Author Archive | Clean Fairfax

Glass Recycling: Fairfax County Offers a Local Option

While much of our attention has been on the environmental toll of single-use plastics, glass recycling is also an important part of the solid waste management picture. As the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services points out, glass is produced by sand, the most consumed natural resource after air and water.

Recycling glass reduces the need to buy or mine more gravel and sand.

Recycling glass in Fairfax County where we have single-stream recycling, meaning that all recyclables can go into one bin, should be a “no brainer.” There is, however, more to glass recycling than meets the eye.  There are two options for what to do with glass that both residential and commercial establishments can consider.

The first option is to recycle the glass into the curbside recycle bin. A few words of caution here: While all colors of bottles and jars are accepted, and metal lids and paper labels can be left on, windows, mirrors, and glass and pottery dishes cannot be put in the regular recycle bin. Windows and mirrors should be taken to the I-66 Transfer Station or I-95 Landfill Complex for disposal.  Contrary to popular belief, broken glass can be put into the recycling bin.

There is a second option for recycling glass that keeps this resource local: Fairfax County is hoping to encourage glass recycling with a new pilot program designed to turn glass into gravel and sand that can be used locally. Source- or color-separated glass can be brought to the I-66 Transfer Station or the I-95 Landfill Complex where special machinery has been installed. The end products can be used in landscaping, construction projects, and even remanufactured into new glass.

Commercial establishments currently are required only to recycle their cardboard. Consider the number of bottles thrown away by a typical restaurant that serves alcohol— think beer, wine, and liquor bottles. By partnering with the County, glass becomes a valuable local resource.

America Recycles Day is November 15. Do the right thing: recycle your glass and encourage your local restaurants to do the same!

Cardboard Recycling: It’s Eco-Friendly—and Easy

We’ve all been there: We get home from work and see cardboard boxes amassed in front of our door, often with the familiar “smiling” arrow pointing from the A to the Z in “Amazon.” Some are enormous and others more brick-sized. We vaguely recall the late night shopping binge a few days back.

Or we are cleaning up that pile of empty pizza boxes left from last night’s party. Or that cereal box left with three remaining flakes on the breakfast table. Or pondering the giant box left over from the new appliance delivery. And, of course, if you have moved recently, a herd of empty boxes awaits you.

So what can you do with all that cardboard?

The first stop is to see if you can reuse the cardboard for shipping or storage, to line garden beds and prevent weeds, or even to create a fun playhouse for your child or pet. Or, this time of year, cardboard boxes make great costumes that can often be recycled afterwards.

If it can’t be reused, you can do your part to support environmental sustainability and put it in the recycling bin. According to Earth911, recycling cardboard uses only 75% of the energy used to make new cardboard. It also lessens the emission of sulfur dioxide produced when making pulp from trees. Finally, it saves trees—about 17 trees for every ton. (EPA)

Proper Cardboard Recycling:

Any type of cardboard can be recycled: cereal boxes, packaging boxes, frozen food boxes, egg cartons, shoe boxes, pizza boxes that are fairly clean (see below), milk cartons (rinsed out), and even the cardboard backing on plastic “blister” packs

Collapse the box:  Boxes that aren’t fully flattened are much more difficult to transport and present problems for mechanisms in the cardboard recycling process.

Don’t worry about the tape: It is helpful if you can remove the tape, but according to Recycle Works, the recycling process of corrugated boxes involves churning it up with water to make a slurry. In this process, tape and paper labels will rise to the top and be skimmed off before the final product is sent to final buyers.

Only recycle cardboard that is clean: A small amount of food residue is acceptable, but large amounts of grease or cheese left in a pizza box, for example, can cause problems at the processing center.

Another option is to avoid cardboard in the first place and use a reusable. For example, the average move uses about 60 cardboard boxes. Companies that provide reusable moving boxes in this area include Bungobox and Lend a Box.  For an interesting take on the value of reusable moving boxes, check out http://coastalvanlines.com/reusable-moving-boxes-alternative-cardboard-moving-boxes/

Recycling cardboard is a great way to go green without much effort!

America Recycles Day is November 15 this year. Do your part!

When Clean is Not Healthy

Despite this year’s extension of summer weather into mid-October, we all know that we will soon be closing up our windows and sealing our homes from the cold. Unfortunately, we will also be sealing IN the toxins from our chemical cleaners.

Keeping our drains running freely, our furniture clear of dust, and our ovens, bathrooms, and kitchens gleaming, comes at a cost. Our household cleaners have a range of potential hazards: The Organics Consumers Association points to acute or immediate dangers such as skin or respiratory irritation, watery eyes, or chemical burns, and potential chronic or long-term effects such as respiratory impairment and even cancer.

Corrosive chemicals that are used to clean drains or magically lift burnt food off of oven interiors often result in a burn if there is any skin contact. In addition, the Organics Consumers Association explains that combining products that contain chlorine and ammonia or ammonia and lye, as in the case of some oven cleaners, produces chloramine gas. Chlorine combined with acids, commonly used in toilet bowl cleaners, forms chlorine gas. While low concentrations of these gases produce only mild respiratory tract irritation, the New England Journal of Medicine has stated that exposures in higher concentrations may cause corrosive effects and cellular injury. So even  if you do not have skin contact, just breathing the gases from the cleaners can cause respiratory difficulties.

Fragrances added to cleaners can also cause problem, particularly among asthmatic or respiratory-impaired individuals. Unfortunately, fragrance makers are not required to list the individual ingredients of a fragrance, and have traditionally insisted that their recipes are “trade secrets.” In an effort to be transparent, the International Fragrance Association published a general list of the materials that have been used in fragrance compounds. There were 3,999 items! Procter & Gamble is breaking with tradition and aiming for full disclosure of the chemical ingredients in its products by 2019. Read more at http://www.ewg.org/release/procter-gamble-raises-bar-fragrance-ingredient-transparency#.Wd_VmGhSy70

Using a random sample of 1,136 adults to conduct a nationally representative population survey in the United States, a University of Melbourne study published in Science News in 2016 found the following:  When exposed to fragranced products, 34.7% of Americans suffer adverse health effects, such as breathing difficulties, headaches, dizziness, rashes, congestion, seizures, nausea, and a range of other physical problems. For half of these individuals, effects are potentially disabling, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So, short of letting your pipes clog, the furniture get dusty, your oven crusty, and your bath and toilet covered in an unsavory layer of scum, what are the alternatives?  Fortunately there are two main choices:  First of all, you can purchase non-toxic cleaners. For a list of these, check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning: http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners#.Wd_YgGhSy70

A second choice is for the DIY folks. Amass the following ingredients and then follow some basic recipes (scroll to the bottom of https://greatist.com/health/27-chemical-free-products-diy-spring-cleaning) to create your own non-toxic cleaners: Baking Soda, castile soap, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, essential oils, borax.

In the next few weeks, as you close up your windows and block out the cold, be sure to engage in healthy cleaning practices.

Green is the New Orange and Black: Make your Halloween More Eco-Friendly

October is here and the stores are already displaying their Halloween wares. This year, consider greening up your Halloween.

Decorations:

Use natural items like small gourds and pumpkins, or upcycle old decorations by checking out what local second-hand shops have to offer.

Costumes:

Reuse is the green way to go. Consider buying second-hand items at a thrift store to make a costume. Alternatively, swap costumes.  While you can always swap with family and friends, you may want to broaden the choices and have a costume swap event at your school, community center, workplace, or playground. National Costume Swap day is officially Saturday, October 14.

Treats:

Uncomfortable handing out unhealthy candy, much of which is produced with questionable labor practices? Green America offers some excellent alternatives. Although you might pay a bit more per piece, limiting trick or treaters to one piece each can keep the costs manageable—and give you the peace of mind that you are providing a healthier/more sustainable option. Many kids also enjoy non-edible treats, so check out the suggestions for “treasures” at the end.

Bite-sized Chocolates
These sustainably sourced chocolate companies offer mini pieces perfect for trick-or-treaters, using all-natural, fair trade, and/or organic ingredients:
Alter-Eco Chocolate Minis

Coco-Zen Chocolate Squares

Divine Chocolate Medallions

Endangered Species Chocolate Organic Bites

Equal Exchange Organic Chocolate Minis

Unreal Candy

Healthier Handouts
Cascadian Farm Chewy Granola Bars: Organic bars.
Glee Gum: All-natural, Fair Trade chewing gum.
Honest Tea Honest Kids Juice Pouches:  Organic fruit juice.
Larabar Mini Multipack: Kid-sized fruit and nut bars.
Plum Organics Kids Yo’ Drops: Fruit bars and snacks
Surf Sweets: Organic gummy bears and jelly beans.

Treasures
Crayon Rocks: US-made, soy-based, rock-shaped crayons.
Greenline Paper Company: Pencils made from recycled money or cast-off blue jeans.
Naturally Playful: Nontoxic colored highlighter pencils.
Education and More: Fair Trade friendship bracelets.

FOR MORE IDEAS:  GreenHalloween.org is a resource to green your Halloween. The website includes a guide to hosting your own Green Halloween party, toolkits for holding a community event or Costume Swap, treat and treasure ideas for trick-or-treaters, homemade costume hints, DIY face paint instructions, arts and crafts ideas, energy conservation tips, downloadable posters, kids’ activities, and more!

 

 

Food: It’s a Terrible Thing to Waste!

Clean your plate: children in India/Africa are starving! Many of us heard this injunction growing up. Insufficient food is a huge problem in many countries, but even here in Fairfax County 44,000 residents receive help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because they are unable on their own to get enough food to eat.

Some individuals, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. try to close the loop and donate “extra” food to those in need, but Sustainable America estimates that 40% of food in the United States is wasted.  For more information on eating out without wasting food:  http://www.sustainableamerica.org/blog/eating-out-without-wasting-food/

Leftover food that cannot be used by others is an environmental opportunity. This past spring, Fairfax County’s Solid Waste Management Program announced its launch of a pilot composting program “to encourage the growth of local companies that collect food waste (also called organic waste) from homes, events, businesses, etc., and turn it into compost. The compost can then be used as a high-quality soil amendment in residential backyards, farms, and landscaping projects.”

What makes this type of large-scale composting appealing is that items that normally would not go in a smaller household composting operation such as bones and meat and paper products can be included.

To date, two composting companies, Compost Crew and Veterans, have registered with the program. The County has reviewed these companies’ equipment and operations, thus providing some assurance to potential customers that they are operating in a safe and sustainable way.

To participate in this pilot program, contact Compost Crew at http://compostcrew.com/signup/ or Veterans at https://www.veterancompost.com/our-services/

Bottom line: Try not to waste food, but if you do have organic scraps, put them to good use!

Clean Fairfax Presents…

Is your organization planning speakers and events for the year? Consider having Clean Fairfax come share ideas about environmental stewardship and urban sustainability: WHAT WE CAN BE DOING INDIVIDUALLY AND COLLECTIVELY TO KEEP FAIRFAX COUNTY CLEAN AND GREEN.

Clean Fairfax presentations are interactive and can run anywhere from a 20 minute introductory session to a two hour hands-on workshop. Content can be adjusted for children or adults.

Our table exhibits show some of the environmental problems we face here in Fairfax County and how reusables can make a difference.

Contact cfc@cleanfairfax.org for more information.

Remember: You can have a bigger positive environmental impact by working with your

  • HOA
  • School
  • Scouting group
  • House of worship
  • Social organization
  • Club
  • Business
  • Non-profit organization
  • Etc.

 

Hurricane Help: A Call to Action

In response to the environmental and economic devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Clean Fairfax is posting this call to action.

If you or someone you know can help with the recovery from this hurricane season, the Small Business Association (SBA) has paid positions and FEMA has mostly volunteer positions.  Deployments are up to 60 days, some with possible extensions. SBA travel is paid, overtime is highly likely and also paid.  It’s perfect for someone who wants to give back and who has a flexible schedule/obligations.

Tell them SBA/OHRS sent you if you apply.

Hurricane Response paid positions at the Small Business Administration

To apply to volunteer with disaster relief with the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster go to www.nvoad.org

 

To apply to volunteer with disaster relief specifically in Florida go to www.volunteerflorida.org

The following is a list of the types of skills and roles FEMA is most in need of right now.

Program Area Skillset Required Duration Personnel Requirements
Individual Assistance Survivor outreach and communication, case management (Target Series: None) Up to 60 days 500 personnel

·         Specialists

·         First-level Managers

Logistics Load and unload trucks; coordinate and deliver resources; track inventory (Target Series: None) Up to 120 days 450 personnel

·         Specialists

·         First-level Managers

IT Establish connectivity for facilities; install, track, and manage equipment; configure communications equipment (Target Series: 2210) Up to 120 days 250 personnel

·         Specialists

·         First-level Managers

Disaster Survivor Assistance Engage directly with survivors; demonstrate understanding of available programs; case management (Target Series: None) Up to 60 days 300 personnel

·         Specialists

·         First-level Managers

Hazard Mitigation Floodplain management, mitigation strategies for the built environment, flood insurance, FEMA’s grant programs and authorities (Target Series: Engineering) Up to 180 days 230 personnel

·         Specialists

·         First-level Managers

Telecommunications Set up, operation, and shut down of communications vehicles; installation of voice and data cables; knowledge of radio protocols (Target Series: 0391) Up to 30 days 200 personnel

·         Specialists

·         First-level Managers

External Affairs Communications, Congressional and intergovernmental affairs, media analysis, media relations, tribal affairs, private sector relations (Any Communications Specialists – Target Series: 1035) Up to 60 days 100 personnel

·         Specialists

·         First-level Managers

Environmental and Historic Preservation Knowledge of environmental, historic, and floodplain management processes and regulations (Target Series: 2820 and 0810) Up to 120 days 70 personnel

·         Specialists

·         First-level Managers

Human Resources Human resources specialists and managers (Staffing and Processing (EmpowHR Specialists/Assistants – Target Series: 0201/0203) Up to 120 days 70 personnel

·         Assistants

·         Specialists

·         First-level Managers

Finance Travel arrangements and budget controls (Concur experience preferred – or Target Series: 0500) Up to 120 days 30 personnel

·         Specialists

Acquisitions Contracting officers, purchasing specialists, and procurement specialists (Target Series: 1101 and 1102) Up to 120 days 5 personnel

·         Specialists

 

China and Recycling in Fairfax County

A successful recycling program is a constant balancing act of supply and demand. It depends not only on input—people choosing to recycle and recycling appropriately— but also on output, a market for the recycled materials.

Ironically, China’s move to go green, a proposal to improve its air quality problem by stopping the import of a number of foreign recycled materials by the end of 2017 (some types of glass, metal, plastic, paper and textiles), may have a huge impact on the U.S.’s efforts to go green with recycling.

For a long time, China has been remanufacturing scrap from the U.S. into everyday objects that the U.S. then imports. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI), one-third of all the scrap recycled in the United States (including $1.9 billion in scrap paper and $495 million in scrap plastics) is prepared for shipment to the export market, with China as the recycling industry’s largest customer by far. ISRI points out that not only will the U.S. be losing a large market for recyclables when the ban goes through, but that many of the over 155,000 U.S. jobs supported directly by the export of recyclables could be threatened.

While other overseas markets are picking up, the Association of Plastic Recyclers asserts that domestic markets may be poised to pick up the slack. “U.S. plastic reclaimers have the capacity to handle additional tonnage if China bans recycled plastic imports, as expected, at some point this year.” But ACR also goes on to emphasize the need for more robust sorting systems—a combination of ensuring proper recycling efforts and additional mechanical and optical equipment at the Materials Recovery Facilities.

It is precisely the contaminants in the scrap that has led China to propose the ban. As they say in their statement to the World Trade Organization: “[W]e found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This polluted China’s environment seriously. To protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health, we urgently adjust the imported solid wastes list, and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted. [Objectives:] Protection of human health or safety; Protection of animal or plant life or health; Protection of the environment.

 

While our single-stream recycling program in Fairfax County offers an easy way for us to recycle since we can mix all recyclable materials except plastic bags together, it can contribute to greater contamination of the recyclables since it relies on sorting at the Materials Recovery Facilities. As individuals, we do not have control of the recycling end markets, but we can improve the recycling input.

To ensure minimal contamination, we need to be sure that we are recycling correctly: only putting accepted items in the bins (see http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/recycling/minimum.htm for a list of recyclable items) and cleaning items prior to recycling to avoid food or chemical contamination.  Even better, of course, would be to reduce our usage of single-use plastics, paper, and metals! We can do our part to keep supply and demand of recyclables in balance.

Solar Energy in Virginia

Solar energy not only contributes to environmental sustainability, but also makes economic sense from a statewide perspective. While our national government continues to tout the need to support the coal industry, solar is slowly making some inroads in the Virginia energy system. As our Solar Report Card shows, however, both lukewarm state policies and insufficient incentives still keep solar from being all it could be in our (mostly) sunny state.

A few facts to debunk some myths:

Jobs:  Only 2,647 Virginians still work in coal mining while 4,338 work in solar energy and 1,260 in wind power—and employment in alternative energy is rising. (January 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report). The number of solar jobs in Virginia climbed by 65 percent between 2015 and 2016 and solar jobs grew 53 times faster than the overall state economy according to a report released by The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census, which defines solar workers as those who spend at least 50 percent of their time on solar-related work. Alternative energy, and solar in particular, offers great employment opportunities for Virginia residents.

Cost:  Dominion Energy’s latest integrated resource plan (IRP) for Virginia reveals that utility scale solar farms (20 megawatts and up) can produce electricity at a cost that beats coal, gas, and nuclear. Accordingly, Dominion is proposing a build-out of 249 megawatts of solar per year. Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services has been building 260 megawatts of solar in five Virginia counties to supply its data centers. And developers have proposed more than 1,600 megawatts of additional solar capacity in counties across the state. At the large-scale level, there is some growth.

What about the cost to the average homeowner? Unfortunately, while the Federal government offers a 30% income tax credit, VA is behind many other states in offering incentives for homeowners to go solar. Some counties and cities in Virginia, including Fairfax County, exempt solar energy equipment from local property taxes, but that’s about it. There is no income tax credit offered by the state of Virginia.

For comparison, Maryland residents get $1,000 when they purchase a solar system smaller than 20 kilowatts for their primary residence. Also, homeowners do not have to pay any extra taxes on the increased value of their home when they go solar and the purchase of the solar energy system is tax-free. According to Solar Power Rocks, an independent organization “committed to giving homeowners a clear picture of the policy, incentives, and investment returns on local solar panel installations.” payback time for 5-kW solar in Maryland is 10 years and the Investment Return Rate is 10.3%. Here is Virginia’s Solar Report Card.   

Source: https://solarpowerrocks.com/virginia

RPS Law:  Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a law used to require electric utilities to generate a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources by a certain date. If a utility company fails to meet these goals, it can be subject to large fines.  Virginia’s standard is 15% of base year (2007) sales by 2025. For more info about Virginia’s RPS:  http://programs.dsireusa.org/system/program/detail/2528

Solar Carve-out:  Part of a state’s RPS that sets a specific goal for electricity generation from solar panels. Virginia does not have a solar carve-out.

Net Metering: Billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For more info on VA’s net metering policies: http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/PollutionPrevention/VirginiaInformationSourceforEnergy/DistributedGeneration/NetMetering.aspx

Battery Storage: Power producers face a constant challenge of supplying energy to match the ebb and flow of energy demand. Many people continue to hold the erroneous belief that solar power is too inconsistent to be reliable, i.e. when there is no sun there will be no power. According to Ivy Main, from Power to the People VA, several factors make the storage problem a non-issue in Virginia.

  • First of all, we have a huge grid managed by independent operator PJM Interconnection that easily compensates for any “down” time. While solar makes up less than 1% of its electricity supply currently, PJM’s own March 2017 study concluded that its grid could handle up to 20% solar right now without any new battery storage, resulting in energy savings (see “cost” above) and a reduction in carbon pollution from the move away from coal and gas sources.
  • Secondly, hidden in Bath County, Virginia, is the world’s largest “battery:” pumped storage provided by a pair of reservoirs generating over 3,000 megawatts of hydropower that PJM can use to balance out supply and demand.
  • Finally, actual batteries are also an option since their price has dropped by half since 2014. Solar-plus-storage combinations now compete with new gas plants that run only when there is a high demand (“gas peakers”) and batteries can also be paired with solar to form microgrids for emergency use during widespread outages.

Considering solar? Contact Solarize NOVA, a non-profit, community-based outreach initiative that brings solar power to people in their homes and businesses in Northern Virginia. They will answer questions, help find a qualified solar installer, and perform a free solar satellite assessment. http://solarizenova.org/

Keep on top of energy legislation in Virginia at https://powerforthepeopleva.com/

Help Clean Fairfax in its mission to keep Fairfax County green and sustainable!

What’s for lunch?

As children head back to school, it is easy for parents to get into what I call the “fast and furious” mode, particularly when it comes to packing lunches. Although the school year pace often feels frenetic, we all want our children to get the healthiest food. That may take some careful thinking.

Now is a great time to consider your shopping choices and stock up on the products you want your children to eat—and also consider using sustainable lunch containers.

Eco-friendly lunch boxes/bags:  Look for zero to minimal

synthetic materials or bags/boxes made of recycled synthetics.  Be open-minded about materials you may never have thought of before like stainless steel and wool!  Also, consider reusables for packing individual items like sandwiches, fruit, chips, etc. rather than single-use plastic bags.

http://smartmommyhealthybaby.com/smart-mommy/products-for-moms-on-the-go/lunch-bags-and-food-containers/

Alternatives to foods with GMO’s: http://www.gmoinside.org/non-gmo-lunchbox/

Healthy foods kids might like: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/healthy-lunches-for-kids