Sustainable Living: One Nation’s Trash…

During these turbulent economic times, while many national economies are burning through bailouts and austerity funds, Norway has taking a different approach. They have opted to burn through something more sustainable: garbage.  Oslo, the country’s capital city, has long recognized the value of recycling on a municipal level and half the education institutions are heated by electricity generated by incinerated waste (no easy task in this chilly Northern city).
But, through this hyper-efficient model, Oslo has also encountered a unique problem: lack of trash.  It seems that the urban population simply cannot produce enough waste to meet the demand of a trash-based heating system.  The solution? Imports.
While most of the world’s countries pay to have their garbage exported (the U.S. for instance ships millions of pounds of e-waste to Africa each year), Norway (and other Scandinavian countries like Sweden) are doing the opposite.  So much so, that Stockholm competes with Oslo to get the trash of Norwegian border cities to convert into energy.
“There’s a European waste market — it is a commodity.” Hege Rooth Olbergsveen, the senior adviser to Oslo’s waste recovery program, told the New York Times, “It’s a growing market.”

However, these waste-to-energy programs have left some environmentalist questioning the true efficiency of transporting garbage from further afield as Norway establishes relationships with Leeds, England and perhaps later on, with garbage-rich Southern Italy and Spain. The carbon footprint of the journeys are sizable, not to mention the safety risk of incinerating waste from countries with less than stringent disposal regulations.

But, despite criticisms, one fact remains indisputable: there is real, viable, economic value in what we throw away. And, as the world of reuse expands, this reality only gains momentum.

How do you think the commodification of trash will change the landscape of the global economy? Share your thoughts with us here!

Sustainable Living: British Counter Culture and Reinventing The Café

Victorian hygiene is more likely to turn your stomach than stir your appetite, but just leave it to the wonderful minds in reuse to turn convention on its head.  Newly opened café, the Attendant, sits just under a bustling central-London street on the site of a Victorian-era public toilet.  The system of municipal WC’s was originally built in 1890s but has long lain dormant just below the city’s sidewalks.  For over fifty years the only reminders of the network were the decorative iron gates which flanked the toilets’ entrances above ground.

Sustainable living: The attendant

The reinvention of this unused space was two years in the making and special detail was paid to incorporating old fixtures in practical ways – the original Doulton porcelain urinals for instance, have become seating to match the original floor tiles.

sustainable living: Inside the attendant

The now bustling brunch and cake shop takes its name from the fact that it was, once upon a time, the post of the local restroom attendant who had an adjoining office.  His office has remained a workspace but of a reinvented variety; it is now home to the small cafe kitchen which, remarkably, keeps up with the breakfast time rush and demand for Gloucester Old Spot bacon sarnies.

Coffee in The Attendant

But 27 Foley Street isn’t the only address where reuse lives in London’s cafe-culture. In fact, all around London people are rethinking, reusing and reinventing the capabilities of the conventional coffee shop. Just look at Repair Cafés for example. These are free, popular meet-ups centered around neighbors sharing knowledge so they can repair and reuse almost anything: clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances and toys.

Sustainable living: repair cafe

The central aims of the events are twofold: to educate about Co2 reduction-potential in fixing rather than purchasing new items, and to bring together communities to support each other in a sustainable way.

At ExchangeMyPhone we love nothing more than great stories of people coming together over reuse.  Be it over a cup of coffee or a a broken blender, the experience is always better when it is a shared one and we are so lucky to get to be part of that experience with our users!

Do you have a creative way of brilliant way of bringing people together to spread the green? We’d love to hear about it!

Sustainable Living: The Dirt on Footwear

sustainable living - OAT

When we talk about our carbon footprint maybe its time to get a little more literal, or, as OAT Shoes would argue, a lot more literal.  OAT Shoes is the force that is taking earth-friendly footwear to a whole new level: the soil.  Their shoes are made from 100% biodegradable materials which means that when you are done with your pair you compost them or even bury them in your garden!  But they don’t just hit the mark when it comes to sustainable living and materials, these shoes are hot.

OAT shoes

sustainable living

The simple, elegant and yet playful design is a departure from many style-sacrificing eco brands. Not here. Their fashion shows have even featured scantily clad models maneuvering wheelbarrows down the catwalk.  The centerpiece? A plant sprouting out of blooming shoe, pretty impressive. OAT is so fashionable in fact that the company walked away with the second prize at the Green Fashion Awards at Amsterdam International Fashion Week and have now branched out into bags and totes.

Blooming shoe - sustainable living

If, like most of us, you are just discovering the world of biodegradable shoes chances are you might have some footwear kicking around that just simply isn’t plantable but that doesn’t mean that you can’t recycle it.  For your fancy lady shoes you might consider transforming the prom experience of a girl in need by donating a pair to the Cinderella Project.  This non-profit aims to let girls in undeserved communities know “that they are not bound by personal or financial circumstances, and that the possibilities are endless for them.”

Cinderella project - sustainable living

For more practical, everyday shoes you might consider Soles 4 Souls.  The Nashville-based charity that has delivered over 19 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes to people in over 125 countries including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States. The non-profit also has a very strong disaster-relief force and coordinated efforts for the Asian Tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

At ExchangeMyPhone we love the idea of eco-equality for all which is why we admire organizations like the Cinderella Project and Soles 4 Souls and also why we make it our personal mission to provide free cell phone recycling for everyone!  At ExchangeMyPhone recycling is a right, plain and simple, and we are always humbled to find ourselves in such great company in the world of reuse.

The Giants of Iowa: Reuse, Re-rigged

The world of reuse is sometimes relegated to all things tiny: tiny homes, tiny devices, tiny art.  But in Iowa reuse is going not just big, its going gigantic, 8 stories to be exact!  That’s because in the middle of Iowa’s rolling farmlands there is, surprisingly, a mountain climber’s paradise where a number of unused grain silos have been converted into ice climbing walls.

In the fall of 2001 Don Briggs, a professor and climbing enthusiast, was helping a friend till his farmland in the municipality of Ceder Falls when he made a bet that he could scale one of the silos looming in the distance.  In the end, he won the bet and discovered that the most workable way to reach the peak was to ice climb it.

Briggs has now developed an intricate icing process by rigging hoses at the top of the structure which slow-drip downwards creating a semi-malleable wall of ice that changes depending on wind and weather conditions.

Since the silo opened for business it has attracted both beginners and experts alike and exposed a community famous for their flat farmlands to a taste of mountain life, close to home.  To learn more check out Silo Ice Climbing.

Making Valentine’s Day Sweet Again

Valentine’s Day puts many of us in a pickle. And it’s not just what to get, but but how to celebrate in a way that isn’t  harmful to the environment.  Bleached paper cards, imported flowers, conflict diamonds, unethically farmed coco products.  All the trappings of the holiday can leave a not-so-sweet taste in your mouth.  But it doesn’t have to! We are bringing you creative, green spins on the traditional Valentine’s Day gestures sure to make you feel good inside and out.

Gentle Greeting Cards
Bubby and Bean is perfect solutions to greeting cards that not only waste paper but also contain bleaches and chemicals along with your well-wishes.  All of their handmade cards are sourced from recycled paper, this one is re-purposed medium weight card stock.  These original designs below are, like all their creations, printed with archival inks. You can buy a whole set of their Valentine’s Day gems for only $20.00.

Flowers by Amy Merrick
Roses can not only be predictable but they are full of pesticides and must travel thousands of miles to reach most of us in chilly February.  But beautiful floral creations do not have come with a heavy carbon footprint attached.  Brooklyn florist Amy Merrick draws her inspired from the movement and texture often found in natural landscapes.  She pays the utmost attention to seasonally appropriate, locally sourced materials at every chance.  Her arrangements are anything but predictable and often incorporate seasonal fruits for an interesting and beautiful twist.

But why wait for someone to buy you flowers?  Just in time for Valentines day Amy is hosting a floral arranging class in her studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on Tuesday February 12th from 6:30pm-9pm.  Students will create their own valentine’s day arrangements using the finest of the winter season’s flowers- ranunculus, anemones, poppies, flowering branches, parrot tulips, fritillaria and a host of other beautiful greenhouse material.

PACT Apparel goes to great lengths to make sure their entire supply chain, from the growing and harvesting of their organic cotton to the final sewing are as clean and responsible as possible. Their signature socks are made at an eco-concept factory in Turkey powered by wind energy. Every facility PACT goes through is GOTS certified by the Control Union.  And, if you weren’t already sold, all PACT packaging is printed with vegetable based inks on paper made from FSC controlled wood in a factory powered by wind energy and the carbon impact is off-set by Climate Partner.

The brand also has a social mission. This Spring, PACT along with Whole Kids Foundation and Indiegogo are teaming up to help build urban sustainable gardens across the U.S. that provide increased access to healthy food and communities to really experience how their food is grown.  The company donates 10 percent of underwear sales to organizations that help protect the planet.

Guilt-free Cupcakes
Winter Vallie soaps are a mother-daughter, home-made, labor of love.  And the soaps smell as yummy as they look! All their products are crafted with skin-loving oils, butters and cruelty-free products.  The price tag doesn’t hurt either; like the $8.00 cupcake bathbombs, a thoughtful Valentines Day gesture that doesn’t come close to breaking the bank or your healthy 2013 resolution.

Organic Chocolate
Sadly, there’s a not-so-sweet side to one of the world’s most beloved foods: chocolate.  Chocolate production destroys rain forests, spreads toxic pesticides and has been known to exploit children workers.  But there are alternatives.  Restoring the chocolate eating experience to its sweetest potential both in flavor and integrity is Divine.  The organization bills itself as the world’s only Fairtrade chocolate company.  It is 45% farmer owned, providing farmers with a share of Divine’s profits and a stronger voice in the cocoa industry.  All Divine’s products are produced in Ghana, Africa. Now that’s a product that tickles your taste buds and calms your conscience, there’s no better deal than that!

From Mainstream to Macabre: 5 things you never knew you could recycle

1. Crayons
Though it might have been a while since the Crayon was your preferred writing instrument it is still big business in the United States.  In fact, 60 tons of petrol-based wax is generated daily in crayon construction! CRAZY CRAYONS was founded by LuAnne Foty and started as a deposit box in the entryway of a supermarket nearly two decades ago.  It is now a nationwide service that has collected over 88,000 pounds of unwanted crayons.  These crayons are melted down, sterilized and hand poured into non-toxic CRAZY CRAYONS.

unwanted crayons

Crazy crayons

If you’d like to recycle unloved or broken crayons and send them here.  If you’d like to order some 100% recycled, non-toxic you can do that here. The clam shell box they are packaged in are a super green bonus, made using 100% renewable agricultural resources.  They also have a signature swirl crayon guaranteed inspire the little artists in your life.

2. Credit Cards
Finally, that gift card with a balance of $3.50 you got from aunt Janice has a place to live other than your wallet.  Much like prescription drugs, even when credit cards or gift cards are expired we hesitate to dispose of them perhaps because we don’t know exactly how to go about it.  The good news is that plastic cards are recyclable and can be sent to processing services like EarthWorks! Earthworks has developed a system in which scrap polymeric plastics are recovered, reground and recycled into plastic sheet material which is used for manufacturing new plastic cards.

EarthWorks! credit card recycling

If you are feeling crafty, there are also several DIY projects in which you can put old cards to new use.  We love the idea of rocking out with reused guitar picks!

3. Coffin Couch
A little more esoteric than the previous items, coffins are nonetheless posing a waste problem.  This is because (and caution this is not for the faint of heart), funeral parlors must, from time to time, move bodies from one coffin to another.  The original coffin then becomes a bio hazard, both unusable and unsellable, and finds a final resting place in a landfill.  That is, unless, the funeral directors donate the coffin to California’s own Coffin Couches. They take the caskets, clean, remove and replace the interior and then add legs. A macabre man’s perfect sofa.

Recycled coffin couch

4. Trophies
Everyone knows that it isn’t wise to rest on one’s laurels and what better way to do this than clearing out some of our childhood trophies.  After all, parting with your MVP second grade tether ball medal won’t make you any less of a champion.  The Maryland-based LAMB Awards and Engraving company has recently spearheaded a trophy recycling program and are now accepting old and dusty metallic accolades.  They pair any matching trophies that are donated to charities and those remaining are broken down and their parts are reused. What a great way to keep on winning!

trophy recycling program

5. Dentures
There’s those dumpster diving to uncover treasure in the trash and then there’s the Tokyo trailblazers who go denture diving, finding wealth where others only can’t imagine.  The Japan Denture Recycle Association was founded in 2006 and has recycled 30,000 dentures.  Half the profits go to UNICEF and the organization has already benefited hugely thanks to denture recycling, to the tune of $176,500!

We have a feeling the Tooth Fairy might be the angel investor behind this project!

Japan Denture Recycle Association

Phone recycling: New York’s ExchangeMy(Pay)Phone

Posted on November 26, 2012 | Amazing tech, eco-economy, iPad, mobile, New York, phone, Re-use, Recycling, tablet

At ExchangeMyPhone sometimes we feel like we are the only ones who love to “geek out” about phone recycling but as it turns out we have company…a lot! In fact, the City of New York shares our niche passion but only when it comes to a very specific type of phone: the pay phone. Remember those? Yes they still exist, actually there are 1,500 pay phones in Manhattan alone. But in a town where even some toddlers are iPhone clad, most of the pay phones sit idle collecting soot and taking up space.

pay phone recycling

So what’s the solution?  The city government has teamed up with developer City24x7 to launch a pilot program to turn 250 pay phone booths into free information kiosks in all five boroughs.  But wait, there’s more. These kiosks are interactive, touch screen devices that connect users to all kinds of vital information: from where the nearest Pinkberry is located, to live transit updates and evacuation routes in the event of a natural disaster.  The development of this new communal software leverages the neighborhood watch philosophy by putting “vital messaging onto our streets and into our hands; providing everyone with access to urban communication when and where they may be.”


The cornerstone of  City24x7′s Smart Screens is the the democratization and proliferation of mobile media, or as they put it, “built with access for all.”  The devices provide geo-specific content on a high contrast screen for the visually impaired, they have a Wayfinder key-fob access point for the blind, headphone jacks/induction loops for the hearing-impaired and are wheelchair accessible as well as multilingual.

The 32-inch touch-screens are made from ATM strength glass so defacement is not a top concern.  Really the only possible buzz kill could be the potential germ swapping, which, if you live in New York you are already well aware of.  But according to City24x7 they’ll be more sanitary than an ATM. “They’re built to be cleaned with a jet hose,” said CEO Tom Touchet, the former executive producer of the “Today” show. “They’re waterproof and dust-proof.”

re-imagined pay phones for New Yorkers

So not only are these re-imagined pay phones good for New Yorkers, they are good for the city budget.  The installation and operation runs at no costs NYC but, after the pilot program, 36% of revenue will go to fund other city programs.  Furthermore, with the information kiosks as a platform, local government will be able to remind citizens about bike-shares, free events and even how to get their tax refund.  Now what payphone can do that?

Sustainable Living: When going green means going rogue

So often travel leaves U.S. Americans feeling a bit behind in the “green living” department. I know I’ve felt this way visiting friends in Montreal and lusting over their state-issued compost box. Or, biking around Copenhagen amongst swarms of commuters whose collective carbon footprint might be lighter than one family’s back home. So you can imagine my shock when, on my most recent travels, the tables were entirely turned.

South America map

As a Fulbrighter headed to San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina’s smallest province located in the Northeast of the country, program ambassadors warned me of a myriad of possible culture shocks. But the most challenging aspect was not on their list. I quickly realized that what I had taken for granted in New York, environmental and waste-management infrastructure, was simply absent in my new home. And this absence translated to an entirely different culture of waste. Littering, for instance, socially stigmatized in New York, is the norm in Northern Argentina. Sorting your trash is strange. And compost? Forget about it.

Thus, I began my efforts to go “independently green”. And, as a result, I met loads of motivated community members creating their own sustainable communities, infrastructure or no infrastructure! Here’s what I learned about how to take green into your own hands:

Buy Local – This was actually the easiest part. Tucumán is known as The Garden of The Republic and farmers bring their fresh produce into the city daily to sell to fruit stands and vegetable venders or simply on street corners. You can tell the season simply by walking through Plaza Independencia: orange season, then strawberry season, followed by peaches and watermelon. Some, like asparagus season, last only a short two weeks; but buying local not only means supporting local farmers, it re-calibrates your diet to be more in tune with nature’s harvests. Pickling is also a common technique and a great way to satisfy your out-of-season cravings (most pickled products are sold in reused Gatorade bottles which is an added bonus!).

farmer's market

Dress Down – Secondhand shopping in Argentina has none of the pretense of Williamsburg thrifting; it really comes down to a matter of price, as clothing is simply more expensive. Luckily there’s no shortage of choice. On weekends sprawling flea markets, known as Ferias Americanas, spring up entirely dedicated to clothing. This shopping is not for the faint of heart, but treasures abound for those who navigate the mountainous mazes of fabric.

thrifting for clothes
Take a Stand – If there aren’t public infrastructures that you’d like to see, take action! I got involved with a wonderful group of neighbors united in the common goal of bike lane implementation. Tucumán is a flat, small city and ideal to navigate by bike. Unfortunately, cars and careening motos are kings of the road so bikers often feel intimidated, opting instead to take a bus or walk. The group leading this fight, AABC has already changed local legislation to mandate the construction of “ciclovías.” But the bicycle activists won’t rest until the job is done, and they’re holding bicycle rallies to ensure that the promised measure is put into effect. This was not only a great cause but a wonderful way to meet like-minded people of all walks of life.

 bicycle activists

Redefine Necessity – I was fortunate enough to live in a beautiful old home designed for Tucuman’s blistering summers with an outdoor/indoor patio and natural ventilation. There was no heating, which was challenging during the cold winter but another reminder that we don’t always need the amenities we think we do back home. Sometimes you just need an extra sweater. Plus it didn’t just save on energy, it also saved on pesos. As is so often the case with the greener option, it is far cheaper to live in a house with a zero output heating and cooling system.

Lend a Hand – As an outsider with unique perspective on green issues, another valuable course of action was bolstering existing efforts in Argentina. My friend, and fellow Fulbrighter, Emily Grady, got to do this first-hand in Salta (further North still) where she got involved with Patagonia Cobex, a local company that designs and develops biological waste water treatment systems for municipalities and the food processing industry (breweries, bodegas, dairy factories and slaughterhouses). The system relies on the natural activity of California earthworms and microorganisms to breakdown contaminants in the water, resulting in fast and effective remediation. Unlike other bio filters, this system doesn’t generate sludge. The only outputs are clean water and humus (an excellent fertilizer!).

Emily says her work at Cobex is a great opportunity to explore “the ways in which the private sector can advance pro-environmental solutions.” She sees the company’s work as “as an example of bio mimicry: it’s an efficient and effective natural process that was harnessed in a creative way so as to solve fundamental human-environment challenge, waste water treatment, without harming the environment.”

The company was founded in 2005, and is now beginning to expand the products and services that it offers. It completes environmental impact assessments, solid waste reduction projects, and will soon be bringing Danish clean-tech water and air purification equipment to the market in Argentina. The bio filter is receiving international attention, and the company has received requests from companies in Europe and Asia to bring the technology overseas.

Patagonia Cobex

Sustainable Living: The Highline’s hidden track

Posted on October 22, 2012 | Community building, eco-economy, Re-use, Recycling

There’s still some apples growing in the Big Apple, and no, not on an urban garden rooftop. Somewhere less expected. They’re on the third, still-unfinished section of the gem of the West side, the New York City Highline. You might know and love the Highline, but what you may not know is that there still remains a third half-mile stretch that is yet to be “parkifyed.” This third section of track lies, just as the original parts did in the ’80′s and 90′s, virtually untouched. The new refurbishments will extend the Highline park to 34th street.

Just over a decade ago the Highline was an city relic, known only to urban explorers, daring photographers, curious neighbors and stubborn wild grass. Residents thought it was an eye-sore and mayor Giuliani and other administrations promised its demolition (the structure was protected through awareness raised by railroad enthusiast Peter Obletz and photographers like Joel Sternfeld).

But thankfully the railroad endured. The world-class Highline park now stands (or better said, suspends) as a reminder of the power of reuse and reinvention, one most innovative public spaces in New York City and the country.

But, if there’s an urban explorer in you wishing you could have seen it pre-makeover, you’re in luck. Earlier this month the unfinished section was opened to 1,600 very savvy folks who registered months in advance to visit the area as part of Uniqlo‘s Rail Yards Weekends. If you were not among them, not to worry. You can still get a peak at the self-seeded landscape that originally inspired “Friends of the Highline” to turn the area into a park: wildflowers, apple trees and all.

The Highline extension will be opened to the public officially in 2014.

Sustainable Living: Top 10 Green University Campuses

Though your college memories might revolve more around microwaved Mac’n'Cheese than the ethics of organic gardening, times they are a’ changing. With increased public focus on sustainable living, green initiatives are no longer just icing on the cake of a school’s PR image, they are now taking a real root in the culture of America’s higher education.  In fact, many students this fall are heading off to institutions they selected based on (among others) factors like energy efficiency, campus recycling and global food-system courses.

So who’s got the highest beanstalks? The Sierra Club recently released their sixth annual “Coolest Schools” survey of the nation’s greenest campuses and here’s what they found:

1. University of California, Davis. We are thrilled to see a public institution claim the title of the country’s greenest university, proving that funding alone is not the key to sustainable success. Though we won’t pretend that it doesn’t take a lot of green to make UCD the best: the school purchases power for good, diverts two thirds of its trash from landfills and has a carbon-butt-kicking bike program, on any given weekday around 20,000 bikes make their way around campus. The school’s newest addition is the UC Davis West Village which, as of last October, is America’s biggest residential community with zero-net-energy.

University of California, Davis


2. Georgia Institute of Technology. The Sierra Club’s analysis is not just based on facilities however, its also values how well an institution prepares students intellectually and professionally for a lifetime of green innovation. GIT does just that, offering more than 260 courses geared towards sustainability across many disciplines. But they don’t just talk the talk, the school’s board also ensures that its endowment is invested in responsible markets.

Georgia Institute of Technology

3. Stanford University. Making California State proud, by claiming two of the top three spots, Stanford University’s Palo Alto farmland is its banner program when it comes to sustainability. Not only is Stanford educating future food leaders through more than 20 classes covering the domestic and global food systems, the school also integrates this theoretical knowledge into campus life and yes, this means digging around in the dirt. Many of the foods used by their multiple dining-halls are sourced from the student-run gardens. And, of course, it wouldn’t be the “real college experience” if they weren’t growing barley for beer!

Stanford University

4. University of Washington, Seattle. Another school jumping on the sustainable food bandwagon (or should we say wheelbarrow) is UW, but they are definitely doing it with their own flare, focusing on the local sourcing of food products. A staggering fifty plus percent of the campus’s edibles are grown within 250 miles of the campus grounds. They also have bike-repair stations which help to relieve the headache bike problems can cause and give students no excuse not to peddle to class.

University of Washington, Seattle

5. University of Connecticut. Unlike Washington and California, the state of Connecticut evokes visions of gas-guzzling commuters before organic gardeners, but Uconn is tossing out that stereotype, or perhaps better put, recycling it. They are obsessed with all things compost and the university’s new composting facility produces up to 15 truckloads a week! The student body is also passionate about peer-educating when it comes to hard-to-recycle items like sneakers (which they collect and donate to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe Program, converting warn footwear into running tracks) and cellphones; music to our ears at ExchangeMyPhone!

University of Connecticut

Honorable mention goes to: 6. University of New Hampshire, Durham 7. Duke University 8. Yale University 9. University of California, Irvine 10. Appalachian State University

So, how would your alma mater measure up?