landfills

Making a Green City Even Greener

By Jeff Maurer

Polystyrene Food Container

Polystyrene Food Container

New Yorkers don’t like being second-best; whether its sports, food, or the arts, we strive to lead, not follow. One of the newer facets of New York’s character is a desire to be a leader in environmentalism and sustainability. This is huge; making the big apple a green apple will provide a model for other cities to follow. Recently, Mayor Bloomberg took two important steps in that direction by banning polystyrene foam (commonly called Styrofoam) containers and requiring the city’s largest food waste generators to separate their food waste.

When it comes to being bad for the environment, polystyrene foam is a repeat offender.  Polystyrene foam used to be regularly manufactured using ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, and even today it is impossible to confirm that all polystyrene foam is “ozone safe.” Styrene, the basic building block of polystyrene, is classified as a possible carcinogen by EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The manufacture of polystyrene requires large amounts of petroleum and chemicals. When polystyrene foam goes to a landfill, it stays there: it can take more than a million years for a polystyrene product to decompose.

Polystyrene foam is about as bad for the environment as a product can get; that’s why Mayor Bloomberg’s ban is a welcome development. Better alternatives are available; companies including Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Red Lobster, and Arby’s have already stopped using polystyrene foam. The City Council passed the ban unanimously. This is a change whose time has come.

Another important step towards becoming a more equitable and sustainable city came in Mayor Bloomberg’s requirement that the city’s largest food waste generators separate their food waste. This will result in more food being composted or given to the needy; less will go to landfills. We should be taking every measure to avoid wasting food, especially when more than 14 percent of New Yorkers – almost 3 million people – don’t have enough to eat. When food goes to a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. This measure will encourage New York’s largest producers of food to keep food on our tables and out of landfills.

New York has a lot of competition for the title of “greenest city;” nearby, cities including New Paltz and Newark are putting ambitious programs in place to make their cities greener. I’m glad to see Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council take these steps to bolster New York’s reputation as a leader in environmental protection and sustainability.

About the Author: Jeff is a speechwriter and public affairs specialist. He started in EPA’s Washington, DC office in 2005 and moved to EPA’s Region 2 office in New York in 2011. Before joining EPA, Jeff served in the Peace Corps in Morocco. He is an avid soccer fan and part-time standup comedian, and can periodically be found performing at clubs around New York.

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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Auraria Campus Celebrates America Recycles Day

By Virginia Till

My school, the University of Colorado Denver, is part of the Auraria Higher Education Center. At Auraria, we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty. In fact, we enjoy it. As part of our participation in the EPA-led Food Recovery Challenge, and in celebration of America Recycles Day, we did the first-ever waste audit of the Tivoli Student Union.
 

Americans tossed out more than 36 million tons of food in 2011, and nearly all of it ended up in landfills or incinerators. The Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to reduce as much of their food waste as possible – saving money, helping communities, and protecting the environment.
 

With EPA-supplied bench scales, we weighed 26 bags of compost, recycle, and landfill materials gathered from the Tivoli’s 3-bin collection stations. This was then resorted to determine potential for improvement.

By looking at how we were recycling, we learned that we’d do a lot better by sorting properly. Knowing this will help Auraria determine strategies for improving recyling in the Tivoli Student Union and reduce the amount of waste sent to local landfills. It was fun getting our hands dirty and finding out how the campus can improve its waste management. How much of your food and money are you literally throwing away?

For more information:
http://www.epa.gov/smm/foodrecovery/
http://americarecyclesday.org/

About the author: Virginia Till is a graduate student at the University of Colorado Denver, pursuing a master’s in integrated sciences. She studies and works on sustainable building operations and is a Recycling Specialist for EPA Region 8 in Denver.

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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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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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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Suburban Chickens: Sustainability at Work in My Home

by Mindy Lemoine, Region 3

As a child, I hung out at my grandparents’ farm outside of Ville Platte, LA, where they had chickens, pigs, cows, guinea fowl, a garden, a smokehouse, fruit trees, etc. Now, my house sits on about 1/64th of an acre just outside the city limits of Philadelphia. And just as my grandparents did, every morning I put on my barn coat and walk about 30 steps to feed my two chickens.

Chicken

The chickens, Marshmallow and Speedy, live in a coop tucked discreetly behind my garage. Since the spring, my hens have provided me with one or two eggs daily: sage green from Marshmallow and speckled brown from Speedy.

How did a former country kid, who grew up to be a scientist living in the suburbs, start keeping chickens? As a child, I loved to feed the chickens and gather their eggs. While living outside of Philadelphia, one day my nephew offered me his hens because he was moving and had no place to keep them. I jumped at the opportunity to return to my farm roots and put more of my sustainability views into practice. I was fortunate: thanks to an enlightened elected official who was a fellow chicken lover, my township allowed residents to keep chickens.

The space behind my garage had a nice 6×18-foot fenced-in area that was perfect for keeping my girls safe.

Aside from the fresh eggs, one of the delights of owning suburban chickens is that neighbors and their children stop by to visit my hens.

Because of my work at EPA, I know the importance of keeping food waste out of landfills. My hens know something about that, too, because they get excited about the old rice, carrot peelings, food scraps, toast crusts, etc., that I feed to them.

The food scraps that the chickens don’t eat, and other things like coffee grounds and egg shells, are a great addition to my compost pile. The hens help out with the compost as well: their droppings provide a rich source of nutrients that will eventually help nourish my garden. Compost reduces the amount of fertilizer, weed killer and water that my garden needs – a model of sustainability!

The hens are part of the family, and the next generation has arrived. I have four adorable fuzzy baby chicks peeping under a heat lamp in my basement! But as a mom, the best thing about owning chickens is pictures of my son and his friends with chickens sitting on their heads!

About the author: Mindy Lemoine is a Life Scientist and Pollution Prevention Coordinator for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. A native of Opelousas, Louisiana, Mindy grew up rambling in the woods and fields with her siblings and developed an abiding curiosity about what might be living in that ditch. She holds an MS in Geography from Louisiana 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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Region 2 Solar Project Team Visits MSW Landfills

Colleen Kokas (NJDEP), Sarah Gentile, and Fernando Rosado taking a SunEye reading

By EPA Region 2 Solar Team

Walking across an open field approaching a forested border near a bend in the Delaware River on an October morning, you might not be surprised to hear that we spotted an American eagle taking flight as we unknowingly approached him. But you might be surprised that our group, composed of federal and state scientists/engineers, along with local officials, was walking through the Harrison Avenue Landfill in Camden, NJ during a site visit to assess the feasibility of installing a solar energy system.

As part of on-going EPA efforts for siting solar energy projects on closed municipal landfills under the RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative, we recently teamed up with staff from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the New Jersey Department Environmental Protection’s Office of Sustainability and Green Energy to visit 10 closed municipal landfills located in North, Central, and South Jersey. We were offered vistas such as the skyline of New York City with migratory birds in the foreground from Linden Landfill; the Lower New York Harbor from Belford Landfill; and varied natural landscapes from the hilly northern suburbs to the forested Pine Barrens and coastal plain of southern New Jersey.

Although we were initially concerned with town reactions to EPA presence, local officials expressed great interest

Sarah Gentile, Colleen Kokas (NJDEP), Fernando Rosado, and John Koechley discussing the site with Jimmy Salasovich (NREL)

in landfill-based solar projects which seems to be part of a growing national trend. Towns openly embraced us and allowed us to begin our solar efforts on their landfills. As we departed from landfills, we committed to review the solar data and produce feasibility reports for our new local partners. We intend to deliver a meaningful solar feasibility reports and use EPA tools like the new release of “Best Practices for Siting Solar PV on MSW Landfills” document which will provide us with more technical considerations when installing these systems.

With thousands of closed landfills nationwide the potential to use this renewable technology in all regions and our current studies will lead to design and construction of solar array systems.

Spanish Edition

About the authors: The EPA Region 2 Solar Team consists of six members, all with varying disciplines, geology/hydrology, engineers, technical support, scientist, division chief. Note: all work on the R2 Landfill Solar initiative by the staff is done in addition to their regular functions. For more information, contact (212) 637- 4354 Vince Pitruzzello or (212) 637-4346 Fernando Rosado.

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 Scraps to Powered Lights

Think about the last time you took out the garbage. I bet there were some food scraps in there that were leftovers from preparing lunch or dinner. What if you knew that those same food scraps could help produce energy to power lights or run electricity? Wouldn’t you be curious to know how that happens?

With the help of an EPA grant, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) is pioneering an innovative way of taking food scraps from restaurants and commercial food processors and using them to produce renewable energy. If the food scraps are diverted from landfills and used instead to develop energy, we would definitely be on the road to creating a sustainable society.

Watch the food scrap to energy process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhyekv1V32s&feature=endscreen&NR=1

Yvonne Gonzalez is a SCEP intern with the Air and Radiation Division in Region 5.  She recently graduated from DePaul University with a dual graduate degree.

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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Power to the People

Over the last few weeks, I have toured sites that hold an exciting potential for the next chapter in America’s energy future. Most people don’t look at landfills, contaminated industrial sites, or parking lots with a twinkle in their eyes, but I do. I hope you will too.

Solar Panels

Solar PV array at Brockton Brightfields installation in MA

As a solar person, I am always on the look-out for prime sites for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. In addition to solar resources, I look for a few simple things: clear southern exposures, flat or gentle grades, and close proximity to power lines. In general, I am looking for space, whether it is an open rooftop or an abandoned rail yard.

With over 13,000 sites and nearly 22 million acres of EPA-tracked potentially contaminated and underutilized properties nationwide, I see an untapped potential for large-scale deployment of renewable energy. That acreage receives a whole lot of sunshine and, in some cases, gets its fair share of wind. For communities interested in renewables, these sites offer a unique value proposition.

In many cases, these properties have blighted the community for years. From the perspective of a renewable energy developer, these sites are attractive due to their proximity to existing distribution or transmission lines, favorable zoning, and potentially lower land costs.  With this redevelopment approach, I see the potential to turn these liabilities into community assets by remediating the site and deploying pollution-free energy facilities.

Wind-Turbines-at-Steel-Winds-facility-in-NY

Wind-Turbines-at-Steel-Winds-facility-in-NY

Partnering with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and remediation experts here at EPA, the RE-Powering team converted our collective knowledge into new tools to guide state and local governments, site owners, clean-up project managers, and other stakeholders through a process for screening potentially contaminated sites and landfills for their suitability for future redevelopment with PV or wind energy.

This knowledge is now bundled in a simple decision-tree format to enable communities to screen sites without needing renewable energy expertise. We built the screening tools to provide quick feedback on whether or not a site could be viable based on technical or economic criteria. The tools provide a thorough check than my quick check during a site walk. Throughout the process, we provide context for each of the criteria and point to additional tools and references to work through the evaluation process. Our goal is to empower communities to bring their vision of a solar array or wind farm one step closer.

While site walks at brownfields and landfills don’t always offer inspiring views, they are the next step in an inspired approach to expanding our American-made, renewable energy generation. Screen your sites. Take a walk. RE-Power America’s Land.

About the author: Katie Brown is the AAAS Science & Technology fellow hosted in the Center for Program Analysis in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Prior to her fellowship, Katie worked in the solar industry in product development and at NREL on device design and government-industry 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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Let’s Feed People, Not Landfills

By Felicia Chou

I’ve seen a lot of mold in my life. Bluish-green spotty ones, cottony white ones, even bright orange ones. I’ve been seeing them more often when digging around in my fridge, which is now a thriving spore-iffic ecosystem. And with Thanksgiving is coming up, I’m sure there will be even more leftovers.

So maybe sometimes I forget that I’ve had a bag of tomatoes sitting in the fridge since August. An extra bag of tomatoes in the landfill isn’t going to make a difference, right?

Dr. William L. Rathje found decade-old hotdogs and guacamole in recognizable condition buried in a landfill. Without the proper sunlight, air, and water, my tomatoes could sit in an airtight landfill for who-knows-how-long without biodegrading. In 2010, 33.79 million tons of food waste ended up in landfills. That’s 67,580,000,000 pounds worth of food we’ve dumped in one year. Imagine how much more might end up in landfills this holiday season if we don’t cut down on food waste.

So what can we do? At the grocery store, only buy what you know you will finish eating. Keep a list of food items in the fridge so you always remember what you already have, even if it’s hidden in the back and you can’t find it right away. If you have extra food after your Thanksgiving feast, finish up the food in the upcoming days, or share them with your neighbor. Your local food bank and other food rescue programs are happy to take wholesome, uneaten food for those who need it. And finally, you can compost your leftovers to nurture your garden.

If I had to choose between wasting food or burying it in landfills in non-biodegradable limbo, versus saving money by not buying unneeded food, donating wholesome food to those who need it, or having an awe-inspiring garden, I’d prefer the latter. Just imagine the amount of food we could keep out of landfills if all school cafeterias, grocery stores, restaurants, and other major food producers could reduce, donate, and compost as much as possible.

So while I clean out my fridge (composting all the inedible “food”), and pledge to only buy what I can finish from now on, think what can you do this Thanksgiving to cut down on food waste?

About the author: Felicia Chou is a Program Analyst in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery since 2008. One of her fondest Thanksgiving memories was chasing a wild turkey down the city streets of Taiwan. She has no idea where the turkey came from, and what it was doing loose on the streets, and what it was doing in Taiwan.

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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The Race is on – Tap Versus Bottled

The City provides public water fountains in order to promote tap water over bottled water. (EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Kasia Broussalian

If bottled water companies have their way, drinking fountains may go the way of the pay phone. This is a startling realization, as more and more public drinking fountains in office buildings, parks, and airports stand unused. The environmental impacts from a primary consumption of bottled water are astronomical, and, truth be told, the water in there is not all it’s cracked up to be. Is bottled water any better than the stuff that comes straight from your tap here in New York City? Not usually. Though labels claim that their water comes from fresh mountain springs, 25-40 percent actually comes directly from municipal water sources—in other words….it’s the same thing coming out of your tap. And you already pay for it. In addition, the Federal Drug Administration monitors bottled water quality, while EPA monitors the municipal source. Not to brag, but in many cases, our codes are stricter.

So far, it’s tap 1, bottled 1. Pretty evenly matched. But what about the sustainability aspect? Many people claim that plastic water bottles are recyclable, and therefore, not a strain on the environment. Silly people, even if everyone did recycle their bottles (they don’t, not even close) it’s not just the bottle itself that takes a toll. It’s the manufacturing, the trucking, the shelving and the marketing. At the end of each day, the U.S. has accumulated 70 million empty water bottles, 86 percent of which are not recycled.  To meet this demand for plastic, enough oil to keep 100,000 cars on the road for a year must be used. Now, think for just a minute—is all that worth it when you can pour the same, if not better, water right from your taps into a reusable glass?

Tap: 10, bottled: 1.

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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