Zero Waste is Within Our Reach, But….

By Sarah Levinson

I would have guessed that my fellow EPA employees would be leaders when it comes to recycling and reducing wastes. Turns out we are leaders, but not quite as far out front as I had hoped. In 2015, a presidential Executive Order on Sustainability directed federal agencies to do their best to divert at least half our non-hazardous wastes into recycling and composting, and to work our darnedest to reach zero waste. While we auditwaitiwaitposterat EPA’s New England office have indeed succeeded in diverting more than half our waste to recycling and compost,  our regional office has yet to achieve net-zero waste (defined as sending at least 90 percent of our waste to recycling or composting) despite our best efforts.  We, like many other organizations, face many of the same challenges when it comes to modifying our own behavior.

My job has been to help my colleagues make the “green choice” when managing wastes they generate in the office. By working with a small team of dedicated volunteers, the Green Team as we are known, instituted a composting program and we have done extensive education and outreach to promote both recycling and composting. We have put out recycling guides and compost guides, posted clear signage showing usual items for composting as well as recycling, held informational sessions, provided tips for preventing waste in the first place, and demonstrated the impact that compost amended soil can have on moisture retention and plant growth. We have also reduced paper communications and urged employees to carry reusable shopping bags, even providing the bags in our lobby. We tried to tap into the competitive spirt, running a contest between offices to see which office could divert the most from the trash stream.

Even with all of these activities and ever since we instituted composting which greatly boosted to our diversion rate, our diversion rate seems to have become stagnant. After some thought about this challenge, the Green Team decided that in order to keep improving, we needed to know what was being thrown into our trash. Specifically, we sought to identify “contaminants” that shouldn’t be in the trash.

Consequently, and timed to coincide with America Recycles Day Nov. 15, The Green Team undertook a messy, but

Most of the waste in our trash containers bound for the landfill should have been recycled or composted.

Most of the waste in our trash containers bound for the landfill should have been recycled or composted.

detailed one-day waste audit. Eight dedicated sorters separated 44 pounds of trash in about two hours. To our surprise, although staff had composted and recycled 75 percent of their unwanted materials, we found that two thirds of the material thrown in the trash could still have been recycled or composted. There were apple cores, banana and orange peels, paper bags, plastic containers and glass bottles all in the trash, when these things could have and should have been placed in recycling or the compost collection. It turned out that only a third of the material in the trash was truly trash and furthermore, we found that had staff properly sorted these items, we could have met the goal of zero waste for that day!

So while we didn’t attain our zero waste goal on Nov. 15, we now know that zero waste is well within our reach. Additionally, because we took many pictures of the “contamination” found in our trash, we now are using the photos to conduct targeted education and outreach. We hope that for many, “seeing” the poor choices that they made will turn them into “believing” the errors of their ways and modify their behavior accordingly. Additionally, by looking closely at was in our trash, we are able to strategize and discuss new ideas to implement to further reduce our waste.

I know that the Green Team will persevere with new ideas, and new efforts to guide and motivate behavioral change. I know that the Green Team won’t give up our quest and am confident that it is just a matter of time until we attain our zero waste goal, becoming true leaders in living a more sustainable lifestyle, especially because we have shown it to be possible.

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Sarah Levinson leads the Green Team at EPA’s New England office in Boston.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Transporting Firewood Leads to Unintended Consequences

by Marcia Anderson

A colleague of mine who lives in Maine told me she wanted to bring firewood from her cordwood pile at home into a New Hampshire campground. Although she lives .2 miles from the border with New Hampshire, close enough that an ant’s pace would get you there in a day, restrictions on transporting firewood meant she had to wait and buy wood for $5 a bundle in New Hampshire.

Camping firewood on the move. Photo: © L. Greenwood; The Nature Conservancy

Camping firewood on the move.
Photo: © L. Greenwood; The Nature Conservancy

Firewood has historically been moved with little consideration of the pests it might harbor. However, the issue is getting increasing attention. This year, the US Department of Agriculture and several states put out urgent pleas to avoid transporting firewood.

Over the past 15 years, exotic insects like the Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer and hemlock woolly adelgid have killed millions of trees in the United States. Once established in new areas, these pests can quickly kill trees forests, parks, towns and campgrounds. (see related blog).

Firewood is an especially troublesome means by which pests are spread. According to USDA, the best preventative measure to protect forests from these pests is by limiting the movement of infested materials, including firewood.

Firewood is frequently moved long distances by campers and retailers. Not surprisingly, pest infestations are showing up around campgrounds and highway rest areas. In many states, all trees used as firewood are now regulated since they have the potential to harbor invasive insects and diseases.

Thirty states have imposed various levels of quarantine as a result of the emerald ash borer. Regulations vary by state, but generally include restrictions on importing firewood, movement of firewood within the state, and transportation of firewood into state, local and federal parks. In New England, the emerald ash borer was detected in Connecticut,

Woodpile Photo: © L. Greenwood; The Nature Conservancy

Woodpile
Photo: © L. Greenwood; The Nature Conservancy

Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, along with neighboring NY and Canada and all have various levels of wood quarantine in place. For example, the border was confirmed in all eight Connecticut counties so now that state has restrictions on the movement of all hardwood firewood. People who move firewood must have a document stating the origin and destination of the firewood. Some states have regulations that do not allow wood to be transported beyond a 50-mile radius of a restricted zone. A restricted zone is the quarantine of an infested area that prohibits the movement of logs and firewood outside of the zone. Check USDA’s quarantine map before you move firewood, even to another town. Because EAB does not travel far on its own, limiting human transportation of infested material will slow its spread.

It is recommended to use locally-sourced firewood, or firewood that has verified as pest free. Firewood producers and dealers must provide documentation on the source of their firewood. Seasoned wood may still have insects that can survive for many months. Only firewood heat-treated, kiln-dried at 160° F for at least 75 minutes can be brought into parks, and only with documentation.

RVs and other vehicles that have been parked for long periods can also harbor tree pests and their eggs. Take the time to check your vehicle, especially the wheel wells, and remove any insects. You can also wash down your camper between trips to help remove any hitchhiking pests.

What is at risk from transporting these pests? The trees in your backyard, along your streets, and in your neighborhood, along with the wildlife that depends on them. Jobs in the timber and forestry industries and manufacturing sector, things like flooring, cabinets, pallets, and even baseball bats, are also impacted. Cities and towns then have to pay to remove the hazardous trees killed by pests.

Although my colleague was frustrated she could not bring her own wood, the regulations are meant to protect all of us and our environment. So do your part to help sustain the health of our great forest resources and neighborhood trees.

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Marcia Anderson, who has a doctorate in environmental management, works with EPA’s headquarters on issues related to pest management in schools. She formerly worked in pesticides for EPA Region 2 and has a home in Lyman, Maine

For Connecticut certificate to transport wood: http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2697&q=508886

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

LEDs burning brighter than ever this season

xmastreeoBy Amy Miller

During the days after Christmas, after the toys, books and clothes are unwrapped and the turkey has been eaten, my family likes to cruise through nearby communities and gaze – well OK, pass judgment — on all the beautiful holiday lights.

Good one, my husband might exclaim.

Cool, my son will add.

Tacky, declares my daughter.

Oh look down there, that looks like a good street.

And so it goes, evaluating and just enjoying the displays of light that bring merriment to New England during the darkest days of winter.

Over the years we (or so we believe) have become connoisseurs of the ever more creative displays. In recent years, we keenly observe, displays have become what might technically be called a mish-mash.

Bright bluish white LEDs mixed with old fashion yellow lights. What the industry calls cold blue versus warm blue. And big C9 color bulbs mixed with soft little icicles. Beside all of these lights, a giant Snowman balloon alongside a munching incandescent deer.

Well, if it was bedlam out there, the good news is that we are slowly moving towards a much more efficient display of holiday cheer. And now, while the sales are on is the perfect time to get your LED holiday lights at an especially low cost.

Anecdotal evidence tells you that the ratio of LED bulbs to energy guzzling incandescent lights has gone up significantly. The cause may be greater energy consciousness. Or that the price of LED has dropped enough to draw in consumers. Or as I will argue, it’s because the elves created a more appealing LED light in the warm spectrum, slightly closer to the yellow whites we are used to.

In fact, our backseat analysis of the trend turns out to be true.

According to the Department of Energy, holiday light strands are becoming ever more popular. They’re sturdier, last longer and consume 70 percent less energy than conventional incandescent light strands. It only costs 27 cents to light a 6-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with LEDs compared to $10 for incandescent lights. For those who aren’t mathematicians, that’s a big difference.

Lighting today is safer and brighter than ever. The history of lighting began with candles, pretty but not so safe. Incandescent lights were a step up, and now we have LEDs, which are cooler to the touch and much safer. Plus, they are significantly less likely to burn out or break. LEDs are sturdier because they are made with epoxy lenses instead of glass, so break less easily. Also, as many as 25 strings of LEDs can be connected together without overloading an electrical outlet.”

We know LED holiday lights cost more up-front, but they save a lot of money in the long run. Besides using less energy, they last 25 times longer. I know, because for the first time, I haven’t had to replace my little strand of outdoor lights for two years.

DOE estimates the cost of buying and operating lights for 10 holiday seasons is:

  • Incandescent C-9 lights, $122.19
  • LED C-9 lights, $17.99
  • Incandescent mini-lights, $55.62
  • LED mini-lights, $33.29

OK, so the warm LEDs aren’t quite as cozy as the old white lights, but they are close. Anyway, I’ve come to see those cool blue ones as cleaner, more wintry. I can even envision a time when the yellow ones will seem dirty. And, to my family, they already are feeling unnecessarily wasteful and expensive.

For 2017, resolve to get LEDs. And I hope you enjoy the light shows as much as I do.

Amy Miller works in the Office of Public Affairs at EPA New England.

Fore more information on LEDs: https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/led-lighting

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.