Composting

The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Goes Green Every Day

PPPL Dress

Dana Eckstein shows off her dress made of recyclable CDs for an America Recycles Day fashion show.

By Rachel Chaput

 

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) is focused on sustainability every day with everything from a composting program in the cafeteria to awarding prizes for employees caught “green handed” to celebrate America Recycles Day.

PPPL is a national laboratory that is funded by the Department of Energy and managed by Princeton University. The campus sits on an 88-acre parcel with woods and wetlands. There, since the 1950s, researchers have been experimenting with ways to produce clean, renewable, and abundant electric energy from nuclear FUSION. Yes that’s right, fusion, not fission. It’s the same energy that powers the sun and the stars. PPPL’s main experiment, the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U) is going to reopen this year after completing a $94 million upgrade.

PPPL Compostable

Compostable service ware used at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

There is an open collaborative relationship with researchers in other countries to get this done, and the beneficial payoff to the world if it could be achieved would be huge. We wish them the best of luck!

PPPL shows its commitment to the environment in other ways as well. They are a long time, committed partner within EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and WasteWise programs, and also participate in the Federal Green Challenge. These are sustainability partnership programs run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which strive to conserve natural resources and promote sustainability. PPPL has been recognized by EPA for good performance in these programs repeatedly, notably with the 2012 EPA WasteWise Program’s Federal Partner of the Year award.

Margaret Kevin-King and Leanna Meyer, PPPL employees who manage the sustainability efforts at PPPL, try to cover all the bases. While PPPL participates in all of the routine recycling of cardboard, paper, plastic and metal, they also do a lot of extras. They compost their food waste and recycle cooking oil to produce biodiesel. They purchase compostable service ware. The Lab also collects razor blades (a safety issue) and universal waste, including lithium batteries.

These ladies bring real commitment to their jobs. Ms. Kevin-King says that on Earth Day, her family and friends text her holiday greetings, because they know it’s the most important holiday of the year to her! Ms. Meyer has made a careful project out of color-coding the recycling bins and trash disposal areas within the lab facility.

They try to bring a creative flair to many of the sustainability efforts at the PPPL. For example, they and members of PPPL’s Green Team offered prizes this year for America Recycles Day to employees who were caught ‘green-handed’ with a reusable cup or reusable lunch bag. They also collect electronics for America Recycles Day and Earth Day. This year, PPPL is recycling everything from office supplies to goggles and hardhats. Check out the pictures of the fashion show they held in years past to celebrate American Recycles Day! These outfits were put together using materials that would otherwise be discarded. It’s good to make work fun!

PPPL Sign

An example of PPPL’s advanced recycling guidelines. How does your office measure up?

 

 

 

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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Sustainable food management: a win for water

by Luke Wolfgang

The recent announcement of a national food waste reduction goal to cut food waste in half by 2030 has great promise for not only getting more of the bounty of our food supply to those in need, but also reducing methane generated in landfills. But did you know that reducing food waste – in 2013, estimated at 35 million tons in the US – also helps reduce water consumption and promote healthy waters?

EPA helps universities, grocery stores, sports stadiums, hospitals, and prisons divert food waste from landfills through the Food Recovery Challenge (FRC). The FRC focuses on a food recovery hierarchy, ranging from less preferred options, like landfilling, to more sustainable approaches like feeding the hungry.  Here are a few examples of how different parts of the food recovery hierarchy also protect water resources.Sustainable food

Here in the mid-Atlantic, participants in the FRC generated 67,000 tons of compost in 2014.  According to USDA, every 1% of organic material added to the soil increases soil water holding capacity by 27,000 gallons of water per acre.  The benefits of adding compost to local growing fields and landscaping not only saves water resources needed to grow food, but also reduces the amount of runoff of sediment and nutrients from entering local waters.  Compost can even play a role in bioremediation by helping to degrade and bind contaminants in the soil.  In this way, the compost not just saves water, but it can also improve the health of waters in the mid-Atlantic.

Food donation is another important part of the food recovery hierarchy. In 2014, mid-Atlantic FRC participants donated over 9,600 tons of food to feed those in need!  It took a lot of water to grow that food – when food is wasted, all of that water is wasted, too. In fact, if that 9,600 tons of food had been wasted instead of donated, and assuming it was all one food (let’s say, lettuce), it would be equivalent to wasting enough water to fill the Philadelphia Eagles’ stadium to the upper deck!

In one last look at the food recovery hierarchy,  FRC participants in the mid-Atlantic reported that they had reduced 9 tons of food at the initial source through better purchasing, storing, and handling practices. Even simple changes like these can have a big impact.

You, too, can help reduce food waste and preserve water resources at the same time. Take some time to learn about sustainable food management, start composting, or help organize food donation in your community.

About the author: Luke joined EPA in 2003, and is currently the regional contact for EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and WasteWise programs in the Land and Chemicals Division.  In his free time, Luke is an avid fly fisherman who enjoys tying his own flies to fool elusive species like Carp and Muskellunge.

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

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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Let’s Talk About Feeding People, Not Landfills

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

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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NYC‘s First Family Promotes Composting

By Tasfia Nayem

On my Twitter feed this weekend, in the midst of cat videos and movie trailers, was another video, this time featuring NYC’s own First Family. In the minute-long look into the de Blasios’ Brooklyn home, we see the mayor and his family collect their compostable waste for curbside organics collection.

Almost one-third of the waste generated by NYC residents is compostable. That’s 1.1 million tons of waste (enough to fill Yankee stadium from top to bottom!) unnecessarily being sent to landfills every year. To combat this issue, the city adopted a pilot program under which the Department of Sanitation offers curbside collection of organic waste to select NYC schools, residences, and institutions. Under the ongoing pilot program, which is in effect until 2015, 100,000 households in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island can have their compostable waste collected right from their homes. Residents not currently covered by the pilot program can bring their compostable waste to many farmer’s markets and other local organics drop-off centers.

According to the NYC Recycling program, curbside organics recycling can help the city reduce millions of dollars in landfill disposal costs, achieve recycling goals, and reduce pests by storing food waste in special rodent-resistant bins. The city will then turn organic waste into compost which can be used to fertilize gardens, parks, and street trees, or into renewable energy which can be used to power thousands of homes.

“Recycling food and yard waste is a lot easier than people think,” daughter Chiara de Blasio reminds us in the video. Curbside organics collection not only includes food and yard waste, but can include meat, eggshells, and soiled paper products, including pizza boxes and dirty paper towels. All that’s involved is placing the compostable waste into a collection bin similar to those used for garbage and recycling pickup.

Though my home is currently not in the curbside pickup pilot area, I can only hope the program is fully adopted by the city. Making composting more accessible would let New Yorkers take easy steps towards decreasing the city’s footprint, preventing pollution, and fostering a culture of environmentalism in NYC. Until then, I’ll just be taking my compostables over to the organics drop-off center at my local farmer’s market on my weekly trips to splurge on local cheese!

Find out more about NYC’s organics recycling here.

Learn more about composting.

See if your home is offered curbside organics pickup.

Find an organics drop-off center.

About the Author: Tasfia Nayem is an intern working in the Public Affairs Division of EPA’s Region 2. She holds degrees in Environmental Studies and Biology, and is going to go home and start a composting bin.

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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Deep Impact

Research to support environmental justice is a priority for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. To highlight that important work, we are reposting the following from the Environmental Justice in Action blog.

 

By Gelena Constantine

Learning about environmental justice is much more than participating in meetings or sending e-mails. To fully understand what communities are experiencing first-hand, you have to experience it. That’s why I embarked on a learning opportunity with EPA’s Region 3 Philadelphia Office of Enforcement, Compliance and Environmental Justice (OECEJ) last summer to learn how the elements of environmental justice, science, and technology coalesce in communities.

My first day consisted of the typical introductions. I met with the Region’s Counsel, Danny Isales, who advises OECEJ on multi-media enforcement issues, many involving environmental justice. At that time, Danny was providing input on a new enforcement case involving a compost center that takes in food waste and places it into large piles for composting. The size of the compost and outdoor temperature created an overpowering odor for the neighboring community.

Truck parked at a composting facility

Mountains of material waiting to be processed.

When I drove by the facility with other EPA personnel, the stench was definitely apparent from a distance, and I could see its proximity to the community. There were mountains of material that also included more plastic bags than I could count. We were followed and approached by a worker from another company in a pick-up truck. He inquired about our actions, and once we shared that we were from EPA and what had been reported, he proceeded to share his unfortunate experiences with the foul smell. According to him, “…depending on the wind direction, some days you’d be knocked off your feet.” It was interesting to see that it wasn’t just the residents that were being affected, but the neighboring workers were as well.

 

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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Deep Impact

By Gelena Constantine

Learning about environmental justice is much more than participating in meetings or sending e-mails. To fully understand what communities are experiencing first-hand, you have to experience it. That’s why I embarked on a learning opportunity with EPA’s Region 3 Philadelphia Office of Enforcement, Compliance and Environmental Justice (OECEJ) last summer to learn how the elements of environmental justice, science, and technology coalesce in communities.

Untitled-3

mountains of unprocessed material

My first day consisted of the typical introductions. I met with Regional personnel who discussed a composting facility which EPA was concerned may have been the source of certain odors in the neighborhood. Additionally, I was informed that the facility had been found out of compliance by the state environmental agency and had been issued an order and was fined by the state.

When I drove by the facility with other EPA personnel, the stench was definitely apparent from a distance, and I could see its proximity to the community. There were mountains of material that also included more plastic bags than I could count. We were followed and approached by a worker from another company in a Untitled-2pick-up truck. He inquired about our actions, and once we shared that we were from EPA and what had been reported, he proceeded to share his unfortunate experiences with the foul smell. According to him, “…depending on the wind direction, some days you’d be knocked off your feet.” It was interesting to see that it wasn’t just the residents that were being affected, but the neighboring workers were as well.

I thought that a compost center would be a positive addition to the industrial park it was located in and the local neighborhoods, but it turned out to be much more complex than that. I’d learned that the compost wasn’t being processed within an appropriate amount of time, partly because of the sheer amount, in addition to insufficient staffing.  The company was eventually fined by the state and they hired additional workers.

Residences in close proximity to the composting plant

Residences in close proximity to the composting plant

Next, I visited the office of The Clean Air Council, an EPA EJ grantee that works with communities in the same area. They have interviewed residents about their concerns with the compost plant to help enable the community to find a solution for this problem. When I followed up with the grantee several months later about their work with the composting facility, they shared that none of the residents wanted to speak against the company in court, and they were trying to figure out a way around that challenge. They were afraid of being victimized economically, as many of the residents are employees of the neighboring companies, or just fear in general fear of speaking out.

The community expressed the problem and worked to collaborate and communicate with federal and state government to fix it.  However, the momentum and power of holding the facility accountable and deter them from future mistakes were somewhat impeded because of fear.

My visit was extremely illuminating. There are many laws and technologies in place to assist in environmental justice efforts, but implementation and enforcement is not always clear-cut as one might think. My experiences helped cultivate a better understanding of what I’ve spent the last two and a half years of my professional career assisting the Agency and many other partners doing: Positively impacting human health and general well-being, people’s livelihood, their history and future.  It is gratifying to know that we are making a difference, and doing what we can for those whose voices sometimes go unheard.  Although not all problems can be solved completely, they can and must be addressed somehow.

For those who haven’t had a chance – especially those of us at EPA— I would highly encourage at least one visit to a community with real environmental justice issues. I’m confident it will be as enlightening and an invaluable experience for you as it was for me!

A relative newcomer to the EJ Community, Gelena Constantine works as an EJ Coordinator in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.  She has worked with several NEJAC workgroups and EPA committees on EJ. 

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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