Archive | Sustainable

Fast Food: More Than an Artery Clogger

We all know that the ingredients in most fast food do not usually support a healthy diet. However, there are other reasons to eliminate—or at least limit—your fast food intake.

Spring brings lots of volunteer litter cleanups. What do we find? Amidst the high volume of non-reusable plastic bottles and the abundance of plastic bags, fast food wrappers and containers constitute a sizeable proportion of the trash that is picked up out of our streams and park lands here in Fairfax County.

In addition, new studies show that fast food packaging can leach potentially dangerous chemicals into the food:

http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/wellbeing/fast-food-packaging-found-to-be-just-as-nasty-as-fast-food?utm_source=rodalesorganiclife.com&utm_medium=Outbrain&utm_content=articlerightrail

But if you just can’t do without your “fix” of fast food, consider bringing your own reusable dish, cup, and cutlery to put food and drink into, if your fast food place will allow it. If it is not allowed, ask the fast food server to place burgers, sandwiches, etc. in a paper napkin and transfer the food into your own reusable container. Also, consider saving on plastic
and reducing trash output by skipping the straw and drink lid. If you can carry the items without a bag, ask for no bag.

Save your health—and the planet!

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The Case for Organics and Farmers Markets: Trump’s Chlorpyrifos Approval

 

President Trump has signed an order denying the petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) to ban chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), a pesticide that some say causes neurodevelopmental effects in children at exposure levels below EPA’s existing regulatory standard. The EPA claims that the “science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.” The next reevaluation of the safety of this product is not scheduled until 2022.

Not willing to take the risk?  According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, when it comes to local produce, this will allow peanut growers in our area to continue to use this insecticide. The Environmental Working Group suggests that if you want to avoid feeding your family produce that may contain chlorpyrifos residue even after it has been thoroughly washed, choose organic versions for these fruits and vegetables:

  • Imported peaches from Chile (20 percent of samples tested positive)
  • Imported nectarines from Chile (13 percent of samples tested positive)
  • Imported bell peppers from Mexico (22 percent of samples tested positive)
  • Imported hot peppers from Mexico (15 percent samples tested positive)
  • Domestic and imported cilantro (27 percent of samples tested positive)

Unfortunately, chloropyrifos is not the only potentially toxic pesticide in use. There are a number of organophosphates, chemicals that are specifically designed to damage an enzyme in the body called acetylcholinesterase, that are responsible for 70% of pesticide use in the United States, according to PANNA.

The argument for consuming organic produce is compelling. Consider buying organics and seeking out fresh LOCAL produce at area Farmers Markets.  You can just ask the farmer what is used to manage pests and make an informed consumer choice.

For more information about Fairfax County Farmers Markets and organic produce check out  https://ourstoriesandperspectives.com/2016/07/27/fairfax-county-farmers-markets/.   A listing of all area Farmers Markets can be found at www.cleanfairfax.org — Programs.

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Invasives = Plant “Litter”

Happy Spring! Start planning your non-invasive plantings now….

Like litter, invasive plants negatively impact the environment. Invasive plants, particularly ground cover like ivy and clematis, often have very little root structure and therefore when they cover large areas, fail to prevent erosion. Sediment then gets into our streams and creates poor water quality which impacts wildlife

Also, as their name suggests, invasive plants tend to “take over” areas. Invasive plants cause declines in native plants, including trees. They also can reduce both food and shelter for native animals, contributing to a decline in biodiversity. In fact, invasive plants are cited as a factor in Endangered Species Act listings!

 

Consider joining a local effort to remove invasive plants through Fairfax County’s Invasive Management Area (IMA) Volunteer Program:  http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/resource-management/ima/
Convinced that natives are the way to go? Here are some upcoming native plant sales in the Northern Virginia area:  http://vnps.org/spring-2017-plant-sales/

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!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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!

 

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

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.