environmental stewardship

Learning the 4 R’s: Kansas City Area Students Strive to Reduce Food Waste

By Shari L. Wilson, Project Central

Kansas City students help divert food waste from the landfill

Kansas City students help divert food waste from the landfill

About 95 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. That is a huge problem for our country. Over the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many great people to help schools in the Kansas City metro area understand more about food waste and what they can do to reduce it.

I really enjoy teaching the 4 R’s – refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle. “Refuse” means saying no to accepting unnecessary packaging, such as plastic bags. Kids get it. I also involve custodial and kitchen staff in the process. My focus is to help the school divert waste from the landfill, while remaining focused on not adding more work tasks to school staff.

Through a grant program funded by the Mid-America Regional Council’s Solid Waste Management District and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, five schools composted more than 50 tons of waste last year, and so far this year, 13 schools have composted more than 36 tons.

A few of the schools I’ve been working with include Trailwoods Elementary, Rogers Elementary, and James Elementary, which are close to East High School in Kansas City, Mo. It’s the first time some of the students have been exposed to environmental education. Teachers and students are enthusiastic, and kids are sometimes leading the efforts in the lunchroom. These students have worked hard to become good environmental stewards.

Elementary students learn about ways to reduce food waste, including composting

Elementary students learn about ways to reduce food waste, including composting

I’ve enjoyed working with Jensen Adams, energy and sustainability manager, Kansas City Public Schools. He is an enthusiastic environmental partner, and totally engaged in getting kids involved in environmental protection.

My colleague in these efforts is Environmental Scientist Gary Kannenberg. We have worked to engage students in learning about food waste in the lunchroom, composting and waste diversion, and also with EPA Region 7 staff who have provided technical assistance, utilizing data and taking into consideration overall food costs at schools.

Joining EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) brings many benefits, including:

  • Reducing your environmental footprint
  • Helping your community by donating nutritious, quality, unused food to feed hungry people
  • Saving money by purchasing less and lowering waste disposal fees
  • Gaining visibility by having your name listed on EPA’s website
  • Receiving recognition through awards and social media
  • Getting free technical assistance in the form of webinars, an online database, and resources to help you plan, implement and track your activities
  • Getting a free climate change report to highlight your positive effect on the environment

My hope is to engage more schools in food waste education, and for schools to consider joining the Food Recovery Challenge. Currently, about 20 schools in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska have signed up for the FRC. The ultimate goal is to make food recovery part of the culture and curriculum in schools, and part of the students’ home environment.

About the Author: Shari L. Wilson founded Project Central to provide services primarily in the areas of education, environment, healthy communities, and the arts. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and philosophy from Washburn University, and a Master of Arts in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Kansas.

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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Giving Back to Girl Scouts: Water Drop Patch Inspires Young Stewardship

By Michele Drennen

Some of the happiest times I experienced during my childhood in St. Joseph, Mo., were spent as a Girl Scout in St. Francis Xavier Troop #1385. As I look back, memories of going to campouts and field trips, making crafts, earning merit badges and patches, and volunteering to help others provided a positive influence in my life.

EPA team members Jessica Hing, Michele Drennen, and Margarete Heber

EPA team members Jessica Hing, Michele Drennen, and Margarete Heber

When I saw a posting on the One EPA Skills Marketplace website seeking employees who could assist the Girl Scouts organization, I jumped on it!

The Skills Marketplace is a voluntary program that expands professional development opportunities by allowing EPA employees, with supervisor permission, to spend up to 20 percent of their time working on a project in any part of the agency, without leaving their home office.

Before leaving work late one evening in July 2015, I checked the Skills Marketplace website to see if there were any projects related to the field of graphic design. I was excited to see a position for individuals to work with EPA’s Office of Water and the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian wanted to offer a “Waterway” link on their website, which would include free lesson plans for K-12 teachers on water topics, and they recruited EPA as a partner in this endeavor.

The Waterway program is a six-year education and awareness initiative to promote and encourage good stewardship of water. For the program to be successful, it is essential to connect with the public and educate them on the importance of protecting our waterways.

Water Drop Patch with five “rockers”

Water Drop Patch with five “rockers”

The anticipated outcome of this Skills Marketplace project was a completed revision and posting of an updated Girl Scouts Water Drop Patch on the Girl Scouts Council of the Nation’s Capital (GSCNC) website, along with requirement guides to engage Girl Scouts in grades K-12.

I applied for the position right away because I knew I could make a tremendous contribution to this project. In addition, I wanted to learn more about the Waterway program and reconnect with the Girl Scouts program that I had remembered so fondly as a child.

I was contacted the next morning by EPA’s Water Data Project Lead, Margarete Heber. After a phone interview, Margarete said she wanted to partner with another EPA applicant, Jessica Hing, whose outreach experience would combine perfectly with my graphic art background to work on the GSCNC Water Drop Patch. Margarete also added a NASA Communication Specialist, Dorian Janney, to the Skills Marketplace team. Dorian brought a vast amount of children’s education outreach experience.

Over the next several months, our team assembled content for requirement guides for each of the Girl Scout levels, containing hands-on projects that were age-appropriate for each level. Once we determined the content for each guide, I designed a draft guide for the GSCNC to approve.

Hands-on learning about Water Drop Patch at Girl Scouts 2016 Maker Day

Hands-on learning about Water Drop Patch at Girl Scouts 2016 Maker Day

I also had the privilege of designing the Water Drop Patch along with five “rocker” patches that fit under the main patch, which could be earned at each Girl Scout level. The rocker patches encourage Girl Scouts to continue to expand their knowledge of their water environment at each program level. Daisies learn about the water cycle; Brownies learn about groundwater; Juniors learn about watersheds; Cadettes learn about careers in the field of water; and Seniors/Ambassadors learn about water laws and water ethics.

On May 7, 2016, I flew to Washington, D.C., to join Margarete and Jessica at the rollout of the Water Drop Patch at Girl Scouts 2016 Maker Day. This event promotes hands-on learning across all levels and provides a place to explain, demonstrate, and share their projects with each other. The One EPA Skills Marketplace team, joined by two Senior Girl Scouts, generated enthusiasm and interest in the Water Drop Patch among the Girl Scouts and their leaders by offering demonstrations of the requirements for each level.

Water Drop Patch information, along with other patches Girl Scouts can earn, is available on the National Girl Scouts website.

About the Author: Michele Drennen serves as an Environmental Protection Specialist at EPA Region 7. She is also on the Process Excellence Team and serves as Skills Marketplace Coordinator for EPA Region 7. Michele has a degree in english with an emphasis in technical communication and a minor in business from Missouri Western State University.

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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Border 2020 Commitments and Accomplishments: National Coordinators Meeting

By Jane Nishida

The United States-Mexico border region is one of the most dynamic in the world. Today, the border is home to over 14 million people. Approximately 90% of the population resides in cities, while the remaining population is found in small towns or rural communities. Over 430,000 of the 14 million people in the region live in 1700 colonias, neighborhoods in Mexican cities without jurisdictional autonomy or representation. There are 26 U.S. federally-recognized Native American tribes, many of which share extensive cultural and family ties with indigenous peoples in the border region of Mexico.

Border 2020 National Coordinators at a meeting in El Paso, Texas.

In late September my team and I joined EPA’s Region 6 Administrator, Ron Curry, and Region 9 Administrator, Jared Blumenfeld, at the National Coordinators meeting under the Border 2020 U.S.-Mexico Environmental Program held in El Paso, Texas. This was the first National Coordinators meeting for the new Border 2020 Program. Together, we reexamined the goals, objectives, and operations of the program as we renewed our bi-national partnership.

During the working sessions, we discussed strategies to reach program goals and maximize resources throughout the two-year work plan. These sessions focused on the five goals of the Border 2020 program – air pollution reduction, improvement of access to clean and safe water, enhancing joint preparedness for environmental response, materials and waste management and clean sites and enhancing compliance assurance and environmental stewardship.

Not only was it an exciting opportunity to hear about the important projects along the U.S.-Mexico border, we also committed to continuing the strengthening of our partnership and collaboration with the ten border states, 26 U.S.-border tribes and indigenous communities, local governments, industry, and the public, and to define a new course of action for making a visible difference for our border communities.

EPA and the Border Health Commission (BHC), one of the exciting partnerships, are working together on important issues to improve the environment and public health in the U.S.-Mexico border region. We have established Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) along the border to improve children’s health by enhancing educational and consultative services to communities. Our new 2015-2016 agreement has identified public health and environmental leadership, building environmental health capacity, and strengthening institutional resiliency and accountability as priority areas.

Next year is an important one under the Border 2020 Program because we start the mid-term evaluation of the Program and we plan to develop and publish the 2016 Border Indicators Report. These important milestones would help ensure that our border collaboration translates into environmental benefits for the inhabitants of the United States-Mexico border region.

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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Urban Sustainability:Role of Small Manufacturers

By Natalie Hummel

Recently, I attended an urban manufacturing tour in Philadelphia with a dedicated group from Philadelphia’s Department of Labor, Commerce and Water, University of Penn, Drexel University, Peoples Emergency Center and the Pratt Center (NY). It was an exciting opportunity to step outside my busy cubicle and experience a world where products are designed and crafted locally —which provided real meaning to the logo “Made in the U.S.A.”

Our initial stop was a small family owned textile company that produced ergonomically enhanced military gear to protect the lives of our military members. Military apparel carrying grenades and high end equipment were redesigned to improve effectiveness. Our group heard how “lean manufacturing” improved operational efficiencies to eliminate or reduce waste while reducing costs.

The open conversation between management and employees enhanced productivity and team incentives and provided employees with an opportunity to enhance skills and knowledge. More importantly, the President of the company, a graduate of the University of Penn’s Wharton School of Business recognized the importance of keeping jobs in Philadelphia.

Along with many creative solutions, we highlighted E3: Economy, Energy, and the Environment, a collaborative framework by local, state, and federal partners to address manufacturing sustainability and profitability. E3 companies that have participated received technical expertise to improve processes, energy use, environmental stewardship, worker safety and competitiveness. Technical assistance through E3 can help companies make more money, retain and hire new workers, and protect public health and the environment, all at the same time.

As a result of the work that this company had done, lives will be saved, product life will be extended and operational costs will be reduced.

This is only one company and many other small and medium sized urban manufacturers are making an enormous impact promoting regional sustainability, livability, and economic competitiveness. Through collaborative programs such as E3, economic, energy and environmental improvements will benefit many.

About the author: Natalie Hummel holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and has been with the EPA for over 9 years.   Natalie joined the Agency as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) , and completed rotational assignments at the Chesapeake Bay Program and the National Park Service working on urban stormwater and coastal estuary environmental issues.  She has extensive experience in budgeting, performance measurement, policy, and planning.   Currently, Natalie is in the Pollution Prevention Division managing E3 efforts in NY, PA, WV, VA, and MT.

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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Food Consumption as a Means of Environmental Stewardship

Have you had a friend or colleague describe himself as a “locavore” and not grasped what was meant? According to Merriam-Webster’s On-line Dictionary, a locavore is someone “who eats locally grown food whenever possible.”

Recently, I visited the Red Stick Farmers Market, one of the weekly agricultural sales in Baton Rouge organized by Big River Economic & Agricultural Development Alliance (www.breada.org). Local growers and food preparers bring vegetables, meats, grains, pastries, honeys, jams, jellies, eggs & cheeses as well as herbs and flowering plants to the open air market near the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s office in downtown Baton Rouge. The market is held every Saturday morning at this location and at other designated spots on other days of the week.

There are a number of reasons for consumers to support and frequent these local markets. You are obtaining fresh foods for your family that in most cases were harvested and prepared within days of your purchases. By operating on a smaller scale than corporate operations, a number of the farms are “organic” or use less chemicals since the crops do not need to be shipped great distances and be subjected to multiple handlings and pests. Many of the farmers are small business operations in the community so your food dollars stay in the local area.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the organization created by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization to assess climate change, 13.5 of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to agricultural practices, not including transportation and shipping. By taking part in the locally grown food market that does not need extended transportation from across the country or from around the world, you are reducing your family’s carbon footprint.

image of farmers market stand displaying potatoes and greens with people shoppingAnd as I overheard two shoppers say, “The fruits and vegetables just test better than what comes from large scale farms.”

So next week, line up with your neighbors and support the environment by buying locally grown farm products.

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

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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