recycling

A Plug for Trash Free Waters

By Annette Poliwka

Ocean samples collected on board the Mystic found plastic throughout the 3,000 mile journey.

Ocean samples collected on board the Mystic found plastic throughout the 3,000 mile journey.

My love of recycling, or better said, my hatred of trash led me to a research expedition through the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, a portion of the Atlantic Ocean that traps man-made debris.

My interest in recycling really began in the 7th grade, when I realized how the newspaper my father read stacked up on the porch until I could carry it to my parochial grade school for recycling. Yes, those were the days when we learned about current events by reading the paper, not our tablets. And those were the days prior to curbside recycling in major cities. I knew there had to be a better way, and I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up: protect the environment. I guess you could say, I’m living my dream.

The 5 Gyres Institute sails around the world collecting samples and conducting analysis of plastic pollution in our oceans. My experience began with a flight to Bermuda where I boarded a 172 foot, three-masted schooner named the Mystic. The boat had already sailed from Miami to the Bahamas, and our final destination was back to New York City! I was in the middle of paradise, along with other “Zero Wasters,” researchers and dedicated environmentalists, collecting samples of plastic pollution and figuring out how to prevent them from getting into the water in the first place.

The research included sampling the sea surface for the 3,000 mile journey. Micro-plastics, which are smaller than a grain of rice, were found in each sample. In the middle of paradise, in the middle of the ocean, and in the middle of the New York City harbor, we were consistently finding plastics. What is often described as an “island of trash,” is more of a “plastic smog.” The sun and waves shred larger pieces of plastics into micro-plastics, which can be a variety of colors and sizes. Fish can’t distinguish between a 3mm piece of plankton and a 3mm piece of plastic. We caught a fish and dissected it, finding plastics in its stomach. This is a human health concern, as plastics can transfer toxins into fish and up the food chain.

A water sample taken this summer in the NYC Harbor contains a wide variety of plastic pollution.

A water sample taken this summer in the NYC Harbor contains a wide variety of plastic pollution.

As we sailed to New York City, the samples of plastics we collected were bigger and more easily identifiable than what we found in the open ocean. This makes sense, as 80 percent of the plastics in our oceans are land-based, and it takes time to break down into micro-plastics. The samples also stunk of sewage!

Our use of plastics affects our waterways, the fish we eat and the general health of our oceans. Researchers have found that experiences, rather than material consumption, make people happy. So rather than buying the next new gadget, spend time doing something interesting, with someone you love. Your wallet and our oceans will be happier, too.

We can all help prevent waste by buying less and reusing what we have. If you live in New York City, recycle with the blue and green bins. Compost with the brown bin, or bring food scraps to Green Markets all around the city, year-round.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Feed the Barrel: A tale of how small actions can change the world

Crossposted from Environmental Justice in Action

By Lena Adams Kim

Father Didik of St. Thomas Aquinas church is one of the 15 Barrel Keepers who manage the system of oil collection barrels. The oil he's pouring will become biofuel, compost, and soap.

Father Didik of St. Thomas Aquinas church is one of the 15 Barrel Keepers who manage the system of oil collection barrels. The oil he’s pouring will become biofuel, compost, and soap.

It all started Thanksgiving Day 2013, with my daughters frantically yelling, “The basement is flooding!!!” A visit from the plumber, yards of ruined carpeting, and $900 later, it was clear that cooking oil clogging my kitchen drain was the culprit. And so I did what many do after experiencing the horrors of home damage – I complained to everyone who would listen.

My tale of woe reached Indah, a parent in my kids’ schoolyard. Indah, a journalist of Indonesian descent, mentioned how families in her immigrant Indonesian community in South Philadelphia were grappling with the same clogged pipes and costly repairs, yet unlike me, were often unaware of the cause.

She described how many had emigrated from rural areas of Indonesia, where every drop of precious oil is used, re-used, and then re-used again. Very little oil, if any, was discarded. And those first-world kitchen drains and sewer systems? Non-existent in the 17,000 largely undeveloped islands that comprise Indonesia. Those huge jugs of oil, available at low cost at grocery stores in the U.S.? Unheard of on smaller islands where budgets and resources are limited.

Yet things are far different in America, the land of plenty. Additionally, the cultural knowledge of what can and cannot, go down a drain is instilled in many of us from an early age. Not so obvious, however, to newcomers in a new homeland with new customs.

During my conversation with Indah, I realized there was a beautifully simple solution to this costly environmental issue of used fats, oils, and grease, also called “FOG”, which cause public health problems by entering the waste stream. Just last month, the New York Times reported on the impacts of food waste like oils entering waterways and landfills, ultimately decomposing to emit methane, a greenhouse gas. I wondered, “what if EPA worked with this community on proper oil disposal.” Could it make a difference?

Residents drop off bottles of used cooking oil at one of the neighborhood’s 15 oil collection points.

Residents drop off bottles of used cooking oil at one of the neighborhood’s 15 oil collection points.

Today, two years after my basement flood, things are far different from the clogged pipes of the past. Thanks to connections made by Indah, this vibrant Indonesian community is now the first in the nation piloting a wildly successful residential oil collection program. Called Feed the Barrel, the program has gone far beyond just education on oil disposal. Now, they work with an oil recycler to collect and recycle used oil into biofuel, rich compost, and soap. The money made from the oil collected goes toward improving the community.

It would take pages to detail the unique ways this community tackled this environmental problem — how they insisted on using a local recycler, how they decided to empower children to help spread the word, and how they enlisted spiritual leadership to encourage neighbors in churches, temples, and mosques to become involved.

And it would be impossible for me to describe the pride I see in my neighbors in their newfound ability to spread environmental awareness — which they can give back to their new homeland that has given them so much opportunity.

News of their success in diverting more than 300 gallons of oil in the first year alone has traveled fast. They have been approached by communities throughout the greater Philadelphia area, and in New Jersey and Houston, Texas. Media coverage has been powerful in spreading the word, as their efforts have been highlighted on National Public Radio, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the city’s respected Grid magazine.

Imagine — Feed the Barrel started from a schoolyard conversation about providing people with something as simple as information. While EPA’s goal of “meaningful involvement of all communities in environmental decisions” might seem broad, its simplicity allowed, in this case, room to develop a creative solution to a nagging problem.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said that, “when people are made aware … they are empowered to act.” To learn more about the possibilities of oil recycling, or to follow pilot progress, visit www.facebook/feedthebarrel. And join the rallying cry: Feed the Barrel to Fuel America!

About the author: Lena Adams Kim is a member of EPA Region 3’s Asian Pacific American Council, as well as a communications specialist in the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Division.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

This Year’s Super Bowl Filled 70,000 Plates on the Path to Zero Waste

superbowl##

This post is a follow-up to my “AZ I See It” column in the Arizona Republic on January 26, 2015.

This year during the Super Bowl, the first “Kick the Waste” campaign took place at Super Bowl Central—the 12-block area in the heart of downtown Phoenix where thousands enjoyed parties and live music in the week leading up to the championship game. The city was host to quite a party on Superbowl Sunday. Fans gathered for good football and good food, whether they joined in the downtown celebrations, tailgated outside the stadium, or ordered from vendors in the stands.

All too often, what’s not consumed goes to waste. Every year Americans throw away more food than any other type of waste — almost 35 million tons — and much of it is still edible. The “Kick the Waste” campaign — a collaboration between the city of Phoenix, nonprofit food rescue organization Waste Not, the National Football League, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, vendors and fans — worked to make sure that any leftover food was shared with those who needed a good meal, and any waste was disposed of in the most beneficial way for the environment.

More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Who will win the big game?

by Steve Donohue

"Green" up for the big game!

“Green” up for the big game!

Sadly, my beloved Philadelphia Eagles will not be in the big game this year – again! But we can all be winners by conserving resources and saving money on game day and every other day.

Last year 111.5 million viewers watched the game. If all these fans used WaterSense toilets (which use 1.28 gallons per flush, gpf, or less) instead of the old 3.5 gpf models we could save enough water to fill Lincoln Financial Field up to the Club Box level with just one flush!

If you’re thirsty during the game you can drink bottled water at 50 cents or more each, or thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act, your local utility, and other partners, you can simply turn on the tap and get safe, clean water delivered right to your kitchen for about ½ cent a gallon. That’s hundreds of times cheaper and you don’t have to carry the bottles home or dispose of them after they are used.

Game day savings aren’t limited to water, though. If all the households that watched the game got rid of their old beer refrigerator in the garage they would not only save about $150 a year but collectively enough electricity to power over 1.6 million homes!

And, speaking of drinking, if everyone who watched the big game recycled just 1 can we could save a weight of aluminum equal to 260 times the weight of the entire Eagles roster and save enough electricity to power a television for over 2,500 years!

Finally, everyone loves a party but the cleanup…not so much. If you’re hosting a large gathering and have left over, unspoiled food, please consider donating it to a local charity and helping the over 48 million Americans who live in food-insecure households.

Greening your party for the big game is a win for your wallet and for the environment. Try out these tips on Sunday and every day!

 

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 25 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on greening EPA and other government facilities.

 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Protecting Our Communities through Safe and Legitimate Recycling

When you drop your bottles and cans off in the recycling bin or at a recycling center, you’re helping to protect the environment and your community.

But not everything is as safe to recycle as plastic and aluminum. Some materials that get recycled are hazardous – like byproducts and substances from industrial processes. If they’re not recycled carefully they can put people’s health at risk. What’s worse, many recyclers that deal with hazardous materials are located close to minority and low-income communities that already face a lot of environmental challenges.

Our administrator just signed a new rule called the Definition of Solid Waste (DSW) rule. It’s a major environmental justice milestone that directly addresses mismanagement of hazardous materials at some of these recycling facilities.

In 2009, we held a public meeting to talk about our existing DSW rule, created in 2008. We heard from dozens of people who felt we needed to better analyze the rule’s impact on minority and low income people. We also heard from recyclers and manufacturers about the benefits of safely recycling hazardous materials – from job creation and other economic benefits to a healthier environment and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. So, we made the commitment to take a closer look at the potential environmental justice impacts of the 2008 DSW rule, and at opportunities for preserving and expanding safe recycling of hazardous materials.

We examined the location of recycling facilities and their proximity and potential impact to nearby communities. Our analysis confirmed that, in many cases, the public comments were correct. Communities needed a way to participate in the conversation about these recyclers’ activities, and recyclers needed to take more preventive steps, like being more prepared to contain spills and better training for their staff. More state and EPA oversight was needed, too.

The 2014 DSW rule adds some new requirements to ensure that hazardous waste is legitimately recycled and not being disposed of illegally. It requires recyclers to get a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit or verified recycler variance from us or their state, so that the recyclers’ safety measures can be verified and nearby communities can be protected. Recyclers who seek a permit or variance will be required to give communities an opportunity to weigh in about their location and plans.

Unfortunately, there have been cases where off-site recycling has been mismanaged. In these cases, hazardous materials have been released into communities, endangering the health of people and the environment. For example, one facility in Allenport, Pennsylvania, was recycling spent pickle liquor, a highly acidic solution used to remove impurities during steel manufacturing. This recycler didn’t have a RCRA permitand, when it chose its location, the nearby community wasn’t given a chance to provide input. In 1997, hazardous sludge from the recycling process spilled and was washed into an adjacent railroad bed next to a community playground. Later in 2004, the recycler’s storage tanks failed and spilled spent pickle liquor into a surrounding asphalt-paved area and into a storm drain (see photo). The new 2014 DSW rule will help us better respond to similar cases going forward.

Like I mentioned before, there are environmental and economic benefits to recycling hazardous materials. The new DSW rule reduces risks for communities, at the same time that it helps to encourage certain types of recycling. Some higher-value hazardous spent solvents, for example, can be remanufactured and reused safely under the rule, which means that less new solvents are created. And some hazardous byproducts can be reused in the same process that generated them, through in-process recycling.

Through this new rule, we’re helping ensure that our country is recycling more, but doing it safely to protect our communities and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

What will you rethink?

by Jaclyn McIlwain

 

rethinkI love rocking a brand new pair of shoes, feeling fresh as I walk through Rittenhouse Square on my way to lunch at a hip restaurant. But, wait. Don’t I already have a pair of blue suede shoes? Didn’t I just go grocery shopping last night?

If you’re lucky enough to have the luxury of dining out and shopping in Center City, do you ever stop and think about where all of these products are coming from? The exotic food, the jeans you’re wearing. What went into these goods? Answer: natural resources, materials, and energy. In fact, 42% of carbon pollution emissions in the U.S. are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the food we eat and the goods we use. To build a more sustainable future, we almost certainly will need to rethink how we source, consume, and dispose of goods.

Don’t be disheartened! There are a million ways to rethink your daily practices. By simply reexamining the choices you make day-to-day, you have the power to affect change and work toward a sustainable future: from shopping (“Could I borrow this from someone instead? Can I reuse something I already have in my home?”) to your daily routine (washing clothes in cold water and turning off the tap when brushing your teeth) to how you dispose of products and materials that you just can’t use any more (think: recycling and composting!) There’s no better time than Pollution Prevention Week to commit to actions that improve your health, help the planet and save money.

EPA is highlighting steps you can take toward sustainability during Philadelphia’s 2014 Park(ing) Day. Park(ing) Day is a national event held on the third Friday in September, where mundane metered parking spaces are converted into temporary miniature parks throughout the city. Park(ing) Day re-imagines the possibilities of 170 square feet of public space, celebrates parks and public spaces nationwide, and raises awareness of the need for more pedestrian-friendly spaces in urban areas.

Visit EPA’s temporary park and explore how you can save water, reduce waste, prevent pollution, and act on climate. There are a few more sustainability surprises waiting for you this Friday, September 19 at 18th and Sansom Streets, but I won’t give it all away. You’ll have to come see (and learn) for yourself!

What if we could transform the city for just one day? What if we could transform the way we make our purchases, for good? We can, and we are.

What will you rethink?

 

About the author: Jaclyn McIlwain has worked at EPA since 2010 in the Water Protection Division. A Philadelphia native, Jaclyn studied environmental science and is a graduate of the 2012 Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program. When not in the office, she can be found hiking, camping, or practicing yoga.

 

 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Art and the Environment

by Andrea Bennett

Children are especially adept at conveying their interests – like SCUBA diving – through their artwork.

Children are especially adept at conveying their interests – like SCUBA diving – through their artwork.

People often express how they feel about our environment through many art forms such as photography, sculpture, and painting. In the past, landscape artists in the mid-Atlantic region focused on painting historical events such as the famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River in 1776. As our cultures changed, so did the subjects of our paintings and eventually painters began portraying the environment as it is without an important historical event in the center.

Different groups of painters used techniques that reflected their geographical areas such as the Hudson River School landscape painters and the Impressionists in Europe. Here in the mid-Atlantic there is a new group – the Potomac River School. Recently these painters had a group show and most of the paintings were of the Potomac River and its tributaries.

The Washington Society of Landscape Painters, an art organization founded in 1913, sponsored the show titled, “Images of Washington, DC, 2014.” While the group only admitted male painters until 1993, this recent show, featuring the works of many women artists, demonstrates that women are actively capturing the beauty of the Potomac River today.

Children are especially adept at capturing what they see in the environment and many organizations are aware of the interest children have in re-creating what they see, and hold contests to encourage their artistic talents. This year the National Park Service sponsored a youth art contest and April art exhibition to showcase the beauty of Appalachia’s parks and wildlife and to help foster environmental protection in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia.

The City of Virginia Beach and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary are also examples of mid-Atlantic organizations that sponsor contests to help artists – children and adults – show how they enjoy their local watershed and the natural environment around them.

Recently, more people have begun to create art that is part of or protects the environment. One local high school created a decorative sculpture out of bottle caps because they couldn’t find a place that could recycle them.

The Maryland Department of the Environment also sponsors an annual “Rethink Recycling” Sculpture Contest. One recent winner created a sculpture named “Meeko the Dolphin,” made out of discarded styrofoam, soda cans and water bottles!

Whether you’re living, working or vacationing here, the mid-Atlantic region, from the Shenandoah River in Virginia to the New River in West Virginia, is full of great places to visit and capture with a photo or a drawing!

 

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

 

 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Upcycling for Life

By Mark Seltzer

With Americans creating literally millions of pounds of trash each year, and 135 million tons ending up in landfills and incinerators in 2012, I’m always looking to upcycle. I enjoy giving unwanted objects new life. Here are some of the interesting items I’ve made over the years out of objects that otherwise would have gone in a landfill.   Macquarium

Back in the day, my high school was discarding Macintosh Plus all-in one computers.  Determined to find a creative use for out-of–date computers, I built a Macquarium – a Macintosh computer aquarium. I took everything in the monitor out and replaced it with an aquarium tank and a filter.  See photos and specific details on how to make one.

Gardening and Composting

Composting is one way to upcycle your food waste, but you can build a composter with recycled materials too. I designed two composters out of reused materials – a tumbling composter with a recycled 35 gallon barrel, and a worm (vermacomposting) bin out of a reused plastic tote.

Reclaimed Wine Bottles

I’ve reclaimed wine bottles by building several prototype lights and pencil cups. These items can be found on my desk at EPA and can make great gifts.

winecup

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ski bench

I work part time as a National Ski Patroller at a local ski mountain, and I decided something must be done with discarded skis. Now skiiers can rest at the top on the bench I designed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planters

I turned a tiny recycling bin into a mini “Zen Garden.”  I wanted a low profile planter and found that a cast-off recycling bin serves as a narrow planter in a high traffic walkway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lights! Bike Light

For a coworker and good friend who is an avid biker, I designed a bike floor lamp.  Certainly one way to recycle!

 

 

 

 

Repurposed Jelly Jars Lights

Jelly jars make great candles. Here are a couple with recycled (filtered) vegetable oil and a wick.   Currently, I’m renovating my house and donating things to a local building material thrift shop. I intend to reuse as much as possible for creative upcycling.  Here’s one gem from my house, a funky shower fixture.  Ideas for reuse? Coat Rack? Bookshelf? Stay tuned … I hope to write a blog post on my reuse ventures from house renovations.

 

 

 

 

About the author: Mark Seltzer works as an attorney advisor for EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention. During the winter months, he can be found on the ski slopes as a ski patroller at a local Pennsylvania ski mountain. During the summer, he can be found running, hiking, biking or canoeing along the Potomac.  

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Earth Month Tip: Recycle used electronics

Electronic products are made from valuable resources and materials, including metals, plastics, and glass, all of which require energy to mine and manufacture. Donating or recycling used electronics conserves our natural resources, prevents air and water pollution, and reduces carbon pollution associated with manufacturing.

Manufacturers and retailers offer several options to donate or recycle electronics. You can search below to find programs developed by Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Electronics Challenge participants.

Learn more about recycling used electronics: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/donate.htm

More tips: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/actonclimate/

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.