reuse

“Staying Green” for the Holidays

Christmas tree near dumpster

Don’t let Christmas trees get sent to landfills where they can contribute to dangerous methane gas emissions! Treecycle and turn them into compost or wood chips for mulch. (Source: Flickr user katielehart)

 

By Barbara Pualani

The winter holiday season is one of the best times of the year, but it is arguably one of the most wasteful. As we online shop, cook big holiday meals, wrap presents and decorate our homes, Americans create about one million extra tons of waste – this equals about a 25 percent volume increase of household waste, all generated between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But don’t let this ruin your holiday spirit! There are simple ways to “stay green” during the holidays while still maintaining the holiday cheer.

  • Recycle creatively by using eclectic gift wrapping. Old newspapers, comic books, posters, and magazines can all be used to wrap presents. Also, save bows, ribbons, and bags for reuse next year.
  • If Santa brings you new electronics, be sure to recycle the old ones. Because they can be a source of contamination, it is illegal to dispose of electronic waste in landfills in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Most electronic retailers offer a free buy-back option. In New York City, the Department of Sanitation has established special waste drop-off locations in each of the five boroughs. In addition, e-cycleNYC is a free recycling collections service that can be solicited for buildings with ten or more units. Check local and state websites for other programs as well.
  • Use LED lighting for all your holiday decorations. They use approximately 75 percent less energy and last longer than regular incandescent bulbs.
  • At the end of the season, don’t send your Christmas tree to the landfill where it contributes to dangerous methane gas emissions. Rather, replant, compost or mulch it! There are various programs available. NYC offers free curbside pickup for a couple weeks in January, and many cities in the metropolitan area have similar programs. On January 9-10 you can also bring your tree to designated NYC parks for MulchFest 2016.
  • Finally, be the best host ever and hold a zero-waste event! When hosting holiday parties, use real glasses, dishes, utensils, and cloth napkins to minimize waste. And plan ahead for meals and parties. It’s not only economical, but it will reduce the amount of food thrown away.

It’s possible to have a fun and happy holiday season while maintaining that “green” lifestyle you cultivate all year long. For these and more winter tips, check out EPA’s website.

 

About the author: Barbara Pualani serves as a speechwriter for EPA Region 2. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She resides in Brooklyn and is a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and Columbia 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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‘Tis the season to be Green!

By Sarah Aquino

Now that Thanksgiving has passed us, it’s starting to feel more like winter here in Washington, DC. Thanksgiving and Christmas just happen to be my favorite holidays. Christmas will creep up on us in a couple of weeks, hopefully with a chance of snow. So, in order to enjoy your holiday season filled with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a nice hot chocolate with extra (fluffy) marshmallows, here are some tips to go green this season.

My three favorite Rs are Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!

  • Reduce: When shopping for groceries to make enjoyable meals, plan your list of groceries so you can make sure to buy things on your list. Also, bring reusable cloth bags, or combine your purchases in one big bag rather than getting a new one at each store.
  • Reuse: Get a little creative this season. Use cool wrapping materials, such as posters and maps. Or you can save ribbons and bows you get on your presents and reuse them for next year.

Last, but not least (and my favorite) –

  • RECYCLE: We know it can be a struggle to provide plates and utensils for a big family. Avoid using disposable dishes and utensils when entertaining friends and family. If you happen to buy them, make sure they are compostable and recyclable.

Remember to use these tips and spread the green this holiday season!

About the Author: Sarah Aquino is a senior at the University of Maryland. She is studying Communications with a minor in Sustainability Studies, and will be graduating in May. She is an intern at the Office of Web Communications.

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 to Inventively Recycle Subway Cars and Other Environmental Hacks

By Barbara Pualani

NYC_subway_cars_used_as_artificial_reef

NYC Subway cars used as artificial reef. Credit: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

I don’t surf. Well, correction: I tried to surf. And I failed. Miserably. I also don’t scuba dive. The sensation is too strange; it makes me feel claustrophobic. I reserve those types of adventurous activities for my brave and wonderful colleagues here at EPA.

 

I do, however, know that many people love these activities, even here in the not-so-tropical destination of New York City. Rockaway Beach, the only legal surfing beach in NYC, and the Rockaway Boardwalk see millions of tourists every year. In order to improve recreation and ocean habitat in this important area of the city, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced it will be making additions to the important artificial patch reefs.

 

The Rockaway Reef is a fully artificial reef and is located 1.6 miles south of Rockaway Beach. It was originally permitted for construction in 1965, and the rock, concrete, and steel structures total 413 acres. Over the years, the structures have silted and collapsed. The habitat has degraded and is in need of repair. As part of New York’s Artificial Reef Program, the state will be adding more than 450 concrete-coated steel pipe sections to extend the patch reefs already there.

 

This project is cool. It’s also good for the environment. Artificial reefs can be constructed by a variety of building materials but are most often made using submerged shipwrecks. They create new habitat for fisheries and give marine life another place to forage, find shelter, and evade predators. The reefs increase fishing opportunities for anglers and promote tourism for both surfers and divers. The benefits are both environmental and economical.

 

The Rockaway Reef is just one of 11 artificial reef sites in NYS, but the state has helped others along the coast build up their own artificial reefs with, believe it or not, old subway cars. The Metropolitan Transit Authority has recycled over 2500 subway cars over the past decade or so by using them to build artificial reefs all along the eastern seaboard, including in Delaware and in South Carolina.[1] Before they’re dropped to the bottom of the ocean, all doors and windows are removed. The subways cars are cleaned and completely swept of contaminating materials. Because there are so many nooks and crannies available in a subway car, they serve as pretty good spaces for fish habitat. Seeing them now at the bottom of the ocean is quite the trip.

 

At EPA, we have the mission to protect human health and the environment. It’s great to see projects that not only protect the environment but also allow us to enjoy it and interact positively with it. Sometimes our built environment can integrate well with our natural one, and that’s pretty special.

 

Like I said, I don’t surf. Diving is not my thing. But I can and do appreciate inventive recycling and habitat restoration. Those are activities I can get behind.

 

 About the author: Barbara Pualani serves as a speechwriter for EPA Region 2. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She resides in Brooklyn and is a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and Columbia University.

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2918849/Next-stop-REAL-Atlantic-New-York-subway-cars-dumped-sea-create-artificial-reefs-millions-fish.html

 

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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Advancing Sustainable Materials Management at the G7

By Mathy Stanislaus

Recently, I represented the United States at the kick-off event of the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency in Berlin, Germany. “The Alliance” is a result of this summer’s G7 Leaders agreement that sustainably produced renewable resources should be a key priority. In the United States, we call this sustainable materials management, or SMM. SMM uses life cycle analysis and systems thinking to reduce environmental and other impacts as we use and manage material resources flowing through the economy, from extraction or harvest of materials and food (e.g., mining, forestry, and agriculture), to production and transport of goods, provision of services, reuse of materials, and if necessary disposal.

The kick-off event for the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency was co-chaired by Germany’s Federal Ministries for Economic Affairs and Energy; and the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. The alliance was established to share best practices on how to use natural resources more efficiently, which will protect jobs, create new ones, and strengthen economies while protecting the environment. Earlier this year, the leaders of the G7 pointed out the importance of this work: “For every one percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP), raw material use has risen by 0.4 percent . . . much of raw material input in industrial economies is returned to the environment as waste with[in] one year. . . Unsustainable consumption of natural resources and concomitant environmental degradation translates to increased business risks through higher material costs, as well as supply uncertainties and disruptions.”

At the kick-off event, a number of corporations including General Motors, Toyota, Werner & Mertz and Tarkett shared their success in establishing systems to maximize the reuse and reengineering of materials that advances their bottom line. In addition to G7 countries and the EU Commission, a number of international organizations including World Economic Forum, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Bank, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), International Resources Panel, World Trade Organization and International Labor Organization, discussed the role of multilateral cooperation in fostering resource efficiency and areas for future cooperation. Academics and researchers such as Professor Marian Chertow from Yale University presented on research and innovation efforts to promote resource efficiency. The conversation focused on how best to establish a network of best practices that result in tangible, concrete outcomes.  There was a general view that the Alliance should prioritize activities, bring in business up front and effectively communicate both best practices and the rationale for advancing resources efficiency/SMM.  Many noted the importance of engaging countries beyond the G7 because of the global nature of material flows, including resources, manufacturing and products.

The conversation doesn’t end in Berlin. We continue to advance concrete actions to advance SMM both domestically and internationally, in partnership with businesses, states and local governments, NGOs and academia. Next spring, we will host a follow up G7 Alliance event on supply chains, with a focus on the auto sector.  Getting organizations to identify and address impacts across their value chain, in particular the supply chain, is critical for sustainability. However, the complexity of supply chains can make this challenging, including the flow of information within the supply chain. The auto sector is actively engaged in improving their operations, supply chain, and communities in which they operate. The workshop will focus on identifying and sharing best practices and successes in the auto sector that are transferrable to other sectors.

Leading up to the US event, the Alliance will hold workshops to identify and share best practices.  The UK October 29-30, 2015 workshop will focus on “industrial symbiosis” –an approach to directly match industry sectors and facilities to maximize the reuse of materials in manufacturing.  Under this practice the wastes or byproducts of one industrial facility becomes a resource for another facility. The US Business Council for Sustainable Development is working with companies, cities, communities and governments to advance this concept in the US.  After the event, a workshop will be held in Germany to discuss best practice examples of innovative bio-based products, value chains and resource efficiency in the building sector. They will assess the resulting opportunities, in particular for rural areas and discuss potential international cooperation on the topic.

Altogether, there are many promising efforts underway advancing and promoting resource efficiency and sustainable materials management. It’s exciting to be a part of and I was proud to represent the US in this effort. The challenge is to translate these efforts into concrete changes that achieve the promise of the economic, environmental and social benefits.

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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Explaining How We Address Contaminated Sites – Learn About the Superfund National Priorities List

By Mathy Stanislaus

Love Canal. Valley of the Drums. In the late 1970s, these sites created a growing national awareness that if hazardous waste was released into the environment and left abandoned, it presented potential human health and environmental risks. On December 11, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, better known as “Superfund”) into law. Finally, the federal government had a statutory authority to clean up sites where releases had occurred or threatened to occur.

EPA maintains a list of the nation’s most serious abandoned and uncontrolled hazardous sites, the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL helps us determine which sites warrant further investigation and cleanup. There is a statutory requirement to update the NPL annually, though as a matter of policy, we typically update the NPL twice a year. Recently, we added five and proposed seven hazardous waste sites to the NPL.

Only sites on the NPL are eligible for federal funding for long-term cleanup. The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. We search for parties legally responsible for the contamination at sites and the law holds them accountable for the cleanup costs. For the newly added sites without viable potentially responsible parties, we will investigate the full extent of the contamination before starting substantial cleanup at the site.

We undertake removal actions to address more immediate threats, including emergencies that require on-scene arrival within hours, and time-critical situations, where a response is needed within six months. Removal actions may speed up the cleanup of portions of a site or eliminate the need for long-term actions at portions of a site.

Listing a site on the NPL is a multi-step process. To propose a site to the NPL depends on many factors such as:

  • site complexity;
  • extent of stakeholder interest;
  • state and tribal support; and
  • availability of other cleanup options.

After initial investigation and sampling determines the site warrants further evaluation and potential remediation, the data gathered is used to   evaluate a site’s relative threat to human health or the environment through the Hazard Ranking System.

In addition, if the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issues a health advisory recommending removing people from the site and we determine it will be more cost-effective to use our remedial authority rather than our emergency removal authority, a site can be placed on the NPL. Further, each state can designate one top-priority site for addition to the NPL (16 states or territories have yet to designate a top-priority site). Sites are proposed for addition to the NPL as a rulemaking published in the Federal Register. EPA generally accepts comments for 60 days, responds to the comments, and places those sites on the NPL.. For most sites, the time between proposal and final listing is six months.

State partnership is critical to the cleanup of Superfund sites. We often work with states to conduct site assessments, and as a matter of policy, we request state support to place sites on the NPL. In some cases, states lead the remedial action work with our oversight. As a statutory requirement, states contribute a “cost share” equal to 10 percent of the fund-financed costs of the remedial action, and are responsible for long-term operation and maintenance of the site remedy. When we list sites on the NPL, federally recognized tribes are afforded the same treatment as states at sites for which they have jurisdiction.

Superfund cleanups protect communities’ health, environment and economic wellbeing. The study Superfund Cleanups and Infant Health, shows that investment in Superfund cleanups reduces the incidence of congenital abnormalities in infants by as much as 25 percent for those living within 2,100 yards of a site. Another study found that once a site has all cleanup remedies in place, nearby property values reflect a significant increase as compared to their values prior to the site being proposed for the NPL.

Superfund not only protects health and the environment, it can serve as a catalyst for beneficial reuse.  Today hundreds of communities are reusing Superfund sites for ecological, recreational, industrial, military, commercial, residential, and other productive uses. At the end of FY 2014, based upon data from 450 of the of the 850 sites that have some type of reuse, ongoing operations of more than 3,400 businesses are generating sales of more than $30 billion and employing over 89,000 people representing a combined income of $6 billion.

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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Another Way to Act on Climate: Getting Smart on Brownfields Reuse

For 20 years, the brownfields program has worked with local communities to help support reuse and development of former and current contaminated lands. Cleaning up brownfields has put a lot of land back into use, helping communities and boosting local economies. This work has another huge benefit, too: as we redevelop brownfield sites to significantly reduce the impact of climate change.

In Milwaukee, a 5-mile strip that was once the site of several industrial facilities is going through an extensive cleanup. Over 60,000 tons of contaminated soil and more than 40 underground storage tanks have been removed. One of the community’s ideas for the land’s next use is building a green, linear park, with bike trails to encourage lower-impact forms of transit. The park will use green infrastructure elements to reduce stormwater runoff, protecting local waterways during storms that can be made more intense by climate change.

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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Crushed Couch on Broadway

By Linda Longo

Sanitation workers crush a curbside couch.

Sanitation workers crush a curbside couch.

The other morning just outside my EPA office building at 290 Broadway in Manhattan on my way to get my morning coffee I saw a perfectly good couch being crushed by a solid waste truck. I wondered why someone would not want that couch. Then on my way back from coffee I saw the same solid waste workers crushing perfectly good office chairs, the kind with wheels and adjustable seating! I don’t need a new office chair and I don’t need a blue couch, but there’s got to be someone in New York City that does.

I had a long conversation with the solid waste worker (I regret not asking his name) and he told me this stuff is nothing compared to what he crushes in other, wealthier neighborhoods, like leather couches and oak tables and fine china. Seriously? Now I didn’t get the sense he was pulling my leg because I’ve seen good stuff out on the curbs with the piles of garbage too often. It’s commonplace in NYC maybe because we have small apartments or we get a better one or it has a rip or it just doesn’t fit out needs. I’ve tried to donate good items and it’s actually harder than you think. Places that sell used items only want things that are not ripped or stained. And my solid waste friend said he even crushes items from these stores on a regular basis because if they don’t sell it, then eventually they need to get rid of it, hence call the solid waste truck guy, and crush it, and pile it up in a landfill.

I wish I had the time and wherewithal to buy a big truck and follow my friend around to save the good items from being crushed. I’d have a big warehouse to store these items too and it’d be open 24 hours a day for anyone to come and take for free. I’d even have a free delivery service – because I know that’s always an issue in NYC too – many of us don’t have cars. If you have a similar reaction, here are a few websites for getting rid of unwanted items:

Reuse Marketplace

Build It Green NYC

About the Author: Linda started her career with EPA in 1998 working in the water quality program. For the past seven 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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What will you rethink?

by Jaclyn McIlwain

 

rethinkI love rocking a brand new pair of shoes, feeling fresh as I walk through Rittenhouse Square on my way to lunch at a hip restaurant. But, wait. Don’t I already have a pair of blue suede shoes? Didn’t I just go grocery shopping last night?

If you’re lucky enough to have the luxury of dining out and shopping in Center City, do you ever stop and think about where all of these products are coming from? The exotic food, the jeans you’re wearing. What went into these goods? Answer: natural resources, materials, and energy. In fact, 42% of carbon pollution emissions in the U.S. are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the food we eat and the goods we use. To build a more sustainable future, we almost certainly will need to rethink how we source, consume, and dispose of goods.

Don’t be disheartened! There are a million ways to rethink your daily practices. By simply reexamining the choices you make day-to-day, you have the power to affect change and work toward a sustainable future: from shopping (“Could I borrow this from someone instead? Can I reuse something I already have in my home?”) to your daily routine (washing clothes in cold water and turning off the tap when brushing your teeth) to how you dispose of products and materials that you just can’t use any more (think: recycling and composting!) There’s no better time than Pollution Prevention Week to commit to actions that improve your health, help the planet and save money.

EPA is highlighting steps you can take toward sustainability during Philadelphia’s 2014 Park(ing) Day. Park(ing) Day is a national event held on the third Friday in September, where mundane metered parking spaces are converted into temporary miniature parks throughout the city. Park(ing) Day re-imagines the possibilities of 170 square feet of public space, celebrates parks and public spaces nationwide, and raises awareness of the need for more pedestrian-friendly spaces in urban areas.

Visit EPA’s temporary park and explore how you can save water, reduce waste, prevent pollution, and act on climate. There are a few more sustainability surprises waiting for you this Friday, September 19 at 18th and Sansom Streets, but I won’t give it all away. You’ll have to come see (and learn) for yourself!

What if we could transform the city for just one day? What if we could transform the way we make our purchases, for good? We can, and we are.

What will you rethink?

 

About the author: Jaclyn McIlwain has worked at EPA since 2010 in the Water Protection Division. A Philadelphia native, Jaclyn studied environmental science and is a graduate of the 2012 Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program. When not in the office, she can be found hiking, camping, or practicing 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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Earth Month Tip: Reuse!

The most effective way to reduce waste is to avoid creating it in the first place. The process of making a new product creates carbon pollution. As a result, reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment, and save money.

Ever heard the old refrain, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure? Instead of discarding unwanted appliances, tools, or clothes, try selling or donating them. Not only will you be reducing waste, you’ll be helping others.

Check out more tips for reusing.

More tips: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/actonclimate/

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Let’s Celebrate America Recycles Day Together!

 

America Recycles Day

 America Recycles Day is November 15, and we want to celebrate with you. On Wednesday, November 13, at 12:30 p.m. EST, join us on Twitter to talk about what you and your community are doing to help reduce waste and conserve resources. 

Experts from our Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response will be with us to listen to your ideas and answer your questions. Be ready to share what you and your community are doing to reduce, reuse, and recycle.  Does your community have curbside recycling? Are you creatively reusing stuff? What’s your best thrift shop or garage sale find? Perhaps the kids in your community are starting environment clubs. Or has your community created a sharing library for things like tools, seeds, and more?

You can participate on November 13 at 12:30 p.m. EST by following @EPAlive and the #AskEPA hashtag on Twitter. If you don’t use Twitter, you can still watch the discussion at @EPAlive and #AskEPA. We look forward to chatting with you!

About the author: Ellie Kanipe works in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. She is inspired by cool people doing cool green things.

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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