solid waste

Making Significant Progress in Land Cleanup, Prevention and Emergency Management

Recently, we’ve had two exciting accomplishments – we’ve released our annual Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response 2014 Accomplishments Report and launched a new Twitter account, @EPAland.

First, the report. With 51 percent of America’s population living within three miles of a Superfund, brownfield, or Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action site, our cleanup activities are an important part of people’s lives. Our annual interactive accomplishments report helps those affected by our programs understand how we clean up contaminated sites, ensure communities are prepared in the event of an oil spill or chemical accident, and responsibly manage and control hazardous and non-hazardous materials.  In fiscal year 2014, we:

  • Conducted 466 inspections at industrial facilities across the country handling extremely hazardous chemicals.
  • Made 11,161 Superfund, RCRA corrective action, brownfields and leaking underground storage sites ready for anticipated use by communities.
  • Completed or oversaw 304 Superfund removal actions to contain and remove contaminants and eliminate dangers to the public.
  • Increased the number of sites where human exposure to harmful chemicals is under control to 82 percent of Superfund sites and 87 percent of RCRA corrective action sites.
    Leveraged more than $418 million in community investments with brownfields area-wide planning grants.
  • Worked with federal agencies and Navajo Nation to assess 520 miles, 800 homes and 240 drinking water wells potentially contaminated by abandoned uranium mines.
Mathy Stanislaus speaks with a chemical facility representative.

Mathy Stanislaus speaks with a chemical facility representative.

The report also provides an update on the sustainable materials management (SMM) program’s efforts to reduce the amount of materials people and businesses consume and integrate SMM into business practices to conserve natural resources and stay competitive globally. In fiscal year 2014, we worked with our partners to:

  • Divert 375,000 tons of food from landfills.
  • Collect more than 220,000 tons of used electronics.
  • Save $42 million for U.S. taxpayers by reducing the federal government’s waste, water, and electricity usage.

Addressing the complex environmental challenges facing us today is a shared responsibility.  The activities highlighted in the report would not be possible without partnerships with state and tribal co-regulators, local governments, and the regulated community. I want to thank all of our stakeholders and partners for their commitment to our mission.

Finally, we’ve launched the @EPAland Twitter account to help you stay up to date on local site cleanups, learn about renewable energy technologies on contaminated sites, understand how we respond to hazardous material emergencies and more. We encourage you to stay engaged in our programs and your feedback is important to us. Join the conversation today, I’ll see you there.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Protecting Our Communities through Safe and Legitimate Recycling

When you drop your bottles and cans off in the recycling bin or at a recycling center, you’re helping to protect the environment and your community.

But not everything is as safe to recycle as plastic and aluminum. Some materials that get recycled are hazardous – like byproducts and substances from industrial processes. If they’re not recycled carefully they can put people’s health at risk. What’s worse, many recyclers that deal with hazardous materials are located close to minority and low-income communities that already face a lot of environmental challenges.

Our administrator just signed a new rule called the Definition of Solid Waste (DSW) rule. It’s a major environmental justice milestone that directly addresses mismanagement of hazardous materials at some of these recycling facilities.

In 2009, we held a public meeting to talk about our existing DSW rule, created in 2008. We heard from dozens of people who felt we needed to better analyze the rule’s impact on minority and low income people. We also heard from recyclers and manufacturers about the benefits of safely recycling hazardous materials – from job creation and other economic benefits to a healthier environment and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. So, we made the commitment to take a closer look at the potential environmental justice impacts of the 2008 DSW rule, and at opportunities for preserving and expanding safe recycling of hazardous materials.

We examined the location of recycling facilities and their proximity and potential impact to nearby communities. Our analysis confirmed that, in many cases, the public comments were correct. Communities needed a way to participate in the conversation about these recyclers’ activities, and recyclers needed to take more preventive steps, like being more prepared to contain spills and better training for their staff. More state and EPA oversight was needed, too.

The 2014 DSW rule adds some new requirements to ensure that hazardous waste is legitimately recycled and not being disposed of illegally. It requires recyclers to get a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit or verified recycler variance from us or their state, so that the recyclers’ safety measures can be verified and nearby communities can be protected. Recyclers who seek a permit or variance will be required to give communities an opportunity to weigh in about their location and plans.

Unfortunately, there have been cases where off-site recycling has been mismanaged. In these cases, hazardous materials have been released into communities, endangering the health of people and the environment. For example, one facility in Allenport, Pennsylvania, was recycling spent pickle liquor, a highly acidic solution used to remove impurities during steel manufacturing. This recycler didn’t have a RCRA permitand, when it chose its location, the nearby community wasn’t given a chance to provide input. In 1997, hazardous sludge from the recycling process spilled and was washed into an adjacent railroad bed next to a community playground. Later in 2004, the recycler’s storage tanks failed and spilled spent pickle liquor into a surrounding asphalt-paved area and into a storm drain (see photo). The new 2014 DSW rule will help us better respond to similar cases going forward.

Like I mentioned before, there are environmental and economic benefits to recycling hazardous materials. The new DSW rule reduces risks for communities, at the same time that it helps to encourage certain types of recycling. Some higher-value hazardous spent solvents, for example, can be remanufactured and reused safely under the rule, which means that less new solvents are created. And some hazardous byproducts can be reused in the same process that generated them, through in-process recycling.

Through this new rule, we’re helping ensure that our country is recycling more, but doing it safely to protect our communities and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Helping the Hungry and the Environment this Holiday Season

By Gabrielle Posard

Editor’s note: We’re happy to have this blog post from one of this year’s President’s Environmental Youth Award winners.

Five years ago, I was inspired to create a non-profit after learning a shocking statistic: one in five people in our country struggle to feed their families, while billions of pounds of good food are dumped into landfills.

This rotting food is a major source of methane gas, which speeds up climate change. It also wastes precious resources like water and is one of the largest sources of solid waste by weight.

Sadly, a third of the food that’s grown and bought in the U.S. gets wasted and thrown away. Millions of tons of fruit and vegetables rot in fields because they are misshapen or discolored. Major retail grocery chains are more likely to throw away fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats than to donate them to food banks. Although the federal “Good Samaritan Food Donation Act” protects grocers, growers, and food companies from liability, many are unaware of the legislation.

Most food reaching its “best before date” or “freshest by date” remains edible for up to one week if refrigerated properly. Foods with short shelf lives are most often tossed in grocery store dumpsters, but that food is often the healthiest. Diverting that good food to food banks instead of dumping it lowers the company’s dumpster fees, has potential tax benefits and reduces landfill waste.

The non-profit I founded addresses critical environmental concerns created by commercial food waste; millions of pounds of healthy short shelf life foods can feed hungry children instead of clogging landfills. We’ve also provided volunteer opportunities to thousands of teens across multiple states. Most of these teens were previously unaware of the environmental issues food waste creates and had never volunteered before to help the environment.

The holidays are a time many Americans give thanks for what they have, and want to help those who are struggling. We invite you to get involved this holiday season to decrease food waste, help alleviate hunger, and raise awareness about commercial food waste.

Gabrielle at the food distribution her non-profit, Donate Don’t Dump, runs where over 4,000 pounds of rescued food go to hundreds of people twice a month. This year, they were credited with an increase of over 1,000,000 total pounds in rescued food donations for one food bank alone, which went to feed families, not landfills.

Gabrielle at the food distribution her non-profit, Donate Don’t Dump, runs where over 4,000 pounds of rescued food go to hundreds of people twice a month. This year, they were credited with an increase of over 1,000,000 total pounds in rescued food donations for one food bank alone, which went to feed families, not landfills.

About the author: Gabrielle created Donate Don’t Dump as a way to get surplus and short-dated food from grocers, growers and food companies donated to the hungry instead of dumped into landfills. Her non-profit is 100% volunteer and teen-run with over 4,000 participants.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Giving People and Land a Second Chance

Revitalizing brownfields returns idle, dilapidated and often contaminated properties to productive use. This boosts the local economy, improves property values and aesthetics and enhances public health, safety and quality of life. To do this, our competitive Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) grants provide non-profit organizations and governmental entities funding to recruit, train and place unemployed residents. Trainees are recruited from solid and hazardous waste-impacted communities for entry-level careers in the environmental field.

These training programs provide hope for many unemployed and under-employed individuals striving to make a livable wage and to enter the growing environmental field, including dislocated workers ex-offenders, and veterans. Graduates of the program gain comprehensive training in areas such as wastewater treatment, stormwater management, hazardous waste remediation, leaking underground storage tank removal, emergency response, solar installation, and mine-scarred land remediation. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Middle Age at EPA: Serving Communities at Home and Abroad

By Mark Kasman

The realities of reaching middle age have included watching my hair go grey, my middle thicken, and my back become less forgiving. The advantages, however, have included gaining life experiences, making wonderful friends and partners, and building strong programs that have led to meaningful environmental gains. One satisfying aspect is being able to experience the environmental results of my work in person. Recently, I had the opportunity to help celebrate twenty years of U.S. – Taiwanese environmental cooperation and see how our work has benefitted both countries.

When I first visited Taiwan twenty years ago, it was not a clean place. The cities were choked with air pollution, the rivers were full of industrial and solid waste, and there was a lot of litter. It reminded me of many places in the United States when I was a child before EPA was established. Indeed, Taiwan had just established its Environmental Protection Administration (EPAT). With a small staff and limited budget, EPAT turned to U.S. EPA for advice on environmental standards and technologies that could apply to Taiwan. EPAT adapted our approach to most of its environmental challenges and has made significant improvements. Twenty years later, the air quality has improved dramatically, the rivers and lakes are cleaner, the soil is healthier, and Taiwan is recognized as an environmental leader in the region.

Now, the benefits of this experience are expanding beyond Taiwan. At U.S. EPA’s urging, EPAT is sharing our experiences throughout the Asia Pacific region and beyond. With funding from Taiwan, we’ve established regional working groups on e-waste management, site remediation, mercury monitoring, environmental enforcement, and environmental information. These working groups share best practices and information that is helping the region address its environmental challenges. Experts from Africa, as well as Central and Latin America, have even joined our efforts on e-waste to establish the International E-Waste Management Network.

And the benefits are coming directly back to the U.S. as well. The program has connected schools and communities in the U.S. and Taiwan to share best practices to make our communities more sustainable. U.S. businesses are benefitting from the resulting demand for their goods and services in Asia. With over 80% of the mercury deposition in the U.S. coming from the Asia Pacific region, it is important that our work is helping us understand how the mercury gets here. And with much of the rice, vegetables, fruit, and fish on our table today coming from Asia, it is important that it’s not contaminated at its source.

Challenges remain. However, it’s rewarding that the work EPA is doing at home also helps communities abroad, and that those overseas changes then benefit us in the U.S.

About the author: Mark Kasman is Senior Advisor of EPA’s Asia Pacific Program.  Before coming to EPA 27 years ago, Mark worked at the United Nations Development Program in Jakarta, Indonesia and the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Making Regulations Work for the Environment and the Economy

In March of 2011, I participated in a video town hall meeting to talk about finding ways to improve EPA regulations to make compliance easier and less expensive, without sacrificing protection of the environment and human health. In that meeting I encouraged participants to share their ideas about how EPA could streamline regulations and which regulations we should review. I also shared a Web page where you can find information on the status of priority rulemakings, retrospective reviews of existing regulations, and information on how to comment on rulemakings. The very first suggestion I received during the video town hall that day was for EPA to modify regulations on the management of solvent-contaminated rags and wipes used by various industrial sectors, such as publishing, printing, and automobile manufacturing.

Hazard-Regulated_084

I’m pleased to say that we have acted on that suggestion and released a final regulation that reduces burden on tens of thousands of facilities that use solvent-contaminated wipes, while still being protective of human health and the environment. Based on the best available science, we’ve provided a regulatory framework for managing solvent-contaminated wipes at the appropriate level of risk. Not only does this reduce uncertainty for these regulated communities, this rule will result in an estimated net savings of $18 million per year in avoided regulatory costs and between $3.7 million and $9.9 million per year in other expected benefits, including pollution prevention, waste minimization and fire prevention benefits.

More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Missing: One Smelly Old Garbage Gremlin

By Felicia Chou

Today, I found out that our office’s beloved Garbage Gremlin costume is M.I.A, after being “borrowed” by someone from another office. While I’m sure it’ll turn up somewhere soon, its disappearance eerily coincides with the release of our new report that tells us what our nation’s recycling rate is, what is in our trash, how much of it ends up in landfills and incinerators, and how we’re doing compared to previous years.

Perhaps the missing Garbage Gremlin (a grumpy monster that hates recycling) is a sign of how far we’ve come as a nation when it comes to recycling. Maybe we’ve moved past needing a grumpy, stinky ol’ monster to remind us that most of what we throw away is actually recyclable, and that creating less waste in the first place is really the way to go. On average, Americans create 4.4 pounds of trash per day, and we’ve kept 87 million tons of garbage from landfills and incinerators, compared to 85 million tons in 2010 by recycling and composting. But even so, more than 60% of our trash still ends up in landfills. So while we might not need the Gremlin as much as we used to, we’ve got some work ahead of us.

This infographic gives us a general overview of our nation’s progress, the environmental impact we’ve made through recycling, and what we can do to continue to make a difference.

There’s also the new report, along with the fact sheet, where you can learn all sorts of other neat things.

Learn more about the stuff we throw away, how it impacts climate change, and what you can do to make a difference.

About the Author: Felicia Chou is a Program Analyst in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. She is currently organizing a manhunt in search of the missing Garbage Gremlin, and is considering offering a reward of eternal gratitude with a three-month expiration date.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Career Advice from Dolly

 

P9260171

 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Reducing Food Waste, Saving Money, Protecting the Environment

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Pete Pearson

I’m Pete Pearson and I’m the Director of Sustainability for SUPERVALU, a national grocery retail and pharmacy company. I’m responsible for developing and implementing the sustainability strategy for all ten SUPERVALU chains. I recently recorded a podcast with Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. We discussed the important issues of wasted food, and what SUPERVALU and EPA are doing to reduce food waste, save money and protect the environment, and our participation in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge.

In 2010 and 2011, for the first time in the company’s history, SUPERVALU’s recycling income was greater than its landfill expenses.  Our stores across the country are participating in food bank donation programs, giving millions of meals to hungry people; food that would have otherwise gone to waste.  Our stores are looking for ways to divert food waste and organic material to secondary uses, including compost facilities.  To date, over half of the SUPERVALU network of stores is composting and/or diverting organic material away from landfills.
I am working hard to encourage our stores to “know their garbage” and recognize the valuable commodities in the waste stream. Through our programs, we’ve found that with operational changes such as asking departments to source separate, 90 percent or more of the “waste” from a typical grocery store can be reused, recycled or used to feed people in need.  What initially starts as a behavior change quickly becomes the “new normal.” Our stores can’t imagine going backwards to the old days of throwing everything in a compactor.
By participating in EPA programs like the Food Recovery Challenge, our business is improving the measurement and transparency of critical data. This partnership also spawns a much needed culture where the private sector and government can work together to solve issues. Building relationships is paramount, since business and government are not going to solve our country’s problems alone.
Changing what we throw away not only reduces our expenses, but it changes our attitude towards waste in general; a new attitude that can also be applied to the products and services we provide. We are working with produce suppliers to package products in reusable/recyclable containers instead of unrecyclable material. SUPERVALU believes that what we waste defines what we value. We are committed to achieving zero waste and placing value on people, planet, and profit.

About the author: Pete Pearson is the Director of Sustainability for SUPERVALU which is an EPA Food Recovery Challenge participant. He is responsible for the sustainability strategy and execution for all 10 SUPERVALU grocery chains, Albertsons, Cub Foods, Hornbachers, Shop n’Save, Jewel-Osco, Save-a-Lot, Shaw’s, ACME, Shoppers, and Farm Fresh. Pete’s interests include developing closed-loop waste cycles (Zero-Waste) and creating an effective logistics program through which grocery stores can more efficiently source fresh food from local farmers.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.