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The Green House Effect: Metal From Metal

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Lately, I've been working on a number of fun and exciting projects. In the meetings for a new organic skin care line we're developing, I've been spouting phrases like "Bottles from bottles! Glass from glass! Caps from Caps!" to the point that I think my colleagues want me to shut up and up.

But my inspiration comes from green visionary William McDonough, who believes in the mantra of cradle-to-cradle. In other words, he thinks we need intelligent design that allows for products to be used, recycled and used again without sacrificing quality. I call it infinitely recyclable, which means it can be used forever without ever being sent to a landfill. Bottles from bottles!

In my house, I've been inspired to avoid as much plastic as possible because it A: comes from a non-renewable resource B: is hard to recycle, and---when recycled---it degrades in quality and C: can't be part of the cradle-to-cradle philosophy. Instead, I've been obsessed with finding true all-metal products that, when they need to be replaced, can simply and easily be sent to the recycling yard to be melted down and made into new metal products.

And the energy savings in using recyclable metal to make new metal is astounding: An aluminum can, for example, is an easily recyclable material that can be infinitely recycled over and over again. It takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminum than creating a can from raw sources. For every 40 cans recycled, it saves as much energy as one gallon of gas. (Coincidentally, a liter of gas today is now more expensive than a liter of soda). It's energy efficient, valuable and will hopefully never see a landfill in its life. So, even the old baking trays I find in the old stove can be easily and efficiently recycled at the scrap yard.

BATHTUBS AND SINKS: A very common and inexpensive shower and tub material is called fiberglass. Fiberglass is exactly what it sounds like: very fine fibers of real glass mixed with polymers to create a very durable composite material. It's lightweight and cheap, so many bathrooms today have fiberglass tubs and showers. It is, however, impossible to recycle.

When I gutted the house of the old fixtures, I chose cast iron tubs and sinks, knowing that they would be incredibly durable and easily recyclable (if that day ever came). For the kitchen, I chose a Kohler stainless steel sink that was extra-wide and extra-deep. The shiny, silvery sink was molded from a single sheet of metal, free of plastic bits and parts. It was one of the most pure and straightforward home improvement products I have ever seen: durable and truly recyclable.

But now for the eco Debbie Downer: the FedEx freight truck that arrived had two 640 pound tubs, a 300 pound laundry sink and 200 pound bathroom sinks sitting in the truck, along with a variety of other plumbing products only my plumber could understand. Shipped all the way from the Kohler plant in Wisconsin to my home in Pennsylvania, I could only imagine the huge amounts of fuel used to haul them halfway across the country. But I figured the tree line of large mature evergreens freshly planted at the edge of the property negated whatever carbon footprint was created. But still...that was an awful lot of fuel used to ship them to me.

DECORATIVE ACCESSORIES: I know most people don't get excited about electrical switch plate covers, but I do. When all the dingy plastic covers in the home covering the electrical outlets and light switches needed to be replaced, I was excited to find covers made entirely out of brushed steel at Lowe's. They looked handsome against the dark wood in the house and aesthetically they looked more modern and updated. And the best part besides being made from 100%, easily recyclable steel is that they were the cheapest picks in the store. Great quality, simple lines and low, low prices. How can you beat that?

LIGHTING: One thing I absolutely detest is faux finishes. I don't like walls to be painted to look like marble (note to faux finishers: I'm not tricked) and I don't like new light fixtures designed to look old, as if they were ripped from an old Tuscan villa. Instead, I love simple lighting fixtures that are the real deal, like these metal pendant lights from Design Within Reach. Every single part of this light fixture is metal, so it's fully recyclable as well. Install a compact fluorescent light bulb inside, and it's both a green and gorgeous choice.



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