Archive | Sustainable

Pay-As-You-Throw

 

I heard the trucks early Thursday morning and realized belatedly that we had forgotten to put the trash and recycling bins out the previous night. Later, concerned that we would have overflowing bins as we waited until the following week for pick-up, I peered into the bins and realized that, in fact, my recycling bin was half full, but my trash can was almost empty. It occurred to me then that if we were paying for trash services the way that we pay for electricity, water, and natural gas, i.e. paying for what we use, we would be saving a lot of money with our household’s judicious use of the trash can.

The pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) concept is not new. A 2002 report, Municipal Experience with Pay as You Throw Policies: Findings from a National Survey, found that cities that implemented PAYT programs on average realized a 44% decrease in waste generation and a 75-100% increase in recycling. According to a June, 2016, Coalition for Resource Recovery article, PAYT is in approximately 7,000 municipalities in the United States.

PAYT programs vary in how they keep the measurement of solid waste from becoming a logistical nightmare.  In proportional pricing, residents are charged per-unit amount, i.e. per bag within a trash receptacle. Variable-rate pricing charges the residents based on the size of their chosen container, regardless of the number of bags inside for any given pick-up. Multi-tiered pricing starts with a flat-fee for base-level service, and then additional fees are added depending on the amount of waste thrown away. For more details on these pricing systems go to https://archive.epa.gov/wastes/conserve/tools/payt/web/html/top13.html

The EPA offers three reasons to support PAYT: 

Environmental Sustainability:  The increase in recycling and decrease in trash generation leads to fewer natural resources being extracted and fewer greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacture, distribution, use, and disposal of products.

Economic Sustainability:  Residents can take control of their trash bills, waste haulers can lower their tipping fees, and the program may actually generate revenue to cover solid waste costs.

Equity:  One of the most important advantages of having a PAYT program for solid waste is that it is fair: the more you recycle and compost—and help the environment—the less you pay.

So, why hasn’t Fairfax County jumped on the PAYT bandwagon?

Right now, the cost of solid waste management is usually not noticed as part of the property tax bill, in the case of the 44,000 households in Fairfax County that have county hauling. The inflated cost private haulers charge to account for full trash cans in the rest of the county is also often not recognized. PAYT would draw attention to these costs. Also, the changeover needed to either track the number of bags or issue new containers of variable size is often cited as too expensive.

Without a citizen demand for change, there is no incentive for haulers to move to a PAYT structure. It is therefore up to us to continue to recycle and compost as much as possible without an expectation of monetary savings, but rather with the knowledge that we are supporting environmental stewardship and sustainability.

 

 

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Make the Red Holiday Greener

Beauty Products. Chocolate. Flowers. Cards.

Valentine’s Day is an epic day of giving. Consider making some green choices by purchasing gifts that are ethically produced and eco-friendly. Check out some ideas here:

http://www.treehugger.com/culture/how-celebrate-green-valentines-day.html


According to the National Retail Federation’s Valentine’s Day Consumer Spending Survey reported in 2016, fifty percent of consumers surveyed said they planned to buy candy, spen
ding a total of $1.7 billion. Check out Green America’s Scorecard on chocolate:

http://www.greenamerica.org/programs/fairtrade/whatyoucando/chocolateScorecard.cfm

Use your consumer power wisely on Valentine’s Day!

 

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Sustainable Shopping: Get Organized!


My grocery store trips have usually been rushed affairs, and I rarely have taken notice of other customers’ purchases or shopping practices. Recently, however, Clean Fairfax was
designated as Whole Foods’ recipient for a Nickels for Nonprofits campaign (through January 15), whereby shoppers could donate the five cents returned to them for each reusable tote bag to Clean Fairfax. As part of this campaign, I set up a table to distribute both reusable tote bags and reusable produce bags for two hours at each of the five Whole Foods in Fairfax County.

What I found surprised me. My assumption was that most Whole Foods customers, already a select group of grocery shoppers leaning heavily towards the more environmentally aware, would have their own reusable tote bags. I expected to hand out more reusable produce bags, small washable net bags to replace the plastic bags used for produce and bulk items, since these are less known than the totes.

Instead, very few customers actually brought reusable totes, though many admitted to having a cache of these at home or in the car. Also, of the several hundred people I interacted with, only a handful had ever heard of the reusable produce bags let alone owned any— and none had brought them to the store to do their shopping.

I have recently begun paying more attention when I shop at Shoppers, Giant, and Safeway, more typical grocery stores. The majority of customers are still going for the plastic bags—and the research shows that most of those are not recycled. According to Worldwatch Institute, every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags, which can clog drains, crowd landfills, and create a litter problem.

There is no reason why the reusable totes—and smaller net produce bags— cannot also be used not only at the grocery store but also when making purchases at drugstores, clothing stores, shoe stores, etc. It just has to become a habit.

 As indicated in a previous blog, reusable bags are only of value when they are used a lot. TreeHugger, a sustainability website, sums it up as follows:

“What ultimately matters is if you actually use your reusable bags, or if you collect them dutifully from vendors and at conferences but then forget them at home every time you go to the store. If you can commit to using your canvas bag 171 times, or something like a Chicobag eleven times or more, then you have made a good decision. If you can’t commit to this, chose plastic over paper bags, reuse the bags at the store, repurpose them as trash can liners, and recycle the rest at your local grocery store.” 

 Earth911 has posted “5 Ways to Create a Waste-Free Grocery Shopping Trip.” Their suggestions include using reusable tote AND produce bags, bringing jars/containers for bulk items, purchasing items with minimal packaging, and, perhaps most important of all, developing an organization system that helps you remember your bags and containers when going to the grocery store.

You can read the full post here:

http://earth911.com/home-garden/waste-free-grocery-shopping/?utm_source=New+Earth911+List+-+2015&utm_campaign=2d48a23f07-Tuesday+Emails+1.24.16+-+ISRI+SPONSOR&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5e8b4dc609-2d48a23f07-167852373

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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.

 

Don’t Wish-Cycle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supporting environmental sustainability means recognizing some of the limitations of what we can do at this time—and avoiding trying to recycle items that our area recycling program cannot yet support. The single stream recycling that we enjoy here in Fairfax County, enabling us to throw all recyclable items together, often leads to over confidence in what can and cannot be recycled. Including items that our recycling program is not able to accommodate, wish-cycling, can cause more harm than good.
Check out Earth 911’s description of the detrimental effects of wish-cycling:  http://tinyurl.com/jasz8r9

Get informed so you don’t make mistakes. Learn some FAQs about recycling in Fairfax County athttp://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/navbar/faqs/recycling-gen.htm and specifics about what can and cannot be recycled at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/trash/dispaccept-index.htm.  If you have private recycling, check with your hauler to find out what is—and is not— acceptable.

And things do change. For example, for many years, multi-layered cartons—milk, juice, soup, etc.—could not be included in Fairfax County recycling. This past summer, Fairfax County’s recyclers, American Recycling Center in Manassas, found a market for tetra pak, as these cartons are referred to in the industry,  and added them to the list of acceptable items.  Recycling cartons keeps more items out of the waste stream and, according to Fairfax County’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, “can generate revenue for a recycling program, offsetting some of the costs of collection.” http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/recycling/cartons-are-recyclable.htm

Tetra pak cartons are aseptic, free from micro-organisms, and are used for liquid food items so they can be stored for up to one year without refrigeration. This multilayered material is 75% paper, 20% polyethylene, and 5% aluminum. The paper part is what can be recycled relatively easily and is used to create recycled paper products and building materials. Although recycling of tetra pak is widespread in Europe, it has been very limited in the United States, with only 58% of U.S. households having access to carton recycling according to the Carbon Council.

Be an informed environmentalist and recycle properly! Be an environmental activist and encourage your recycling company to find ways to broaden what can be recycled!

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

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 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

 

Keeping Amazon Green

ordering-presents-onlineReminder: When you order from Amazon this holiday season, go to www.smile.amazon.com 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 http://parktakes.fairfaxcounty.gov/rev1_coursedetail.asp?direct=YES&CDE=2744872001&view_records=Go

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, about.com 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. http://earth911.com/home-garden/8-easy-green-thanksgiving-tips/

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 awareness.va-green-logo

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 Eventshttp://www.deq.virginia.gov/Portals/0/DEQ/PollutionPrevention/VirginiaGreen/8-4-11_Green_Events.pdf

To find lists of Virginia Green Certified facilities, go tohttp://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/PollutionPrevention/VirginiaGreen/GreenConventionsConferences.aspx