waste

The Environmental Impact of Single-Family Homes

home construction showing cement mixer and framing

Home construction

By Ksenija Janjic

Recently, it seems like there are new houses being built left and right in my neighborhood. Not only do these houses give our neighborhood a fresh look, they also do wonders for our economy. In 2007, new single-family home construction accounted for one-third of construction-sector’s value, and brought jobs to truck drivers, accountants, engineers, contractors, managers and business owners, just to name a few. It also spurred building material sales, approvals of building permits, and extensions of services.

But not everyone realizes that when we build, use and demolish houses, we disturb and erode soil, disrupt habitats, deplete natural resources, pollute air and water and use up land. According to the Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead analysis, of the significant sectors in the U.S economy, new single-family home construction was one of the most environmentally burdensome.

There is a high demand for single-family homes, and we appreciate benefits that the construction industry brings. At the same time though, we want to preserve a thriving environment and maintain plentiful resources for our children. So what can we do to ease the environmental burden of single-family homes?

In the Analysis of the Life Cycle Impacts and Potential for Avoided Impacts Associated with Single-Family Homes, EPA first fully uncovered this burden and then suggested changes to counteract it. This “life-cycle” analysis of a national scale considers goods used during “pre-occupancy”, “occupancy” and “post-occupancy” stages of single-family homes and highlights the most significant ones. EPA shows that if we grow the recovery and reuse of just a handful of building materials from single-family homes, we could notably counteract their full environmental burden.

So…as homeowners, when we repair or renovate our houses, we can ask the contractor to recover and reuse the construction and demolition scrap. As homebuyers or entrepreneurs, we can demand that our homes and properties include salvaged and recycled materials. Little by little, we can make a difference and be proud of the wonderful place we call home.

Learn more about the environmental impacts of single-family homes and how to avoid them.

About the Author: Ksenija Janjic is an Environmental Protection Specialist in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery.  She joined EPA three years ago and has Master’s degrees in Architectural Engineering and Community Planning

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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Food Recovery Challenge 2012 Award Winners’ Inspiring Accomplishments

By Laurie Solomon

I feel blessed to be a member of EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge team. We’re passionate about reducing food waste, which is a big problem. Americans tossed out more than 36 million tons of food in 2011, almost all of which ended up in landfills or incinerators. Despite all this wasted food, nearly 15 percent of U.S. households were food-insecure in 2012, meaning they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. And here’s one fact that I didn’t know before joining the team: food decomposes rapidly in landfills to generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to reduce as much of their food waste as possible – saving money, helping communities, and protecting the environment.

My team recently congratulated nine participants for their significant contributions to reducing food waste in the U.S. in 2012. Wow, is it interesting to see how grocers, universities, sports venues, and other organizations responded. Take Clark University, one of this year’s Innovation Award winners – their composting pilot project discovered that up to 60 percent of dorm waste is compostable. Commercial-size compost bins are now on all floors of freshman dorms, as well as in the dining hall.

Cupertino, CA’s story is also really inspiring.  It negotiated a five-year franchise agreement with its waste hauler to achieve a 75 percent waste diversion rate, meaning this waste wouldn’t end up in landfills or incinerators.  The city identified higher rates of food waste collection and composting as the means to achieving this goal, and is making great progress.  I am so inspired by the innovative actions taken by not just these two organizations, but all the winners of the Food Recovery Challenge awards. Read about the other wonderful winners on our website.

I’m proud to be part of a team that cares about the issue of wasted food and pleased that the team recognized nine organizations’ successful accomplishments.

About the author: Laurie Solomon started with EPA in 1987 and currently works in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. Each Earth Day, Laurie dons the Garbage Gremlin costume to interact with elementary school children at her son’s former elementary school.

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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Don’t Trash Your Old Clothes

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

By Gina Snyder

The public schools in my town now host smart new boxes that collect unwanted clothing and textiles for recycling. Not only do these boxes look really sharp, they actually are “SMART” – they are from Baystate Textiles, a member of the “Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association.”

I’ve seen clothing collection boxes before, but this new program will accept almost any fabric (even things like handbags, shoes, and stuffed animals). Stained, torn or ragged, as long as a textile is clean and dry, they’ll take it.

With 25.5 billion pounds of useable textiles thrown away each year (70 pounds per American), there is a lot of waste that can be prevented. Contrary to popular belief, donations in any condition are welcomed by both for-profit and non-profit textile collectors.

You can even donate items with stains, rips, missing buttons or broken zippers because textiles are a valuable commodity. Items that don’t sell in a thrift store are baled and sold to brokers or graders who sell to other markets. This income helps thrift stores support their mission.

The boxes at my town’s schools provide work for local companies, which turn about 30% of the donated textiles into industrial wiping cloths. A Massachusetts company cuts used clothing and other textiles into rags and sells them to commercial garages and public works operations. The remaining 20 percent is sent to fiber converters -another local textile recycler – where textiles are broken down into their basic fiber components to be re-manufactured into insulation for autos and homes, carpet padding, or sound-proofing materials.

Reusing textiles uses less energy and less water than any competitive products made from newly produced paper or textiles, according to SMART. You may even have used wipes made from recycled fabric in your home or for your car (for example, soft lint-free wipes or super absorbent rags). By recycling my old or unwanted fabrics, I can help my town save trash disposal costs, help generate revenue for the schools and have a positive impact on the environment.

When cleaning out your closets, donate your textiles rather than throwing them away!

More EPA info on textile waste and recylcling

More EPA information on Trash and Recycling

About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee.

 

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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Auraria Campus Celebrates America Recycles Day

By Virginia Till

My school, the University of Colorado Denver, is part of the Auraria Higher Education Center. At Auraria, we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty. In fact, we enjoy it. As part of our participation in the EPA-led Food Recovery Challenge, and in celebration of America Recycles Day, we did the first-ever waste audit of the Tivoli Student Union.
 

Americans tossed out more than 36 million tons of food in 2011, and nearly all of it ended up in landfills or incinerators. The Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to reduce as much of their food waste as possible – saving money, helping communities, and protecting the environment.
 

With EPA-supplied bench scales, we weighed 26 bags of compost, recycle, and landfill materials gathered from the Tivoli’s 3-bin collection stations. This was then resorted to determine potential for improvement.

By looking at how we were recycling, we learned that we’d do a lot better by sorting properly. Knowing this will help Auraria determine strategies for improving recyling in the Tivoli Student Union and reduce the amount of waste sent to local landfills. It was fun getting our hands dirty and finding out how the campus can improve its waste management. How much of your food and money are you literally throwing away?

For more information:
http://www.epa.gov/smm/foodrecovery/
http://americarecyclesday.org/

About the author: Virginia Till is a graduate student at the University of Colorado Denver, pursuing a master’s in integrated sciences. She studies and works on sustainable building operations and is a Recycling Specialist for EPA Region 8 in Denver.

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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Green Your Holidays with Our Pinterest Tips Board

By Ellie Kanipe

The holiday season is upon us and to help you be green through the hustle and bustle of the season, we’ve launched a Greening Your Holidays Pinterest board.  See tips on how to reduce holiday food and paper waste, and how to recycle electronic gadgets.  The board also has cool winter-inspired DIY projects that you and your whole family can enjoy together. You’ll find inspiring green ideas for this holiday season with pins like Gift Wrapping Gone Green; Reuse and Be Crafty – Holiday Cards get a Fresh Look; O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Can I Make You More Green; and Reduce Food Waste with a Splash.

Help us reduce our numbers: Americans threw away 250 million tons of trash in 2011, and 134 million tons of that ended up in landfills and incinerators. We can all make a difference this holiday season by reducing our waste, so check out our Greening Your Holidays Pinterest board.

About the author:  Ellie Kanipe works in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery on communications. She loves using Pinterest to find cool DIY green projects.

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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De-Cluttering and the Second “R”

By Lina Younes

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español… ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

As part of my fall-cleaning efforts at home, I decided to tackle the closets. When I looked at them, I felt overwhelmed.  Where should I begin? I confess that I was tempted to just close my eyes and throw everything away, but that wouldn’t have been very green. If I just threw everything away, where would it end up? In a landfill!  Most of the items, such as clothes, toys, and electronics, were still in excellent condition and could be reused. So, the project to remove the clutter from my home became a generous gift for a charity.

It was easy going through my daughter’s closet. I just had to look at the sizes to identify what she had outgrown, and I knew which toys no longer interested her.  My closet was a different story.  Since I’ve changed many sizes over the years, I’ve held onto clothes in the hope that I’ll fit into them again or for sentimental reasons.   Why not give them to someone who could use them now instead of waiting for that moment in the unforeseeable future?

While the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) are beneficial to the environment, reducing waste and eliminating clutter offer additional benefits to your surroundings and your health. For example, eliminating clutter is one of the key elements of integrated pest management. By removing clutter, you eliminate hiding places where pests can breed and hide. Who doesn’t want to have a pest free home?

Do you have any tips to get rid of clutter at home? Do you have anything planned to reduce waste and recycle during the holidays? We’d love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed 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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Greening Your Home for the Holidays

By Lina Younes

 As the holidays are fast approaching, now may be a good time to make some green repairs before the festivities. Personally, I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that here on the mainland many people consider spring to be the ideal season for giving the house a good cleaning or overhaul. I remember growing up in Puerto Rico, where the favored time for home makeovers was the fall. One of the main reasons for the different home improvement habits might be the changing seasons. Since in Puerto Rico we had summer virtually all year round, the motivation to fix the house usually was linked to the anticipated arrival of guests over the holidays.

So what can you do to make your home a more welcoming, healthier and greener environment for your family and friends? Here are some suggestions.

  • Clean your air filters regularly to improve the indoor air quality in your home.
  • Look for mold in your home: it’ll grow in areas where there’s water or moisture. Clean the mold on hard surfaces. Discard those items that cannot be cleaned and make necessary repairs to solve the moisture problem to prevent it from reoccurring.
  • Paint your home to brighten it up. However, if it was built before 1978, it might have some old lead-based paint which can hurt you and your family. Make sure painting and repairs are done safely to prevent lead poisoning
  • If you’re renovating your bathrooms or kitchen, consider installing toilets and water fixtures with the WaterSense label. They’re more efficient, so they’ll save water and money while protecting the environment.
  • Heat and cool your home more efficiently with Energy Star. You’ll reduce your energy bills and make your home more comfortable while reducing your carbon footprint.
  • Think of ways you can reduce waste during the holidays, like using reusable plates and silverware and storing food and leftovers in reusable containers.

Are you planning any green repairs for the holidays? Let us know.

 About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

 

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed 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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Adding Up the Impact of a Coastal Weekend Run

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

By Amy Miller

We ran the whole 200 miles of the Reach the Beach relay. Well, not each of us, but all of us together – 12 women from my town – ran the distance between Cannon Mountain and Hampton Beach, NH.

Staying up two nights; cheering on teammates; eating energy bars and date balls for a day and a half; and running three legs in the relay, in my case totaling only 14 miles, were really a blast.

But by the end, I started to wonder about the environmental impact of the relay and the string of vehicles and water bottles it involves. Each of the 450 or so teams had one or two vans and, each of those vans traveled slowly over the New Hampshire roads, dropping off runners, picking up runners, and pulling over to give the runners water. This, I thought, was one of the more frivolous uses of gasoline I had been part of in a while.

So, I decided to find out more about this relay and its environmental impact. Lo and behold, the web site indicates the organizers’ commitment to sustainability. Now in its 15th year, they pledge to ensure the race leaves the “smallest footprint possible on the environment.” To this end, they work with Athletes for a Fit Planet.

Fit Planet provided recycling bins, which were managed by volunteers. Race organizers suggested that teams use giant cloth bags, handed out at registration, to collect bottles, cans, glass, and paper, and then toss these items into bins at transition areas. The race course also hosted portable toilets that used non-toxic chemicals and recycled paper.

The Reach the Beach crew estimates vans and staff vehicles produced about 125 tons of CO2 during the race. To keep that total as low as possible, they urged racers to carpool, come by bus, and purchase $3 tags that offset an estimated 300 lbs. of CO2 – the equivalent of driving 150 miles in a 10-15 mpg passenger van. The offset comes from the wind, biogas, solar, and other carbon-reducing projects funded by proceeds from these tags. Finally, relay folks encouraged us to use bulk water and reusable bottles, which we did. I still feel a bit sheepish about all those miles just for a crazy physical stunt, but I was glad to see the organizers addressing these issues.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, eight chickens, one dog and a great community.

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

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Good Time to De-Clutter the Medicine Cabinet

By Andrea Bennett

For many of us, fall can be a good time to de-clutter things around the house, such as the garage, that closet in the guest room, and the medicine cabinet. While going through that medicine cabinet, it’s not uncommon to find expired and never-used medications sitting on a shelf, just taking up space. Flushing them down the toilet means they wind up in rivers, lakes, and streams, potentially hurting animals living in the water and people who drink it.

Fortunately, there are better and safer ways to get rid of these medicines. During National Drug Take-back Day on October 26th, you can drop off your unwanted drugs nearby, usually at a city or county building, police station, or senior center. Information on locations can be found online or by calling 1-800-882-9539.

You’ll also find that many communities have permanent drop-boxes. You can find information about the closest drug drop-box near you online.  Also, some pharmacies have drop-boxes or can provide mail-back containers for drug disposal.

One of my co-workers explains, “I read in our local paper that the police station had a drop-box, and then one got put up at the senior center, too. I had leftover drugs around the house, plus the doctor changed my prescriptions a few times, so it’s great to have safe places to drop off drugs whenever I want.”

There are even permanent drop-boxes for medication for pets and farm animals. For example, the Berks County Agricultural Center in Pennsylvania accepts veterinary medicines.

If you can’t participate in National Drug Take-back Day or you are unable to use a local drop-box, you still can safely dispose of your unwanted drugs at home by following the instructions on our fact sheet.

Remember, we all need to do our part in keeping drugs out of our water!

About the Author: Andrea Bennett works in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Drinking Water and Source Water Protection. She also participates in hazardous waste recycling days.

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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Do Your Part, Be SepticSmart!

By Maureen Tooke

When you think of infrastructure, you typically think of roads, right? But there is a hidden infrastructure we all tend to forget about since it’s underground: our drinking water and wastewater systems. Unless there’s a water main break or a septic system failure, people don’t tend to think much about them.

In my eight years working in EPA’s onsite wastewater treatment (aka septic) program, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about our nation’s water infrastructure. I’ve also learned a great deal about this country’s reliance septic systems, which treat wastewater onsite instead of sending it down the sewer to a treatment plant. About a quarter of U.S. households and a third of all new construction – both domestic and commercial – rely on these kinds of systems.

Today’s onsite systems aren’t like the one I grew up on. These advanced treatment technologies are able to treat wastewater to levels that protect the environment similar to traditional sewer systems. They’re also able to treat large volumes of wastewater from many homes through the use of cluster systems. As the nation’s population continues to grow, and as cash-strapped rural and small communities look for viable, effective methods to treat wastewater, septic systems will continue to play a critical role in our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.

Low-income and rural communities, especially in the South (with 46% of the nation’s septic systems), are particularly disadvantaged in terms of access to adequate wastewater treatment. This creates an environmental justice concern.
For homes with septic systems, proper septic system maintenance is vital to protecting public health and keeping water clean. When homeowners don’t maintain their septic systems, it can lead to system back-ups and overflows. That can mean costly repairs, polluted local waterways, and risks to public health and the environment.

To help raise awareness about the need to properly care for septic systems, and to encourage homeowners to do their part, this week we’re hosting the first SepticSmart Week, September 23-27. By taking small steps to maintain home septic systems, homeowners not only help keep their communities safe, but can save money and protect property values.

About the author: Maureen Tooke is an Environmental Protection Specialist who works in the Office of Wastewater Management at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. She lives across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, where she kayaks and bikes regularly.

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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