carbon dioxide

Earth Day Every Day: Make the Environment Part of your Daily GRIND(s)

By Heather Barnhart

Disposable Cups

Disposable Cups

My mother always told me that it’s the little things that add up. Don’t get me wrong – BIG things matter too, big things add up to A LOT. But it seems that those big things – like improving air quality and lowering asthma rates around the city (I live next to the BQE, so I know this is a BIG thing) – take a long time, and I may not be able to do anything directly. So, what’s my job? How can I help the environment?

My job at EPA Region 2 – measuring our operational footprint and developing innovative projects to reduce those environmental impacts – is actually a big thing. Executive Orders – the latest being Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decadedefine the federal priorities and goals. The Environmental Management System program describes our local progress toward achieving national goals and reducing our operational footprint. To achieve those goals, I often ask our employees, contractors, interns, other on-site federal employees, and even visitors to do the little things. And, these little things add up. Case in point: our employees were able to reduce their printing by 55 percent last year, which offset a whopping 29 metric tons of CO2.

So, what little things am I asking from everyone working in our offices in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico? My ask is something so easy and so basic that I’m hoping it’s already done. I’m asking people to pledge to give up the disposable coffee cup (and water bottle!) for at least a week or a month or better yet, forever!

Why do I think this will make a difference here in our regional offices, and why do I care about coffee cups? Region 2 recently announced our Zero Waste Policy, which is driving us to divert more of our waste from disposal. To achieve “zero” waste, we rely on increases to recycling and reuse, but, most importantly, we want to stop generating waste (source reduction) because even recycling requires resources and has an impact.

Between contractors, employees, other federal employees and interns, we have about 1,050 people in our offices in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. If we estimate that each person is in the office 190 days per year, and they buy and throw out one disposable cup per day, then we generate about 6,250 pounds of coffee cup waste per year.

But doesn’t EPA recycle all of their trash? Recycling rules differ depending on municipal or local ordinances – those requirements differ for home owners versus businesses in Edison (Middlesex County), New York City, and Puerto Rico. While our regional offices do recycle more than required, coffee cups are not included.

But don’t I waste water when I wash my mug? It’s true, you’ll use water to wash your mug. However, the benefits of giving up disposable cups outweigh the concerns over the amount of water used to wash reusable mugs. True that a full (and energy efficient) dishwasher conserves the most water per cup, but you can still efficiently hand wash your mug using much less water than the 8,095 gallons needed to create 10,000 disposable cups.

Still not convinced? OK – here are more numbers for you (I love numbers!).

Annually Americans throw away 25 BILLION cups per year, which means:

  • 9.4 million trees were harvested just for cups;
  • 363 million pounds of waste were generated; and,
  • 3,125,000 tons of CO2 emissions were generated.

If even half of the EPA Region 2 employees give up their cup, then we offset 12.5 tons of CO2 every year. And, Green Apple – you’re 8.4 million people strong. Together, we can pledge a little thing and make a HUGE difference!

About the Author: Heather Barnhart is the NYC EMS coordinator. She got her start studying forestry at LSU, perfected her Hausa as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, joined Region 2 as a water quality expert, and now works on reducing the office’s footprint. For her, every day really is Earth Day.

 

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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Food Waste Diversion is Key to a Sustainable Community

By Lillianne Brown

Editor’s note: We’re happy to have this blog post from one of this year’s President’s Environmental Youth Award winners.

Over 20% of our country’s landfills consist of food we throw away.

When this organic waste breaks down in the landfill with other types of waste, it produces methane gas. When organic waste breaks down separate from the other waste in your composting bin, it creates carbon dioxide. Both methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases, but methane is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Plus, the compost created from the diverted organic waste is a nutrient rich soil that can be used to garden. Diverting food waste is important because it turns something usually considered waste into a resource, which also decreases the amount of emissions from landfills.

Our project, Zero Waste Composting, has worked with area businesses, restaurants and schools to help divert food waste from landfills. Reducing organic waste has had a significant impact here in Iowa City. Our landfill is able to now produce more compost for the community to use. More people are educated on why composting is important and how they can take part in reducing organic waste in landfills. And, it saves space in the landfills, is economically viable because it generates money for the landfill, and produces less harmful greenhouse gases.

Students diverting food waste instead of throwing it away.

Students diverting food waste instead of throwing it away.

The diversion process and its benefits shouldn’t only be limited to our community. Many communities can get involved and help decrease the amount of food waste being sent to their landfills. Diversion can take place in homes, schools, restaurants and businesses.

At home, families can create a backyard compost pile that can benefit their garden. Food scraps, like coffee filters, egg shells and vegetable and fruit scraps can all be composted in a home composting area. Schools, restaurants and businesses can also start diverting their food waste. It’s an easy transition, with many third-party businesses willing to help. Most food waste, including meat and dairy, can be diverted when being sent to a commercial composting facility. The food waste is then hauled away to a composting facility.

Other cities and towns can learn from our successes and divert food waste from their landfills as well. Communities should start by contacting their local landfill to see what options are available for organic waste diversion in their region. Schools, restaurants and businesses should then educate students, employees and consumers about the benefits of composting before implementing a diversion program. If a compost facility is unavailable in a region, communities can still divert organic waste by showing families how to create backyard compost piles and compost their home food and yard scraps. The model we used is simple, and many communities can implement it.

About the author: Lillianne Brown is a senior at Iowa City High School in Iowa City. She is a member of the Zero Waste Composting team and won the President’s Environmental Youth Award in 2014.

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 Public-Private Partnership That Works

 

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy participates in  a White House Industry Leader Roundtable

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy participates in a White House Industry Leader Roundtable

 

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with private and public sector leaders to discuss ways we can significantly reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems that contribute to climate change and can be hundreds to thousands of times stronger than carbon dioxide. And their use is increasing—U.S. HFC emissions are expected to nearly double by 2020 and triple by 2030.

I came away from the meeting understanding that American businesses are ready to meet this challenge. At the roundtable gathering, Carrier, a major manufacturer of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, committed to the commercialization of HFC-free refrigerants in road transportation refrigeration by 2020, building on its expertise with HFC-free carbon dioxide refrigerant in marine container and food retail. And Lapolla committed to transitioning its entire foam product line to be high-GWP HFC free by 2016.

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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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To Your Good Health: Climate Action May Yield Significant Health “Co-Benefits”

By John Dawson

our_changing_planet_2008_166_20090708_2071842232 (1)Everyone likes a two-for-one deal, and a study published in Nature Climate Change shows we get such a bargain when we reduce carbon dioxide, an air pollutant also known as a greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide emissions from cars, trucks, coal-fired power plants and other fossil-fuel-burning sources are causing a threat to our health because of the pollutant’s role in warming the atmosphere and causing climate change.

Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, EPA, and several other institutions identified co-benefits of reducing greenhouse gases. The study was funded by EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program.

The team used computer models to simulate global air quality under two scenarios. One depicted a world with no global policy to limit greenhouse gases, allowing carbon dioxide concentrations to increase from present levels of just under 400 parts per million (ppm) to 760 ppm in 2100. A second scenario simulated global carbon emission reductions to achieve concentrations of 525 ppm in 2100. Scientists then calculated how these two disparate policies would affect other air pollutants, or “co-pollutants,” that are emitted along with carbon dioxide.

Their analysis showed that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would yield major benefits by improving air quality and public health.

The researchers calculated that the second carbon emission reduction scenario (which includes expected economic growth) would prevent one-half million air-pollution-related premature deaths per year globally in 2030; these benefits would grow to 1.3 million fewer deaths in 2050, and 2.2 million in 2100.

These health benefits are estimated to be equivalent to between $50 and $380 per ton of carbon dioxide reduced globally.

The study shows that the health-related economic benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions may outweigh the costs of control—even before the benefits of reducing climate change are realized.

While a single scenario is not enough to draw definitive conclusions about the ramifications of future greenhouse gas emission reductions, the research does suggest there may be multiple benefits to reductions: limiting climate change, reducing other air pollutants at the same time and providing a safer and healthier environment.

To read the study, “Co-benefits of mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions for future air quality and human health,” go to http://bit.ly/15OY2Xr.

About the Author: John Dawson is a Physical Scientist in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Telling the Truth About the Environment and Our Economy

This is cross-posted from The Huffington Post

By Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

It’s a certainty in Washington that lobbyist talking points and inside-the-beltway speeches are going to be overblown and exaggerated. But lately, misleading claims about the EPA’s work have been making their way into the mainstream debate.

The most notable is an industry report that the EPA is responsible for an unprecedented “train wreck” of clean air standards that will lead to the mass closure of power plants. The “train wreck” claim has been repeated by everyone from congressional leaders to major newspapers. It sounds pretty scary, but the trouble with these reports — there is no “train wreck.”

Earlier this month a Congressional Research Service report concluded that industry’s claims were made “before EPA proposed most of the rules whose impacts they analyze,” and are based on “more stringent requirements than EPA proposed in many cases.”

On the issue of plant closures, I take the word of industry leaders like the Chairman and CEO of Exelon Corporation, who said “These regulations will not kill coal… up to 50% of retirements are due to the current economics of the plant due to natural gas and coal prices.” The Congressional Research Service report also found that EPA’s standards will primarily affect “coal-fired plants more than 40 years old that have not, until now, installed state-of-the-art pollution controls.” That echoed the remarks of the CEO of American Electric Power from April of this year: “We’ve been quite clear that we fully intend to retire the 5,480 megawatts of our overall coal fleet because they are less efficient and have not been retrofitted in any particular way.”

This is just one example from the larger debate over the EPA’s effect on the economy. That’s an important debate when job creation is our nation’s top priority, and that makes it all the more troubling to see the EPA attacked for measures we haven’t actually proposed, and to hear our fundamental responsibility of protecting the health and environment for all Americans targeted as an enemy of job creation.

Some in Washington are working to weaken safeguards and undermine laws that protect our families from pollution that causes asthma, cancer and other illnesses, especially in children. Big polluters are lobbying congress for loopholes to use our air and water as dumping grounds. The result won’t be more jobs; it will be more mercury in our air and water and more health threats to our kids. As a senior official from the Bush EPA recently wrote, “Abolishing the EPA will not cause a revival of America’s economy, but it will certainly result in a major decline in public health and our quality of life.”

It’s time for a real conversation about protecting our health and the environment while growing our economy. EPA’s 40 years of environmental and health protection demonstrate our nation’s ability to create jobs while we clean our air, water and land.

When big polluters distort EPA’s proposals as a drag on our economy, they ignore the fact that clean air, clear water and healthy workers are all essential to American businesses.

They also overlook the innovations in clean technology that are creating new jobs right now. The CEO of Michigan’s Clean Light Green Light recently said, “EPA has opened the doors to innovation and new economic opportunities. By spurring entrepreneurs who have good ideas and the drive to work hard, the EPA has helped give rise to countless small businesses in clean energy, advanced lighting, pollution control and more, which in turn are creating jobs.”

It’s time to recognize that delays of long-expected health standards leave companies uncertain about investing in clean infrastructure, environmental retrofits, and the new workers needed to do those jobs. These are potential opportunities for engineers and scientists, as well as pipefitters, welders and steelworkers. Pledges to weaken or slow proposed standards, many of which have been developed over years and with industry input, prevent businesses from investing in those jobs.

Some leaders in congress have already stated their intent to roll back critical environmental protections when they return to session. Misleading claims are translating into actions that could dismantle clean air standards that protect our families from mercury, arsenic, smog and carbon dioxide. All of this is happening despite the evidence of history, despite the evidence of Congress’ own objective Research Service, and despite the need for job creation strategies that go well beyond simply undermining protections for our health, our families and our communities.

Telling the truth about our economy and our environment is about respecting the priorities of the American people. More than 70 percent of Americans want EPA to continue to do its job effectively. Those same Americans want to see a robust economic recovery. We have the capacity to do both things if we don’t let distractions keep us from the real work of creating jobs.

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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What’s in the Air?

By Sarah Blau

Today when I step outside after a long day of work, I will draw in a nice deep breath of fresh air….hmmm, I wonder what I am actually inhaling?

Oh, there’s definitely some oxygen in there, and probably some nitrogen and carbon dioxide too – I hear these things are common in air. But what with the cars zooming out of the parking lot, the groundskeepers spraying the shrubs, and the commuter bus making its daily rounds, I’m guessing there are chemicals going into my body that I’ve never even heard of.

The point is, pollution doesn’t affect people one chemical at a time. There is a whole plethora of chemicals floating around out there (most common air pollutants) and we want to know what they are going to do in our bodies!

This is why in early March I was excited to attend the Society of Toxicology’s Annual Meeting where EPA announced the creation of four new Clean Air Research Centers (CLARCs). One of the main goals of the centers is to research air pollution mixtures and how those mixtures affect our bodies.

Each of the four university-based CLARCs will receive $8 million over a 5-year grant period. The research centers are located at: Harvard University, Michigan State University, University of Washington, and a combined effort from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Each CLARC will have its own research focus, but the overarching theme of their research projects will be to better understand the health risks associated with air pollution and mixtures. More specific projects include studying the connections between air pollution and obesity, investigating how roadway pollution affects heart and lung health, researching how pollution mixtures and their associated health affects vary by location, and looking at how air pollution affects the human body during different life stages.

The four CLARCs will conduct cutting-edge research to answer a myriad of questions we have about air pollution. Questions such as: Are children born prematurely sensitive to air pollution, Can your morning commute make you sick, Does air pollution affect your child’s learning, or Does obesity make you susceptible to health effects of air pollution?

After hearing the EPA announcement about these centers and all the research projects they intend to conduct, I am looking forward to the day when I will actually know what I am breathing in – and what it is doing to my body – when I step outside after a long day of work and take a nice deep breath of fresh air.

About the author: Writer Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with EPA’s science communication team.

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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Students for Climate Action: Locally Grown Produce

About the Author: Michelle Gugger graduated from Rutgers University in 2008. She is currently spending a year of service at EPA’s Region 3 Office in Philadelphia, PA as an AmeriCorps VISTA

In the US, produce travels an average of 1,500 miles before it reaches the grocery store. If you were to travel that same distance in your car for a piece of produce, you would be emitting almost a ton of carbon dioxide emissions into the environment with every trip! Most of the produce that we buy at our local grocery stores comes from miles away, from all over the world. This means that some of our produce is being sent to our local grocery stores in ships, planes and trucks – all of which release significant amounts of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions along the way.

We can definitely reduce our environmental impact the next time we go produce shopping by purchasing locally grown produce. According to Sustainable Table, if Iowa provided 10 % more produce for its local consumers, an average of 280,000 – 346,000 gallons of fuel would be saved, and 6.7 – 7.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced each year!

Eating locally grown produce is also one good way for you to become a climate ambassador in your community. You can educate your friends and family about our food system and the environmental importance of eating locally grown produce.

  • LocalHarvest.org will help you find local farmers in your community.
  • BackyardGardener can help you learn more about staring your own garden to take advantage of the spring and upcoming summer season by growing your own tomatoes, herbs, carrots, peppers, etc.

Be sure to share some more ideas on how we can all eat locally!!!! And let us know how you plan on reducing your environmental impact through sustainable produce practices.

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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