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Combating Wasted Food: Good for the Environment, Good for Your Bottom Line

2014 November 24
Mathy Stanislaus


November 24, 2014
3:50 pm EDT

Here’s a really smart way for businesses – from restaurants to grocery store chains to hotels and more – to boost their bottom lines: Reduce wasted food.

This week we’re holding a week of action on wasted food. It’s all about sustainability – environmentally and economically – and how we meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of tomorrow.

In 2012, the United States threw away about 35 million tons of food – more than any other type of waste going to landfills. When that wasted food gets to the landfill, it rots, generating methane gas – one of the most potent contributors to climate change. All of this waste also squanders the water, energy, nutrients and money used to transport that food.

At the same time, many Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that, in 2012, 14 percent of households regularly did not have enough food to live active, healthy lifestyles.

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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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A Plastic Problem in the Chesapeake

2014 November 24
Jeff Corbin


November 24, 2014
2:57 pm EDT

Maybe you’ve heard of “micro plastics.” They’re created when plastic products eventually break down into tiny particles that drift in our ocean waters and can be eaten by fish and other wildlife.

They’re a big problem globally, as is trash from plastic products in general. As much as 80 percent of trash in the ocean comes from sources on land, and up to 60 percent of this trash is plastic.

I got an offer from two conservation groups to tag along as they trawled the upper Chesapeake Bay waters to assess the extent of plastics pollution. As an oceanographer, I always cherish the days that I get to take my off my tie and get back out on the bay, so I was eager to join them.

I predicted that we wouldn’t find much. My theory was that the Chesapeake Bay is too dynamic, with its constant tides, winds and currents, as opposed to the somewhat quiet open ocean circulation patterns that can concentrate plastics pollution.

I was wrong.

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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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Working Across the Globe to Tackle Risks from Lead in Paint

2014 November 21
Jim Jones


November 21, 2014
2:01 pm EDT

It’s striking to me that children in developing countries still face serious health threats because lead continues to be legally used in paints in places where children live and play. Paints with concentrations as high as 10,000 ppm can be sold and used in homes and schools because there are no legal limits on lead. In addition, children may also be exposed to risks from lead in the air, soil and water in these countries. Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

That’s why last month in New Delhi, India, we stood with our partners in the Global Alliance to End Lead Paint to work toward establishing legal limits on lead in decorative paint in other countries.  We presented elements of U.S. legislation and coordinated technical expertise from the U.S. and countries around the world.

group picture of conference attendees

At home in the U.S., we already have in place federal and state regulatory standards that have helped minimize or eliminate the amount of lead in gas, air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, and the workplace. Our health and environment has significantly improved with these restrictions and blood lead levels have declined. The median concentration of lead in the blood of children between the ages of 1 and 5 years dropped from 15 µg/dL in 1976-1980 to 1.2 µg/dL in 2009-2010.

However, our work is not done. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2009-2012 show an estimated 535,000 children (or 2.1 percent of children) in the U.S. have blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 micrograms per deciliter, levels known to put children’s academic and later life success at risk. Also, CDC’s blood lead surveillance data, collected from state and local health departments, continues to identify a disproportionate share of children with elevated blood comes from low income and minority communities. Finally, it is estimated that 37 million homes still contain lead-based paint.

Because there is no known safe blood lead level for children, EPA and other federal partners continue to work together to control or eliminate lead hazards before children are exposed. While we have made significant progress to reduce children’s exposure to lead, there is still more work to do.

Find out more about reducing risk from lead.

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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Let’s Talk About Feeding People, Not Landfills

2014 November 19
Mathy Stanislaus


November 19, 2014
4:18 pm EDT

We throw more food into landfills than any other material. A typical family of four loses about $1,600 each year by tossing out wasted food, which rots in landfills generating methane gas and contributing to climate change.

What can you do to reduce the amount of wasted food while you’re at home or at work? Composting, donating safe untouched food to local food banks, buying only what you need by planning your menus for the week, and using leftovers are just some of the ways you can help feed people, not landfills.

One in six Americans struggle to put food on the table. Donating your excess canned and dried foods to food banks and shelters can help those in need while protecting the environment.

To learn more, or ask me questions about what you can do, join our Twitter Chat on Friday, November 21 starting at 10:30 am ET. I will be joined by other Agency experts to answer your questions and share tips on how each of us can play a significant role in reducing wasted food. On Friday, use the hashtag #NoWastedFood and follow @EPAlive to participate in the food recovery conversation.

Food is too good to waste, so let’s be part of the solution and divert food from landfills.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response

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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Reduce Food Waste to Make a Difference This Holiday Season

2014 November 19
Gina McCarthy


November 19, 2014
10:50 am EDT

The holiday season is almost here—a time to share gifts, food, and happiness with friends and family. It’s also a time to remember those struggling to make ends meet. This holiday season, consumers and businesses can make a difference by reducing food waste, which helps save money, feed the hungry, and protect the environment.

The facts are striking: Americans throw out a third of all the food we grow, harvest, and buy, costing the average family of four $1,600 every year. Not only do 25% of our nation’s freshwater supplies go toward growing food that never gets eaten; food waste also creates 13% of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do to reduce the food waste that’s costing our families, depleting our natural resources, and contributing to climate change.

Plan ahead—before meals, especially large meals at the holidays, plan out how much food you and your guests need and stock up accordingly. EPA’s Food: Too Good to Waste program offers families toolkits to reduce food waste and save time and money at the check-out line.

Store safely—properly storing leftovers keeps them safe to eat longer. Using individually sized containers makes them easy to grab for another meal later.

Donate excess—According to the USDA, 1 out of 6 Americans struggle to put food on the table. By donating excess canned and dried foods to food banks and shelters, we can help those in need while protecting the environment.

Compost food scraps— make waste work for you. Instead of throwing out scraps, composting keeps food out of landfills and provides valuable nutrients for your garden.

And before food ever leaves the shelves, businesses can play a vital role by joining over 785 organizations taking part in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. By keeping better track of food inventories and setting food waste prevention goals, businesses can lower purchase and waste disposal costs, avoid wasted employee time, and improve bottom lines.

Major organizations are leading in this area. Disneyland, MGM Resorts International, Nestle USA, and all the teams in the National Hockey League are just some of the participants in our Food Recovery Challenge. I look forward to seeing continued success as we follow through on our obligation to protect the environment and our fellow citizens.

This holiday season, let’s commit to reducing food waste so we can help feed the hungry, fight climate change, and save money. When businesses and consumers work together, we all win.

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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Your Input Helps Protect Clean Water

2014 November 14
Gina McCarthy


November 14, 2014
11:29 am EDT

Clean water is essential to our health, our economy, and our way of life. And the Clean Water Act of 1972 is both an environmental success story and one of America’s greatest economic triumphs. Back in the 1970s, 2 out of 3 of our nation’s waterways were polluted. Today, 2 out of 3 are healthy. Cleaning up pollution boosts our economy—by creating jobs, lowering health care costs, and clearing the way for commerce.

That’s why we have to make sure the Clean Water Act works the way it’s supposed to. But right now, 60 percent of our nation’s streams and wetlands lack clear protection and 1 in 3 Americans get their drinking water from sources at risk. So earlier this year, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to safeguard the clean water we all depend on.

Today marks the end of an extensive public comment period on our proposed rule—more than 200 days long—during which we held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders and received over a million comments on our proposal.

EPA and the Army Corps appreciate everyone’s input on the rule, and we want you to know we’re listening.  We heard a variety of views.

Many brewers and business owners stressed the economic importance of clean water to their operations. Hunters and anglers reinforced that clean water is essential to recreation and tourism. Faith groups shared that clean water is central to protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Others expressed reservations about our proposal. Some in the agriculture community raised concerns that our proposal will regulate water on their property, making it harder for them to do business. That’s not at all our intent, and we’ve been working with them to address their concerns in the final version.

We appreciate everyone who engaged with EPA. Whether they supported the proposal or wanted changes, their voices were heard and their input will help shape the final rule. That’s how this process works. By offering a draft rule and taking public comments into account, EPA and the Army Corps are considering all viewpoints and will come up with a final version that’s strong and workable. Everyone’s perspectives matter to us.

Over the coming weeks, EPA and the Army Corps will work through the comments we’ve received and decide how best to incorporate them into a final rule. We appreciate your input, and we encourage you to stay tuned.

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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EPA Researchers in Duluth Profiled by White House for Protecting Honey Bee Habitat

2014 November 12
Lek Kadeli


November 12, 2014
11:08 am EDT

By Lek Kadeli

About 10 years ago, EPA’s Research Laboratory in Duluth, Minnesota, turned 1.9 acres of manicured lawn back into native prairie, seeded with native grasses and wildflowers. This lab, recognized across the scientific community, centers its research on the effects of pollution and chemical exposures on the environment – particularly aquatic ecosystems, fish and wildlife.

The results of restoring the prairie have been inspiring. The lab saves $3,500 in maintenance costs every year, and EPA staff get to see butterflies, birds and spring and summer blooms that brighten their workdays. Instead of the periodic roar of lawnmowers, they can stroll the grounds during their breaks in quiet solitude, maybe even catching an occasional glimpse of deer, fox and other wildlife.

These 1.9 acres of prairie have also provided an important place for bees and other pollinators to thrive – and this relationship between the pollinators flying about and the habitat of native plants recently caught the attention of the White House. EPA’s Duluth Lab was highlighted in the recently-released White House document, Supporting the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. The document supports President Obama’s memorandum recognizing the critical role pollinators play in food production and our economy.

Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to the nation’s agricultural crops each year, but populations of honey bees and other pollinators have declined over the past 50 years. EPA has taken a number of actions to protect pollinators – and there’s more to come.

There will be two listening sessions in the Washington, DC metro area, on November 12th and November 17th, where people can provide input into a federal strategy to be developed by the National Pollinator Health Task Force. The task force is co-chaired by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Key parts of the strategy will include a research action plan, public-private partnerships, public education about the importance of a healthy environment that includes pollinators, and ways to increase and improve pollinator habitat. Learn more about the listening sessions here.

The EPA has a vital part to play in protecting bees and other pollinators. Some lucky employees looking for inspiration for their work can get it just by stepping away from their desks for a stroll.

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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Veterans Day Lessons from My Father, a Tuskegee Airman

2014 November 10
Gwen Keyes Fleming


November 10, 2014
3:15 pm EDT

On Veterans Day, we honor the heroes who made our nation and our world better for others, who created a path for peace, and who served as stewards of our nation’s ideals.

It’s also a day to remember those close to each of us who served. For me, that was my father, Andrew J. Keyes, who served as a Tuskegee Airman from 1944-1946. During those years, he trained as a pilot and ultimately served as a sergeant in the control tower, where he cleared the way for safe landings for the first African-American pilots in the U.S. military. He faced numerous obstacles—but he never let that stop him.

After his military service, he was educated via the GI Bill, became a devoted husband and father, and continued his public service as a civilian Department of Defense employee for more than 40 years.

What inspired his military service was what drove him the rest of his life—a desire to serve others and make this country better. From him, I learned simple but profound lessons: Never give up. Work for a cause greater than yourself. And always, always aim high.

Those were the values he instilled in me every day, and I see the same drive and sacrifice in our veteran employees at EPA.

Since President Obama launched the Veterans Employment Initiative in 2009, EPA has hired more than 350 veterans, bringing our agency-wide total to over 1200. And in addition to their commitment to public service, they bring training, resilience, and crucial problem-solving skills to help tackle some of our nation’s most complex environmental issues.

EPA works with other agencies, the private sector, and colleges and universities to recruit veterans every day. For example, we’ve partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer on-the-job training, and to connect veterans with disabilities to careers in the water and wastewater sectors.

Last week, we hosted a Veterans Day Celebration featuring Admiral Michelle Howard of the U.S. Navy. She described environmental stewardship as mission-critical for the U.S. military—because when they conserve our natural resources, reduce waste and boost energy efficiency, they gain a tactical edge. Our EPA veterans embody this premise every day as they work to achieve this agency’s mission: protecting public health and the environment.

On Veterans Day, we thank those heroes still with us, as well as those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We at EPA know we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs were it not for the freedoms they’ve secured, the peace they’ve preserved, and the ideals they’ve defended. We must not only say “thank you;” we must pay it forward and strive so that every free American receives clean air, clean water, and healthy land to call home.

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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Local Government Officials Weigh in on the Clean Water Proposal

2014 November 7
Ken Kopocis


November 7, 2014
1:00 pm EDT

Across the country, thousands of local governments manage our nation’s water resources, so their input is critical to shaping our proposal to protect clean water. Last spring, Administrator McCarthy asked the 28 members of EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) to provide frank and candid recommendations on how the clean water proposal intersects with the important issues and priorities facing local officials.

LGAC members came together to help the EPA “make the best rule possible.” The Agency and the LGAC absolutely share that goal, and that is what we seek to achieve by engaging with thousands of stakeholders before and during the public comment period.

I thank the LGAC members for their hard work and personal commitment in gathering input on the clean water proposal. On top of their regular responsibilities of managing cities and governing counties, they volunteered countless hours and traveled thousands of miles to engage with other state, local, and tribal leaders to craft a thorough report and set of recommendations. They sought input through a series of public meetings held in St. Paul, MN; Atlanta, GA; Tacoma, WA and Worcester, MA.

These meetings demonstrated overwhelming support from local officials for clean water and the EPA partnership with state, local, and tribal governments. Bob Dixson, Mayor of Greensburg, Kansas and chair of the LGAC, said that “The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule is an important tool for federal, state, tribal and local officials to use in our collaborative role in environmental stewardship.”

Susan Hann, City Manager of Palm Bay, Florida, found that “The EPA’s engagement with the LGAC broadened the community conversations regarding the proposed rule and is indicative of the Administrator’s call for a new era of partnerships.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed noted, “I know how vital it is to have the local voice heard at the federal level,” and he went on to say that “this is a critical time in which water is needed to strengthen our economy.”

On November 5, LGAC concluded its six-month review of the clean water proposal and passed its recommendations to Administrator McCarthy. Their report presents more than 50 recommendations to the Agency ranging from rule language, clarity of definitions, permitting innovation, and implementation.

Input from stakeholders is critical to our activities here at EPA and we gratefully receive the LGAC’s report, along with the comments of state, local, and tribal officials from around the country. They will certainly impact the final rule as the Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work to address concerns raised.

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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New England Communities Ramp Up for Renewable Energy

2014 November 6
Curt Spalding


November 6, 2014
10:53 am EDT

At EPA, we’re constantly promoting sustainable development.  Renewable energy is at the top of that list because it’s an upfront investment that improves the environment and saves money.  It’s a win-win from every angle.

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend time driving through the tunnels of deep red maple trees and brilliant yellow birch leaves that mark New England in autumn. My purpose: see a sampling of the most impressive, innovative clean energy projects in New England. These solar, waste-to-energy and bio-mass projects are cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, providing jobs and boosting local economies.

I’m proud to represent a region on the forefront of environmental and energy policy. Some of the projects I saw – including in New Bedford and Dennis, Mass. – were located on former landfills, making productive use of otherwise afflicted space. And the clean energy efforts in Burlington, Vt., are a reminder of what we all can achieve.

Photo of EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding and U.S. Congressman Bill Keating at a Dennis, MA solar installation.

EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding and U.S. Congressman Bill Keating at a Dennis, MA solar installation.

 

In the Massachusetts town of Dennis, on Cape Cod, I saw the launch of New England’s largest solar development – 22 megawatts of panels that will provide half the electricity used in Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. This project includes nine solar arrays, including seven sitting on capped landfills. Altogether, this project will reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of more than 2,700 passenger vehicles. It’s the latest piece in the state’s ambitious goal to create 1600 MW of solar energy by 2020.

Photo of solar panels in Dennis, MA.

Solar panels in Dennis, MA.

 

In Dartmouth, Mass., I stood at a city landfill where a new plant will turn food waste into energy. This bio-energy facility will be the first of its kind in the state: an anaerobic digester generating biogas for use at the Crapo Hill Landfill. The digester will initially accept up to 3,000 gallons a day, though it’s eventually expected to take 30,000 gallons. This plant was built in preparation for a state regulation that forbids commercial businesses over a certain size from discarding food waste in landfills.

In nearby New Bedford, I saw a former 12-acre landfill turned into one of the country’s most forward-thinking and innovative clean energy projects: 5,490 solar panels will create 2 MW of power, and will help meet the city’s goals of purchasing power from renewable sources. A $15 million Superfund cleanup allowed the city, working with other public and private groups, to reuse this property to produce clean, sustainable power. New Bedford’s investment installing solar panels around the city is a model for other towns and cities across the country.  The trend is clear:  What used to be a waste pit has become a source of energy for the city.

The highlight of my trip was a day in Burlington, Vt., once again in the forefront of environmental protection. As of this fall, Burlington became the first city in the country to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy. They set that goal in 2004, and met it as of September with a mix of hydroelectric, wind and a bit of bio-gas.  It’s enough to give electricity to all 42,000 residents.

In addition to clear environmental benefits, Burlington will see financial advantages. The town won’t have any rate increases right now, and as the latest hydroelectric station is paid for over the next two decades, the city will see a savings. And Burlington’s energy prices are not tied to fossil fuels.

Burlington is the leader in a state that has set a goal of reaching 90 percent of energy — including heat, electricity and transportation — from renewable resources by 2050. It was wonderful to be in Burlington and see its success in leading the way, proof that it can be done.

These projects all represented the kind of innovative and practical investments we encourage at EPA.  We have a moral obligation to reduce carbon pollution in this country, and in order to do that we have to lean more heavily on alternative sources of energy.

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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