How to Recycle Charcoal

It’s grilling and barbecuing season, and even those of us with gas grills at home tend to use charcoal for outings at the beach or park. But what do we do with charcoal ashes or leftover charcoal?

If you want to reuse charcoal for grilling, follow these steps: 1. Rake cold, used charcoal to dislodge extra ash. 2. Empty the ash from the grill. 3. Add about half the amount of new charcoal that you would normally use to start the grill. 4. Light the charcoal and proceed as usual. Note: If you follow this method, you may smell food drippings burning off the old charcoal. You can wait 5-10 minutes for this process to finish before adding food to the grill.

If your used or unused charcoal contains additives, you cannot reuse it for other purposes. The chemicals may include borax or lighter fluid, which are potentially dangerous. Allow ashes to cool for 48 hours, or pour water onto them and stir thoroughly to speed up the process. After they have fully cooled, either wrap the ashes in aluminum foil or place them in a small metal container, such as a coffee can, and dispose of them in an outdoor trash bin. Do not place them near anything that could catch fire.

If your used charcoal is additive-free, you can use it to fertilize plants. It is alkaline and contains the nutrient potash. Avoid using it with plants that require more acidity (e.g., hydrangeas and azaleas), as well as new seedlings.

If your unused charcoal is additive-free, you can use it to neutralize odors, prevent metal from rusting, or balance nutrients in potted plants, garden beds and compost piles. For more inspiration, check out this list of ideas from This Old House.

3 Easy Ways to Save Energy When Doing Your Laundry

1. Wash with cold water instead of hot water. According to The Christian Science Monitor, each load of laundry that uses hot water instead of cold water uses an additional 4.5 kilowatt-hours and costs about $0.64 more. And while hot water is more likely to kill bacteria, it’s also harsher on fabric, causing shrinking, fading and wrinkling. Consider using warm water instead of hot water when you need to disinfect your laundry, and always opt to rinse on cold. Not only will you save energy, you’ll extend the life of your clothing, too.

2. Line dry your clothes instead of tossing them in the dryer. This will also save on energy, and as much as $25 per month on your electric bill. Now that it’s summertime, you can line dry clothes outside in the sun. Or, pick up an inexpensive folding drying rack for $30 or less to dry clothes year round. Hate when your clothes get too stiff? Tumble dry them for 10 minutes when they’re damp or dry to soften them up.

3. Wash your clothes less often. Americans tend to be obsessed with cleanliness, but wearing something once doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dirty. Give your clothes the sniff test. If they pass, you can hang them and spray them with a little water to remove any light wrinkles from wear.

For even more ideas on how to save energy on laundry, check out this list by Apartment Therapy.

ReFuel Your Fun: Choose Refillable Gas Cylinders

Going camping this summer? If you pack a camp stove, use a refillable gas cylinder instead of a disposable one. Eighty percent of what you spend on a gas cylinder goes towards the container and convenience, not the gas itself. A lot of people use camp stoves each year — adding up to 4 million disposable cylinders annually in California alone — so it makes both environmental and economic sense to refill your gas cylinder instead of tossing it. The ReFuel Your Fun Campaign began by promoting refillable gas cylinders in California, and has now spread across the U.S.

You can now pick up and fill refillable gas cylinders at Ace Mountain Hardware in Truckee. Find out where else you can pick up a refillable cylinder to refuel — and save money — on your summer fun.

How to Dispose of Household Cleaners

In the midst of spring cleaning, don’t forget to dispose of household cleaning products and their containers correctly. Here are some tips for making sure cleaning your house is easy on the environment:

  • Use up all cleaning products before disposing of their containers.
  • Liquid, powder or gel products can be flushed down the drain in small quantities, if needed.
  • Solid products (including wipes, sheets, pads, pastes, crystals and sticks) need to go in the trash.
  • Plastic containers can be recycled as plastic, but need to be completely empty and clean. Check to see what type of plastic the container is made from (e.g., #1 or #2), and then check to see if our program accepts that plastic. If the plastic is accepted, rinse the container thoroughly and then let it dry before placing it in the recycling.

If you’re looking for safer alternatives to chemical cleaning products, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning for an overview of dangerous chemicals and product health ratings, or Real Simple’s 10 All-Natural, DIY Cleaners to Scrub Every Inch of Your Home for making your own.

When Green Isn’t Green: Reconsider Flowers This Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is around the corner, and with over 80 million mothers in the U.S. alone, we have a lot of women to show gratitude to. In fact, this gratitude adds up to over $2 billion in flower sales nationwide each year.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans celebrating Mother’s Day do so by purchasing flowers. However, you might consider an alternative, more eco-friendly gift — most cut flowers arrive in our shops and markets after being shipped internationally in refrigerated containers, because they are so perishable. Between water, pesticides and greenhouse gas emissions, flower sales have an alarming environmental impact.

If you’re attached to the idea of giving flowers, try giving a living plant instead of cut flowers, or find locally grown blooms through Local Harvest. If you receive flowers on Mother’s Day, remember to recycle the plastic wrap with plastic bags and compost the flowers once they’ve wilted.

Declutter Like a Pro: 8 Reasons to Ditch Your Stuff

There’s something about spring that encourages folks to clean out their homes. Considering the name Marie Kondo gets tossed around as a verb these days, it’s easy to see that decluttering your life has become a popular undertaking.

Decluttering might not be everyone’s favorite task, but now is not a bad time to “spring” into action and tackle the clutter that builds up in our abodes. Not only can you improve the atmosphere and organization of your home, you can pass along unneeded items to those who can really use them — check out this list of local donation locations. When items are no longer usable, their materials can often be recycled for reuse.

Here are 8 reasons to part ways with your clutter. Donate or recycle the following:

  1. Items that aren’t something you would go out and buy now.
  2. Items that are a duplicate — you have something similar that serves the same purpose.
  3. Items that are broken and you have yet to try and fix them.
  4. Items that are kept for sentimental reasons, but when considered in light of all of your other sentimental objects, seem unnecessary or excessive.
  5. Items that you haven’t used within the last year.
  6. Items that you don’t have a plan to use — a real plan, not a hypothetical one — or that you don’t know how to use.
  7. Items that you wouldn’t notice if they were gone.
  8. Items that don’t fit your personality or living space.

For more inspiration, check out this list of 116 things you should get rid of by PopSugar or this article in The Atlantic on the economics and psychology of decluttering.

New Contact Lens Recycling Program!

Good news, contact lens wearers! Now you can recycle your contact lenses and blister packs. Thanks to the partnership of Bausch + Lomb and TerraCycle, you can mail any brand of used contacts and their blister packs to the Bausch + Lomb ONE by ONE Recycling Program.

Contacts may seem too tiny to bother recycling, but over 30 million people in the U.S. currently wear contact lenses. With disposable and daily contacts, not to mention their packaging, the waste adds up quickly.

You can learn more here, or click here to request a free shipping label. Note: Don’t ship cardboard contact boxes — these can be recycled with paper.

Tips for a Green Easter

Spring is all about new life and new beginnings, which makes it the perfect time for egg hunts. One thing we don’t normally associate with spring? Trash — but sometimes it’s difficult to avoid at holidays, even Easter. So what can you do? Check out these tips for reducing waste from the biggest Easter culprits:

Plastic Eggs

Need new eggs this year? Consider avoiding plastic ones, which tend to be made from plastic #7 and may contain BPA. A safer plastic option is Eco Eggs, which are made from plant-based plastic but would need to be industrially composted. There are also non-plastic options — wooden eggs are easy to find online or in craft stores, and these can be hand-painted. These dyeable ceramic eggs are pretty neat, too. Or, there are hollow wooden eggs and cloth eggs that you can fill with candy or other treats, though you might not find these in a local store.

If you already have plastic eggs, reuse them from year to year. You can also consider repurposing plastic eggs if you no longer need them. You can find seemingly endless ideas online for upcycling plastic eggs, but here is one for a sophisticated spring nest and another for a row of tea lights.

Real Eggs

When it comes to using real eggs at Easter time, there are a few ways to green your activities. Choosing locally sourced, pasture-raised eggs will mean your eggs have a smaller carbon footprint and likely a higher nutritional value, too. If you like to blow out eggs, remember to use the raw yolks and whites for cooking. If you hard-boil your eggs, check out these recipe ideas — that way you won’t be faced with the quandary of how to make yourself eat dozens of plain old hard-boiled eggs. If you don’t eat your dyed eggs, be sure to compost the leftovers.

Although the probability of health hazards from egg dye seems low, consider looking into non-toxic egg dye, or making your own with this how-to from ABC News.

Basket Fill

Plastic grass cannot be recycled curbside, and it doesn’t decompose easily. If you already have some, reuse it, but if you don’t, there are alternatives. Raffia is a great option, because it looks like dry, tan-colored grass (think hula skirts), it’s made from strands of tree leaves, and it can be found at craft stores. Shredded paper and tissue paper would be eco-friendly choices, too.


Easter candy is a lot of fun, especially when you have little ones, but it can generate a lot of waste, too. The biggest thing you can do to reduce its impact is to choose minimal packaging. Paperboard or foil packaging are greener choices than plastic, but unpackaged candy from the bulk section of a grocery store would be even better.

Why You Should Never Recycle Your Garden Hose

In the springtime, a lot of us dig out our lawn and garden supplies and strategize what we’re going to do with our yards this year. This is usually when we realize that we need to replace our garden hoses. Whether they froze when they still contained water, got run over by a car or lawn mower, or broke down over time, hoses just don’t last forever. Although you might think garden hoses are recyclable, you need to throw them away.

Why? Garden hoses are one of the most dangerous items to accidentally toss in your recycling. They are long and unruly, and can wrap around sorting machinery. This not only can damage the machinery, but it also endangers the workers who have to try to untangle them. Toss them in the trash, or, if you’re feeling resourceful, check out these ideas in the recycling guide for repurposing them.

Start Composting Now for Your Summer Garden

It might still be cold outside, but summer is just around the corner. And the beginning of summer means the beginning of gardening season.

If you start a compost now, it could be ready in three months — the perfect time to add it to a flower or vegetable bed. You can use compost as mulch around existing plants, or mix it into the top layer of a new planting bed. In addition to containing a lot of micronutrients, compost also improves the ability of soil to retain water and transfer nutrients to plants.

Want to try, but not sure where to start? Check out our composting page for tips and how-tos. Don’t have a lot of space? You could try a tabletop composter or worm farm. If you don’t have a garden, you can always give your compost to a friend who does, use it on houseplants or donate it to a community garden.