The Trees That Keep on Giving

Like down and out divas past their prime, unadorned Christmas trees line the streets the first two weeks of January.  Without lights, decorations, or stands these trees are a reminder that—at least until Valentine’s Day—the winter holiday season is over.


Fortunately, here in Fairfax County, these trees get to serve a second purpose. From January 1-16, if you receive trash and recycling service directly from the county, your tree will be picked up from the curb and it will not count as one of your allotted five special collections per fiscal year (July 1 –June 30). The tree, like the rest of your household waste, will then go to the waste-to-energy facility where it will be safely burned to help generate power.


While most private haulers also pick up your trees to send to the waste-to-energy plant (contact your private hauler to find out), if your private hauler sends out a truck just for the trees, i.e. a “dedicated” truckload of trees, these trees will be ground up to create mulch.


In Fairfax County, your Christmas tree keeps on giving. For more information, go to



From Generation to Generation: Forte Grants Encourage Environmental Stewardship in Children

It starts by getting kids to recognize the challenges we face as stewards of our environment, and then supporting them in devising solutions. Problems like the environmental degradation caused by litter and chemical pollutants, the vast amounts of food and other resources wasted in school settings, and the lack of affordable fresh produce for low income families are all
abstract ideas until children get a chance to monitor the situation in their own communities and then engage in a hands-on project. Towards this end, Clean Fairfax just distributed $2,275 to fund six different green projects in Fairfax County schools as part of its Johnie Forte, Jr. Memorial Environment Education Grants program.

Belvedere Elementary School will be augmenting the efforts of their 5th grade Waste Watchers (litter clean up) Group with new more efficient and sanitary trash grabbers. They will also track what they are picking up (2x monthly) and share that information with us.

Lanier Middle School will create an all-natural, safe-for-the-environment laundry detergent, using STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) techniques to work on the right formulation. They will then give presentations to all the 7th grade classes to educate students and families about the impact of laundry detergent on the watershed. This project will also qualify them for the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America State Leadership Competition.

Pine Spring Elementary School will supplement their School Composting Program, started two years ago, with four more compost tumblers in order to take food waste from the cafeteria, turn
it into black gold, and use it on their school garden. They will also order a shipment of worms to practice vermiculture, the use of worms to decompose organic food waste more quickly.

Riverside Elementary School ‘s Eco-Action Club will be getting some heavy duty recycling cans and art supplies for informational posters to supplement their recycling program in the cafeteria. Students, teachers and custodians will help everyone learn the process of separating out everything that can be recycled from the trash.

Colvin Run Elementary School‘s 4th grade will add another large composter to their composting system, working on recycling as their service learning project. CRES donates uneaten fruits, snacks and drinks to Cornerstones of Reston. 4th graders pack up the supplies for the volunteers who pick them up on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The composter will
help them divert food waste from the trash, and they plan to use the completed compost in their school garden.

Holmes Middle School Gardening Club will create a community garden that would provide fresh produce to their students and families. The Gardening Club would tend the garden during lunchtime and after school, and they have teachers, students, and parents who live nearby tend to the garden over the summer months.

It is this involvement that cultivates a new generation of environmentalists committed to stewardship of our earth. These children, quite literally, are our future.

For more information about the Johnie Forte, Jr. Memorial Environment Education Grants go to the “Programs” tab at .

Also check out Fairfax County Public Schools’ Get2Green initiative designed for “school district sustainability and engaging students in environmental action.”


World Soil Day—December 5

Soil. Noperson-with-soil-and-plant-headt great when it smudges your clothing or gets tracked into your home, but as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations points out, it is a “life enabling resource.” As an essential ingredient to healthy food and nutrition, or as they put it, “where food begins,” soil is indispensable in providing
sustenance for humans. Additionally, soil can play an important role in slowing climate change by storing carbon through a process called carbon sequestration.  Healthy soil decreases greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere and is therefore, according to FAO, “our ally against climate change.”  Yet, we continue to take soil for granted, and our actions negatively impact this important resource.

On a macro scale, industrial activity, particularly mining and manufacturing, have a huge effect on our soil. Unsustainable agricultural practices such as the heavy reliance on pesticides and shopping-carts-in-streamfertilizers, damage the soil too. In fact, according to the FAO, “if soils are managed poorly or cultivated through unsustainable agricultural practices, soil carbon can be released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), which can contribute to climate change.” Oil spills and acid rain also contribute to soil degradation.

But our own individual actions count as well. Every piece of litter thrown by the roadside or dumped into a stream is not only unsightly and may entrap
wildlife, but also leaches foreign substances into the soil and waterways as it biodegrades.  Check out some pictures of litter here in Fairfax County. Imagine the impact on our precious soil as these items break down.

If soil sustains life, we are not doing enough to protect it. The implications are huge….tire-and-other-litter.

Keeping Amazon Green

ordering-presents-onlineReminder: When you order from Amazon this holiday season, go to to designate Clean Fairfax as a recipient of a portion of your purchase price. You can use your existing account and your purchases will help support Clean Fairfax using the Amazon Smile program!

That being said, Green America is asking Amazon users to urge Amazon to switch to 100% clean energy at its data centers and operations. Unlike Apple and Google who already use 100% renewable energy,  to date, Amazon has not been reporting publicly on its total energy use, and has never disclosed a timeline for reaching its 100% clean energy goal. According to Green America, “The company also refuses to produce an annual sustainability report documenting its full environmental impacts.” logo

Join us in calling on Amazon to publicly set a 2020 deadline to reach 100% clean energy, and to disclose its impacts on the planet and its plans to reduce them.

Greening Your Thanksgiving

What would make your Thanksgiving more green?    green-turkey No, it’s not about a green turkey or even just going for the vegetarian option.

fall-pixFirst of all, how about getting outside in nature? Fortunately, Thanksgiving marks that time of year where, here in northern Virginia, we can usually still enjoy some outside time without having to drag out the down jacket. And, believe it or not, you can still spot wild turkeys in Fairfax County In fact, Fairfax County Parks and Rec has the perfect opportunity for getting outside this Thanksgiving:  On Saturday, November 26, 2016, the whole family can enjoy exploring wild turkey habitat on a Turkey Walk at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. To register, go to

But what about the traditional Thanksgiving meal itself? What are some “green” Thanksgiving practices we might want to consider?

It’s amazing how many different organizations have suggestions when you google “green thanksgiving tips.”  The Nature Conservancy, Big Green Purse, and EcoWatch were obvious sites. And, of course, has suggestions on everything. But then there was advice from Harvard University, the Huffington Post, 7d8853d7ef0c96f4d14075e4933bc04fand even the Personal Finance section of the online U.S. News and World Report!

My own favorite was a 2009 posting on Earth 911 which has some excellent suggestions on shopping for food (think organic and local), avoiding food waste when preparing food and disposing of leftovers, participating in healthy recreation, minimizing carbon footprint for travel, recycling, and using reusable table settings and natural decorations.

Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving 2016 to all!


Green Your Next Event

overflowing-bins-glasto-1024x827America Recycles Day, November 15, 2016 has arrived—and I want to talk about a pet peeve: Large events that provide NO recycling options! I have recently attended indoor and outdoor sporting events, a large training event with teenagers, and a wedding. In every instance, huge quantities of bottles and cans were thrown into the garbage, not because the facility did not have recycling on the premises, but rather because they did not make it easy for participants to recycle.

People want to recycle. According to an April, 2016 Pew Research Center Report, 39% of U.S. adults say the term “environmentalist” described them very well. Data from a Pew 2014 survey shows that close to half, 46%, of Americans say they recycle or reduce waste to protect the environment whenever possible.

So we need to give people a chance to recycle: If you are planning a personal or work event, check with your venue to ensure that adequate recycling options are available for the guests or participants making it easy for them to recycle.

One easy way to ensure that you are “greening” your event is to find Virginia Green Certified venues. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), and the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association (VRLTA) have partnered together to provide opportunities for facilities to reduce the environmental impacts of the tourism and events industry and raise environmental

To become VA Green Certified, Convention and Conference Centers must at a minimum

  • Provide Recycling:provide for recycling at their events
  • Minimize the use of disposable food service products:use products that are made from bio-based or renewable resources and provide for recycling or composting of items
  • Water Efficiency:must have a plan for conserving and using water efficiently
  • Energy Conservation:must have a plan in place to reduce overall energy consumption
  • Support Green Conferences & Events: must offer a “green” or “environmentally-friendly” package for events.

For ideas on Green Events, please check out the fact-sheet on Environmentally-Responsible Conferences, Meeting, and Events

To find lists of Virginia Green Certified facilities, go to



Don’t Demolish—Deconstruct

As we get closer to America Recycles Day, November 15, I wstuff-in-a-landfillanted to talk about a BIG recycling opportunity that often gets missed.

Everyone has seen the pile of cabinets, appliances, light fixtures, countertops, flooring, carpeting, etc. that accompanies a remodeling project. Most of what is in that heap can be recycled or reused—and if donated to a qualified 501(c)3 charity, can be claimed on taxes as a charitable donation at fair market value. While deconstruction does cost more than demolition, and usually takes longer since the materials are being carefully salvaged, the advantagestove-and-fridges of tax savings and environmental sustainability can outweigh those disadvantages

Located in Fairfax, DeConstruction Services, LLC has had over 1,000 deconstruction projects in the area since 2004, donating the property owner’s material to The Rebuild Warehouse in Springfield. According to Amy Hughes, V.P. Human Resources, DeConstruction Services has saved 25,656 trees. This translates to 5440 football-sized plots of plantation pine trees and 192 tons of greenhouse gases not produced. On the economic side, the value of the property owner donations of reclaimed used building materials has added up to approximately $24 million.

Second Chance, located in Baltimore, is another large-scale deconstruction company that does projects in Fairfax County. They are actually a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that, according to their website,  provides “people, materials and the environmenrebuild_salvaged_kitchent with a second chance.” They deconstruct buildings and homes, salvage usable materials and have a retail space for those items in Baltimore. Additionally, with the revenue generated, they provide “job training and workforce development for those with employment obstacles in the Baltimore region.”

Whether your project is a smaller bathroom or kitchen remodel or a whole house major reconstruction, consider deconstructing rather than demolishing. Also check out available rebuild_lumbersalvaged materials for the construction phase.

Locally, The Rebuild Warehouse in Springfield, along with Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores in Alexandria and Chantilly accept—and offer—a wide range of building materials.

For a complete list of deconstruction advantages, go to





Styrofoam Packaging: A Recycling Challenge

styrofoam-mountain-480x319While most of Styrofoam—95%— is actually air, the solid part is the epitome of environmentally unfriendly: not only does it not biodegrade, but when it is burned, it creates a toxic ash. And remember, in Fairfax County, our municipal waste is virtually all burned at the Covanta trash-to-energy plant in Lorton (more on that in a future blog). Also, polystyrene, Styrofoam’s generic name, is made from styrene, a petroleum by-product.

However, it is precisely its lightweight easy to mold qualities that make polystyrene plastic such a desirable packaging material. So, what is an environmentalist to do?

Encourage companies to send items packaged with alternative materials:

  • Puffy Stuff and StarchTech, for example, use cornstarch to create completely biodegradable—and allegedly edible—packing peanuts. This packaging material can even be hosed down and used as fertilizer.
  • EarthAware™’s packing materials are made with a special type of plastic that can biodegrade in just 5 years. That’s a lot quicker than Styrofoam’s biodegradation date, which is never.dscf0019
  • Evocative is making Mushroom® Packaging— an earth-friendly protective packaging product made out of mushrooms(!)— that companies like Dell and Stanhope Seta are using today

What to do with the polystyrene packaging you receive?

Packing “peanuts” can be saved and reused to ship a package. Or they can be donated to UPS, FEDEX, or other shipping stores for re-use.

Molded polystyrene packaging, the kind that cushions new appliances in the box, should not be put in recycle bins, and there are no Fairfax County or nearby recycling centers for this type of plastic.

Cool art project anyone?         styrofoam-art

Not just cans, bottles, and paper…

You can recycle more than you think!

According pile-of-worn-out-sneakersto the EPA, the average person produces 4.40 pounds of trash per day or about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year However, we recycle and compost only 1.51 pounds of our individual trash generations. While the EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, we only recycle about 30% of it! So, here is how you can do your part to lower your trash output even further.

In honor of upcoming America Recycles Day on November 15, here are some items you may want to consider recycling:

To add to that list, TerraCycle and Scotch Tape have created a free recycling program for tape dispensers and cores: scotch-tape-mainimage

Do your part and extend your recycling power!