Category Archives: Be a Superhero for the Planet!

California One Step Closer to Plastic Bag Ban!

The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted YES to phase out single use plastic bags in Sacramento on Thursday, despite heavy industry opposition.  The bill heading the movement, SB 270, is being promoted by California Senator Alex Padilla (D), and schedules the ban into effect July 1, 2015 for retail stores, and a year later for gas stations and liquor stores.  In addition to banning use of plastic bags, a $0.10 fee will be imposed on paper bags.  So not only is this guy enraging the chemists and plastics industry (who have sued small cities that attempted to independently pass this ban), now, he’s sending the American Forest and Paper Association into a frenzy.  I just have to give a big congrats Mr. Padilla, I can imagine that it’s not easy for someone in an elected position to piss off that many rich people; it seems like he does what he feels is best for the people, not for his campaign.  He would surely be taken out by Kevin Spacey ( it’s a House of Cards reference…fyi, awesome show). 

Now you may ask where the money goes for the $0.10 ban?  Well no where too exciting, the stores get to keep it.  However, this tactic to reduce waste has been proven in Ireland- bag use was reduced by 90% when a similar fee was administered for bags. 

So we Americans are pretty impulsive people, we like to see benefit of a change immediately, or we give up(which is most likely why our obesity rate is so high).  So lets focus on some benefits: 1) We can now be more aesthetically pleasing while walking from stores and around town… you cannot deny the plastic bag is ugly; 2) We can now express ourselves through an extra accessory (you know those bags will get cooler and become trendy); 3) Men have an excuse to carry a bag with stuff in it (finally I will have room in my purse for MY stuff when out with my husband); 4) They are less likely to break and lessen the likelihood of egg and milk explosions; 5) Lastly, you will no longer have that wad of plastic bags taking over your cupboard space.  Convinced yet?  If not, just do a Google search of ocean plastic, look at the images of animals trapped in plastic, and  that should do it!

plastic bagsThe Reusable Grocery Bag

Read my post on plastics if you want statistics and details about environmental and health impacts of plastic, but to summarize, all plastic is made from oil (and a shocking amount), chemicals released during production and chemicals leached from plastic are bad for the environment and the health of all living species, and almost all single-use plastic ends up in a landfill or in the ocean, where it does not biodegrade.  The next step is following San Francisco’s lead in banning plastic water bottles; the US spends 16 Billion (with a “B”) dollars on bottled water a year while we have the cleanest municipal water in the world… and if you want to see all the reasons tap water is better than bottled, read my post  and see my upcoming short film on that one too.

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I’ve got 500 Billion Problems, But A Brita Isn’t One

By now, you know my stance on bottled water, and how ridiculous I believe the concept is.  I have never thought twice about taking a plastic bag from a grocery store, however, I refuse to throw them away; so I let them build up in my cupboard, in hopes for re-use, and then when they are coming out of the doors, I finally recycle them.  I was encouraged to  watch the documentary called “Bag it” cleverly named to make connections with the plastic bag, and the slang meaning. I have studied environmental engineering for over a decade and I was shocked by the statistics stated in this film and my follow-up research.

We go through 500 Billion single-use plastic bags a year, the US alone goes through 5 million bottled water products every 5 minutes, and the US spends 12 Billion dollars on bottled water per year! Can you imagine how much money and energy we would all save by investing in a $20 Brita filter? That sure is a lot of trash, money, and energy for a few minutes of use.  Your first thought may be “but I recycle, so…” Well, most plastic is not recyclable, including those plastic bags, and although most water bottles are, still 85% end up in a land fill or the ocean.   Have you seen those pictures of ocean trash? Well 90% of it is plastic, and there’s a scientific explanation for it!

All plastic is made from oil… Yes the same non-renewable resource that causes world wars, fuels our cars etc.  In 2006, 1.5 million barrels of oil was used to produce plastic, that number has likely jumped above 2 million today. To give you a visual, the amount of oil used to make one plastic water bottle is enough to fill it up half way!  Basically we are drilling into the earth for something that takes 75,000,000 years to create, then processing, transforming, and transporting it, so that we can use it for a few seconds to minutes, and then throw out.  All while most plastic is easily replaced by other material.  Completely crazy to me!

To add to the insanity, these products (that we really don’t need) create a whole “bag” of problems in the environment, and to human health. The manufacturing of plastics release harmful chemicals into the air, such as PET, hydro carbons, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide, which contribute to ozone holes, global warming, and human illness.  Now that we have the plastic, we’re done doing the harm, right? Of course not, as it turns out, chemicals in plastic can leach into the largest organ of the human body (your skin), though pores causing the following issues:

PVC (which is not recyclable): causes cancer, birth defects, respiratory diseases, liver failure, blindness, and more

Phthalates (not recyclable): endocrine disruption, asthma, and often disposed of by incineration causing cancer, birth defects, reproductive issues etc.

Polycarbonates with Bisphenol A (water bottles): Bisphenol A is linked to cancers, hyperactivity, and hormonal problems, even in small doses

(More can be seen at: www. ecologycenter.org).

Statistics show that 85-90% of all bottles and almost 100% of remaining plastics end up in the ocean or landfill, where it remains intact for up to 1000 years. It does not break down, but the harmful chemicals can be leached into soil, water, or eaten by wildlife, and aquatic biota (and then we eat those contaminated fish).

So what can be done you ask?  Well a number of countries have already banned the distribution of plastic bags in stores, and Ireland imposed a fee (which dropped plastic bag use by 90%!!). Over in the US, as usual, San Francisco was the first to ban plastic bags, however when neighboring areas tried to accomplish the same goal, they were sued by the American Chemistry Council (who loves to pretend they are pro-environment to ensure future company gain), and other plastic industries who do not want to lose business. Well “earth to chemists”: how long do you thing you can keep this up with a non- sustainable material business plan and a growing population?!

So I tried to ban plastic from my life… I kept forgetting my reusable bag for the grocery store, but after I had to walk home carrying more than I could, dropping things every two feet, yogurt dropping and exploding all over me, I found a way to remember. I took my dog out with my “biodegradable” bag, and figured I would call the company to find out what it’s made of. The girl was very chipper and proud to be associated with her “zero waste USA” company.  When I asked what the bags are made of, she replied, “our bags are very special; they are oxo- biodegradable, which means that they are made with about 40% recycled plastic, and 60% new plastic.” I replied, “plastic??? Did I hear you right?? So you guys just lie on your label?!” She quickly said she would send me the data, which she did. This product is treated with a chemical called TDPA (which I can’t seem to find real data on) to breakdown when exposed to heat and oxygen in a landfill. Unfortunately for them, I am an engineer who is well aware that landfills function in anaerobic conditions (without oxygen). Soooo… their bags will not biodegrade – there will just be more plastic, in a landfill, with biodegradable material (poop) within them.  I need to do more research on corn-based doggie disposal products, and their apparent methane release, as well as other products, to determine if I need to create something, or if there is something out there already.

In conclusion, everything in the world is connected, so everyone makes a difference. Refuse to use single use plastics by using reusable bags, water bottles, and buying products with less, or no packaging,  and you too will be a superhero for yourself, and the planet!

Dog Waste Bag Dispensers

 

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Don’t Fertilize During Wet Season!!!

lwreng lwrspanI use Lakewood Ranch, Florida as an example of low impact development for the aesthetic use of vegetative swales in place of curb and gutter. Now I can also use this area as an example of responsible planning as they banned the use of fertilizers during the wet season!!! This will help prevent algae blooms (eutrophication) by eliminating excess nutrient load to natural and man made water bodies!

Don’t drink bottled water, you may get E.coli, while some kid’s urine causes a public water facility to dump all storage, oh, and Cleveland rocks!

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So are we really surprised to hear issues with bottled water?  Well, we should be shocked the E.coli contamination in Pennsylvania was actually found before people got sick!  Due to lack of regulation on bottled water, many “less than perfect” batches are sold to millions every day.  Of course the company is saying that the lab that tested the water made an error while testing.  Just to clarify, E.coli bacteria lives in human and animal waste, and is fatal to babies, and the elderly.  Labs are pretty much guarenteed to be E.coli free.  Meanwhile in public municipality world, the city of Portland dumped 38 million gallons of treated drinking water because some dumb high school kid thought it would be funny to pee in it.  Many think this was wasteful, but if it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be able to use it as an example.  Do you think a bottled water company, who doesn’t need to answer to any government authority, would waste product like that? Definitely not.

Now for a superhero public WTP story with all the makings of a triumphant midwest legend: In 2006 Fiji took a swing at Cleveland tap water saying “The label says Fiji because it’s not bottled in Cleveland”.  Well Cleveland did some testing, and it found that the bottled water contained 6.3 micrograms of arsenic per liter; the city’s tap water was arsenic free. Fiji apologized, and it was a “W” for water utility directors, and those in Cleveland where “W’s” are rare (it’s Lebron Jame’s fault, right?).  Seriously…do we need more reasons to not drink bottled water? Let’s list them anyway:

First, the quality is not better:

  • In the United States, 24 percent of bottled water sold is either Pepsi’s Aquafina (13 percent of the market) or Coke’s Dasani (11 percent of the market). Both brands are bottled, purified municipal water3.
  • If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, try a filtered water pitcher like Brita.
  • In the U.S., public water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which requires multiple daily tests for bacteria and makes results available to the public. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water, only requires weekly testing and does not share its findings with the EPA or the public7.

Do we need more reasons?? Well here you go:

  • Making bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year1. And that’s not even including the oil used for transportation.
  • The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes for a year2.
  • In 2006, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles, but only recycled 38.3
  • Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year3.
  • The recommended eight glasses of water a day, at U.S. tap rates equals about $.49 per year; that same amount of bottled water is about $1,400.
  • Antimony, which is found in PET plastic bottles, in small doses can cause dizziness and depression; in larger doses it can cause nausea, vomiting and death.8

Save Money and The Environment:

  • One water pitcher filter can effectively replace as much as 300 standard 16.9-ounce bottles. So you can get great-tasting water without so much waste.
  • The average water pitcher filters 240 gallons of water a year for about 19 cents a day4. Put in perspective, to get the same amount of water from bottled water would require 1,818 16.9-ounce water bottles a year5 – at an average cost of a dollar a bottle, that’s $4.98 a day6.
  • For about $10 each, you can purchase a 16-ounce or 32-ounce Nalgene bottle, saving you hundreds of dollars a year on bottled water.
  • Tip: Get a water bottle!!!  One Nalgene bottle can last for decades (literally I’ve had the same one for 15 years), making it easy to stop buying bottled water when you’re out

  1. Pacific Institute. “Fact Sheet: Bottled Water and Energy – Getting to 17 Million Barrels.” December 2007.
  2. “Not Disposable Anymore.” P.O.V.’s Borders. 2004. PBS.
  3. Fishman, Charles. “Message in a Bottle.” Fast Company Magazine July 2007: 110.
  4. This cost assumes the purchase of a $25 pitcher (one filter included), plus 5 replacement filters at $9 each, for a total yearly cost of $70, or $0.19 cents a day.
  5. Each filter produces 40 gallons of water and the average owner uses 6 filters in a year, to produce 240 gallons, or 30,720 ounces, of fresh-filtered water. 30,720 ounces is equivalent to the water found in 1,818 16.9-ounce water bottles.
  6. Purchasing 1,818 16.9-ounce water bottles at the cost of $1 each costs $1,818. Over the course of a year, that’s $4.98 a day.
  7. Burros, Marian. “Fighting the Tide, a Few Restaurants Tilt to Tap Water.” The New York Times [New York City, NY] 30 May 2007: Section F, Page 1.
  8. Shotyk, William. “Toxic risk in bottled water?” Royal Society of Chemistry. September 2006.
  9. Banthebottle.com
  10. Processing magazine
  11. http://www.governing.com/topics/energy-env/gov-cities-tout-municipal-tap-water-as-better-than-bottled.html

http://www.processingmagazine.com/articles/127219-pennsylvania-bottling-company-recalls-water-contaminated-with-e-coli

To Recycle or Not Recycle, That is the Question! (that should never be asked) and did anyone else not know Reading Rainbow is still around??

rrrreading rainbow

We all know recycling is extremely important, we are loading landfills at a much faster rate than that of biological decay.  Our population is growing, the amount of products being produced is increasing, therefore the amount of garbage is increasing.

The first line of environmental defense is to be part of the solution, not the problem: try to buy products with the triangular recycled symbol, stay away from purchasing products with a lot of packaging, especially materials that are difficult to recycle.  Avoiding the purchase of packaged items seems nearly impossible, but we can lessen the waste we produce and encourage companies to change their packaging techniques by buying products with less, or resposible packaging.,

Most communities and businesses have made it very easy to recycle with recycling bins and hazardous waste pick ups.  The hard part is figuring out if the non-obvious items are recylable.  For example I had the question: Can I recycle a product box appearing to contain plastic, aluminum and cardboard?  Well I called my local recycling company, Recycling Services of America, and their answer was yes, it may be difficult for the workers to pull the box apart, but they will do it.  I was pleasantly surprised by this.  They also answered my questions about their process.  They are a collection and sorting station, and send the sorted recyclables to a company in North Carolina where they make Mc Donalds and Wendy’s products out of it.  Hopefully this is transported by train!  Call your local recycling agency and see how your products are reused!  Below is a link to a Reading Rainbow video shoing the recycling process.

Recycling companies have made it easy when it comes to labels and cleaning items for recycling: it is not necessary to remove labels and you only need to clean enough to prevent odors!

Here are some examples of what is good and not so good to recycle:


Easy to Recycle: Paper, Plastic, Steel, Cartons, Glass, Aluminum Cans, and Foil.  I will add a page to explain and breakdown these recyclable items more!

Harder to recycle: dental hygiene products, cling wrap (contains PVC causing hazardous fumes), CDs/DVDs, pill packets, bubble wraps and jiffy bags, silica gel, citris fruit netting, razor blades, kitty litter, broken plates, candy wrappers, product packaging, flourescent light bulbs, carpets, books, towels and fabrics, packing peanuts (source: DIYlife, resource.uk)

Household toxics like cleaning chemiclals and household appliances such as rechargable batteries, refridgerators, heat pumps, air conditioners, motor oil, car batteries, and tires should NEVER be thrown into a landfill.  These items should be picked up by your local hazardous waste facility, or dropped off according to your local waste or recycling center.


Who knew Reading Rainbow was still around?  Apparently it is and focusing on the environment! Did you ever wonder what happens after you fill your recycling bin?  Check out this video which shows the process!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=w1l8HXa3HLk

Developers…Low Impact Development is your best friend

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I’ve been saying this for 10 years now: Low impact development techniques benefit all.  Developers cringe at the sound of anything “tree-hugger” sounding.  They immediately think “unnecessary, and expensive.”  You will not see many developers, or many people for that matter, going above and beyond to minimize their impact on the ecosystem when there is no immediate benefit to them or their company.  Low impact development (LID) are design strategies that increase aesthetics, increase water and air quality, provide storage to prevent from flooding, reduce peak flows, and reduce erosion (many of these are explained at inspectorplanet.com).  LID can be a profitable development strategy by providing treatment and attenuation are spread throughout a development, ultimately requiring less space for detention ponds, and allowing for more responsible development within regulations, therefore, more units to be sold.  Not that I would ever encourage that, of course the moral approach would be to exceed environmental expectations, but unfortunately, we live in a world where the right thing to do, isn’t always the choice of those monetarily motivated. 

In addition to the economic benefits that LID provides structurally, a study has been conducted concluding that people are willing to pay more for proximity to green space and LID…up to 1.95% more!  So not only are the lives of the plants, animals, aquatic life, and human life minimally adversely impacted by new urbanization, the developer, builder, realtor, and contractors benefits economically as well! 

See the story here:
http://blog.epa.gov/science/2014/04/willingness-to-pay-for-green-space/

Reduce your impact

http://epa.gov/climatechange/basics/#difference
http://epa.gov/climatechange/basics/#difference

Forty-two percent 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. In every one of these stages of the life cycle, we can reduce our impact.

Reduce, Recycle and Reuse people!!!!

Of course it’s always better to reduce waste first, use re-usable cups, plates, water bottles, electronic copies of magazines and newspapers, etc.  However, if use on non-reusable items are necessary, Recycle!

Recycled Product

# of Recylcled Items

Can Produce Enough Energy to Run

Air Conditioner (hours)

Hair Dryer (hours)

Laptop (hours)

60W Equiv CFL Bulb (hours)

Aluminum Can

10

1.7

1.7

51.9

199.5

Glass Bottle

10

0.7

0.7

20.9

80.2

Plastic Bottle

10

0.8

0.8

25.4

97.8

Weekly Magazine

10

0.1

0.1

2.8

10.8

Plastic Grocery Bag

10

0.1

0.1

3.4

13.1

EPA Waste Statistics:

  • 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions result from the provision of goods produced within the United States.
  • The provision of food contributes another 13 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Traditional “waste” management represents 1 to 5 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Find out what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint:

http://epa.gov/climatechange/climate-change-waste/

“Sustainability”

imagesCAJURKCUSustainability is a catch phrase used by laymen and experts in several fields.  The word sustainability by original definition meant the ability to sustain, or the potential to keep things the same way.  Now, people in all areas have made their own definition of sustainability to the point where the true definition has been lost.  Perhaps this isn’t on accident; as the thermodynamic principle of entropy states, entropy is forever increasing, which states that things cannot stay the same.  Therefore true “sustainability” is not possible, in any field, for any area.  It is impossible.

That being said, the term “sustainability” for my purposes in environmental engineering represents the ideas and efforts made to preserve a natural system, or even better, to minimally disrupt a system despite inevitable changes to the respective environment; including increasing population, urbanization, temperature and energy changes.  Though “sustainability” has become the buzz-word of environmental discussions world-wide, I respectfully recommend the use of  “Low Impact Design” as an alternative.  I know, three words to replace one isn’t ideal, however, those three words do have one less syllable, so to me, it’s justified.