The Nexus of Food-Energy and Water: Critical Steps to Sustainability

By Alan Hecht

three images vertically aligned showing food, energy, and waterEPA is one of several government sponsors for the upcoming Nexus conference (January 19-21) organized by the National Council on Science and the Environment (NCSE).  This timely event recognizes the intricate links between food, energy, land, and water management in today’s complex world:  water supply is influenced by demands from energy and food sectors; food production requires both water and energy; and energy requires water for a large fraction of its production and delivery.

Looking ahead we have several major challenges. Global population is expected to increase by 38%, from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 9.6 billion in 2050.  It is estimated that with a population of 8.3 billion people by 2030, we will need 50% more energy, 40% more water, and 35% more food (source, see: “Can ‘nexus thinking’ alleviate global water, food and energy pressures?” Tim Smedley, 2013, Guardian Magazine).

The Conference will focus on critical questions:

  • How do we feed the 9.6 billion people expected to be alive in 2050?
  • What are the opportunities to improve water and energy efficiency and reduce food waste?
  • What are the strategies for resilience in the face of increased climate variability and other environmental changes?
  • What science and technological are needed to meet these problems?

Government and business must now deal with the nexus of food-energy and water, as well as   economic development, health and wellbeing and environmental protection. This means integrated, systems thinking is needed.   For us here at EPA, partnership is key to the next phase of environmental protection– achieving sustainable outcomes. We are embracing research that strategically engages government-business collaboration as critical foundations for achieving sustainable outcomes.

Working with our partners, we have advanced a guiding definition of sustainability as a goal and a process for meeting the challenges of the 21st century. The goal is to protect our future generations; the process involves use of technology, tools and approaches to achieve sustainable outcomes.

One example is our partnership with the U.S. Army to support their Net Zero initiative,  while dramatically lowering—or eliminating—energy consumption, water use, and waste generation on military bases.

To support such efforts and help local communities, Agency researchers have already developed hundreds of decision support tools to assess the potential impacts of decisions and advance actions that can promote healthy and sustainable communities well into the future. For example, our recently released “Green Infrastructure Wizard” (GIWiz) provides an interactive web application connecting communities to a wealth of EPA Green Infrastructure tools and resources.

As is evident from the conference, in the world today we must recognize the nexus of land, water, energy and food and must aim for sustainable outcomes. The goal today at EPA is that “sustainability isn’t part of our work, it is a guiding influence for all of our work.”

About the Author: Alan Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.



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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Hope: the Climate Message in Unexpected Places

By Melissa McCullough

I’ve been in the environmental protection business for a long time, and I’ve watched great progress, however slowly. Cleaner air and water. Action on the ozone hole. Acid Rain. International attention to persistent bioaccumulators.

But we all know how much is left to do. Hope is a driving force for those of us in this business, this cause, but it is sometimes maddeningly elusive. On no topic is this as true as for climate action. Sadly, humans, are better wired to pay attention to something with teeth moving at you at high speed. And as Upton Sinclair wisely said, “It is hard to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

So I was delighted recently to see an important message about climate change show up in something as unexpected as Vogue magazine.

Photograph of Mary Lubber

Photo Credit: Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin. To read Vogue’s 13 Formidable Women on the Front Line of Climate Change, click on “Climate Warriors” in the paragraph to the left of the image.

Being a comfortable-shoes type of person, I admit that my usual response to Vogue is “People actually WEAR this stuff?” But a recent newsletter from Ceres1, who’s executive director, Mindy Lubber was artfully caught (at right) by Vogue’s camera, brought this odd juxtaposition of Fashion Art and Climate Action to my attention.

The magazine presents the article “Climate Warriors,” which introduces readers to 13 women working to address the challenges of climate change. Each “climate warrior” is profiled through personal quotes highlighting their work and dedication to sustaining the planet.

I am excited about this article. First, it grabs an unexpected audience with iconic black and white portraits and the headline that there are “Formidable Women on the Front Line.” We need those non-traditional audiences; the proverbial “choir” can’t tackle climate change without broader action and support. And women can be powerful messengers when emotionally motivated. Second, the storytelling is both brief and compelling. These women’s stories are about their personal reactions, actions and impacts around climate—change from a young poet-activist from the disappearing Marshall Islands, to the co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change living with devastating droughts in Chad, to the hip-looking Rachel Kyte, vice president of the World Bank Group and special envoy for climate change. These 13 stories are powerful. They are diverse in viewpoint and the women’s strategic direction. They talk about how climate impacts have exacerbated realities of their lives, like terrorism, poverty, and struggling families. And they are all stories of women with hope for the fight and the outcome.

I encourage you to read these stories. Drink in the hope.

About the Author: Melissa McCullough is a Transdisciplinary Scientist in EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program. When challenged to describe her EPA career in six words she wrote: “Discovering sustainability, exploring applications everywhere possible.”

1. Ceres is a non-profit coalition of investors, companies and public interest groups advocating for sustainability leadership by business, to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainability business practices.

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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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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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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A Sustainability Rendezvous

By Michael Slimak

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining some of my colleagues from the European Union at an event in Washington, DC to present information and share examples of how we are all making strides to better understand and assess the environment.

The gathering, A Sustainable Future for All: EU and US Efforts to Measure and Assess Progress Towards a Sustainable and Resource Efficient Economy, was an opportunity to explore how countries on both sides of the vast Atlantic Ocean see a pathway to cleaner, healthier communities and a more prosperous future for us, our grandchildren, and beyond.

One of the great aspects of the rendezvous was listening to the common themes emerge from different perspectives and across a diversity of organizations. EPA research is at the forefront of forging that confluence of thought.

EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program was among the first explicitly organized to build bridges across traditional research disciplines—uniting ecologists, public health experts, toxicologists, and social scientists—to illuminate the connections between a healthy environment and specific, identifiable aspects of human well being. We work to connect natural ecosystems and the “services” they deliver such as climate stability, clean air, fertile soils, and watershed functions with critical aspects of livable communities: public health, environmental justice, economic opportunity, and long-term prosperity.

Simply put, we are working to empower communities and make things better for people.

EPA's Report on the Environment.

A section of EPA’s interactive Report on the Environment. Go to to explore more.

An important way we do that is to develop the information, data, and tools that individuals and communities need to assess and monitor the environment. At the rendezvous, I shared one of our latest examples: EPA’s Report on the Environment. The European Environment Agency produced a similar effort in the European Environment, State and Outlook 2015 (SOER).

EPA’s report is an interactive resource that shows how the condition of the environment and human health in the United States is changing over time. It presents the best available indicators of national trends in five areas of interest to EPA: AirWaterLand, Human Exposure and Health, and Ecological Condition.

The Report on the Environment is an example of the kinds of scientific, environmental indicator-based resources EPA researchers are developing to provide transparent, open access to the information decision makers need.

Like our European counterparts, we are working together to embrace the concept of sustainability as a way to change the paradigm of environmental protection from something apart from traditional economic calculations to realizing opportunities in efficiencies and long-term solutions. Resources such as EPA’s Report on the Environment are helping us make that happen, and it was great to learn that we have committed partners to work with across the globe.

Portrait of Michael SlimakAbout the Author: Michael Slimak, Ph.D., is the national program director for EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program. An ecologist by training, he has worked on issues ranging from strategic research planning to aquatic and terrestrial contamination and risk assessment.




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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We Must Work Together to Build Resilience in Communities Facing Climate Change 

By Kelly Overstreet

EPA brings in students every summer 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. We’ve already posted blogs by Andrew Speckin and Sara Lamprise. Our third blog is by Kelly Overstreet, who continues to intern with our Program Operations and Integration staff.

151006 - CREAT logo

In August, I attended a fascinating Climate Change Workshop, sponsored by the Nebraska Silver Jackets, with my EPA colleague Robert Dunlevy. Silver Jacket groups partner with federal and state agencies to manage flood risk at the state level. Bob made a presentation on EPA’s Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT), a software tool to assist drinking water and wastewater utility owners and operators in understanding potential climate change threats and assessing the related risks at their individual utilities. As an intern, I went along to gain some valuable, direct experience in collaborative problem-solving.

Bob Dunlevy and Kelly Overstreet

Bob Dunlevy and Kelly Overstreet

As we drove north to the workshop at the Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center in Nebraska City, Bob used the trip as a teaching opportunity, noting sites of loess (windblown sediment), commenting on the heights of various rivers and streams, and discussing the variety of unique geological structures here in the Heartland. Many of these lessons were anecdotal, relating to his 25 years of experience working with communities as an EPA representative.

Bob reminded me of the unique position EPA plays as a U.S. regulatory agency. We have a broad mission to ensure that “all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.” In achieving that mission, we as federal employees must focus on our individual contributions to help achieve EPA’s overall goal.

In economics, there is the phenomena of “agglomeration economies.” While the concept can get quite technical very quickly, the general idea is that businesses are most successful when they exist in proximity to each other. This allows for the exchange of tacit knowledge between businesses that provide goods and services both laterally across sectors and vertically within.

However, such knowledge doesn’t only exist in the private sector. Upon arriving at Nebraska City, I had the opportunity to witness the power of tacit knowledge firsthand. The workshop offered a series of lectures and talks from several federal, state, and local agencies directly involved in flood resiliency and adaptation measures.

View from Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center

View from Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center

Not surprisingly, we joined representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, all with different missions and different sets of tools for accomplishing their goals. And yet, through the collaborative process of sharing knowledge and asking questions, I left with a much stronger sense of the challenges we face in coping with extreme weather events.

Sometimes our role in EPA’s mission can feel piecemeal, but to best achieve our mission, we must form partnerships and foster relationships. Each of us has a different focus and knowledge set, but as long as we continue to have conversations, like at the Silver Jackets training, we don’t have to be limited by the specific priorities that shape our service.

About the Author: Kelly Overstreet is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and will continue part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, earning master’s degrees in urban planning and human geography. Kelly’s graduate research focuses on how municipal climate planning can address issues of environmental justice and social equity. She’s a cat lady, and proud to show off her pet photos.

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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EPA Works Toward ‘Making a Visible Difference’ in Omaha and Council Bluffs Communities

By Kathleen L. Fenton

From left: Bill Lukash, Toni Gargas and Dave Williams

From left: Bill Lukash, Toni Gargas and Dave Williams

An eager EPA team, Toni Gargas, Dave Williams and I, came together to begin a new chapter last week in our work with communities. We’ll be working in a focused way with the cities of Omaha, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa. EPA has an exciting new initiative called Making a Visible Difference in Communities. It’s a tall order but the three of us are up to the challenge.

We started our work with our Acting Regional Administrator, Mark Hague, reaching out to the two cities’ mayors and city planning administrations. Last week, between the two cities, our team met with many community service and public health providers, city planners, and neighborhood leaders.

As an initial step, we will listen to determine what is needed. Then we’ll find out where EPA Region 7 staff can best help with our current resources and technical assistance.

Our Omaha visit was initiated by an invitation from David Thomas, Assistant Director of the Omaha City Planning Department, to attend a community planning meeting at Prospect Village. There we met with over 30 community service partners who have worked with neighbors, organizations, and faith community to help move and build up this neighborhood for the past two years. The city plans on focusing their efforts on a number of established neighborhoods that are interested in enhancing their sustainability and quality of life.

Theresa Gilreath tends the urban garden

Theresa Gilreath tends the urban garden

Bill Lukash, Omaha City Planner, gave us a short but informative tour of the neighborhood and the various city efforts underway in northeastern Omaha. One example of the current work supported by the city is the placement and growth of many urban gardens throughout neighborhoods, senior living complexes, and schools.

We also ran into Theresa Gilreath, who lives at Village East Senior Apartments. With the help of many in the community – especially her friend, Ginger Thomas, and the Omaha City Planning Department and local development organizations – Theresa, Ginger and others in the community have maintained one of the most beautiful and prolific urban gardens I have ever seen. This senior living complex and its urban garden, now in its fall harvest, feeds over 42 families with fruits, vegetables and herbs. It is also a restful meeting place for members to use for outdoor visits.

Another example of EPA’s intended efforts, and the topic of some of our meetings with Omaha and Council Bluffs, was discussing a resource EPA can bring to the table: training sessions for schools. Our grantee, Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., will bring Healthy Schools training to those who work on school maintenance and children’s health, like school nurses and the county health departments. We hope to deliver a number of Healthy Schools training sessions to the two cities, each by 2016.

EPA will support what the two cities need most from EPA, and “connecting these dots” through information, technical assistance, and hard work will be our primary focus in Omaha and Council Bluffs. The cities have welcomed our initiative. Toni, Dave and I look forward to meeting some thoughtful and dedicated elected officials, city government staff, and citizens who are continuing to build their communities one step at a time to make a visible difference. Stay tuned for the next steps in these partnerships as we work together for the Heartland!

About the Author: Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator and the Lead Strategic Planner in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

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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Work That Matters to Me: Building Trust, Greener Communities

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

David Doyle is a public servant’s public servant. I’ve known Dave for 24 years and if you have a “federal agency” question, Dave will either know the answer or the person to call to help you. He has mentored many of us at EPA about the intricacies of community work, and has truly “woven straw into gold” for many communities with the limited, complicated funding and layers of federal and state resources applicable to them. Dave turns over every stone and has left in his wake a sustainable legacy.

By David Doyle

A tornado devastated Greensburg, Kan. on May 4, 2007.

Aftermath of Greensburg tornado

It’s June 2007, and I’m sitting under a large red-and-white tent in Greensburg, Kan., feeling a little disoriented and anxious. I was told a week before that I had been assigned to work with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on developing a long-term recovery plan for the community that was wiped out by a tornado a month earlier. Once I drove to Greensburg and located the FEMA trailer, their recovery staff directed me to a community meeting.

It must have been 100 degrees under that tent. With huge fans trying to cool the place and only adding to the noise and confusion, I suddenly heard the speaker on the platform say, “EPA’s here to help.” I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I would get from the audience in southwestern Kansas, but as I stood up and meekly waved, I got nothing but cheers and applause. I was relieved by that reaction, but I sat down wondering what I was going to do next.

Emergency response personnel make plans in the aftermath of the tornado that devastated Greensburg, Kan., on May 4, 2007.

Greensburg community meeting 

What I had learned up to then in working with communities is that building trust is by far the most important thing to do. I also understood that being patient with people, listening to their concerns, and being honest and responsive to their needs are key things to keep in mind. Work I had done in Stella, a southwestern Missouri town with a population of 150, prepared me to some extent for what I was asked to do in Greensburg.

EPA had performed a “miracle” in Stella, as described by some of the residents, by demolishing an abandoned hospital that sat in the middle of their downtown, using our authority under the Superfund law. We then brought in architectural students from Kansas State University to design reuse plans for the site and later developed a master plan for the community. The local officials recognized my work, along with other EPA staff, by presenting us with award plaques hand-carved from local walnut trees during the annual Stella Days Fair.

In Greensburg, we decided to form a “Green Team” that came up with recommendations for turning it into the greenest community in the country. The team had representatives from the business community, school district, and a number of local citizens, along with representatives from several state and federal agencies. We met on a regular basis to bounce ideas off each other. Our recommendations were incorporated into FEMA’s Long-Term Community Recovery Plan, and all of them were eventually adopted by the city council and implemented.

The redeveloped Greensburg, Kan., now has more LEED Platinum buildings than any other community in America.

Redevelopment in Greensburg, the greenest community in America

The most important recommendation adopted was that all new municipal buildings over a certain size had to be built to meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum standards, the highest certification level for new buildings. As a result, Greensburg (population 800) now has more LEED Platinum buildings than any other community in the United States.

Since my time in Greensburg, I have provided assistance to many other communities here in the Heartland. These collaborative efforts resulted in a new medical clinic surrounded by new businesses in Ogden, Iowa; plans for a new sustainable downtown in Sutherland, Neb.; redevelopment of former gas stations in south St. Louis; new, complete streetscapes in Lincoln, Neb.; plans for a mixed-use neighborhood in Iowa City, Iowa; and improvements in other communities.

I still remember those hot, windy and dusty days in Greensburg when a local citizen named Jack would often come up to me with a big smile on his face, shake my hand, and say how much he appreciated EPA being there and helping out.

About the Introducer: Kathleen Fenton has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: David Doyle serves as the Sustainable Communities Coordinator at EPA Region 7. David has a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering from Syracuse University, and a Master of Science in environmental health engineering from the University of Kansas.

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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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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What Do a Parking Lot, Stormwater Runoff and A Rain Garden Have In Common? Happy Plants and Healthy Streams


By Andre Bowser

Display explaining the rain garden at EPA’s Edison, NJ facility.

Display explaining the rain garden at EPA’s Edison, NJ facility.

On the surface, it appeared like an ordinary parking lot to me. But off to the sides, a lush wellspring of plants and flowers were bowing in the summer breeze.

Little did I know that it was the stage of a Rain Garden Demonstration Site at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Edison, N.J. installation. This of course is no secret; the EPA touts similar urban ecological models as a matter of good business, just as the Edison site had been oft-touted. But it was news to me – a newbie at EPA in New York.

During a recent summer business trip to Edison from my office in the Big Apple, I literally stumbled on a display that explained why a veritable garden surrounded the parking lot behind me. After tripping on the curb, I reached out and steadied myself on the fixture. I thought it odd that a museum-quality display would be positioned next to a nondescript parking lot.

The display detailed the multi-layered story of the parking lot behind me: how water runoff from rain is routed to nearby plants; how the gravel is waterproof to assist in efficiently shepherding the vital resource; and how the water ultimately ends up in our groundwater, underground wells and springs.   And then there’s the myriad technical benefits, such as helping EPA study “how rain gardens help mimic natural drainage processes” and how they reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that enters the storm sewage systems, according to the display. The site demonstrates how, by reducing the amount of stormwater through a natural filtration process, we reduce the amount of pollutants in our water.

Above all, it’s just plain beautiful. And that such an industrially driven edifice as a parking lot could act as a buoy for plant life – through a symbiotic relationship with nature – is ecological-poetic justice.

Rain water runoff is routed to nearby plants.

Rain water runoff is routed to nearby plants.

For the ingenuity and vision behind the site, the display gives the credit to “research efforts between EPA’s Office of Administration and Resources Management, Region 2, and the Office of Research and Development.” But let’s also give it up to the beautiful plant life at the site, including Red Maple and Dogwood trees; Switchgrass and Common Rush; Highbush, Blueberry and Beach Plum shrubs; Blue Flag, Sunflower and Golden Zizia herbs, among many others, which are all native to Mid-Atlantic rain gardens.

States like New York and New Jersey have long lauded the positive ecological effects of rain gardens. According to EPA’s New York-state counterpart, the Department of Environmental Conservation, “stormwater running off rooftops, sidewalks, driveways, and streets washes pollutants into nearby streams. As if that weren’t bad enough, as stormwater rushes over these hard-or impervious-surfaces, it picks up speed and force, causing local flooding and erosion.”  (Click on the link above to learn how to make a miniature rain garden.)

Back in Edison, N.J., the parking lot, stormwater runoff and rain garden are contributing to healthy plants, and that’s just the positive effect happening on the surface. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find healthy groundwater finding its way to underground wells, and eventually streams.

About the Author: Andre Bowser is the director of the Public Affairs Division in EPA’s Region 2. Contact him by e-mailing

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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