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 : -)
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!
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!
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.
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 www.fairfaxcounty.gov/recycling.
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 cleanfairfax.org .
Also check out Fairfax County Public Schools’ Get2Green initiative designed for “school district sustainability and engaging students in environmental action.” https://www.fcps.edu/academics/academic-overview/get2green
Soil. Not 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 fertilizers, 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…..
As we get closer to America Recycles Day, November 15, I wanted 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 advantages 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 environment 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 salvaged 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 http://www.secondchanceinc.org/benefits-of-deconstruction/
You can recycle more than you think!
According to 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: https://www.berrybreeze.com/10-things-can-recycle-probably-dont-now/
To add to that list, TerraCycle and Scotch Tape have created a free recycling program for tape dispensers and cores: https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/scotch-tape-brigade-r
Do your part and extend your recycling power!