Archive | conservation

Food: It’s a Terrible Thing to Waste!

Clean your plate: children in India/Africa are starving! Many of us heard this injunction growing up. Insufficient food is a huge problem in many countries, but even here in Fairfax County 44,000 residents receive help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because they are unable on their own to get enough food to eat.

Some individuals, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. try to close the loop and donate “extra” food to those in need, but Sustainable America estimates that 40% of food in the United States is wasted.  For more information on eating out without wasting food:  http://www.sustainableamerica.org/blog/eating-out-without-wasting-food/

Leftover food that cannot be used by others is an environmental opportunity. This past spring, Fairfax County’s Solid Waste Management Program announced its launch of a pilot composting program “to encourage the growth of local companies that collect food waste (also called organic waste) from homes, events, businesses, etc., and turn it into compost. The compost can then be used as a high-quality soil amendment in residential backyards, farms, and landscaping projects.”

What makes this type of large-scale composting appealing is that items that normally would not go in a smaller household composting operation such as bones and meat and paper products can be included.

To date, two composting companies, Compost Crew and Veterans, have registered with the program. The County has reviewed these companies’ equipment and operations, thus providing some assurance to potential customers that they are operating in a safe and sustainable way.

To participate in this pilot program, contact Compost Crew at http://compostcrew.com/signup/ or Veterans at https://www.veterancompost.com/our-services/

Bottom line: Try not to waste food, but if you do have organic scraps, put them to good use!

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!

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.

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/

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 : -)

Bye-Bye Protected Bay

I noted in my 1/11/17 blog (We are Closer to the Ocean Than You Think— http://wp.me/pBXWQ-WC ) that while we are a few hours away from the nearest beach in Northern Virginia, our streams and rivers here in the Potomac Watershed all go to the Chesapeake Bay. Now our Bay is in jeopardy!

President Trump plans to completely eliminate funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and the District of Columbia) that has improved water quality in the Bay over the years.  In 2014, the partners signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which established specific goals, outcomes, management strategies, and work plans to guide the restoration of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands around them. The EPA has used the $73 million a year program—of which Virginia got $9.3 million last year—for such projects as the upgrading of deteriorating sewer facilities and the building of fences and dams to capture sedimentation and farm runoff.

According to the State of the Bay 2016 report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to “saving the Bay through education, advocacy, litigation, and restoration,” there has been a modest reduction in water pollution and increased abundance of blue crabs, oysters and other fisheries in the last few years. The Foundation attributes the improvement in part to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) plan, the largest cleanup plan ever developed by the EPA. This plan sets limits on nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution to meet water quality standards in the Bay and its tidal rivers.

However the Chesapeake Bay Foundation still gives the Bay a rating of only C- as there continue to be problems with overall health of the Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Program website agrees: “The Bay’s health has slowly improved in some areas. However, the ecosystem remains in poor condition. The Bay continues to have polluted water, degraded habitats, and low populations of many fish and shellfish species.”
This is no time to be backing off protection for the Chesapeake Bay!  

 

 

Beyond “Bring Your Own Bag”

While we here at Clean Fairfax have been promoting the use of both reusable tote bags for grocery shopping as well as the use of reusable produce bags (see blog postings February 7, 2017; Jan 30, 2017; and, September 20, 2017) there is a way to take sustainable shopping to the next level: Consider shopping in stores where bulk items are available— and bringing your own containers.

The article at the website below outlines some excellent ways to shop “litterless” in the bulk aisle. While the link to the stores that sell bulk and allow customer containers does not mention any in northern VA, in fact, all area MOM’s Organic Markets do encourage customers to bring their own containers, but recommend that they get the containers weighed at the cashier prior to filling them. Also, Clean Fairfax is currently working with several Whole Foods in Fairfax County to develop a system that makes it possible for customers to bring in their own containers.

Check with your local food store to make sure it does allow you to bring your own container for bulk items. If not, consider advocating for it to do so!

http://www.litterless.co/journal/howtobulkaisle

 

VA Bagged Out

Virginia is definitely not keeping up with Mumbai, Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, China, South Africa, Tanzania, Australia, Ireland, and Italy. Nor with Washington, D.C., Montgomery County, MD, California, and other localities across the United States. When it comes to cleaning up our plastic bag problem, we are behind.

A proposed bill to add a plastic bag tax in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (SB 925) was “passed by indefinitely,” i.e. defeated, on January 18, 2017, by the VA Senate Finance Committee. This bill would have imposed a five-cent per bag tax on plastic bags provided to customers by certain retailers in localities located wholly within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and directed revenues to be used to support the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan. The bill would have allowed every retailer that collects the tax to retain one cent of the five-cent tax. And, as studies of areas that have passed similar legislation show, would have reduced plastic bag litter in Virginia’s environmentally sensitive Chesapeake Bay Watershed region.

Meanwhile, neighboring localities have taken action. In 2009, Washington, D.C. imposed a 5 cent tax on plastic bags. Using the slogan “Skip the Bag, Save the River” the campaign helped people make the connection between plastic bag use and the huge litter problem D.C. was facing. According to a May 2015 article in The Washington Post, the nickels from the bag fee contributed about $10 million to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund. While D.C. has struggled to scientifically measure the exact cleanup effects of the ban, in 2013 the Alice Ferguson Foundation surveyed 600 residents. The results of the survey showed that
District households, on average, estimated they had decreased bag use by 60 percent, from ten bags a week to four.

Legislation passed in January of 2012 requires retail establishments in Montgomery County, Maryland who provide customers a plastic or paper carryout bag at the point of sale to charge 5 cents per bag. The revenues from this charge are deposited into the County’s Water Quality Protection Charge (WQPC) fund. According to a July 2016 Washington Post article, Montgomery’s tax generated $10.4 million for pollution and stormwater control programs.  More importantly, traps at 15 stream sites in the county monitored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments showed a decline in the number of plastic bags collected, from 856 in 2011 to 777 in 2015. The figure from the first half of 2016 showed an even steeper drop, to 281.

And in locales farther away, more drastic measures have been taking place. Proposition 67 banning plastic bags passed by referendum this past November in California. China, not the country one usually thinks of when considering progressive environmental measures, announced on January 24 that it will prohibit the production and distribution of ultra-thin bags beginning June 1, 2017.

Why this attention on plastic bags? According to Plastic Waste Solutions, globally we use a trillion bags a year.  That is approximately 10 million every 5 minutes. And only a small number of these end up recycled since they are not typically part of regular curbside recycling programs. Wildlife ingestion and entanglement, detrimental changes in water chemistry, and unsightly litter are all results of plastic bag use—and misuse. Production of the bags also causes pollution. While the majority of plastic bags in the United States are made from natural gas, there is air pollution associated with the emissions from extraction.

For an excellent description of China’s recent environmental wake up call and the devastating effects of plastic bag litter that has prompted government leaders worldwide—though not in Virginia— to enact legislation to control or ban the use of plastic bags, read http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5565.