Wastes

Cobbler Cure – Doctor’s Orders

By Thomas O’Donnell It might seem odd to get excited over apple or strawberry cobbler, but this batch touched a special chord. I work in EPA’s Philadelphia office on sustainability and food waste issues. I’ve been trying to find new ways to avoid throwing good food into landfills as part of the agency’s Food Recovery Challenge. The National Resources Defense Council reported that fruits and vegetables make up the largest type of food going to waste from retail stores, 22 percent, in fact. That could easily be more than 14 million pounds of fresh fruit in Philadelphia alone.

Picture of two chefs working in the kitchen

I brought one of the challenge participants, the produce team from Brown’s Parkside Shop-Rite supermarket in Philadelphia, together with Drexel University’s Culinary School. The school’s culinary director and a student were anxious to help and try something new. The school’s mantra in situations where food is heading out the back door is to transform it into healthy, delicious meals. After we got to the store and talked about food recovery options, the folks from Shop-Rite took us to the produce section where they pulled some fruit that had minor imperfections that shoppers were not likely to purchase. A couple of cartons of strawberries and apples went back to the culinary school where the students worked on the challenge of turning what might have been trash into treasure. The next morning, I had six recipes in my email inbox, with the pictures of the cobbler you see included in this blog. (The Shop-Rite folks were the lucky ones who got to enjoy this special treat.)

Picture of a cobbler in a pan.

It’s just cobbler, right? True, but Drexel and Shop-Rite launched a successful experiment in food research that took slightly bruised or not perfectly shaped fruit that was destined for a compost pile, or a trash compactor and transformed it into delicious cobblers. They also created half-a-dozen recipes for things like applesauce and jam. How many times could this be done by someone who wants to make fresh meals for local food pantries or shelters? Could this be a new opportunity for a local business? The experiment has social and environmental benefits – great food for those in need and less food-waste sent to landfills where it becomes methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Fruits and vegetables are among the most difficult foods to repurpose to feeding needy people – a goal near the top of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. This small experiment showed how to create delicious alternatives to disposal, and it was quick and fun. Being part of this little experiment was a blast. And, be assured that we’re going to do more research. Stay tuned!

Cooked cobbler on a plate.

About the author: Thomas O’Donnell (NAHE) is a Sustainability Coordinator with the Mid-Atlantic Region of the USEPA specializing in the Food Recovery Challenge Program. He received a PhD in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia. Tom was one of the originators of the Urban Model for Surplus Food recovery, which is piloting in west Philadelphia. He also teaches at Philadelphia University while developing open, online courses on food systems 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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Get to Know Your Bin

By Colleen Keltz

“We’re in the midst of our Earth Month celebration.”Let’s recycle everything in sight!

Whoa now. Sometimes I get a little excited about Earth Day. After all, there are so many ways you can celebrate Earth Day:

  • Volunteer as part of a neighborhood or stream clean up.
  • Start composting at home or join a community compost program.
  •   Do a bit of spring cleaning and donate, reuse, or recycle the items you no longer need.
  •   Re-familiarize yourself with your recycling bin.
In DC, blue bins are for recycling and green bins are for trash.

In DC, blue bins are for recycling and green bins are for trash.

Think you know what goes in your recycling bin? Well, I’ve lived in the District of Columbia for four years and I just recently looked at DC’s Department of Public Works website to find out what can and cannot go in my residential curbside recycling bins.

The curbside recycling program in DC is single-stream, meaning all recyclables (paper, glass, and plastic) go in the same bin. Pretty easy! After visiting DC’s residential recycling webpage, I realized I could recycle more items than I had thought. In DC, aerosol cans, yogurt containers, and empty over-the-counter medicine bottles can all go in the recycling bin. Great news!

Knowing recycling rules for your area is important because putting the wrong things in the recycling stream can decrease the value of recyclables and even break the equipment at the recycling center. You might be surprised by how different the recycling collection rules are from one area to another. And, you might be able to recycle more than you realized.

I also found out that my area has opportunities for residents to drop off household hazardous waste, pharmaceuticals, and used electronics, as these items require special care when recycling. Sometimes, it can be hard to figure out what to do with odd items that you no longer need – like an old garden hose or used paint. If you find yourself with odd items after spring cleaning, take these steps to make sure the items are put to the best use possible:

  •  If the item still works, give it to a friend, host a garage sale, or donate it.
  • If it’s not on the list of regular recyclables in your community, check for special collection events.

As you approach this Earth Day with great enthusiasm, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with your community recycling program – you never know what may be able to go in that recycle bin!

Happy Earth Day!

About the author: Colleen Keltz began working for EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery in 2008. She’s been excited about reducing, reusing, and recycling ever since.

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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Our Waters Know No Borders

By Allison Martin

On my recent visit to South Texas with our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program, I met with local residents and learned the challenges they face from failing wastewater treatment systems. One person explained how, during heavy rains, she had to wade through thigh-deep water mixed with sewage in her yard. A mother described her children’s skin and stomach problems due to contact with wastewater.  Another showed me a puddle in her yard. Her son stood a few feet away; he must have been well-instructed that this ever-present puddle above the family’s failing septic system was off limits. But as I eyed the small compound, I had a sinking sense that staying away from the puddle was not eliminating the family’s contact with the wastewater.

Many border communities are economically disadvantaged and can’t bear the financial burden to build or repair their water infrastructure. Failing systems can significantly affect the environment, spilling untreated wastewater into streets, rivers and streams. This can seriously affect community health, increasing the risk of water-borne illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, and gastro-intestinal diseases. Unfortunately, these issues are not isolated. The U.S. and Mexico share many rivers, and sewage discharged into them pollutes our shared water resources.

My trip reemphasized to me the importance of our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program. It funds the planning, design, and construction of high-priority drinking water and wastewater treatment systems in border communities. Meeting with border residents gave me a deeper appreciation for the program’s unique technical assistance component, which helps communities select the type of infrastructure that is right for them. The program also emphasizes community participation, empowering residents to get involved in the process. Most importantly, the projects funded by this program help prevent serious health and environmental problems.

To protect the health and environment of those who call the border home, we have to continue to work collaboratively to treat pollution at the source.  Our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program does just that.

About the author: Allison Martin is an ORISE participant in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. Allison supports the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program, Clean Water Indian Set-Aside Program, and Decentralized Program.

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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Becoming a Mom = New Concerns and Habits

By Jessica Orquina

Life changes often lead to new habits or concerns. I have always been concerned about the environment and prefer to purchase products that are not toxic to me, my family, or the planet. For example, I recycle whenever I’m able and I prefer walking or public transportation over driving. However, I have to admit I didn’t nag others about these things and have opted for convenience over sustainability more than once.

This year, my husband and I are expecting our first child. I’m finding this new chapter in my life is changing my habits and causing me to think more about my impact on the planet.

As an expectant mother, my concern about the safety of the products I buy has almost become an obsession. The decisions I make no longer just affect me, my husband, and our home – they now have an impact on our child. This new perspective has me researching and reading labels more. Since I work for EPA, I’m familiar with our Design for the Environment (DfE) program and always look for cleaning products that have the DfE label. This helps me feel good that I am not exposing my family – including my soon to be born son – to unsafe chemicals.

When buying other products, I think about the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. As Lina wrote in a recent blog, the first one can often be the hardest to tackle, but it’s the most important; there’s a reason for that order. I also live in the city and have limited space, so it’s an important one for me to consider. As I’m getting ready for our new baby, I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of stuff that advertisements insist I need as an expectant mother. I’ve tried to focus on getting only what both the baby and I will really need. Even still, I have to get rid of some of my old things to make room for the baby and his gear. This is where two other Rs come in: Reuse and Recycle. To make room for the baby, I’ve been giving the things I no longer need to people that can reuse them, or I’ve been donating them. I recycle the rest.

What do you do to help protect our planet for your children?

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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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Vacation: Culture, Architecture, and Saving Electricity

Jessica in Segovia, Spain

By Jessica Orquina

I recently returned from a trip to Spain. It is a beautiful country with varied landscapes and strong traditions. In addition to enjoying the country’s culture, architecture, and different regional foods, I was intrigued by the ways hotels and businesses in that country save energy. Since beginning to work for the EPA last winter, I have become more aware of how people and organizations around me protect the environment.

During our trip, my husband and I visited a few different regions of Spain. Of course, all of the hotels we stayed at encouraged guests to reuse towels for multiple days to not waste water. But some of the hotels also had a cool way to reduce the amount of electricity being wasted at their properties. In these hotel rooms, we needed to put the room keycard in a slot in the wall to turn on the electricity to the room. When we took the keycard out of the slot to leave the room, it automatically turned the lights and all other electrical devices off, therefore, not wasting electricity when no one was there.

This seemingly small feature made me wonder how many people don’t bother turning lights and televisions off in hotel rooms when they go out. (It’s not their electric bill, so why worry, right?) In addition to creating unnecessary monetary costs, this also creates an avoidable cost on the environment. I wonder why more hotels around the world don’t use this type of technology.

In addition, this experience reminded me how important it is to be conscious that all our actions affect the environment. Even small things – like remembering to always turn the lights and other electronic devices off when we walk out of a room – make a difference.

What technologies or practices that help protect the environment have you seen when you travel?

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a public affairs specialist at another federal agency and is a former military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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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A Second Chance for Homely Peaches, Part II

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lena Kim

Last week, I blogged about the sad plight of the Jersey peach. Each year, an estimated one million peaches in the Garden state are dumped unceremoniously into landfills, simply due to superficial blemishes or size discrepancies that prevent their sale. And this is just a drop in the bushel of what goes on throughout our country, while 14 percent of American families are struggling to put food on the table.

However, I promised a happy ending to this juicy saga, so here it goes:

The Food Bank of South Jersey (FBSJ) brainstormed with local growers how those peaches could be salvaged. The answer? A salsa makeover! They approached Campbell Soup Company, who agreed to produce the aptly named Just Peachy Salsa with rescued peaches. Campbell suppliers agreed to donate ingredients and packaging, and Campbell’s employees donated their time, developing a recipe, canning, even labeling this unique product.

From there, the food bank sells the salsa for $2.99 per jar through the FBSJ website, local events, and starting this holiday season, area ShopRite and Wegman’s Supermarkets. Profits from the sales of Just Peachy Salsa go directly to the FBSJ, helping to feed local families struggling to put food on the table.

Let’s go over this winning trifecta again: 1) Local farmers save good products they spent time and energy to grow while also saving on waste disposal costs; 2) The amount of food waste in local landfills is reduced; 3) A local corporation is able to give back with revenues helping to feed hungry families.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. In this case, life handed the FBSJ a bunch of homely peaches… and they made salsa. Is there a lesson to be learned for the rest of us, who might not necessarily work at a food bank, farm, or food corporation? Absolutely.

The next time we see food that on first glance might appear disposable, let’s all take a closer look. That food just might be like that homely Jersey peach: edible, even delicious, yet in need of a makeover, say, a creative recipe or a different preparation.

Let’s all start rescuing America’s bounty- our Thanksgiving leftovers, our bruised or misshapen fruit, our slightly wilted veggies – from those depressingly large, ever-expanding, methane-spewing landfills. In other words, think of EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge’s rallying call: Feed people, not landfills.

About the author: Lena Kim works with EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge team. She lives in Center City Philadelphia, and frequents New Jersey orchards with friends & family. For more information about where to find the Just Peachy Salsa, click here.

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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The “Greening” of Superfund: Purchasing Wind Energy to Support Superfund Remediation

By James E. Woolford

Like many Americans, my family adopted a “greener” lifestyle – for both environmental and economic reasons. My daughter, learning a great deal of environmental issues in school, picked up a new career as part of the recycling and energy police– rescuing items that “can be recycled Dad!”

So now you might be thinking “that’s very nice, but what does this have to do with Superfund and the cleanup of contaminated properties?” Like many Americans, the Superfund Program, the nation’s primary program for cleaning up the most contaminated sites, is also undergoing a “greening” of daily life. Purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) to support cleanup activities is one effort.

A REC is the environmental benefit (e.g., reduced pollution or greenhouse gases) associated with generating one MWh (megawatt-hour) of electricity from a renewable energy source.

Recognizing that “green” efforts could be adopted in the remediation field, an effort began four years ago, with the federal, state, tribal, local, and the private sector, to “green” our cleanup practices. While the Superfund Program is, inherently, a “green” program (cleaning up contaminated land for productive use), we rely heavily on construction and remediation techniques. to achieve our goals. Cleanup technologies like pumping contaminated ground water to treatment facilities can be energy intensive – 200 fund-financed sites are currently at this stage of cleanup .

To balance this energy use, the Superfund Remedial program purchased 100,000 RECs from wind facilities in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota to be used at sites across America. The RECs are Green-e certified and estimated to cover the electricity needs of projects not already being powered by renewable energy sources for 2012. We estimate our RECs will remove greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to emissions produced by approximately 18,000 cars annually or the emissions generated from about 11,000 average American homes each year.

For additional information on Superfund, please visit www.epa.gov/superfund/renewableenergy. For additional information on ways to incorporate green remediation practices into your cleanup, please visit www.epa.gov/superfund/greenremediation/.

About the author: James E. Woolford is the Director for the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation and is responsible for long-term cleanup of sites under the Superfund program and also promotes new technology and approaches to managing sites.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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A Tale of Two Beaches

By Lina Younes

The images of my summer vacation are still vivid in my mind, but not for the reasons you may think. During the first part of my vacation, my family and I had the opportunity to go to a beach resort with pristine waters and powdery white sands. The ambiance was like heaven on earth. It was the perfect setting to get away from it all. I wish to capture that moment in time forever.

The second part of the vacation was dedicated to family activities and friends. During the course of the vacation, we often went to pastry shop right on the coastal road. We noticed that the pastry and ice cream shop was connected to an outdoor restaurant. So one evening, we decided to have a relaxing family dinner at sunset enjoying the ocean breeze. Boy, were we in for quite a surprise! From the road, you could observe the turquoise waters. But when we actually sat down for dinner by that beach, it looked like a wasteland!!! Mounds of plastic bottles and trash strewed across the beach. There were even black patches of burnt sand where people had burned garbage in the past. The waves kept taking the debris out to sea and back who knows how many times. The saddest part was that people didn’t seem to mind. They didn’t care! I was in a foreign country beyond EPA’s reach. Who could I report the incident to?

While enforcement of environmental laws and regulations is key, we all have to do our part to minimize waste and recycle whenever possible. So when packing for the beach or any outdoor activity, dispose of your waste properly to make this Planet Earth a better place for us all.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. 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 in Greenversations 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.

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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National Video Competition – “Our Planet, Our Stuff, Our Choice” – Closes With Over 200 Submissions!

The U.S. EPA asked for your ideas about how to better manage our stuff and you answered back with your passion, creativity, and many ideas on how to make a difference! U.S. EPA’s national video competition, “Our Planet, Our Stuff, Our Choice,” closed on February 16, 2010 with over 200 submissions. Thanks to all who entered!

Submissions were received from Florida to Alaska and most states in between. Contestants focused on raising awareness of the connection between the environment and the “stuff” people use, consume, recycle, and throw away. The medium was thirty to sixty second videos. Videos focused on both community and individual actions that can make a difference. There were serious entries and funny ones, too. Choosing the top twenty five and finally the prize winners will be tough for the review panel. First, second, and third place prizes will be awarded along with two student winners.

Visit our YouTube site to check out all the entries. Winners will be announced here in April 2010.

About the Author: Melissa Winters joined EPA’s Seattle office in 2007 where she works to reduce the climate impact of materials and their consumption.

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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¡Envuélvalo—no tan rápidamente!

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

En nuestro quehacer cotidiano, nos vanagloriamos de hacer todo de manera más rápida, mejor y más eficientemente. Sin embargo, lo que se ha convertido en la conveniencia también ha resultado en costos imprevistos. Por ejemplo, me refiero a la comida “rápida” y en especial, a la envoltura de esta comida de rápida preparación.

Sea que estemos trabajando o en momentos de ocio, alentamos a todos a comer su comida en utensilios reutilizables y si es posible seleccionar un almuerzo libra de desechos. En realidad, el comer en casa sentados alrededor de la mesa familiar no siempre es posible. Cuando se trata de comer, con frecuencia vamos al restaurante de comida rápida o servi-carros local. Y después buscamos el basurero más cercano para deshacernos de los desperdicios. Mientras puedo entender el llevar tazas de café reutilizables a la cafetería más cercana, aún no veo como práctico el llevar platos reutilizables a la cafetería o al servi-carros más cercano.

Habrán notado que hasta hace poco la gran mayoría de las principales cadenas de comida rápida usaban el foam de poliestireno (conocido comúnmente como Styrofoam) y las envolturas no beneficiosas para el medio ambiente para servir y envolver comida rápida y bebidas. En años recientes, en respuesta a la presión popular, muchas compañías están adoptando medidas de reducción de desechos y utilizan envolturas biodegradables. Más y más compañías están participando activamente en el rediseño de envolturas sostenibles. De hecho, EPA es un miembro fundador de la Coalición de Envolturas Sostenibles, un grupo de profesionales de la industria establecido en el 2004. Esta amplia coalición va más allá de la industria de envolturas de alimentos. Brinda un marco de colaboración en varios asuntos relacionados a la envoltura sostenible a fin de reducir la huella medioambiental de la envoltura. Tengan en cuenta en que los impactos medioambientales de la envoltura van más allá de los desechos que entran a la cadena de desperdicios; como por ejemplo, los impactos de energía y las emisiones de gases con efecto de invernadero en otras etapas en el ciclo de vida de cada producto desde la extracción y adquisición de materia bruta, la elaboración de materia prima en productos, el uso de los productos por los consumidores y finalmente la disposición de los productos.

El programa de consorcio WasteWise de EPA también destaca los avances exitosos en las áreas de procesamiento y envoltura de alimentos así como en la industria de bebidas.

Asimismo, si está buscando más información sobre técnicas de sostenibilidad usadas por su restaurante favorito o cafetería de comida rápida más cercana, puede visitar Earth911.com para consultar un informe de calificaciones de restaurantes. Sobre todo, involúcrese, participe. Usted puede hacer una diferencia para alentar a muchas compañías y al público en general a seleccionar prácticas sostenibles beneficiosas para el medio ambiente.

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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