Archive | Do It Yourself

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.

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 : -)

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

 

Spring into Composting

As we head towards Spring, this is an excellent time to consider composting: The warmer weather tends to break down organic materials more quickly, and you don’t need to brave the cold to get to an outdoor bin.  Also, if you start now, you should end up with some excellent quality soil for your summer garden!

 

Why bother? Composting reduces the amount of garbage you create and therefore the amount of landfill space filled, or in the case of Fairfax County, the amount of ash waste produced by incineration. By not purchasing compost or fertilizer for your garden, composting not only saves you money, but it also saves fossil fuels since many commercial methods of producing compost and fertilizer use machinery that runs on oil/gas. Composting also saves your garbage disposal from overworking. And you are creating rich soil to add back to the earth!

What can be composted in a residential setting? Just about any non-meat food scraps or organic yard waste. Here are some exceptions from Eartheasy, Solutions for Sustainable Living: perennial weeds (they can be spread with the compost) or diseased plants; pet manures if you will use the compost on food crops; banana peels, peach peels and orange rinds since these may contain pesticide residue; and, black walnut leaves (leaves create a chemical toxic to many plants called juglone, and though it breaks down fairly quickly in compost, may not be work the risk).

 

How do you get the materials to compost? If you have an outdoor area available to you, there are several options. You can purchase a composting tumbler or a bin. Purchased composters will be accompanied by directions. If you build your own bin, or fence an area to be your compost pile, or just start a pile, you will need to stir it up periodically and keep it moist.

 

Rodale’s Organic Life suggests the following for starting a compost pile more scientifically:

Start by spreading a layer that is several inches thick of coarse, dry brown stuff, like straw or cornstalks or leaves, where you want to build the pile. 2. Top that with several inches of green stuff. Continue layering green stuff and brown stuff with a little soil mixed in until the pile is 3 feet high. For more info, go to www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/how-compost

 

What is the apartment-dweller with no access to outdoor space to do? Fortunately, there are some excellent technologies that make composting possible even for people living in apartments.   http://earth911.com/home-garden/bokashi-composting/?utm_source=New+Earth911+List+-+2015&utm_campaign=877c6ea77f-Tuesday+Emails+2.13.17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5e8b4dc609-877c6ea77f-167852373

 

Early March is a great time to “get back to the earth”—literally!

 

 

 

Plastic Clamshells in Fairfax County, VA: Try not to buy, DON’T RECYCLE, and reuse whenever possible.

They are everywhere: From packaging berries, grapes, tomatoes, and fresh herbs to restaurant leftovers and to-go meals.  And this type of plastic has been a real challenge to the recycling industry. In fact, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), as late as 2010, clamshells were not being recycled in significant amounts anywhere in the United States or Canada. Now however, according to the November 2016 issue of Plastics Recycling Update, recycling programs that include this material are available to more than 60 percent of the U.S. population. But not to Fairfax County residents.

Plastic clamshells are a type of blister packaging, but rather than have a backing of paperboard or thin foil, the clamshell folds onto itself and is made completely from thermoplastic, or plastic that has been heated into its current shape. In the
case of sold food items they may also have a paper label with information about the product.

The problem with recycling this plastic in Fairfax County is twofold: First of all, while many of these clamshells are made of PET, polyethylene terephthalate, or #1 plastic, which IS normally recycled in Fairfax County, the tec
hnology is set up to recycle bottle shaped PET, not the pie-shaped, square-, or rectangular-shaped clamshell. Secondly, some clamshells are made from polystyrene, or #6 plastic which is not recycled in the County.  So the second problem is that at the materials recovery facility (MRF), the optical sorting has difficulty distinguishing between the different plastics.

So, what is the environmentally conscious Fairfax Count
y consumer to do until Fairfax County recycling programs can handle this type of container? For one thing, try purchasing produce that does not come in a clamshell. Also, consider bringing a reusable container to restaurants where you anticipate you will be taking ho
me leftovers.

If you do end up with clamshells, here are some innovative ideas for how to reuse this type of plastic:  https://repurposeful.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/repurposing-repeat-offendors-plastic-fruit-containers/

DIY and Environmental Sustainability

There is a plethora of do-it yourself (DIY) ideas on the internet that promote environmental sustainability. From 100 Ways to Repurpose and Reuse Broken Household Items http://www.diyncrafts.com/6081/repurpose/100-ways-repurpose-reuse-broken-household-items to ideas on how to extend the useful life of old clothes, dilapidated furniture, and even used tires, broken tools, construction debris, and ripped wrapping paper. (See blogs dated 11/8/2016 and 12/22/2016 for the latter two.)

The term “upcycling” is often used to describe this repurposing of objects that have lost their initial usefulness. According to dictionary.com, the definition for upcycle is “to process (used goods or waste material) so as to produce something that is often better than the original” as in “I upcycled a stained tablecloth into curtains.”

Some environmental purists, however, claim that upcycling requires the materials to go back up the supply chain rather than just make the chain a bit longer. They claim that for something to be considered truly upcycled, rather than recycled, it must be a process that can be repeated over and over without the material ending up in the landfill.  For example, they point to soda cans which can be melted down and made into brand new cans. and in the process save over 90% of the energy required to make new ones from scratch. This cycle can continue in perpetuity, reducing energy consumption and effectively removing certain materials from the waste stream. Newsprint can also work this way. Plastic bottles, on the other hand, are usually recycled into carpets, or toys, or winter fleeces which will eventually become trash.

Whether do-it-yourself projects are really recycling rather than upcycling can be debated. However, indisputably, DIY projects can be amazingly ingenious ways to turn potential problems into nifty solutions.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5rhVIwhIs5sbERVY0pwY0E2dVU/view?usp=sha