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Spring Cleaning Can Be Even Healthier using Green Products

The welcome return of spring sunshine makes me think of one thing – grimy, winter-weary windows. And then there’s the fridge, the baseboards, the carpets, the bathroom grout, the kitchen cabinets. All these little spots we ignored all winter are now ready for a thorough scrub. No wonder nearly 75 percent of Americans like to do a good spring cleaning.

Good thing you can use the EPA Safer Choice label to help you find cleaning and other household products that are made with ingredients that are safer for people and the environment.

Healthy Choices

That’s a great assurance, considering household cleaning products are one source of indoor air pollution, which can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Products with safer ingredients improve indoor air quality and can lower the risk of health hazards, including respiratory conditions like asthma; allergic reactions, which can cause skin rashes, hives or headaches; and a variety of other conditions. Children and older people, in particular, are more susceptible to risks — so they’re better off in spaces cleaned with safer products and wearing clothes cleaned with a laundry detergent that uses safer solvents and surfactants.  And what about parents and those who regularly clean and do the wash, coming in close contact with cleaners and detergents? Safer is certainly better for them. Safer Choice recognizes that everyday cleaning products make a big difference to your family’s well-being.

Cleaners also affect the quality of our local streams, rivers and lakes. When Safer Choice products get rinsed down the drain and make their way into the watershed, they are less toxic to fish and other aquatic life. That’s good news for New England’s iconic waterways, whether it’s Lake Champlain, the Charles River or Long Island Sound… or the ponds, streams and wetlands found throughout New England.

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Here’s something that may surprise you. Unlike food producers, cleaning product manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on their containers or make them public. But to display the Safer Choice label, manufacturers must list all of their product’s ingredients either on the product or on an easy-access website.

Safer Choice is the first federal label for cleaning products and it is proving incredibly popular. More than 2,000 products have already earned the right to carry the logo. They’re available in local grocery stores and hardware stores, and include cleaners for use at home, offices, schools, hotels and sports venues.

The agency’s website (https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice) lists all the products that proudly carry the Safer Choice label. We also offer interactive tools to find the best cleaning products for your home and for businesses like schools, hotels, offices, and sports venues. And my personal favorite – cleaners for those grimy windows.

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator, US EPA Region 1 (New England 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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Celebrate New England’s National Parks

By Gina Snyder

This is a year of anniversaries for the Boston Harbor and Islands. Twenty-five years ago the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority announced that no more sludge would be dumped into the harbor. After over 100 years of discharges to the harbor, this was a real milestone and it opened the way for the Boston Harbor Islands to become a unit of the National Park System 20 years ago. And just a decade ago, Spectacle Island, reclaimed from a former landfill, was opened for visitors.

While the first National Park was created on March 1st, 1872, it wasn’t until 100 years ago this year that we had a National Park Service. What better way to celebrate the first National Park and the 100th anniversary of the Park Service than for New Englanders to visit the island jewels in Boston Harbor and celebrate the environmental milestones at the same time?  Ferries run in summer to some of the 34 islands in the park, including Spectacle Island and George’s Island (www.nps.gov/boha).

Visiting our National Parks is a great way to enjoy nature. As of this year, Massachusetts has sixteen National Park locations DeerIsland.NPservice(www.nps.gov/ma) among twenty-seven national parks plus several national historic sites and scenic trails in all of New England. Ranging from small historic sites to a 2,180-mile long public footpath known as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia, these parks give you a variety of choices for celebrating the centennial.

If it’s a small historic site you want, why not head to JFK’s birthplace in Brookline or Washington’s headquarters at the Longfellow House in Cambridge. And if it’s a wilderness hike in nature, check out one or all 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail as it runs through the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains, through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont each have one National Park – Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont. Maine and Rhode Island each have two sites. In Maine – well-known Acadia National Park and Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, home of the earliest French presence in North America. And in Rhode Island, Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence and Touro Synagogue National Historic Site in Newport.

Celebrating our national parks lets us get outside to enjoy the environment. Here in the Boston area, it’s an advantage that you can get to many of our nearby parks by public transit. The three right in Boston are easily accessible: Besides the Harbor Islands, Boston’s National Historic Park is at Faneuil Hall (www.nps.gov/bost) and the Boston African American National Historic Site and meeting house is centered on the north slope of Beacon Hill (www.nps.gov/boaf).

In this year of centennial celebration for the National Park Service you are invited to get out and find your park, ( www.nps.gov/subjects/centennial/findyourpark.htm) but with the success of the Boston Harbor clean up, you can get out and find your island.

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About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee.

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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Water with your meal?

By Jennie Saxe

This time of year, you might find me sampling the last of our Valentine’s Day chocolates, or cooking up a hearty stew – enough to ensure there will be leftovers for my busy family. In past blogs, we’ve written about the water footprint of our food, and ways that sustainable food management protects water resources. This got me thinking: how much water goes into producing some of my family’s favorite foods?

You can calculate the “water footprint” of your favorite foods.

You can calculate the “water footprint” of your favorite foods.

After doing a little research, I found that there’s a lot of water hidden in my go-to chicken stew recipe: the chicken alone – about 2 lbs. of it – requires around 1,100 gallons of water to produce. That’s enough water to fill about 25 bathtubs! If my famous beef stew were on the menu, the same amount of beef requires almost quadruple the amount of water – 91 bathtubs’ worth. And believe it or not, those Valentine’s Day chocolates have the largest water footprint on the menu: it takes a whopping 454 gallons of water to produce a standard-sized (100g) chocolate bar. According to EPA’s WaterSense program, that’s more water than an average American family of four uses in one day.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the water footprint of your favorite meals. Buying only what you need for your recipes reduces potential food waste, and minimizes the waste of everything that went into producing the food, including water!

You can also look for foods that are locally-grown. Lower transportation needs for local food translate into a smaller environmental footprint overall. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and urban gardens are great ways to support your community and get healthy, local foods. EPA is a partner in the Local Foods, Local Places program which helps communities like Allentown, Pennsylvania, Crisfield, Maryland, and Williamson, West Virginia stimulate economic development through local food enterprises.

With simple steps, you can be a water-savvy home chef – and still make mouths water at the dinner table.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

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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I Walk the Beach in Winter

By Phil Colarusso

Empty, cold, windy, the beach in the winter. I walk down a deserted shore with the waves rumbling next to me. Little evidence of life except for a stray gull or a few eider ducks diving just beyond the surf zone. The wind whips sand particles stinging as they hit my face. Walking into the wind takes some effort.BeachinWinterpicPhil

Geographically, this is a beach I visit often, but it is a very different beach than the one I walked on in the late fall. Winter storms, wind and waves have continued with their eternal reshaping of the landscape. Large sections of sand dunes have eroded in one of the winter storms. The constant wind redistributes clouds of sand along exposed sections of beach. Sand grains collect in clam shells, behind clumps of dune grass or debris, any place that allows relief from the vigorous wind.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen nature’s reshuffling of this beach dozens and dozens of times. As I stroll along the shore, I contemplate the fate of a grain of sand. How many times does a single grain of sand get moved in its life span? How far does it travel in its lifetime? I envision the grain of sand being blown down the beach by the wind and moving in and out on a wave or with the tide. The one constant for a sand grain is motion. The one constant for most beaches is change. With climate change triggering sea level rise and more intense storms, this current rate of change will also change.

It’s time to turn back and as I retrace my steps from the way I came; the wind is now at my back. With the wind at my back, nature doesn’t seem quite as violent.  The waves coming ashore don’t look as big.  A gull floats effortlessly above me on the wind exerting no effort at all, appearing at peace. The deeper message seems pretty clear, we need to work with nature not against it. Are we as a society, sand grains being blown around haphazardly by the wind or are we the sea gull who can adapt and use that same wind to our advantage? In the distance, three wind turbines are visible on the horizon.

 

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA’s New England office, and is an avid diver

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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BAD Farms doing GOOD things for our drinking water

by Beth Garcia

Rice farm cows

Rice farm cows

Where can you find yogurt, cheeses…and mounds of manure?  At Beth and David Rice Farms (AKA “BAD Farms”) in Berks County, Pennsylvania. This dairy farm is part of the Maiden Creek watershed which supplies drinking water to 1.5 million people downstream, including the cities of Reading and Philadelphia.   Recently I had the chance to visit the farm to celebrate the announcement of the latest round of Schuylkill River Restoration Fund (SRRF) grants. That day, over $274,000 was announced for nine projects that will conserve land and reduce agricultural pollution, stormwater runoff, and abandoned mine drainage.

dry manure storage

dry manure storage

The recently installed 6-month concrete liquid and dry manure storage basins at BAD Farms were funded in part by past SRRF grants. Farm improvements like the storage basins prevent microbiological pathogens from entering the watershed, protect groundwater, and allow farmers to put higher-quality nutrients on their crops at the right time.

liquid manure storage

liquid manure storage

This farm, like many, wouldn’t be able to make these improvements without the help of many partners in the Schuylkill Action Network (SAN). EPA is part of the SAN and SRRF advisory committees, helping the group achieve its mission of protecting and restoring Schuylkill Waters by bringing together partners of all levels.  Over the past ten years, the SRRF has distributed over $2.5 million, and leveraged another $2.5 million, to complete 73 projects that protect and restore the Schuylkill River for recreational use and as a source of drinking water. This year, The Coca-Cola Company joined several long-time partners in funding projects to protect the Schuylkill.

The proof is in the pudding: when partners from all sectors – non-profit organizations, government agencies, and private companies – come together, we can achieve greater water quality protections than any one partner could do alone. Check out some ways that you can do good things – like BAD Farms – to protect drinking water sources in your area.

 

About the Author: Beth Garcia is a member of the Source Water Protection and DC Direct Implementation teams in EPA Region 3.  Beth lives in a lake community where she enjoys swimming, kayaking, and fishing all within walking distance from her backyard.

 

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 Grants to Make a Difference

By Sheila Lewis

About the Author: Sheila Lewis has dedicated more than 30 years to federal service and has worked to support community-based efforts since 1999. She currently serves as the Deputy Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice in Washington, D.C.

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I am ecstatic that EPA today announced our latest round of Environmental Justice Small Grant projects. Take a moment to look at the project summaries that we have selected because they are a true reflection of what is happening in the environmental justice arena around the country.

One thing you’ll notice is how communities throughout the country are finding innovative ways to adapt to climate change and build resilience in their neighborhoods.  From Northern New Mexico to Chicago and Newport News, Virginia to Chickaloon, Alaska, community leaders have recognized both the challenges of preparing their communities for the impacts of climate change, while seizing the opportunity to bring the benefits of renewable energy and efficiency to the places that need it most.

Something that you might notice is the number of gardening projects in both urban and rural settings, which will be used to teach people about resiliency, soil contamination, environmental stewardship, public health, entrepreneurship, and water conservation.  These projects are environmental justice through and through — aimed at improving the local environment by engaging, educating, organizing, empowering in efforts driven BY the community FOR the community.

A focus on youth inclusion and project leadership also stands out among this year’s projects.  We’re exci2008_EarthMonth_026ted to support so many projects that will bring local youth into environmental decision-making, helping to better position them to work toward improving their communities.  It goes along with what we’ve heard as a priority from our stakeholders around the country and is reflected in the Agency’s commitment to focus on youth engagement on climate change through our National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

It’s great that we can support so many projects and partners from across the entire country, support that is bolstered this year through funding of additional projects in the Gulf Coast area, thanks to our colleagues in the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program.

But what’s even more exciting than what these discreet projects can achieve over the next year, is how they can build on this funding to leverage work that can be accomplished towards bigger solutions and real change in their communities.

At EPA, we recognize that making such change happen takes community leadership, long-term commitment, and a collaborative effort much bigger than just EPA and its grants to a specific organization.  In the more than 20 years since the inception of this grant program, we have been learning how to better work with communities and other partners to improve our ability to support such growth and change, most recently through Administrator McCarthy’s “Making a Visible Difference in Communities” initiative. We also will soon announce a call for proposals for our Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving cooperative agreements, which support community driven efforts at growing effective collaborations to identify and address larger issues in the community.

Evidence of the power of starting with a little support and growing partnerships towards larger solutions is evidenced in communities throughout the country. Whether in the port areas of San Diego or an industrial neighborhood in northern New York, communities with a little bit of support can make a lot happen.

Congratulations to those organizations selected to receive such support. We look forward to continuing to work with you on your path towards making change happen in your communities.

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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A Summer Send-off at the Coast

by Megan Keegan

Enviroscape

EnviroScape – the ultimate tool for watershed education

How do you interest an audience of children, from toddlers to teens, in watershed protection? It’s easy: bring the subject down to their level – literally! That’s exactly what I did when I arrived to set up an exhibit at Pennsylvania Coast Day. By moving the timeless EnviroScape® – the ultimate tool for watershed education – from the tabletop to the ground, the children got a bird’s-eye view of a watershed comprised of several different land uses.  Parents looked on, amused, as the children helped “make it rain!” to demonstrate how common environmental pollutants make their way into our region’s waterways.

Along with EPA’s exhibition, Coast Day boasted a wide range of exhibitors with kid-engaging activities, like the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary’s demonstration of bivalve water filtration.  Bivalves include clams, oysters, and mussels. In our region, freshwater mussels are critically important because they provide valuable “ecosystem services” like stabilizing stream beds and filtering water. As we mentioned in a blog last year, an adult mussel can filter an astonishing 15 gallons of water per day. The Coast Day exhibit let passers-by see this filtration in action, with water in the aquarium tank going from cloudy to clear in a matter of hours.

The best part about the day?  It was totally free!  Although it was a cloudy day threatening to rain, Coast Day attracted a great crowd reflective of the diverse communities and family-friendly character of Philadelphia. If you missed this celebration of the Pennsylvania coast, head down to Lewes, Delaware, this Sunday for Delaware’s Coast Day – another free, fun, family event.

Find out more about your watershed – and even get involved with local watershed protection activities – by using EPA’s Surf Your Watershed website. If you’re an educator or parent looking for water education resources for children there are many fun, educational activities EPA’s water website.

 

About the Author: Megan Keegan is a new member of the Source Water Protection Team in EPA Region 3.  Her favorite state is Maine, where she enjoys fishing, kayaking, and picking blueberries. She considers Acadia to be the best National Park on the East Coast.

 

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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EPA Works Toward ‘Making a Visible Difference’ in Omaha and Council Bluffs Communities

By Kathleen L. Fenton

From left: Bill Lukash, Toni Gargas and Dave Williams

From left: Bill Lukash, Toni Gargas and Dave Williams

An eager EPA team, Toni Gargas, Dave Williams and I, came together to begin a new chapter last week in our work with communities. We’ll be working in a focused way with the cities of Omaha, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa. EPA has an exciting new initiative called Making a Visible Difference in Communities. It’s a tall order but the three of us are up to the challenge.

We started our work with our Acting Regional Administrator, Mark Hague, reaching out to the two cities’ mayors and city planning administrations. Last week, between the two cities, our team met with many community service and public health providers, city planners, and neighborhood leaders.

As an initial step, we will listen to determine what is needed. Then we’ll find out where EPA Region 7 staff can best help with our current resources and technical assistance.

Our Omaha visit was initiated by an invitation from David Thomas, Assistant Director of the Omaha City Planning Department, to attend a community planning meeting at Prospect Village. There we met with over 30 community service partners who have worked with neighbors, organizations, and faith community to help move and build up this neighborhood for the past two years. The city plans on focusing their efforts on a number of established neighborhoods that are interested in enhancing their sustainability and quality of life.

Theresa Gilreath tends the urban garden

Theresa Gilreath tends the urban garden

Bill Lukash, Omaha City Planner, gave us a short but informative tour of the neighborhood and the various city efforts underway in northeastern Omaha. One example of the current work supported by the city is the placement and growth of many urban gardens throughout neighborhoods, senior living complexes, and schools.

We also ran into Theresa Gilreath, who lives at Village East Senior Apartments. With the help of many in the community – especially her friend, Ginger Thomas, and the Omaha City Planning Department and local development organizations – Theresa, Ginger and others in the community have maintained one of the most beautiful and prolific urban gardens I have ever seen. This senior living complex and its urban garden, now in its fall harvest, feeds over 42 families with fruits, vegetables and herbs. It is also a restful meeting place for members to use for outdoor visits.

Another example of EPA’s intended efforts, and the topic of some of our meetings with Omaha and Council Bluffs, was discussing a resource EPA can bring to the table: training sessions for schools. Our grantee, Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., will bring Healthy Schools training to those who work on school maintenance and children’s health, like school nurses and the county health departments. We hope to deliver a number of Healthy Schools training sessions to the two cities, each by 2016.

EPA will support what the two cities need most from EPA, and “connecting these dots” through information, technical assistance, and hard work will be our primary focus in Omaha and Council Bluffs. The cities have welcomed our initiative. Toni, Dave and I look forward to meeting some thoughtful and dedicated elected officials, city government staff, and citizens who are continuing to build their communities one step at a time to make a visible difference. Stay tuned for the next steps in these partnerships as we work together for the Heartland!

About the Author: Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator and the Lead Strategic Planner in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

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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Work That Matters to Me: Building Trust, Greener Communities

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

David Doyle is a public servant’s public servant. I’ve known Dave for 24 years and if you have a “federal agency” question, Dave will either know the answer or the person to call to help you. He has mentored many of us at EPA about the intricacies of community work, and has truly “woven straw into gold” for many communities with the limited, complicated funding and layers of federal and state resources applicable to them. Dave turns over every stone and has left in his wake a sustainable legacy.

By David Doyle

A tornado devastated Greensburg, Kan. on May 4, 2007.

Aftermath of Greensburg tornado

It’s June 2007, and I’m sitting under a large red-and-white tent in Greensburg, Kan., feeling a little disoriented and anxious. I was told a week before that I had been assigned to work with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on developing a long-term recovery plan for the community that was wiped out by a tornado a month earlier. Once I drove to Greensburg and located the FEMA trailer, their recovery staff directed me to a community meeting.

It must have been 100 degrees under that tent. With huge fans trying to cool the place and only adding to the noise and confusion, I suddenly heard the speaker on the platform say, “EPA’s here to help.” I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I would get from the audience in southwestern Kansas, but as I stood up and meekly waved, I got nothing but cheers and applause. I was relieved by that reaction, but I sat down wondering what I was going to do next.

Emergency response personnel make plans in the aftermath of the tornado that devastated Greensburg, Kan., on May 4, 2007.

Greensburg community meeting 

What I had learned up to then in working with communities is that building trust is by far the most important thing to do. I also understood that being patient with people, listening to their concerns, and being honest and responsive to their needs are key things to keep in mind. Work I had done in Stella, a southwestern Missouri town with a population of 150, prepared me to some extent for what I was asked to do in Greensburg.

EPA had performed a “miracle” in Stella, as described by some of the residents, by demolishing an abandoned hospital that sat in the middle of their downtown, using our authority under the Superfund law. We then brought in architectural students from Kansas State University to design reuse plans for the site and later developed a master plan for the community. The local officials recognized my work, along with other EPA staff, by presenting us with award plaques hand-carved from local walnut trees during the annual Stella Days Fair.

In Greensburg, we decided to form a “Green Team” that came up with recommendations for turning it into the greenest community in the country. The team had representatives from the business community, school district, and a number of local citizens, along with representatives from several state and federal agencies. We met on a regular basis to bounce ideas off each other. Our recommendations were incorporated into FEMA’s Long-Term Community Recovery Plan, and all of them were eventually adopted by the city council and implemented.

The redeveloped Greensburg, Kan., now has more LEED Platinum buildings than any other community in America.

Redevelopment in Greensburg, the greenest community in America

The most important recommendation adopted was that all new municipal buildings over a certain size had to be built to meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum standards, the highest certification level for new buildings. As a result, Greensburg (population 800) now has more LEED Platinum buildings than any other community in the United States.

Since my time in Greensburg, I have provided assistance to many other communities here in the Heartland. These collaborative efforts resulted in a new medical clinic surrounded by new businesses in Ogden, Iowa; plans for a new sustainable downtown in Sutherland, Neb.; redevelopment of former gas stations in south St. Louis; new, complete streetscapes in Lincoln, Neb.; plans for a mixed-use neighborhood in Iowa City, Iowa; and improvements in other communities.

I still remember those hot, windy and dusty days in Greensburg when a local citizen named Jack would often come up to me with a big smile on his face, shake my hand, and say how much he appreciated EPA being there and helping out.

About the Introducer: Kathleen Fenton has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: David Doyle serves as the Sustainable Communities Coordinator at EPA Region 7. David has a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering from Syracuse University, and a Master of Science in environmental health engineering 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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Lessons from an Avocado: Making Food Recovery an Everyday Activity 

By Lisa Thresher

It’s lunchtime on a Saturday and my stomach guides me to the kitchen. I notice an avocado sitting on the counter. Perfect, it’ll be a nice addition to a salad! Then I notice grey fuzz protruding from the top of it. My avocado went bad, and is moldy through and through! This is not good – in more ways than one.

Since I’m a new hire in EPA’s Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention program, one of my main responsibilities is to foster increased food recovery here in the Heartland. So having food spoil is unacceptable to me. Not on my watch! Fortunately, I know of a resource to help me prevent more food from spoiling.

Lisa (center) as EPA coordinator at first food waste audit at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kan.

Lisa (center) as EPA coordinator at first food waste audit at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kan.

EPA has partnered with the West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum on a toolkit called Food: Too Good to Waste. This resource is designed specifically to help household consumers buy what they need, use what they have, and minimize waste as much as possible. Usually, the toolkit is utilized on a community-wide scale, where a neighborhood signs up to use the toolkit for a few weeks and tracks its progress.

One of the toolkit’s strategies and tools that is directly applicable to my current situation is the Fruit and Vegetable Storage Guide. Following the case of my avocado, I’d have known to refrigerate it once it ripened. Thankfully, this convenient guide is available online, or I might’ve panicked and stuffed all my fruits and vegetables into the refrigerator to prevent them from spoiling.

Another unfortunate result of wasting my avocado is the loss of time and resources that went into producing it. I’m not just referring to the money I spent to buy it, but the natural resources, energy, time, and labor as well. When pondering the entire life cycle of the avocado, I think about the land, pesticides and fertilizers used, the farm equipment likely powered by fossil fuels, the time and effort spent by the farmer, and other farm-related operations.

My avocado’s journey on2015-9-11 Thresher Food Recovery 2 a farm is only one part of its life cycle. Considering all the steps involved in getting it from the farm to the store where I bought it, I’m amazed that all of that went into one piece of fruit. It’s not easy to make the connection between the complex process that brought the avocado to me as a consumer and the money that I paid for it.

This blog is about my unfortunate avocado, but the story of sustainable food management is a much bigger one – not only a national concern, but a global one. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2011, about one-third of all food products – equivalent to 1.3 billion tons – are lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems worldwide every year. This is a monumental loss that impacts people, the economy, and the planet.

I’ve learned my lesson about food spoilage and will continue to refine my food purchasing, storage, and consumption habits. We’re fortunate that EPA and other agencies have plenty of resources to help us prevent the loss of food. Pair them with focused daily efforts, and throwing food in the trash will be a thing of the past.

Well, I‘m off to compost this avocado so it can at least go into the soil – instead of my lunch!

About the Author: Lisa Thresher is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division. She recently graduated from Philadelphia University with a degree in environmental sustainability and a minor in law and society. Lisa is a Philadelphia native and has an affinity for the arts and staying active.

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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