Thursday, September 11, 2014

How can we get people to recycle more?

There were plenty of interesting comments on the Observer's Facebook page for the story that said Charlotteans toss an estimated 40 million cardboard tubes annually from bathroom tissue rolls.
One commenter suggested reusable tubes that we could use with the new tubeless toilet paper rolls that have hit the market. Great idea, but it turns out our recycling problem is much bigger. I learned that from an email that arrived after last week’s column was published.
Recycling at single-family homes declined locally in 2013 (to about 147 pounds per person annually) compared to 1999 (155 pounds), according to Sustain Charlotte’s 2014 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Sustainability Report Card.
Residents of apartments and condominiums hardly recycle at all, said Shannon Binns, executive director of Sustain Charlotte.
So we’re spending more than $10 million a year to send about 364,000 tons of residential waste to a landfill. “That doesn’t include the much larger costs – collection and transportation,” Binns said.
About half of that waste could be recycled for savings of $29 per ton in landfill fees, Binns said. Recycling the waste could generate almost $20 per ton.
Sustain Charlotte has offered two suggestions for boosting recycling: Make it a requirement and impose fines for those who don’t. Or we could adopt a pay-as-you-throw system. Either would surely be better than throwing money away.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Charlotteans toss out 40 million bathroom tissue tubes yearly

We're pretty disciplined about recycling at my house, but now I realize we've ignored one item. The cardboard tube inside each roll of bathroom tissue gets tossed every time.
That happens in a lot of homes – more than 40 million tubes get tossed every year, according to one estimate. That's just in Charlotte.
The national toll is more than 17 billion tubes yearly, with more than 150 tubes per household being thrown out on average. Imagine the amount of waste we’ve created over 100 years, which is how long the tubes have been around, according to a rep for Scott-brand products, which is now making tubeless rolls.
Yes, that’s how we’ve come by all of this information. The data arrived at my desk with samples of the tubeless swirls. (The centers aren’t open as much as in the picture above.)
It will take time to find out whether consumers see these as an acceptable alternative to what they’re buying now, but it’s a start. The tissue is not made from recycled material, which could make it less appealing in some households. Comments on the Scott website are mixed and it sounds like the paper hangs awkwardly when you reach the end of the roll.
Prices might be a factor. A four-pack of Scott Naturals Tube-Free sells for $2.97 at Walmart stores, according to the rep. She offered a comparison price that was less exacting: $3.40 “average retail price” for Scott Extra Soft, a premium product. Store location unknown.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We all can help replenish city's aging tree canopy

Make sure a tree is on your list as you think about plants to add to your landscape this fall. You’ll be doing a service for your neighborhood and your city, as well as yourself.
“Charlotte has a geriatric tree canopy,” says Dave Cable, executive director of Trees Charlotte, a 2-year-old organization that’s working to add more than 5,000 new plants between October and April 2015.
Cable will talk about proper tree care at the Charlotte Garden Club at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 at the Mint Museum, 2730 Randolph Road. Anyone can attend. Cable also will talk about programs that offer free trees to local neighborhoods.
Charlotte ranked second nationally by American Forests recently among its “10 Best Cities for Urban Forests,” but the city’s trees are aging and need to be refreshed, Cable said. Development, storms, pests and diseases also cause tree loss.
“We have an extraordinary asset,” Cable said. “If we’re not careful about expanding it and diversity, it may not be here in the year 2050.”
For diversity, look beyond willow oaks and crape myrtles. We’ve got more than enough of those. Too many of one species increases the chances for insects and diseases to wipe out or weaken the canopy.
Japanese maples, on the other hand, are fine to plant, and they’re the most popular in Trees Charlotte giveaways. “They fly off the truck,” Cable said.
Get information for caring for your trees at

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Some retailers will focus on home automation for holidays

We know we'll see tinsel and bows go up in about six weeks as retailers set up for the holidays. You probably wouldn't have guessed that gadgets for home automation also would be a focus of the festivities.
Wireless and remote controls for your home ultimately are expected to be such a big market that retailers want us to think about them whenever we're focused on making the house more efficient and organized.
These are systems that let us use a smartphone, computer or tablet to turn on the lights, adjust the thermostat and unlock the doors.
Apple is said to be working on a system called HomeKit. Microsoft has Insteon for its retail locations, one of which is expanding at SouthPark mall.
Lowe's started selling Iris systems in 500 retail stores in 2012. Today you can find Iris at all 1,750 locations, said Jaclyn Pardini, a spokesperson at the company’s headquarters here. Displays are in each store to help customers understand what these systems can do.
“This is still very new to consumers,” Pardini said.
Last year the company offered Iris deals for black Friday. A whole-house water shutoff system is coming in October, the official start of the store’s holiday season. With the new product, you'll be in control if your pipes burst while you're having Thanksgiving dinner far from home.
Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Garden art and performers wanted for Yard Art Day

Laugh if you will about the tour that has people decorating their yards with giant storybook characters or maybe a groovy bus, but Yard Art Day is growing.
This year you could see someone singing, belly dancing or swinging a hula hoop well beyond the original neighborhoods of Plaza Midwood and the North Davidson Street arts district. Word is spreading about the free-spirited, uncomplicated spectacle through its website and Facebook page.
“This year other neighborhoods and surrounding towns are signing on,” said founder and Plaza Midwood resident Deborah Triplett.
The online guide map already has pins dropped at sites as far as Durham, Raleigh and North Myrtle Beach. Locally, look for Yard Art Day signs in SouthPark, Ballantyne, Huntersville, Mooresville, Matthews, Waxhaw and Belmont in Gaston County.
Yard Art Day is open to anyone who wants to create an art display or perform as guests arrive on foot, by bike or by car. This year businesses and gardens can sign up.
“I think we’re all born artists by nature,” Triplett said. “I sort of wanted to give permission to people to let that inner kid out to play.”
If you go, understand that Triplett had more in mind than just distraction when she started the event in 2012. “The indirect goal is to get neighbors meeting neighbors,” she said. “I don’t mean neighbors who live next door. Maybe people get out of their cars and off of their bikes and talk to the people they meet.”

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What your wall colors say about you

Color has power over us. So the first step to choosing a palette for decorating could be to ask how you want the room to feel.
“You start to get an idea of the mood that they’re after, and color can enhance that,” said Kate Smith, chief color expert at Sensational Color in Ashburn, Va.
Smith is mainly a consultant to corporations. Her clients produce products in enough colors to confuse the average consumer. She steps in to help those businesses help their customers make the right color choices.
“Some colors make you feel calmer; some make you feel energetic,” she said. “Most people respond in those general ways, even if they don’t recognize it.”
I was fascinated reading about the psychology of color on Smith’s website. There’s much to recognize about ourselves, family members and friends just by looking at the colors in our homes.
Yellow, the color of sunshine (and much of my home’s interior), relates to happiness and optimism. Tranquil and refreshing green speaks of value for nature and community. Blue, a calming overall favorite, is for the trustworthy and committed. Purple uplifts and calms the mind. Creative people and eccentrics tend to embrace it.
Softer colors can help you relax. For a lively room, use intense hues and high-contrast combinations.
I’m feeling better now about painting our family room a flaming terra-cotta orange.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lock up some funding for Habitat

Buying new locks and door hardware for your home can also support Habitat for Humanity’s international work.
Yale Locks & Hardware is donating 10 percent of sales from online orders to Habitat, which builds and renovates homes for qualifying families based on their income and other requirements.
Shoppers get a 10 percent discount on the New Haven, Conn.-based company’s products when they use the program code (HFH14) through Oct. 21.
The pictures on the program website ( are a reminder that the ideal of a safe, secure home is a starkly different vision depending on which side of the door locks you find yourself standing.
For some, safe and secure means having your family and your belongings protected by an alarm system, perhaps one controlled from a smartphone or computer. At the other end of the spectrum are people who can hardly imagine ever owning a home that would be considered safe and secure, much less one equipped with automated locks that open and close without keys. Habitat has made ownership possible for more than 4 million people.
Yale has partnered with Habitat for 13 years and provided more than $14 million worth of interior and exterior door locks so far for Habitat in North America. This additional effort will reach further.
“This new campaign will help raise additional funding vital to Habitat’s mission to create safe, affordable housing in partnership with low-income families around the world,” Colleen Finn, an exec for Habitat for Humanity International, said in a statement.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms