Living “off the grid” sustainably can get you in trouble with local governments

Florida woman forced to use city utilities instead of private solar panels, rainwater

A woman living “off the grid” in Florida was ordered by the city of Cape Coral to hook up to city utilities and start paying bills or be evicted from her home. Robin Speronis gets her home’s electricity from solar panels and her water from filtered rain. City officials have capped her sewer access until she starts paying utility bills. Cape Coral city code states that using solar energy and rainwater violates different regulations.

Are city codes like this becoming obsolete? Should different local ordinances be reviewed and updated in accordance with societal changes? Just a few years ago, a woman in Michigan was ticketed and charged for planting a vegetable garden in front of her home. The city told her that her garden violates an ordinance stating that only “suitable” plant material is allowed to be used in a garden. Municipal ordinances and codes should undoubtedly be updated to suit those who choose to live sustainably and unobtrusively. It is cases like Robin Speronis’ in Florida when certain situations reveal just how outdated some of these local laws are.

Environmental News Roundup! 2/20/14

Batgirl Shuts Down Boggabri Coal Mine In Australia

“Activists dressed in bat suit costumes have shut down Idemistu’s Boggabri coal mine after using harnesses to suspend themselves upside down on the site’s coal loader. The mine has been shut as a result of the action with police forced to remove the protesters after they refused to descend from the loader after more than nine hours. The activists say they are protesting against Idemitsu’s expansion plans which they claim will lead to the “destruction of the Leard State Forest”. “Globally, there is only 0.01% of critically endangered box-gum woodland left in good condition, of which the Leard State Forest contains the largest remnant,” it said.”

The Good News About China’s “Green Fence”

For over a decade, most of your recycling hasn’t just been going “away” when you put it on the curb, it’s been going to China to be reprocessed into new raw materials. However, over a quarter of these recyclables have ended up in Chinese landfills due to contamination from food waste or being mixed in with the wrong types of recyclables. When a batch of recyclables are contaminated, they end up in landfills because it takes too much time and energy to decontaminate them.

For this reason, China has erected a “green fence” policy that rejects overly contaminated batches of recyclables. This means that the shippers must pay hefty fines for inspection, housing the rejected materials, shipping them back the the States, and finding a place for them when they return. Although this sounds like a pain for American recycling businesses, it has raised the bar for material quality and allowed for production of higher quality materials. It has also brought more business to American recycling companies, as it is now sometimes cheaper to keep the whole production process in America than to ship it to China and risk rejection.

Anthropologist Jane Goodall: China is pillaging Africa like an old colonial power

“In Africa, China is merely doing what the colonialist did. They want raw materials for their economic growth, just as the colonialists were going into Africa and taking the natural resources, leaving people poorer,” Jane Goodall told AFP in an interview in Johannesburg.” China is bigger, and the technology has improved. The demand for raw materials is even greater than it was during European colonization of Africa, meaning worse destruction of animal habitat and more exploitation of native peoples. Jane didn’t see these results as all bad. She has high hopes for China given their efforts in the last 10 years to ban shark-fin soup, crush ivory trade, and improve air and water quality.

“World’s Largest Solar Plant Kills Overflying Birds” And Why We Shouldn’t Care

This article is one of the reasons why we can’t advance our green technology. It claims that in the time it took to build this solar plant, dozens of birds were injured or killed. You heard me, dozens. Not hundreds, not thousands, not millions. Dozens. Do you know how insignificant this number is compared to the amount of birds (and habitats destroyed) by the thousands of oil spills and nonrenewable resource related incidents in the past year? Just as an example:

The Exxon Valdez oil spill killed more sea birds than any oil spill in history, according to a study by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists. The new study estimates the total number of birds killed at between 90,000 and 270,000. About 30,000 sea birds killed by the oil spill were recovered last summer, the biologists concluded. They said that represents between 10 percent and 30 percent of the total dead.” And that’s just the BIRDS that were affected.

Yet clean energy naysayers and misguided environmentalists will use these silly “dozens of birds” statistic to continue to combat the advancement of clean technology which would be more helpful than harmful to the environment in the long run.

Study Finds Methane Leaks Negate Benefits of Natural Gas as a Fuel for Vehicles

“Although burning natural gas as a transportation fuel produces 30 percent less planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions than burning diesel, the drilling and production of natural gas can lead to leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”

Virginia Tech’s New Solar-Powered Trash Cans


Virginia Tech Installs 100 Solar-powered Trash Containers

Virginia Tech has made it much easier to recycle by installing nearly 100 “BigBelly Solar compactors” around campus. The containers are split into two sections: one side for recycling all metal, glass, and plastic items, and the other side for trash such as food waste, paper, and Styrofoam. What makes them unique is that they use solar energy to power a trash compactor inside of the containers, creating more space for waste. They can hold five times the trash in one container as a normal trash can. These containers also have sensors that let campus maintenance staff know when the containers are completely full and need to be emptied.

“We have had several areas, especially around bus stops and high traffic areas out at the residence halls that we would have overflowing containers three or four times a day,” said Director of Facilities, Anthony Watson. “That has been reduced to one collection a day or sometimes every other day.”

Virginia Tech will save a lot of money over time on trash removal services thanks to these solar-powered containers. Currently, staff empty waste bins around 6 times per week. That number is expected to decrease by 40-50 percent with these news containers in place.

Virginia Tech’s current recycling rate is 44 percent, and has been growing at a steady rate since 2008. The university hopes to reach a 50 percent recycling rate by 2020.

Environmental News Roundup!

 Coal slurry spill pollutes West Virginia creek

There has been a large spill of coal slurry – a mix of coal dust, rock, and various chemicals – from a plant into a tributary of the Kanawha River in Charleston, West Virginia on Tuesday. Local officials said the impact of the spill is “significant”, estimating it to be more than 100,000 gallons. “The rock, coal and clays contain a wide range of heavy metals including arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, iron, manganese, aluminum and nickel,” according to the Sludge Safety Project. In areas that have experienced slurry contamination, people have suffered from “kidney and liver disease, tooth loss, skin rashes, diarrhea, and several different cancers,” the Sludge Safety Project stated. With multiple toxic spills occurring as a result of the negligence of coal companies in the past few weeks, will the EPA step in and take action?

Hawaii Is First State to Ban Plastic Bags

Why do we create bags made with a material that may never break down in the environment, only to use them once before throwing them away? Hawaii has provided their own response to this question by being the first state to completely ban plastic bags at grocery checkout counters. “Being a marine state, perhaps, we are exposed more directly to the impacts of plastic pollution and the damage it does to our environment,” said Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club’s Hawaii chapter. Restaurants and other businesses have been charging customers for plastic bags for a year on the Big Island of Hawaii. Although no other U.S. states have placed bans on plastic bags, several cities have, such as Los Angeles,  San Francisco, Portland, and Washington, DC.

China to set up $1.65 billion fund to tackle air pollution

On Wednesday, the Chinese government said it will set up a $1.65 billion fund to fight air pollution, even offering rewards for any companies that clean up their act. Air pollution and oppressive smog in China has made headlines across the world in the past year. Sources told Reuters that the Chinese government could grant its small environment ministry new powers over various resources, possibly giving it the ability to veto projects, and more influence to punish polluters. In the past, authorities have issued countless policies and orders in an attempt to curb pollution in the country. Enforcement of these policies has been patchy at the local level, where authorities often rely on taxes paid by the industries that do most of the polluting.

Common crop pesticides kill honeybee larvae in the hive

Penn State and University of Florida researchers have found that four pesticides commonly used on crops to kill insects and fungi also kill honeybee larvae within their hives. Jim Frazier, a professor of entomology at Penn Sate said, “We also found that the negative effects of these pesticides are sometimes greater when the pesticides occur in combinations within the hive. Since pesticide safety is judged almost entirely on adult honeybee sensitivity to individual pesticides and also does not consider mixtures of pesticides, the risk assessment process that the Environmental Protection Agency uses should be changed.” The researchers also found that N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP), a chemical used as a pesticide additive, is very toxic to honeybee larvae. Colony Collapse Disorder, an increasingly-common phenomenon in which worker bees abruptly disappear from a beehive, is becoming a very serious problem around the world. Pollination from the efforts of bees helps at least 30% of the world’s crops. If all bees were to disappear from the Earth, we would lose much the food we put on our dinner tables every night. In some parts of China, workers are having to go out and pollinate their crops by hand.

Where Global Warming Went: Into the Pacific

Research has revealed that stronger equatorial trade winds bury “missing” heat under the surface of the ocean. These trade winds have been blowing stronger than usual over the Pacific for the past two decades. A lot of energy from global warming has been stored in the Pacific Ocean, and in the future it will come back out in a burst of heat. “In due course, the atmosphere will warm up as though the hiatus never occurred. But regardless of when it ends – in a couple of years or in a whole decade – our research suggests the warming will be quite rapid.” according to a researcher in England. Since 2001, the average air temperature has risen more slowly than it did in previous decades. Climate skeptics and different news agencies have stated that there has been a “pause” in global warming. Others have said that the current cold winter in the U.S. is further evidence to their argument. Global warming has not stopped. The ten hottest years on record have all happened since 1998, with 2010 being the hottest year on record. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not “pause” and suddenly stop trapping energy. The real question that scientists have been asking is where the extra energy goes. With new research like this, they are getting some answers.

Environmental Failures of Sochi Olympics

In This Salon Article, the author details several repercussions of building the complexes necessary to house and show this year’s Winter Olympics. You may have heard about the dirty water, the unfinished buildings, and the exceptionally dangerous slopes for skiers, but have you heard about the environmental impact? Unlike the Beijing Olympics, where the thick pollution of the city was actually tamed for a short while due to relentless restrictions, the Sochi Olympics seem to have done more environmental harm than good.

If you didn’t know, the Sochi Olympics are based on the edge of Sochi National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the construction has affected 8,750 acres of once protected wildlife and wetlands. The biggest shame is said to be the polluting and reshaping of the Mzymta river, which was the spawning site of one-fifth of Russia’s valuable Black Sea salmon and an important water source for surrounding towns.

The article goes on to discuss the impact of deforestation and reforestation, the destruction of the habitat of dozens of bird species, the disappearance of brown bears, illegal dumping, arrests of important environmental watchdogs, and so on. While I believe it is nearly impossible to build such infrastructure without environmental impact, it is also important to own up to, and have a recovery plan for these mistakes.

Environmental News Roundup!

Australia approves Barrier Reef dumping plan

A plan to dump millions of tons of dredged mud near the Great Barrier Reef has recently been approved by the Australian government as part of a coal port expansion. Under this plan, nearly 3 million cubic meters of dredged mud will be dumped within the borders of the protected area. Although the government has stated that none of this mud would be deposited directly onto the coral reef, environmentalists say that the Great Barrier Reef is put at grave risk by the plan. Felicity Wishart, of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said that the reef will experience negative health effects from the dredging. “When you dump sand and sediment, a lot of it is suspended in the water. It will travel out to the reef, and that is our concern. The sediment will cut out light and make it much more difficult for sea grass and coral to survive.”

North Carolina coal ash spill draws new focus to controversial industrial waste

A large storm pipe underneath an ash basin at a coal plant in North Carolina broke broke this past Sunday. It is estimated that up to 82,000 tons of coal ash, along with nearly 27 million gallons of polluted “basin water” were released into the nearby Dan River, prompting serious concerns. Coal ash, also known as “coal combustion residuals”, is produced as a result of burning coal at power plants. It contains different toxic heavy metals such as lead and mercury. However, coal ash is labeled as an “exempt waste” under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which was put in place to regulate the impact of toxic waste materials. By the end of 2014, the EPA will officially determine if coal ash is deemed a hazardous waste under the RCRA.

Renewable energy gaining on fossil fuels

The outlook for renewable energy has been looking up in the past few years. Governments and citizens alike are becoming more environmentally-conscious, and the statistics are showing it. Since 2007, electricity generated from coal has decreased 24.9% from 2.02 billion MW-hours to 1.51 billion MW-hours in 2012. On the other hand, electricity generated by wind turbines grew 309% to 140.8 million MW-hours and solar energy grew 607% to 4.3 million MW-hours. Most areas prime for wind turbines in the United States have already been developed. There is a high potential for solar energy to become even more popular among residential homes in the United States within the next few years.

Fracking is depleting water supplies in America’s driest areas, report shows

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process of extracting underground oil or gas by forcing open fissures in underground rocks with highly-pressurized liquid. In some of the most arid regions of the United States from California to Texas, research has found that fracking is depleting water supplies. A report by the Ceres investigator network has found that of the 40,000 gas and oil wells drilled since 2011, 75% were in areas where water comes scarce, and 55% of these wells were located in areas experiencing drought. Hydraulic fracturing around the United States uses up a huge amount of water. It can take millions of gallons of fresh water to frack a single well. As more droughts occur in the future, methods of extracting oil that require vast amounts of fresh water will need to be redesigned or phased out completely.

Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing Worst

The record-breaking drought that California has been experiencing is putting the state’s supply of drinking water at risk. Some rural communities that need to provide for up to 40,000 people only have an estimated 60 to 120 days of clean drinking water left. It is likely that trucks full of drinking water will have to be transported into these drought-stricken communities. News wells will have to be dug, putting additional stress on the local water tables. Since there has not been enough rain to clean the air in Southern California, smog and other air pollution in the Los Angeles basin has creeped up to levels that are dangerous for human health. Agriculture has also taken a hit as a result of the drought. Some farmers have given up on trying to plant crops for the time-being. According to B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, “We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years,”.

Environmental News Roundup!

DDT: Pesticide linked to Alzheimer’s

“Exposure to a once widely used pesitice, DDT, may increase chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, suggest US researchers.” The study published by JAMA Neurology revealed that subjects with Alzheimer’s had up to four times as much of the DDT pesticide in the body as those who did had no traces of it. Although banned by the United States decades ago, DDT is still used in some developing countries to control the spread of malaria.

Has Obama Kept Promises on Climate Since Last State of the Union?

“In his State of the Union address a year ago, President Barack Obama promised that he would begin tackling climate change, whether or not Congress wanted to cooperate.” This article goes into detail outlining President Obama’s progress, or lack of progress, on multiple environmental issues over the past year since his last State of the Union address.

Use of ‘fish aggregating devices’ could be unsustainable

This article details the big issue of illegal fish aggregating devices (FADs) depleting the world’s fisheries. Fishermen in different regions are using different FADs to catch as many fish as possible at once. What these fishermen don’t realize is that their individual actions make a serious impact on the world fish supply. This article also discusses how FADs could even be used to protect fish stocks, “by deploying these rafts and then either banning or heavily regulating fishing.” If used for protecting fish, these devices “could protect highly mobile species that are inclined to swim out of traditional marine protected areas, or function as extensions of a reed system.”

David Cameron to rip up green regulations

British Prime Minister David Cameron plans to get rid of 80,000 pages of environmental regulations and guidelines in an attempt to alleviate pressure on businesses. In 2010, Cameron said that his coalition would strive to be the “greenest government ever”. The Prime Minister claims that much of the scrapped regulation is needless.

Can Plastic Be Made Environmentally Friendly?

“The world produced an estimated 288 million metric tons of plastics in 2012, up from 99 million in 1989. Millions of barrels of crude oil is used to make this plastic, much of which is used only once and then thrown away.” Mark Herrema, a Princeton graduate, aims to make renewable plastic without the use of oil. He plans on using methane, a greenhouse gas that is a common agricultural byproduct, to make a plastic material. Today, more corporations are exploring sustainable plastics as a viable alternative to normal plastic packaging. Herrema’s sustainable plastic can save huge amounts of methane from being released into the atmosphere.



New Intern Introduction


I’m Anthony, the new intern at Clean Fairfax! Right now, I’m in my junior year at George Mason University majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. I’ve worked with “The Potomac Pullers” in monitoring and removing invasive plant species from the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

After I graduate, I would really like to work in the social side of environmental science. I think that being able to communicate major environmental concerns to the community is just as important as researching solutions to these problems. Real change starts with everyone at a local level being environmentally-aware.  Fairfax is such a large and diverse county with lots of different natural resources. I’ve started working with Clean Fairfax since I really want to get involved in making the community more sustainable and protecting Fairfax’s finite resources. I am really excited to work together with Jen and Erin in helping the Fairfax community become more environmentally-sustainable!

Environmental News Roundup!

Record 829 Manatee Deaths in 2013 Puzzle Scientists

“From 2010 to 2013, about 900 more manatees died than expected—from red tides, cold weather, and other mysterious causes. The 829 known deaths last year were the highest annual total since biologists began keeping records of this endangered species.”

What will happen to global warming when we get the next big El Niño?

This article does a fair job explaining the current climate situation and the dangers and costs of the next big El Niño, which typically causes severe drought and record high temperatures. For Australia (the focus of the report), the article states that “in 134 years of records, nine of the 10 warmest years have all happened since the turn of the century – with 1998 the exception. There has not been a single year in the last 37 that’s been cooler than the long-term average.”

Chinese Smog Reaches All the Way to Los Angeles

“As much as a fourth of the sulfate pollution in the western U.S. derives from Chinese factories. Pollution doesn’t pay attention to national boundaries, so there’s nothing stopping China’s smog from drifting back across the Pacific Ocean to plague Los Angeles. Japan and South Korea regularly experience bouts of westerly winds bringing unwelcome particulate matter from their near neighbor. Korean media has even given a nickname to toxic clouds from China: “air raids.”

Shaken By ‘Frackquakes,’ Texans Demand Halt On Wastewater Injection Wells

In places where fracking has been recently employed to harvest oil and gas, citizens report several earthquakes in places that have never had an earthquake before, or have not had one in over a century. “The U.S. Geological Survey says that the wastewater injection process — which lets fracking companies dispose of wastewater by storing it wells underground — can help cause of earthquakes by reducing underground friction along seismic faults.”

Virginia Tech Researcher Develops Energy-Dense Sugar Battery

“A Virginia Tech research team has developed a battery that runs on sugar and has an unmatched energy density, a development that could replace conventional batteries with ones that are cheaper, refillable, and biodegradable. In America alone, billions of toxic batteries are thrown away every year, posing a threat to both the environment and human health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This development could help keep hundreds of thousands of tons of batteries from ending up in landfills.The battery is also refillable and sugar can be added to it much like filling a printer cartridge with ink.”