Composting

Portion Control for a Greener World

By Lina Younes

As someone who has struggled with weight loss issues for most of my adult life, I am well aware of the importance of managing food portions. Even when I try to make myself believe that I am controlling the amount of food I’m eating by limiting my portion sizes, I’ve noticed that the scale never lies. When my servings become more generous, the weight on the scale inches up in the same proportion. So, have you thought about how managing food portions can lead to a healthier lifestyle AND to a healthier planet?

Let me explain.

Did you know that when we increase our food portions at home, at schools, and restaurants, in fact we are wasting a lot of food? In 2011, Americans threw away more than 36 million tons of food in 2011. Nintey-six percent of that wasted food ended up in landfills or incinerators around country. So what can we do to waste less food?

  • How about serving smaller portions or eating on smaller plates. Also, when you pause to think before you eat, you might realize you’re full and not go for the second serving.
  • Before you throw away fresh fruits and vegetables that you have in the refrigerator, why don’t you try new recipes? Have you thought of freezing fruits for use in making smoothies at a later date? You can also wash and freeze vegetables to use in stews for a future meal.
  • How about cutting up stale bread to make your own home-made croutons?
  • Have you thought about composting food scraps like potato peels, fruit waste, coffee grounds, egg shells, and old spices?

Earlier this summer, EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a collaborative effort called the US Food Waste Challenge  to raise awareness of the environmental and health issues created by food waste. Learn more about the program and see how you can become involved.

By taking simple steps to reduce food waste, you will save money from buying less food, conserve energy and natural resources, and, especially, lower your carbon footprint by reducing methane emissions that are produced in landfills during the decomposition of food waste. It seems like a green win-win for all involved.

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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Composting in Urban Areas

By Claudia Gutierrez

On a recent trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, I purchased the latest Brooklyn Botanical Garden Guide for a Greener Planet titled, “Easy Compost.” For those of us who live in urban centers, with limited space, sometimes it’s challenging to compost. Composting, however, can play a large big role in reducing waste that is sent to landfills. Studies have shown that as much as 40% of our organic waste can be diverted from landfills if composted. New York City just recently passed legislation to begin a residential composting program. Check out the NYC Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling web site at: www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/compost/composting_nyc.shtml.

While you’re at it, also check out the “Easy Compost” guide. The guide focuses on teaching the reader how to compost at home. It details the type of bins, worms, etc. that one should choose based on their needs. It is a very resourceful guide for urbanites who want to help mother earth in diverting organic waste from landfills. For more resources about gardening and composting, please visit www.bbg.org.

About the Author: Claudia Gutierrez is currently a Senior Advisor on Caribbean issues for the Regional Administrator since 2010. In this capacity, Claudia is working on different partnerships, including the White House Puerto Rico Task Force on Status, Vieques Sustainability Task Force and both the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Recycling Partnerships.

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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Missing: One Smelly Old Garbage Gremlin

By Felicia Chou

Today, I found out that our office’s beloved Garbage Gremlin costume is M.I.A, after being “borrowed” by someone from another office. While I’m sure it’ll turn up somewhere soon, its disappearance eerily coincides with the release of our new report that tells us what our nation’s recycling rate is, what is in our trash, how much of it ends up in landfills and incinerators, and how we’re doing compared to previous years.

Perhaps the missing Garbage Gremlin (a grumpy monster that hates recycling) is a sign of how far we’ve come as a nation when it comes to recycling. Maybe we’ve moved past needing a grumpy, stinky ol’ monster to remind us that most of what we throw away is actually recyclable, and that creating less waste in the first place is really the way to go. On average, Americans create 4.4 pounds of trash per day, and we’ve kept 87 million tons of garbage from landfills and incinerators, compared to 85 million tons in 2010 by recycling and composting. But even so, more than 60% of our trash still ends up in landfills. So while we might not need the Gremlin as much as we used to, we’ve got some work ahead of us.

This infographic gives us a general overview of our nation’s progress, the environmental impact we’ve made through recycling, and what we can do to continue to make a difference.

There’s also the new report, along with the fact sheet, where you can learn all sorts of other neat things.

Learn more about the stuff we throw away, how it impacts climate change, and what you can do to make a difference.

About the Author: Felicia Chou is a Program Analyst in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. She is currently organizing a manhunt in search of the missing Garbage Gremlin, and is considering offering a reward of eternal gratitude with a three-month expiration date.

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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P.S. 166 is a Green Elementary School

P.S. 166 Cafeteria Composting Setup

By Karen O’Brien

How much garbage does one school cafeteria generate each day? At P.S. 166, the Richard Rodgers  School of the Arts and Technology on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, elementary school children and school staff have teamed up to reduce their cafeteria garbage from 12 bags per day to just one!  With the assistance of school staff and student monitors, everyone from kindergarteners through fifth graders separate liquid, compost, recyclables and garbage from their breakfast and lunch.  The school has also switched to biodegradable bagasse trays, as an alternative to Styrofoam.  P.S. 166 participated in a 2012 composting pilot project with seven other local schools in Manhattan District 3, reducing the volume of cafeteria waste by 85%, and diverting food waste from landfills each day.

Under the leadership of the Green and Wellness Committee, and with the cooperation of teachers and custodial staff, P.S. 166 has implemented environmentally sustainable practices throughout the school.  Each green program is an excellent opportunity to engage students, teachers, school staff and parents, learning about recycling, pollution prevention, climate change and sustainable living.  Waste reduction and recycling programs at the school include composting food, and recycling bottle caps, electronics, and textiles.

P.S. 166 participates in the Green Cup Energy Conservation Challenge each year, challenging .  students to reduce their energy consumption by turning off lights and unplugging appliances in the class room.  Each class room is assigned two “Climate Captains,” who assume a leadership role ensuring the school does its best to conserve electricity and reduce greenhouse gases.

P.S. 166 won the Green Cup Challenge in 2010 with a reduction in electricity useage over a six month period of 17.75%.  In subsequent years, P.S. 166 has reduced energy consumption even more, but as a mark of progress, this was not enough to take the Cup! In 2011, PS 166 won 4th place and a $10,000 prize for reducing its electricity consumption by 23.3%, saving $2,403 on their electric bill in one month, and prevented 19,815 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment. Other schools are catching on, making the competition fierce for this year’s Green Cup challenge! For more information about greening schools, check out greenschoolsny.com and P.S. 166’s Green page.

About the author: Karen O’Brien is an Environmental Engineer in the Clean Water Division of EPA Region 2.  She holds Master and Bachelor of Engineering degrees from the Cooper Union in New York City, and is a licensed Professional Engineer.  At EPA, Karen works to regulate discharges of wastewater under the Clean Water Act, and has performed temporary assignments in the fields of climate change, pollution prevention, and air quality monitoring.  Karen has three children, two of whom attend P.S. 166!

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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Celebrating America Recycles Day by Not Wasting Food!

By Sarah Dominguez

Yesterday I opened up the produce drawer in my fridge to put away some apples. Lying inside were two wilted heads of lettuce and a rotting zucchini. Thankfully, we have curbside compost collection in the Bay Area, so I made a mental note to remind my roommate to put inedible food in the compost bin.

Later that day at work, preparing for America Recycles Day on November 15th, I realized that my conversation with my roommate shouldn’t be just about the correct bin to use, but also about preventing the food from being wasted in the first place. That lettuce and zucchini could have been a delicious salad. Before I came to the EPA, I had a vague idea that I shouldn’t waste food. But now every time I throw out food I don’t just see dollar signs- I see the wasted water, energy and methane produced by food waste.

This year for America Recycles Day, we’re focusing on wasted food and the many ways it can be avoided, especially through donation to those in need. We are not talking about wilting vegetables when we mention donation, but instead fresh, safe to eat food that is donated before it expires. There will be food donation focused events across the country:

  • In Wilmington, Delaware, the grocer ShopRite is meeting with their partners at the Delaware Food Bank to donate food they must take off their shelves, but that is edible and wholesome.
  • In Washington State, Joint Base Lewis-McChord is encouraging attendees of their 4th Annual Recycling Extravaganza to bring non-perishable food items to donate to the Tacoma Rescue Mission.
  • The University of Texas, Arlington is celebrating America Recycles Day with a Campus Sustainability Food Drive. Their event is helping to spread awareness about wasted food and food insecurity.

For my roommate, it was too late to donate his vegetables (but not too late to feed the soil through composting). But if I share with him the implications of wasted food and strategies to reduce it (like meal planning, proper storage or recipe creativity), next time he can avoid tossing a head of lettuce and maybe make dinner for me at the same time.

About the author: Sarah Dominguez is a University of Southern California Masters Fellow in EPA’s San Francisco Office. She works on the Sustainable Materials Management Program’s Food Recovery Challenge. In her Urban Planning program at USC, she studies sustainable land use and environmental justice focusing on the built environment.

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 World’s Worst Composter Hits Pay Dirt

By Pam Lazos

Let me start by saying that I’m relatively new to the sport of composting. For the decade I lived in Philadelphia there was no place for a bin, and for next decade I had my hands full with an extensive home restoration project: new walls, new windows, new wiring, a top-to-bottom job – not an excuse, I know, but a person can only handle so much. So it’s only in the last decade that I’ve taken up composting.

Composting is one of the easiest, most sustainable activities around, but somehow I’ve managed to make it both difficult and anxiety-producing. Perhaps because I work here at EPA I feel I should excel in this environmentally-friendly activity. Nonetheless, I am convinced I am the world’s worst composter.

Every evening when I make salad, cut fruit, prepare vegetables, or clean the non-meat, non-grain discards from the plates, I set aside the remnants in a bowl or bag. After dinner, one of the kids runs it out back to our fancy compost bin. I first used a rather small bin, but results were snail-like so I amped it up with this larger fancy-pants model. The six-tiered design allows me to disassemble it, turn the soil, and put it back together with the utmost of ease.

However, we’re still talking refuse, and fluttering around the refuse is a barrage of fruit flies and other winged demons that rise up in protest every time I open the lid to deposit my castoffs. It gets worse. I had been filling this bin for three years and never once turned the soil.

Embarrassed by my incompetence, I decided, just for kicks, to get out there with a shovel since none of my kids could be bribed. To combat the creepy flying things, I donned my husband’s beekeeper hood and prepared to be attacked. I had low expectations, but after the first turn of the soil, I was amazed. Beneath the still recognizable orange peels and pineapple rinds, the discarded zucchini ends and apple cores, was none other than black gold.Beautiful, black, rich, fertile soil that I intend to spread on my flower garden this fall — using the bee hood, of course. So I’m here to tell you, if the world’s worst composter can do it, you can too!

About the author: Pam Lazos, one of our attorneys, about her experiences with composting.

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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Go Green on Martin Luther King Day

By Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve.” Those words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have inspired millions of Americans over the years to step up and serve. And they’re the words that come to mind each January, when we honor Dr. King’s legacy on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Each year, people across the country come together for volunteer service, to strengthen their communities and make a difference for the people around them.

On Monday, January 16, the EPA is honoring Dr. King by calling on volunteers to participate in environmental service projects and help make it a Green MLK Day. In recent years, I’ve joined EPA employees and community volunteers for neighborhood cleanups, urban greening efforts and other environmental service projects. This year, we’re hoping you will mark the MLK Day of Service with a service project that protects health and the environment in your community.

One way to get involved is to participate in projects that help reduce waste, or cut water and energy use in your home and community. Take a look at our WaterSense, WasteWise and Energy Star websites for more information, or check our Green Living page for ideas.

Young people can help their communities raise awareness and address environmental issues through our OnCampus ecoAmbassadors program. This program helps students develop valuable leadership and project management skills as they improve the quality of their campuses and surrounding communities.

There are countless ways to be part of a Green MLK Day: Start using biodegradable and environmentally friendly cleaning products. Learn about composting and give it a shot in your own backyard. Pick up litter at a local park or field. Organize a “green club” in your workplace, school or community.

EPA’s Pick Five website can help you find simple ways to clean up the environment in which you live, work and play.

Finally – be sure to tell us about your Green MLK activities. EPA Staff will be tweeting live from various volunteer activities, and you can follow along through @EPALive and @lisapjackson on Twitter. Share your own service experience by tweeting with a #greenMLK hashtag. If you have any photos from what you’re doing, we invite you to share them on our Flickr page.

I look forward to hearing about how you spent this year’s MLK Day of Service taking on environmental challenges in your community.

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 Kids Be Active Outside

By Lina Younes

Recently my daughter’s elementary school started a program to encourage students to increase their physical activities outdoors. The program entitled “Fun, Fit and Grow” is largely modeled after the First Lady’s Initiative, Let’s Move. The main objective is to promote healthy bodies and a lifetime full of fun and fitness. To be successful, the school is asking students to keep a log of their daily activities outside of the school in order to earn points for their class. Students are encouraged to elicit the participation of their family members in the program to earn additional points. Parents have to sign the log weekly to attest that the recorded hours of activities for children and family members are accurate.

It was interesting to see that the guidelines clearly state that virtual games are not allowed as a substitute for physical activities and sports. While technology is helping many to get up and move through numerous interactive games, there is no doubt that electronic gadgets are not the ideal replacement for a brisk walk outdoors.

So, what did we identify as our family outdoor activity?  Well, first, we took a family walk around the neighborhood. As our second activity, we decided to rake leaves. It was listed as one of the recommended activities and we definitely had a good supply of leaves all over the yard. So, through our joint effort, we got some exercise, clean up around the yard, and had fun.  Furthermore, eliminating the dead leaves from the lawn also has an environmental benefit.  It allows the lawn to “breathe” plus it enables sunlight, nutrients and water to revitalize the grass and their root systems.  What did we do with the raked leaves?  Well, we made a leaf pile for composting.  I say it was a win-win for all.  I guess we have our work cut out for us for next weekend.  There is still a good supply still on the trees that will need to be raked soon.

What do you do to enjoy a beautiful fall day? We would like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. 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 in Greenversations 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.

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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Going Back to School…Go Green!

By Wendy Dew

Start off the new school year with a pledge to go green at school. There are many things you can do to go green:

  • Before starting a new school year, sort through the school supplies on-hand. Many things, like notebooks or pens and pencils, can be reused or recycled. You can share your used books and other school supplies with friends, relatives, or younger schoolchildren.
  • If you are purchasing new school supplies, look for items made out of recycled materials. Did you know you can get pencils made out of recycled jeans or money!
  • For school proms, dances, or other events, decorations and other supplies can be borrowed or rented. If you buy these supplies, try adopting a theme that can be used from year-to-year, so that you can reuse them.
  • Many schools reuse text books to save money and reduce waste. Covering your textbooks with cut-up grocery or shopping bags helps reduce waste and keeps your books in good condition.
  • If you buy lunch, take and use only what you need: one napkin, one ketchup packet, one salt packet, one pepper packet, one set of flatware. Remember to recycle your cans and bottles, and separate your waste if your school has separation bins!
  • Help your school start or improve an existing recycling/composting program. Several earlier blogs on this site have examples of schools that successfully went green!
  • Create school hall monitors that patrol for lights out in rooms not being used…you could even give your teachers report cards on how energy efficient they are!

To find out more about what you can do to go green while going back to school check out our healthy school resources.

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Camp Schmidt, A Rite Of Passage In PG County

By Lina Younes

As I was reading the Saturday paper, I came across an article that made me very sad. The outdoor environmental education center in Prince George’s County, Maryland, commonly known as Camp Schmidt will likely close this summer. This school year may be the last time that fifth graders from across the county will participate in the environmental education activities at Camp Schmidt.

For many in the county, the two day visit to Camp Schmidt has been considered a rite of passage. As part of Maryland’s curriculum, PG County students have been required to spend two days at the camp. For my daughters’ elementary school, the overnight trip was usually scheduled in the spring. So, for three years in a row in the late 90s, I gladly volunteered to chaperone the event. I remember walking in the woods, collecting samples from the stream, and participating in other outdoor activities. My children still cherish their experience at Camp Schmidt. Hope others will continue to enjoy similar experiences in the future.

In general, in Maryland we are quite fortunate to have nature and science learning centers for kids and adults alike. I remember going with my children on several occasions to the Howard B. Owens Science Center to learn about composting and other environmental activities. Even if these field trips do not always lead to a career in the sciences, I’m sure that the experience makes children better environmental protectors now and for generations to come.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. 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 in Greenversations 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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.