The Economic Power of Recycling: Sustainable Materials Management

By Mathy Stanislaus

On America Recycles Day, we’re taking a look back over the last 40 years since the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and how we’ve worked to protect the health of our country’s communities through resource conservation. Here at EPA, recycling is a key element of Sustainable Materials Management (SMM), a systemic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire life cycles. SMM represents a global shift in the use of natural resources and environmental protection. America’s recycling and reuse activities accounted for 757,000 jobs, produced $36.6 billion in wages and generated $6.7 billion in tax revenues in 2007, based on the most recent census data. As we continue to reduce, reuse and recycle, we are evolving our resource conservation efforts to use materials in the most productive way, with an emphasis on using less and advancing a circular economy.

Today we celebrate our successes in sustainable materials management. The national recycling rate has more than quadrupled from 7 to 34 percent, and the slogan Reduce, Reuse, Recycle has become a staple of American life. Recycling bins are now common in our homes, schools and workplaces; restaurants are composting their food waste and businesses are working with communities to offer consumers reuse and recycling opportunities.

In 2001, to encourage the development of an economic market for recycling, we supported the creation of a national Recycling Economic Information (REI) Project and the related REI
report. The REI report was a groundbreaking national study demonstrating the economic value of recycling and reuse to the U.S. economy. Compiled through a cooperative agreement with the National Recycling Coalition, the study confirmed what many have known for decades: there are significant economic benefits associated with recycling.

That is why I am excited to announce the release of the 2016 REI Report. This report includes updated information about recycling jobs, wages, and tax revenue. We have found that recycling and reuse of materials creates jobs while also generating local and state tax revenues. According to the latest Census data available, in 2007 recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for:

  • 757,000 jobs;
  • $36.6 billion in wages; and
  • •$6.7 billion in tax revenues.

These are enough recycling jobs to employ more than the entire population of the city of Seattle, Washington. To break down those numbers a little more, every 1,000 U.S. tons of recyclable materials generates:

  • 1.57 jobs;
  • •$76,030 in wages; and
  • •$14,101 in tax revenues.

Along with the new economic impacts, the 2016 REI report used an updated analytical framework and a new waste input-output methodology, which focused on the life cycle of materials and defining recycling. These refinements offered significant improvements over the 2001 REI study in terms of a better definition of recycling and more precise data. This new methodology will help decision makers and researchers more accurately estimate the economic benefits of recycling and create a foundation upon which additional studies can be built.

In addition to the economic benefits, we must recognize the major environmental benefits of recycling and SMM as a whole. Recycling reduces pollution and greenhouse gases, while generating positive economic benefits. For example, in 2014, 89 million tons of municipal solid waste were recycled and composted. That’s equivalent to removing the carbon dioxide emissions of 38 million passenger cars from the road annually. How our society uses materials is fundamental to our economic and environmental future. Global competition for our limited resources will only intensify as the world population and economies grow. A more productive and less impactful use of materials will help our society remain economically competitive, contribute to our prosperity and protect the environment in a resource-constrained future. We want to make sure we have sufficient resources to meet not only today’s needs, but those of the future as well. As we celebrate our nation’s commitment to recycling our materials today, let’s shoot for 40 more years of continuing to sustainably conserve and manage our resources.

To read the REI Report, visit:

To read the President’s Proclamation:

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

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EPA: “Aim High” – Working Toward a Sustainable Future

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

Last month, I asked EPA employees to share how their work at EPA is contributing to a sustainable future for our kids and grandkids. I wanted to hear about the many ways our staff are going above and beyond EPA’s foundational work to limit harmful pollution, and taking proactive steps to build healthy, economically vibrant communities.

Our teams responded in force, with 55 stories about the diverse, creative, and innovative ways they are building a sustainable future. Our best ideas are those that can be shared, replicated, and built upon. And we have so much to learn from each other’s successes. Here are some team highlights from across the agency:

Sustainable city planning: A team based in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in partnership with a number of EPA offices and regions, is looking at the connection between green infrastructure, energy consumption, and improved air quality. The team is providing technical assistance to Kansas City, MO-KS, to help better quantify the changes in pollution that result from “greening” of urban infrastructure in the area (i.e., green streets, green roofs, trees). This project will ultimately help promote green infrastructure projects that demonstrably improve water quality and advance sustainability – so that they can be incorporated into future city planning.

Green Remediation: EPA Region 1 is using strategies to make the cleanup of contaminated sites more sustainable, including by promoting, tracking, and considering green and sustainable remediation practices for Brownfield sites and Superfund sites. These efforts are helping to minimize the impacts of remediation and cleanup efforts, and ensure long-term, sustainable outcomes.

Community-Based Social Marketing: Region 5 provided funding and contractor assistance to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, as they worked with their local tribal college to improve waste management. The project used community-based social marketing (CBSM) techniques to develop positive behavior strategies that are culturally appropriate. The project focused on increasing recycling behavior at the Band’s community college. Results from the pilot showed a 41% overall increase in the recycling rate at major locations throughout the campus. The Band worked with Region 5 and contractor support to put together a Tribal CBSM Training Guide, based on the lessons learned from the pilot to encourage other tribes to use CBSM to increase sustainable behaviors.

Coordinating Across EPA Programs: EPA Region 10 staff from Superfund, Clean Water Act, TSCA and Counsel have coordinated for several years to better align and sustain efforts in reducing toxics in waters. Staff recognized that in order to achieve more sustainable and long-lasting results, they needed to work together to more efficiently and effectively reduce toxics in the environment.  This includes addressing ongoing sources of and pathways for pollutants and aligning overlapping programmatic efforts to “clean up” waters and sediments. This small ad-hoc group ensured that language was added to EPA’s National Industrial Stormwater General Permit requiring those discharging into local Superfund Sites to work with the Regional office to minimize impacts and prevent caulking and paint sources of PCBs from getting into Superfund sediment sites. Region 10 staff also wrote language included in the Washington General Fish hatchery Permit to identify and remove sources of PCBs.

CWSRF: The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program is a federal-state partnership that provides communities a permanent, independent source of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects. EPA, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) and the Farmer’s Irrigation District (FID) collaborated and used the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) to convert miles of open, earthen irrigation ditch system to a pressurized and piped system for Hood River’s Farmers Irrigation District. Most recently the Farmers Irrigation District also began using the CWSRF loans to purchase equipment for production of clean, renewable energy through micro-­‐hydroelectric generation.

I couldn’t be prouder of the work EPA employees are doing across the country. Here’s to more creativity, ingenuity, and innovation in the months and years ahead.

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Restaurants Go Zero Food Waste in Food Recovery Challenge


By Rob Guillemin

When I go to my local self-serve lunch spot, I eat everything I put on my tray, picking the perfect combination of hot entrée items and salad bar treats without an ounce to spare. In fact, I can be pretty smug about my “zero food waste” lunch (a modern version of the Clean Plate Club) until I remember that all the food prep was done for me in the back kitchen.  That’s where piles of carrot and potato peals and other food scraps, along with mounds of uneaten or unused food, typically head to the landfill. Curtcafe

Fortunately, Café de Boston, a buffet and prepared foods eatery in downtown Boston, is one of the few but growing number of restaurants that has shown a real commitment to eliminating food waste. In May, this restaurant joined EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge along with over 800 businesses and organizations, including grocery stores, schools, hotels, hospitals, cafeterias, local governments and food manufactures. (See photo at Café with EPA New England Regional Administrator Curt Spalding). By keeping better track of food inventories and setting food waste prevention goals, participating organizations in 2014 diverted nearly 606,000 tons of wasted food, which included over 88,500 tons donated to people in need.

These waste diversion efforts are a big deal, especially since food is the single largest waste material going to disposal each year. Food waste tipped the scale at 35 million tons in 2012.  It now accounts for 21 percent of the American waste stream, overtaking either discarded plastic or paper.

Once in the landfill, moist organic matter quickly decomposes, releasing methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide (CO2). The US EPA has identified landfills as the single largest source of methane, contributing approximately 34% of all man-made methane released to the atmosphere in the US.

Because food production accounts for 10% of total energy use, 50% of land use, and 80% of freshwater consumption in the United States, every wasted bite also squanders these resources. With this lifecycle perspective in mind, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global food waste (including its production, transportation, and decomposition) is the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases based on 2007 levels data.  This means that 3.3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent is generated needlessly.

So, the next time you eat out, don’t be shy about asking your favorite restaurant to reduce food waste by joining EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. The Café de Boston did and now it is on track to divert over 30 tons of food waste from the landfill this year.  If the one million restaurants in America followed their lead, we could truly dine, food waste free, and take a huge, collective bite out of our greenhouse gas emissions.

Rob Guillemin is an environmental specialist at EPA’s New England office, where he tries to eat what he takes.


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 New Name, Same Important Mission

By Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator, Office of Land and Emergency Management

Over the last year, my staff and I have been working diligently to identify a new name for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER). We wanted a name that reflects the breadth and depth of our programmatic footprint in protecting human health and the environment. We asked for input from our personnel and key regional staff. After compiling and reviewing responses, I am pleased to share that the new name is the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) with the unchanged mission of restoring land, preventing releases, and conserving resources.

The evolution of the “waste office’s” work has resulted in an office that not only addresses waste issues but one that protects human health and the environment through diverse ways. These are some examples of our work and how we’ve grown:

  • We advance recycling and adopting a sustainable materials management approach. Sustainable materials management (SMM) represents a change in how our society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. Partnerships with the public and private sector have helped EPA launch innovative recycling initiatives such as the Electronics Challenge, the Food Recovery Challenge, and the Federal Green Challenge. We’ve also gone global and are working with the world’s leading economic countries to advance SMM through the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency.
  • We invest in efforts that create sustainable community revitalization. For nearly two decades, we have been on the forefront of transforming communities. We have established critical relationships with local government leaders, local residents, community organizations, and local businesses to convert blighted properties into economic and social opportunities. Additionally, through programs like the Investing in Manufacturing Communities initiative, we are leveraging the financial and technical resources of federal agency partners to breathe new life into growing and thriving American neighborhoods in a way that’s environmentally and economically sustainable. Learn about land revitalizationbrownfields, using cleanups for alternative energy, and other cleanup programs such as SuperfundRCRA Corrective Action, and cleaning up underground storage tank releases.
  • We enhance the agency’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities to better ensure the safety of communities. Most recently, through Executive Order (EO) 13650 “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security”, we are strengthening the capacity of the emergency response community, enhancing coordination with federal partners, modernizing rules and regulation, and remaining in close dialogue with stakeholders involved in emergency management.

These are, of course, examples: there is so much more we are called to do. I want to reiterate that while our name has changed, our mission has not.

More information about the name change is on our website. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on twitter @EPALand to stay up to date on all the great work we’re doing! You can also learn more about our impact by viewing our interactive FY14 Accomplishments Report.

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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How to Inventively Recycle Subway Cars and Other Environmental Hacks

By Barbara Pualani


NYC Subway cars used as artificial reef. Credit: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

I don’t surf. Well, correction: I tried to surf. And I failed. Miserably. I also don’t scuba dive. The sensation is too strange; it makes me feel claustrophobic. I reserve those types of adventurous activities for my brave and wonderful colleagues here at EPA.


I do, however, know that many people love these activities, even here in the not-so-tropical destination of New York City. Rockaway Beach, the only legal surfing beach in NYC, and the Rockaway Boardwalk see millions of tourists every year. In order to improve recreation and ocean habitat in this important area of the city, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced it will be making additions to the important artificial patch reefs.


The Rockaway Reef is a fully artificial reef and is located 1.6 miles south of Rockaway Beach. It was originally permitted for construction in 1965, and the rock, concrete, and steel structures total 413 acres. Over the years, the structures have silted and collapsed. The habitat has degraded and is in need of repair. As part of New York’s Artificial Reef Program, the state will be adding more than 450 concrete-coated steel pipe sections to extend the patch reefs already there.


This project is cool. It’s also good for the environment. Artificial reefs can be constructed by a variety of building materials but are most often made using submerged shipwrecks. They create new habitat for fisheries and give marine life another place to forage, find shelter, and evade predators. The reefs increase fishing opportunities for anglers and promote tourism for both surfers and divers. The benefits are both environmental and economical.


The Rockaway Reef is just one of 11 artificial reef sites in NYS, but the state has helped others along the coast build up their own artificial reefs with, believe it or not, old subway cars. The Metropolitan Transit Authority has recycled over 2500 subway cars over the past decade or so by using them to build artificial reefs all along the eastern seaboard, including in Delaware and in South Carolina.[1] Before they’re dropped to the bottom of the ocean, all doors and windows are removed. The subways cars are cleaned and completely swept of contaminating materials. Because there are so many nooks and crannies available in a subway car, they serve as pretty good spaces for fish habitat. Seeing them now at the bottom of the ocean is quite the trip.


At EPA, we have the mission to protect human health and the environment. It’s great to see projects that not only protect the environment but also allow us to enjoy it and interact positively with it. Sometimes our built environment can integrate well with our natural one, and that’s pretty special.


Like I said, I don’t surf. Diving is not my thing. But I can and do appreciate inventive recycling and habitat restoration. Those are activities I can get behind.


 About the author: Barbara Pualani serves as a speechwriter for EPA Region 2. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She resides in Brooklyn and is a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and Columbia University.



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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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!


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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Recycling Saves Resources and Creates Green Jobs

By Mathy Stanislaus

Recycling is an important and significant aspect of a material’s lifecycle. It helps reduce the use of raw materials in the manufacturing sector and conserves resources like timber, water and minerals. Over the next 15 years, global demand for materials is predicted to rise more than 35 percent. This makes the efficient use of natural resources vital for economic development. In an effort to promote resource conservation across the globe, leaders from the world’s largest economies formed The Alliance for Resource Efficiency.

The Alliance is an international initiative dedicated to developing new strategies for environmental conservation in ways that promote sustainable management of our natural resources. In the United States, we call this sustainable materials management, or SMM. SMM encourages consumers, businesses and communities to consider the entire lifecycle of the materials we use – from extraction or harvest of materials and food (e.g., mining, forestry, and agriculture), to production and transport of goods, provision of services, reuse of materials, and, if necessary, disposal. Considering the full lifecycle of a product allows us to minimize environmental impacts as we use and manage material resources flowing through the economy.

In the last several decades, through improved materials management practices, we have successfully raised the national recycling rate to 34%, reducing 186 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually. That rate represents 87 million tons of material that were recycled or composted. Every 10,000 metric tons of recyclables generates 37 jobs, which equates to $1.1 million in wages and $330,000 in tax revenues . By working together consumers, businesses and communities can build on this success.


Consider buying used clothing and building materials at reuse centers and consignment shops – they can be just as durable as a new product and save you money. Instead of discarding unwanted appliances, tools and electronics, try selling or donating them. This not only reduces waste, but it also benefits the community. What’s more, donating used items prevents goods from ending up in landfills and may create a tax benefit. Also, look for products with less packaging. The money manufacturers save by using less packaging is often passed down to you.


Businesses can utilize lifecycle analysis to make better decisions during product design, such as using fewer toxics and more materials that have a longer, useful life. To help conserve resources, businesses can practice careful industrial and product design that minimizes the use of virgin materials and reuses them in an effort to reduce environmental impacts.

Companies can establish policies that support using and purchasing recycled products and materials. By expanding workplace recycling programs to include all types of paper, businesses can reduce paper waste. Installing built-in recycling centers and receptacles throughout buildings can encourage employees to rethink how they dispose of their wastes.


Communities can make efforts to encourage and collaborate with both businesses and consumers. This can help ensure that materials are used more efficiently and effectively. Government organizations can also begin to create awareness for the environmental consequences of our actions when using materials and purchasing products.

Local governments have a central role in increasing recycling in their communities, as they are responsible for implementing effective materials management strategies in their areas. They can do their part to make recycling a priority by ensuring residents are aware of regulation and policies that simplify recycling in their homes.

Ongoing Efforts

Next spring, we will host an event on sustainable supply chains with a focus on the automotive sector. The workshop will focus on identifying and sharing best practices and successes that are transferrable to other industries.

This event, and many other promising efforts to come, brings us closer to advancing SMM and combating climate change both domestically and internationally. I am proud and excited to be a part of a strategic initiative that will help the United States achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability.

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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Lessons from an Avocado: Making Food Recovery an Everyday Activity 

By Lisa Thresher

It’s lunchtime on a Saturday and my stomach guides me to the kitchen. I notice an avocado sitting on the counter. Perfect, it’ll be a nice addition to a salad! Then I notice grey fuzz protruding from the top of it. My avocado went bad, and is moldy through and through! This is not good – in more ways than one.

Since I’m a new hire in EPA’s Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention program, one of my main responsibilities is to foster increased food recovery here in the Heartland. So having food spoil is unacceptable to me. Not on my watch! Fortunately, I know of a resource to help me prevent more food from spoiling.

Lisa (center) as EPA coordinator at first food waste audit at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kan.

Lisa (center) as EPA coordinator at first food waste audit at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kan.

EPA has partnered with the West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum on a toolkit called Food: Too Good to Waste. This resource is designed specifically to help household consumers buy what they need, use what they have, and minimize waste as much as possible. Usually, the toolkit is utilized on a community-wide scale, where a neighborhood signs up to use the toolkit for a few weeks and tracks its progress.

One of the toolkit’s strategies and tools that is directly applicable to my current situation is the Fruit and Vegetable Storage Guide. Following the case of my avocado, I’d have known to refrigerate it once it ripened. Thankfully, this convenient guide is available online, or I might’ve panicked and stuffed all my fruits and vegetables into the refrigerator to prevent them from spoiling.

Another unfortunate result of wasting my avocado is the loss of time and resources that went into producing it. I’m not just referring to the money I spent to buy it, but the natural resources, energy, time, and labor as well. When pondering the entire life cycle of the avocado, I think about the land, pesticides and fertilizers used, the farm equipment likely powered by fossil fuels, the time and effort spent by the farmer, and other farm-related operations.

My avocado’s journey on2015-9-11 Thresher Food Recovery 2 a farm is only one part of its life cycle. Considering all the steps involved in getting it from the farm to the store where I bought it, I’m amazed that all of that went into one piece of fruit. It’s not easy to make the connection between the complex process that brought the avocado to me as a consumer and the money that I paid for it.

This blog is about my unfortunate avocado, but the story of sustainable food management is a much bigger one – not only a national concern, but a global one. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2011, about one-third of all food products – equivalent to 1.3 billion tons – are lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems worldwide every year. This is a monumental loss that impacts people, the economy, and the planet.

I’ve learned my lesson about food spoilage and will continue to refine my food purchasing, storage, and consumption habits. We’re fortunate that EPA and other agencies have plenty of resources to help us prevent the loss of food. Pair them with focused daily efforts, and throwing food in the trash will be a thing of the past.

Well, I‘m off to compost this avocado so it can at least go into the soil – instead of my lunch!

About the Author: Lisa Thresher is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division. She recently graduated from Philadelphia University with a degree in environmental sustainability and a minor in law and society. Lisa is a Philadelphia native and has an affinity for the arts and staying active.

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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In My Grandfather’s Footsteps: A Worthwhile Summer Spent at EPA 

Every summer, EPA brings in students to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. Andrew Speckin’s blog launched this series. Our second blog is by Sara Lamprise, who has worked in our Drinking Water, Water Quality, Wastewater, and Pesticides programs.

By Sara Lamprise

My grandfather and I share the same spirit. He is what I think of as a practical idealist. Softhearted, with a deep love of nature, he is not one to turn a blind eye to struggles. As ever, he continues to shape my sense of ethics and accountability.

When I was younger, he told me that idle worry is a way of avoiding responsibility. I never heard him say, “I wish someone would …” If he thought it needed doing, he did it, which meant he was usually busy.


Sara’s grandfather, Paul Deshotel, on 70th birthday

As an adult, I’ve wanted to be someone my grandfather would respect. I’ve stayed busy, but not always with things I found worth doing. Countless times I thought, “I wish I could …” or “I wish I was qualified to do something else.” Idle thoughts.

I sat on them. And I definitely didn’t tell my grandfather about them.

Meanwhile, I pestered my friends about plastics in the ocean and the erosion of the Gulf coast and fish that change from male to female. It seems pretty obvious in retrospect, but I think my friends caught on before I did. Long story short, I decided to change fields. To do that, I needed to go back to school.

I see a need for skilled people who care about others and the environment. So I’m developing the skills to fill that need. I could have spent my summer learning to fetch coffee … probably. But I wanted a worthwhile experience in a positive environment. EPA was my top choice.

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

I heard that this was a great program, that even as an intern, my work would be relevant and meaningful. I also heard many times that I would be working with great people. Check and check.

Plus, I respect EPA’s strategy. From my perspective, a critical role of EPA is providing the information to make sound environmental decisions. Information can spur action. It can bring about voluntary changes that are enduring and contagious. I know it doesn’t always work that way, and that’s where enforcement comes in. But information is a good Plan A.

Also, I heard tales of a fish grinder that I really want to see in action. Major selling point.

Anyway, I’m stoked. I figure whatever I work on will be time well spent, and something my grandfather will be happy to hear about.

About the Author: Sara Lamprise is working as a Student Intern at EPA Region 7. She is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in environmental science. Sara loves board games, hiking, and any excuse to travel.

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 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.

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