sustainability

Along the Road to Sustainability

By Bob Perciasepe

Technology and open access to data and tools have ended the excruciating choice that generations of unsure car travelers have sometimes faced: forge ahead just a few more miles, or stop and ask for directions? Such stress has largely faded with the advent of dashboard-mounted, satellite-enabled navigation systems and readily available smartphone applications.

Getting to your desired destination is always easier when you have the right information at your disposal. That’s why today I’m excited to announce that EPA has released a tool to help environmental decision makers and local communities navigate toward a more sustainable future: EnviroAtlas.

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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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Environmental Standouts Are Celebrated

By Mike McGowan

Eva Sanjurjo receives her award.

Eva Sanjurjo receives her award.

Recently, Region 2 honored its 2014 Environmental Quality Award winners, who work at improving the planet every day.

EQA winners from New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were hosted at R2 headquarters in lower Manhattan to showcase their good work. Among them:

  • Chris Bowser, who has made “glass eels” (young American eels migrating from the Atlantic Ocean into freshwater streams) the focus of an unique environmental education project that goes from building knowledge about eels to promoting stewardship of this fish and the habitats essential to its growth cycle;
  • Ironbound Community Corporation, which, since 1969, has worked to create a healthy and sustainable environment in one of Newark’s culturally rich neighborhoods. The ICC monitors air quality, provides environmental justice tours and organizes an active community to speak out for environmental protection in New Jersey’s largest city.
  • Dr. Ralph Spezio, a public school principal from Rochester, who helped found the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, an education and advisory group dedicated to eliminate lead poisoning in Monroe County, New York. His work has helped reduce blood lead levels in Rochester’s children.
  • Eva Sanjurjo, a founder of the Hunts Point Awareness Committee, took on polluters in her Bronx community in defense of all the neighborhood children who were suffering from asthma. Among other projects, she started an educational program called “Greening for Breathing” which planted hundreds of trees in the neighborhood.

These are just several of the awardees, all of whom made a special and lasting impact on the environment in the last year. We’ll be reporting on some of the other winners in subsequent blog posts.

About the Author: Mike is Chief of the R2 Intergovernmental and Community Affairs Branch in Public Affairs. He is a 10-year veteran of EPA.

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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EPA’s P3 Student Design Competition: Sowing the Seeds of a Sustainable Future

 

Reposted from EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership.

 

“The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.”  -PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

 

By Lek Kadeli

KadeliEach spring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides the nation with a glimpse of America’s winning future through our P3 student design competition for sustainability.

“P3” stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet. Working in teams, students and their academic advisors devise innovative solutions to meet environmental challenges in ways that benefit people, promote prosperity, and protect the planet. Through that work, the competition engages the greater academic community and the next generation of environmental scientists and engineers in the principles of sustainability.

The competition is a two-phase process. In Phase I, teams submit design proposals for a chance to receive grants of up to $15,000 to research and test original sustainability projects. In addition to research funds, winning teams earn the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC to publically showcase their designs and prototypes at the National Sustainable Design Expo.

During the Expo, teams also showcase their work to a panel of judges for a chance to enter Phase II of the competition—which includes up to $90,000 in additional grant money to help bring their designs and products to the marketplace. Successful P3 projects ultimately benefit the economy and create jobs in our communities.

President Obama said in this year’s State of the Union address “that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” This program exemplifies that spirit of innovation.

WeLoveP3Over the past 10 years, EPA has awarded more than 550 grants to university and college student teams across the nation. A number of teams have leveraged their winning ideas into thriving small businesses and nonprofit organizations, sparking job growth as they advance sustainability and public health. For example:

  • An inter-collegiate team made up of students from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and two Chinese universities launched the nonprofit organization One Earth Design (OED) based on their winning project: a solar-powered device that cooks, provides heat, and generates electricity.
  • A team from the University of Massachusetts designed a process for producing a nontoxic flame retardant from cashew oil. The end result provides the benefit of suppressing flames that is as effective as the more toxic synthetic retardants in use today.
  • Students from the University of Arizona designed an irrigation system for small farmers that also serves as a fish farm. Rows of irrigation ditches filled with fish provide a local source of fertilizer that boosts crop yields while yielding additional sources of food and profit.
  • Western Washington University students partnered with local dairy farmers for their project using cow manure as a source of fuel-grade methane for running vehicles.
  • Re-design methods developed by a team of University of Tennessee students have helped transform depression-era housing into buildings that meet both energy efficient, green building standards and strict historical preservation codes.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program. Both the P3 public displays and the National Sustainable Design Expo will be held in conjunction with the USA Science & Engineering Festival at the Washington Convention Center, April 26-27. Now in its third year, the USA Science & Engineering Festival is the largest science festival in the United States.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Earth Day Inspiration

By Bonnie Bellow

Put UR foot into the Earth

Put UR foot into the Earth

Each year around Earth Day we are reminded to take stock of the incredible natural resources the planet provides and think about what we are doing to protect them for future generations. Last week, EPA staff heard from a determined young man who represents the future – a fourth-grader from Douglaston, New York who writes his own environmental blog, “Put UR foot into the Earth.” http://i-pure.tumblr.com/

Currently, Eliot is engaged in a project to educate consumers about the importance of recycling their used batteries and increase battery recycling. He has done his research and explains that batteries contain metals and chemicals that can contaminate soil and water if they are not disposed of properly. But battery recycling may be easier to promote than actually do. Eliot had been taking his spent batteries to a store near his home that had a recycling bin. When the store closed after Hurricane Sandy, his mother had to drive him to another store to recycle his batteries. He immediately recognized the contradiction in having to burn fuel in order to recycle. “It felt like a waste of time and energy,” Eliot said. “It was not good for the environment.” Another kid might have given up, but not Eliot. He wrote letters to President Obama, the EPA and the New York City Comptroller asking them to increase the number of battery recycling stations.

Eliot did not seem the slightest bit intimidated in presenting his battery recycling project to a group of scientists, engineers, attorneys and other environmental professionals at the EPA. He fielded their tough questions like a seasoned environmentalist. He is continuing his campaign for a state law that would mandate battery recycling and notes that some companies, such as Toys R Us and Duane Reade, now collect used batteries.

It will take the collective energy and imagination of future generations to tackle the environmental challenges before us. But Eliot’s dedication and determination gives us hope.

About the Author: Bonnie Bellow has been the Region 2 Director of Public Affairs since 1995, responsible for intergovernmental, media and international relations; community engagement; environmental education; Freedom of Information Act requests; social media and public information. She previously served as Public Affairs Director at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, ran her own media production business and worked as a radio reporter. Bonnie received her Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, but is a born and bred New Yorker who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

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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Celebrate Earth Day with ENERGY STAR!

Earth Day graphic

By: Brittney Gordon-Williams

Earth Day is here and people across the country are taking a few minutes out of their day to do something good for planet earth. What are your plans? We may be a bit biased, but here at ENERGY STAR we would love for you to make protecting the environment from climate change part of your Earth Day resolutions. Preventing climate change may sound like a tall order, but we’re here to show you how easy it can be to make a difference. And did we mention that it will also help you save money?  I think we now have your full attention. Check out our list of no-cost to low cost ways to save energy at home and at work this Earth Day!

ENERGY STAR’s Earth Day and Beyond Checklist

1.)    ENERGY STAR Lighting- Purchase an ENERGY STAR certified LED! This is one of the easiest ways to make your home more energy efficient. ENERGY STAR certified LEDs use 70-90% less energy and last 25x longer than your old incandescent bulbs. With the prices dropping fast, this is the perfect time to try out the light bulb of the future! Need help picking one out? Check out this video.

2.)    Computer Power Management– Are you reading this on your computer? Have you programmed that computer to go into sleep mode when you are away? Enabling your ENERGY STAR certified computer/monitor’s power management features can save you up to $90 a year.

3.)    HVAC Maintenance– Check your filter every month, especially during heavy use months (winter and summer). If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it. At a minimum, change the filter every 3 months. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool — wasting energy.

4.)    Build Your Team– You can also “Bring Your Green” to work! Create a Green Team with your co-workers, help build support for energy efficiency in your workplace, and reduce office waste. Set a goal to certify your building as ENERGY STAR.

5.)    Inspire Your Friends– The only thing better than saving energy yourself is inspiring your friends to do it with you. Share this infographic in social media and encourage your friends to get with the energy-saving program!

EarthDay_infographic_Twitter

It’s pretty amazing that simple changes like these can make a big difference in reducing carbon pollution in our environment, helping to stop further climate change. Need some assistance on your energy-saving journey? Take the ENERGY STAR Pledge and let EPA show you how simple it can be to save energy, save money and protect the environment. Try it out today and make this Earth Day the best one yet.

About the Author: Brittney Gordon-Williams is a member of the communications team at EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. This Earth Day she plans on purchasing an ENERGY STAR certified LED bulb.  

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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EPA Unveils the Winner of the National Building Competition!

Battle of the Buildings2

By: Andrea Schnitzer

Have you ever seen the NBC show, The Biggest Loser? It brings together a group of motivated people, who all have one goal in common—a desire to get healthy and lose unneeded weight.  Today, EPA is announcing the winners of the fourth annual EPA ENERGY STAR National Building Competition: Battle of the Buildings, a competition that is inspired by the hit NBC show. But instead of individuals working to lose excess weight, this year-long competition brings together commercial buildings from across the country to see who can reduce the most energy use. Today we are excited to announce this year’s winners and open registration for an exciting new competition year.

The Results are in!

Claiborne Elementary School

Claiborne Elementary School

This year, Claiborne Elementary School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, won the competition by cutting its energy use nearly in half!  But this impressive accomplishment only tells part of the story about the more than 3,000 competitors who threw their hats in the ring this year. The top 15 finishers reduced their energy waste by more than 29 percent, and nearly 50 buildings in the competition achieved at least a 20 percent reduction in energy use. In the end, the competitors saved a combined total of more than 130,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and $20 million on utility bills. To see a list of the competitors and their energy savings, go to www.energystar.gov/battleofthebuildings.

Many were winners. Only one was the biggest loser.

Claiborne Elementary School emerged victorious by cutting its energy use by a whopping 46.9 percent in one year. And they did this largely through low and no-cost efforts, like educating students and teachers about the actions they can take every day to save energy. This included adjusting thermostats, keeping doors and windows closed when the heat or air conditioning is on, turning off lights, and making sure electronic devices are turned off at the end of each day.  The school also fine-tuned automated controls of the HVAC and lighting systems, making sure that lights were turned off in unoccupied areas and that the heating and cooling systems were optimized to run only when necessary.

Small changes make a big difference.  

The results aren’t all that different than what we often see on NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Buildings across the nation compete to work off their energy waste with help from ENERGY STAR. At the end, the building that cuts its energy use the most is declared the winner.

And just like on the TV show, there are ups and downs for every building. Sometimes, drastic measures are needed, but often it just takes small changes every day that add up to big savings. Just like it’s not always necessary to take extreme measures to lose weight, buildings don’t always need to implement expensive technology upgrades to start cutting energy use. Likewise, adopting small lifestyle changes like eating healthier and exercising can make all the difference. Changing behaviors, whether it’s by turning off lights that aren’t being used, not heating or cooling empty spaces, and unplugging energy-wasting equipment, can make a huge impact when it’s done regularly and becomes a lifestyle.

Step on the scale. Repeat.

Of course, one of the most important steps in an energy waste-loss program is stepping on the scale. For buildings, that means entering monthly energy data in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, EPA’s energy and water measurement and tracking tool. By continuing to monitor and track the ups and downs of energy and water use, building owners and managers can find out where they stand…and where they need to go.

Join us for the 2014 competition. Register by May 16!

So who really won this year? The short answer: we all did. When buildings use less energy, the plants that power them emit fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, resulting in a cleaner, healthier environment for all of us.

Want to be a part of the solution? Ask your management to enter your building in the 2014 competition. This year, compete to win EPA recognition for energy and water savings, or join as part of a team competing against other groups to become the next biggest energy or water saver.

Learn more and register at www.energystar.gov/battleofthebuildings

About the Author: Andrea Schnitzer is a National Program Manager with the ENERGY STAR program for Commercial Buildings and Industrial Plants.

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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March Madness and Dancing… Did you know……?

By Jim Callier

The NCAA basketball tournaments just concluded.  None of our local schools made it very far in the “big” dance, although a shout-out does need to go to the Central Missouri State University Mules men’s team for winning the NCAA Division II Championship.  In this spirit, I want to pose a couple of interesting intercollegiate sports questions to introduce one of our Region’s noteworthy institutions.  Below are three questions relevant to the geographic area of EPA Region 7.

1) Player and Coach, Chauncey E.  Archiquette, is credited by Dr. James A. Naismith, originator of basketball, for introducing the zone defense into the game.  Can you tell me the school associated with Mr. Archiquette?

2) Milton P. Allen, the son of Forrest C. (Phog) Allen, famous University of Kansas basketball coach, coached basketball at what school in EPA Region 7?

3) Can you name the school whose gridiron team lost only 3 homes games in a 34 year period of time? (Hint:  approximately 1898 to 1932).

So, how did you do with these three questions?  The answer to the questions is “Haskell”, currently referred to as “Haskell Indian Nations University.”

EPA and Haskell have a special relationship dating back a number of years.

Since its inception, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mission has been focused on the protection of human health and the environment.  The EPA Region 7 (EPA R7) recognizes that participation from all citizens is essential to support effective environmental policies, problem solving, and sustainable practices. In an effort to encourage student participation and study in the field of environmental science, a partnership was established, in the form of Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between EPA R7 and Haskell.  The purpose of this MOA is to formalize and strengthen the relationship between EPA and Haskell while enhancing their educational programs/activities and increasing their institutional awareness of the environment through training and consultation.  Through this partnership, students from Haskell have worked at EPA R7 as part of the intern program, and many of these students have gone on to become employees of the agency after graduation.

Last year, Amber Tucker blogged twice about a special environmental conference at Haskell focused on mercury deposition and mercury in fish tissue, where students and scientists learned about these issues facing their communities.

For more than 130 years, American Indians and Alaska Natives have been sending their children to Haskell, and Haskell has responded by offering innovative curricula oriented toward Native American cultures.  Today, Haskell has an average enrollment of over 1000 students each semester, with multi-tribal student representation from rural, reservation, ranchero, village, pueblo, and urban settings.  The Haskell campus spans over 320 acres in Southeast Lawrence, KS, and is home to 12 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Haskell Memorial Football Stadium.  Haskell offers baccalaureate degrees in Indigenous and American Indian Studies, Business Administration, Elementary Education and Environmental Science.

We feel that minority colleges serve an integral part to their specific cultures and communities. They fulfill a vital role in maintaining and preserving irreplaceable languages and cultural traditions, in offering a high-quality college education to younger students, and in providing job training and other career-building programs to adults and senior citizens. Haskell clearly offers a rich resource to provide the required institutional framework to address the problem of under representation of American Indians/Alaska Natives in science, technologies, engineering and mathematics fields. Additionally, it provides a platform for EPA to aid in the development of an environmentally-conscious campus through direct consultation and training.

haskell

Haskell University, Lawrence, KS

 

Jim Callier is Chief of the Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section at EPA in Kansas City and has thirty years of experience working at EPA, primarily in Region 7. Jim has both working and management experience in many of EPA’s programs including hazardous and solid waste, brownfields, and pollution prevention. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla with a B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and is a Registered Professional Geologist in the State of Missouri.

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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Community Planning to Overcome Injustice!

By Carolina Martinez

“I had no idea we had the right to make changes in our community; that we could say: we don’t want this here because it’s bad for our health.”- Maria, resident of Barrio Logan, a neighborhood in San Diego.

R_AIR3MAIN_trucks_slfMaria’s child came home one day to tell her he was having difficulty breathing at school during his gym class. Shortly after, his doctor diagnosed him with the beginning stages of asthma. Maria, like many parents in her neighborhood, made the connection between her son’s respiratory problems and the warehouse with dozens of heavy duty trucks travelling daily on her block. She lived across the street from heavy pollution, and now her family was suffering the impacts.

Unfortunately, her story isn’t uncommon. In fact, Barrio Logan is the highest at-risk community in San Diego and in the top five percent in the state for hazards of toxic pollution. As an urban planner I can relate to Maria, but I think most people in environmentally compromised communities don’t know they can have a say about the layout of their neighborhood.

However, residents can — and should — play an active part in the community planning process. And now, with Environmental Health Coalition’s (EHC) groundbreaking video, Creating Healthy Neighborhoods: Community Planning to Overcome Injustice, you have the tools to step up and create positive neighborhood change more than ever! We developed this 20-minute video that uses real-life examples to illustrate a seven-step process we can all use to participate in community-led planning and become better advocates for our neighborhoods and win healthy community visions.

Residents like Maria literally live and breathe the effects of environmental injustice in their neighborhoods. No one is better qualified to recognize and propose solutions than local community members, but the planning processes can feel intimidating and land-use policy often sounds like a foreign language. Residents need to know they have a voice, and with Creating Healthy Neighborhoods, families just like Maria’s learn to speak out in the policy and planning processes impacting their community.

EHC Title Creating Healthy CommunitiesSo how can you get started steering your community towards a better future? How can you ensure your children grow up in a healthy, safe neighborhood? With this video (available online and on DVD in both Spanish and English) Environmental Health Coalition walks you through the seven steps to successfully pursue environmental justice for your community through community-engaged planning while highlighting true stories from community members just like you.

When we created this revolutionary tool we wanted to make something to help advocates gain a fuller understanding of their communities and take action to create healthier, more vibrant and livable communities. And although we’ve only just released it, at the conferences and events we have presented the video at, I have seen people who had little initial knowledge of these issues become very enthusiastic about the community planning process. In fact last week was the first time we presented it to our most involved members in EHC and they loved it! They relayed that the video was engaging and easy to understand, and they are excited to use this video to educate their neighbors on healthy land use principals.

People throughout the country endure impacts of toxic pollution every day because of poorly planned land-use policies, but it does not have to be this way, and you have the power to change it. So remember: community planning is power. Understanding how to become involved in land-use and planning processes in your community is first step towards a better community for your family today and for generations to come – What will you change?

About the author: Carolina Martinez is a Policy Advocate at the Environmental Health Coalition.  She is responsible for supporting residents in National City, a low-income majority Latino community, advocate for land use policies that respect their priorities, improve health, and are consistent with environmental justice principles.

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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Nutrient Management: Always on My Mind

By James R. Mihelcic, PhD, BCEEM

EPA-grantee and guest blogger James R. Mihelcic

EPA-grantee and guest blogger James R. Mihelcic

I am inspired to solve the complex problem of nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) management every day.  I think about solving this problem when I tend my winter garden of lettuce and peppers, around my neighborhood as I watch stormwater race from lawns to the Hillsborough River, in the classroom, and when I spend time outdoors enjoying our nation’s waters.

And I am in good company with my thoughts. You see, the National Academy of Engineering has identified managing the nitrogen cycle as one of their Grand Challenges.

I even started my New Year by canoeing in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge and got to thinking about nutrients.  This was because some of the springs that feed the refuge have developed the tell-tale signs of nutrient pollution (green, slimy-looking plant growth) from on-site wastewater generation and lawn runoff from surrounding homes.  On that day we were also welcomed into the winter home of a group of manatees.  Manatees depend on sea grass for survival, and excessive nutrients cloud coastal waters, preventing sea grass growth. 

With support from an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant, we established our Center for Reinventing Aging Infrastructure for Nutrient Management, which is transforming my daily thinking to everyday reality.  We are reimagining aging coastal urban infrastructure systems to consider nutrient recovery and management that contribute to sustainable and healthy communities.

Manatee at a U.S. Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Manatee at a U.S. Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

I have great expectations for our Center research and demonstrations.  Our goals are to develop the science behind new technology and management innovations, and to develop a deep understanding of integrated systems.  We will demonstrate and assess innovations to provide new knowledge for students, community members, practitioners, and other stakeholders.

We are even transforming how we educate new engineers. For example, our new textbook, Environmental Engineering: Fundamentals, Sustainability, Design integrates sustainability and nutrient concepts into every chapter, and has the potential to reach over 10,000 undergraduate engineers every year.

Our research will benefit the public because poor water quality lowers the economic, social, and environmental value of our nation’s waters for current and future generations. 

In Florida, our springs, rivers, estuaries, coastal waters, and the Everglades all suffer because of nutrient pollution.  We have already come up with some ways to help manage nutrient pollution while also meeting the agricultural needs to provide national and global food security. For example, we have shown that 22% of the global demand for phosphorus could be met if we just recovered this valuable resource from domestic wastewater. We’ve also shown how wastewater infrastructure that serves a rapidly urbanizing world can be integrated with recovery of valuable water and nutrients to improve food security.

You can see why nutrients are always on my mind.  I hope they are now on yours.

About the author: EPA-grantee and guest blogger James R. Mihelcic is a Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and State of Florida 21st Century World Class Scholar at the University of South Florida (Tampa), where he directs the Center for Reinventing Aging Infrastructure for Nutrient Management

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Where Do Plastic Bags Go?

By Shannon Bond

Each season has its unique traits. Some are good, some are not so good. This depends upon who you talk to of course. One of the benefits of winter is the view, which brings a barren type of beauty. There is no doubt that leaves and green landscapes are appealing, but as an outdoor enthusiast and trail junky (both on foot and on wheels), I can appreciate the outdoors in every variation. There is a lot to be said for increased visibility too. When the trees are bare, you can see the contour of the land and the flow of the trail.

Sadly, I can also see litter; particularly, plastic bags. When you are hiking down a trail it’s easy to reach down and pick that trash or stray bag up. The easy cleanup opportunity is lost when you are barreling down the highway on the way to work though. It is especially discouraging to see hordes of plastic bags clinging to the tops of trees. These bags have obviously been ejected from passing vehicles to be carried by the wind to their final resting place. I’m sure they are present all year, but the winter draws back the veil of leaves to reveal just how much wasted plastic we generate.

What happens to the rest of the plastic bags that don’t get stuck in our suburban forests? And, what can we do to mitigate our waste? For years I was under the impression that we could not recycle these plastic grocery haulers. I’ve reused them as trash bags, lunch bags and anything else I could think of, but ultimately that just prolongs their life before they end up in the landfill. Luckily, just like a lot of our modern day materials, these can be recycled. So plastic bags really end up in three places (like everything else really).

The landfill

In 2011, Americans produced around 250 million tons of waste, 32 million tons of that solid waste was plastic. That’s 4.4 pounds of waste per person per day! It’s up to you to help keep plastic bags and other waste out of landfills.  (http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/MSWcharacterization_508_053113_fs.pdf)

landfill

Recycled into other goods

There is hope because recycling and composting helped prevent 87 million tons of material from reaching the landfills that year. That gives us an average of about 1.53 pounds of recycled and composted waste out of our 4.4 pounds per person per day. About 11 percent of the recycled waste from the overall count was the category of plastics that include plastic bags. Unfortunately, only 8 percent of the total plastic waste generated was recycled in 2011. We can change this. There are more than 1,800 businesses in the U.S. that handle or reclaim post-consumer plastics. Put simply, bring your used plastic bags to the grocery store when you shop and drop them at the bag recycle bin. If your store doesn’t have a recycle service for plastic bags, ask the store manager why not or what the alternatives are. You can also find a curbside drop off. http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/plastics.htm.

Buy Recycled

Where does recycled plastic go? You handle it all the time and probably don’t realize it. Products include bottles, carpet, textiles, paper coating and even clothes.

In the trees (or anywhere else as litter)

Don’t let your bags end up here. It’s an eyesore for your community, dangerous for the animals in your environment and doesn’t contribute to the reduction of source materials needed for plastic manufacturing.

Plastic Bags

What’s the bottom line? Recycle your plastic bags, it’s easy. Why? It helps keep trash off the streets. It helps reduce the need for raw resources in manufacturing and it reduces the amount of waste that goes to the landfill; it even helps generate power. Did you know that you can save enough energy to power your laptop for 3.4 hours by recycling 10 plastic bags? You can find these fun facts and other great information here: http://www2.epa.gov/recycle.

 

Shannon Bond  is a multimedia production specialist with EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. He has served in a host of roles including military policeman, corrections officer, network operations specialist, photojournalist, broadcast specialist and public affairs superintendant.

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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