snippets

Snippets

Why young people are driving so much less than their parents [The Atlantic]

Berkeley starts to recycle mixed rigid plastics [East Bay Express]

BART is projecting a budget surplus for next fiscal year [SF Examiner]

Urban development projects in California are in limbo [NY Times]

Photo: A water fountain and water bottle filling station at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, IL, by Anna LaRue

Putrescible Waste

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Putrescible waste is “solid waste that contains organic matter capable of being decomposed by microorganisms and of such a character and proportion as to cause obnoxious odors and to be capable of attracting or providing food for birds or animals (definition from the Argonne National Laboratory).

Basically, putrescibles are the bits of garbage that decompose and get stinky. This can include food waste, used diapers, and pet waste.

If the putrescible waste is removed from the standard waste stream, the remaining household solid waste (packaging, plastic films) and recycling (cardboard, glass, metals, plastics, and paper) is quite clean. As local government recycling programs face budget cuts, there is potential to use this separation of putrescible waste to creatively adjust waste and recycling programs.

If the putrescible waste is picked up pretty frequently (such as weekly), and possibly separated into compostable foodscraps and non-compostable waste (diapers and animal products), the remaining “clean” garbage and recycling could be picked up less frequently. There is potential to increase participation in food waste composting, since folks will want the stinky stuff out of their houses as fast as possible. Since a lot of the cost of recycling programs is the labor cost of pick-ups and sorting, there is also potential to reduce overall costs of program with careful planning of routes and pick-up schedule frequency.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

Pay-As-You-Throw

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

“Pay-as-you-throw” is a variable rate pricing  tool used by communities to increase participation in recycling programs. Under a “pay-as-you-throw” structure, residents are charged for undifferentiated waste that must go to a landfill or incinerator and charged nothing for disposing of separated recyclables. This provides an obvious economic incentive for opting-in to recycling for the consumer and has been used throughout California to great success and  high diversion rates. The question, though, is whether we have finally outgrown “pay-as-you-go” policies.

With the state struggling with crippling budget deficits on every level of government, and with high participation rates in recycling (including newer higher-cost offerings, such as organic waste collection), the value captured from recycled products is not keeping pace with the cost of collections, routing, and processing.  In essence, while “pay-as-you-go” pricing structures may have had a vital role to play at a vital time, we can almost assuredly expect to see new pricing structures in the coming years.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

MRF (Rhymes With Smurf)

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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A MRF is a Materials Recovery Facility, a Materials Recycling Facility, or a Materials Reclamation Facility. These facilities receive household and business waste, construction waste, recyclables, and other discarded materials and separate them.

A “dirty” MRF receives mixed solid waste (everything all jumbled together), or in lingo “a mixed solid waste stream” and separates out the recyclables and other desirable materials.

A “clean” MRF receives just mixed recyclables and separates them.

And I have just learned about “wet” MRFs, which use water to separate items in a dirty MRF by density, cleans them, then dissolves organic material for anaerobic digestion.

The sorting in a MRF is accomplished with some automated processes and also manual sorting of materials into bins.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.


Recycling Center In Golden Gate Park To Close

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The HANC recycling center is located just to the southwest of Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

The Recreation and Park Commission unanimously approved plans for a community garden at the site long home to a recycling center run by the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council…

HANC, as the group is known, has run the recycling center at the location for 36 years, and also operates a native plant nursery there.

Recreation and Park Department officials said that the advent of curbside recycling and the need to dedicate more space for increasingly popular community gardens bolstered their resolve to act.

”HANC’s time has run out and it’s time for us to have a community garden,” said Commissioner Tom Harrison, a retired park gardener.

City officials, during several mayoral administrations, have threatened to shut down the program. They say it is incompatible with the park, creates noise and serves as a magnet for the homeless and crime.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, in the waning days of his administration, is now prepared to issue a 90-day eviction notice aimed at closing down the recycling operation, although the nursery may be allowed to stay.

You can read the entire story here.

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Berkeley Gets Shiny New Recycling Bins

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I have to confess… I was pretty excited when I was walking home this afternoon and noticed a new bin outside every house on my street. Including my house.

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The Ecology Center, which manages Berkeley’s recycling program, and Mayor Tom Bates have unveiled the new bins to be used by Berkeley residents. According to Berkeleyside:

The new carts have already started to appear on curbsides and a total of 36,000 of them will be delivered to Berkeley residents in single family homes over the next month.  Seven new trucks designed to handle the new carts are also now in use — the trucks are also divided into two sections, the larger of which holds paper and cardboard materials.

Apparently the bins are also designed to discourage poachers:

Accessing materials is more difficult than from an open box which might … put off potential poachers. The lid of the new cart is also printed with an advisory that the material contained in the cart is city property.

You can read the entire story here.

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Assorted Links

In Cleveland, Ohio, recycling bins with microchips will prompt inspections and potential fines if not used properly.

General Electric thinks it can cut home energy use by 70% in pilot projects with the DOE Building America Program.

Ride-sharing programs consider how to use mobile devices to expand to new audiences.

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Assorted Links

An op-ed has some interesting math lessons for locavores.

Sanford, Maine implemented a trash-metering system and residents reduced trash thrown away by 50%.

The folks at Walk Score have released Transit Score, which ranks how well-served a location is by transit.

New Recycling Center for El Cerrito Residents

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photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The City of El Cerrito is calling upon residents to attend several public meetings in anticipation of the opening of a new recycling center, including discussion of the planning, use and design of the facility. The second of these public meetings will be taking place Thursday, August 26 at the El Cerrito City Hall from 7 to 9 p.m. The third and final public meeting will take place on  Tuesday, September 14 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Read background information on the new recycling facility project here. For more information about the meetings and environmental programs in El Cerrito, visit the City of El Cerrito’s Environmental Services Division here.

The meetings will take place in the El Cerrito City Hall Council Chambers, 10890 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito.

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Bioplastics, part two

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Part 1 of this post provides a definition for the term “bioplastic” and clarifies the distinctions between “degradable”, “biodegradable” and “compostable” plastics.

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a compostable plastic cup from NatureWorks

While the idea of plant-based, biodegradable and compostable plastic made from renewable resources sounds like a potential panacea to the problem of plastic trash, the reality is -at this point- it is still too good to be true.

For starters, as I outlined in the first part of this post, not all bioplastics are created equal. To quickly re-cap, many are hybrids of conventional plastic polymers with added biomass; some are able to biodegrade and some are not; and the “compostable” type usually requires the high temperatures of a commercial composting facility in order to break down. What this means is that many new classes of plastics have been unleashed into the waste stream (with the catch-all rating of #7, or “other”) without the infrastructure in place to process them.  In large quantity, there is the real likelihood that they will complicate the recycling of traditional PET plastics.

Compostable plastics and serviceware such as coffee cups, to-go containers, etc., may be placed in municipal compost bins, but at this time no ‘bioplastics’ should  be placed in a regular mixed recycling bin (large scale efforts to recycle bioplastics in their own right could be termed “fledgling”, at best).

For example, the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability authored a fact-sheet for area businesses considering using bioplastics that not only warns that the local recycling facility is not equipped to process many of the new plastics, but also calls into question the long-term wisdom of replacing one set of disposable products with another. In short, even if all things were equal with the logistical aspects of recycling bioplastics vs. conventional plastics, there is still the reality that bioplastics use fossil fuels in their creation, create greenhouse gases in their decomposition, cannot be processed by consumers at home, and can continue to perpetrate the problem of plastic trash in the ocean.

With all of that said, there may still be a place and a potential for bioplastics. The technology is rapidly evolving, and if the industries can coordinate with infrastructure, then proper use of the materials will be the result.

For more information visit:

The Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative;

Bioplastics Magazine (a trade publication);

and Sustainable Plastics? a website and project of the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.