Author Archive | Wendy N. Cohen

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.

 

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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

 
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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.

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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!

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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

Spotlight on Eco-Friendly Business: THE INSIDE SCOOP

The Inside Scoop               

Owner: Daniel Azar

Opened for business: 2/14/2014

The Inside Scoop, a local food truck selling organic homemade ice cream and treats, made some eco-friendly changes after participating in Clean Fairfax’s SpringFest, an annual celebration of Earth Day that encourages sustainable practices.

According to owner Daniel Azar, “SpringFest’s requirements prompted me to look for alternatives that I used for that event.  After that, it stuck, and I started phasing out as much plasticware as possible.” Daniel also noted, “There is a growing concern over how much non-compostable waste we are producing.  All you have to do is google ‘landfills’ and you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of garbage that will never break down.  There needs to be more laws in place (such as California’s required recycling), but also grassroots efforts to help raise awareness and make changes, without needing to wait for a federal mandate, because it’s just the right thing to do.”

Daniel found that depending on the item, it was either the same price as plastic or a little higher, but went on to say that the slight increase in cost should be a trivial concern to businesses, small and large, because “our environment, our ecosystem, is worthless if we can’t live in it.”

His recommendation to other businesses is to “not let the bottom line be more important than the overall health of both ourselves and all of our neighbors: Fourlegged, bipedal, winged or otherwise.”

EXAMPLES OF ECO-FRIENDLY PRACTICES USED AT THE INSIDE SCOOP:

Avoidance of single-use plastics (straws, packaging, utensils, dishes, containers, bags) 

Phasing out of plastic dishes and spoons for paper and wooden ones.

Energy conservation 

Turn off and unplug any appliance not currently in use.

Recycling

Recycle at every opportunity!

Local sources

Dairy, heavy cream, and several ingredients & toppings are

locally sourced from farmers markets right here in Fairfax County and from our nation’s

Dairy State: Pennsylvania.

Organics

Dairy, agave & heavy cream are Organic.

Fair-trade 

The coffee in Espresso Chip ice cream is Fair Trade.

Composting

Wooden taster spoons, teaspoons & paper cups are all compostable.

Waste Prevention (e.g. donations of unsold product to needy)

Donated to 3 different homeless & needy shelters in the D.C Area.

Support this eco-friendly business and enjoy some yummy ice cream and treats:

http://www.theinsidescoopcreamery.com/

 

 

Why plastic bag bans or taxes haven’t happened in Fairfax County

As I distribute reusable produce and tote bags at the Fairfax County Farmers Markets during National Farmers Market Week, I often get asked about why Fairfax County has not banned plastic bags or taxed their use like many other jurisdictions around the world.

  • The first problem is that many people are not aware of the extent of the problem caused by plastic bags. In addition to being left as litter, because they are lightweight, plastic bags often fly out of trash cans and trucks, and also escape out of landfills. And, according to most estimates, in part because they are recycled separately from other plastics, only 1% of them ever make it to a recycling center.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags. One out of every ten items picked up in an International Coastal Cleanup in 2009 was a plastic bag.

Locally, Clean Fairfax’s monitoring of two 100 foot stream segments as part of our Clean Streams Initiative showed alarming results: Our Quander Brook monitoring site, which receives stormwater runoff from a Walmart shopping center, had 136 plastic bags just six weeks after the site had been completely cleaned. On Little Hunting Creek, runoff from a high density residential area of apartments left 92 plastic bags three months after that site’s cleanup. 

 

And plastic bags kill wildlife:  Entrapment, ingestion, and leaching as these bags photodegrade wreaks havoc on plant and animal life, particularly as bags float from our streams into the ocean.

  • Another problem with trying to get legislation to stem the tide of plastic bag pollution is that in VA there is the Dillon Rule which does not allow a local jurisdiction to create a ban or tax. While plastic bag legislation has been raised at the Virginia Statehouse, it has not passed. Strong business lobbies oppose it, and many legislators don’t want to ruffle constituent feathers with a perceived inconvenience.

So, it is up to individuals to make the eco-friendly choice by bringing reusable bags to every shopping experience—and to let their state representatives know that they want legislation that will help keep plastic bags out of our streams and oceans.

Attainable Sustainable: Eco-Watch not Eco-Witch

Going into Fairfax County streams to monitor and cleanup the horrific litter problem. Seeing the headlines about the long-range environmental impact of climate change. Watching webinars on the devastating effects of marine debris on wildlife. It’s enough to turn me into an eco-witch, i.e. one who constantly finds fault with individuals and businesses who are not maintaining high environmental sustainability standards in their daily practice—and governmental policy decisions that undermine our environmental quality.

 

It is important to stay vigilant to unsustainable practices, “eco-watch,” but avoid only harping about the problems as an “eco-witch.” It is time to take action. Most people— and businesses— are willing to follow sustainable practices if they 1) are easy to follow, i.e. don’t require a lot of extra work and, 2) don’t cost extra money.

So how might public outreach that is “attainable sustainable” play out?

Be a model of sustainable practices and provide the means for others to follow these.  Your simple actions can serve as a positive “eco-watch” for others: make a point of refusing straws, plastic bags, and single-use water bottles; bring reusable containers to take home leftovers at restaurants; choose fair trade, organic, and locally sourced products (e.g. Farmers Markets); and purchase energy-efficient cars and appliances. In addition to publicly modeling eco-friendly products and practices, actions such as providing friends and family with reusable bags and water bottles and buying them fair-trade gifts help spread the sustainability movement.

On a larger scale, contact restaurants that still use Styrofoam or plastic clamshells for take-out—neither of which are recyclable in Fairfax County—about using more sustainable packaging. Stay on top of environmental legislation (consider subscribing to Daily Action Alerts) and contact your local, state, and national legislators about supporting legislation that helps, not hurts, the environment.

And support organizations like Clean Fairfax that are working to inculcate more eco-friendly practices.

Don’t just complain as an “eco-witch.” Eco-watch and take action.

Prime-time for Farmers Markets: Lots of Fresh Produce and Special Events

July and August are definitely the best months to get to the Farmers Markets in this area. According to the Virginia Harvest Calendar http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/pdf/producechart.pdf published by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services this is when most of the produce is being harvested, so you will find great abundance and variety at the Farmers Markets. Also, August 2-12 there will be special events to celebrate National Farmers Market Week. (see July 26 Facebook post @CleanFairfax)

Go eco-friendly:Bring plenty of reusable tote bags, reusable produce bags, and reusable containers. Clean Fairfax is encouraging Fairfax County residents to join the #plasticfreeproduce movement. Also, consider composting the remains of your fruits and vegetables.

Why support the Farmers Markets?

1. Freshness:

Fruits and vegetables are guaranteed fresh since they are local. You can talk directly to the farmer to find out about the produce you are purchasing.

  1. Protect the Environment:

Food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate. All this shipping uses large amounts of natural resources (especially fossil fuels), contributes to pollution, and creates trash with extra packaging. Conventional agriculture also uses many more resources than sustainable agriculture and pollutes water, land, and air with toxic agricultural by-products. Food at the farmers market is transported shorter distances and is generally grown using methods that minimize the impact on the earth.  (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture)

  1. Support Family Farmers:

Family farmers need your support, now that large agribusiness dominates food production in the U.S. Small family farms have a hard time competing in the food marketplace. Buying directly from farmers gives them a better return for their produce and gives them a fighting chance in today’s globalized economy.  (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture)

  1. Promote Humane Treatment of AnimalsAt the farmers market, you can find meats, cheeses, and eggs from animals that have been raised hormone- and antibiotic-free. Also, they are often openly grazed and cage free rather than forced into cramped feedlots and cages.
  2. Connect with Your Community

Farmers Markets offer a communal gathering place for neighbors.

National Farmers Market Week with cooking demonstrations, games, kids’ activities, raffles for gift baskets and more is running from Wednesday, August 2 to Saturday, August 12, 2017 at the Fairfax County Farmers Markets. Watch the promotional video (https://goo.gl/MHQGte) for additional information.

For directions and vendors at each market visit

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/farmersmarkets or call Community Horticulture at 703-642-0128.

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