waste

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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Hunger in My Neighborhood

By Mike Frankel

I occasionally work from home on Fridays, and as a treat, I pick up a great homemade meatball sandwich from a spot not far from my home in South Philly. The route takes me alongside the I-95 overpass. For months, I saw lines of people stretching for several blocks under the overpass. It didn’t matter the weather – rain or shine, hot or cold – there was a line, and I couldn’t figure out what everyone was waiting for. Perhaps a casino bus to Atlantic City?

One cold, dreary Friday, I took a late lunch – and there they were, in line as always: all ages, all
races, all sizes. But for the first time, the line was moving. I pulled up to the curb, eager to finally see what was so important that people had been lining up for months. Then I saw the truck. Its sign read “PHILABUNDANCE” – our area’s major hunger-relief organization. They weren’t waiting for a casino
jaunt. They were waiting for food!

I was shocked and felt somewhat guilty sitting in my warm, dry car with my $10 lunch. How could
this be happening in my diverse middle/working-class neighborhood? Leaving the truck with a bag of food was a familiar face. In that moment, I realized hunger isn’t something that happens elsewhere – my neighbors were hungry.

Shortly after that experience, EPA started working on a new program called the Food Recovery Challenge. I signed on immediately. You may be wondering what EPA has to do with food. Turns out food comprises 21% of municipal waste sent to landfills, more than paper and plastic. That’s not just a hunger problem; unlike other kinds of waste, food decomposes rapidly and becomes a significant source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. Yet every day, we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl Stadium. In 2011, that added up to 36 million tons of food, nearly all of which was sent to landfills or incinerators.

The sad thing is that most of this food is still wholesome and nutritious. Yet one in six Americans are food-insecure: unsure of where their next meal might come from. Diverting even a small portion of the food wasted could potentially feed millions of our neighbors. EPA is working with organizations to buy smarter and divert good food away from landfills to groups like PHILABUNDANCE. And for food unsuitable for feeding families, we’re encouraging organizations to send it to places that compost it to create nutrient-rich natural fertilizer. After all, that will create soil for growing healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables that help feed us. Now that’s a true model of sustainability!

For more information on Food Recovery and what you can do.

About the author: Mike Frankel is a communications coordinator in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. He is part of an agency-wide group promoting food recovery and sustainability.

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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Once Upon a Time NASCAR Went Green With Al Gore and the EPA

By Matt Bogoshian

Could such a story be true?

NASCAR just held their Green Summit this week in Chicago where I was lucky enough to represent EPA with an impressive group of change makers that included, of all people, Al Gore!

I’ve heard a few people question why EPA is helping NASCAR, but I like to think it fits into the story of the future, a story where all of us are on a continuous improvement path toward an America that’s built to last.

I just read Daniel Pink’s new book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, and he talks about the ways people are moved to take action. One way he describes is to tell stories the way Pixar tells stories, so here we go. Using the Pixar way, here’s one way to tell the story of the future:

Once upon a time, we built a strong and rising middle class powered almost entirely by fossil fuels, not realizing that our over reliance on them would hurt us in the long run. Every day for generations, we burned lots of fossil fuels to make stuff, build stuff, eat stuff, go places and have fun. Year after year, auto racing became more popular and NASCAR became part of the fabric of American sport. Then one day, everything started to change and more of us ended up finding new ways to get ahead using fewer fossil fuels and creating less waste. NASCAR joined the effort to improve their own practices, and help their fans learn new ways to save money, that also protect people’s health and the planet. Because of that, more kids learned new innovative skills and had better health. Also because of that, more people found better jobs and created their own businesses to make things that solved problems and added joy to life. Finally, we realized that by enlisting every American and every organization to work together, we could build a low carbon, low waste society that will create a rising and thriving middle class for this and every generation.

Make believe? Together, we’re on the road to find out …

You can help out, too, by using some handy tools found on our new online Green Sports Website. Next week is Pollution Prevention Week. Take steps to prevent pollution by committing to health, planet and money saving action!

Green for Go!

About the author: Matt Bogoshian is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Senior Policy Counsel in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention where he leads EPA and Obama administration efforts to help manufacturers and their supply chains profit by adopting more sustainable practices while harnessing the power of consumers to demand smarter products and services. Mr. Bogoshian combines strengths of efforts such as the E3: Economy, Energy and the Environment framework, the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge, the Design for the Environment (DfE) program, the EnergyStar Industrial program and the SmartWay Partnership to optimize collective benefit for American manufacturers and their communities. Bogoshian helps lead the President’s Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership initiative, designed to accelerate the resurgence of manufacturing and create jobs in communities across the country.

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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New England Students Recycle

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 Jeri Weiss 

After cataloguing every pen and binder in my son’s school supply pile, we’re still left with a long list of things to buy before he heads back to college.  Could it be true that none of last year’s binders could be used again? Didn’t we just buy him a fan for his room last year? What happened to the extensions cords and that plastic bin for his extra school supplies?

Last week I saw how college students at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) are changing how we can think about back-to-school shopping.  A few years ago, a group of UNH students were appalled at the amount of furniture, clothing, and useful stuff being tossed out at the end of the school year.  They learned four times as much trash got picked up in May as in other months throughout the year.  They realized lots of stuff tossed out was in good condition.  And they saw thousands of items that could be cleaned and re-sold in the fall to a new crop of students.

The UNH students raised $9,000 and developed a plan to collect unwanted items in the spring and store them.  Student volunteers helped clean and organize items before the Trash 2 Treasure yard sale in fall. The first year the sale was in a tent and raised $12,000. The next year they needed a larger space and made $20,000. This year, the third Trash 2 Treasure sale was so big it was moved to the UNH Hockey Arena.

According to UNH, the sale diverted 45 tons of waste last year, bringing the total amount diverted over three years to 110 tons. This has saved UNH about $10,000 in disposal fees. The total raised over the three years was $54,000. Through the sale, parents and students saved about $216,000 at the sale.

This is Reuse at its finest.

The students who started the Trash 2 Treasure sale have expanded. They have gotten themselves a board of directors and advisors. They call themselves the Post-Landfill Action Network and hope to support other colleges and universities. Schools that don’t have similar programs can get funding and resources to start one. And the network will support schools that already have move-out programs to help them improve.

It’s great to see students taking action, and to watch as they work to help other colleges and universities reduce their waste.  Maybe next year my son will buy some gently used binders and plastic bins at his own school’s yard sale rather than buying new supplies he won’t need in a year.

Learn more about Post-Landfill Action Network: www.postlandfill.org.

UNH

About the author: Jeri Weiss works in EPA’s Boston office, where she is one of the region’s experts on recycling and waste management issues.

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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Tackling the First R

By Lina Younes

I’ve always encouraged my family to abide by the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Personally, I’ve always made an effort to recycle while I’m at home, at work or on the road. If I don’t find a recycling bin readily available, I’ll hold on to the soda can or bottle and then discard it in the recycling bin I have at home. I’ll do the same with the free newspaper I read on the metro.

Frankly, recycling seems to be the easiest of the 3R principles to live by. In my opinion, the most difficult one to implement is the first one: reducing waste from the outset. It’s ironic that the most difficult principle to live by, reducing waste, is the one that has the greatest impact on the environment.

What are some of the benefits of reducing waste? Well, they include preventing pollution, saving energy and using fewer natural resources in the big scheme of things. But, one of the benefits that we can all understand at the personal level is that reducing waste actually saves us money!

How can you save money at home and have fewer things to throw in the trash? Well, buy products with less packaging. I know that individually wrapped items might seem practical, but how much paper or plastic wrapping will end up in the trash in the long run? Seems like an unnecessary waste to me. Another idea: choose reusable silverware, plates and cups at home and in the office.

Before you go grocery shopping, do you check your refrigerator and pantry to see what you really need? Are you sure that the vegetables in your refrigerator need to be thrown away? Can you, instead, make them into a casserole or freeze them so they won’t need to be thrown in the trash? Remember: we should feed people, not landfills.

With some planning, we all can work to make a difference in our environment. Do you have any tips to share with us? Have you done anything special lately to reduce your carbon footprint? We 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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Small Business Innovation is Mushrooming

Sometimes I worry that one of the enduring manmade wonders of our time will be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You know the Garbage Patch – the huge concentration of marine debris (mostly plastics) floating in the Pacific Ocean. It may still be there centuries from now. I wonder if a thousand years from now, tourists will visit the Garbage Patch the way we do the Roman Coliseum or the Pyramids. They’ll take pictures and stand there with their mouths agape wondering “how could they let this happen?”

Personally, I’m hopeful we can reduce the “greatness” of the garbage patch – and solve many of our other waste disposal problems – by reducing packaging or at least making it more sustainable.

Wine packaging

Wine packaging made from mushroom mycelium by Ecovative Design

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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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Greening Your Child’s College Years

By Lina Younes

Many parents are getting ready for their children to start a new chapter in their lives: going to college. As parents, we’ve made our best efforts to ensure that our children are ready academically and financially as they leave the family nest. Whether these young adults are going to live in a dorm, an apartment or continue living at home, this is an opportune moment for us, as parents, to reinforce green-living habits. Since many will be on their own for the first time, they will benefit from knowing how best to save natural resources and money during this new stage in their lives and beyond.

How about some useful tips that will help them save energy, conserve water and reduce waste?

  • Use Energy Star certified light bulbs in living quarters to save energy while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Thinking of getting a new computer, printer, or electronics for college? Make sure the new device is Energy Star certified. Furthermore, turn your electronics to “sleep mode” when your away from your computer or use a power strip to turn your electronics off for additional energy savings.
  • Is your student getting a new cell phone or mobile device? Encourage them to eCycle the old one.  By eCycling your computer or your phone, you prevent valuable natural resources from being wasted in landfills. Recycling electronics also helps to reduce pollution that would otherwise be generated during the manufacturing process.
  • Water use has a big impact on the environment. Remember to turn off the tap while brushing teeth or shaving and take short showers.
  • Safer detergents. Your children will (perhaps begrudgingly) need to keep their clothes and living space clean. Why not use products with the DfE Label (Design for the Environment) that perform well, are cost-effective, and are safer for the environment?
  • Are your children really environmentally conscious? Do they want to determine their carbon footprint? Have them measure their own carbon footprint with this personal calculator to see their impact on the environment.
  • So, do you have any words of green wisdom that you want to share with us? We 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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Creating a Different Perspective on Hiring a Veteran

By Tom Murray

I work with other federal and local partners in implementing an initiative called “E3: Economy, Energy and the Environment.”  Sponsored by six federal agencies and numerous state and local partners, E3 is a young and growing nationwide effort helping American manufacturers thrive both economically and sustainably.

We just launched a new page on the E3 website This launch is not, in itself, a newsworthy event.  But its topic is — the hiring of veterans and their spouses.  So why is the E3 initiative launching this page?  Well, we think we can help by looking at the issue a little differently, from a supply and demand angle.

I believe that one of the reasons veterans are not being hired at an acceptable rate is that we have been focused so intently on pushing the idea of hiring veterans that we have not concentrated enough on creating a hiring “pull” for these veterans from the manufacturing side.  Through efforts like E3 I think we can help create that “pull”.

Through E3, if we work with manufacturers to reduce the dollars they spend on managing waste, such as wasted energy, time, motion and materials, we will open up more opportunities for them to spend those dollars on plant expansions, new technologies and new hires.   We have several case studies that show this to be true.  By adding this Veterans Page to the E3 website we want to make it easier for these manufacturers to find the skilled workers they need within their local veteran communities.

Will the launch of this E3 Web page help get vets hired?  Only time will tell. But as our veterans to our country have taught us —  to realize success, all of us, myself and my other E3 colleagues at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, and Labor, as well as our state and local partners — — will need to work collaboratively to make it easier to hire veterans.

About the author: Tom Murray joined EPA way back in 1971 and has never lost the passion for pollution prevention and helping manufacturers become more sustainable.

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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Sofrito… Preserving Vegetables While Adding Flavor To Your Meals!

By Lilybeth Colon

A friend was talking about how she hates it when she buys too many vegetables and they go bad because she doesn’t eat them fast enough. As a good Puerto Rican, I couldn’t help telling her about how I always use all my veggies by making “Sofrito” – a mix of veggies and herbs used as a base to many of our dishes. Sofrito can be added to soups, stews, rice, beans, you name it, and it adds tons of flavors! It can be made at the moment or frozen or refrigerated so that you have them every time you want to cook a delicious meal, even when the veggies are off-season.

Not only is sofrito a great way to preserve your veggies, but it helps to prevent wasted food going into landfills. This is important since in 2010 alone, around 35 million tons of food waste was generated in the U.S.! Of that, 97 percent was thrown away into landfills or incinerators! When food decomposes in landfills, it generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. On top of that, 13% of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food. When we waste it, it also wastes all of the resources that went into growing and distributing it. So not only is sofrito flavorful, making it with your soon-to-go bad veggies can help to save the planet!

Make your own! All you need is: (makes 4 cups)

  • 3 cubanelle or green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 8 ajices dulces peppers, seeded1
  • 2 medium onions, cut into large chunks
  • 2 medium heads garlic, peeled
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 12 leaves culantro or recao1
  •   Salt (optional)

Put them together in your food processor or blender and voila! There’s a base for a delicious salsa, soup or stew! Try freezing it in ice cube trays to make it really easy to use in the future. Another idea is to make a more Italian base with tomatoes, parsley, onions, garlic and oregano.

Remember, making sofrito allows you to save money, preserve your veggies, and have them readily available to make delicious foods. And, it helps reduce food waste! Check out other food waste reduction tips.

About the author: Lilybeth Colón is an environmental engineer in the EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, and is an avid cooker. She loves trying new recipes, but often finds herself being creative in the kitchen making up her own recipes.

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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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.

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