organic

Sustainable Materials Management: A Life-cycle Perspective

As companies and decision-makers seek sustainable ways to manage resources and meet consumer needs, they are confronted with an array of choices, labels and practices that claim to be better for the environment. Terms such as “recyclable,” “recycled-content,” “biodegradable,” or “organic,” all suggest a more sustainable use of resources, but all focus on a limited set of environmental impacts. At EPA, we found that asking which of these practices is better for the environment may not be the right question. We’ve found benefit by taking a broader perspective that considers the full “life cycle” of a product.

Governments and businesses can make better-informed choices with “life-cycle thinking,” or considering the environmental impacts caused at all of the stages of a product’s life cycle. These impacts may include releases of pollutants to air or water; raw material depletion; loss of trees, vegetation and wildlife through disturbance of land and water ecosystems; and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The stages of a product’s life cycle include extraction of resources, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life management. Focusing on just one stage (such as waste management) or one effect (such as organically-raised or grown) can be misleading in total environmental impact. A broader look at life-cycle considerations can show unsuspected or surprising effects – such as high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from washing clothes with hot as opposed to cold water (since fossil fuels were likely burned for the energy used to heat the water). More

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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Pure Harvest Garden – An Organic Garden at P.S. 122Q

By Richard Yue

Pure Harvest Garden

Pure Harvest Garden

Did you know that the vast majority of seeds and produce that we purchase have been genetically modified? Although genetically engineered foods are generally regarded as safe, there are potential risks and side effects (e.g., allergic reaction). Under the leadership of the math teacher, Mr. Vasilios Biniaris, a few members of the eighth grade graduating class of 2012 at P.S. 122 in Astoria, Queens believe many healthy food options are available and that alternatives to genetically modified food exists. These students, who are passionate in making a difference to their school, community and the world, came up with the idea of utilizing organic gardening processes to educate  people about organic farming and the implications of genetically modified foods. The students hope to share some of their own harvest, grown at home, as well as the seeds which they collect and store.

Before the first seed could be planted in the organic garden named the Pure Harvest Garden, the students conducted research about genetically modified food, came up with the design for the garden, and presented the project to their principal to get the support needed for the construction of the garden on the school property.

Since the gardening club was created in 2011 – 2012,  students have planted several hundred different vegetable plants and herbs; the teacher and students have mulched over 60 trees on the school property, the surrounding neighborhood area and in Astoria Park; and planted over 300 flower bearing plants in the tree beds on the streets in their neighborhood.  Currently, the students are planting their second harvest, designing a trellis to hide a trash bin, and donating many of their vegetable bearing plants as part of the advocacy work which they are committed to.

Pure Harvest Garden

Pure Harvest Garden

The level of enthusiasm in the school and the broader community is growing. The numbers of partners they collaborate with have increased and the nature of their work continues to improve. So far, they have worked with GrowNYC, TreesNY, The Brooklyn Grange, and Solar One. Each of these organizations brings an unique perspective to the project and they affect the club’s perspectives as well. One of their partners, the Brooklyn Grange, a one-acre organic urban roof top farm in Queens, has been very supportive to the school. The students had the opportunity to visit the green roof farm setting last year to learn about organic farming, food and the environment. This year, two classes have already visited the Brooklyn Grange and another trip is being planned. The staff of Brooklyn Grange also visits their classrooms (indoor and outdoor) once a week to help them plan their garden and educate the students about sustainable living/farming practices.

Mr. Biniaris anticipates that bigger and better projects await them. The number of students participating in the gardening club has increased. The gardening club has begun to change the culture of the school. Gardening/farming is becoming a “hot topic” within their classroom walls and many classes are contributing. The efforts started by the core group of gardeners in 2011 – 2012 have contributed significantly to this cultural shift. The construction of garden beds alone will ensure that future generations of kids will have access to an experiential learning opportunity that can be integrated with what they learn in the classroom.

For more information about the Pure Harvest Garden, check out their blog at www.122-pure-harvest.blogspot.com.

About the Author: Richard Yue is an Environmental Engineer in the Region’s Clean Air and Sustainability Division. Mr. Yue has been with the EPA for over 22 years and is a graduate of Polytechnic University of 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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A Green Valentine

By: Shelby Egan

While celebrating this year’s Valentine’s Day, don’t forget to show the environment some love!  Valentine’s Day festivities often include exchanging cards with friends and classroom parties full of sweets.  As a kid, I remember my mom buying me my favorite Disney character cards to pass out in class, which often meant multiple trips to the store to find the perfect Cinderella or Little Mermaid card.  Along with this came candy hearts, chocolate goodies and decorating our house with colorful window decals.  You can still have just as much fun, but now there are ways to do so in an environmentally friendly way.  You can do so by:
1. When buying Valentine’s Day cards at the store, check the label of the box and see if the cards were made with recycled content. If so, buy cards that were made with recycled content instead of non-recycled. You can also make Valentine’s Day cards at home with recycled construction paper.  This will help save the amount of resources used and can be fun to decorate and personalize your own cards.

2. As a party activity, take old magazines and newspapers to make a Valentine’s Day collage with friends.  You can have fun creating a project using materials that would otherwise be recycled or thrown out.

3. Create re-used, homemade bookmarks as gifts for family and friends. Take an old tissue box or cereal box and cut 2”x 5” strips.  Color or paint these with red, pink and white and write a message to a friend.

4. If you are baking treats to share with friends, ask your parent or guardian to buy organic ingredients locally.  Sweets will taste just as good but will also be good for the environment.
Have fun celebrating the day with the ones you love, and don’t forget how easy it is to be environmentally friendly.

Shelby Egan is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman. 

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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Tomato vs Tomato

tomato

When I was 5 years old, I used to pull a stool up to the stove at my grandma’s house, open a package of bacon, start the stove, and begin frying the bacon.  I was always in trouble because using the stove without my parent’s supervision was not allowed.  I think my parents and grandma were more surprised that I knew exactly what to do.  I could hardly tie my shoe but I knew what to do with bacon.

The sizzling sounds and smells of cooking make me happy. It is my favorite thing to do, especially with fresh ingredients.  My grandma taught me how to cook, but I wanted to know more so my parents signed me up for a summer cooking camp for kids! We learned all about growing and using fresh ingredients and vegetables for meals.

At camp we learned the differences between store bought and home grown tomatoes.  Sometimes you can’t tell the difference because they sort of look the same.  The only difference might be the little sticker on the store bought ones that point out it’s from Florida.

For my first camp project, I wanted to grow tomatoes. Dad helped me find a good spot with plenty of sunlight to have a garden. We tested the soil to make sure that it was healthy for food to grow. At camp, I learned that rotting kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and worms make great natural compost, which is the fertilizer the tomatoes need to grow.  I didn’t use store bought chemical fertilizer because I wanted to grow them naturally.   We built a raised bed and watered the plants daily.  It took almost 7 weeks for them to grow! They weren’t super bright red or big. Some had streaks of purple.  Most didn’t look as nice as the store bought ones.

Then, I noticed a difference one night while making the spaghetti sauce for dinner and using our tomatoes. Cutting into it, I noticed it was fleshier and juicier. When tasting the sauce, it was sweeter and it brought out the flavor of the spices that we added too. This never happened when making sauce with the store bought tomato.  It usually tastes more watery and mild.

Growing your own food is hard work but it is fun.  My dad was happy too because he saved money by growing them instead of buying them! Carrots are next.

Fourth-grader Naima attends a Montessori school in Chicago’s northwest side. She enjoys cooking experiments and is visiting Rick Bayless’s garden in the summer.

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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Gardening Within the Walls of Your Home

A couple of years ago I gave my Dad grow lights for Father’s Day. He had mentioned to me that he wanted a garden, but living in a gated community there was not the appropriate amount of space on his property to do so. He started to create an indoor garden comprised of herbs and vegetables. It has been two years now and the small garden that started in the corner of his kitchen has now overtaken the entire kitchen and living room. I love to go over to my Dad’s to eat his homemade cooking made from vegetables and fruits straight from his indoor garden.

As more people are becoming concerned about the use of pesticides on the fruits and vegetables we buy at the grocery store, organic produce has been increasing in selection. However, organic produce is usually more expensive and the energy it takes to ship the produce increases carbon emissions. In-home gardening can be a way to divert away from pesticides while being fiscally and environmentally responsible. Although the grow lights, seeds, dirt, and pots will be relatively pricey at first, the results of your garden will pay off in just a matter of a few years.

Starting an indoor garden can prove to be an excellent solution to those living in the city who do not have the adequate amount of space outside to make a garden. However, if you do have a large yard and enough space for a garden outside, having an indoor garden can be beneficial to those who would like to enjoy fresh, organic fruits, vegetables and herbs year-round. No matter the size of your house you can still enjoy the pleasures of a garden as plants can be placed almost anywhere in a house while adding to the aesthetically pleasing aspect of the newly acquired greenery.

If considering starting your own indoor garden it is important to remember that it takes time to maintain a garden. You must remember to re-pot, water, and rotate your plants appropriately. Is it really taking time out of your day though? If you don’t have an indoor garden you must still go to the store, and pick out the produce that you want. It sounds a lot easier to simply just water the plants and then pick them when they are ready to eat.

What do you grow in your indoor garden?

About the author: Nikki Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana 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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