What Households Can Learn from Recycling at Phipps

You’re not alone: Even a place as “green” as Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has its share of potentially hazardous items in need of disposal.

Beyond the basic bottles, cans and paper, Phipps has been busy “thinking about a lot of materials that would otherwise go to a landfill,” says Kelly Ogrodnik, sustainable design and programs manager at Phipps.

Among the items they’re currently tackling:

Hazardous Chemicals

“Over last 10 years, we’ve transitioned to mostly organic horticulture practices,” Ogrodnik says. But “we had a stock of materials” from the earlier days that includes potentially hazardous pesticides and fertilizers. Keeping them on hand forever isn’t an option, and neither is putting them in a landfill. (This is sort of the horticultural version of the rest of us figuring out what to do with the old cans of paint collecting dust in our garages.)

The solution? Working with a third-party recycling contractor to slowly dispose of these old items safely. “Everything needs to be labeled, and if it’s an unknown material they need to take their precautions.”

Unwanted Electronics

Like all organizations, Phipps periodically replaces computers and other electronics. So they’ve created a program to collect and then safely recycle any electronics that become obsolete. They’ve also invited employees to bring in for recycling any unwanted electronics they have at home.

That can present a challenge: “They kind of pile up,” Ogrodnik says, since so many employees are enthusiastic about recycling. So Phipps must allocate storage space for about-to-be recycled items. They also need to make sure they’re working with a certified recycling company that will handle the items responsibly.

“We’re really conscious of working with the Basel Action Network,” she says, which recommends certified recyclers. Some organizations that claim to safely recycle electronics are actually dumping the items in landfills, Ogrodnik says, so be sure to research any organization that takes your old gadgets.

New Purchases

Another key element of recycling at Phipps is making wise purchasing decisions, something all of us can consider: “Look at minimizing your waste to begin with by buying reusable or using something already on site,” she says, “or buying salvaged, recycled or something that’s at least less than 100 percent new.”

An example: “Maybe use rechargeable batteries so you don’t have to buy as many new ones.” Also, she says, talk to the vendors your office uses and ask how items like ink cartridges can be recycled.”

Is all this work really necessary? Ogrodnik has no doubt.

“We get our water from our rivers. Pesticides you put on ground and into landfills eventually make their way into waterways,” she says. “Even though there might be a liner in that landfill, oftentimes things are basically leaking into our water table, into our waterways, contaminating our soil.”

Phipps is “taking these steps and actions to really be responsible for how we’re purchasing and what’s leaving the site and helping to close that loop as much as we can.”

(Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, One Schenley Park Oakland. Info: 412/622-6914, phipps.conservatory.org)

Categories: Community Feature