recycling

Career Advice from Dolly

 

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Every summer my family would take a vacation to a small town in northern Wisconsin on Lake Superior to visit my great aunt.  My great aunt would love to take us to visit the Red Cliff Reservation just outside her town.  It’s not every day you meet someone who is familiar with this area, but Dolly Tong is.  She has even done a dumpster dive there!  I sat down with her to learn more about her position at the EPA.

 

 

What is your position at the EPA?

 

I am the Regional Tribal Solid Waste and Pollution Prevention Coordinator.  I work with the 35 federally-recognized tribes in our Region to manage waste issues.

 

Do you have prior work experiences that lead you to the EPA?

 

No, but I started as an intern at the EPA in what was called the Technology Transfer Program back then.  This eventually evolved into EPA’s Pollution Prevention Program which I have been involved with over many years.

 

What is a typical day like for you?

 

I work with a team to assist tribes in whatever waste management issue comes up, and analyze what kinds of technical assistance we can provide to tribes over the long term. I also communicate as a liaison for other tribal solid waste coordinators in the other EPA Regions with Headquarters to address national tribal waste issues.  I oversee two part-time Senior Environmental Employees’ work and monitor their work status. 

 

Sometimes I get to do field work on tribal reservations as well.  This is the most interesting part of my job.  We have done dumpster dives with tribes and visited their recycling facilities and household hazardous waste collection events.  When you visit tribal reservations, you can better understand what the tribes are doing, what they need, and how you can help.

 

What is the best part of your job?

 

Because EPA has a direct government-to-government working relationship with federally-recognized Indian tribes, I feel like my work directly impacts tribal communities. It is great to see the positive impacts with the work you do and see the immediate results. In addition, at the EPA we are encouraged to be creative and think of solutions on our own.  If you think something is workable, you can try it.  I like the independence and creativity.

 

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

 

Yes.  When I was little, the other kids used to call me “nature freak.”  I just loved animals and nature.  My whole family was actually like that as well.

 

What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?

 

I majored in Environmental Studies, which was a multidisciplinary program.  I took advantage of a variety of classes, to get a feel for what interested me.  I wish I could have taken classes on Native American Law.

Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?

 

It is important not to use so much stuff or buy a lot of things.  Everything you purchase has an impact on the environment because of all the pollution that comes from the extraction of materials, manufacturing, and transportation to bring you the finished product.  Using less has a direct impact on avoiding the generation of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change.

It is really important to learn about community based social marketing to promote sustainable behaviors in people. It is more than just handing out flyers to get people to change their ways.  We need more people to learn how to apply community-based social marketing techniques to get to the root causes of why people don’t practice certain sustainable behaviors, and come up with effective ways to encourage positive behaviors that are better for the environment.

 

Kelly Siegel 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 sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.

 

 

 

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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Helping Rural Guatemala… One Stove at a Time

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Ever wonder how you might be able to make a difference in another country? Recently, the environmental team at West Geauga High School had the same question. We had already helped our own community in many ways relating to the environment, like organizing a battery recycling program, hosting seminars about hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking,” and sponsoring “Go Green Nights” at our school, but wanted to make an impact in the wider world.  After making a few phone calls to several environmental organizations, our team finally decided on partnering with another group to help with our project. We contacted the Social Entrepreneur Corps, an organization focused on micro consignment in Guatemala and other Central American countries. Once our team settled on an organization and agreed on goals, we put our plan into action. Because our other projects focused on water and air issues, we wanted to keep the same theme in Guatemala. With previously won grant money, our team was able to sponsor the installation of water purification systems and distribution of cook stoves. Our water purification systems provided Guatemalan children access to clean, fresh water in their schools, which allows them to stay healthy and stay in school, receive an education and break the vicious cycle of poverty. The systems were sold to schools and community centers for a small fee, ensuring that the recipients’ dignity stays intact and also creates commerce in these villages. The water purification bucket has a ceramic element inside that removes common contaminants such as E-coli and silver. The filter removes 99.5% of E-Coli. The filtration device holds up to 8 liters of water and the rate at which the element filters the water is 2.5 to 3 liters per hour. Villagers who purchased our locally made cookstoves from the initial recipients made their investment back in the first two months at a reduced rate in which these cookstoves use firewood. The firewood efficiency of the stoves resulted in total savings of about $140, or the cost of corn for 9 months and 10 days for a family, 3 months of a child’s college fees, or 2 goats. Of paramount importance, the cookstoves reduced the amount of smoke inside of homes that the inhabitants would ordinarily inhale on a daily basis by 70%, benefitting the health of residents and substantially reducing CO2 emissions.  Our team helped rural Guatemala has become a cleaner, greener environment.  We received immense satisfaction from seeing our goals realized. 

Lilly  is a sophomore at West Geauga High School in Chesterland, Ohio. She has been an active member of her school’s environmental team, the West Geauga Environmental Discovery Project, for about three years now. Lilly enjoys helping and promoting sustainability in as many ways as she can.

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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FLIP TAP STACK

By: Wendy

Do you want to know how it feels to be part of the Green Team? Well in January, at Wagner Middle School, the Green Team and I helped the school to go greener.  We noticed that when we finish eating lunch, we simply dump our food, trays, and milk cartons right in the trash bin. Most people ignored the recycling bin and the liquid bucket where you pour the leftover milk. This has to stop and that was why we started to “Flip, Tap, Stack.”

The Flip Tap Stack helped in a major way even though there are still people who are not throwing their things in the right bins, but it did help make the school greener.  “Flip, Tap, Stack” is basically something that the Green Team has settled on for the lunch routine. What we do in lunch is that once we finish eating, we pour the liquids out of our milk cartons in the liquid bucket, and then recycle the milk carton. After that, we flip our trays in the trash bin, tap the leftover foods in the tray, and then stack the trays. Obviously people didn’t know how to do this process properly at the start, so we guided them.

For one week, the Green Team and some student volunteers help guide where to throw food. At first, it was pretty confusing for them, but as they did it day by day, they seemed to get a good sense of where and what to do with their food. They didn’t know if plastic cups were to go into the trash or the recycling bin and if aluminum foil was to go to recycling bin or trash too. Therefore, we told them that aluminum foil was to be recycled and plastic cups were to be thrown in the trash. When they were no longer guided, very few threw their things in the wrong bin.

Doing this process was just a little more work, but it’s worth it if it can make the world a little bit greener! That’s how our school worked with recycling and throwing out trash. How do you make this world a little bit greener?

Bio: Wendy is a student at Wagner Middle School in NY, NY. She enjoys being part of the Green Team.

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 Story of “Less” Stuff

By Ellie M. Kanipe

A couple of weeks ago, I met the coolest person. Stephanie totally inspired me. She’s part of a movement called the “Small House Movement”, and is actually moving into a tiny house.  And, when I say tiny, I mean tiny.  Her house is 130 square feet.  She’s chosen to live simply and in doing so to live sustainably.

This totally inspires me for a ton of reasons, but one that stands out is that by choosing this life style, Stephanie is significantly lowering her carbon footprint. Approximately 42 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the food we eat and the goods we use.  42 percent! (Learn more.)

At EPA, I work on sustainability – specifically looking at materials and how we can be more sustainable with the materials / stuff we use in our daily lives. The program I work on (Sustainable Materials Management Program) looks at what we use in our daily lives a little differently – to rethink the norm and instead look through a life cycle lens. In other words, when I think about the shirt I’m wearing today, I wonder where and how were all the materials to make this shirt extracted? Is the cotton organic, or is it made of recycled materials?  Where and how was the shirt manufactured, and how and how far was it transported to get to the store where I bought it? The problem is that we don’t think about our stuff’s lives before they come into our life.  Imagine dating a person without sharing life experiences before you met?  That’s what we do with the stuff we use daily!

While we might not feel like we’re able to lower our own carbon footprint by joining Stephanie in the small house movement, we can all rethink how we view our stuff, and take actions to simplify our lives. We can know where our stuff comes from, and in knowing make smart choices about what we choose to have in our lives. We can reuse, repair, and share. We can buy durable goods. We can stop wasting food, recycle and compost. We can use EPA’s iWARM widget. We can reflect on what we really need in our lives to be happy and act on it.

Stephanie inspires me. She reminds me that often less is more.

About the author: Ellie M Kanipe works in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. In her spare time, she helps people to simplify their lives by teaching yoga.

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 Federal Green Challenge – Working for a Better Tomorrow

By André Villaseñor

The motto of EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) program is “changing how we think about our resources for a better tomorrow.” One team of federal employees has been doing just that by changing the minds of colleagues through education and outreach.

The Chet Holifield Federal Building is a one-million square foot federal building in Laguna Niguel, California, occupied by 1900 federal employees representing about a dozen government agencies. The building is named after a long-term former member of Congress from California.  Through the creation of a “Green Team,” five of the building’s federal agencies are leading the charge toward moving Chet Holifield’s occupants in the direction of energy efficiency, water-use reductions and increased recycling. The Green Team, consisting of employees from Citizenship & Immigration Services, the Internal Revenue Service, and the General Services Administration was formed to carry out the goals of the Federal Green Challenge (FGC). The FGC is a national initiative of EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, challenging EPA and other federal agencies to lead by example in reducing the Federal Government’s environmental impacts around the nation.

The Chet Holifield Green Team was pleasantly surprised to learn just how much they could reduce their building’s environmental impact through a series of cost-effective behavior change strategies. The Green Team pursued a multi-pronged strategy of engaging all 1900 building employees in a variety of educational activities designed to raise environmental awareness, including e-waste collection programs, informational posters, Earth Day/Week events, and training workshops. The ‘green’ education and outreach provided by the Green Team motivated and enabled employees to act more sustainably. The Green Team carefully measured the results of its progress on a monthly basis for a period of one year, both by tracking actual data on metrics such as electricity consumption and recycling, and collecting anecdotal information using employee surveys about activities such as commuting. I witnessed this diligence first-hand by participating in a series of Green Team phone calls with the employees of the Chet Holifield Federal Building.

Clearly, the Chet Holifield Green Team put into practice a winning equation of inspiration and cooperation that adds up to a better tomorrow. Chet Holifield’s end-of-year results for 2012 include a 21% increase in recycling, a water-use decrease of 7.4%, and a fuel decrease of 2.5%. Not only did the Green Team get the environmental results it was aiming for; Chet Holifield employees have changed the way they think about their use of resources, which holds great promise for a better tomorrow for Laguna Niguel and beyond.

About the author: André Villaseñor, a Waste Division employee, fulfills EPA’s mission from Region 9’s Southern CA Field Office in Los Angeles. He is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

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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Earth Day with the Home Team

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

Happy Earth Day!

The first Earth Day was held in 1970. It was organized as a series of “teach-ins” to hold conversations about the serious environmental challenges of the day. Here at EPA, celebrating Earth Day on April 22 sometimes feels like the biggest holiday of the year.

Today, our celebration will be especially memorable as several dozen EPA employees will volunteer their evening hours to be the recycling “Green Team” at Fenway Park.

Since 2008, I’ve been one of dozens of EPA employees from our local Boston office who have occasionally volunteered to help with the Red Sox’ recycling efforts. And the results are impressive – this goes way beyond the novelty of being at a game from a different vantage point. For example, in 2012 alone, the Red Sox averaged recycling approximately 3.4 tons of plastic and other items, and donated or composted 1.4 tons of food waste – at each game. That’s a lot of material being kept away from landfills, especially when you consider that there are 81 home games per season.

But wait. Isn’t climate change the biggest environmental issue? How does recycling relate to that? Building, moving and using the products and food we rely on in our daily lives – and then managing the waste left behind – requires a lot of energy.  This energy mostly comes from burning fossil fuels, which are the largest global source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

Recycling everyday objects, such as paper, bottles, and magazines saves energy and helps to slow climate change. The materials that you recycle are used to create the products you buy. This means less virgin material need to be mined or harvested, processed, manufactured, and transported—all of which consume energy.

To make tonight’s game even more green, the Red Sox this year are actually undertaking a carbon-neutral game in addition to promoting recycling of all plastic bottles, cups and containers.

On Earth Day, people often ask us how they can make a positive difference for a clean environment. Recycling is actually one of the best things we can all do in our daily lives. Just as Earth Day in 1970 led to creating major laws including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, maybe the activities held on this year’s Earth Day will spur greater action on the biggest environmental challenge facing us today: climate change.

What will you do to make an Earth Day difference?

About the author: Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not at work, you might find him working in his yard or being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

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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New Recycling Law in Pennsylvania

By Dan Gallo, EPA Region 3

If you live in Pennsylvania, important changes have taken place on how you dispose of electronics equipment. As of January 24, 2013 Pennsylvania residents can no longer put electronics like televisions, stereos and computers out with their regular trash.

So, what are you supposed to do? Well, there are outlets for finding new homes for your electronics that focus on donating them or taking them to retailers who will help with recycling.

Under Pennsylvania’s Covered Device Recycling Act, manufacturers and retailers of electronics sold in Pennsylvania must conduct recycling programs. For example, if you take your electronics to Best Buy they will send them to a certified electronics recycler, and depending on the condition, the item will be refurbished or repaired, reused, or recycled for parts and materials.

Other retailers also offer take-back services, and most Goodwill locations will accept your old electronics. For other resources, check out EPA’s Electronics Donation and Recycling page or the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Electronics Collection Programs page.

Besides saving materials, recycling of electronics also saves energy because it takes huge amounts of energy to extract the resources needed to produce the plastics, precious metals and rare earth elements that are used in electronics. Recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power 3,657 homes for an entire year! Collecting one metric ton of circuit boards from old computers can recover 40 to 800 times the amount of gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper mined from one metric ton of ore.

Donating your electronics can also help the needy. So, even if you don’t live in Pennsylvania, consider donating your electronics for reuse and recycling to help others and help to save the planet too.

About the author: Dan Gallo has been working for EPA since 1989 and has served as the Electronics Recycling Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Region since 2007. Previously, Dan worked for 11 years as the Enforcement Coordinator for the Lead-Based Paint Program. Dan has a Masters Degree in Public Administration and also a Juris Doctorate. Interested in green buildings, he has earned certification as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional. Dan also helped to found a local homeless family transition program that he supports.

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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Single Stream Recycling for New England Communities

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

I stand there staring into the bin of crushed white office paper and newspaper, unwilling to let go of my empty diet soda can. I am supposed to toss it in. I know that this is where our recyclables go now. But old habits die hard. And I have been trained – finally – to sort my plastics, papers, cans and glass into an array of containers, so I am having trouble throwing them together to let some far-off machine undo this miasma.

But our office has gone to what’s called “single stream recycling” and this is what I must do.

You would think it would be easy, a no-brainer. And in the end, it certainly simplifies things to be collecting all bottles, papers and cans into the same bin.

Statistics bear this out. For instance, the town of Wilton, Maine, switched to single stream recycling last fall. It will save thousands of dollars a year, according to the Portland, Maine, newspaper.

Early stats find Wilton residents throwing away 5.5 to 8.5 tons less trash each month and recycling about that much more. Town officials translated this into a savings of anywhere from $4,200 to $6,600 a year. This savings is attributed to the fact that it costs about $65 a ton to dispose of trash and $33 a ton to get rid of recyclables.

And Wilton is far from alone.

According to Massachusetts environmental officials, single stream recycling began on the west coast 10 years ago and reached the Commonwealth in 2006. About 30 Massachusetts communities have converted to single stream, and more are planning the conversion.

The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority reported it has increased diversion rates (the amount diverted from trash to recycling) for six straight years, largely thanks to single-stream recycling.

I joined a group of EPA employees last year to see how single stream recyclables get separated. The giant machinery involved gravity, wind, filters, conveyor belts and lots of workers removing plastic bags.

Huge truckloads of cans, jars, newspaper, office paper, yogurt containers and you- name-it were dumped on conveyor belts and sorted into separate piles, with only a few alien pieces in each collection.

And so slowly I am adjusting. I have learned the joy of throwing my cans and cups in one container I still feel like I am littering, but at least I get to feel good about it.

More EPA info on recycling

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great 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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Free Newspapers Saved From Becoming Litter

By Linda Longo

"I thought to take the photo after I picked up the papers, but notice the green NYC recycling box in the background."

On many New York City street corners you’ll see those free newspaper boxes.   There’s one on my block in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.   Every so often I’ll notice our box is tipped over and the wind has scattered the free papers and everyone walks past oblivious. I’ve done it too. I’ll walk past thinking “well, I should pick it all up because a garbage can is right there”,  then I’m two blocks past and figure someone else will do the good deed.   This Sunday on my way to the local farmer’s market on 5th avenue and 4th street I saw that the wind was really enjoying the free papers.  The entire box was tipped over and the flimsy lid was open.  I placed my grocery cart off to the side and began to pick up the heaps of newspapers.  I quickly noticed the papers were not badly damaged so I righted the tipped over box and proceeded to place the papers back inside.  The few that were muddy I conveniently placed in the green NYC newspaper recycling box just feet away.   No one pointed and laughed at me like I secretly imagined they would.  People kept to their business, but I hope they noticed me because maybe the next time they see spilled free papers they’ll do the same.

I don’t go around picking up trash on a regular basis because I don’t want to get dirty, but that’s my hang up.  We need to understand that trash makes it way to the streets and into the sewer openings where it clogs our drainage system.  And when as little as 2” of rain happens our NYC sewers can get overwhelmed and sometimes this trash ends up in our waterways.  So if we all take a little effort to think about putting our gum wrappers in our pockets till we pass a trash can, or picking up the spilled newspapers, we’ll all contribute just a little to the welfare of our city.  And by the way, on the way home from the market I saw a lady open the free newspaper box and take one.  That made my day.

About the author: Linda started her career with EPA in 1998 working in the water quality program. For the past 7 years she’s helped regulated facilities understand how to be in compliance with EPA enforcement requirements. Outside of work Linda enjoys exploring neighborhoods of NYC, photographing people in their everyday world, and sewing handbags made from recycled materials that she gives to her friends.

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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Proud to be a Green Panda

By Mrs. Rebecca Bedard
One of the best things about being a fourth grader at Gilford Elementary School is being able to be a Green Panda!  Green Pandas play a very important role at our school.  We help keep our school green and promote recycling to our friends and families!  At the start of our fourth grade year we are given the opportunity to volunteer to be a Green Panda.  Most of us have wanted to be Green Pandas since third grade!  We believe in helping the environment, recycling at home and at school, and want to help others to learn about recycling and become a part of the program.

Every Wednesday morning a group of Pandas gets dropped off before the school day even begins, and make our way to the art room, where our adventure begins.  We are led by Ms. Valpey.  With her help, and the help of many other adults in our building, we are sent in groups of two to three to collect recyclables.

There are maps that show the building and we are all given an area we are responsible for. Our task is to collect the recycling bins and bring all recycled paper and bottles back to the art room.  After collecting all the bins the fun begins.  We get the privilege of dumping the containers into the dumpsters.  Each week we fill the dumpster up, and every Thursday our dumpster is emptied and our paper is on its way to be recycled and used again as something new!

A bonus to being a Green Panda is that we get totally awesome t-shirts to wear, so everyone knows what we are doing.  We are so lucky to be a part of the Green Pandas and we know we are completing a very important task.  We have formed friendships and we have a fun time together, while helping to make the earth a better place – one recycling bin at a time!

About the author: Mrs. Rebecca Bedard is a fourth grade teacher at Gilford Elementary School in Gilford, New Hampshire. She grew up in Gilford and now lives there with her husband and two dogs. She loves anything outdoors and you can always find her with her dogs!

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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