Author Archive | Wendy N. Cohen

Get Outside!

 

In 2005, Richard Louv coined the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book, Last Child in the Woods, to describe the host of behavioral problems he attributes to humans, especially children, spending less time in the outdoors.

Highlighting this trend away from connecting with the natural world, a recent National Aquarium commercial shows a child watching sea life in an underwater tank and remarking how “life-like” it is. The dad tries to help the son recognize that it IS real-life, not virtual reality.

The solution: GET OUTSIDE! We are lucky here in Fairfax County to have 427 parks on approximately 23,359 acres of land. There is truly something for everyone: from outdoor waterparks to the new Treetop Adventure Course at South Run. The parks also include many miles of hiking trails. For  more information about Fairfax County parks and programming, go to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/

For those who want to gain in-depth understanding of the natural environment or want to work on an environmental project in their community, the Master Naturalist program may be an option. The Master Naturalist program describes itself on its Virginia website as “volunteer educators, citizen scientists, and stewards helping Virginia conserve and manage natural resources and public lands.” This organization has trained experts to help reconnect people to their natural surroundings. Check out the Fairfax Chapter http://www.vmnfairfax.org/SitePages/Home.aspx

For individuals who want to go even further, registration to start the training towards becoming a Master Naturalist is happening right now for the fall training session. http://www.vmnfairfax.org/Shared%20Documents/2017%20UPDATED%20FMN%20Application_Fillable.pdf

 

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Energy Star Program on the Chopping Block

If you have shopped for a new appliance in the last 25 years, you may have seen the ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate by promoting energy efficiency.

The program helps shoppers identify products that use less electricity. It also certifies buildings that meet strict energy performance standards set by the EPA. According to the EPA website, “ENERGY STAR certified buildings save energy, save money, and help protect the environment by generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions than typical buildings.”

When news broke that the Trump administration wants to defund the program as part of the budget plan, more than 1,000 companies called for it to be saved in a letter to Congress.

This program is a great example of the government and the private sector working together. It costs just $50 million a year, and the EPA estimates that it has saved Americans $430 billion on utility bills since 1992.

So, why would the Trump administration want to cut this program? A CNN report on April 26, 2017, revealed that 11 of Trump’s 15 properties in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco have received scores below 50 (out of 100) in energy efficiency from the Energy Star program. Buildings with low energy efficiency — like Trump’s properties — tend to have lower property values than their competitors. Corporate, public and individual buyers are increasingly looking for green buildings, especially when these offer cost savings in the long run. Energy Star provides a mechanism to publicly inform buyers of the energy efficiency of their potential purchase, thus “outing” the energy hogs.

Congress needs to hear from individuals as well as corporations on the benefits of this important program!

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Parties in the Woods: Litter and Fires

Fires set by groups of young people “hanging out” in the woods in Fairfax County are posing a real threat to the environment. Typically, small groups of students, usually high school age, will find wooded areas to congregate, often during the school day. Many times they have brought snacks and beverages, sometimes alcoholic beverages. Not wanting to show they have been cutting class—and, in some cases, illegally drinking— they will usually leave the packaging in the woods. Piles of cans, bottles, wrappers, etc. dot the wooded areas surrounding some of our high schools. More conscientious students even put everything in a bag and tie it up, though they still leave the bagged litter rather than try to dispose of it properly.

While this litter is a nuisance and does have an environmental impact on area wildlife that gets entrapped or ingests the litter, when groups decide to add a bonfire to their party in the woods, they are inviting possible environmental devastation, particularly as we get into the dryer months and students are out of school with more time on their hands.

Please immediately report to the police department any evidence of fire activity or ongoing problems with litter piles left over from “parties” in the woods.

Plastic-Free Farmers Markets

This summer Clean Fairfax is working with area farmers markets to encourage a move towards going plastic-free. We will be at area markets distributing reusable tote bags and mesh produce bags to replace plastic bags. Farmers market attendees often already own tote bags, so we are especially promoting the use of smaller mesh bags. These can also be purchased at Whole Foods or online. For example, Bag Again has mesh produce bags made from recycled plastic bottles:  http://www.bagagain.com/home.html

Right now, even when going to the farmers market, many people are forgetting their reusable totes at home or in the car, and most people are using small plastic bags for produce purchases. I personally observed 126 plastic bags in a two hour time period at one area farmers market!

Although a plastic bag can be reused—and most environmentally-minded people do say they use them at least once again—consider the life cycle of a plastic bag: From petroleum use in the production to the energy use necessary to recycle these bags—that is, assuming people bother to take them to the grocery store—plastic bags waste resources.

Source:  https://greenerideal.com/life-cycle-of-plastic-bag-large/

Plastic bags are also a huge source of litter in our streams. I have participated in numerous Fairfax County stream cleanups this spring and have found as many as 161 plastic bags in one 100 foot long stretch of stream. Since they are not part of the curbside recycling program in Fairfax County, many plastic bags are NOT getting recycled back at the grocery store and end up in the waste stream or as litter. On the other hand, I have never seen a reusable bag (or reusable bottle for that matter!) littering a stream.

And plastic free farmers markets can be done. Farmers markets on the West Coast went that direction years ago, and countries around the world are taking the lead on complete plastic bag bans or plastic bag taxes.

In Fairfax County we have no legal restrictions or taxes on our plastic bag use. It is up to each of us to voluntarily make the environmentally friendly switch to reusables. Please remember to take your tote bags AND mesh produce bags to the farmers market and grocery store this summer!

June 8: World Oceans Day

In 2008 the United Nations proclaimed June 8 World Oceans Day. This year the theme is Our Oceans, Our Future. The conservation action focus isencouraging solutions to plastic pollution and preventing marine litter for a healthier ocean and a better future.”

According to the Oceanic Institute, oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water. With such great volume of water, how can litter be a problem?

We’ve all seen litter debris wash up on the beaches ruining the beach aesthetic and posing a potential health problem as beachcombers walk barefoot along the shore and toxins leach out of the litter. Some who have gone snorkeling or diving may have also encountered plastic bags, parts of fishing gear, plastic bottles, etc. below the surface of the ocean. And, of course, there are the entanglement problems: animals with plastic bags or plastic six pack holders wrapped around them. And ingestion situations: sea creatures with assorted garbage in their stomachs.

Particularly unbelievable is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, described as a soupy collection of marine debris—mostly plastics – with estimates measuring it at anywhere from 270,000 square miles (about the size of Texas) to 5,800,000 square miles (more than one and a half times the size of the United States). Similar, though somewhat smaller, swatches of floating litter, primarily large plastic pieces and the small micro-plastics these break down into, exist in the other oceans as well.

And marine litter has permeated even to the deepest parts of the ocean. Dr. Lucy Woodall, a scientist at the University of Oxford, conducted two large-scale surveys of deep sea areas in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and found litter at all locations, despite the depth of the samples and the remoteness of the locations.

And this is just the visible litter. Dr. Woodall’s sampling of deep sea organisms found evidence of ingested fibers in every creature.

This summer, when you head to the beach, be sure to pack out what you bring in. Consider going the extra step and picking up any litter you see.

And remember that the litter problem actually begins miles away from the ocean: our waterways here in Fairfax County go into the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay, and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.

Start with an effort to keep our waterways in Fairfax County free from litter. Contact Clean Fairfax if you have seen a trashy area you would like to clean up and need gloves and bags.

For more information about World Oceans Day go to http://www.worldoceansday.org/

Carbon Offset Your Summer Travel

Summer is a heavy travel time and eco-tourism is on the rise. In fact, the UN has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

 A 2013 NY Times Sunday Review article entitled “Your Biggest Carbon Sin May Be Air Travel” says that one round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10.

One way to minimize the environmental impact of your travel is to purchase carbon offsets.  A carbon offset is essentially a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that compensates for an emission produced somewhere else. But when buying carbon offsets, it is important to be clear on what offset sellers are guaranteeing. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the offset should be real, verified, enforceable, and permanent. Also, the offset should be additional with no leakage. In a 2016 article entitled “Should You Buy Carbon Offsets?” they give the following example:

If the offset seller is giving money to a landowner in the Amazon who promises to leave his/her trees standing to maximize carbon sequestration, there needs to be a way to ensure there is an actual landowner with the trees, a way to penalize this landowner if s/he does not follow through, and guarantees that the trees won’t be burned down six months later. Also, if the landowner was not planning on removing the trees anyways, this would be considered a gift rather than an offset. Finally, if the logging company just buys the land next to the landowner’s land, then the carbon offset just shifted deforestation rather than prevented it.

According to the NRDC, “The best carbon offset programs are transparent. If you have concerns, you should contact the seller to find out exactly what you’re buying. Many will allow you to direct your money to specific projects or away from others.”

 There are numerous carbon offset sellers online. Be sure to read the fine print.

Green-e provides international energy certification. Their suggested list is at https://www.green-e.org/certified-resources/carbon-offsets

 If you want to know how much carbon you are creating go to http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/calculator

A more detailed carbon calculator can be found at https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/

Holey Driveways!

According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, increased development across the Potomac Watershed has made stormwater runoff the fastest growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. The non-permeable asphalt that covers our roads and parking lots coupled with the roofs of densely packed buildings in Fairfax County, force rain water and any litter or chemicals into stormwater drains which have outfalls into our streams. The faster flow of water caused by the impervious surfaces also is a major source of erosion.

Here are some suggestions from Recycle Works for individual homeowners to try to reduce the polluted run-off that ends up in our streams and the erosion that this water flow causes:

Replace solid driveways with porous alternatives.  Replace solid concrete and asphalt driveways, with pavers, cobblestones, brick and turf stone, all of which will slow down the flow of water and allow it to settle into the ground. Another alternative is using impervious paths for the car tires with green plant material in between. Solid concrete can also be broken-up with decorative and functional paver inlays.

Porous paving or pervious pavement.  Pervious pavement is a cement-based concrete product that has a porous structure allowing rainwater to pass directly through the pavement and into the soil at the rate of 8 to 12 gallons per minute, per square foot. This is achieved without compromising the strength, durability, or integrity of the concrete structure itself.

Use dry laid patios and walk ways instead of wet laid. Wet laid patios are set in concrete, which does not allow for any stormwater to be absorbed in that area. In contrast, dry laid patios are set in stone dust, which slows the velocity of sheet flow and allows for some absorption of storm water in that area. An additional benefit for regions that receive freezing temperatures is that dry laid patios will not crack like wet laid surfaces.

Interrupt walkways.  Small planting beds and creeping groundcovers, such as thyme, can be incorporated into the edges of walkways and patios. These planted areas will help to slow storm water flow and create a more aesthetic space.

Rain Barrels.  Placing rain barrels at the end of downspouts enables collection of run-off water impermeable roofs that can then be used for watering gardens. Note: Due to possible leaching from roof shingles, rain barrel water is not recommended for vegetable gardens.

Decking materials.  Treated wood, commonly used for decking, can be replaced with several alternatives. The first, and best alternative, is salvaged lumber. Salvaged lumber has been harvested from previously existing sites and is in good condition. Salvaged lumber can be attained in bulk from salvage shops.

A second alternative to using treated wood is lumber certificated sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The Council utilizes region-specific forest-management standards to judge if a particular forest operations is in conformance with FSC standards. A certificate is issued, enabling the landowner to bring product to market as “certified wood,” and to use the FSC trademark logo. This process is at the landowner’s request.

A third option is plastic wood or products such as TREX, which is made from reclaimed plastics and woodwaste. Advantages of plastic wood include thatit will not rot, does not need to be sealed, is resistant to moisture, bacteria growth and graffiti, and cleans up with soap and water. Guide to Plastic Lumber.

Vegetated steps.  Utilize groundcovers and moss as the landing surface cover onsteps that are located in low-traveled areas. A solid riser will still be needed to retain the integrity of the step.

Recycled concrete.  Use concrete from demolished walkways and driveways to build retaining walls and patios.

Green retaining walls.  Build small out-pockets and planters on the sides of retaining walls. Planting these planters with visually interesting material and vines will also help to absorb water and reduce run-off.

 

 

Weed-free—Naturally!

Keeping our yards weed-free: It’s more than just a desire to “keep up with the Joneses” and not have the ugliest yard in the neighborhood. I would argue that most suburban homeowners in our area strive to maintain a beautiful yard because it is a pleasure to come home to a blooming weed-free paradise after a day of inside work. In our moderate climate zone, we are blessed with a fairly long growing season and an ability to cultivate a large variety of plants. With this opportunity, however, comes responsibility.

I noted in a previous blog (Invasives=Plant Litter March 20, 2017) the importance of planting non-invasives, and, whenever possible, removing invasives. However, what to do about weeds is another aspect of suburban gardening that requires careful decision-making to reduce negative environmental impact.

According to the Plant Natural Research Center, “While most modern herbicides are designed to kill only plants and have little or no toxicity to humans, many still have extreme consequences in the environment, changing habitats in ways that affect insects and wildlife. These consequences extend to water courses where they may kill beneficial aquatic plants and fish.”

In addition, a Purdue University study of dogs from treated and untreated yards found that untreated grass contained chemicals from drift from other yards, and half of the dogs studied who lived in untreated yards still had chemicals in their urine. The Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Purdue found that certain garden and lawn chemicals are linked to canine bladder cancer.

And there is some evidence that toxins in herbicides CAN affect humans. A case-controlled study published in March 1999 by Swedish scientists Lennart Hardell and Mikael Eriksson showed that non-hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is linked to exposure to a range of pesticides and herbicides, including glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup often used to control poison ivy in this area. Relatively unknown prior to the 1940’s—about the time pesticides and herbicides came into more widespread use— NHL is now one of the most common types of cancer.

Fortunately, Earth 911 offers some excellent all-natural ideas on how to take care of weeds: http://earth911.com/home-garden/all-natural-weed-killer/?utm_source=New+Earth911+List+-+2015&utm_campaign=50dab42296-Tuesday+Emails+5.9.17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5e8b4dc609-50dab42296-167852373

You may also decide that that “weed” in your garden is really quite beautiful and worth leaving alone. Make environmentally sustainable choices in your garden this year!

(Native Joe Pye Weed is popular with both bees and butterflies—and is technically not a weed : -)

Community Groups Fight the “Battle of the Bottle” by Kris Unger, Friends of Accotink Creek

The NOVA Trash Action Work Force’s (TAWF) first Day of Action on May 8, 2017 was a success! We protested at the headquarters of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), calling out their opposition to litter reduction initiatives. The IBWA opposes bottle deposit bills, bans on sale of water in disposable bottles in national parks, and other initiatives to reduce trash in our streams. We had at least 30 people, and people brought a lot of creative energy and enthusiasm to the protest. The day started cold and early, but we persisted, setting up our display of bags of plastic water bottles retrieved during stream cleanups at two parking spots across from the building. We had a great mix of signs and messages, from sharpies, cardboard and glitter fish to posters by graphic designers!

More pictures here: https://hku60.smugmug.com/FACC/FACC-TAWF-IBWA-050817

Also, https://www.facebook.com/pg/novatawf/photos/

Friends of Accotink Creek’s Philip Latasa deserves special recognition for his creative contributions, from puppets made of water bottles to an aerial campaign, sending (tethered) balloons up to IBWA’s offices with the message “IBWA, your plastic doesn’t go away!” Friends of Little Hunting Creek formed a strong leadership core throughout the campaign, and Eleanor Quigley took up the flag and led us on our march around the building. Friends of Lake Accotink Park’s Meghan Walker managed planning and coordination like a pro! Clean Fairfax‘s Wendy Cohen​ and Toni Genberg,  and volunteer Sue Freilich, handed out 200 reusable water bottles and flyers at the adjacent King Street Metro, catching the morning rush.

We were especially grateful to have two local Virginia politicians join us:

Delegate Paul Krizek (44th District) took up the flag and led us for awhile – he’s been a strong leader on trash reduction initiatives and a great supporter. Later Tilly Blanding, candida
te delegate for District 42 marched with us, and led us in song she made up on the spot: “Power to the People / Not this Plastic./ We’re out here marching, / ‘Cause things are getting drastic!”

​ – Watch the video!

​Representatives from l​ocal environmental groups including Friends of Dyke Marsh

​ (Glenda Booth)​ Friends of Huntley Meadows (Cathy Ledec)​, the Sierra Club (Great Falls Group)

​ (Norbert Pink)​, and the Alice Ferguson Foundation also joined us – We’re stronger together!

This was our first Action, and we’re very pleased with how it turned out. We’re glad that we invested a lot of time in planning and coordinating this event, because that resulted in a strong team with good diversity – everyone brought different skills and interests to the table, and we worked to find ways that we could collaborate and support each other.

We don’t know what our next step will be, but given today’s success, we know there will be one!

Special thanks to our partners and co-sponsors, who helped with planning, outreach​, advice and support!

Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment

​Clean Water Action​

Friends of Accotink Creek

Friends of Dyke MarshFACC-TAWF-IBWA-050817 – hku60

Friends of Huntley Meadows

Friends of Lake Accotink Park

Friends of Little Hunting Creek

Sierra Club (Great Falls Group)

TRASH DAY OF ACTION: Battle of the Bottle

 

Pohick Creek. Difficult Run. Little Hunting Creek.

Yep, these are some of our streams here in Fairfax County. Notice the prevalence of plastic bottles!

If you think this is a problem, come join the Trash Action Work Force (TAWF), a coalition of citizen groups, in a peaceful demonstration on Monday, May 8, from 7 a.m. – 10 a.m. in front of the International Bottled Water Association at 1700 Diagonal Road in Alexandria. Clean Fairfax will be distributing free REUSABLE water bottles at the King Street Metro Station.

The action intends to draw attention to the significant role of disposable plastic water bottles in the scourge of litter in the streams and waterways of Northern Virginia. Despite years of volunteer cleanups, this litter keeps coming back. This litter is not only ugly, but also impacts wildlife.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvE0FZHe6ls

The International Bottled Water Association, the location of our rally, has lobbied heavily to overturn legislation that allows national parks to ban disposable water bottles. About twenty parks have this ban in place and there is evidence that there has been a reduction in litter issues. Congress is preparing to approve a bill to support the International Bottled Water Association’s plan to put disposable water bottles back in the parks. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/congress/article148174439.html

TAWF membership includes Friends of Accotink Creek, Dyke Marsh, Huntley Meadows, Lake Accotink Park, Little Hunting Creek, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, Clean Water Action, and Sierra Club (Great Falls and Mount Vernon Groups)  More at https://www.facebook.com/novatawf/

Thank you to Elaine Sevy, concerned Fairfax County resident and active member of Friends of Accotink Creek,  for providing the following fact sheet:

Why Make the Switch to Reusable Water Bottles?

Billions of disposable water bottles become litter.  Last year, Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only about 23 percent.  The average American used 167 disposable water bottles, but only recycled approximately 38 of those bottles (Source: banthebottle.net).  Tragically, the bottles that aren’t recycled end up in streams, rivers and the ocean, or in landfills.

Disposable plastic bottles can take 450 years to decompose.  In the article “Why You Should Never Drink Bottled Water Again” by Nathaniel Berman, a major concern is raised that plastic water bottles “…can take up to 450 years to decompose, further releasing contaminants into the soil, water and air.”  (ECOwatch.com)

Is Tap Water Safe to Drink? Tap water and bottled water are generally comparable in terms of safety,” said Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., with the Mayo Clinic. “So the choice of tap or bottled is mostly a matter of personal preference.” (www.mayoclinic.org). More than 90 percent of U.S. water systems meet all regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency. (Excerpt from a today.com article titled “How to Flush Your Bottled Water Habit.”)

Is Bottled Water Just Tap Water in Disguise?   Twenty-four percent of bottled water sold in the United States is either Pepsi’s Aquafina (13 percent of the market) or Coke’s Dasani (11 percent of the market). Both brands are bottled, purified municipal water.” (Source:  banthebottle.net)

Good quality reusable bottles are affordable and available.  As of April 2017, analysts at thewirecutter.com have conducted more than three years of research into all types of reusable bottles including steel, insulated, plastic, glass and collapsible.  Many of these products are dishwasher safe, making them easy to clean and sanitize.  Click on the link for their suggestions and where to find them, http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-water-bottle/.

Electrolytes can be added to water in your reusable bottle.  Gatorade and other brands of electrolytes are available in single-use packets and multiple serving canisters for use in reusable bottles.  These products are available through Amazon and other retailers.  All-natural electrolyte packets and canisters also are available through Amazon and at local merchants such as Whole Foods.

Filtering Your Own Tap Water Saves a Bundle.  How much bottled water will $80 buy?  “In single servings it’s about 11 gallons,” calculates Emily Wurth, director of water policy at Food & Water Watch.  “So even if you’re a moderate water drinker who downs just one 16-ounce bottle a day, you’ll spend about $80 for just a 3 months’ supply, or 11 gallons worth, of bottled water.  That same $80 will get you at least a year’s worth of filtered tap water.” ((Excerpt from a today.com article titled “How to Flush Your Bottled Water Habit.”)

An average water pitcher filters 240 gallons of water a year for about 19 cents a day.  With so many filter brands (Brita, PUR, ZeroWater, etc.) and types (pitcher, faucet attachment, under the sink, etc.) to choose from, a good place to start your research is choosykitchen.com, “Water Filter Reviews” by Kelly Burgess, March 2017.