April 29 2008 10:34 AM

Editor's Note: Last month, we examined some alternatives for a mail center in the process of renovation. In the final part of our series, we stress the importance of the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.


Einstein's famous phrase, "We cannot solve problems at the same level of awareness that created them," is very true for us today. We need to think in different ways in order to unravel the serious ecological challenges we are facing. The United States represents less than 5% of the world's population, but consumes 40% of the world supplies of oil and 23% of the natural gas and coal.


As a reminder of how important it is that we become part of the green initiative, here is some data. The impact of buildings in the US on our resources is as follows:

  • 39% of total energy consumption
  • 71% of electricity consumption
  • 39% of CO2 emissions
  • 30% of raw materials used
  • 30% of waste output
  • 12% of potable water consumption


The best way to approach green alternatives for an existing operation is to explore the so-called three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. The average person generates four pounds of trash a day. Here are some ways that we can decrease that number.



Energy Waste Setting your thermostat two degrees differently can save up to 8% on your power bill. Cities and urban areas are 3°F to 8°F (2°C to 4°C) warmer than surrounding areas as a result of the heat island effect. This temperature difference is attributed to more buildings and pavements taking the place of trees and vegetation. Trees provide shade that reduces temperatures at the surface. Trees and vegetation give off water (transpiration) that evaporates and cools their surfaces and the surrounding air. Research has shown that the average temperature of Los Angeles has risen steadily over the past half century and is now 6°F to 7°F (3°C to 4°C) warmer than it was 50 years ago.


Water Usage Did you know that only 3% of the water on earth is freshwater? The rest is saltwater. Only 20% of the world's population has access to running water, and more than one billion people do not have access to clean water. How privileged we are, living in this countryso let's reduce water usage as much as we can.



One of the three arrows in the now quite familiar logo stands for reuse. As one of the three Rs, reuse is second in the hierarchy of reduce, reuse and recycle. Reuse can be done in many waysfrom construction demolition to taking your own mug to the office instead of using the Styrofoam cups provided. It does take planning, but the result can be significant savings, as well as environmental benefit.


Plastic Disposable plastic water bottles create 1.5 million tons of plastic waste a year in the US alone. Americans send about 38 billion plastic water bottles a year to landfills.



Plastic We spend a huge amount on paper every day. The average per capita paper use in the US in 2001 was 700 pounds (318 kg). The average per capita paper use worldwide was 110 pounds (50 kg). Nowadays, 90% of paper pulp is made of wood. Recycling of newsprint saves about one tonne (1.1 ton) of wood, while recycling one tonne of printing or copier paper saves slightly more than two tonnes of wood. Shredded paper can be used as packaging material. Don't forget to ask for a dedicated area for recycling papers, bottles, etc.

Aluminum US airlines throw away enough aluminum cans every year to build 58 new 747s. At the urging of its own flight attendants, Delta Air Lines launched an on-board recycling program this past summer in a few of its hubs. In the first three months, flight attendants, who sorted cans, newspapers and plastic, collected 60 tons of recyclables. The program will expand to all domestic flights by the end of 2008.


Electronics According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans are storing or discarding millions of tons of obsolete electronic items. Recent estimates indicate that we recycle less than 10% of all our unwanted electronic products, including computers, televisions and cell phones, to name just a few. Computers and other electronic products are the fastest-growing (and among the least-recycled) components of America's waste flow. As our technology devices become increasingly obsolete, it is vital that we find ways to properly discard them. It is indispensable to provide a future infrastructure for recycling and reusing old electronic equipment.


Greenpeace states that the demand for new technology creates 4,000 tons of e-waste an hour, which often ends up as dead hardware on the mountains in India, Africa and China. Many computer companies are trying to address these concerns, and Dell is leading the way. Last year, the PC maker recovered 40,000 tons of unwanted equipment for recycling, up 93% from 2005.


These are some of the resources listed on the website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

Electronics Industries Alliance (EIA) Consumer Education Initiative is a web-based resource that provides information on recycling electronics; it is sorted by state and county. EIA is a national trade organization representing more than 80% of the electronics industry.


Earth 911 is a nonprofit organization that maintains a website with community-specific information on reuse and recycling opportunities. The website is sorted by ZIP Code and includes resources with information about electronics recycling and the environment.


eBay's Rethink Initiative offers information, tools and solutions that make it easy to sell, donate or recycle used computers and electronics.


The National Cristina Foundation (NCF) accepts donations of used computer equipment from individuals and corporations in all 50 states. In turn, NCF directs the equipment to nonprofit organizations, schools and public agencies that use the equipment for training, job development, educational programs and other related projects to improve the lives of people with disabilities, students at risk and economically disadvantaged people.


Computers for Schools places refurbished computers into the nation's schools and educational institutions.


The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association promotes the collection of used wireless devices and lists members who collect devices for recycling.


The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) recycles portable rechargeable batteries with the following battery chemistries: Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion (Li-ion) and Small Sealed Lead (Pb). These batteries are commonly found in cordless power tools, cellular and cordless phones, laptop computers, camcorders, digital cameras and remote control toys.


The ideas presented are simple and easily applicable on a daily basis. We can also walk a little further instead of using the car, or participate in car pools or just say "no" to disposables.


Just as Einstein discovered new forms with which to comprehend the world, we can find innovative ways to conserve the planet and keep it sustainable for future generations.


Vera Angelico, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is a licensed architect in New York and Michigan who specializes in mail center design. LEED Accredited Professionals have demonstrated a thorough understanding of green building practices and principles and familiarity with LEED requirements, resources and processes. Vera can be reached at 212-867-5849 or vangelico@aol.com.