Reduce Reuse Recycle

2 Flower Pots, 4 Herbs, and My Pick 5 for the Environment

By Jessica Orquina

When I was growing up we always had a garden – rows of vegetables and herbs to eat throughout the summer. I remember picking fresh tomatoes, corn, or herbs to help make dinner.

Balcony flower pot herb gardenNow, I live in an eight story condominium building surrounded by a paved-over world of sidewalks and asphalt in Washington, DC. While I enjoy the culture, energy, and convenience of living in the city, I sometimes miss the connection to nature I had during my childhood. I try to shop at farmers’ markets whenever I can. It is not quite the same as picking a fresh vegetable from my own garden, but it’s close. And I started planting a small garden in flower pots on my apartment balcony. Last year I had chives and basil. This year my chive plant returned and I’ve added a new basil plant, oregano, and parsley. It’s tiny, but it’s my patch of green. Next year I’ll add a few more plants (maybe even tomatoes).

At EPA I work in communications. My daily tasks focus on sharing information with the public about protecting the environment. But, I also do things in my everyday life – like planting my small garden (greenscaping), saving water, using less energy, recycling, and taking public transportation – to reduce my impact on the planet. These are my Pick 5 – the simple actions I take every day to make a difference.

You can make a difference too! Join our Pick 5 for the Environment and learn how to make your actions count! Share your Pick 5 in the comments below.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a public affairs specialist at another federal agency and is a former military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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 My Garden

Blueberry bushBy Nancy Grundahl

The recent Philadelphia Flower Show inspired me. I bought 3 kinds of asparagus roots and seed packets for those sweet, round yellow watermelons that are hard to find, corn and green beans. Already in my garden are blueberry bushes and a sour cherry tree. I have found that growing my own food is fun, relaxing and educational. Here are some of the lessons my garden has taught me.

Conditions need to be right or your seeds won’t grow and your plants won’t thrive. If a plant needs to be in the sun, plant it in a sunny area. If a plant needs moist soil, keep it moist or it and you will not be happy.

Create a healthy garden environment and wildlife will come. Birds love berries, even when they are not ripe. Bunnies love small tender plants. Deer? If they are in your area they will probably find you, as will slugs and beetles and on and on. It means your garden is healthy and inviting.

Nothing tastes like fruit and vegetables you grow yourself. They are typically way better than what you can find in stores. Ah, there’s nothing like eating a warm tomato that you just picked! Plus, you can plant unusual varieties, like heirlooms, to experience tastes you didn’t know exist. Biodiversity is a very good and yummy thing.

Using water you’ve captured (like in a rain barrel) is a better way to water your plants, particularly if your tap water is chlorinated. You might even just run a hose from a downspout into your garden. And, capturing stormwater can help reduce flooding from run-off. And, you’ll save money!

Mosquitoes love to breed in standing water, so don’t have any. Turn buckets upside down. Getting attacked by mosquitoes while you are gardening is very annoying and they can spread disease.

Weeds almost always grow better and faster than planted plants. That’s why they’re called weeds.Composter

Native plants grow better than non-natives. That is unless you are unlucky enough to have a non-native plant that’s invasive, like kudzu. Natives can be hard to find, but search them out — they are worth it.

Don’t trash your yard waste; turn it into compost instead. Recycle! Reuse! Your plants will grow better with compost.

Yes, I’m ready to get going outside in this earlier-than-normal spring in the Northeast.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. She currently works in Program Support for the Water Protection Division. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created.


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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Science Wednesday: Reduce + Reuse + Recycle = Results!

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Nisha S. Sipes

Who knew that we could help make our environment healthier by using new and recycled data!

This month, I have the honor of being presented the Best Postdoctoral Publication Award by the Society of Toxicology (SOT) for my paper “Predictive models of prenatal developmental toxicology from ToxCast high-throughput screening data.” In other words, I studied how new technologies using both new and old data can determine which chemicals are potentially toxic to development.

Along with many other EPA scientists, I have been researching if it’s possible to predict a chemical’s potential toxicity using efficient new technologies in EPA’s ToxCast program. The ToxCast program is running thousands of chemicals through hundreds of different tests in a “high-throughput screening” (HTS) process. If we’re successful, we will be able to better understand how a chemical is toxic to the body and reduce the need for animal testing—all while saving lots of time and money on testing.

My paper focuses on building computer models to predict the toxic effects of chemicals on prenatal development using two sets of data: traditional toxicity data (gathered from 30 years worth of laboratory studies) and ToxCast data (gathered from HTS methods). I compared the two groups of data, and after crunching the numbers we could show that these new HTS methods could predict results from old-school animal testing for developmental toxicity.

It turns out that the ToxCast data can provide new information about which chemicals are toxic to development. We can also use these new technologies to pick out which chemicals are toxic specifically to rat development or rabbit development without animal testing. That level of specificity was wishful thinking just a few years ago!
Hopefully these models, built from reused and recycled traditional toxicity data, will help pave the way for quickly prioritizing which chemicals need a thorough evaluation and will eventually reduce the need for costly and time-consuming animal toxicity testing.

As we get further along in our HTS research, we can use what we’ve learned from this study to better identify target chemicals that may be toxic to humans.

About the author: Nisha Sipes is a post-doctoral fellow for EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology. She joined EPA in 2009 and specializes in using computational approaches to understand chemicals’ developmental toxicology.

Editor’s Note: Attending the SOT meeting in San Francisco? Be sure to catch Nisha next week as she presents her paper and the predictive model: March 13, 2012 at 9:37 AM (Pacific time).

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 Three R’s

Every so often I wake up with the “The Three R’s” by Jack Johnson stuck in my head. Given where I work it’s an appropriate mantra to be bopping around to. I guess that part of my brain that runs on kids tunes doesn’t need coffee.

“Reduce, reuse, recycle…”

There are worse tunes to have on repeat in your brain, way worse! I’m grateful the catchy number exists on the less than glamorous subject of waste disposal. Perhaps it’s the warm-up to my workday. Fitting.

The concept of the three R’s has been around for a long time and the three arrows are a recognizable icon, but there’s a new kid in town and they need to make some room.

How about accomplishing all three, while making something really cool? Two weeks ago I posed a challenge to encourage readers to submit photos and accounts of an upcycled product they created. As promised, it’s time to show off your goods! Congratulations to Dennis Mijares who submitted this photo on January 31, 2012 on Flickr of purses made from plastic bags.

nescafe

Upcycling is like a landfill diet, why toss what we can use? Who knew that waste could look so good? I hope these photos inspire you to give it a try, do share photos of what you create! Professionally constructed to kids crafts alike are welcome. I must admit, I’m a little disappointed I didn’t see any cardboard mantelpieces…

Talk to a friend about it and ask them if they’ve heard of the concept. Be sure to share that it’s good for us by cutting down on waste, helps spread environmental awareness and action and can even support local artisans and communities.

It’s a great idea for a community or school fundraiser, start an upcycling project and let us know how it goes!

If you haven’t Picked the 5 actions you can do for our environment where you live, get on it! Join the 4,000 likes on Facebook and the 8,222 others around the world who have made the official pledge. Share your story and inspire others to do the same!

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

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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How the 3R’s Can Make a Healthier Home

By Lina Younes

I don’t know about you, but it takes me forever to put away all the holiday decorations once the festivities are over. While all my family members are eager to put up the Christmas tree and decorations right after Thanksgiving, I just don’t find the same number of enthusiastic helpers available at the beginning of the new year. When I finally came around to putting the decorations away, I realized that I had to do more to remove the clutter and start the overall process of having a healthier home environment.

When I embarked on this project to get some order at home, I decided to break it down by room because otherwise the task seemed overwhelming. I enlisted my youngest to help me clean up the toy room first to recycle or donate many of those objects that were just sitting neglected in a pile.

Then, I decided to apply the same rule in the kitchen. What were the items that we used the most? What are those items that are more seasonal or can be stored for use at a later date? What items can be donated to Good Will? As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, reducing clutter is a great way to implementing Integrated Pest Management practices and keep the pests away.

Then, I tackled my youngest daughter’s room. She had definitely outgrown many clothes that were still in perfectly good condition. There were some good coats and jackets that will definitely keep a child warm this winter. Then I went through my closet to find some things that I have been holding on for years. Those items definitely could be used by someone else so they were classified under “items to be donated” as well.

While organizing, I found several old cell phones in drawers. You can either donate them to some non-profit organizations or recycle them.  There are precious metals and plastics in those phones that can be recycled and turned into new products. That way they don’t end up in a landfill.

So, do you have any plans to make your home healthier? We would like to hear from you. If you want to take a glimpse as how you can protect the air quality in your home, visit our virtual house for some tips.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. 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 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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Re-energizing Communities through RE-Powering

By Katie Brown

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Growing up in the 80’s, I learned a dance that went with those words. There will be no demonstrations, but think of the hustle: Do the recycle. Do-do-do…da…do-do-do-do.

The simple mantra has served as a guiding principle that has led me to some surprising ventures, including this latest jump into contaminated lands. The RE-Powering America’s Land program promotes the redevelopment of potentially contaminated sites with renewable energy. This is where reduce, reuse and recycle meet, and then some.

Reduce through Reuse: By repurposing contaminated land for clean energy production, we are able to preserve valuable open space. With the distributed vs. central generation debate in the background, I find inspiration in this straight-forward development approach. Put pollution-free, renewable generation capacity on damaged land. Make use of the good stuff: hike the woods, prairies, and deserts; farm the arable land; play in the parks.

Reuse to Recycle: Many contaminated sites are located in urban areas, generally in economically depressed neighborhoods. By installing renewable energy on this land, we are not only reusing the land but also creating an asset that will serve the community for decades to come.

Building on existing success stories, the RE-Powering America’s Land program is launching feasibility studies at 26 sites throughout the country. The sites have been selected based on proposals from community stakeholders, with backing from the utilities.

Partnering with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the RE-Power studies will provide a detailed assessment of the potential for renewable energy development at each site. The sites range from landfills to mines to former manufacturing plants. In the future, many will provide green power from solar, wind, biopower, or geothermal sources. This effort represents a shift in community thinking about contaminated land use and sustainability.

RE-Powering gives the communities the technical assistance to evaluate the potential for a site. From there, the communities will engage with developers and financiers to move forward with promising projects. It further empowers communities to set the course for redevelopment and energize their homes and businesses in a new way.

Reduce the need to convert open space for industrial needs. Reuse previously-developed land for a green-energy future. Recycle blight into community assets. Now that’s a dance I can do.

About the author: Katie Brown is the AAAS S&T 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 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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Growing Up Poor Gives You A Special Sense of Community And Environmentalism

By Kristinn Vazquez

I have a confession to make. I’m cheap. Most people wouldn’t guess that about me. I do like to spend money on others. But, I’m cheap when it comes to resources at home and at work. I would argue most of us who grew up poor can relate. We’re environmentalists because we’re cost-conscious.

As the oldest of six, you wouldn’t think I received “hand-me-downs.” You haven’t met my family. I received the coolest clothes from an older cousin. When you’re poor, you realize the things you don’t need. You don’t actually need paper towels. You also don’t buy anything you could borrow. And, you rarely throw anything out. Someone might need it or have a creative use for it. Poor families have an incredible sense of community.

In our home now, all kinds of things become art supplies for the kids. Empty toilet paper rolls, bubble wrap, gift ribbons, plastic triangles from the center of pizzas, etc. (use your imagination)! Yogurt and butter containers become leftover containers. Plastic bags become pet waste bags. We’re constantly trading our kids’ clothes with friends. Here’s one we just learned: you can catch water in the shower and use that to water the plants. These are small ways to reuse and recycle materials, but they’re cost-saving measures for us, AND they’re good for the environment.

At the office, I help manage a program that considers bigger ways to recycle. We run the Responsible Appliance Disposal program that encourages utilities, retailers, and manufacturers to take your old refrigerators and window air conditioners, and responsibly dispose of the components that are harmful to the environment. If not properly handled, the refrigerant and foam contribute to ozone layer depletion and climate change. This month, RAD partner GE worked with Appliance Recycling Centers of America to open the first fully-automated appliance recycling facility in the U.S. Based in Philadelphia, the facility will not only serve more than a 12-state area, it has also created more than 50 new green jobs.

I’m proud to be helping the environment and the economy. On a personal note, if you’re upgrading to a new, more energy-efficient refrigerator, resist the urge to put the old refrigerator in your basement. This lowers the demand on the energy grid and perhaps more importantly when you’re cheap, lowers the demand on your own utility bills. I’d love to hear your ideas for creative recycling.

About the author: Kristinn Vazquez is the Deputy Director for the Stratospheric Protection Division. In her free time, she focuses on trying to see the world through her children’s eyes.

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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Rockers Go Green at Milwaukee’s Music Festival

By Karen Mark

I recently staffed an EPA booth for the first Rock the Green festival committed to seeking near-zero waste in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was skeptical at first, a “near-zero waste” event? Not only was I impressed by what I saw but I realized that behavioral changes are the most effective way to reduce waste and energy.

Simple measures add up! The festival was powered entirely from biodiesel generators, solar and bicycle power. Concert merchandise featured recycled t-shirts from Goodwill with a screen printed Rock the Green guitar logo. Each t-shirt was unique. Volunteers assisted attendees in properly disposing of food and compostable plates and utensils into compost and recycle bins. The compost will become fertilizer for Veterans Park, the event locale.

Great music and food made it worthwhile and knowing the small “carbon footprint” from Rock the Green made it even more enjoyable. This year was such a success that Rock the Green will be back in 2012!

Every year, Americans produce huge amounts of waste. Here are some student projects that are changing their community’s habits to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

After learning their local landfill would be full by 2013, junior high students formed EcoLogical in Homer, Alaska to reduce their school’s waste. They switched the school’s non-recyclable trays to reusable plastic trays and created a recycling area in the cafeteria. By the end of the school year, EcoLogical prevented 2,000 polystyrene trays from entering the landfill and increased recycling by 3 times in their school.

When a 6th grade science class from HB Woodlawn in Arlington, Virginia visited a local stream to study about watersheds, they were shocked to discover electronic equipment dumped into the stream. Since the county only offered drop-off sites for recycling electronics, the students launched their “We’ll Bring It to You” Curbside Electronics Recycling project. Students, their parents and school faculty collected more than 450 pieces of ‘e-waste’ from homes and properly disposed of them at the drop-off sites.

Hundreds of thousands enjoy the annual Durham Fair in Connecticut. The Coginchaug High School’s Environmental Coginchaug Organization (ECO) Club and Boy Scout Troop 27 collected over 19,000 plastics bottles at the fair, accounting for nearly one-third of the bottles sold. They educated the public about the importance of recycling. All recyclables collected were turned into recycled packaging products.

To read more about the 3 R’s

About the author: Karen Mark is a Student Temporary Employment Program intern in the Air and Radiation Division in Region 5. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and Environmental Management and is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Public Service Management.

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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Crab Cakes and Recycling…That’s What Maryland Does

By Mark Baldwin

As a huge University of Maryland football fan, I can proudly tell folks that Maryland played host to Queen Elizabeth and was the first school in their conference to racially integrate their football team (see Darryl Hill). I can also proudly tell you that the University of Maryland participated in EPA’s Game Day Challenge last year! So I will assume that you are asking yourself a couple of questions after reading my very odd trash-talking, such as, “what is EPA’s Game Day Challenge?” and “why are you proud that the Queen of England attended a Maryland football game?” Great questions!

EPA’s Game Day Challenge (now in its 3rd year) is a green competition open to universities and colleges across the US. Participating schools compete across several categories that measure their waste reduction during a home football game. As fans cheer on their favorite teams, they’ll also be reducing their environmental footprint from the stands. Last year, participants diverted over 500,000 pounds of waste that would have otherwise gone to a landfill. That’s more than the total combined weight of all starting offensive and defensive linemen in the Bowl Championship Series (that’s 120 teams in total).

Now, as far as the significance of having royalty at a Maryland football game… Nothing evokes more terror in the opponent than playing in front of the Queen of England, right?

As we march towards another great year for college football with hopes for a winning season (or at least a good tailgating party), remember that while trash-talking is environmentally friendly, trash from your tailgate…not so much. So before you cheer for Big Blue, March on for the Black and Gold, Hook ‘em Horns or mildly applaud an earnest effort (as I am sure the Queen did), make sure your school signs up for EPA’s Game Day Challenge. Go Green, Go Recycle, and Go Terps!

The competition begins on September 1, 2011 and will run to November 30, 2011. Winners will be announced in December, 2011.

To register for the Game Day Challenge

More information on the Game Day Challenge

About the author: Mark Baldwin is an environmental protection specialist and is in his fourth year working for EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. Mark is a proud graduate from the University of Maryland where he earned a degree in Environmental Science and Policy. Mark is currently attending Johns Hopkins University part-time where he is pursuing his Master’s in Environmental Science.

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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Blue and Gold Make Green: A High School Recycling Success Story

By Tess Clinkingbeard

I was always interested in the environment, but I never imagined that this curiosity would result in my being a student intern at the EPA!

It all started when my high school’s Green Team won the President’s Environmental Youth Award and two representatives, from the EPA office in Seattle, came to our school to present our award.

Out of all the PEYA contestants last year in Region 10, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, Tahoma’s Green Team was selected to have done the best job of improving our community’s environment.

From September 2009 to December 2010, Tahoma High School began five specialized recycling programs, for everything from Styrofoam to batteries—but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Led by Green Team President, Cort Hammond, Tahoma’s Green Team was able to do two adopt-a-road events, initiate food waste recycling at our school and become a Level One Green School. We were able to save the school district $24,000 through lunchroom recycling.

Tahoma’s Green Team Motto, “Blue and Gold Make Green!” after the school’s colors, is a perfect summation of the transformation that has occurred. As you approach the school, there are five solar panels on the front, which generate some of the energy we use every day. There are recycling bins in every classroom, posters about how to sort waste in the lunchroom and every light switch has a reminder sticker about turning off the lights when leaving the room. The student store and coffee stand have compostable cups. Green Team is working on extending that to utensils and reusable dishes.

All of our hard work paid off in the form of a National PEYA Award. When we received our award, we were also notified about summer internships, and, after an interview and a lot of paperwork, I was working at the EPA! I am so lucky to have the opportunity to work so closely with those on the frontlines of the battle for environmental justice. The EPA’s summer internship program is an amazing opportunity to gain real life experience.

About the author: Tess Clinkingbeard is a Senior at Tahoma High School, and is now a Co-President, along with Cassandra Houghton, of the Green Team. She is currently interning at the EPA’s office in Seattle and aspires to go into environmental studies and Spanish.

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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