Improving Summer Road Trips

Riding a bicycle or walking at your vacation destination is one way to improve summer vacations. Cycling reduces fuel costs and air pollution, helping both your wallet and the planet.    

Riding a bicycle or walking at your vacation destination is one way to improve summer vacations. Cycling reduces fuel costs and air pollution, helping both your wallet and the planet.  


As the school year wraps up many families are anxiously awaiting summer vacation. Whether you go on a day trip or long road trip, there are many ways to improve summer road trips – both for your wallet and the planet. Minor changes in how you prepare, and small tweaks to what you do while you’re travelling, can add up to a more positive experience.


No matter where and how long you plan to travel be sure to pack light. Decreasing the weight of the load for vehicles typically improves fuel efficiency and can save on fuel costs in the long run. Pack light by only taking the most essential items with you. Before you go pull out the calendar and note the activities you’ll be doing each day, then check the weather forecast and pack accordingly.


Avoid packing “just in case” items that will only add to the bulk of your load. If you end up needing an umbrella for example you can purchase it, or in some cases borrow it from the hotel where you’re staying. Instead of hauling large recreational equipment find out if you can rent or borrow it at your destination too. Planning ahead and being prepared for every possible circumstance only adds the weight of your load.


Select clothing from the same color family which can be mixed to create several outfits. Neutrals like black and tan, black and white, or blue and gray can look flattering and still allow for flexibility. Two bottoms, two to three pairs of shoes, and four to six tops should be sufficient for a week-long trip. Don’t be afraid to reuse some of the clothing, hand washing it or getting laundry service. Packing clothes in reusable packing cubes instead of plastic bags can help reduce waste and save room in your luggage.  


If you have a pickup truck or a vehicle with a luggage rack secure your load to keep roads clean and safe. Before you get on the road inspect your vehicle to make sure loads are secured, covered, and properly tied down. Using a tarp or cargo netting to cover and secure items can be more effective than using straps alone. When you stop for fuel take the opportunity to check the load again to ensure that nothing has come undone while you were driving. Ask yourself if you would feel safe driving behind your vehicle.


Avoid littering the roads by keeping a trash bag inside your vehicle. Litter, trash in the wrong place, is preventable. Stash your trash then throw it away when you get to a rest area or final destination. Many rest areas now have recycling bins too, so be sure to look for signage indicating what can be recycled at each stop. Most will have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum beverage cans. Keep in mind that not all communities recycle the same things, follow directions on signage closely.


One way to reduce the amount of trash you may accumulate in your vehicle is to pack food and snacks in reusable containers that don’t need to be thrown away after just one use. Reduce the amount of trash you’re making during your trip by using reusable water bottles instead of disposable plastic water bottles. Reusable shopping bags are an excellent alternative to plastic bags that can also do double duty by helping you carry everything from books and magazines to souvenirs.


While at your travel destination choose to support the community by eating locally grown foods. Whether you dine at a special restaurant or go shopping at a farmer’s market, locally sourced or locally grown foods travels a shorter distance compared to many foods sold in a grocery store. Less distance equals less fuel wasted and less pollution. Locally grown also means you’ll experience more of the local flavor that makes that particular destination unique.


At your vacation spot, choose to walk or ride a bicycle instead of driving. Both options are much more environmentally friendly, can cost less, and are a boost to your health. Riding a bicycle or simply walking gives you a much different perspective than quickly driving around the area. Take the opportunity to enjoy the sights, and you may discover a new favorite eatery or attraction you didn’t expect to find.


Liz Swafford is the Recycling and Education Program Coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority.  Contact her at 706-278-5001, or e-mail 

Unplug and Play

Young children are spending more time than ever looking at a screen. Going screen free can help children improve their connection to the family, their understanding of the natural world, and improve their health and mental wellbeing.

Young children are spending more time than ever looking at a screen. Going screen free can help children improve their connection to the family, their understanding of the natural world, and improve their health and mental wellbeing.

It’s practically a given – when I go out to eat with my family I spot at least one child with their eyes glued to the screen of a smartphone or tablet. They may be watching a movie or cartoon, looking at a digital story book, playing a game or, heaven forbid, buying loads virtual goods with their parents stored credit card information. When the food arrives to their table, the child is so enthralled that they’re not interested in eating anything much to the chagrin of the parents.


Many children in America spend more hours looking at a screen (like a television, smartphone, computer, or tablet) than they do in school. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding screens for children under 2 years of age, and no more than 1 to 2 hours of screen time a day for older kids. According to Commercial Free Childhood (, “How children spend their time is important - lifelong habits and behaviors are formed in childhood.”


Healthy Kids in a Digital World: Screen-Time Facts, compiled by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, states, “Research shows that screen time gets in the way of activities known to be good for young children, like playing creatively and interacting with caring grownups. And kids who spend less time with screens fall asleep faster, sleep longer, eat healthier, and get more exercise.”


Unfortunately, many children spend four or more hours per day looking at a screen instead of exploring their environment, interacting with family members, or exercising by playing with other children. Some may even go to bed with their tablet in hand resulting in poor quality sleep. Those who watch screens at night usually take longer to fall asleep, and miss out on beneficial periods of deep, restorative sleep.


One way to counter act sleep issues is to make the bedroom a screen-free area. Remove the television from the child’s room, and make a rule to put away electronic devices early in the evening several hours before bedtime. You should also turn the television off in the family room and encourage children to play, draw, get ready for bed, and read instead. Excessive screen time has also been linked to an increase in food intake, inactivity, and obesity.


TV, video games, and the internet can be habit forming resulting in resistance to the changes at first. However, children can adapt and can get used to the new routine quickly. Stick with it and find the techniques that can help your particular family to unplug and play. For example, change your living room layout so that the television is not the focus of the room. Instead make room for an activity table kids can make artwork on, eat snacks, play with their toys, and most importantly interact with each other and the adults.


Another alternative is to take kids outside for some genuine free play which allows children to naturally create their own fun using their imagination and all their senses. Young children enjoy running, climbing, exploring, and interacting with the natural world. Periods of play outdoors help children develop strong, healthy bodies which is key to their growth and development. Activities could include drawing with sidewalk chalk, making mud pies, building tents, and more.


While technology and screens in general are not bad, the excessive use of them can be detrimental to developing children. Commercial Free Childhood has found that, “There’s no evidence to support the popular view that children must start using screen technologies early on to succeed in a digital world.” The Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine

 Reported, “Children who spend less time watching television in early years tend to do better in school, have a healthier diet, be more physically active, and be better able to engage in schoolwork in later elementary school.”


Considering all the benefits of less screen time challenge your family to avoid screens for a day, or even a whole week. Who knows, after camping in the backyard your kids may be inspired to go hiking, join the scouts, or save the planet too! For tips on reducing screen time, and ideas for games and alternative family activities visit Screen Free at

Compost! Healthy Soil, Healthy Food

Food scraps added to an outdoor composting bin will transform into a beneficial soil amendment called compost as they decompose with other organic matter. Compost helps make healthier soils, and as a result, healthier foods.

Food scraps added to an outdoor composting bin will transform into a beneficial soil amendment called compost as they decompose with other organic matter. Compost helps make healthier soils, and as a result, healthier foods.

This week is International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW), the first full week of May dedicated to bringing awareness of the benefits of this very important soil amendment sometimes referred to as “black gold”. The theme for 2017 is “Compost! Healthy Soil, Healthy Food.” If you ate something grown in the ground today, you can take a moment to thank compost which helps maintain soils healthy. And, as this year’s theme notes, healthy soils equal healthy, nutritious food.


New this year is the launch of a short video from Kiss The Ground, the creators of “The Soil Story” (, who state, “Healthy soil has the miraculous ability to sequester carbon. And it’s not just carbon storage, healthy soil leads to: clean water, nutritious food, drought resistance, and restored habitats.” The new video, “The Compost Story” reminds us that “We can balance the climate and feed the world by building healthy soil.”


“The Compost Story” begins with actress Rosario Dawson asking, “Have you ever looked at a banana peel and wondered, is that it? Could this humble peel serve a greater purpose?” Viewers will learn that organic waste, like food scraps, are actually a resource that helps nurture soils. As organics decompose they leave behind what in essence can be called probiotics for soil. Humans can help restore soil by creating compost from their own food scraps and other organic waste instead of putting it in the landfill.


In the US over half of things being thrown away are actually compostable materials like food waste, paper, yard trimmings, and wood. When we landfill compostable materials we are throwing away the building blocks of life that need to be part of the regenerative composting process. Only 5 percent of food scraps are being composted resulting in over 60 billion pounds of mineral rich foods ideal for composting are being landfilled.


Locally there is not a large-scale composting operation available, or any type of residential collection program accepting food scraps. However, composting is something anyone can do at home. First you need to decide what type of compost bin you need. Will you be doing just a little composting because you live alone? Or do you have a lot of yard trimmings requiring a larger outdoor bin? Can you make one yourself or do you need to purchase one already assembled?


For small spaces like apartments you may consider using a method called Bokashi which is contained in a bucket, or you may prefer using small red worms for Vermicomposting. In the backyard, you can set up hoop or bin to collect the ingredients for compost. A hoop is usually made from chicken wire and is shaped like a circle. Bins contain yard trimmings more neatly, and can also be made rodent proof. These can be built with reused wood, wire, or other materials, making a square or rectangular box shape with a lid. 


Once you have a bin you can start collecting food scraps and other ingredients to make compost. Organic materials that are candidates for a home compost bin or pile include grass clippings, leaves, shrub prunings, flowers, sawdust, hair, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and uncoated paper like newspaper. When combined correctly the ingredients will decompose, break down, and create organic matter called compost.  Finished compost looks a lot like dark rich soil and usually smells like soil after it rains.


Items not recommended for composting at home include meat, bones, dairy products, fish, greasy foods, animal feces, unchopped woody waste, weeds or diseased plants, and glossy paper. Some of the items can take a long time to decompose in a small backyard compost pile, create a foul odor and attract pests. Items like animal waste are best used by large commercial compost operations that can get their compost piles hot enough to kill pathogens.  


A basic compost pile will have a mix of ingredients that are called brown and green. Browns are usually dry organic materials like shredded newspaper, wood chips, and dry leaves. Greens are typically wet organic plant matter like food scraps and grass clippings. To start a pile, you’ll need a layer of browns, like small branches, or a shredded cardboard box. Then, add a layer of green material like grass clippings. Every time you add food scraps be sure to add something from the brown category too.  A compost pile is built up in layers of browns, followed by greens. 


Continue to add material regularly to keep your pile growing and active. Depending on the type of bin you have, you may need to turn the pile with a shovel or pitchfork to blend the materials about every two weeks. Depending on your methods and ingredient mix you could have finished compost at the bottom of your pile in 3 to 6 months. Add the finished compost to your garden at home, or if you don’t have one, donate it to a community garden or school garden.

May The 4th Be With You

A clan of Jawas capture R2D2 with intentions of selling him for parts, or possibly recycling him. Star Wars provides several examples of how resources were recovered and reused. 

A clan of Jawas capture R2D2 with intentions of selling him for parts, or possibly recycling him. Star Wars provides several examples of how resources were recovered and reused. 

Tomorrow, May 4, is Star Wars Day, the official holiday of the ever popular movie franchise leading us on epic adventures in a galaxy far, far away. You’ll probably hear someone greet you with, “May the fourth be with you” (as in “May the Force be with you.”) instead of a typical, mundane “hello”. If you’re a big fan you may be anxiously awaiting sales of Star Wars brand toys and merchandise, be planning to attend a special event in the area, or even hosting your own movie marathon with fellow fans.


Since 1977 creator George Lucas has sent us into a world filled with humanoid creatures, robots, spaceships, knights, royalty, clones, and more surrounded by a love story that has been described as an epic space opera. The complexity of the different planets represented in the films is astonishing. From Tatooine, Naboo, and Coruscant there is a depth of adventures, characters, and stories and draw from time and time again. Each one with it’s own unique ecological environment. I have to admit that I prefer the Star Wars universe over Star Trek because of the complex planetary eco-systems displayed in the films.


Each planet is inspired by something found on Earth, either something already here, or a projection into a future version of our planet. For example Coruscant, which for a time was the home of the Jedi Temple, Monument Plaza, and Senate Office Building, was a large metropolitan planet full of skyscrapers that had been built up over thousands of years. Ultimately the development destroyed the original mountains and oceans. Can you imagine the Earth being so overdeveloped that life would have to be sustained by artificial systems?


Another aspect of the films I like is seeing how waste and recycling is handled. I suppose it’s a quirk from working in the solid waste and recycling industry. Especially when I travel I can’t help but notice if there are any recycling or composting bins available, and if there’s a unique new product that is recyclable that I don’t know about yet. Garbage and recycling collection and transportation are unique to their area based on what local service providers can do. New York City for example, needs some of their waste transported by barge or rail.


One great example of how waste was managed in the Star Wars universe is the trash compactor scene in Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope. Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca jumped into a garbage chute in an attempt to escape capture on the Death Star. After being sorted by the chute sensors which identified the types of waste, they ended up in the compactor for recyclables like metal and armor. The recyclables in this scene were meant to be crushed and compacted, just like we do today when making bales out of materials like aluminum cans as part of the recycling process. Thankfully the heroes of this particular story did not get crushed when C-3PO managed to turn off all of the compactors just in time.


It’s not clear where the waste and recyclables of the Death Star ended up. In the case of aluminum cans the metal is re-used in the manufacture of new drink cans and other products like baseball bats and car parts. I imagine the metal from space would be melted down and remade into much needed spaceship parts, weapons, and armor.


Perhaps waste would be transported in a ship destined to the planet Lotho Minor, nicknamed Junk World. This particular planet was introduced in The Clone Wars series as a one of the galaxy’s dumping grounds. It’s described as being covered by enormous heaps of trash as tall as mountains which is incinerated by mechanical creatures called the fire-breathers.


Or perhaps the waste and recyclables from the Death Star ended up in the hands of the Jawa from the deserts of Tatooine who are distinguished by their brown robes and glowing yellow eyes. These small creatures deal in discarded scrap and wayward mechanicals, either reselling them or refurbishing them as they travel in their vehicles called sandcrawlers. In Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope, R2D2 and C-3PO are purchased by Luke and his uncle from the Jawa.


As you celebrate Star Wars day this week take a moment to think about the unique planets, environments, and how waste was handled by each different group. Are there things we could do better on our home planet? Can the Force guide us to a better path for caring for our resources?

Schools Recycle 435,710 Pounds During Contest

New Hope Middle placed first in the middle school category in this year's recycling contest hosted by Target Recycling. Pictured from Left to Right in front of the plastic bottle and aluminum can recycling container are students Ea-on Payne, Tate Marti, Zachary Amos, Brenna Ledlow, Jarod Holcomb, and Daniel Brackett who are members of the Recycling Crew. 

New Hope Middle placed first in the middle school category in this year's recycling contest hosted by Target Recycling. Pictured from Left to Right in front of the plastic bottle and aluminum can recycling container are students Ea-on Payne, Tate Marti, Zachary Amos, Brenna Ledlow, Jarod Holcomb, and Daniel Brackett who are members of the Recycling Crew. 

We just wrapped up our annual school recycling contest! I want to take the opportunity to recognize several schools that had outstanding recycling rates this year. The Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority’s recycling center hosts a recycling contest for 35 local schools that recycle with their program called Target Recycling at School. This program facilitates mixed paper recycling at both public and private K thru 12 schools by offering an outdoor collection container, and pickup service. Target Recycling also supports the schools by offering free workshops, presentations, and tours related to waste management and other environmental issues. 


For the 2016 – 2017 school year the recycling contest period was limited to eight months starting in August 2016 and ending in March 2017. During this last contest period, all participating schools collected a grand total of 435,710 pounds of recyclable materials with an average of 19.5 pounds recycled per student. That’s the weight equivalent of about 124 mid-sized cars, or the equivalent of 14,906,261 aluminum soda cans. Recycling rates are calculated by dividing the number of students by the pounds of material collected for recycling. Schools competed in one of three categories: elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools with each category having a first, second, and third place winner.


Please join me in congratulating the following schools that placed in the top three in their category.  Elementary School: first place, Learning Tree School with the recycling rate of 177 pounds per student; second place, Pleasant Grove elementary at 76.5 pounds per student; third place, Dug Gap Elementary at 75.4 pounds per student.  Middle School: first place, New Hope Middle with 65.6 pounds per student; second place, Dalton Middle at 61.3 pounds per student; third place, North Whitfield Middle at 50.3 pounds per student. High School: first place Dalton High with 41.5 pounds per student; second place North West High with 35.9 pounds per student; third place, Coahulla Creek High with 27.5 pounds per student.


Each of the nine schools that placed in the contest this year will receive a certificate of participation and a prize to help their recycling program. For example, schools may receive classroom recycling bins, or carts to help collect recyclables inside the school. Recycling coordinators for each school choose the prize they believe will most help their unique programs. Even though Target Recycling provides collection services it’s up to the recycling coordinator at the school to decide how recycling is collected inside the school building. Most schools have a green team or recycling club with students that frequently help collect recyclables and take them to the main collection bin outside. It’s up to each school whether or not they allow parents or the general public to also use their outdoor recycling bins.


While each school manages recycling services differently, there are five basic guidelines that can be applied to each location.


1.)   Organize a team:  Each school needs to have a recycling coordinator and a recycling collection team that is available to collect recycling from classrooms and offices inside the building.

2.)   Establish a collection system: The team needs to decide how often they will pick up recyclable materials from classrooms. Partner with school officials and the custodial team to establish a system that will work for everyone.

3.)   Educate the community: Reminders about what to recycle and where need to be included in the announcements, newsletters, and displayed on signs and posters. Education needs to be constant to help everyone establish a recycling habit.

4.)   Set goals: Evaluate the team’s progress by establishing goals. Target Recycling provides monthly recycling rate reports that teams can use to establish a baseline for how much they’re recycling. Each month they can evaluate whether or not recycling has grown, and compare their rates to other schools. 

5.)   Reward the doers: It’s important to recognize individuals and even classrooms or entire grade levels for their recycling efforts during the whole school year. A simple activity a green team can do is called “Caught you green handed”. Members of the team can be given stickers, pencils, or other small prizes to give to students that have been caught in the act of putting something in the recycling bin. 


To learn more about Target Recycling at School visit or call 706-278-5001.