and that giving often generates waste.

Although one of the best feelings in the world is giving a gift which is lovingly received, that feeling often accompanies an unintended byproduct. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, we create 25 percent more waste, or about 1 million extra tons, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. The waste comes from packaging, wrapping and ‘gifts’ we either don’t want or need.


These reindeer are made from cardboard toilet paper rolls and twigs. (Photo from Pinterest)

These reindeer are made from cardboard toilet paper rolls and twigs. (Photo from Pinterest)

This year I am trying to make my gift giving and decorating as purposeful and waste free as possible, so here are some tips I will try to follow:

• Traditional wrapping paper cannot be recycled in Central Kentucky, so don’t use it! My favorite wrapping paper is brown shipping paper (which can be recycled) that has been decorated by my wonderful daughters. I also have a box full of gift bags from previous holidays and tissue paper I rescued.

• Ribbons can be made from old VHS or cassette tapes. I have not tried this personally since it is hard for me to part with any of my tapes despite the fact that I don’t have a way to play them anymore, but I do hear that they curl nicely.

• Give gifts that do not use batteries, or if they do include rechargeable batteries with the present. Regular alkaline batteries are hard to recycle, but, once they no longer work, rechargeables can be recycled many places.

• Give services instead of things. Massages, pedicures or my favorite – an hour of house cleaning – will not end up in a landfill and provide local jobs.

• On the subject of Christmas trees, the age-old question is real or artificial. Both have their environmental attributes and drawbacks, but the real answer is to buy a living tree that can either be planted or reused each year. This may be a bit impractical, but I did find a company in Portland where you can rent a live tree for the season. The company will obviously not deliver to Kentucky, but that might be an idea for a local entrepreneur.

• Give gifts made out of recycled material. My one year old is still playing with the tea set made out of old milk jugs that was given to my older daughter. In fact, I just bought the same one to give to a friend’s daughter.

• On the subject of decorations, my guess is that most people are using LED lights since they use so much less energy and are cooler, but what about making recycled decorations? I am going to make toilet paper tube reindeer with my daughter’s first-grade class next week, but you can also make tree ornaments out of old puzzle pieces or old CD’s. Pinterest is an amazing resource for anything crafty and Bluegrass Greensource has a whole section on our page found here just for recycled Christmas crafts.

• Make pine cone bird feeders to “decorate” trees outside. This is a fun, albeit bit messy, activity for kids and the birds love it! Spread peanut butter on a pine cone and then roll it in bird seed. The peanut butter and seeds will give the birds much needed protein to help in the cold weather.

It is hard to avoid all of the waste during this season, especially with kids who probably don’t value a house cleaning service as much as the newest Monster High doll. I have already purchased my share of toys for my girls, but I am trying to make sure they are things that will grow with them as long as possible.

Finally, since this is the season for giving, don’t forget your favorite charity like Bluegrass Greensource. Gifts of time and money can do wonders for local and national nonprofits, and may give you a bit of a tax deduction, too.


1 Amy-SohnerAmy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.

This article appeared in KY Forward on December 12, 2013.


Want to help others be more earth-friendly? Join the Zero Waste Team

As winter approaches, many of us look for ways to contribute to our communities. Whether we serve food at a shelter, donate to our favorite nonprofit, or give time to our community, this time of year has traditionally been one of volunteerism and giving.

My own family has seen the rich rewards that come from volunteering and giving to our community, and we try to instill in our children a love for the intangible benefits that come from giving to others.


Zero-Waste-Recycle-graphicWe at Bluegrass Greensource have been looking for new ways to engage our volunteer base in the betterment of our community, and as a result have developed a new Zero Waste Team to help us make community events a little more environmentally friendly by going zero waste or reduced waste.

So what exactly does zero waste mean? A zero waste event diverts 90 percent or more of its waste material away from landfills by recycling, composting and avoiding disposable materials. This is an especially important goal to achieve because events have the potential to create a lot of waste due to their temporary nature and the use of disposable plates, cups and other similar items. These items end up in landfills, causing a cascade of other problems. It’s not difficult to implement zero waste at public events, but it does require planning ahead, and that’s where our volunteer team comes in to help.

We hope to encourage event planners to go zero or reduced waste by providing the resources and volunteers they may need to reach that goal. For the volunteers, it provides an opportunity to help the community in concrete ways while participating in fun community events.

Our volunteer base is divided into two groups – the Zero Waste Planning Committee and the Zero Waste Event Team. When we get a call requesting support for a zero-waste event, we will send out a call to our volunteers to help. Members of the Zero Waste Planning Committee will work with the event planners to assist with all of the coordination that must be done in advance to support zero-waste events. This includes working with vendors to use recyclable, washable, or compostable goods, procuring the correct containers and bags, strategizing the best way to deploy resources, and promoting the zero-waste goal of the event to patrons through advertising and signage.

On the day of the event, the Zero Waste Event Team will spring into action, setting up containers in the appropriate places, making sure signage is in place, answering questions for patrons and staff, and helping people properly sort their waste.

Not only do our volunteers get the satisfaction of making our community a more sustainable place while participating in fun community events, they will also get “Zero Waste Team” shirts. They’re cooler than they sound, I promise!

One of our first partners is the NoLi CDC’s Night Market. They first approached us about supporting recycling at their event, and we are now working with them to fully support zero-waste at future Night Markets. Now is the time to jump on board and help this great community event and others become more sustainable.

Our goal is to eventually provide zero-waste support for all counties in our service area, but for the moment, this support is limited to Fayette County. In the meantime, we do have resources to help events outside of Fayette County reduce their waste through recycling.

If you are interested in joining our Zero Waste Team or in hosting a zero-waste event, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Pattie Stivender, at pattie@bggreensource.org or give us a call at 859-266-1572.

Schuyler Warren is an outreach specialist for Bluegrass Greensource, focusing on participation in the LiveGreenLexington initiative by businesses in the city core. A native of the Bluegrass Region, he received a master’s in community and regional planning and in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon. He is a board member for Town Branch Trail and Castlewood Neighborhood Association.

This article appeared in KY Forward on November 21, 2013.


The Three R’s come in handy when decluttering your home, life

In the past 10 years I have lived in three apartments and two houses. With each move more unused items were packed away and place in a storage building until that elusive “someday when I have time” comes along. To further add to this mountain of boxes, I retired from the public school system in the spring of 2004 and resigned from the Kentucky Career and Technical College System in 2007.

When I made my last move in January of last year, I was determined to downsize and properly discard all the unneeded and unwanted things that I had accumulated during my lifetime. The first time I opened my garage door and was faced with the enormity of the task, I was truly afraid my new neighbors would feel they had a hoarder in their midst. Where do I start?

As an avid recycler, I was determined to apply the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra that I have taught for years. So I tackled my task one box at a time, sorting things into the following categories: things that had sentimental value, things I would use, things that could be used by someone else, things that could be recycled, things that could be repaired, and trash.

The easiest category was things I would use. My rule was if it had not been used or missed in more than two years I probably would not use it in the future. Any item that fit into this category was recategorized as reusable or recyclable.

The things with sentimental value belonged mostly to my two sons who are now adults. The first time one said, “Just throw it away.” I was devastated. Needless to say those items were neatly packed away and placed in a closet.

One of the best things about downsizing is getting rid of things that may have become clutter to you, but are much needed by someone else. Unwanted furniture was given to family members to help make new beginnings. Unused latex-based paint was given to the Habitat ReStore, and unwanted clothing and household items were donated to Goodwill.

Being a teacher for over 30 years, I had amassed a lifetime’s collection of paper. Cleaning out filing cabinets I was able to take a 6-foot-high stack of paper printed on one side to my office. We will be using it in our printers and copy machines for many months. Even the storage boxes and bubble wrap were given to friends and family to use for their own moves.

Surprisingly the smallest categories were trash and recyclables. After reusing old boxes, donating appliances, and repurposing collections of tools, the majority of trash consisted on items damaged beyond repair – old clothes that had been attacked by hungry bugs over years of storage, items suffering from water damage, etc.

The recycling was mainly broken glass (thanks to multiple moves), lots of shredded paper and a mountain of Diet Pepsi cans.

Opening that same garage door today everything has a place and purpose. I even have room left for my car and my treadmill – one item in desperate need of reuse. Having completed my task, I no longer think of the process as just moving or downsizing. It turned out to be a fun trip down memory lane.

Maxine-RudderMaxine Rudder currently serves as the deputy director for Bluegrass Greensource. She graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a master’s in education and a Rank I in supervision and secondary principalship. She spent 28 years in public education as both a teacher and administrator. Rudder is involved with the Kentucky Green and Healthy Schools Program, Kentucky Environmental Literacy Plan Alliance, Fayette County Public School Sustainability Council, Kentucky River Water Trail Alliance, USGBC Green Schools Advocacy Team and Kentucky Association for Environmental Education.

This article appeared in KY Forward on September 3, 2013.