Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Vision is Green

My name is Sarah Jo Lambert and for my Girl Scout Gold Award project I built an environmental center made entirely out of green materials for kids to learn how to take care of the environment and become strong leaders in the future. It is a 100% Carbon Neutral building materials, meaning that everything that was used to create the Lorax Lodge was reduced, reused, or recycled. It is 850 sq ft in capacity and the walls are made out of Earth Co. Megablock systems. This means that the walls are just compressed earth and weighed about 1 ton each. I also created a curriculum guide so if children didn’t get the opportunity to visit the Lorax Lodge then they could study about the environment in their schools. I translated the curriculum into Spanish as well so that it could be available to more people. I also created a Green Challenge that challenges Girl Scouts around the world to implement the same ideals into their communities and lives. I did all of this over a course of two years because I love the outdoors and being in the midst of wildlife. I wanted kids to be able to experience the same passion and love for this beautiful world that I feel everyday. I hope that children will develop this same passion and zeal and have it for the rest of their lives as they learn to become future leaders of the world.

This trip to Washington, D.C., was my first trip to our capitol city, and it blew my mind. I have never felt so much awe before in my life. From the architecture to the history, I think I fell in love. Not only was meeting the President of the United States an unbelievable honor, but it was so surreal it was hard to imagine that it all really happened. I also got to visit many other amazing places. I went to the Spy Museum, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, a night tour of all of the monuments, and last but definitely not least, the Library of Congress. I got lost with my mom and my new friends and I don’t think I ever would want to be lost in any other way.

This award was very important to me because I was allowed the honor of meeting extraordinary and talented teenagers. They were just as nerdy as I was, and just as passionate about the environment and of life. I believe that everyone who was a recipient of this award, including myself, will have bright futures that will consist of making the world a better place for today’s generation, as well as generations to come. With a future generation that will soon rule the world, I feel very encouraged that tomorrow will definitely be better than today. Not that today isn’t good, but things can only improve. Thank you so much for picking me as a recipient for Region 6, I have never been so honored before in my life.

About the author: Sarah Jo Lambert is a high school student from Lubbock, TX. She recently received a Presidents Environmental Youth Award for project The Vision is Green.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Saying No to Drugs in Water

Don't flush your old prescriptions!

Don't flush your old prescriptions!

While prescription drugs may fix what ails you, they’re bad medicine for our waterways. As the federal government focuses on the impacts of pharmaceuticals in water, you can do your part to keep traces of left-over pills from popping up in your neighborhood rivers. Do you know we shouldn’t be flushing any drug down the toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying information tells us to do so? I discovered that some cities or counties have organized events called drug take-back programs where you can bring your unused or unwanted prescription or over the counter pharmaceuticals for collection and incineration. Not every area has a program through, so EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region also recommends these steps to properly dispose of unused medicines:
1. Take your prescription drugs out of their original containers
2. Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.
3. Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or into a sealable bag.
4. Conceal or remove any personal information, including your Rx number, on the empty pill containers by covering it with black permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.
5. Place the sealed container with the mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash.

Made you curious? Find more information and tips on pharmaceuticals in water or if you’re interested in learning more about a take back program in your area, leave a comment on this blog.

What else do you think would heighten awareness of this issue and keep drugs meant for your system out of the water system?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Case for Green Tourism

Recently I participated in a green business conference focused on pollution prevention for the manufacturing and hospitality industries in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This was a joint effort between EPA, the Puerto Rico Solid Waste Management Authority, the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, the Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association, the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, and the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.

Puerto Rico attracts 2.5 million tourists every year. While Puerto Rico is known for its balmy weather, diverse eco-systems, and a rich cultural history, it has another unique characteristic: it also uses the most electricity per person of anywhere in the world. Greenhouse gas emissions in Puerto Rico are 230% more than the world average and water consumption is 1,089,000,00 gallons per year. Tourism operations in Puerto Rico contribute to high electricity and water consumption and waste generation patterns.

While there are more than 450 “green” certifications for hotels, all programs are strictly voluntary. So, how do you develop a truly sustainable facility in the midst of an economic crisis to attract green tourists? In this conference, several hotel owners shared best practices. I found one of the inns located in the southeastern part of the Island to have many noteworthy green features. The inn has a recycling program, solar water heater for the pool and rooms, composting area and water recycling just to name a few of the efforts. Guests are invited to bring their own beach towels since the hotel provides none in an effort to save water. The inn has received the highest green award by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company for the past two years in a row. Larger hotels like the Caribe Hilton, where the two day seminar was held, have also incorporated energy and water conservation efforts into their daily operations. Furthermore, they have gradually been incorporating more energy efficient appliances and air conditioning systems. These changes have yielded savings to the landmark San Juan hotel and contributed to a reduction of the hotel’s carbon footprint.

There are many shades of green travel. As tourists make greener demands of the hospitality industry, hoteliers will learn to reinvent themselves in order to comply.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Turismo Verde

Recientemente participé en una conferencia dirigida a la industria turística y farmaceútica de Puerto Rico y las Islas Vírgenes sobre estrategias de prevención de contaminación. Esta actividad fue un esfuerzo conjunto entre la EPA, la Junta de Calidad Ambiental de Puerto Rico, la Autoridad de Desperdicios Sólidos, la Asociación de Hoteles y Turismo de Puerto Rico, la Asociación de Oficiales para el Manejo de Desperdicios Sólidos de Norteste de Estados Unidos, la Asociación de Industriales de Puerto Rico y la Compañía de Turismo de Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico recibe cerca de 2.5 millones de turistas cada año y es conocido por su clima agradable, su rica historia cultural al igual que por su diversidad de ecosistemas. Pero también posee una carácterística sinfular: es el lugar en el mundo donde más electricidad se consume por persona. Las emisiones de gases de invernadero en Puerto Rico son 230% más que el nivel mundial y el consumo de agua es de 1,089,000,00 galones por año. Las operaciones turísticas en Puerto Rico contribuyen al consumo desmedido de agua y electricidad al igual que a la generación de basura y desperdicios.

Aunque hay cerca de 450 certificaciones verdes para hoteles, todos los programas son voluntarios. ¿Cómo desarrollar una hospedería sostenible en plena crisis económica que atraiga turistas “verdes”? En la conferencia tuvimos la oportunidad de escuchar dueños y gerentes de hotels, quienes compartieron con nosotros sus experiencias y prácticas de manejo. Uno de los mejores ejemplos es el de una pequeña hospedería o “parador” ubicada en el sureste de Puerto Rico. Este hotel de 34 habitaciones tiene un program de reciclaje, calentador solar tanto en el area de la piscine como en los cuartos, centro de composta y reciclaje de agua, por solo nombrar algunas de sus practices de manejo. En este hotel los huéspedes deben traer su propia toalla de playa para fomentar el ahorro de agua. El hotel ha recibido el galardón máximo que otorga la Compañía Turismo de Puerto Rico por los pasados dos años. Instalaciones más grandes como el Caribe Hilton, en donde se llevó a cabo la conferencia, ha incorporado prácticas como conservación de agua y energía en sus operaciones lo cual ha resultado en una reducción en su huella de carbon. El hotel ha sustituído enseres y equipo de aire acondicionado, según estos dejan de funcionar, por otros de alta eficiencia.

Hay muchos tonos de verde, al igual que opciones a la hora de vacacionar. Según los turistas exigan a los hoteles y la industria turística, estos tendrán que reinventarse para así satisfacer la demanda por un turismo auténticamente verde.

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: EPA Helps Celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

As part of a series of United Nations (UN) events celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB), and to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, the UN Environment Programme organized an event on April 30 at New York’s American Museum of Natural History.

The event brought together scientists—including me—for a panel discussion on the important roles biodiversity and ecosystems play for children’s health and well-being.

We discussed the implications of continued biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation for children, highlighting key concepts with case studies in Africa and Latin America. We also talked about actions we think would provide mutual benefit to both conserving biodiversity and protecting children’s health and well-being.

So what can be done to achieve mutual benefits for biodiversity and child health?

Erika Vohman, of the Equilibrium Fund, presented one great example from the Fund’s award-winning Maya Nut Program in Latin America. The program concentrates on helping rural women, acquire skills to produce and sell products made from Maya nuts they harvest from the rain forest.

The nuts are extremely nutritious, providing high levels of protein, fiber, calcium, potassium, folate, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, E, C, and B. Vohman’s team has documented a wide array of benefits from the program, including rising income levels, increased self-esteem and status for the women, food security for families, and better health and nutrition for mothers and their children. They even found an increase in infant birth weights.

The event gave me the opportunity to talk about EPA’s efforts to develop transdisciplinary studies linking ecosystems, biodiversity, and human health. One example, as I’ve blogged about previously, is our effort to explore the links between biodiversity and Lyme disease transmission (for which incidence rates are highest among children.) These studies are fostering partnerships among ecologists, epidemiologists, urban/suburban planners, and local and state governments to discuss scientific advances and new risk prevention/reduction strategies at the landscape and household scales.
It takes a community to engage in biodiversity and children’s health and to put results into action!

About the author: Montira Pongsiri, PhD, MPH, is an Environmental Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor. She has blogged about her work exploring the links between biodiversity and human health for Science Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: A podcast of the event is available at: http://www.amnh.org/news/2010/05/podcast-childrens-health-ecosystems/. A brochure of key messages from the event will be publicized by partners and used during IYB, including for the General Assembly’s High Level Meetings on the IYB and progress towards the MDGs, and the 10th Conference of the Parties to CBD in Nagoya, Japan.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Let’s Air Condition the Outside, Why Don’t We?

grundahlIt’s that time of the year again when the weather gets hot and I get very frustrated as I walk the streets here in center city Philadelphia. Many stores have their doors wide open, air conditioning the outside, wasting energy. Last summer I thought to myself, maybe they just don’t understand how what they are doing wastes resources, produces air pollution and exacerbates global warming. So, I tried one-on-one education, first talking to the greeters, then talking to managers. They were nice but they blew me off.

I didn’t “get it” until one of the managers said, “When we open our doors we get more foot traffic and our sales go up.  We know because we track daily sales and experimented.“ It was an “Ah-hah!” moment. Keeping the doors open means more money. Even if the managers understood the environmental impact of what they were doing, their sales revenue was more important. The managers weren’t getting evaluated on how much energy they used, but by how many sales they made. Particularly in this recession when every sale counts, what right do any of us have to ask a business to keep its doors closed and sell less?

But now there’s the oil catastrophe in the Gulf. With scenes of the destruction constantly before us, I expect everyone to understand now, even if they didn’t before, about the many connections there are between how we live our lives and the health of the environment. So will other people now also be bothered by the open doors? Or, am I being too idealistic? And, what should retailers do?

Retailers who want to learn more about “going green” can visit EPA’s Retail Industry Portal.

About the Author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. She currently manages the web for the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. Before getting involved with the web, she worked as an environmental scientist. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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My Jeans Are Very Thirsty!

I like fashion, style, clothes and shopping. These are not environmentally-friendly inclinations, so I’ve made a concerted effort to shop for “new” vintage clothes and to donate my “tired” items to charities so they can live on. Plus, I only buy a new item of clothing once every few months! Good enough, right?

Wrong! The April 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine is all about water; how much we use and how little we have. Imagine my surprise when I opened the fold-out map on hidden uses of water, and discovered that producing one pair – one single pair – of jeans requires 2,900 gallons of water. That’s roughly a month’s total use of water for an average American. A t-shirt uses 766 gallons, an entire week’s worth. Imagine how many years and years worth of fresh, clean water are sitting in our closets! Meanwhile, at least 36 states are anticipating some type of water shortage by 2013.

Further investigation reveals that 5% of our landfills are comprised of clothing, which translates to about 10 pounds of tossed out textiles per American. I once climbed up a landfill and was horrified to realize that under my feet were cereal boxes, sneakers, books, pens, watches, toys, jeans, and t-shirts – not the icky sludge you imagine when hearing the word ‘landfill’.

We never get back the rivers of water we use to make our clothes. Which makes it that much more important to keep them out of our landfills for all of their useful lives.

Here are some suggestions to be a more sustainable fashionista:

  • Freshen an old item “Project Runway” style – make it shorter, sew fun things to it – view it as a new piece of clothing
  • If you are ready to get rid of an item, try donating it. Check with your local charities, along with many of the more well-know national charities. In fact, some manufacturers are becoming increasingly responsible for the lives of their products and take back some of their clothing for recycling.
  • Donate old sheets, blankets and towels to an animal shelter, to line a dog’s cage or make a cat more comfortable
  • Host a clothing exchange with your friends – free vintage items!
  • Stow away great items. You’ll be amazed ten years later when they are back in style.

What are your tips to be a fashion-friendly environmentalist?

About the author: Deb Berlin works in the EPA Office of Public Affairs on strategic communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Recycle Because You Care

"Recycle Because You Care" Team, Region 5 PEYA winners

"Recycle Because You Care" Team, Region 5 PEYA winners

This was my first trip to Washington D.C. and it was amazing! We stayed at an awesome hotel. It was located right in between two Metro stations (the subway system in D.C.) We took the Metro everywhere. It was so convenient, clean and safe. I really enjoyed meeting all of the other President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) winners. Their projects were very interesting and covered a wide range of environmental issues. I feel honored to be included in such a smart and motivated group of students! The EPA regional coordinators and hosts were so nice. They made us all feel so special.

On the day we arrived, we met with Congressman Roskam who represents our district. It was neat to see his office and meet the people that work with him. We told him all about our project and he was very proud of us. He encouraged us to continue our efforts. Roskam’s staff assistant gave us a tour of the Capitol Building. It is enormous, beautiful and historic.

The next day was the awards ceremony and luncheon. This event was amazing! EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson gave a speech and presented the PEYA plaques to the winners. She seems like a very nice, smart woman. A great role model for us girls! The performers were fantastic and Philippe Cousteau, our luncheon speaker, was really inspiring. In between all the planned activities we had plenty of time to walk around and sightsee. We stopped in several of the Smithsonian museums, saw the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, Washington National Cathedral and more. And we didn’t even get to see it all!

The following day was probably the highlight of our trip. We got to meet President Barack Obama!!! He talked to the winners and said that we are changing the future today. He seemed genuinely excited about the work all of the teams had done. He even said he is eager to follow our progress as we continue our efforts in college and beyond. We took a picture with the President and he shook the hand of every PEYA winner.

This trip and all of the once in a lifetime experiences made me feel very important and want to continue our work. I also learned about the many careers out there in environment protection. This was probably one of the best experiences we could ever have. Thanks EPA for EVERYTHING!!

About the author: Maggie O’Brien is a middle school student from Addison, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Maggie, along with two other middle school students, recently received a Presidents Environmental Youth Award for a recycling project they developed and implemented, Recycle Because You Care.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Poo Power – Generating Electricity from Waste

Methane gas is produced naturally in the manure of cattle and Pennsylvania’s Blair and Bedford Counties will soon be using manure from 6800 cows to generate 2.5 megawatts of electricity each day. They will harness their manure’s methane using a new regional digester, a facility that houses and processes manure, storing the methane that’s produced. This digester facility will not only help the Clover Creek Watershed manage its nitrate problems; it will also help manage the 380,000 gallons of liquid manure generated every day in the area, and create a bedding or soil product available for resale. Finding more opportunities like this one throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is on EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region’s todo list.

Would you purchase fertilizer from a process like this or one that came from a more traditional process?

Here’s another example from Rockwell, PA where farmers are saving the environment and money with these new ideas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Greening Your Way Into Reading

I am an avid reader. For me, buying books and exchanging them with friends has always been the norm. However in the last few years, I have been trying to green my way into reading. According to the Green Press Initiative, approximately 30 million trees are used in the production of books sold in the United States. The raw materials used in book production can have devastating effects on the environment. While the book industry is implementing measures, such as the use of recycled paper, to minimize the impact on our natural resources, one wonders how such a good habit can be made greener. Books can be downloaded from the computer and even loaded on to our phones and there are e-readers that help readers find a good book with the touch of a button.

In spite of these electronic options, however, I prefer to venture into the world of reading the traditional way—by actually holding a book in my hands. I truly enjoy the touch, feel, and smell of the actual book. There are greener options for reading the old-fashion way. Besides borrowing books from the library, I also swap with friends. Another great way to reduce my carbon footprint has been the Salvation Army store where I can find recent titles as well as paperbacks for less than $3.00 and the book swap section at the library. In our Caribbean Environmental Protection Division office we keep a large bin by the reception desk where all EPA readers drop off books of all genres. When the books have been read by most of the participants they are taken to the library for book swapping, thus ensuring that new titles keep making their way into our office. You can pursue another green option by visiting book swapping websites. On these sites, you get points for every title you submit and then you can use those credits to get additional books. One small caveat is that the exchange of books still needs to take place via the mail.

If you are a traditional reader like me who loves book shops and libraries, make sure that when picking up your next read you consider these options.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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