Monthly Archives: November 2013

Green Your Holidays with Our Pinterest Tips Board

By Ellie Kanipe

The holiday season is upon us and to help you be green through the hustle and bustle of the season, we’ve launched a Greening Your Holidays Pinterest board.  See tips on how to reduce holiday food and paper waste, and how to recycle electronic gadgets.  The board also has cool winter-inspired DIY projects that you and your whole family can enjoy together. You’ll find inspiring green ideas for this holiday season with pins like Gift Wrapping Gone Green; Reuse and Be Crafty – Holiday Cards get a Fresh Look; O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Can I Make You More Green; and Reduce Food Waste with a Splash.

Help us reduce our numbers: Americans threw away 250 million tons of trash in 2011, and 134 million tons of that ended up in landfills and incinerators. We can all make a difference this holiday season by reducing our waste, so check out our Greening Your Holidays Pinterest board.

About the author:  Ellie Kanipe works in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery on communications. She loves using Pinterest to find cool DIY green projects.

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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Something to Be Thankful For

By Kathleen Stewart

Kathleen Stewart examines a stove.

Kathleen Stewart examines a stove.

On Thanksgiving, stuffed with turkey and pie, I can summon just enough creativity to be thankful for the usual stuff—a roof over my head, food on the table, and my family’s health and happiness. I don’t tend to remember to be thankful for the modern conveniences that make all of the above possible.

This year, I am officially giving thanks for my natural gas heater. Whenever a slip of chill creeps into my drafty old house, warm nights are just a flip of a switch away. With heat so instantaneously available, it’s easy to forget that 3 billion people worldwide rely on wood, dung, charcoal, coal, and biomass (fuel derived from organic matter, usually plants) to cook for their families and warm their homes.

Even on the Navajo Nation, where high voltage transmission lines crisscross the land to bring electricity to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, approximately 60% of families use coal, coke, or wood to heat their homes. About 30% of families use coal as their primary heating fuel.

In 2010, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Dine College (the Navajo Nation’s institute of higher education) surveyed 137 homes in the Navajo town of Shiprock, NM. In this town, with average December/January lows of 19 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers found that 77% of the homes used stoves primarily for heating, and 25% of families burned coal for heat in stoves that were not specifically designed for coal. They also found that 26% of the stoves were ten or more years old.

Navajo town of Shiprock, NM

Navajo town of Shiprock, NM

The researchers noted that many of the stoves were improperly vented, with visible cracks in the chimneys, or no chimney at all.

The indoor smoke poses serious health risks, particularly for children and the elderly, but there is no easy solution. There are no EPA certified coal stoves, and most newer coal stoves are designed to burn cleaner-burning anthracite coal, not the types (bituminous and subbituminous) available—cheap or free—on the Navajo Nation. With a median household income of $20,000 and limited existing infrastructure, gas and electricity are generally too costly.

That’s why we and our EPA colleagues have teamed up with partners at Dine College to identify and research heating options that will reduce exposure to coal smoke from home heating on the Navajo Nation. The end result will help provide stakeholders with an understanding of the best alternatives to reduce health and environmental impacts from home heating—alternatives that are technically, economically, and culturally feasible.

Last night I fell asleep curled around my home’s heater vent after the kids went to bed. I crave being warm like a snail craves its shell. In fact, I am actually allergic to being cold. Look that allergy up and then be thankful for two new things this Thanksgiving.

Learn more about EPA research and programs on how to heat your home while minimizing the health impacts:

 

About the Author: Environmental scientist Kathleen Stewart helps concerned communities understand risks from indoor and outdoor air pollution. For this project, she is working with Agency research scientist Paul Solomon, who has extensive experience developing ways to measure particulate matter in the air, and to better understand the relationships between air pollution sources and exposure risks.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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De-Cluttering and the Second “R”

By Lina Younes

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español… ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

As part of my fall-cleaning efforts at home, I decided to tackle the closets. When I looked at them, I felt overwhelmed.  Where should I begin? I confess that I was tempted to just close my eyes and throw everything away, but that wouldn’t have been very green. If I just threw everything away, where would it end up? In a landfill!  Most of the items, such as clothes, toys, and electronics, were still in excellent condition and could be reused. So, the project to remove the clutter from my home became a generous gift for a charity.

It was easy going through my daughter’s closet. I just had to look at the sizes to identify what she had outgrown, and I knew which toys no longer interested her.  My closet was a different story.  Since I’ve changed many sizes over the years, I’ve held onto clothes in the hope that I’ll fit into them again or for sentimental reasons.   Why not give them to someone who could use them now instead of waiting for that moment in the unforeseeable future?

While the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) are beneficial to the environment, reducing waste and eliminating clutter offer additional benefits to your surroundings and your health. For example, eliminating clutter is one of the key elements of integrated pest management. By removing clutter, you eliminate hiding places where pests can breed and hide. Who doesn’t want to have a pest free home?

Do you have any tips to get rid of clutter at home? Do you have anything planned to reduce waste and recycle during the holidays? We’d love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Reduzca la basura y la segunda erre

Por Lina Younes

Como parte de los esfuerzos de limpieza otoñal en mi hogar, decidí limpiar los clósets.  Cuando los vi, me sentí abrumada. ¿Por dónde voy a empezar? Tengo que confesar que estaba tentada de simplemente cerrar los ojos, agarrarlo todo y echarlo a la basura, pero admito que esa no sería una opción muy ecológica que digamos. ¿Si decidiera botarlo todo, entonces adónde iría a parar? ¡En un vertedero! La gran mayoría de los artículos como ropa, juguetes y efectos electrónicos estaban en excelentes condiciones y podían ser reutilizados. Por lo tanto, el proyecto de remover el desorden y recoger en casa se estaba convirtiendo en un proyecto para donar artículos a organizaciones benéficas.

El recoger el clóset de mi hija mejor fue el proyecto más fácil.  Solo tenía que mirar las tallas de la ropa para identificar lo que ya no le servía. También pude ver rápidamente los juguetes que ya no le interesaban. Ahora, mi clóset, eso era otro cantar.  Como he cambiado varias tallas a lo largo de los años, conservaba mucha ropa con la esperanza de que me iba a servir nuevamente algún día o simplemente por razones sentimentales. ¿Por qué no le daba a alguien la ropa que podía usarla inmediatamente en vez de tener que esperar por una eventualidad en un futuro que no podía pronosticar?

Mientras las 3 erres (reducir, reutilizar y reciclar) son beneficiosas para el medio ambiente, el reducir los desechos y eliminar el desorden ofrecen beneficios adicionales para nuestros alrededores y nuestra salud. Por ejemplo, el eliminar el desorden es uno de los elementos claves del manejo integrado de plagas.  Al remover el desorden y las cosas amontonadas, elimina los lugares de escondite donde las plagas podrían esconderse y multiplicarse. ¿Y quién no quiere tener un hogar libre de plagas?

¿Tiene algunos consejos para eliminar el desorden en el hogar? ¿Está pensando en algún proyecto para reducir los desechos y reciclar durante las fiestas? Nos encantaría escuchar su opinión al respecto.

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como portavoz hispana de la Agencia, así como enlace de asuntos multilingües de EPA. Además, ha laborado como la escritora y editora de los blogs en español de EPA durante los pasados cuatro años. Antes de unirse a la Agencia, dirigió la oficina en Washington, DC de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias

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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Spectacular views of bald eagles over the Susquehanna River

By Roy Seneca

Anybody who has witnessed the beauty of a bald eagle soaring above knows that it can be quite exhilarating.  Not only is the bald eagle a proud national symbol, but it is also an incredible environmental success story.

It was not too long ago that bald eagles in our skies were on the verge of extinction due to the impact of pesticides like DDT.  But today, bald eagles can be sighted in the skies across the country thanks to environmental laws that protect them and have allowed their population to surge.

Well, if you get a kick out of seeing one or two bald eagles, you should take a trip to the Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Md. to witness an amazing sight of up to 100 or more bald eagles in one location.  During late fall and throughout most of the winter, the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River may be the best location east of the Mississippi to witness these incredible raptors.

A shot of a bald eagle in Conowingo, MD. Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer daisyj85 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

A shot of a bald eagle fishing at the Conowingo. Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer daisyj85 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

The bald eagles congregate at the dam because it provides them with some easy meals.  When the dam’s turbines are running, it provides a steady water flow filled with fish on the surface where the bald eagles and other birds swoop in to feast on.

The location also attracts large numbers of gulls, herons, black vultures and other birds, but the bald eagles are the stars of the show.  When they are not fishing, the bald eagles sometimes perch in nearby trees and perform acrobatic shows in the sky above the river.  Photographers, birdwatchers and families come out to see the birds throughout the season.

It’s peak viewing time if you’d like to see for yourself.   For more details, check out this blog.

About the Author: Roy Seneca works in the press office for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

 

 

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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Advice from Student Entrepreneurs: “Embrace your Chutzpah”

Reposted from The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.

Engineers checking a reactor.

John Bissell (left) and Ryan Smith (right) inspect a pilot reactor. Bissell, Smith, and Casey McGrath (not pictured) co-founded the biotechnology company Micromidas soon after graduating from the University of California, Davis.

By Douglas Herrin

When they founded their biotechnology company, Micromidas, Ryan Smith was 30, Casey McGrath was 24, and John Bissell was 23—and all were recently graduated students at University of California, Davis (UC Davis). Together, they have developed innovative processes for converting sewage into biodegradable plastics—which won them the 2008 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3)competition for sustainability—and cellulosic wastes into para-xylene.

I spoke with John Bissell to find out how he turned his lab research into a growing company. To date, Micromidas has built a pilot plant and raised more than $20 million in venture capital.

What was your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?

We were encouraged by UC Davis Professor Frank Loge to submit an interesting research project for evaluation. We started out as a team of engineers (I am a chemical engineer), and expanded the team to include a microbiologist. We ended up at the EPA P3 event in Washington, DC, as college seniors. At the time, we were converting sewer water into biodegradable plastics through microbial fermentation. After we won the competition, we sat at the Metro Center subway stop thinking the same thing: “Are we going to do more?”

After returning home to UC Davis, Professor Andrew Hargadon welcomed us to an entrepreneurship boot camp called the Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy. Its aim was to help scientists and engineers become entrepreneurs. We were some of the only undergraduates at the camp. We wanted to know what it looks like to start a company. By the end of 2008, we had formed Micromidas and an angel investor had provided $200,000 in seed funding.

Read more…

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas Decor

By: Brittney Gordon-Williams

With Hanukkah and Thanksgiving just around the corner, the holidays are here, and for people across the country, the hunt for the perfect gift is on. For many, electronics are high on their list, with everything from the latest in TVs to tablets dominating their trips to the mall. Before you head out for Black Friday, be sure to check out ENERGY STAR’s Top Gift Picks for 2013. Looking for the trusted blue label on these products can help you save energy, save money and protect the environment from climate change—all while giving you the latest in innovation and technology.

ENERGY STAR’s Top Gift Picks for 2013

tv

Televisions: TVs are at the top of many holiday wish lists, and this year there are more reasons than ever to look for ENERGY STAR. Televisions that have earned the ENERGY STAR are on average more than 25% more energy efficient than conventional models, and come with all of the latest technology that you are looking for this holiday season. The label can be found on TVs of every size, with features like 3D, streaming capability, internet connectivity and both OLED and LED technology.

audio

Audio: Is your loved one asking for a soundbar or new speakers this year? According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), home audio sales are expected to grow at double-digit percentage rates this year. Make sure that you help your loved one save energy, save money and protect the environment by looking for audio equipment that has earned the ENERGY STAR. AV equipment that meets ENERGY STAR qualifications is up to 60% more efficient than conventional models.

Game Consoles: Gaming systems are always big sellers during the holidays. The best thing about this year’s models is their ability to go to sleep — just like your computer — entering a low power sleep mode when not in use for game play or streaming videos. This is an improvement that will reduce your energy use without reducing the excitement of video game play, and help your family save money long after the holidays are over.

Blu-Ray Players: According to the CEA, this year is expected to be the first in which Blu-Rays outsell DVD players. If this gift is on your list, be sure to look for the ENERGY STAR. Certified Blu-Ray players are on average 45% more efficient than conventional models.

Computers: Does someone on your list want a new computer for the holidays? Look for the ENERGY STAR and help your loved one save energy and the environment every time they log on. An ENERGY STAR certified computer will use between 30-65 percent less energy than a standard model on average. Enable your computer’s power management feature and save up to $90 a year!

battery charger

ENERGY STAR Battery Chargers: You can also save energy on battery-powered tools and appliances. Products ranging from cordless drills to electric lawnmowers and shavers come with chargers that carry the ENERGY STAR. On average, ENERGY STAR certified battery chargers use about 30% less energy than conventional models.

LEDs

LED Light Bulbs: A perfect stocking stuffer, ENERGY STAR certified LED bulbs deliver leading energy efficiency and can have a lifespan of over 20 years. A single light bulb that has earned the ENERGY STAR can save $95 in electricity costs over its lifetime.

Saving energy with ENERGY STAR certified home entertainment products helps protect the climate. If each TV, DVD player, and home theatre system purchased in the U.S. this year earned the ENERGY STAR, we would prevent more than 2.2 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions every year, equal to the emissions from more than 200,000 cars.

Get the latest in consumer electronics trends in the brand new podcast “Plugged in with ENERGY STAR.” Let experts from ENERGY STAR, the Consumer Electronics Association and more show you how easy it is to make energy efficient buying decisions this year. Check it out here.

light strings

Last, but not least, don’t forget to look for ENERGY STAR certified decorative light strings this holiday season. They use 65% less energy than conventional models and can last up to 10 times longer.

Brittney Gordon-Williams is a member of the ENERGY STAR communications team. Her favorite holiday activities include Christmas shopping, tree trimming and tryptophan-induced dinners. 

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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Commemorating National Native American Heritage Month at EPA

Today, I had the honor of commemorating National Native American Heritage Month with Jodi Gillette, President Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, and many EPA staff members. We had a great conversation that follows up a series of trips and meetings I’ve had with tribal communities across the country. One of my first trips as EPA Administrator was to Alaska, where I met with Alaska Native villages around the Bristol Bay area. Last week, I hosted my fist tribal listening session and later joined President Obama, fellow cabinet members, and other senior Administration officials at the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Conference. Every conversation we have underscores our trust responsibility with tribes–a responsibility that strengthens our government-to-government relationship.

Day in and day out, EPA is working side-by-side with tribal governments to make real progress in tribal communities. That’s why I’ve made launching a new era of EPA-tribal partnership one of my top priorities.

In my various meetings with tribes, we’ve talked about safeguarding sacred places and spaces that are at the heart of tribal custom and tradition. We’ve talked about improving air quality, knowing that more than 10% of Native American children suffer from asthma. We’ve discussed reducing pollution in our waters because access to safe drinking and fishing water, and headwaters, is critical to the health of Indian Country. We’ve also listened to calls to improve inter-agency efforts on a range of issues like dealing with solid waste, chemical-safety, radon, housing, and more.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Clarifying Protection for Streams and Wetlands

In September, we joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in developing a proposed rule that will provide greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by clarifying where the Clean Water Act applies – and where it doesn’t. These improvements are necessary to reduce costs and minimize delays in the permit process, and protect waters that are vital to public health, the environment, and the economy.

Over the past decade, Supreme Court rulings have caused confusion about which streams and wetlands are protected from pollution and development under the Clean Water Act. As a result, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public asked EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to clarify jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

In response, we’ve developed a draft rule that takes into account the more narrow reading of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction established by the Supreme Court. This means that EPA’s jurisdiction will only include the protection of the same waters that have historically been covered under the Clean Water Act for the past 40 years – in fact, it will be a smaller set of waters than before the Supreme Court decision.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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When It Rains, It Pours: The Climate Link Between Extreme Precipitation and Drought

By Allison Crimmins

flooding image with traffic light in foregroundFrom the photos my Colorado friends posted this summer, I wasn’t surprised to learn that 2013 has been the wettest on record for Boulder. However, Boulder also experienced drought, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado’s recorded history, and a week of record heat. How is it that Colorado can experience both extreme wetness and extreme dryness in one year?

These seemingly conflicting events fit a pattern that scientists expect to occur under global climate change—a pattern that has been developing for the past few decades over many parts of the United States. Precipitation (rain, snow, etc.) is increasing, and more of it is coming in the form of downpours, blizzards, and other intense bursts, with longer dry spells in between. If you add up the percentage of land in the U.S. where a greater-than-normal amount of total precipitation fell in the form of intense single-day events, eight of the top 10 years for extreme precipitation have occurred since 1990.

How does it work? Imagine our atmosphere as a sponge passing over the land’s surface, soaking up moisture through evaporation and occasionally wringing out the collected water through precipitation. Warmer air can hold more water vapor, so the sponge absorbs more in a warmer world, leaving the land drier than it used to be. Eventually, the sponge becomes waterlogged—and when it’s finally wrung out, often miles away from where it picked up the water, it releases a huge amount all at once. This pattern occurs now in many parts of the U.S. and around the globe. Warmer air causes more evaporation, which leaves dry areas drier, but also results in heavier rainfalls.

If current trends continue, we can expect more droughts as well as more devastating deluges, like the one that resulted in loss of life, massive property damage, and thousands of evacuations throughout Boulder and Larimer Counties. As my friends join the rest of Boulder in rebuilding, city planners and emergency managers will keep these growing risks in mind so the city is better prepared for future extreme weather.

About the Author: Allison Crimmins is an environmental scientist with EPA’s Climate Change Division, where she focuses on the impacts and risks associated with climate change. Prior to joining the EPA she studied oceanography, climate science, and public policy. She lives, works, and cooks a mean strawberry rhubarb pie in Washington, DC.

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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