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

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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/

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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!

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/